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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 6/9/20



Friends,

 

WHAT IS THE ARGUMENT TO NOT THROW ALL THE BUMS OUT?

It is quaint to recall that, before he took office, there were those of us who hoped our President would abandon his bellicose and offensive rhetoric and reach out to take meaningful steps in areas where bipartisan agreement seemed achievable. But he is not exclusively to blame for the federal inaction in so many areas that could have benefited our nation in myriad ways. It is hard to imagine why these issues have not been dealt with in a meaningful way, particularly given the rhetoric from many about an emerging consensus:

  • Immigration reform was gaining traction when George W. Bush was President. Here is the broad plan he mentioned in the 2007 State of the Union: https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/stateoftheunion/2007/initiatives/immigration.html. We can quibble around the edges but this was a meaningful attempt that could have brought reform more than a dozen years ago. Most of it seems reasonable today. We need to protect the country’s borders, be kind to immigrants within our borders, be realistic, and stop devoting precious finite national resources and millions of column-inches to an issue that politicians would prefer to use as ammunition, rather than try to solve.

  • Infrastructure improvement. Really? We still can’t agree on this? How about a WPA-style works program for those who lost jobs in this recession? To refresh memories of this program, see more below.

  • Tax reform (and elimination of loopholes). Is it tough to imagine a U.S. corporate tax rate at or even slightly above the OECD average? Does the capital gains rate even make sense any more? Shouldn’t the burden of Social Security taxes be lightened for the working poor? Are tax-deferred exchanges an artifact? And wouldn’t it be simpler to sunset tax breaks or “tax expenditures” to business—including agriculture—and require those in support to argue for reauthorization every few years?

  • Criminal justice reform (and the horrific societal crime of mass incarceration). There is broad bipartisan consensus that we need to solve the problems of private prisons, incarceration for minor crimes, the felony-murder rule, and cash bail, and that all of this can be done while keeping us all safe.

  • Reasonable gun control. Just quoting President Reagan should move most reasonable people, including gun owners, to support some movement in this area:

“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.”


Lest we forget, 78% of gun owners support universal background checks and a majority support other reasonable limits on the proliferation of military-style guns. It is simply not okay that people are brandishing guns in public places. It’s not okay that we license cars and the professions but not the ownership of guns.


In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to try to present a few ideas that are generally accepted as reasonable in a number of these areas. I’m not sure it’s all that hard. In the meantime…

 

THE WORKS PROJECT ADMINISTRATION—WHY WE MAY NEED IT NOW

Scholars will differ on the effectiveness of the various New Deal programs that came out of the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s. Suffice it to say that the consensus is that some policies may well have prolonged the depression, while others were helpful, but the real emergence of the American economy occurred with the impending war and industrial mobilization followed by the post-war boom.

One program, however, would seem by most measures to have been a success, the infrastructural explosion of the Works Project Administration (the “WPA”), which provided jobs to over eight million Americans during the depth of the Depression. Its funding amounted to a little over 6% of the then GDP. How many of us attended a school built by the WPA?


What were some of the accomplishments of the WPA?


• Built 4,000 school buildings (these are still recognizable to this day by their basic design elements)

• Built 130 hospital

• Laid 9,000 miles of storm drains and sewer lines

• Built 29,000 new bridges (some of which are desperately in need of deferred maintenance)

• Built 150 airfields

• Built or repaired 280,000 miles of roads

• Planted 24 million tress

• Countless artists, actors, writers, and directors were retained in the arts.


Why not institute a WPA today? When it existed in the 1930s there was over 20% unemployment and the nation was sorely in need of new and improved infrastructure. Today we are headed toward similar unemployment numbers and our infrastructure is in distress. We need to provide jobs and we need to provide financial support to unskilled, semi-skilled and even skilled laborers. It’s time to think outside of the box and perhaps borrow this historic success and apply it to today’s needs.


Some of the most significant examples of Art Deco are posters created by WPA artists (see above), murals (see below) and buildings built by the WPA (including Anaheim High School above). Perhaps a new WPA could bring a renaissance of public art and architecture as an added benefit.

 

BASEBALL AS METAPHOR

Yes, I know, baseball has become a metaphor for everything from the American spirit, nostalgia, work ethic, learning statistics, eternal boyhood, joy, fathers and sons, nearly a cliché. And yet, at the crux of every cliché lies an element of truth. There is much to learn from a game that has been played, practiced, studied and refined for over 150 years. There are some works that aren’t so much about baseball, as they are about greater factors, trends, theories, and behaviors that affect us all. Here are three examples:

Men at Work, by George Will. This could be the most analytical of unabashed love letters to the game. George Will, noted political pundit, shows us the rich detail and strategy of the game through four basic contributors to the game—managing, hitting, pitching and fielding. He uses as his exemplars Tony LaRussa, Orel Hershiser, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripkin, Jr.

Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. This is the first of several books of late that explains the emergence of metrics and the intrusion of data and statistics into the rooms populated by scouts. It explains how the lowly Oakland Athletics, with a paltry budget, could field a pennant winning team. It also challenges data that has been sacrosanct for a century but may not tell a meaningful part of the story (e.g., pitcher’s won-lost record or a batter’s RBI), when things as simple as making contact and getting to first base with walks can make the difference. The movie, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill is entertaining, inspiring and humorous. Both the book and the movie are worth the investment of your time.

The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves, by Keith Law. Is it any surprise that umpires are reluctant to call third strikes when the count is 0-2? They don’t want to decide the outcome of an at-bat when they don’t have to… This readable and fairly short book (a major factor for me as my natural ADHD impatience grows) touches on how psychology and human behavior play such an important role in baseball and how baseball can illustrate some basic fallacies and phenomena of how people act and make choices. Confirmation bias says we use data to support previously held biases. Recency bias is where people wrongly believe in “hot streaks.” Survivorship bias is where we value data of people around today and fail to give credit to data that hasn’t survived (e.g., the records of those still playing or mutual funds still investing, not taking into account those left by the wayside). It’s all here…every logical fallacy and human foible, shown clearly in baseball and applicable to life.

If the owners and players agree and Major League Baseball begins again, there will be more baseball stories to share. I can’t wait.

Warm regards,

Glenn





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