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How Can Us Politics Survive No Shared Understanding of the Economy?

October 15, 2019 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

We’ve all heard the sayings. Whether it’s former journalist CP Scott’s: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”, or the late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts”, it’s comforting to believe that certain realities are beyond reasonable dispute.

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Yet even basic “facts” about the economy in the US are today wrangled over. Republicans and Democrats there don’t just disagree about the wisdom of certain policy ideas or whether observed trends in certain metrics are worrisome. Each side has their very own data and account of the world, creating irreconcilable narratives about the state of the nation.

Left-wing Democratic Presidential candidates, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, reach for academic work to claim there’s been income stagnation for four decades, spiralling inequality, a tax system becoming ever less progressive, and endemic poverty.

Republicans reject all these claims, themselves armed with studies from credible university professors and government sources. In a country riven by tribalism, and beset by segmented news consumption, economists fail even to provide politicians with a simple shared understanding of the state of the American economy.

Exhibit A comes from a conference in New York this past Monday. On the first panel, progressive economist Joseph Stiglitz (a Nobel Prize winner) claimed that earnings for ordinary American workers had not risen for 40 years. Just an hour later, former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, conservative Doug Holtz-Eakin, said this was totally wrong. Both could call on academic support.

Economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have concluded that the bottom 50pc of Americans have seen no gains in real pre-tax income for four decades. Yet another study by Gerald Auten of the US Treasury and David Splinter of the Joint Committee on Taxation instead suggests the average real income of the bottom half of Americans has risen by nearly one-third since 1979, or two-thirds accounting for all taxes and benefits.

Such huge differences turn on assumptions about how to assess income, account for unreported income, or measure inflation – all methodological choices that no politicians will bother analysing.

Those same tensions underpin different political narratives on inequality. French economist Thomas Piketty famously concluded that the pre-tax income share of the top 1pc of Americans nearly doubled between 1979 and 2015, increasing …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Trump's Syria Conundrum Is a Sign That America Has Too Many Alliances

October 15, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

A key drawback of Washington’s growing global list of allies and security clients is that some of them hate each other more than any enemies of the United States. The current turmoil associated with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American military personnel from northern Syria highlights the problem. That deployment served as a symbolic barrier discouraging Turkey from attacking the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-dominated militia that had worked with the United States to combat ISIS.

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That collaboration has been a sore point in relations between Washington and Ankara for years. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan considers both the SDF and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)—a Marxist insurgent group that has been waging a secessionist war in southeastern Turkey for over three decades—to be terrorist organizations.

As a result, the Trump administration had been on an increasingly shaky diplomatic tightrope, endeavoring to placate both Ankara and the SDF. In November 2017, Trump tried to ease the Erdoğan government’s seething resentment by pledging to stop providing weapons to the SDF. His concession, though, had minimal effect. In August 2018, Erdoğan accused the United States of a “stab in the back” for continuing to support the Syrian Kurds.

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Critics who accuse Trump of giving Ankara a “green light” to launch the current military offensive against the SDF ignore the inherent dilemma in U.S. policy. Washington has certainly treated the Syrian Kurds as de facto allies in the fight against ISIS. But Turkey is more than a de facto ally—it is a formal U.S. treaty ally and a fellow member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

It is certainly possible to criticize that relationship, and I am on record (along with other critics) for advocating Turkey’s expulsion from NATO for a growing list of domestic and foreign policy misdeeds. But until the Alliance takes such action, the United States has both moral and legal obligations to Ankara. Washington cannot simply disregard Ankara’s …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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America’s Ill-Fated Syria Intervention: The Lessons Washington Must Learn

October 15, 2019 in Economics

By Christopher A. Preble, Doug Bandow

Christopher A. Preble and Doug Bandow

News that Turkey had sent its military into northeast Syria, after receiving a tacit green light from President Trump, marked a grim low point in U.S. involvement in the lengthy, multisided Syrian civil war. The fate of Kurdish forces who battled ISIS and civilians sheltered in refugee camps have generated understandable concern. But there has been too little reflection on how we arrived at this unhappy place. Americans should learn from the experience and pledge to avoid similar debacles in the future.

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The many problems with U.S. intervention in Syria began with an extraordinarily ambitious, and ultimately irreconcilable, set of goals. U.S. officials wanted to take advantage of the Arab Spring reform movements that erupted in early 2011 to oust Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while also thwarting Russian and Iranian ambitions in Syria and beyond. Both the Obama and Trump administrations relied on some violent extremists to defeat other radical groups, especially the Islamic State, which sought to establish its so-called Caliphate. Supporting regime change in Damascus undercut efforts to counter ISIS. Moreover, as ISIS gained strength, the United States enlisted the help of—and armed—Kurdish fighters, which contradicted promises to NATO ally Turkey. Particularly worrisome to Ankara was U.S. support for fighters associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist-Leninist organization which the U.S. government still lists as a terrorist organization.

In other words, successive administrations adopted policies toward a new and informal partner which conflicted with the long-held security concerns of a treaty ally of nearly sixty-eight years. In recent months, President Donald Trump has reiterated his desire to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria and hinted that he might give in to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s demand that the United States withdraw support from the Kurds along Turkey’s border. In both cases Trump encountered fierce resistance from within his administration and throughout the Washington foreign-policy establishment, and he retreated from that pressure. The White House’s latest announcement suggests that he still wants to wash his hands of the entire Syria imbroglio.

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