30 November 2011

Three Player Chess

A really elegant three player variant on the game of chess has been developed, which has only a few new rules and a circular board. Regardless of how fun it is to actually play, it looks truly impressive and appeals to the same sense of beauty you feel when you see a clever generalization of a simple concept, like a fractal dimension, or complex numbers.

Best Practices In Depression Treatment Elusive

There are multiple modalities for treating mental health conditions like unipolar depression. Many of them seem to do some good. But neither drugs nor any particular modality of therapy has any clear advantage over the others, according to a recent metastudy on the subject.

The overall results showed that while CBT was clearly better than doing nothing, it was pretty much the same as antidepressants, and other psychotherapies, in adults with depression[.]

Given the length of time that psychologists and psychiatrists have identified and clearly defined the need for a treatment for unipolar depression, the number of very smart people who have devoted whole careers to addressing this issue, the fact that this condition is sufficiently common and impairing that it is on anyone's top five list of nation and world's mental health treatment needs, the sheer number of trials that have been conducted of various drugs and treatment modalities, and the degree to which we understand the mechanism of what is going on, it is really quite depressing.

28 November 2011

Pinker On Humanism

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, author of "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" had this to say in a recent FAQ about his book:

Does this book represent a change in your politics? After all, a commitment to human nature has traditionally been associated with a conservative fatalism about violence and skepticism about progressive change. But Better Angels says many nice things about progressive movements such as nonviolence, feminism, and gay rights.

No, the whole point of The Blank Slate was that the equation between a belief in human nature and fatalism about the human condition was spurious. Human nature is a complex system with many components. It comprises mental faculties that lead us to violence, but it also faculties that pull us away from violence, such as empathy, self-control, and a sense of fairness. It also comes equipped with open-ended combinatorial faculties for language and reasoning, which allow us to reflect on our condition and figure out better ways to live our lives. This vision of psychology, together with a commitment to secular humanism, has been a constant in my books, though it has become clearer to me in recent years.

How and why has it become clearer?

Though I have always had a vague sense that a scientific understanding of human nature was compatible with a robust secular morality, it was only through the intellectual influence of my wife, the philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, that I understood the logic connecting them. She explained to me how morality can be grounded in rationality, and how secular humanism is just a modern term for the world view that grew out of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment (in particular, she argues, from the ideas of Spinoza). To the extent that the decline of violence has been driven by ideas, it’s this set of ideas, which I call Enlightenment humanism (pp. 180–183), which has driven it, and it offers the closest thing we have to a unified theory of the decline of violence (pp. 694–696).

From here.

For future reference, I'm also linking to an interesting story at the New York Times on African-American atheists.

Pope Loses It In Translation

The Roman Catholic church has embraced bad translation practices for English speaking Catholics in a mass liturgy marked by overliteral translations (did somebody fire a human and use Google translate instead?), vocabulary that isn't really even part of vernacular English ("consubstantial"!?), abandonment of the gender neutrality (where an inclusive meaning is intended) that is part of modern Standard English, changes in meaning (Jesus died "for you and for many," rather than for you and everyone) that aren't obviously part of a theological agenda for doctrinal change, and just plain clunkiness.

Vatican II had fostered ecumenical trends as Roman Catholics and liturgies Protestants learned that their liturgies were actually almost identical when the new one was rolled out in 1973, and now that cleft has been restored.

It all began on the first Sunday in advent yesterday, the first day of the liturgical church year (an annual rhythm that I've never truly shaken). If only the church translators had spent more time reading Language Log, and less trying to figure out what passes for "formal" English these days, the world would be a better place.

It isn't that there isn't something to be said for crafting a uniform international liturgy to bind the faithful together. The Anglican Book of Common prayer has provided that faith with a uniformity and poetic cadence that has stood the test of time. But, of course, Anglicans defining trait is that they are native speakers of English. The Pope is Polish and spends his days in Italy surrounded by people speaking Latin. Little wonder then, that they did a comparatively inferior job.

Ultimatley, it doesn't matter to me directly. I'm not Roman Catholic. I'm not even Christian. And, half the time when I do listen to a Catholic mass, it is in Latin (which Jesus didn't speak, if he existed at all), anyway. I do wince in horror at a whole new generation who will learn to aspire to a horrible model of how to translate an important text. But, after addling their brains with Sponge Bob and amputating their linguistic faculties with text messaging, how much worse can they turn out anyway.

The change may even help the cause of skepticism by reminding people who arbitrary the core rituals of their faith are and by taking them out of their traditional comfort zones in a faith that many seek out precisely because of its traditions. I certainly got a dose of reality when I learned how the Biblical canon was made, and many Catholics are probably going through the same thing right now.

Still, it is a shame to see any important cultural task done poorly. Somehow or other, it makes us all a little less well off.

Stock Options Are Part of The Problem

I'm not the only one who thinks that replacing stock options (warning, audio file) in the corporate executive pay packages with stock ownership that executives are required to maintain is a critical element of corporate governance reform. This is because stock options create an incentive for short term games and no proportional penalty for poor performance, while buy and hold stock ownership aligns executives incentives with their shareholders.

A key piece of the problem is the tax code which greatly favors stock options relative to stock for services arrangements.

The commentator also suggests that successful companies rarely lay off employees, but often stockpile cash.

Gun Nuts Strike Again

A couple of paranoid gun nuts in Avon, Colorado are suing for the right to bring guns into the post office. Leaving the guns on a car parked on the across the street is just too much of an infringement on their right to bear arms, they think. Never mind that their choice makes everyone else less safe.

The rule they seek wouldn't necessarily have wide application, however. Avon is unusual in not having home mail delivery (FWIW, a better idea than cutting Saturday mail delivery that would build community and make sense in far more places).

Their battle makes fighting for the right to party and bra burning look positively respectable and non-violent by comparison.

Those Who Can't Do, Teach?

The essential how-tos of daily practice are a subject that many in the faculty know nothing about—by design. One 2010 study of hiring at top-tier law schools since 2000 found that the median amount of practical experience was one year, and that nearly half of faculty members had never practiced law for a single day.

From here.

Nobody doubts that law professors are top-tier schools are wicked smart. But, do they know the right things? Shouldn't they have at least enough experience to reality check just a little?

Owners Win Basketball Strike

The NBA strike/lockout is over after 149 days. This year's season will have 66 rather than 82 games, with the strike costing each side about $400 million. Over the next ten years, players will give up about $300 million a year in salaries, reducing their take from 57% to 50% of the take. The total pie is about $4 billion a year. There are other minor details.

This has strong echos of the larger economy, where the top 0.1% are seeing their incomes grow much faster than the rest of the top 1%. Even united in a union, the players had less bargaining power than the owners.

Odds are that most of the NBA players will go bankrupt within a few years of retiring, and an NBA career is not a long one. The owners in contrast, are much more likely to hold onto the money that they make.

People who study such things say skill matters more in basketball than almost any other professional sport. The difference between a great basketball player and a very good one is greater, for example, than the difference between a great baseball player and a very good one. This doesn't bode well for football players, who have a somewhat lower skill component, play fewer games, and have careers that are similarly short and has players similarly prone to bankruptcy within a few years after they stop playing.

23 November 2011

Welfare Benefits Influence Marriage Behavior

I analyze the impact of the early 1990s state waivers from Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) guidelines . . . . AFDC waivers decreased the public assistance available to impoverished divorced women and thereby reduced a woman's bargaining threat point in marriage. . . .
[D]ecreases in potential welfare benefits altered the expenditure patterns of two-parent families. Waivers were associated with increased expenditure on food at home relative to restaurant meals and decreased expenditure on child care and women's clothing, suggesting greater home production and decreased consumption by women. Such changes are evident only for households containing a woman with a reasonable probability of receiving welfare benefits if her marriage ended.

From here.

While the theory behind why welfare benefits should influence how women behave within marriage is solid, I have doubts about whether the magnitude of the impact of a tweak in the AFDC program is great enough to be measurable, as opposed to being a correlation but not a cause of the relationship between the AFDC waivers and the behavior. I am surprised that the decision to end a marriage would be so finely balanced that this kind of factor could have a meaningful influence. Put another way, I'd expect that other factors, like differences in local divorce laws or differences in local cultural norms about marriage, would swamp this effect.

On the other hand, given the fragility of modest income families in the United States today, perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising. Economic dependency is pretty modest in this income bracket relative to typical upper middle class couples, and so other factors may be more important.

Classic Mechanic's Lien Scenario

A case of roofers not getting paid for three weeks in metro Denver highlighted on the TV news is a classic mechanic's lien scenario, although the story, instestingly, doesn't mention that avenue of recourse for the workers.

Arab Spring Finally Prevails In Yemen

Yemen's President of thirty-three years has agreed to protesters demands that he step down.

Organic Glass

New materials with the lightness and unbreakability of epoxy resins and rubbers can be worked like glass. The new material is different from yet another new material, metallic glasses, that have the properties of metals but can be worked like glass.

22 November 2011

Who Earns Capital Gains? Mostly, the Top 0.1%

The top 0.1% [of the nation's earners]-- about 315,000 individuals out of 315 million-- are making about half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property after 1 year; and these capital gains make up 60% of the income made by the Forbes 400. . . . according to the Congressional Budget Office more than 80% of the increase in income inequality was the result of an increase in the share of household income from capital gains.

From Forbes via the Tax Profs Blog.

The number of top earners is more like 80,000-100,000 because typically only one member of a household of three or four is an earner in the top 0.1% and the others are economically dependents not involved greatly in the generation of that income.

This quote also actually understates the disparity, because a large share of all capital gains are unrealized and never show up as taxable income on a tax return before the taxes on the gains are forgiven at death. About $30 billion per year of capital gains that would have been taxable if realized, are converted to tax free basis at the owner's death, and often not subject to estate taxes either under the very generous estate tax regime in place right now. Tools like tax free 1031 exchanges of real estate make it possible to defer capital gains taxation for very long periods of time.

The Easiest Civil Procedure Reform Colorado Can Implement

Many civil procedure forms require the courts to adopt rule changes, substantive changes in private law or criminal procedure, the appointment of new judges with de facto lifetime appointments, or other controversial measures.

This requires none of these. Instead, I suggest that Colorado simply hire a few hundred more law clerks (one new clerk per district court and appellate judge), before it tries anything else. This would cost about $10,000,000 per year, but would reap huge dividends in the form of a stronger legal environment for businesses and individuals in this state.

The simple truth is that no procedural reform or change in the law will work well until the system has enough capacity to handle its workload under the existing system that already stretches judicial resources about as thinly as possible, leaving almost every possible task to the litigants. But, some tasks, like presiding over trial or writing substantive orders in decided cases are non-delegable.

Across the state, our judges are bogged down. The overload is statewide, from Pueblo to Denver to Weld County to Jefferson County to Arapahoe County to Pitkin County. In the years since I started practicing law in Colorado in 1996, I've never seen the average amount of time that it takes a judge to rule on a fully briefed motion or completed trial run longer. It is true for every kind civil case in District Court that can't be resolved in a one or two sentence answer. No judge can be singled out. Judges are working weekends and evenings and still struggling to keep on top of their never ending dockets. And, this is despite the fact that Colorado has no judicial posts take have been vacant for prolonged periods of time as the federal system does.

The pennywise policies that deny our judges the resources they need to turn out reasoned rulings, something that law clerks play a large role in helping them to do, have high costs for the state both within the judiciary and in the private sector.

Delay drives up the cost of litigation. It prevents important private decisions from being made by businesses and individuals. It causes overtaxed judges to make oversights that produce requests for reconsideration and appeals. It undermines the authority of the judiciary whose power comes not just from the quality of its decisions but from their ability to afford parties prompt justice.

If this reform doesn't produce results, it is easy enough for the system to lay off some of the law clerks, without any more changes to the rules or statutes or ranks of full fledged judges than the implementation of this reform took.  But, I suspect that the results would be swift and positive.
There are all sorts of civil procedure reforms out there to consider. But, until Colorado has adequate levels of judicial staff support, every other reform is pretty much irrelevant.

Updated 11/23/11: A recent law review article (Brian Sheppard (Seton Hall University School of Law), "Judging Under Pressure: The Relationship Between Decreasing Judicial Resources and Legal Constraint" (Florida State University Law Review, Forthcoming)) addresses the same concerns.

Drone Technology Ready For Prime Time

Once manned helicopters are rapidly being reconfigured as drones, including:

Boeing’s . . . Little Bird is one of the military’s smallest helos. Images of special operators being dropped off by Little Birds in the middle of narrow city streets have become ubiquitous. Boeing has been working on fielding the unmanned version of the chopper [now in proto-type] that can be used to do almost all the missions a manned little bird can, ISR, light strike even cargo hauling for years now. . . .e’ve seen Lockheed and Kaman team up to deliver an unmanned version of the K-MAX light helo to the Marines for resupply duty in Afghanistan.

It can use autopiloting features to land on the back of a moving truck on its own.

Boeing is developing the chopper for use by the French Navy, where it will be operated from ships in a similar way the U.S. Navy flies soon-to-be-armed MQ-8 Fire Scout drone helos from its ships. . . . The Little Bird is set to conduct sea trials aboard a French frigate in 2012.

Civilians are using radio controlled mini-helicopters with cameras that were once military grade technologies for purposes like filming riots in Poland. Something similar was used by "Libyan rebels to spy on Gadhafi’s forces during the Libyan civil war."

The U.S. is opening, with little fanfare, a new drone base in Southeast Ethiopia intended to be a base for attacks similar to the CIA drone war on the Taliban in Pakistan. Bases like these are possible with minimal on site personnel and few American lives places at risk.

The Navy's X-47 project is coming along well. It is designed to do almost everything that a full service stealth fighter can do (it looks like a small B-2 bomber) and is mostly artificial intelligence run as opposed to being purely a remote control drone. It is designed to land on aircraft carriers: "The plane is slated to conduct sea trials off an aircraft carrier in 2013, using this technology." The X-47 threatens to make the manned F-35C carrier based version of the joint strike fighter obsolete just a few years after it enters service. Since it doesn't need a pilot, the X-47 would be, for example lighter and smaller than a comparable fighter craft, would need less time that would produce wear and tear on the vehicle in practice exercise, could take more risks in combat, could handle aerobatic high G moves that pilots avoid due to the strain on their bodies and their awareness, wouldn't have to worry about pilot exhaustion en route to an engagement, and hence it might actually be a better overall dog fighting plane than an alternative manned carrier based stealth fighter like the F-35C. These might be designed to work in "swarms" as well as alone.

The Navy is replacing one of its models of spy planes (for signals intelligence) that carried a crew of twenty-four with a drone.

Betwixt drones and munitions are missles that engaged in anti-electronic warfare missions traditionally reserved for late model fighter aircraft, like using electromagnetic pulses to destroy electronics on the ground.

Similarly, the Army is procuring small drones normaly used to provide aerial images that is filled with expolsives so it can be used as a missle against targets of opportunity. More mundanely, the Army is using robotic cargo luggers on wheels called mules in Afghanistan on a trial basis.

While not strictly on point, the new P-8 maritime patrol aircraft which is in late stage testing and replaces the old P-3, seems to be capable filling just above every role warships like destroyers and cruisers currently fill in taking on opponents surface warships and to also fill much of the role surface warships in the U.S. Navy now fill in antisubmarine warfare, by deploying sonobouys and launching torpedos when hostile submarines are detected. The plane itself may not be a drone, it is a much faster way do deploy highly automated technology against ships and submarines that can be moved from one theater of battle to the next very quickly and puts far fewer military personnel in the line of fire when it is being used than the ships that it would take to do its job.

Aircraft aren't the only drones. The Marines are looking into robotic rifle targets that look like maninquins on wheels, that provide more realistic training for the battlefield with live fire.

The U.S. doesn't have a drone monopoly. Russia and India, for example, are testing robotic space planes that would work like unmanned space shuttles. Iran is debuting a new cruise missile with a 185 mile range.

Drones are likely to change the military world more than stealth technology ever did, probably in many circumstances in ways that we can't predict.

Musings On How Biotech Could Play Out In Our Lives

Imagine a world where:

DNA testing

* Every baby had a full genotype done shortly after birth and analysis of that information will be able to provide meaningful insight into how those genes are likely to express themselves when the baby grows up.

* Paternity is automatically checked and known with certainty at birth.

* One's DNA profile is automatically included in forensic databases, allowing positive identication of every missing child who is picked up, every non-communicative arrestee, every semen sample from a rape victim, and every dismembered body party located by a hiker or dog walker.

* A full list of potential organ donors from everyone alive could be drawn up in a moment.

* We knew, with 95% certainty, who would start to manifest bipolar disorder or schizophrenia starting late in puberty.

* Your personality and potential IQ could be determined with considerable accuracy a week after you were born.

* We could determine which kids would have dylexia before they even started kindergarten and tailor their curriculum appropriately.

* We knew which three children in an incoming elementary school class were at high risk of becoming bullies or psychopaths.

* An autism or ADHD diagnosis would be available at a week of age.

* You would know immediately a child's vulnerability to altitude sickness, hair color and type, eye color, skin color, ear wax type, skin and hair oil levels, tendency to go bald, tendency to get gray hair at a given age, likely amount of body hair, peak potential adult height, likely obesity challenges, lactose tolerance, propensity to be anxious, conscientiousness, resiliance in the face of traumatic events, and tendency to be judging v. feeling.

* Prospective spouses could know if their spouse or they were at a high risk for having difficulty sustaining a marriage relationship.

* Every couple could put their names into an online calculator that would automatically give them, in a minute or two, the exact probability that a child of theirs would develop any of the genotyped genetically caused diseases (perhaps 95% of the total at that point), as well as their probability based on age and a few other questionaire questions of their child having conditions that arise from mutations that take place in the first generation in the child, other age related or birth order related conditions, and any conditions with known seasonal or geographic variations.

Other Biotechnology

* A few injections or pills can end the craving of a drug addict for the drugs he or she is addicted to, and even prevent those drugs from having any effect on that person in the future.

* The normal punishment for violent male criminals was castration, chemical substance abuse treatment that permanent ends an ability to be addicted to the substances in question, if any, and a short prison sentence rather than an extremely long prison sentence.

* A saliva test and a minute wearing a knit cap with wires in it can assign a precise code to your mood.

* Veterans, crime victims and people who weren't coping well with a traumatic event could have their memories of their worst moments that gave them nightmares erased.

* We could accurately flag individuals who were high risk due to mental health issues when conducting a background check on a gun buyer from their electronic health record file, even if they'd never been committed or taken a psychiatric drug.

* A brain scan of a toddler could tell you if the child had been abused.

* A doctor's visit and a couple of tests could tell a psychiatrist with near certainty which psychiatric medicine at which doseage, or which non-medicine treatment was going to work best to treat someone without trial and error.

* A couple of treatments in elementary school could reduce your risk of getting cavities by 95%.

* Immunizations would be routinely administered not just HPV, but HIV, herpes, all major forms of hepatitis, cytomegalovirus, and molluscum contagiosum, in short all major viral sexually transmitted diseases.

* One could determine all of the most common types of sexual orientation and transgender identity (perhaps less than 2% false negatives and 0.00001% false positives) by the time children were toddlers. Transgender individuals would routinely treatments to prevent the development of secondary sexual characteristics of their apparent gender before they became irreversible.

* It would be routine for both young men and women to have easily reversible, non-hormonal birth control with no long term effects from before they become sexually active until they decide to have children.

* A two week regime of daily treatment with a drug that treats most kinds of cancer, but does not affect non-cancer cells, reduces deaths from cancers detected in the early to medium stages by 95%.

* A general purpose autoimmune drug would effectively put diseases from diabetes to M.S. to lupus to rheumatoid arthritis in immediate remission and eventually reverse their effects.

* Spinal cord injuries could be routinely healed.

* Soft tissue injuries could be routinely and accurately diagnosed from lab tests that did not require patient communication.

Note that these aren't necessarily intended to be endorsements or rejections of these developments. These are simply developments that seem within the realm of the possible.

20 November 2011

Will A Superbattery Save The World?

A new version of a litium ion battery that is supposed to increase energy density ten-fold and cut recharging time by a factor of ten could dramatically change how electronics from cars to cell phones are engineered.

For an electric car, it is the diffence between a 100 mile range and 8 hour recharge time v. a 1000 mile range and a 48 minute recharging time.

It is supposed to hit the market in about three to five years.

Batteries are really the only missing link in the transition from gasoline and diesel powered vehicles to electric ones, and anyone whose had a cell phone or laptop die on them knows that battery technology in the consumer market leaves something to be desired as well.

18 November 2011

Recession Reduces Births

The national birth rate dropped for the third straight year, with declines for most ages and all race. . . to the lowest rates since record-keeping began in the 1940s. U.S. births hit an all-time high in 2007, at more than 4.3 million. . . . Last year, it was down to just over 4 million. . . . For teens, birth rates dropped 9 percent from 2009. For women in their early 20s, they fell 6 percent. For unmarried mothers, the drop was 4 percent. . . . the total fertility rate. . . was 1.9 children last year. In most years, it's more like 2.1 [the replacement rate in the absence of immigration or emigration].

More striking was the change in the fertility rate for Latino women. The rate plummeted to 2.4 from 3 children just a few years ago.

From here relying on these statistics from the Center For Disease Control.

Birth rates are at record lows for teens and womens in the young twenties, continuing a large magnitude ten year trend (emphasis added):

• The 2010 rate for teens 15-19 was 9 percent below the rate in 2009 (37.9), the largest single year decline since 1946-47. The rate has fallen 44 percent from 1991 (61.8) when U.S. teenage birth rates began a long-term decline.

• Birth rates dropped for all age groups under 20 years. The rate for 10-14-year-olds declined from 0.5 per 1,000 in 2009 to 0.4 in 2010, an historic low.

The rate for teenagers 15-17 years declined 12 percent in 2010 to 17.3 per 1,000 . . . This rate fell.. . . 55 percent from 1991.

• Birth rates also fell for older teenagers 18-19 years, by 9 percent . . . to 58.3 in 2010. . . . 38 percent lower than in 1991.

• Teenage birth rates for ages 15-19, 15-17, and 18-19 declined significantly for all race and Hispanic origin groups. Declines for ages 15-19 ranged from 9 percent each for non-Hispanic white (to 23.5 per 1,000 in 2010) and non-Hispanic black teenagers (51.5) to 12 percent for AIAN [American Indian and Alaska Natives] (38.7) and Hispanic teenagers (55.7), and 13 percent for API [Asian Pacific Islanders] teenagers (10.9). The rates for all race and Hispanic origin groups reached historic lows in 2010. . . .

• The birth rate for women aged 20–24 years was 90.0 births per 1,000 women in 2010, down 6 percent from 96.2 in 2009, to the lowest level ever reported for the United States. . . . The number of births to women in this group declined 5 percent in 2010. The rate for women aged 25–29 years was 108.3 births per 1,000 women, a 3 percent decline from 111.5 in 2009 to equal the rate in 1997. . . .

• In 2010, the preliminary first birth rate was 25.9 births per 1,000 women age 15-44 years, down 3 percent from the rate in 2009 (26.8), the lowest first birth rate since 2002.

First-birth rates were down for all women under 30 years, declining 9 percent for women aged 15-19, 5 percent for women age 20-24, and 1 percent for women 25-29 (from 30.8, 47.5, and 41.0, respectively, in 2009).

First-birth rates for women age 30-34 and 40-44 years, however, rose in 2010 (1 and 5 percent, respectively, from 27.9 and 2.2 in 2009) and were unchanged for women aged 35-39 and 45-49 years.

Second-, third-, and fourth and higher-order birth rates for women aged 15-44 years also declined in 2010, with the second-birth rate dropping to the lowest level since 1940 (20.2 births per 1,000 women age 15-44 years). . . .

• The nonmarital birth rate declined in 2010 to 47.7 births per 1,000 unmarried women aged 15-44, 4 percent lower than in 2009 (49.9), according to preliminary data. This was the second consecutive year of decline in the rate, down from 51.8 in 2007 and 2008. The rate had been rising steadily in recent years, increasing 19 percent from 2002 (43.6) to 2007 (51.8).

• The total number of births to unmarried women declined 4 percent in 2010 to 1,633,785, down from 1,693,658 in 2009. The number has now fallen for two consecutive years. Nonmarital births dropped for women in all age groups under 30, and increased 1 to 3 percent for women in age groups 30 and older.

• The proportion of all births to unmarried women was 40.8 percent in 2010, slightly lower than in 2009 (41.0 percent). There was a small significant decline for non-Hispanic black births; changes for other race and Hispanic origin groups were not significant.

• Unmarried teenagers accounted for 20 percent of all nonmarital births in 2010, the lowest percentage ever reported. In 1970, teenagers accounted for 50 percent of births to unmarried women.

Years of P.R. encouraging women not to have children when they are still in school as paid off with the extra push of the financial crisis. Unmarried teens are much less likely to have children, women are postponing children until they have completed their educations, and while births to unmarried women make up 2 in 5 of all births, increasingly these births are to adult women who are having children by chose and are often in relatively stable non-marital relationship.


The recession has also greatly reduced net immigration, particularly net undocumented immigration, to negative or near zero levels. The number of undocumented immigrants in the last four years in the United States has fallen by about 1 million, the number of legal permanent residents has stayed roughly constant, and the number of people lawfully in the United States on temporary visas has changed modestly with temporary workers and students up by as much as a 1 million, but foreign tourism down.

About 800,000 lawful permanent residents a year are naturalized and replaced with new immigrants. Thus, immigrants is increasing the U.S. population at about 20% of the birth rate; births and net immigrant combined leave the U.S. with a population growth rate equivalent to about 2.3 births per woman per lifetime, which is about 10% more than the replacement rate of about 2.1. In the absence of immigrant, the birth rate of 1.9 birth per woman would be about 10% less than the replacement rate. Of course, the population is also growing as a result of longer after life expectencies.

The latest U.S. government estimate shows a decline in the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States from 11.8 million just before the financial criss to 10.8 million in 2010.

There the number of non-citizens legally in the United States with non-immigrant visas at any given time (about half temporary workers, about a third students, and the remainder tourists and diplomats) which was 1.8 million in 2007 and since 2010 the number of temporary workers and students has risen by the overall number of foreigers entering the U.S. legally has fallen down about 12%. On a net basis, this number is nearly zero as departures tend to match arrivals for people who are in legal status on temporary visas.

The number of new lawful permanent residents has slipped only slightly and is at about 1 million per year, although this figure doesn't capture lawful permanent residents who choose to leave the United States. About one in seven of these admissions are employment based and most of the rest united families (about 70%) or admit refugees. The number of lawful permanent residents in the United States has stayed steady at about 12.6 million at any one time, with new grants of lawful permanent citizenship offset by about 200,000 lawful permanent residents per year leaving the United States and the remainder becoming naturalized citizens. About two-thirds of current lawful permanent residents are eligible to be naturalized as citizens (although there is a backlog in that process).

17 November 2011

U.S. Homicide Rate At Record Lows Despite Great Recession

The current homicide rate is around the levels it was at in the 1950s and 1960s.

[T]he United States' homicide rate fell to 4.8 homicides per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2010, its lowest level in four decades.

Much of the decline was in the nation’s largest cities, those with a population of one million or more, where the homicide rate dropped dramatically from 35.5 homicides per 100,000 residents in 1991 to a low of 11.9 per 100,000 in 2008.

The sharp increase in homicides from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, and much of the subsequent decline, is attributable to gun violence by teens (age 14 to 17) and young adults (age 18 to 24). . . . the number of gun homicides committed by teens and young adults in 2008 remained similar to the counts of the mid-1980s. . . .

From 1980 through 2008, 84 percent of white homicide victims were murdered by whites and 93 percent of black victims were murdered by blacks. . . . Blacks were six times more likely than whites to be homicide victims and seven times more likely than whites to commit homicide.

The number of homicides known to involve adult or juvenile gang violence has quadrupled since 1980, increasing from about 220 homicides in 1980 to 960 homicides in 2008. From 1980 to 2008, gang violence increased from one percent to six percent of all homicides. During this same period, gun involvement in gang-related homicides increased from 73 percent to 92 percent....

In 2008 . . . [a]mong female murder victims for whom the victim/offender relationships were known, 45.3 percent were killed by an intimate whereas only 4.9 percent of male homicide victims were killed by an intimate....

Most homicide victims under age 5 were killed by a parent. In 2008, 59% of young child homicide victims were killed by a parent, 10% were killed by some other family member and 30% were murdered by a friend or acquaintance.

From here.

There are 56 law enforcement officers murdered in 2008, nearly half the 104 that were killed in 1980.

Of the 587 assailants identi fied in the killing of law enforcement officers from 2001 through 2010—
* 64% had a prior conviction
* 82% had a prior arrest for any type of crime; 43% had a prior
arrest for a crime of violence.

About 90% of homicides are committed by men.

There were a little under 390 "justifiable homicides" by police and about 240 by other citizens in 2008 for a total of 630. In 1980, there were more than 450 of each type of justifiable homicide.

A little under 3.7% of homicides have two victims, a little under 1% have three or more victims.

About 64% of homicide cases are solved, a higher percentage than for any other kind of crime.

16 November 2011

U.S. Income Mobility Modest

Americans frequently move up or down in income rankings. Yet there is evidence they are doing so less often than they used to, and less than residents of Canada and Western Europe.

"Yes, the U.S. has a lot of mobility," says Sheldon Danziger, an economist at the University of Michigan. "But we also have a lot of inequality, and particularly a lot of stickiness at the top and at the bottom." . . .

During George W. Bush's presidency, the Treasury Department released figures, based on tax returns, that demonstrated the complexity of the issue. According to the report, which tracked taxpayers from 1996 to 2005, just 40.3% of those in the top 1% in 1996 remained there nine years later. But most didn't fall far: 86.5% remained in the top 20%. Meanwhile, more than half of those in the bottom quintile in 1996 remained there nine years later. . . .

Americans' incomes have dropped since 2000 and they aren't expected to make up the lost ground before 2021, according to economists in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey.

From the Wall Street Journal via the Tax Profs Blog. See also detailed tables.

Of those who were in the top 20% in 1996, nine years later in 2005 there were 61% still in the top 20%, 22% in the next 20%, 9% in the middle 20%, 5% in the second to bottom 20% and 4% in the bottom 20%. Thus, 83% stayed within one quintile of where they started, while the rest fell further.

Of those who were in the bottom 20% in 1996, in 2005 there were 55% still in the bottom 20%, 24% in the next to bottom 20%, 11% in the middle 20%, 7% in the second to top 20%, and 4% in the top 20%. Thus, 79% stayed within one quintile of where they started, while the rest advanced more.

Culturally, Americans tend to think of their society as one with considerable social mobility, probably more than really exists. Dramatic swings aren't unheard of, one in twenty-five people at one quintile extreme are at the other nine years later. In part this is due to normal and expected factors like retirements, one time capital gain realizations, and entering the work force, rather than changes in expected lifetime incomes, but in part, the shifts are more meaningful. But, the sample was restricted to taxpayers age 25 and older, limiting entry into the workforce effects.

It is worth recalling that these figures don't reflect the large numbers of people who have dropped out of the middle class as a result of the recession. The 1996-2005 time period covers a period with only one significant recession, the tech bust, and that was relatively brief and mostly recovered from by 2005.

It also doesn't capture intergenerational shifts in income, which are mostly what we think about when we talk about social mobility. The most glaring cause of stickiness there is the fact that lower income people who are academically comparable to their more well off peers are much less likely to attend or complete college. The odds that an excellent student from a poor family will complete college are roughly the same as the odds that a really bad student from an affluent family will complete college.

We expect, in a meritocratic view, that children of the successful will themselves be more likely than average to be academic achievers who are likely to be successful themselves. The children of the successful have genetic, parenting, social and financial advantages relative to their peers (although statistically, the child rearing and social benefits are much smaller relative to the other benefits than one might expect). But, the effect of social class on higher educational opportunity is much more profound than this effect.

Likewise, the fact that poverty suppressed the lifetime IQ of children who grow up in it, is notable for those who favor a meritocratic society. Genetics appears to set a ceiling on IQ that is realized or nearly realized in families that are middle class or better, but that is not realized in the poor where environmental effects are much more important relative to hereditary effects.

There is also a view that sees poverty as mostly a temporary condition. A society in which 80% of people are in poverty at some point for a year or two, but few people are in poverty for a prolonged period might be more palatable than one in which our society has, as it was once popular to call it, an "underclass" that is poor and stuck that way. The WSJ data (via the IRS), however, suggest that perhaps 11% of the U.S. population (about 35 million people) is part of an "underclass" that is not just poor, but is stuck in poverty on a long term basis. This is a more troubling reality.

A quintile analysis also omitts the general trends during this time period. The four lower quintiles and about half of the top quintile, were economically stagnant over this time period that were boom years overall for the U.S. economy. The top gained a lot. So the stakes involved in being one of the one in ten who are winners in the economy have grown dramatically.

Tax Cut Politics Reviewed

Republicans in Congress opposed the successful efforts of Democrat John F. Kennedy to reduce the top marginal income tax rate from 90% to 70%.

Republican Ronald Reagan, in his 1986 tax reform, eliminated the preferrential treatment of capital gains taxes relative to ordinary income that had existed under prior law.

The principle reason that the rich pay lower tax rates than the poor is that capial gains and qualified dividends are taxed at lower rates than ordinary income.  Currently, ordinary income is taxed at up to 35%, while long term capital gains and qualified dividends are taxed at up to 15%.  The average tax rate paid by the top 400 taxpayers in the United States is 17%, down 40% from what it was in 1997 and far below that of the average American.

Republican Newt Gingrich was behind the reduction of the capital gains tax rate to a maximum of 20% in 1997.  It was reduced to 15% a few years later.

Since 1997, the average income of people in the bottom 90% has increased by a dollar and change per hour, and less adjusted for inflation.  The incomes of those in top 1% and even more so the top 0.1% have risen dramatically in the same time period.

Starve the beast, all taxes are bad, and a strong commitment to taxing earned income more heavily than investment income policies are a relatively new addition to the Republican playbook, from the post-Reagan era.

Current Republican dogma on taxation is bad policy.  Capital gains and dividends and other forms of investment income are undertaxed.  Undertaxation of investment income by definition make the people who already have wealth more wealthy.  This undertaxation of investment income drives federal government budget deficits that are bad for the economy.  This undertaxation of investment income plays favorites by industrial sector which skews economic decision making to favor investment speculation over honest work, and encourages businesses to employ too few people.  Federal government budget deficits are the single biggest driver of the trade deficit.

The main source of this post was a Fresh Air interview on NPR this morning.

15 November 2011

In Iraq, Juliet's Father and Brothers Would Have Killed Her

Rand Abdel-Qader, 17, [was] murdered because of her infatuation with a British soldier in Basra, southern Iraq, [and] her father is defiant. Sitting in the front garden of his well-kept home in the city's Al-Fursi district, he remains a free man, despite having stamped on, suffocated and then stabbed his student daughter to death.

Abdel-Qader, 46, a government employee, was initially arrested but released after two hours. Astonishingly, he said, police congratulated him on what he had done. 'They are men and know what honour is,' he said.

Rand, who was studying English at Basra University, was deemed to have brought shame on her family after becoming infatuated with a British soldier, 22, known only as Paul.

She died a virgin, according to her closest friend Zeinab. Indeed, her 'relationship' with Paul, which began when she worked as a volunteer helping displaced families and he was distributing water, appears to have consisted of snatched conversations over less than four months. But the young, impressionable Rand fell in love with him, confiding her feelings and daydreams to Zeinab, 19.

It was her first youthful infatuation and it would be her last. She died on 16 March after her father discovered she had been seen in public talking to Paul, considered to be the enemy, the invader and a Christian. Though her horrified mother, Leila Hussein, called Rand's two brothers, Hassan, 23, and Haydar, 21, to restrain Abdel-Qader as he choked her with his foot on her throat, they joined in. Her shrouded corpse was then tossed into a makeshift grave without ceremony as her uncles spat on it in disgust.

'Death was the least she deserved,' said Abdel-Qader. 'I don't regret it. I had the support of all my friends who are fathers, like me, and know what she did was unacceptable to any Muslim that honours his religion,' he said.

From here.

This take on Islam, while not universal, is also not uncommon in many parts of the Islamic world. And, when it comes to the role of women in society, the portion of the Islamic world (as measured by population anyway) where there are values that overlap with those of the West or those of the East, for that matter, are probably less common.

I'm not necessarily asserting that Islam has always been so harsh, or that Islamic doctrine compels these traditional cultural practices. I don't consider myself confidently enough informed after three semesters in college learning about Islam, past and present, and some independent inquiry later in life, to have an accurate opinion on that question and the answers to that question are tenuous and enmeshed in doctrine, legend and politics. My instinct is that the practices of urbane convert Byzantines in the heyday of the Islamic empire when its cities were the greatest in the world, its multi-ethnic holdings made its capital diverse, and it was a global center of science and medicine and mathematics were probably not nearly so harsh as those that prevail in Basra today.

Islam, of course, has no monopoly on treating women monsterously. There are circumstances in which traditional Hindu values are just as troubling. Women's lot hasn't been that great historically in much of Christian and Jewish history, and other religions dead and still flourishing have had their own hangups; the list is not exhaustive. Different denominations, sects and branches of each of these religions differ materially on the appropriate roles of women. Mormon views on gender and sexuality differ from Episcopalian views. Hassidic Jews and Reform Jews differ. A Saudi Arabian Wahabi and a South Pakistani Sufi are worlds apart. The range of views on the roles of women amongst modern Hindus in India is probably greater that the range of views held by Christians globally.

Individual sects also evolve. Life as a Mormon woman in 1851 was much different than it is in 2011. The day to day life of a Jew in much of the period of pre-Rabbinic Judaism was probably more like the life of a modern Middle Eastern Muslim than it was like the life of an American or Israeli Jew today. Vatican II greatly changed the approach of the Roman Catholic Church to the lives of the women in its parishes.

In short, I am not convinced that religious doctrine is really what drives the way that particular cultures at particular times treat women. But, if that is the case, what does?

One important big picture hypothesis of anthropology sees these differences as strongly linked to historical means of food production and economic organization, and further to the technologies associated with those forms of economic development. Hunter gatherer societies are prone to different norms than herders who are prone to different norms than hoe farmers who are prone to different norms than plough farmers who are prone to different norms than societies that have been urban for many generations. Perhaps there are other distinctive types I've omitted, fishing or raiding perhaps. Cultures of honor are often linked by anthropologists to a legacy linkd to herding on marginal lands, which was a leading means of economic survival for the ancestors of modern Arabs for thousands of years and was the kind of society in which both Islam and Judaism apparently arose.

Histories of war, of weak or strong states, of scarcity or abundance, of stable societies and rapidly changing ones may play a part as well.

I think it is hard to say that honour killing is a practice that ever makes some kind of cultural sense in the 21st century anywhere, even among modern herders who have found other fixes to the circumstances that favored its codes of honor, despite their superficial similarity to the societies where it may have arisen. It seems like one of many cultural legacies that are vestigal and the product of vastly different circumstances at some point in the past, although it is hard to imagine what those circumstances could have been. It seems to take multiple generations for cultures to adapt to new circumstances. Perhaps, in a century, it will have pretty much vanished. But, its existence and widespread acceptance in multicountry areas also points out that the notion that there is some universal morality out there that is not socially constructed is naiive.

As the story quoted above makes clear, there is more than a societal norm at work here either. The wife of the man who killed his daughter divorced him and was appalled by his actions, and that wife had misjudged her own sons. While the police, militias, and local politicians have backed the man's actions, others in the society perhaps a subordinate faction in terms of political power would not have backed his actions (and the official bureaucracy where he worked certainly had some misgivings about it) and many of the people who don't think that he should be punished for what he did probably wouldn't have done it themselves. There are about three honor killings a month in Iraq in a country of more than 24 million people. The symbolism is powerful, and part of a larger ethos that also sanctions private corporal punishment including killings against gays, looters, and prostitutes, but the frequency of these events suggests that the vast majority of young women who had been discovered acting as Rand Abdel-Qader had, might have been punished, but not nearly so severely, by their families who were less extreme exemplars of the "culture of honor" displayed in this case.   We will probably never really know what made her father so much more of a violent asshole than his fellow countrymen who share the same ideology but aren't so extreme in acting upon it.  America is full of men who kill their daughters, who may be very similar; they just don't receive so much public acceptance when they do so.

My sense is that there are parallels between the value system in which this makes some kind of sense and the American gun culture. "Make my day" killings may be rare in the American South, but they have a powerful cultural resonance.

It also isn't obvious precisely how societies "grow out" of this kind of culture.  Dueling and physical violence in response to insults, even among elected officials in Congress was common place in 18th century America and France.  Now, this kind of behavior is gfreatly suppressed and it has been for most of the 20th century at least.  What factors were most critical in bringing about that change? How could those lessons be applied elsewhere?

14 November 2011

The Antishareholder Manifesto

I don't agree with Professor Bainbridge's analysis (and his views flatly contradict black letter legal doctrine in all fifty states, even if they get a lot of attention academically) and I think that he makes far to much of the distinction between ownership of corporate property and ownership of a share in a corporation as a basis for the claim that corporations cannot be owned.

But, if you want a sincere and vigorous argument that shareholders have too many rights, should be marginalized in corporate governance, and that "Shareholders do not own the corporation," he is your go to man.

Miami University of Ohio Professors Dance

The faculty flash mob in the town where I grew up is a great laugh, and proof that the faculty there, as it should, cares more about educating students than their own gravitas.

Some International Observations And Questions

* Landlocked Afghanistan has many neighbors who are not natural allies of the United States: Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China (ever so slightly at the tip of a remote dog leg of Afghan territory), and Pakistan. Pakistan's government at the moment is arguably closer to the Western democratic model than any of its other neighbors. It is neither a theocracy nor a post-Soviet autocracy. Islam as practices in much of Pakistan is one of the most tolerant and humanistic branches of that faith. But, its frontier territories, in which the formal government of Pakistan has only limited effective authority, and not Afghanistan's other neighbors, seems to be at the heart of the insurgency in Afghanistan, which might very well have been unable to sustain itself had it had no foreign allies.

U.S. troops in Afghanistan seem to have decided that the fate of the war's outcome and a sustainable stable civilian regime there lies as much in the hands of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment (which has being fighting, at great costs in blood and treasure, a civil war in the areas that are Taliban stronghold that largely escapes U.S. media attention, even though its military-intelligence establishment is internally divided on this undertaking), and the hands of the CIA fighting a drone war there that is scarcely even really covert or deniable.

Surely, Iran has some interest and makes some attempt to involve itself in the going ons of its eastern neighbor, but that involvement seems to be political and diplomatic, more than military. Hardly what one would expect from a nation on an "Axis of Evil."

* The most screwed up nations in Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and North Korea, seem also to be nations in cultural boundary areas. North Korea is wedged between China and the non-Chinese powerhouses of South Korea and Japan. Myanmar is at the boundary between South Asia and Southeast Asia (itself more closely bound to East Asia than South Asia). Afghanistan and Iran are liminal between Europe and South Asia. Is this mere coincidence, or is it a pattern?

Perhaps the ongoing threat of being on the front lines as a bulwark against another society makes it possible for governments to rally the forces of fear behind their authoritarian rule.

The hypothesis that these nations are authoritarian to hold multi-ethnic societies together fits some, but not others. Iran and Afghanistan are definitely multiethnic and divided between the areas that they border. But, few societies in the world are as monoethnic as North Korea. I don't know the cultural politics of Myanmar well enough to know precisely what is driving that regime, and it is certainly not as monoethnic as North Korea, but I don't get the impression that ethnic conflict is what drives the repressive regime there.

* Isn't interesting that nations like Cuba and North Korea, which have always seemed on the brink of collapse, have proven so resilient, even as seemingly stable regimes in the sphere of influence of the former Soviet Union collapsed, and regimes like those in China have evolved beyond recognition from their former hard core communist selves?

* Syria has used violent means to suppress citizen uprisings for eight months now, earning it widespread condemnation internationally. This seems at odds with the hypothesis that countries that rely on the labors of its masses and multifaceted international trade, rather than oil wealth to meet its needs to be more democratic, or at least more free in the context of a non-democratic regime, than oil rich countries. It can't survive on a formula of no taxation and no representation as the Arab monarchies do, and as Libya once did.

Unlike Yemen, where the existing regime in Syria seems to be on the verge of falling apart and there have been wide defections by senior insiders and moves to make concessions, the regime in Syria seems to be managing not to budge. It also isn't even clear that Lebanon has been able to emerge as anything other than a vassal puppet of Syria, despite the unrest its master faces at home.

Perhaps Syria is strengthened by an influx of Baathist refugees from Iraq who feel loyalty to the last refugia of the political system that they prospered in after being routed in the second Iraq War and embarrassed at their defeat in the first Gulf War. Syria is certainly swimming with refugees that it was willing to accept, and the uprising, in contrast, seems to be a grass roots effort of native Syrians.

But, since Syria can't afford to be as closed to the outside world as some of the other nations of the region could, is some sort of compromise by its leaders inevitable in the end?

* Military forces in Mali intercepted a large quantity of arms that someone was attempting to smuggle out of Libya, perhaps remnants of the old regime there, perhaps someone associated with the mercenary forces that the old regime had used to stay in power, perhaps simply apolitical arms dealers. The failure of these forces, whomever they may have been, to secure the complicity of Malian officials bodes well for the survival of the new regime in Libya, although the nature of that regime is hard to make out at this point.

* What has become of the horrible civil wars that wracked Congo-Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda? I haven't heard much about them lately other than that the President recently sent a very small contingent of military advisers to train the Ugandan military. Presumably, less news is good news, but I have a hard time determining from here if these wars are even over, or at least quiescent, or if they continue as unabated low intensity conflicts ready to bubble over again at any moment.

* Also obscure is the state of famine driven conflicts in Somalia. There are apparently outside intervening forces in Kenya and Ethiopia and there appears to be some shifting in the state of political affairs there and the active players in the conflict relative, for instance, to those present when the U.S. was briefly involved in the Clinton administration, but while there do appear to be thousands of monthly deaths associated with military assisted famine in that country, it is very hard to tell what is going on.

Oh to have media with a range of international coverage comparable to that of the B.B.C., which seems to be the only source available that regular reports on the goings on in parts of the world where the U.S. has little direct involvement.

* Also, what has happened with the insurgency in Caucasian Russia? Have the insurgents been truly crushed, or are we merely in a lull? What in the world does Russia want those small and unappreciative autonomous regions for anyway? Wouldn't it be easier for Russia to shed the bother? What would regimes in those countries look like if they were allowed to emerge? What is daily life like there?

11 November 2011

GOP Controlled Congress Really, Really Unpopular

Selected approval ratings:

* President Barack Obama 47%
* IRS 40%
* BP (polled at the height of the Deepwater Horizon disaster) 16%
* Paris Hilton 15%
* America "going communist" 11%
* Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez 9%
* United States Congress 9%

From here.

New Colorado Congressional District Map Puts 6th CD In Play

Yesterday, Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt adopted one of the Congressional District maps proposed by Democrats, a job that fell to him because the Colorado General Assembly, which is split between the State House, controlled by Republicans by a 1 vote margin, and the State Senate, controlled by Democrats, couldn't reach agreement on a map to reflect the 2010 census in the 2011 legislative session.  There can be, and very likely will be, an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court which will make its final decision by December 15, 2011, but I would be quite surprised if the decision was overturned on appeal.

None of Colorado's Congressional Districts will be open races in 2012.  All have incumbents who are reasonably secure in the districts as currently drawn, so all of the fireworks will come from the changes in the political calculus that redistricting produces.

The big changes, politically, are to the 4th and 6th Congressional District. 

The 4th Congressional District, which includes almost all of the rural and exurban Front Range in its new configuration goes from being a moderately competitive Republican leaning district to a safe Republican district, because it sheds liberal leaning Fort Collins, while picking up the exurban Republican strongholds of most of Douglas County including Castle Rock and Elbert County.  Republican Cory Gardner is the incumbent in the 4th Congressional District and his re-election for the next ten years is almost insured by this map, barring scandal or ill health.  This effectively sinks Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer's chance at winning back this seat in 2012, a challenge that had already loomed large because Cory Gardner is not the utter buffoon who was the last Republican to hold that seat (Marilyn Musgrave).

The 6th Congressional District, in which Republican Mike Coffman is the incumbent, is the biggest shift.  It cedes exurban and rural territory in Southern Jefferson County, Douglas County, Elbert County and Eastern Arapahoe County, mostly Republican strongholds, while picking up first ring suburbs in Aurora and Adams County that are quite evenly balanced between Republicans, Democrats and independents.  The 6th Congressional District has gone from being one of the safest Republican congressional districts in the state to being arguably the most competitive congressional district in the state.

Mike Coffman will be facing the fight of his political life in 2012 against Democratic challenger Joe Miklosi, a product of grass roots Democratic party politics with a gift for fundraising and man of the people demeanor.  Coffman will be a formidable contender, however.  Coffman has a fat war chest, the benefits of incumbency, has held statewide office as Colorado Secretary of State, has served in Iraq, and has taken political positions in Congress that while within the mainstream of Republican politics aren't nearly as far to the right as he could have chosen to be in the uberconservative old 6th Congressional District.  Still, discontent with the obstructionism of House Republicans like their brinkmanship over the debt ceiling this summer that cost the United States its perfect credit rating makes him vulnerable in a highly competitive district like the new 6th Congressional District.

Miklosi is the underdog in this race, but I would give him 3:2 odds in the newly drawn district.

The 6th Congressional District race should attract national attention because it is swing districts like these that determine which party controls the House of Representives in 2012.  With the percentage of people who favor replacing their own Congressman at a near record high in the history of modern polling, Miklosi may be riding a wave of political sentiment.   But, he will also be riding President Obama's coat tails, for better or worse.  As it stands, the President narrowly leads all Republican primary candidates in the polls, but only by the narrowest of margins.

The rest of the adjustment in the map are basically politically neutral, and hence unlikely to produce upset results in 2012.

The boundaries of Congressional District 1 (Democrat Diana DeGette: Denver), Congressional District 3 (Republican Scott Tipton: Western Slope, San Luis Valley and Pueblo), and Congressional District 5 (Republican Doug Lamborn: Colorado Springs and vicinity) are virtually unchanged.  District 1 remains a safe Democratic district, District 5 remains a safe Republican district, and District 3 remains a moderately competitive Republican leaning district with a Republican incumbent.

The only race among these three in which there is a chance that the incumbent will be upset is Democrat Sal Pace's challenge to Scott Tipton.  But, I would be surprised if he pulled it out given the largely unchanged Congressional District.  Scott Tipton isn't a particularly strong candidate, but he is a long time Western Slope politician not so deeply identified with the Tea Party that he is likely to be booted in a backlash vote by Western Slope voters.  I put Sal Pace's chances of victory at one in three or four, perhaps 5-2 odds.

DeGette and Lamborn don't face any credible competition.

Congressional District 2 (Democrat Jared Polis: Boulder) adds Fort Collins and Southern Jefferson County, while losing Western Eagle County, which makes the district slightly more competitive but still a fairly safe Democratic congressional District. 

Polis doesn't face any credible competition.

Congressional District 7 (Democrat Ed Perlmutter: North Suburban Denver) loses thinly populated Eastern Adams County, Aurora and some of the suburbs between Aurora and Northwest Suburban Denver.  This cedes a lot of geographic territory but is close to politically neutral.  The district is a moderately competitive Democratic leaning district with a Democratic incumbent.

If there were any year for Republicans to make a shot at reclaiming the 7th Congressional District, 2012 would have been it, but they have yet to field a credible challenger to him with the election less than a year away.

10 November 2011

More Evidence Of Differing Returns From Higher Education

For some people, higher education provides a lot of "value added", while for others it does not. This doesn't necessarily mean that higher education isn't worthwhile for both. Those who learn a lot are substantively more productive and have a better quality of life later. Those who do not learn a lot still get a credential that increases their economic value and have several years of pre-workforce fun and games.

The report cited also provides a nice validation of the benefits of traditional, liberal arts educations, even outside STEM (science, technology, engineeering and mathematics) fields.

The following quote is from the New York Times via the link above to Steven Hsu's blog:

The Collegiate Learning Assessment reveals that some 45 percent of students in the sample had made effectively no progress in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing in their first two years. . . . Students reported spending twelve hours a week, on average, studying—down from twenty-five hours per week in 1961 and twenty in 1981. Half the students in the sample had not taken a course that required more than twenty pages of writing in the previous semester, while a third had not even taken a course that required as much as forty pages a week of reading. . . .

At every institution studied, from research universities to small colleges, some students performed at high levels, and some programs fostered more learning than others. . . . the liberal arts attract a far smaller proportion of students than they did two generations ago. Still, those majoring in liberal arts fields—humanities and social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics—outperformed those studying business, communications, and other new, practical majors on the CLA. . . . students who spent the most time studying on their own outperformed those who worked mostly with others. . . .

[V]ast numbers of students come to university with no particular interest in their courses and no sense of how these might prepare them for future careers. . . . Academic studies don’t loom large on their mental maps of the university. Even at the elite University of California, students report that on average they spend “twelve hours [a week] socializing with friends, eleven hours using computers for fun, six hours watching television, six hours exercising, five hours on hobbies”—and thirteen hours a week studying.

For most of them, in the end, what the university offers is not skills or knowledge but credentials: a diploma that signals employability and basic work discipline. Those who manage to learn a lot often—though happily not always—come from highly educated families and attend highly selective colleges and universities. . . . [T]hose already born into the wealthy and professional classes benefit disproportionately from the best educations. Acquire any sort of college education, and you’ll make more money than you would have if you didn’t. But don’t expect you’ll make what you would have if you had studied applied math at Stanford.

Extensive higher education in a traditional collegiate setting is not for everyone. And, it provides little value added in a wide variety of careers, even careers that require considerable intelligence and hard work, other than an expensive and time consuming to acquire credential.

We really need to identify careers where this is the case and develop alternative tracks to allow people to enter those careers immediately after high school based on the kind of criteria that make them eligible for admission to higher educational institutions and likely to graduate.   There really are good middle class jobs that don't actually require for their performance anything that students would acquire in a college education but wouldn't acquire in on the job training.  High school test scores and grades can probably predict likelihood of success in these careers just as well as admission to institutions of higher education with comparable admissions requirements do.

We need to return to an understanding of higher education that recognizes that some professions are truly academic in the sense that extensive study and acquired knowledge is necessary to perform in them, and that other are not. A four year accounting degree might make sense. A four year marketing degree probably doesn't add as much value to someone intent on entering that career field as four years of on the job experience.

This approach shouldn't be limited to prospective undergraduates either. It is absurd to insist that only people with PhDs teach courses like English composition and first year calculus, although insisting on the subject matter expertise acquired by someone earning a non-thesis based master's degree in the relevant fields might make sense. The capacity to do original research that a PhD captures is neither necessary, nor sufficient to teach entry level undergraduate classes well. Using the capacity to earn a PhD as a proxy for professorial intelligence, and hence performance in teaching, is both a wildly expensive alternative to more direct measures, and to a significant extent counterproductive. It also drives up the cost of higher education by shrinking the pool of available instructors, and makes teaching college students less attractive economically to people who might have a gift for doing that work, but could also pursue other careers.

Of course, this system also creates a huge pool of languishing would be professors in the social sciences and humanities, where publishing a dissertation can take close to a decade, whose research at this stage of their careers (and later research at the publish or perish part of their careers) will contribute little to the pool of knowledge in their field, but whose teaching efforts could make a vital contribution and should be prioritized to a greater degree. There are certainly "hot shot" PhD students for whom their exceptional capacity to do scholarly research is their most important talent. But, these students make up a minority of people who would be talented future professors in the classroom.

Graduate degrees in journalism are even more suspect. Journalism is fundamentally a generalist's game and requires people who have the humility to know that other people know more than they do and ask questions. Journalism requires little that one does not develop with a general liberal arts education and a little extracurricular hands on experience.   A journalist needs to be smart, but a journalist does not need a lot of specialized classroom taught, book learned knowledge.

There is also lots of circumstantial evidence to suggest that our current higher educational curricula in K-12 education don't do a particularly good job of supplying the best teachers to our nation's schools or add value that couldn't be secured more fruitfully in other ways. The barriers to entry screen out too many talented people who might be teachers.  The education classes are sufficiently numerous that their marginal utility when it comes to teaching methods can become quite small. It isn't that education classes are entirely worthless, but that a large part of what makes teachers exceptional is not very amenable to classroom instruction and that trying to shoehorn continuing education for school teachers into a higher educational degree structure can detract for efficiency in improving teacher performances.

This applies even to my own profession, the law.  The requirement that students complete seven years of education to become lawyers is overkill for lots of kinds of legal practice, like criminal law, immigration law, and child custody matters, where there is a dire shortage of people willing to do the work at rates that the people who need it can afford, and where it would be possible to train specialist independent professionals in the relevant subject matter knowledge with much shorter higher educational programs at a much lower cost that would make a career offering legal services in these areas at a lower cost more economically feasible.  Training everyone to do everything is a very expensive way to run a legal system.

Similarly, it isn't at all obvious that having the mental health professions led by M.D. psychiatrists who have eight years of higher education, followed by a residency before becoming full fledged independent professionals is a sensible way to regulate the authority to prescribe drugs for mental health conditions.  This is a sub-field of medicine where the interdisciplinary comprehensive scope of medical knowledge acquired by medical doctors provides particularly little utility, and where the cost barriers involved in requiring such highly trained professionals has produced a severe and persistent shortage of care givers that people who need mental health care can afford.  The PhD in psychology is similarly overkill for the work that treating psychologists do.

Of course, the case that screening people upon completing high school for competence, without putting them through the ringer of actually attending college in pursuit of a bare credential, makes even more sense in the case of the very large proportion of students who start college but drop out after a semseter or two, a group that is disproportionately comprised of students who weren't well prepared for college to start with, even though they did passably well in high school and graduated.

This isn't to say that I oppose higher education.  The CLA validates the fact that for a large subset of college students, the college experience really does add value and is not merely a credential.  But, we as a society should try to better match those students for whom college is likely to provide a genuine benefit rather than a mere credential, from those for whom it is only a symbolic measure of intellectual capacity and basic functionality that can be assessed in much less expensive ways.

09 November 2011

Painfully Close To The Truth

A team of leading archaeologists announced Monday they had uncovered the remains of an ancient job-creating race that, at the peak of its civilization, may have provided occupations for hundreds of thousands of humans in the American Northeast and Midwest.

According to researchers, these long-forgotten people once flourished between western New York state and Illinois, erecting highly distinctive steel and brick structures wherever they went, including many buildings thought to have held hundreds of paid workers at a time.

"It's truly fascinating—after spending a certain number of hours performing assigned tasks, the so-called 'employees' at such facilities would receive monetary compensation that allowed them to support themselves and their families," said archaeologist Alan H. Mueller, citing old ledgers and time-keeping devices unearthed at excavation sites in the region. "In fact, this practice seems to have been the norm for their culture, which consisted of advanced tool users capable of exploiting their skills to produce highly valued goods and services."

From The Onion (n.b. for those of you not familiar with The Onion, this means that the piece is satire).

The Onion is so close to the truth it's painful. The ghost towns, and abandoned factories described in the piece are there, waiting to be found by the archaeologists of the distant future. The collapse of the "Rust Belt civilization" happened almost entirely in my lifetime. I was born in 1970, just as it peaked.

In the forty years, the cities have withered away, the jobs have moved away, four rounds of census results have shed political power in Congress, most of the steel, automobile and textile companies in the United States have shut down or reorganized in bankruptcies, and the economic fortunes of the working class American man have stagnated. The notion of a job for life that paid a living wage, let alone such a job for someone who didn't even get a college degree, is long forgotten. Nobody even makes televisions in the United States anymore.

Back when they were creating millions of jobs, the rich weren't nearly so rich as they are today, when we wallow in the worst recession since the Great Depression. Four years later, the nation's GDP is finally back where it was when the recession started, but the jobs situation is little better than it was at the worst point after the financial crisis.

It isn't because we ran out of oil or stopped using cars. Car ownership rates are about what they were in 1970, maybe higher. The interstate highway system may not be shiny and new as it was back then, but its roads are still the main arteries of commerce and travel in our nation. We had an oil shock in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and another in the past few years, but I bought a gallon of gasoline for less than a dollar once while I was in college and gas at $3.50 a gallon or more hasn't divorced us from our reliance on gasoline.

One can fault the failure to unions to protect workers. But, who could they organized now and achieve the situation we had then?

One can fault unions for striking to rich a deal for their members, even though that was their job. It would make more sense, if you are to criticize on that ground to complain that managers weren't tough enough in saying "no", of course. But, the reality is that no amount of wage concessions would have made American automobile and steel and textile workers competitive with Mexico or Japan of the 1970s or China.

The jobs we lost were overwhelming lost due to rising productivity, falling market share relative to foreign competition, and offshoring of jobs by domestic companies. Perhaps tariffs would have helped, and our focus on consumer well being to the exclusion of production jobs was myopic, although even that wouldn't have forestalled the loss of jobs and increase need for a skilled work force as a result of technologically driven increased productivity.

Even more myopic, perhaps, has been our belief that we can hold on to the high end design and engineering jobs while shedding the business of building things itself. Innovation flows naturally from day to day familiarity with who things are done and the informal spread of knowledge that accompanies it. An engineer in an office in Oakland County, Michigan will inevitably miss insights that someone on the ground in a maquiladora just over the Mexican border or a Chinese factory would enjoy. Foremen and shift managers and local parts company managers and technicians doing day to day work know a lot that no longer makes it to upper level management and design teams because they are now absentee landlords. Some of the most knowledgeable people in the manufacturing industry don't speak fluent English and don't have engineering degrees or M.B.A.s.

It also isn't the case that the demise of the industrial era left the nation without jobs at all. Squeezed between the tech bust and the financial crisis were years when the United States had approached full employment as the term is defined by economists. We dramatically increased the labor force participation of women, while no reducing the labor force participation of men by nearly as much. American did then, and perhaps still do, although the last few years have seen a slump, work more hours per year than any other country in the world. We have fewer paid vacations, work more overtime, and extract paid labor even from people like college students and mothers of young children who historically often haven't been in the labor force, although the high schooler with a part-time job is a vanishing species.

For whatever reason, proposals to encourage marginal participants in the work force like college students, to leave the work force, and to encourage employers to hire more people working fewer hours each, have not even made it into the discussion.

Older men under the age of sixty-five are less prone to be working than in the past. In the case of working class men, Social Security disability or work related disbility policies or military retirement payments or first responder retirement payments after several decades of physically demanding work make an early retirement possible. In the case of upper middle class men, investment gains and savings after very fruitful boom year careers have made early retirement possible.

It is harder to blame international competition or rising productivity for the massive decline in economic security we have experienced. The percentage of non-governmental workers who are anything other than employees at will with no severance benefits other than unemployment insurance has never been smaller. Each successive recession has brought layoffs to unionized employees who aren't employees at will. The financial crisis led to layoffs among people like big law firm lawyers, even non-equity partners, who thought that their jobs were secured despite a lack of formal legal guarantees, and to government employees who are the last vestige of the kind of de facto lifetime employment arrangements with formal protection from wrongful termination that was common in the manufacturing industry of 1970.

Partially, the economic maxim that demand is insatiable, has broken down. In the last decade, the United Kingdom reached "peak stuff." The total mass of the good it consumes has fallen and its energy consumption has declined as well. There is a car for every driver, a house for every household, and a chicken in every pot. there are shoes on every child's feet and a cell phone in the hand of every middle school child and single mother waiting at a bus stop. Our aggregate demand for tangible goods and real estate per capita has peaked. Productivity as allowed those of us in the developed world to get everything that we need and turned out attention merely to quality, which has risen as well relative to price.

Personal services are also cheap. Our society may no longer have many servants, but lots of people employ a cleaning service, a lawn service, eat out or buy take out food, have someone else press their shirts, or hire baby sitters and day care providers. Very few people cut their own hair these days.

The crunch points today are in professional services and financial security. Health care costs continue to soar out of control. Higher education costs continue to rise, and income continues to drive college completion even after controlling for academic ability. Lots of people who need legal services can't afford a lawyer. Less than half of people who need nursing home care can pay for it with their own funds. Lots of middle class people are turning sixty-five and learning that they can't afford to retire as they had planned. A loss of a job can rapidly snowball into long term poverty. A third of the people in the United States who grew up middle class have seen their socioeconomic circumstances drop them below those circumstances. Upward social mobility is lower in the United States than almost any reasonably economically open country in Europe or Asia.

It is troubling that a job recovery and household income recovery seem no closer, and that the growing divide between the rich and everyone else shows no signs of abating. It is even more troubling that no one, myself included, seems to have a clear overall vision of what a political economy that would solve our woes would look like.

One of the reasons that the Republican pablum of starving the beast by lowering taxes without regard to the benefits, of letting regulations that have clear benefits be repealed in the hope that it will spur economic development, and of abandoning a societal commitment to care for all has been as popular as it has, and there are tens of millions of true believers, is that there isn't a better defined alternative vision. Liberals can trot out evidence that their economic theories are vodoo all day, but without a convincing narrative and vision for an alternative, it is hard to sway hearts and minds. President Clinton pitch to create a society that would help those who "played by the rules" had a powerful appeal, but a couple of decades later, that promise seems betrayed. Hundreds of millions of American who played by the rules are still worse off.

It isn't that liberals don't have piecemeal policy recommendations that make sense. Krugman is right to argue that we need monetary and fiscal stimulus in large doses, supported by empirically validated Keynesian macroeconomics, although one could hope for measure less microeconomically clumsy than the home buyer's tax credit and the cars for clunkers program. Progressives arguing for more parsimonious use of incarceration are right. The folks arguing that we should back away a war on drugs approach and take steps like decriminalizing marijuana are right. Those arguing that we need to make higher education available to everyone who has strong academic credentials without regard to financial need are right. Those arguing that the well off aren't paying enough in taxes to pay for beneficial government services are right. Those arguing that we need to increase gas taxes to catch up in the maintenance of our bridges and roads are right. Thoe arguing that we should be investing in high speed rail in appropriate corridors are right. Those arguing that we need to implement the kind of steps in President Obama's health care reforms that will greatly shrink the ranks of the uninsured are right. Those arguing that we need improved regulation of the financial industry that caused the crisis and corporate governance reforms are right.

There are a lot of right answer to society's troubles curning out there on the left at a time when right wing policy circles are an intellectual wasteland. But, there isn't much of a vision and a narrative to explain how the piecemeal reforms can be united into a coherent whole that people who aren't policy wonks can understand and rally around. Until that vision can be widely communicated, we, in a democracy where the median voters wishes drive policy, will remain stuck.

08 November 2011

Lobbyists For Liberty

One of the most blatently anti-Semitic acts of the U.S. government in the history of the United States was made in December 1862 by Ulysses S. Grant, the top general for the Union in the Civil War, when he issued General Order 11 which stated that:

The Jews . . . are hereby expelled from the department [the "Department of the Tennessee," an administrative district of the Union Army of occupation composed of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.

Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters.

General Grant's order also provided that "no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad southward [into the Department of the Tennessee] from any point."

This order was no paper tiger. Dozens of Jewish families who were long time residents of the region were expelled from the territory at gunpoint as a result of this order.

Almost as notable is that the order was rescinded about three weeks later, entirely as a result of political action, rather than litigation, without a stated rational, through a direct appeal via politically connected people of the President's political party, several steps removed from the people harmed, to the President of the United States:

A group of Paducah's Jewish merchants, led by Cesar Kaskel, dispatched an indignant telegram to President Lincoln, condemning Grant's order as an “enormous outrage on all laws and humanity, ... the grossest violation of the Constitution and our rights as good citizens under it.” Jewish leaders organized protest rallies in St. Louis, Louisville and Cincinnati, and telegrams reached the White House from the Jewish communities of Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

Cesar Kaskel arrived in Washington on Jan. 3, 1863, two days after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. There he conferred with influential Jewish Republican Adolphus Solomons, then went with a Cincinnati congressman, John A. Gurley, directly to the White House. Lincoln received them promptly and studied Kaskel's copies of General Order No. 11 and the specific order expelling Kaskel from Paducah. The President told Halleck to have Grant revoke General Order No. 11, which he did in the following message:

A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms, it expells (sic) all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.

Grant revoked the order three days later.

Civic textbook political theory, and a good deal of constitutional law scholarship say that majoritarian elected officials don't protect the individual rights of unpopular minority groups against official oppression. But, the reality is more human and more complicated.

Indeed, the track record of litigants trying to enforce civil liberties protections in the face of military misconduct is poor even in the 21st century in the United States and other developed countries that we call our allies. In times of crisis, political remedies are often more effective than legal ones.

In this case, the survival of the petition clause of the First Amendment proved more important in practice than its more directly applicable freedom of religion provisions. It also didn't hurt that President Lincoln himself, was one of eighteen U.S. Presidents who did not strictly subscribe to Christian orthodoxy.

Hat Tips Enik Rising and Gene Expression.