Waking Up and Moving On

Rising from a bed where I dreamt
Of long rides past castles and hot coals
The sun lies happily on my knees.
I have suffered and survived the night
Bathed in dark water like any blade of grass.

That’s a bit of Robert Bly – the American poet who also wrote Iron John: A Book About Men – as being a man can be as hard as being a woman. There are too many assumptions about how you have to be – and being brutal and thoughtless, and ready at any time to jump any woman, just doesn’t cut it. That’s the stuff of fourth-rate movies – Rambo and so on. Real life is more complicated than that. Sometimes you wake up and realize just that, and it’s a relief when you do. Those castles and hot coals weren’t real. The morning sun is.

Pro basketball players probably don’t read Robert Bly, or any poetry, but now one has suffered and survived the night and woke up:

With the simplest of sentences, NBA veteran Jason Collins set aside years of worry and silence to become the first active player in one of four major U.S. professional sports leagues to come out as gay.

In a first-person article posted Monday on the Sports Illustrated website, Collins begins: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

It wasn’t a revolutionary act, he just woke up:

The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully? …

No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly.

It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.

It was morning, and there’s this:

I’m from a close-knit family. My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding.

That preempts the Jesus-hates-gays crowd, and there’s this too, for those who like to joke about limp-wristed sissies:

I’m not afraid to take on any opponent. I love playing against the best. Though Shaquille O’Neal is a Hall of Famer, I never shirked from the challenge of trying to frustrate the heck out of him. (Note to Shaq: My flopping has nothing to do with being gay.) My mouthpiece is in, and my wrists are taped. Go ahead – take a swing – I’ll get up. I hate to say it, and I’m not proud of it, but I once fouled a player so hard that he had to leave the arena on a stretcher.

I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I’ve always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn’t make you soft? Who knows?

He doesn’t care. The question is stupid anyway. He is who he is, and Jason Wertheim adds perspective:

Collins didn’t do this to make a political statement, much less to satisfy a sponsor. To his great relief, he didn’t do it under duress; that is, he wasn’t outed or “caught” by the smartphone paparazzi… Collins had simply grown tired. Tired of being alone; tired of coming home to an empty house; tired of relying on Shadow, his German shepherd, for company; tired of watching friends and family members find spouses and become parents; tired of telling lies and half-truths – “cover stories like a CIA spy,” he says with his distinctive cackle – to conceal that he’s gay. He was also tired of … being tired.

Collins’ twin brother Jarron, who played ten seasons in the NBA himself, adds this:

What does Jason want out of this? He wants to live his life. He wants a relationship, he wants a family – he wants to settle down. He wants to move forward with his personal life while maintaining his life as a professional basketball player. That’s all, really.

The reaction around the league might have surprised some – superstars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant said they were proud of Collins. He’s a pretty good utility player, smart as hell and a team player, even a bit of a leader. He got game, as they say, and that’s all that matters, so the top guys were telling everyone else to back off. They’ve got his back. There were dissenters, but they suddenly seemed like assholes.

There was a reason for that. The end of Don’t-Ask Don’t-Tell didn’t ruin our military – it simply gave us more smart and deadly and mean guys whose personal life is their own damned business. This Collins announcement won’t ruin the NBA either – you can play the game or you can’t. That’s pretty simple, and this was also the day the New York Jets released the absurdly manly Jesus-quarterback Tim Tebow – who is also, by all accounts, a great guy. He’s also a lousy quarterback. Manliness and Jesus couldn’t fix that. There will be no offers from other teams. Evangelical manliness won’t help you find an open receiver.

And that was that – done. Can we move on now?

That actually may be easy to do in sports, where the stakes are hardly existential. Losing the championship in the seventh game of the playoffs with one lucky three-point shot at the buzzer from the other guys and the world doesn’t end. No one gets hurt, even if the fans moan. It’s not real life, where people do get hurt, as with sequestration. Congress leapt into action and got the air-traffic controllers back to work, but they still say simplify – spend less. Obama could have vetoed the FAA bill while standing at a Head Start that’s about to throw needy children out of the program. He could have vetoed it from the home of a jobless worker who just saw her benefits cut. He could have insisted that the powerful can’t get out of sequestration unless the powerless can too. But he didn’t. It has been said that we like to see economics as a morality play – a tale of excess and its consequences. We lived beyond our means, the story goes, and now we’re paying the inevitable price. That’s simplistic nonsense. Austerity economics is just that.

In fact, the underlying calculations that support the idea that austerity creates prosperity – the Republican truth of all truths – were flat-out wrong. It was an Excel coding error of all things. The data, now corrected, show what’s what – austerity policies always make things worse in hard times, and you can prove it.

It was kind of like waking up. The nightmare long ride past castles and hot coals was unnecessary. It’s just odd that we didn’t wake up sooner, but Neil Irwin explains how this all came about in his new book The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire – which he now compresses into this:

The era of austerity began on February 5, 2010. That was when the finance ministers and central bankers of the seven major industrialized powers flew to the remote Arctic village of Iqaluit, Canada. That meeting of the Group of Seven came at a time when the extraordinary financial rescues and fiscal and monetary stimulus of the crisis seemed to have done their job and the world economy was on the mend.

Sovereign debt crises had emerged in Greece and Dubai, and to the men and women in that summit in the Arctic, held amid weather that was a balmy zero degrees Fahrenheit, there was growing conviction that it was time to look toward the exits, to begin bringing deficits down and think seriously about how to unwind the expansive monetary interventions that had been taken. Also, there was dogsledding.

They were wrong about the world economy being on the mend. It was not, austerity was the wrong thing at the wrong time, but they eventually woke up:

The first substantive sentence in the communique following the meeting of the Group of 20 leading nations of the world on April 19 puts it succinctly: “We reaffirmed our determination to raise growth and create jobs.” No caveats, and surprisingly un-mealy-mouthed. That tone – of focusing on too few jobs instead of the risks from government debt and inflation – has been increasingly common in recent weeks.

It wasn’t just that Excel error, as there were other factors:

No blowback for Japan….The Bank of Japan has undertaken open-ended quantitative easing of its own in pursuit of 2 percent annual inflation in a country where deflation has been the norm for two decades… The international community isn’t coming down on Japan with anywhere near the ire that the Fed saw three years ago.

Growing awareness that U.S. deficits are already falling… There is deepening recognition that – through spending cuts in the debt ceiling deal in 2011 including sequestration, tax increases as part of the fiscal cliff, and a growing economy – U.S. deficits are falling quite quickly. That being the case, Congressional Democrats are increasingly looking to hold the line and say “No Mas” to further near-term deficit reduction.

The slow-moving disaster that is Europe… Europe has been the poster child for aggressive austerity… The result is depression in the European periphery and recession in the core… But the European Central Bank appears set to hop on the easy money train in its meeting on Thursday. And it wouldn’t be shocking if, either this week or in a future month, the ECB seeks out some more innovative tool to funnel loans to the smaller businesses that are being frozen out from getting credit. The institution that most eagerly embraced austerity and tight money three years ago, in other words, is inching away from it as well.

Kevin Drum adds this:

Of the three things on Irwin’s list (and you should probably add Britain’s performance in there somewhere), I’d guess that Europe is the most important by far. The political barriers to doing the right thing remain pretty strong, but it’s getting to the point that I suspect even Germans are starting to wonder if the game is worth the candle. There might be worse things than higher inflation or big flows of money heading south, and the specter of Europe spiraling apart may just qualify. … The austerity experiment has pretty spectacularly failed, and before too much longer even the technocrats of the EU are going to have to face up to this.

Irwin thinks that might take time:

It is worth a reminder that the change in tone from global economic policymakers does not always translate into substantive change in policy, and certainly not immediately. Eurozone nations are continuing on their budget-slashing path for now, as is Britain, and the sequestration policy in the United States appears destined to remain in place with only modest changes. In other words, for some time to come, residents of the major industrialized nations will still be living with policy choices made during the austerity era.

We don’t know yet what practical results will come from the new tone from global policymakers. But we do know that what global policymakers were trying for the last few years didn’t work terribly well. And the best hope is that the Washington 2013 consensus leads to a better world economy than Iqaluit 2010 did.

Politico reports on that changing Washington consensus:

Aided by a pile of recent data suggesting the deficit is already shrinking significantly and current spending cuts are slowing the economy, more Democrats such as Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen are coming around to the point of view that fiscal austerity, in all its forms, is more the problem than the solution. …

“Trying to just land on the debt too quickly would really harm the economy; I’m convinced of that,” Kaine, hardly a wild-eyed liberal, said in an interview. “Jobs and growth should be No. 1. Economic growth is the best anti-deficit strategy.” …

“The Democratic position is that we have already made significant progress in terms of long-term deficit reduction, and we are already seeing a drag on the economy from the sequester,” said Van Hollen, ranking member of the House Budget Committee. “There is no excuse for putting the brakes on already slow economic growth. The Republican plan is a prescription for more European-style austerity.”

It’s not just those two:

The conservative American Enterprise Institute issued a paper last week saying Congress has already achieved enough deficit reduction for now. Other organizations not typically associated with free-spending liberalism, including the International Monetary Fund and Goldman Sachs, have cautioned that the austerity movement – which favors rapid reduction of national debt – may be worsening Europe’s economic problems and slowing down the U.S. recovery, as well.

“American fiscal austerity has been moderate and probably, at the current pace of deficit reduction of about $300 billion per year over the next half decade has proceeded far enough for now,” AEI scholar John Makin wrote last week.

Everyone is waking up at the same time, even Goldman Sachs, saying austerity policies will drop the GDP two full points. Morning sunshine is pleasant, and it is a bad time for spending cuts, as Paul Krugman explains once again:

Let’s start with what may be the most crucial thing to understand: the economy is not like an individual family.

Families earn what they can, and spend as much as they think prudent; spending and earning opportunities are two different things. In the economy as a whole, however, income and spending are interdependent: my spending is your income, and your spending is my income. If both of us slash spending at the same time, both of our incomes will fall too.

And that’s what happened after the financial crisis of 2008. Many people suddenly cut spending, either because they chose to or because their creditors forced them to; meanwhile, not many people were able or willing to spend more. The result was a plunge in incomes that also caused a plunge in employment, creating the depression that persists to this day.

Why did spending plunge? Mainly because of a burst housing bubble and an overhang of private-sector debt – but if you ask me, people talk too much about what went wrong during the boom years and not enough about what we should be doing now. For no matter how lurid the excesses of the past, there’s no good reason that we should pay for them with year after year of mass unemployment.

We should go the other way:

This is a time for above-normal government spending, to sustain the economy until the private sector is willing to spend again. The crucial point is that under current conditions, the government is not – repeat not – in competition with the private sector. Government spending doesn’t divert resources away from private uses; it puts unemployed resources to work. Government borrowing doesn’t crowd out private investment; it mobilizes funds that would otherwise go unused.

Now, just to be clear, this is not a case for more government spending and larger budget deficits under all circumstances – and the claim that people like me always want bigger deficits is just false. For the economy isn’t always like this – in fact, situations like the one we’re in are fairly rare. By all means let’s try to reduce deficits and bring down government indebtedness once normal conditions return and the economy is no longer depressed. But right now we’re still dealing with the aftermath of a once-in-three-generations financial crisis. This is no time for austerity.

Saying that used to be out of fashion, and now it’s not:

People like me predicted right from the start that large budget deficits would have little effect on interest rates, that large-scale “money printing” by the Fed (not a good description of actual Fed policy, but never mind) wouldn’t be inflationary, that austerity policies would lead to terrible economic downturns. The other side jeered, insisting that interest rates would skyrocket and that austerity would actually lead to economic expansion. Ask bond traders, or the suffering populations of Spain, Portugal and so on, how it actually turned out.

Is the story really that simple, and would it really be that easy to end the scourge of unemployment? Yes – but powerful people don’t want to believe it. Some of them have a visceral sense that suffering is good, that we must pay a price for past sins (even if the sinners then and the sufferers now are very different groups of people). Some of them see the crisis as an opportunity to dismantle the social safety net. And just about everyone in the policy elite takes cues from a wealthy minority that isn’t actually feeling much pain.

Yes, but morning sunlight can fix that:

What has happened now, however, is that the drive for austerity has lost its intellectual fig leaf, and stands exposed as the expression of prejudice, opportunism and class interest it always was. And maybe, just maybe, that sudden exposure will give us a chance to start doing something about the depression we’re in.

Maybe it will, but Krugman knows what he faces:

One criticism I face fairly often is the assertion that I must be dishonest – I must be cherry-picking my evidence, or something – because the way I describe it, I’m always right while the people who disagree with me are always wrong. And not just wrong, they’re often knaves or fools. How likely is that?

But may I suggest, respectfully, that there’s another possibility? Maybe I actually am right, and maybe the other side actually does contain a remarkable number of knaves and fools.

He defines those this way:

Am I (and others on my side of the issue) that much smarter than everyone else? No. The key to understanding this is that the anti-Keynesian position is, in essence, political. It’s driven by hostility to active government policy and, in many cases, hostility to any intellectual approach that might make room for government policy. Too many influential people just don’t want to believe that we’re facing the kind of economic crisis we are actually facing.

And so you have the spectacle of famous economists retreading 80-year-old fallacies, or misunderstanding basic concepts like Ricardian equivalence; of powerful officials instantly canonizing research papers that turn out to be garbage in, garbage out; and so on down the line.

I know, the critics will respond that I’m the one who’s being political – but again, look at how the debate has run so far.

The point is not that I have an uncanny ability to be right; it’s that the other guys have an intense desire to be wrong. And they’ve achieved their goal.

Yes, they’ve achieved their goal, as ThinkProgress lists here:

Long-term unemployment: There are 4.7 million Americans who have been unemployed for longer than six months, but sequestration cut federal long-term unemployment insurance checks by up to 10.7 percent, costing recipients as much as $450 over the rest of the year. Those cuts compound the cuts eight states have made to their unemployment programs, and 11 states are considering dropping the federal program altogether because of sequestration – even though the long-term unemployed are finding it nearly impossible to return to work.

Head Start: Low-income children across the country have been kicked out of Head Start education programs because of the 5-percent cuts mandated by sequestration, as states have cut bus transportation services and started conducting lotteries to determine which kids would no longer have access to the program, even though the preschool program has been proven to have substantial benefits for low-income children. In all, about 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Cancer treatment: Budget cuts have forced doctors and cancer clinics to deny chemotherapy treatments to thousands of cancer patients thanks to a 2 percent cut to Medicare. One clinic in New York has refused to see more than 5,000 of its Medicare patients, and many cancer patients have had to travel to other states to receive their treatments, an option that obviously isn’t available to lower-income people. …

Health research: The National Institutes of Health lost $1.6 billion thanks to sequestration, jeopardizing important health research into AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. That won’t just impact research and the people who do it, though. It will also hurt the economy, costing the U.S. $860 billion in lost economic growth and at least 500,000 jobs. Budget cuts will also hamper research at colleges and universities.

There’s also low-income housing – one hundred forty thousand low-income families, seniors with disabilities and families with children, will lose rental assistance. The cost of student loans will go up, and local Meals on Wheels programs for low-income and disabled seniors will be decimated, and FEMA will lose a billion dollars in funding, and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program loses almost two hundred million in funding, so the losers out there will be cold this winter. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will do even less – so stay away from Texas fertilizer plants, and so on and so forth.

But maybe the nightmare is over. That basketball player can say, hey, I’m gay – there’s no point in pretending what is isn’t – and it may be the same with austerity economics. Everyone knows what’s what now. Repeal the sequester, already!

Can we move on now?

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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