True, I am pretty hard over when it comes to Keynesian economics and think Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and some others are right on. Downright funny, even, at times.

So now, check this out: a self-described “supply-side liberal,” Miles Kimball, at the University of Michigan, who on his blog Confessions of a Supply-Side Liberal argues cogently both that heavy taxation and over-regulation impede economic productivity and that redistribution of wealth offers, at least at present, benefits that outweigh the distortions it typically causes.

In other words, he believes that we should be stimulating the economy, but at both ends of the economic spectrum: continue to top-load the economy so the benefits trickle down, but also put some wealth in the hands of everyday folks and motivate them to spend it so demand increases and dollars circulate.

As his student Noah Smith explains in his own blog, Kimball thinks like a scientist, not a political creature, by first impartially analyzing the available evidence and then determining what to do with the conclusions. Not establishment, not contrarian, not politically categorizable – a supply-side liberal.

Some of Kimball’s posts get a little bit geeky, but he explains his points clearly and patiently so that even a macroeconomics-challenged babe in the woods like me can follow them. For example, in addition to “What is a Supply-Side Liberal?” try “Balance Sheet Monetary Policy: A Primer.”

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Another telling-it-like-it-is article ya gotta read, this one from Nobel-laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, that appeared this morning on the Project Syndicate web site: The Price of Inequality.

Some highlights:

“… Nowadays, these numbers show that the American dream is a myth. There is less equality of opportunity in the United States today than there is in Europe – or, indeed, in any advanced industrial country for which there are data.

This is one of the reasons that America has the highest level of inequality of any of the advanced countries – and its gap with the rest has been widening. In the “recovery” of 2009-2010, the top 1% of US income earners captured 93% of the income growth. Other inequality indicators – like wealth, health, and life expectancy – are as bad or even worse. The clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom.

… It might not be so bad if there were even a grain of truth to trickle-down economics – the quaint notion that everyone benefits from enriching those at the top. But most Americans today are worse off – with lower real (inflation-adjusted) incomes – than they were in 1997, a decade and a half ago. All of the benefits of growth have gone to the top.

Defenders of America’s inequality argue that the poor and those in the middle shouldn’t complain. While they may be getting a smaller share of the pie than they did in the past, the pie is growing so much, thanks to the contributions of the rich and superrich, that the size of their slice is actually larger. The evidence, again, flatly contradicts this. Indeed, America grew far faster in the decades after World War II, when it was growing together, than it has since 1980, when it began growing apart.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, once one understands the sources of inequality. Rent-seeking distorts the economy. Market forces, of course, play a role, too, but markets are shaped by politics; and, in America, with its quasi-corrupt system of campaign finance and its revolving doors between government and industry, politics is shaped by money.

… But, most importantly, America’s inequality is undermining its values and identity. With inequality reaching such extremes, it is not surprising that its effects are manifest in every public decision, from the conduct of monetary policy to budgetary allocations. America has become a country not “with justice for all,” but rather with favoritism for the rich and justice for those who can afford it – so evident in the foreclosure crisis, in which the big banks believed that they were too big not only to fail, but also to be held accountable.”

Read the whole piece; it’s another clear exposition of what’s going on in our country right now.

Despite what Mann and Ornstein pointed out in their recent article (that Republicans have become ideologically extreme and are “unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science”), what part of the economic and political landscape that Stiglitz sketches are people not understanding?

How can we as a population, an electorate, take seriously any political candidate at any level who supports the very policies and practices that have driven us as far into the ground as they have and that prevent our economic resurgence?

But we do. The sad evidence is in the headlines every day. I just don’t get it.

(Permission pending from Project Syndicate, www.project-syndicate.org, to excerpt the Stiglitz article for this post.)

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Never mind what Paul Krugman and a host of others have been saying about trickle-down economics (the theory that says tax breaks and other economic benefits should be conferred on businesses and the wealthy because they’re the ones who create jobs) and the approximately 30 years’ worth of evidence Krugman et al. have been presenting to show that it doesn’t work.

Maybe we really should continue to tax rich people less. After all, who else is able to invest in ways that create jobs? Consider these excerpts from a recent speech by Nick Hanauer, a very successful Seattle venture capitalist:

… I have started or helped start, dozens of businesses and initially hired lots of people. But if no one could have afforded to buy what we had to sell, my businesses would all have failed and all those jobs would have evaporated.

That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is a “circle of life” like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist like me. 

When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

Since 1980 the share of income for the richest Americans has more than tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50%.  If it were true that lower tax rates and more wealth for the wealthy  would lead to more job creation, then today we would be drowning in jobs.  And yet unemployment and under-employment is at record highs.

… If the typical American family still got today the same share of income they earned in 1980, they would earn about 25% more and have an astounding $13,000 more a year. Where would the economy be if that were the case?

We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Rather they are a consequence of an eco-systemic  feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers, and when they thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit. That’s why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.

In a capitalist economy, the true job creators are consumers, the middle class.  And taxing the rich to make investments that grow the middle class, is the single smartest thing we can do for the middle class, the poor and the rich.

Hmm. What a concept: When consumers have more money they consume more, and producers produce more — which requires workers — to satisfy the demand. When consumers have less money demand drops, so producers naturally reduce production.

Since it’s clearly not being spent on consumers in the form of direct benefits, health care, and education and it’s clearly not reducing unemployment, where is all the money that is supposed to be trickling down ending up?  Hanauer seems to know, but let’s ask Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or John Boehner  to see if any of those guys can explain what’s going on and why the government should persist in policies that demonstrably have negative effects on our economy and society as a whole.

Thanks to Jim Tankersley and his article “The Inequality Speech TED Won’t Show You,” which you can read in its entirety here.

Also see here  for the slides that accompanied Hanauer’s speech. Some of the slides are content free, but several provide economic data (sources cited) in graphical form to support what Hanauer says about income distribution.

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Mount Baker, about 100 miles away

San Juan Island is at its prettiest – the weather is gorgeous, the fields and trees are all still a deep green, the water is sparkling, a few pre-season tourists have snuck in for Mother’s Day but the town of Friday Harbor is still tranquilo.

I’m getting to spend time with Jordan and Emmet and Kara and am catching up with other family and friends. And of course we’re all eagerly awaiting the arrival of la nietita sometime in earlyish or mid-June.

Life is good, for now anyway.

Ferry landing, Friday Harbor

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A recent Washington Post article by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein came right out and said it: “The Republicans are the problem.” A few snippets:

“…[T]he core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. … The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

“When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. … Since the Clinton presidency, [the Democratic party] has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post. … Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington.

“Republicans often dismiss nonpartisan analyses of the nature of problems and the impact of policies when those assessments don’t fit their ideology. In the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the party’s leaders and their outside acolytes insisted on obeisance to a supply-side view of economic growth … while ignoring contrary considerations.

“Democrats are hardly blameless, and they have their own extreme wing and their own predilection for hardball politics. But these tendencies do not routinely veer outside the normal bounds of robust politics. If anything, under the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, the Democrats have become more of a status-quo party.

“If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that [our democracy’s regaining its health and vitality] will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.”

The article goes on to substantiate its assertions, explain how the rise of Republican extremism came to be, and discuss how the press fails to present a complete context to its audience. Read the entire article here .

When does the part come where we, the rank and file, the common people, the Great Unwashed, learn about cooperation and basic humanity and enlightened self interest and the common good?  And then immediately start tossing our so-called “leaders” out on their asses until they start governing accordingly?

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A couple of interesting short articles on what to do about illegal drug use came out over the weekend:

Rethinking the War on Drugs

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303425504577353754196169014.html?wpisrc=nl_wonk

The thesis of this article is that we don’t have just two choices: an all-out prohibition, such as we’re attempting now, or legalization, which would quickly solve some problems but also create other, serious ones. We have other ways to cut down on demand, as a few pilot programs around the country are starting to show. Violent drinkers, users, or dealers would continue to receive harsh treatment, but “non-problem” users, people on probation, etc., would be motivated to stop drinking to excess or using drugs by a simple system of checks or testing. People who stay clean remain free, but those who keep using would get tagged with significantly unpleasant (but non-draconian) penalties.

The author grants that these programs will not eliminate demand or wipe out the black markets but argues that they would reduce the problem to manageable proportions by focusing on the 20% of dealers, users, and abusers that cause 80% of the problems.

OK, so it’s not perfect. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a social policy that was free of hypocritical moralizing and actually had some benefit, that did something constructive? What we’re doing now sure isn’t working.

The Marijuana Exception

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303425504577353852663443304.html

This article basically says that marijuana scarcely shows up on the radar screen when viewed alongside coke, speed, crack, and smack, which are by far much bigger and more serious problems.

Happily, the article discounts the “gateway” effect (the argument that smoking marijuana leads to consumption of hard drugs), but it does worry that increased marijuana consumption could actually lead to increased heavy drinking. According to the first article mentioned above, alcohol kills more people in the US every year than all other illicit drug use combined (about 85,000 vs. 17,000).

I don’t know about you, but my experience with smoking weed has been that I drink less, not more, when I smoke. Pot and booze gives me the whirlies and makes me puke, then I either feel like crap or I pass out.

And who was it, George Carlin, maybe, that asked when was the last time you heard of a really stoned driver being stopped for speeding?

 

 

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(Karlita y Rena: mil disculpas por no escribir en tanto tiempo, y por no escribir en español.)

In another of life’s strange ironies, I went from being a would-be volunteer for the Floating Doctors to a patient of the Floating Doctors.

Seems that an unpleasant bacterial infection accompanied an ugly fungal infection on my left foot, causing my lower leg to swell markedly and making me feel a little off my game. Dr. Ben figured it out and, concerned that the bacterial part could be staph, gave me a course of penicillin pills to follow up on the course of Cipro (antibiotic) I had already started. He also pointed me toward a triple-action ointment to apply to the gross parts on my skin. Two other doctors, Hannah Lee and Jordan, also helped out and were kind enough to check on me a few times to make sure the situation was under control.

Happily, the meds appear to have done the job – both infections have gone away, I’ve taken all the pills, and as of yesterday, can again enjoy cold beer and other adult beverages. Hats off and many, many thanks to Ben, Jordan, and Hannah Lee!

Successful on the medical level, but I’m sorry to say that in terms of participation, my involvement with the Floating Doctors has fizzled. I didn’t hear Word One for weeks about any plans, clinics, projects, or anything. Complete radio silence.

One little occurrence several weeks ago sent a pretty clear message. The short version of the story is that one day I was told the group was leaving at a certain time for a visit to the Asilo (the home for seniors in town). I showed up at the departure point on time, to find out that the group had already departed. By chance I was able to catch up with the group and visit the Asilo, but I subsequently heard nary a word about the departure – no explanation, question, or comment about anyone departing early, arriving late, or anything else.

Oookaaay. Message received. Clearly the group’s thinking does not include whatever I might be able to contribute. And the lack of any contact since then tells me that the Floating Doctors are just not interested in my participation.

I have no idea why this is. Perhaps I was weighed in the balance somehow and found lacking, and just not told that. Perhaps the generational gulf is too great to cross, although I don’t think I have a problem crossing it. Perhaps the fundamental chemistry just isn’t good, although I haven’t clashed at all with anyone. On the contrary, I find them interesting, energetic, and admirably committed people. Perhaps they have more than enough non-medically trained volunteers at present and simply don’t need any help.

I also can’t explain the total lack of communication, even something as simple as politely declining my help for now because of <insert favorite white lie here>.

True, I have not tried to track people down, learn what work was planned, find out how I could help or whether my help was needed at all. I told myself I’d keep being persistent, but after having been left behind without any explanation I simply lost the motivation. I guess I wasn’t up for feeling like a dog hanging around the back door of a restaurant, hunting for scraps.

From where I stand, it’s a pity and a personal disappointment. Within the Floating Doctors there’s no lack of talent and energy and commitment, no shortage of excellent project ideas. I’d have thought that the group would have more than enough to do and would be only too happy to offload some of the non-technical or administrative or operational work, thereby freeing up other resources for more technical work. I’d also have thought that a group that puts out a general call for volunteers on its Web site and at times gets them by the gaggle would be pretty good at communications and at maximizing the resources available to it at any given time.

Oh well. I moved up my departure date and am heading up to the States on Wednesday, to spend the summer there. It’ll be a tedious trip, about 30 or 32 hours on airplanes or cooling my heels in airports, but I’m looking forward to being back in Seattle. Kara’s doing fine; the latest ultrasound apparently confirmed that all was well with the baby growing inside her. And we (my sons, Kara, and I) are looking for a house in Seattle for everyone to live in and be a home base. We offered on a place the other day but the other offer was quite a bit higher, apparently, so no dice. No worries, we’ll find something great pretty soon.

And there’s other family and friends to spend lots of time with. We can sit around, those of us who drink can drink a little too much, and we can all laugh a lot and tell each other lies about how good we used to be.

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(title taken from the Ray Charles song, “Them That Got”)

Update on income distribution in the United States, from a column titled “The Rich Get Even Richer” by Steven Rattner that appeared in the New York Times, March 25, 2012:

“In 2010, as the nation continued to recover from the recession, a dizzying 93 percent of the additional income created in the country that year, compared to 2009 — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of 11.6 percent to each of these households.

Still more astonishing was the extent to which the super rich got rich faster than the merely rich. In 2010, 37 percent of these additional earnings went to just the top 0.01 percent, … about 15,000 households with average incomes of $23.8 million. These fortunate few saw their incomes rise by 21.5 percent.

The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.

This new data, derived by the French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez from American tax returns, also suggests that those at the top were more likely to earn than inherit their riches. That’s not completely surprising: the rapid growth of new American industries — from technology to financial services — has increased the need for highly educated and skilled workers. At the same time, old industries like manufacturing are employing fewer blue-collar workers.

The result? Pay for college graduates has risen by 15.7 percent over the past 32 years (after adjustment for inflation) while the income of a worker without a high school diploma has plummeted by 25.7 percent over the same period.

Government has also played a role, particularly the George W. Bush tax cuts, which, among other things, gave the wealthy a 15 percent tax on capital gains and dividends. …

As a result, the top 1 percent has done progressively better in each economic recovery of the past two decades. In the Clinton era expansion, 45 percent of the total income gains went to the top 11 percent; in the Bush recovery, the figure was 65 percent; now it is 93 percent.

Just as the causes of the growing inequality are becoming better known, so have the contours of solving the problem: better education and training, a fairer tax system, more aid programs for the disadvantaged to encourage the social mobility needed for them escape the bottom rung, and so on. …”

To see the full article, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/opinion/the-rich-get-even-richer.html?src=un&feedurl=http%3A%2F%2Fjson8.nytimes.com%2Fpages%2Fopinion%2Findex.jsonp

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Has been quite some time since the last post. Much of the time I just haven’t had anything of interest to report. Between a fair amount of boatwork and work on other, unrelated things, the days have been pretty full. I spent a lot of time, several days all told, analyzing some financial information for my homeowners’ association and building some spreadsheet-based tools to help keep the numbers organized, do some planning, and update the plans yearly.

Have done some but not a great deal of work with the FDs. Have been to the Asilo (the local senior citizens’ center) a couple of times and am heading there again this afternoon. One time it was raining too much to take anyone out for a walk, so we just hung around inside and chatted; one of the doctors checked with a few people, heard some medical complaints, and commiserated gently with folks whose problems she could do nothing about.

From somewhere came three or four lightweight rubber balls, and a few little games of catch spontaneously broke out. Several of the residents seemed to do quite well – good eye-hand coordination, motor reflexes working well. And a couple of little girls, not sure if they were related to one of the residents or the daughters of one of the women working there, were bouncing around as well, which further contributed to the upbeat energy. It pleases me to think we, all the volunteers collectively who visited that day, broke up the monotony and added a bit of brightness for some of the residents.

Have helped at a couple of clinics, one right here in Bocas at what we call the Warehouse (where I built the shelves), and another in Cerro Diablo, a small Ngobe village about 45 minutes away by panga. The FDs’ panga is about 22 feet, I’d guess, and is pushed by a 40 hp Yamaha outboard, so it gets through the water in pretty good shape even when loaded with passengers and supplies.

Not being a medical professional, my role at the clinics was to help check patients in (note their basic medical problem, family info, and a bit of history), observe the doctor’s consultations a bit, and fetch and carry as needed. By the end of the day, after having helped 78 people, we had run out of ibuprofen, lice treatment, and another thing or two. Impossible to know how much of which medicines and other supplies to bring to a given clinic. The Peace Corps worker living in the village was terrific, a young woman who has been there for nine months and obviously had become a positive force in the fabric of life there.

The pattern seemed to be that of entire families – both parents, all the kids, and sometimes even a cousin or two – waiting their turn to see a doctor, everybody with something for the doctor to look at. I don’t have enough experience to generalize, but certainly in Cerro Diablo the most common complaints were of digestive parasites and upset, and skin problems, what looked to me like rashes and bug bites. I’m told those are typically the most common complaints in many communities.

And on another day I unpacked even more stuff waiting to be shelved in the Warehouse, stripped off bales of packaging, and grouped like things with like so the doctors and a nurse could see what was what and organize the supplies appropriately on the shelves. At this point the shelves are pretty full.

So this afternoon up to the Asilo; not sure what’s up for later in the week. Sometimes or even often there are enough people on hand to run a clinic so my help isn’t needed. The inflow of volunteer doctors seems to be picking up, though, so life might get busier.

In any case I’m heading back to the States at the end of May for the summer and will return to Panama in mid September (unless I change the return date). I hope I’ll have been able to somehow amplify my contribution to the FDs by then and will be able to pitch in for another couple of months toward the end of the year, before truckin’ on out of here.

Am thinking pretty seriously of heading back through the Canal in late December or early January (my cruising permit expires Jan 12, 2013, or thereabouts) and working my way back up the coast to Mexico. But I’m not hard over on that – if I’ve managed to build up significant momentum here, I’d be willing to spend another year in Bocas (I think). All is scratched lightly in sand, not carved in stone.

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It’s the peak of cruising season here on the Caribbean coast of Panama, but it’s still the off season for the Floating Doctors. Ben and Sky are still in the States, gathering support and dealing with administrative issues. Ben will be back at the end of the month, when a group of volunteers also arrives; Sky returns a couple of weeks later. The first clinic is scheduled for 1 March, I’m told. Noah and Steven are aboard Southern Wind, cleaning and fixing and organizing and generally getting ready for the coming onslaught.

One good step forward is that the pharmacy still needs to be made a secure space but is now serviceable – all the stuff that was lying helter-skelter on the floor is neatly organized, shelved, and labeled. Scroll down to the previous post to see a couple of “before” pix to contrast with the “after” pix here.

La farmácia 1. Still needs a wrap with wire fencing or something to secure it, and plywood on the top for more storage. But in service.

A correction: the Bocas Breeze article I pointed to in the previous post was written by Ben LaBrot, not by Sky.

So in the meantime I’ve been working on the boat: dealing with various small things but mostly, rebedding a window (twice, because I didn’t seal the leak the first time), and redoing all the brightwork. I had let it go gray, which is OK, but decided to refinish it all with Cetol Natural Teak.

Am looking forward to pitching in one way or another with the FDs and especially looking forward to the arrival of my first grandchild — a girl child, the ultrasounds indicate — this coming June (!!).

La farmácia 2, looking down toward the walk-in entrance (at the far end on the left; not visible here)

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