Everything I Know About Good Economic Policy I Learned From Mother Teresa

(Editor’s note: On the occasion of the canonization of Mother Teresa, we reprint a 2013 column from Ralph Benko, our senior advisor, economics, from Forbes.com about his 1979 personal encounter with her.)

My close encounter with Mother Teresa was a chance one, in 1979.  This chance encounter taught me everything I know about good macroeconomic policy.

I, a young law student, was standing on 41st Street, by the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City, one afternoon.  I was waiting to be met by my then girlfriend.  I held three roses purchased for her inside the terminal.

She was late.  I walked down the long, deserted, New York City block looking for her.  And then I walked back.   Walking in the opposite direction was a small party: a priest, a monk, a nun dressed in white, and a tiny old woman, her face weather-beaten and lined, dressed in a coarse brown robe. I thought to myself, “the tiny woman sure looked like Mother Teresa.”

It did not immediately click. I was under the impression that Mother Teresa was far away in Calcutta.  It never occurred to me that she traveled.  She having been on the cover of Time Magazine, a few years before, under the headline “Living Saints,” I assumed her an international celebrity always thronged by crowds. Destined for the Nobel Peace Prize.  (Now beatified.)  I thought, based on the Time cover illustration, her to be 6 feet tall. So far away….

A priest, a monk, a nun, and … who else could it be? Continue Reading

The Fed’s Surrealistic “Melting Clocks” Monetary Policy Is the American Dream Killer

Salvador Dali with Babou, the ocelot and cane. 1965. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” With those low-key words, command module pilot Jack Swigert of Apollo 13 revealed that, in the later recollection of mission commander James A. Lovell, its “oxygen tank No. 2 blew up, causing No. 1 tank also to fail. We came to the slow conclusion that our normal supply of electricity, light, and water was lost, and we were about 200,000 miles from Earth.” NASA’s heroic and successful effort to return the crew safely home is part of national lore and history.

Washington, we’ve had a problem here,we, the voters, are saying, far more emphatically. The most recent government measure shows that America’s economic growth rate slowed, in the last quarter, to a rate of only 1.1 percent, about one-third of normal American economic growth rates.

This may not sound like a big deal. But it is. It means that job creation, including our ability to get better jobs, raises, bonuses and promotions, has vanished.

It means the death of the American Dream. Poor growth compounded over time is the prime cause of the collapse in people looking for work, the ballooning of the federal deficit, and the weakness in our social insurance programs, Social Security and Medicare.

Breaking News! There’s a solution, and the Wall Street Journal editorial board finally, for the first time, has weighed in to advocate that solution (or at least the process from which a solution can be derived):

One place for Congress to start would be to pass Rep. 

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How a Clinton Victory Would Powerfully Unite the Right

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (photo credit: Lorie Shaull via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

In a previous column I considered how the coalition that is the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy began to fray after losing the common enemy against which it had united:

In 1988, as reported by the LA Times, one of President Gorbachev’s key advisors gave away the game. “Our major secret weapon,” said Georgi Arbatov, director of the Soviet Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S and Canada Studies, “is to deprive you of an enemy.”

That column explored how the loss of its common enemy — the USSR — caused the right wing coalition to begin to fray and unravel and, thus, the GOP to lose its moorings. That column also pointed out how the election of Donald Trump could be one way to reunite the right.

If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, though, her victory holds the distinct possibility of even more fundamentally uniting the right, bringing the GOP back to its core values of peace, equitable prosperity, and human dignity.

How might this be?

Clinton, a center-left Neoliberal, could well portend a Götterdämmerung for the classical republican order, galvanizing the right in ways that President Obama never quite did. Clinton lacks President Obama’s suaveness, and the opportunity that would be afforded to her to constitute a center-left Supreme Court would be catastrophic to major elements of the conservative coalition.

For these reasons, the right is more likely to recognize the fact that a mortal enemy, a worthy successor to the USSR, has definitively emerged.

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How the Soviet Union’s Secret Weapon Ultimately Unhinged the GOP

Donald Trump (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

The most enduring cliché of every presidential election is that it is the most important in history. The nominees proclaim this because, for them, this is certainly true. They also hope it will motivate their base to vote.

That said, this time it could be true. America is having a political nervous breakdown. It’s overdue, and a good thing. Out of the chaos a profound transformation will likely ensue. What might that look like?


The presenting problem with our political system seems to be that the GOP has grown vague as to its core identity as the authentic party of peace, equitable prosperity, and human dignity. While both parties have lapsed from ideology to dogma, the Democrats are much clearer on what they are about.

The GOP has grown so vague with respect to its core mission that when I point out the historically incontrovertible facts of its values to my progressive friends, they look at me, bewildered, to see whether I am pulling their leg.

Let’s exonerate the GOP for having lost its way. The GOP takes its cue from the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy which has lost its unity and focus.

Conservatives are not quite culpable either. In 1988, as reported by the LA Times, one of President Gorbachev’s key advisors gave away the game. “Our major secret weapon,” said Georgi Arbatov, director of the Soviet Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S and Canada Studies, “is to deprive you of an enemy.”

The perp?

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Would Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton Make the More Effective Executive?

From left: Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (credit: Gage Skidmore/Marc Nozell)

French soldiers in Lalain France, in 1794, reported a Rain of Toads. The 2016 presidential race makes one nostalgic for such relative normality. Underneath the media’s current Rain of Toads this election turns on the question of whether Trump or Clinton can better restore the American Dream. Good.


Trump emphasizes prosperity. His enemies caricature him as heaping more wealth on the already wealthy while neglecting, or even fleecing, workers and the poor. Clinton’s long arc bends towards justice. Her enemies lampoon her as attempting to impose the “equal sharing of misery” that socialism and its derivatives always induce.

Trump and Clinton and their critics all possess more than a grain of truth.

But there’s more to it.

Both candidates have been reasonably clear as to their priorities. Both have been reasonably specific about the policy formulations on how to get there.

Trump promises to make America great again.  How?  By, among other things, dramatically cutting the US corporate tax rate, eliminating the death tax, and other tax cuts.

Clinton promises to make America fair again. How? By, for example, raising taxes on the rich to subsidize colleges costs, refinance student debt, and provide job training programs.

Their promises are pretty clear.  That said, campaign promises are notorious for getting broken. Can either or both of the nominees achieve their stated objectives?  Let’s pay some attention to the interesting, mostly overlooked, question of whether the candidates show signs of effectiveness, like Reagan or Bill Clinton, or ineffectuality, like Ford or Carter.

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The Melodramatic Criticisms Of Donald Trump And Hillary Clinton Are Overdone

The mainstream media is relentlessly smack talking Donald Trump for his smack talking. Most mainstream headlines on Trump can pretty much be boiled down to more or less harsh variations on Tsk! Tsk!

Trump proves undeterred. Meanwhile he, and various Republican commentators, have criticisms of Hillary Clinton surpassing the histrionic.

I here described Donald Trump (like me a native of Queens, New York) as a galoot (like me).  Sometimes I find what he says beyond galootish all the way to deplorable. That said, I find the refined superciliousness of the Eastern Establishment at least as bad and in some ways worse.

Count me skeptical about the Establishment’s claim to moral and practical superiority. It may be that a Check Your Privilege moment for the political elites is overdue.

Read the full article at Forbes here.

Ralph Benko is senior economic advisor to American Principles Project. Continue Reading

Trump Drop-Out Rumors: An Effort to Avoid the Twilight Zone?

Fed by a chaotic campaign week, there has been a lot of chatter about the possibility of Donald Trump shocking the world by dropping out of the presidential race. No course can be ruled out for this truly unconventional candidate.

Yet the speculation really is inconsistent with Trump’s life history and modus operandi.

As I previously wrote for The Pulse:

Wayne Barrett, a reporter for the Village Voice once upon a time — in 1992 — wrote an extensive biography of Donald Trump. Nestled among many other fascinating nuggets of reporting about Trump’s life is something, a rare unguarded moment, that might cast a ray of light on the inner workings of a complicated mind.

Consider if you will:

“What are your goals?” he [Trump] was once asked in a television interview when he was at the peak of his success. “Goals?” he repeated, apparently taken aback by this foreign concept, unable to imagine a sense of purpose grander than a scorecard. “You keep winning and you win and you win,” he said in the midst of the crisis, reflecting on his better days. “You keep hitting and hitting. And then somehow it doesn’t mean as much as it used to.” Donald liked to recall his favorite “Twilight Zone” episode, which featured a venal man who died in an accident, was offered any wish he wanted, and declared: “I want to win, win, win. Everything I want. I went to get. I want to get the most beautiful women. I want to get the beautiful this and that.

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After the Conventions, 1.2 Percent Growth Means Hillary Is In Trouble

The Tempest by James Henry Nixon

The splendid national political conventions are over. These inevitably put one in mind of The Tempest:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.

We awaken from Hillary’s stirring acceptance speech to discover that The Washington Post reports the second quarter growth rate at 1.2 percent, half of analysts’ expectations.

Note to Self:

2.4 percent is disappointing. 1.2 percent foretells probable political catastrophe for the incumbent party. (Meaning Hillary.)

Consider the implications of The New York Review of Books’ Michael Tomasky’s recent observation:

There’s no disputing the fact that, absent a major event like a terrorist attack or a legal indictment, the economy is the most important factor in any presidential election. More specifically, as John Sides and Lynn Vavreck argue in The Gamble, it’s the economic conditions that obtain in the last few months or perhaps the last year before the voting.

Tomasky is a principled “until the last dog dies” Hillary loyalist, appalled by Trump (as, less so, by Sanders). Yet also he is one of the most honest and rigorous political analysts at work, unblinded by his own neoliberal preferences. Continue Reading

Bloomberg View Notices: Trump Loves Gold

Donald Trump speaks at the 2016 Republican National Convention (photo credit: Disney | ABC Television Group via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Bloomberg View‘s Timothy L. O’Brien recently provided a colorful and insightful feature entitled “Donald Trump Loves Gold and Don’t You Forget It.”

Therein O’Brien provides an opulently illustrated, lengthy litany of the many, many gold-themed elements to Donald Trump’s campaign and life:

Donald Trump had lots of gold on hand for his center-stage speech at the Republican Party’s nominating convention Thursday night.

There were the huge gold towers flanking the jumbotron.

There were cool gold stairs leading up to the stage, and a warm gold hue behind the power display of the TRUMP name:

And the speaker’s podium itself was limned in gold:

Almost everybody else at the convention got cool, neutral shades when they visited the main stage, even Trump’s wife, Melania….

Except for Ivanka Trump. Ivanka got the gold, too:

Gold surrounded Trump in Cleveland because Trump has always coveted gold. He’s not the first guy to love gold, of course, and in a nod to his predecessors, he titled one of his books ‘Midas Touch.’ But Trump loves gold in his own special way.

There follows another dozen striking examples of the gold motif in Trump’s life.

O’Brien concludes with a question and an observation:

What might be the policy implications of Trump’s obsession with gold? He’s thought about returning the U.S. to the gold standard. ‘We used to have a very, very solid country because it was based on a gold standard,’ he told an audience in New Hampshire.

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From the GOP Convention: Ben Carson, Lucifer, Saul Alinsky, and Hillary Clinton

Dr. Ben Carson (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Saul Alinsky remains the man the right most perennially loves to hate. Somewhere in Heaven — or Hell — Alinsky’s surely enjoying a fine laugh.

Dr. Ben Carson, in his speech before the GOP Convention, departed from his prepared remarks. He extemporaneously added a riff on Saul Alinsky. He debuted this right wing crowd-pleaser in his keynote speech at the Faith And Freedom Coalition Gala, a speech which I critiqued at length in an essay at ThePulse2016, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Saul Alinsky, and Donald Trump). Here’s how it goes:

Now, one of the things that I have learned about Hillary Clinton is that one of her heroes, her mentors was Saul Alinsky. And, her senior thesis was about Saul Alinsky. This was someone that she greatly admired and that affected all of her philosophies subsequently.

Now, interestingly enough, let me tell you something about Saul Alinsky. He wrote a book called, “Rules for Radicals.” On the dedication page it acknowledges Lucifer, the original radical who gained his own kingdom.

Now, think about that, this is a nation where our founding document, the Declaration of Independence talked about certain inalienable rights that come from our creator. This is a nation where our Pledge of Allegiance says we are one nation under God.


This is a nation.


This is a nation where every coin in our pocket, and every bill in our wallet says, “In God We Trust.” So, are we willing to elect someone as president who has as their role model somebody who acknowledges Lucifer?

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