The Nicest Thing I’ll Say about Mike Pence

A lot of ink is being spilled about how Pence has hired outside counsel. In particular, there is a theory going around that this proves Mike Pence is in some way guilty or hiding something.

Okay, this might be true! Pence was head of the transition and therefore could have known about whatever wrongdoing Flynn, Manafort, Carter, Sessions, and Page are working hard to hide. So the read that Pence has hired a lawyer and could well be worried about the investigation isn’t off the wall. It’s definitely how I read Trump’s decision to hire outside counsel, after all.

That said, hiring outside counsel is a matter of course in these situations for three reasons. First, when an investigation gets close, you should hire a lawyer just to keep things on the up-and-up. You want to quickly, accurately, and forthrightly respond through a competent professional especially if you have nothing to hide. Second of all, White House counsel is supposed to defend the White House; they do not explicitly defend Trump and Pence. Even Mike Pence is smart enough to know he might want his own lawyer. Finally, Trump has hired outside counsel whose job is to show that Trump is plausibly innocent. You know who makes a great fall guy? Head of the transition. Hiring a lawyer to defend against that is sensible.

So, yeah, the lawyer is mostly proof of swirling scandal. Nothing new about it.

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The GOP is Suddenly Anti-Violence

It was the kind of gadfly news story that no one is going to remember in a year. The President’s son, Eric, said that critics of his father “are not even people“. Indeed, he’d “never seen hatred like this”. There was outrage. There were thinkpieces. There were condemnations. And we moved on.

Eric Trump is emblematic precisely because he is forgettable. His father, of course, may have incited violence, if not to a legal standard, then certainly in the court of public opinion. Ted Nugent offered to shoot the last first family. Congressional Republicans, quite apart from endlessly protecting gun access, have blocked investigations into right wing militias. There is at least one member of an actual, honest-to-Hitler Nazi Party working in the White House, the rest of the Nazi and Fascist adjacent pantheon of deplorables notwithstanding. Trump has called for “second amendment people” to deal with his opponents.

Apart from cozying up with this sort of endless performative violence, the GOP has constantly poisoned the well of discourse. Do you remember when we had the Obamacare debate and there were going to be Death Panels? Gay panic has mercifully receded in the last five years, but state legislatures still have people willing to say that LGB and especially T folks are nothing more than prowling rapists and murderers lurking in your local public restrooms. Liberals give shelter to illegals (rapists, murders, and, some, I assume, good people) and Muslim terrorists. The GOP has become a cult of fear, imagining political violence barely contained within liberal ranks and convincing its voters, by way of Fox News, to arm themselves and take all possible measures to thwart us.

I’m not suggesting that yesterday’s shooting in Alexandria was caused by this directly. Though, now that I say it, there is something to be said for the fact that Sander’s hyperbolic talk of “rigged systems” and “revolution” thrives when laid against GOP extremism. But what I’m really suggesting is that the hypocrisy of suddenly finding a need for restraint in political discourse is really fucking rich. Liberals self-evidently need to clean house; the Sanders set in particular has drawn more than one extremist. But if there is one person I am not taking advice from about how to do that, it’s noted blight on American discourse, Newt Gingrich. Watching Congressional Republicans respond to the President’s fire hose of bile and vitriol with silence and Paul Ryan’s oddly glassy stare has been a masterclass in how to not to clean house.

But you know why I’m actually %10,000 done with this? There is an epidemic of violence in this country. We just had the 1-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting where 49 people—mostly queer, mostly Latino—were gunned down. Hate crimes are swelling. Systemic police violence is a lot like stormy weather; it comes a few times a summer in most cities. Congressional Republicans have the power to address all these things with the full force of the American Constitution behind them. They haven’t, they aren’t, and it makes clear where their priorities lie.

But, I guess they postponed the hearing about improving access to silencers, so maybe they are turning over a new leaf.

The Laffer Curve and Kansas

What is the matter with Kansas? After several years of budget crisis, they are finally admitting—in a dramatic fashion—that cutting taxes maybe contributed to the state budget deficit. The argument for cutting taxes in the first place hinged on an arcane bit of economic theory called the Laffer Curve. Named for Reagan’s economic adviser, the Laffer Curve asserts that under certain circumstances, lower taxes can actually allow the government to make more money.

The Laffer curve is not as crazy as reports make it sound—though it isn’t exactly the most urgent model either. The idea is that the higher the tax rate, the less people buy because it drives up the final cost; the higher the price of pizza the less you buy. Presumably, consumers don’t care very much if the price reflects tax, profit, or business expenses. That means the tax base, the amount of money that can be taxed, is shrinking. At the same time, the higher tax rate means that the amount of the tax base that becomes tax is higher.

This tug-of-war between a shrinking tax base and a growing tax rate doesn’t play out in any general way; there is no rule for when one might expect one to outweigh the other. With that said, let’s take a pretty standard supply and demand graph like you might find in an introductory textbook. You would expect to find two straight lines, one sloping up and one sloping down. The numbers* I assumed are purely fiction, chosen for their mathematical form and not based on Kansas data. Nonetheless, they illustrate the essential problem to a good approximation. Graphing the amount of revenue the government earns versus the tax rate gives you this chart:

Laffer Curve.png

Notice that until the tax rate is a whopping 200% the government makes more money for raising taxes. 200% isn’t an unusual number to get for the turnaround point on the Laffer Curve for a broad range of assumptions, though I must note it is possible to contrive models that put it near Kansas’s tax rate. Nonetheless, for a number of completely standard assumptions, the warning of the Laffer Curve is that if you lower taxes, the government will make less money.

Why did Governor Brownback fall for something freshmen getting econ degrees could have computed as wrong? I suspect it is wishful thinking. The analysis that Brownback relied on was sophisticated, and had an additional supposition that the low tax rate would draw businesses into the state. (They never came.) There is something appealing to my contrarian nature about the idea that taxes going up makes revenue go down, and I bet that would be stronger if I were conservative. It’s also possible—though I can only speculate—that Brownback just doesn’t care if revenue falls.

Trump’s budget makes the same kinds of claims, that if we cut taxes, GDP will roar. Conservatives in particular like to talk about the States as “laboratories of Democracy”; it is one of the places I agree. The experiment succeeded in Kansas; under normal circumstances, cutting taxes leads to decreased revenue, not an increase.




*I used {S: p=q} and {D: p=10-q} in case anyone is dying to verify my work.