A clarification, a comment on redistribution, and a couple of links.
The clarification: in response to my previous post
, Richard Yeselson tweeted at me that I was misreading the Keynesian position
; Keynes, he pointed out, argued that government spending would lead to economic growth only at the zero lower bound (i.e., when nominal interest rates are at or near zero).
This is correct. Keynes's basic argument was that at the zero lower bound, you've effectively exhausted the limits of how the government can goose the economy via monetary policy. What you're left with is fiscal policy, and in those cases, Keynes did recommend "government spending, any government spending," as I put it yesterday. If you're not at the zero lower bound, though, Keynes warned against an overly exuberant fiscal policy, arguing that government spending, in those cases, would actually crowd out the private sector's efforts.
I don't think this has a substantive effect on the argument I was making yesterday. Two reasons. First, I was talking about the national debate since 2009, at which point the United States had already adopted an expansionary monetary policy, and so, among macroeconomic policy people, some thought experiments about negative nominal rates notwithstanding, attention has been focused on the fiscal side.
Secondly, my overarching point in that post isn't about Keynesianism itself; it's that I think a lot of us are misunderstanding each other. Specifically, I don't think the ongoing debate about government spending should be framed as the austerity vs Keynesianism debate, because a lot of people are having a debate about government spending without reference to either concept, and if you're insisting on this austerity lens they're not going to make any sense to you, and vice versa. And my haphazard summary of the Keynesian argument has no bearing on that point.
However, I do agree that it's worth clarifying, if only as part of the ceaseless and largely thankless campaign against misunderstanding. So: Apologies, I misrepresented the Keynesian position, but it was clumsiness on my part, rather than a low-key sneak attack on whatever it was he stood for.
Now, about the argument that the debate is really about redistribution.
I also had some people tell me that while they agree that the debate isn't fundamentally about austerity, they think it's fundamentally about redistribution; that is, some progressive have suggested to me that Republicans want to dismantle the safety net. Again, this is not how the spending debates look in Texas. It's possibly because state spending is so low that it's sort of a moot issue. (I touched on this briefly in my comments about Denmark
But let me give an example. The Texas legislature is hurtling to the end of its biennial legislative session. That means that I've been trying to catch up with this "austerity debate" during peak spending-debate season for the state, which is pretty grim on a personal level, but it does mean that I'm pretty current on what the Texas policy people are talking about. So, not very long ago, I was talking to a couple of Republicans about one of the bills they had passed, which mandates drug testing for welfare recipients. They thought it was a major accomplishment, and said that it was getting good review from voters. I told them I wasn't impressed with it; that every other state that has passed such a law has found it ineffectual; and that I was wondering if it was actually the bill's existence that ginned up the demand for the bill. After all, Texas has such stringent welfare standards that mischievous use of welfare, even if widespread, probably costs us, like, a couple hundred dollars a year. (Heuristic: California has about ten times as many people on TANF funds as Texas does, but Texas has more people on food stamps. The reason is that food stamps are distributed according to federal guidelines.) The Republicans agreed with that, but responded that the point of the bill was to bolster credibility and accountability in the system, so taxpayers can know that their tax dollars are being prudently spent.
If you think Republicans are hell-bent on slashing the safety net, this probably sounds like a case in point: an effort to deprive poor people of the few resources the state makes available to them for ideological reasons, with a heavy dose of moral judgment. And what the Republicans I was talking to had said did sound sort of like an argument against redistribution, albeit cloaked in an argument about accountability.
And yet the bill in question, by the time it passed from the Senate to the House, was different from the drug-testing for welfare bills that other states have passed. Democrats in the Senate had argued, successfully, for a provision that if a parent receiving TANF funds tests positive for drugs, most of the money will follow any children to his or her guardian; the Senate Republicans had, fairly cheerfully, agreed
, and the Republicans I was talking to pointed it out as an important provision. The bill's fiscal note predicts that the whole thing will cost the state money, albeit only a little
I still don't think it was a good bill, but it has been the most serious assault on the safety net that Texas has seen this session, and it passed out of the state senate unanimously because it included a provision designed to preserve the safety net. Again, it's possible that Texas would see more effort to gleefully slash the safety net if we had a bigger safety net, but that's getting into counterfactual territory.
And so I continue to think that although there are probably some fiscally conservative policy people who are passionate about the bracing disciplinary effect of austerity or driven by their contempt for poor Latino orphans, there are a lot of them who are pragmatic and reasonable. Just as there are a lot of progressives who are pragmatic and reasonable. In fact, and I'm going way out on a limb here, but I even think it's possible that the reasonable people on both sides have pretty similar concerns, although they may disagree about the best way to work towards those goals, so maybe next month our respective book clubs should pick Arthur Okun
, or if that's too hard, The Butter Battle Book
And a couple of related links: I enjoyed Michael Kinsley's critique of Paul Krugman
, at The New Republic, although I was wary of his normative defense of austerity, because I think people should get churched via church (or ethical inquiry, whatever) rather than by central bankers or economic advisors. And, accordingly, I especially liked Dan Drezner's take on both
Since 2009 or so there has been a lively and not entirely enjoyable debate over how to spur economic growth, reduce unemployment, and so on. In national circles, this has been summarized as the austerity debate
It recently occurs to me that in Texas, though, there has been no austerity debate. (One quick but crude metric: if you search Nexis for stories involving “austerity” AND “government” in the past year, you get more than a thousand from the New York Times and the New York Times’s blogs, and two for the Texas Tribune.)
Which makes sense, for reasons I’ll describe below. I suspect it is true in other states too. And I think it’s good that Texas, at least, hasn’t subscribed to this framework, for two reasons:
1) Obviously you can be a fiscally conservative person and still support the occasional government intervention, even economic stimulus, unless you have, for some reason, volunteered for this Manichean austerity-vs-Keynesianism debate.
2) That debate, i.e the national one, has been politicized, unproductive, thankless, and illogical.
So first, let me try to summarize the national debate.
On one side you have the group we can call the Keynesians, who believe that government spending--as in the 2009 stimulus--drives economic growth and employment. On the other side you have the austerity people, who have argued that in countries like the United States, an increase in government spending would actually be counterproductive, because it would drive up our debt, which is a drag on growth.
The latter camp got a boost with the 2010 publication of a paper by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff which concluded that since World War II, countries with advanced economies but a debt-to-GDP ratio greater than 90% have experienced demonstrably slower growth than those with lower debt loads. Then last month the empirical case for austerity apparently fell apart, after a graduate student discovered some errors in the Reinhart-Rogoff spreadsheet which, once corrected, erased the putative debt effect. (See Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers for a fuller explanation of this
I have to say, it wasn’t until the Reinhart-Rogoff paper was debunked that I thought about it all. Weird, right, because I’m a journalist who’s spent the past six years writing about Texas, and specifically writing about the Texas model vis-a-vis the alternative economic approach espoused by progressives, and come to find out that all this time everyone’s been riveted by this paper that I never even gave any attention to.
Maybe with all the things happening in the national economy, and the Texas economy, the optimal ratio of public debt to GDP hasn’t really captured my imagination. I was aware of the "austerity" rhetoric--I’m sure I’ve used it at times--but I guess I thought it was a euphemism that progressives had borrowed from Europe to scold people who aren’t fully onboard with what they see as the blindingly obvious virtue and efficacy of Keynesian policies.
Maybe I should have inquired further, but nothing would have primed me to think that debt is the critical determinant of economic growth and employment. I’m sure it is one of the things that has some effect, but others are more important, such as taxes; and insofar as public debt will yield higher taxes, I think it’s problem; but that’s why I talk about taxes a lot more than debt ratios. And I really don’t think I’m alone in this.
So is the debate over the optimal size of government a debate about austerity, as Krugman et al describe it? Nobody in Texas has been talking about it in these terms, although the much-discussed Texas model basically conforms to the austerity approach. Low taxes, low revenue, low per-capita spending, and although we have a relatively high ratio
of combined state and local debt as a percentage of state GDP, it’s still at about 20%, which is nowhere near the Reinhart-Rogoff putative danger zone.
But Texas isn’t doing this because it believes in austerity, or doesn’t believe in Keynes. Debates about taxing and spending, and about the proper size and role of government, simply aren’t framed that way. They never have been. I’m not sure it would even make sense: the state has a variety of restrictions on both taxing and spending, meaning that austerity is more or less inevitable. (The same could be true of other states compared to the federal government, because even the ‘blue’ states are supposed to balance their budgets.)
When Texans argue about the model, and they do, the arguments, on both sides, are primarily pragmatic rather than theoretical. So from the right, you hear things like: the Texas model is working, therefore it works. Texas should maintain fiscal discipline, because our discipline elicits confidence, meaning businesses want to move here and we have a good credit rating.
On the other side, similarly: Because we have more people, we need to have more roads. Because we have more knowledge jobs, we need to devote more resources to education. Because the state and local governments spend a lot of money on uninsured care, we should expand Medicaid; that would actually save us money, depending on how you figure the math.
Note that there’s an implicit premise on both sides: the revenue situation (which is effectively the spending situation, because of the state’s pay-as-you-go provision) is largely predetermined.
So the austerity debate doesn’t really map onto the Texas debate. And in fact, Texas isn’t dogmatically committed to austerity in all circumstances. That’s pretty clear from the fact that combined state and local debt has basically doubled over the past decade
Or from the fact that Rick Perry, who has been nothing if not ardent in his support for the Texas model, recently called for the state to capitalize $41 billion in debt to pay for roads. Which kind of sounds like something the Keynesians would call for, although the Keynesians wouldn’t make the argument the way Perry did
: “Now is the time to do the fiscally responsible thing and make our state more accessible and productive for generations to come. “
For that matter, for the Texans who are worried about debt, like my colleague Paul Burka
, it’s not a theoretical debate over whether debt is a drag on growth. The concern is that interest payments, as modest as they might sound relative to state GDP, are bound to take a big bite out of our miniature budget.
It would also be fair, I think, to describe things like the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund as subconsciously Keynesian, in the sense that they look like Keynesian ideas but haven’t been conceived of or described in those terms.
In other words, if you want to describe Texas according to the terms of the national debate, you could say that the model is de facto austerity and intermittent, subconscious Keynesianism. And those two things are only in conflict if you accept the terms. To wit, I’ve been asked several times, during this book tour, why Texans claim that they believe in limited government, when in reality the state government does all this stuff. Setting aside that the questioners never explain why they think “limited government” means “no government”, I think you can make the case, as Perry did--and as a number of Republicans have done lately
, not to mention the Democrats--that certain government interventions are compatible with the broader goal of limited government. These would be the interventions that:
(a) are funded by existing revenue streams, i.e., don’t involve a thoroughgoing expansion of “government” writ large
(b) support economic growth and development, because that means job creation, and people who have jobs typically have more autonomy, and less demand for government, than people who don’t.
Note that the second criterion can be interpreted pretty broadly (and in fact it is interpreted pretty broadly in Texas). The national Keynesians might say that that’s how they see it too; if private sector spending increases demand, the same must be true of government spending, any government spending.
I still think that too much government spending is bound to be counterproductive (for the reasons I alluded to above, which, again, have never had anything to do with Reinhart-Rogoff). Beyond that, some investments are bound to be better than others. And I don't know where the "too much" threshhold is, but the risk of uncritical Keynesianism, at the state level, is tempered by the fact that there’s a limit to how much money can be spent, which imposes a degree of deliberation on the spending decisions. You can’t allocate two billion dollars to the water fund, for example (water being important for the economy, because businesses use water) without getting past the gatekeepers
who wanted that two billion dollars for public schools (also important for the economy, because businesses need access to an educated workforce).
At the federal level, however, no such clarity is required. Krugman, at least, has been a little lofty about the need to specify
how he thinks the Obama administration should have allocated the stimulus, although whatever they were doing he thinks they should have doubled it
It may be that this dissonance is simply a function of the fact that making economic policy at the national level is intrinsically different from the state-level debates, but I think we can all agree that on both sides, the difference has been thoroughly muddled. And if the account above is broadly correct, one of the reasons progressives and conservatives have been in such high dudgeon over the past few years is that the literati on each side--the Acela pundits, who are analogizing from the national level to the states, and the conservatives, who are more likely to be analogizing from the other direction--literally haven't been understanding what the other side is talking about.
It's become commonplace for American progressives to point to the successful economies of western Europe, and specifically the Nordic countries, as evidence that expansive welfare states don't undermine growth and prosperity in the way that fiscal conservatives warn they will.
(This happened to me twice on Friday alone.) (Although that was my fault, because I had, in a Twitter exchange, pointed to Spain as a cautionary tale about what happens when the state gets too big.)
I wanted to follow up on those exchanges because although I don't have a problem with social services and safety nets per se (file under, 'things one would hope should go without saying') I do think that a big state is better under certain conditions than others.
Let's take Denmark as an example of the Nordic model, because Denmark has been in the news a bit lately. A few weeks ago, Suzanne Daley reported, in the New York Times, that although Denmark's high-tax, high-services model is "close to a religion here,"
and that even the conservative politicians there are reluctant to suggest changing it, the expert--such killjoys, those experts--say that they're going to have to be less generous in the future. Nancy Folbre, at the New York Times's Economix blog, offers a different perspective
on how Denmark is doing: Despite high marginal tax rates (or perhaps because of them) they are about as rich, on average, as Americans are. The World Bank estimates that gross domestic product per capita in Denmark for the 2008-12 period at $59,889, compared with $48,112 for the United States. Adjusted for differences in the cost of living, Danes’ G.D.P. per capita is slightly lower than ours.
The Danes spend far less on health care per capita than we do in the United States, yet achieve better health outcomes in many areas, including life expectancy. Their child poverty rates are far lower: About 6.5 percent of Danish children live in families with disposable incomes under 50 percent of the median, compared with 23.1 percent in the United States.
While the Danes debate--and for more on this, see the New York Times's Room for Debate
section--let's just posit, for the sake of the discussion, that the Denmark model works pretty well.
That doesn't mean it would work well for the United States, because the United States is different from Denmark. And while some states may be more like Denmark than the country as a whole, others, including Texas, are reeeealllly different.
I was putting together a table summarizing some of the differences, but it was getting pretty messy with asterisks and side notes because a lot of the figures I wanted to include were gathered by different agencies, over different time frames, etc. So instead I made this diagram, which I will explain below:
First of all, Denmark is vastly more homogeneous than the United States. In terms of ethnicity, most Danes are not just white but ethnically Danish
(PDF). In America, slightly fewer than two-thirds of the people are non-Hispanic whites. Similarly, although Danes may not be as overtly religious as Americans are, 79.1% identify as Lutheran
(unsurprising, given that that’s the state religion). As of 2012, 77% of Americans identified as Christian
, according to Gallup, which is a much broader category. Denmark also has an official language; the United States doesn't. Overlaying this demographic similarity is, apparently, a high degree of top-line political consensus; Denmark is famously the happiest country in the OECD
, and as Daley noted in her article, politicians on both sides are in favor of continuing with the Denmark model.
Secondly, Denmark is more static than the United States. (I was going to say "consistent" instead of "static", because I thought static sounded pejorative; then I thought, do I only think that because I'm an American and we resist all tranquility?) Its fertility rate, as of 2013, was 1.73
, meaning that the average Danish woman has 1.73 children; in the United States, the figure was 2.06. Its population growth, which is a function of the birth rate plus the immigration rate (minus the deaths and emigration numbers), is also lower than that of the United States.
So now let's look at immigration, because that's where the difference between the Danish model and the American model becomes apparent. In the United States, according to the Census bureau, 12.8% of the population is foreign-born
. In Denmark, as you would guess, the figure is much lower: 10.1% of the people are immigrants or the recent descendants of immigrants.
"Immigrants or descendants"--that's the category given in Statistics Denmark
In America, of course, that category isn't frequently used (although the Census does collect data on it, and most recently found
that 33 million Americans--another 11% of the population--have at least one foreign-born parent). The occasional outbreak of birtherism notwithstanding, having a foreign-born parent is an interesting biographical aside, not a legal complication. That's not necessarily the case in Denmark, which has famously strict immigration laws
(even compared to other states in Western Europe). This, then, points to the difference between the Danish model and the United States. It's not that America has more immigration than Denmark; it's that the American system is a more open one.
The Denmark model is, by contrast, a high-touch approach. If you're a single parent, as in the case Daley described, you get a lot of benefits; if you manage to migrate there, the state will provide a lot of supports
. And it's not surprising that the people of Denmark would support the implicit social contract. The country is doing well; they are, for the most part, doing well, and if they weren't, 96% of them told the OECD pollsters
that they know someone they could turn to in a time of need. In other words--and with apologies for being reductive about it--it's like they're living in Richard Scarry's Busytown: the country is half the size of Maine, with fewer than six million people, the vast majority of whom share a common ethnicity (Viking) and that character-building official language (Danish).
There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but it's radically different from the United States, which is big, sprawling, heterogeneous, pluralistic and, shall we say, debate-oriented. Under those conditions, a smaller state may be better for both political and pragmatic reasons. First, the smallish state seems to work as a pressure valve for the discontents of diversity--diversity of opinion and culture, to say nothing of race or religion, those old American fault lines. For the most part these debates are civil, but when they fall into us-vs-them
narratives--as occasionally happens, even in Denmark--one thing that mitigates some tension is the fact that the stakes are logically smaller when the people being "othered" are perceived to be receiving less. I’ve said before (as have others) that this is one of the reasons Texas has been relatively temperate about unauthorized immigration; we don’t hardly have a safety net, so it’s not like anyone can be accused of taking ruthless advantage of it.
And then, setting aside the political psychology stuff, a country as big as the United States is bound to be more varied and more variable than a small, compact, centralized one is going to be. This is why, to me, it makes sense for us to have a (relatively) limited federal government, leaving the individual states to overlay the federal apparatus with systems and services according to the needs, abilities, and preferences of voters there. In other words, a state like Massachusetts (which is small, affluent, and educated, and has been that way, more or less stably and predictably, for a long time) might prefer a more "Scandinavian" model; a state like Texas, which is young, growing, mutable, and evolving, might reasonably prefer a lighter hand.
For more along these lines, see my op-ed from the Dallas Morning News last week
. I would also recommend Jonathan Cohn's article from last year, "Blue States are from Scandinavia, Red States are from Guatemala"
, which I don't fully agree with but nonetheless found thought-provoking and enjoyable.
The subhed is, at the least, a poor summary of both the study and the article.
Note too that the story doesn't back up Lowrey's claim that Medicaid coverage made recipients "vastly more financially secure", although if you read the study you can figure out why she said that; although recipients spent more on health care once they had Medicaid, their risk of catastrophic financial loss was well mitigated. Jonathan Cohn, at The New Republic, has a good explanation
The study's results are not surprising for a reader from Texas, a state that has been running what you might call a long-term unofficial experiment in not extending insurance coverage to people. We're notorious for that--Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured residents of any state.
On the other hand, as I've been saying on Twitter and on this week's mini book tour, Texas is not
worst for actual health. If you look at the annual rankings from the United Health Foundation
--not an organization that can be said to be biased in the state's favor--Texas ranks 40th overall, in part because of the low insurance rate, but 25th for health outcomes. The Commonwealth Fund, similarly, ranks Texas 46th overall, but 21st for "healthy lives"
(although their most recent ranking comes from 2009, so I've been citing the United Health Foundation more often).
What all of this suggests to me is not that Texas shouldn't worry about health insurance, or that Texas should totally reject the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion, as state leaders are threatening; we probably should take the Medicaid expansion, if only because the state and local government currently spends a lot of money on care for uninsured people, as Billy Hamilton (the state's former deputy comptroller) explained in a report earlier this year
Rather, the point here is that while health insurance and health are theoretically related, they're not the same thing, and the way people (Democrats) keep conflating the two is arguably counterproductive. I'll have more on this later today or tomorrow at Texas Monthly.
I'll have more on the explosion in West later today (at Texas Monthly), but in the meantime, here's some context on Texas City, from my book--it's in the chapter called "The Shadow State". The quotes are from Bill Minutaglio's excellent narrative history of the disaster, City on Fire, which I would recommend for additional context:
In 1976, Texas Monthly, the monthly magazine about Texas, published a long article asking why Dolph Briscoe, then the incumbent governor, even wanted the job. He was apparently spending as little time in Austin as possible, preferring to decamp to his ranch in Uvalde, but the details of his schedule were a bit vague, given that Briscoe's office had repeatedly declined or ignored requests to tell the press how the governor was spending his time, leaving reporters to try to puzzle it out by looking at scraps of evidence such as the state payroll records for "acting governors." (Whenever a governor leaves Texas, the state has to hire a substitute.) The few comments Briscoe had offered were not reassuring; he had said, for example, that he didn't even keep an agenda himself, preferring to rely on what his secretary told him. The article's writer, Griffin Smith Jr., noted that this kind of thing would never happen if Texas had a CEO: "If a corporation ran its headquarters with the same haphazard accountability, it would be out of business in six months." Two years later, the state elected its first Republican governor since Reconstruction: Bill Clements, a businessman from Dallas.
At times, Texans have seemed to trust businessmen more than their own government. On a steamy morning in April 1947, for example, there was a fire on board the French vessel SS Grandcamp. The ship had pulled into the port of Texas City, just inland from Galveston Island, the night before, and when the fire triggered an explosion--the Grandcamp was carrying more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, much of the town was flattened. Nearly 600 people were killed; some 5,000 were injured, in many cases gruesomely; and about 2,000 were left homeless. It was, and remains, the deadliest industrial accident in American history.
People in Texas City felt that the government was to blame: no one had warned them of the explosive potential of ammonium nitrate, and after the catastrophe, the federal government was disinclined to pitch in. "Two weeks after the explosion, the small-town mayor flew to Washington to appear before the House Appropriations Committee, to beg them to approve a measure allocating a mere $15m to repair Texas City," wrote Texan journalist Bill Minutaglio. "The money [would] never come."
THe next year, the widows of Texas City became the first Americans to sue the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1948--a new law that gave Americans, for the first time, the right to hold the federal government liable for certain damages. A district court ruled in their favor. In 1953, however, the Supreme Court turned them down, reasoning that people didn't have the right to sue the government over things that had happened during the normal business of governing. Europe had been devastated by World War II. Rebuilding it was in the interests of the United States. Fertilizer would help. And so the ammonium nitrate shipments were a national security issue. Sorry, widows.
Luckily, Texas City had some help from the private sector. Within days of the explosion, the people got what they considered to be good news. Monsanto, one of the biggest employers in the city, announced that it would resume operations as soon as possible. It would build a new chemical plant even bigger than the old one, which had burned down. "In Texas City, if there is resistance to the idea of Monsanto rebuilding its massive chemical plant, not a word is uttered publicly," explained Minutaglio. "There is, instead, widespread relief. It is saluted as industry's instant belief in the future of Texas City. There will be jobs again. Someone, at least, thinks that the city is worth reclaiming." Charities also helped with the rebuilding. Sam Maceo, a businessman and mobster from Galveston, launched the Texas City Relief Fund and arranged for Frank Sinatra to sing at a benefit concert.
It seemed like a clear-cut case: in the absence of a strong, or even adequate, public sector, alternatives emerged. Business was the big one.
Is available here
. It's by Bryan Burrough (who is the author of The Big Rich
, and who was so gracious about the error he caught when I emailed him about it--read the review, it's kind of funny).
On the 27th I started a trip to Barcelona for Elisa's wedding. The only bad part of the situation was that it had to be a quick trip because it's the middle of session and I have a book coming out on April 23rd. Other than that I was looking forward to everything, including, sort of, the long plane ride. Depicted at left is my idea of fun.
We had rented a couple of apartments in Tim and Elisa's neighborhood, Gracia, which used to be a free-standing town until pretty recently ('recently' by European standards. I don't know what that means. A thousand years?)
Most of the weekend was devoted to eating and telling jokes. Over there is some pan al tomate, that great Catalan deconstruction of what it means to be food. Here's a joke: Two peanuts walked into a bar. One was a salted.
And another joke: Two peanuts walked into a bar. One was a salted, in plain's delighted.
And as long as we're deconstructing: Which joke is funnier?
So in other words, it was a fantastic wedding.
We all thought so. Congratulations, Elisa and Tim!
I was so tired by the time I got back that I didn't even play any jokes for April Fool's day. I was still pretty tired by the time my birthday rolled around on Wednesday, although the day did have a pretty festive feeling because my friend Jeremy was in town from New York--as seen at right--made a band shirt for the book. !!!
Plus things were pretty busy at work. At this point in session all kinds of things are happening. For example, on Wednesday or Thursday the people from Sea World brought an armadillo to the Capitol.
And April 4th the House passed the budget bill (and this session has been so copacetic so far that they wrapped it up before 10 pm, prompting a parliamentary and historical inquiry from Rep. Villalba about whether that has ever happened before.
Early enough, in fact, that I had time to meet up with my friend Scott, who was celebrating his birthday at Grand Billiards and take him and his friend Byron, visiting from Santa Fe, to Mrs Johnson's for donuts.
On Friday I took a break to see my brother Mark, who is heading to Minnesota for the next few months. We wanted to hang out but we also wanted to swap cars, because my car is (a) reliable, low-maintenance and great for driving, (b) a total magnet for opportunistic petty crime. Last month someone threw a tombstone through the window. A tombstone! It's fixed now, though, so Minnesotans: if you see a guy like this in a 97 Civic, be nice to him. Not "Minnesota nice," the normal kind.
Nothing says summer like the inefficient use of time. Therefore on Saturday I was determined to bumble around: picked up my friend Spencer, late lunch at Chuy's, an effort to go to Barton Springs only to find the gate closed, an effort to go to Barton Springs the official way only to find the whole thing closed because earlier in the week the city had experienced an entire hour of torrential rain, a detour to get gas because we had been bumbling around so much that we were on the verge of running out, and, eventually, a trip to Deep Eddy.
Eventually we went to Liberty, where I was having a belated birthday party. Although to say "we went" is an exaggeration because Spencer, taking bumbling to its logical conclusion, had taken my car to stop by a child's party, where he was vomited on by a child, causing him to go home to change, causing me, still at Deep Eddy, to give up and get a Car2Go, where Spencer eventually rejoined the group. Here he is, showing the arrogance that comes from wearing clean clothes.
It turned out to be Paul Qui day too.
And while we were there I found out (via a cryptic text message from my dad) that the New York Times had posted a review of the book.
I do, however, have a little catching up to do. There'll be some updates here shortly.
“Penny-wise, pound-foolish!” is emerging as a rallying cry for Texas’s fiscal conservatives this session.
Not the catchiest slogan, perhaps, but it does have a certain resonance in an abstemious state like Texas, where the only thing less popular than a modest tax increase is the prospect of a bigger tax increase a few years from now.