“Glitch” is clearly the word of the moment, after a series of pesky little technical problems forced United Airlines to ground flights, halted New York Stock Exchange trading and took down The Wall Street Journal website homepage all on the same day. If that wasn’t enough technical trouble, Seattle’s 911 system went down briefly. And a couple of NASA spacecraft also suffered “glitches” in recent days.
We deal routinely with glitches these days — a Wi-Fi connection goes down, an app freezes, a plug-in (usually Shockwave) stops responding, an email doesn’t load properly — which may help explain why, aside from lots of grumbling from delayed airline passengers, the reaction to Wednesday’s glitches was rather muted. The NYSE problems were reportedly caused by a “configuration issue” after a software update and United blamed its problem on “degraded network connectivity.” We see those issues every day, just not on as large a scale.
But that’s the problem.
At the risk of sounding like a high school term paper, let us note that the Merriam-Webster definition of glitch is “an unexpected and usually minor problem; especially: a minor problem with a machine or device (such as a computer).” The full definition describes it as a minor problem that causes a temporary setback.
Sure, Wednesday’s setbacks were all temporary. The Wall Street Journal site came back up quickly. Seattle’s 911 service was restored. Action on the NYSE itself was stopped for nearly four hours, but even then traders were still able to buy and sell NYSE-listed stocks on other exchanges. United grounded about 3,500 flights, which meant some people missed a wedding or a crucial business meeting. That will take time to sort out, but it will get sorted out.
In aggregate, though, the problems add up — and the word “glitch” only minimizes what can be much bigger, more serious issues..
Stock exchanges have suffered from a series of stoppage-causing glitches in recent years, pointing to the value of having trading spread across numerous exchanges. United’s tech breakdown “marked the latest in a series of airline delays and cancellations in the last few years that experts blame on massive, interconnected computer systems that lack sufficient staff and financial backing,” the Los Angeles Times reports. Just ask any of the roughly 400,000 United passengers whose travel plans were messed up if this was a little glitch. Or maybe check with the engineers who had to troubleshoot and rebuild the HealthCare.gov site after its glitch-laden launch.
It may be some relief that these latest outages weren’t the result of external attacks, but as sociologist Zeynep Tufecki, an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of North Carolina, writes at The Message, “The big problem we face isn’t coordinated cyber-terrorism, it’s that software sucks. Software sucks for many reasons, all of which go deep, are entangled, and expensive to fix.”
These foul-ups are now mundane, and to some extent they may be inevitable as we rely more and more on complicated computer systems in every aspect of our lives. That’s the real issue, and it’s a lot bigger than a glitch.
Budget deficits normally rise during recessions and fall when the economy is growing, but that’s not the case today. Deficits are rising sharply despite robust economic growth, increasing from $666 billion in 2017 to an estimated $970 billion in 2019, with $1 trillion annual deficits expected for years after that.
As the deficit hawks at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget point out in a blog post Thursday, “the deficit has never been this high when the economy was this strong … And never in modern U.S. history have deficits been so high outside of a war or recession (or their aftermath).” The chart above shows just how unusual the current deficit path is when measured as a percentage of GDP.
About 4.2 million uninsured people could sign up for a bronze-level Obamacare health plan and pay nothing for it after tax credits are applied, the Kaiser Family Foundation said Tuesday. That means that 27 percent of the country’s 15.9 million uninsured people could get covered for free. The chart below breaks down the eligible population by state.
Vox’s Ezra Klein says that retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s legacy can be summed up in one number: $343 billion. “That’s the increase between the deficit for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2018— that is, the difference between the fiscal year before Ryan became speaker of the House and the fiscal year in which he retired.”
Klein writes that Ryan’s choices while in office — especially the 2017 tax cuts and the $1.3 trillion spending bill he helped pass and the expansion of the earned income tax credit he talked up but never acted on — should be what define his legacy:
“[N]ow, as Ryan prepares to leave Congress, it is clear that his critics were correct and a credulous Washington press corps — including me — that took him at his word was wrong. In the trillions of long-term debt he racked up as speaker, in the anti-poverty proposals he promised but never passed, and in the many lies he told to sell unpopular policies, Ryan proved as much a practitioner of post-truth politics as Donald Trump. …
“Ultimately, Ryan put himself forward as a test of a simple, but important, proposition: Is fiscal responsibility something Republicans believe in or something they simply weaponize against Democrats to win back power so they can pass tax cuts and defense spending? Over the past three years, he provided a clear answer. That is his legacy, and it will haunt his successors.”
Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, wants the agency to be known as the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, the name under which it was established by Title X of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. Mulvaney even had new signage put up in the lobby of the bureau. But the rebranding could cost the banks and other financial businesses regulated by the bureau more than $300 million, according to an internal agency analysis reported by The Hill’s Sylvan Lane. The costs would arise from having to update internal databases, regulatory filings and disclosure forms with the new name. The rebranding would cost the agency itself between $9 million and $19 million, the analysis estimated. Lane adds that it’s not clear whether Kathy Kraninger, President Trump’s nominee to serve as the bureau’s full-time director, would follow through on Mulvaney’s name change once she is confirmed by the Senate.