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Friday, January 31, 2014

Not The William Walker

This byline is a joke right ?
I trust it isn't the same William Walker who had such an impact just across the Gulf of Fonseca ? I guess it is more likely that he is the former US ambassador to El Salvador Odd posting choice given the name no ?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Frank Rich on Fox News

Frank Rich manages to show how not to analyse data and to contradict himself with two sentences. "As a pair of political analysts wrote at Reuters last year, “When the mainstream media reigned supreme, between 1952 and 1988, Republicans won seven out of the ten presidential elections,” but since 1992, when “conservative media began to flourish” (first with Rush Limbaugh’s ascendancy, then with Fox), Democrats have won the popular vote five out of six times. " Then advises "You’d think they’d be well advised to leave Fox News to its own devices so that it can continue to shoot its own party in the foot." The evidence (such as it is) does not support the conclusion. Rich claims that Fox News is bad for the Republican party and that Democrats shouldn't draw attention to Fox News. Honest debate requires us to confront our most effective intellectual adversaries. Good political strategy requires the opposite. If Rich is right that Fox News is good for Democrats, his advice to "leave Fox News to its own devices" makes no sense. The power of Fox withing the Republican Party helps Democrats win elections. Separately attention paid to Fox News convinces swing voters that Republicans are insane. It makes no sense to advise a party to not draw attention to something which benefits it. However, the evidence (such as it is) is laughably feeble given the small number of presidential elections, and the almost complete arbitrariness of the dates 1952 and 1988. The years were clearly chosen based on the outcome of Presidential elections. I'm sure Rich is smart enough to understand both of these criticisms. I think this is a case of the pundit's fallacy. Rich thinks ignoring Fox would raise the level of debate (I agree). So he argues that it would serve Democrats' partisan interests. Brevity is the soul of wit, successive sentences which contradict each other are impressive, but Rich manages to totally contradict himself in one 12 word sentence "Rather than waste time bemoaning Fox’s bogus journalism, liberals should encourage it." OK quick what would be a better way than "bemoaning" for liberals to "encourage it" ? It isn't as if Rich had neglected to note that liberal hatred is useful to Fox News "Fox News could once again brag about its power to set an agenda for its adversaries even as it also played the woebegone ­victim. " Somehow I imagine Frank Rich's grandfather arguing that Democrats should stop talking about Herbert Hoover who was no longer in office. I think I understand the issue. Rich cares about reasoned debate more than Democrats' winning elections. But his plan to convince Democrats by arguing that bemoaning Fox is an alternative to encouraging it manages to be both naive and cynical at the same time. Rich gains neither profit nor honor from his dishonest arguments for honest debate.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

QOTD and the Life of Brian

"Options are constrained to things that can be done without annoying drivers. Which is to say you're mostly doing nothing, with a side order of daydreaming about very expensive infrastructure projects." Brian: Surely we should be united against the common enemy Mattt: The Judean People's Front Bumpers

Paul Krugman declines to debate with Klein

Yesterday Paul Krugman wrote how highly he thinks of Ezra Klein (I do to). Today he criticizes someone or other who is well meaning but confused.
a variety of people, some of them well-intentioned, arguing that while sure, inequality is an issue, the crucial thing now is to get the economy growing and create more jobs; these people will argue that populism is a diversion from the main issue.
Who does he have in mind ? Jon Chait caught Paul Krugman not at all debating David Brooks.

They'll do anything at all but they can't Douthat

I comment on Chait commenting on Douthat claiming that Republicans will do something against poverty and for social mobility.
The New York Times’ Ross Douthat lists a few in his most recent column: Senator Mike Lee endorsing family-friendly tax reform ..., and Marco Rubio endorsing more generous tax credits for low-income workers without children.
The confessedly mean Chait's critique is much too kind
The weakness of these plans is that, because they add on to the existing party agenda rather than try to replace it, they don’t fully make sense. For instance, Rubio claims his tax credit plan is deficit neutral, which means his proposal to redirect more tax credits to low-income workers without children would have to come out of the pockets of low income workers with children. Or else he’d have to break his vow and add to the deficit. Lee’s tax reform likewise has no real numbers, for the same reason: The math does not work.
That's true as far as it goes, but Chait doesn't note that, given the requirement that helping the non rich not include increasing the deficit or taxing the rich more, Lee and Rubio's proposals are diametrically opposite. Lee says taxes should be reformed to make them more family friendly, Rubio says they should be reformed to make them less family friendly. Douthat describes the two exactly opposite proposals as steps in the same direction. I think it is clear that he is fairly smart, but he just isn't intellectually serious.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Invasion of the Barro Snatchers

Josh Barro wrote a great post with a Dylan Matthews type title "We Need A New Supply Side Economics — Here Are 8 Things We Can Do" The title is clearly partly ironic and deliberately provocative (who woulda thunk it) given point 8 "8. Make taxes more progressive." The whole post makes me strongly suspect that Matt Yglesias has taken control of Barro's laptop (if not his body). Even the pro-market points are pure Yglesias -- deregulate building and barbering. I just want to endorse making taxes more progressive. I think Barro concedes too much when he writes "This isn't a supply-side reform; in fact, it is likely to discourage investment and economic growth at the margin. " There is less than zero evidence for this assertion.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Choosing sides not Sides

Booman wants me to set up an account to comment at his tribune. Like hell. He debates John Sides about 2016. I want to pile on.

Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University, John Sides, attempts to rebut Dan Balz's fine analysis yesterday that the Republican Party has an uphill battle to win the presidency in 2016. I find his argument unconvincing.

He begins by providing his credentials.

"In April 2012, two other political scientists — Seth Hill and Lynn Vavreck — and I did a presidential election forecasting model for The Washington Post. The model had only three factors: The change in gross domestic product in the first two quarters of the election year, the president’s approval rating as of June of that year and whether the incumbent was running. That model forecast that Obama would win in 2012, and — although there is nothing magic about this model — it was ultimately accurate within a percentage point"
Here not Sides uses only the popular vote.

But later he decides to look at who won the election

Since the passage of the 22nd amendment limiting the president to two terms, only one time (1980-88) has the incumbent party held the White House for more than two consecutive terms. The regularity with which control of the White House changes hands also suggests that the playing field may tip in the GOP’s favor in 2016.
This is Bad statistical analysis. The result of taking a small sample, arbitrarily making it smaller and then deciding which of two variables to average.

The result of the gross data mining is to reject the null that the party that has held the White House has a 50-50 chance at a p level of 7/64 (one tailed) or 14/64 two tailed. I count 6 cases 1960, 1968, 1976, 1988, 2000 and 2008 with one exception to the "rule". This is the sort of data analysis one finds from political scientists and baseball color commentators.

As an aside, Sides's claim of fact is ambiguous and can be interpreted so it is false. The correct claim would be "Since the *ratification* of the 22nd amendment ...." passage can refer to passage by two thirds of the House and the Senate. After the 22nd amendment was passed by congress in 1947, Harry Truman was re-elected in the fifth straight Democratic victory. A statistic which depends on the distinction between congressional approval and passage of an amendment does not pass the laugh test.

But my main point is that, when he isn't grossly cheating, Sides looks at the conditional average popular vote not the outcome of the election. He does this because election outcomes have weird unpredictable stochastic elements (butterfly ballots pregnant chads and such like) which add noise. It is obvious and plain certain that Sides switched from popular vote to outcome to get the (still feeble result) he wanted. Notably, in 2000 the popular vote went the wrong way for him, so the result vanishes even if one scores elections as won or lost based on popular vote (as opposed to averaging popular vote which makes sense). In 1960 the popular vote was an lamost perfect tie. In 1968 and 1976 it was very close. The margins were (with positive supporting Sides) 1960 0.17 1968 0.7 1976 2.06 1988 -7.72 2000 -0.51 2008 7.27 the average was negative until 2008 (see how shameless sample trimming can be) and is now roughly 0.223% (I was hoping for negative based on 1988 which wasn't as horrible as I remember). The standard deviation of the mean is greater than root(22) so it is well over 4. We have a z-score on the order of 0.05. Such almost complete absence of evidence against the null is actually very rare (except when the null is true by definition except for measurement error). Even artificially trimming the sample, the raw data provide no evidence for the 8 year itch hypothesis. It is a pattern found by sifting and resifting a tiny sample. An excellent example of how one should not analyse data.


i find punctuation boring but i find this essay fascinating is the last sentence too too self referential

Friday, January 17, 2014

Damning with Faint Praise -- all time winner

Even the shrill Paul Krugman feels the need to add some balance. His j'accuse contra Hollande includes the qualification.

"1933 onward.

Modern Europe is a much better place, morally, politically, and in human terms."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ross Douthat may be a "total tool"

Ross Douthat is such a tool. He starts with a case of a liberal threatened with rape. He argues " it may be that the culture war cuts both ways" That may be an insinuation which relies entirely on what may be the ultimate weasel word. Douthat can't make the case that tehh culture war uses threats of rape both ways without uh you know doing some research. So he considers the facts he is addressing to be balanced by what may be a lazy escape to the subjunctive which may also be an attempt to deceive without quite lying by keeping his claims to vague to be false. I definitely don't care. One can compare the use of threats of rape both different groups warring over culture or one can decide not to bother, but one who does both has no useful role in any discussion (let alone the New York Times opinion pages). Then he tries to equate liberal and libertine. Of course he knows that liberals contest the claim that we value only licence and don't care about liberty. So he escapes using quotation marks "his attitude is 'liberal' in that it regards sexual license as an unalloyed good." An editor (if there were one) would demand to know who Douthat was quoting. Of course he uses quotation marks because he wants to insert a false claim into the discussion without taking any responsibility for that claim. He knows Times readers won't accept the lie that "liberalism" means "libertinism"*. He doesn't dare make that false claim. But he can't resist insinuating it. So he quotes no one. I think the NY Times should have a rule that quotation marks are used to distinguish mentioning a word from using it (*as I did above) or for direct quotations (in which case the quoted person or persons must be identified to the editor even if it must be kept from readers because he or she is a whistle blower or they are whistle blowers). The opinion page "editor" is not doing his job. The claim that Abe Rosenthal is an "editor," which I do not believe, is a quotation of this web page * these are legitimate quotations marks used to indicate that the words are mentioned not used as in "Plato" has two vowels but no eyes, while Plato had two eyes but no vowels.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Our Journal of Record

New York Times Correction Correction: January 10, 2014 An earlier version of this article misidentified the state where Andrew M. Cuomo is governor. It is New York,

No I will not blog about September's George Washington Bridge Traffic I will resist

OK so I lied.

There has been a whole lot of discussion of the implausibility of Christie's claim that he was blindsided by evidence that the traffic jam wasn't just a traffic study the day after his first sleepless night, after two resignations and after he complained directly to governor Cuomo about the investigation.

I think he is being almost honest. I am sure he was blindsided. I am sure he has long known that the lane closings were petty political revenge (I suspect that he knew this since he ordered them). But I am sure he was confident that his staff weren't such a bunch of fools as to e-mail proof -- oh and as to hand over the e-mails rather than losing them in a hard disk crash or something.

I am amazed. It takes me back to my childhood when I learned that the smart and evil Richard Nixon taped himself committing crimes and then didn't destroy the tapes.

The point is that his astonishment and sense of betrayal could be totally sincere. He was astonished to get caught. I am astonished too.

OK but this post should be about how we have gone way over the edge and into the frozen Hudson.

This tweet " robertwaldmann ‏@robertwaldmann 9 Jan My whole timeline is Christie precognitive insomnia. Someone tweet something else. Anything." lamented the fact that the best tweeters of the worlds most powerful super power were obsessed with two phantom toll booths.

I was retweeted three times favorited twice and someone replied with news about Velveeta cheese.

"Mike Urbancic and Unholy Moses favorited your Tweet

9 Jan: My whole timeline is Christie precognitive insomnia. Someone tweet something else. Anything. Mike Urbancic Unholy Moses


9 Jan Vaughan Lovegrove, Joe Colucci and J. Bradford DeLong retweeted you

9 Jan: My whole timeline is Christie precognitive insomnia. Someone tweet something else. Anything. Vaughan Lovegrove Joe Colucci J. Bradford DeLong

Paul Greaves ‏@greavespg 9 Jan @robertwaldmann @delong #FlavorFlav got arrested. There is a #Velveeta cheese shortage. Lots of good stuff other #ChrisChristie :-)"

We have a serious problem. We have a whole lot of serious problems. Why are we obsessed with the epitome of petty malice ? Are we just looking for someone who makes our twitter flame wars read like Platonic dialogs ? Uh oh did I just convince Brad DeLong to tweet a Platonic dialogue ?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Poverty and the Laboratories of Democracy

Kevin Drum reports on the latest effort by a Republican to pretend he gives a damn about the poor. Marco Rubio proposes, among other things, the bold new idea of block grants. Drum condemns the proposal, but writes that there have been some advantages from Fedralism. I throw a cow.

He wrote

"state experimentation, a la welfare reform in the early 90s, could be pretty valuable." "if each of the various state policies were rigorously studied."

I comment.

Yes indeed. Unfortunately, the two clauses together suggests you imagine that state experiments in welfare reform were rigorously studied back in the 90s.

Before going on, let me note my debt to your post "so the costs of welfare reform weren't so low after all" or something, which is one of the main influences on my thoughts most weeks (really).

So what have we learned from a state level welfare reform experiment ? Well we now know that welfare reform kills people

"research of Peter Muennig, Zohn Rosen and Elizabeth Ty Wilde

From 1994 to 1999, Florida randomly selected a group of welfare recipients into either the Family Transition Program (FTP), ... or the then-standard Aid for Families with Dependent Children welfare program (AFDC“participants in the experimental group had a 16 percent higher mortality rate than members of the control group (hazard ratio: 1.16; 95% confidence interval: 1.14, 1.19; p < 0.01). This amounts to nine months of life expectancy lost between the ages of thirty and seventy for people in FTP."

Odd that this statistically significant result from an actual experiment has had no influence on the debate at all. There is little point having laboratories of democracy if people ignore the experimental results and just go with their prejudices as we do.

Now one problem with using state level experiments is that the devil is in the details and the devil wrote all the details of the national Welfare Reform bill. The original idea from say Clinton (or implemented in Florida under Lawton Chiles) was to offer much more help to people on welfare trying to get off it and also to impose a deadline. The national bill imposed a deadline, made the budget a rigid block grant and left the rest up to the states.

The rigidity was key -- to be able to say that the Federal welfare entitlement was eliminated, the budget was made a function of time. This is why TANF enrollment didn't increase during the recession when, for any sane program design, it would have increased. It also meant that in the late 90s boom welfare budgets were flush. That meant that there happened to be more money for welfare to work assistance. This added to the insane delusion that good outcomes for the poor in the late 90s showed the reform worked (the childless poor did well too, as did the middle class and the rich). Now the reform causes less money for welfare to work assistance, because states can barely keep the poor from starving given the rigid Federal contribution.

In contrast, the Florida bill included massive (and not accidental) increases in help with training, child care, transportation and health insurance. I read and was convinced by, an article about how wonderful it was (in even the liberal New Republic). This makes the demonstrated fact that it killed people much more striking. We know that Floridas welfare reform killed people. We can be quite sure that national welfare reform did too.

But the mere fact that a reform killed Americans is not worthy of any notice (not even here my number one source for info on what went wrong with welfare reform).

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Komments on Kilgore

Here are some of my usual comments on Ed Kilgore. Unlike me, he has been very interesting lately. He is clearly trying to reconcile the centrist and populist wings of the Democratic party noting that they agree on the main things (mostly that Republicans are evil nutcases). I think I will call this effort to link the way left and the third way "the fourth way".

He wrote a very good post January 2nd and an even better one January 3rd. I have to cut out part of my first comment on his January 2nd post

Ah but we haven't achieved a popular front of the legitimate left, because I can't resist alleging that you fall into a contradiction Your colleagues at the "Progressive Policy Institute ... support “centrist” policies because they believe in them, *NOT* just because more liberal policies are politically difficult ..." and " share the left’s ... goals, but disagree over ... political strategy" So is the disagreement about policy or politics ? You assert both. I note that some people (one associated with the Progressive Policy Institute) are unwilling to debate welfare policy without appealing to politics when the going gets rough (Ed Kilgore and Elaine Kamarck come to mind but you are legion).
And compare it with this from his January 3rd post

“populists” and “centrists” need to more clearly examine their common ground before establishing battlegrounds, and in particularly separate arguments over political strategy from arguments over substantive policy.
I have been writing that in comments for years.

n my 3 comments from Jauary 2nd You seem to be trying to be more irenic even than EJ Dionne. Oh the Ireny it burns (or soothes or does whatever ireny would do if "ireny" were a word).

However, it's hard to keep the peace in the world's oldest disorganized political party. In particular "Everyone legitimately on the Left" is a call to arms. Your peace proposal includes a shibboleth -- no enemies on the left among those who support universal health care. As you note, there are also those illegitimately pretending to agree with " progressives’—values and policy goals" bur really, say, serve the interests of their rich financier financers (I won't name names or count the ways in which they have let their masks slip).

OK I will. I think that we can agree that the Progressive Policy Institute is progressive. I think we can agree that The Third Way is " the kind of “centrism” that represents elites as against popular movements of the left or the right." I hope we can agree to disagree about the DLC (and AFDC which, like the DLC, doesn't exist anymore).

[part cut out and posted above]

second comment

Really honestly trying to just move on I clicked "American Service Provision is Extraordinarily Inefficient" and read your comrade at political animal Ryan Cooper "Anyway, this is just to say that the inefficiency of the kludgeocracy shows up in all kinds of ways. As Matt says, it might be time to move away from the “tax credit du jour” policy model and back towards good old direct government service provision." I think this has clear relevance to the debate between the PPI center-left and the further left about " program design". We have evidence on the efficiency of reinvented government. It is clear. It may be impossible to convince swing voters, but we should be able to agree among ourselves on whether the problem with big government is purely a matter of electoral politics or if the argument that progressive goals are better met by means other than direct provision is consistent with the available data. third comment

But really this post is brilliant. You are so right that on the legitimate left there are serious debates which are dwarfed by the clash with Republicrazy.

My comment on his January 3 post

Heh indeed. I'd consider pure 200 proof populism to be "soak the rich and spread it out thin" or precisely the proposal to increase taxes on the rich and cut taxes on everyone else.

In 1992 Clinton ran making that proposal. There was a debate with a focus group with the dials and when Clinton said "only the rich got tax cuts" declared Bush supporters dialed in agreement. The pure populism was supported by Clinton suppoerters, undecided voters and Bush supporters. Also Clinton won the election.

Similarly Obama ran promising higher taxes for the rich and lower taxes for the middle class. Differently Obama delivered. Notably the class warrior populist proposal was made by all Democrats elected president after Reagan.

Of course Clinton was quite different from Edwards (and Obama) because his health care proposal was far to the left of theirs.

Also Al Gore is a hero to the left now because he is still saying what he always said about global warming.

I can't resist quoting from my comment on your Dionne post from yesterday "So is the disagreement about policy or politics ? You assert both. " and now from your current post "“populists” and “centrists” need to more clearly examine their common ground before establishing battlegrounds, and in particularly separate arguments over political strategy from arguments over substantive policy."

Heh indeeeed

Friday, January 03, 2014

DeLong's questions

Brad asks

There are a large number of serious and, so far, unanswered questions about the financial panic of 2007-2009 and our current macroeconomic predicament. Among them are:

1)Why is housing investment still so far depressed below any definition of normal?

2)Why has labor-force participation collapsed so severely?

3) Why the very large spread between yields on safe nominal assets like Treasuries and yields on riskier assets like equities?

4) Why didn't the housing bubble of the mid-2000s produce a high-pressure economy and rising inflation?

5) To what extent was the collapse of demand in 2008-2009 the result of the financial crisis and to what extent a simple consequence of the collapse of household wealth?

6) Why has fiscal policy been so inept and counterproductive in the aftermath of 2008-9?

7) Why hasn't more been done to clean up housing finance (in America) and banking finance in Europe)?

I will try to answer

1. Housing. My guess is that trends were and are being chased. I think that the once normal level of housing investment was caused by irrationally high expected returns based on the false belief that the ratio of the price of a house to the CPI typically increased quite rapidly over time. Efforts to deal with this assume that the bubble began some time in the 21st century. The belief was strong in the late 20th. Current housing investment could be the new normal (I mean US houses are huge). I would guess also that people consider houses to be terrible investments now. Here I am thinking mostly of the perceived risk of a house as an investment.

2. Not much on labor force participation. I'd mostly guess this is the result of prolonged high unemployment. Also maybe higher than previously guessed elasticity of labor supply by people who are in their 50s and whose children are grown up and financially independent (last qualifier meaning not people like us whose children study on and on).

3) As usual, I reject the premise of your third question.

"Why the very large spread between yields on safe nominal assets like Treasuries and yields on riskier assets like equities?" Hmm it used to be that the alternative to safe nominal assets wich you considered were mortgage backed bonds and low rated corporate bonds. I think what we have here is a determination to defende the shortage of safe assets hypothesis from the data. I note that the S&P dividend yield is extraordinarily low there is no sign of extreme reluctance to buy equities.

Rather the data show that there *was* an extraordinary desire for safety back in 2008-9 causing extremely low stock prices which have since returned to normal. You can identify the return on stock with the required return only if you assume perfect foresight (that is that stock isn't risky at all).

I would conclude that Mill did not diagnose the US economy's current illness in 1828.

4) This is the tough one and the one most relevant to the post. I'd say that just NIP accounting says it was the trade deficit (so the *global* savings glut).

5) This is a pretty simple empirical question. Baker has a strong argument that forecasts of effects of reduced house prices based on pre-2006 data work well so there is nothing else. But Lehman. I tend to find Baker convincing on this one (which is boring). 6) That is politics not economics and, clearly, it comes down to the usual question: are Republicans more stupid of more evil.

7) I really hope that the answer to 7a is "Edward De Marco" but I fear that the problem is broader and not resolved. I'd say more generally terror of moral hazard if anyone but a banker is bailed out plus the bankers own Washington so will not be forced to take a haircut for their bad underwriting (even though the haircut could be in their collective interest as the problem is trying to free ride on the reduction someone else's principal).

7b is bankers don't like to be cleaned up and they are powerful in Europe too.

update: redundancy redacted plus link for a link, here are Arnold Kling's answers