Wednesday, May 6, 2009

And Then There's Maine

Maine legalizes gay marriage. From the Office of the Governor:

AUGUSTA – Governor John E. Baldacci today signed into law LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom.

“I have followed closely the debate on this issue. I have listened to both sides, as they have presented their arguments during the public hearing and on the floor of the Maine Senate and the House of Representatives. I have read many of the notes and letters sent to my office, and I have weighed my decision carefully,” Governor Baldacci said. “I did not come to this decision lightly or in haste.”

“I appreciate the tone brought to this debate by both sides of the issue,” Governor Baldacci said. “This is an emotional issue that touches deeply many of our most important ideals and traditions. There are good, earnest and honest people on both sides of the question.”

“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions,” Governor Baldacci said. “I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.”

“Article I in the Maine Constitution states that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.’”

“This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State,” Governor Baldacci said.

“It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.”

“Even as I sign this important legislation into law, I recognize that this may not be the final word,” Governor Baldacci said. “Just as the Maine Constitution demands that all people are treated equally under the law, it also guarantees that the ultimate political power in the State belongs to the people.”

“While the good and just people of Maine may determine this issue, my responsibility is to uphold the Constitution and do, as best as possible, what is right. I believe that signing this legislation is the right thing to do,” Governor Baldacci said.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

This is Beautiful

Also from the below Post article on gay marriage in DC:
The council initially voted unanimously, without debate, to approve the bill. But council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) apparently did not realize what he was voting on. A few minutes after the initial vote, Barry made a motion to reconsider the vote.

Gay Marriage in DC

The Washington Post reports:
An overwhelming majority on the D.C. Council voted today to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, sending the District deeper into the national debate and galvanizing supporters on both sides of the issue.
This, of course, didn't come without controversy.
After the vote, a large crowd of opponents, led by local ministers, began yelling, "Get them off the council!" referring to the members who supported the measure. The crowd caused such a ruckus that security guards and D.C. police officers had to be called in to restore order.

"We need a new council. They are destroying our youth," shouted Paul Trantham, who lives in Southeast. "Every minister who fears God should be here. This is disrespectful to the nation's capital. There is nothing equal about same-sex marriage."

We have the lowest-ranked public school system in the country, but recognizing gay marriages is going to "destroy our youth?" Give me a break.

A Second Look at the Great Depression

Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man, a new look at government policy during the Great Depression, presents the key points of her (excellent) book in an article on Her main thesis is that standard story of the depression is a myth. Hoover was not a "do nothing" president. Many of FDR's "experiments" deepened and prolonged the Depression. The Depression was not caused by a "failure of the market."

Shlaes recounts the typical high school history book story:
The trouble, we heard, started in the 1920s. The 1929 crash had something to do with bubbles, whether the stock market or the champagne varieties. Margins--margins calls, that is--and perhaps hemlines also played a role. Capitalism faltered, with deflation and asinine tariffs playing their part. Herbert Hoover, the laissez-faire president, failed by doing too little

Then Franklin Delano Roosevelt sailed in, cheering the country with his courage. Roosevelt's call to action--"bold, persistent experimentation" as he put it--was warranted. Heeding it, the economy stirred. Government spending and government leadership saved the country from despair or fascism.
However, the traditional story doesn't hold up to historical scrutiny:
1920s growth, it turns out, wasn't illusory; it was real. From rising companies to low unemployment to increases in GDP, the decade was a prodigious one. The Greenspan of the period, Andrew Mellon at the Treasury, presided over a series of tax cuts that pulled the top rate on the income tax down to 25%. These rate cuts generated government surpluses. In the last years, the stock market did move too high--but certainly not high enough to cause 11 years of misery.
Hoover has hardly a free-marketer:
[H]is tenure was marked not by laissez faire or respect for private property--indeed, Hoover had labeled property a "fetish" before he became president. The Great Engineer was in fact the Great Intervener, meddling in multiple areas, raising taxes and backing tariffs, to the economy's detriment. Mistrusting the stock market as unreal, Hoover berated short-sellers and exhorted businesses to keep wages high when they could ill afford it.
And FDR's New Deal was no panacea:
Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration, created in 1933, pulled wages up when perishing companies could not afford it; come 1935, the Wagner Act gave unions more bargaining power, forcing further wage increases on companies. Roosevelt's multiple tax increases caused businesses to postpone investment. Especially counterproductive was FDR's "undistributed profits tax," which punished firms for being cautious and forced them to disgorge cash at the worst possible moment.

Roosevelt's glee in prosecuting the business heroes of the '20s terrified market players. So did the president's 1937 inaugural speech, in which he told crowds that, in government, he and his administration sought "an instrument of unimagined power." In short, the caricature of the New Yorker cartoon is true: The businessman really did cry into his martini and wait for it all to be over.

The most unnecessary pain came in the so-called "Depression within the Depression" of the later 1930s, caused not only by monetary tightening but also by the political arrogance of the New Dealers following their 1936 electoral landslide. As for the Depression's end, the right question to ask is not how the war brought recovery, it is why the Depression lasted all the way up to the war.

Shlaes also offers a counter explanation of the Depression that illuminates what is going on today:
Another [explanation of the Great Depression] is the Public Choice theory of Nobel Laureate James Buchanan of George Mason University. Public Choicers would say that the 1930s story was also the story of a power struggle between public and private--and one in which the public sector gained ground. This clearly was true for the growth industry of the day the 1930s story was also the story of a power struggle between public and private--and one in, utilities. Scholar Robert Higgs holds that the very unpredictability of the government chilled markets, and this idea--what Higgs calls "Regime uncertainty"--is borne out by the data. The 1930s stock market is famous for its drops, but its second outstanding aspect is actually rallies, specifically micro-rallies of 10% or more. In other words, the abiding feature of the market was its volatility.
As the economist Russ Roberts has noted, the Depression is just one data point; it is a mistake to extrapolate policy decisions with so few degrees of freedom. Even worse, our understanding of that data point is shrouded in myth. This is why Shlaes's book is so important.

Friday, May 1, 2009

New Dylan Album: A Quick Review

Together Through Life, Bob Dylan’s new album, is a good album that suffers from its proximity to greatness. It follows the aging artist's late-career hat trick, three albums that are some of the strongest work of his career. (More or less—“Love and Theft” is a knockout that stands beside Blood on the Tracks and Highway 61 as one of his absolute best; Time Out of Mind’s muddy production, however, drags down its material.)

Together Through Life doesn’t sound like it’s meant to be in the same company as those albums. The songs here are simpler, lyrically and musically. It’s also his most sonically unified since Desire (thanks largely to David Hildalgo’s accordion, which is heard on every track). Still, there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Given Dylan’s notorious inconsistency, I’ll take a “merely good” album any day.

Terrine of Alpo?

A new study from the American Association of Wine Economists:
Considering the similarity of its ingredients, canned dog food could be a suitable and inexpensive substitute for pâté or processed blended meat products such as Spam or liverwurst. However, the social stigma associated with the human consumption of pet food makes an unbiased comparison challenging. To prevent bias, Newman's Own dog food was prepared with a food processor to have the texture and appearance of a liver mousse. In a double-blind test, subjects were presented with five unlabeled blended meat products, one of which was the prepared dog food. After ranking the samples on the basis of taste, subjects were challenged to identify which of the five was dog food. [...] Subjects were not better than random at correctly identifying the dog food.
Before you run to Petco for a snack, there's more:
Even with the benefits of added salt, a smooth texture, and attractive presentation, canned dog food is unpalatable compared to a range of similar blended meat products.

We conclude that, although human beings do not enjoy eating dog food, they are also not able to distinguish its flavor profile from other meat-based products that are intended for human consumption.
[HT: Tyler Cowan]