Wonkblog: Interviews

How China’s appetite for raw materials is transforming the world

How China’s appetite for raw materials is transforming the world

The rise of China was arguably the biggest economic story of the 2000s. And a huge part of that tale was China's seemingly insatiable appetite for natural resources around the world.


As China industrialized at a breakneck pace, it bought up staggering quantities of everything from oil to copper to iron ore to wheat. Global commodity prices skyrocketed — with oil famously rising to a record $140 per barrel in 2008. Meanwhile, China's state-owned companies went on an investment spree in Latin America and Africa, in an attempt to secure mines, cropland, and raw materials.

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There have been five mass extinctions in Earth’s history. Now we’re facing a sixth.

There have been five mass extinctions in Earth’s history. Now we’re facing a sixth.

There have been five mass extinction events in Earth's history. In the worst one, 250 million years ago , 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species died off. It took millions of years to recover.


Nowadays, many scientists are predicting that we're on track for a sixth mass extinction. The world's species already seem to be vanishing at an unnaturally rapid rate. And humans are altering the Earth's landscape in far-reaching ways: We've hunted animals like the great auk to extinction. We've cleared away broad swaths of rain forest. We've transported species from their natural habitats to new continents. We've pumped billions of tons of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere and oceans, transforming the climate.

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Everyone likes the idea of equal opportunity. This economist thinks it’s a fantasy.

Everyone likes the idea of equal opportunity. This economist thinks it’s a fantasy.



Gregory Clark is a professor of economics at the University of California, Davis. His research centers around economic history, with his work on the Industrial Revolution in Britain culminating in his book, "
A Farewell to Alms ."

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Here’s how the SEC is preparing for life after financial crisis

Here’s how the SEC is preparing for life after financial crisis

After sharing the post for nearly a year, Andrew Ceresney is now the sole enforcement chief at the Securities and Exchange Commission, overseeing more than 1,200 employees in the agency's largest and most high-profile division.

It's not Ceresney's first stint in the public sector. Early in his legal career, he was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, working for then-U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White. When White left for private practice, Ceresney joined her at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York.

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‘You work until you die:’ Inside America’s fragmented safety net for the disabled

‘You work until you die:’ Inside America’s fragmented safety net for the disabled

Joe Entwisle first came to my attention over Twitter, where he is a high-volume contributor under the moniker @wheelieboy. Joe has worked extensively in several areas of disability policy and practice. He is now a Senior Health Policy Analyst at Health & Disability Advocates (HDA) here in Chicago. His Huffington Post essay “Debunking the Disability Trap” is a valuable look, from the inside, at the opportunities and the employment barriers that people really face when they rely on federal disability programs. We’re accustomed these days to hearing about Medicaid’s many shortcomings and the perverse incentives associated with public disability benefits. Entwisle’s story provides a valuable reminder that such programs support a worthy path to independence and well-being for millions of people.

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Bill Gates: ‘Capitalism did not eradicate smallpox’

Bill Gates: ‘Capitalism did not eradicate smallpox’

On Tuesday, Bill Gates released his annual letter commenting on his foundation's work. This year's edition takes particular aim at the "three myths" that block progress for the poor: The myth that aid doesn't work, the myth that aid is wasted and the myth that aid will just lead to overpopulation. We spoke about the three myths Tuesday morning. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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‘Over time, this will work out’: Wellpoint CEO Joe Swedish on Obamacare

‘Over time, this will work out’: Wellpoint CEO Joe Swedish on Obamacare

Joe Swedish is the chief executive of Wellpoint, one of the country's largest health insurance plans. As an insurer selling on 14 state exchanges, he has had a first-row seat to HealthCare.gov's botched rollout -- and is also seeing the health-care law's expansion of Medicaid transform his business. And even with the rocky start, Swedish says his plan still sees the exchanges as a growth opportunity that, in time, will work well.

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Larry Summers on why the economy is broken -- and how to fix it

Larry Summers on why the economy is broken -- and how to fix it

In November, former Treasury secretary Larry Summers took the podium at the International Monetary Fund's annual conference and delivered a speech that shook the economics world. The weak recovery, he hypothesized, isn't just the hangover from the financial crisis. It's evidence of a sickness that predated the crisis. Looking back over the last decade, he argued that the economy, even in the seemingly good times, has been incapable of creating enough demand absent bubbles or extraordinary stimulus. And that problem is getting worse by the day.

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A health industry expert on ‘the fundamental problem with Obamacare’

A health industry expert on ‘the fundamental problem with Obamacare’

Robert Laszewski is president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a policy and marketplace consulting firm where he works closely with many in the heath industry as they try to navigate the Affordable Care Act. He's also the author of the excellent Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review blog, as well as Wonkblog's 2013 "Pundit of the Year". We spoke on Wednesday. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Obamacare’s launch was bad. But many programs for the poor are worse.

Obamacare’s launch was bad. But many programs for the poor are worse.

David Super is a professor of law at Georgetown University. On Friday, he wrote a New York Times op-ed arguing that, as bad as Obamacare's launch has been, "food stamp and Medicaid recipients can only look on in envy." In it, he offered examples of the terrible service the government often offers to the poor, including a Colorado program that "refused food stamps to anyone who did not have a driver’s license from Guam" and a Georgia disaster that failed "to send renewal notices to the homes of some 66,000 food stamp recipients and about half that number of Medicaid beneficiaries: and terminated their coverage on November 1st."

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The group that got health reform passed is declaring victory and going home

The group that got health reform passed is declaring victory and going home

It’s hard to remember now, as the Affordable Care Act’s biggest programs come into effect, but many central decisions regarding Obamacare’s structure were made before anyone expected Barack Obama to be president. By the time he was a serious contender, Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards had all coalesced around strikingly similar health plans that would, in broad outline, become Obamacare.

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Our insane health-care system: free health care in prison, nothing afterward

Our insane health-care system: free health care in prison, nothing afterward

One of the first people I met at Yale was Dr. Frederick Altice, who provided care to HIV-infected prisoners and drug users at the community health-care van, a needle-exchange-based health service targeting street drug users.

One of my first times out, a woman came to the van to get some care. She was a sex worker, and she injected drugs. She was very grimy, probably homeless. Within the close quarters of that van, many of the other people waiting gave her a little extra room. Rick called her over. He pulled out an apple and split it with his penknife. He handed her one piece, and said, “Why don’t you share this with me?” As they ate together, he conducted a beautiful clinical interview.

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Do bigger governments lead to happier people?

Do bigger governments lead to happier people?

Benjamin Radcliff is a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. His current research focuses on how public policy affects human happiness. His recent book, "The Political Economy of Human Happiness," argues that generous welfare states and strong labor market protections produce happier citizens than do more laissez-faire policies. We spoke on the phone Thursday afternoon; a lightly edited transcript follows.

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How a long forgotten debate between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke explains American politics

How a long forgotten debate between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke explains American politics

Yuval Levin is the editor of National Affairs, as well as the Hertog fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor to National Review and the Weekly Standard. He was a member of George W. Bush's domestic policy staff. His new book is " The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left ." On Friday, we spoke about how that debate continues to shape American politics. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Here’s why conservatives should worry more about long-term unemployment

Here’s why conservatives should worry more about long-term unemployment

Michael Strain is an economist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose work focuses on long-term unemployment. Over the past year, he's been publishing papers and writing in places like National Review and the Weekly Standard urging conservatives to focus much more heavily on the plight of millions of workers who have been out of work for more than six months. We talked by phone Tuesday.

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Why are the monarch butterflies disappearing?

Why are the monarch butterflies disappearing?

Every November, millions of monarch butterflies arrive at the Oyamel fir forests in central Mexico, where they migrate to survive through the winter. Or at least that's what's supposed to happen.


In recent years, however, scientists have noticed a disturbing trend. The number of butterflies migrating to Mexico has been dropping sharply. Last winter, just 60 million butterflies arrived at their overwintering habitats, a record low. And early signs suggest that this winter's population might be even lower — though, do note, we're still awaiting final numbers.

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‘If you don’t like negotiating with Iran what you’re really saying is you want to go to war’

‘If you don’t like negotiating with Iran what you’re really saying is you want to go to war’

Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, and a member of Secretary of State John Kerry's International Security Advisory Board and the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons." We spoke this afternoon.

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Why did we go to war in Iraq? An interview with Peter Baker.

Why did we go to war in Iraq? An interview with Peter Baker.

Peter Baker is a White House correspondent for the New York Times and author of the excellent "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House". We spoke on Wednesday, and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: When the George W. Bush administration ended, a lot of people were really eager to move on. There was even this whole presidential campaign about “change.” So why did you decide to dive deep back into those years?

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Obama’s former exchange czar defends the insurance cancellations

Obama’s former exchange czar defends the insurance cancellations

Joel Ario is the former director of the office of health insurance exchanges at Health and Human Services and current managing director at Manatt Health Solutions. Before that, he served as the insurance commissioner in Pennsylvania and Oregon. He was the regulator who oversaw any changes that insurance companies wanted to make to their individual market plans -- so I gave him a call to discuss all the changes and cancellations happening right now. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.

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What Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor can teach us about political science

What Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor can teach us about political science

Toronto mayor Rob Ford has admitted to smoking crack while in office. He's endured a stream of stories all year about his substance abuse and erratic behavior. The major Toronto papers have called on him to resign. Yet he remains surprisingly popular — and refuses to step down. Last week, his approval rating even appeared to rise to 44 percent.*

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A hunger expert explains what happens now that food stamps are cut

Joel Berg is the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Before taking the former position, he served in senior positions in the Clinton Agriculture Department for eight years. He is the author of "All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?" We spoke on the phone Tuesday morning; an edited transcript follows.

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Low wages “aren’t what it’s about anymore”: Delaware’s governor on bringing jobs home

Low wages “aren’t what it’s about anymore”: Delaware’s governor on bringing jobs home

Delaware governor Jack Markell has traveled around the world quite a bit lately trying to drum up business for his small state's companies. We caught up with him at last week's SelectUSA conference to chat about how it's done. The following is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

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Q&A: How Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker wants to get foreigners to invest in America

Q&A: How Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker wants to get foreigners to invest in America

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is emceeing the first-ever SelectUSA summit today and Friday to woo more foreign companies to set up shop in the United States and encourage U.S. companies to expand here instead of overseas. My colleague Howard Schneider and I sat down with Pritzker to talk about the administration's strategy in this effort. Below is a lightly edited version of our interview.

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Should we use geoengineering to cool the Earth? An interview with David Keith.

Should we use geoengineering to cool the Earth? An interview with David Keith.

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to slow the pace of global warming. We could stop adding carbon-dioxide to the atmosphere. Or we could try to artificially cool the planet — say, by putting reflective particles in the stratosphere to block (some) sunlight.

The first option is typically the only one that comes up in policy discussions. But climate scientist David Keith has long argued that we should start thinking seriously about both strategies. His new book, "A Case for Climate Engineering ," makes the argument at length.

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‘HealthCare.gov is in de facto shutdown’

‘HealthCare.gov is in de facto shutdown’

Robert Laszewski is president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a policy and marketplace consulting firm that has him working closely with many in the heath industry as they try to navigate the Affordable Care Act, as well as the author of the excellent Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review blog. As such, he has a unique view on how the rollout looks from the industry side. We spoke on Wednesday. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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The lessons of HealthCare.Gov stretch far beyond Obamacare

The lessons of HealthCare.Gov stretch far beyond Obamacare

Clay Johnson is founder and CEO of the Department of Better Technology and the author of an e-book on modernizing the federal government's procurement process. He was also a founder of Blue State Digital, which powered much of the technology behind Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. And he's had some strong words for HealthCare.Gov. We spoke this morning, and an edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Interview: Gary Gensler explains how financial reform is going

Interview: Gary Gensler explains how financial reform is going

Health care wasn't the only area where the federal government launched an exchange this month designed to fix a broken system.

On Oct. 2, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) oversaw the launch of “swap execution facility" platforms. Called the “future of derivatives trading” by Bloomberg, these platforms are the culmination of reforms in Dodd-Frank designed to bring price transparency to the opaque and dark over-the-counter derivatives market that helped cause the financial crisis.

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‘Obamacare is a bit like the astronaut on top of the rocket’

‘Obamacare is a bit like the astronaut on top of the rocket’

Robert Laszewski is president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a policy and marketplace consulting firm that has him working closely with many in the heath industry as they try to navigate the Affordable Care Act, as well as the author of the excellent Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review blog. As such, he has a unique view on how the rollout looks from the industry side. We spoke on Monday. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Robert Shiller: ‘When I look around I see a lot of foolishness, and I can’t believe it’s not important economically’

Robert Shiller: ‘When I look around I see a lot of foolishness, and I can’t believe it’s not important economically’

On Monday, the Nobel Prize committee awarded three American economists, Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen, and Robert Shiller, the world's leading economic prize. Shiller won for his work explaining some of the limits of the hypothesis -- advanced in no small part by Fama -- that financial markets are efficient. Shiller, a professor at Yale, spoke with me by phone on Monday afternoon. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

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“My baby was shot with a gun that was bigger than he was.”

“My baby was shot with a gun that was bigger than he was.”

An opening proviso: Chicago is not Dodge City. We’re in the middle of the pack for large cities, with markedly lower homicide rates than St. Louis, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit and many other places. Homicides are down 20 percent this year. Progress is happening.

Still, Chicago is a tough town, where people bear witness to far too much violence. On Sept. 19, 13 people were shot in one incident in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. More than usual, I was personally shaken by the grisly details; including a 3-year-old being shot in the face with an AK-47 or similar weapon. As of this writing, five suspects are now in custody. Only last summer, one was convicted of being a felon illegally in possession of a gun. Sentenced to boot camp, he was pretty quickly out on the street again.

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The war between the Tea Party and K Street

The war between the Tea Party and K Street

"Anybody not reading [Tim Carney] regularly doesn't understand what's truly going on in DC or in the GOP," tweeted Michael Needham, CEO of Heritage Action. Since Heritage Action is driving quite a bit of what goes on in the Republican Party these days that's a strong endorsement.

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Tom Coburn: 'The president doesn't have the confidence of Congress that he'll do what he says'

Tom Coburn: 'The president doesn't have the confidence of Congress that he'll do what he says'

Sen. Tom Coburn is a Republican from Oklahoma. He's one of the Senate's leading fiscal conservative and was a member of both the Simpson-Bowles Commission and the Gang of Six. We spoke on Wednesday about the shutdown, the debt ceiling, and the American political system. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

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The left thinks business controls the Republican Party. They're wrong.

The left thinks business controls the Republican Party. They're wrong.

Theda Skocpol is a Harvard political scientist and co-author of "The Tea Party and the Remaking of American Conservatism." We spoke about the Tea Party's evolution, and its post-2012 tactics, Friday. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: Are you surprised the Tea Party is still capable of driving Congress this way?

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This cancer patient's treatment is on hold because of the government shutdown

This cancer patient's treatment is on hold because of the government shutdown

In April 2012, Michelle Langbehn was diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that affects 1 percent of cancer patients in the United States. After nine months of chemotherapy, she and her doctor began looking into other potential treatment options, including a trial at the National Institutes of Health.

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'People don't fully appreciate how committed the tea party is to not compromising'

'People don't fully appreciate how committed the tea party is to not compromising'

The story of the shutdown is, in large part, the story of mainstream Republicans realizing they can't control tea party Republicans -- and deciding that it's better to go along than to try and fight. Christopher Parker, a political scientist at the University of Washington, is co-author of the book "Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America", which employs large surveys and content analyses to better understand how the politics of the tea party differ from the politics of the Republican Party. We spoke on Wednesday, and a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.

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Why we won't mint the coin, why we can't just pay off bonds, and other scary debt-ceiling facts

Why we won't mint the coin, why we can't just pay off bonds, and other scary debt-ceiling facts

Mark A. Patterson is senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He was chief of staff at the Treasury Department from 2009 until May 2013 where he was deeply involved in the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. We spoke this morning, and a lightly-edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Grover Norquist on Ted Cruz: 'He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away'

Grover Norquist on Ted Cruz: 'He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away'

Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform and the creator of the anti-tax pledge that nearly every Republican in Congress has signed. We spoke on Tuesday about the government shutdown and its consequences for his agenda. A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.

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Why Boehner doesn't just ditch the hard right

Why Boehner doesn't just ditch the hard right

Robert Costa is the National Review's Washington editor and one of the best-sourced reporters among House Republicans. Like many others, I've relied on his reporting in recent days about how House Republicans are strategizing around the government shutdown. But it left me with some questions, particularly around Speaker John Boehner's strategy. We spoke by phone this afternoon, and a lightly edited transcript follows.

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'Shame on us': How businesses brought the debt limit mess onto themselves

On Friday, we noted that CEOs of major American companies are not a little exasperated at what's going on in Washington. Some of them, though, recognize that they were part of the problem to begin with. World Fuel Services chairman Paul Stebbins -- a Georgetown government major who now runs a company ranked 74 on the Fortune 100 -- didn't need much prompting to describe how things went wrong, how corporate guys are withholding money from PACs that aren't part of the solution, and why they'd rather pay more taxes to make the uncertainty go away.

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'No one is going to be left behind:' An interview with the District's Obamacare head

'No one is going to be left behind:' An interview with the District's Obamacare head

Welcome to Health Reform Watch, Sarah Kliff's regular look at how the Affordable Care Act is changing the American health-care system — and being changed by it. You can reach Sarah with questions, comments and suggestions here. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon for the latest edition, and read previous columns here.

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Chris Van Hollen: ‘I don’t think anybody knows how it ends. And that’s a very dangerous place to be in.’

Chris Van Hollen: ‘I don’t think anybody knows how it ends. And that’s a very dangerous place to be in.’

Chris Van Hollen is the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. We spoke Monday about the possibility of a government shutdown and a debt ceiling breach. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: How do you see the continuing resolution playing out?

Chris Van Hollen: It’s very difficult to predict. We don’t know exactly how this will play out in the Senate. The best guess is that Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats will strip out the provision that eliminates the Affordable Care Act and send it back to the House. The question then is what Speaker Boehner does. We just don’t know what his plans are. If he decides to attach some other demand to the CR and send it back to the Senate, then you would have a government shutdown.

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The best TV show about college returns. We talked to the man behind it.

The best TV show about college returns. We talked to the man behind it.

Brad Neely is a comic book artist and animator, best known for his Web videos set in the fictional town of China, IL, including the series "I Am Baby Cakes," "The Professor Brothers," and "China, IL." The latter has been adapted into a TV series of the same name by Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, with Neely as the head writer. The second season premieres at 11:30 p.m. this Sunday, on Cartoon Network.

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Elton John saved someone’s life tonight: A chat with the musician on his AIDS charity

Elton John is Elton John. In 1992, inspired by his friend Ryan White (who had died of the disease two years earlier), he founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation, a major nonprofit working on HIV prevention, as well as care and treatment for those with the disease. The initial organization, based in New York, was followed the next year by a London branch. The U.S. and U.K. branches have, together, raised over $300 million to support programs in 55 different countries, making it one of the 20 largest private philanthropic HIV/AIDS grant-makers. A list of the foundation's areas of specialty, as well as specific projects and grantees, is available here. John's book on the subject, Love is the Cure , was released last year. The paperback will be out in November, with a new foreword from Dr. Paul Farmer.

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‘The vision people have of a military base with uniformed military marching around, that’s not what the Navy Yard is.’

‘The vision people have of a military base with uniformed military marching around, that’s not what the Navy Yard is.’

This morning, authorities say, as many as two gunmen converged on the Washington Navy Yard, killing at least four people and wounding many others. The Washington Post's liveblog is providing up-to-the-minute coverage of the events. For a bit of context, I spoke with a former member of the Air Force with experience in base security. For reasons related to his current job, he asked to remain anonymous.

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Being poor changes your thinking about everything

Being poor changes your thinking about everything



Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir are two leading figures in the hot (if occasionally oversold) field of behavioral economics. Mullainathan teaches economics at Harvard and is a MacArthur Fellow. Shafir teaches psychology and public policy at Princeton. This week, they released an accessible short book titled "Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much," which summarizes some of the best behavioral economics work.

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The man who wrote the book on the U.N. Security Council tells how it’s handling Syria

The man who wrote the book on the U.N. Security Council tells how it’s handling Syria

David Bosco is an assistant professor of international politics at American University’s School of International Service. He is the author of “Five to Rule Them All,” a history of the U.N. Security Council. He writes the Multilateralist blog for Foreign Policy magazine; you can find him on Twitter @multilateralist. We talked on the phone Wednesday morning about how the Syria situation is likely play out at the U.N. A lightly edited transcript follows.

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Drought helped cause Syria’s war. Will climate change bring more like it?

Drought helped cause Syria’s war. Will climate change bring more like it?

Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell are co-founders of the D.C.-based Center for Climate and Security, a think tank focused on the interactions between climate change and security issues. In recent years, they’ve published a number of reports looking at the environmental roots of both the Arab Spring and the ongoing civil war in Syria.

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‘This is probably the first war in history where the attacking party has set out to not destroy the other side’

‘This is probably the first war in history where the attacking party has set out to not destroy the other side’

James Risch is a Republican Senator from Idaho, and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He voted against the committee’s resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria. On Thursday, we spoke about why. An transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.

Ezra Klein: How are you thinking about Syria at this point?

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Alan Grayson: ‘They have no smoking gun that the attack was ordered by Assad’

Alan Grayson: ‘They have no smoking gun that the attack was ordered by Assad’

Alan Grayson is a Democratic congressman from Florida and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He’s also one of the House’s most vocal skeptics of striking Syria. We spoke on Friday. A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows:

Ezra Klein: Let’s begin at the beginning. Give me your broad thoughts on intervening in Syria.

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Sen. Chris Coons on the U.S.’s three missions in Syria

Sen. Chris Coons on the U.S.’s three missions in Syria

Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. We spoke on Thursday about Syria. A transcript follows, edited for length and clarity.

Ezra Klein: Let’s start broad. How are you approaching the question of whether to intervene in Syria?

Chris Coons: I’ve heard a lot of concern from Delawarians. Folks have contacted me by calling my office, sending me Facebook messages, buttonholing me on the street. Overwhelmingly, those who raise concerns, their core concern is that it’s eerily reminiscent of Iraq. So, first, I think one of our challenges is to openly recognize this is a debate in the shadow of the war in Iraq and under the specter of Iran.

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Is there an alternative to bombing Syria? Rep. Chris Smith thinks so.

Is there an alternative to bombing Syria? Rep. Chris Smith thinks so.

Are there ways to respond to the atrocities in Syria without U.S. military action? Rep. Chris Smith thinks so.

The House Republican from New Jersey introduced a bill Wednesday to set up a Syrian war crimes tribunal as an alternative to missile strikes against Bashar Assad’s government.

Smith’s resolution would call for an immediate ceasefire in Syria and direct the president to work with the United Nations to set up a tribunal to investigate war crimes committed by both the Syrian government and rebel groups in the country.

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A military expert explains how Syria missile strikes might actually work

Though it’s pushing hard for authorization to launch missiles into Syria, the White House seems to be in no particular hurry, saying that strikes could happen pretty much at any time. That’s different from previous conflicts, which could take months to plan and put in motion. We asked Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to explain what this might actually look like.

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Rep. Brad Sherman explains how the White House could win the Syria vote

Rep. Brad Sherman explains how the White House could win the Syria vote

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We spoke on Tuesday about his thinking on Syria. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: How are you approaching the question of what to do in Syria?

Rep. Brad Sherman: I just got this report from the Congressional Research Service about all the uses of American armed forces abroad. They didn’t even number the pages. You’ve got 300 instances since 1973. Situations where we provided air cover to U.S. operations in East Timor. You probably forgot that from May to June 1978 we utilized military transport in support of Belgium and French rescue operations in Zaire.

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‘They must be really bad if even Hitler wouldn’t use them’

‘They must be really bad if even Hitler wouldn’t use them’

Richard Price is a political scientist at the University of British Columbia and author of “The Chemical Weapons Taboo.” We spoke this afternoon about the history of the prohibition on chemical weapons, past efforts to punish violations and whether the norm will fall apart if the United States doesn’t strike Syria. The transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

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What’s the future of drug policy? An interview with America’s ‘Drug Czar’

Gil Kerlikowske is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (in more common parlance, America’s “Drug Czar.”) He was recently nominated to be commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. So this is an especially good moment to take stock of U.S. drug policies on several fronts. I caught up with Kerlikowske by e-mail. Below is our lightly edited exchange.

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Al Gore and 'Category 6 hurricanes'

Al Gore and 'Category 6 hurricanes'

On Wednesday, I published an interview with Al Gore in which he mentioned that the scientific community was beginning to consider Category 6 hurricanes. The line has attracted some criticism because there are no official plans to add a sixth category to the 1-5 scale. Here's what I had Gore saying:

If you look at superstorm Sandy on October 29th, the ocean water east of New Jersey was nine degrees fahrenheit above average. That's what put so much more energy into that storm. That's what put so much more water vapor into that storm. Would there be a storm anyway? Maybe so. Would there be hurricanes and floods and droughts without man-made global warming? Of course. But they're stronger now. The extreme events are more extreme. The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they're adding a 6. The fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over these storms and extreme weather events.

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Al Gore explains why he's optimistic about stopping global warming

Al Gore explains why he's optimistic about stopping global warming

Al Gore was vice president of the United States from 1993-2001. Since leaving politics, he's been heavily involved in the campaign to fight global warming, even winning a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. And he says he's more optimistic than ever that the issue has reached "a tipping point." In this lightly edited interview transcript, he explains why.

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Why is Chrystia Freeland leaving journalism to run for office?

Why is Chrystia Freeland leaving journalism to run for office?

Until recently, Chrystia Freeland was managing director and editor for consumer news at Reuters. She was also a prolific author, including, most recently, of the excellent book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.

But Freeland recently announced she's leaving journalism to run for parliament as a member of Canada's Liberal Party. On Thursday, I got the chance to ask her why.

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'When Obama says Putin is trapped in Cold War logic, it's true. But so is Obama.'

'When Obama says Putin is trapped in Cold War logic, it's true. But so is Obama.'

A few years ago, the hope was that the U.S. and Russia were moving towards a "reset" of their relationship — and with that reset, a renewed commitment to mutual nuclear disarmament. That's not looking so good anymore — and it's one reason President Obama canceled the summit with Vladimir Putin.

Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, and a member of Secretary of State John Kerry's International Security Advisory Board and the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons." We spoke this afternoon.

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Don Graham explains why he's selling The Washington Post to Jeff Bezos

Don Graham explains why he's selling The Washington Post to Jeff Bezos

Don Graham's grandfather, Eugene Meyer, bought The Washington Post in 1933. His mother, Katharine Graham, led it to greatness in the 1960s and '70s. He was publisher from 1979 to 2000. Today, he leads the Post company, and his niece, Katharine Weymouth, is publisher of the paper. And this week, he announced that he's selling The Washington Post to Amazon's Jeff Bezos.

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'So much darkness, so much desperation': Talking with the directors of 'Detropia'

'So much darkness, so much desperation': Talking with the directors of 'Detropia'

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady are the directors of " Detropia ," a documentary released last year about the city of Detroit and what decades of industrial decline and population flight have done to it. It's on Netflix; I highly recommend it. It is their fourth documentary feature; they also contributed a segment to the "Freakonomics" documentary. Their second feature, "Jesus Camp," was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2006. We spoke on the phone Friday morning; a lightly edited transcript follows.

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Coburn thinks defunding Obamacare is a horrible idea

Coburn thinks defunding Obamacare is a horrible idea

A growing number of Republican senators are urging their colleagues to use upcoming budget legislation to defund the Affordable Care Act. If the president would not sign the bill cutting off spending for his major legislative accomplishment, it would cause the federal government to shut down.

"The proponents of the push," Manu Raju and Jake Sherman of Politico write, "argue that if the government shuts down over Obamacare, it will be the president's fault not theirs." But n ot everyone is on the same page: Sen. Robert Burr (R-N.C.) told reporters that the defunding Obamacare was "the dumbest idea" he had ever heard. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has a similar take.

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Exclusive: Kathleen Sebelius on Obamacare's 'very tight' deadlines

Exclusive: Kathleen Sebelius on Obamacare's 'very tight' deadlines

Update: This post was initially published with a typo in the headline.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently began ramping up her travel around the country to promote the Affordable Care Act, visiting health centers and holding events in Arizona, Texas, Florida and Illinois. I spent some time with her Thursday during a swing through Chicago, where she dined with Mayor (and former Obama chief-of-staff) Rahm Emanuel, talked women's health with a conference for female bloggers and dropped by a community health center that treats a low-income, heavily Latino clientele.

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'Orange Is the New Black' got you upset about prison? The real Piper explains what to do about it.

'Orange Is the New Black' got you upset about prison? The real Piper explains what to do about it.

Piper Kerman is a communications consultant with Spitfire Strategies in New York, focusing on nonprofits, philanthropies, and other public interest groups. She served 13 months, between 2004 and 2005, in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., after pleading guilty to laundering money on behalf of her ex-girlfriend, a heroin trafficker. Her memoir of the experience, " Orange is the New Black ," has been adapted by Netflix; its first season is available now, and I'm quite fond of it. We spoke on the phone Tuesday morning; a lightly edited transcript follows. Mild spoilers for the show, though nothing you couldn't find out by reading episode summaries on Netflix.

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Mark Leibovich on 'the people who think they run your country'

Mark Leibovich on 'the people who think they run your country'

Because Washington's favorite topic is itself, "This Town," Mark Leibovich's acid portrait of life in the capital, has been a top topic of conversation in recent weeks (The Washington Post's review is here). But does "This Town" really capture this town? I spoke with Leibovich this morning, and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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White people believe the justice system is color blind. Black people really don't.

White people believe the justice system is color blind. Black people really don't.

Poli-Sci Perspective is a weekly Wonkblog feature in which Georgetown University's Dan Hopkins and George Washington University's Danny Hayes and John Sides offer an empirical perspective on the issues dominating Washington. In this edition, Sides interviews political scientists Jon Hurwitz and Mark Peffley about their book on how blacks and whites perceive the criminal justice system, and what it implies for Trayvon Martin's death, George Zimmerman's acquittal, and the aftermath. The transcript below has been lightly edited. For past posts in the series, head here .

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'They could have killed me very easily': One Colombian mayor's fight against homicide

'They could have killed me very easily': One Colombian mayor's fight against homicide

South and Central America account for roughly one-third of the world's murders. I spent last week in Cali, Colombia, attending a World Bank meeting on youth violence, which explored related issues.

In many ways, Cali exemplifies both the challenge of and the opportunities for reducing the mayhem.

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Confused about Egypt? An expert walks you through it.

Confused about Egypt? An expert walks you through it.

Shadi Hamid is director of research for the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. His research focuses on Islamist political parties and democratic reform in the Arab world.

Ezra Klein: Pretend I know literally nothing about what's happening in Egypt. Two months ago, I went to the moon, and I just came back today, and I asked you to explain why everyone is talking about Egypt. What do you tell me?

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Will doctors promote Obamacare? The American Medical Association president thinks so.


From women's magazines to sports leagues, the Obama administration is asking lots of groups for help in promoting the Affordable Care Act this summer.

Will doctors join that list? Ardis Hoven, the new president of the American Medical Association, told me, in an interview conducted for C-Span's Newsmakers, that her group has been in talks with the Obama administration and will do "whatever we can in our power" to promote Obamacare. You can watch the full interview, conducted with Kaiser Health News' Mary Agnes Carey, above. What follows is a partial transcript of our discussion on the health care law and doctor shortages.

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The protests in Turkey, Brazil and Egypt shouldn't surprise you

The protests in Turkey, Brazil and Egypt shouldn't surprise you

Ruchir Sharma is the author of Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles (which was excerpted by Wonkblog here), as well as head of emerging markets and global macro at Morgan Stanley Investment Management. He spends much of his time studying emerging economies, and he's not particularly surprised by the outbreak of protests in middle-income countries. We spoke by phone Tuesday morning, and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Want tough border security? Hope for an awful economy

Want tough border security? Hope for an awful economy

Gordon Hanson is a professor in the economics department and School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California at San Diego, where he holds the Pacific Economic Cooperation Chair in International Economic Relations. He is also the director of the Center on Emerging and Pacific Economies at UCSD. He specializes in international migration, trade and investment issues, and has written on many aspects of U.S. immigration policy, from the effect of illegal immigration on the economy to border security.

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Cass Sunstein on how government regulations could be a lot simpler

Cass Sunstein on how government regulations could be a lot simpler

Over the last four years, regulations have been one of the most bitterly disputed topics in Washington.

Conservatives and industry groups say that the Obama administration is putting out way too many regulations — rules for coal plants, rules for automobiles, rules for Wall Street. Progressive groups, meanwhile, often complain that the White House is slow-walking too many key regulations that could improve health and safety.

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Why a Romney economic adviser wants the government to just hire people

Why a Romney economic adviser wants the government to just hire people

Kevin Hassett is the John G. Searle Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Formerly an associate professor of economics and finance at the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University and a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, he served as an economic adviser to Sen. John McCain's 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns, George W. Bush's 2004 campaign, and Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign.

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Diaz-Balart on immigration reform: 'There's pushback on everything'

Diaz-Balart on immigration reform: 'There's pushback on everything'

Mario Diaz-Balart has represented southern Florida in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2003. He has been a leader in the House Gang of Eight, which is working in parallel with the Senate Gang of Eight to develop a bipartisan compromise on comprehensive immigration reform.

We spoke on the phone Thursday afternoon about the future of the House Gang and of immigration reform generally. A lightly edited transcript follows.

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The intelligence committee 'can't tell you what they're not telling you.'

The intelligence committee 'can't tell you what they're not telling you.'

Here's one takeaway from the NSA revelations: Nobody really trusts the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

The chairs of both committees have aggressively defended the Obama administration. The Obama administration has repeatedly pointed to oversight from Congress. But few seem comforted. And even on the committees themselves, there was considerable dissent. The New York Times today reported on the strange, long campaigns Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden mounted to bring these programs to public attention.

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Will young adults want Obamacare? Let's ask Aaron Smith.

Will young adults want Obamacare? Let's ask Aaron Smith.

There's been an interesting conversation over the last week about how young people will fare under health reform. Aaron Smith, executive director of Young Invincibles (and a bona fide young adult) has spent the past few years of his life worrying and working on exactly that question. So I asked him to weigh in. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Paul Volcker on good governance, Abenomics and why he won't serve on any more commissions

Paul Volcker on good governance, Abenomics and why he won't serve on any more commissions

Paul Volcker has spent a lifetime as a public servant, helping guide U.S. economic policy during the Kennedy and Obama administrations and quite a few in between. Now he wants to make public administration in the United States stronger, with a new group aimed at strengthening the quality of American governance called the Volcker Alliance. The former Federal Reserve chairman discussed his new project, and talked a bit of economics, on Wednesday afternoon. Here is a transcript, lightly edited for length and clarity.

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Robert Kaiser on Dodd-Frank: 'This example of Congress working also illuminated why it works so rarely.'

Robert Kaiser on Dodd-Frank: 'This example of Congress working also illuminated why it works so rarely.'

Almost three years ago, the Dodd-Frank Act was enacted, a sweeping piece of legislation aimed at overhauling regulation of the financial system. And now our colleague Robert G. Kaiser is out with a book reporting the inside story of how the law came to be. Kaiser's "Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How it Doesn't" uses the long battle over Dodd-Frank--and the unique access to Christopher Dodd, Barney Frank, and their staffs that he was afforded--to show how 21st century legislating really works. Here, Kaiser, an associate editor and senior correspondent for the Post, explains what he found.

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Sheila Bair: Dodd-Frank really did end taxpayer bailouts

Sheila Bair: Dodd-Frank really did end taxpayer bailouts

Sheila Bair, the hard-charging former director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, stands at the center of three of the biggest debates in Dodd-Frank implementation.

As someone who knows the FDIC — which is actually the agency that takes down failing banks — she's in an unusually good position to know whether the law's resolution authority will work. These are the new powers the FDIC has in Dodd-Frank to impose losses and fail a financial firm (it's what Barney Frank called "death panels" for financial megabanks). Bair has also been a vocal advocate for higher leverage requirements, which has animated the debate over the recent Brown-Vitter bill. And she was recently critical of the efforts by the House Financial Services Committee to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank that push swaps out of bank holding companies, even though she original opposed a stricter version of that language back in 2010.

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Bill Gates: 'Death is something we really understand extremely well'

Bill Gates: 'Death is something we really understand extremely well'

"I always use this chart of childhood death," Bill Gates says. "In 1960, 25% of kids died before the age of 5. And now we're down below 6% of kids dying before the age of 5."

We're sitting in a bare conference room at his foundation's D.C. headquarters. Gates is in town to talk to members of Congress about his top priority this year: Global health and, in particular, the total eradication of polio. He wants to drive that 6 percent even lower, and he believes he can. Wiping out a disease like polio sounds impossible. But it's actually, Gates tells me, completely achievable. Perhaps even by the end of 2013. This is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

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Bill Gates: 'Death is something we really understand extremely well'

Bill Gates: 'Death is something we really understand extremely well'

"I always use this chart of childhood death," Bill Gates says. "In 1960, 25% of kids died before the age of 5. And now we're down below 6% of kids dying before the age of 5."

We're sitting in a bare conference room at his foundation's D.C. headquarters. Gates -- who Bloomberg News calculates is once again the world's richest man -- is in town to talk to members of Congress about his top priority this year: Global health and, in particular, the total eradication of polio. He wants to drive that 6 percent even lower, and he believes he can. Wiping out a disease like polio sounds impossible. But it's actually, Gates tells me, completely achievable. Perhaps even by the end of 2013. This is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

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How the oil and gas boom will change America: An interview with Michael Levi

How the oil and gas boom will change America: An interview with Michael Levi

Let's get this out of the way first: Michael Levi's new book, "The Power Surge," is very likely to be one of the best things you'll read about the ongoing oil and gas boom in the United States.



True, the book doesn't really have a grand overarching theory. There aren't any sweeping predictions that shale gas will supercharge the U.S. economy or that Canada's tar sands will destroy the planet.

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Poor countries can keep workers safe and still escape poverty

Poor countries can keep workers safe and still escape poverty

Kimberly Ann Elliott is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and an expert in international trade policy, with a particular focus on labor standards and trade as a tool for fighting global poverty. She served as chair of the National Advisory Committee on Labor Provisions of U.S. Free Trade Agreements at the Department of Labor from 2011 to 2012, and from 2009 to 2012 served on the USDA Consultative Group on the Elimination of Child Labor in U.S. Agricultural Imports.

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Larry Summers on why we shouldn't worry about gridlock

Larry Summers on why we shouldn't worry about gridlock

It won't shock longtime readers that I'm in a rather continuous state of dismay over the workings of the modern Congress. Larry Summers, the famed economist and former director of the National Economics Council, is calmer. In a recent article, he argued that the problems of gridlock are substantially overstated. We spoke Monday evening, and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Immigration's effect on wages: 'Definitely positive, without any doubt whatsoever'

Immigration's effect on wages: 'Definitely positive, without any doubt whatsoever'

Michael Clemens is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and leads its Migration and Development initiative. An economist by training, he has worked as a consultant for the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, among other groups.

Clemens is an expert on migration policy and recently provided guidance to the House Education & the Workforce Committee's Subcommittee on Workforce Protections on the benefits of guest worker programs to foreign workers. We spoke Wednesday morning. A lightly edited transcript follows.

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'If you are scared, they win. If you refuse to be scared, they lose.'

'If you are scared, they win. If you refuse to be scared, they lose.'

Bruce Schneier is a security expert and author of "Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive." I spoke with him on Monday, just hours after the bombing in Boston. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: What should people be thinking about in the aftermath of an attack like this?

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Why has American child care failed? A conversation with Jonathan Cohn.

Why has American child care failed? A conversation with Jonathan Cohn.

Jonathan Cohn is a senior editor at The New Republic and author of "Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis--and the People Who Pay the Price." His latest piece for TNR is "The Hell of American Daycare," which details the horrendous conditions many poor children face at day-care centers. We conducted this interview via e-mail on Monday. In the interest of full disclosure, Cohn was among my supervisors when I was an intern at TNR.

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Peak oil isn't dead: An interview with Chris Nelder

Peak oil isn't dead: An interview with Chris Nelder

Warnings about "peak oil" have been with us since the OPEC crisis in the 1970s. At some point, the experts said, the world would hit a limit on how much oil could be extracted from the ground. Production would then drop, prices would soar, chaos would ensue.


But after a worrisome series of price spikes starting in 2007, oil triumphalism is once again ascendant. Companies are now using new technologies to extract crude from hard-to-reach sources, from the tar sands of Alberta to shale formations in North Dakota. After decades of decline, U.S. oil production has risen to its highest levels since the 1990s. And that's led many analysts and journalists to confidently declare that "peak oil is dead."

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Is the Plan B battle over? Former FDA official Susan Wood hopes so.

Is the Plan B battle over? Former FDA official Susan Wood hopes so.

Susan Wood resigned as director of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Women's Health in 2005, when the George W. Bush administration chose to delay indefinitely a decision on whether emergency contraceptives should be sold over the counter. She is now an associate professor of health policy at George Washington University and still follows the debate over the morning-after pill closely.

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Obama: 'Braaaaaains.' Partha Mitra: 'Whoa there, buddy.'

Partha Mitra is the Crick-Clay professor of biomathematics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. A theoretical physicist by training, he is working on mapping mouse brain circuits. We spoke on the phone Tuesday evening about President Obama's $100 million initiative to map the human brain, which he had announced earlier that day at the White House. A lightly edited transcript follows.

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North Dakota's only abortion clinic isn't going anywhere

Tammi Kromenaker directs the Red River Women's Clinic, the only abortion clinic in North Dakota. With three full-time staffers, it serves women in North Dakota, South Dakota and parts of Minnesota. The clinic, in Fargo, N.D., has been open for 15 years now, since 1998.

It's Kromenaker's clinic that would be directly affected by North Dakota's new ban on abortions after six weeks, the most restrictive in the nation. We spoke Monday afternoon about that law, other restrictions she finds even more threatening and why she has no plans to close anytime soon.

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What did we learn from this week's Supreme Court arguments? Jeffrey Toobin explains.

Jeffrey Toobin is a staff writer for The New Yorker, a senior analyst for CNN, and author, most recently, of "The Oath: The Obama White House and The Supreme Court." We conducted this interview over e-mail; a transcript follows.

Dylan Matthews: Is DOMA doomed?

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Mark Kleiman on why we need to solve our alcohol problem to solve our crime problem

Mark Kleiman on why we need to solve our alcohol problem to solve our crime problem

Mark Kleiman is Professor of Public Policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs and is currently advising Washington State on marijuana legalization. His article in the latest issue of the journal "Democracy" argues that we can reform the criminal justice system to make sanctions more predictable and less cruel while reducing crime in the process. We spoke on the phone Thursday afternoon; a lightly edited transcript follows.

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'I thought I knew what being disabled meant, and I don't.'

'I thought I knew what being disabled meant, and I don't.'

Over the weekend, "This American Life" and "Planet Money" ran a story by Chana Joffe-Walt looking at the extraordinary growth of America's disability insurance system. Joffe-Walt visited Hale County, Ala., where one-in-four residents is on disability, looked at the lawyers who specialized in winning disability cases against the government (and getting paid by taxpayers for it), and spent time with a young child whose disability check has become the key to his family's survival.

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Robert Z. Lawrence: 'A really healthy U.S. economy will have a bigger trade deficit.'

Robert Z. Lawrence is Albert L. Williams Professor of International Trade and Investment at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

He served on President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers from 1999 to 2001, and writes frequently on issues surrounding globalization and trade policy. His latest book, coauthored with the University of Cape Town's Lawrence Edwards, is "Rising Tide: Is Growth in Emerging Economies Good for the United States?" We spoke on the phone Monday morning. A lightly edited transcript follows.

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'Romney is Wall Street's worst bet since the bet on subprime'

'Romney is Wall Street's worst bet since the bet on subprime'



Correction: A previous version of this post misspelled the last name of Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire who set up a prize in theoretical physics. This version has been corrected.

Chrystia Freeland is editor of Thomson Reuters Digital and author of "The Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else." We spoke Tuesday about how the plutocrats she reported on for the book were handling Mitt Romney's loss. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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A very clear explanation of why the euro zone keeps exploding

A very clear explanation of why the euro zone keeps exploding

Desmond Lachman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and, before that, a managing director and chief emerging market economic strategist at Salomon Smith Barney. He's also been, from the very beginning, one of the most clear-eyed observers of the European crisis. So earlier Wednesday afternoon, I asked him why these mini-crises keep happening. A lightly edited transcript follows.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown explains why he wants to break up the big banks

Sen. Sherrod Brown explains why he wants to break up the big banks

Attorney General Eric Holder said something in Senate testimony that many had thought, but had never heard admitted at a high government level. "I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them," Holder said. Too big to fail, in other words, has become too big to jail. That's got lawmakers talking about breaking up the banks again, if only to ensure that our basic laws can be reasonably enforced.

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Privatizing the Medicaid expansion: 'Every state will be eying this.'

Privatizing the Medicaid expansion: 'Every state will be eying this.'

Welcome to Health Reform Watch, Sarah Kliff's regular look at how the Affordable Care Act is changing the American health-care system — and being changed by it. You can reach Sarah with questions, comments and suggestions here. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons for the latest edition — and read all previous columns here.

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How to punish robots when they inevitably turn against us

How to punish robots when they inevitably turn against us



Gabriel Hallevy is a professor at Ono Academic College's Faculty of Law in Kiryat Ono, Israel. He specializes in criminal law and in particular the interface between criminal law and new technologies, such as robots and other machines equipped with artificial intelligence. His work was recently featured in a Boston Globe article by Leon Neyfakh on the ability of the legal system to handle robots.

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Interview: Should your doctor be a robot?

Interview: Should your doctor be a robot?

In "The Robot Will See You Now," Jonathan Cohn took a long, reported look at the efforts to computerize and roboticize not just medical records but the practice of medicine itself. If IBM's Watson can win a game of "Jeopardy," why can't it help a nurse practitioner diagnose even very tough-to-read symptoms? We spoke about the article over e-mail this week.

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Interview: Sen. Rockefeller on the future of Obamacare

Interview: Sen. Rockefeller on the future of Obamacare

On Tuesday, Sen. John J. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) chaired a Commerce Committee hearing on the Affordable Care Act's summary of benefits and coverage provision, which requires insurance companies to summarize all benefits in a standardized, four-page document. It's something akin to a nutrition label for health insurance. We spoke afterward about that part of the law, as well as the Medicaid expansion, the possibility of rate shock and why he isn't worried about getting Americans enrolled in health law programs. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

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Does Obama have a plan? A conversation with David Brooks

Does Obama have a plan? A conversation with David Brooks

I had some issues with David Brooks's column Friday on the two parties' sequester positions. But rather than write a long response, I thought it would be more interesting to ask Brooks about the column directly. Happily, he agreed. A transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: In the column, you said that the Obama administration doesn't have a plan to replace the sequester. I feel like I've had to spend a substantial portion of my life reading their various budgets and plans to replace the sequester, and my sense is that you've had to do this, too. So, what am I missing?

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Exclusive: An interview with Marilyn Tavenner, Obama's pick to head Medicare

Exclusive: An interview with Marilyn Tavenner, Obama's pick to head Medicare

For over a year now, Marilyn Tavenner has run the federal government's largest agency: the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. With a budget of nearly $1 trillion, Tavenner oversees everything from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act to programs that already administer health benefits to more than 80 million Americans.

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Erskine Bowles: 'Being far out front of the president on revenues wasn't something I wanted to do again'

Erskine Bowles: 'Being far out front of the president on revenues wasn't something I wanted to do again'

Erskine Bowles was co-chairman of the Simpson-Bowles commission, and is author, with Alan Simpson, of a series of deficit-reduction plans. His most recent proposal -- summarized here -- came out Tuesday, and we spoke that afternoon.

Ezra Klein: Your original plan asked for more than $2.5 trillion in taxes over the next decade. This plan asks for about half that. Why did your tax ask fall so far?

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James Heckman: In early childhood education, 'Quality really matters.'

James Heckman: In early childhood education, 'Quality really matters.'

James J. Heckman is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. He shared the 2000 Nobel for his work on correcting for selection biases when doing econometric studies, developing techniques which he applied to measuring everything from the economic effects of civil rights laws on African-Americans to the economic benefits (or lack thereof) of GEDs. Recently, he has done considerable work on early childhood education, including detailed studies of the Perry preschool experiment; Wonkblog interviewed him in 2010 on that subject.

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David Leonhardt on deficits, carbon taxes and growth

David Leonhardt on deficits, carbon taxes and growth



David Leonhardt is the Washington Bureau Chief for the New York Times and the author of the new Kindle single ‘Here's the Deal‘ (see Wonkblog's 10 favorite parts). We spoke on Monday about why Leonhardt chose to focus on the deficit, what kinds of deficit-related problems he worries about, and whether climate change will ever enter the budget conversation. A lightly edited transcript follows.

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Can Congress ever agree on climate change? An interview with Henry Waxman

Can Congress ever agree on climate change? An interview with Henry Waxman

Four years ago, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was trying to craft a climate-change policy for the entire country. But he only got halfway there: His massive bill to cap U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions passed through the House, but eventually died in the Senate.

Now he's trying again. Although Republicans have since retaken the House, and Waxman is no longer chair of the energy committee, he's still trying to call attention to the issue. Recently, Waxman formed a new Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) — an effort to raise awareness about global warming among legislators and to look for policy solutions.

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Is America a 'kludgeocracy'?

Is America a 'kludgeocracy'?

In "Kludgeocracy: The American Way of Policy," Johns Hopkins political scientist Steven Teles argues that "[w]ith the frontiers of the state roughly fixed, the issues that will dominate American politics going forward will concern the complexity of government, rather than its sheer size." To that end, he says, "The great agenda of the next four years of the Obama administration, and probably the nation's next thirty, is coming to grips with kludgeocracy." That's a bold statement. Teles and I spoke about it late last week.

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Sen. Jeff Merkley on the filibuster deal: 'There are two pieces I'm excited about'

Sen. Jeff Merkley on the filibuster deal: 'There are two pieces I'm excited about'

The key senators behind the push to reform the filibuster were Tom Udall of New Mexico and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Their idea was to force "talking filibusters" in which obstructing senators would have to go to the floor of the Senate and actually talk. If they stopped talking, the filibuster is over. Reid and McConnell's deal does not include a talking filibuster, but both Merkley and Udall voted for it anyway. I spoke with Merkley Friday morning about the compromise. A lightly edited transcript of our discussion follows.

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Harry Reid: 'I'm not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold'

Harry Reid: 'I'm not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold'

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have come to a deal on filibuster reform. The deal is this: The filibuster will not be reformed. But the way the Senate moves to consider new legislation and most nominees will be.

"I'm not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold," Reid (D-Nev.) told me this morning, referring to the number of votes needed to halt a filibuster. "With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn't and shouldn't be like the House."

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Monday we celebrated our presidential democracy. Juan Linz thinks that's mistaken.

Monday we celebrated our presidential democracy. Juan Linz thinks that's mistaken.

Juan Linz is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Social and Political Science at Yale University, where he holds appointments in the departments of sociology and political science. He is famous for his work comparing styles of authoritarian and totalitarian governance, and, since the Cold War, his argument in pieces like "The Perils of Presidentialism" that presidential democracies are inherently less stable than their parliamentary peers, and particularly prone to devolve into dictatorships. The United States has long been the exception to that pattern, but with a new debt or budget crisis every few months, that could be changing. I spoke to Linz on Friday; a lightly edited transcript follows.

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Pete Peterson predicts markets will panic over our debt crisis. Sometime.

Pete Peterson predicts markets will panic over our debt crisis. Sometime.

Inside Washington, Pete Peterson's name has become synonymous with deficit reduction. A former member of Richard Nixon's cabinet, a founding partner of Blackstone, and a lifelong Republican, Peterson has pledged to spend $1 billion of his Wall Street fortune to the cause of shrinking the debt. He's already given at least $458 million to his eponymous foundation, which has funded outside groups battling the federal deficit, including $5 million to the Fix the Debt campaign.

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Meet Anne Filipic, the woman tasked with selling Obamacare

Meet Anne Filipic, the woman tasked with selling Obamacare



Anne Filipic joined Enroll America on Tuesday as its president, leaving her post as the deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. She will lead a multi-million-dollar effort to encourage millions of Americans to sign up for insurance under the new Affordable Care Act. We spoke Tuesday about why she took the job, how her group will use microtargeting and the role of celebrity spokespeople. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length.

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'Antitrust was defined by Robert Bork. I cannot overstate his influence.’

'Antitrust was defined by Robert Bork. I cannot overstate his influence.’

Barak Orbach is a professor of law and director of the Business Law Program at the University of Arizona. He has written extensively about the influence of legal scholar and appeals court judge Robert Bork, who died Wednesday, over the field of antitrust law, the part of the law concerned with keeping businesses competitive and preventing monopolies. While Bork is primarily remembered by the public for his failed Supreme Court nomination in 1987, academics focus on his role in transforming how the U.S. treats mergers and monopoly prevention. We talked on the phone Wednesday afternoon; a lightly edited transcript follows.

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Interview: Zeke Emanuel's plan to fix health-care spending

Interview: Zeke Emanuel's plan to fix health-care spending



President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are getting closer to striking a "fiscal cliff" deal. One of the unresolved areas looks to be health care: Both sides have reportedly agreed to cuts, although without nailing down a crucial detail: Where should those cuts come from?

Zeke Emanuel has a few ideas. He's a former Obama health policy adviser and a current fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he recently co-authored a white paper looking at how best to reduce Medicare spending. We spoke recently about the deficit negotiations, how he would reduce health-care spending and his recent proposal that his brother, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, dubbed his "best idea."

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Mythbusting: Israel and Switzerland are not gun-toting utopias

Mythbusting: Israel and Switzerland are not gun-toting utopias

My post "12 facts about guns and mass shootings" included a mention of Israel and Switzerland, societies where guns are reputed to be widely available, but where gun violence is rare. Janet Rosenbaum, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center School, has actually researched this question, and she wrote to tell me I had it wrong. We spoke shortly thereafter on the phone. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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'Can we have a liberal America without unions? History says no.'

On Tuesday, Michigan became the 24th state in the nation to enact a "right-to-work" law designed to weaken labor unions. Under the new rules, employees in unionized workplaces will no longer be required to pay unions for the cost of being represented. (Workers could already choose not to join the union.) Protests flared throughout the day, but in the end Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed the bill.

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Romney is Wall Street's worst bet since the bet on subprime'

Romney is Wall Street's worst bet since the bet on subprime'



Chrystia Freeland is editor of Thomson Reuters Digital and author of "The Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else." We spoke Tuesday about how the plutocrats she reported on for the book were handling Mitt Romney's loss. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Ruy Texeira: Republicans cant keep playing on the turf theyve been playing on.

Ruy Texeira: Republicans cant keep playing on the turf theyve been playing on.



Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at both the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation. In 2002, he and
The New Republics John Judis wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority,arguing that demographic shifts like the growing black, Asian and Latino populations and the decline of manufacturing and growth of creative industries would redound to Democrats' benefit. Last night arguably proved them right. We spoke on the phone Wednesday morning; a transcript, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

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Interviews with swing-state voters: The retiree who fears a return of the Gilded Age

Interviews with swing-state voters: The retiree who fears a return of the Gilded Age

In the lead-up to the election, Wonkblog has beeninterviewingvoters in crucial swing states.Sally Snidow is a 68-year-old retiree from Leesburg, Va. She's a staunch supporter of President Obama, having voted for him in 2008 and again at the polls today. But she hasn't always been a Democrat.

Why have you decided to vote for President Obama again?

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Interviews with swing-state voters: A Virginia polling station at lunch time

Interviews with swing-state voters: A Virginia polling station at lunch time

In the lead-up to the election, Wonkblog has been interviewing voters in crucial swing-states. These interviews all come from Key Elementary School, the polling place for the Park Lane Precinct in Arlington, Va.

I spent my lunch hour there talking to people who were voting for president, trying to convince other people to vote for president, and the poll workers making it all come together.

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If its close in Ohio, we could be waiting two weeks until we know.

If its close in Ohio, we could be waiting two weeks until we know.

Rick Hasen is the author of the book "Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the next election meltdown," and Election Law Blog. He's an expert on election law, and has been following the issue closely in the lead-up to the 2012 election.

We spoke Thursday morning about the landscape for voting rights in 2012, how Hurricane Sandy could play a role and why we may not know the outcome in Ohio until Nov. 17. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:

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Interviews with swing-state voters: The Virginia woman whose vote was swayed by a chart

Interviews with swing-state voters: The Virginia woman whose vote was swayed by a chart

From now until election day, Wonkblog will be interviewing decided and undecided voters from swing states about how they view the election. Joni is a 54-year-old Democrat who lives in Virginia.

Sarah Kliff: Tell me how you're feeling about the election and who you'll vote for this year.

Joni: This has been a tough one. I voted for Obama in 2008. I've been a Democrat for a long time. The last Republican I voted for was Reagan. I'm really torn about this one. I do think that Mitt, as a business man, might be able to get the economy going. But I'm probably going to go ahead and vote Obama.

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Interviews with swing state voters: The Floridian who doesnt want Medicare to change

From now until election day, Wonkblog will be interviewing voters from swing states about how they view the election. We will be interviewing both decided and undecided voters.We thank The Washington Post/ABC News poll and Public Policy Polling for putting us in touch with these voters. You can see the rest of the interviewshere.

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Interviews with swing-state voters: The Ron Paul-voter whos backing Obama

Interviews with swing-state voters: The Ron Paul-voter whos backing Obama

From now until election day, Wonkblog will be interviewing voters from swing states about how they view the election. We will be interviewing both decided and undecided voters.You can see the rest of the interviewshere.

David Gammon, 61, is a registered Republican from Laconia, N.H.. He is a building contractor and former Laconia city councilor who is voting for Obama. We spoke about the election on Wednesday afternoon. Here's our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.

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Interviews with swing-state voters: The coal miner who blames Obama

Interviews with swing-state voters: The coal miner who blames Obama

From now until election day, Wonkblog will be interviewing voters from swing states about how they're thinking about the election. We will be interviewing both decided and undecided voters from both parties. We thank the Washington Post/ABC News poll for putting us in touch with these voters. You can see the rest of the interviews here.

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Interviews with swing-state voters: The longtime Republican disillusioned with her party

Interviews with swing-state voters: The longtime Republican disillusioned with her party

From now until election day, Wonkblog will be interviewing voters from swing states about how they're thinking about the election. We will be interviewing both decided and undecided voters from both parties. We thank the Washington Post/ABC News poll for putting us in touch with these voters.You can see the rest of the interviewshere.

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Chuck Schumer: Democrats have tax reform all wrong

Chuck Schumer: Democrats have tax reform all wrong

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is the Senate Democrats’ third-in-command, and widely acknowledged as the party’s top political tactician in the Senate. He’s also a bit shocked that his colleagues have, as he sees it, allowed themselves to get snookered into a vision of tax reform that begins with lowering rates. On Tuesday, he gave a speech trying to talk them out of it.We spoke on Friday about his position. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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‘Everything people think they know about the stimulus is wrong’

‘Everything people think they know about the stimulus is wrong’



Michael Grunwald is a national correspondent for Time Magazine and author of “The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era,” a reported history of the stimulus. We spoke last week. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: Lets begin with the obvious question. Did the stimulus work?

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An Interview with DNC Speaker Sandra Fluke

An Interview with DNC Speaker Sandra Fluke

Six months ago, Sandra Fluke was a third-year law student at Georgetown University who was denied the opportunity to speak at a House hearing on contraceptive coverage in the health care law. Today, she shared the prime time hour of the Democratic National Convention with former Pres. Bill Clinton.

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Cecile Richards: ‘I’ve never seen a presidential election where women’s access to birth control is practically on the ballot.’

Cecile Richards: ‘I’ve never seen a presidential election where women’s access to birth control is practically on the ballot.’

Cecile Richards has served as president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund since 2006. She says this election is nothing like 2008: Women’s health issues are front and center, from Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks this week to Republicans’ pledge to defund Planned Parenthood. We spoke Wednesday about what the 2012 election means for women’s health, how Akin’s comments fit into that and what role Planned Parenthood will play in the debate. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Sen. Wyden: Romney’s plan hurts the ‘poorest and most vulnerable seniors’

Sen. Wyden: Romney’s plan hurts the ‘poorest and most vulnerable seniors’

To listen to the Romney/Ryan ticket, you’d think the official title for their Medicare reform proposal began with the word “bipartisan.” That prefix refers to Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon who joined Paul Ryan on a proposal to remake Medicare along premium-support lines. Wyden, however, has been angrily rejecting the claim that his plan is similar to Romney’s. “Gov. Romney is talking nonsense,” he said in a statement.

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Are we headed toward another court-packing crisis?



James Simon is a professor and dean emeritus at New York Law School. His new book, “FDR and Chief Justice Hughes,” tracks the battle between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the chief justice of a Supreme Court that seemed, at the outset of the New Deal, to be determined to reject most anything significant FDR did. I spoke with Simon this morning. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Aetna CEO: The Supreme Court decision doesn’t matter. The deficit does.

Aetna CEO: The Supreme Court decision doesn’t matter. The deficit does.

Mark Bertolini has a pretty busy day job: As Aetna’s chief executive, he manages one of the country’s top five health insurance plans.

Lately, his evenings have gotten busy, too. Bertolini has started spending some evening hours working with the Gang of Six, the bipartisan group of six senators that tried (and failed) to push a major deficit reduction plan through Congress.

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Sen. Tom Coburn, part 2: Reforming health care

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is a physician and the author of “The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington from Bankrupting America.” This interview, which focuses on America’s health care system, is the second in a two-part series. The first interview, which focuses on debt, was published last week. The transcript is lightly edited for length and clarity.


Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., reveals his "Back in Black" plan to reduce the federal deficit. (J. Scott Applewhite - Associated Press)
EK: To go back to the question of whether Democrats have put forward a plan on entitlements, I agree that Senate Democrats haven’t put forward a budget. But in your book, you say that what President Obama has done and wants to do on Medicare, namely the Independent Payment Advisory Board, is a rationing board. You’re not for it, obviously. But you treat it as a very aggressive proposal. And to them, that’s a plan. They think it’ll work to control costs. And it often seems Republicans say Democrats don’t have a plan on entitlements when what they mean is they don’t like the Democrats’ plan on entitlements.

TC: How well has it worked in England? Barbara Mikulski wrote that section of the bill. She spent time with the head of NICE [National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence] in England. What has been the response of England as you ration away care? Is that how we want to do Medicare? When we know that $100 billion a year isn’t working right? When we know one in three dollars in our health care system doesn’t help anybody get well? Is that the way to do it? From central planning? You’re right. But that’s outside the bond of how the average American expects Medicare to operate. The better way to do it is to create a more efficient system to allocate the resources better without somebody here making a decision about your care. The reason I object to IPAB is you’ve got someone between the patient and the physician, and that can never be in the best interest of the patient.

EK: I think it goes a bit far to compare IPAB to NICE, given the powers it has, but even so, in terms of the cost portion, in terms of them having a plan, Britain’s health care system is among the cheapest in the developed world.

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Sen. Tom Coburn, part one: Defusing the debt bomb


Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) speaks during a news conference July 18, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Coburn held the news conference to unveil a $9 trillion deficit reduction plan. (Alex Wong - GETTY IMAGES)
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) served on the Simpson-Bowles commission, is a member of the Gang of Six, and just published “The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington from Bankrupting America.” We spoke last week in his office. This interview, which focuses on America’s debt and growth problems, is the first in a two-part series. The second interview, which focuses on health care, will be published later this week.

Ezra Klein: So ‘taxmageddon’ is coming at the end of the year. Depending on how you look at it, it’s an opportunity for Congress to trigger a massive and unnecessary fiscal crisis, or to actually get some serious legislating done on our long-term fiscal issues. Are you optimistic about the outcome?

Tom Coburn: No. But it depends on what the mix is. If President Obama is still president and we’re in control of the Senate, I think you’ll see significant attempts to get something done. But I don’t think they’ll be much more successful than what we saw in August. And I wouldn’t consider that very successful. If Romney wins and we win control in the Senate, we have to send a signal that we’re going to fix it in order to take away all that potential risk to the economy. You have to say we’ll work all over the Christmas holidays to get it fixed.

EK: When you look at the Romney scenario, it seems Republicans have spent a few years now learning how to take tough votes on the budget, particularly on the Ryan plan. So if Republicans control the House and Senate, it seems to me that you’d see quite dramatic action on those issues, as they can be passed with 51 votes through budget reconciliation.

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Elizabeth Warren: ‘That’s the strongest argument for a modern Glass-Steagall’

Elizabeth Warren: ‘That’s the strongest argument for a modern Glass-Steagall’

Elizabeth Warren, who is running for Senate in Massachusetts, thinks JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon should resign his seat on the New York Federal Reserve. Beating up on Dimon is, of course, a popular position among politicians right now, but Warren has special credibility on this point: She chaired the congressional oversight panel on TARP from 2008 to 2010, and led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from 2010 to 2011. We spoke by phone Monday afternoon. A lightly edited transcript follows.

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An interview with Paul Krugman

On Wednesday, Paul Krugman swung through town to promote his new book, “End This Depression Now!” I caught up with him at the Economic Policy Institute to talk about whether Ben Bernanke could actually end this depression, the prospect that Mitt Romney could be a closet Keynesian, and what we’ll be worrying about in 10 years. A lightly edited transcript follows.


Paul Krugman (Dan Deitch)
Ezra Klein: The book is premised off the idea that the recovery has been, and will continue to be, slow. That something new needs to be done. But something you hear inside the administration is that if you step back, you can explain much of the sluggish recovery by adding together the crisis in Europe, the weather, the Japanese tsunami, instability in the Middle East, and a few other shocks. It’s been, in other words, a kind of bad luck, but it has given credence to this idea that the recovery is really off-track when it isn’t.

Paul Krugman: This has not been a surprise. It was predictable and predicted. We have all of the Reinhart/Rogoff stuff on the aftermath of financial crises. It’s a little bit funny to be invoking a lot of special explanations for something that should have been expected. And numerically, I don’t think those work. We only export 2 percent of our GDP to Europe. We’re operating 7 percent of GDP below capacity. A trillion dollars a year. That can’t be explained by these factors. The actual shape of the recovery has been basically what those of us concerned about the size of the stimulus predicted way back when.

I’m very pessimistic about Congress deciding to do anything serious anytime soon. But I think there’s more possibility for movement at the Federal Reserve. So if Bernanke really decided to pull a Professor Bernanke, if he could do whatever he wanted, how much could the Fed do? What kind of improvement in the unemployment rate could Fed policy lead to?

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Can Simpson-Bowles really pass the Senate?


In this image provided by “Meet the Press”, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., appears on NBC's "Meet the Press" in Washington on Sunday, April 24, 2011. (William B. Plowman - Associated Press)
Kent Conrad is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and at 2 p.m. Wednesday, he plans to unveil his long-term budget proposal. That proposal? The Simpson-Bowles plan, which, as a member of the Fiscal Commission, he helped develop. I spoke with Conrad Wednesday morning about whether Simpson-Bowles has a chance in the Senate, as well as why Senate Democrats haven’t passed a budget resolution in more than 1,000 days. A lightly edited transcript follows.

Ezra Klein: The House took up a version of the Simpson-Bowles plan about two weeks ago. It failed, 382-38. Why should we believe it will do any better in the Senate?

Kent Conrad: I’m hopeful because, as a country, we need to address the fiscal imbalances that we all know are there. This is the only bipartisan plan that has been constructed, other than Domenici-Rivlin, and voted on by members of Congress. It has been followed in large measure by the Group of Six, another bipartisan effort. And it provides, I think, the best building block for confronting the deficit challenges. We also know that at the end of this year we’ll face the end of the Bush tax cuts and the sequester. So we’re moving towards a period in which people are going to have to act.

EK: Have any of your Republican colleagues expressed openness to the legislation?

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How Obamacare got to the Supreme Court


(Pablo Martinez Monsivais - AP)

When the Affordable Care Act became law two years ago, many legal observers wrote off the ensuing court challenges as quite frivolous, posing little substantive threat to the Obama administration’s signature legislative accomplishment.

After this week’s Supreme Court oral arguments, legal threats to the health reform law hardly look frivolous at all. Numerous Supreme Court experts could see the law being ruled unconstitutional. On InTrade, the odds are hovering around 60 percent. This all raises the question: Was there something legal experts missed?

Brad Joondeph is a law professor at Santa Clara University. In July 2010, he launched the ACA Litigation Blog, which has since traced every twist and turn in over two dozen lawsuits filed against the Affordable Care Act. All told, Joondeph has written hundreds of blog posts on the Affordable Care Act litigation. We spoke about how the cases developed, when they became a big threat to the law and what some observers might have missed. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

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Sen. Whitehouse on changing the way doctors get paid


Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), left, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), center, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) participate in a news conference on Capitol Hill regarding the health reform law. (J. Scott Applewhite - AP)
The Affordable Care Act is mostly known as an insurance expansion, expected to extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans. That’s the part of the law that the Supreme Court heard three days of oral arguments on this week, with opponents arguing that a mandate to carry health insurance was outside of Congress’ authorities.

But, as I wrote last week, a big chunk of the law is dedicated something arguably more ambitious: an overhaul of the American business model for medicine. “This is a very significant piece of the bill that has received virtually no attention because it’s so non-controversial,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told me in a recent interview.

Earlier today, Whitehouse published a report looking all the changes the Affordable Care Act makes to how care is delivered; by his count, there are 47 of them. We spoke about what those changes are, why they matter and what obstacles they face:

Sarah Kliff: This report identifies nearly four dozens ways that the health care law changes how doctors and hospitals deliver health care. Why do we need those changes? What isn’t working right now?

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: If you look at some of the reports that have come out about the health care system, from very credible sources, you get estimates that we could be saving maybe $700 billion annually on what we spend on health care. That would be a huge economic benefit to not only the taxpayer, but also to our competitive industries, if they’re able to spend less on health care. And these savings in the Affordable Care Act aren’t about taking something away, but rather about delivering more efficient care. It’s a true win-win, and positively the road we ought to be on.

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Amar: ‘The most important limit, the one we fought the Revolutionary War for, is that the people doing this to you are the people you elect.’


Constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar (Yale Law)
Akhil Reed Amar is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, where he teaches constitutional law. He’s also author of the excellent book, ‘America’s Constitution: A Biography’, and a former Supreme Court clerk. We spoke Wednesday morning about whether there’s a clear “limiting principle” in the health-care case. Amar thinks there is: It’s called “the Constitution,” and, in his view, it’s clear which side it’s on.

Ezra Klein: Tuesday’s arguments were all about the search for a “limiting principle,” and Solicitor General Verrilli’s unexpected difficulty articulating one. Is there a limiting principle here?

Akhil Reed Amar: The limit is the Constitution. What Congress does has to be in the enumerated powers. One of those powers is the Interstate Commerce Clause. What are the limits on that power? It only applies to regulations that are interstate and commercial. So Congress has to be actually trying to address a commercial problem that spills over state lines. And that’s clearly true here.

At any given nanosecond, millions of Americans are out of state. Most of my students at Yale are out of state. Three days a week, I am out of my home state. And if I or my students or any of these Americans fall sick, we go to a local ER. That’s an interstate issue. Similarly, if we don’t cover preexisting conditions, we have a lock-in for labor mobility — many workers will be unable to take better jobs out-of-state and thereby contribute more to their families and to the economy. And that’s what the Interstate Commerce Clause was all about: Getting rid of the impediments to genuine interstate commerce, to the free movement of goods and labor.

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Reagan’s solicitor general: ‘Health care is interstate commerce. Is this a regulation of it? Yes. End of story.’

Charles Fried is a professor of law at Harvard University. From 1985 to 1989, he served as President Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general. He specializes in constitutional law and is the author of many books on the subject, including 2004’s “Saying What the Law Is: The Constitution in the Supreme Court.” He also wrote a brief on behalf of 104 law professors arguing that the individual mandate is constitutional. We spoke this morning.


Charles Fried, who served as Reagan’s top lawyer, was not impressed by the Supreme Court yesterday. (Harvard Law School)
Ezra Klein: Tuesday’s arguments seemed to focus on the question of a “limiting principle.” So is there a limiting principle here?

Charles Fried: First of all, the limiting principle point kind of begs the question. It assumes there’s got to be some kind of articulatable limiting principle and that’s in the Constitution somewhere. What Chief Justice John Marshall said in 1824 is that if something is within the power of Congress, Congress may exercise that power to its fullest extent. So the question is really whether this is in the power of Congress.

Now, is it within the power of Congress? Well, the power of Congress is to regulate interstate commerce. Is health care commerce among the states? Nobody except maybe Clarence Thomas doubts that. So health care is interstate commerce. Is this a regulation of it? Yes. End of story.

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Obamacare’s most influential legal critic on Tuesday’s oral arguments


Randy Barnett (RandyBarnett.com)
Randy Barnett is professor of law at Georgetown University, as well as a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the Goldwater Institute. He has also been perhaps the key legal thinker developing the case against the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. We spoke Tuesday afternoon, and a lightly edited transcript follows.

Ezra Klein: What did you see as the key moments in today’s oral arguments?

Randy Barnett: There were several major points. Justice Kennedy began the argument by asking — and this somewhat goes to your point — can you create commerce in order to regulate it? That would seem to go beyond the text of the Commerce Clause itself. The second question he posed, and it was dramatic the way he put it, was he asked the solicitor general to assume this was unprecedented, and then said, doesn’t that mean you have a heavy burden of justification if you are changing the relationship of a citizen to the government in this way? That was major. He’s saying this is a new power.

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Henry Waxman’s plan to cut the deficit and stop global warming — at the same time


Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) listens to an aide during a meeting Feb. 7, on Capitol Hill (Alex Wong - GETTY IMAGES)
“Taxmageddon” is coming. That’s what Hill staff are calling the pile-up at the end of 2012, when the Bush tax cuts are set to expire, the payroll tax cut is set to expire, the $1.2 trillion spending trigger is set to go off, and the debt-ceiling is expected to be breached. But some members of Congress see opportunity tucked behind this coming crisis.

On Friday, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) joined former Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) to publish an op-ed arguing that we could address our most pressing fiscal and environmental problems in one fell swoop by placing a price on carbon. “The United States could raise $200 billion or more over 10 years and trillions of dollars by 2050 while cutting carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050,” they wrote. I spoke with Waxman about the idea on Friday. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: Republicans have shown no interest in raising taxes. They’re actively hostile to efforts to address global warming. So what chance does a proposal like this have?

Henry Waxman: I think it’s going to be a challenge to get Republicans and others to support putting a price on carbon. But we have to consider the alternatives. Will it be easier to slash Medicare benefits? Make deep cuts to defense? Raise income taxes? A climate policy is the easiest way to face these challenges.

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Danish PM: ‘In the last two months, we have undertaken more far-reaching decisions than perhaps in the last 50 years’


Helle Thorning-Schmidt, prime minister of Denmark and leader of the Danish Social Democratic Party. (Dutch Social Democratic Party/Creative Commons)
This morning, I interviewed Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark. For the first six months of 2012, her country will hold the rotating presidency of the European Union, so Thorning-Schmidt has an unusually clear vantage point on the EU’s struggles to overcome its fiscal and economic challenges. The interview was conducted at the Center for American Progress, where Thorning-Schmidt gave a speech on the U.S.-E.U. relationship. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: In your remarks today, you say that Europe is suffering a “crisis of confidence.” Most economists I know say it’s suffering a crisis of growth and debt, and it’s not yet solved. So do you have a different take?

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Q&A: What Big Bourbon wants from Congress

Q&A: What Big Bourbon wants from Congress

Yesterday, I received an e-mail touting Rep. John Yarmuth’s (D-KY) leadership of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus. This brought together two of my great passions in life -- obscure congressional working groups and bourbon— and so clearly required further reporting. I spoke with Rep. Yarmuth this morning, and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

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Q&A: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse explains how the Buffett rule will work


Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), left, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), center, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) participate in a news conference on Capitol Hill. (J. Scott Applewhite - AP)
On Wednesday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced legislation that would make President Obama’s proposed Buffett rule law. We spoke this morning about how the bill would work, whether Democrats have developed their own dogma on taxes, and what the chances are for comprehensive tax reform in the coming Congress. A lightly edited transcript follows.

Ezra Klein: Let me begin with a technical question. How do you avoid a massive tax cliff as people move from making a taxable income of $999,999 to $1,000,001? Because if the rise is too steep, the bill will encourage tax evasion.

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Interview: Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards


Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards (Mike Coppola - Getty Images)
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure decision not to fund Planned Parenthood is one of many challenges the organization has weathered in the past year. The House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood in April, although the amendment ultimately failed in the Senate. Nine states have also voted to bar abortion providers from receiving government funds, although the Obama administration has blocked them from implementing those laws.

Cecile Richards has served as Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s president since 2006. We spoke two weeks ago, prior to the Komen news, for a story that will appear Sunday in the Washington Post’s Outlook section. Richards and I discussed the state of the abortion rights movement, the attacks she has weathered in the past year and how she sees her supporters energized for the coming election year. What follows is a partial transcript of our conversation:

Sarah Kliff: Walk me through how 2011 compares to other years for Planned Parenthood.

Cecile Richards: Obviously the 2010 election was such a fundamental reshaping of state legislatures and Congress, and the thing I think is so important to remember, that election was about economy and jobs. People were frustrated, and it was a vote of anger. Yet once elected, they had these very extreme positions on women’s health issues. In 2011, we saw this unbelievable rightward shift both in the House of Representatives and in state legislatures across the country, and we’ve been dealing with it ever since.

SK: You’ve worked with a Republican-controlled House before, and never seen this kind of environment. What changed?

CR: It was the first time, really, we’d ever seen Congress go after Planned Parenthood as an organization — not just being against choice or other issues — and to make a foursquare effort to get rid of the entire family-planning program in the United States, and to have such a big vote on it in the U.S. House was historic. They named us by name, and women really identified with this. It wasn’t just “well, times are tough, we’re going to cut family planning services,” it was literally we’re going to tell women they can’t go to the major family-planning provider in this country.

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Q&A: CEA Chair Alan Krueger on inequality

Q&A: CEA Chair Alan Krueger on inequality

On Friday morning, Alan Krueger, the Princeton economist who is on leave serving as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, gave a speech at the Center for American Progress on the causes and consequences of inequality. Excerpts here, full speech here. On Thursday night, I spoke with Krueger about the speech, his past as an inequality skeptic, and Rep. Paul Ryan’s allegation that the Obama administration is looking for “equality of outcomes.” A lightly edited transcript follows.

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An interview with Buddy Roemer


Former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer works on his speech at a bookstore in Manchester, N.H., on, July 20, 2011. (Charles Krupa - AP)
Buddy Roemer is a former governor and congressman from Louisiana and a candidate fro the Republican nomination for the presidency. He’s also an avid user of Twitter. After I asked him about an intriguing tweet about health-care policy — a phrase, I assure you, I never expected to have to write — he sensibly replied, “There’s definitely more to it (impossible to cover all in 140 characters).” So on Friday, we spoke about his ideas for health-care reform, economic policy and campaign-finance reform. A transcript follows, with light edits for length and clarity.

Ezra Klein: Let’s start where our Twitter conversation left off. You propose barring insurers from discriminating based on preexisting conditions but you don’t support an individual mandate or any other policy to pull healthy people into the market. So how do you prevent an adverse selection problem where unhealthy people enter your system, healthy ones leave, and premiums skyrocket?

Buddy Roemer: Here’s my fundamental first step: Insurance companies ought to be covered under the Sherman Antitrust Act. I know this is heresy. I know they give large sums of money. First phone call I got when I was elected to Congress was from an insurance PAC. I know they’re the largest givers. But it’s ridiculous to have 50 monopolies in this country. Monopolies raise prices and lower choices. And the first thing we need in health reform is to break the stranglehold that the insurance monopolies have in this country.

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Austan Goolsbee on why the euro zone won’t survive

Austan Goolsbee is the former director of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and an economics professors at Chicago University’s Booth School of Business. On Monday, he published an op-ed on the crisis in Europe that made some provocative points, so I asked him to expand on them in an interview. I think it’s fair to say that Goolsbee is not an optimist when it comes to the euro. The problem, he says, is that even if you recapitalize the banks and end the runs on government debt, you haven’t solved the region’s growth problem. A lightly edited transcript follows.


Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers. (Andrew Harrer)
Ezra Klein: You wrote that “Germany’s currency has been to Southern Europe what China’s has been to the U.S.” Unpack that a bit.

Austan Goolsbee: Germany’s productivity has gone way up. Normally, that would mean their currency appreciates, which lessens the advantage that gives their economy [in exports]. But unlike virtually every other advanced country in the world, the manufacturing share of output in Germany has risen over the last 20 years. And part of the explanation is that, just as in China, Germany has an export-oriented growth strategy fueled by a currency that’s undervalued. But that undervalued currency has been at the expense of Southern Europe. And the main point of the piece is that there’s no obvious way for Southern Europe to grow, and if they can’t grow, they can’t balance their budgets no matter how much austerity they engage in.

EK: Sebastian Mallaby wrote that between August 2009 and May 2011, German exports jumped 18 percent. If they hadn’t been in the euro, they would have only risen by eight percent. So Mallaby’s take was that one way to view the issue is that the euro has been making Germany richer and now they need to share that wealth.

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The bias toward creditors

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On Sunday, I was a panelist on ‘Up With Chris Hayes.” Among the guests was Robert Johnson, director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Right before a commercial break, Johnson said that one of the dynamics in the financial crisis is that the political systems in Europe and the United States are better at representing the interests of creditors than debtors. We didn’t get to return to that topic, but I asked Johnson to explain his thinking a bit more in an interview. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: So you say that both here and in Europe, the political systems are more responsive to creditors than to debtors. Can you expand on that a bit?

Robert Johnson: There are two dimensions to it. The first is what you might call the 99 percent versus the 1 percent. That is to say, our politics, our lawmaking institutions, are set up to disproportionately represent people who have money.

The second dimension is that our financial system now is so unwieldy and frightening that one does not need to be a class warrior working at the central bank or finance ministry to say, when given the choice between forcing Greek citizens through the grinder of austerity or attempting a debt restructuring that can unleash unknowable consequences in the credit default swap market or the relations between large banks, to choose austerity. They don’t understand what kind of collateral damage will be done when you resort to restructuring rather than imposing more austerity.

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Doug Holtz-Eakin: 'Growth is coming in last place with this administration'

Doug Holtz-Eakin served as director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2003-2005, as John McCain’s chief economic adviser in the 2008 presidential campaign, and is now president of the American Action Forum. This is the second in what will be a series of interviews with prominent right-leaning economists about what they consider to be the key problems with, and right solutions for, the American economy. The first, with Columbia’s Glenn Hubbard, is here.

Ezra Klein: Growth is low. Unemployment remains high. So at this point, what’s holding us back?

Doug Holtz-Eakin: The paramount fact is that we have badly damaged balance sheets in the household and government sectors. The household sector came into the recession with a lot of debt. Since then, it’s seen its portfolios battered and its housing values continue to decline. In those circumstances, its both sensible and desirable for them to save more and fix their balance sheet. And they’re doing that. But that means they’re not powering a strong upswing. And consumer spending is 60 percent, 70 percent of the economy.

But it also means that if you look at the potential for growth in the Casablanca fashion, by rounding up the the usual suspects, households are out. Governments are in terrible shape. Exports would be nice, but the rest of the world isn’t there for it. That leaves you with the business community. They’re the sector with trillions of dollars on their balance sheets and so they could kick off more rapid growth.

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Economist Glenn Hubbard: ‘We need a radical change’

From 2001 to 2003, Glenn Hubbard was chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. Today, he’s the dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business, an economic adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and an active commentator on economic affairs. We spoke Friday about where the economy is and where a different set of policies could take it. As a disclaimer, Hubbard, in this interview, is speaking for himself and not as a representative of the Romney campaign. Here’s a lightly edited excerpt.

Ezra Klein: Growth is weak. Unemployment is high. By almost any measure, the recovery has been very, very slow. What’s holding us back?

Glenn Hubbard: Let’s put politics aside. Let’s assume we could fix what we wanted to. The problems we have are grasp and clarity. With the financial factors in the recession, the two tangible grasp points are on the consumer side: Consumers have too much leverage; and on the business side, it’s exactly the opposite: Non-financial corporate America has tons of cash. So with that, the right thing to do would be to quickly de-lever consumers and change the animal spirits of businesspeople. On the consumer side, that could mean a big housing push, and on the business side, a big change to corporate tax rates or something else that increases the return on investment.

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Financiers for Occupying Wall Street

A few days ago, the Huffington Post sent me a press alert saying that Mohammed el-Erian had written a blog post warning readers to “listen to Occupy Wall Street.” That caught my eye.

For those who don’t know el-Erian, he’s a co-CEO of PIMCO, one of the world’s largest — and wealthiest — bond trading operations, with more than $1 trillion under management. Despite being based in Southern California, PIMCO and its leaders are titans in finance. So I called el-Erian to ask him what exactly he saw in this movement that is, in large part, dedicated to combating his industry.

Ezra Klein: You’ve done quite well in finance. You have, presumably, a lot of friends in finance. But insofar as Occupy Wall Street has an agenda, it’s to shrink the power, size and compensation of the finance sector. So explain what in their message appeals to you.


Mohammed el-Erian: My reaction was colored by two views I’ve expressed already: One has to do with what has happened to finance. In the mid-2000s, the thinking about finance evolved to believing it was a standalone phase in capitalist progression. Society -- in particular the U.K. and U.S. -- bought into the notion that the path of development was agriculture to industry to services to finance. And that explains a lot in terms of people’s mindset. The name of the industry went from “the financial services” industry to “the finance industry.” It lost sight of the fact that it services the real economy. You cannot simply exchange paper.

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Schumer: ‘We are going to be labeling tea party economics. Tea party double-dip recession. Tea party gridlock.’

This morning, I attended a reporter’s breakfast that Third Way held with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Here’s what caught my attention:


(Chip Somodevilla - GETTY IMAGES)
- “Where do we go from here on the jobs bill? We are going to divide it into different pieces and put them before the Senate and see if our Republican colleagues continues to block it piece by piece by piece. We hope they don’t.”

- “They don’t really have a plan for jobs. Nobody believes that deregulation, which may have some positive effects five years from now, is going to change this.”

- “We are going to be labeling tea party economics. Tea party double-dip recession. Tea party gridlock. We think that’s going to have a real effect. So in a sense, it’s a sword and a shield. The sword is our effort to do something on jobs. The shield is pointing out what’s keeping us from moving forward.”

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‘We haven’t had a shortage of demands and solutions. We’ve had a shortage of mass movements.’

Ask union types who the smartest labor organizer is and they’re likely to point you towards former-SEIU organizer Stephen Lerner, who planned the legendary Justice for Jsanitor campaign. But Lerner isn’t with a union anymore. [Correction: Lerner is with SEIU. I was just wrong about his affiliation.] He’s concluded that unions, for all their virtues, are too tied to the political system to push the sort of radical change he’s looking for, and that the next social movement will require new social institutions.

“Campaigns challenging corporate power can’t be held in check by institutions with too much to lose,” he wrote. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ seems, in many ways, to be exactly the sort of movement he was talking about. So I called him today to ask about it.

Ezra Klein: It seems surprising that we’re having this conversation towards the end of 2011, three years after TARP, rather than in late-2008. What do you think has led a movement like this to explode onto the scene now, rather than at some other point?

Stephen Lerner: Well, you never know when these things will happen. Last year, I was at a meeting where Francis Fox Pivens was talking about this. Everyone was moaning and asking why aren’t we seeing more organizing like we did in the Great Depression, and she said, people are misreading history. They have this view the Depression happened and then the country was in uproar. In 1932, people were writing articles about why there wasn’t more activity. In 1932, people were shocked by the crash; they were just hoping it would get better. As it became more clear that it was a permanent state of affairs, they began to organize to challenge the ongoing state of affairs. It was in 1934 that activity exploded.

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Reinhart: ‘The outlook is dire, but it’s not end-of-the-world dire.’ #Euromess

Carmen Reinhart is co-author of ‘This Time is Different,’ the seminal history on financial crises, and a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. She is also not particularly surprised to see our financial crisis being followed by a massive sovereign-debt crisis. in an interview yesterday, she explained why.

Ezra Klein: There’s one interpretation of the events in Europe, which you often hear from the Obama administration, in which they’re presented as “bad luck.” But one of the lessons I took from your book on financial crises is that aftershocks like this are more predictable than that. It’s more like someone with a weakened immune system catching pneumonia. That’s not bad luck so much as it is a symptom of the underlying problem.

Carmen Reinhart: The immune system metaphor is very much how I view it. We do have a weak immune system. Our ability to withstand shocks is completely different than in quote-unquote more normal circumstances. But it’s not bad luck. Ireland is in a precarious situation for different reasons than Greece. But it wasn’t bad luck that got their gross external debt to 1,000 percent of GDP. It was a bet that things would continue to go well for a prolonged period of time.

EK: One element of your work has been to look separately at financial crises, sovereign-debt crises, currency crises, and various other forms of global economic misery. So what separates or connects a sovereign-debt crisis like the one we’re seeing in Greece from a financial crisis like the one we had here?

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Lachmann: ‘What’s really at stake here is the European banking system.’ #Euromess


A protester holds stones during violent protests around Syntagma Square in Athens June 29, 2011. (JOHN KOLESIDIS)
In May of 2010, I spoke with Desmond Lachman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, about the growing crisis in Greece. Lachmann, a former managing director and chief emerging market economic strategist at Salomon Smith Barney and deputy director in the International Monetary Fund’s Policy Development and Review Department, was not optimistic. I called him back today to see how he was feeling now. His answers weren’t comforting. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: A bit over a year ago, when we first spoke, you said Greece was like Bear Stearns, and behind it were a lot of potential Lehmans. Have you become more optimistic since then?

Desmond Lachman: No. What has occurred over the past year is that the situation with Greece has clearly been untenable. It is only a matter of time till Greece has a hard default. Since then we have had real problems in Portugal and Ireland. But what is of most concern is the crisis has spread to Italy and Spain, and even the French banks have trouble funding themselves. This isn’t just the European periphery. It’s the heart of the European banking system and the whole European experiment. What makes matters worse is that the American, French and German economies are slowing. That means that if the troubled countries in the periphery had any chance to export their way out of their problems before, they don’t have that option now.

EK: And if some of these dominoes fall, how bad are things likely to get?

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Eichengreen: ‘We’re in for a couple more months of volatility at least.’ #Euromess

All week, we’ll be interviewing experts on the European debt crisis. First up is Barry Eichengreen, professor of economics and political science at the University of California at Berkeley. Compared with some other experts you’ll hear from in this series, he is relatively optimistic about the future of the European Union. (The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Brad Plumer: Markets seem to be reacting positively to the recent steps European leaders have been taking to stabilize the debt crisis there. Is that optimism well-placed or no?

Barry Eichengreen: The markets reacted positively at the beginning of the week because they heard that European policymakers were finally beginning to address the relevant issues. Those issues included: strengthening weak banks by injecting the capital necessary; the need to acknowledge and act upon the fact that Greece is insolvent; and the need to ring-fence other European countries once Greece’s debt was meaningfully restructured. There was the announcement that the 15 banks identified as problem banks in the latest stress tests would get more capital. And there were hints from European policymakers that Greece bondholders would have to take serious haircuts, as opposed to the cosmetic haircuts that they’d been subjected to on July 21. There was also talk of leveraging the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to give it the firepower needed to ring-fence other European countries. That was all good news.

The bad news is that markets got carried away. There was some commentary on this side of the Atlantic, which was not adequately informed by an understanding of European politics, that led investors to believe this would all happen tomorrow. In reality, it will take some months. These steps won’t get done without considerable negotiation, infighting, and posturing by various politicians. The idea that this period of high uncertainty is over is naive. We’re in for a couple more months of volatility at least.

BP: So what are the big hurdles standing in the way of resolving the crisis?

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Robert Frank on ‘the Darwin Economy’

Robert Frank is an economist at Cornell University and author, most recently, of “The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition and the Common Good,” which argues that in a time of austerity, the best way to cut budget deficits is to focus our cuts on the spending we do to compete with one another rather than the spending that actually makes our lives better. You can read a short version of the argument here. We spoke about the book Friday, and an edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: As a longtime Robert Frank fan, this book, it seems to me, is a new way of making a point you’ve been making since at least “Winner-Take-All Society” and “Luxury Fever”about how decisions that are economically rational for individuals can make all of us collectively worse off. In this case, the metaphor is evolution.

Robert Frank: It’s exactly that. Sometimes collective and individual interests coincide, as when keen eyesight develops in one hawk and then moves to the rest of the species. That’s analogous to product-design innovation in the free market. It originally benefits the individual that introduces it but as it spreads it benefits everybody. The story doesn’t end there, though.

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Google chairman on economy: ‘The current strategy is ludicrous’

Christiane Amanpour’s Sunday interview with Google chairman Eric Schmidt is attracting an unusual amount of notice. Mike Allen excerpted it in Playbook, and Kevin Drum asked, “Why don’t more CEOs talk like this?” If you watch the clip, you’ll see why: it’s a refreshingly clear and analytical take on what’s holding back American business.

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Now, if only Washington would listen to him.

Al Gore: ‘The message still has to be about the reality we’re facing’

The years since Al Gore released “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006 have not been kind to climate hawks. Cap-and-trade died in the Senate, skeptics have renewed their attacks on climate science, and the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, Rick Perry, denies that there’s even a problem. So what has the former vice-president decided to do about it? Double down his efforts and unveil yet another high-profile presentation on the threat posed by rising temperatures, in the hopes of converting climate skeptics. This week, Gore’s Climate Reality Project will launch a 24-hour global multimedia broadcast on the link between global warming and severe weather events. We spoke by phone in late August about his new project, on the link between climate change and natural disasters, and the challenges of swaying public opinion.


(REUTERS )

Brad Plumer: “An Inconvenient Truth” was basically a primer on global warming—the causes, the problems it creates, the ways we can avert it. So what more is there to add? How will this new presentation be different?

AG: It’s very different—a few of the images are the same, but 95 percent of the slides are completely new. The science linking the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather to the climate crisis has matured tremendously in the last couple of years. Think about the last year, we’ve had floods in Pakistan displacing 20 million people and further destabilizing a nuclear-armed country. We’ve had drought and wildfires in Russia. In Australia you’ve got floods the size of France and Germany combined. Then there’s drought in Texas—out of 254 counties in Texas, 252 are on fire. I’m talking to you from Nashville, where the city lost the equivalent of an entire year’s budget from recent floods—the area has never been flooded like this before, so no one had flood insurance.

That’s the reality we’ve got to focus on. This presentation is a defense of the science and the scientists, against the timeworn claims by deniers.

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