Wednesday, June 22, 2011


So, what exactly can Obama campaign on given he doesn't stand for anything, and has nothing to show for four years in office?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

To Firefox, get well soon

For some reason I've had a couple of responses when I've mentioned issues with Firefox 4 on my Twitter feed, but it's not as if it's easy to answer in 140 characters. "Crashes a lot" doesn't really explain why I'm so frustrated with the browser that I'm willing to jump ship to Chromium for a bit.

So, let's address the issues.

First, I'm running Firefox 4 on Ubuntu 11.04, and on Ubuntu 10.10. And also on Windows, although it's not crashing there.

Firefox 4 is exhibiting the following problems:
  1. Regardless of my settings (and I've even gone as far as to start hacking on about:config - but my settings there are ignored), Firefox swallows between 50 and 66% of my memory, regardless of how many tabs are open or what's loaded into them. This is causing my computer to crawl. What do I mean by crawl? Well, even if I don't have anything else running other than Firefox, I frequently get to the point that moving the mouse to get a password dialog when the screen saver is up results in about 30 seconds to one minute of disk activity (presumably swapping) before the password dialog appears.
  2. Firefox frequently crashes. In the worst case, on my 11.04 machine with 2G of RAM (not a huge amount of memory, but twice as much as a Netbook, so there should be nothing wrong with this), it crashes several times a day - and usually does so when I'm not using it - ie I'll go get coffee, go back to my computer, and - wham - the "Firefox has crashed" dialog is up.
  3. Firefox has problems loading Twitter. Frequently I get a blank screen or a bizarre, CSS/JSless screen with everything all over the place and barely any functionality. In order to load it, I have to click on the "Use old Twitter" button (or if I was in "old Twitter", the "Use new Twitter" button.) This happens most often (as in virtually every time) when I try to restore tabs from a crashed session.
  4. When in use, Firefox frequently slows down to a crawl. Trying to switch tab can be an utter pain, as the window goes gray and it doesn't do anything for a while. Worse, when I drop down to a shell and type "top", Firefox doesn't even appear to be doing anything! The CPU is usually almost completely idle at this point, with neither Firefox nor anything else apparently doing anything at all.
I've done everything you'd expect, including deleting my profile under ~/,mozilla/firefox and trying again, without any results. I've disabled plug-ins, I've disabled extensions, I've tried running it in "safe mode", and there's nothing particularly amazing about what's in my tabs either - Twitter, Slashdot, a Wikipedia page or two, some Google search results, that kind of thing. There's nothing particularly memory intensive about the stuff I regularly read - I don't care for watching videos or listening to audio via the browser in general.

Now, to fend of the usual arguments:
  • No, I don't think it's too much to ask for a web browser to use less than, say, half a gig of RAM. I have Chromium loaded right now, with a typical spread of tabs reflecting my usual habits, and it's using... hard to tell, given the shared memory, but it isn't hundreds of megabytes.
  • Nor do I buy the argument that every app can be made faster just by allocating more memory. You actually have to use that memory in a meaningful way. What's actually faster about FF4 anyway? It doesn't feel faster to me, and it certainly isn't faster when it's constantly swapping to disk. Is it faster than Chromium? Clearly not, so what gives?
  • And anyway, it doesn't matter what's ideologically correct: Firefox 4 doesn't work. It's not usable under Ubuntu. It doesn't matter why, the bottom line is it sucks up unheard of amounts of memory, crashes, and when it hasn't crashed yet it just needs to run for a few hours and it starts playing up.
So, for now, I'm temporarily switching to Chromium. I like Firefox, when it works. I really do. I really hope those responsible for making the design decisions that have lead to this browser being what it is today take a good hard look, and ask themselves if this really is the right direction for what would otherwise continue to be the best web browser there is.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Asterisk and Android Gingerbread

OK, busy setting up an Asterisk server at home for a few experiments in VoIP.

What I want now?
  • Each DECT phone I have, connected via the A580-IP I mentioned on Twitter (it's a SIP-enabled DECT base station with some PBX-like functionality) to have an extension
  • Each SIP-capable mobile phone I have (ie my CyanogenMod Gingerbread phone with the built-in SIP client, and my wife's regular Android phone running something like Linphone) to also have extensions.
  • All phones to be capable of dialing one another
What do I ultimately want?
  • All extensions to be able to make internal and external calls
  • All extensions to "ring" when a SIP call comes in from my VoIP provider
  • My office extension to "ring" when a Google Talk call comes in (if such a thing is possible) for my business GMail account (which is linked to a Google Voice account.)
What do I have? Well, ultimately I figured out most of the first. Here are the gotchas I found.

1. Lots of redundant configuration

Asterisk requires extensions to be configured in two places: sip.conf, and extensions.conf. There's supposed to be a sip.conf option that automatically registers extensions (called regexten), but it doesn't actually seem to be useful - it registers the extension exists, but doesn't put in the rules necessary to call it. Strange. Asterisk seems to be so configurable that it wouldn't surprise me if there are things that can be configured to make it work, but for now, no dice. So, if you're playing with the system, remember to configure twice.

2. Make sure you get the realm right if you want Gingerbread clients to work

Android 2.3 Gingerbread turns out to have a fairly smart implementation of SIP, even though it's deceptively simple. I'd been experimenting with a different domain from the one actually used by the server (eg my address would be something like (but isn't), whereas the server itself is on sip.squiggleslash.internal port 5550.)

How's that supposed to work you might ask? Well, I figured it wasn't a problem because (a) I'd set up DNS properly (there's a SRV entry that points at the correct server and port) and (b) all SIP clients I'd come across let you specify the domain and server name seperately.

...except Gingerbread. Gingerbread doesn't ask you separately for the domain, merely asking you for the server, and that initially confused me, but it turns out the "server" Gingerbread is asking for is actually the domain. In other words, I entered

Username: squiggleslash
Password: 1234

And, FWIW, I entered the thing for the "outbound proxy" stuff, but I'm not sure that was necessary. The above was enough to get incoming calls (ie calls from any extension to the cellphone's SIP account) to work.

...but not outgoing calls. For outgoing calls, Gingerbread needs you to correctly configure the "realm" in your sip.conf, namely make it the same as the domain (ie in the above Otherwise you just get weird 404 errors in the Asterisk console.

Some of the above advice might be out of date. I'm using a three year old version of Asterisk that came with Ubuntu Hardy, which is the operating system I'm running on my VPS. But, whatever, the above is enough to mostly get everything working.

I'll let you know how I get on with the other tasks in the list...

More Ubuntu Natty thoughts (11.04)

So, after a month or so of using it, here are my thoughts on Natty:


I'm using this on my netbook and not on my main laptop. It's got some good ideas, but I really think it needs polishing, and shouldn't have been released as the default desktop.

Criticially, it still doesn't feel like there's a natural flow to using it. For all of its faults, the "classic" desktop model is something that's fairly intuitive, even if it sometimes takes a large number of steps to do basic things.

The Ubuntu menu thing (that brings up a search for applications panel) is awful, and needs to be completely replaced. Nothing about it is right. It doesn't bring up what you expect it to, instead bringing up some alphabetically sorted apps, with no categorization by default. The entire point of that panel is to bring up applications that aren't in the dock.

The dock is OK although I tend to hate stuff that keeps moving on screen, but as far as a "hidden/unhides itself" item it's the best implementation I've seen of that. My personal view on how it could be improved?
  • Reduce the width of the dock especially on smaller screens like those of Netbooks. That'd also solve the problem that it very quickly fills up
  • Make it a permanent fixture save for things like full screen movie playback.
  • Given what it essentially replaces, and the fact that users expect to see something there, maybe it should be moved to the bottom of the screen by default, with an option to move it to the side of necessary? Think about why Ubuntu's devs are insistent it must hide itself when an app is maximized. Could it be the dock's position?
Regular readers will know that a fitts-menu implementation has been something I've wanted in Ubuntu since before I switched to it, and I'm glad that something resembling one has finally made it into Natty, but it needs more work.
  • Hiding the menu labels until you get close to them doesn't help in terms of trying to hit them when your mouse is on the other side of the screen. You have nothing to aim at!
  • It all kinda looks silly right now, with the window title fighting the menu for visibility.
My view of how this could be fixed?
  • If you're going to do the hiding thing, go the Amiga route and have a menu "button" on the mouse. Holding down the right mouse button can cause both a contextual menu to appear, if relevant, where the mouse pointer is, together with unhiding the menu at the top of the screen.
  • Otherwise, have the menu appear permanently.
  • Shove most of the non-application specific stuff into the dock. That makes the dock the one stop shop for control over the desktop, while turning the menu bar into the application controller.

Banshee vs Rhythmbox

Natty replaces the Rhythmbox iTunes-like music manager software with Banshee. Banshee's certainly interesting, and has some interesting features (plus it's easier to spell) but have to admit I switched back to Rhythmbox, because the latter doesn't suck up all of memory and CPU on my Netbook. I'm not sure why Banshee was such a resource hog, but Rhythmbox seems generally to be more efficient, cleaner, and lacking in playback glitches in a way Banshee wasn't. I'm not sure what's going on there, although in fairness Banshee is fighting Compiz which also seemed to be dragging down the performance of the machine.

The scrollbar

I liked the concept behind the new, thin, scrollbar in Natty, but I ended up being fairly glad that only one or two applications actually have it. For those who haven't seen it, the scroll "bar" is replaced by a small nub you drag up or down, that only appears when you place the mouse near the side of the window, and when it appears, you also see a line within a long box stretching the entire length of the window, that does roughly what the scroll bar did in terms of showing you where you are in your document, except it's much thinner.

The reasoning seems to be "Well, it takes up less space so you can see more stuff". I like the fact they've thought about it, but at the same time I miss being able to scroll up and down a page at a time by clicking above or below the nub. Also the scroll panel thing doesn't always appear, and when it does it frequently does only for a split second - the problem being that the system doesn't always know why you moved the cursor, and if you move from one window to another it overlaps or is just very close to, it doesn't always know what to do. Fighting to the system to get a user interface element to appear is one of my pet hates.

Scrollbars are not that big, and have never been a major issue in terms of taking up screen real estate. I'd rather we keep them as is.

General Reliability

For the most part, I'd put this between 10.04 (which is awful) and 10.10 (which is good) for general reliability, but I'm not sure I'd blame Canonical for this - this time. At least, not everything.
  • On my Thinkpad, I needed to tweak certain settings to get it to reliably work with my ATI video system. There's nothing worse than that whole "Oh my God, I just upgraded and nothing friggin works." thing. Hey, Canonical, could you PLEASE implement a "rollback" feature so that if an operating system upgrade doesn't go smoothly, we can safely return to a previous version?
  • Likewise, the system came with a bug ridden Atheos Wifi driver that virtually everyone's complaining about. To fix it required installing a patched kernel. Not Canonical's fault, the fact is Linux has some crappy quality control going on these days, but still.
  • Firefox. OMG. What happened to it? What's with the out of control memory consumption? And no, "We have to so the browser is fast" excuse doesn't cut it with me - Firefox is already fast. If you need to cache more stuff, stick it in files like everyone else does. Put it in /tmp if you don't want to upset people with SDDs.
There's one change that apparently Canonical considered but didn't go with, and that was to switch to Chrome as the default browser. Assuming they meant Chromium, I have no objection whatsoever to that. Chromium has its downsides, but it's a quality product, and Firefox right now isn't. I'm actually tempted to suggest it's time for another fork in the Mozilla world.

Yeah, another one. You remember the history of Firefox? Essentially, the Mozilla team were concentrating on, what was then called, "Mozilla", a nice browser that kept growing with functionality that really didn't belong in the system, with no-one ever putting their hand up and saying "Wait a moment, what about efficiency?" Firefox started a kinda fork (I guess if it's an official project it probably doesn't count as a fork, but, whatever) by the minority horrified with what was going on, who concentrated on putting together a minimal browser that had all of Mozilla's greatness, but would load quickly and play nice with others.

Firefox needs the same treatment.


I think Natty needs some work, but I'd also say all of the problems are fixable. If I were in charge of the project, these are the changes I'd make for 11.10:
  • Reduce the size of the dock buttons by about a third
  • Move it by default to the bottom of the screen
  • Move most of the top bar functions to the dock, with the exception of the application menus. Maybe the time and date can stay up there too.
  • Either repurpose the right mouse button as I described (show all menus), or move the window title/menus around so one is right justified and the other left justified. I don't mind which, actually I think having the menus right justified would look pretty nice.
  • Change the way in which users select applications that aren't in the dock. Again, smaller icons would help here, and showing the application categories would also be a good idea.
  • Do some serious quality control on the Linux kernel. Here's a radical proposal: test with both a recent kernel and a slightly older version, and install the latter by default, only installing the more recent kernel if certain features of it are absolutely necessary for the hardware it's being installed upon.
  • Do some serious quality control with X.
  • Bear in mind that many of us have had to install workarounds before to get certain things to work, that might not be appropriate. Things like xorg.conf and modprobe.d/* should be backed-up and replaced to ensure that things that have been fixed aren't broken by settings designed for when they weren't.
  • If the user has enough disk space, have Ubuntu back up the current version of the operating system before upgrading, and provide a tool allowing the user to back out of the upgrade if it doesn't work well - the tool being available from GRUB.
  • Monitor the performance and state of certain third party tools, like Firefox and Banshee, you bundle with the operating system. If these aren't right, either install older versions that are, or consider switching to a more stable alternative like Chromium or Rhythmbox.
That's what I would do. What do you think?

Stop Romney/Pawhoweveryouspellit at any cost!

It's important to remember just how bad government was a few years ago, when it a Republican president was in control. Back then:
  • We had a government that had started two wars without good reason
  • We had a government that was frequently breaking the law, ignoring its own legal advise in many cases, all in the name of the military state.
  • We had a government that acted extra-judicially when dealing with those suspected of terrorism overseas.
  • We had a government that set up clearly unworkable schemes designed to suck taxpayers money out of government and into the hands of those responsible for many of America's problems.
  • We had a government that was fully OK, even blessing, the idea of having entirely unnecessary cuts to social programs because it didn't want to raise taxes to fund them, social programs whose cuts would hit those who could least afford it the most.
  • We had a government that was waging a war on whistleblowers, persecuting those who spoke up about abuses of government.
  • Had no clue what to do with the economy, ignoring the actual experts in favor of dealing with whatever the pundits in the media said was important, resulting in an economy that got steadily worse.
Those were terrible, terrible, days. Thankfully we elected Obama and that all ended. The end.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A combined journal - a proposal

Here's what I'm thinking.

I think it'd be awesome to have a group who already know one another, who are smart, who don't necessary agree with one another but have debated before, to write a journal about different topics, in the same place. Now, in the past we've kinda done that, but...
  • With Slashdot, I think it's safe to say we were all fighting Slashcode to get the conversation going.
  • With Multiply, it's very invitation-lead and not terribly open. On top of that, quite honestly, it became hard to have a discussion in an environment in which just finding out what people were writing became a chore.
I'm thinking it can be a mix of topics. What I'd like to see are:
  • Reviews
  • Fiction (of all types)
  • Political, economic, social, etc commentary
  • Personal stories
while avoiding stuff that just puts people's back up (for examples of the latter, read my blogs ;-) For example, a discussion on the quagmire Republicans are having in terms of electing a candidate who will represent them given the insane political times we're in is perfectly fine. But "OMG, did you see what Palin said THIS TIME? LOL!" is better kept in one's personal blogs.

Now, I'm proposing doing this on Blogger, for several reasons:
  • It's a fairly decent, stable, blogging platform, and it's free.
  • It supports multiple contributors
  • There's no convoluted registration process
  • Anyone can comment on JEs
Possible concerns:
  1. You may feel this idea just sucks. You'd never read it, and even if you did, you'd never contribute. If so, PLEASE say why! This is just a proposal, it's what I have in mind, it's not final or anything.
  2. It's in the wrong place, you'd prefer Wordpress, or LiveJournal, or... go ahead, propose something!
  3. Man these JalapeƱo-Jack Sun Chips are good.
  4. I don't know, commenting policy?
  5. I want to know if Sarah Palin says something stupid damn it, it's not as if I'd find out anywhere else.
  6. It's a horrible, horrible, idea and I'm a horrible person for proposing it.
Let me know either way anyway. Nothing above is set in stone. Please forward to others in the circle, as not everyone follows me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Microsoft are teh greatest

Not really, they just signed a letter supporting AT&T destroying T-Mobile. But, well, here are some things they do I like:
  1. Active Directory, although they need to create a cheaper version, and it shouldn't be as complicated. I thought I'd throw that in first to make people go "Wait? What?!"
  2. X-Box 360 Kinect. What an awesome idea. WANT.
  3. HD DVD. OK, that was withdrawn, but it was the better of the two HD standards. Who knows, if WB had killed BD rather than HD DVD, maybe we'd have a successful HD disc format.
  4. Windows 8. There's some awesome ideas there.
  5. .NET - a copy of Java it may be, but it's a commitment to the way things should be, not the way things are.
  6. Office Web Apps. A copy of Google Docs it might be, but they've done a great job and they have even taken the effort lately, not just with this but with OWA and other web systems, to get in some decent Firefox/GNU/Linux support.
I think Microsoft's major problems are:
  • They have a lot of legacy crap that keeps tripping them up. This has been chronically damaging to their products and yet unavoidable. Think how much cleaner and more secure Windows NT (and by implication 2000/XP/Vista/7) would have been had Cutler not needed to support Win16/Win32.
  • They feel the need to control the entire ecosystem yet don't know how to do it in a way that doesn't get in the way of others.
  • Their pricing always assumes a neat division between home users and business users, and many of their technologies have an absurdly high cost of entry.
  • They're not open source. That's a problem for me, obviously not for them, and it's why I'm not going to adopt much of their stuff any time soon.
Still, they're definitely less evil than they were ten years ago.

Watched too much MSNBC the last couple of days

As I said in my prior JE, it's awful.

The obsession with Weiner's weiner is absurd, and I have to say I feel for the guy. If there ever was a situation where it's legitimate for a politician to "lie" about something, it's where people are asking personal questions they shouldn't be asking in the first place, whose true answer would never reflect in any way upon any principles the politician has ever claimed to be supportive of.

The similar situation with Bill Clinton was at least fractionally more legitimate in that the claim was that Clinton may or may not have lied during a legal deposition, and if he hadn't lied he certainly had used language that was misleading, but none of this applies here. Weiner is not the head of state, he's not someone who's committed a legal offense by lying, the only real victim here is the one person he's personally responsible to come what may, election or no election - and that victim's situation is arguably a million times worse because of the media attention.

And as I've said on Twitter, what's the coverage of Weiner's weiner vs the coverage of the fact that Breitbart - and others - lied about ACORN, what ACORN is, and what ACORN does, going so overboard as to ultimately killing an organization that was doing good work sticking up for the little guy.

I'm almost tempted to suggest that the Breitbart angle is exactly why the media is covering this to the degree they are: to report Breitbart lied about ACORN is to admit their own complicity in ACORN's downfall as they amplified the lies about it. To report on Weiner's weiner is, therefore, a counter to this, a case where they can say "Yes, we report what Breitbart says, but look, we have a real scandal to report on as a result of this!"

There is no real scandal, but the media certainly can turn nothing into one if they have to.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cable news


Probably the best of the big three, which is not saying much.


Makes me wonder why people watch Fox. I say this because I'm liberal, and MSNBC is supposed to be a "liberal" news station, but:
  • It's obvious it's "supposed to be" a liberal news station. ie its sincerity is exactly what you'd expect from an organization that exists to serve a market.
  • How insincere to it? When was the last time they refused to cover a Breitbart story without independent verification?
  • The only show I vaguely like is "Morning Joe". I'm sure the right hates it as much as liberals do, but it does occasionally pierce the echo chamber.
  • Ultimately either promotes establishment orthodoxy (Chris Matthews) or goes against it but in a way not likely to engender any support.
  • Never got to watch Rachel Maddow, she's supposed to be good.
Baffled as to why this one exists. Everyone likes an echo chamber once in a while, but everyone I know hates being lied to.


The voice of opposition.
  • Always opposes anything the government does but...
  • ...does so from an establishment point of view. You're not really going to see the standard part of Fox arguing for reining in foreclosures or dealing with unemployment (except in passing as a justification for more tax cuts, or deregulation, or whatever.)
  • What I saw was misleading and often downright false, when bringing in people to interview concerning a government policy, even during the news sections which, Fox supporters claim, are supposed to be the "objective" parts of the station.
  • Has Shepard Smith I guess, but I've only really seen his clashes with the station's orthodoxy, not how he reports normally.
Baffled the right takes it seriously, especially after seeing MSNBC and knowing it's supposed to be the liberal's equivalent. You guys like being lied to?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When people assume good ideas are bad

Once upon a time there was an economist called John Maynard Keynes. Keynes looked at the consequences of World War I, and the economic aftermath, and determined that things might possibly be bad. A decade and a half later, another crisis was engulfing the world, this time economic, and Keynes reasoned that the issue was that there was a lack of people buying things, and that this needed to be dealt with if the crisis was to be dealt with.

In the meantime, governments did what they always do, and prevaricated, going back and forth between constructive ideas and destructive ideas. The US government, for example, would spend money on public works in an attempt to revitalize the economy, and it would work. Then when unemployment started to fall, the government, concerned about the whole "People might think we're communists" crap, would cut back, and the economy would collapse again. This went on again and again, and was only broken after another war broke out, and the government was able - nay, required - to spend money like it was going out of fashion.

Keynes became a giant amongst economists after WW-II. He was proven right, again, and again, and again, about the links between unemployment, inflation, and fiscal policy, and governments began to seriously embrace Keynesian ideas concerning their own economies. But there was an asterisk to be put against the embracement. Keynes advocated massive government spending during bad times, and massive government saving during good times. But some governments used Keynes to justify spending at all times, and this caused an already skeptical group of economists to want to get away from Keynes, who was seen as encouraging too much government intervention in markets.

After much debate, most started to rally behind the ideas of Milton Friedman. Friedman adapted the Keynesian models, but addressed the underlying causes of poorly performing economies using what's arguably a similar but more generic set of concepts. Friedman argued that the cause of the great depression was a lack of money.

The amount of money in a modern economy is generally decided upon by a so-called central bank, a bank that acts as the manager of the country's currency. The bank has a number of tools available to it to allow it to expand the amount of money in the economy. It can, for example, adjust reserve rates, allowing banks to "lend" considerably more money than they "borrow" (from savers.) It can make loans of money cheaper, making it cheaper for banks to obtain more cash to put against their reserves.

When the Great Depression started a large number of banks collapsed because a lack of confidence in them caused numerous runs. The banks failed because they were unable to borrow enough to pay their savers. Friedman argued this was fundamentally the cause of the Great Depression, and that the Federal Reserve, the US's central bank, didn't do enough to increase the money supply to take care of the problem.

The arguments of Friedman and Keynes are often portrayed as polar opposites, but in reality they're similar, they just propose different groups of people as having the responsibilities involved. Both argue for an increase in the money supply, but Keynes proposes a "hard money" solution whereby the government borrows (or, preferably, spends savings) to inject more money into the economy via spending on commerce and business, while Friedman proposes a "soft money" solution where money is literally created to inject into the economy via banks.

Unmodified Keynesian economics was generally the default until the mid seventies. We have President Carter to thank for a switch over to Friedman's Monetarist economics in the US, and Margaret Thatcher for the switch to Monetarism in the UK. Both countries were suffering stagflation, which seemed to be caused by inflexible adherence to Keynesian economics. In particular, mainstream Keynesian opinion seemed to be that inflation and unemployment were negatively correlated. If measures were taken to deal with inflation (by tightening government spending), unemployment would likely rise, and if measures were taken to deal with unemployment, inflation may rise. Unfortunately, both countries were suffering both inflation and unemployment, and Keynesian economists were largely considered to be at a loss on how to deal with both happening at the same time.

OK, recap time.
  • From the 1950s to the 1970s, Keynesian economics had been dominant
  • The interventionist nature of Keynesian economics, and its use to justify heavily interventionist policies, made free market advocates eager to find alternatives, regardless of how effective Keynesian economics really were.
  • During this 20-30 year period, one possible crisis was identified that most generally consider both unsolvable by classic Keynesian models, and caused by them, notably stagflation.
So, what happened here? Well, monetarism was tried, and it didn't work out as well as people hoped it would. The economies of both the UK and US significantly worsened, with unemployment rocketing. Indeed, this was by design - monetarists argued that if inflation was controlled, the other problems with the economy would eventually sort themselves out.

Growth in the US and UK slowed down. Both countries have had rates of growth since the 1980s that was positive, but nothing like as strong as the post war period that preceded it. And just to make matters worse, the Japanese had their own economic crisis after having what's considered the most healthy economy in the world. Upon collapse, the Japanese chose to let their Central Bank deal with the crisis, and only made minimal use of fiscal policies to deal with the issues, just like the Monetarists said they should.

The Japanese banks were suddenly awash with money, which they invested in countries whose economies were healthy, finding it almost impossible to lend money at home. Oops. Monetarism suddenly had its equivalent of stagflation, in this case a situation where unemployment remained high, while the Central Bank was running out of ways to inject more currency into the economy without devaluing it significantly in the process.

OK, recap time (2):
  • Monetarism was tried, and appeared to have even worse problems than ordinary Keynesian economics. Keynesian economics at least took two or three decades to show any flaws, while Monetarism barely lasted half that time, and seemed to cause a lot of misery even when it was "working".
  • Monetarism was clearly less effective than Keynesian economics at keeping an economy growing.
Now, here's where it gets interesting.

Recall the basic Keynesian principle: spend when your economy is having problems to get out of those problems, save when it isn't. It's not exactly rocket science, if you've ever taken out a student loan, you probably understand the concept.

Well, here's the problem. During the nineties, several things happened.

First, in the US, nobody wanted to admit that Monetarist economics were, well, just awful. And if they didn't want to admit that, they certainly didn't want to admit that Keynesian economics, flawed though it might be, was better, that it generally worked, and that Keynesian economists might have found ways to deal with the whole stagflation part. Why? Well, because Monetarism was a "free market" solution, at least in the sense that it didn't involve the government directly. Nice, free market, banks got to choose where to spend the money.

The second part was that the guy who came after Carter, Reagan, was an utter imbecile who decided to win elections by using a new lowest common denominator tactic - simply claim it was OK to reduce taxes. And it became gradually impossible for anyone to get elected who thought raising taxes was a good idea.

And so we got to the a state where by the early part of this century, US governments basically started to do things because they weren't Keynesian. Bush Jr, for example, used the fact the country was running a surplus as a reason to cut taxes. Keynesians would argue (and did) that given the economy was healthy (at that precise point) and the fact we had a large deficit, we should be keeping taxes where they are, using the surplus to pay off the deficit.

Do you know now where I'm going with this?

Keynes was never "discredited", any more than Isaac Newton was when Einstein said those fateful words "Wait a moment, I think there's more to it than that*". Keynesian economics turned out to be astonishingly effective, and one flaw in the classic Keynesian system shouldn't be used as a reason to switch permanently to a system that's clearly inferior. We've seen some absolutely awful economic policies since the abandonment of Keynesian economics within the US.
  • The promotion of bubbles
  • A refusal to pay off deficits when we can afford to do so
  • A complete unwillingness to raise taxes when clearly they need to be raised.
  • A refusal to spend when we clearly need to.
The doors to this path opened when Carter and Thatcher decided to try monetarism, the situation was made considerably worse when Reagan essentially promoted having your cake and eating it policies, and a lack of integrity in economics, and when nobody in power on this side of the Atlantic proved willing to admit that any of this was wrong.

We now have a government and establishment that:
  • Probably knows that only government spending will fix the crisis
  • Knows that monetarist solutions like lowering interest rates and quantitive easing can only go so far.
  • But has decided the deficit is more important, like an idiot deciding they should put $5 towards their credit card debt rather than towards a bus ticket to a sure thing job interview.
  • Are treating the deficit as a problem caused by overspending, rather than undersaving.
  • Have so much invested in looking at the big deficit number, they've forgotten that the real problem with the economy is the lack of jobs. People with jobs can support themselves, and pay taxes towards paying things off.
Until our politicians accept the last thirty year's fiscal policies might have been utterly stupid, we can expect to have an economy that's just as bad as Japan's.

* OK, I don't think Einstein ever said that.