Over the last five, ten, fifteen and twenty years, what’s the relative rate of return for the average 401k and for Social Security? I suspect that above ten years out, the rate of return for 401ks is significantly better, despite the recent market swoon. Naturally, many people are angry that they have lost a good bit of retirement money in the past two years, and any of them blame it on the whole 401k system. But in the long term they may very well still be better off.
P.S. If most people followed the old rule of thumb that the percentage of one’s portfolio in cash and bonds should be equal to one’s age (ie: at 30 years old, one should have 30% cash and bonds, and at 60 one should have 60% cash and bonds), those nearing retirement ought not to have lost quite so much of late. Of course, it is probably unreasonable not to expect people to be, as a rule, greedy about such things, and therefore to take imprudent risks. But don’t we want to encourage responsibility? If so, why not let the prudent be rewarded and the greedy take a bigger hit?
I offer some speculation about the battle lines in the culture wars under our second "uniter-not-divider" President in a row.
Well, he agrees with the other Pat [Deneen] that it’s basically "neo-Reaganite." There’s something to the observation that "mythologizing" Khe Sanh is a sign that the president doesn’t regard Vietnam as a "racist" war, but as a noble effort for which we should be proud--in some ways, at least, a better part of our history. But Pat’s conclusion that Obama shares his view that we’re overextended and need to retreat some from empire isn’t really so Reaganite.
"Missiles fired from a suspected U.S. spy plane killed seven people Friday on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border, a lawless region where al-Qaida militants are known to hide out, officials said.
The strike was the first on Pakistani territory since the inauguration of President Barrack Obama."
This from Iowahawk is one of the funniest things I have ever read. Follow the adventures of the hero Obamacles as he battles Jeremiad, the fire-breathing Monster of the Pulpit and the other Chicagomons, vanquishes Hildusa, the most fearsome of all the gorgons, and finally overpowers the grizzled warrior Crustius.
When advised by the oracle that his opponent in his quest to lead the Demos back to the White Tmeple, "Obamacles laughed in disbelief; for though brave Crustius had once proved great valor in the tragic war of Namos, He had grown old and addled sailing the Sea of Maverikus. In years a full score he sailed, seeking the fabled Microphone of Media, Only to crash on its shoals, lured to doom by the flattery of the Sirens."
Read it all. Very funny!
The New York Times reports: "Educators and policy makers, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have said in recent days that they hope President Obama’s example as a model student could inspire millions of American students, especially blacks, to higher academic performance.
Now researchers have documented what they call an Obama effect, showing that a performance gap between African-Americans and whites on a 20-question test administered before Mr. Obama’s nomination all but disappeared when the exam was administered after his acceptance speech and again after the presidential election."
These experts observe that, increasingly, that’s what we are. That’s one reason among many 2009 is unlikely to bring change we can believe in.
In today’s Wall Street Journal Robert Barrow argues that the return on investment of government dollars is much less than today’s Keynsians suggest. He makes a fair point. No doubt there is a bit of wishful thinking in many of the promises being made about government spending in particular, and government action in general nowadays.
But isn’t the discussion too general. Are all government dollars created equal? Similarly, is it really unreasonable to have the government build major infrastructure projects that almost certainly won’t get built by the private sector? Whether it makes sense to hire private contractors to do much of the work, on the other hand, is another matter. Private contractors are easier to investigate and to fire when they do poor work, are corrupt, or mishandle public funds. Government employees and bureaucrats are much harder to invistigate and fire. Both will inevitably be incompetent and/ or corrupt sometimes. The question is what to do about that reality.
Whether using government money to fund science is a somewhat different question. Once again perhaps it depends upon the kinds of things being funded.
Barrow also argues for tax cuts. But are rates already low enough on capital? Is there really a bonus if we drop the capital gains rate below its current 15% (a rate established under Clinton and the Republican Congress, if memory serves). Might a tax simplification, after the model of the 1986 legislation be wiser. The fewer deductions, the more time businessmen spend figuring out what the market wants, and not how to game the tax code.
In short, as a rule these discussions of government v. business ought to be much more specific than they tend to be. Remember, President Reagan said in his first inaugural address "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Not all crises are the same. Of course, to answer the question of government’s role, one must have an idea of what government is for in general. One cannot ask "what works" until one asks what end one wishes to serve with the work.
In the inaugural viewer Nielsen ratings, that is, if not in all other respects.
So Caroline is out as NY’s next senator, ostensibly because of some tax and housekeeper irregularities, but we’re going to get Tim Geithner at Treasury despite his obvious tax evasion because, well just because. If it was any other job, or in a normal economic climate, he would probably go down. But the present emergency dictates speed over ethical punctilio.
Back to Caroline. It has long been on the back of my frivolous To-Do list to write an imaginary confirmation hearing dialogue for the appointment of Joe Kennedy to be head of the SEC, only today and not in 1934. Can you imagine how much fun that would be? Now I may have to do it. Suggestions welcome.
It appears already that the Obama Administration is going to have its hands full figuring out how to close down Guantanamo. Since no Congressperson wants a detainee sent to their district, and many countries of origin of these fine world citizens won’t take them back, why don’t we just cut a hole in the fence and set them loose in Fidel’s island paradise? It would be a nice first step in lifting our obsolete embargo.
I’m not the only one who thinks Obama is going to be the next "Man That Nobody Knows." See today’s Politico on "What We Don’t Know about Obama."
Barney Frank crony capitalist.
The more government does, the more this will happen, unless we can change human nature, and the nature of political power. It also suggests that one of the challenges facing President Obama will be getting Congress to behave.
The Treasury had said it would give money only to healthy banks, to jump-start lending. But OneUnited had seen most of its capital evaporate. Moreover, it was under attack from its regulators for allegations of poor lending practices and executive-pay abuses, including owning a Porsche for its executives’ use.
Nonetheless, in December OneUnited got a $12 million injection from the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. One apparent factor: the intercession of Rep. Barney Frank, the powerful head of the House Financial Services Committee.
Mr. Frank, by his own account, wrote into the TARP bill a provision specifically aimed at helping this particular home-state bank. And later, he acknowledges, he spoke to regulators urging that OneUnited be considered for a cash injection.
I think we should take a betting pool on how many entries will appear on NLT over the next four years about Obama, with a key subcategory of "Have We Figured This Guy Out Yet?" My guess is that there will be about 3,000 Obama entries on NLT by the end of 2012, and that 75 percent of them will fit in the subcategory. (Who wants to do the counting?--Ed. Make Peter do it as retribution.)
I say this after listening to Jeffery Sikkenga’s podcast mentioned below, in which I second Peter that you should listen to more than once. Above all I come away with the conclusion that Obama may be the most interesting and complicated man we have elected to the presidency in modern times.
But I do recall that Churchill once said something to the effect that there are two principal errors in politics: the word without the deed, and the deed without the word. Obama may have these very large ambitions and a high degree of cleverness about how to move us toward his goals through his oratory--an ability not to be misunderestimated. But he is also a wartime president, and this fact may constrain him, just as World War I disrupted Woodrow Wilson (to whom Obama should be compared intellectually) and the Progressive movement. And if his deeds in foreign policy--good, bad, or mixed--are not matched with clarity of words, he will stumble as Wilson did.
E.J. agrees with some of our fine threaders that the real message of Obama’s address is that he will overturn the infantile individualism of the Reagan era. But it’s hard not to agree that the old and true virtues have been a quiet force for progress in our country’s history, and even that our time has been marked by a lot of infinite indivualism or creeping and sometimes creepy libertarianism. The practice of virtue, according to Pat Deneen, has been undermined by capitalism, consumerism, and so forth. According to others, it’s been undermined by big government. Now according to Tocqueville, there’s some truth to both those views. This leaves open the question of whether Obama’s "communitarianism" is statist or based more on restoring the personal responsibility--exercised mostly in small communities (such as churches and families)--that’s indispensable for the proper working of markets. The latter form of communitarism, after all, had a prominent place in Reagan’s rhetoric, at least, and the Gipper was far from blnd to the dangers of infantile indvidualism. I tend to think that Dionne (and our Pete) are right that Obama is brilliantly manipulating the conservative rhetoric of traditional virtues and religion to set the stage for a bigger and more intrusive state. But there’s also room to hope that his idea of change is at least more nuanced that that of the Progressives, New Dealers, and Great Society guys of our past.
David Tucker’s post below reminded me to bring Jason Emerson’s book, "Lincoln the Inventor" to your attention. Emerson’s essay is only about 50 pages, and then he reprints Lincoln’s patent for floating grounded riverboats (the only president to have a patent), and then his Two Lectures on Discoveries and Inventions (which are hardly ever referenced). The First Lecture (April 6, 1858) begins: "All creation is a mine, and every man, a miner." I always liked that. And then a few lines later, "Man is not the only animal who labors; but he is the only one who improves his workmanship."
It is in the Second Lecture (Feb 11, 1859) in which he famously talks about language and writing and printing (the "greatest invention of the world" that allowed men to "rise to the level of equality"). There is a lot more here, as Julie knows, for I have talked with her about this over the years (and she has done good work on it, which I have been using, stealing really, for a good while). It is probable, by the way, that the two lectures are really one, but because of the way they were discovered, were made into two, so that’s the way refer to them now. Lincoln gave the lecture six time between April 1858 and April 1860. It is also true that generally speaking, everyone thought it was a failure. Anyway, Emerson’s is a nice little book.
According to the Economist (January 17, 2009), in Tanzania, albinos are being killed so that their body parts can be sold to witch doctors who use the parts in their potions. The police have responded by giving albinos cell phones that have a direct line to the police. If an albino thinks he or she is being tracked by the body part harvesters, they can use the phones to text their location to the police.
I talked with (as a podcast) the good professor, Jeffrey Sikkenga, about Obama’s first big speech as president. This was a fine conversation that I wish you would listen to; Jeff thinks it was a very serious speech, and he seems to be developing a view about Obama’s purposes and capacities: that there is something entirely new in his thought. Worth 27 minutes of your time. Thanks, Jeff.
But Joe Knippenberg thinks there was not much new in it.
Juan Williams writes an excellent piece in the WSJ arguing that a default disposition to hesitate about criticizing President Obama for fear of being seen as stoking racist passions or for fear of being called racist is, itself, the most pernicious kind of racism. It is patronizing. Patronization is racism because it amounts to an affirmation of the belief that there is something delicate, something precious, and yes, something inferior about a black man and a black president. It suggests an inferiority that calls upon us to cut him some slack and not judge him by the same standards we’d judge any other president because . . . well, what did you expect? He’s black. I hope Juan Williams’ is a voice that is heard and heeded in the coming months and years because racism--even as it masks itself as enthusiasm--ought not to be tolerated. But so far I’d have to say that the hoped for recognition of the end of naked racism begins to look more to me like the transformation of racism into a more esoteric, more clever, and more damaging form of itself.
Pat Deneen complains that Obama’s speech was predictably modern or Machiavellian. It was mostly ambition, greatness, hard work, freedom, and economic growth, with only a glance in the direction of sacrifice and self-restraint. There’s no deep difference, the point is, between Obama and Reagan. What troubles Pat--that Obama is just another modern boss--might reassure some readers of NLT.
I admit it. As I flipped on the TV and awaited the appearance of the First Family at the Capitol, some little part of my expectancy was tuned to finding out just what our attractive new first lady would be wearing.
I was not expecting this shimmery, greenish gold, a note of spring on the frigid first day of the new administration. More opulent yet more understated than what I expected, and frighteningly light. For a woman who knows the arctic blast of Chicago’s windy winter, was she trying to show that Washington offered nothing she couldn’t handle?
Maybe she was pointing to the bittersweet truth of the moment. To quote Robert Frost:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
so dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
As they strolled to the White House past crowds chanting the new President’s name, already the pundits were talking about further price drops on Wall Street, a Treasury Secretary nominee with confirmation problems, an unexpected delay in getting the new Secretary of State confirmed. I was thinking how much the new President must have wanted a smoke.
Ponzi and Morel may be correct in giving Obama’s inaugural day rhetoric a C+. It hardly mattered; the many symbolic resonances of the event had already filled our hearts.
But now: so much “work to be done,” in reviewing the tasks the government has taken on in the past eight years and the new tasks proposed for it, in judging not only whether—as Obama put it—but in what ways, it best “works.” (Thank God he’s young and patient and, apparently, tireless.) And while we claim the post-Civil Rights achievement that this day shows, we start to realize that from now on, ironically, we must claim a little less innocence. With a person of color holding the morally complex burden of our highest office, it may get a bit harder to depend on the prophetic voice of our minorities, whom we’ve counted on so often in the past to remind us of our higher commitments.
Of all the wonders of the day, our new First Lady’s evocation of Frost—juxtaposed with the image of a wind-blown Yo-Yo Ma pulling back his bow in attentive wonder as Anthony McGill sang out “A Gift to be Simple” on his clarinet—had for me the most resonance.
Judis rightly agrees with our NLT experts that the president’s speech was a hodgepodge of abstract assertions and very short on real arguments. It was also fairly lame as poetry. But I have to add it praised American inventiveness and imagination, hard work, and the old and true virtues, including loyalty, patriotism, and responsiblity. It was Lincolnian in its claim that we have erred by straying from the genuine idealism of our Founding. And there’s nothing wrong in repeating that our nation is devoted to equality, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and greatness that’s earned. These principles and these virtues have been at the foundation of the common, multi- or transcultural purposes that have animated the better part of our history. The speech was also largely free of the vices associated with progressivism and paternalism. When it referred to progress, it wasn’t about bigger and bigger government, but about the flourishing of free men and women--and so about the overcoming of slavery, segregration, and so forth. It was a good, not great, speech, but a worthy enough performance for our first black president.
In case you missed it, you must take a look at this evidence proving that the mental health industry will be recession-proof. A whole collection of Hollywood stars turned feudal serfs now "pledge" to "serve" Obama--and mankind, of course. One chap (sorry, I don’t follow celebrities enough to know who he is) did note that he would now call himself plainly and proudly an American rather than the qualified "African-American." That’s a good thing, of course. But it’s unclear to me why it took Obama to give him this sudden epiphany. Anyway, I’m glad he’s had it, whatever it took to give it to him. At least he didn’t say anything as stupid as, "I pledge to be a good mom" like one air-headed actress was inspired to say. It must have sucked to be her kid under Bush . . .
The full text of the speech can found here. There were rising tides (despite his famed powers at stemming them), still waters of peace, gathering clouds, and raging storms all within the first two sentences of the first full paragraph. I’m inclined to say that this is a bit much for an opener . . . rather like a spoof of an inaugural than an actual inaugural. But I suppose such "cynicism" makes me unpopular today. Whatever. That much of it was sappy and it deserves to be called out as such; so--if no one else is--I’m happy to oblige.
Sappiness aside, Obama did have a serious purpose in view and, following those sad and sappy lines, he set to work at fulfilling it. He was there to sell his view of America--understanding, as all successful Presidents do, that the campaign to get elected must not end but, rather, transform itself into a campaign for his ideas. The work and the purpose of this speech can be found in this excerpt:
Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. [Emphasis added]And this one:
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. [Emphasis added again].This is key:
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.And so is this:
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. [Emphasis mine again].
And those of us who manage the public’s knowledge will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.And this:
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.
But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.The build up to this address touted Obama’s abilities to transcend partisanship. And, in a certain sense he does. He does it, however, not by holding hands and singing Kumbaya with John McCain at a dinner last night. Rather, he transcends it by reducing the argument of his opposition to irrelevancy. Partisanship as it has been understood in the last several years is a childish thing, he asserts, not because of the vitriol leveled at Bush and the Republicans (and in some cases, too eagerly returned) but because it was foolish, to Obama’s way of thinking, for his side to bother engaging with such substandard thought. History has passed Bush and his supporters by (the ground moved under their feet, remember) so to remain there fighting with them is pointless. America is for the doers . . . so he will do. He will be the embodiment of "move on." He will stop the argument by winning it--as Charles Kesler so ably demonstrated in his analysis of Obama just before the election.
In understanding what Obama intends, we should not neglect to take note of his claim that we will "restore science to her rightful place" because Science, it seems, is understood by Obama to be the final arbiter in determining what is "childish" and what is yet still debatable and worthy in an argument. He appeals to us to be faithful to our forbears and our founding documents and especially to "the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness." But the use of "promise" is curious in this context. Jefferson called it a self-evident truth that we were so created--our equality is a fact, our duty is to recognize it. Lincoln famously called it a "proposition," i.e., it was something we had not quite lived up to recognizing at that point. In 1861, our laws claimed to support liberty because of our equality but, in fact, denied liberty to millions and, thereby, denied equality. But to now call equality not a fact demanding more than mere recognition from the law but a promise given to us by God and demanding action is something new, I think. Does he understand himself as having been chosen to fulfill God’s promise? And did God ever really make such a promise to be delivered on this earth? This seems to be a different kind of equality and it seems to demand something more than legal acknowledgment . . . it demands action and transformation and, indeed, transfiguration. "For everywhere we look, there is work to be done."
Obama began his inaugural address by noting that he is "humbled" by the work in front of him and the nation. But it will not be humility that characterizes his approach to government and governing . . . how could it be? He wrote a book about "Audacity" and he means to stick to that text, anyway.
Extraordinary man, ordinary speech, but with a few strong statements, which I will get to in a minute.
Best oration of the inauguration ceremony was the closing prayer by a founder of the SCLC and dean of the Civil Rights Movement, the Rev. Joseph Lowery. His benediction began with the closing chorus from "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a beautiful ode written in 1900 by James Weldon Johnson for a Lincoln Day Celebration and that some refer to as the Negro National Anthem. His rendering of the e pluribus unum motto was both fresh and old-school, a nice feat by a man now aged four score and seven years.
Rick Warren’s opening invocation deftly closed by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, thus avoiding the quadrennial conundrum over whether or not to end "in Jesus’ name" by ending with Jesus’ very words.
Aretha Franklin was resplendent in silver gray garb and hat, superseded only by her soaring "My Country Tis of Thee," which contains the line made famous by Martin Luther King, Jr., "Let freedom ring." Nice tie-in to yesterday’s celebration.
As for Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, "Praise Song for the Day," only one memorable line about "ancestors on our tongue," which I found arresting and suggestive but one she did not capitalize on sufficiently. Suffice it to say, the rest was fairly pedestrian.
Now for "the speech." Best part was probably the foreign policy section, which expressed strong support for the friends of "peace and the dignity of all" throughout the globe and fierce defiance to the cultivators of terrorism, who will face an American people whose spirit is stronger and, in the words of President Obama, "we will defeat you!"
Which brings me to the fundamental weakness of this and many of his speeches: the rhetoric of assertion. When JFK said, Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country, he could do so successfully only because he had prepared his audience to receive and be inspired by explaining first why such sacrifice is worthy of them. Obama did not succeed at this task today. His references to what is good in our nation’s past, esp. the American founders’ ideals and institutions, seem now to take on the form of window-dressing that takes a back seat to his preference for trumpeting the virutes of the more nebulous American "spirit." Our 44th president is reticent to place too great a stock or render too high a praise for our foudners because of their inability to accomplish all that they believed was owed to a free people--the abolition of slavery being Exhibit A. And so Obama apparently believes that expounding upon the equality principle of the Declaration, for example, or even the great statements of Lincoln and King, would be a form of worshipping "dead saints" (in that most infelicitous phrase of Rep. Maxine Waters) that would be insufficient to inspire the "Yes WE Can" attitude he thinks this generation requires.
So no Lincoln, no Kennedy, no FDR, at least in any explicit form today; and alas no new memorable Obama riffs either. Instead we get cliches like "gathering clouds" and "raging storms" (wish I were making this up, folks). We get an allusion to "putting aside childish things," a reference to scripture (as he noted for those who wouldn’t make the connection) that bears little of the profundity of its original. We get, at bottom, the words of a gifted orator and potentially inspiring statesman, whose words in the past four years produced the millions in attendance today but whose rhetorical talents did not quite meet what he has called "this defining moment." While he declaimed about "the price and the promise of citizenship," perhaps the best phrase of the speech, the speech as a whole lacked the literary panache of the best of our nation’s orators and even the evident poetic skills of our Obama.
Henry Allen, in today’s WaPo has a lengthy article on rhetoric--even with iambs, anapests, and chiasmus, (although we could do without the references to deconstruction) rarely seen in newspapers--that is worth reading. He glides over Aristotle and ethos, pathos, logos, all of which Edward Everett, who failed, would have understood, but perhaps not Lincoln, who succeeded. Lincoln had credibility (part of ethos) by the time of the Second Inaugural. He built it honestly through extreme hardships, and steel hard decisions. In that sense, the incoming president is at a disadvantage, his credibility is not yet built through the office, yet perfect rhetoric is expected of him from the start.
That aside, this public transfer of part of the government has to be one of the great public spectacles in the world today. I talked with an eighteen year old in the center of Europe yesterday, not a political creature, and this is all she wanted to talk about. She and her friends think this event is--this transfer of real power--and in this case to a black man--as she said in English, awesome. She then congratulated the Americans.
Bill writes the most moving tribute to the president that I’ve read. And I completely agree that the record will show that Bush was, among politicians, uncharacteristically ready to do what he thought was right with a genuine willingness to suffer the consequences. Bill also reminds us that every president--including Obama--these days is stuck with being a war president, and that the president-elect probably knows that well enough.
Nobody can deny that Sam was "an inspiring model of intellectual courage" and devoted to conserving what he saw as most inspiring and sustainable about his country.
I will be speaking on human dignity at DeSales University (which was merely Allentown College when I went there) in Center Valley (near Allentown), PA tomrrow (Monday) at 7:30 in the evening. Here is the announcement of a full week of events.
THE WASHINGTON POST offers what seems to me a pretty fair and, yes, balanced assessment.
And Free Frank offers the reasonable opinion that Beinart of the WaPo’s seemingly generous appreciation of the surge’s success is marred by a moralistic overreaction against the original invasion. The paper’s editorial seemes more on the mark in its opinions that the invasion seemed justified at the time, the surge will be to Bush’s great credit if its success remains stable, but the mismanagement of the war due to a disgraceful lack of planning in between is, in fact, a large and ineradicable stain on the president’s permanent record.
Jonathan Yardley writes that Robert Norrell’s Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington forced him to change his mind about the greatness of Washington. Yardley, who "reflexively accepted the received opinion" about him in the 60’s (that he was an "Uncle Tom") now writes: "Norrell persuades me that I was wrong." I’ve read the book and Yardley is right, it is first rate. It is good on Washington, and on the extraordinary difficulties (Booker called it the "severe American crucible") of that era, terrifying for blacks, especially in the South. There is now no question that Washington, in his character and intellect and achievements, is one of the greatest Americans.