In defence of Sharron Angle

Never thought I’d have to do this.

Headline to post at TPM :

Angle: Extending Unemployment Insurance ‘Doesn’t Benefit Anyone’

What Angle said, according to the same post:

Shelley Berkeley and Harry Reid want to do is put a band-aid on this by extending unemployment, which really doesn’t benefit anyone.

My italics in both.

The Angle reasoning is clearly:
1. Reid &c want to extend unemployment insurance. (Fact.)
2. Extending unemployment insurance increases unemployment.  (Stock GOP talking point and quarter-truth.)
3. Increased unemployment doesn’t benefit anyone. (Statement of the bleeding obvious.)
Her use of extending for increasing may be a Freudian slip revealing her true thinking, but you can’t attack people with psychoanalytic speculations.

Sharon Angle is indeed a dangerous lunatic.  But not everything lunatics say is crazy. Distorting her public statements is as wrong as it’s unnecessary.  The Nazis were against smoking and cruelty to animals, and a stopped clock is right twice a day.
Update, correction: commenters offer below a stout defence of the TPM gloss over mine. I may have been misled by British usage.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

18 thoughts on “In defence of Sharron Angle”

  1. Charity towards one's opponents is a laudable impulse, but I think you're mistaken on this one. Anyone trying to understand Angle's statement has to edit it a bit in their minds, since it really doesn't make any sense read literally. You believe that Angle said "extending" when she meant "increasing". TPM believes the better reading is that Angle dropped "insurance" from the end of "unemployment insurance."

    There's of course no way to be entirely sure which is the better inference, but I think TPM's interpretation is more likely given the context. Calling unemployment insurance a band-aid makes perfect sense given Angle's world view. But in what universe is unemployment itself a band-aid?

  2. I don't get it. Who was "attacking people [presumably Angle] with psychoanalytic speculations"? For that matter, who was distorting what she said? Obviously she didn't mean to say that increasing unemployment was a band-aid for unemployment, nor did anyone suggest that, as far as I can tell from the TPM story (and at least the first dozen or so comments).

    People frequently use "unemployment" as shorthand for "unemployment insurance benefits": "I'm going to file for unemployment tomorrow"…"Unemployment doesn't cover my bills." Given the context, her statement doesn't even need to be mentally edited (although it did make sense to insert the word "insurance" in the headline).

    She didn't even mean, as some of the commenters (and even Steve Benen on his blog) idiotically suggested, that unemployment insurance benefits don't benefit individuals in the short term, in terms of putting food on the table.

  3. Consider: What does "So and so is eligible for unemployment" mean?

    It certainly doesn't mean "So and so is subject to termination of employment".

  4. If you visit the Huffington Post story that's the basis of the TPM story, there's a bit fuller description of the interview (which occurred on a right-wing talk-radio show), along with a sound clip. Based on the description in the HuffPo account and the sound clip, I think the discrepancy is just a matter of Angle, in a live interview, having accidentally dropped the word "insurance" after "unemployment." I think the TPM headline accurately caught the point she was making, even if her actual quote appears not to.

    Liberal politicians accidentally drop words or screw up sentences, too, and we lament the right wingers having hissy fits about those unintentional errors to make those politicians look like idiots. Here, ironically, TPM didn't make a big deal out of the dropped word and instead accurately reflected the speaker's point by including the missing word in a headline. Instead of creating a false impression of Angle as (thank you, Swift Loris) "a dangerous lunatic," TPM propagated a correct impression of Angle as a dangerous lunatic. Yet, for some reason, the post hammers TPM.

  5. My biggest question is why are we hiding behind only two candidates? Have the parties hidden their atrocious records that well? Why not give the truth to the citizens? Is it odd that un-biased, nonpartisan news outlets are truly biased? There are other choices? History has shown that money, signs and billboards won’t give you representation? I am Jesse Holland and encourage the media to look beyond the promises of party candidates and replace the office, as it belongs, to the state and the citizen’s therein. I am Jesse Holland – …the other candidate.

    Politics as usual it seems. Both parties have betrayed our country and our financial securities. Currently you have congress representatives of each party talking about our failing country. They, the Republicrats, are truthfully responsible and yet, mysteriously, we are calling this good and acceptable? Stand up, think and place your vote with a true voice of the people by selecting Jesse Holland for United States Senate representing Nevada and the citizens. The media has chosen your candidates for the elections, but we, the people, have suddenly accepted their choices? We talk about taking back our rights and country, but we fail to do much about it? Do the right thing and elect Jesse Holland who is easily found online! Even the polls are purchasable. If you leave out the voice of the people, you end up with a bought poll. Maybe your parents were right by saying don’t believe everything you read.

  6. She meant unemployment insurance and she is wrong. It benefited me! I was finally hired but won't get a check until the end of the month. I think I used about 3-4 months of an extension. Without it (had I found a job), it would have been outside my field, and I would have quit with only a few days notice.

  7. Ben: the "band-aid" phrase does support the elision of insurance. As a Brit, I'd neevr come acros the American usage reported by other commenters that "the unemployment" can refer to insurance; we always talk SFIK of "the dole" or "benefits". So the TPM interpretation is plausible – but not obligatory. I stand partially corrected. She was spouting nonsense either way.

  8. I would broaden the earlier statements a bit–"unemployment" can mean "unemployment insurance", "unemployment benefits" (or, "unemployment insurance benefits", if you prefer) or just literally, "unemployment". The support the unemployed receive is not "insurance"–insurance is the program into which employers pay so that the unemployed can get benefits when they are terminated. Of course, it would be nonsensical for Angle to say "unemployment benefits don't benefit anyone", so it makes perfect sense for her to elide the word "benefits". And other comments are correct–there is no way to interpret "band-aid" being anything other than "extending unemployment benefits".

  9. "Unemployment doesn't benefit anyone,"?

    I beg to disagree. At the end of my latest stint of unemployment, due to (first and foremost) unemployment insurance and my own resources' making it not physically unpleasant for me or for my dependent, lack of jobs-stress, and the ability to stay home and not deal with people (slow torture for me), I was at the best physical and mental condition I've had for _years_.

    And, if I but had the resources to manage to stay unemployed, personal or social, I would have gladly done so…maybe someone who got satisfaction from my job and from social interaction could take it.

    Unemployment is not the problem; poverty in the absence of work is, and this latter is merely the contingent result and unnecessary of a laughably primitive level of technical achievement, physical and social, just as aging is a contingent and unnecessary result of a risible level of med tech.

  10. I've been paying taxes on my meager unemployment benefit. Since my claim ends this week, I will no longer be contributing until (hopefully) I return to work. My stress level (and blood pressure) is already begining to rise. So for comic relief I'll share this with you:

    "…But Sharron Angle isn’t afraid to engage in a little hypocrisy, either.

    This week she told the Las Vegas Sun she “has learned that some public employees – she named Reid – have retirement accounts that are safe from government intervention.”

    You mean, like your husband’s retirement account, Sharron?

    Angle’s husband was a longtime employee of the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency, in Nevada. And now he’s a retiree in the very same federal pension program Angle claims she’s just now heard about. …", http://www.nvdems.com/index.php/posts/entry/press

  11. I don't know about Nevada, but dropping the "insurance" from "unemployment insurance" is common in the South. "I got laid off, so I'm collecting unemployment."

  12. Assigning even quarter-truth to the talking point that unemployment insurance extends voluntary unemployment is way too generous.

  13. Oh, the rigid certainties that inhabit the minds of blinkered ideologues, where an observed and documented phenomenon is reduced to a mere "talking point." Cocksure paul here apparently is a PhD in economics because he reads Broken-Window Krugman.

    No, unemployment insurance does tend to prolong – in the aggregate – unemployment and economic contractions.

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_i

    An economic contraction is supposed to lead to lower prices AND wages. Unemployment insurance stalls that wage contraction, because people tend to hold out longer without lowering their earnings expectations. There are other reasons too. Read the paper. Certainly you will find any number of people like Eli who will proclaim that unemployment was helpful because it enabled them to buy a month's worth of potatoes and carrots. But we're not talking about individuals here – Sharron Angle misspoke. We are talking about the economy as a whole, at the aggregate level. It doesn't benefit anyone if a recovery is stalled.

  14. Did propping up banks also stall the contraction? After all, it stretched out the drop in housing prices didn't it? Otherwise the banks would have just put all those houses on the market again at reduced prices, written off the massive losses, and got back to work again. And a large chunk of us could have just learned to live off what we could scrounge at the dump, as happened to many middle-class people not that long ago in Argentina. It was something about refinancing debt that was the problem, I believe.

    Of course, we really only worry about people scrounging at dumps if they are *new* at it. If they always had to scrounge, this is seen as not as bad.

    Do you think people will ever realize the economy is really a giant game of musical chairs, though with some people getting to sit the whole time?

  15. Brian

    It's quite possible extending unemployment benefits increases the time unemployed

    BUT

    – the paper is 1991

    – the rest of your stuff about wage flexibility is at best tendentious, and at worst wrong. That 'if only we deflate wages and prices' model is one Latvia, Ireland et al are trying. And it's not working too well. See Greece. Spain is actually doing better by wearing less of a hair shirt.

    – the reason of course being that there are 'animal spirits' and consumption and business investment falls if the economy is bad

    What we do know is that income via unemployment benefits has a very high marginal propensity to be spent. And what it is spent on tends to be rent, food etc. ie with a high degree of local production (it may be Chinese made, but WalMart is taking 50% of it in gross margin). So a very high multiplier on GDP.

    So as a simple stimulus to aggregate demand, unemployment benefit is cheap.

    Since not many would think the US or UK are long on jobs right now, the cost in higher frictional unemp

  16. Brian

    It's quite possible extending unemployment benefits increases the time unemployed

    BUT

    – the paper is 1991

    – the rest of your stuff about wage flexibility is at best tendentious, and at worst wrong. That 'if only we deflate wages and prices' model is one Latvia, Ireland et al are trying. And it's not working too well. See Greece. Spain is actually doing better by wearing less of a hair shirt.

    – the reason of course being that there are 'animal spirits' and consumption and business investment falls if the economy is bad, and you can settle into a below full employment equilibrium.

    What we do know is that income via unemployment benefits has a very high marginal propensity to be spent. And what it is spent on tends to be rent, food etc. ie with a high degree of local production (it may be Chinese made, but WalMart is taking 50% of it in gross margin). So a very high multiplier on GDP.

    So as a simple stimulus to aggregate demand, unemployment benefit is cheap.

    Since not many would think the US or UK are long on jobs right now, the cost in higher frictional unemployment (rise in the NAIRU) is essentially irrelevant.

    In fact for many businesses, and particularly local ones like food shops, local landlords etc. keeping money in the community by keeping the unemployed housed and spending, is a blessing. Animal spirits again.

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