30 September 2012

Global Diaper Shortage Looming

A fire at a Japanese factory that is one of the only factories in the world to make large supplies of a critical resin used in most of the diapers of the world threatened to disrupt diaper supplies globally.

27 September 2012

China's Great Depression Will Start Post-2014 And Pre-2024

The going rate for iron ore in the international commodities markets is $105 (U.S.) per metric ton. At that price, 40% of China's iron mines can't afford to operate. To put all of those Chinese iron miners back to work, the price would have to go up to about $120 a metric ton. It is unlikely that they will reopen any time soon.

Not surprisingly, China's steel industry is also floundering as a result of the same trend.

The Shortcomings Of An Always Booming Economy

China has been praised as an economic miracle for producing high annual GDP growth rates, year after year, for decades. The growth rates are even more incredible when one realizes that China has basically two economies - one is an Eastern Chinese urban industrial economy that is experiencing economic growth at rates much greater than China as a whole. The other is a profoundly more poor, mostly interior Chinese, rural economy which is experienced slower economic growth - rates in the range of countries in the developed world that drags down the economic growth rate for the nation as a whole.

I'll discuss rural China's situation in a moment, but lets focus for moment on something that China's shuttered iron mines and steel factories, which in absolute magnitude are a blimp in the global economic picture, but are notable because they may be a symptom of a far deeper phenomena that could have global economic implications.

Every country's economic decision makers make mistakes, regardless of the political economy they are acting in, and sooner or later, these mistakes have consequences. A country's recent business cycle history influences the kind of mistakes that economic decision makes will make. China's thriving urban industrial economy is vulnerable to the mistakes usually made by a generation of economic decision makers too inured to booms who haven't come to terms with the notion that sustained, high levels of exponential economic growth are inherently unsustainable.

In a booming housing or investment asset market, of the kind we saw in places like California, Florida and Nevada in the years leading up to the 2007 housing price collapse in those markets, there is a natural tendency to overleverage and to be sloppy in underwriting new loans secured by bubble assets, since foreclosures can promptly forgive ill conceived decisions to lend to uncreditworthy borrowers. Likewise, guarantees of loans are lightly made, since the possibility of a loss seems remote. People who do more deals get rich and the rising tide cures their bad judgment calls painlessly. People who are cautious miss profitable opportunities and few chances to say "I told you so.", to people who ignored the risks that they foresaw.

Of course, this ethos and experience leads to systemic misjudgment by the biggest participants in the marketplace. When a bust arrives, the consequences of excessively optimistic lending practices come to roost, equity positions in the bubble assets are wiped out, declining collateral values turn attention to the creditworthiness of the borrowers and produce huge losses to lenders. In the U.S. subprime market alone, the result was $1 trillion dollars in bad debt and the ripple effects of the write offs produced by these bad lending decisions (mostly in a few select markets where non-recourse lending kept borrowers from injecting an extra layer of caution into their decisions), has brought the U.S. economy, and ultimately the global economy, to its knees.

Risks that are similar in kind loom in China.

In a booming industrial economy, a growing economy quickly soaks up the fruits of a decision that at the time made was an overinvestment in productive capacity. If you build a factory that makes more wigets than anyone needs at the moment, no so many years later, the economy will have grown to the people where those widgets are needs and the only down side was trouble finding buyers for the factory's output for a rough first few years.

A booming industrial economy also generates conventional wisdom organized around periods of seemingly never ending expansion of the demand for industrial goods. So, the economy rewards the decision makers who capture market share early on with razor thin profit margins and then grow their wealth by growing their volume rather than their profit margins.

More generally, economic booms due to literal financial side of the balance sheet overleveraging, and the de facto leveraging associated with very thin profit margins, pose the same basic risk. They organize economic enterprises with little staying power that are not robust enough to weather an economic downturn and decline in demand gracefully.

Bottom Line: Sooner Or Later China Will Have Its Own Great Depression

Sooner or later, unsustainable, relentless exponential economic growth in China will level off and even produce a recession where the size of China's GDP declines for at least six months. When it does, bad decisions rooted in excessive optimism on the part of China's economic decision makers developed through a generation where the next year was always much better than the last, will come to roost. The bigger the boom was without interruption, the bigger the bust will be, and China's boom has been long and large indeed. There may or may not be some "little earthquakes" in China first that put it on guard. But, sooner or later, this much of a bubble is going to produce "the big one."

China's first industrial age Great Depression will be epic.

If I were prescient enough to time business cycles accurately, in China or anywhere else, I'd be wealthier than Warren Buffet. No one has a consistent track record of accuracy when it comes to market timing in the long run. Some people make plays, get lucky and win big. And, if you are smart, you can have better odds trying to time China's next recession or the collapse of a real estate bubble than putting money on the tables in Las Vegas, maybe even odds that win more than they lose consistently, albeit with lots of mistakes along the way.

It turns out to be far easier to know that someone is coming sometime, than it is to know when. This can be done with far greater accuracy. The possibility that China will experience its own Great Depression as its economic growth starts to level off as it inevitably will, may not be quite as certain as, for example, the prediction that the world will experience "Peak Oil" with far ranging consequences (although Peak Oil could easily trigger a Chinese Great Depression). But, I would put its likelihood at some point before China is fully economically developed at something on the order of 75%-85%.

The Question of Timing

Also, despite my warnings on timing, some crude methods can bound the timing, and I will be a fool and rush in to calculate them in a place where angels fear to tread.  The easiest way to get a question of timing right is to be sufficiently vague.  The more roughly one predicts when something will happen, the easier it is to be right.  The art is in figuring out just how accurate you can manage to be with a reasonable degree of confidence. 

First, it hasn't happened yet. Indeed, I think that there will probably be a month or three of warning when evidence that a sustained economic growth driven bubble has run its course will reach the grass roots of society and become overwhelming. For example, recall the taxi drivers giving stock picking advice on the eve of the 1929 crash, and the janitors buying $1,000,000 California homes on the eve of the 2007 financial crisis. China doesn't appear to be there yet, so any Great Recession in China will probably start in 2013 or later.

The firmest bound on the latest possible time that a China's Great Depression could happen derives from the widely understood fact in development economics that economic growth slows as per capita GDP approaches the level of affluent, fully developed countries. So, if one calculates a trendline for exponential growth in per capita GDP in China at a conservative growth rate within the range of recent Chinese experience and marks the point in time at which this produces an affluent, first world level of per capita GDP in China (perhaps per capita GDP in France or Italy or Spain might be used as a bench mark), you have the end of the time frame. Using the rule of 72, and doing this calculation from a 6% per capita GDP growth rate, you get a doubling in per capita GDP every twelve years. The World Bank estimated that China had a per capita GDP in 2011 of $8,442. By the same measure, France had a per capita GDP of $35,194, Italy has a per capita GDP of $32,569, and Spain had a per capita GDP of $32,701. In round numbers, this suggests that China's Great Depression ought to happen sometime before 2035.

But, a 6% GDP growth rate for the calculation may be low, given the recent historic data: "Since economic liberalization began in 1978, China's investment- and export-led economy has grown almost a hundredfold and is the fastest-growing major economy in the world. According to the IMF, China's annual average GDP growth between 2001 and 2010 was 10.5%, and the Chinese economy is predicted to grow at an average annual rate of 9.5% between 2011 and 2015." Likewise, per capita GDP growth that could trigger a major Chinese economic downturn that produces a Great Depression as opposed to a merely transient business cycle, may start to lag materially sooner than a cutoff of the per capita GDP of Spain or Italy. The Czech Republic with a per capita GDP of $25,959, Portugal with a per capita GDP of $25,444 and Greece, with a per capita GDP of $26,892 are all still clearly developed industrialized first world countries that are capable of generating the kind of economic growth via imitation that one can achieve during periods of industrialization.

If you are looking at the time it takes an economy's per capita GDP to triple at a conservative something a bit over 8% per annum rate, you are looking at fourteen years. In other words, you would bracket the next Chinese Great Depression to the time frame of late 2013 to 2025.

You could probably trim a couple of years at the front end and back end of that range without undue loss of accuracy, given the conservatism of the assumptions that go into the boundaries on each end of the prediction, and get a time frame for the commencement of the first Chinese originated Great Depression of 2015 to 2023, an eight year spread of plus or minus four years around a midpoint date of 2019, a date well within the economic medium term.

This is the medium to long term future, but hardly impossibly remote either. My estimate is that in terms of probabilities, the certainty of this time frame is probably on the order of a +/- one standard deviation error bar, i.e. about 68%, give or take.

So, there you have it. Based on some admittedly thin information and some very simple economic models, as well as some deeper historical insight and understanding of economic development generally, and in China in particular:

My prediction is that there is a 68% chance that China will experience its own first, post-Cultural Revolution Great Depression (defined by standards similar to those used by first world economy financial journalists to distinguish between a mere recession and a true depression) sometime between 2015 and 2023.

Some of the uncertainty is attributable to my methods.  But, something like the timing of a major economic downturn is also inherently uncertain and relies on a vast number of detailed facts that can never be successfully modeled. 

My intuition, having seen efforts to model events that are similarly complex in their causation over the years, is that it is impossible, with all the brainpower and resources in the world, the kind of resources that might be available to top CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency and Executive Office of the President and State Department policy makers and leading professors at top Western universities, to make an estimate that is accurate to much better than plus or minus 18 months to two years, i.e. to a 3-4 year range.

So, while I'm sure that my eight year range prediction could be improved upon, the room for improvement from this back of napkin estimate to a state of the arts all available resources estimate that would cost millions of dollars to assemble and involve immense intellectual resources to develop, is pretty modest.  Something like a third to half of the eight year range I have proposed arises from inherent unpredictability, with only the balance being due to my rather crude methods.

An Aside On Rural Chinese Economic Development

Rural China is honestly doing so not poorly compared to agricultural economies starting at their level of development. This is mostly because it is not plagued by the problems endemic to most developing agricultural economies.

Rural China not ravaged by wars and succession fights. It has had more than thirty years (figuring from the end of the "Cultural Revolution") of social and military peace. Unlike its neighbor North Korea and despite the immense scale of the Chinese military machine, China has fewer people in military service per capita than almost any other country in the world. Similarly, rural China doesn't have rampant social disorder and massive levels of crime, in the way that much of rural Latin America and Africa do.

Unlike most developing agricultural economies in the world, rural China has strong political and social ties to more developed economies that it can trade with and learn from, has easy access to financing for long term infrastructure projects, has resources to educate its best and brightest who wish to use their skills to return to the places where they grew up, has decent public health systems considering the local per capita GDP, and has no problem finding a market for its products not prone to being hijacked by political dramas of trading partners sublimated to trade policy. While China's anti-natal policies aren't applied as strictly in rural China as in urban China, the rural Chinese are in the unusual position of having progressed well into the demographic transition associated with industrialization and economic development well before it would have been expected to do so were it an independent country.

While rural China has no shortage of corruption, it isn't nearly so corrupt as a typical Third World subsistence farming economy. Indeed, the Chinese national government's experiments with essentially non-partisan democratically elected local government in rural China have been a great success. Rural China's political system is considerably more democratic than urban China's politics and China's national and provincial level politics.

All this allows rural China to have consistent, slow economic growth; rates of economic growth any American President would be happy to take credit for producing. Almost everyone is rural China is much better off than their great-grandparents and grandparents, with the possible exception of the descendants of pre-revolutionary minor landed gentry, many of them have probably found decent Communist party posts by hiding their roots, or have migrated to the cities where they can forget their pasts by now. And, in the Confucian, ancestor oriented milieu of rural China, most people are far more intimately familiar with the lives of their grandparents and great grandparents than Americans.

If you want a best case scenario for economic development in an agricultural economy, look to the example of rural China. This is as good as it gets, and almost any other country with an agricultural economy seeking to encourage economic development while continuing to have an agricultural economic base should have expectations of being less successful at it than the Chinese have been in the last thirty years.

This isn't to say that rural China is viewed as a success story within China. In relative economic success terms, their plight is awful.

The rural Chinese have gone from being economic peers of, or just a bit worse off than, the urban working class to having incomes that are a sixth or eighth or tenth of their urban peers. A fair share of those urban peers are the prize of the village children of neighbors who moved to the big city, who write home with stories of their hard struggled but new found wealth, and who visit now and then in economic displays that prove that their stories are real. The relative privation of the rural Chinese is not just immense, it is also immensely personal and concrete.

In a country whose officially proclaimed central political principle is economic equality, in the same sort of sense that "freedom" is the central political ideal of American politics, this is an acid bath of class tension ready to explode in a sudden, catastrophic revolutionary earthquake, perhaps akin to the one that ended Soviet communism and lead to the break up of the Soviet Union, at any time. The lid that an authoritarian one party national and provincial level political system with massive resources that can be mobilized from a nation of far more than a billion people, prevent any more gradual process from letting off steam from rural Chinese discontent in any other way.

One of the few factors that argue against such political collapse, at least in Han Chinese areas (the submerged nationalist movements in Chinese deep interior highlands and parts of South China are another, more complicated story), is that unlike restive rural communities experiencing economic development in other parts of Asia, in Africa, and in Latin America, rural Han Chinese peasants do not have a bulging generation of underemployed youths ready to cause trouble. Restrictions on family size, and migration from rural areas to more quickly developing cities had left the youths who remain with no shortage of economic tasks to occupy themselves with and little time for revolutionary organizing.

Rather than having an excess of young women causing distress to their families, rural China has a shortage of young women and is turning to questionable means to bring them to reasonably prosperous rural young men as wives. The nasty social consequences of an excess of young men in the current generation in China seems to be more visible in the chaos of China's big cities that are growing so quickly that no one fully understands what is going on in the big picture.

Political And Military Implications

Serious economic downturns produce a predictable grass roots political response that is indifferent to the policy preferences of the people currently in power: Throw the bums out.  Likewise, regime change is quite heavily balanced towards moments when a nation is at the economic bottom.  China may not be a free and open democracy, but it isn't a hereditary monarchy either and requires a considerable base of supporters to stay in power.  Also, China's political elite is much more tightly linked to its economic elite than political figures in most Western developed countries.  So, pointing the blame for an economic collapse elsewhere might be harder for China's political elites than it would be in the West.

The obvious moment for China's fragile but intense pent up political frustrations, including those that fall on its intense urban-rural divide would be in the wake of China's first modern Great Depression, which I have predicted will most likely begin sometime in the time frame from 2015 to 2023.  So, look to that time frame, not just for Chinese domestic economic malaise, but also for major Chinese political upheaval of some sort and for Chinese aggression in foreign policy and military affairs in a probably vain attempt to divert public attention from the domestic crisis.

U.S. foreign policy makers and defense planners should be prepared for this kind of critical moment in U.S.-Chinese diplomatic and military relations by the early end of this time frame.  The preparations they engage in, moreover, should be devoted to considering what possiblities are plausible when it does happen, how to respond to each, and what resources need to be marshalled and developed in that time frame, rather than to pinpointing more precisely exactly when this will happen.

Given the relatively modest and medium term nature of this diplomatic and military challenge that we can expect to fact, major new research and development programs are not a wise investment.  Instead, planners should focus on the resources that can be bring fruit that would be useful in foreseeable scenarios in the next two to six years, since this planning and development of resources should reflect the reality that any development of resources not accomplished before a crisis breaks out is useless.

25 September 2012

In Europe, Even Bloggers Go On Strike

There are multiple general strikes planned in Europe for tomorrow, something I learned of here. 

The successionists movement in Catalan Spain has really taken hold, produced mass protests in the streets from ordinary people, and won threats of harsh reprisals from the military in response that carry echos of Franco and the Spanish Civil War. 

The proximate cause of this unrest is a series of austerity plans imposed to address imminent or actual sovereign debt collapses in one nation after another, triggered by a long and slow chain reaction of economic events that can ultimately be traced to the U.S. financial crisis five years ago.  Bankers insisted on ignoring political reality and the politicians who acceded to their demands (or in the case of Greece, their successors who have been left holding the bag after their predecessors were thrown out at the polls) are paying a high price for giving into them.

Europe is in a place right now, in terms of economic pain and extreme grass roots political tactics, that the United States hasn't been in for seventy-five years (although none appear to be so horribly devistated as Weimar Germany was in the 1930s) before my father was old enough to start grade school.  Some European countries have taken a deeper economic hit in the past few years than they did during the Great Depression.  In contrast, the U.S. "Great Recession" has never come close to rivaling the U.S. Great Depression's economic magnitude. 

Europe's economic buffers postponed the impact, but ultimatelythese safety nets have given way catastrophically in much of the continent, particularly the countries where outside E.U. development support had created artificial economic bubbles.

Swing States Favor Obama

Six weeks before election day, a host of recent, state level opinion polls favor Obama over Romney in November 2012 Presidential race, despite a less than stellar economy (see also here). Those states, and the number of percentage points by which they favor Obama, are as follows:

Colorado (3 and 6),
Florida (-1 and 1 and 5),
Iowa (7),
Michigan (9 and 12),
Minnesota (8 and 9),
Nevada (7),
North Carolina (2 and 4),
Ohio (4 and 5),
Pennsylvania (2 and 8 and 12),
Wisconsin (12) (where GOP Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan was elected to Congress), and
Virginia (3).

In Nebraska, which allocated some of its electoral votes by Congressional district, rather than statewide, there is one Congressional district (the second) where Obama and Romney are tied.

Among the states that are safely for Obama are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts (where Romney served as Governor), New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Washington State. (Washington D.C. is a safe win for Obama as well.)

Among the states where Romney leads are Arizona (3 and 10), Georgia (6), Indiana (6), Missouri (6), South Dakota (15), Tennessee (7), and Texas (11).

Many of the Obama leads in these swing states are not so great that they couldn't be reversed in a month and a half, and Presidential polls in one state are not independent of Presidential polls in another. But, Romney needs almost all of them to win 270 votes in the electoral college and hence to win the Presidency. One of the last natural turning points in the campaign for either candidate is the October 3, 2012 Presidential debate which will be held at the University of Denver.

If the Presidential election were held today, Obama would win. With a seven percentage point shift in Obama's favor (e.g. winning Virginia by a 10 percentage point margin instead of a 3 percentage point margin as current polls indicate), Obama would win by a landslide. With a seven percentage point shift in Romney's favor, he would win, but not by a landslide. Romney couldn't win the Presidential election even with a three percentage point shift in his favor from current polling in swing states. Romney needs more than Florida, North Carolina and Virginia to win.

Even a really notable "October surprise" would be unlikely to swing current polls much more than seven percentage points either way in the nation's swing states, and usually late breaking news has something less than a seven percentage point impact on polling. The closer we get to election day, the less likely it is that new information will matter. By late October, many people will have already cast their ballots via mail in voting and early voting.

National polling shows a closer race (five recent national polls favor Obama by two to six percentage points, while a sixth national poll is tied), but the race isn't decided by the national popular vote. It is decided by electoral votes in swing states. A surplus of support in states that aren't close doesn't matter.

24 September 2012

Remembering Dale Siegler

My uncle, Dale Siegler, died the evening of September 19, 2012, at a not unnaturally young age, after many months of struggling with a serious health condition that, whatever the precise diagnosis may have been, amounted to natural causes.  He was survive by his wife, four children, many grandchildren, at least one great-grandchild, and many other relatives.

The life that he and my aunt Rose, my mother's sister, lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan near my maternal grandparents home, was different from that of most of my maternal relatives. He and Rose had children early, stayed close to home where family support was available, and had many children themselves. Rose's two brothers and my mother all went away to college, found professional careers in big metropolitan areas and raised families with two children each. (Kay, their other sister, had been starting college and headed on the same track when an M.S. diagnosis took he on another course that left her a spinster, blind, and spending her final days, in middle age, in a succession of nursing homes).

Dale had worked in the iron mines were he'd found a job for himself as a newlywed man with a baby daughter for many years, and served as a security guard for the closed mine after it shut down. He and his son and his friends hunted deer in deer season, trapping small furry animals destined for coats and stoles and taxidermy, fished, managed family forests, and was a community and family leader, well liked by all.

I remember watching in awe as a child as he neatly filleted fresh caught lake fish leaving them boneless, with just two or three perfect cuts of his fillet knife. He roamed the woods, first with the kids in the generation of my cousins and me, and then with kids in my children's generations, showing them deer trails and his traps.

The life he lived was not unlike my grandfather who had lived most of his life as a lumberjack supplemented by subsistence farming at a home place nearby tucked into hills and forests. As in Dale's own generation, some of his children moved far away to the big city, and all but a couple of his descendants went to college. However, his grandson, his grandson's wife, and their child lived right across the street from him in their little hamlet, in his final days. I never heard the slightest twinge of regret in his voice or his eyes over the road he had taken, although he was always eager to discover what we had experienced.

Despite the fact that his home in a town found in a list of Michigan Ghost Towns was further away from any city of any consequence than my paternal grandparent's place in Dola, Ohio, his world in Northern Michigan always seemed less insular. Perhaps it was the fact that their church retained stronger ties to Swedish speaking Finland. Perhaps the mining companies and tourist oriented operations that dotted the birch and fir forests had more connections to the rest of the world. Perhaps Rose's siblings and his children provide more of a connection to the larger world.

We will also miss him now as those whom he has left behind live his legacy.

21 September 2012

Big Law Associate Payroll Down

NALP just announced that the median salary for first year associates in Big Law has dropped from $160K to $145K. . . . We are now back to to the entry level price point of 2007. . . . In 2011, firms of 500+ attorneys hired 2,856 entry level lawyers. In 2007, that figure was 4,745. So, after five years, Big Law is paying the same wage but hiring 40% few lawyers.

From here (note that the definition of Big Law used for salaries in the quote is broader than firms with 250+ attorneys, not 500+ attorneys). The higest salary (75th percentile) for new graduates in the the biggest law firms was $160,000, which about 3,000 new graduates in the sample (about 6%) earned.

There were 44,495 in the graduating law school class of 2011. NALP has data on 43,001 of them, including virtually complete data on big law firm hiring. About 62% of those graduates were hired at full time jobs that required passage of the bar exam (just under half of all employed new graduates worked for law firms), while about 10% were unemployed and seeking employment. Part-time jobs were most common for new graduates in academic, public interest and non-legal business positions.

As usual, the salary distribution was bimodal with one high peak for Big Law hires and one low peak for everyone else.

The median salary for new law school graduates finding full time jobs as lawyers in private private was $85,000. In government, the median salary was $52,000, a bit more than the median pay of $50,000 for graduates hired to be lawyers by small law firms with two to ten lawyers in all (who make up 43% of private practice law firm hires). For all graduates finding jobs at lawyers, it was $61,500. A quarter of graduates hired to be lawyers earned less than $50,000 a year as lawyers. Across the board, those law school graduates hired for jobs that did not require them to be lawyers made less than those hired to be lawyers.

Aggregate Subprime Losses Exceded $1 Trillion

Five years after the housing bust that triggered the financial crisis that in turn produced the worst U.S. recession since the Great Depression (and contributed a few years later to a Eurozone economic crisis that has left many European countries worse off than the were in Great Depression), we can much better assess its aftermath. Government bean counters have pretty good estimates of how much debt had to be written off as a result of bad mortgage debt write offs (which were concentrated in the subprime housing lending markets, although in the hardest hit markets, losses have been widespread).

The bottom line is that roughly a trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000.00) of household mortgage debt alone has been written off so far.

This corresponds to some of the most bearish estimates made when the collapse started in 2007, such as the one made at Calculate Risk (to which I have linked).

This is on the same order of magnitude, for example, as the cost of one year of federal spending, or the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars combined.

The subprime mortgage industry that created the problem has virtually ceased to exist. Almost none of the subprime lending specific firms, or the subprime divisions of larger banking institutions, that created the crisis are still operating. They closed there doors mostly within a year or two of the collapse.

There have also been big declines in other asset classes and in incomes. The median Colorado income is down about 7% since the collapse according to a recent Denver Post story, with suburbs and industrial cities hit harder than Denver proper and college towns.

Most people knowledgable about current economic conditions (myself included) on the eve of the collapse knew that the U.S. economy was overleveraged and that the U.S. has a number of serious housing bubbles in places like California, but weren't sure why or how to change that in a way that wouldn't have disasterous effects. The markets and private law rules decided to solve both problems, disaster be damned, before anyone managed to take decisive action to address either issue. Now, real estate prices at back at the levels suggested by long term historical pre-bubble trends (or even a little less in a few cases) and the U.S. economy is less leveraged than it has been for a very long time.

Five years after the collapse, in my own professional life, about two-thirds of my work load in any given month is still directly traceable to working out who will have to bear which share of the $1 trillion of losses in individual transactions that was sustained in the aftermath of, and as a consequence of, the financial crisis. The new business transactions and tax planning work that dominates my professional life during economic boom periods has just started to pick up again in the last six months or so.

19 September 2012

47 Percenters Mostly Republicans

Mitt Romney’s characterization of 47% of the American electorate as “victims” who are “dependent on government” and refuse to take “personal responsibility” for their lives. . . appears to have categorized a large segment of his party’s own voters as supporters of President Barack Obama. . . . The unspoken truth is that, compared to “blue-staters,” those who live in red states exhibit less responsibility, on average, in their personal behavior: they are less physically fit, less careful in their sexual behavior, more prone to inflict harm on themselves and others through smoking and drinking, and more likely to receive federal subsidies.

From here. See also a more detailed analysis by Brad DeLong.

Also, since when do Republicans favor working and middle class tax increases, which is essentially what Romney has advocated when he calls for these people to receive fewer government benefits net of taxes paid?

This certainly isn't the philosophy of Republican safe state Alaska, where they don't have state income taxes and pay every man, woman and child who lives there a fixed chunk of money simply by virtue of living in the state. According to Romney, all Alaskans except oil executives should be voting for President Obama. Likewise, residents of swing states like New Hampshire, Nevada and Florida, which also lack state income taxes, should also clearly support President Obama in 2012, according to Romney, if their citizens vote their enlightened self-interest.

Meanwhile, New York City and Boston, whose residents pay some of the highest combined local, state and federal taxes in the land, must clearly be Romney supporters. Right? Personal responsibility may resonnate among the members of the vanishing breed of New England Republicans, but most members of the regional party of the regional party of the American South and the Southern diaspora in the rest of the nation take a dimmer view of this approach.

There seem to have been some good reasons that Romney went into business rather than politics as his first career.

09 September 2012

Overcoming Heartbreak

As a public service, I thought I'd pass along this bit of practical guidance.
Q: Have you ever had your heart broken . . . ?

A: Yeah, I have . . . .

Q: How did you get over it?

A: Hmmm . . . You're completely in love with him, aren't you?

Q: What?!

A: In my case, it was easy.  I burned his pictures, sobbed really loudly, ate ten pieces of cake . . . then I felt totally better.
From Matsuri Hino, "Captive Hearts" Vol. 1, page 144 (1998) (translated from Japanese original in 2008).

Of course, in fairness, you ought to know that this approach does not end up working for the person receiving the advice.


08 September 2012

Is A Princess An Anti-Feminist Icon?

The Denver Post, spurred by Britains royal wedding, noticed, when that happened, that Disney's media empire has strong anti-feminist (and monarchist) tendencies that are also diffused in many other parts of American culture. The Princess memes clearly sell, although I have some doubts about the timing of this trend which they report as being merely a decade old.

The contemporary craze for queens-in-waiting finds roots in Disney's introduction, in 2001, of its Princess line, which offered a small pantheon of Disney princess dolls — like Cinderella and Snow White — along with dress-up clothes, makeup and more. The line has taken in as much as $4 billion. . . . For some, the current princess- mania seems a royal, anti-feminist pain. . . . Roswitha Burwick, who teaches classes on fairy tales at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., analyze princess fairy tales, showing students how, among other things, the stories portray women — even princesses — as passive, polite and without professional ambition. But the fascination persists, even through adulthood. Proms and weddings, Burwick notes, are laden with princess imagery and messages. The popularity of the princess troubles Burwick's colleague Judy LeMaster, who also teaches the class.

"I have a granddaughter and she likes to dress up as a princess, and it's not a good career goal," she said. Though she sees it as an opportunity "to tell little girls, no matter what you do in life, it doesn't matter if you aren't beautiful and don't marry a prince."

As one of the newspaper comic strips observed that week, there are far more children's stories with kings and queens and princesses than there are about Presidents and Governors and Mayors.

Of course, nobody has a monopoly on the term "feminism" which means different things to different people and sometimes different things to the same person at different times. It is a diffuse ideological movement that encompasses both an embrace of feminity, but with a someone different line of logic to arrive there, and a rejection of stereotypes about women, which between the two can encompass a multitude of sins.

Commoners marry princes about as often as young women earn medals for military bravery and gallantry. Both happen, but both are count examples on your fingers in your lifetime in the entire world rare.

The contradictions of feminism, to some extent, reflect the contradictions of day to day life. For a great many women, probably a plurality, the princess model of solving one's problems in life and finding social status from marriage, and the old school feminist model of working for a living in fields not historically open to women co-exist. The vast majority of non-African-American women will marry, and the vast majority of women of every ethnicity will become mothers at some point and will pay a steep economic price for doing so. But, the vast majority of women, both with children and without children, have paid work for most of their adult lives. The rising labor force participation rate of women has been one of the major long run economic stories of the last forty or fifty years.

The critique of the narrowness of the princess persona for young women needs to be rivaled by a critique of the unrealistic pervasiveness in fiction of the anti-stereotypical warrior woman persona (e.g. in The Hunger Games  or Scott Westerfield's Behemoth series). There are women today in what were historically hypermasculine roles in society now, but they remain a decided minority. Something on the order of 95% of serious violent crimes are committed by men, and in the military, women are disproportionately concentrated in occupational specialties that show continuity with historical roles for women in war like medics.

Today's college educated woman is more likely to marry and stay married than a woman in her mother's generation. Prolonged breast feeding has become normative again, despite the way it interferes with roles other than that of homemaker mother for new moms (a debate that has gone in surges back and forth since at least the days of Balzac in France, when the alternative to breast feeding for the affluent was a wet nurse instead of formula).

The ranks of women who are physicians, engineers and have careers in the "hard" sciences is an order of magnitude greater than it was in the early 1970s, but unlike non-STEM professions like law, are still nowhere near a 50-50 gender balance, which biological sciences and IT professions have come much closer to reaching. It is hard to tell if we've approached a "natural" equilibrium due to inherent gender differences in ability or inclination to enter professions that require very long training regimes or call for post-calculus mathematical study.  It could instead be that cultural and sociological barriers to women in some of these professions have been more resistant to change than others.  A Harvard President was soundly criticized for suggesting the former possibility.

But, at the very least, while securing gender balance in fields like law school graduates has been largely a matter of simply taking down the "no girls allowed" sign at the front door, in some other fields, overcoming barriers that are keeping women out may require a fairly deep rethink of how we go about preparing people to enter these professions.

For example, to become a physician, one typically needs to go to college until about age twenty-two, go to med school until about age twenty-six, spend at least four years in a residency putting you at age thirty, and often to spend several years after that in all consuming training in a medical specialty as well. A profession that has a training regimes that is for practical purposes incompatable with being a good mother of young children in the time range from puberty until age thirty-two is not surprisingly going to drive away women who want both careers and families, because of the decidedly medical human reality of the biological fertility clock.

There are a variety of ways that those issues could be addressed, but so far, our society's choice by default has been, "none of the above."  So, before we criticize Disney from promoting anti-feminist icons, we should first examine the ambivalence reflected in what we do as opposed to what we say.

Paper v. Electronic Formats By Content Type

The following exchange of comments from a February 2009 posting deserve to be restated in a post of their own now.  The observations I made are just as true now as they were then.  This point is underscored by the rise of eBook readers like the Kindle and the Nook in the last few years that have shown that while a paywall model for electronically distributed content does not work well for newspaper economics or for academic journals, that it does work reasonably well for novels.

Michael Malak said...
You get your news in print and your novels online? Isn't that backwards?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...
There are lots of reasons to get a newspaper in print, while getting novels online.

1. Newspapers are a much more convenient way to get and compare coupons and grocery store fliers. Novels have no parts you need to keep or give to someone else.

2. Newspapers have lots of stories and large newsprint sheets are superior to a computer screen to scanning lots of stories in a random access fashion. Novels typically have only a single story which you usually read purely sequentially.

3. Newspapers on computer often don't obviously link photos and charts that related stories to a main story. Novels rarely have materials you have to jump between to enjoy the novel.

4. It is much faster to read a large number of comics in print than online. I read webcomics, but it takes much longer per comic to do so. Once downloaded, in contrast, a novel is just as fast to read on a computer as it is in print.

5. Newspaper is useful as shelf/counter/table liner for messy children's projects. Novels are ill suited for this task.

6. Newspapers come in bags useful for disposing of leavings of neighborhood dogs on our lawn. Novels don't.

7. Acquiring the current hard copy newspaper is something you can do at home without getting out of your pajamas. Going to a bookstore or library can only be accomplished by driving somewhere and getting out of your pajamas before doing so.

8. Newspapers and ebooks never generate late fees and don't have to be returned (ebooks simply expire). Novels from the library generate late fees if not returned.

9. Newspaper photos look better in hard copy than on my low end computer screen. The novels I get from the library rarely have illustrations other than simple black and white line drawings, so the image quality doesn't matter.

10. Reading newspapers only online contributes to the financial distress of a resource I use a great deal by reducing subscription revenue and reducing paid subscription counts for advertising purposes. Novels from the library generate the same revenue for the author and publishers in hard copy and eBook form.

6000 Posts

This is the 6000th published post here at Wash Park Prophet, a couple of months after its seventh anniversary.  The total post count, of course, is somewhat skewed as a lot of my blogging as shifted to the less generalist "Dispatches From Turtle Island" blog over the last fifteen months.  The combined total is a rather less numerologically significant 6,379 posts.  In print that would fill two to four dozen standard sized paperback novels given the average length of the posts.

Will Christian Conservatives Stay Evil?

Christian conservatives remain at the core of the Republican Party, while it could go a variety of directions on foreign policy and economic issues. This analysis is based largely on the importance of Christian conservatives in the core of the Republican party that remains loyal, notwithstanding a wave of support for President Obama and Democrats generally in 2008.

"Steve Balboni," at Steam Powered Opinions made something of a permanent Democratic majority argument in 2009, referencing an astute statistical analysis that shows that demographic trends in the United States favor Democrats, quoting the following from the National Journal:

To grasp how powerfully demographic change is reshaping the political landscape try this thought experiment about the 2008 election.

Start by considering the electorate's six broadest demographic groups -- white voters with at least a four-year college degree; white voters without a college degree; African-Americans; Hispanics; Asians; and other minorities.

Now posit that each of those groups voted for Barack Obama or John McCain in exactly the same proportions as it actually did. Then imagine that each group represented the share of the electorate that it did in 1992. If each of these groups voted as it did in 2008 but constituted the same share of the electorate as in 1992, McCain would have won. Comfortably...

[P]itch the thought experiment forward 12 years. Imagine that the major demographic groups voted as they did in 2008, but cast a share of the vote equal to their expected share of the population in 2020. (For argument's sake, let's divide whites among college and noncollege voters in the same proportions as today.) In that scenario, Obama beats McCain by nearly 14 points -- almost twice as much as in 2008. Demography will indeed be destiny if Republicans can't broaden their reach.

Demography, of course, isn't necessarily an insurmountable challenge if the Republican Party repositions itself. Electing a first black RNC chair is a place to begin.

More importantly, as we have relearned as the 2012 election has loomed large, many voters act like "Referrendum Voters" who try to throw the bums out when the economy does poorly and give them another chance when they are better off  than they were four years earlier.

Liberals have spent most of the last few decades flat out flabbergasted at the sheer hate and mendacity of rank and file Republicans.  This isn't gone, as I noted in a recent post here noting a racist incident at the national convention.  But, is this hard core of Bircher/Haters in the GOP a sustainable future for the Republican party?  And, could it change as the bitter old men die off and are replaced by a better socialized younger generation of Christian conservatives?

A Meg Cabot novel I read a few years ago, which features articulate, albeit caracatured, portrayals of the prejudices of a few big business establishment Republicans, underlines my real lack of confidence in the "Christian conservatives rule" thesis about the Republican party.  The Romney-Paul ticket exemplifies the big business establishment wing of the GOP that she captured in fiction.

The Christian conservative triumphs of the 1980s have been tarnished. Focus on the Family is growing irrelevant and laying people off. The Evangelical environmental movement is finally taking flight, a mere generation after it took hold among mainstream Americans. Young Evangelicals are not terrified of or worried about the gay and lesbian community in a way that drives the fervant hate of their parent's generation. Conservative intellectuals are starting to come to terms with the notion that if they are going to encourage economically and emotionally unprepared women to carry their pregancies to term, that what happens afterwards needs to be more functional than what we see today.

The left, right and center move of American Christianity towards greater use of contemporary language and music is slowly having a cultural impact. There are underlying assumptions that are transmitted when one uses contemporary language and music to convey one's message. Some of those assumptions come from the emotional and value constructs embedded in the words and melodies themselves. An embrace of the cultural flourishes of modernity in one's rituals makes it harder to make a case that participants should reject the modern world wholesale, or that it is fundamentally corrupted.

One can make rifleshot objections to particular elements of modern life, but a church with a contemporary worship approach has turned any broad opposition to larger trends in moral and ethical values in the establishment culture into a doomed rearguard action. It is as absurd as PETA's campaign to "save the sea kittens" (formerly known as "fish").

Churches aren't the only place where the Southern regional culture seems to be coming around.  Country Western music (one of the pre-sets on my radio is 98.5 FM and Disney's radio channel of all places has made great efforts to show that hip-hop, bubblegum pop and country can co-exist with a single audience), while still having a distinct God and country message, is in a far less insular cultural bubble than it was twenty years ago.

It is entirely possible that the kinder, gentler, rebranded non-denominational Christian movement that has turned its attention away from electoral politics and outdated denominational commitments made with political motives will transform the next generation of Republicans.  In a few words, Christian Conservatives of my generation may be less evil than their brim full of hate parents, and their children who carry on after them who are just now in high school and college, may be even less evil.

Mitt Romney, who has managed to become his party's Presidential nominee despite being grossly unrepresentative of his party's rank and file as one of the dying breed of New England Republicans, is no dummy when its comes to politics or what works in the real work in business.  He has emphasized his economic message to the near exclusion of social issues.  His speech at the Republican National Convention that nominated him was the first in decades that didn't say a word about a foreign war that was in progress as he spoke.  He knows that social issues and foreign policy are not what will get him elected in an election that is all about a still struggling economy and isn't talking about them beyond dog whistle messages to the base.  His choice of running mate, who has made his name in Congress with his tax and budgetary policy stances, emphasizes the message that Romney wants to make this election.  Romney wants a referendum on the economy, not a broad choice between a Republican and a Democratic policy message overall that would be much harder for him to win.  Fortunately for Romney, it is two months before the election and the economy is still dragging, and a wealthy of political science data supports the notion that swing voters do indeed tend to be referrendum voters in Presidential elections.

Is Romney's choice merely a cynical marketing decision?  Or, does it represent a repudiation of a conservative agenda based on social issues that has mostly taken center stage since Goldwater that doesn't have a demographic future?  Has Romney been successful in co-opting the Tea Party's public priorities (lassiez-faire, anti-stimulus, anti-regulatory, anti-redistributionist economic policies), while trying to sweep under the rug their less public highly consistent and highly conservative views on other issues that provide an unstated intellectual and moral framework for these positions?  Would he change his emphasis once he was elected, or would the moderate governing strategies he employed as a Governor come out and leave his base feeling short changed?

If the base doesn't change its values, they will feel short changed and the Romney ticket will be just a deceptive blip in the long run ideological trajectory of the Republican party reflecting nothing more than a short term tactical political decision to make it look like the tent is bigger than it is.  But, if the larger zeitgeist of Christan conservatives really is evolving, then there is reason to hope that Romney's tactical choices may have long term influence on the policy course of his party which was otherwise headed towards a hard line permanent minority status as a purely white Southern regional party.

Combined Type ADHD=Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is classified in the DSM-IV into three types - a predominantly hyperactive type, a predominantly inattentive type, and a combined type.

Studies attempting to see what clusters of symptom patterns emerge from the evidence, however, have found more latent class subtypes of ADHD based on ADHD symptom type, commorbidity with oppoistional defiant disorder (or its close cousin conduct disorder), and commorbidity with anxiety disorders. As the study explains:

Characteristics of the Sample

The total sample consisted of 1,010 individuals, 55% of whom were male; 10.6% were ages 4 to 11 years at intake, 26.6% were 12 to 17 years, and 62.8% were 18 years and older. Based on our clinical assessment, 49.6% of subjects were affected with ADHD, 46.6% were unaffected, and 3.8% had an indeterminate diagnosis. . . .


LCA [Latent Cluster Analysis] using the 18 VAS-P [diagnostic test] items in 107 children revealed a best fit for a five-cluster model and LCA in 269 adolescents produced a six-cluster model as the best fit; LCA using the 18 VAS-P items in 634 adult subjects found a seven-cluster model fit the data best. . . .

Common to all of the age groups were clusters demonstrating severe combined ADHD symptoms, moderate combined symptoms, mild inattentive symptoms, and few ADHD symptoms.

A talkative-hyperactive cluster was found in 4- to 11-year-olds; a similar group was found in the adults but with lower symptom severity. This group was not found in the adolescents.

Two symptom clusters were found in the adult and adolescent age groups but not in 4- to 11-year-olds: a severe inattentive ADHD cluster and a mild combined ADHD cluster.

With the exception of the three symptom clusters mentioned above (talkative-impulsive, severe inattentive, and mild combined), similar clustering trends were found in the three age groups. However, the older age groups showed a marked decrease in symptom severity scores for hyperactivity questions . . . .

[W]e compared ADHD status as defined by the DSM-IV best estimate and posterior cluster membership. . . . The proportion of ADHD cases affected in particular clusters was similar between age groups with the exception of the mild combined ADHD symptom cluster.

All of the individuals who were assigned to the severe combined and the severe inattentive groups had DSM-IV ADHD. Most of the individuals assigned to the moderate combined group had DSM-IV ADHD. The proportion of affected individuals in the mild combined cluster differed between adults and adolescents. Adolescents assigned to this cluster were largely affected with DSM-IV ADHD; adults assigned to this cluster were a mixture of affected and unaffected individuals.

LCA of VAS-P ADHD and Comorbid Symptoms

In LCA of ADHD and comorbid symptoms in children ages 4 to 11, a six-cluster model showed the best fit; seven-cluster models provided the best fits for the adolescents and adults. . . . Overall, the pattern of ADHD symptom endorsement among the clusters resembled the LCAs limited to only ADHD symptoms. Inclusion of comorbid symptoms appeared to separate certain ADHD subgroups.

In 4- to 11-year-olds, the severe combined cluster split into two clusters, one with high anxiety symptom endorsements and one with low anxiety. Those with higher anxiety also had higher ODD compared to the group with lower anxiety.

In 12- to 17-year-olds, the symptom endorsements for ADHD items appear similar after addition of comorbid symptoms, the exception being the disappearance of a cluster corresponding to mild inattentive symptoms. There the two groups displaying severe combined ADHD symptoms appeared to differ most dramatically on externalizing symptoms, although there were differences in internalizing symptoms to a lesser extent. The two groups displaying predominantly inattentive symptoms differed in the extent of internalizing symptoms.

In adults, like adolescents, a cluster demonstrating mild inattentive symptoms was no longer present when comorbid symptoms were added to the analysis. The cluster size of the talkative-impulsive group also decreased after comorbid symptoms were added. In addition, in the adult group, both internalizing and externalizing symptoms appeared to differentiate clusters displaying similar ADHD symptoms. The two moderate combined ADHD groups in adults appeared to differ most notably in internalizing symptoms.

DSM-IV and the Results Compared

The results are something of a muddle.

The Purely ADHD Symptom Based Clusters

Looking at ADHD symptoms alone, there were six clusters of people exhibiting some symptoms (in addition to a category for asymptomatic people). All six were found in adults. But, one category "hyperactive-talkative" wasn't found in teens, and two categories (mild combined and severe inattentive) weren't found in pre-teens.

Three of the six clusters categories (hyperactive-talkative, mild combined and mild inattentive) were predominantly below the clinical threshold to diagnose ADHD under DSM-IV, except in the case of most of the mildly inattentive pre-teens.

Two of the clusters (severe combined type and severe inattentive type) seems to be a close match to combined type and predominantly inattentive DSM-IV diagnoses.

A "moderate combined type" cluster was largely above the clinical threshold of the current DSM-IV standard, but fit a mix of predominantly hyperactive, predominantly inattentive and combined type cases in the DSM-IV system.

The Clusters Produced With Co-Morbidity Considered

Considering comorbid oppositional defiant disorder and anxiety disorders as well as ADHD symptoms produces twelve clusters of people exhibiting some symptoms which don't neatly align with the ADHD symptom alone clusers or show stability across age ranges. Nine of the twelve clusters were found in only one of the three age groups (pre-teen, teen and adult). Only two clusters (moderate in everything and severe in everything) were found in all age groups.

Three of the twelve clusters were ADHD at only subclinical levels by current DSM-IV standards (hyperactive-talkative with moderate ODD, mild combined with mild ODD and anxiety disorder, and mild inattentive with mild ODD and anxiety disorder).  A fourth cluster of the twelve, the moderate ADHD with mild ODD and mild anxiety disorder cluster, found only in adults, was predominantly subclinical by current DSM-IV standards: about one in five were predominantly inattentive ADHD and one or two were predominantly hyperactive/impulsive by current ADHD standards.

Three of the twelve clusters mapped fairly closely to combined type ADHD by current DSM-IV standards (severe combined type with severe ODD and severe anxiety disorder, severe combined type with moderate ODD and moderate anxiety disorder, severe combined type with severe ODD but not anxiety disorder), although in older age ranges there is some shift from a combined type to a predominantly inattentive type under DSM-IV. Severe combined type ADHD is apparently almost always accompanied by moderate to severe ODD, but sometimes comes with anxiety disorders and sometimes doesn't.

As in the ADHD symptom only analysis, the latent cluster analysis conducted with comorbidity considerations produces a moderate ADHD combined type cluster that includes a large share of all predominantly hyperactive diagnoses under the DSM-IV system, in addition to a significant number of predominantly inattentive diagnoses, and a significant number of combined type diagnoses. The cluster also is accompanied by moderate ODD and moderate anxiety disorder, and is one of just two that is found in all age groups.

The twelve cluster analysis also produces four clusters that align roughly with a predominantly inattentive diagnosis under DSM-IV, but none of them are found in more than one age group. In pre-teens, a significant number of mild attention cases that are overwhelmingly subclinical in teens and adults rate as predominantly inattentive ADHD under DSM-IV. One cluster of inattentive teens has no real comorbid conditions, while the other has moderate ODD and severe anxiety disorder. In adults, the only predominantly inattentive cluster exhibits moderate ODD and mild anxiety disorders.


One important finding of the study is that there are a significant number of people out there with subclinical levels of ADHD symptoms who clearly cluster separately from people with few symptoms at all. For pre-teens, there is about one subclinical case for every two diagnosable cases. For adults, there are about two subclinical cases for every one diagnosable case. For teens, the ratio is in between (but closer to the pre-teen ratio). 

The inconstant cluster patterns for predominantly inattentive type ADHD may, in part, have something to do with this condition being less consistently diagnosed than combined type ADHD whose hyperactivity symptoms are far less subtle.

The moderate to severe combined type diagnosis declines greatly with age, while the inattentive type becomes more common.  This confirms prior research showing that hyperactive symptoms of ADHD are more prone to abate with age than inattentive symptoms, and suggests that a diagnostic tool for adult ADHD might benefit from treating what would be a subclinical level of hyperactivity symptoms in a child or a teen as more significant when seen in an adult.

The finding of the study that moderate ADHD cases cluster together, rather in the subtypes of the current DSM-IV diagnosis, is notable.  This may be a product of the diagnostic instrument which is tuned to discriminating subtypes in severe cases rather than mild ones.  Subtyping by relative symptom severity, rather than on an absolute scale, might produce less puzzling results.

The other important finding of the study is that combined type ADHD is highly comorbid with oppositional defiant disorder, to the point where it isn't at all obvious that they are separate conditions at all.  Put another way, the symptoms of ODD in DSM-IV may be what I have called "non-diagnostic symptoms" of ADHD combined type.  The DSM-IV doesn't used these ODD symptoms to diagnose ADHD combined type, but these symptoms are correlated strongly enough with the definition of combined type ADHD that they could be used to diagnosis it.

Since this correlation isn't nearly so strong in the inattentive type, one wonders if it wouldn't be appropriate to add the symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder to the list of hyperactivity symptoms and redefine ODD to exclude cases comorbid with combined type ADHD (favoring ADHD over ODD on the theory that ODD is a more "loaded" diagnosis and sounds more like a recidivist delinquent determination by legal authorities than a true psychiatric diagnosis in many cases).  ODD, Conduct Disorder and Anti-Social Personality disorder cover a myriad of sins.  A lot of ODD, Conduct Disorder and some cases of Anti-Social Personality Disorder (or whatever it is that they call it these days) seem to basically involve poor management of the hyperactivity-impulsivity dimension of ADHD rather than something distinct.  The rest of anti-social personality disorder cases, in contrast, involve something entirely different in root cause, mechanism and more carefully defined symptoms: psychopathy.  Someone who is hyper and impulsive and defiant and doesn't know how to manage that but has empathy for others is probably ADHD combined type.  Sometone who is cold as ice and lacks empathy but can consicously gaslight and glibly lie is probably a psychopath.

The comorbidity of ADHD of both DSM-IV types with anxiety disorders is high, but the fit is not nearly so perfect.  There are plenty of people who are in clusters with ADHD combined type or ADHD inattentive type who lack anxiety disorders, while almost everyone with ADHD combined type has corresponding levels of ODD.  This intuitively makes sense.  Lots of people with ADHD are the opposite of the classic anxiety disorder diagnosis, laid back to a fault rather than borrowing worry that they don't need.  So, maintaining separate diagnosis regimes for ADHD and anxiety disorders, as the DSM-IV status quo does, makes sense.

Why Is Christian Literature So Bad?

Every once and a while I read something total out of my normal fare. A recent example was "Anything but Normal" by Melody Carlson (2010), which is a consciously Christian fiction (I believe they call it "inspirational") take on a teen "issues" novel.

Imagine a version of the movie "Juno" (to which its characters refer disparagingly) where all of the characters sound like something out of a "Left Behind" novels of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (a consciously Christian science fiction series about the Biblical Apocalypse of Revelations actually happening), and you have this book.

Apparently, there is a market for it. Carlson's biography claims that she has written more than a hundred novels.

Both Carlson's book and the Left Behind series, like most of the fiction and music in the inspirational Christian fiction genre (although there are some emerging bright lights in the white Christian music scene a few decades after it really took off), are simply dreadful.

It could be, I'm not close enough to the Evangelical Christian world personally to know, that these books are dreadful simply because people in real life who are part of the culture really do think and act the way that the people in the fictional accounts do, and I don't get them.  I've seen people act like that in isolation, but it has always come across to me as false.  It seems so two dimensional, driven by empty mantras, shallow, emotionally stunted, and brain dead. 

It could also be that this is simply a genre convention in inspirational literature. There is a rich tradition of secular Southern and Appalachian fiction with real human beings in it, so I suspect it is mostly the latter, a conscious attempt to be didactic and follow Christian doctrine, verisimilitude be damned.  Then again, the quality secular fiction tends to be about less pious individuals.

But, when you do encounter someone who really does to the outside world seem to act that way, you wonder.  People buy this stuff, so maybe they relate to it.  I sincerely hope that isn't true.  That would undermine my faith in humanity a little.  But it is hard to know.

Grocery Store Mark Up

I saw in the newspaper today a brief summary of the latest quarterly report from Kroger, which owns the Colorado grocery store chains King Soopers and City Market as well as other grocery store brands around the country. 

The part that interested me its profits as a percentage of its gross revenues, 1.3%.  So, when you buy $100 of groceries, you are contributing just $1.30 to the profits of the company.  I'd heard that grocery stores had thin profit margins before, but it was interesting to see this confirmed in print.

In Between

I have an old fold up paper map of Denver.  The core metropolitan I-225 loop, but not quite all of DIA fits on one side of it when it is unfolded.  On that map, I have a vaguely central position, not perfect center, but a clear view of where I am in relationship to the rest of the area.

I like it, but it is an old map.  The seams are fraying.  It doesn't have the Stapleton or Lowry developments on it, doesn't show Dick's Sporting Goods Park, predates the conversion of Rocky Mountain Arsenal to the wildlife preserve, and is otherwise out of date.  So, I bought a new fold up paper map of Denver.

The new map isn't arranged quite the same way.  It puts the northern part of the Denver metro area on one side and the southern part on the other side of paper.  The two parts don't quite match up.  About a centimeter of the roughly four foot by four foot on each side map is omitted.

Of course, I happen to live in that missing centimeter.  Is fate trying to tell me something?

07 September 2012

The Shortage Of American Judges

One of the least acknowledged but most pervasive drivers of American judicial culture is that the American legal system has fewer judges, relative to the number of lawyers, relative to the number of lawyers who have litigation practices, relative to population, relative to the number of cases in the system, or by just about any other measure you would care to chose, than any other country in the world.

The U.S. Has Fewer Judges 

This is true of every U.S. state and territory.  Most of the variation from state to state within the United States arises from the fact that some places have limited jurisdiction courts staffed by full time judges, while other places have limited jurisdiction courts staffed by part-time judges sometimes called justices of the peace.  There is less variation in the staffing patterns of general jurisdiction courts and appellate courts, although obviously there is some variation in these staffing decisions as well.  Something on the order of 90% of U.S. judges are state or local government employees, rather than federal government employees.

This conclusion is robust across a wide variety of definitions of judges applied consistently (e.g. including or excluding federal judges, including or excluding magistrates and administrative law judges, including or excluding staff lawyers in the judicial branch including or excluding ADR professionals such as mediators and arbitrators in the public and/or private sectors).

The number of judges in the Europe, whose population is perhaps a third that of the United States, is on the order 700,000 according to a recent report from the "Eurocracy" reported at the Legal Theory Blog, yet Europe has fewer "lawyers" than the United States.  This appears to include lay judges who are not legally educated, chosen on a non-random basis, and sit for limited terms in more serious cases (typically criminal ones or labor disputes).  Other civil law jurisdictions (e.g. Japan and South Korea) are generally similar, although the number of judges per capita declines significantly in the Third World.  Definitional issues become deeply problematic in places like China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia that don't adhere closely to European style arrangements of formal dispute resolution.

The number of lawyers in the United States (which is larger than the number of lawyers in other countries at least in part as a function of the broader definition of who counts as a lawyer in the United States - fewer professionally trained legal professionals count as lawyers in other most countries) is about 1,400,000 and the number of judges in the United States with the title of judge or federal administrative law judge is something under 28,000.

Thus, Europe has about one and a half lawyers for every judge, while the United States has about fifty lawyers for every judge.

This Is Still True If One Adjusts For The Uniquely American Version Of Jury Trials

The two complicating factors that would even these scales are that the United States military justice system uses non-legally trained soldiers in a variety of courts-martial system roles, particularly in less serious cases, although not particularly more than any other modern military force, and that the United States makes much greater use of juries than other countries (even relative to countries in the Anglo-American legal tradition like England). 

Many countries around the world make use of juries in criminal cases, but most of those countries reserve them for very serious charges (typically aggravated felonies), while juries usually of at least six ordinary individuals in misdemeanor cases and twelve in a felony cases.  Jurors are chosen for a particular case in a manner that is at the first cut random from the general adult population, are routinely utilized in American criminal cases involving even minor misdemeanors.  Grand juries who are likewise chosen at random but to serve for longer terms on multiple cases during their terms are used to screen charges prior to trial and judicially investigate alleged criminal conduct in all federal criminal cases, in most serious state criminal cases in perhaps a third to a half of U.S. states, and in exceptional cases with political or organized crime implications in almost every U.S. state.

Juries are virtually absent from all but the narrowest class of exceptional cases in civil law countries and in England.  In the United States, juries are available in perhaps 80% of non-family law, non-juvenile civil cases in courts of general jurisdiction (waivers of the right to jury trial without arbitration clauses are routine in large dollar debt-collection practice), compared to perhaps 1%-2% of comparable cases in England (although juries are allowed in some claims for money damages against the government in England where they are not available in most U.S. states). 

No country other than the United States utilize juries so routinely in ordinary contract and tort disputes, although civil jury trials are increasingly very rare, especially in cases where an award of damages for pain and suffering or emotional distress is not available, in the United States.  About three-quarters of civil juries hear personal injury cases involving run of the mill accidents from car collisions to slip and fall cases to more exceptional incidents.

About sixty jurors sit in jury trials at petite jury members (as opposed to grand jurors) each year per judge.  So, including jurors, the United States has something on the order of 1,708,000 judicially acting individuals in any given year.  In addition, the number of grand jurors serving in a given year in the United States is something on the order of 60,000-90,000.

On a full time equivalent basis, however, jurors make up something on the order of 16,800 FTE equivalents.  The number of grand jurors serving in a given year on a FTE equivalent basis is something on the order of 5,000-7,5000 people.  Given that not every judge is a full time judicial official either, the number of FTE equivalent judges in the U.S. and the number of FTE equivalent jurors in the U.S. is roughly equal, and the total number of FTE judicial decision making officials in the U.S. in any given year is about 56,000, roughly one per 25 lawyers admitted to practice in the United States.  This is still an order of magnitude less than the number of European judges, some of whom are also part-time, possibly bringing the ratio of FTE European judges to something like 2.5 per European lawyer.

The U.S. Judiciary Is Bottom Heavy

The mix of judges in non-Anglo-American law cases is also quite different from those in the United States.  The mix of judges in civil law countries is typically much more top heavy. 

In the U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court has nine judges, while the state supreme court's have five to nine judges each.  Every U.S. Supreme Court judge and many state supreme court judges (and not an insignificant number of well respected intermediate federal appeals court judges) are minor celebrities.  In civil law countries, it isn't unusual for the highest ordinary court to have scores of judges who are assigned to cases on a subject-matter expertise basis, and except for the chief justice and heads of each subject-matter division, they are no more well known than comparable intermediate appellate court judges in the United States.  The celebrity and relevance to interpreting the law that we heap on the written opinions of elite appellate judges in the United States is mostly carried in civil law countries by leading law professors in various specialties, with the written opinions of elite appellate judges playing a much less prominent role due to the deceased quasi-regulatory authority of civil law judges to make law and rule on public law questions commonly addressed by U.S. judges such as civil rights violations and rulings on the constitutionality of statutory laws.  In civil law countries, these tasks are often delegated to a specialized and prominent constitutional court whose appointments are quite political relative to ordinary judges and who don't involve themselves in routine private law issues of torts, breaches of contract, and the like.

In civil law countries, cases that would be handled by a single U.S. general jurdisdiction court judge supported by a jury at the trial stage, are typically handled by three or five civil law judges (sometimes including one or two lay judges) one of whom takes a lead and manages most of the non-dispositive stages of the process such as taking testimony from witnesses, and the intermediate appellate court panel which would typically consist of three judges in the U.S. would typically have a couple more judges than the first instance court in civil law countries and would typically take some new evidence as well as legal argument.  The only cases typically handled by a single judge in civil law countries are the kinds of cases that would be handled by limited jurisdiction trial court judge or magistrate (often without jurors) in the United States, i.e. minor criminal matters and small civil claims.

Notably, the mix of judges in civil law countries more closely matches the mix of lawyers in comparable U.S. litigation.  It is almost routine in general jurisdiction civil cases and felony criminal cases that go to trial for at least two lawyers to handle the case at trial, and in very high stakes cases each side's team of lawyers is routinely larger.  It isn't unusual to have half a dozen lawyers work directly on a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and to have many more file amicus briefs solicited by one party or another.

Judicial Career Tracks

The career track of judges in civil law countries (and even England, to a lesser extent) also influences this structure.  In civil law countries, one goes directly from law school into the judiciary, starting in traffic or parking court and working one's way up the ranks with a decent shot of becoming a rank and file supreme court judge before the end of one's career if you are smart and competent.  Judicial appointments (other than to the constitutional court) are often no more political than the appointment of any other civil service professional in the U.S. would be, and the vast majority of judges have never been lawyers who represent individual clients (although some countries treat serving as prosecuting attorneys and serving as judges as part of the same profession in the judicial branch allowing for some exchange between those two groups). 

The career track of civil law judges is more like that of U.S. prosecutors or attorney-general's office lawyers than it is like that of American judges.  And, unlike American law professors, who typically have only entry level experience practicing law beyond a judicial clerkship, if any, law professors in civil law countries (unlike judges), at least until they have reached a rank equivalent to that of a tenured full professor and sometimes even afterwards, will typically maintain a part-time private practice of law in which the professors act like wily lawyers instead of stodgy professors (civil law law school academics are far more stuffy and doctrinal, and far less ideologically boundary pushing and teaching oriented than U.S. legal educators).

In contrast, in the U.S., most judges are fairly well politically connected individuals in a second career that followed a successful career as a litigation lawyer in public or private practice, most often as a prosecuting attorney, but not infrequently also or instead as a criminal defense lawyer, or a private civil litigator.   The track of moving from a less prominent career to a position as a subordinate magistrate judge to taking the job their judge-boss held is also increasingly common in the U.S.  And, sometimes, particularly in the case of high profile appellate judge appointments, a judge's first career is as a law professor or legally trained senior civil servant or a legally trained politician, although each of these kinds of appointments would be exceptional.  Until roughly the 1950s it wasn't all that uncommon, particularly in rural areas, for a prominent local citizens who was a non-lawyer to be appointed as a part-time trial judge in a limited jurisdiction trial court, and the practice hasn't entirely ended.  Colorado, the last time I checked, had at least four non-lawyer county court judges, and also at least some non-lawyer municipal judges in small towns and non-lawyer parking magistrates.  But, in New York State outside metropolitan New York City (at least until very recently) and many other states, part-time non-lawyer judges outside major cities with jurisdiction only over small claims cases and minor misdemeanor, traffic and ordinance violation cases remain fairly common.

The prestige judicial appointments in the U.S. most often, but not always, follow a previous judicial appointment as a less prestigious appellate judiciary position, a stint as a general jurisdiction trial court judge, or less often, a position in a state or federal solicitor general's office (the branch of the attorney-general's office that argues cases in front of the relevant supreme court), or as a renowned law professor.

The exception to the general rule would be members of the French Council of State and public law institutions crafted in its image in civil law countries and constitutional courts.  These institutions staffed at the entry level with elite civil servants who are graduates of top universities drawn from the ranks of the kind of people who in the United States might serve as judicial law clerks out of law school, as kitchen cabinet political aides to elected officials and senior political appointees (e.g. as a Congressman's legislative aid or Congressional committee staffer), as entry level professional employees in elite government agencies like the solicitor-general's office or CIA or SEC, or as associates at Big law firms or entry level investment bankers.  At first, they are assigned in pairs to public law cases, sometimes representing a complaining member of the public as a devil's advocate, and sometimes representing the government, and their cases are judged by more senior members of the same institution who have come up through the ranks.  The overall process is more akin to Congressional and executive agency constituent service work than it is to conventional lawyering.

Implications For American Law

How does this play out in the legal life of an American lawyer?

* The shortage of judges has produced a strong institutional bias in favor of negotiated settlements over judicial resolution of litigated disputes on the merits in American courts, and in favor of arbitration and mandatory mediation processes.

* The shortage of judges and a bottom heavy distribution of judges has encouraged doctrines affording exceptionally high levels of finality to trial court decisions and relatively weak appellate review of trial court decisions.  U.S. judges and juries have far more effectively unreviewable discretion than civil law judges.  For example, outside the U.S. when a decision of a judge is reversed for abuse of discretion, the case is almost automatically assigned to a different judge when it is remanded for further proceedings.  In contrast, in the U.S., in all but the most rare and exceptional of cases verging on a gross ethical violation by the judge, a decision of a judge that is reversed for abuse of discretion is automatically remanded to the same judge who must exercise his discretion again subject to the appellate court's order that may still afford him considerable authority to reach a similar, although less extreme, decision.

* Doctrines and procedures that reduce judicial case loads by resolving cases prior to the taking of any evidence in a trial (with or without a jury), or in a preliminary hearing limited to more narrow issues, have thrived in U.S. courts, because they reduce judicial time constraints.  Doctrines that resolve cases on narrow procedural grounds, rather than on a consideration of the merits based upon all of the evidence are favored.

* Doctrines and procedures that reduce attorney work loads, for example by narrowing the scope of discovery through close judicial supervision of the process or reducing the uncertainty involved in trial preparation, without actually getting a case off the docket, have not thrived in the U.S. courts despite being at the core of civil law country civil procedure.

* The administrative and litigation process strongly favors rules and procedures that delegate more of the time consuming components of the process to the lawyers and limits the judges to a final decision making mode whenever possible. 

Most of the trial court level testimony in civil law jurisdictions is conducted in the presence of a judge in a first official examination of a witness by anyone involved in the case, and the judge personally takes notes in lieu of a verbatim transcript; in the U.S., most of that testimony would have taken place in depositions in the absence of a judicial official other than a court reporting preparing a verbatim transcript, in a lawyer's office, before trial, and only critical portions of the deposition transcripts are presented to the judge in support of pre-trial motions. 

The first draft of longer court orders in U.S. courts are routinely drafted by counsel for the prevailing party for review, consideration, modification or adoption by the judge.   U.S. judges rely more heavily on briefing from counsel relative to their own legal research and knowledge than civil law judges, and are more likely to have their own legal research done by a subordinate law clerk rather than doing the research personally, in an ordinary case.

In criminal cases, investigations are conducted mostly by non-lawyer police aided from time to time by mass producible search warrants and subpoenas.  So, unlike civil litigators who must develop the evidence themselves, criminal prosecutors have considerable staffs of sworn police officers and other investigative officials to do the work that would fall to the discovery process and extra-judicial investigations managed by lawyers in civil litigation.  In civil law countries, some of the investigative work in criminal cases that is the responsibility prosecutors in the United States is the responsibility of the judge.

* The shortage of judges and their career track in the United States have conspired to make the U.S. judiciary a very elite group of individuals, even compared to the already elite professional ranks of U.S. lawyers.  U.S. judges are not only the cream of the crop in a way that judges elsewhere are not, they are also at intermediate levels of the system more likely to have a wealth of experience in some kind of litigation and considerable social clout in elite political and business circles.  While many non-U.S. judges are merely "middle class", the vast majority of U.S. judges are upper middle class and many have roots at least in the upper class and are working as judges as much for the prestige and out of a sense of civic obligation, as for money.  For them, it is a form of reduced pay early retirement.

These dynamics produce a group that collectively sees the opportunity to exercise power as a perk in and of itself.  U.S. judges are relatively speaking, ambitious and power hungry.  The classic problem in U.S. legal practice is how to restrain a judge who abuses his authority, not how to encourage a judge to act boldly where necessary.

The elite status of judges has produced a quality of decision making that has facilitated considerable legislative and public trust in the judiciary.  Judges are entrusted with political sensitive common law decision making on emerging private economic and family issues, loose discretionary standards for decision making in equity matters, vaguely drafted statute and regulations, substantial public law decision making power including the power of judicial review of statutes for constitutionality (contrary to popular myth, is shared by every judge from the traffic court judge to appellate court judges, not just the U.S. Supreme Court), the contempt power (using fines or imprisonment to punish those who disobey their court orders, at least until compliance is secured, or to punish people engage in courtroom misconduct), the power to decide cases without the involvement of other judges on a panel, the power to manage cases with potential unlimited punitive damage awards, with potential long terms of imprisonment, with resolution of custody and citizenship maters, and in death penalty cases, because they tend to be far more intelligent than even the average politician, are more willing to show self-restraint in the interest of applicable but effectively unenforceable rules, and are also not politically tone deaf or naive.  U.S. judges are almost immune to performance reviews that personally impact their lives during their terms of office for anything other than gross ethical breaches.  Even high rates of appellate reversal do not personally impair a judge's career or employment situation in most cases.

Non-U.S. judges mostly lack contempt of court power, have much narrower public law jurisdiction, i.e. authority over governmental entities (if any), do not have the power of judicial review, must often make decisions on important matters as part of a panel, have legal standards to implement that afford them less discretion, implement more tightly drafted statutes and regulations, can have their factual decisions as well as their legal decisions reviewed de novo on a first appeal of right, have less of an ability to make precedents that have force beyond the current case, have more finely nuanced layers of jurisdictional authority with a far small proportion of judges having the full authority of a U.S. general jurisdiction trial court judge, less personal clout, less elite backgrounds, smaller caseloads, less opportunity to make politically sensitive decisions, less practical legal experience in most cases, and less ambition.  Non-U.S. judges, by virtue of their career tracks, have far more incentive to fit managerial expectations in order to move up the ranks with attendant higher pay, greater power and more interesting cases.

* Judges, by virtue of their far greater case loads and among trial judges, minimal need to sway a group to their judgments, have far more personal influence on their cases and on the legal environment in their jurisdiction.  Conversely, judicial decision making in the U.S. is less consistent.

* Some of the perennial proposed civil procedure reforms, like "active case management" routinely flounder, because judges with huge case loads simply cannot spare the time to devote more attention to cases that are likely to eventually through the discovery process and either settlement or a straight forward culminating motion, be resolved prior to trial with minimal judicial involvement.  Any case where both sides are represented by lawyers is particularly likely to resist active judicial involvement since the lawyers often are capable of working things out.  These reforms will only succeed if a sustainable solution to a lack of judicial resources is devised for the class of cases receiving additional judicial attention.

* Two factors among many that has driven low judicial staffing levels have been the twin desires to keep court filing fees low so that access to the judicial system is not formally barred by public official's rules, and the desire to have civil courts (where judicial resource constraints are even more acute than in criminal cases) fund themselves as much as possible from filing fees.  Policy makers have tended to disfavor the equation of higher filing fees and lower case loads found in private sector non-consumer arbitration procedures. 

* Policy makers have also tended to favor having fewer elite judges over having more less elite judges, because our legal system gives all judges considerable power and non-elite judges in this system have great potential to do mischief.  This has removed one option to reconcile low filing fees with adequate staffing levels.