29 March 2017

Unimpressive Technologies

Sometimes, technology is amazing. Other times it is, well, less impressive.

What are the least transformative and quality of life improving technological advances we enjoy today:

* We abolished the phone book without replacing it with a reliable way to look up people's phone numbers.

* Some of the most profitable technology companies in the nation are non-union taxi services.

* We replaced wristwatches with a battery life of several years with pocket watches that have to be recharged daily.

* The mall now has poles controlling whether you can get in or out of the parking lot that change colors when they are going to let you out, unlike the mono-color version that's been around since my grandparents were driving.

* Instead of having time cards stamped at a shared time card machine, working class Americans now have their own personal time card stamping machines (phones).

* We've figured out how to make it take longer to process a credit card transaction than it used to take.

* Select movie theaters now feature high technology features like recliner chairs, assigned seating, and alcohol services, none of which would have been possible for public performances before the Bronze Age.

* We have invented backyard play house for grown ups with little money.

* We have managed to dramatically increase the amount of time it takes to get from the ticket counter to the plane in a typical airport.

* We have managed to replace free meals on airplanes with pay a la carte meals on airplanes, which we now eat in smaller seats, on flights where we have to pay extra for both carry-on baggage and checked baggage.

* We have replaced supersonic jet service across the Atlantic Ocean with subsonic jet service across the ocean.

* We have dramatically increased the inflation adjusted price of a morning coffee.

* We have reduced the amount of service you receive from employees at gas stations, in the express line at the grocery store, and at the bank.

* We have replaced dishwashers that wash your dishes in half an hour with dishwashers that wash your dishes in three hours.

* We can again use 1940s passenger rail technology to make the 66 mile (by highway) trip from Denver's Union Station to the Winter Park Ski resort (which uses about $4 of gas), over 62 miles of rail at an average speed of 31 miles per hour (in about 120 minutes by train v. 82 miles per hour by car) at a cost of $37.50 each way.

* We have replaced five to seven times a day mail delivery service with six times a week mail delivery service.

* We have made car maintenance which were possible to do and which many people did do in their garages at home impossible to accomplish without expensive equipment.

28 March 2017

The Empty Right To Remain Silent

An empirical study of 400 mock jury trials show that the practical harm to a defendant involved in choosing to remain silent in criminal trial is comparable in magnitude to the harm associated with disclosing a defendant's criminal record at trial, even though jurors are always expressly instructed not to make any negative inference from a defendant's failure to take the stand in a criminal jury trial.
Jeffrey Bellin (William & Mary Law School) has posted The Silence Penalty (Iowa Law Review, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract: 
In every criminal trial, the defendant possesses the right to testify. Deciding whether to exercise that right, however, is rarely easy. Declining to testify shields defendants from questioning by the prosecutor and normally precludes the introduction of a defendant’s prior crimes. But silence comes at a price. Jurors penalize defendants who fail to testify by inferring guilt from silence. 
This Article explores this complex dynamic, focusing on empirical evidence from mock juror experiments – including the results of a new 400-person mock juror simulation conducted for this Article – and data from real trials. It concludes that the penalty defendants suffer when they refuse to testify is substantial, rivaling the more widely-recognized damage done to a defendant’s trial prospects by the introduction of a criminal record. Moreover, these two penalties work in tandem, creating a “parallel penalty” effect that systemically diminishes the prospects of acquittal and incentivizes guilty pleas. 
The empirical evidence surveyed, including the new juror simulation, will be of obvious interest to participants in the criminal justice system. But, as the Article explains, the data also present a powerful indictment of the system itself.

More Bank Capital Makes The Economy More Robust

I have long argued that there is basically nothing that can be done from a policy perspective to prevent the business cycle of booms and busts from occurring. But, policy measures can make the economy more robust so that the consequences of a bust are less severe.

A comprehensive study of bank capital levels and business cycles since 1870 supports this conclusion:
Higher capital ratios are unlikely to prevent a financial crisis. This is empirically true both for the entire history of advanced economies between 1870 and 2013 and for the post-WW2 period, and holds both within and between countries. We reach this startling conclusion using newly collected data on the liability side of banks’ balance sheets in 17 countries. A solvency indicator, the capital ratio has no value as a crisis predictor; but we find that liquidity indicators such as the loan-to-deposit ratio and the share of non-deposit funding do signal financial fragility, although they add little predictive power relative to that of credit growth on the asset side of the balance sheet. 
However, higher capital buffers have social benefits in terms of macro-stability: recoveries from financial crisis recessions are much quicker with higher bank capital.