The good guys

I think there’s a lot of yearning for the old days, when most people still thought of cops as the good guys. At least this week, they are!

Police Officer John Bradley (Kevin Wells/Facebook)

During Friday’s intense manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Watertown, Mass., when the city of Boston was on lockdown, a Brookline police officer delivered milk to a family with a baby.

And like many random acts of kindness seen in the wake the marathon bombings, the photo—posted to Facebook by the family—went viral, thanks in part to a tweet from the Boston Police Department:

BPD Officer delivers milk to a family with young children in Watertown during the lockdown.

Kevin Wells, the father, took the photo of the officer, John Bradley, as he arrived carrying two gallons of milk for Holden, Wells’ 17-month-old son.

During the lockdown, the boy’s grandmother, who was visiting from Colorado, left the house to ask the officer if he could grab some milk for the young couple.

“It just meant the world that he literally went out and got two gallons of milk,” McKenzie Wells, the boy’s mother, told Today.com. “We wanted to pay him, but he wouldn’t take money from us. He was just so generous.”

The hounds of austerity

So people really are that stupid:

Austerians have had their worst week since the last time GDP numbers came out for a country that’s tried austerity.

But this time is, well, different. It’s not “just” that southern Europe is stuck in a depression and Britain is stuck in a no-growth trap. It’s that the very intellectual foundations of austerity are unraveling. In other words, economists are finding out that austerity doesn’t work in practice or in theory.

What a difference an Excel coding error makes.

Austerity has been a policy in search of a justification ever since it began in 2010. Back then, policymakers decided it was time for policy to go back to “normal” even though the economy hadn’t, because deficits just felt too big. The only thing they needed was a theory telling them why what they were doing made sense. Of course, this wasn’t easy when unemployment was still high, and interest rates couldn’t go any lower. Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna took the first stab at it, arguing that reducing deficits would increase confidence and growth in the short-run. But this had the defect of being demonstrably untrue (in addition to being based off a naïve reading of the data).

Countries that tried to aggressively cut their deficits amidst their slumps didn’t recover; they fell into even deeper slumps.

Enter Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff. They gave austerity a new raison d’être by shifting the debate from the short-to-the-long-run. Reinhart and Rogoff acknowledged austerity would hurt today, but said it would help tomorrow — if it keeps governments from racking up debt of 90 percent of GDP, at which point growth supposedly slows dramatically. Now, this result was never more than just a correlation — slow growth more likely causes high debt than the reverse — but that didn’t stop policymakers from imputing totemic significance to it. That is, it became a “fact” that everybody who mattered knew was true.

Except it wasn’t. Reinhart and Rogoff goofed. They accidentally excluded some data in one case, and used some wrong data in another; the former because of an Excel snafu. If you correct for these very basic errors, their correlation gets even weaker, and the growth tipping point at 90 percent of GDP disappears. In other words, there’s no there there anymore.

Snack time

I just had a fake egg cream made with seltzer, milk and sugar-free Hersey’s syrup. It’s not completely awful.

Praise Jesus and everything will be just fine


It happens far too often.

They probably didn’t pray hard enough!

PHILADELPHIA – April 23, 2013 (WPVI) — A Philadelphia couple – serving 10 years’ probation for the 2009 death of their toddler after they turned to prayer instead of a doctor – has violated their probation now that another of their children has died.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible belong to a fundamentalist Christian church that believes in faith-healing.

Philadelphia Judge Benjamin Lerner said at a hearing they violated the most important condition of their probation: to seek medical care for their remaining children.

Authorities have yet to file criminal charges in the death of the 8-month-old boy last week, after he suffered with diarrhea and breathing problems for days. But charges could be filed once authorities pinpoint how the baby died.

Making a permanent underclass


Dean Baker on the national disaster of long-term unemployment.

Paul Krugman talks about the human tragedy behind the economic policy failures of the Obama administration, which has prioritized deficit reduction over putting people back to work:

It goes without saying that the explosion of long-term unemployment is a tragedy for the unemployed themselves. But it may also be a broader economic disaster.

The key question is whether workers who have been unemployed for a long time eventually come to be seen as unemployable, tainted goods that nobody will buy. This could happen because their work skills atrophy, but a more likely reason is that potential employers assume that something must be wrong with people who can’t find a job, even if the real reason is simply the terrible economy. And there is, unfortunately, growing evidence that the tainting of the long-term unemployed is happening as we speak.

One piece of evidence comes from the relationship between job openings and unemployment. Normally these two numbers move inversely: the more job openings, the fewer Americans out of work. And this traditional relationship remains true if we look at short-term unemployment. But as William Dickens and Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University recently showed, the relationship has broken down for the long-term unemployed: a rising number of job openings doesn’t seem to do much to reduce their numbers. It’s as if employers don’t even bother looking at anyone who has been out of work for a long time.

To test this hypothesis, Mr. Ghayad then did an experiment, sending out résumés describing the qualifications and employment history of 4,800 fictitious workers. Who got called back? The answer was that workers who reported having been unemployed for six months or more got very few callbacks, even when all their other qualifications were better than those of workers who did attract employer interest.

So we are indeed creating a permanent class of jobless Americans.

And let’s be clear: this is a policy decision. The main reason our economic recovery has been so weak is that, spooked by fear-mongering over debt, we’ve been doing exactly what basic macroeconomics says you shouldn’t do — cutting government spending in the face of a depressed economy.

It’s hard to overstate how self-destructive this policy is. Indeed, the shadow of long-term unemployment means that austerity policies are counterproductive even in purely fiscal terms. Workers, after all, are taxpayers too; if our debt obsession exiles millions of Americans from productive employment, it will cut into future revenues and raise future deficits.

Our exaggerated fear of debt is, in short, creating a slow-motion catastrophe. It’s ruining many lives, and at the same time making us poorer and weaker in every way. And the longer we persist in this folly, the greater the damage will be.

(h/t DUI Lawyer David Benowitz.)

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