Malkin Award Nominee: Andrew Sullivan

[updated – I, II]

Andrew Sullivan has an odd post up about the debt and Obama. First, he confuses the proposed federal wage freeze with some other program that will actually help combat the federal deficit. Then he makes this very strange and cutting remark about Jonathan Bernstein, calling his discussion of the deficit a “Cheyneyesque remark”. Bernstein had said, quite sensibly, that nobody cares about the deficit – but plenty of federal employees do care about their pay. Which is true. Most people don’t care about the deficit. This doesn’t mean it isn’t important, of course. Most people don’t care about a lot of important things.

To Andrew’s first point, I can only say this: unless we tackle structural problems with the deficit (i.e. Medicare) and the defense budget, then all the other little political games we play won’t even scratch the surface. Pay freezes, pork-bans – you name it, they’re all just political shenanigans. Obama isn’t serious about the deficit, and freezing federal worker pay doesn’t make him serious about the deficit – any more than trying to ban pork barrel spending makes the GOP serious about the deficit.

To the second point, I nominate Andrew Sullivan for a Malkin Award. Nothing in Bernstein’s remarks are “Cheyneyesque”. It’s just bizarre to describe them that way.

Update. Some commenters feel that I’ve mixed up my awards and that we should give Sullivan the Moore Award. Well maybe we should give him both. The problem is, the Moore Award is for liberals who attack conservatives. Well Sully is a conservative (at least a self-styled one, and that’s good enough for me) attacking Bernstein – a liberal. Or at least, I think Bernstein’s a liberal. Yes, Sullivan uses a conservative to smear Bernstein with, but he’s still attacking a liberal from a conservative standpoint. I don’t think Moore Award really works.

Update II. Bernstein weighs in:

That’s presumably a reference to Dick Cheney’s claim that deficits don’t matter, not to his defense of torture and presidential (and vice-presidential) lawlessness — so I think E.D. Kain is perhaps a bit over the top in citing Sullivan for a Malkin Award nomination.  Unless Sullivan meant that I’m well on the path to being a war criminal, but I really don’t think that’s the case.

Fair enough. However, I take a reference to Cheney to mean, essentially, that someone is deeply cynical and/or dishonest. Surely that’s the inference. I didn’t take it to mean that Sullivan was accusing Bernstein of war crimes; I took it to mean Sullivan was accusing Bernstein of being a hack. Which he isn’t.

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19 thoughts on “Malkin Award Nominee: Andrew Sullivan

  1. Hmm wouldn’t you want to be nominating him for the left wing equivalent of the Malkin award; the Moore Award? Malkin and her right wing screeching brigade would never use “Cheney-like” as a detractory or negative statement.


  2. Cheneyesque? It seems unfair to Cheney to associate him with a typical welfare state enthusiast like Jonathon Bernstein. Whatever Cheney said about deficits was certainly more plausible than trying to defend the worst excesses of the welfare state under the current near-Depression.

    It’s becoming more clear to anyone who’s willing to pay attention that broad mainstream Right (and the Republican party which is generally associated with it) is the best hope for the return of prosperity in America today. Not only is there this latest little episode (and I expect several more steps in this direction) but there was also the partisan breakdown of the earmark ban, just in the last day or so.


  3. Pretty sure its the Moore award you want, for overheated rhetoric directed at the right. I’m really surprised at Andrew going along with this. Its a stupid symbolic gesture that sends all the wrong signals. Most federal workers are just ordinary folks who don’t really need to have their pay frozen right now. Its also, for exactly that reason, potentially contractionary, since when you reduce the real incomes of regular folk they tend to respond by spending less. Odd how that works. This is from the administration that was campaigning for more fiscal stimulus only a few months ago. At least scrapping earmarks is a stupid symbolic gesture that doesn’t really do anything. This is stupid symbolic gesture that might actually be counterproductive.


  4. “Its also, for exactly that reason, potentially contractionary, since when you reduce the real incomes of regular folk they tend to respond by spending less.”

    This actually leads to an important point that was lost in the whole stimulus debate. A lot of people spend a substantial majority of their income on necessities. These people are going to spend more or the less the same amount when their wages are frozen or cut, therefore the velocity of money represented by federal expenditures increases. In this case, a wage freeze actually is a stimulus (unlike the earlier supposed stimuli).

    Other commentators have suggested that the federal employees can find higher pay in the private sector. I have might doubts about this (especially for lawyers), but to the extent this is true they should take it. The way to get out of a recession is to have a significant number of people leaving dead-end employment for more efficient (and higher wage) employment somewhere else.


      • Ok. Let’s leave aside taxes for a moment, and say an employee makes 40K/year and spends 30K/year on necessities, leaving him 10K either discretionary or savings, to simplify let’s say he puts it in his mattress. If he makes 30K/year, all of it goes to necessities, ie, recirculated with 100% probability. Then the nominal value of his transactions will be the same whether he’s paid 30K or 40K. But if he’s paid 30K, there’s 10K of the money base doing something else in the economy (hopefully generating transactions), therefore the velocity of money is higher.


        • Well, I followed that not at all. Let’s begin with the “simplification” that actually doesn’t simplify because it’s such a patently false assumption that it seems designed only to prop up your argument. So let’s say he doesn’t put that $10k under his mattress. I don’t care if he spends it on hookers and blow or puts it in a 1.2% interest savings account, but by saying he holds it out of the economy, you suddenly get to magically put it into the economy. No, no, no, no, no.

          Second, why is that $10k suddenly going into the economy after the wage freeze? That makes no sense at all, at least as you’ve explained it. First of all, it’s a wage freeze, not a wage cut, so you’re not removing money from his hookers and blow budget mattress. Second, isn’t the idea of a wage freeze so that government doesn’t have to spend that extra money? It sounds like you’re making the assumption that government’s going to take the money they would have spent on him, and spend it elsewhere. Or are you arguing that because government doesn’t borrow it, someone else will and they will use it to spend or invest? If so, you’re still back to problem #1.


          • Ok, think of it this way. Most people prioritize their income on some vague scale of need. The greatest needs are the highest priority. And the key point, the greater the need the more likely that the money is actually going to be spent on that need.

            So in your example, if hookers and blow are a less urgent need than rent, it’s reasonably likely that the consumer having self-perceived money problems will pay the rent but lower his consumption of hookers and blow. If h&b are perceived to be more urgent, the situation is exactly reversed but still doesn’t matter for the sake of my point, ie, relatively robust to his financial situation, the consumer is going to purchase enough and of the appropriate type to satisfy his needs.

            This describes the consumption of needs but not for wants. For wants, the consumer is going to look at his financial situation and make a choice based consumption versus no consumption. If his desire for financial security is greater than his desire to consume, he will save his money. Depending on his vehicle of savings this money might be recycled back into the economy, or might not. This in contrast to the money spent on needs which we know is going to be recirculated.

            Therefore, wages as a vehicle for stimulus could plausibly be effective to the extent that they fund wage-earners’ needs as opposed to wants or other discretionary income.


            • That’s some seriously magical economic thinking there Koz. By your rationale confiscatory tax rates on the rich are an excellent policy as well since the money would otherwise be used to buy gold bars to hide in huge underground vaults. By taking all that money away the government could put it to use paying barely livable wages to more civil servants and thus improve the economy by increasing the velocity of money even further!

              Let me guess, you’re a supporter of “Starve the Beast” and Laffer curve economics too right?


                • I was going to note how much I enjoyed seeing Koz deliver both this economic theory and this sentence – “It’s becoming more clear to anyone who’s willing to pay attention that broad mainstream Right (and the Republican party which is generally associated with it) is the best hope for the return of prosperity in America today.” – in the same thread.

                  Your comment is more succinct.


                • That’s kind of cute turn of phrase Jay, obscuring something ought to be obvious, at least for me. In prior threads we’ve talked about fiscal conservatism or fiscal restraint. In this thread I’m talking about fiscal stimulus.

                  Fiscal stimulus and fiscal conservatism are almost definitional opposites, and in any case might be good, bad, or in between based on context. Clearly the Democrats are no-hopers for fiscal restraint, but my earlier point about the Republicans was that the Republicans are the best hope for prosperity in America which is related to that but involves many other things as well.

                  It’s very important to be able to create or follow a coherent train of thought from beginning to end. It’s kind of silly to take something I wrote about fiscal conservatism and apply it to fiscal stimulus. This is an interesting example, because by lowering (or freezing in this case) government employees’ wages where we might have the opportunity to thread the needle and accomplish fiscal restraint and fiscal stimulus at the same time.


              • Here we’re talking about fiscal stimulus. Assuming that fiscal stimulus is the only good thing, which is a very dubious assumption, confiscatory tax rates may or may not be fiscally stimulative depending on what the rich people would do with the money versus what the government would do. I would guess that fiscally stimulative if the government took the money and hired multitudes of low wage employees but not if it gave raises to the current overpaid government employees. In any case, I don’t know of any rich people who take their income and convert it into gold. Remember, in general, income is taxable but net worth isn’t.

                The point being that it should be pretty easy to see, once we have some clarity about what we’re trying to accomplish, your example is an attempt to use a tool in a context where it probably won’t work. Once you give up folk Marxism as a legitimate policy objective, we gain the ability to see things as they are. And consequently we can have real hope of accomplishing something important.


                • Okay so stating that federal employees keep their extra income as cash and hide it in the mattress = serious analysis of fiscal stimulus but stating that the wealthy keep their extra income as bullion and bury it in the ground = folk Marxism?


                  • No, folk Marxism is the desire to engineer economic outcomes in general to the detriment of the wealthy (particularly but not limited to income distribution) and unwarranted faith that such schemes are feasible.

                    Too many people affiliated with some part of the Left have allowed their desire to take away the rich people’s money to cloud their ability to legitimately evaluate economic analysis or even accept plain facts. Once you give that up, the economic world is a little clearer.

                    And with that clarity, we can engineer our economic policy toward those things that we should and can accomplish, eg employment and high growth.

                    In your example, confiscatory tax rates on the rich may be fiscal stimulus in some circumstances. But they are still a terrible idea for any number of other, seemingly obvious reasons. This becomes pretty clear once you give up trying to take away rich people’s money, which is the only reason to consider that idea in the first place.


  5. I have to point out, in Sullivan’s defense, that the term “Cheneyesque” is most likely referring to Dick Cheney’s remark “You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don’t matter” ( ). Sullivan frequently uses that statement to sum up everything that’s wrong with how politicians approach the Federal budget. The original statement by Bernstein is in line with that same sentiment.

    I can understand, however, that comparing someone to Cheney carries a lot more baggage than that statement. But I don’t think that Sullivan meant to compare Bernstein to, say, Cheney’s stance on torture.


  6. Did you know that Dick Cheney pronounces his name CHEE-nee? Not CHAY-nee…CHEE-nee.

    Sorry, it was all I could focus on upon seeing the word “Cheneyesque.” I kept thinking “How is that word being pronounced in readers’ minds?” and I felt the overwhelming need to attempt to control it. I often find I care a lot about controlling unimportant things. Perhaps this is why I don’t care about the deficit. Or maybe the impossibility of my controlling the deficit makes me care about unimportant things. Like the federal worker pay freeze preventing me from funding my “h&b” budget. (Thank you, Koz. I think the “h&b” abbreviation may find some real use in my colloquies.)


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