The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

If you can't stand the heat...

Hidden lesson in "Ratatouille"

I love that Pixar movie, which, as I've said, holds one of the great visual moments in cinema: the moment in which the food critic takes his first bite of our hero's prize dish. But there is a lesson that is important to life. While I may be stretching a bit, here goes:

Art is messy. Craft is messy. There are two sides of the "line" for something like writing, acting, martial arts, cooking...anything where the finished product looks "easy." I remember a friend who whipped on a Shaolin Monk a few years back (by mutual consent) said that the amazing things those monks can do aren't magical: they are the result of constant discipline, every day, over decades. And in truth, I can think of almost nothing in life that will not yield to such discipline, and know of no one who has applied it and not excelled.

But most people who want to succeed see only the finished product: they see the meal, but not the kitchen. The heat, the mess, the clutter, the bustle, the politics, the trivial tasks. They eat the wonderful meal, and think "I want to be a cook!" Their shelves are filled with menus from great restaurants, but not cookbooks. They want to be martial artists without being willing to put in the sweat and blood, the early morning runs, the sacrifice, the fear and toil...but they WILL watch Bruce Lee movies. They crave money, but won't develop any real skill at anything, won't save, won't put in the extra hours at work, won't give the extra measure of value. The ONLY way most of us make more money is by making more money for our boss, and then negotiating to get a portion of it. If you are a government employee, far from the money stream, you might find yourself advancing based only on time in grade. Chances are you have a low ceiling, but a high safety net--a choice you made and now must live with. Want to make more money? Take risks, and get closer to the money stream. Be in a profession where your gifts and flaws can be clearly demonstrated. Or do as many others have done: use your "safe" job as a safety net, and develop something on the side where there IS risk and opportunity to shine.

Life is messy. I talked to two people who served internships early in their lives: one at a major paper company, the other in the entertainment industry. In both cases, there was no glamour, no money, nothing but boredom and scut work. And in both cases, most of the other interns resented it, and fell away. My two friends went the extra mile. They FOUND things to do at work. Offered to go above and beyond. Every day they found things to ask their employer what they could do to make money for the company. And while the other interns bitched and moaned, they wormed their way in. THAT is the attitude that works.

Many years ago, before I was produced or published, I had a producer offer to pay an absurdly small amount for a script. I asked a woman I knew at CBS television if I should take the deal. She said "yes." It didn't matter if I was getting ripped off. What mattered is that, once I had a deal, ANY deal with a real production company (which it was) I would be on the other side of an invisible "line" separating amateurs from professionals. If I was smart, she said, I would take the money.

She's right. There is a line between those who consume and those who produce. The line is at the door between the kitchen and the restaurant. In the kitchen is sweat and labor and craft. On the tables in the dining room is Art. Art conceals Art. You can't learn to be a chef by eating food. You have to roll up your sleeves and DO IT. And success will go to those who are willing to do Whatever It Takes (within morality and values) to achieve their goals. Those who pick and choose while still on the "consumer" side of the line had better be geniuses, I kid you now. For the rest of us...work your butt off, keep your mouth shut, provide twice the value you're paid for, and tell your ego to shut the hell up.

If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

##

The Question of the Day is:

How, and in what arenas, have you seen or experienced this wide dichotomy between the work and the finished product? How have you seen others get confused about the goal and the cost of achievement? Where have you ever made this mistake?

60 comments:

Pagan Topologist said...

How, and in what arenas, have you seen or experienced this wide dichotomy between the work and the finished product?

Certainly in research mathematics I see this clearly. The work of creating and discovery is fun and exciting. The writing up to make it comprehensible to other mathematicians is tedious and often overwhelming. For me, it involves many, many rewrites. It does not get easier as I get older and more experienced, either.

Christian M. Howell said...

How, and in what arenas, have you seen or experienced this wide dichotomy between the work and the finished product?


This is a common tale in SW development, which is in a lot of ways JUST LIKE SCREENWRITING.

You start with a blank page and an idea, research, write, repair(rewrite), test (readers), all for something that will flop if the parts you don't do aren't handled properly.

Screenwriting is probably the best example though. I have read scripts where I just don't know what the person's goal was.
Too many people think that you don't have to read 100s f reference texts, compare 1000s of movies and have a full life.

Most technology (cinema is technology) appears simple from the outside but takes sweat, discipline and more sweat.

I wanted to drop 30lbs (office fat) and I did it by being disciplined and walking around wearing ankle weights for 3 months (I couldn't alter my schedule as it fluctuated too much). I watched people spend time in the gym with no results (I was one of them) but they didn't realize they'd leave the gym and mold back to their ergonomic chair for several more hours.

So I guess weight loss has to have a wide gap as it would seem easy according to the diet plans and 5 minute workout videos, but nooooo. Prepare to suffer and sweat.

Screenwriting, though, will always be more number one choice. It takes more reading than SW development and more research than brain surgery (a movie about a brain surgeon, for example).

Hell, I researched for 3 weeks on a SEAL team movie and still need more slang terms ( well, not really) so the art of the written picture is definitely the one.

I'm at the point where I think writers shod have to answer a short set of multiple choice questions before submitting a script. It would definitely cut down on the crap floating around.

Kami said...

Art shows. I've calmed down since my younger days but it used to aggravate me to no end when someone would look at a work of art that someone had toiled over (and perhaps not entirely successfully) and said, "I can't believe this is here. I could do this," or "this is just a hunk of junk thrown together. Anyone could do this."

I used to put on a big, shiny smile (lots of teeth) and say, "Oh really? So, we'll see you at the show next year?"

I doubt even 1% of those people went home and even tried to produce art. Of those that tried, I suspect that they had no luck putting together something they'd be willing to put up at a show and expose themselves to exactly the kind of commentary they've been dishing out. Maybe a rare few do have exceptional talent (or are closet artists and know what they can produce, though I would hope they'd have better manners than to downplay someone's effort like that) but they could stand to have a big piece of humble pie. The rest of us have to work hard to not get very far, at least, not very far all at once.

Like I said, I've calmed down and come to realize in any performance art you're not only going to have your work critiqued and criticized, that you're *supposed to* and hopefully you'll find ways to reach more people (if that's your goal) with your form of expression. But I've also come to realize that many people who underestimate the challenges of art really do believe they can create masterpieces in an afternoon.

Mike said...

My final years of High School I got fat, definitly technically obese according to body fat % and I cringe when I look at pictures of that year.

My first semester at college all of that weight just melted off. I did not try. I did not make any conscious effort to lose weight, it just happened because my lifestyle changed (going from completely sedentary and anti-social to having my first girlfriend, walking around campus, and no longer having a fridge that I ate out of whenever, but set meal times in the cafeteria). When I came back for winter break _everyone_ complimented me on how good I looked, but I literally didn't even know I lost the weight, to a large degree. It wasn't something I focused on or even really paid attention to. Looking back it seems like I should have noticed that my pants were getting loser or something, and maybe I did, but no real memories stick out of me going "wow, I'm loosing weight" until the weight was pretty much gone and I got to a steady weight that I kept for the next 8 years or so.

By contrast, in 2006 when I started to go, "Damn, I need to get in shape," it took _work_. Lots of concious effort and hard unpleasant work outs that I did not enjoy at all but forced myself to go through. Nowadays I sometimes enjoy the work outs, but it really took a solid year to lose the weight, and I would say two years before the workouts became anything other than just work.

Zed said...

I think the dichotomy is widest as portrayed in movies with training montages. 90 minutes of dramatic conflict, action, snappy dialogue; 90 seconds of hard work (with a great soundtrack.) In real life, the ratio's the other way around.

It's the right choice for a movie, of course, but I have some worry that that portrayal, seen over and over again, might be dangerously hypnotic.

Frank said...

Most people have no friggin clue what it takes to make an aircraft: military or commercial.

They have no understanding of the amount of time and effort that literally thousands of people have to put in to make it happen.

People ride in the airliner and take it for granted, but there is not on thing simple or ordinary about that vehicle.

Millions of lines of code, millions of components within hundreds of computer "boxes". Miles of wires and cables.

And that doesn't even count the amount of thinking and verification.

Something like that can only be done by a highly organized society with a plethora of engineering and scientific talent.

Reluctant Lawyer said...

How, and in what arenas, have you seen or experienced this wide dichotomy between the work and the finished product?

Trials. The majority of folks out there have no idea the amount of preparation that goes into taking a case to trial, whether it is a criminal or civil trial, if you want to be successful.

Travis said...

Teaching appears easy to 99% of parents out there. They operate under the assumption that all teachers are idiots and that they could do a much better job.

Teaching may appear easy, but all parents can rest assure that it is not. Parents only get involved when there is a problem. When a student seriously misbehaves or fails a test, the parents are right there to point the finger at the teacher. The product (a passing grade on a NCLB test) seems like a given since their 'little angel' is perfect after all. The cooking part (dozens of hours of teaching hours, remediation, dicipline, etc) is never seen. When the tests are passed by students every parent believes that the teacher has nothing to do with it and their job is easy. When the product is sent back to the kitchen, then the cook is an idiot for screwing up such an easy recipe.

Teaching is amongst the lowest paying professional career. Coupled with an increasingly political position, irresponsible government, mind numbing paperwork, and all the problems associated with dealing with children teaching is an extraordinarily difficult and largely thankless job.

Yet to an observer- teaching is easy.

It probably won't get better until all parents understand that their child is not 'special' (as in perfect).

Josh Jasper said...

I loved Ratatouille.

As for cooking, too many people are afraid of it. It's not a great mystery, and though there are elements of it that require mastery, the basics are so much easier than most people think they are.

Good food is probably why I'm not at my "ideal" weight. I'm healthy enough, and work out some, but I love good food far more than I love fitness. Preparing sauce au Poivre, and savoring it with an appreciative audience is more rewarding to me than a workout.

I've varied the standard au Poivre with pickled green peppercorns, and not crusted the steak with cracked peppercorns. Mmmmm.

It really is simple. I swear. Most people who claim to be ignorant of cooking can be taught basics that will really impress average eaters in only a few weeks.

Marty S said...

In my job I experienced real disconnects between my evaluation of what I did on a project and managements perception. The biggest disconnect was when I spent 20 to 30 minutes doing a statistical analysis that anybody with one year of statistics could have done and got heaps of praise because the result was the difference between a mill going out of business and making a profit. On another project I came up with what I considered a creative solution to a difficult problem, but th result only saved the company about $10000-$20000 a year and nobody except the coworker who asked for my help gave a damn.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Weirdly, calligraphy goes the opposite way. As far as I can tell, it takes about a year to learn to do calligraphy that impresses people. I *think* it's because most people don't know how much a broad pen helps to make what you do look good, and they feel guilty about their handwriting.

Of course, there's a big difference between what people can do after a year and really good calligraphy, but most people don't see that.

suzanne said...

hand knitted lace
especially if the yarn is also hand spun;
hand pieced quilt
(with small pieces;
beaded neckpieces with porcupine quills and/or seed beads;
I'd venture the guess
for any work of hands
the amount of time spent
doesn't show in the final product

as for cooking
I never could understand
why anyone who could read
couldn't cook
recipes are one of the best illustrations
of a "technical manual" done right

mjholt said...

How, and in what arenas, have you seen or experienced this wide dichotomy between the work and the finished product?

I have seen this dichotomy in farming -- an under respected line of work. We have had (will have again) people who say they want to work or learn to farm, but who don't want to learn to recognize a start from a weed, are too good to put their hands in the soil, and expect that a perfectly formed cauliflower or ear of corn will materialize instead of weeds. Also, they want top wages to start, and want to go home when tired whether the day's work is finished or not. Do students of martial arts get to go home when tired? Do screenwriters who want to succeed?

How have you seen others get confused about the goal and the cost of achievement?

In my other work, I see people who (with reason) want to raise money from investors. The goal they set is the wrong one: they want to "meet" and pitch to investors, not "accept" investment. When they have met the investors and done their pitch, they don't understand that the job has just begun. The follow-through on what needs to be done to get the investor to invest is not taken seriously, and so no investment. Plus, they don't learn from the various meetings and hone their pitch.

Where have you ever made this mistake?
I make the "here to there" mistake all the time. I do little self-checks to adjust my expectations and place myself mentally into the right place in the process. While this exercise usually works for me, I appear to be an impatient person to many. I am having the most difficulty with this in exercise and weight loss.

Anonymous said...

Side tangent, found this article interesting;

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/consumption

"Conspicuous consumption, this research suggests, is not an unambiguous signal of personal affluence. It’s a sign of belonging to a relatively poor group. Visible luxury thus serves less to establish the owner’s positive status as affluent than to fend off the negative perception that the owner is poor. The richer a society or peer group, the less important visible spending becomes.

On race, the folk wisdom turns out to be true. An African American family with the same income, family size, and other demographics as a white family will spend about 25 percent more of its income on jewelry, cars, personal care, and apparel. For the average black family, making about $40,000 a year, that amounts to $1,900 more a year than for a comparable white family. To make up the difference, African Americans spend much less on education, health care, entertainment, and home furnishings. (The same is true of Latinos.)

.
.
.

So the researchers went back to Thorstein Veblen, who coined the term conspicuous consumption. Writing in the much poorer world of 1899, Veblen argued that people spent lavishly on visible goods to prove that they were prosperous. “The motive is emulation—the stimulus of an invidious comparison which prompts us to outdo those with whom we are in the habit of classing ourselves,” he wrote. Along these lines, the economists hypothesized that visible consumption lets individuals show strangers they aren’t poor. Since strangers tend to lump people together by race, the lower your racial group’s income, the more valuable it is to demonstrate your personal buying power."

- Mike R.

Josh Jasper said...

suzanne -

Actually, a large number of cookbooks assume a familiarity with basic terminology that most people don't have.

david.sosnoski said...

Wow! Best blog I have read of yours in a long while. I don't visit often (once a week or so), but I do make a point to visit as you are one of my favorite authors.

How, and in what arenas, have you seen or experienced this wide dichotomy between the work and the finished product?

That is everywhere and is inherent in everything. Is it possible to fully appreciate all these wondrous technologies that we take for granted today (from cell phones to yahoo)? The same for farming in the food we eat, for education, for the laws that govern us, etc. There IS a great dichotomy, so why are so many of us ignorant of that difference when it is applied to a science that lies outside of our experience? What I mean is that, say you are an accountant, you know the amount of work it takes to keep the books balanced and tax law. Yet is it likely that the accountant would know how much work and technology goes into keeping his/her toilet working?

My point is that it is too easy for us (as a human race) to say that we could do that. Yet, even though we are ignorant of the amount of work it takes to produce something, or to keep it working, is that so wrong? I think it is kind of neat that we recognize within ourselves that we could do anything if we put the right amount of work to it. The sad part is that most of us are too lazy or too distracted to achieve those goals.

suzanne said...

josh

well of course
you start with one
[cookbook] that explains terms

after all you don't give someone who has just learned to read
Finnegans Wake as the next book to read . . .

I have probably about 1000 cookbooks

including the one I learned from
when I was 8
which did define and picture
in photos
all the techniques necessary

Marty S said...

I can think of one more big disconnect. The disconnect between whose in power in the U.S. government and the U.S. economy. While clearly the U.S. economy is affected by the policies of those in power(one of the reasons I tend to vote Republican) I think it is much less than we give it credit/blame for. There is a whole big world out there that affects our economy. Take the recent drop in oil prices from the peak. A major reason for this drop is the increase in the price of gas in China. Like everything else in China the government sets the price of gas. China finally bowed to pressure from other countries and raised this price. The expectation that this would cut demand growth in China from 7.5% to 5.5% resulted in the price drop

Nancy Lebovitz said...

suzanne, it depends on how you're defining "the problem". If someone believes cooking is a magic which is not accessible to them, checks a number of cookbooks, and finds that the cookbooks aren't started at a level which is comprehensible for them, then they'll still believe it's hopeless.

If they cared a lot about learning to cook, it might occur to them to specifically look for beginners' books, but this is getting into tangled emotional issues if you're trying to figure out why they made that initial mistake.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Government is probably one of those areas where people underestimate the difficulty. Try and come up with a law that will mostly get the results you want and not cause too much damage along the way, bearing in mind that people will see what you write, not what you mean, and some of them are trying to game the system.

Dan Moran said...

Marty,

While clearly the U.S. economy is affected by the policies of those in power(one of the reasons I tend to vote Republican)

If you like deficits, that makes sense.

I think it is much less than we give it credit/blame for.

Conservatives would pretty much have to. The rotten performance of the American economy under Republican presidents is an extended, generations-long coincidence.

Mike said...

>The rotten performance of the American economy under Republican presidents is an extended, generations-long coincidence.<

Hyperbole is rather boring.

Calling the last generation (25 years? 30 years?) a "rotten economy" when the American economy has outperformed every other significant first world economy? Please. The 1930's were rotten. The 70's were subpar. The 80's, 90's, and 2000's have been good to _very good_. One reason such talk displeases me is that if people get that worked up over good times, how will they react when genuinely bad times come?

The last generation in the US has been one in which our share of global GDP has increased, despite the rise of China and India. It has also been one in which our per-Capita GDP is richer vs a vs any other significant first world country (France, Britain, Japan, Germany, etc) than it was a generation ago. We don't have China's growth rates, but we aren't a turning peasants into factory hands. We are one of the most highly developed economies on the planet and our economy has been booming compared to other developed economies.

And this this has happened under Rep-Presidents/Dem-Congresses, Dem-Presidents/Dem-Congresses, Dem-Presidents/Rep-Congresses, and Rep-Presidents/Rep-Congresses.

Dan Moran said...

Hyperbole is rather boring.

Yep, a generations-long coincidence

Josh Jasper said...

Our economy has been in Bubble collapse mode for quite some time now. With each successive bubble getting nastier, and the disparity in incomes getting larger.

It's so easy for the rich to say that economic baubles are inevitable, because they never actually deal with any fallout in the same way that the poor or middle class do.

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy Lebovitz said...

I just remembered an example of underestimating the work-- and it's in "Ratatouille". I had a vague idea that running a restaurant is difficult, but Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential makes it a lot clearer. There's a tremendous amount to juggle: perishable ingredient for more or less unpredictable customers, and kitchen staff who are an odd and emotional bunch, all in a highly competitive environment. (Bourdain worked his way up from dishwasher to chef and owner. He admits he has a preference for chaotic kitchens.)

Instead of dropping a few clues about all this, the movie implies that all there is to running a business is being obnoxious.

Mike said...

"Real GDP net of federal borrowing." Rather a selective criteria IMO, but if you want a stat fight, then in this corner we have the US vs the other big advanced states since 1981;

http://www.swivel.com/data_sets/show/1004019

Year United States France Germany Italy United Kingdom Japan
1981 2.45 1.22 0.49 0.78 -1.27 2.85
1982 -2.07 2.63 -0.56 0.63 1.80 3.14
1983 4.33 1.49 2.05 1.24 3.75 2.27
1984 7.28 1.65 3.04 2.76 2.45 3.84
1985 3.82 1.45 2.35 2.97 3.78 4.36
1986 3.37 2.41 2.52 2.53 4.21 2.97
1987 3.36 2.53 1.69 2.98 4.43 4.46
1988 4.16 4.61 3.65 3.95 5.17 6.51
1989 3.50 4.17 3.48 2.87 2.11 5.28
1990 1.74 2.61 3.23 1.97 0.66 5.33
1991 -0.50 1.00 2.84 1.39 -1.47 3.12
1992 3.06 1.49 2.24 0.76 0.07 0.93
1993 2.67 -0.89 -1.09 -0.88 2.33 0.42
1994 4.08 2.07 2.35 2.21 4.39 1.00
1995 2.18 1.80 1.28 2.85 2.97 1.57
1996 4.47 1.10 0.77 1.09 2.69 3.42
1997 4.50 1.90 1.39 2.03 3.29 1.85
1998 4.18 3.40 1.96 1.79 3.12 -1.13
1999 3.86 3.21 2.05 1.66 2.80 0.06
2000 4.25 5.34 4.50 3.03 3.70 2.84
2001 0.75 2.05 1.19 1.76 2.30 0.20
2002 1.60 1.22 0.16 0.38 1.77 -0.30
2003 2.70 0.80 0.00 0.25 2.19 1.31
2004 4.22 2.32 1.57 1.22 3.14 2.70
2005 3.52 1.20 1.16 0.11 1.86 2.62
2006 3.50 1.90 1.90 1.19 2.58 3.00
2007 3.20 2.00 1.10 1.23 2.80 2.30
Average Since 1981 3.24 2.18 1.82 1.72 2.60 2.57

Bottom line is that the US is around full percent point ahead of them over the last generation, a time dominated by Republican Presidents. Seems to me that if Republicans had such a rotten performance compared to Democrats we should have done considerably worse than the rest of the 1st world, instead of doing so much better than them.

Marty S said...

Dan: When it comes to something like the U.S. economy you can always find numbers to prove anything you want among all the different numbers out there. But at least in my case its not about the economy in general, its about my personal finances. I'm a saver. My wife and I put the max amount in our 401k's every year. If the inflation rate was higher than the return on investment then my savings lost value and if the return on investment was higher than inflation my savings gained value and that not the GDP was/is my main concern.

Dan Moran said...

Mike,

Sure, you can argue the US vs. the rest of the world all you like. We've done well the last couple generations, to be sure.

And, of course, we've done a lot better with Democratic Presidents, than with Republican Presidents. Which, if I understand, is a generations long coincidence, and not a clear result of the superiority of Democratic economic policy vs. Republican economic policy. :-) No worries.

Dan Moran said...

Dan: When it comes to something like the U.S. economy you can always find numbers to prove anything you want among all the different numbers out there.

You can't prove that Republicans hate deficit spending.

As to your personal finances, you seem a very sensible man. If conservatives ran the country the way you run your household, I'd have far fewer problems with them.

Frank said...

Dan

You can't prove that Republicans hate deficit spending.

It's absurd to argue that Democrats hate deficit spending which makes the following comment disingenuous

If conservatives ran the country the way you run your household, I'd have far fewer problems with them.

Democrats don't do that so why would you have a problem with Conservatives, this being the criteria.

The National Debt increases with each and every entitlement program. That's just a fact. And Democrats advocate for more entitlement programs than do Republicans.

The problem with Republicans is clearly that they do not have enough Conservatives, in the fiscal sense while having too many in the social sense.

But it is also true that lower taxes helps the economy as does a light touch on regulation.

Both of these are more likely from Republicans than Democrats, speaking broadly.

Josh Jasper said...

Nancy:
Instead of dropping a few clues about all this, the movie implies that all there is to running a business is being obnoxious.


What? Did you watched the same movie I did? The one I watched implied that skill, art, an love of food, coupled with service, made a restaurant great.

Dan Moran said...

Frank,

Deficit spending is caused by entitlement program? That is a fact I had not hitherto understood. ("Hitherto" -- one of Doc Smith's words. Every now and again I like to bust it out in memory of the great man.)

Anyway, I thought deficit spending was caused by spending more money than you took in, and that Ronald Reagan and George Bush Jr. were the two men who'd mostly inflicted it on our country in the last forty years. Also, Bush and Reagan? Republicans. I swear.

:-)

Ethiopian Infidel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ethiopian Infidel said...

I'd amend the definition to say that visible (better yet, Ostentatious consumption - think Ghetto Gangstas sporting Jacob Marley- sized gold chains or Middle Class suburbanites driving Mercedes) consumption also serves to boost ego by enabling the high spender (more often, high Debtor), persuade themselves that they're well-to-do, genuine legitimate income notwithstanding.

Frank said...

Dan,

Deficit spending is caused by entitlement program?

Actually, I said

The National Debt increases with each and every entitlement program.

The National Debt is different from deficit spending, which is as you describe. But yes, entitlement programs can lead to deficit spending as well given that almost all of the deficit is going to entitlement spending.

And here is a graph of the how entitlement spending is affecting the National Debt.

Here is the Budget Deficit data. Was the no deficit spending during Democrat Administrations?

But of course, comparing deficits to Executives is a red herring, isn't it? Congress passes budgets. The President can sign or not sign at the risk of funding the government. But if you want to compare apples to apples, compare control of Congress to budget deficits.

And here's a hint. Democrats controlled the House from 1955 to 1995. The Controlled the Senate during the same time period except of 1981 through 1987. So except for those six years, Democrats controlled all of Congress from 1955 to 1995.

I would also point out, the during the years of the supposed "surplus" Republicans were in charge of the Congress.

Dan Moran said...

Frank,

"Bush tax cuts" brings up 454,000 hits on Google.

"Hastert tax cuts" brings up 2. Not 20 or 200 or 2000, I'm not dropping zeros: 2. Two.


"Reagan tax cuts" brings up 20,500 hits.

"O'Neill tax cuts" brings up 9 hits, but 8 of them don't refer to Tip O'Neill. One of them, interestingly, does:

https://service.thrivent.com/mboards/members/thread.jspa?messageID=106742&#106742

Those weren't the Reagan tax cuts, they were the Tip O'Neill tax cuts. You see, the President has no control over the budget and merely has to do what Congress sends him.

Somewhere in the world you have an ally ...

I like your chart, btw. It demonstrates very clearly how badly Republicans have hosed us by running up the credit cards.

Josh Jasper said...

Unrelated, but I think you might get a kick out of this :

Obama handles a heckler with such skill it's amazing

He didn't just shut the guy down, he gave him what he was asking for, and got the crowd to cheer while he was doing it.

There are master martial artists, master chefs, and master speakers. Obama's mastery at interacting with and speaking to a crowd is just awesome. I think he outshines Reagan or Clinton.

Frank said...

Josh

Obama's mastery at interacting with and speaking to a crowd is just awesome.

Hmmm. Then there must be some other reason he is refusing town-hall type debates.

I wonder what it could be?

Josh Jasper said...

Frank: Because he has the upper hand doing what he's doing now? I have no idea. Do you think he's not good in front of crowds, or a bad public speaker?

Even if you think he's scum, that video was an impressive bit of fast thinking on Obama's part. I'm sorry if admiring his skill is some sort of sin, or admission of weakness for you. It makes you more of a two dimensional caricature than a real person.

Marty S said...

Dan: When Reagan took office the misery index(inflation plus unemployment) was at 20% while when he left office it was 9.5%. So whatever he did taxwise and spendingwise the people of the country were much better off when he left office than when he came into office. Oh and surprise I got the misery index numbers off a pro republican site, as many of the charts and numbers that make democrats look good can be found on pro democratic sites.

Marty S said...

Frank: Entitlement programs put money in people's hands. Mostly these people really need the money badly and so they spend it all and this stimulates the economy just like tax cuts do.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Josh Jasper, you said:
What? Did you watched the same movie I did? The one I watched implied that skill, art, an love of food, coupled with service, made a restaurant great.

Yes, I saw the same movie. There are a bunch of business decisions about where the money goes which are required in addition to skill, art, great food, and great service. Get the business part wrong enough, and you still don't have a restaurant.

Really, read Kitchen Confidential. It's a very entertaining book, and if you don't know that the business side exists (I get the impression you don't), it's worth finding out.

Josh Jasper said...

Nancy: how that translates into "all there is to running a business is being obnoxious." is beyond me.

Did you not see the large message about love of good food? If so you really did watch a different movie.

and if you don't know that the business side exists (I get the impression you don't), it's worth finding out.

Actually, I do know it's there. :-P

Without superlative food, all you have is a place for businessmen to put down expense account cards and pay outrageous sums for the privilege of looking expensive. Sure, those places are profit centers, but they're not great restaurants. They're just expensive restaurants.

No amount of profitability makes food taste better. It just means you can afford to stay in business. McDonalds will always be in business.

Frank said...

Marty S

Entitlement programs put money in people's hands. Mostly these people really need the money badly and so they spend it all and this stimulates the economy just like tax cuts do.

They do. And I am not arguing against all entitlement programs. I think they are necessary. But we need to be very careful with them as we do with tax cuts.

But there are differences: entitlement programs are a transfer of wealth from the well off to others not so well off. That's clear to everyone. So the danger is allowing them to progress to the point where people do not want to take risks and invest capital because there is no reward.

Tax cuts, on the other hand, allow people to keep more of what they earn and they get to spend it on things they deem important for themselves and their families.

Having said that, a tax rate of zero clearly would have detrimental effects. And our county is wealthy enough to support, and be morally responsible for some transfer of wealth to those who are needy.

All I am saying that every entitlement program is a liability on the national ledger that has to be paid for from the GDP, in perpetuity. At some point, as is already happening in places like France and Germany, the entitlements become a drag on the GDP such that growth becomes lethargic and unable to support the entitlements promised. Once promised and disbursed, entitlements become very difficult to remove.

So, again, we have to be very careful about these programs so that they do not become the instrument by which the Goose is killed.

Death by a thousand cuts.

Remember, there a whole host of people who are employed because people are wealthy. Here's an example. Excerpt:

It may have taken longer and it may not be as acute, but there are early hints that the economic slump is crimping the lifestyles of the wealthy.

They are investing more conservatively, spending less on luxury goods and are being more thrifty with their credit cards. Many are asking their personal shoppers and private-jet travel providers to seek the best deals rather than over-the-top extravagances.

That news may produce a shrug from many people who have lost their jobs or homes in this economy. The problem is that when the wealthy get stingy, it trickles down to the rest of us.

Marty S said...

Frank: Everything is a balance. For example cut interest rates you stimulate the economy in the short term, but hurt it in the long run because you discourage saving/investment and there is less money available for starting new businesses or for older businesses to undertake new ventures. Lower interest rates also encourage inflation. Higher interest rates have the opposite effects. The tricky part always is to strike the right balance.

Dan Moran said...

Marty, I'm easy to get along with. You want to credit Reagan with reigning in inflation? You must also credit him with adding more to the debt, in 8 small years, than in the entire prior history of the country, in moving us from our position as the world's largest creditor, to the position of world's largest debtor.

I've never even heard a theory as to how whipping inflation required Reagan to spend trillions of dollars he didn't have. And Bush's excuse appears to be, "I wanted to."

Marty S said...

Dan: You continue to look only at one number the national debt and ignore other numbers and factors. For instance the debt is a function of spending versus income. Now mandatory spending on entitlement programs has grown from about one third of the federal budget to about two thirds of the budget. This is expected to get worse as more and more baby boomers qualify for benefits. This leaves congress and the president a lot less room to maneuver on discretionary spending. Now an awful lot of folks say government has under spent on infer structure and we need to spend to fix our roads and bridges. They are probably right, but to do that we need to spend money and that means either drastic cuts in other discretionary expenditures. If the next president decides that we need to spend the money to fix the roads and bridges would you blame that president for the resulting increase in the deficit or the ones who failed to keep them up all these years. Nothing is simple and nothing can be proved with one number. A presidency has to be judge as a whole in context of the times and what that president inherited.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

John Jasper, I did see and appreciate the message about the love of food and the love of doing things well.

There are plenty of people who only care about producing a good product. If they're lucky, they can manage to give enough attention to the business side and/or they've got other people who do.

It's one of those Maslow things. You have to do the survival part.

Ratatouille (unless I've missed something) had the villain making decisions about money, even if they didn't show respect for good food. For the good guys, the money judgment just happened. A line or two could have given a hint that thinking about money (not just worrying about it) is part of the system.

Dan Moran said...

Marty, I can't respond any more elegantly on the subject of deficit spending than to quote a man I very much admired in this area:

"For decades we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children's future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals. You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but only for a limited period of time. Why, then, should we think that collectively, as a nation, we're not bound by that same limitation? We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding: We are going to begin to act, beginning today."

Sadly, the wise man who said this was Ronald Reagan, in his inaugural address in 1981. He then proceeded to triple the size of the national debt.

A presidency has to be judge as a whole in context of the times and what that president inherited.

I myself am willing to judge Reagan on his own clearly stated terms. Fighting communism, a solid A. Managing the economy, a D-.

Josh Jasper said...

Nancy -
Ratatouille (unless I've missed something) had the villain making decisions about money, even if they didn't show respect for good food. For the good guys, the money judgment just happened. A line or two could have given a hint that thinking about money (not just worrying about it) is part of the system.


That statement is a lot different that your original summary, which was that "all there is to running a business is being obnoxious."

Yeah, some part of the movie could have included something with the heroes having to deal with finances. You'll note that, at the end, they ended up in a much more modest bistro, at least. So there was at least the concept that running four star restaurant wasn't something you just leap into and win at.

Sadly, if they wanted a money message, alcohol should have been mentioned more, and that's just not possible in a kids movie.

Frank said...

Dan

Sadly, the wise man who said this was Ronald Reagan, in his inaugural address in 1981. He then proceeded to triple the size of the national debt.

You keep using the words "national debt" and "budget deficit" as if they were interchangeable: As if they were the same thing.

Reagan did not triple the National Debt.

Fighting communism, a solid A. Managing the economy, a D-

In order to Fight Communism he had to compromise with the Democratic Congress. To get the military increases he needed, he had to accept more domestic spending.

Because God forbid Congress cut one program when they increased funding to another.

Frank said...

Oh, and re: my last comment

When the Democratic controlled Congress later decided that the "Peace Dividend" allowed them to reverse the Reagan military spending (and even cut deeper), they decided this was a windfall. Instead of decreasing spending, they just approved more entitlement programs.

You can see here how mandatory spending has increased steadily.

Keeping pace is difficult, but as you can see here, cutting taxes is key to doing that, even though it is counter-intuitive. And there are two things to note here, one is that tax revenue increase under Reagan (and Clinton after the Republicans took Congress) and increased dramatically after the "Bush" tax cuts.

And even with the "Bush" tax cuts, the per-household tax burden is the second largest in history (second only to the Clinton Administration)

Marty S said...

Dan: Your approach to rating Reagan or other presidents is problematic and you don't seem to get it. Let me try one more example to illustrate. I am CEO of a trucking firm. I just took over from the previous CEO 18 months ago. Since I took over profits have fallen 40%. By your reasoning I deserve a D- for running the company because I am not doing as well as the last CEO with respect to profits. But wait, because of the increase in gas prices the average profits of all trucking firms in the country during the same time period have fallen 70%. Taking this into consideration someone who didn't have it in for me might actually give me an A for running the company.

Dan Moran said...

Frank,

You keep using the words "national debt" and "budget deficit" as if they were interchangeable: As if they were the same thing.

If you can point out an example of that to me, I'd be much indebted. I've been reading the federal budget every year since the days when you had to go to the library to get your hands on it, and it didn't show up until months after it was passed, and I am rather clearer on the difference between the two than most people.

Reagan did not triple the National Debt.

He did.

In 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office, the national debt stood at 997 billion dollars. Eight years later, when George Bush took office, the national debt stood at 2.85 trillion dollars. Can we agree that these are accurate numbers? Because if you've got a different answer, I'd need to hear it. I don't mind arguing politics, I don't even mind arguing what are and are not facts, but these are well documented numbers -- the link above goes to treasurydirect.gov, a website of the Bureau of the Public Debt, which is a department of the U.S. Treasury.

If you're not using these numbers, I'd like to see the numbers you are using. What numbers do you have for the debt between 1981 and 1989?

Dan Moran said...

Marty,

Dan: Your approach to rating Reagan or other presidents is problematic and you don't seem to get it.

No, we just disagree. Not everyone who disagrees with you is suffering a lack of comprehension.

Fighting commies, good. Tripling the size of the debt (hi, Frank) ... bad. Did one require the other? Maybe Reagan should have made the argument. Far as I'm aware he never did; after his tax cuts and spending increases blew up in his face (shocker, that, who could imagine such a thing? Certainly not George Bush ...) after tax cuts and spending increases, Reagan blamed ... Congress for the increase in the debt. Well, the House; the Senate was controlled by Republlicans the first 6 years of Reagan's 8. Bush doesn't even get to do that; Republicans signed off on his voodo economics and trashed the budget, the economy, and the dollar.

It's historical fact that Congress approved less spending (not overall, but every year) than Reagan requested. So he gets zero points on that score.

As for the tax cuts thing, I'll note only that Ronald Reagan hosed working families on taxes. He did cut income taxes and capital gains taxes -- but he raised them on Social Security. When reagan took office middle income families with children were paying 17.7% of their income in income+social security taxes; when he left office they were paying 18.4%. Income taxes down, yeah; payroll taxes up.

But surely the rich, who got almost all of the benefits of Reagan's tax cuts (and Bush's) ... will someday stand tall and help pay down the astonishing debt this country has incurred as a result of those cuts? Right?

Yeah, I don't think so either. Tax cuts for the rich: debt service for everyone. 400 billion of it, this year.

Marty S said...

Dan: If you aren't a fan of Reagan's policies that's okay. I don't have problem with you not liking his policies. We have limited options and so we must pick and choose what we spend on and how we tax. If you have a different set of priorities than Reagan and the people who voted for him you are free to think he did a poor job, I only object to your setting up and arbitrary standard of a single number and saying this proves he was an economic failure and everyone should agree with you.
As an a side you keep talking about SS tax as regressive. This is actually false. The form of progression in SS is in the return. The person who is in the top income bracket collects about 27% of his average earnings. In the middle bracket 46% and the lowest bracket 90%. If the collection of SS was made progressive, but everybody got back the same percent of income, then if the person in the lowest income bracket was taxed at 10% then the middle would be taxed at 21% and the top at 35%.

Dan Moran said...

Marty,

Dan: If you aren't a fan of Reagan's policies that's okay.

I'm not a fan of Reagan's. The two places where I really did admire him, back in the late 70s, were his insistance on the moral evil of deficit spending and his opposition to communism. So the guy's at 50% on the two issues where I was solidly in line with him ... and to acknowledge your point about there being a spectrum of issues, I mostly disagreed with him on the rest of what he did.

I don't have problem with you not liking his policies. We have limited options and so we must pick and choose what we spend on and how we tax. If you have a different set of priorities than Reagan and the people who voted for him you are free to think he did a poor job, I only object to your setting up and arbitrary standard of a single number and saying this proves he was an economic failure and everyone should agree with you.

:-) I'm allowed to argue my point, Marty. I don't expect people to agree with me -- I've argued this subject 25+ years and only ever changed the minds of (maybe) 2 people.

Mostly I do this on the off chance that I'll reach someone who hasn't already made up his or her mind. That's where almost all progress comes from.

Just for the record, I didn't even bring this subject up in this thread. You did. But I'm disinclined to let this particular subject pass by without comment, precisely because the numbers are so awful and (relatively) clear. The Iraq war is a bad argument -- I think it's been a screaming disaster, but many people I respect disagree with me on that point, and it's an argument about values and priorities. The budget deficit and the debt aren't that -- they're hard numbers and not opinion.

As an a side you keep talking about SS tax as regressive. This is actually false.

I think you're confusing me with someone else. To the best of my knowledge I've never made that argument anywhere. If you want to argue Social Security, I'm happy to ... but another day. It's complex and I don't have the time today ... in about a week, if you post, "Liberals have screwed up social security beyond belief!" ... I might get in a righteous state and start arguing. But right now it's lunchtime. :-)

Marty S said...

Dan: On social security everybody has screwed with it and screwed it up.

Dan Moran said...

Marty, on that point we are in complete agreement. The worst criminal in all of it was Lyndon Johnson, who put social security on budget to hide the costs of the Viet Nam war.