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December 26, 2006

Comments

"I think not. This time, I'll opt for fiscal discipline. "

Look, you think it would be a bad choice independent of fiscal discipline. That is fine. But that last sentence really just illustrates what I said about Krugman, if it is about "fiscal discipline when I don't like your choices but deficit spending for mine" we aren't talking about fiscal discipline at all. Using fiscal discipline in that way is just an end run to shut down debate for preferred policy choices. I'm not against federal control of health care because of 'fiscal discipline' I'm against it because I think it is a bad idea. Republicans do it all the time too, so please don't think this a partisan complaint. But for political clarity, fiscal discipline shouldn't be used to obscure personal policy preferences.

Fiscal discipline is choosing not to spend on things you would otherwise like to spend money on. Abstaining from something you don't want isn't a sign of virtue.

"In terms of practical politics, the reality is this: We have to be on good behavior so we have a chance to win the presidency," said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) ... [by preserving the President's tax cuts and increasing defense spending]

I have heard a few people saying such things. I don't understand: if we spend the next two years doing nothing but campaigning for the presidency, doesn't anyone think that the public might have a little bit of distaste for the Democrats -- who, remember, won on campaigns promising huge changes -- who haven't done anything the last two years? If we do exactly what the Republicans have been doing for years, and what they lost 2006 over, won't the public be left with exactly the same distaste they showed for the Republicans, but for us?

Democrats would be better off actually doing some of the things they promised. Show some results. The "wave" can continue quite awhile longer if it happens.

... though I suppose I'm just being naive again.

To be clearer, since what I call policy arguments have prioritization components, fiscal discipline in a time of big deficits is about contracting the deficit. If you cut $50 from the military to add $50 to health care spending it isn't fiscal discipline. That is a policy choice about allocation of a certain amount of funds. Policy arguments are important, but they shouldn't be disguised as fiscal arguments. Since hilzoy says she would be against increasing the military even if it was cost free, that is a policy argument against expanding the military. The fiscal argument which follows is irrelevant. Now most policies should ultimately lead to revenue neutral situations (if you propose a large new outlay it should be joined by a large new tax to cover it), but that is a fiscal argument about how to pay for policy choices once made. Both sides very often disguise their negative policy arguments in fiscal clothing.

Alternatively, make the Administration blow-hards choose between competing military objectives. Shut down space-based nonsense and other enormously expensive programs in exchange for more funding for ground troops (and for the war).
_________________

Sebastian:

Your point is sort of correct (as hilzoy's objection seems more policy based than fiscal) -- but its not an either/or choice between fiscal discipline vs. policy objections. An idea of marginal utility is frequently shot down because the potential bang does not match the bucks to be spent. Is that because of fiscal discipline or policy objections? Both, really.

Frankly, any opposition to Bush programs is always going to be about fiscal displine, what with statements like this: Bush's top budget advisers said last week that they see no need to increase taxes to pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are expected to cost $170 billion this year, up from $120 billion in fiscal 2006.

Put another way, when your fiscal discipline has been zero as it has been under Bush, any opposition to Bush programs involves some measure of fiscal discipline.

Seb: true enough, but I would make the fiscal argument if I thought it was anything like a close call. I find it bizarre to talk about increasing the size of the military as though it were purely about military posture, without any financial costs at all.

But it isn't a fiscal argument because if I were to propose raising taxes to cover it (which I have for the past five years) you would argue that it is a bad idea even though it would be a fiscally neutral proposal. We could have a fine policy argument, but it would have absolutely nothing to do with fiscal responsibility.

The reason I find Krugman's article so dishonest is not that he wants to spend money in certain ways (a policy difference I have with him) but because he has made a huge turnabout on whether or not the current levels of deficit spending are ok. That has revealed that many of his previous arguments were not really fiscal responsibility arguments, but rather policy disagreements about where to spend the money. The doom and gloom about the horrible deficit problems suddenly vanished, and as Tyler Cowen noted, it is a huge relief that didn't take any actual hike in taxes or cut in spending.

If you cut $50 from the military to add $50 to health care spending it isn't fiscal discipline.

I disagree. If the deficit keeps going up and up each year, and you step in and stop it from increasing further, you have indeed imposed fiscal discipline. Yes, you haven't fixed the problem the Republicans created in one fell swoop, but that hardly makes you undisciplined.

If the Democrats pay for their programs by allocating less money to existing programs, that's a heck of a lot more disciplined than paying for everything by using the national credit card.

The main problem with reducing the deficit now is that it's hard to conceive of a meaningful plan that doesn't include cuts in military spending, and yet it's going to be virtually impossible as a political matter to touch this issue during wartime.

Seb: I think it's important to note two aspects of Krugman's article. First, he hasn't just tossed fiscal discipline to the wind. Unlike the Republicans, he accepts PAYGO. And that's a huge difference.

Second, a lot of his argument is based on stuff like: "Deficit reduction, on the other hand, might just end up playing into the hands of the next irresponsible president." This isn't just talk. That's exactly what happened last time: the surplus was used to justify the tax cuts, and so we ended up serving as Bush's enablers.

I mean 'enablers' in the sense familiar from the literature on addiction. That sense seems exactly appropriate here. The Republicans in Congress, the administration, and most conservative publications have learned nothing. They are still spouting analogues of: 'hey, I can keep my drinking completely under control! It's just a way of letting off steam! And that string of four jobs I lost because of alcohol-related absenteeism? It was stress, not drinking, so I should probably drink more!' (That last = 'more tax cuts will grow the economy!')

As long as that's the case, why encourage them?

Note that -- well, you don't know about me, but I don't think Krugman was decrying Clinton's efforts to balance the budget back in 1999 and 2000. (I wasn't either.) That would be the test.

"That has revealed that many of his previous arguments were not really fiscal responsibility arguments, but rather policy disagreements about where to spend the money. The doom and gloom about the horrible deficit problems suddenly vanished, and as Tyler Cowen noted, it is a huge relief that didn't take any actual hike in taxes or cut in spending."

Ahh, now Seb's week of arguments takes shape it is about attacking Krugmans's credibility and intellectual integrity. And here you thought it was substantive.

Ok, fiscal discipline. I want that new addition in military personnel paid for with new taxes, and I want $250 billion in new taxes overall. Krugman might want the same.

It is totally pointless to talk about new taxes, they will be vetoed, and are off the table. Similarly, it is I think bad faith to demand consistent "fiscal discipline" from amyone until George Bush shows a willingness to raise taxes.

2) Everyone I know, including Brad Setser and Bruce Bennett and Paul Volcker for God's sake thought there were be more apparent consequences from the deficits than has so far appeared. Apparently the Saudis/oilacracies and Far Eastern nations are more willing to carry under-performing American dollar instruments at a loss than anyone predicted. In the face of that, Krugman adjusted his attitude toward deficits over the last couple of years.

Just read at Barry Rittholz's that hedgefunds, after getting stomped by the market for several years have stopped carrying shorts. Sometimes you really do have to go with the flow.

A:"I want half a million new troops in Iraq"
B: "It ain't gonna happen, so we need to withdraw"
A:"You aren't serious about Iraq, or foreign policy."

You cannot currently have good faith arguments about fiscal discpline. The phrase is off the table.

"We do not need more troops in order to inflict very serious damage on any country that harms us -- we have more than enough military resources for that as it is..."

It is a shame to see hilzoy go to the nuclear first strike foreign policy.

Gary will argue with me, but I think part of the reason we had half a million troops in Europe during the Cold War was to at least pretend to have options and alternatives, the possiblility of gradual escalation and limited war, and as hostages so that the Europeans/Koreans would not worry about a unilateral American nuclear strike.

Look at George Bush and imagine China sending 5 million men into Taiwan. Or another 9/11 after we have withdrawn from Iraq. You obviously cannot count on sane rational decisions from our leaders, and the restraints must be material. The Joint Chiefs have to be able to offer options.

Last one:

We have to able to invade, occupy, and transform Iran. It may be a very stupid idea, and we may fail, and we can argue if the need or desire arises, but I really think we need the capability. A lack of wide resources will not prevent a war, but might determine the way it is waged.

With such strong opposition to a draft, I really think there exists a strong possibility that > 50k American lives would be paid for with > 20 million Iranian lives.

I am, as often, fascinated by your ability to say "this particular thing cannot even be discussed because of relatively small and transitory considerations" and "this thing which hasn't the slightest prospect of working must nonetheless be attempted and anyone who refuses to commit to it is at least a collaborator in the impending holocaust", Bob. I don't mean this to be insulting, as I really am fascinated by it. I genuinely haven't any clue how a lot of your thoughts work, and keep hoping to encounter a Rosetta stone at some point so that I could begin figuring out what I'm now missing.

For myself, my advice to the Democratic Party would be to keep watching for signs that a new generation of Republican leaders are committed to the rule of law and basic honesty, and in the meantime to plan on the assumption that future Republican leaders will be like those in power now. Which is to say, tend to more of the needs the Republicans have sacrificed in the pursuit of wealth to the wealthiest and war for its own sake.

Really, the Republican Party as an organization is in much the position of the US as a whole. Given that we are led by lunatics and villains, we'll be on probation in the eyes of the rest of the world for a long time to come. We'll have to do a lot to demonstrate that any restoration of law and democracy are genuine - no grand us-led crusades against anything for a while, until we manage to visibly meet very basic norms of civilized behavior somewhat reliably. Anything less than that skepticism would be very irresponsible on everyone else's part. The same is true for the Republicans. They led the rest of us over the brink; they'll have farther to climb back up.

Wow! Impressive how Hlzoy can still ignore all the corrupt Democrats... Republican corruption bad... Democrat corruption acceptable. Interesting standards.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/24/AR2006122400919.html

Dear Bril - if you're so concerned, why not start your own blog to counterbalance the horribly biased and hypocritical hilzoy?

Happy holidays, Bril.

:-)

We have to able to invade, occupy, and transform Iran. It may be a very stupid idea, and we may fail, and we can argue if the need or desire arises, but I really think we need the capability. A lack of wide resources will not prevent a war, but might determine the way it is waged.

Wow, Bob. I'm usually right there behind you, but it seems to me that the notion of occupying countries that don't want to be occupied will only work with truly overwhelming force coupled with a policy of resettlement a la China in Tibet. One 'weak point' about American imperialism is that we have never been able to encourage resettlement except when it was Native Americans who 'took' our land. Even the Axis nation's goals were restricted by geography. No country has ever had the power you are envisioning, and I don't think any country ever will. I'm sympathetic to the notion that the US can't seem like a pushover, but you seem to be taking that a step too far.

1)Bruce at 5:03. There is folk wisdom about people who can juggle 2 or more contradictory ideas at once. They are one thing, or another thing, or possibly both at once. So you have three choices.

And I really don'y have much optimisim about the Democrats playing the "fiscal discipline" game. Bush has been trying his own party for years with unfunded supplementals. If Democrats want to defund the soldiers, like cut off the bullets, they can try it, but that will be a game of chicken the most callous will win. Bush/Rove/Cheney are gonna double up and make the next two years hell. Nuff said.

Oh. The one thing I can absolutely predict is that Bush will not emulate his father and make any kind of deal on spending, taxes, or American bankruptcy. Zero chance.

2)lj at 6:21. Remember, I am not trying to imagine what HRC ofr Edwards or me or you might do; but what McCain or Romney or President Brownback might do. Iran is a middle-nation right now. I hope it gets nukes very soon. Until then, it will likely provoke or be provoked, and I expect war.

Now of course, like Iraq, a ground war will be catastrophic and useless, and many thousands will die for nothing. But if President Brownback does not have that option, likely millions will die in India and Pakistan from the fallout, let alone in Iran.

Now if you can guarantee that another insane right-wing religious zealot with an inferiority complez and a sexual craving for things that go boom won't be nominated and elected by the Republican Party, I will relax and help the country become Sweden. I am not so confidanr, so must prepare for very bad things.

You know bob, just when I thought you could be more cynical, radical, and depressing*, your "we must have a large armed forces so that the next President can invade Iran instead of nuking it" proves me wrong.

*not that I mind.

Well, what Ugh said, but the problem with having a military like that is that it is like a kid with a firecracker, in that it is not any fun unless you actually get to set it off. Before Iraq, I would have thought that the military had developed enough of an ability to resist getting drawn into a hopeless conflict and I took the resistance to Bosnia and other entanglements, thought I disagreed, the result of healthy caution. However, the way the military has been coopted in Iraq (and we now have a handpicked group of soldiers explaining to Gates why we need a surge in order to do an end run around the resistance) makes me think that demanding such a force is tantamount to pulling the trigger. Encouraging us to have such a capacity merely makes the ravings of a Brownback or a Tancredo more plausible. I can't guarantee another [insert your descriptor here] won't be nominated, but the process of arguing for the military (and the arguments that would be deployed to justify it) will make his election much more likely.

Bob, I'm in complete agreement that Bush won't deal. I think, seriously, that if we were on the edge of trying, he'd collapse in a seizure or an alcoholic blackout or something fo the sort. He has no notion of trade in the usual sense. So Democratic planning has to focus on what they can do despite that, and what it'll be necessary to do as longa s Bush's allies are running the Republican party.

Bob: one of the many reasons I do not favor increasing the size of the military is because I very much want to reequip the existing military and take care of the Iraq vets. I do not want to "cut off the bullets".

"because I very much want to reequip the existing military and take care of the Iraq vets. I do not want to "cut off the bullets"."

I ad to look up Nixon and impoundment, but it wasn't helpful. I presume the new divisions(?) will be specifically budgeted, and I know the New Congress is trying to stop or limit the supplementals, but I definiteloy expect Bush to play games with moving the budgeted spending around. And denying the President the right to determine emergency redistributions of military spending in the time of war. Good luck.

In other words, no mater what Congress might say it is doing, Bush may try and actually manage, to blame Congress for not funding bullets. Bush spends the money on, oh, missle defense, and then comes back and says soldiers need 10 billion for bullets. Congress says:"We already gave you that money. No more" Who blinks? The "rules of the game" will be way different with a Democratic Congress.


Why a surge? Why new military units? Doesn't make sense? We are still in "starve the beast" mode. Bush will spend like a drunken sailor on the war, and he has 150k soldiers hostage in Iraq, and who knows how many carrier groups on the way. Iran? Who knows?

What to expect in 2007? 500 billion dollar deficits, maybe much more, and no new taxes.
Sebastian and T Cowan and Jane Galt will say they'd raise taxes and not invade Iran and manage the war better and Bush is an idiot, but meanwhile...

Democrats are big spenders!!!

The "rules of the game" will be way different with a Democratic Congress.

True, but that cuts both ways. Targeted investigations on where and how money is spent. Spending all the money on missile defense will attract the usual crowd of [redacted] who will skim off their consulting fees and such and would presumably be subject to the same problems that have plagued outsourcing efforts in Iraq. Such expenditures would bear the fingerprints of the administration and could force Republicans in Congress to side with Democrats, leaving the admin completely cut off. This is assuming that the Dems don't mess up and give a pass (cf Reid's initial support of a surge), but there are ways to play this that don't require a huge military buildup. In a way, you are essentially calling a bluff. The problem with this is that a poker game doesn't have an audience determining who gets in or out of the game at particular times.

Completely OT: I had no idea I had ever met the guy, but I was reliably informed over the holidays that I once beat Greg Mankiw at backgammon. At least, he says so.

It's a smaller world than I had imagined.

"Gary will argue with me, but I think part of the reason we had half a million troops in Europe during the Cold War was to at least pretend to have options and alternatives, the possiblility of gradual escalation and limited war, and as hostages so that the Europeans/Koreans would not worry about a unilateral American nuclear strike."

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to argue with here. Maybe you'd better wait for me to argue with you before announcing that I will?

"I presume the new divisions(?)"

Our system is brigade-oriented now, actually.

Hilzoy: "It's a smaller world than I had imagined."

It usually is.

"Maybe you'd better wait for me to argue with you before announcing that I will?"

I do believe in this forum you have said that a nuclear response to a Soviet attack on Germany (for instance) was always the actual policy during the Cold War. This is what I was remembering.

I expect that could be sourced. But my position is that whatever official policy, unofficial, wargamed, etc is never to be trusted. No, it would never be said officially anywhere that the troops in Germany are hostage for US-Soviet peace, or the troops in Korea, but that doesn't mean it isn't so.

"In a way, you are essentially calling a bluff."

Well, yeah. I was calling for mobilization after 9/11 because I was fairly clear as to what Bush had in mind. Get Saddam, spend as much money as possible while keeping the ME in chaos.

But this is the ancient argument as to whether the better determinant of intentions are what people (or those around them) say; or whether it is what they do and what actually happens.

In public remarks last week, Bush declared that he doesn't expect Democrats to compromise their principles and they should not expect him to compromise his principles.

He might as well put a sign on his forehead that says "You say potato (long a), and I say potato (short a), let's call the whole thing off. And, by the way, go f--- yourselves, in case you were thinking I was Fred Astaire."

Including 230 years or so of deliberation by democratically elected bodies who weigh competing interests and give and take, horsetrade, wink, and COMPROMISE until they get something done. You know, the way the world works.

The man hates America. It's just too messy.
He has one brain cell, and it is not a digital brain cell because even a digital brain cell would at least switch from 0 to 1 on occasion, just for a little variety.

Incidentally, as one who has slurred his commentary from time to time, I know a slurred comment when I read one, and were I Rilkefan I would write a poem about Bob McManus' Iran policy perspectives put forth after a surfeit of well-spiked Christmas cheer! ;)

Am I right?

P.S. Not that there is anything wrong with grogging while blogging.


Maybe you'd better wait for me to argue with you before announcing that I will?"

I do believe in this forum you have said that a nuclear response to a Soviet attack on Germany (for instance) was always the actual policy during the Cold War. This is what I was remembering.

Don't know what Gary has said previously on this topic, but both points are true. We had a large ground force in Europe to maintain the notion that we would resist ground forces with ground forces. But as a practical matter, the Warsaw Block had such a superiority in conventional weaponry, that first use of nuclear weapons in response to invasion was also the policy. That issue was forshadowed with the controversy about deployment of the nuetron bomb (kills people with less collateral damage -- kind of like those tastes great/less filling commercials). That became more explicit with the early 80s brouhaha about deployment of short range tactical missles with nukes in Europe -- the illusion about whether or not war would be met with a first use of nuclear weapons in Europe was now blown open.

"I do believe in this forum you have said that a nuclear response to a Soviet attack on Germany (for instance) was always the actual policy during the Cold War. This is what I was remembering."

It was the stated policy, at least.

"I expect that could be sourced. But my position is that whatever official policy, unofficial, wargamed, etc is never to be trusted."

If I parse that correctly, I don't particularly disagree, or see a contradiction.

"No, it would never be said officially anywhere that the troops in Germany are hostage for US-Soviet peace, or the troops in Korea, but that doesn't mean it isn't so.'"

Yeah, although there's ways of saying things officially and then there are ways.

But the typical usage is/was "tripwire," which doesn't seem particularly effectively all that different from "hostage." This is why I say there's not necessarily any contradiction between an official policy of reserving the right of first use of nuclear weapons and having those troops there and noting that the troops themselves are part of the deterrent (it was hoped).

And then what dmbeaster said is correct, although the short-range missiles in Europe controversy/debate/struggle had additional complicating factors. (And speaking of that sort of thing, Russia announced last week that they were moving more of their single-warhead nuclear missiles to new MIRV missiles, and mobile MIRVS at that. Cheaper. Doesn't that make you nostalgic? Or not so much?)

Thanks Gary

"Doesn't that make you nostalgic?"

What, reliving the late sixties without the sex, drugs, or new great music? Nostalgic isn't really the word I would use.

"Nostalgic isn't really the word I would use."

Yes, I was trying for sarcasm.

As those who were around for nuclear deterrence theory will recall, MIRVs -- sticking a bunch of warheads on the same missile, that will separate when the missile descends and hit multiple targets -- our MX when MIRVED had ten warheads -- were particularly Bad sorts of nuclear weapons, because they're destablizing in that they're far more tempting to launch-on-warning than single warhead missiles.

That is, if you think missiles have been launched against you, you want to launch your MIRVs -- according to the theory -- before they're taken out, since every enemy hit takes out ten of yours (or more, if they're siloed and clustered enough). Whereas if you take the more expensive step of sticking to one warhead a missile, you're in a better, safer, position to gamble on riding out a small strike to make sure it's real.

Not that nuclear war with Russia is a major worry; the problems with Russia have to do with Putin's ascension to czardom, and suppression of democracy, not that he wants nuclear war. But the MIRVing does make their force that much more worrisome; however an accidental, or at least unauthorized, launch might conceivably happen, having multiple warheads possibly coming down is a bunch worse than having one. Or it's that many more warheads to worry about being stolen. Whatever, it's never a good story.

Being in Europe in the eighties I remember the discussions. A group of people felt that the US troops and nucleair weapons were all for our protection. A larger group felt that it was mainly to make sure that if the US and USSR came to blows it had to be fought out in Europe.
Since quite a lot of people would rather be invaded than nuked, we had the largest demonstration ever against nuclear short range missiles *in* the Netherlands. I still remenber how hugh the mass of people was, filling the streets in Amsterdam.

A group of people felt that the US troops and nucleair weapons were all for our protection. A larger group felt that it was mainly to make sure that if the US and USSR came to blows it had to be fought out in Europe.

I don’t think there was ever any serious belief that it could have been contained to Europe. The war-gaming I was familiar with usually saw any conflict quickly escalate from tactical nukes, to short range nukes, to ICBMs.

Soviet missile fields and cities were in range of our GLCM and Pershing II missiles. While short range theatre weapons were not a direct threat to the US, they were a direct threat to the Soviets. In a first use scenario, we would have launched cruise missiles, given them a couple of hours to arrive on target, and then launched Pershing missiles. That moved the Soviets to a launch on warning posture. So while the use of theatre weapons would not have automatically triggered a larger response from the US, it likely would have triggered a full scale launch by the Soviets, which would have been met with a full scale launch by the US…

The only people I knew of who thought a nuclear exchange could be limited to Europe were the anti-nuclear protesters.

OCSteve; isn't that what I said?

dutchmarbel: “A larger group felt that it was mainly to make sure that if the US and USSR came to blows it had to be fought out in Europe”. I thought you were agreeing with that position. Sorry if I misinterpreted your comment.

I was (in the larger, anti-nucleair group), but not just for that reason. I don't like weapons in my country we do not have any control over - and I do not trust the US to follow anything but her own interests.

Which is fine as long as that coïncides with what's in the interest of my portion of the globe - but I didn't feel to conficent about the US then. I trusted them(it?) more later, and nowadays even less - in that area at least. Even in ObWi I see way too many remarks from quite respectable people to feel at ease with being more dependend than I need to.

In those days I felt the US was too trigger happy, too at ease with wars by proxy, and obsessed with communism/socialism. I changed opinion on many things over the years, but those believes have not changed beyond recognition :)

I more or less agree with OCSteve's description here. And since "A larger group felt that it was mainly to make sure that if the US and USSR came to blows it had to be fought out in Europe" is pretty much incorrect so far as the intent of the U.S. planners and thinkers went, well, that analysis is somewhat incorrect therefore.

It really wasn't in America's interest -- in any way -- to see nukes go off in Europe, any more than it was to see Western Europe conquered by the Soviets (though certainly some American analysts at times over-estimated Soviet intent/likelihood in that regard; the Soviets weren't particularly interested in fighting, either conventionally or with nukes, in Europe, either; but both sides had some good reasons to be suspicious of the other).

On the other hand, I can't say that there wasn't some cause for Western Europeans to worry about their fate being largely in the hands of others -- that's an uncomfortable state for anyone and everyone -- and neither would I say that the U.S.'s record was so all-fired wonderful that everyone in Western Europe shold have just sat back and not worried -- that would have been trusting a bit beyond what the facts suggested might be prudent.

So in the end I'd say that the anti-nuclear protestors in Western Europe had some valid concerns, and perfectly understandable worries, but were also largely wrong in their most crucial tenet (that the U.S. was indifferent to Europe, and happy to see a war fought there, and that that was the primary motive to balancing/countering the Soviet short-range nuclear missiles [which for some reason were OK and not particularly worrisome]) aimed at Western Europe (that the protests were only against the one set of missiles, and not both, made them about half as reasonable).

My own position then, and in retrospect, was that both sides should have striven to achieve a minimal nuclear deterrent. In popular terms of the times, a Freeman Dyson Weapons And Hope position, not a Jonathan Schell disarmament position.

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