Let Trump do his job

I’m slow to outrage, but I’ve had it with the lying, fake-news press and the deep state apparatchiks that want to keep America ungreat. The president has stepped down from the comfortable life he earned by his unmatched business skill to serve us in the corrupt swamp of politics, but does he get help? loyalty? He does not, and we had better hope he doesn’t give up on us and walk out the door in frustration.

Democrats refuse to vote for the Republican health care plan he clearly instructed Ryan and McConnell to pass; is this any way to treat your leader? They endlessly refuse to confirm appointments on the thin excuse that Trump hasn’t nominated anyone for them.  How hard is it to pass a stack of confirmations with the names left blank for use as needed?  Is this the kind of obedience we expect of our lawmakers?

Don’t even ask about Mueller.

Most outrageous recently, and the main reason I’ve just hit the wall, is the constant sabotage of Donald Vladimirovich’s ability to get marching orders from his daddy.  Putin is better looking than Trump, his women are more beautiful and more accomplished, he’s more ruthless, he’s killed more people and enriched more of his gang members, and he’s stolen way more money.  For our nation to take direction from such a leader is probably the greatest gift Trump can bestow-of course he’s gone in the tank to him; how else is he supposed to know what to do day by day?-but at every turn, some treasonous, small-minded reporters interfere with the normal channels by which orders from Moscow could flow. The secret link through the Russian Embassy Jared creatively tried to set up, the secret meeting at the G20 dinner, the meeting Don Jr., Kushner, and Manafort took with 1 2 3  4  5 Russian messengers last spring, the tireless efforts of Flynn, and more: one after the other essential tool of governance torn from workable secrecy and left to dessicate and shrivel in public sunlight. Selling the presidency to Putin was the greatest deal the Donald ever made, and we’re stepping all over it.

Trump cannot be Trump if he can’t get confidential instructions from Putin, period, end of story. This treasonous undermining of basic governance tools by the press, and the leaking deep state fifth column, has to stop.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

31 thoughts on “Let Trump do his job”

    1. Not in the ballpark; just the second Chechen was is scored at more than 100K civilians.

      1. But worth impeaching Trump for, as Obama's drone bombings would have justified impeaching him. I hadn't known that Trump was killing so many people, yet it is more important than his wrongdoings that get so much more attention.

        1. I clicked just now on "thumbs up" by mistake, i.e., I meant to click on "thumbs down." Drones represent a troubling technology and I am not ready to argue for their use. On the other hand, the numbers say that drones kill fewer people than bombs do. Unless we are ready to say no to all bombing, it's irrational to think any President should be impeached for authorizing killing-by-drone.

          1. It is not for his choice of weapons Trump (or, previously, Obama) should be impeached. If we consider the drone bombing to be a war, then it is unconstitutional because Congress has not approved it. If it is an attempt to impose capital punishment on particular suspected terrorists, then it is unconstitutional because it violates due process.

          2. Neither is unconstitutional. Like it or not, the 2001 AUMF is extremely broad, and authorizes military action in the places drones have been used. And Obama, at least, only used drones in specific locations. Yes, people are entitled to due process. However, if they remove themselves to locations beyond the reach of the institutions that provide that due process and continue to be a threat, they forfeit that entitlement. Obama's targeted killings weren't simply in the territory of hostile governments; they were in areas that were not under control of their legitimate national governments, such as the areas of Yemen in rebellion, Somalia without an effective central government, or the tribal areas of Pakistan. (One can argue that the Pakistani government is content with the situation there, but that means that they have effectively ceded sovereignty.) The individuals targeted have gone to great lengths to avoid due process; one can't then turn around and fault Obama for not providing it.

  1. What is the progressive alternative to a health care system that is on course to bury us financially, or the longstanding need to develop a less adversarial relationship with Russia, just to mention the two issues addressed in this contrived satire.

    1. Deciding to devote money to provide health care rather than tax cuts to the wealthy doesn't mean that the cost of health care is burying us financially. Saying that the cost of government is "burying us financially" is just a way of saying that tax cuts for the wealthy are sacrosanct.

      That said, Democrats have worked on this. Last I checked, Obamacare was succeeding in reducing the rate of growth of healthcare spending. There is the public option, which failed to pass because conservatives feared that increased competition would lower insurance rates, and hence insurance company profits. Moving to single payer would go further to lower the cost of insurance.

      We don't "need" to develop a less adversarial relationship, although it would be nice if we could arrange that. Unfortunately, an improved relationship is not something that the United States can accomplish unilaterally. Obama tried a "reset" with Russian, and we are still where we are today.

      1. Forget the tax cuts for the wealthy, we still don't have the money. Something like every marginal dollar in the budget represents 30 cents more debt. Present value of long term obligations is approaching 200 trillion dollars, more than we are ever going to be able to pay with a GDP growth rate of 1.5% (if we are lucky). As long as we citizens remain willfully ignorant of our fiscal condition, politicians are free to kick the can down the road, and meanwhile buy our votes with programs to do "good things".

        Trump is not Obama. It would have been nice to see what he could have accomplished with Russia if the media had not hyped hysteria over it.

        1. It is cheaper for society as a whole to provide inexpensive preventative care, keeping people healthy enough to work; to catch conditions early, rather than paying for expensive interventions when people finally reach medicare age after years of neglect; to keep elderly and disabled people living independly rather than in nursing homes or institutions for as long as possible; for medicare, medicaid and public options to negotiate lower prices for drugs and tests, and on and on. This is proven by every country in the world that has universal healthcare and spends substantially less per capita on medical care than the U.S. for better results.
          Many on medicaid are receiving healthcare that they need to stay healthy enough to live independently and hold down jobs. How many limbs are being saved by access to treatment for diabetes? How many people kept sane by medications for mental health conditions? How many patched up after accidents who would be perminantly disabled without medical intervention? Healthcare prevents people from becoming permaently disabled and unable to work.
          You are also assuming that we won’t wind up paying for these things anyway. For example, roughly half of births in the U.S. are paid for by medicaid. Those births are still going to happen. Unless you want to start turning uninsured women in labor away from emergency rooms, we’re going to pay for those births.

          1. I'm all for universal health care. I think it can be provided in a fiscally responsible way as in Switzerland or Singapore or the Netherlands. I don't hear any fiscally responsible proposals from the advocates so far.

        2. I would love to see the calculations that have the present value of our long term obligations at $200 trillion. Simply put, I don't believe you.

          1. I haven't seen the calculations themselves, which I suspect are almost as complicated as those for climate change which I also accept. Therefor I am relying on the expertise of distinguished economists such as Laurence Kotlikoff.

            Let me know if you were able to read either of these to the end. I'm guessing not.

          2. I read the Seattle Times article by Kotlikoff - all the way to the end.

            Now let me suggest you read this and this, both written by distinguished economists.

            That might calm you down.

          3. I'm quite calm. Both Kotlikoff and I are liable to be dead before Social Security or Medicare are beyond hope and things crash. Financially, it is to our benefit if nothing is done to save the next generations from catastrophe.

            The implication of both articles is that people pointing out the gap are trying to scare people, and really want to cut the welfare state. They can't conceive that anyone could have another reason (such as truthful full disclosure) to call attention to anything other than the official national debt. But as far as I know, Kotlikoff hasn't called for cuts any more drastic than mainstream politicians have. What he has called for is to be more responsible about the amount of the burden being shifted to future generations including raising taxes.

            I'm afraid Krugman is no longer an economist. His priority now seems to be to be a political player, which means not challenging the party line. If you read his earlier work, it is obvious he knows better than the stuff he writes now.

          4. Some discussion of the fiscal gap can be found here.

            Note that this measures the gap as:

            75-year fiscal gap: $30 trillion ($92,100 per person) under current law and $103 trillion ($318,300 per person) under current policy.

            The distinction appears to be based on the fact that "law" assumes that presumably temporary tax cuts will in fact expire, while "policy" presumes they will be extended, as they often are. My first reaction is to wonder how the gap past 75 years can have a PV of $100 trillion, even assuming the "policy calculation.

            My second is to look at the graphs and realize that it is, to no one's surprise, medical programs that drive the numbers.

            Finally, I don't know what it means to say Krugman is no longer an economist. DO you think he has simply forgotten all th economics he once knew? That seems doubtful, but the only other interpretations are that he is either correct, or deliberately lying. My bet is on the former.

            And then there is Dean Baker. Is he too not an economist? (And what about DeLong, who also criticizes Kotlikoff?)

          5. I don't know if an infinite horizon would drive the number up $100 trillion or not. It might. All these calculations are sensitive to assumptions and I don't know how their assumptions differ from Kotlikoff's. But they draw similar conclusions, i.e., that we are in crisis whether we admit it or not. Their language is less alarmist, though.

            I have to admit I did not understand the criticisms of Kotlikoff, but then I am not a finance or economics guy. The CEPR article seems to criticize Kotlikoff on the basis that really, really smart spending by the government will lead us out of trouble. Krugman seems just blasé about the whole thing (though even he admits "It’s true that if current policies are continued with no change, we’re highly likely to face an unsustainable fiscal gap…"). They all seem to just want to wish the thing away, which is the smart attitude for an economist who wants to maintain political influence with progressives.

          6. I have a long reply, so I'll have to post it in pieces:

            I'm familiar with Kotlikoff' arguments, and to be far more polite than he deserves, I think he's engaged in mathematical sleight of hand rather than honest dealing. byomtov linked to pieces by other economists explaining some of the problems, but let me offer a couple of other things, from the perspective of someone with a masters of accountancy degree:

            1) Kotlikoff relies heavily upon balance sheets provided by the U.S. government showing its assets and liabilities, though he mostly demonstrates, unintentionally, why government accounting is very different from GAAP. He looks at the balance sheet, and then starts adding on liabilities that it doesn't show. However, he does not do the same thing for the assets. Those financial statements include a lot of things that the government owns and uses for its purposes, including most of the land that it owns. That balance sheet shows the federal government owning only about $23 billion in land, which is an absurdly low total.

            It does so because it assumes that these lands won't be sold, and are effectively priceless. In a sense that is true, and so for the very strict purposes of financial statements, they aren't quite assets to list. Nonetheless, ignoring them when one wants to calculate a long term present value of the government's position and declare it bankrupt is either silly or dishonest.

          7. What do you think public capital stock for the US is? I seem to recall it is about 6 trillion, much of which is state and local. Can't expect much help from that quarter.

          8. You seem to be conflating a couple of different things. National capital stock,or even that which is publicly held, has little or nothing to do with the total assets owned by the federal government. It's just a fraction of those assets. Again you would be excluding most of the land and the resources contained on or underneath it.

            If we are asking, "What are the assets of the U.S. government?" we are effectively asking what are all of the things that could be liquidated in order to cover its obligations. Like a corporation, the government has revenues, so it would not, in fact, need to liquidate all of these assets, or possibly even any of them, in order to meet its obligations. This gets us into one of the main issues with trying to assess the financial position of the federal government: the net present value of its power to tax. That's another asset that doesn't appear on the balance sheet, and this one is something that can't be accurately measured, which is why an accountant would be very reluctant to put on a balance sheet. But it's real nonetheless. Koltikoff pokes around at assigning it a value, but he does so very crudely and misses a lot of its value.

            Capital stock is something very different. It is a measure of certain kinds of productive assets, but only the physical assets. It doesn't include the value of human capital, and it doesn't include anything intangible. At a national level, its primary use is that growth of national capital stock is one of the three factors that go into overall economic growth. So, it's important in the sense that the government's ability to tax in the future will depend upon growth, and thus on capital stock. However, that's not the same thing as the assets it has. There is also no reason to distinguish between the capital stock that is owned by the federal government, local governments, or private holders. All will contribute to growth.

          9. 2) There's a similar problem with using the the statements of operations and changes in net position in the published financial statements, which are kind of like the income statements in corporate accounting. However, under the GASB rules, there is no distinction between an expense and an investment. This makes sense for the purposes of government accounting, but makes a complete hash of analysis like Kotlikoff's, or any of the other attempts to tell us that the U.S. is bankrupt.

            A lot of government spending looks more like what would be capitalized under corporate GAAP and treated as an asset on the debit side rather than an expense. Education is a clear cut example of this: one of the results of educating people is that they become more productive workers and produce an increase in the present value of GDP equal to or greater than the cost of educating them. Then there are more ambiguous cases, such as health care, in which that productive capacity is increased as well as producing immediate benefits. Because the purpose of government is not to turn a profit, the purpose of governmental GAAP is not to demonstrate its capacity to turn a profit. But if you're going to try to use governmental financial statements to introduce a corporate GAAP concept like bankruptcy, then you must also think of all of the various components in the way that corporate GAAP would, and not just the liabilities. What you should learn from that exercise is that it's a silly one.

            3) Kotlikoff also doesn't grapple with the issue that a lot of government spending isn't in addition to private economic activity; it replaces it, and if that government spending is eliminated, it would have to be picked up by someone else. If, for instance, we slash Social Security, it doesn't mean that people won't save for retirement. When trying to analyze the financial position of the federal government, that matters. While the amount of retirement savings would likely go down if it relies solely upon private savings, there is still going to be a portion of GDP that is devoted to exactly the same thing. So, the financial position of the country doesn't improve by as much as you'd think by analyzing just the government accounts.

          10. 4) This is prominent in the critiques byomtov linked to, but needs emphasizing: trying to take the net present value of obligations far into the future is a really dumb thing to base an analysis on. There's too much unknown. Corporate GAAP has much shorter time horizons than this for a reason. Among other things, Kotlikoff's analysis is extremely sensitive to the value chosen as the discount rate; very small changes in that variable produce huge differences in the outcome of that analysis. It's very easy to put one's thumb on the scale and produce a desired outcome. An equally reasonable choice for the discount rate causes the crisis to disappear.

            In general, I'm a lot less impressed by serious economists performing these sorts of analyses than you are. One of the main things that it tends to show is that economics training is not the same thing as accounting training, and economists don't think the way that they would need to in order to do good accounting work. They're economists, and so they assume that they are skilled in all ways of dealing with money questions, but they aren't.

          11. What about the common sense argument that you can't spend indefinitely more than you take in, at such a level that the debt to GDP ratio has gone from historically 30% to near 100% with no leveling off in sight given current policies? At what point do you choke off economic growth At what point do creditors decide that you don't have the political will to change your ways and that they aren't going to be able to get their money back and they cut you off? Even Krugman concedes this problem, he just wants to postpone doing anything until times are better, whenever the hell that is. Of course, he is only an economist.

          12. We don't know the answers to your question of when debt-to-GDP chokes off growth. What we do know is that there is very little evidence that we are at or near that point. Among other things, the yield curve on government debt doesn't indicate that we are close to being cut off.

            Also, you are stretching the word "historically" beyond its breaking point by say that the ratio has historically been 30%. It was at that level for roughly the six year period from 1975 to 1981. It was higher before that, and has been higher since. At none of the levels has borrowing been a problem.

            Further, if we are talking specifically about health care, the substitution effect I mentioned comes into play. If, for instance, we were to move to a single payer system, there would be some increase in total spending upon health care, but much of the increase in government spending would mean less spending by other entities, including corporation and individuals. That decrease would mean that taxes could go up without negatively impacting the overall economy, because it would replace spending people were doing. There would certainly be losers, depending upon how those taxes are structured (as well as companies that weren't paying for their employees' health insurance, but ones that were would be winners).

          13. You are making a decent case for why it is difficult to assess our financial position. But not such a good case for not taking our best stab at it, or any good case for increasing our long term liabilities without an equally good, or bad, estimate of what the return on 'investment' will be. Directionally, none of the estimates I've seen are good, and the prospects for changing direction at this point are politically nil. True, the creditors are hanging in there at the moment, and they will as long as the greater fool theory holds up. At some point they may find they are running out of fools or there will be a financial shock and then things can go south very suddenly.

            Of course I realize government spending on health care substitutes for private spending, but turning it into a commons equivalent to a sixth of the economy with a blank check for coverage is a non-starter for me. A single payer system with a cap at a certain percentage of GDP (a percentage which could be allowed to rise significantly as we become wealthier as a nation, if we do) makes a bit of sense to me, but does not seem to be part of the conversation at the moment.

          14. The correct description of assessing our financial position over an infinite, or even 75-year, time horizon isn't "difficult;" it's "impossible." The problem is not that we don't have sufficiently sophisticated analytical tools, and if we just keep striving, we'll be able to solve the problem. It's that far too much of the information required for such an analysis is fundamentally unknowable, because it's so far into the future. Anyone who tries to sell you that assessment is either ignorant or a charlatan.

            Any policy assessment based upon a 75-year projection will be just as flawed. We are flying blind with regards to the year 2090, and that's inescapable.

            The insistence on a GDP cap on the program doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's arbitrary and pretty pointless. Every other industrialized country manages to get by without one. How would it even work?

        3. What has the deficit to do with Trump, except that he and the GOP in Congress plan to increase it enormously using magical accounting?

  2. Mike, this is good, but not even close to as good as 'glanders and bloat, and thinks he is Pegasus'. Everybody I have shared that with thinks you are a genius.

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