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April 26, 2013

Krugman: Austerity has been firmly debunked, yet governments keep pushing it

The 1 Percent’s Solution - NYTimes.com
Yet austerity maintained and even strengthened its grip on elite opinion. Why? Part of the answer surely lies in the widespread desire to see economics as a morality play, to make it a tale of excess and its consequences. We lived beyond our means, the story goes, and now we’re paying the inevitable price. Economists can explain ad nauseam that this is wrong, that the reason we have mass unemployment isn’t that we spent too much in the past but that we’re spending too little now, and that this problem can and should be solved. No matter; many people have a visceral sense that we sinned and must seek redemption through suffering — and neither economic argument nor the observation that the people now suffering aren’t at all the same people who sinned during the bubble years makes much of a dent. But it’s not just a matter of emotion versus logic. You can’t understand the influence of austerity doctrine without talking about class and inequality. What, after all, do people want from economic policy? The answer, it turns out, is that it depends on which people you ask — a point documented in a recent research paper by the political scientists Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels and Jason Seawright. The paper compares the policy preferences of ordinary Americans with those of the very wealthy, and the results are eye-opening. Thus, the average American is somewhat worried about budget deficits, which is no surprise given the constant barrage of deficit scare stories in the news media, but the wealthy, by a large majority, regard deficits as the most important problem we face. And how should the budget deficit be brought down? The wealthy favor cutting federal spending on health care and Social Security — that is, “entitlements” — while the public at large actually wants to see spending on those programs rise. You get the idea: The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor. What the top 1 percent wants becomes what economic science says we must do.

April 24, 2013

Amazon quietly removes erotica from its search engine

This is pretty crazy. Amazon sells a ton of smut. Huge, vast amounts. But now they won't let people search for it? Instead of nuking all porn, maybe a Safe Search style filter is in order? Amazon looks pathetic by excluding porn from its search engine (but still selling it) – Telegraph Blogs
Over the weekend, without warning, Amazon removed the ability of anything rated "adult" to show up in a search on its main website. Upmarket porn is still there; but to find it, you have to go into the books or Kindle section and search specifically for the title you're looking for. Previously, this sort of filtering had only been applied to books which contained things like incest, and quite right too, but now it's across the board on all erotic fiction. Even 50 Shades of Grey, one of the most ubiquitous books in the world right now, is caught by the filter. Obviously, this makes it much harder to find very ordinary smut. As a result, publishers, authors and readers are all up in arms. "It's a pornocaust", said one online erotica author I spoke to. The grumbles of writers in the erotica industry are well founded. "We sell a huge amount of books through Amazon, yet we're treated with utter contempt. We aren't even allowed to classify our books," said another. She directed me to a blog post which makes the argument in detail: With over 86,000 titles in “Erotica” on Amazon, that means there’s twice as many erotic e-books as scifi … Romance has 120k titles, and 15 subgenres. Fantasy, with its 56k titles has 10 subgenres. Poetry, 43k titles, 11 subgenres. [Yet] Erotica gets no subgenres, no way of distinguishing itself. There’s no heat levels, no way of knowing if you’re getting contemporary, fantasy, or taboo. So, despite the huge sales of erotica through its Kindle platform, Amazon still thinks hiding the books away on a virtual top shelf is a good idea. This level of prudishness, of trying to protect adults from themselves, is pathetic. It's yet another example of pre-emptive, absurdly risk-averse censorship, appeasing a probably non-existent offended user.