Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Warren Mosler and the Value of Money

In this discussion on an Yglesias thread I was reminded by another commenter of the fascinating work of one of the big three modern economists who have most shaped the way I think about economics. Kuttner is one, Taleb is another, and this guy, Warren Mosler, is the third.

The linked post is called "The Natural Interest Rate is Zero," but what it's really about, like most of Mosley's work, is how the relationship between a government and its currency is fundamentally different from every other entity's relationship with that currency.

The point he makes many times that is really quite interesting when you turn it over in your mind is that if you pay the government with cash, whether you're paying taxes or buying securities, the government shreds the money.

He does a good job going into some of the implications of that fact, but it's also fun to just sit and thing about it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Honest Men

I once heard someone say "An honest man never won anything in a fight." I think what the guy was driving at was something akin to "Nice guys finish last." He meant it, in other words, as a statement about the value, or lack thereof, of honesty.

It occurred to me today while I was out walking that there's another, more interesting way of looking at the statement. It could be a statement about the value, or lack thereof, of fighting.

The Power of El Rushbo

In my life as a Richmonder I've had occasion to know many a Rush Limbaugh fan. There are lots of reasons to like listening to Rush - I'll admit I used to find him mildly entertaining myself back in the day. But there is a certain type of person who really LOVES Rush, who is fanatically devoted to him and cannot allow himself to understand that the vast, vast majority of the "commentary" that Rush offers is just made-up inflammatory nonsense.

I knew a guy back when I was first starting out in the computer biz who was one of these Limbaugh dittoheads. His name was Nick and he was a little angry guy who was reasonably intelligent but not particularly curious and who had a massive Napoleon complex that required him to tell everyone what to do and how to do it at all times.

I remember once he gave me a ride somewhere in his little dirty white sedan and he had Rush's radio show on in the car. I, being young and arrogant myself, sort of thought that everyone must listen to Rush the same way I did - appreciating his cracked perspective, but understanding that his views didn't represent any coherent, serious political philosophy.

I made an offhand comment that somehow revealed my point of view, and Nick blew up. It was instant and impressive - his face got red, spit flew from his mouth, and he began an impromptu tirade about how I had been brainwashed by the liberal media to believe that Rush was a fool when in fact he was the only sane man in the entire media landscape.

It's important to reiterate - Nick was screaming at someone who, at that point in his life liked Rush Limbaugh. To him, nothing less than fanatical, unquestioning devotion was sufficient to separate me from the massing communist hordes poised to tear the country apart with their fascist campus speech codes and capricious environmental regulations.

Over time, as the old Republican base of old-style racist white male voters has aged and begun to die out, the GOP has become increasingly dependent on guys like Nick whose worldview is ENTIRELY shaped by talk radio, and Rush in particular.

The dilemma for the GOP is that there just aren't enough guys like Nick. As the years roll on, the Republicans are going to lose more and more elections as long as they cling to a narrative that most of the population finds moronic. The trouble is, Dittoheads now represent a decent chunk of the Republican coalition. They vote at a high rate, so it's possible that Rush Limbaugh fans represent a large plurality of the Republican electorate in many elections. If those people were to desert the party suddenly, the Republicans would be doomed.

Unfortunately, unless they can leave Rush behind somehow, or at least marginalize him to the point where he is no longer the de facto leader of the party, they're doomed anyway. I hope they keep him around - an extended run as a permanent minority party seems like the proper fate for the modern GOP.