27 January 2008

While We're On The Subject

I highly recommend the Fiscal Year 2006 Financial Report of the United States Government, released last month, which has a lot of good information on federal government finances.

26 January 2008

A Budgetary Experiment

We've been discussing government spending over at the Daily Duck and so I thought I'd grab some data from the NIPA accounts over at the Bureau of Economic Analysis and then calculate and graph government expenditures and receipts, federal expenditures and receipts and national defense expenditures as percentages of GDP. The data starts in 1929, but because of limitations and changes in the data, this chart starts in 1960.

Because I wanted to play around with Excel a little bit, I've posted the original chart and data on the web. Feel free to play around with it. (This will likely only work if you have Excel and IE, and maybe not even then.)

Ask and ye shall receive. This gives us some historical perspective, but I don't know that this is a particularly useful statistic. Comparing national debt to GDP is something like comparing the total amount of your mortgage to your annual income. For that reason, I threw in interest paid as a percent of GDP.

I've also added OECD data for governmental debt as a percentage of GDP.

23 January 2008

Send Your Complaints To Toni Morrison

In the comments below, Skipper asks why Bill Clinton is called our first black president. The answer is, unfortunately, because of his disfunctions. The phrase comes from a Toni Morrison piece in the New Yorker:
African-American men seemed to understand it right away. Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President's body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and bodysearched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear "No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and--who knows?--maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us."

22 January 2008

Other Stuff?

Hillary and Barack at the debate, from the AP:
Obama even allowed that former President Clinton had earned his enormous affinity in the black community when he was asked if Clinton deserved his title as the "first black president."

"I have to say that, I would have to investigate more of Bill's dancing abilities and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother," Obama said.

"Well, I'm sure that can be arranged," Clinton responded.
It's not worth, at this late date, complaining about the double standard. But what "other stuff" would Senator Obama have to investigate? And how would Hillary arrange it?

19 January 2008

Why We're Going To Miss W

The most difficult trait for a leader is to be reliably right ex post. Any idiot can be right ex ante. After all, all the relevant data is at least knowable. That so many are so wrong ex ante just demonstrates what fundamentally stupid and irrational creatures we really are.

But being right ex post is genuinely hard. The most important facts -- what's going to happen between the decision and the result -- can't be known. From the point of view of the future, every decision is a gamble and in this game not even the true odds are known.

It is, therefore, remarkable that President Bush is right as often as he is. I'm thinking here, in particular, of his decision on funding research into embryonic stem cells. Given what we've discovered since, his decision that the federal government would fund primarily research into adult stem cells turned out to be the right decision scientifically. The world doesn't usually work like that: morality doesn't necessarily translate into doing what best from a purely utilitarian view point. Not torturing terrorists is the right decision, but pretending that there's no cost in the form of dead Americans because "torture doesn't work" is simply ignoring the cost of our decision.

A president who makes decisions that turn out for the best in the long run is invaluable. It might also be unknowable until the person actually becomes president. There was, for example, no way to know that Jimmy Carter would be the anti-W, a president who's every important decision turned out to be wrong. This does show, though, that democracy has no special talent for being right ex post.

10 January 2008

If It Were True

First, such words can do direct injury to viewers. Words are animate things, with lives and desires of their own, and unproven statements such as CNN's "best political team on television" corrode the ear canal and eat away at the brain pan.
These words would have risen up off the page and beat him silly.

At the bottom of the page, the author, in "Related in Slate," uses "essays" as a verb and gets it wrong.

09 January 2008

Assume A Can Opener

Let's assume that computer programs can reach a level of consciousness indistinguishable from human consciousness.

Then, clearly, computers could run multiple consciousnesses.

Those consciousnesses would receive all of their "sensory" inputs from their programming.

The number of consciousnesses that could be run at any one time would be purely a function of computing power.

Any civilization that could do this would do this.

Any civilization that could do this would be able to run social science experiments, in which the computer consciousnesses would be subject to various beginning states, requiring multiple massive multi-consciousness programs.

Necessarily, the software consciousnesses in such an experiment would not know that they are software.

With each instance of a massive multi-consciousness program, the ex ante likelihood that any given consciousness is "real" rather than software decreases arithmetically.

Only More Explicit

Women Are Never Front-Runners (Gloria Steinem, New York Times, 1/8/08)
The woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.

Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?

If you answered no to either question, you’re not alone. Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.
The purpose of the women's movement has always been to protect white privilege from blacks.

08 January 2008

What Goes Around Comes Around

This is an interesting video of Bill Clinton blaming the media for covering up for Obama. But the important question is, When did Bill come to look like Ted Kennedy?