Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Volokh Conspiracy on the Progressive Myth:
Here’s Obama:

You see, this isn’t the first time America has faced this choice. At the turn of the last century, when a nation of farmers was transitioning to become the world’s industrial giant, we had to decide: would we settle for a country where most of the new railroads and factories were controlled by a few giant monopolies that kept prices high and wages low? Would we allow our citizens and even our children to work ungodly hours in conditions that were unsafe and unsanitary?

This line of thought goes back to the Progressive era itself. As I point out in Rehabilitating Lochner: “Progressives were convinced workers’ living standards were falling, and were in constant danger thanks to unregulated immigration, unregulated labor markets, and a paucity of strong labor unions. Supporters of liberty of contract, by contrast, believed that workers’ lot, though often unpleasant, was gradually improving thanks to the American system of contractual freedom.”

Contrary to the implications of Obama’s speech, the latter group seems to have had the better of the argument. Despite massive immigration during this period and despite (or maybe because of) the lack of labor regulation and low unionization, best estimates are that real wages in manufacturing in the U.S. increased almost 40% between 1890 and 1914. Lawrence H. Officer, Two Centuries of Compensation for U.S. Production Workers in Manufacturing (2009); Albert Rees, Real Wages in Manufacturing 1890–1914 (1961). [Update: I don’t have statistics handy, but working hours were going down without government intervention–for example, few bakers, the subject of the 1895 ten-hour a day law invalidated in Lochner, worked more than ten hours by 1910–and child labor was declining rapidly outside the impoverished Deep South.]

Friday, November 25, 2011

Alex Tabarrok's Thanksgiving lesson:
It’s one of the ironies of American history that when the Pilgrims first arrived at Plymouth rock they promptly set about creating a communist society. Of course, they were soon starving to death.

Fortunately, "after much debate of things," Governor William Bradford ended corn collectivism, decreeing that each family should keep the corn that it produced. In one of the most insightful statements of political economy ever penned, Bradford described the results of the new and old systems.

[Ending corn collectivism] had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression...

Among Bradford’s many insights it’s amazing that he saw so clearly how collectivism failed not only as an economic system but that even among godly men "it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them." And it shocks me to my core when he writes that to make the collectivist system work would have required "great tyranny and oppression." Can you imagine how much pain the twentieth century could have avoided if Bradford’s insights been more widely recognized?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Who led the subprime loans?
Countrywide was a growing force in the mortgage industry when it partnered with Fannie in 1992. But after Mozilo's firm secured a steady government buyer for their loans, business exploded. Revenues went from $92 million in 1992, to $860 million in 1996, to $2 billion in 2000. By 2004, they were the nation's largest mortgage lender.

The secret to Countrywide's success was no mystery: They shredded standard industry lending practices, giving home loans to virtually anybody who asked. Fannie Mae not only knew this, Fannie rewarded it.

In 2000, the Fannie Mae Foundation honored Countrywide for "Outstanding Achievement" in the industry. The foundation's 2000 annual report noted: "When necessary -- in cases where applicants have no established credit history, for example -- Countrywide uses nontraditional credit, a practice now accepted by [Fannie]."

Countrywide continued to be the biggest supplier of loans to Fannie Mae all the way through the height of the housing boom. In 2004, 26 percent of the loans Fannie bought were from Countrywide. In 2007, that number had risen to 28 percent.

In his 1993 Nobel Prize lecture, economist Douglass North said, "If the institutional framework rewards piracy, then piratical organizations will come into existence; and if the institutional framework rewards productive activities then organizations -- firms -- will come into existence to engage in productive activities."

From 1992 through the height of the housing bubble, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used their monopoly position in the mortgage securitization industry to reward firms like Countrywide for making bad bets in the housing market. Countrywide's success was a signal to other market participants to lower their standards as well.

Wall Street banks are not blameless for the financial crisis. But they were only responding to the incentives set up by the federal government.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Scott Winship on inequality:
One way to assess the extent of mobility is to ask whether people tend to be better off than their parents were at the same age — whether they experience upward absolute mobility. Research for EMP conducted by my colleagues at the Brookings Institution Julia Isaacs, Isabel Sawhill, and Ron Haskins shows that two-thirds of 40-year-old Americans are in households with larger incomes than their parents had at the same age, even taking into account the fact that the cost of living has risen. That’s pretty impressive, but it actually understates the improvement between generations. Household size declined over these decades, so incomes now are divided up among fewer family members, leaving them better off than bigger households of the past. Another EMP study shows that when incomes are adjusted for household size, four out of five adults today are better off than their parents were at the same age.

The finding of pervasive upward absolute mobility flies in the face of liberal accounts of a stagnant middle class. These accounts generally conflate disappointing growth in men’s earnings with growth in household income, which has been impressive. Growth in women’s earnings has also been impressive, but economic pessimists have twisted these bright spots to fit a gloomy narrative. They claim that household incomes have kept pace only because wives have been forced into work to make up for the shrinking bacon their husbands bring home. That ignores the long-term trend of women’s obtaining more education in industrialized nations around the world, presumably with an intention to put it to use in the work force someday. It also ignores the evidence that married men rationally chose to reduce their work hours as their wives increased theirs (even as single men continued working the same hours), and the fact that employment grew more among the wives of better-educated men than among the wives of less-educated men.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

James Pethokoukis highlights a number of ways in which concerns about income inequality are mostly an artifact of overly broad statistical measures:
A pair of studies from 2007 and 2008 conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis supports Gordon. Researchers examined why the Census Bureau reported median household income stagnated from 1976 to 2006, growing by only 18 percent. In contrast, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed income per person was up 80 percent. Like Gordon, they found apples-to-oranges issues such as different ways of measuring prices and household size. But in the end, they concluded that “after adjusting the Census data for these three issues, inflation-adjusted median household income for most household types is seen to have increased by 44 percent to 62 percent from 1976 to 2006.” In addition, research shows that median hourly wages (including fringe benefits) rose by 28 percent from 1975 to 2005.

A 2008 paper by Christian Broda and John Romalis from the University of Chicago documents how traditional measures of inequality ignore how inflation affects the rich and poor differently: “Inflation of the richest 10 percent of American households has been 6 percentage points higher than that of the poorest 10 percent over the period 1994–2005. This means that real inequality in America, if you measure it correctly, has been roughly unchanged.”

A 2010 study by the University of Chicago’s Bruce Meyer and Notre Dame’s James Sullivan notes that official income inequality statistics indicate a sharp rise in inequality over the past four decades: “The ratio of the 90th to the 10th percentile of income, for example, grew by 23 percent between 1970 and 2008.” But Meyer and Sullivan point out that income statistics miss a lot, such as the value of government programs and the impact of taxes. The latter, especially, is a biggie. The researchers find that “accounting for taxes considerably reduces the rise in income inequality” over the past 45 years. In addition, “consumption inequality is less pronounced than income inequality.” (emphasis in original)

Friday, November 4, 2011

It makes you wonder why Congress has never investaged, nor outlawed, these deceptive business practices:
Here is an amazing glimpse into the dark side of the force that is Hollywood economics. The actor who played Darth Vader still has not received residuals from the 1983 film "Return of the Jedi" because the movie, which ranks 15th in U.S. box office history, still has no technical profits to distribute.

How can a movie that grossed $475 million on a $32 million budget not turn a profit? It comes down to Tinseltown accounting. As Planet Money explained in an interview with Edward Jay Epstein in 2010, studios typically set up a separate "corporation" for each movie they produce. Like any company, it calculates profits by subtracting expenses from revenues. Erase any possible profit, the studio charges this "movie corporation" a big fee that overshadows the film's revenue. For accounting purposes, the movie is a money "loser" and there are no profits to distribute.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Max Boot on Smart Diplomacy:
But Mr. Maliki and other Iraqi political figures expressed exactly the same reservations about immunity in 2008 during the negotiation of the last Status of Forces Agreement. Indeed those concerns were more acute at the time because there were so many more U.S. personnel in Iraq—nearly 150,000, compared with fewer than 50,000 today. So why was it possible for the Bush administration to reach a deal with the Iraqis but not for the Obama administration?

Quite simply it was a matter of will: President Bush really wanted to get a deal done, whereas Mr. Obama did not. Mr. Bush spoke weekly with Mr. Maliki by video teleconference. Mr. Obama had not spoken with Mr. Maliki for months before calling him in late October to announce the end of negotiations. Mr. Obama and his senior aides did not even bother to meet with Iraqi officials at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

The administration didn't even open talks on renewing the Status of Forces Agreement until this summer, a few months before U.S. troops would have to start shuttering their remaining bases to pull out by Dec. 31. The previous agreement, in 2008, took a year to negotiate.

The recent negotiations were jinxed from the start by the insistence of State Department and Pentagon lawyers that any immunity provisions be ratified by the Iraqi parliament—something that the U.S. hadn't insisted on in 2008 and that would be almost impossible to get today. In many other countries, including throughout the Arab world, U.S. personnel operate under a Memorandum of Understanding that doesn't require parliamentary ratification. Why not in Iraq? Mr. Obama could have chosen to override the lawyers' excessive demands, but he didn't.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Contrary to popular myth, public school teachers make more than private sector workers
Richwine and Biggs found that when public school teachers and private sector workers are compared objectively on the basis of cognitive skills -- rather than years of service or educational attainment -- the educators enjoy higher compensation -- contrary to the claims of union officials in public debate and in negotiations with school boards.

This is seen most dramatically when workers switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs. Such a move typically results in a wage increase of approximately nine percent. "Teachers who change to non-teaching jobs, on the other hand, see their wages decrease by roughly 3 percent. This is the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid," Richwine and Biggs said.

The biggest factor in the compensation advantage enjoyed by public school teachers is not wages, however, but rather fringe benefits, which typically are substantially more generous than those paid to private sector workers in cognitively comparable positions.

"More generous fringe benefits for public-school teachers, including greater job security, make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year. Teacher compensation could therefore be reduced with only minor effects on recruitment and retention," Richwine and Biggs conclude. (emphasis mine)

The original study is here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Should be be worried about reports of rising income inequality?
2. The CBO fails to factor in that American households in the top income quintile have, on average, almost five times more family members working than the lowest quintile. (Analysis by AEI blogger Mark Perry.) Those folks are also far more likely, as Perry notes, than lower-income households to be well-educated, married, and working full-time in their prime earning years. Perry also notes that “individuals are not stuck forever in a single income quintile but instead move up and down the income quintiles over their lifetimes.” (Indeed, a Treasury study on income mobility found that starting in 1996, half of taxpayers who started in the bottom 20 percent had moved to a higher income group by 2005.)

3. Price indexes for the poor rise more slowly than for the rich, causing most empirical measures of inequality to overstate the growth of real income of the rich vs. the poor.

4. Apples-and-oranges kinds of issues—such a differences in household size and inflation indexes—has led highly respected Northwestern University professor Robert Gordon to conclude that the “rise in American inequality has been exaggerated both in magnitude and timing.”

5. The Minneapolis Federal Reserve concluded—after taking into account household size and differing price indexes—median household income for most household types increased by 44 percent to 62 percent from 1976 to 2006. In addition, its research shows that median hourly wages (including fringe benefits) rose by 28 percent from 1975 to 2005.

Ultimately, I don't care how fast the income of the wealthy is rising, as long as the incomes of the middle class and the poor are rising too. And the data says they are.
What does the data say about the importance of teacher quality?
1. Project STAR was an experiment designed to test the effect of class size. The experiment found that students assigned to small classes earned $4 more per year. If you add demographic controls, students assigned to small classes earned $124 less per year. (more)

2. You can use Project STAR's data to (non-experimentally) test for other effects. When you do, almost all measures of teacher quality fail to increase adult earnings:

The few other observable teacher characteristics in the STAR data (degrees, race, and progress on a career ladder) have no significant impact on scores or earnings.

3. There is one measure of teacher quality that does matter: Whether the teacher has more than 10 years of experience. Chetty et al. find that students assigned to a kindergarten teacher over this experience cut-off eventually earn $1093 extra dollars per year. But bear two reservations in mind. (a) The t-stat is only 2.4 - extremely low for a non-experimental test with 6005 observations. (b) If you measure experience in years, rather than using their binary "more than 10 years of experience" variable, the point estimate is a statistically insignificant $57 per year.

4. Teacher experience only matters in kindergarten:

The effect of teacher experience on test scores is no longer statistically significant in grades 1-3. Consistent with this result, teacher experience in grades 1-3 also does not have a statistically significant effect on wage earnings.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

In the last decade nearly 2.6 billion people enjoyed dramatic expansions in wealth. It turns out the economic armacatastromeltdown has been a problem mainly for the fantastically rich, overfed, debt-happy, free-spending, spoiled, lazy, infantilized nations of the west. It's been a different story for people with experience of real rather than academic poverty. In Foreign Policy, the Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny reports that 19 economies doubled in size between 2000 and 2010:

At the same time, the top 19 countries in the world in terms of decade-long growth saw their GDPs more than double over the ten years from 2000 to 2010. And that top 19 included some really big countries -- not least India and China -- so nearly 2.6 billion people benefited from all of that economic dynamism.

Just as significantly, Africa has been going gangbusters -- though you probably haven't noticed, since the whole region of 49 countries still has a combined economy smaller than the state of Texas. Yet within the club of economies that doubled in size were no less than eight from sub-Saharan Africa, the region traditionally written off as a hopeless economic backwater. Indeed, that region took 17 of the top 40 spots in the decade's global GDP growth rankings; its GDP is 66 percent larger than it was in 2000. Populations have expanded there, too, by around 28 percent over the decade -- but even accounting for more people, the average income in the region is about a third higher than it was 10 years ago.

-Tim Cavanaugh at Reason.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Who held the most subprime loans?
But based on the number of toxic loans in the system in 2008, the government was responsible for not just a simple majority, but more than two-thirds. It's quantifiable — 71% to be exact (see chart). And the remaining 29% of private-label junk was mostly attributable to Countrywide Financial, which was under the heel of HUD and its "fair-lending" edicts.

Source: IBD

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Joseph Stiglitz: "Since [China] began revaluing its exchange rate in July 2005, the adjustment has been half or more of what most experts think is required.",

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Over at MR, Alex Tabarrok highlights a very interesting memo written to President Obama by Larry Summers in 2010 about the green energy loan guarantee program. While Prof Tabarrok highlights the economic aspects of the memo, this program was intended to improve the environment, so it is more interesting to hear it evaluated in those terms:
Carbon reduction benefits: If this wind power displaced power generated from sources with the average California carbon intensity, it would result in about 18 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions through 2033. Carbon reductions would have to be valued at nearly $130 per ton CO2 for the climate benefits to equal the subsidies (more than 6 times the primary estimate used by the government in evaluating rules).

In other words, the memo is pointing out that subsidizing this wind farm involves spending $1.2 trillion in order to prevent emissions that will do $200 million in damage.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The decline in deaths from extreme weather in an era of global warming:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Physician support for Obamacare is startlingly low:
The survey — conducted by physician recruitment firm Jackson & Coker — is a brutal indictment of both the AMA and ObamaCare. Just 13% of doctors agree with their trade association’s support of the health reform law.

Some doctors are even dissociating themselves from the AMA. Of those who have terminated their membership, 47% cited the organization’s continued backing of the health care law as the primary reason. Increasingly doctors are turning to associations like Docs4PatientCare and the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons that actually do represent their interests.

The Jackson & Coker survey joins a large stack of research with similar findings. In February, the National Physicians Survey discovered that more than three times as many doctors believed that the quality of American health care would “deteriorate” rather than “improve” under ObamaCare. Nine of ten physicians think ObamaCare will have a negative impact on their profession.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tyler Cowen summarizes my thoughts on Pigovean carbon taxes perfectly:
1. Other countries won’t follow suit and then we are doing something with almost zero effectiveness.

2. It may push dirty industries to less well regulated countries and make the overall problem somewhat worse...

4. Especially for large segments of the transportation sector, there simply aren’t plausible substitutes for carbon on the horizon.

5. A tax on energy is a sectoral tax on the relatively productive sector of the economy — making stuff — and it will shift more talent into finance and other less productive sectors.

6. Oil in particular will become so expensive in any case that a politically plausible tax won’t add much value

The bottom line is that there are massive coordination and enforcement problems that may increase emissions globally.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Alex Tabarrok tells us to be safe and break the law:
The 55 mph speed limit was a vain attempt by the Federal government to reduce gasoline consumption; initially passed in the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act the law was relaxed in 1987 and finally repealed in 1995 allowing states to choose their speed limits. Highways and cars are safer today than in the 1970s and on many highways speed limits were increased to 65 mph. Higher speed limits are often safer because what is worse than speed is variable speed, some people driving fast and some driving slow. When the speed limit is set too low you get lots of people who safely break the law and a few law-abiders who make the roads more dangerous.

He links to a paper in the American Economic Review by Charles Lave from 1985 which says:
Based on analysis of 1981 and 1982 state cross-section data, I find that there is no statistically discernable relationship between the fatality rate and average speed, though there is a strong relationship to speed variance. When most cares are traveling at about the same speed, whether is is a high speed or a low one, the fatality rate will be low-- presumably because the probability of collision will be low. Variance kills, not speed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Conservative and libertarian opponents of the death penalty enjoy a logical consistency liberal opponents do not, at least on one point. The Right is skeptical about government's competence. So when they say that they don't trust the government to implement the death penalty unerringly, it makes sense.

But when liberals make this case it's a huge contradiction. The history of liberal technocrats' screwing things up is long, rich, and deep. This Solyndra mess is just a tiny footnote to that epic tale. And yet, despite all evidence, progressive technocrats and "empiricists" insist that they have the brains and the know-how not only to manage wildly complex phenomena involving literally billions of variable and millions of individual actors but to predict behavior and events years from now. But when it comes to the infinitely more discrete task of determining the guilt of a murderer, they suddenly say, "It's impossible to be sure! We can never be certain!"
-Jonah Goldberg, G-File, 23 Sept 2011
Virginia Postrel on the egos behind Renaissance art:
Know what to look for and Florentine artworks reveal secret messages that, while not as sexy as Dan Brown’s Mona Lisa fantasies, have the advantage of actually existing.

Take the boys shown walking up the stairs behind their tutor in Domenico Ghirlandaio’s fresco in the Santa Trinita church. What could these kids have to do with the “Confirmation of the Rule of Saint Francis,” the official subject of the fresco? They aren’t friars or church officials.

In fact, their portraits are just good public relations. The patron, a banker named Francesco Sassetti, included them to butter up their father, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and to let the churchgoing public know that he and Lorenzo were tight.

But the painting doesn’t tell the whole story. It “conveniently omits a crucial fact about the patron’s relationship with the Medici,” write art historian Jonathan K. Nelson and economist Richard Zeckhauser in their book, “The Patron’s Payoff,” which uses economic signaling theory to analyze Renaissance patrons’ motivations and techniques. That fact: “By the time he commissioned the fresco, Sassetti had nearly run the Geneva branch of the Medici bank into bankruptcy.” Oops. Maybe the portraits were meant as a distraction or damage control. How could you fire (or worse) a man who had sponsored such fine pictures of your kids?

Nelson and Zeckhauser’s work demonstrates that Renaissance art is full of status signals and calculated image-building -- once-obvious messages that today’s tourists never notice.
Warren Buffett and Crony Capitalism:
Did you know that the life insurance lobby is actively lobbying to restore the estate tax?

Why would the life insurance industry care about that? It turns out that ten percent of life insurance industry revenue is related to the estate tax. Wealthy people take out life insurance in order to reduce estate taxes because when you die, your life insurance payout doesn't count as part of your estate.

Did you know that Warren Buffett owns six life insurance companies? Did you know he supports the estate tax? You do now.

Warren Buffett isn't just noted as an owner of life insurance companies and a supporter of the estate tax. He's also noted as a buyer of family businesses. As Dick Patten shows, these two business strategies support each other.

A family business owner or farmer takes out a large life insurance policy which he sinks tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into each year. When he finally passes away, the life insurance pays out his policy to his family--tax free...

Even as Mr. Buffett's insurance companies are "protecting" family businesses from the IRS, he is buying companies that are forced to sell themselves to pay the death tax. Mr. Buffett's ability to buy family businesses at bargain basement prices depends on families being desperate to sell-and nothing produces family businesses desperate to sell quickly like a 55% bill from the IRS on all of the businesses' assets.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The effectiveness of bans on short selling:
British financial stocks dropped 41 percent in the four months after regulators imposed a ban on short selling following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008. The benchmark FTSE 100 index fell 15 percent in the period. When the Securities and Exchange Commission prohibited short-sales for three weeks in September 2008 a Bloomberg Index tracking the 880 U.S. stocks affected fell 26 percent, outpacing the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s 22 percent decline.

European regulators are divided over how to respond after a rout that sent the region’s bank stocks to their lowest in almost 2 1/2 years this week. Germany and the Netherlands have said they don’t plan further restrictions on short sales, while British regulators said they don’t plan to limit the practice.

“In contrast to the regulators’ hopes, the overall evidence indicates that short-selling bans at best left stock prices unaffected and at worst may have contributed to their decline,” said Alessandro Beber, a professor at Cass Business School in London who’s studied short-sales bans in 30 countries.

Via Daniel J Mitchell, who comments:
Beber’s research (cited in the excerpt above) has been confirmed by other scholars. Simply stated, if investors realize that something is over-valued, it is going to fall in price. Governments can hinder and delay that process, thus increasing volatility and uncertainty, but they can’t stop it.

But here’s a very big reason why these laws are stupid (at least from my amateur perspective*). Most rational people presumably would agree that the housing and financial bubbles of the last decade were a bad thing. But most of us know it was a bad thing because we have 20-20 hindsight.

But what if there were lots of people back in 2005, 2006, and 2007 who recognized a bad thing as it was happening? And what if they had the ability to deflate the bubble (or at least slow its increase) by making investments that assumed housing and finance were heading for a fall?

We could have saved ourselves a lot of economic misery if that was the case. Heck, short sellers probably did save us from a lot of additional economic agony by stopping the bubbles from getting even bigger.

In other words, short sellers are the good guys.
AP Fact Check: Are rich taxed less than secretaries?
President Barack Obama says he wants to make sure millionaires are taxed at higher rates than their secretaries. The data say they already are.

"Warren Buffett's secretary shouldn't pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. There is no justification for it," Obama said as he announced his deficit-reduction plan this week. "It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million."

On average, the wealthiest people in America pay a lot more taxes than the middle class or the poor, according to private and government data. They pay at a higher rate, and as a group, they contribute a much larger share of the overall taxes collected by the federal government.

The 10 percent of households with the highest incomes pay more than half of all federal taxes. They pay more than 70 percent of federal income taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office...

This year, households making more than $1 million will pay an average of 29.1 percent of their income in federal taxes, including income taxes, payroll taxes and other taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will pay an average of 15 percent of their income in federal taxes.

Lower-income households will pay less. For example, households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will pay an average of 12.5 percent of their income in federal taxes. Households making between $20,000 and $30,000 will pay 5.7 percent.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Steven Hayward on the effectiveness of Stimulus:
“Shovel ready jobs” do exist, but “what we don’t have is shovel ready government.” Among other stories told about this misadventure is the greenie “weatherization” projects that were held up for months while the Department of Labor cogitated the proper union-friendly prevailing wage rates for different labor markets.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Walter Russel Mead on Turkey's turn East:
More, Turkey’s role as the de facto head of western Sunnism looked promising. The state of the Sunni Arab world is deeply depressing. The fall of Saddam Hussein, the ever-tightening relationship of Syria and Iran, the growing Shi’a power in Lebanon and more recently Iran’s success (with Syrian help) at building its influence in Gaza, paint a disturbing picture of Sunni fecklessness and decline. Dominated by corrupt dinosaurs like former Egyptian president Mubarak or ruled by immensely wealthy and not particularly courageous or attractive royal families, the western Sunni world hungered for leadership that Turkey might be ready to provide.

The great idea of a return to the east was looking good.

But Atatürk’s instinct that Turkey needed to turn west was based on more than a sense that the west was where the power and the money could be found. It was also based on a sense that the east was a trap: full of danger and complications that could endanger Turkey’s stability if Turks were sucked into its quarrels.

Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iraq (to say nothing of Israel and the Palestinian territories) are still on the ethnic and sectarian boil. None of these countries have borders that match up with their ethnic composition; religious divisions still have the power to kill; tribal loyalties are oblivious to artificial boundary lines. There is probably a lot of killing still to be done and a lot of ethnic and religious refugees to be made before these countries settle down into something like a final form.

Involvement with the east might start with expanding Turkish trade and enhancing Turkey’s diplomatic and Islamic profiles; it will be very difficult to ensure that it does not entangle Turkey into intractable conflicts across the region. Indeed, Turkish foreign policy has already been destabilized by the Armenian-Azerbaijani and Israel-Palestinian rivalries, and the Kurdish question in Iraq, Syria and Iran brings Turkey new and vexing headaches every day.

Asserting itself as an Islamic and Middle Eastern power plunges Turkey more deeply into this morass; it also triggers religious and ethnic tensions within Turkey itself. The AK is predominantly a Sunni party but up to a fifth of Turks belong to the Alevi faith, a form of Islam that is rooted in Twelver Shi’ism but has a more tolerant and universalist view than, say, the bigoted orthodoxies of Tehran. Many Alevi oppose the AK Party and what some see as its Sunni sectarianism; a secular government sounds very attractive when you belong to a religious minority.

And of course there are the Kurds... Any eastern expansion of Turkish influence immediately deepens Turkey’s engagement with the Kurdish question.

Professor Mead also points out that a reviving of Ottoman ambitions is not just a turn to engage the traditional Mid East, "The regional dynamics are even more complex. In a rivalry between Turkey and Iran, Russia would not look on indifferently". Russia was the Ottoman Empire's traditional enemy, and any move of Turkey away from the West and isolated from the East can only rekindle that fire.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A study of the height of Mexican children whose mothers worked in maquiladoras (export factories) in Mexico dramatically illustrates the power of a good job. Maquiladoras generally have the reputation of being exploitative and paying poor wages. However, for many women without a high school education, the establishment of the maquiladoras offers the prospect of a better job than the jobs in retail, food services, or transportation that would otherwise be their lot--the hourly wages are not much higher, but they work longer hours and with more regularity. David Atkin, from Yale University, compared the height of children born to mothers who lived in a town where a maquiladora opened when the woman was sixteen years old to that of children of mothers who did not have this opportunity. The children whose mother's town had a maquiladora were much taller than those born to similar women in different towns. This effect is so large that it can bridge the entire gap in height between a poor Mexican child and the "norm" for a well-fed American child.

Furthermore, Atkin shows that the effect of a job in a maquilladora on the level of family income is nowhere near large enough to explain the entire increase in height. Perhaps the sense of control over the future that people get from knowing there will be an income coming in every month--and not just the income itself--is what allows these women to focus on building their own careers and those of their children. Perhaps this idea that there is a future is what makes the difference between the poor and the middle class.

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics, p228.

The study referenced is: David Atkin, "Working for the Future: Female Factory Work and Child Height in Mexico," working paper (2009).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Advocates of organic food argue "if you consumed an average apple you would be eating over 30 pesticides, even after you have washed it". How much of these chemicals, though, do you actually ingest?
Carl Winter, a food toxicologist who directs the university’s FoodSafe Program, and PhD student Josh Katz estimated consumers’ exposure to the pesticides “studied” in the EWG report and then compared them with the Environmental Protection Agency’s chronic reference dose (RfD), which estimates the amount of a chemical a person could be exposed to every day over an entire lifetime without an appreciable risk of harm. What did they find?

All pesticide exposure estimates were well below established chronic reference doses (RfDs). Only one of the 120 exposure estimates exceeded 1% of the RfD (methamidophos on bell peppers at 2% of the RfD), and only seven exposure estimates (5.8 percent) exceeded 0.1% of the RfD. Three quarters of the pesticide/commodity combinations demonstrated exposure estimates below 0.01% of the RfD (corresponding to exposures one million times below chronic No Observable Adverse E?ect Levels from animal toxicology studies), and 40.8% had exposure estimates below 0.001% of the RfD.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When does crime occur?

(Violent crime in Red, non-violent crime in blue)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The debt ceiling:

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What does a successful fiscal adjustment in the Debt to GBP ratio of a country look like? Harvard’s Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna examined efforts to reduce the debt in OECD nations over the last 40 years, classified them into successful and unsuccessful, and then measured the mix of spending reductions and revenue enhancements in each group. The results look like this:

The results are pretty clear. Unsuccessful attempts to cut debt tended to raise taxes significantly, accompanied by small spending cuts. Successful attempts did so by cutting spending by 2% and cutting taxes.

Veronique de Rugy at Reason adds:
remember that this research is consistent with the work of former Obama Council of Economic Advisers chairman Christina Romer and her economist husband, David Romer, which shows that increasing taxes by 1 percent of GDP for deficit-reduction purposes leads to a 3 percent reduction in GDP.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Volokh's Todd Zywicki notes that Harvard's Elizabeth Warren, the doyenne of dishonest academics, unwittingly serves up some very interesting data:
“big necessities: mortgages (up 76 percent), cars (up 52 percent), taxes (up 25 percent), and health insurance (up 74 percent).” The problem is that while it is an accurate representation for mortgages, cars, and health insurance, that the expenses increase by that percentage, it is not for taxes. For the other expenses it is the percentage increase in dollars spent on those expenses. For taxes, however, the 25% increase is actually the percentage increase in the percentage of income spent on taxes. So the 25% is not how many more dollars go to paying taxes, it represents the household’s change from paying 24% of its income in taxes to 33% of its income in taxes–a change of 25% in the percentage of income dedicated to taxes, not a change of 25% in spending on taxes.

What this means is that once taxes are converted to an apples-to-apples comparison–percentage change in dollars instead of percentage change in percentage–household spending on taxes actually increased 140%, not 25%. The entire two-income trap, therefore, is actually a two-income tax trap, as I noted in my Wall Street Journal commentary on this awhile back...

In fact, based on their data once the math is done the real conclusions of Warren and Tyagi are inescapable and in fact extremely conservative: the financial problems of the middle class are caused by an astonishing rise in the tax burden on middle class families over the past three decades. Nowhere, however, will one read Professor Warren advocating income and property tax cuts as the obvious policy implication of their book–although that is unambiguously the logical inference.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The latest empirical data on climate change:
Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA's Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA's Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models.

"The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show," Spencer said in a July 26 University of Alabama press release. "There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The success of rail in Europe?

Proponents of high speed rail in the US frequently point to Europe and elsewhere for inspiration. However, they envision a Europe that doesn't exist. Britain's Commission for Integrated Transport shows, in the above graph from their 2007 comparative study on transport, that even in Europe, the overwhelming majority of passenger-miles occurs via cars, not train.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More from the War on Science:
The chief of the world’s leading physics lab at CERN in Geneva has prohibited scientists from drawing conclusions from a major experiment. The CLOUD (“Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets”) experiment examines the role that energetic particles from deep space play in cloud formation. CLOUD uses CERN’s proton synchrotron to examine nucleation.

CERN Director General Rolf-Dieter Heuer told Welt Online that the scientists should refrain from drawing conclusions from the latest experiment.

“I have asked the colleagues to present the results clearly, but not to interpret them,” reports veteran science editor Nigel Calder on his blog. Why?

Because, Heuer says, “That would go immediately into the highly political arena of the climate change debate. One has to make clear that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The War on Science:
Opponents of global warming should be given less coverage by the BBC than the climate change lobby, the corporation will rule.

The BBC is set to publish a report tomorrow on its science output announcing changes to rules on impartiality.

Following the overhaul, programme makers and broadcasters will be compelled to give less prominence to those who oppose the scientific community's majority view.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the report draws heavily on an independent review of BBC coverage by Steve Jones, a professor of genetics at University College London.

Professor Jones is understood to have cleared the BBC of any suggestion of bias in its programming.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Federal Revenue and Spending:

via Ed Morrissey

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Scientific literacy and climate change:
The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: Limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones.

Monday, July 4, 2011

What was the point of the Constitution?
In a Time article on the Constitution, Richard Stengel writes: “If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it sure doesn’t say so.”

Yes, it does. The Tenth Amendment says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Even before the adoption of the Bill of Rights, James Madison explained the original understanding of the document in Federalist 45: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Rehabilitating Lochner: How does Lochner v New York, on working conditions in bakeries compare to Plessy v. Ferguson which established "separate but equal"?
“The Lochner line of cases pioneered the protection of the right of women to compete with men for employment free from sex-based regulations, the right of African Americans to exercise liberty and property rights free from Jim Crow legislation, and civil liberties against the states ranging from freedom of expression to the right to choose a private school education for one’s children.”

Rather than being lumped together with the Plessy case, Bernstein argues, the Lochner ruling should be regarded as the anti-Plessy—a decision that refused to defer to stereotypes and self-dealing among the ruling class.

It is important to note that Lochner wasn't about just working conditions so much as an effort by large, politically connected groups to force out their small competitors:
As is often the case with regulation, large bakeries didn’t mind the law governing maximum hours because they could hire multiple shifts. Small bakeries, with their smaller workforces, found compliance far more difficult. Small bakers felt that the law was enforced much more vigorously where nonunion bakeries were concerned, and Lochner, an immigrant who had opened his own bakery in Utica in 1894 where he worked alongside his wife and employees, soon attracted official attention.

Elsewhere, as Bernstein recounts, advocates for African-Americans’ and women’s rights often made use of freedom of contract as a way to strike down laws limiting those groups’ economic freedom. Freedom of contract was a powerful weapon for dissolving the legal rules that, unsurprisingly, tended to work against those excluded from legislative power. Economic freedom, far from being a tool of the big bosses, was an important way for the underdogs to gain the freedom to compete, and to undermine the legal support that was essential to making Jim Crow and related laws work.

Friday, July 1, 2011

John Goodman highlight some reasons behind the recent prescription drug shortages:
The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been stepping up its quality enforcement efforts — levying fines and forcing manufacturers to retool their facilities both here and abroad. Not only has this more rigorous regulatory oversight slowed down production, the FDA’s “zero tolerance” regime is forcing manufacturers to abide by rules that are rigid, inflexible and unforgiving. For example, a drug manufacturer must get approval for how much of a drug it plans to produce, as well as the timeframe. If a shortage develops (because, say, the FDA shuts down a competitor’s plant), a drug manufacturer cannot increase its output of that drug without another round of approvals. Nor can it alter its timetable production (producing a shortage drug earlier than planned) without FDA approval.

h/t: Marginal Revolution

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shimon Peres on Foreign Aid:
Look, the West can’t help everyone and the regimes would be insulted if we tried. But they don’t need our help. The greatest poverty in our time has been in China and India. Did these countries reduce poverty because of our help? No. They did it themselves.

Giving is problematic. We take money from poor people in rich countries and give it to rich people in poor countries. Aid sometimes creates corruption.

And suppose we gave people computers. Would computers help? No. There is no technology without civilization, civilization is the carriage of technology. It is a matter of institutions. If a country discriminates against women, for example, no computers will help. Do you know who are the greatest opponents of democracy in the Middle East? The husbands. As long as husbands discriminate against their wives the husbands will support the dictators.

Now, however, there is a young generation who are realizing that the glory is within. The glory [of civilization] it is within their power to grasp.

(as paraphrased by Alex Tabarrok).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cost growth in health care spending:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How green are electric cars?
ELECTRIC cars could produce higher emissions over their lifetimes than petrol equivalents because of the energy consumed in making their batteries, a study has found.

An electric car owner would have to drive at least 129,000km before producing a net saving in CO2. Many electric cars will not travel that far in their lifetime because they typically have a range of less than 145km on a single charge and are unsuitable for long trips. Even those driven 160,000km would save only about a tonne of CO2 over their lifetimes. …

The study was commissioned by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, which is jointly funded by the British government and the car industry. It found that a mid-size electric car would produce 23.1 tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime, compared with 24 tonnes for a similar petrol car. Emissions from manufacturing electric cars are at least 50 per cent higher because batteries are made from materials such as lithium, copper and refined silicon, which require much energy to be processed.

Many electric cars are expected to need a replacement battery after a few years. Once the emissions from producing the second battery are added in, the total CO2 from producing an electric car rises to 12.6 tonnes, compared with 5.6 tonnes for a petrol car. Disposal also produces double the emissions because of the energy consumed in recovering and recycling metals in the battery. The study also took into account carbon emitted to generate the grid electricity consumed.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Our unconstitutionally vague tax code:
All 46 tested tax professionals got a different answer, and none got it right. The professional who directed the test admitted "that his computation is not the only possible correct answer" since the tax law is so murky. The tax computed by these professionals "ranged from $34,240 to $68,912." The closest answer still erred in the government's favor by $610.
Climate Change: is adaptation our best bet?
Scientists are now seeing signals that the Sahara desert and surrounding regions are greening due to increasing rainfall. If sustained, these rains could revitalize drought-ravaged regions, reclaiming them for farming communities. This desert-shrinking trend is supported by climate models, which predict a return to conditions that turned the Sahara into a lush savanna some 12,000 years ago.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Avik Roy addresses the myth of the "Free Rider" health care problem.

  1. “Free-riding” is an artifact of clumsy government policy
  2. PPACA’s individual mandate overshoots the free-riding problem:
    Obamacare’s individual mandate doesn’t allow people to buy inexpensive insurance focused on emergency care: instead, it forces people to buy comprehensive insurance packages with a generous list of basic benefits, benefits far exceeding those required to address the issue of uncompensated emergency room care.

    You’re not going to the emergency room to get a mammogram. Hence, a significant portion of the individual mandate—the portion that requires people to buy insurance exceeding ER care—has nothing to do with the policy problem of uncompensated care.

  3. The individual mandate only somewhat reduces uncompensated care, at massive taxpayer cost
    Yes, Massachusetts has saved about $250 million in uncompensated care. On the other hand, in 2011, the state’s insurance subsidies will cost more than $830 million, and are growing at 5% a year.

  4. Uncompensated care is a small problem, relative to undercompensated care
    Because Medicaid dramatically underpays physicians for treating Medicaid patients—under 60 percent of what private insurance pays—very few physicians actually admit Medicaid patients into their practices. As a result, many Medicaid beneficiaries are forced to go to the ER to seek basic medical care. And Medicaid underpays hospitals just as it underpays doctors. Indeed, on average, hospitals lose money on every Medicaid patient they treat, receiving 88 Medicaid cents for every dollar of health costs.

    So hospitals are losing money, not because of uncompensated care due to EMTALA, but rather because of under-compensated care due to Medicaid and also Medicare.

  5. Mandates reduce access to emergency care for the most vulnerable
    between 2005 and 2007, Massachusetts ER visits rose by 7 percent, and the state’s costs of caring for ER patients rose 17 percent between 2007 and 2009.

    The uninsured don’t even account for their fair share of health expenditures. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that, while the uninsured made up 15 percent of KFF’s surveyed population, the uninsured accounted for only 14 percent of total ER visits, and only 12 percent of aggregate ER expenditures.

    By contrast, Medicaid beneficiaries accounted for 9 percent of the population, but 15 percent of visits and 9 percent of expenses. (For those with private insurance, the stats were 60%, 47%, and 54% respectively; for Medicare beneficiaries, 14%, 20%, and 22%.)

    Why does this happen? It’s pretty simple: if your health care is paid for, you are more likely to see the doctor more, and consume more tests and procedures, than if you are uninsured. Hence, people with insurance consume, on average, twice as much health care as do the uninsured.

    This problem leads to more ER crowding, poorer access to emergency care for the truly vulnerable, and more losses for hospitals.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Remembering Victims of Communism Day.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The WSJ on the practicality of taxing the rich:
A dominant theme of President Obama's budget speech last Wednesday was that our fiscal problems would vanish if only the wealthiest Americans were asked "to pay a little more." Since he's asking, imagine that instead of proposing to raise the top income tax rate well north of 40%, the President decided to go all the way to 100%...

Consider the Internal Revenue Service's income tax statistics for 2008, the latest year for which data are available. The top 1% of taxpayers—those with salaries, dividends and capital gains roughly above about $380,000—paid 38% of taxes. But assume that tax policy confiscated all the taxable income of all the "millionaires and billionaires" Mr. Obama singled out. That yields merely about $938 billion, which is sand on the beach amid the $4 trillion White House budget, a $1.65 trillion deficit, and spending at 25% as a share of the economy, a post-World War II record.

In 2005 the top 5% earned over $145,000. If you took all the income of people over $200,000, it would yield about $1.89 trillion, enough revenue to cover the 2012 bill for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—but not the same bill in 2016, as the costs of those entitlements are expected to grow rapidly. The rich, in short, aren't nearly rich enough to finance Mr. Obama's entitlement state ambitions—even before his health-care plan kicks in.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One of the common tropes that one hears is that "the rich are getting richer". However, the data tells the opposite story (ungated version here). The percentage of the total wealth in the US owned by the richest 1% has been decreasing over the long term (from 38% of all wealth in 1916 to 21% in 2000), and very stable or declining more recently, depending on exactly when you start counting:
Scott Winship busts some myths on inequality:
CBO says the top one percent's share was 17 percent in 2007 for after-tax income, up from 11 percent in 1989. Saez's estimate of the top one percent's share of wealth is 21 percent for 2000, 21 percent for 1990, and 22 percent for 1985. Edward Wolff's is 35 percent for 2007, up from 34 in 1983 (which I doubt is statistically different from 35 in this case). The top appears to have experienced income and wealth losses from 2007 to 2009 while the bottom experienced gains. Taken together, the top one percent's income share rose from 11-13 percent twenty-five years ago to 17-18 percent according to the most recent data. The top one percent's wealth share basically hasn't risen.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What Drives Views on Government Redistribution and Anti-Capitalism: Envy or a Desire for Social Dominance?
I first show that respondents who express traditionally racist views (on segregation, interracial marriage, and inborn racial abilities) tend to support greater income redistribution. Traditional racists also tend to oppose free-market capitalism and its consequences, wanting the government to guarantee jobs for everyone and fix prices, wages, and profits. Next, I report a similar pattern for those who express intolerance for unpopular groups on the fifteen Stouffer tolerance questions (regarding racists, homosexuals, communists, extreme militarists, and atheists). Those who express less tolerance for unpopular groups tend to favor income redistribution and oppose capitalism.

...Thus the preference against income redistribution, for example, is not just the result of income or education - rather, the data are consistent with racism and intolerance continuing to play a small, but significant role in explaining the support for income redistribution and anti-capitalism. The data are broadly inconsistent with the standard belief in the social psychology literature that pro-capitalist and anti-redistributionist views are positively associated with racism.

I then explore an alternative hypothesis, showing that, compared to anti-redistributionists, strong redistributionists have about two to three times higher odds of reporting that in the prior seven days they were angry, mad at someone, outraged, sad, lonely, and had trouble shaking the blues. Similarly, anti-redistributionists had about two to four times higher odds of reporting being happy or at ease. Not only do redistributionists report more anger, but they report that their anger lasts longer. When asked about the last time they were angry, strong redistributionists were more than twice as likely as strong opponents of leveling to admit that they responded to their anger by plotting revenge. Last, both redistributionists and anti-capitalists expressed lower overall happiness, less happy marriages, and lower satisfaction with their financial situations and with their jobs or housework...

Evidence from sixteen national representative samples from 1980 through 2004 tends to suggest that Social Dominance Orientation has been in part misconceived. In the United States, segments of the academic community seem to have reversed the relationship between pro-capitalism and income redistribution on the one hand, and racism and intolerance on the other. Those who support capitalism and oppose greater income redistribution tend to be better educated, to have higher family incomes, to be less traditionally racist, and to be less intolerant of unpopular groups.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Network Neutrality:
How would you like it if the FCC required you to pay an extra $20 a month to get movie downloads, whether you want them not, or to allow your kids to access violent video games or adult content, whether you want them to or not, just so everyone would get what the government considers to be “the full Internet experience?” What if you’re low income, and you’d rather spend that $20 on books? Or warm clothes? Or food?

My friend Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice doesn’t want low income people to have that choice. She says it’s “un-American to give low-income communities substandard Internet service that creates barriers to economic opportunity and democratic engagement.”…

Cyril is making a common mistake among us lefties when it comes to low income people — she is being paternalistic. Those poor poor people. They can’t think for themselves, so the government has to make decisions for them...

If I’ve learned anything from my 45 years working with low income folks, it’s this: they’re intelligent and they’re resourceful. They have to be in order to survive. They don’t appreciate condescension or sloganeering in their name.

...What the FCC doesn’t need to do is increase costs for those who can least afford it.

Tom Hazlett in the Financial Times expands (pdf):
MetroPCS possesses no market power. With 8m customers, it is the country’s fifth largest mobile operator, less than one-tenth the size of Verizon. Under no theory could it force customers to patronise certain websites. It couldn’t extract monopoly cash if it tried to. Indeed, low-cost prepaid plans of MetroPCS are popular with users who want to avoid long-term contracts and are price sensitive...

[T]o upgrade the cheaper-than-dirt 2G experience, MetroPCS got Google – owner of YouTube – to compress their videos for delivery over the older network. This allowed the mobile carrier to extend unlimited wildly popular YouTube content to its lowest tier subscribers.

Busted! Favouring YouTube is said to violate neutrality. The business plan contains differences that “lack any engineering merit”, and the option for consumers to access more content for a higher price irrelevant...

The FCC has already erred. Innovators such as MetroPCS and Google should need no defence in supplying customers’ superior choices. Neither consumers nor the internet are “protected” by rules hostile to co-operative efforts – even if money were to pass between firms – that expand outputs and lower prices.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Frank J on how to fight the next war in the middle east.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Politico reports that 30 states are mulling calling for a Constitutional Convention. If you're wondering what articles they might consider, may I propose looking to Article II, Section 17 of the Tennessee State Constitution:
No bill shall become a law which embraces more than one subject, that subject to be expressed in the title. All acts which repeal, revive or amend former laws, shall recite in their caption, or otherwise, the title or substance of the law repealed, revived or amended.
The top 20 political donors over the past twenty years. I believe that is a dynamic list, but as of today, fourteen of the top twenty donors are heavily Democratic. Four donors are fence-sitters, and two (at positions 18 and 20), lean Republican.

Here's the breakdown, with the percent of their donations that is sent to Democrats in parenthesis:

  1. ActBlue (99%)
  2. AT&T Inc (44%)
  3. AFSCME (98%)
  4. Nat'l Assn of Realtors (49%)
  5. Goldman Sachs (61%)
  6. American Assn for Justice (90%)
  7. Int'l Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (97%)
  8. National Education Assn (93%)
  9. Laborers Union (92%)
  10. Teamsters Union (93%)
  11. Carpenters & Joiners Union (89%)
  12. SEIU (95%)
  13. American Federation of Teachers (98%)
  14. Communications Workers of America (98%)
  15. Citigroup Inc (50%)
  16. American Medical Assn (40%)
  17. United Auto Workers (98%)
  18. National Audo Dealers Assn (32%)
  19. Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union (98%)
  20. United Parcel Service (36%)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

UN Small Arms Survey on gun ownership rates versus homicide rates:
The UN data shows a very weak negative correlation between civilian gun ownership and national homicide rates. As Howard Nemerov points out, however, even this comes with a very significant asterisk:
Some of the most repressive regimes reported the lowest homicide rates. But since this data comes from law enforcement sources, it doesn’t include state-justified murder. For example, Syrian “security forces” recently killed “at least 20” civilians during one protest, but “Criminal Justice Sources” reported Syria’s homicide rate was significantly lower than America’s.

In Yemen’s capital of Sana’a, “soldiers and plain-clothed government loyalists” killed “at least 35” and left “hundreds wounded” after opening fire on protesters. The UN reports Yemen has a relatively low homicide rate.

At the extreme range is China, whose government declares “private citizens are forbidden from owning and selling guns,” and “gun crime is rare.” This policy allegedly protects “the safety of every individual citizen.” The official homicide rate appears to bear this out, but between 1949 and 1987 military and police legally murdered nearly 77 million. Today, China continues its heavy-handed response by imprisoning protesters for “inciting subversion of state power.”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

U.S. Embassy Cables: 90 Percent of Mexican Drug Cartels' Most Lethal Weapons Come From Central America--Not USA. This should come as obvious to anyone with even passing familiarity with Central American history over the past 30 years.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The retraction of the Goldstone Report.

Friday, April 1, 2011

More news from the war on science:
New rules on diesel emissions make Dwayne Whitney’s trucks illegal to operate without enormously expensive additions, rules CARB [California's Air Resources Board] imposed because of a study on particulates produced by Dr. Hien Tran that linked the emissions to 2000 “premature deaths” in California each year.

However, another researcher who found no connection between diesel particulates and “premature deaths” decided to check on Tran’s credentials, and discovered that his PhD had come from a diploma mill, bought for $1000. When the researcher, UCLA’s Dr. James Enstrom, blew the whistle on Tran and insisted that CARB needed to consider his work before passing the new regulation, a curious thing happened. After 34 years on the job, UCLA fired Enstrom. Why? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that two powerful CARB commissioners, Mary Nichols and John Froines, are also UCLA professors. According to Balaker, Froines voted to give Enstrom his pink slip.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The benefit of Obamacare:
We now know how many people have the problem most often cited as the reason for last years’ health overhaul legislation... The Medicare program chief actuary predicted last spring that 375,000 would sign up for the new risk pool insurance in 2010. But by the end of November, only 8,000 had done so. As Amy Goldstein reports in The Washington Post, this includes 75 in Virginia, 80 in New Hampshire, 97 in Maryland and a whopping 700 in North Carolina.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The problem with overly progressive taxation:
Nearly half of California's income taxes before the recession came from the top 1% of earners: households that took in more than $490,000 a year. High earners, it turns out, have especially volatile incomes--their earnings fell by more than twice as much as the rest of the population's during the recession. When they crashed, they took California's finances down with them.

Mr. Williams, a former economic forecaster for the state, spent more than a decade warning state leaders about California's over-dependence on the rich. "We created a revenue cliff," he said. "We built a large part of our government on the state's most unstable income group."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Republicans are more scientifically literate than Democrats or independents:

Astrology is not scientific64.3%55.7%75.1%
The benefits of science exceed the harms73.3%66.2%78.0%
Understands the need for control groups in testing79.8%81.4%82.1%
The earth's core is very hot94.2%92.6%94.6%
Demonstrates a basic understanding of probability87.9%90.0%91.8%
Not all radioactivity is man-made79.2%78.5%85.9%
Father, not mother, determines a child's sex72.0%74.7%77.3%
Lasers are not made by condensing sound waves63.4%70.9%75.1%
Electrons are smaller than atoms71.4%71.3%72.8%
Antibiotics do not kill viruses55.7%55.4%65.8%
Continental drift has and continues to occur90.1%90.6%87.9%
Humans evolved from other animals57.6%50.7%41.5%
The earth revolves around the sun79.2%73.9%81.5%
It takes the earth one year to rotate around the sun75.8%78.8%78.9%
Respondent will eat genetically modified foods66.1%69.4%73.1%
The north pole is on a sheet of ice67.0%59.7%63.4%
Not all man-made chemicals cause cancer when eaten46.6%46.4%52.6%
Exposure to radioactivity doesn't necessarily lead to death67.5%67.1%77.0%
Exposure to pesticides doesn't necessarily cause cancer55.5%57.9%66.8%

Friday, March 18, 2011

How safe is nuclear power as a source of energy? It is helpful to look at the alternatives. In the United States, 48.5% of all electricity is generated by coal, as opposed to 19% by nuclear power. So, what is the human cost of coal power generation? In 2009, 18 Americans were killed mining coal. In China alone, 2,631 miners died in 2009. And 2009 was a good year for coal. In the decade ending in 2009, there were an average of 31 U.S. and 5,028 Chinese deaths annually.

In contrast, according to the WHO, the total death count from the Chernobyl disaster will be approximately 2,200 people. There have never been any fatalities in the US or western Europe from nuclear power. In other words, the entire number of deaths worldwide from nuclear power--over fifty years--is less than half of that that coal power kills every year. And that is even before considering climate change effects from CO2.
The dangers of nuclear power:
You read that right. According to the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, there were 35 fatalities associated with wind turbines in the United States from 1970 through 2010. Nuclear energy, by contrast, did not kill a single American in that time.

The meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 did not kill or injure anyone, since the power plant's cement containment apparatus did its job - the safety measures put in place were effective. Apparently the safety measures associated with wind energy are not adequate to prevent loss of life.

Nuclear accounts for about nine percent of America's energy, according to the Energy Information Administration, and has yet to cause a single fatality here. Wind, on the other hand, provides the United States with only 0.7 percent of its energy, and has been responsible for 35 deaths in the United States alone.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor in Japan:

via MIT's Nuclear Science Engineering blog.
San Francisco's big push for low-flow toilets has turned into a multimillion-dollar plumbing stink.

Skimping on toilet water has resulted in more sludge backing up inside the sewer pipes, said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the city Public Utilities Commission. That has created a rotten-egg stench near AT&T Park and elsewhere, especially during the dry summer months.

The city has already spent $100 million over the past five years to upgrade its sewer system and sewage plants, in part to combat the odor problem.
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Now officials are stocking up on a $14 million, three-year supply of highly concentrated sodium hypochlorite - better known as bleach - to act as an odor eater and to disinfect the city's treated water before it's dumped into the bay. It will also be used to sanitize drinking water.

That translates into 8.5 million pounds of bleach either being poured down city drains or into the drinking water supply every year.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The energy efficiency of trains:
When Amtrak compares its fuel economy with automobiles (see p. 19), it relies on Department of Energy data that presumes 1.6 people per car (see tables 2.13 for cars and 2.14 for Amtrak). But another Department of Energy report points out that cars in intercity travel tend to be more fully loaded — the average turns out to be 2.4 people.

Even if a particular rail proposal did save a little energy in year-to-year operations, studies show that the energy cost of constructing rail lines dwarfs any annual savings. The environmental impact statement for a Portland, Oregon light-rail line found it would take 171 years of annual energy savings to repay the energy cost of construction (they built it anyway).

Public transit buses tend to be some the least energy-efficient vehicles around because agencies tend to buy really big buses (why not? The feds pay for them), and they run around empty much of the time. But private intercity buses are some of the most energy efficient vehicles because the private operators have an incentive to fill them up. A study commissioned by the American Bus Association found that intercity buses use little more than a third as much energy per passenger mile as Amtrak. (The source may seem self-serving, but DOE data estimate intercity buses are even more efficient than that

Often lost in the discussion about rail, is that the energy efficiency can vary quite dramatically based upon the type of rail and it's use. Light rail, commuter rail, high speed rail and freight rail all have very different energy consumption rates.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How energy efficient is light rail?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mass transport in Europe:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How effective is health care at reducing the rich-poor gap?:
A group of researchers followed almost 15,000 initially healthy Canadians for more than 10 years to see whether universal access to health care meant that the rich and the poor were equally likely to stay healthy. The answer? Not even close.

The researchers ran the data two ways: High-income patients vs. low-income patients, and highly educated patients vs. less educated patients. Over the course of the study, the high-income patients were only 35 percent as likely to die as the low-income patients, and the highly educated patients only 26 percent as likely to die as the low-income patients. And the problem wasn't that the low-income and low-education patients were hanging back from the health-care system. Because they were getting sick while their richer and better educated counterparts weren't, they actually used considerable more in health-care services.

The problem, the researchers say, is that the medical system just isn't that good at keeping people from dying. "Health care services use by itself had little explanatory effect on the income-mortality association (4.3 percent) and no explanatory effect on the education-mortality association," they conclude.
The unfunded liabilities of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid already exceed $106 trillion. That's well over $300,000 for every man, woman and child in America (and exceeds the combined value of every U.S. bank account, stock certificate, building and piece of personal or public property).


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Inequality in China:
The incident at the station, however, reveals the disconnect between the government’s fixation with income inequality and what’s really been rubbing the masses the wrong way. What people resent isn’t wealth, it’s privilege. By and large, your average Chinese worker admires people who have gotten rich through cleverness or hard work, because that’s what they aspire to do themselves. What bothers them, though, is the growing sense that there’s a special class of people who get to live by a different set of rules than everyone else...

The incident was just the latest in a series of fatal hit-and-run incidents where young hot-rodders appeared to get off scot free due to family political connections. Despite the government’s best efforts to suppress the story, it quickly became a cause célèbre via the Chinese Internet, with the slogan ‘My father is Li Gang!’ emerging as an all-purpose catchphrase for official arrogance and corruption. Under immense public pressure, Li Gang’s son was eventually tried and sentenced to six years in prison.

The assumption, in Beijing, is that the government needs to intervene more actively to combat inequality. But the real problem is that government officials have far too dominant a role in picking winners and losers in almost every walk of life...

China’s tax system is a case in point. The country’s tax authorities estimate that mid- to low-income workers account for two-thirds of personal income taxes paid, in sharp contrast to the United States, where the top 5 percent of income earners pay nearly 60 percent. The difference isn’t the tax rate—with its top tax bracket at 45 percent, China actually has a higher marginal rate than the United States, scoring second only to France in Forbes’ ‘tax misery index’ based on nominal rates. The disparity is due to rampant tax evasion. China’s millionaires may owe more in theory, but they pay very little in practice.

According to a recent study commissioned by Credit Suisse, and conducted by Prof. Wang Xiaolu of the China Reform Foundation, hidden, undeclared income in China may total as much as RMB 9.3 trillion ($ 1.4 trillion), equivalent to 30 percent of GDP. Nearly two-thirds of hidden income belongs to the top 10 percent of households; 80 percent belongs to the top 20 percent. As a result, the per capita income gap between the top 10 percent and bottom 10 percent of urban households is much wider (26 times) than official statistics suggest (9 times).

The nature of this income is what rankles. According to the Credit Suisse report, ‘The facts show that grey income has its origins in the misuse of power and is closely connected with corruption.’ In other words, it’s the power wielded by government officials, not the absence of it, that’s fuelling inequality and fanning popular discontent.
Copyright © Swing Right Rudie
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