Thursday, February 23, 2012

Are voter turnout rates declining? The data says no:

Voter turnout rates presented here show that the much-lamented decline in voter participation is an artifact of poor measurement. Previously, turnout rates were calculated by dividing the number of votes by what is called the "voting-age population" which consists of everyone age 18 and older residing in the United States (the yellow line to the right). This includes persons ineligible to vote, mainly non-citizens and ineligible felons, and excludes overseas eligible voters. When turnout rates are calculated for those eligible to vote, a new picture of turnout emerges, which exhibits no decline since 1972 (the green line to the right). Indeed, turnout rates appear to have been restored to their earlier high levels as of 2008.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Iran and nuclear proliferation:
Hugh Tomlinson of the Times, reporting from Riyadh, says Saudi Arabia will acquire nuclear weapons within weeks of a successful Iranian atomic effort. Citing Saudi government and military sources, Tomlinson wrote that “warheads would be purchased off the shelf from abroad, with work on a new ballistic missile platform getting under way to build an immediate deterrent, according to Saudi sources … The Times has learnt that commanders of Saudi Arabia’s Strategic Missile Force have been actively considering the missile platforms on the market.”

The likeliest source of such weapons, according to Western sources interviewed by the Times, is America’s staunch ally and loyal friend, Pakistan, which has recently been in high dudgeon over questions about its moral integrity...

If true, Saudi Arabia’s actions might lead the casual observer to ask why if Israel were the boogeyman of the Middle East and the existential threat to Muslims everywhere — Saudi Arabia never really worried about the Jewish nuclear bomb, but only as it seems, about another Muslim one?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Disability and Unemployment:
The sputtering economy has fueled those ranks. Around 5.3 percent of the population between the ages of 25 and 64 is currently collecting federal disability payments, a jump from 4.5 percent since the economy slid into a recession.

Mental-illness claims, in particular, are surging.

During the recent economic boom, only 33 percent of applicants were claiming mental illness, but that figure has jumped to 43 percent, says Rutledge, citing preliminary results from his latest research.

The jump in successful disability claims also is making the unemployment picture look extra rosy because those folks are falling off the jobless rolls.

“If they’re on disability they’re generally not counted,” says Feroli, who estimates that a quarter of those dropping out of the job market are getting disability. “It’s no trivial number.”
Lottery and Bankruptcy:
[P]eople who win large amounts are just as likely to end up bankrupt as people who win small amounts. People who win a large amount, $50,000 to $150,000, have a lower bankruptcy rate immediately after winning but a higher bankruptcy rate a few years later so the 5-year bankruptcy rate for the big winners is no lower than for the small winners. Amazingly, by the time the big winners do go bankrupt their assets and debts are not significantly different from those of the small winners. The big winners who ended up bankrupt could have paid off all of their debts but chose not to.

N.B. the result is not that most lottery winners go bankrupt or that winning money doesn’t help people–the result, as Robin Hanson might say, is that bankruptcy isn’t about money.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The dramatic improvement in gun safety:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Economist on Dodd-Frank:
The law that set up America’s banking system in 1864 ran to 29 pages; the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 went to 32 pages; the Banking Act that transformed American finance after the Wall Street Crash, commonly known as the Glass-Steagall act, spread out to 37 pages. Dodd-Frank is 848 pages long... And the size is only the beginning. The scope and structure of Dodd-Frank are fundamentally different to those of its precursor laws, notes Jonathan Macey of Yale Law School: “Laws classically provide people with rules. Dodd-Frank is not directed at people. It is an outline directed at bureaucrats and it instructs them to make still more regulations and to create more bureaucracies.” Like the Hydra of Greek myth, Dodd-Frank can grow new heads as needed.

Take the transformation of 11 pages of Dodd-Frank into the so-called “Volcker rule”, which is intended to reduce banks’ ability to take excessive risks by restricting proprietary trading and investments in hedge funds and private equity (Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve, has argued that such activity contributed to the crisis). In November four of the five federal agencies charged with enacting this rule jointly put forward a 298-page proposal which is, in the words of a banker publicly supportive of Dodd-Frank, “unintelligible any way you read it”. It includes 383 explicit questions for firms which, if read closely, break down into 1,420 subquestions, according to Davis Polk, a law firm. The interactive Volcker “rule map” Davis Polk has produced for its clients has 355 distinct steps...

When Dodd-Frank was passed, its supporters suggested that tying up its loose ends would take 12-18 months. Eighteen months on, those predictions look hopelessly naive. Politicians and officials responsible for Dodd-Frank are upbeat about their progress and the system’s prospects, at least when speaking publicly. But one banker immersed in the issue speaks for many when he predicts a decade of grind, with constant disputes in courts and legislatures, finally producing a regime riddled with exceptions and nuances that may, because of its complexity, exacerbate systemic risks rather than mitigate them.

For the same reasons that bankers are worried, lawyers are rubbing their hands.

Later on, the article adds:
A few [bankers] also see the possibility of gaining an edge: some well established banks consider themselves better able to handle the costs than smaller or newer ones, particularly those that don’t have cushy relationships with regulators.

This of course, is exactly the kind of legislation that Federalist 62 was warning us about:
Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few, not for the many.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Justice in Detroit:
Justifiable homicide in the city shot up 79 percent in 2011 from the previous year, as citizens in the long-suffering city armed themselves and took matters into their own hands. The local rate of self-defense killings now stands 2,200 percent above the national average. Residents, unable to rely on a dwindling police force to keep them safe, are fighting back against the criminal scourge on their own. And they’re offering no apologies.

“We got to have a little Old West up here in Detroit. That’s what it’s gonna take,” Detroit resident Julia Brown told The Daily.

The last time Brown, 73, called the Detroit police, they didn’t show up until the next day. So she applied for a permit to carry a handgun and says she’s prepared to use it against the young thugs who have taken over her neighborhood, burglarizing entire blocks, opening fire at will and terrorizing the elderly with impunity.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hamas is in trouble:
And this brings us back full circle to "Hamas's brutal assaults" on the Shia in Gaza. It is little recognized in Israel and the West that Hamas has a running battle going on with the [Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)] within Gaza, which gains new adherents whenever Hamas makes a move towards moderation. PIJ has been linked to al-Qaeda, whereas Hamas has been supported by Iran. It now seems that Iran and PIJ are allied, and so Hamas viewed itself as really attacking its old enemy, PIJ. Hamas clearly understands that these PIJ members are demonstrating their loyalty to Iran by proclaiming themselves Shia. Its erstwhile patron is supporting its enemy.

Thus, Hamas could now be in serious trouble. The spring that has helped Islamists elsewhere in the region has deprived Hamas of its longtime patrons and emboldened and empowered its enemy at home--PIJ.
Wherever human beings have gone in the last two centuries, we have increased local and regional biodiversity. Biodiversity, in this case, is defined as species richness. For example, more than 4,000 plant species introduced into North America during the last 400 years now grow wild here; they now constitute nearly 20 percent of the continent’s vascular plant biodiversity.

Yet “the popular view [is] that diversity is decreasing at local scales,” as the biologists Dov Sax of Brown University and Steven Gaines of the University of California at Santa Barbara noted in a 2003 paper published by the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. And one alleged culprit for the purported loss of diversity is competition from invasive species—that is, plants and animals introduced into ecosystems where they are not native.

Opponents of invasive species fear that aggressive outsiders will wipe out native species... “There is no evidence that even a single long term resident species has been driven to extinction, or even extirpated within a single U.S. state, because of competition from an introduced plant species,” the Macalester College biologist Mark A. Davis noted in the journal BioScience in 2003.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Where are the Jobs?
Copyright © Swing Right Rudie
A notebook to myself