November 15, 2004

Recent work (and comments)

Since I'm trying to limit shameless self-promoting posts to, oh, I dunno, one or two a day, let me do a quick round-up of recent Mother Jones articles written, along with a few comments.

"Success in Fallujah" is not entirely worth reading—it's a basic boilerplate "win the battle, lose the war?" type fret. I'd only add something I've been harping on for awhile—if the Sunnis boycott the election, there's a real chance that the Shia could get 75 percent of the vote, at which point they'd have the ability to modify the constitution at will, since we rather bizarrely left this loophole in the Transitive Administration Law. I would also note the irony in the fact that the Republicans—whose entire concept of "democratic" government is to banish into irrelevance the U.S.'s minority party—is now trusted with helping Iraqis negotiate a constitution that protects minority rights. It's a lot like the irony in having a party that distrusts government programs for the unemployed now working to ameliorate Iraq's 75 percent unemployment rate. Huh.

"Going Nuclear" looks at the prospects for a resurgence of nuclear power in the United States. The piece does a cursory dismissal of concerns over storing waste at Yucca Mountain, though since writing it I've talked to a friend who knows everything about Yucca and has convinced me otherwise. Quick summary: Back in 1982 there were three sites considered for disposal. In 1986 an amendment was added to limit the number of sites to one—and since the Nevada delegation had the most junior Senators (including our own Harry Reid), it got foisted on Nevada. Since then scientists have learned that the water table beneath Yucca is rising much faster than expected, and that it might not be the sound site it was once considered. Ironically, the best nuclear waste site is actually located in salt fields in Texas. But I would assume that the home state of the two most powerful men in the United States is more or less off-limits.

Finally, a piece actually worth reading is this interview with Amelia Tyagi, co-author of the excellent Two-Income Trap. One caveat: in research on homeownership, I've come across reason to believe that one of her assertions—that people are going further into debt by owning homes—might not be true. The confusion, I think, comes from the fact that she (and many other bankruptcy scholars) look at total debt in relation to one's assets at fair valuation, and then concludes that people are in danger of going broke. But of course the only ratio that matters in this case is the debt-service ratio—or the ability to pay one's debts as they come due. On this measure, households aren't as debt-ridden as thought.

As an addendum, this confusion also informs much current thinking about Social Security, where analysts tend to look at "balance sheet" insolvency, rather balancing income flow against expenditures. This is important because if you make rather modest assumptions about productivity growth over the next 50 years, Social Security really isn't in much of a crisis at all. Of course, the balance sheet looks very bad, and that should probably be tidied up. But untidiness is different from a disaster.
-- Brad Plumer 3:59 PM || ||