Friday, December 27, 2013

Bill Keller and understanding the left

Bill Keller was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times from 1984 to 1988, he then became a bureau chief in first Moscow and then Johannesburg, moving up to Foreign Editor and then Managing Editor and then finally up to Executive Editor, where he retired from the Times in 2011. For such a long-time, experienced newspaperman, I found it very disturbing that his view of how the “left-left” (As opposed to the “center-left”) views economic issues to be so very shallow and uninformed. One would think that with all of the contacts that one with his experience would have, he'd be able to chat with any number of left-leaning people with strong views on the economy.

He does a good, quickie summary of economic inequality, but then tries to tell us how the left views the American economy today, where we get comments like this:

The left-left sees economic inequality as mainly a problem of distribution — the accumulation of vast wealth that never really trickles down from on high. Their prescription is to tax the 1 percent and close corporate loopholes, using the new revenues to subsidize the needs of the poor and middle class. They would string the safety net higher: expand Social Security, hold Medicare inviolate, extend unemployment insurance, protect food stamps, create more low-income housing. They would raise the minimum wage.

I'd call that, at  best, a highly simplified vision as to how the left diagnoses the problem of inequality. The lefty website Daily Kos has a regular Saturday feature: “This week in the War on Workers,” where it examines all kinds of disputes and tensions and battles between workers and corporations.  The progressive left sees unions and worker rights as being really critical to reversing economic inequality.

Keller quotes President Obama as being concerned with “competitiveness and productivity and business confidence that spurs private-sector investment,” but then claims “he would do trade deals to expand our diminishing share of foreign markets; he would shrink long-term deficits and streamline regulations.”

A piece for identifies four substantive reforms that don't involve taxes (so that none of them need to involve Congress). The fourth recommendation directly contradicts the suggestion that “trade deals” (NAFTA, TPP, etc.) are of any value to America's middle class whatsoever. Yes, they may make more overseas sales possible, but they also make it easier and more profitable to move production facilities, i.e., middle class jobs, overseas.


The left-left seems to believe that government investments — roads and bridges, clean energy, education, etc. — and more-generous safety-net benefits can all be had by milking the rich and cutting military spending.

Well, no. We also believe in deficit spending. We believe that deficit spending is not necessarily a good or healthy thing to engage in, but as with say, an unanticipated war,  the spending of borrowed money is vastly preferable to getting overrun by the enemy. To have deficits go up versus having scientific research stall or children to go uneducated or for communities to go without police protection doesn't seem to us to be any sort of reasonable choice at all. In the abstract, everybody likes the idea of cutting “wasteful spending,” but in the actual world of concrete realities, it's very difficult for everyone to agree on exactly what spending is “wasteful” versus “necessary,” with the solution normally being to select the spending that benefits those with the least political power as being the spending that gets cut. The real question for anyone who wants to cut the budget is “Are you attacking weak claims or are you attacking weak clients?” 

I'm not sure that “the left tends to treat entitlements as sacred” so much as we are completely unconvinced that entitlements need to be sacrificed for any reason whatsoever. Our economic analysis in The People's Budget, put out by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, manages to achieve all sorts of positive objectives without sacrificing anything at all in terms of entitlements, i.e., without cutting Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid. I find it kind of amazing that a newsperson with such broad and deep experience is apparently unaware that such a document even exists.

Here's a peculiar charge:

And a third difference between the near left and the far left is the question of making government more efficient. This is not so much a policy dispute as a mind-set. In education, health care, Social Security and other areas, the center seems more receptive to reforms intended to get decent results at lower costs.

As a member of the “far left,” I most certainly don't see anything decent about education “reform.” I agree with the title and subtitle of Diane Ravitch's piece: “School privatization is a hoax, 'reformers' aim to destroy public schools. Our public schools aren't in decline. And 'reformers' with wild promises don't care about education — just profits.”  In short, we don't accept the proposition that privatizing schools is going to “get decent results at lower costs.” Yes, I think it IS a “policy dispute” and that we have strong reason to believe that the policies suggested by right-wingers are really, really awful, terrible ideas. As Ravitch points out:

They believe it is faster, simpler, and less expensive to privatize the public schools than do anything substantive to reduce poverty and racial isolation or to provide the nurturing environments and well-rounded education that children from prosperous families receive. 
Instead, the privatization movement nonchalantly closes the schools attended by poor children and destabilizes their lives. The privatization agenda excites the interest of edu-entrepreneurs, who see it as a golden opportunity to make money. But it is bad for our society. It undermines the sense of collective responsibility for collective needs. It hurts public education not only by attacking its effectiveness and legitimacy but by laying claim to its revenues.

Keller's “decent results” are actually a nightmare for anyone who's truly interested in genuinely improving American society. Privatizing education will fatten a few wallets without providing any real benefit to anyone else. It's difficult to see how health care benefits from keeping it in private hands. Private health care insurance entrepreneurs have left about 15% or one-sixth of the population without any health insurance at all. This one-sixth can be covered by using premiums from healthy people to subsidize care for less-healthy people, but of course that means less profit for entrepreneurs, so that cross-subsidizing will simply never happen under a wholly private system.

Now clearly, Keller has lots of ideological sympathy for the “center left,” that is, the Blue Dog Democrats or the Third Way.

The tension between entitlements and investment is a Third Way obsession. In a column and two blog posts last year (here, and here, and here) I sympathized with the case for imposing some restraint on entitlements. I still do.

So a question here is for those who are trying to decide how to inform themselves on a political issue, specifically on how a particular faction feels about that issue, in this case, on economics. When studying history, we have “primary” and “secondary” sources. A primary source is something like Daily Kos, which supplies us with lefty viewpoints that are delivered straight from the parties themselves. The site also does plenty of in-between pieces that feature lots and lots of direct, lengthy quotations, interspersed with their own commentary.

Keller provides us with a straight, unmixed secondary source. We don't get any quotes from his original sources, we get nothing but his summaries and assessments as to what lefties (As opposed to Third Way partisans) are thinking and advocating. In the first paragraph to this essay, we can see that Keller's resume is very, very good for doing this. He's a newsperson of very wide experience. But as we saw in my review, his actual performance leaves the unaware readers stupider than when they began. Those unfortunate readers now “know” many things that just aren't so.

When studying history, the use of secondary sources is unavoidable as original, primary sources may be in a foreign language or really long-winded or poorly written while still saying worthwhile things. In history, there is value in secondary sources. In seeking an understanding of current political issues, I regard secondary sources as pretty darn close to worthless. I read secondary sources all the time of course, but if I'm really trying to understand why someone feels the way they do or am trying to assess how a faction really regards an issue, there's simply no substitute for a primary source, for the original words that the studied people were using. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Considering the nomination of Larry Summers for Chairman of the Federal Reserve

“Every dog deserves two bites” - Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

Has Larry Summers already had his “two bites”? I would argue that yes, he has, and that he doesn't deserve any more. First bite is his role in the economic crisis that began with the collapse of the housing bubble in late 2007:

Not only did Summers work tirelessly during his years in the Clinton Administration to undermine regulatory and prudential controls in our financial markets, but he joined Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and his political sponsor, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and public paragon Arthur Levitt, in smearing CFTC Chairman Brooksley Born so as to make the world safe for OTC derivatives.
“The moratorium was a huge victory for Wall Street,” Robert Stowe England writes in his new book, Black Box Casino.  “And a big win for Rubin, Summers and Greenspan,” though he rightly notes that Levitt later expressed regrets over his actions.

And as the economist Dean Baker puts it:

Summers played a major role in creating the economic imbalances that fostered the housing bubble and explain the weakness of the economy right up to the present. This is the problem of the huge US trade deficit, which was in turn caused by the over-valued dollar.

Second bite was his taking part on the Obama Administration to try and correct his earlier errors. In December 2009, Summers was interviewed and:

Summers cheerfully explained to George Stephanopoulos that the U.S. has “walked back from the brink” following the 2008 economic collapse, and that “everyone agrees the recession is over and the question is what the pace of the [job and economic] expansion is going to be.”  
Summers' cheerful diagnosis was grossly premature as there was still, as of July 2013, an unemployment rate of 7.4%, a rate that the current Chairman of the Federal Reserve described as “far from satisfactory.” 
The case that Christina Romer made for a stimulus larger than the $787 billion that was ultimately passed was missing from the proposal that made its way to the Presidents desk. 
At first, Summers gave her every indication that all three figures would appear in the memo he was sending the president-elect. But with less than twenty-four hours before the memo needed to be in Obama’s hands, Summers informed her that he was inclined to strike the $1.2 trillion figure. 
Summers' attitude was based on political calculations that may very well have been correct, but submitting the under-estimated proposal certainly robbed the proposal of much of the urgency that Romer quite properly felt that the President should feel. As we later saw, under-bidding was a poor political choice as the Obama Administration never got a second chance to go back and get more stimulus. 
So, having made two failed bites, does Summers present any further problems as the nominee for Chairman of the Federal Reserve? Yes, as a matter of fact, he does. To begin with
Summers is even less popular with Wall Street than he is with liberal bloggers and Democratic senators.

Former President Bill Clinton said about Summers and his advice on derivatives:

On derivatives, yeah I think they were wrong and I think I was wrong to take [their advice] because the argument on derivatives was that these things are expensive and sophisticated and only a handful of investors will buy them and they don’t need any extra protection, and any extra transparency. The money they’re putting up guarantees them transparency,” Clinton told me.
“And the flaw in that argument,” Clinton added, “was that first of all sometimes people with a lot of money make stupid decisions and make it without transparency.”

We also might remember:

Through the first half of this decade, Meyer repeatedly warned Summers and other Harvard officials that the school was being too aggressive with billions of dollars in cash, according to people present for the discussions, investing almost all of it with the endowment’s risky mix of stocks, bonds, hedge funds, and private equity. Meyer’s successor, Mohamed El-Erian, would later sound the same warnings to Summers, and to Harvard financial staff and board members.

Summers ultimately cost Harvard $1.8 billion (Out of a $6 billion endowment) through bad investments in, among other things, derivatives. 
Summers, amazingly, wanted to invest 100% of the university’s cash in the endowment, and had to be talked down to investing a mere 80%. No wonder Meyer and El-Erian tried to talk him out of it: the Harvard endowment was never designed as a place to invest sums of cash which might be needed immediately. Instead, it’s designed to invest for the very long term, taking advantage of the higher returns on illiquid investments.
Summers was playing a high-risk carry-trade game with Harvard’s cash:

Did Summers display other ethical problems? Yes.

So why did Summers lose his job at Harvard? It was because of his protecting a buddy, a fellow economist at Harvard named Andrei Shleifer.
Shleifer got in trouble, and the U.S Government sued and won against Harvard and Shleifer.
Summers was good friends with this criminal, and used his position to protect him.
Summers said conflict-of-interest “issues,” in his Washington experience, were “left to the lawyers.” He said he was sensitive to “ethics rules,” but testified that “in Washington I wasn’t ever smart enough to predict them . . . things that seemed very ethical to me were thought of as problematic and things that seemed quite problematic to me were thought of as perfectly fine. . . .”

Are ethical issues still a problem for Summers? As a matter of fact, yes.

The Lending Club’s rates, says the Times, are apparently “higher than what was available at a credit union or other lenders.” And that’s not the only problem with the outfit:
But Sarah Ludwig, the co-director of the New Economy Project, a nonprofit in New York, expressed concern that the company did not verify all borrowers’ income and employment.
This shows incredibly poor judgment and out-of-control greed from someone who will be regulating businesses to see that precisely these sorts of things don't occur. Oh, and by the way, hey, and how is Summers with women? Ugh!

It does appear that on many, many different human attributes—height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability—there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means—which can be debated—there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population.”
The Boston Globe reported on the speech on January 17. According to The Globe, an MIT biologist who was in attendance walked out, explaining that if she hadn't, she "would've either blacked out or thrown up." And as The Globe made clear, the anger at the speech was about more than just what Summers said. Up to that point during his tenure, the percentage of tenured offers made to women by Harvard's faculty of Arts and Sciences had severely dropped. In 2004, only four of a total of 32 offers went to women, a result Summers called unacceptable. Following the speech, Summers faced a 218-185 no-confidence vote, and the lingering anger eventually led to his resignation in 2006. 

Is the opposition to Summers' appointment a hopeful sign of better things to come? We sure hope so
Next to former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, there is perhaps no more notable public official most identified with Third Way economics than Summers.
Occupy Wall Street seems like an minor event today, but if current trends continue in hindsight it is going to look like a turning point in American history. All across the country, opposition to the economic and political establishment and their order is growing. The same people who told us nothing could go wrong with bank deregulation and turning our economy from one of production and innovation to one of flim flammery and an ever growing list of financier's card tricks, are now under growing pressure from the discontent in the country.
Ten years ago ... even five years ago ... Summers would have been hailed and feted for his "keen insight" or whatever. Pundits would sing his praises. Everyone would vigorously defend him, from the president on down. CNBC would give us a glowing 1-hour documentary of his life and times. But now he's under fire.

There's also a good piece from Daily Kos imagining a contest between Hillary Clinton and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for the presidency. Such a contest between two highly qualified candidates of the same color and gender would enable Americans to focus on the economic principles that Clinton and Warren represent. Third Way corporatism versus true populist progressivism. We need to see to it that Summers does not get to be Chairman of th Federal Reserve, but even more, we need to hold the Obama Administration's current economic philosophy up to the spotlight and to discredit it

Update: The President is gettin' all huffy and irritated and L'etat c'est moi about Democratic Senators who are questioning his choice for the Federal Reserve and feels they oughta just siddown and shuddup and give Summers a rousing cheer and vote him in.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Examining some Libertarian ideas

E.J. Dionne angered some Libertarians with his piece “The Libertarian Problem.” Two of them responded with a link to the same piece “‘The Question Libertarians Can’t Answer' Part II.” Many years ago, The Comics Journal explained why they were reviewing what they felt was a poorly-written comic book. They said something to the effect of: “Every now and then we like to drag out some really poor example of the comics-writing craft and flog it for the amusement of our readers.” In that spirit, I'll review what the Libertarians have to say.

Only continued capital accumulation, which occurs when businesses may reinvest their profits in the purchase of capital goods without being expropriated by government, made it possible for the economy to become physically productive...

Actually, according to UK Public Spending, public expenditures for 1820 (in 2012 currency) added up to 57.5 million pounds, 17.1 was for defense and 31.1 for interest. In 1830, those were 53.7, with 15.6 defense and 29.1 interest. In 1870, 67.1, 23.4, and 29.1. 1890, when industrialism really took off, the numbers were 90.6, 33.4 and 24.5. Additionally in 1890, the UK government spent 8.3 million on their Postal service and 21.5 million locally on waste water management and the water supply, street lighting, etc. So no, the Industrial Revolution was not simply a matter of allowing capitalists to keep and then to reinvest their own money. There was also a good deal of public spending involved that made the Industrial Revolution possible. As Elizabeth Warren, now a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts said:

“I think the basic notion is right. Nobody got rich on their own. Nobody. People worked hard, they buil[t] a business, God bless, but they moved their goods on roads the rest of us helped build, they hired employees the rest of us helped educate, they plugged into a power grid the rest of us helped build."

From the Libertarian piece:

“Most of the government’s medical payments on behalf of the poor compensated doctors and hospitals for services once rendered free of charge or at reduced prices,” writes historian Allen Matusow.

Yes, that's entirely true, but keep in mind that when he's talking about what doctors once did “free of charge,” he's talking about the days when a person broke his leg, he'd fix it by breaking off a tree branch, tearing up his shirt, tying the branch to his leg, hobbling back home and then staying in bed until his leg healed. Nowadays we, as a society, can afford slightly more effective services. But those better services cost more, so instead of having the individual cover them, we transfer the costs to the larger economy, which can easily afford to pay them.

Yes, back In the days of the Model T, people realized that they couldn't simply peel off a couple of bills from a wad of money and cover a new automobile, so payment plans came into effect. Can we use payment plans for medical services? Not really, because we can't plan on having to pay major medical expenses the way that we can plan to buy a car. When we really need big dollars for big services, we're usually well past the age when we've retired from work and are on a fixed budget or we're in our last decade or so of work and can't reasonably expect to make much more money then we're already making.

It's a nice idea to try and make market capitalism apply to everything, but it really doesn't effectively handle medical expenses because a medical “customer” doesn't equal a car customer. They don't always just walk into a showroom with the money they need to buy services and are often in no position to compare costs and benefits of various forms of treatment. There's a reason we call them “patients” and not “customers.”

Dionne then says, “Smaller government meant too many people were poor.” This is flat-out idiocy. The greatest gains against poverty in the United States occurred when government was least involved. In 1900, the poverty rate by today’s standards was 95 percent. By the time the federal government got involved in poverty relief in a non-trivial way, in the late 1960s, that figure had already plummeted to between 12 and 14 percent...

Well, yeah, in 1913 until midway through World War II, average annual incomes were between $10,000 and $20,000, frequently staying close to the $15,000 mark. They then increased at a rapid, steady clip until 1970, at which point, they've been around $40,000 to $50,000. Obviously, a family in 1950 that's making $25,000 and that, just a decade earlier, was making $15,000, considered itself quite wealthy and probably considered itself quite wealthy in 1920, when they were making $18,000.

Poverty is not a solid, fixed status. Wikipedia defines a person who's living above the poverty line as someone who has adequate amounts of “food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care and education.” How do we define “affordable housing,” i.e., a decent, adequate level of housing? A person living in New York City or San Francisco is not going to define the term the same way that a person in Arkansas or in Russia's Ural Mountains or in Southern Niger would. “Poverty” is a highly subjective term that depends on a number of factors. In terms of just plain, straight numbers, yes, the poverty rate in 1900 was much higher than it is today, but that measurement is a pretty meaningless one. It's not just that inflation has risen, it's that there are many more things to buy, at a higher cost, then there were way back when.

Mainstream economics identifies monopolists by their behavior: they earn premium profits by restricting output and raising prices.

Now, there's certainly something to this if we look at Karl Marx's definition of monopoly. He begins by focusing on how concentrated an industry is, but then agrees with the Libertarians after that.

In 1904 large-scale enterprises with an output valued at one million dollars and over, numbered 1,900 (out of 216,180, i.e., 0.9 per cent).
Almost half the total production of all the enterprises of the country was carried on by one-hundredth part of these enterprises! These 3,000 giant enterprises embrace 258 branches of industry. From this it can be seen that at a certain stage of its development concentration itself, as it were, leads straight to monopoly, for a score or so of giant enterprises can easily arrive at an agreement, and on the other hand, the hindrance to competition, the tendency towards monopoly, arises from the huge size of the enterprises. (Emphasis in original)

The Libertarians make a strong case that monopoly wasn't really a concern during that period and that price-fixing was not a problem that anyone really worried about. So what exactly was the problem with economic concentration during the Gilded Age (From the Civil War in 1865 to the Progressive Era in 1890)? Well, companies, and indeed all sorts of groups, might compete in some ways, but might very well cooperate in others. Police officers from different cities may badmouth and disparage each other, but if a suspect flees from one city to another, the police will forget their differences and cooperate.

What is the major claim made by labor unions as to the service they rendered to the American people during the early days? It concerned an issue where the companies found it advantageous to be large and where they all took the same approach, it concerned labor conditions and working hours.

By the 1820s, various unions involved in the effort to reduce the working day from 12 to 10 hours began to show interest in the idea of federation-of joining together in pursuit of common objectives for working people. 

Later on,

Most industrial workers still worked a 10-hour day (12 hours in the steel industry), yet earned from 20 to 40 percent less than the minimum deemed necessary for a decent life.

Such lengthy working hours left employees enough time to eat, sleep and work and not much else. Why did it help for companies to be large? Because large companies could mechanize their work more easily than small companies could and could thus employ less-skilled labor. It was labor unions, combined with the New Deal and not inter-company competition that resulted in the 8-hour work day. It was when workers banded together and demanded a reduction in hours and when the national government agreed with them that excessive working hours were ended.

So yes, it was a bad thing for companies to control as much market share as they did, but not for the reasons that Marx and Dionne specify.

Finally, we read this: “And when the Depression engulfed us, government was helpless, largely handcuffed by this antigovernment ideology until Franklin Roosevelt came along.”

Well, it was actually the Supreme Court that put out the anti-minimum wage, pro-sanctity of contracts decision Lochner v. New York in 1905 and that reversed itself in 1937 with West Coast Hotel v. Parrish by ruling that Washington State could impose minimum wage regulations on private employers without violating the Constitution. It appears very highly likely that the Court took note of popular attitudes towards the sanctity of contracts and Roosevelt's influence can't be absolutely proven, but Roosevelt was certainly making his views clear that the Court was standing in the way of progress.

Yes, President Hoover came up with many good ideas, but that and a buck will get you a cup of coffee. Roosevelt was the president that actually implemented those ideas, or implemented them on a meaningful scale, and so he's the one who properly gets the credit for them. I don't agree with the Libertarian view of the Great Depression at all. I see the Depression as having been the result of a general systems failure and not just a trivial hiccup.

So, the Libertarians certainly make a couple of good points, but in general, I find their history pretty incompetent.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Rep. Paul Ryan - an assessment

In a recent column for the Inky, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) complains that the President wants to "Fight a straw man. Avoid honest debate. Win the argument by default." What is his evidence that Obama is smacking Republicans with straw man-type accusations? "The president will bait us," Ryan said. "He'll portray us as cruel and unyielding. Just the other day, he said Republicans had 'suspicions' about Social Security. He said we had 'suspicions' about feeding hungry children. . ."

Dan Froomkin, now at the Huffington Post, sketched out for us just what the term "straw man" meant. President George W. Bush was speaking about the illegal warrantless surveillance that his administration was engaged in:

"You can't protect America unless we give those people on the front lines of protecting this country the tools necessary to do so within the Constitution. And that's where the debate is here in the United States. There are some decent people who don't believe -- evidently don't believe we're at war, and therefore, shouldn't give the administration what is necessary to protect us. "

As Froomkin points out, no one in America was suggesting that we weren't at war. Also, the question of whether warrantless surveillance was within the Constitution, a question simply assumed by Bush to be answerable in the affirmative, is a very deeply controversial one and one that has never been properly investigated or adjudicated. Nor, of course, was it ever shown by the Bush Administration that warrantless surveillance did anything whatsoever to protect America.

So, is it truly a straw man that Republicans have " 'suspicions' about feeding hungry children," in other words, that Republicans have no real desire to see to it that children are properly fed?  Well, according to the former Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, Republicans care deeply about children, so long, of course, that those children are still in the womb. Children who have aleady been born? Ehh, not so much.

Can you be pro-life and vote to cut funding that supports the life of a child? Paul Ryan's cut-at-all-costs budget and philosophy, which 100 percent of the pro-life Republicans voted for, would gut the funding that supports at-risk babies and children: food stamps, temporary assistance to needy families, day care, Head Start, early childhood education, children's health care.
At the state level GOP governors are cutting the child protection workers who handle child abuse and neglect cases -- you know, those awful public employees who must have caused the financial crisis. Programs that would benefit at-risk children outside the womb are all on the chopping block.

So no, I don't agree with Ryan at all that he and his fellow Republicans are being smeared with a straw man-type statement when people question whether they really favor the feeding of hungry children.

How about the charge that Republicans have " 'suspicions' about Social Security"? Well, here too, the facts are seriously biased against Ryan.

The proposal was in Ryan’s 2010 “Roadmap For America’s Future,” a broad blueprint to remake the federal budget which elevated the little-known congressman into the Republican Party’s visionary. It involved shifting Social Security funds to private retirement accounts as well as reducing benefits and gradually raising the age of eligibility.

In other words, again, the charge of Democrats smearing Ryan and Republicans with straw man-type charges comes up as a statement that's without merit.

What does Ryan ultimately want? According to him, a "smaller, smarter government." Okay, that sounds pretty reasonable, even though I'd question why people want, specifically, a smaller government. What's his plan for getting that? What, specifically, would Ryan and his buddies in the Republican Party be comfortable cutting? As The Washington Monthly put it:

For years, a variety of polls from a variety of outlets during a variety of conditions all show the same thing: Americans want to see the government cut public spending -- in the abstract. Asked for specifics, the same Americans actually like public spending and don't want to see cuts.
There is one area that everyone's willing to trim: foreign aid. Good 'ol foreign aid. A category that, as Roger McShane dryly points out, "makes up less than 1% of America's total spending." Beyond that, there were only four areas that even a quarter of the population was willing to cut...

So for many, many years, yes, the American people have wanted to see a smaller government and want government spending cut, except of course, when they're pressed for specifics. Then, they really don't agree on actually cutting anything. The article then documents Ryan making a number of vague, fuzzy statements that don't get anywhere close to specifics.

So no, I don't see any reason to be even slightly impressed with Ryan's promises and accusations.