David Brooks’ Brain Fart on Decentralization

          By Mike Koetting                 August 5, 2018

I have, generally speaking, become a David Brooks fan. But his July 30 column in the New York Times was so outstandingly wrong-headed that I am devoting today’s post to rebutting it.

The gist of this column is that politics in America have become too “Washington-centric” and, since national governance is grid-locked by partisan politics, we should embark on a “radical decentralization of power” to other units of government.

Brooks is wrong in his diagnosis of the problem and even further off in his proposed solution. Continue reading “David Brooks’ Brain Fart on Decentralization”

What Should We Want from Trade Policy?

By Mike Koetting          July 25, 2018

My last post suggested that, while very few of us will be experts on trade policy, as long as this is a major issue, citizens probably have some obligation to have ideas beyond vague catch-words. This post makes some suggestions, borrowing heavily from people who really do know a lot about this issue–specifically Robert Kuttner in various articles and, particularly, a Foreign Affairs article by Timothy Meyer and Ganesh Sitharaman. Continue reading “What Should We Want from Trade Policy?”

A Non-Expert Considers Trade Policy

By Mike Koetting          July 16, 2018

Needless to say, I’m not expert on trade policy. But with the issue at the front of every media report, it is hard to avoid. And equally hard to determine what one’s own position should be. Both political parties find adherents of every view within their party. So even with a souvenir program, it’s pretty hard to guess where someone is going to come down on these issues—let alone whether that position makes sense.

Not knowing much, it seems to me that the logical place to start thinking about trade policy is to ask what a country wants from its trade policy. But even with a simple answer to that question, to help the country obtain maximum benefit from its trade, it doesn’t take long to throw to up one’s hands at the complexity of the thing. It’s more than the obvious fact that in a $20 trillion economy there are millions of moving parts. The whole conceptual base is swampy. Continue reading “A Non-Expert Considers Trade Policy”

My Identity and America

                                           By Mike Koetting          July 3, 2018

In preparation for the Fourth of July, the Washington Post recently asked its readers to describe how they identified themselves and what did that mean about being an American. Those seemed like good questions for a Fourth of July post.


I believe the most fundamental thing about how I identify myself is an idea: All men are created equal. (And, just so there isn’t any question, that means all humans, not just males.) Continue reading “My Identity and America”

Science and Defining Life

By Mike Koetting      June 12, 2018

The February 5th issue of this year’s New Yorker included a long article by Rachel Aviv on the question of what constitutes death. The article was organized around the saga of a 13-year old California girl, the victim of a profoundly tragic surgical mishap. She was subsequently declared “brain dead” but her parents refused to accept that verdict and moved her to New Jersey, one of the two states that have laws allowing families to reject the concept of brain death. She remains there, her breathing supported by a ventilator. Continue reading “Science and Defining Life”

Healthcare & End of Life: Modest Proposals

By Mike Koetting               June 4, 2018

As I noted in the last blog, I am skeptical that we can save a lot of money at the end of life. If that is our primary goal, I think we are likely to be disappointed—and might well wind up further reducing quality of life. I believe the goal should be improved quality at the end of life without spending more. That may be attainable. Not that I have neat solutions that would readily translate into a compelling legislative program. Rather what I am seeing is two, kind of fuzzy thought clouds, in which various approaches reside. These can be summarized as encouraging different attitudes and more aggressive palliative care. Continue reading “Healthcare & End of Life: Modest Proposals”

Healthcare and the End of Life

By Mike Koetting       May 27, 2018

In virtually every conversation I have about health costs, someone says:  “But isn’t the real problem all the money we spend in the last year of people’s lives?”

Well…sort of…but not exactly.

First, end of life costs do not explain America’s uniquely high healthcare costs. The distribution of American costs by proximity to end of life is no different from other developed countries, if anything lower as a percent of costs. America’s costs are high for other reasons. Continue reading “Healthcare and the End of Life”

Is This Really One Country?

By Mike Koetting    May 15, 2018

This post relies more on pictures than words.


Gun Ownership

Teach Salary

Repro Rights


While the pattern isn’t perfectly consistent, it is clear enough. The former Confederacy, joined pretty consistently by a band of states up the middle of the country to Canada, Indiana and Arizona have a different set of values than the reminder of the country. (Kansas was a slave state although there were no slaves there, Indiana home to the Ku Klux Klan and Arizona broke away from New Mexico on the idea it would become a slave state.) Wisconsin and a few other Rust Belt states often join them, although their orientations have floated more over time. Continue reading “Is This Really One Country?”

Politics and the Culture Wars

By Mike Koetting      May 6, 2018

Without question, slavery was America’s original sin. But right behind that in the sin category was the Democrats’ 100-year affair with the conservative South. Democrats argued that the alliance allowed them to pass laws, opposed by Northern Republicans, that improved the economic lot of American workers. True—but mostly for white workers and, largely by accident, some black workers who had made their way North. For that, Southern Democrats were allowed to continue their backwards, racist social order at the state level.

Proof of what was important to the Southern Democrats was readily found when Lyndon Johnson and Northern Democrats tried to extend those gains to black workers. The South turned solidly Republican quicker than Richard Nixon could say “states’ rights”.

To be sure, the current cultural wars are not solely about racism and are not limited to the South. But even the most cursory review of the history of post-Civil War America shows that cultural values are deeper than any nominal loyalty to political parties or the policies they ostensibly stand for. The Trump phenomena has proved that again. The vast bulk of the Trump base has no more loyalty to the Republican Party than Dixiecrats had to the Democratic Party. Their loyalty is to a way of life, one that is as unfathomable to me as I presume my way of life is to them. There is no respect in either direction. Continue reading “Politics and the Culture Wars”