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Sunday, September 22, 2019


I am typing on my mom's computer. She introduced me to personal computers (some time ago). She was fairly fluent in DOS (explanatory not for kids these days -- never mind you wouldn't believe what people used to put up with). She basically stopped using her computer for anything but e-mail due to the Windows 8 catastrophe. I personally kept using Windows 7 as long as I could. Windows 10 is OK, because it can be set to act like Windows 95- Windows 7 (also known as pretty much the Mac user interface with just enough differences to win the look and feel lawsuit). There must have been a Windows 9, but I don't want to know about it.

Mom has ceased to use e-mail. The problem is that her AOL inbox is always full of spam. There oughta be a law, actually two.


update 2:4

1) By law, if there is an e-mail list, there must be a prominently displayed one-click unsubscribe button. It must appear before the body of the e-mail. It must be in the largest font used anywhere in the e-mail. I am here blogging because I am sick and tired of scrolling down to fine "unsubscribe" at the end of a long unsolicited e-mail. More importantly, it must be one click and your done. I have found that clicking unsubscribe often takes me to a page where I am invited to subscribe and if I just click through I am not unsubscribed. To unsubscribe I have to scroll down again. Also it not allowed to ask people why they unsubscribed.

The penalty should be $10 per violation. This will bankrupt all non compliant spammers. Justice Department or any user with a valid complaint can bring suit. If the suit is started by a harmed person, that person gets 10% of the fine for the public service. I mean don't members of Congress get spam ? I guess they also send a lot of spam, but they can exempt themselves from the law. 2) no more than 1000 unsolicited e-mails a year allowed. This is a limit on any entity which sends e-mails which is defined as the beneficial owner of the sending e-mail account. Spam does not have to be legal. Spam doesn't even have to be. We are bombarded with ads on the web all the time. Most are not spam e-mail and most don't create trouble. This is law 2, because I fear my mom accidentally subscribed to the spam mailing lists.

3) "no reply" e-mails are not allowed. The Postal Service will not deliver a letter without a return address. E-mail always includes the address of the sender. Many senders write "do not reply to this e-mail". That should be a civil offence and also a tort costing $1000 for every e-mail which contains that text or text to that effect. If someone sends an e-mail, that person should be required to consider replies. For example "don't e-mail me again" should be an order which must be obeyed, also if it is sent as a reply e--mail. Failure to obey such an instruction should cost $10,000 per infraction. If the e-mailers says it would be an extremely burdensome expense to hire people just to read replies to our e-mail, it should be politely explained to them that this is exactly the point. They should not be able to burden others with e-mail without being burdened by the replies. This one was almost too obvious to include (it is an update). I think it is perfectly reasonable for me to be able to reply to an e-mail which says "do not reply". I also think the reply should be "you now owe me $1000.00 credit my account number N at bank with routing number M (N and M not for blogger, because even though my bank has security which makes online banking impractical for me, kidz theze dayz probably know how to use those numbers to take my money). Sending an e-mail which includes the order "do not reply to this e-mail" is unacceptably rude and should be illegal. Why is it allowed

4) Unsubscription must be instant. If an e-mail is sent more than 137 milliseconds after the unsubscribe message was received, the sender must pay a fine of $1,000,000,000. It is perfectly possible to manage this these days. It is also possible to enforce this regulation. Be it so.

This post isn't supposed to be an anti Microsoft rant, but just one little paragraph. Their problem is that they make profits too easily. With Windows and Office, it's as if they patented the alphabet or Arabic numbers or something. They could just coast forever. But they won't. So they attempted to engulf the whole software industry, got nailed by the Justice Department and saved by the Supreme Court in the Microsoft relevant case of Bush V Gore. They aren't doing that any more (Bill Gates decided to fight viruses, bacteria and protazoans not people and so long as he focuses his ruthless determination on single celled organisms I support him). But they won't admit that they are just an intellectual property scam, so they keep "improving" their software making it worse and worse. This forces customers to learn how to use the new software which can't be as familiar as the old software, and so must be less user friendly (especially the "user friendly" aspects like remember that damn paper clip with eyes ?). Also it is slow. There is a race as the hardware gets better and better and the software gets worse and worse. I am quite sure this is deliberate (and logical). The latest software makes the latest hardware run so slowly that it is barely tolerable. So you can steal it and install it on your old computer, but you don't want to, because then your old computer is intolerably slow. The ancestor to the computer on which I am typing, which lived on this very desk, was killed by a (legal) upgrade from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. There is a law, call it More's law, that no matter how powerful the hardware gets, it always takes the same amount of time for personal computers to start up. Notice that it takes no time for smart phones to start up. Why ? OK also the format of say *.doc files is changed (unless people know about save as which most don't) so you need the latest applications to edit documents, so you need the latest operating system so Windows is rich. OK fine, make sure software runs only on new computers bought with Windows pre-installed. But please slow it down by using it to mine BitCoin for Microsoft or something and leave the user interface alone.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Has 21st century conservatism contributed anything useful at all ?

This is a question I haven't asked myself. I have long looked for reasonable and reasonably honest conservatives. It is frustrating, because I have found many, but few are still conservative. I don't want to get distracted from my distraction, but there is a pattern of me finding a conservative whom I consider reasonable, then that guy breaking with the conservative movement within a year.

The new topic is conservative ideas. The question is is there any conservative thought which is worth consideration and which they hadn't already written and said by 1900. I suppose this might be considered an unfair question, since I demand something new from a school centered on suspicion of the new. However, they have embraced many new and worthless ideas and proposals (see below) so I don't think I am being unfair.

This is a long very self indulgent post. It is twitter overload. I am going to

1) bring a twitter discussion over here

2) try to think of worthwhile 21st century conservative ideas.

3) try to think of worthwhile 21st century non conservative ideas (to be fair -- it might just be that my effort under 2 fails because of my ignorance or my interpretation of "worthwhile" and "2st century").

OK the twitter thread (which will make it painfully clear why I surfed over to blogger I mean "4.1/3" really ???).

It starts with this very interesting post on challenges to liberalism and liberals' responses.

Ross Douthat asked a constructive and interesting (implied) question

Ross Douthat @DouthatNYT


The question I'm left with at the end of this interesting @zackbeauchamp crisis-of-liberalism survey is whether he thinks there's anything that liberalism can learn or drawn on from the *right* in order to survive and flourish anew:

I replied @robertwaldmann

obviously the reason you are left with that question is that neither he nor you can think of anything useful that anyone can learn from conservatives. The reason is that all alleged conservative insights have been disproven by massive evidence

In fact I challenge you. I suspect the answer will be to claim for conservatism universal values and widespread beliefs or to pretend that the only alternative to conservatism is something like Marxism. I say conservatism has the same epistemic standing as astrology.

Dilan Esper contributed reasonable thoughts aiming for constructive discussion. I want to thank Dilan Esper for being helpful and constructive. I fear my tone on twitter and here does not communicate my sincere appreciation of a good faith effort. Also MuchTL:DR , his effort confirms my prediction.



When you get away from electoral politics and into more abstract areas, I can think of some conservative ideas that have quite a lot of epistemic value.

E.g., the law of unintended consequences; foreign policy realism; the importance of developers in cities; etc.

I overflowed

Robert Waldmann @robertwaldmann

1/3)The law of unintended consequences has, I think, always been universally recognized (in theory often by people who ignore it). This is one of many examples of conservatives claiming as their own ideas which belong to everyone.

2/3) I have never understood what "foreign policy realism" means. I note that neoconservatives are conservatives too. I think realism vs whatever else is possible is a division among conservatives and non conservatives.

2.1/3) If there is a yes or no question, both conservatives and non conservatives are divided, and the correct answer is yes, that answer is not a contribution of conservatism to thought.

3/3) I agree you can't have decent housing without developers. Just look what a hell hole Singapore is. I think your point is that there are NIMBYs who argue against development because developers seek profit. Not all people who accept profit as non/theft are conservative.

4/3) I think we can agree that FDR was not a conservative. In foreign policy, he worked with Stalin and the Mafia. Realists have nothing to teach him. He also worked with profit seeking developers. He was a human being so he knew of the risk of unintended consequences.

4.1/3). Give me an explanation of what useful thought conservatives have contributed which does not imply that F Roosevelt was a conservative.

Also, My question here was about the 21st century conservative thought. "I guess this isn’t the place to ask for an indication of any useful contribution of 21st century conservatism, but I ask here too."

What has conservatism done for anyone in the past 19 years ?

Ooops I asked it only there and not on twitter. Anyway it's the question I address here.

To go on even longer on the twitter thread, I really think conservatives regularly claim that ideas, principles, and values which are widely to universally shared belong to conservatism. This is a form of the straw man argument. I think of Tom Lehrer on the folk song army "join the folk song army ... We're against poverty war and injustice/ unlike the rest of you squares". I note in passing that, for a penetrating critique of a fault of conservatives, I quote a liberal mocking other liberals and (above all) himself.

There can be unintended consequences is both totally obvious and also (if related at all) the definition of conservatism. Esper's first polite constructive effort to answer my question amounts to saying "you ask if conservatism has anything to offer which isn't obvious to non conservatives, well conservatism by definition, has something useful to offer to all those squares who think actions can only have their intended consequences"

That's better than "foreign policy realism" which is, as far as I can tell, a meaningless slogan roughly equally likely to be uttered by conservatives and non conservatives.

Finally the other defense of conservatism -- the claim that every non Leninist is conservative. The claim is that the quest for profits is not always harmful, that profit seeking entities can sometimes do something useful, that we should make peace with at least some traces of capitalism. Hell really any non Stalinist as even Lenin accepted the New Economic Policy (NEP).

Here I think the issue is also a bit of motivated reasoning (OK interested error) where people who own homes and want to get a high price declare it is virtuous for them to attempt to block competitors and also people act as if they have a right not only to their own property but to everything else they want like nice views and plenty of parking and other people can just go live in tents (or suburbs). The point is that one doesn't have to be conservative to be YIMBY and it isn't true that only conservatives accept the quest for profit as sometimes tolerable.

I'd say the sincere effort consists of 3 thoughts which fall into 3 categories

1) "to claim for conservatism universal values and widespread beliefs"

2) two words (which together mean roughly nothing) the use of which has almost zero correlation with conservatism.

3) "to pretend that the only alternative to conservatism is something like Marxism."

OK useful conservative contributions to thought in the 21st century. I draw a blank.

Harmful conservative ideas. I will leave Trump out of it. The response of some conservatives to Trump has been dismal while others have bravely stated the obvious. In any case, I don't blame conservatism for Trump.

1. Social security partial privatization. This was a way to allow people to bear more risk and send lots of money to financial service providers. As widely perceived, it had no redeeming social value.

2. Medicare privatization. This builds on the 20th century conservative failure Medicare Advantage which served to privatize public money. It was based on contradictory promises that it was guaranteed to cost less and to provide at least as good insurance. This was a case of Paul Ryan ordering the tides to stop.

3. Privatizing the Veterans administration the VA. Here there was a VA scandal because the VA did not keep a promise that no other health care provider even makes. It was a scandal, because it was a matter of public and congressional interest because the VA is public. The VA ranks at the very top in patient satisfaction and estimates of outcomes. These are published facts which conservatives sincerely perceive as absurdities.

4. The deficit will eat your children. We are turning into Greece.

5. Deficits don't matter and/or tax cuts lead to higher revenues.

6. The Fed is degrading the currency. There will be high inflation maybe hyper inflation.

7. The limits on presidential power should be completely ignored 2001-2009, strictly enforced 2009-2016, and ignored 2017 - now.

8 Federalism and the Supreme Court should design Seattle school districts and well come on anyone who says "federalism" is bullshitting.

9 reform the tax code to introduce a distinction between business income (taxed at a low rate) and labot income disguised as business income (taxed at a high rate). I have to give them credit. It is very hard to make the US Tax code more messy than it was.

10 2001 is time for a "kinder gentler" SEC

11 Invade Iraq

12 Repeal Obamacare and figure out a replacement written in secret in McConnell's office but this isn't our plan it's just a placeholder to get to the conference committee which will write an excellent bill.

OH hell I am ignoring all space limits, but I just can't list all the horrible 21st century conservative ideas. Many were opposed by some conservatives. Many were supported by many non conservatives. Most have nothing to do with caution, respect for tradition or awareness of the risk of unintended consequences.

Good 21st century ideas

1) Hawaii hope. The idea is swift sure punishment works better than rare severe punishment. This is not a new idea, Cesare Beccaria made the argument in the 18th century. It is a new idea to test parolees with drug problems once a week and lock them up for a night if they fail (or skip) a test. It worked.

2 Also 24/7 sobriety.

3 Also grow your own marijuana laws.

That's 3 and I learned all of them from one non-conservative Mark Kleiman.

4) Moving to opportunity works. A 2oth century experiment but the proof only was collected in the 21st century.

5) access to birth control pills at ages 18-20 without parental permission makes a huge difference.

6) high rise public housing causes crime.

that's 3 more I learned from one non conservative Larry Katz.

7) higher minimum wages cause tiny to surprisingly signed effects on employment (started 20th century I guess)

8) low skilled immigration has small effects on the wages of the few domestic workers who aren't helped.

9) there sure isn't a labor demand curve see 7 and 8.

Those are all from Card and Krueger.

OK so I am getting to economists, but there are super genius conservative economists. Why do they waste their brains defending the indefensible.

Look I really really can't list good ideas of the 21st century. But there are many of them. I can't think of any which are in any way a fruit of conservatism. Really not one. I draw a blank.

Monday, September 09, 2019

I get Ruthless With David Leonard

David Leonard picks cherries in a generally good op-ed. I agree entirely with his general conclusion that Democrats should run a populist campaign (no triangulation -- he should have noted that Clinton ran on raising taxes on the rich and cutting taxes on the middle class in 1992 -- he was a populist before he was a triangulator). He also says don't talk about decriminalizing border crossing or eliminating private health insurance. I agree entirely. He relies on a Pew poll on issues. It is an interesting poll by a good pollster.

However, I think there should be a rule that any commentary on polls should consider all available still relevant polls. The norm of non data journalists writing about data is still to comment on one poll. This is nonsense. It is like election night coverage based on an interview with one voter. There is, I think, no excuse for looking at data other than averages of polls. I think can improve on the simple average, but that's not my current assertion. I am asserting that any commentatory must justify (to an editor not the readers) every decision to not consider every poll which is not considered.

I was triggered by this passage justified by three picked cherries.

Yet Democrats are frittering away their advantage — and damaging their image. Last fall, most Americans had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, according to the Pew Research Center. That makes sense, because Democrats ran a populist campaign in the 2018 midterms, focused on pocketbook issues that dominate many people’s lives, like wages and medical costs.

This year, the polling has flipped. Most Americans now have an unfavorable view of the party, no better than their view of the Republican Party. Likewise, slightly more voters say the “ideas being offered by the Democratic candidates” would hurt the country than say would help, according to the NPR poll.

I was surprised to learn how hard it was to find averages of party favorable ratings from 2019 (hard enough that I gave up anyway). The generic ballot shows a Democratic lead about the same as in 2018. The graph is based on dozens of polls. That't the way to do it. That's the only way which editors should allow. In fact, the highly anomalous party favorables in the Pew poll used by Leonard should have caused him to reconsider the issues polling. A crude but not pointless calculation would be to add 6.5% to medicare for all pro - M4a contra. Saying an anomalous number on party favorability adds to the evidence from issue polling is to say that all polls but the latest Pew poll (and a briefly mentioned NPR poll) are irrelevant.

I stress again that I agree 100% exactly with Leonard's conclusions and advice.

my comment cut and pasted 10:20 (I didn't guess it would take as long as 20 minutes to refute his claim

I agree with your conclusion. I'd add (as your colleague does today) that it is unwise to propose providing insurance to undocumented aliens (combining Medicare for really all and more than just a path to something good years from now for undocumented aliens). I happen to find myself in the minority which supports all three proposals. I also now that they are not going to happen -- fuhggedaboudit, and admitted one supports them helps Trump.

However, I consider the method of your argument to be unacceptable. You discuss one (1) recent poll [correction he discusses two (2) briefly mentioning the second] contrasting it with one (1) poll from 2018. This will not do, even though Pew is an excellent pollster. It passed as legitimate commentary way back in the 20th century, but people should not stick to the Silver standard.

I start the clock at 10:00 AM Rome time (4:00 AM in New york).

Pollingreport latest tweet is a link to this op-ed. Congratuationsl.

OK this is hard. I can't find an average of polls of Democratic party favorability past 2018 (what is wrong with the web). I was wrong. What I find is generic ballot polls going back to January 2019 with a graphed average going back to April. I see a stable Democratic lead of around 6% if anything growing slightly with latest 6.5%. In 2018 the Democrats won the popular vote by 8.6% (not strictly comparable)

Your cherry picked number is highly misleading

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Sharp Wits

Twitter Overflow on Economics 101ism, The leader Massimo, and two cities.

This is a twitter overflow. It is the landing page of a link I put in a tweet, because I didn't feel like making a long twitter thread.

In case anyone just surfs here, I will try to explain the context below.

The Tweet

I haven't read the book, just a column. I think the elite embrace of economics 101 occurred throughout the rich world. Certainly including Massimo D'Alema (Italian Prime Minister raised as a communist). In any case,I recognise the type over here in Rome (not just in my home town)

A bit of really necessary context

The tweet is a reply to this tweet by Scott Winship @swinshi

Any explanation for slower US growth has to explain slowed growth THROUGHOUT THE RICH WORLD. But sure, economists and elites are THAT powerful and influential and homogeneous. The merging of progressives & national conservatives continues apace.

The book is "The Economists' Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society" by Binyamin Appelbaum

OK the overflow.

I think Winship claims that Applebaum just assumed that the whole rich world is similar to his circle of aquaintances. It seems to be the common claim that members of the coastal liberal establishment elite are out of touch.

I defend Applebaum. The ideology, movement, policy shifts and consequences he discusses are certainly all strong in continental Europe. I think there is extremely strong evidence that an elite which includes economists but mostly consists of non economists who respect economists and have a particular opinion of what economists say is exceedingly powerful influential and homogenous. It is definitely not just a US phenomenon.

I realize my thoughts are definitely too long for a tweet, I think too long for a tweet thread, and almost certainly much better expressed in the actual book. But I will now get to this blog post.

Explaining the tweet. First I was born in Washington DC. The ideology is often called neoliberalism or The Washington Consensus. I like Noah Smith's term Economics 101. Smith's point is that many non-economists think economics consists of the very simplest economic models which are now mainly used to introduce the subject to undergraduates (and now high school students including 2 of my nieces). He has a lot to say. I just googled Noah Smith Economics 101

Massimo D'Alema was Prime minister of Italy 1998-2000. He is the first ex-Communist Italian Prime Minister. I am showing my age by still thinking of him. He is an example which comes to my mind of a powerful, influential, and homogeneous elite. In particular, he hosted a summit of center left politicians including Clinton, Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder, Tony Blair, and (reluctantly attending) Lionel Jospin. This was a declaration of victory by the victors after the end of history (narrator: History didn't agree that it had ended). D'Alema is the son of a prominent Italian Communist. He was raised in the Communist Party as some of his contemporaries were raised in the Catholic Church. He remained loyal to the party when he was an undergraduate at the super elite Scuola Normale Superiore, where almost everyone else was way to the left of the party (think a Lyndon Johnson fan at Harvard in 1968 if you are even older than me).

A source tells me that, at another meeting this one of the post communist democratic party of the left, D'Alema said roughly (and in Italian -- he is very elite but not mutlilingual) that [Tony Blair is lucky, because Thatcher did what had to be done and then he could come in and take care of the wounded. We are going to have to do what has to be done ourselves.] (I use [] for paraphrases and in this case translations of vague memories).

So the first Italian Prime Minister coming from the Italian Communist Party explicitly presented Margaret Thatcher as a model to emulate. I wasn't there, I heard this second ha But I promise you, it wasn't surprising at the time. When a longtime loyal party member finally became prime minister, he was dedicated to privatization and deregulation.

"Neoliberalism" has two meanings on different sides of the Atlantic. In the USA it means "like Bill Clinton" or "typical of the Clinton administration and say the guys who wrote for "The New Republic" when Clinton was in office. In the rest of the world it refers to the extreme pro-market small government ideology. I am very very sad to say that the two meanings aren't all that different, because Clinton administration policies were far right by the standards of the rest of the world.

The Washington Consensus is a consensus of staffers (prominently including economists) at the IMF, the World Bank and the Clinton Treasury. A central figure is Larry Summers who went from chief economist at the world bank to first chairman of the National Economic Council under Bill Clinton.

I think the perfect expression of the ideology was found in "The Economist" He is one of many people who can confirm that there was an international elite which prominently included economists and which was convinced in the 1990s that it had found the answers, alll the answers. They were interested in, among other things, globalization, by which they meant economic globalization and especially the massive increase in trade in intermediate goods due to offshoring and the globalization of value added chains. I am pretty sure that they are willing to call themselves globalists (I sure am).

I'm sure Applebaum can defend himself, and does make a case in the book (which I haven't read).

I have a critique of the article which I have read. It is unfair to economists and to economics. Applebaum describes the economic theory which was extremely influential in the 1990s. It is economics 100, or rather really the first semester or so of economics 101. This tiny subset of economic theory (which has little to do with current academic research) the economy is described as a market where demand equals supply. Without regulation, markets in these models clear with demand equal to supply. This outcome is not so horrible that a policy maker can help everyone without one exception by intervening. The economics 101ism is an ideology which says that the answer to all policy questions can be found by assuming that these models describe the world and that an government intervention which helps all but one person and hurts that person a little is unacceptable.

So it has two components. First exceedingly strong positive assumptions about how the world works. These are testable (and overwhelmingly overwhelmingly rejected by the data). They include complete markets (if you want to bet that the temperature at a given address in Deluth will be between 73.2 and 73.3 degrees at 11:14 AM on March 14th 2023 you can) perfect competition (so if a store owner raised the unit price of a good by 1 cent then no one would buy it and if she cut it by one cent she would sell out instantly) and no externalities (so you don't care if I decide to end it all by releasing a ton of nerve gas) and symmetric information (so you know exactly how much I prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream, that is exactly how much more I would be willing to pay for a pint of chocolate than for a pint of Vanilla).

With all these absurd assumptions, one can reach an absurdly weak conclusion -- there is no intervention which helps everyone. The full 100% 200 proof economics 101 ideology concludes that this means that laissez faire (no government intervention except for protecting people and their property rights from violence) is the best policy.

This is insane. The actual ideology is that the models are useful approximations, and we will separately consider equity and Pareto efficiency and hem and haw, so in this case moving towards laissez faire is an improvement.

This is also a very weak argument, but it was strong enough to change the world.

However, even introductory economics courses go on to teach about imperfect competition, externalities, something about welfare economics other than the Pareto principle and maybe asymmetric informtion. They sure don't discuss what can happen if markets are incomplete (as they are). That involves hard math. I will try to explain it in plain English in another post. Also economic research is now mostly based on assessing the effects of policy by finding natural experiments (or even conducting actual experiments). It no longer relies on assuming that hypotheses which have been rejected by the data must therefore be useful approximations. Also members of the American Economic Association tend to favor more rather than less government intervention. Also there are no anti-Keynesians in foxholes.

So Applebaum is wrong wrong wrong about everything except about the power of a homogeneous international elite and its recent (now weakening) pro-market ideology.