Political Animal


STIMULATING THE ECONOMY….I needed a good laugh this morning, so I decided to go ahead and read the lead story in today’s LA Times: Bush Stimulus Plan Calls for More Tax Cuts. I was rewarded with this:

Sources said the plan will include a larger-than-expected cut in the tax on corporate dividends, $100 billion or more over 10 years in state aid, a generous extension of unemployment benefits, and probably a speedup of tax rate cuts for all but the very highest earners.

….”I’m concerned about all the people,” the president said. “I understand the politics of economic stimulus — that some would like to turn this into class warfare. That’s not how I think.”

Now, I’m all in favor of a “generous” extension of unemployment benefits, and state aid is a good idea too ? although spreading it over ten years is a little mysterious unless Bush thinks the economy is still going to be in the tank in 2013. But still, it’s pretty obvious that this is all just a bribe in order to get the dividend tax cut passed, something that Republicans have been drooling over for decades now.

But here’s the problem: cutting the dividend tax won’t do a thing to stimulate the economy. The fact is that tax cuts ? of any kind ? simply take too long to have an effect, and since they tend to be permanent they are lousy at countercyclical stimulus.

No, the only way to stimulate an economy that’s already feeling sluggish is to spend more money now. How? Who cares. Just spend it. In fact, since conservatives are so fond of flat taxes, I propose a flat anti-tax as the CalPundit Economic Stimulus Plan of 2003?:

Over the course of the year, write checks totalling $1000 to every adult in America. No means testing, no strings, no nothing. Just write the checks.

Tax cuts and pork barrel spending take too long to have an effect. But if you simply give the money back, it allows people to spend it however they please, and spend it they will. Quickly.

If Bush were serious about stimulating the economy, he would do something like this (dressing it up in suitable policy language, of course). But of course he’s not, and instead is simply using other people’s misery as an excuse to do a $300 billion favor for his rich friends who fund the Republican party. And if anyone calls him on it?

Why, they’re engaging in class warfare, of course. Winston Smith would have understood.

SOCIOLOGY WARS….Daniel Drezner asks, “Why

SOCIOLOGY WARS….Daniel Drezner asks, “Why is the left more sensitive than the right?”

Kieran Healy replies, “Why is the right more prone to tendentious dichotomies than the left?” And then answers his own question.

I almost busted a gut. In honor of Kieran, tomorrow I will spend all day pretending to be Irish.

UPDATE: I should probably make clear that I have nothing against Dan Drezner. In fact, I enjoy his blog, and what’s more, I think that blogs are an ideal medium for idle speculation. Still, Kieran wins on points….


DRUNK DRIVING….HOW DRUNK IS DRUNK ENOUGH?….Is it time for MADD to declare victory and disband? I don’t really have a strong opinion, although I suspect it’s true that blood alcohol levels of .08 are probably sufficient to keep dangerous drivers off the road. However, how about a brief counterpoint?

I served on a jury a few years ago in a drunk driving case. The defendent had a lawyer who was obviously very experienced (and very expensive) and who put on a very competent defense that boiled down to one thing: breath tests have a chance of being inaccurate, and therefore we should let his client go. To prove his point he grilled the police officers, brought in expert witnesses, and tried to question the integrity of the tech who administered the test.

Despite all this, the prosecution basically had an open and shut case: the guy was pulled over because he had been weaving between lanes, he was tested properly, and his BAC came out to 1.1, well above the legal limit of .08. He admitted on the stand that he had had five drinks, and that’s clearly enough to send your BAC above .08.

But it turned out the jury wasn’t convinced. When we went off to deliberate we immediately took a quick vote just to see where we stood, and I was shocked to find out that the initial vote was 10-2 for acquittal. The problem was that the guy’s blood alcohol level was 1.1, meaning he was drunk but he wasn’t sloppy drunk. What’s more, a lot of the jurors were impressed with the defense lawyer’s paid lapdog, who testified that breath tests could easily be off by .4 or .5, so it was possible that the defendent’s BAC was really no more than .7 or so.

To make a long story short, eventually we convicted him. But it took me and one other guy a day and a half to convince everyone else that acquittal would essentially mean that breath tests were unreliable and that nobody with a BAC under, say, 1.4 should ever be convicted.

So there’s one possible reason for lowering the legal BAC even further: because juries have a hard time convicting people of drunk driving unless they are well above the legal limit.

POSTSCRIPT: This story has a funny ending. After the trial was over we got to talk to the prosecutor a bit, and he told us that he had been nervous about the verdict because of two specific jurors who seemed like they might be partial to the defendent. One of them wore a USC class ring, which meant he might be an ex-frat boy, and the other seemed like a very conservative, poker-faced guy who would sympathize with the CEO defendent. The poker-faced guy was me, and the USC grad was the only other vote to convict in the initial tally. So not only did we vote to convict, we were the ones who eventually brought everyone else around. I guess jury selection in drunk driving cases is not quite the fine science that it is in John Grisham novels.