Sunday, September 30, 2012

Defending Friedersdorf by Mocking Waldmann

Conor Friedersdorf will not vote for Obama because of Obama's violations of the bill of rights even though he thinks Romney is worse.

I say nonsense.  You go to the polling booth with the candidates you have not the candidates you want.  The duty of a citizen is to make the better choice that is the less bad choice.

So I reject some effort to stay pure saying we must consider the consequences of our actions for others when deciding what to do.  Considering what they say about ourselves is selfish.

I also think that no coherent consequentialist has ever voted, since the chance of making a difference is so tiny.  Democracy requires Kantian magical thinking where we imagine that all in our situation will do as we do.

So my critique of Friedersdorf is based on inassailable Kantian conserquentialism

Face plant.  I am such an oxymoron.

( I'm still voting for Obama who is, by Friedersdorf's standards, so much better than Washington, Jefferson, either Roosevelt or, especially, Lincoln who had US citizens killed without trial by the hundreds of thousands).

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Beating the Same old Drum on Portfolio Balance

Kevin Drum explains nonstandard monetary policy very well.

I make my usual comment.

What the Fed does in normal times is target the Federal Funds extremely short term interest rate.  Your explanation of how nominal GDP targeting works doesn't have anything to do with nominal GDP targeting.  I think the problem is that you understand the issue better than most advocates of nominal GDP targeting (I guess Woodford probably understands it as well as you do but not better (non irony alert: I really think this -- the issue isn't so complicated that you are missing anything -- at all)

If the Fed credibly promises to keep the interest rate low even if inflation rises the Fed has used all the tools at its disposal (plus credible pre-commitment which is not a tool at its disposal).

It is easy to set an upper bound on the room for better Fed policy along the lines of what is called nominal GDP targeting (and which is really, as you note, a commitment to low interest rates even if inflation rises) because long term interest rates are equal to the expected geometric average of short term rate plus a clearly positive risk premium. So the room for improvement can be calculated for different values of "a good long time."   I personally think it is very safe to assume that that good long time can't reach past the end of the terms of most FOMC members (january 2015).  The 5 year Treasury interest rate is 0.625% (way way down from around 0.69% before QEIII was announced).  

This means that bond traders are quite confident that the Fed will keep interest rates extraordinarily low for a good long time.  My view (as you know) is that there was little more to be done along these line *before* QEIII.

My view is not that there was little the Fed can do.  I think QEIII was a very useful shift and that the Fed can do much more along the same lines.

But that is because QEIII was not just the same as declaring a nominal GDP target or making promises about short term interest rates years from now.  The Fed also committed to taking a lot of mortgage default risk out of investors' portfolios in the near future.  That, I think is what had an effect (also on expected inflation).

So, as usual, I say that right now the key issue is portfolio balance not forward guidance (so I disagree with Woodford and Krugman and lots of people who would be to put it mildly economic giants if I were an economic microbe).

Cut and Paste Flame War

Bill Murray 09.27.12 at 3:27 pmIf you could find a number of examples of someone arguing “that it is always or definitionally the right thing to do” to vote for the Democrat this would look a lot less like whiny narcissism
Every time some faux-liberal like Scott Lemieux argues that Nader cost Gore the 2000 election, he is saying that liberals voting for anyone but the Democrat is wrong. There are lots more examples from others of these authoritarians who don’t believe that people have the right to vote differently from the way the authoritarian thinks they should.

Shorter Bill Murray *

"'examples of someone arguing '...always or definitionally...' ' ...

 the 2000 election, ..."

Even shorter Bill Murray "'always" = 2000."

Arguing with people too pure to vote for either of the candidates with a chance of winning is frustrating.  It's like groundhog day all over again.

Also and separately Murray assumes it is obvious that anyone who criticizes anyone else is an authoritarian who thinks the other person doesn't have the right to make the criticized choice.

By (automatically) hosting Murray's comment, Crooked Timer keeps up the tradition of putting exceptional  reasoning on the web

* I am aware of all internet traditions that exist, have existed, or might ever exist in this and in all possible worlds, so I know I am misusing the concept of "shorter" (and in the comment thread of  post which is largely a quotation of Daniel Davies too).  My reducto ad absurdum was achieved almost entirely by elision. My total creative contribution = "=".

ps I know this is just a flame not a flame war and that only in my dreams will anyone bother responding to my juvenile snark.  Now I am tired and off to bed to sleep, perchance to dream of flame wars.

Billmon's baaackkkk

Get your free thinking in a dirty glass right here

Fact checking a fact checker

Wow I really totally lost it this time.   Also, by the way, I coincidentally typed exactly the maximum allowed number of characters.

For no discernible reason Washington Post fact checker Josh Hicks goes back to the columns worst episode -- attempting and failing to fact check claims about when Mitt Romney became a purely passive investor in Bain capital.

All my claims are based on memory.

I note that my claims are damaging to Glenn Kessler and Josh Hicks.  I note that I am typing in Italy.  This means that if I can not prove my claims I hereby am committing not just a tort but a crime.  I promise that I will not appeal to the irrelevant US first amendment should either sue or denounce me to the authorities.

"We’ve also knocked the Obama campaign repeatedly for jumping to unwarranted conclusions about Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital." Indeed you (plural here and always in this comment) have.  You have also admitted that "going forward" you will judge on a "case by case basis."  My reading of the record of this column is that you have conceded that you were misled by the Romney campaign and insist that we, your readers, look forward not backward.  You can ask but you can't hope that anyone would grant such a request.  Fact checking necessarily involves looking backward not forward (fact is derived from a Latin past participle).  You do not allow people who have made false claims to look forward (note fact checking is not lie detection -- honest errors on points of fact such as Glenn Kessler's remain false statements).  The rule you want is that you are the judge but can't be judged -- that you fact check but are not fact checked.  You can wish but you better not hope for such a deal.

Also, the value of fact checking beyond other reporting is that it doesn't look forward. The only justification for your job is that other reporters must meet deadlines so false claims of fact are not identified, then old statements are old news so false statements are never identified.  There is no possible logic for a fact checking column with a statute of limitations so that plainly false claims are not corrected because they are old.

Clearly Mr Kessler's promise to check claims about Romney's departure from Bain on a case by case basis was insincere.  It must imply that he thinks that the exact claim matters.  If so, he should have reported the fact that the Romney campaign made grossly false claim on the matter.  The reason is their assertion that Romney had nothing whatever to do with the management of Bain after he started working for the Olympics (a claim contradicted by official documents signed by Romney and a claim which, if it were true, would imply that he is a felon).  If any claim of involvement is true, then the Romney campaign's claim of zero involvement is false.

But having written an incorrect assessment of the facts you will not face the facts. I thought that the compromise is to cease to accuse the Obama campaign of error and not to note the undeniably false assertions made by the Romney campaign.  Such a compromise is a betrayal of fact checking.  But I gave you (Josh Hicks) too much credit.  The promise to judge on a case by case basis going forward has been betrayed.  You have linked to Kessler's totally erroneous conclusion violating his promise to put the matter to rest (a promise not at all binding on me -- I will continue to note Kessler's violating of all basic principles of fact checking until he admits that his conduct in the matter was unacceptable).

Your conduct today, Josh Hicks,  is also .  When you are wrong you should not repeat the error without flagging it as an error.  You, Josh Hicks, embody that which you claim to fight.

Bashing BB with feigned naivité just for fun

Not Big Brother, or even Ben Bernanke but Brian Beutler

First QOTD "The Fact Checkers™ clutched their pearls and, in the most enabling display of feigned naiveté I’ve ever seen"

Also epistemic snark

"PolitiFact called the “end Medicare” claim the “lie of the year” for 2011 and entered a brave new epistemological world defending the assessment."

Heh indeed.  In fact, after reading the headline of the post I went off on an epistemological bender which lasted about two hours (now you know why my blog is so long and my CV is so short).

Hmmm I wonder what its like to display feigned naivité.  Well I'm about to find out.

Well what about that  headline "

Tommy Thompson Makes The Case For ‘Doing Away’ With Fact Checkers"

Look I've had my disagreements with Glenn Kessler too (minutes 30-120 of the bender) but I oppose the death penalty and think that "doing away" with him is going too far.

Toning down the feigned naivité a notch, I now assume that Beutler meant to write 
Thommy Thomson Makes The Case For 'Doing Away' with Fact Checking"

Or Fact Checking Columns and Sites but, you know not offing the people whose judgment may have been a bit off.

Thi still seems a bit drastic.  The fact that factcheckers make mistakes doesn't imply that their efforts are worse than worthless.  By that standard one might do away with newspapers and blogs and science journals and [get a grip Robert -- your time will be wasted anyway but think of your probably hypothetical readers]

What we have here is a failure of communication.  The headline is silly because the over-riding aim was to fit a quote of Thomson into it. 

So also we find the Krugman Column written just to include the sentence "Now I come to berry seizures not to praise them" 

Don't ask me ask Krugman -- he was insisting that he didn't write an op-ed just to conclude (arguably correctly) "In the long run we are all the Grateful Dead." (link hard to google as it contains neither Seizures nor Dead).

Or Michael Kinsley (outsnarking himself warning) who proposed an insane reform just to end a TRB column with "make "The Plum Book" a prune book (quoting from memory)

Friday, September 28, 2012


The Bain of the GOP


the robot 
big lord flauntthelaw
the Caiman 

Look at that jaw line look at those teeth and tell me they aren't at least third cousins.


"if a secret video surfaces depicting Obama promising to impose Sharia law in his second term, Romney will stand a good chance of coming back "  J Chait

Ouch that's gonna leave a mark.

OK maybe we have a challenger for quote of the day

"If you’re trying to clear the threshold of “does this candidate hate me” six weeks before the election, you’re probably not on the verge of closing the sale."

Same post.

Something tells me that Jonathan Chait is enjoying his job.  

Impressively the post begins "I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again, but I may never have been as wrong as I was when I"

Chait is tough.  He is hard on the people he covers.  But he doesn't go easy on himself either.  
And I honestly think he is delighted to have been proven wrong.

Great LA Times fact

Jonathan Chait has a great find " Obama seems to be getting way more bang for his buck. Republicans are paying their staff twice the rate Democrats are paying theirs, "

Matea Gold of the LA Times has a solid gold story (based on the work of the un-named heroes and heroines of nerdosity at the Times Data Desk)

According to an analysis by the Times Data Desk, part of the Los Angeles Times, the Obama campaign had 901 people on its payroll last month, and paid them a median salary of $3,074 a month, or $36,886 a year.
The Romney campaign, in contrast, had 403 people on its payroll, and paid them a median salary of $6,437 in August, which would mean $77,250 a year.

Romney type bottom line "The Romney campaign spent $4.04 million on payroll in August -- nearly twice as much as it spent in July -- while the Obama campaign spent $4.37 million,"

Obama type bottom line

As Gordon Gecko didn't bother adding even if greed is good, it is expensive.

My favorite theory is that special interest lobbies and wingnut welfare are pricing the Republican party out of the White House.

But it could just be that Romney can't communicate with anyone who makes  less than $77,250  a year (actually from the campaign looks like he has trouble communicating with anyone who makes less than $500,000 a year)

Jonathan Chait wrote

...what is surely true is that individual polls do over-sample Democrats. That’s just how statistical margin of error works — some polls will err in one direction, others in another direction. It’s pretty crazy for poll denialists to assume all the non-Rasmussen polls have a Democratic bias, but some of them probably do. The recent Quinnipiac poll showing Obama up by nine points in Florida and ten points in Ohio stands apart from a host of polls showing a tighter race, and it’s probably wrong.
and I freaked out in comments.

Please do not misuse statistical terminology.  You act as if "statistical margin[s] of error] implies that some polls will have a "bias".  It does not.

Look it would be fine for you to ignore the formal definition of bias used as a technical term in the discussion of statistics if you were talking about racial bias or radial vs bias ply tires.  But you explicitly state that you are teaching your readers the basics of statistics and you can't because you don't know them.

 It is hard enough for people to understand the theory of statistics without respected figures messing things up.  "just how statistical margin of error works — some polls will err in one direction, others in another direction. It’s pretty crazy for poll denialists to assume all the non-Rasmussen polls have a Democratic bias, , but some of them probably do." missuses the statistical term bias in a sentence which is explicitly about "statistical" concepts".

I will try to be clear in mathematical statistics  "bias" is absolutely 100% not at all "just how statistical margin of error works".    In statistics "bias" refers to the expected value of the error in an estimate.  Random sampling error does not cause bias. This is not an arguable claim.  It is implied by the definitions of the words " random",  "sampling",  "error" and bias "bias."  Your equation of the statements that an estimate "errs" and that it contains "bias" is a bold direct utter rejection of the whole field of statistics.

In fact it is for an estimate to "err" it is typically sufficient for it to be an estimate.  You are asserting that most pollsters's forecasts do not "err" that is they are exactly equal to the outcome.  So the fraction of respondents classified as "likely voters" who declare the intention to vote for Obama will turn out to be exactly equal to the fraction of voters who vote for Obama.

I think I know what you think you mean.  My guess is that by "err" and by having "bias" you  mean that you guess that the outcome will be outside the 95% confidence interval of some poll.  In statistics this property is called ... nothing, because statisticians realize that there is nothing magical about 0.95.

Piling on Friedersdorf

Conner Friedersdorf writes that he will not vote for Obama, because Obama has ordered indefinite detention without trial and killing without trial (including of a US citizen) and because he is responsible for civilians accidentally killed in efforts to kill  Al Qaeda operatives and Taliban.

I comment

Earlier I commented on how the key issue is "better" not "good".  Also I noted that H Truman (and presumably B Obama) have used the N word.

How silly of me to note (below) Atom bomber Harry Truman's use of the n word.  I just note that when you rule out voting for someone responsible for the deaths of civilians in war you have ruled out voting for (in reverse chronological order) Bush Jr, Clinton, Bush Sr, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Eisenhower, Truman, F Roosevelt, Hoover, Coolidge, Wilson and T Roosevelt.

Ford was resposible for the death of  a few Cambodian civilians killed while US forced tried to rescue the crew of the Mayaguez.  Coolidge had Augusto Sandino et al bombed in Nicaragua. Civilian deaths were a larger fraction of the total in counter-insurgent bombing back then before bombs could really be aimed. I was quite shocked to read an Orwell essay on how people believe in atrocities only if the accused are on the other side -- the examples were all atrocities I knew of plus (alleged) US atrocities in Nicaragua.  I'm not quite sure about Hoover.  

Recall that under Roosevelt and Truman the mass killing of civilians was entirely deliberate.

Basically, no matter how bad their opponents you would not vote for any 20th century US Presidents except for Carter, Harding, Taft and (maybe) Hoover.

As to ordering the killing without trial of US citizens, I don't dare even mention to you that I would have voted for Lincoln who you must detest as the embodiment of evil since his orders lead to the killing of hundreds of thousands of US citizens without trial.

Actually seriously, would you for a moment consider voting for Roosevelt  or even (shudder) Lincoln if the alternative were Romney?   If you would, then why are you so upset by the few tiny steps Obama has taken down their path ?

You are either an absolute pacifist (so absolute that you wouldn't consider voting for anyone who isn't an absolute pacifist) or you are confused.  This post certainly unconditionally rejects making war.

bonus armchair psychology which I didn't inflict on the Atlantic comment thread.

I understand that your background is conservative.  I don't think any liberal could be under the illusion that detention without trial, accidentally (except for FDR, Truman, and Nixon) killing civilians or killing without trial is exceptional in US history.

I think you mentioned that now you can guess what sort of e-mail Glenn Greenwald gets. But I think there is a difference.  He knows that he has to chose between the US Constitution and the US as it has long been (I'd guess as it has always been).

I think your decision is not optimal given the choices we have.  I also think it might be the result of the shock of being raised on myths as are almost all US citizens (and almost all people) and then growing up and facing reality (as most people never do)  .

Post Bashing

Erick Wemple wrote

"the studies that have shown that fact-checking operations are tougher on Republican than Democratic politicians"

I comment with some vigor.

I haven't clicked the link, but I don't believe that there are studies which "have shown that fact-checking operations are tougher on Republican than Democratic politicians?" For a study to demonstrate such a thing it would have to
1) determine the fact of the matter on all questions fact checkers checked.  not just try to fact check the fact checkers but do so beyond any further doubt
2) Determine the fact of the matter on all questions fact checkers have not checked (to see if fact checkers are letting more Demcratic falsehoods than Republican falsehoods by)
3) decide which of all claims of fact are important enough to check.

I think the studies have shown at least one of two things: fact checkers are tougher on Republicans or Republicans have more trouble with the truth.

I don't think any sentient organism can have failed to notice the astonishing volume or Republican lies joined to the incredible mass of sincere Republican delusions and ignorance.

Rather than trying to find a non partisan objective source, how about looking at partisan sources.  I assume there is a Republican analogue to Steve Benen whose "chronicling Mitt's Mendacity" series at the RachelMaddowblog suggests that fact checkers are being very kind indeed to Romney.

For the next column in your exhaustive exhausting series, how about rechecking Benen and (mystery Republican fact checker or hell 3 against 1 would be fine).  That's how we traditionally settle disputes of fact in court.

My guess is the bottom line is that, after fact checking partisan fact checkers, you would conclude that non partisan fact checkers are grossly massively biased in favor of Republicans, because the facts have a clear liberal bias and they know that if they don't Ballance the bias of the fact by being easier on Republicans they will be accused of bias.

As your colleague Ezra Klein wrote "you can look fair, or you can be fair."  I'd say if the rest of the Washington Post staff wasn't so determined to look fair, then the rest of you put together might be almost as valuable as wonkblog.
This is not humorous exaggeration, by the way.  I consider wonkblog to be much much more valuable than the rest of the paper.

ps ballance is not a typo.  google [ ballance cilizza ]and you will find rock solid proof that the Post's approach to comparing the parties consisted of establishing objective rules, applying them, finding the Republicans looked worse than the Democrats, breaking the rules to cheat and shave the point spread and publishing all of it so the rule and the violation of the rule were in the same article.

Note that Cilizza wrote in the Post of the responsible editor "(he's been flogged)".
I note that he didn't name the editor in question (Post policy on granting anonymity to editors ?).  I see no evidence that he reported the aggravated assault of the editor to the police (I can't imagine that a post chat published a flat out falsehood without a correction but please do factcheck Culizza's assertion that a violent crime was inflicted on a Washington Post employee as part of your fact checking series).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Comment on "Porky Populism"

I think that Porky Populism by Rod Dreher is a must read.

I commented.

This is a good and important essay.  I have two thoughts

First I am a somewhat overweight liberal.

1) I think you overstress the connection between Whole foods inc and healthy food.  More generally between healthy food and tasty food.

You mention high quality beer, which is no healthier than low quality beer.  Grass fed beef is probably a bit healthier than corn fed beef, but much less healthy than vegetables.

I admit you don't use the word "organic." I note that many people equate healthy with organic and organic food costs more.  However there is basically zero evidence that it is healthier -- at all.  Somehow unprocessed food growth with synthetic fertilizers and insecticides seems to be off the table.

Very oddly the discussion with a honey producer is presented as if honey were healthy.  If I understand correctly it beats brain and maybe egg yolk but is just as unhealthy as sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

The idea that foodies are aesthetes and not just taking responsibility for your health is obviously correct (not that there's anything wrong with that).  You care about the taste.  Lefty foodies often dislike processed foods partly because they don't like the "business"in agribusiness.

I'm a liberal and I hate to blame the poor when a conservative blames poverty, but I do think that cheap healthy food is available (but boring).  I mean you can live on potatoes (Adam Smith thought they were very healthy but OK good economist not necessarily a good nutritionist -- just the last guy I know of with anything good to say about potatoes).

2)  "Liberals, to overgeneralize, believe that what consenting adults do in bed with their bodies is immune from moral judgment. "

Heh indeed.  to avoid overgeneralization how about some names and quotes ?  I don't know any liberals who think that.

I went off on a rant and, out of respect for my host, moved it here

[rant follows]

I think you are partly confusing totally different things.  We don't think gay sex is morally different from straight sex.  That doesn't mean with think anything goes.  Also we don't think that the coercive power of the state should be used to impose our morality on everyone.  That is unlike almost all conservatives (present company and three other guys at this magazine excepted) we value freedom in general and not just property rights or freedom of all to do as we think best.

(note the sudden change from "almost all conservatives" to "More than half of Republicans")

More than half  of Republicans consider Michelle Obama an enemy of freedom and have no problem with indefinite detention without trial, warrantless wiretapping**  and waterboarding***.  Self described "constitutional conservatives" are especially likely (as in probability over 70%) to utterly reject freedom as defined by the founders.

I think the idea that liberals think that, say, cheating and lying about it is perfectly OK shows two things. First the conservabubble of epistemic closure is strong.  Conservatives don't seem to know any liberals and to discuss a cartoon liberal and mirror image of conservatives.  Second that the Ballance  is strong in this one.  Basically the whole essay criticizes conservatives (a very reasonable thing for an essay in The American Conservative to do).  So there just has to be an off the cuff attack on liberals supported by no evidence.  A conservative may criticize Conservatives but no conservative may neglect to criticize liberals.  Ever.



*** Overall, a majority of Republicans agree with the use of torture on terror suspects (52% in the first group), and the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (77% in the second group). They also condone the use of waterboarding (58%).  (warning pdf)

Republicans vs Cell Phones

I admit it, I have a vaguely negative feelings about Republican politicians and cell phones.

My hatred of cell phones dates back to the old old days when they were show off status symbols for the rich (yes I'm that old).  I also don't like the fact that in Italy I'm not considered a responsible adult because I don't keep a charged cell phone near myself at all times (and for many many other reasons of course like I'm not a responsible adult but why blame myself when I can blame my cell phone).

But I guess I just have to decide which I dislike more.  Oddly I am not mainly thinking about how the pollsters Republican pols love are those which don't call cell phones.  It isn't even the best political ad ever

Which I don't blush to say just brought tears to my eyes.  Literally (not in the Joe Biden sense I just wiped one away).

No it's because it has become unclear whether the Republican party will be extinct before or after they figure out that almost everyone (except me) carries a viceo camera around these days.

No not Mr 47%

Not Thomas the Voteless Thomson Governor

But the richest nutcracker in the nutmeg state

No not that painful video.

This one.

Premium Support is totally Frakt up

Austin we have a problem.

Austin Frakt very very politely argues that Daniel Kessler's premium support program is optimal policy for cloud cuckoo land.
ht @ezraklein

Needless to say, I am less polite in comments.

Great post.  I was sent here by @ezraklein so I guess I have lots of company.  Like Klein I am wildly enthusiastic about the sausage factory observation.  A premium support proposal only vaguely resembles any premium support program which would actually be enacted by Congress.

You know what else vaguely (very vaguely) resembles premium support*.  Medicare advantage.  Which turned out to be a gigantic boondoggle which massively increased costs.
Why is the mega Medicare advantage boondoggle discussed in your post as an argument against current post ACA Medicare and for premium support ?

Premium support seems to me to be Medicare advantage on steroids.  The argument that it will lead to competition and reduced costs is exactly the argument made when Medicare Advantage was enacted.

I am ignorant (no need to say that).  I'm sure that existing premium support proposals differ from pre ACA Medicare advantage in obscure boring hugely important ways.  The claim is that questions about which the general public is uninformed** will be answered in ways that serve the general interest and not concentrated interests represented by well paid well informed lobbyists.

To me this doesn't pass the laugh test.  Any argument that premium support will be different from Medicare Advantage in important ways has to include an explanation of why Medicare Advantage is what it is (and was what it was).  "This time it's different" just doesn't cut it in policy making any more than it should in finance.

* Note the sentence ends with a period not a question mark.  I confidently assert that you have noticed the vague similarities between premium support and Medicare Advantage because you are very smart (it would be enough that you are not an idiot but you are, in fact, very smart, as even an uniformed guy who hasn't followed the debate like mehas noticed).

 **and will remain uninformed so long as the USA is a free society since the only way to inform people would be the Clockwork Orange approach of o chaining us to chairs and forcing us to listen with our eyelids propped open so we had to see the power point slides).

Kanji Vs Chaos

The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.

What was the source of European World Dominance ?

(I have no contact with Minerva, have only rarely seen an owl, and haven't done my homework).

The question really is why Europe not China.  There is some interest as we might want to know if it will last.  My guess is conventional and obvious.

Here we have two great centers of civilization, which were about equally rich and powerful in say 1492 and not at all equally rich and powerful in 1892.

1. It all came from Lebanon.  Huh.  Yeah the Phonecians (typo uncorrected as a feeble attempt at a pun) with their phonetic alphabet.  It is very very hard to read and write Chinese.  This makes it easy for the tiny elite which can read to rule unchallenged.   Basically the literate took option of living well as corrupt magistrates.  In Europe there weren't enough corrupt magistrate jobs so some literate people had to produce wealth.

2.  The benefits of barbarism.  The problem is that the Mongols were too disciplined and orderly.  So the barbarian conquest of China changed only the uppermost caste.  The barbarians who over run civilized Europe wasted no time before getting down to fighting each other.  So there wasn't one super state and one monarch whose hold on power was based on keeping everyone else fairly poor.  Rather warring monarchs needed strong countries to fight each other.

Doesn't work so well see "Princes and Merchants" Delong and Shleifer)

3. Rice (recall no homework done).  European grains made it, barely, possible for whole towns full of people to survive in remote wastelands like Switzerland which was free because it was so poor.  Chinese farmers need rice paddies so they remain under the thumb of aristocrats.

Doesn't work so well. What did Switzerland ever constribute to European greatness ? The Cuckoo Clock ? (Graham Greene 1950).

4. Christianity ?
  Take no thought for the morrow, turn the other cheek.  Yep that's a world conquering religion right there.

5. Judaism ?

More promising than Christianity as the sectarian division generated lots of literate people who had no chance of becoming corrupt magistrates. Still uh 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella.  Come on.  Those excluded from history are excluded from history.

6. Protestants vs Catholics.  The protestant ethic and the rise of Europe ?  The Chinese were so tolerant that they were semi Confucian, semi Buddhist, semi Taoist, semi history that goes back to mythology.   The Jews were really excluded, but Protestants not so much.

See Ferdiand and Isabella again.  Well maybe they were just barbarian conquerors with no future.  It's not like Spainish world domination is threatened by Chinese GDP growth.

OK so it's either Phoenicians or war, religious persecution and intolerance.  I bet on this alphabet.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ezra Klein defends an increased capital gains tax as necessary for distributionally neutral base broadening rate lowering tax reform.  I support a higher capital gains tax rate (did not have space for that in my comment).

My comment

But why do you want base-broadening, rate-lowering tax reform  ?  The inside the beltway wonk consensus is that this must be good.  The claim is that it is more efficient.  Surely true if efficiency is measured as dollars raised per page of tax code or dollar of compliance cost.  But the argument is that the important advantage is that such reform will reduce distortions due to taxes.  Here the implicit arguments are both that high rates cause distortions and that deductions and credits and such allow socially costly tax avoidance. I consider them in turn

1) high rates are bad. There is almost no evidence for this claim. It is an article of faith for Republicans and Democrats have decided that they can get more important changes in exchange for lower rates.  But as far as I know (and I've published in the Journal of Public Economics) the claim is not supported by actual evidence.

2) tax expenditures are worse than just giving the money to corporations and rich individuals because they distort decisions.  Here I think opposition to tax expenditures in general is like opposition to government'spending in general.  No one likes either in the abstract.  You wouldn't really argue that way too many Americans had health insurance because employer provided health insurance was not taxed as income.  So that is one major bit of base broadening you would have opposed at least pre ACA (except on a the worse it is the better it is Leninist principle).  How about the EITC.  You know that is one tax expenditure that Republicans want to cut.  It is also one of the very best policies there is (one of the key ways US policy is vastly better than European policy along with ... uh give me a minute).  How about the charitable gift deduction ? can be abused but seems basically OK to me.

I think a lot of the broad support for base broadening is based on hatred of the mortgage interest deduction.  Means huge houses far from work and driving cars and global warming.  Diverts saving from productive capital labor productivity and wage increasing capital to houses which just sit there.  Suburban and Exurban because that's where the new building is.  Also completely totally politically untouchable and you know it.  You might as well base your hopes on cutting rates and increasing the tax on gasoline by a dollar a gallon plus imposing a $100 dollar a ton carbon tax.  Fine policy, but not a policy proposal of any relevance to the US debate.

The most extreme case is someone (not you a friend of yours) who said we have to radically simplify the corporate tax code so corporations spend money on engineers not lawyers and accountants.  That is to increase corporate R and D eliminate the R and D tax credit.

3) not an argument for base broadening and not at all relevant to this blog, but I think every aging Washington wonk's favorite year is 1986.  Genuinely bipartisan wonk driven reform.  It was great.  But what good did it do ?

Cortisol, Stress and Sayinguncle

Incredible but true, this is today's comment on a Kevin Drum post.

I have a problem with the argument that cortisol levels show that low social status is correlated with high stress,  with the argument not the conclusion.  How did levels of cortisol become the best measure of stress ?  In the first place, there has to be some independent measurement of stress which lead to the conclusion that stress causes high cortisol levels.  So we know cortisol levels are correlated with stress.  

But then cortisol levels are treated as an objective measure of stress.   How did that happen ?  Correlated with is not the same as the same as.   An indicator does not become the one right indicator just due to the passage of time.

I happen to know of one very early experiment related to how it was decided (correctly I'm sure) that cortisol levels have a lot to do with something rather like stress.  Some people were being trained to be paratroopers.  Levels of various molecules (including nerve growth factor (NGF) a signal upstream from cortisol) were measured resting, after their first jump and after they were told they would jump for the first time the following day but before the jump.  

Clearly being told that you are going to jump out of a plane whether you want to or not is stressful.  But note what else is going on -- the people were being ordered around.  A decision was made over which they had no control.

It happens to be a fact that every article on how low status people suffer more stress which I hav ever encountered mentions cortisol levels.  I ask does cortisol measure stress or the experience of having to bite one's tongue because one is in the present of a more powerful mammal (submission saying_uncle or something) ?  Or both ? How would we know ?  

I note that the source of high quantities of NGF (which triggers release of cortisol) was the salivary glands of adult male mice.  Not female not juvenile (not there).  Exactly the mice who struggle for dominance and exactly in the fluid which enters a rival mouse following a bite.  OK so if I were to bite (I don't really I don't bite) I would want to inflict pain, stress, fear and makemsayuncleness.

Letting a concrete objective indicator take the place of the abstract subjective phenomenon we wish we could measure is tempting but it doesn't constitute proof of anything.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Usual Rant on German Labor Market Reform

This is triggered by a skeptical post by Matthew Yglesias noting (and contesting) the argument that German unemployment is low because the Social Democrats reformed the law to make it easier for employers to fire workers.

I can understand why right wingers would want to praise Shroeder not Merkel*, but Merkel's job sharing scheme deserves part of the credit.

Beyond that, Germans have so much contempt for Spain and Italy that they compare Germany now to Germany in the past and totally ignore anything that ever happened in Italy or Spain.   In fact you don't mention it either.  Both Spain and Italy had radical reforms of labor law vastly reducing job protection long before Germany did.   They now have dual systems where the lucky old people (such as myself) have incredibly secure jobs and most young people have very little job security (and you are young until age 35 over here).

In Spain, Italy,  and Germany the people who had job security before the reform are grandfathered (ok in Germany just fathered as the reform is more recent -- well actually not so many grandfathers in Spain or Italy either as young Spaniards and Italians don't have kids till they have job security which is basically never).

The key difference is that the reform came much earlier in Spain (mostly under Felipe Gonzales but some under Adolfo Suarez -- remember him ?) .  This means that, by continental European standards, huge fraction of Spanish workers didn't have legally protected job security (OK 35% compared to 85 90% in the USA).  This in turn means that there were a huge gigantic number of layoffs when the bubble burst.

Job security reduces hiring in economies on the way up and reduces firing on the way down.  The way to maximize employment in the medium run is to give job security to current workers and allow firms to hire new workers without giving them job security.  the problem is that after a few decades of that, you have lots of workers without job security who become unemployed the next down turn.

Yes people in Germany are enthusiastic about the new reformed labor market.  People in Spain used to be enthusiastic about their new reformed labor market.  But newly reformed labor markets have the benefits and not the costs of the reform.

By the way actual economists Samuel Bentolila and Giuseppe Bertola explained all this in 1989.

* I'm not entirely joking.  Major market oriented labor law reform reducing employment protection has IIRC always been implemented by center left governments.  That was the case in Spain and Italy as well as Germany anyway.

Comment on Post on Poll Weighting

Jed Lewison at dailykos mocks Republicans who are convinced that the polls are biased towards predicting an Obama victory because pollsters use 2008 exit polls to weight their samples.  I pile on in comments.  He links to TheHill

According to a growing number of conservatives, an accurate appraisal of polling data shows that President Obama isn't actually leading Mitt Romney by much—if at all—in the 2012 campaign.

The Romney campaign and other Republicans say polls showing President Obama with a significant lead over their candidate are inaccurate.
They argue many mainstream polls skew in Obama’s favor because of sample sizes that base 2012 turnout projections on 2008, when Democrats — and Hispanics, blacks and young voters in particular — turned out in record numbers.

I know this comment is redundant, but those Republicans are not reality based.  Note the vagueness of "many mainstream polls" .  How about an example ?  The claim that mainstream pollsters are assuming that 2008 was just another normal presidential year is not based on actual evidence (evidence presented here anyway and I am not going to click the links).

How about say SurveyUSA ?

As noted on dailykos, they didn't weight their polls in 2004(OK that was 8 years ago -- the google is timeless).


I have googled methodology site: and clicked 8 links without finding any reference to weighting based on 2008 exit polls.  Most of these are about the methodology of state level polls.
This seems semi relevant (warning teeny tiny pdf)

How the Survey was Conducted
Nature of the Sample: National Poll of 1,003 Adults
This survey of 1,003 adults was conducted on June 15th throughJune 23rd, 2011.
Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the continental United States were interviewed by telephone. Telephone numbers were selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this land-line sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers. The two samples were then combined. Results are statistically significant within ±3.0 percentage points. There are 801 registered voters.  The results for this subset are statistically significant within ±3.5 percentage points. The error margin increases for crosstabulations.  


They use weights but only weights based on the CPS not 2008 exit polls.  I assume (though it isn't explicit) that they weight so that the adult American sample fits the adult American population then let the respondents' answers determine the registered voter and likely voter subsamples.  Anyway there is no connection with 2008 voting.

apostrophe.  I mean really, even a pollster trying to cook the numbers to make Republicans give up would use some trick other than pretending that 2008 was just another year unless they are not only dishonest but stone stupid.

PPP no hint on how they choose weights on their website.  I e-mailed to ask making it very clear that I am not a potential customer so why bother responding (I like to be honest).

OK PPP does not weight their polls at all.

This is from a major advocate of weighting who also notes that it is clear that Fox and YouGov clearly didn't weight using 2008 turnout (he says they should have at least done that and better put a higher weight on Republicans).

I've been looking for a while and found no evidence that any pollster weights using 2008 turnout data.  That would be a crazy thing to do.  The widespread assertion in the right blogosphere that "many" pollsters do this convinces me that many people are crazy, but not that the crazy people are pollsters.

I mean what is the chance that Dick Morris is right about anything ? Really ?

The Gallup Anomaly Strikes Again

This year it has been widely noticed that the Gallup tracking poll looks much better for Romney than any other national poll except Rasmussen.  Steve Singiser at Daily Kos has been reporting graphs of the two trackers and non trackers separately for a long time.

The ever calm Josh Marshall mentioned it today

It's the talk of the web.  This makes 2012 just like 2008, 2004 and 2000. I posted on the *return* of the Gallup anomaly on May 11 2004.

In fact googling    gallup anomaly   gives 71 hits.

Many of them focus on the Gallup likely voter filter which is irrelevant to the current Gallup anomaly, since Gallup is still reporting results for registered voters (and yet has a Romney house effect !).

The odd thing is that Gallup remains the most respected name in polling even after all these anomalies, while Rasmussen is considered a joke.

I think  that, this year, the explanation is pretty clear -- Gallup assumes low African American turnout based on 2010 when others base on 2008 or allow the sample to be the sample without weighting.  But I don't remember where I read that.  I just quote Marshall

"Less clear is Gallup. They don’t have any obviously ideological bias. And they do use cell phones in their surveys. The issue seems to be giving more credence to a 2010 model of the electorate than a 2008 one."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Kevin Drum Link Bait

Yesterday Kevin Drum asked whether congressional generic ballot overstate the Democrats performance on average (he had the sense that they do by about 4 or 5%).  I did some arithmetic in a comment.  It seems he didn't read the comment and did some math of his own and quoted some from Sam Wang.  There is pretty general agreement that this used to be true, but ceased roughly in the past two elections.

Having averaged a total of about 12 numbers by the sweat of my brow I post my calculations here hoping for more attention (I deleted some mild churlishness).

The evidence is available on the web.
For comparison Real Clear Politics current generic  is Democrats lead by  2.2 %

Real Clear Politics 2010 outcome R + 6.8
Last RCP average (late October)     R+ 9.4 difference  R -2.6 
Polls including Sept 21 2010 (narrow window as I am doing it in my head and lazy) R+5
difference R+1.8
(latest RCP corrected with past RCP forecast  error 2.2 - 1.8  = 0.4 so fits your conclusion that Democrats not really ahead).

Just eyeballing  Sept 2010 seems to average to a strong Republican lead.

2008 Final D + 10.7 Last RCP average D + 9 Difference R  -1.7 
polls with samples including Sept 21 2008 D+  9.8 Difference R -0.9 
2006 actual outcome D + 7.9
RCP last average        D +  11.5 difference R + 3.6 
ohhhhh that's it.  The rule worked for last polls in 2006 

There no congressional generic ballot polls included Sept 21 2006, but 4 closest average to D + 11. Again fits Kevin Drums vague recollection.  None of the 2006 polls I averaged from Rasmussen.   
2004 actual result R + 2.6 final RCP average (late October) tied.  

update: RCP average of just 3 polls with 9/21/04 in their sample D + 0.33 so difference R + 2.9 
The reason I went to the huge effort of averaging 3 numbers is that maybe things are different in presidential years and mid terms.  Hmmm average for last two presidential years is R + 1.
2002 result R 4.6 last RCP average R 1.7
I'm too lazy to do hand averaging for September 2002 and 2004.It seems Kevin Drum's rule of thumb used to work, but didn't work so well in the past two elections.  My guess is that this is due to Rasmussen singlepollsterly cancelling the bias in the average of other polls (they had a  - 3.8% bias in 2010 and published Lotsssss of polls).my average of average forecast errors of polls taken around Sept 21 is R + 1.2 % (but obviously it would be better to average more polls its just arithmetic is boring).
(here R+1.2% is outcome minus poll. 

update comment:  More generally it could be the cell phone only household issue.  Many pollsters, including Rasmussen, are automated robopollsters (phone rings and you are talking to a computer). They can't call cell phones (by law).   This has added a bias which seems to have roughly cancelled the old bias.  In update above I averaged three numbers related to 2004.  The idea is that forecasting who will actually vote is very different for presidential years and midterms.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flip Flop Alert

the Hill reports a Scott Brown triple flip flop

This is the current headline

Brown’s office reiterates senator’s support for Romney

This is the URL

Something tells me that Scott Brown is not the intellectual equal of his opponent    
's left big toe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Matt Yglesias too

He wrote

"the 1986 tax reform changed the tide again by introducing the Earned Income Tax Credit."

I comment

The Earned Income Tax Credit was introduced in 1975.

"The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) grew from $3.9 billion in 1975 (in
1999 dollars), the first year it was part of the tax code"

Please google.

There was a very important expansion of the EITC in 1993 which was part of the least bipartisan bill in decades (0 Republican Senators voted for it and 0 Republican representatives voted for it).

I am totally befuddled.  So far tonight I have corrected innaccurate claims about the history of the EITC (which is all publicly available) made by you, Josh Marshall, Suzy Khimm and Ezra Klein.

Kids these days just have no idea about tax policy in the 1970s.  That means Marshall too (well also earlier Ed Kilgore who isn't a kid).

This is all very alarming.

OK on substance the 2001 Bush tax cuts reduced income tax liabilities below zero for many families.  I think the key provision was the child tax credit.  It is true that the 1986 tax reform reduced taxes paid by families with very low incomes.  That reform was definitely bipartisan initially being proposed and largely drafted by Jack Kemp and Bill Bradley (I think the 1986 reform was the high point in the lives of some inside the beltway wonks --- the bipartisan golden age which lasted for weeks even -- I'm pretty sure that's what many people have in mind when they discuss tax reform).

But some reductions of taxes which eliminated positive income tax liability for many families were fought tooth and nail by Republicans.  The 1993 expansion received 0 Republican votes. The ARRA 3 one of who was drummed out of the party and another one who is retiring because of partisanship.  Your post contains errors of fact which should be corrected, but it is also just too simple to describe the complex history of the EITC which has been caught up in the bitterest of partisan struggles

History of Tax Progressivity in the USA

OK I have been indignant about usually reliable people ascribing tax cuts for the working poor in significant part to Republicans.  This is true of one important tax cut -- the child tax credit which was part of the Bush signed 2001 tax cuts.

But there is widespread belief that the EITC was significantly expanded (or even created) by Republicans (OK Ford signed the bill).  It was introduced in 1975 at at time when Democrats had huge majorities in both houses of Congress.  It was massively expanded in 1993 by the Clinton tax bill which was supported by no (not one,zero,nessuno) Republican in Congress.  Reagan and Clngress (including the Democratic majority in the house) increased the payroll tax.  That is a tax which Romney tends to assert doesn't exist, but a dollar of payroll taxes is as much of a disincentive to work as a dollar of income tax.

To try to understand the changes I turn to Piketty and Saez (warning pdf) and in particular Table A3 "Average Tax Rates by Income Groups 1960-2004."  I will mainly look at the sum of the individual income tax and the payroll tax.  My claims

1)The sum of tax rates on low incomes increased under Reagan (the payroll tax increase outweighed income tax cuts)

2) That sum of rates was sharply cut from 1993 to 1995 (by the bill with no Republican support)

3) The average income tax rate on low incomes changed little from 1996 to 1998 -- welfare reform did not include significant tax cuts for the poor.

4) the sum declined sharply from 2001 to 2004

The table is huge and I will try to cut out comprehensible parts

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What the hell is happening in the Wonkosphere II (really III)

Suzy Khimm too

She wrote

The Earned Income Tax Credit, in particular, was created to encourage low-income people to work, diverting government resources from handouts toward incentives built into the tax code. That’s why Reagan expanded the tax break — which was created in 1975 — and Clinton used its expansion to complement welfare reform, with full support from Congressional Republicans.

Use the Wikipedia.  Use Google.  Stop embarrassing yourselves.

I comment.

There you (wonkbloggers as a group) go again.  Your claim that "Clinton used its expansion to complement welfare reform, with full support from Congressional Republicans." is absolutely 100% false.  Clinton did sign a bill which expanded the EITC.  He signed it in 1993 and it had the support of 0 (zero) Congressional Republicans.  No Republican Senator voted for the bill and no Republican representative voted for the bill.  It was the first major bill in recent decades to pass with no support at all from one party.  The bill is better known for its other features -- raising the income tax on the top 1 or 2% and raising the gasoline tax by 4.7 cents.

That bill passed in 1993 with no support at all from Congressional Republicans may have complemented welfare reform, but it was the least bipartisan bill in recent history (now equalled by the ACA).

The welfare reform bill of 1996 did not include any expansion of the EITC.   Look at the graph in this blog of  the fraction of families paying no federal income tax.  You will see it moves up and down but nothing much happens when the welfare reform bill written by Congressional Republicans was enacted.

I think the Washington Post has to run a correction.  Your claim is simply in error.

Polls and Averaging Again

I have mentioned pollsters who never polled before this election and which have Republican House effects
Purple Strategies, Baydoun Foster, We Ask America, and Gravis Marketting.

Now there is a new one Kimball Pollitical Consulting about which Markos Moulitsas writes "Kimball is a GOP consultancy with no polling track record that I could discern"  

He shows two waves of polls on the MA Senate.  Kimball has a 3 7/12 % House effect.

I am very interested in regressing Republican minus Democrat on a "No track record" dummy.  

What the Hell is Happening in the Wonkosphere ?

See below for my shoch that Ezra Klein made an incorrect claim of fact.  But that's nothing compared to Josh Marshall's howler

 One of the biggest drivers of the fact that 47% of households pay no income tax is Republican public policy. Specifically, the Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC. Now, to be clear, it’s a good policy. I’m not sure whether it’s better than others like just increasing the minimum wage. But we’re much better with it than without it. Again, though, that’s Ronald Reagan’s baby right there. And something Democrats eventually embraced. 

The EITC was introduced in 1975

"The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) grew from $3.9 billion in 1975 (in
1999 dollars), the first year it was part of the tax code"

Warning PDF

WTF !!!!!

I'm upset, because, for me, Josh Marshall is the most trusted name in news.  If he makes mistakes who can I count on ?

Comment on Klein

I posted this comment on wonkblog

This is an excellent post but it contains a factual error which should be corrected.  "you see huge jumps after Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reform and George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. " is incorrect because of the words "and 2003."  No huge drop immediately following 2003 can be seen in the graph.  In fact, unlike the 2001 tax cuts, the 2003 tax cuts did not include significant cuts to already very low income tax liabilities.

It is much more minor, but it makes no sense to call the 1986 tax reform "Reagan's"  Reagan was not aware of the content of the draft bill -- he didn't know that it included corporate income tax increases.  It makes much more sense to call it the Bradley-Kemp tax reform -- they are the ones who developed a proposal and pushed for it.   Reagan just signed.

I mention the major ARRA making work pay tax cut.  That one of the two causes of the recent spike the other being reduced employment.  Most US adults have forgotten those tax cuts.  I'd guess most wonkblog readers remember them, but I'm sure not all do and a reminder would be useful for completeness.

Note also the effect of the 1993 Clinton tax increase (passed with 0 Republican votes) . In addition to increasing taxes on high incomes and increasing the gasoline tax 4.7 cents a gallong, the bill expanded the Earned income Tax Credit.  the effect is not as dramatic as the 1986 and 2001 reforms but it is clear in the graph.

In constrast note that nothing much happened to the fraction paying Federal income tax after the 1996 welfare reform bill which absolutely did not include significant (or any IIRC) work encouraging tax cuts.

You have a tweet up incorrectly claiming that the 1996 welfare reform push included such cuts.  I think you should definitely correct your tweet (which is fundamentally innaccurate).  I also think you should update to remove the incorrect "and 2003" claim.