Thursday, March 03, 2011

Enough already!!! And random book thoughts

Seriously, winter, you have had your get the fuck out of here!!! I understand that it is still March, and having spent most of my life in cold weather places, I know darn well that you still have quite a bit of bite left. But for real, 12 degrees? Are you serious? That is just plain cruel...

Moving right along...

In the several weeks, I have read two books...Glen Beck's Broke and Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal. Not surprisingly, they see the world in very different ways;-) You may think that my head is now ready to explode from the conflicting views on the role of government...and notably, the conflicting view of history.

Honestly, while they both kinda make me angry, they are probably both worth reading. At a minimum, they are both consistent in their arguments: Krugman calls for a high-tax, big-government, high-service welfare state, and Beck calls for a low-tax, low-service, small Federal government. But they are both far superior to our current low-tax, high service, big government and therefore big-debt state.

First, on Glen Beck...I know, I know. His show is unwatchable, and he retains some of the overly simplistic confidence in his ideas that many conservative media members have. But, he can be quite funny, and he is much more insightful than most talking heads. This is the third of his books that I have read: Arguing With Idiots was pretty good, An Inconvenient Book was awful, and this is the best of the three.

As a diagnosis of our long-term fiscal problems, he is right on. He may stop one step short of my own thesis on this - that Baby Boomers are evil - but he gets the big issues summed up really well. While the book is clearly partisan (as he is) he doesn't have many nice things to say about many Republicans, either. More than anything, it takes to task the practices of the Federal Government since the 1940's, regardless of who was in charge: spending money without raising it. There is also a very lengthy un-Republican section on waste in the Defense Department.

I would say that my biggest quibble with the book is his insistence that the decreasing role of religion is intimately related to our inability to balance a budget...I just don't think it is that strong an argument. But other than that, most of the diagnosis is pretty solid.

Krugman's book is actually much more partisan, which I don't think is an accident. According to him, there are only two reasons that anyone has voted for a Republican since Eisenhower: either they are incredibly wealthy and strictly looking to protect their financial interests, or they are a stupid, racist white person. You may think I am exaggerating, but that is basically his oft-repeated premise. (Never mind that he glorifies the post-WWII era as an economic and social golden age, which is know, unless you were black, a woman, a potential immigrant or didn't want to weld steel all day long.)

And to be honest, the economics of the book, which should be the strength of it, are pretty weak. He is really big on listing three or four reasons that something happened, and then picking the one he likes best as the most important reason...and the evidence of its importance is not always clear. His passage on "institutions and norms" and their impact on runaway executive compensation is right on, but then he abandons that thesis when he gets to differences in high school and college education rates. In reality, it is the same set of factors...the cultural norms around the importance of education drive the quality of public schools much more than does spending or facilities or teacher training.

The section on Health Care is far and away the best part of it, and is a very sound economic and social case for at least some form of Universal Care. I think he leaves out some important parts (like the role that our overpaying for care plays in driving medical innovation) but from beginning to end it is a really sound, rationale argument. And I say that as someone who is basically leery of the idea of a Government run or sponsored health care system.

Anyway, I hate to get all serious on you here, but that is what I am currently thinking!!!


Kari said...

Love reading your serious posts!
I honestly don't think the US will/can ever have Universal just won't work. Canada implemented Universal Care at a good time for our country -- if they tried to do it now, it likely wouldn't work.
Also, by and large, most Cdns trust the Cdn gov't. Most Americans (and others) don't trust the US gov't.
I think the US needs to move on from the Universal Care and find something (not sure what) works for the US (and I don't think it will be Universal Care).

A said...

Awww. We don't mind your serious posts. We all know you're a smarty pants - sometimes you've got to break it out! xoxoxo

Ys said...

I agree with Kari: I love reading your serious posts :)

It is a shame the US can't sort something out to help those who need help with healthcare. Coming from the UK I can't even get my head round how your healthcare system would work for me and my family if we lived there - I'm guessing not very well at all.