TPM Cafe: Opinion

Ask a classical economist about unemployment, and the answer might surprise you: there is no such thing. In any society, there are always jobs that need doing by someone at some price. Therefore, theoretically, there is no unemployment; there is only an individual’s choice to work or not to work. Ask someone without gainful employment what he thinks of that answer, however, and the response is likely to be unprintable.

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Recently, a Texas judge ordered 16-year-old Ethan Couch to serve 10 years probation and rehabilitation for a drunken driving car crash for that killed four and injured two. An expert witness claimed “affluenza” as the underlying cause: Couch’s doting, wealthy parents infected their son with irresponsibility.

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The biggest challenge of the next century is going to be tackling the complications of man-made climate change. Unfortunately, the U.S. political system is dealing with it in the worst possible way. We’ve decided that what is up for debate is the scientific facts behind climate change, or even the idea of science itself. And it’s left us with an unwinnable argument that doesn’t address the problem.

That scientific debate is over, and has been for a while. A new report from the top scientific organizations in the U.S. and the U.K. makes that abundantly clear.

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Each month, we are treated to the release of several surveys of consumer sentiment. The most prominent come from the Conference Board and the University of Michigan. Markets and media treat these numbers as vital metrics about the health of the economy and its forward prospects. Investment funds pay for early access to the data. Negative readings are often treated as indicators that consumers are about to pare back their spending, while better reads are interpreted as positive signs for the weeks and months ahead.

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Overshadowed by both international and domestic developments and beset by terrible weather, Texas held the first major state primaries of the 2014 cycle yesterday. In the absence of a lot of red-hot congressional contests, the Lone Star event will mostly be interpreted as a barometer of this or that national trend, with varying degrees of accuracy.

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Once, during my sophomore year in college, a French-speaking classmate told me that he thought it was odd that my Spanish sounded so beautiful—since it sounded so ugly coming from the American Hispanics he knew. It wasn’t true in any objective sense, of course. I’d taken Spanish classes for seven years at that point, but my accent (and vocabulary, grammar, etc.) was more function than form. My Spanish was not more beautiful.

But I am white. And I carry Spanish along as a second language, as an ornament that was one of the best parts of my liberal arts education. My relationship to Spanish has little to do with native speakers’ relationship to the language.

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The Arab-Israeli War of October 1973, known as the Yom Kippur War, led the oil-producing Arab states to impose an oil embargo against Israel’s Western allies, the United States above all. The spike in inflation that began in 1973 followed the oil embargo and its soaring energy costs.

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Like most progressives I tend to believe, in the words of playwright Tony Kushner that “the world only spins forward.” But two books I am reading, side by side, have had the combined effect of making me re-think that notion. It is just possible that the United States is spinning backward and that a change in course — while possible — is certainly not inevitable.

The two books are The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right by Thomas Frank.

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The deficiencies of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of national health have long been recognized. The responses, however, haven’t really gotten to the nub of the problem.

Yes, GDP only measure how much stuff a nation makes and consumes; yes, how that is defined changes over time; and yes, the production and consumption of stuff can be a great good, but it can also be a great problem. GDP goes up after natural disasters because of the rebuilding, but hurricanes, tornados, droughts and earthquakes are hardly a healthy recipe for economic growth.

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In 1972, at the young age of sixteen, Jigme Singye Wangchuck became the fourth king of the mountain country of Bhutan. Nestled in the high Himalayas, Bhutan is a landlocked country about the size of Switzerland (or a bit larger than Maryland). It sits north of India, south of China, and on the way to nowhere.

The British left India in 1947, but two centuries of their rule still marked the region, and the once and future king had been sent away to English schools in Darjeeling, India, and then in London. He came back to Bhutan as a teen to learn about his future kingdom, which at the time had fewer than a half million people. Most lived in remote fertile valleys in the south. In the vertiginous and steep mountains of the north, the few inhabitants tended herds of sheep and yak. Isolated geographically and culturally—television was banned until 1999—Bhutan was an unlikely venue for a bold experiment.

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Want to contribute to TPM Cafe? Email ideas for your pieces to us at talk@talkingpointsmemo.com

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