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—Kevin Drum 12:42 AM Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (149)
February 17, 2005
LARRY SUMMERS LIVE….Harvard has released a transcript of Larry Summers’s infamous talk about women in science, and the funniest part is the very first question:
Q: Well, I don’t want videos porno to take up much time because I know other people have questions, so, first of all I’d like to say thank you for your input. It’s very interesting — I noticed it’s being recorded so I hope that we’ll be able to have a copy of it. That would be nice.
LHS: We’ll see. (LAUGHTER) Right. Moving on, here’s probably the key part of his talk: So my best guess, to provoke you, of what’s behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people’s legitimate family desires and employers’ current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.
Summers clearly says at various points that he’s guessing, that he’s provoking, that he’s not an expert, that he hopes he’s proved wrong, etc. At the same time, he also says very clearly (more than once) that of the three factors he discusses, he thinks socialization and discrimination are probably the least at fault for the low number of women in high-powered science and engineering positions. In response to a skeptical questioner, he also says this:
I don’t presume to have proved any view that I expressed here, but if you think there is proof for an alternative theory, I’d want you to be hesitant about that. I don’t have any special comment on the substance of Summers’s remarks, but at least now we know what he said. You can read the entire transcript, including the Q&A, here.
—Kevin Drum 7:09 PM Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (213)
CATS, DOGS, AND KIDS….I’m a few days late on this, but congrats to Bill Sjostrom on the adoption of his new daughter. I hope she gets along swimmingly with Asta and Mazal.
—Kevin Drum 6:40 PM Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)
CHALLENGING UNCLE ALAN….Matt Yglesias says today that he still thinks “Democrats need to mount a clear attack on Greenspan and his long history of double-dealing on Social Security.”
Indeed they do. If you want to know what he’s talking about, may I recommend this post from early last year? It’s short and sweet and was written back before the current Social Security assault began and we all suddenly became experts on bend points, wage indexing, and expected returns on private investments. You may all revel in its earnest naivete.
—Kevin Drum 2:25 PM Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (77)
CALCULATOR CAGE MATCH….Via Josh Marshall, here’s yet another Social Security calculator that helps you understand the joys of private accounts.
Except, um, this one is a little different: it’s from New York senator Chuck Schumer and it’s designed to show how much you’ll lose in traditional benefits under Bush’s plan and how little you’ll gain. Two can play at the calculator game! So let’s compare, shall we? I’m a 46-year old male, and if I plug that into the Cato Institute’s calculator and then enter an annual salary of $40,000, they claim that my private account will pay me $20,034 per year upon retirement, $1,906 more than Social Security would. Not bad! Now let’s try Schumer’s calculator. Plug in 1958 and $40,000 (no choice of gender allowed), and my private account will be worth….$1,866 per year. Sadly, this is offset by a reduction of $3,773 in traditional benefits. Damn.
So who’s right? Schumer explains his assumptions here, and needless to say they’re a wee bit different from Cato’s. He figures a net rate of return of 2.7% instead of Cato’s 4.95%. He assumes retirement at age 65, not 67. He assumes a constant average salary instead of Cato’s endless 4% real growth. He assumes the plan starts in 2009 and contributions are capped at $1,000 per year (plus annual growth) — whereas Cato figures the plan starts now, has a contribution rate of 6.2% of your salary, and completely replaces Social Security. And Schumer assumes that traditional benefits will be cut both by changing the indexing formula and by the “privatization tax” favored by George Bush, which reduces your benefits based on how much money you accumulate in your private account.
So who’s right? Hard to say. Schumer’s 2.7% rate of return, for example, is as needlessly pessimistic as Cato’s 4.95% is needlessly optimistic — although the rest of Schumer’s assumptions seem broadly reasonable (unlike Cato’s, although they’ve changed them a bit since I last wrote about them). Beyond that, what this shows is just how much details matter in any privatization plan. Small differences in wage growth, retirement age, and contribution rates make a very big difference after being compounded for a couple of decades.
In other words, buyer beware. When Democrats complain that Bush hasn’t produced a detailed privatization plan, this is the reason. Without an actual plan on the table, you can dangle pretty much any pot of gold you want in front of future retirees. Once a real plan is put down on paper, though, you can do real calculations and figure out whether it really works. The fact that Bush is so reluctant to do this should certainly make everyone skeptical that his plan is as good as he says it is. Schumer’s calculator makes that abundantly clear.
—Kevin Drum 1:58 PM Permalink | TrackBack (5) | Comments (80)
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST….As near as I can tell, the new position of “director of national intelligence” was rendered pretty close to meaningless after the job was successfully neutered by the Pentagon during congressional negotiations last year. The fact that George Bush’s choice for the job is John Negroponte therefore inspires in me mostly a yawn.
Except for one thing: Negroponte has been ambassador to Iraq for the past seven months and will be leaving Baghadad (and its forthcoming billion dollar embassy!) to take the new job. What’s up with that? It’s hardly plausible the Negroponte was literally the only person Bush could find for the job, so this means that Negroponte must have made it clear that he was anxious to leave.
Not that I blame him, mind you, but we sure do have a hard time finding people willing to spend more than a few months in Iraq, don’t we? If Iraq were really the future garden spot that administration spokesmen keep implying it is, you’d think there would be plenty of heavy hitters anxious to step in and take their place in history as the MacArthur of the Middle East. But apparently not. Food for thought, anyway. On the bright side, maybe this will renew calls for Paul Wolfowitz to take the job, a slice of poetic justice that would surely have broad support on both sides of the aisle. Plus we’re certain to get confirmation hearings for Negroponte in which questioning about death squads will figure prominently. That’s always good for late night TV.
—Kevin Drum 12:30 PM Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (85)
WAL-MART UPDATE….Did Wal-Mart get a sweetheart deal the other day when they agreed to a settlement over charges of violating child labor laws? Or was it just the standard set of conditions imposed in these kinds of cases?
You will be unsurprised to learn that the answer appears to be “sweetheart deal.” Nathan Newman, of course, has the details.
—Kevin Drum 12:49 AM Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (61)
RUMSFELDISMS….Donald Rumsfeld, asked about the number of insurgents in Iraq: I am not going to give you a number for it because it’s not my business to do intelligent work. We’ve suspected it all along. (He meant “intelligence.” But read the rest of the article for a blow-by-blow description of Rumsfeld’s Arrogance-o-Thon before Congress on Wednesday.)
—Kevin Drum 12:43 AM Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (64)
February 16, 2005
WE….ARE….OUTRAGED!….Howard Dean, speaking to the Democratic Black Caucus on Friday: “You think the Republican National Committee could get this many people of color in a single room?,” Dean asked to laughter. “Only if they had the hotel staff in here.” All the blacks who were actually in the room at the time seemed to get a kick out of Dean’s remark, but today a couple of black Republicans tried to crank up the wheezing old conservative outrage machine one more time over his “racially, insensitive and intolerable remarks.” I shall allow nonwhite conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru to answer them:
Give me a break. Dean is saying, hyperbolically, that there aren’t many blacks or other nonwhites in the Republican party. He’s right. I’ve been to many, many Republican dinners where most nonwhites present have been serving the food. (Or giving the keynote.) If Republicans are bothered when people make that observation, they should try to make it less true.
I especially liked the “or giving the keynote” parenthetical. Way to twist the knife, Ramesh. —Kevin Drum 7:52 PM Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (174)
QUOTING FDR….FDR’s grandson, James Roosevelt, was on Keith Olbermann’s show last night to say that Fox News anchor Brit Hume should offer “a retraction, an apology, maybe even a resignation” over his deliberate misquoting of FDR’s views on Social Security. I’ve mentioned this before, but since my original post provoked several questions I want to make crystal clear what Hume did. Here is FDR’s exact quote. All I’ve done is add paragraphs for easy reference:
In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps thirty years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations.
Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.
In other words, #1 (a temporary program for people who were already retired at the time) would eventually be phased out and replaced by #2, which is the permanent Social Security system we have today. (#3, which FDR didn’t care much about in the first place, never even got enacted in the final bill that created Social Security.) Now here’s what Hume said:
In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, “Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age,” adding that government funding, “ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.”
By clever truncation of the quotation, he’s trying to make it look like FDR thought #2 (Social Security) should eventually be replaced by #3 (private annuities). FDR neither said nor meant any such thing, and Hume knows it. So why is a major network news anchor allowed to get away with this? This isn’t just a difference of opinion or a matter of Hume’s point of view versus mine. It’s a deliberate misquotation in the service of ideology, and it’s been making the rounds for two weeks now. Does Hume plan to ever apologize and air a retraction?
—Kevin Drum 6:04 PM Permalink | TrackBack (10) | Comments (192)
BLOG….You know, I might have posted a review of Hugh Hewitt’s new book, Blog, but, um, that would have required me to buy a copy first. For some reason, Hugh hasn’t sent me a complimentary copy even though we’re practically neighbors. Ezra Klein, however, apparently got himself a review copy and has commenced reading. Poor Ezra. He’s only gotten through the introduction so far and he already seems to be pondering suicide. Let’s all wish him luck.