26 April 2017

Absurd Self-Representation By Children In Immigration Court Continues

Yesterday, in immigration court, I saw three children take the stand without an attorney. Just a reminder that we live in a society where we expect an eight year old who fled violence in Central America to represent herself against a federal prosecutor.
- Freelance Denver journalist Erin Rosa in a Facebook post of April 26, 2017.

A class action lawsuit on behalf of the children forced to represent themselves in deportation proceedings was certified last JuneTwo-thirds of unaccompanied children in the process are unrepresented. For example, this was about 40,000 of 60,000 children in 2014.

But, this decision was reversed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in an interlocutory appeal of that decision in a September 20, 2016 opinion, on the theory that generally speaking the law requires cases in the immigration courts to be appealed through the immigration court appeals system from which an appeal may then be brought to a United States Court Court of Appeal (such as the 9th Circuit) on a case by case basis, thus depriving the U.S. District Court of jurisdiction.

The District Court and the 9th Circuit agreed that "because the right-to-counsel claims “arise from" removal proceedings, they must be raised through the administrative petition for review process pursuant to 8 U.S.C. §§ 1252(b)(9) and 1252(a)(5)." But, the 9th Circuit reversed the District Court's ruling that it had jurisdiction over the minors’ constitutional claims. As explained in the Official Summary of the ruling:
The panel held that the district court erred in finding that an exception to the Immigration and Nationality Act’s exclusive review process provided jurisdiction over the due process right-to-counsel claims. The panel held that the district court incorrectly found that the claims challenged a policy or practice collateral to the substance of removal proceedings, and that because an Immigration Judge was unlikely to conduct the requisite due process balancing the administrative record would not provide meaningful judicial review.
All three judges on the panel wrote concurring opinions. Judge McKeown, who wrote the Court's primary opinion, joined by Judge Smith, decried the state of affairs and urges the President and Congress to do something about it. Judge Kleinfeld observed, as paraphrased in the summary, "it is unlikely that children or even adults can protect all their rights in deportation proceedings without a lawyer.", but viewed the issue as basically a political question.

As the opinion explains, the counsel for the children in the class action case argued as follows:
Minors who obtain counsel in their immigration proceedings will be unable to raise right-to-counsel claims because they have no such claim. As a practical matter, children who lack counsel will be unable to reach federal court to raise a right-to-counsel claim because they are subject to the same exhaustion requirements and filing deadlines that apply to adults. Even if an unrepresented child were able to navigate the PFR process, the child would still be deprived of meaningful judicial review, because the record on appeal would be insufficient to sustain review. Because, according to the minors, their right-to-counsel claims will never see the light of day through the PFR process, the panel should construe § 1252(b)(9) as not covering these claims.
This theory tracked language in the U.S. Supreme Court case of McNary v. Haitian Refugee Center, 498 U.S. 479, 487 (1991). But, the 9th Circuit panel held that the statute interpreted in that case was less airtight in how it procedural channeled litigants than the statute applicable to removal proceedings. The panel suggests alternative ways that the issue might be raised in the ordinary immigration appeal process, although its suggestions seem fanciful, especially in cases involving young children some of whom in this case were as young as three years old.

They weren't willing to cut the Gordian knot that deprives children of an ability to obtain the legal assistance they need to obtain legal assistance. As it stands, the procedural provisions of that law deprive unaccompanied minor children of any meaningful way to vindicate their procedural right to counsel, which constitutional due process requirements surely require.

An amicus brief in the case has urged the 9th Circuit to reconsider this decision en banc.

The situation as it stands is absurd. Four month old children are told by immigration judges to show up to rescheduled hearings three years in the future.

An immigration judge called as an expert witness in a deposition in the class action case before it was tossed on jurisdictional grounds, claimed that three and four year olds were competent to represent themselves in immigration court, even though college educated adults are not permitted to do so on behalf of others without having earned a law degree and passed the bar exam.

Needless to say, despite judicial pleas that the President and Congress address the issue, this is unlikely.

President Trump's first 100 days in office have been marked by two unconstitutional executive orders designed to shut down immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and a surge in deportations in violation of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement "sensitive places" rule. Both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans who have been historically hostile to both immigrants (especially refugees), and to due process generally. 

25 April 2017

Automation and the Economics of Depreciation

Significant tax preferences for depreciation of capital assets, and for income from property more generally, encourage investments in automation in excess of those which would be made in the absence of these tax preferences. This over investment in automation comes at the expense of jobs and investments in human capital.

I will fill in a fuller analysis as time permits.

The Genetics of PTSD

The Study and Its Raw Results

A new genetic study is casting light on post-traumatic stress disorder, which shows much different hereditary patterns in men than in women. (Hat tip to Razib Khan's twitter feed.)

Half of the 20,000+ study subjects were European-American and half were African-American, which is atypical for a large scale GWAS study like this one.  Typically, for GWAS studies, almost all of the risk favor genes were individually rare and small in effect. The genetics of PTSD risk in women appears to be massively polygenetic in a manner that could not entirely inaccurately be summarized as a risk based upon cumulatively genetic load.

About 29% of PTSD risk in women is heritable (at the low end of what is typical for many personality traits and much lower, for example, than IQ or schizophrenia or alcoholism). In men, the heritable component of PTSD risk is not significantly different from zero.

The genetic component of the PTSD risk in women overlaps significantly with schizophrenia risk, and more modestly with bipolar disorder and unipolar depression (unsurprisingly since these conditions have similar genetic overlap with schizophrenia in general).


The abstract doesn't provide raw PTSD rates, but my intuition is that most PTSD in men is almost exclusively environmental in cause, while women experience environmental events that trigger PTSD in people who aren't especially susceptible to PTSD at much lower rates. Therefore, PTSD associated with high vulnerability to events that might not cause PTSD in the average person is statistically discernible in women, but vanishes into the statistical noise in men, even though excessive vulnerability to marginally PTSD inducing events in men may actually be present at similar rates in men as in women.

This suggests that the genes associated with PTSD risk in women are probably, in some broad sense, basically genes associated with resilience or lack thereof in the face of stressors such as those posed by a less extreme PTSD triggering event. 

On the other hand, the particular association with schizophrenia, which makes some sense given that PTSD is typically defined as experiencing trauma-like reactions in circumstances where the trauma causing event is no longer present, may alternatively suggest that these genes reflect how "grounded in sensory experience" as opposed to being vulnerable to having internal neurological processes overwhelm one's senses a person's nervous system is.

Automation And Trade

Offshoring Happened - Manufacturing Malaise Isn't Only The Fault Of Robots

One of the biggest developments of the last fifty years of the U.S. economy has been the offshoring of manufacturing. Entire manufacturing industries such as televisions, clothing and steel moved almost entirely abroad. Other manufacturing industries such as automobile manufacturing, have remained partially in the U.S., but a significant share of the goods in the market are produced offshore by both domestic and foreign companies, both of whom manufacture cars partially in the U.S. and partially abroad. The oil and gas industry because there are natural limits on the extent to which it can be offshored, and a handful of idiosyncratic holdouts like aircraft manufacturing, have remained mostly domestic. But, the overall trends have been clear.

While it is true that the U.S. manufacturing industry hasn't lost much productivity and has even increased a bit, and that automation has played as great a role in lost manufacturing jobs as offshoring, it is also true that a much larger share of goods consumed in the U.S. are manufactured abroad than was the case half a century ago, and that market share of manufacturing had declined steadily over a long time period (although it may now be leveling off).

This has resulted in immense economic dislocation in the U.S. and huge social costs. Offshoring and automation have both contributed significantly to the appearance of the Rust Belt. It has absolutely devastated cities like Milwaukee, Flint, Detroit, Toledo, Lima, Cleveland, Youngstown, Buffalo, Pittsburg, Allentown, Burlington, and Saint Louis. It created the despondent working class that is now abusing opium on record scales, and was a pivotal factor in creating the black underclass. As a group, less educated men have born the brunt of offshoring while receiving only lower bills for purchases of imported goods at Wal-Mart in exchange for the economic prosperity that they lost when manufacturing jobs left.

So, but for offshoring, the U.S. manufacturing industry would be much larger than it is now and would employ far more people, notwithstanding automation. The failure of the U.S. manufacturing industry to expand because offshoring has eaten much of its growth is one reason that the U.S. education system hasn't seen strong private sector pressure to improve vocational education for middle skilled manufacturing jobs, many of which are relevant in a world of highly automated manufacturing. Why push to train people for jobs that the economy isn't creating because it is cheaper to create them abroad?

On the other hand, the high standard of living in the U.S. today is due in significant part to the extremely low costs of goods relative to services that offshoring has made possible. But for this offshoring, goods would be more expensive in the U.S. and Americans could afford less of them. 

Also, offshoring, which has almost certainly been concentrated in the areas where U.S. environmental laws have the biggest impact on the bottom line of manufacturing companies, has played an important and unrecognized role in improving the quality of the environment in the United States, which its citizens have enjoyed with better health and greater happiness.

The U.S. would manufacture a larger share of the goods consumed in the U.S. and would manufacture more far goods overall than it does now, in the absence of so much offshoring, but the total amount of manufactured goods we consumed would be smaller, and the economies of the developing world would be far, far less well off, particularly in Northern Mexico and China.

The economic evidence is overwhelming that free trade which facilitates offshoring has increased U.S. GDP per capita. But, given the extent to which GDP gains in recent years have been concentrated in a small economic elite rather than being widely shared, and given that the social costs arising from lost manufacturing jobs aren't deducted from those GDP gains, the economic benefits of offshoring for the the free trade which has facilitated offshoring for everyone outside the upper middle class in America are significantly overstated.

Why Is Manufacturing Offshored?

The conventional wisdom is that manufacturing jobs left the U.S. because the cost of labor in the developing world was lower and environmental laws were weaker.

Suppose the conventional wisdom is true.

Labor Costs, Environmental Laws And The Situ Of Manufacturers

As manufacturing becomes more automated, the share of labor as a factor of production in manufacturing shrinks and the labor that is requires is more skilled.

Comparative advantage between the U.S. and developing countries is greater for developing countries at the low end of the labor market than in the highly skilled labor market.

Highly automated manufacturing operations also tend to be less polluting because pollution and waste have always been inefficient. It is just that historically, the costs of pollution were outweighed by the cost savings involved in using these sloppy methods.

Also, many of the historical offshore manufacturing centers have seen their wages rise as they have developed economically and have been forced to pay more attention to environmental regulation as unregulated pollution has made life unlivable and higher standards of living have allowed people to place of greater priority on the environment.

As less skilled labor costs and environmental laws become a smaller consideration in locating manufacturing, other aspects of developing economies and offshore manufacturing operations also loom larger.

Quality control is harder to maintain from afar. Developing economies tend to have more corrupt and inefficient government bureaucracies and less reliable legal systems. Their infrastructure is less reliable. A general environment of corruption can seep into business operations leading to reduced quality and higher costs.

Automation, in some cases, via tools like programmable manufacturing equipment and 3D printing, can also make economies of scale in manufacturing less important. This makes it possible to have more manufacturing locations closer to the places where the produces will be sold, to change up and "retool" product lines more rapidly, and to make more customized products.

In summary, automation, on balance, disfavors the offshoring of manufacturing relative to the status quo.

Transportation Costs And The Situ Of Manufacturers

All other things held equal, manufacturing goods closer to where they are used is more economically efficient than manufacturing things far away. But, the cheaper and faster freight technology is the less distance matters. 

Increased automation will tend to reduce the costs of shipping freight. But, cargo ships and trains are already so highly automated that there is little room to reduce costs with automation that reduces labor costs in that part of the freight market.

The only place where automation could still dramatically reduce freight costs is in trucking, if self-driving trucks, which already exist in proto-type form. But, this reduction in freight cost is pretty indifferent between the benefit it provides to manufacturers somewhere in the U.S. and manufacturers abroad once they deposit their freight at a port or their goods are removed from a rail yard.

So, automation is unlikely make offshore manufacturing significantly more competitive vis-a-vis domestic manufacturing.

Also, one of the likely growth areas for manufacturing is likely to be in the construction industry, where there is a huge untapped potential that has been utilized with great success on a limited basis, to build buildings in bigger chunks that are built in more efficient, less waste generating factories off site. These factories build building components on a more automated basis with more skilled labor than on site stick building techniques. But, the components are very big, some transportation costs are a material consideration.

Transportation issues disfavor offshoring for building module manufacturing more than they do for other kinds of manufacturing.

Bottom Line

Gradual shifts towards more highly automated manufacturing will shift incentives away from offshoring manufacturing and towards manufacturing domestically. Comparative advantage principles mean that offshoring won't go away any time soon. But, in general, automation means that the future of the domestic manufacturing industry in the United States is fairly bright going forward. 

This is especially true in new industries where sunk costs don't multiply the impact of decisions made when economic incentives more strongly favored offshoring.

Of course, since domestic manufacturing is most attractive in the most automated operations, a major resurgence of domestic manufacturing may not produce all that many more U.S. jobs and the jobs that it does create will largely be for higher skilled workers, not for the blue collar workers who lost their jobs in the deindustrialization process that started to take hold in the U.S. in the 1970s.

The exception to that general rule, however, may be manufacturing in support of building construction, where transportation issues can favor domestic manufacturing even when the work is relatively unskilled. But, even in this case, the growth in construction manufacturing jobs will come at the cost of even more lost jobs in on site construction. And, this shift will hurt the least skilled workers the most.

Automation is bad news for the employment of less skilled workers both in the U.S. and abroad. And, the impact of automation on these workers is largely irreversible, unlike offshoring.