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Monday, September 30, 2013

Normalizing the Filibuster

Well it's happened.  The Senate Republican caucus has convinced journalists that filibusters are normal

In the New York times Jeremy W. Peters and Jonathan FBD Weisman write.

"All Mr. Reid needs are 51 Democrats to vote with him — not the usual 60-vote threshold required for most Senate business "

Evidently, filibusters are usual, part of normal order.  The strange fact that 51 senators count for more than 49 senatorls is not usual. It wasn't always this way.  I'm old enough to remember when filibusters were rare and the norm that Senators only filibustered bills related to  issues on which they cared passionately. The new normal is that anything but naming post offices requires 60 votes. 

The secret (aside from Jonathan FBD Weisman being hired by the New York Times) is that the House Republican Caucus is so extreme they make the Senate Republican caucus look like statesmen.

Also note that bloggers need to learn about civility from respectable journalists like Weisman.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cruz is Vain

Cruz is a selfish publicity hound.  Also water is wet.  Cruz's 21 hour speech wasn't a serious effort to obstruct, because it did not delay final passage of the bill.  Yes we have reached the point of distinguishing serious policy relevant obstruction and showboating pseudo obstruction.

 Meredith Shiner and Niels Lesniewski at Roll Call explain that Cruz proposed faster approval of the bill, because he cares more about ratings than legislature.

Though it is unclear whether leaders will accept Cruz’s offers, the fact that Cruz moved at all from his original position that the Senate should take up full debate time to Sunday could mark progress toward avoiding a shutdown. Many, including most Senate Republicans, view government shutdown as an unavoidable outcome unless the GOP cedes debate time. On Wednesday morning, Cruz offered to open debate on the House-approved continuing resolution by unanimous consent as long as the majority agreed to hold the vote to cut off debate on Friday, so more people might pay attention to it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I told You so.

I told you so (if and only if you are Mark Kleiman which I really hope you are because I would be honored if he read this blog).

The latest news on Taegan Goddard's Political Wire
via Doug Milhous

"A ...* academic paper digging into presidential betting in the final 
weeks of the 2012 election finds that a single trader lost between $4 million and $7 million placing a flurry of Intrade bets on Mitt Romney -- perhaps to make the Republican nominee's chance of victory appear brighter," the Wall Street Journal reports. 

"The anonymous trader placed 1.2 million pro-Romney contracts, some of which were actually in the form of bets against a Barack Obama victory. The most plausible reason for the betting, the authors conclude, is that 'this trader could have been attempting to manipulate beliefs about the odds of victory in an attempt to boost fundraising, campaign morale, and turnout.'"
aha just as I suspected.  

Mark Kleiman asked "Wha' Happened"

and I commented 

  1. Robert Waldmann says:
    putting my tinfoil hat on, I have an Intrade odds guess. way back when the Intrade Obama odds were 60% the implied probability of an Obama victory was significantly higher at Betfair and Ladbrooks. There was an arbitrage opportunity (says Richard Thaler who should know). I had a guess that someone was manipulating the Intrade odds. It wouldn’t take much money (and the expected cost of manipulating odds is second order ). Intrade gets much more attention than other markets. All operatives agree that polls which would be good for a candidate if true helps** the candidate. Why wouldn’t some of Romney’s super rich maxed out supporters bet on Romney at Intrade (but not on sites which aren’t reported all over) ?
    The spike might be some market manipulator giving up.
    Paranoid ? Sure. But just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that some market manipulator has decided to cut his losses.

* mandatory "fair" use ellipses.

**I tries to conjugate and not add incorrect s's, but sometimes I just can't helps myself.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

gadgets Yglesias and Baker

Matt Yglesias says the median household is probably richer than the median household in 1989.  Oh that we have come to this.  Take the mike Matt

 Despite rising health care and education prices, we don't have fewer people going to college or seeing the doctor and we do have bigger houses, more and better cars, better food, and much better gadgets and entertainment.

Your case is very strong. The point is that neither the BLS nor the Bureau of the Census consider the increase in living standards due to new cool gadgets at all.  See DeLong on Baker arguing this is no big deal for the median consumer

When a new good is introduced, it is as if the price declines from infinity (you just can't buy it because it doesn't exist is just the same as you can buy it for infinity dollars because it doesn't exist). But the price indices assume that the introduction of a brand new good makes no difference.  Effectively they assume that there is an old good which is a perfect substitute for the new good so people are indifferent between buying the old good or the new good for it's new price.

Now it is possible to semi deal with this bias.  The price of really fundamentally new goods which have just been introduced is so high that very few people buy them (what milage does your Tesla Roadster get ?) .  Yes some people are better off, but they are few and very rich and who cares. Then the price declines rapidly.  However, the weird new rarely bought goods are not included in the baskets used to construct the indices.  This means that by waiting until the super cool but super expensive phase is over, the BLS and the Census accept a bias.  The new good has caused a non negligible change in living standards before the BLS notices it.

Baker shot himself in the foot.  He considered the case of cell phones (I'm as old as Baker and remember when they were silly status symbols for rich conspicuous consumers -- I even remember the fake cell phones with nothing inside bought by the pathetic wannabe rich as conspicuous fake consumption).

"I once debated an economist... asked him how much this oversight led to an overstatement in the cost of living for the half of the population that still didn't own a cell phone.... [R]emembering economic theory, he gave the correct answer "zero.""

Ah but is that exactly half ? If 51% don't own a cell phone *and* cell phone ownership is perfectly perfectly correlated with income, then the oversight had zero  effect on the cost of living for median income consumers (and therefore on median real income).  if 49% don't own a cell phone, then the oversight must cause an underestimate of median real income.  Since no correlation is perfect, Baker's argument that the oversight has no effect on estimates of median real income is undoubtably incorrect.

Now cell phone ownership has changed.  There are many 3rd world people who own cell phones who don't have electric current (so there are cell phone charging stations).  Figuring out a way to, say, bank with a cell phone is figuring out a way to extend services to the poor There are many people excluded from what we consider the modern economy who have cell phones.  The price of cell phones is relevant to world median income not just US median income. Baker chose a very poor example.

Wiki as lightening.

The Wikipedia sure is fast as it's name implies.  I was surprised to find this article on the front page of "U.S. narrowly escaped nuclear blast in 1961 H-bomb accident, document says"

I thought that was a well known fact.  In particular, I thought it was well know that the blast was prevented by one safety switch which didn't flip to active as five others did.  My impression is that Flora Lewis (long time NYTimes columnist) wrote a book basically about European reactions to the incident.

To find proof that this was well known, I went to the relevant wiki.  Indeed, the wiki reported that it is agreed that the blast was very narrowly averted (it reported that 3 of 4 arming mechanisms activated not 5 of 6 as I had believed since around 1982)

 it was found that both bombs were fully functional and that the pilot's safe/arm switch was indeed all that prevented detonation.[9][10]
OK so what is this footnote 10
  1. Jump up to:a b Pilkington, Ed (20 September 2013). "US nearly detonated atomic bomb over North Carolina – secret document"The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
Jesus H-bomb Christ.  it is 21 September 2013 and the wiki has been updated to include a reference to an article published on 20 September 2013.   Also consulting the Wikipedia is a good way to find out what is generally agreed (and a bunch of claims flagged as contested) but it is a terrible way to find out how long things have been generally believed.

Update: I am totally wrong.  To find out how long things have generally believed you just have to click on [view history]. See below as Michael Froomkin explains to me how it is done.

This is very interesting as you can get the same news from the September 21 2013 front page of with content provided by the Associated Press or with from the August 29 2013 wiki edited by ohconfucius.  

The web surpasses the MSM more than you imagine possible even taking into consideration the fact that the web surpasses the MSM more thn you imagine possible.
end update

This also reminds me of the liberalbubble.  There are a bunch of claims that many liberals consider to be solidly demonstrated and well known, but which are not considered to be known facts by, say the AP or The Washington Post.  This is vaguely similar to the bunch of claims that conservatives consider well known which are not accepted as facts by the MSM (convincing conservatives that the MSM has a liberal bias).

In fact the claim was not generally agreed to be true and was contested.  It was made by Daniel Ellsberg  but contested by the Defence Department.

I have a very strong impression that there is a difference between the conservabubble and the liberalbubble: the claims that liberals and only liberals think we know tend to be true.  The emergence from the bubble is, in this case, the MSM saying we were right all along.  The emergence of beliefs from the conservabubble includes the MSM involuntarily laughing at a conservative for saying something absurd (or more often a liberal blogger discovering and reporting the latest amazing conservafantasy).

The Wikipedia is wiki.  Reality has a clear liberal bias. 2+2=4.

update: pulled back from comments. Michael Froomking explains to me how it is done.  Bottom line is that by August 29 2013 the Wikipedia had the shocking claim and it was supported by a link to an official document dated 1961.  I will try to find how long ago the Wikipedia first reported today's front page news.

hmm OK there with documentation on Valentines day 2013 (footnote 9 with the proof was footnote 8 back then) it is in full
OOAMA Airmunitions Letter. No. 136.11 56G, HQ. April 18, 1961.

It was footnote 6 on 14 March 2012

OK on  29/7/10 the Wikipedia reported the issue as he said they said Ellsberg v the DOD with no link to the document proving Ellsberg was right on

on 4/12/2011 the Wikipedia still didn't have the goods.
same on 2/11/11
getting there 1/24/2012
"Later, however, it was found that both bombs were fully functional. Of the Air Force statement that a) there were two bombs, b) they were unarmed, c) they were both recovered, and d) there was no danger: only the part about being two bombs was true."

OK footnote 6 there 2/23/2012

It appeared in the Wikipedia February 8 2012
It's not here at 1:37
It was added by keep19 at 1:55 February 8 2012 
(and on September 20th 2013 the Guardian caught up with the wikipedia).

The guardian may have new information related to the 3 of 4 (or 5 of 6) switches, but there was published proof that the DOD was lying when it denied Ellsberg's claims cited by keep19 on the Wikipedia  1:55 2/8/12 and ingored by the MSM until yesterday.

I pull Michael Froomkin schooling me back from comments.

Anonymous Michael Froomkin said...
But if you want last week's conventional wisdom, go to last week's version, which is always available. So wikipedia might be a good way to demonstrate (in the sense of sufficient but not necessary) when something is generally believed, it just requires you to roll back versions until the fact appears....
8:39 PM

Blogger Robert said...
You are a major webonaut so You can just go to last week's version. I don't know how to.

You are telling me that I can find last week's Wiki somehow to check if footnote 10 was just adding further confirmation (the claim is supported by notes 9 and 10 and 9 is a 1961 document -- I *guess* the one which was just declassified, but maybe the old wiki had footnote 9 so the alleged news isn't news.

How ?
9:11 PM

Blogger Robert said...
Hmmm let's see. How about I click the "view history" buton 'cause history tends to be about the past.

Wow lot's of links to click. Many of them about edits on 20 September and 21 September 2013. Let's go back to the wiki as edited by Ohconfucious on August 29 2013. Omigod footnote 9 is there.

I stand corrected. The Wikipedia is a good way to find out what is agreed (and contested claims) *and* when the agreement occured (and contested claims were made).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Comment on a Cowan excerpt

Kevin Drum quotes Tyler Cowan and I wrote a huge comment (without clicking the link) just about the quoted passage.

"Tyler Cowen posits today that on economic issues, the right wing was both more dynamic and more correct than the left during the 70s and 80s, with "peak right" coming in 1989. After that, the left became more dynamic and more interesting. Obviously this is an arguable hypothesis, but let's put it aside for a moment to consider this:
The relative rise of the Left peaks in 2009, with the passage of Obamacare and the stimulus. From that point on, the left wing, for better or worse, is a fundamentally conservative force in the intellectual arena. It becomes reactive and loses some of its previous creativity.
Over those years, right wing thought, on the whole, became worse and more predictable and also less interesting. But excess predictability now has infected the left wing also. Attacking stupid ideas put forward by Republicans, whether or not you think that is desirable or necessary, has become their lazy man’s way forward and it is sapping their faculties."

I'm pretty sure I shouldn't comment on this one. I will mention in passing that I think Cowan is totally 10% completely wrong that right wing economists in the 70s and 80s were more more correct than the left. They were certainly more dynamic. I. will. not. go. there then.

But about now, I don't really have a clue who Cowan is talking about (always click the link --Kevin Drum). Basically, I don't know if he is talking about academic research or public intellectuals. Well to be honest, I am fairly confident he is talking about Krugman. In any case it's what Krugman wrote about Krugman.

I should click the link, but I will consider both possibilities.

1. Academic economists: Here there is great ferment. There are two fields which aren't going much of anywhere (macroeconomics and theory) [on both points those are my views but I am paraphrasing Andrei Shleifer].

There is a huge amount of new interesting work on applied microeconometrics -- oh hell analyzing experiments and natural experiments. The most energetic participants in this effort are leftists. There is little sitting on laurels in ivy covered halls.

In contrast, as far as I know, academic macroeconomics hasn't changed that much. The colossal failure of standard models (which are New Keynesian not the models developed by conservatives in the 80s) has had a small effect on the literature (as far as know and as I don't click the links you may suspect I don't keep up). The idea that it is best to assume that bubbles can't happen remains dominant. I stress that this is assumed in almost all New Keynesian models. Something like,say, a housing bubble or a dot com bubble is barely allowed in academic macro modelling (AFAIK).

Despair is much more common than complacency. 

2. Public intellectuals and activists and such are very far from complacent. I can think of only one place I read something vaguely arguably along the lines of "our work is mostly done". It was here.

In general there is vigorous discussion of what is to be done competing with the repeated discussion that none of it can be done while the Republicans have the house, enough senators to filibuster and insanity.

A new very active topic on which economic research informs the policy  debate is early childhood education (DeBlasio's big issue and also one stressed by Obama).  Here public intellectuals and even policy makers seem to have been influenced by academic research -- by J Heckman at the U Chicago economics department.  The evidence is very solid.  The obvioius application is a pipe dream. The fact that the Chicago economics department is providing strong evidence in favor of a policy proposal which is so ultraleft that it is off the agenda gives us a hint as to the vitality of left and right policy analysis.

Another is lead about which I learned all I know here.  This is an incredibly important topic and there has been a dramtic advance in knowledge.  More generally, over at there is a lot of vigorous exploration of possible improvements on the lock em up strategy.  I don't see complacency.  Since the USA has the highest incarceration rate in the world and recently had the highest in our recorded history, it doesn't seem that lefist small c conservatism is much of a menace.

There is active research on the effect of immigration and possible effects of immigration reform.  Here there is a policy relevant debate in which most academics, most of the public and most policy makers agree on what should be done.  And it won't happen.

Also global warming.

Oh and deep poverty and re-reforming reformed welfare (again I learned about the issue here).

I see no complacency, no lack of new ideas or unanswered questions.  

The reason so many left of center commentators spend so much time arguing against stupid ideas is that a majority of Representatives believe stupid ideas and are willing to endanger the full faith and credit of the USA to advance them.

I will end (hey don't chear) with 4 questions.

What would Cowan write if you couldn't think of any recent useful contribution to any discussion make by a conservative or libertarian ? Would he write about how it wasn't always that way and probably won't be that way in the future? Is that what he just wrote ?  Why else would he write what he just wrote ?

Monday, September 16, 2013

11 dimensional Teresa

11 dimensional Teresa

"More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones"

 - St Teresa of Avila 

"It’s absolutely one of the possible outcomes of a debt limit negotiation, and likely given the President’s proclivity for delaying sections of this law. Whether it’s a mandate delay, or delaying the law entirely, it depends on a great deal of other factors."

- GOP aid e-mailing to Greg Sargent

Hmm the original 11 dimensional chess fantasy was that Obama had scared the health Insurance lobby (AHIP) into supporting health care reform so long as there is a mandate by arguing that a mandate was not needed.  Obviously that was 1 dimensional pandering as no one is going to get elected President by proposing a mandate.

But Republicans evidently enjoyed AHIP publicly opposing them so much that they want to experience it all over again starting now (and yearly as once they get one delay they will demand a years delay each year).  

The mandate is needed to prevent free riders from bankrupting health insurance companies.  It is very unpopular.  The argument that a year's delay of the individual mandate is like a year's delay of the employer mandate will be very appealing.  

I think an argument to AHIP that they will get a mandate only if they get a Democratic majority in the House would go very nicely with an argument to the not currently medicaid eligible poor that they will get medicaid only if they get Democratic majorities in state legislatures.

My daily comment on Ed Kilgore

Today Kilgore is optimistic that Obamacare derangement syndrome with be very costly for Conservatives.  I agree almost 100% but I think it is past time for him to realize just how long ordinary people can remain uninformed

My comment

This is an excellent post. I'm pretty sure that most Republicans in Congress understand the issue and that this is why they are so desperate to stop Obamacare before it is implemented and becomes popular. 

You only briefly (with one word "Many") consider what I think is the key open question.
Many of them will soon realize they are now eligible for Medicaid, or that they would have been eligible if Republican .
seniors eligible for Medicare who have been misinformed about ACA’s impact on their own benefits. When they realize that’s not true,

But will they "realize" it ?  The "Many" implies that many people denied Medicaid by insane Republicans won't realize what happened.  Many people with income less than four thirds of the poverty line don't know about the Medicaid expansion.  Many in states which opt out won't learn about it for years (or maybe ever).  

You don't even include a "Many" when discussing Medicaid recipients.  I am sure that many will believe that theif own benefits have been cut by Obamacare.  In some poll (no link) about 30% of US adults said that George Bush Jr had increased their taxes.  People can believe the strangest things about what has happened to their personal bank account (underpants gnomes have hacked mine which is why they are still in business).

I'm confident that, in the end, Obamacare will be popular.  But I fear that won't happen by Tuesday November 4th 2014.  I also fear that when it is popular Tea partiers will be carrying "keep your government hands of my state-exchange care" signs.

Conservatism survive because conservatives are reality resistant.  Ignorance is strength.

ps Dan if you pick this one up, I will post an even more pointless comment on Kilgore tomorrow.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Kilgore has more on Beinart and I commented again

 However, we did try it. I think the evidence is that in huge swathes of the economy bureaucratic mechanisms are much more efficient than non-bureacratic mechanisms. One, obviously, is health care where the spending is systematically higher in countries with a non-bureaucratic approach without better outcomes. "non-bureacratic mechanisms like markets" certainly includes Medicare advantage which achieved the same results at 14% higher cost.

I'd say that outsourcing intelligence to Booz Allen Hamilton worked fine if you consider (as I do) the effort to be mainly a threat to our liberties, so complete failure is better than operational success.

I don't think outsourcing defence of diplomats to Blackwater worked that well. Also Benghazi.

Also market friendly deregulation didn't work out so well.

Also the rate of deep poverty (income less than half the poverty line) has broken all records.

The point of experimentation is to learn. "decentralized exerimentation" is a means to improve policy by analyzing the outcomes of the experiments.  I think that most of the new Democrats who were willing to do that have discovered that the public bureacracy is surprisingly efficient compared to the alternatives.

Look it's 20 years later. New Democrats just can't argue that they just want to "try it". It's been tried. We can learn from the results of the massive experiments. I think it is very clear that some of the people who argued with rigid ideological straw men are rigid ideologues who will not deal with data. Others including Diane Ravitch, Peter Beinart and Ed Kilgore have learned from the, at best, mixed success of new Democratic policy experiments, and that's a wonderful thing.

What’s “progressive” about insisting that the ideal governing model was found in the impure compromises and constant experimentation of the 1990s?

*For the blog, note that Kilgore ballanced the presentation of the new Democrat case with "But the high comfort-level of New Dems with market forces brought all sorts of temptations to excessive compromises with conservatives and coziness with powerful business interests."

The Nation's Finest News Source

We are now well into the second Onion decade.  The Onion demonstrates that social science has actual predictive power.  In 2008 they predicted a Miley Cyrus burnout in 2013.,14246/

Travel advisory -- stay out of EtchaSketchistan

Friday, September 13, 2013

On Ed Kilgore's thoughts on Pieter Beinart.

He wrote

he mentions both the Washington Monthly and the New Republic (which he used to edit) as onetime journalistic bulwarks of the soon-to-be discarded Clintonism (and Obamism) that have now “moved left,” I would point out to him the not-exactly-distant-pastMarch/April issue of WaMo devoted to praise of Obama as great president who continued Clinton’s legacy. My own basic view is that Clinton and Obama and virtually all center-left folk have “moved left” in response to conservative counter-revolutionary activity, the disastrous consequences of the Bush Era, and other manifestations of objective reality. As my resolutely New Demish friend Will Marshall observed nearly a decade ago, “we’re all populists now” thanks to W., who’s now being denounced as a RINO piker by most of his GOP successors.

I comment

"other manifestations of objective reality" heh indeed.   I think that in the intra-Democratic party debate, reality has a clear liberal bias.   Let's pretend that there is no Republican party (it's real fun to do that).  There would still be new information relevant to the debate between the past eventheliberal Peter Beinart and the current actually liberal Peter Beinart (I should admit that I haven't read the recent Beinart article).

1) Financial deregulation was not just a Bush era phenomenon.  The key error was almost Bush era (the commodity futures modernization act signed by Clinton in December 2000) but the enthusiasm for deregulation and new financial instruments was not new then.   Alan Greenspan was reappointed by Clinton (and enthusiastically applauded by Paul Krugman).  The economic disaster convinced many Democrats that they (we ?) had mistaken views about finance and financial regulation in the 90s.

2) Welfare reform.  I have a rule not to discuss that topic here so I won't go on.

3) liberal interventionism.  This is closely related to Bush's insanity.  But recall how many otherwise sane Democratic bloggers and pundits supported the invasion of Iraq.  Even without Iraq the inevitable extreme difficulty of the necessary war in Afghanistan would have caused a big shift.

4) reinventing government.  IIRC the idea was that it was possible to achieve progressive goals of public policy with fewer public employees by contracting out and using vouchers.   I think there is a lot of evidence that this costs more not less (dramatically in the case of Medicare advantage).  The idea that the Federal Bureacracy is inefficient is very hard to reconcile with accounting data.

5) The continued decline in crime.  This may in part be the result of vastly harsher sentencing (recall the Clinton signed Crime bill passed in 1994 included a practically irrelevant 3 strikes and you're out clause and introduced the death penalty for about 50 new crimes).  But the result is a huge shift from tough on crime to sentencing reform.  I think this has very little to do with any post 2000 Republican insanity. Also I think the decline in crime has a lot to do with a sensible action by a Republican president -- Nixon signing the clean air act and getting lead out of gasoline.

6) the continued increase in inequlity but without extraordinary economic growth.  Unless the late 90s were the new normal,  the huge increase in inequality (which started in 79) is inconsistent with decent growth of median incomes.  That will lead to populism.  Post 2000 Republican insanity is not needed.

Basically, I think almost all of the centrist Demcorats' hypotheses were incorrect and have been disproven by the data.   I think the debate within the party has developed more or less as rational debate would have.  I don't think that Republican insanity should have been needed.  I also guess that you are right that it played an important role, but the evidence should have been enough.