NYT roundup

I hadn't been able to keep up with the paper for the last couple days. When I returned to the New York Times today, I found that I had missed some pretty great stuff:

  • On Saturday, Matt Richtel published an article detailing the extent to which many service members and veterans feel uncomfortable, or even irritated, when civilians thank them for their service. I have expressed dismay before with the general trend of non-service members showering praise upon those have served. But I am neither a service person or veteran, nor one who feels a compulsive need to "support the troops," so my opinion amounts to little more than projection. This article, however, demonstrated that the recipients of this treatment often feel the way that I thought they might. Moreover, it does a great job of articulating the specific reactions that I personally might have had difficulty articulating about this phenomenon. "To some recent vets," writes Richtel, "the thanks comes across as shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go, and who would never have gone themselves nor sent their own sons and daughters." The thanks, in other words, is cheap. Instead of conveying humility and gratitude on the part of the thanker, it suggests that he or she has discharged some important civic duty by noting and appreciating the sacrifices that other people have made. Green Beret Mike Freedman suggests that thanking service members “alleviates some of the civilian guilt,” deriving from the fact that, without a draft, “they have no skin in the game with these wars.” Nor do they have any real opinions on the matter. "At least with Vietnam, people spit on you and you knew they had an opinion." But "thank you for your service," comes across to Freedman as saying something close to, "I haven’t thought about any of this."
  • Yesterday the paper featured an op-ed from Lawrence Michel, the co-chairman of Americans for Tax Fairness. His group functions as a sort of liberal counterpart to Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, and his piece in the Times reflected this agenda. Michel expressed concern that "both the parties are proposing tax cuts as a solution" to the financial problems many Americans are facing today. Democrats have proposed tax credits for child care and secondary earners, while Republicans, as always, focus on lowering individual and corporate rates and simplifying (read: flattening) the overall structure. Both of these solutions rely on the implicit premise that families are struggling because of the tax burden. Michel argues, however, this premise is incorrect. (He might have also mentioned that such this diagnosis forms the central premise of supply-side economics, and therefore frames the issue in terms favorable of the Republicans.) The problem is not one of excessive taxation, but of wage stagnation. "What has hurt workers’ paychecks is not what the government takes out, but what their employers no longer put in." Rather than concentrating on taxes, elected officials should "make raising wages the central focus of economic policy making and...reverse decades of decisions that have undercut wage growth." The Federal Reserve, he argues, should not raise interest rates before wages have begun to recover from the recession. Additionally, the minimum wage should be raised to $12.50/hour, laws must strengthen protections for unions and wage theft needs to be taken more seriously. These policies will do more to help workers and stimulate economic growth than any tax cut or credit.
  • Finally, Paul Krugman took a break from his insistent campaigns against deficit hawkery and European austerity to confront the topic of education. Specifically, he took aim at a conventional wisdom that wants to resolve the issue of economic inequality into a problem with education. The view "that educational failings are at the root of still-weak job creation, stagnating wages and rising inequality...is very much at odds with the evidence" and serves to "hide from the real, unavoidably partisan debate." If the limited skills of today's workers were the primary force holding back economic growth, Krugman argues, then wages would be at a premium as firms try to attract the few qualified job-seekers. But wages have stagnated for nearly two decades. Meanwhile, corporate profits have grown steadily in the same period, even as the rate of return on investment has stagnated. These fact would seem to be contradictory, but Krugman argues that it is what "you would expect if rising profits reflect monopoly power rather than returns to capital." What is really happening is that the imbalance in wealth and income reflects a fundamental imbalance in power. Policies that confront economic inequality and wage stagnation do exist. (The list that Krugman offers is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very similar to the one that Michel advocated in his op-ed.) But such programs are invariably the ones that Republicans are dedicated to resisting. As a result, "advocating such an effort makes you sound partisan." But anything short of that, Krugman says, is nothing but a "deeply unserious fantasy."