31 October 2012

School Choice, Student Achievement And Culture

A Cultural Theory Of The Achievement Gap

Why does achievement gaps grow during time away from school?

A good working hypothesis is that the naive assumption that school attendance is mostly about memorizing specific subject matter facts taught in particular classes is mostly wrong.

More consistent with the data is the notion that the vast majority of learning through school attendance is ultimately about language acquisition, about developing habits of thinking, and about behavioral habit forming. Academic achievement is to a great extent an indirect reflection of the extent to which students have developed a firm command of a standard English language dialect, "criticial thinking," and pro-social and conscientious behavioral habits.

Middle class kids acquire a command of the standard English language dialect, are pressed to engage in critical thinking, and are encouraged to develop pro-social and conscientious behavior habits mostly simply through their effortless, day to day informal interactions with their family members and their same social class peers.

Low income and minority kids are much more likely to have parents and peers for whom the standard middle class English language dialect is not their primary means of communicating informally in their homes, who may be less pressed by parents, same social class peers, and other caretakers at home to engage in critical thinking in the course of everyday communications, and whose parents, caretakers at home and peers may not model the pro-social and conscientious behavioral habits that similar people in the lives of their middle class peers do.

Instead, these students acquire this dialect, these habits of thinking, and the behavioral habits primarily from their middle class school teachers and middle class classmates at school who are held up as good examples to follow. They can't acquire these informally from parents and peers outside of school, because these people don't speak that dialect of the English language, don't have those habits of thinking themselves, and are unable to model those behavioral habits.

Effective Educational Programs As Cultural Imperialism

The good news is that:

(1) a significant part of the academic achievement gap appears to have an environmental cause (otherwise it wouldn't disproportionately arise during summer vacations),

(2) we are beginning to develop a consistent, empirically validated and replicated understanding of what kinds of environmental factors give rise to the academic achievement gap, and

(3) we can begin to use that understanding to design educational programs that consistently improve academic achievement in underperforming kids.

Indeed, a number of distinguished schools (mostly in charter schools or similarly experimental curricular offerings) such as the Denver School of Science and Technology, D'Evelyn School in Jefferson County, Colorado, the KIPP program, and a number of Roman Catholic schools appear to have distilled the really critical components that an academic program needs to reduce the academic achievement gap and sustain these positive educational outcomes.

The bad news is that what seems to work best in these schools, at its core, amounts to brazen cultural imperalism. You improve academic achievement and reduce the academic achievement gap mostly by intense, sustained and intrusive destruction of the working class and/or ethnic cultural habits, speech patterns and norms that these kids have acquired from their parents and community and replacing those culture habits, speech patterns and norms with white middle class culturally habits, speech patterns and norms.

To use the crass slang expressions for this phenomena, the secret to improving academic achievement is to turn black kids into "Oreos" (black on the outside, white on the inside), to turn Asian kids into "Twinkies" (aka "Bananas")(yellow on the outside, white on the inside), to turn Hispanic kids into "coconuts" (aka into "a pocho") (brown on the outside, white on the inside), to turn Dixie kids and Hillbillies into Yankees, and so on.

Given this reality, it is perhaps less surprising that effective educational practices are often met with resistance from parents and local communities when they do not belong to the more or less white middle class culture that school impart to children.

The Case Of Talawanda School District

These issues aren't confined to the deep South, the American Southwest, or inner cities. Cultural imperalism issues in which a large part of the student body is part of a different social class and ethnic culture than the predominant group of teachers was when I was in school, and continues to be, a pervasive issue in the small town Talawanda School District (the geographically largest school district in the State of Ohio), particular at its only middle school and only high school (in a district with no private school options anywhere in or close to the district at the high school level, one secular K-8 private school affiliated with a local public university, and very few other private school options).

Teachers and administrators in the district overwhelmingly shared a middle class urban Yankee culture with the parents and children of the local university town within the district where the middle school, high school, and one of the district's elementary schools were located. Those students thrived in Talawanda's schools and strong supported the school district.

But, these teachers and administrators had little in common with the rural, often working class, mostly evangelical Christian farming dominated community that surrounded the college town. This community in the "outlying areas" has long felt alienated from the offerings of the school district, and feel that their children are not given a fair shake in the system outside a handful of institutions such as the vocational education curriculum, the Future Farmers of America club, the Future Homemakers of America club, and the high school football team, that this community has taken ownership of within the district. This translated into an intense ill will towards the district and generalized lack of support for the school district. At one point the tensions even reached the point where formal discussions began to consider a split of the district into two separate districts, one for the township including the local university town and the other for the rest of the district (in the end, this effort fizzled).

The results were clear when it came to academics. The upper academic tracks in the school, academic awards, and most school clubs were dominated by townies, and scorned by students from the outlying areas. Serious fights in the school often crossed these ethnic lines.

Both communities of the Talawanda school district were overwhelmingly white and most of the non-white students in the distict were affiliated with the local university and had more in common culturally with their teachers and administrators than with the rural students from the "outlying areas", whose worldviews were closer to those of Appalachians than the New England and Mid-Atlantic populations that have provided the cultural legacy carried on by the local university (Miami University of Ohio).

Before the Civil War (i.e. from 1809 until 1861), Miami University was almost equally divided between young men who felt cultural ties to the South and those who felt cultural ties to the North, but this shifted decisively towards Northern cultural ties after the civil war, and the homogenizing cultural impact of a national post-secondary educational community has futhered these tendencies in the post-World War II era during which almost all U.S. colleges and universities experienced major expansions and cultural disruptions due to G.I. Bill facilitated enrollments.

A school that isn't accepted, because the culture it is indoctrinating its students in is not the native culture of the students, is not effective. This is just as true in cases where the subordinated culture in a school consists of people who are white and would likely identify their ethnicity on a census form as "American", as it is for a Hispanic kid in a Texas border town, or a black kid on the South side of Chicago.

School Choice, Cultural Imperialism and First Amendment Values

If you had to name one person behind the school choice movement that has been the single most transformative force in American public education in the last generation or so, it would be Milton Friedman, the free market economist and popularizer of basic economic ideas into political economy agendas.

Friedman's support for a voucher approach to public education was based on three basic observations. First, even poor people are much more rational in making consumption decisions, once you really sit in their shoes, than they are given credit for being. Second, while our society has considerable economic inequality, political power is distributed even more inequitably. Third, it is easier to transfer additional economic power to the poor (e.g., via a voucher) than it is to transfer additional political power to the poor.

Most advocates for vouchers or charter schools within public educational systems have echoed his argument that competition driven by individualized consumer choice is more effective at producing good educational outcomes than the approach of having popularly elected school board members manage schools on a more centralized basis.

What neither Friedman nor his supporters emphasized is a point that may equally important in making educational programs, which are a fundamentally a form of cultural indoctrination, work.

Without this symbolic embrace of the program by the child's parents and peers, the educational practices which are most reliably effective in narrowing academic achievement gaps, no matter how well meant and effective they may be, are intrusive forms of cultural imperalism that will face resistance from parents and peers and may be less effective as a result.

On the other hand, the symbolic voluntary act of buying into, electing and supporting the methods of such a program can make the cultural practices involved a part of the child's and community's culture, especially if many of the child's peers (and that child's parent's peers) in the same community make the same choice.

This is an effect separate and apart from a rational choice, competition based effect. The school curriculum and staff may be identical whether your child attends the school because he or she is directed by the government to go there, or because the child and the child's parents have made a voluntary decision to elect to attend the school. But, the curriculum may be more effective for the former child than the latter one, even assuming all other things are equal.

One of the widely shared meta-rules of America's many cultures that co-exist together is that intimate matters of one's personal identity (exemplified in the freedom to adhere to and practice a minority set of religious convictions absent only the most extreme exceptions) may not be modified by the government without your consent. School choice systems provide that consent and in doing so make available to educators educational tools that could not have been available consistent to American norms about cultural imperialism in any other way.

The evidence shows that the tools that this consent makes available are very important to closing the achievement gap between low income and minority students and their white middle class peers. So, school choice may be providing benefits to the American educational system's effectiveness that go beyond the advances merely attributable to the relative effectiveness, on average, of the discipline of market competition for students in a school choice system relative to the discipline arising from effective control of school districts by elected school board members.

Breaking Up Summer Vacation Doesn't Work

Steven C. McMullen and Kathryn E. Rouse, from their piece ”The Impact of Year-Round Schooling on Academic Achievement: Evidence from Mandatory School Calendar Conversions,” in The American Economic Journal, report:
In 2007, 22 Wake County, North Carolina traditional calendar schools were switched to year-round calendars, spreading the 180 instructional days evenly across the year. . . . We then exploit the natural experiment to evaluate the impact of year-round schooling on student achievement. . . . Results suggest that year-round schooling has essentially no impact on academic achievement of the average student. Moreover, when the data are broken out by race, we find no evidence that any racial subgroup benefits from year-round schooling.

Via Tyler Cohen at Marginal Revolution (full text of study available here).

There was good reason to think that this effort would work and that it would particularly benefit working class and minority children, because evidence famously cited in Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" demonstrated that most of the setbacks in academic achievement for these children relative to their more affluent peers arose during long summer vacations. The paper's review of the literature describes this research and is followed by the paper's summary of its results (emphasis added, included footnotes relabeled, paragraph breaks modified to increase readability in a blog format):

Proponents of YRS [Year Round School] calendars argue that they are beneficial to students because they help alleviate human capital loss during the long summer break (“summer learning loss”). Supporters further contend that the long break is particularly harmful for low-income, low-performing students who are less able to afford supplemental learning opportunities in the summer (Von Drehle, 2010). These assertions are largely supported by a wide literature on summer learning loss, which has found that student achievement stagnates over the summer, and that for low achieving and disadvantaged students especially, achievement can often decline while not in school (Cooper et al. 1996; Jamar 1994; Alexander et al. 2007).*

* It is well documented that inequalities in student achievement are generally exacerbated over the summer months(Downey et al. 2004; Reardon 2003; Alexander et al. 2007).

Alexander et al. (2007) finds that by the end of ninth grade, almost two-thirds of the socioeconomic achievement gap can be explained by differential summer learning loss. It is important to note, however, that the ability of YRS to address this problem depends crucially upon the nature of the human capital accumulation process. In this paper, we present a simple model that illustrates YRS can only improve achievement if learning loss accelerates with the number of days out of school or if there are diminishing returns to learning.**

** Some critics also argue the more frequent breaks actually create more disruption in the learning process (Rasberry 1992). More frequent breaks could negatively impact achievement if learning was convex in the number of days of school.

Thus, even if disadvantaged students lose more human capital than their wealthier counterparts over summer, YRS cannot alleviate the problem unless there are specific non-linearities in the human capital process. If YRS acts largely as a remedy for summer learning loss, the impact should be no greater than the documented negative impact of a summer vacation away from school, which is rarely larger than a loss of 0.1 standard deviations of student achievement per year, and often close to zero (Downey et al. 2004; Cooper et al. 1996).

Our study adds to a body of literature, primarily coming from outside of the field of economics, that is well-summarized by the meta-analysis performed by Cooper et al. (2003). The general consensus coming out of that review is that the impact of year-round education on student achievement is, on average, nearly negligible. On the other hand, the evidence suggests the modified calendar does benefit low performing and economically disadvantaged students.

McMillan (2001) finds similar results using a cross-sectional dataset from North Carolina. The primary drawback of these early studies is their failure to account for non-random student and school selection. The studies included in Cooper et al. (2003) do not adequately control for student and school characteristics, and none attempt to control for both unobserved student and school heterogeneity. Cooper et al. (2003) thus concludes that it “would be difficult to argue with policymakers who choose to ignore the existent database because they feel that the research designs have been simply too flawed to be trusted (p. 43).” McMillan (2001) is able to control for a student’s previous year end-of-grade test score, gender, ethnicity, and parents’ highest level of education. However, data limitations prevent him from controlling for other student, family, and school characteristics that may also impact student achievement, making it difficult to draw causal inferences.

Cooper et al. (2003) report that those studies that do a better job controlling for student and school characteristics find smaller YRS effect sizes, indicating that the lack of proper controls may bias the results of previous studies upward. This result may be indicative of non-random selection of high-achieving students into YRS or could also reflect the non-random implementation of year-round calendars in high-income, high achieving areas.

Most recently, Graves (2010) uses detailed longitudinal school-level data from California to estimate the impact of the multi-track year-round calendar on academic achievement. By including school fixed effects and school-specific time trends, Graves is able to mitigate concerns over non-random year-round calendar implementation. In contrast to much of the prior research on YRS, Graves finds achievement in multi-track year-round schools is 1 to 2 percentile points lower than that in traditional calendar schools. However, without student-level data, she is not able to control for non-random student selection into YRS or to estimate the impacts separately by race. . . .

Our paper adds to this literature in three important ways. First, we perform the first study that controls for both observed and unobserved student and school heterogeneity, which is vital given the concerns in the literature about both student and school selection effects (McMillen 2001; Cooper et al. 2003). Second, because we use student-level panel data, we examine not only the impact of YRS on the level of achievement, but also look at the impact on the achievement growth. Finally, our data and methodology allow us to estimate the impact of YRS by race. . . .

Consistent with the existing literature, our results suggest YRS has essentially no impact on the academic achievement of the average student. Moreover, when the data is broken down by racial sub-group, the evidence indicates that, contrary to some previous studies, disadvantaged racial groups do not benefit from YRS. Taken as a whole, these results are consistent with the assertion that dividing a long summer break into several shorter breaks will not improve student achievement or address achievement gaps.


Alexander, Karl L., Doris R. Entwisle and Linda Steffel Olson. “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap.” 2007. American Sociological Review, 72: 167-180. . . .

Cooper, Harris, Jeffrey C. Valentine, Kelly Charlton, and April Melson. 2003. “The Effects of Modified School Calendars on Student Achievement and on School and Community Attitudes.” Review of Educational Research, 73(1): 1-52.

Cooper, Harris, Nye, Barbara, Charlton, Kelly, Lindsay, James, & Greathouse, Scott. 1996. “The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review.” Review of Educational Research , 66 (3): 227-268.

Downey, Douglas B., Paul T. von Hippel, and Beckett A. Broh. 2004. “Are Schools the Great Equalizer? Cognitive Inequality during the Summer Months and the School Year.” American Sociological Review. 69: 613-635. . . .

Graves, Jennifer. 2010. “The Academic Impact of Multi-Track Year-Round School Calendars: A Response to School Overcrowding.” Journal of Urban Economics, 67: 378-391. . . .

Jamar, Idorenyin. 1994. “Fall Testing: Are Some Students Differentially Disadvantaged?” Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Learning Research and Development Center. . . .

McMillen, Bradley J. 2001. “A Statewide evaluation of academic achievement in year-round schools.” The Journal of Educational Research, 95(2): 67-73. . . .

Rasberry, Quinn. 1992. “Year Round Schools May Not be the Answer.” Time To Learn Report.

Reardon, Sean F. 2003. “Sources of Educational Inequality: The Growth of Racial/Ethnic and Socioeconomic Test Score Gaps in Kindergarten and First Grade.” Population Research Institute, Pennsylvania State University Working Paper No. 03-05R. . . .

This study implies that there is a predominantly a linear relationship between the number of days that you go to school and what you learn, with the gains from spending days in a formal school setting being greater if you are a low income or minority student than they are if you are a middle class white student.

The language from the paper that I have emphasised explains that the distribution of a 180 day school year through the calendar year matters only to the extent that the relationship between amount learned and number of days in school (or out of school) at a time is non-linear.

Reasonable suggestions from educators and education policy analysts suggest that there might be a non-linear relationship between the number of days spent at a time, in or out of the classroom, in which either sustained periods away from school might cause students to forget more, or frequently broken up periods of school attendance might cause students to have their progress disrupted. But, the empirical evidence appears to establish there is not, in fact, such a non-linear relationship.

Taken together with the prior work strongly showing that most of the achievement gap seen in low income and minority students arises during summer vacation, this paper suggests that working class and minority children are simply losing ground relative to their more affluent peers each day that they are not in school, and that this effect is most visible during the summer simply because this is when students are away from school for periods of time long enough for these effects to be measurable.

30 October 2012

Evil People Dress For Success

People who have personality traits associated with manipulating or ignoring the feelings of others tend to dress attractively.

This study provides the first experimental evidence that dark personalities construct appearances that act as social lures—possibly facilitating their cunning social strategies.

From Nicholas S. Holtzman and Michael J. Strube, "People With Dark Personalities Tend to Create a Physically Attractive Veneer", Social Psychological and Personality Science (October 4, 2012).

One More Week Until The Election

Let it end.  Soon.

In 2008, the election was exciting high drama.  This time around, the campaign is serious snoozeville with extra helpings of irritation and disingenuity.  Wonkish debates over how tax and public finance and regulatory proposals of candidates overpromise or wouldn't work are important, but that doesn't make them exciting.

The Tea Party zealots and birthers have retreated to their caves to make way for the country club Republicans who are out in force campaigning for Romney.  The progressive idealists who walked the streets for Obama in 2008 have been replaced by triangulating pragmatists and party loyalists. 

The debates were tame and both candidates have deemphasized social issues and foreign policy.  Nobody but op-ed writers is talking about the influence that this election might have on the make up of the Supreme Court.  Nobody has articulated a new vision for American foreign policy and anti-terrorism policies, with the distinctive elements of Obama's agenda in 2008, like a promise to shut down the prison in Guantanamo Bay unfulfilled and forgotten.  The pitched battle over "Obamacare" that dominated the political discussion in the 2010 election evaporated not long after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the law to be constitutional.

Now that President Obama is running for re-election, the historic moment in which our nation elected its first African-American President is long past.  Most of the people who care about the fact that Romney is a Mormon are Evangelical Christian Republicans who distrust him because of this fact.

The down ticket races, even the hard fought ones that could change the balace of power in state and federal legislative bodies, haven't been much more interesting.  Most of the ads could fit any generic Republican or Democrat.  Most of the ads that aren't, haven't been very persuasive.

If it weren't for a Republican primary fight for CU Regent involving a candidate who lied about having a graduate degree and then belittled the notion that anyone might care about that fact in a CU Regent race, this election season might have been entirely devoid of memorable political moments.

Go vote and go home.

25 October 2012

Selected Grammar Controversies

There are a number of grammatical rules that are the subject of some level of dispute. The modern trend is to dispense with prescriptivist rules (some would call them "grammar myths"). For example, "don't start a sentence with a conjunction," "don't end a sentence with a preposition," "don't use contractions," "don't write in the first person," "use the Oxford comma," "hyphenate in cases such as 'fifty-page report' or 'twelve-member jury,'" "never use "their" as a gender neutral third person singular pronoun," "put a double space before the beginning of a sentence" and "don't split infinitives."

The issue here is that some people consider it to be improper to neglect these rules in formal written English, and it may cause a reader who is narrow minded to view you as ill trained in grammar.

My own inclination is to break these "soft rules" only consciously and with the audience in mind. Where communication per se is paramount, or stylistic effect is enhanced, one may go ahead and break them, but one should not be habituated to styles that violate these rules outside a firm or author specific style manual, if one is to resolve recurring issues optimally.

Some examples

"don't start a sentence with a conjunction"

I routinely start sentences with "but," which is short and usually can replace wordy and less clear constructions. I avoid frequently starting sentences with "and" unless there is good reason for it, since some readers will get the impression that it is incorrect, or because it gives the appearance of writing with sentence fragments and concealed run on sentences.

"don't end a sentence with a preposition"

Similarly, while ending a sentence with a preposition is perfectly acceptable in spoken English and in informal written English including fiction, doing this frequently conveys the wrong impression in formal written English because many people have internalized the "grammar myth" that this is improper.

"don't use contractions"

Contractions are likewise common place and perfectly acceptable in almost every form of English communication except formal written English, and even then, aren't entirely unacceptable.  But, because of the "grammar myth" that disfavors the use of contractors in formal written English, contractions should be used more sparingly in these contexts.

"don't write in the first person"

One stylistic preference that I do observe in formal written English, with rare exceptions where I rely solely upon my personal knowledge of a specific fact, and also observe when possible in formal spoken English, is that of not writing in the first person.

There is often a reason to avoid the first person in formal writing or formal speaking, despite the trend to do otherwise. It is psychological. Removing a reference to the author in your writing, psychologically, takes the author's credibility out of the reader's mind discouraging ad hominem attacks to what is said. Instead, it creates the impression that a statement is a fact has been made by the author.

The movement to return "I" to formal academic writing is largely a political outgrowth of identity politics.  One of the axiomatic premises of this movement is that the meaning, relevance and force of a statement is intimately intertwined with the identity of it author.  And, there are indeed circumstances when knowing something about the author's identity can color a statement's meaning.  But, the axiom is simply not a generally true statement.  Statements are perfectly capable of having clear meaning, of educating, of conveying information, of persuading listeners, even in the absence of any knowledge of the author's identity.  Often, the author's identity is irrelevant.  More often than not in formal acadmeic writing, inserting one's identity into the discussion undermines, rather than enhances, an argument.

"use the Oxford comma"

Oxford commas (a comma before the word "and" in a list) can sometimes have a semantic meaning, but can sometimes look slightly pedantic.  They are not universally used in good formal English writing, where a contrary stylistic trend favors grammatical minimalism.  Unless necessary for clarity, I disfavor the Oxford comma.

"hyphenate in cases such as 'fifty-page report' or 'twelve-member jury'"

The modern trend is to disfavor hyphens, that are not absolutely necessary to avoid a plausible ambiguous construction, unless it is part of a proper noun.  Hypens are ugly.  Compound words, or pairs of words with a particular meaning when written together, are more accepted. Most hyphenated words are in transition and disputable in any case.  In practice, omitting a hyphen rarely sacrifices clarity.  But, not everyone agrees.

There are a few specific exceptions, generally involving cases where a hyphen connects syllables rather than words that can stand on their own (e.g. "co-ed"), although the trend in these cases is towards fusing words without hyphens, or near universal hyphenation practice (e.g. "Asian-American").

In any case, hyphenation is not a matter that can be resolved with a single rule.  Each particular instance must be considered individually and hyphenation practices are among the most rapidly evolving parts of modern English grammar.

"never use "their" as a gender neutral third person singular pronoun"

The use of "their" in spoken English as a third person singular possessive can be tolerated. "A teacher who fails to plan does will not achieve their goal."

But, in formal written English, it is usually better to rewrite a sentence to avoid the dilema. If a third person singular possessive in a context intended to apply to both genders cannot be avoided, either "his" or "her" can be acceptable, with the gender more likely to apply included.

"put a double space at the end of a sentence"

I always used to put a double space at the end of a sentence because I was told that it was a rule and never questioned it.  It has become a habit.  I've seen convicing arguments for the contrary rule, that one should never use a double space in written English.  But, old habits die hard.  If I could overcome my old habits consistently, I would abadon this rule.  But, since I can't, I prefer consistency even if this means adopting an anchronistic spacing rule.

"don't split infinitives"

In Latin, infinitive verbs are created by inflection, so it is impossible to split an infinitive.  In English, an infinitive such as "to be" or "to go" is a two word construction, so it is possible to split an infinitive.  One of the classic examples of the acceptability, "to boldly go" illustrates that there is nothing informal or jarring about a split infinitive in English.  Ignore this "rule."

Taxing Rich At Higher Rates Good For Economy

The centerpiece of Mitt Romney's domestic policy agenda, which he shares with most Republican candidates for federal office. Republican politicians like Romney have argued that reducing the top marginal income tax rates and, in particular, the top marginal capital gains tax rates, on the affluent will increase economic growth and create jobs.

There are all sorts of theoretical reasons why this is a plausible idea. But, the empirical evidence flatly contradicts this claim. To the extent that increasing top marginal marginal tax rate on income and on capital gains has any impact on economic growth, historically, higher top margial tax rates on the income and capital gains of the affluent promote economic growth.

[L]ooking at the raw correlation between top marginal tax rates and growth can be helpful for getting a rough sense of the likely impacts of higher taxation on growth. One recent paper by Pikkety, Saez, and Stantcheva looks at the correlation between top marginal tax rates and growth and finds the growth is higher when top marginal tax rates are higher. . . .

A rise in the top marginal tax rate from 0 to 100 percent is correlated with a rise in per capita growth of 5.85 percentage points per year. One reason that this simple correlation might overstate the impact of the marginal tax rate on growth is that the top growth years were in the early 40s when the government was spending heavily and when the country was finally recovering from the Great Depression. If we look only at the post war period (after 1946), a rise from 0 to 100 percent in the top marginal tax rate is associated with an increase of only 2.69 percentage points of growth. Moreover, the statistical significance of the relationship becomes marginal, as the p-value rises from 0.017 to 0.122. On the other hand, if we look at the time period encompassing 1960 to the present, a rise in the top rate from 0 to 100 percent is correlated with a rise in per capita growth of 3.03 percentage points of growth per year, and the relationship becomes more statistically significant (with a p-value of 0.064 percent). Finally, if we look only at the years since 1980, a rise from 0 to 100 percent in the top marginal tax rate is associated with an increase in growth of 3.87 percentage points. In this case, the relationship is statistically insignificant (with a p-value of 0.392 percent), in part because the sample size is small.

While we cannot say that there is a robust significant positive relationship between tax rates and growth, it is still interesting that regardless of when we start the sample, higher top marginal tax rates are associated with higher not lower growth. Moreover, a narrative reading of postwar US economic history leads to the same conclusion. The period of highest growth in the United States was in the post-war era when top marginal tax rates were 94% (under President Truman) and 91% (through 1963). As top marginal rates dropped, so did growth. Moreover, except for 1984, a recovery year, the highest per capita growth rates since 1980 were all in the late 1990s, after the top marginal tax rate had been increased from 28% under President Reagan to 31% under the first President Bush and then 39.6% under President Clinton.

One possible reaction to this finding is that what matters more than the top marginal tax rate on income is the capital gains tax rate but growth has also been higher when the capital gains tax rate has been higher.*

So, what does this tell us? Of course, it would be silly to make the argument that increasing top marginal rates from 0 to 100 percent increased per capita growth by almost 6 percentage points per year. No doubt there are other factors that could confound the relationship between tax rates and growth. However, the changes in top marginal tax rates over the period are quite large so it seems likely that if raising top marginal rates did have a large negative impact on growth, we should be able to see it in the correlations. Thus, it also seems silly to argue that higher taxes on the rich have a large negative impact on growth, given that historically growth is, if anything, positively correlated with the top marginal rate.

From here citing Ethan Kaplan of the University of Maryland (via email) (emphasis added).

* The money paragraphs in the quoted material from a Forbes magazine article comparing capital gains tax rates and economic growth rates states (emphasis added):

If you read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (or surf around the nether regions of Forbes.com), you may come to the conclusion that no aspect of tax policy is more important for economic growth than the way we tax capital gains. You’d be wrong.

The chart displayed above shows top tax rates on long-term capital gains and economic growth (measured as the percentage change in real GDP) from 1950 to 2011. If low capital gains tax rates catalyzed economic growth, you’d expect to see a negative relationship–high gains rates, low growth, and vice versa–but there is no apparent relationship between the two time series. The correlation is 0.12, the wrong sign and not statistically different from zero. I’ve tried lags up to five years and also looking at moving averages of the tax rates and growth. There is never a statistically significant relationship.

Lowering top marginal income tax rates and top marginal capital gains tax rates has a decisive distributional effect, lowering tax burdens on the very most affluent Americans. But, it demonstrably does not encourage econmic growth and it does not creat jobs.

24 October 2012

How Malliable Are Human Rights Policies?

Human rights policies are very indifferent to outside pressures and policies in neighboring countries. Deep historical origins and geographic factors play a much larger role, contrary to the economic development theories of the "New Institutionalists."

[D]eep determinants are the main shaping force of spatial patterns in human rights performance, while interaction effects play only a minor role. The time invariant factors, related to history and physical geography account for most of the variation in outcomes.

A hypothesized second set of causes stems from interaction effects. These include the pressure from peer countries’ human rights records when competing for international (direct) investments or foreign aid. These interaction effects, however, find only marginal support in the data.

Apparently, on average countries do not respond to their neighbors’ human rights performance, or at least take a very long response time.

This statistical finding is inconsistent with the idea that countries can easily be pressured from the outside to change their respect for human rights. Likewise, for donors and development organizations seeking to improve human rights records in a region, the external effects of bilateral action seems limited.

We do want to note, however, that the analysis looks at average effects, which implies that there will be particular cases where outcomes can differ, such as for countries in severe conflict.

From Gerrit Faber and Michiel Gerritse Deep Determinants or Interactions: Explaining Spatial Patterns in Human Rights (October 17, 2012).

23 October 2012

Obama Gets It On Navy

You mention the Navy, and the fact that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets . . . it's not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships.

- President Obama, Presidential Debate, October 22, 2012.

President Obama didn't come to his job as commander-in-chief as an expert on military policy.  His background is as an anthropologist's son, a community organizer, a sharp law student, a law school professor, a respected Illinois politician first in the state legislature and then in the U.S. Senate, and finally, as President.

He didn't serve in the armed forces.  As a Senator, military policy issues came before him, but he never made these issues his focus in that body.

Four years later, he's learned a lot and it shows.

The U.S. Navy's investment in warships is overkill.

The single greatest waste of money relative to military benefit in the U.S. military is its overinvestment in large naval surface combatants.

The United States has the world's largest fleet of war ships and for that matter, the world's largest military by almost every measure except number of men in uniform, where it is still among the largest.  The United States Navy dwarfs any potential naval rival and realistically, in any major future naval conflict, the U.S. Navy would have allies who could bolster its naval resources further in any particular conflict.  In the only live naval conflict at the moment, the fight to suppress pirates from Somolia, were even have Chinese naval allies.

This ships are incredibly expensive - updated versions of the proven 1980s destroyer designs that we are still purchasing cost something on the order of $1 billion each - and are expensive to operate.  They unnecessarily put large numbers of crew members in harms way - new warship designs require about a third as many crew members to operate a comparable ship as they did in 1980s designs.  Also, typically only about a third of the ships in the U.S. Navy are actually available for use in combat at any one time.  And, redeployments of ships to a new conflict take place at about 20 miles per hour by a route considerably less direct than the crow flies.

In particular, almost every nation in the world that has a navy has deliberately chosen not to invest in large surface combatants: aircraft carriers, destroyers, and cruisers, or in nuclear powered submarines, in anything approaching the number of ships that the U.S. has chosen to purchase. 

Few nations have more than two or three ships larger than a U.S. frigate (about 3,000-4,000 tons), and primarily invest in fairly small diesel-electric submarines (the higher end models have "air independent propulsion") for a fraction of the price of a nuclear attack submarine.  Many nations devote a substantial proportion of their naval resources to "missile boats" a class of small (generally under 1,000 tons), fast, short range naval surface combatants that carry a small number of powerful missiles.

Moreover, the ships that the U.S. has aren't always strictly comparable to foreign warships that are commonly described as belonging to the same class.  Most of the world's "aircraft carriers" are closer to the U.S. Marine Corps' "Harrier Carriers" than to the supercarriers of the U.S. Navy.  The handful of Zumwalt class destroyers under construction at the moment at about 14,000 tons, are the size of World War II battleships.

These are not your father's warships.

The nature of large surface combatants and their strategic role has changed as well.  In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, warships fought each other primarily with canons and then large naval guns, firing shells as much as sixteen inches thick distances of perhaps twenty-four miles.  Destroyers focused on other surface combatants, while cruisers provided defense against enemy aircraft.

Now, almost all of the surface combatants in the U.S. Navy - destroyers, cruisers and frigates - serve essentially the same roles with similar weapontry.  The naval guns, delivering shells of three or five inches in diameter perhaps a dozen miles, are backup weapons that are the bayonetts and swords of naval warfare.  The primary armaments on a U.S. Navy surface combatant are large, powerful missiles - some for bombarding land based targets, some for destroying other warships, and some for destroying enemy submarines.  Secondary armaments are smaller missiles designed to take on aircraft, incoming missiles, and soon, small missile boats.  Almost all carry a military helicopter or two, which are particularly effective against submarines and small craft, as well.

The primary role of all of these surface combatants in the U.S. Navy is to escort U.S. supercarriers as part of aircraft carrier groups.  They are supposed to find and destroy incoming surface combatants, submarines and missiles so that aircraft carriers don't have to.  Their secondary role is to provide missile batteries in places where the U.S. doesn't have nearby Air Force bases (e.g. off the coast of Libya) and to dramatically "show the flag."

These trends are driven by a couple of key, largely technologiallly driven factors:

* Surface combatants are highly vunerable to attacks from swarms of missile boats, to high speed aircraft to high powered antiship missiles, to submarines, to sea mines.  They are large, unmanuverable, slow targets that are hard to hide.  Offensive technologies have largely overcome static defensive technologies (i.e. armor), and improved satellite and drone reconnaisance technologies have largely overcome naval stealth efforts for surface combatants.

* Missiles are more accurate at longer ranges and deliver more explosives to targets than dumb shells from naval guns, and given their accuracy there are few plausible scenarios where there are so many targets that the number of missiles carried is insufficient for a major military engagement.  For example, there is no need to have a great many more anti-submarine missiles in any naval theater than there are submarines in the forces of potential adversaries.

Warplanes are better suited than ships to many modern surface combatant tasks.

In many cases, the jobs that are currently done by warships could be done by military aircraft that put far fewer people in harm's way (since they don't carry their support and maintenance crews on missions, nor the air crew's long term lodgings), are faster, are more manuveurable, more stealthy, can be more swiftly redeployed to another theater of combat, and can carry missiles and sensors that are similarly effective against enemy surface combatants, land based targets, and submarines. 

One class of aircraft often proposed for this kind of task is often called a "cargo bomber" that would start from the foundation of existing commercial cargo aircraft.  The Navy's new P-8 aircraft is also capable of serving in these roles.  An investment in airborn refueling aircraft could extend the range of these aircraft to places far from where the U.S. Air Force (or Navy) has air bases.  Cruise missiles also present plausible alternatives to the role of existing major surface combatants as little more than missile bases.

Of course, surface combatants also provide persistent sites for sophisticated sensors, but this could be accomplished with much smaller drone aircraft.

U.S. warships are filling new roles.

Of course, there are exceptions to this trend.

Aircraft carriers (rarely deployed with full complements of fighter jets) deploy fighter aircraft rather than missiles, although we are on the verge of transitioning to an era where a large share of these fighter aircraft will be unmanned drones.  This capability remains relevant to projecting U.S. power across the world in places where the U.S. may lack local air bases.

The Marines have a number of ships that deliver Marines and their gear to distant locations and serve as off shore bases for them.  They are particularly attractive for showing the flag off the shores of conflict ridden Third World countries with pitiful navies from which they can evacuate U.S. citizens and citizens of our allies, or intervene in small scale conflicts that threaten to destabilize friendly countries.

A number of new designs that have just entered naval service that do not merely support air craft carrier groups.

* The two or three Zumwalt class destroyers that are under construction give greater emphasis to a role supporting ground troops fighting in coastal areas with a powerful naval gun that fires guided artillery rounds that aren't quite full fledged missiles (the original design had called for a rail gun, but that technology wasn't ready for prime time when it was time to build the ships).  They also reduce the radar and visual profile of the ship, although to call the design a "stealth" design, somewhat overstates its effectiveness.  To some extent, these ships will be obsolete before they ever enter military service.

* A new class of Littoral Combat Ships, one of two designs that are about 3,000 tons each, lack both large missiles and a large naval gun and are faster the existing surface combatants.  They have modules for a variety of missions from antisubmarine warfare, to locating and destroying sea based mines, to patrolling the seas and supporting ground troops.  The extreme price advantage these ships had over prior surface combatants has turned out to be underwealming, however.

* A new class of ballistic missile submarines, converted from nuclear missile carrying submarines, used in the Libya conflict, is a way to deploy missiles without the vulnerabilities associated with surface combatants.

A proposed next generation surface combatant cruiser design would primarily serve a missile defense role, intercepting small numbers of nuclear missiles fired by rougue nations like North Korea or Iran.

Diplomatic and Strategic Alternatives.

There Are Few Major Naval Adversaries

The size of the U.S. Navy is largely driven by just a handful of foreign navies: China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. 

Conflicts with China and North Korea are plausible possibilities mostly along the Asian eastern coast from Taiwan to Japan.  Iran is a naval threat pretty much exclusively in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf. 

Russia is the only global naval power that is a potential adversary that like the United States has a meaningful "Blue Sea Navy." It is split between multiple military theaters (Arctic-Baltic, Pacific, Atlantic, Black Sea, Mediterranean).  And, it hasn't really fully defined a mission for itself yet other than showing off Russian military power to the world.

Naval Weapons Should Be A Priority For Conventional Arms Control Talks

Diplomatic progress on limiting the small number of conventional weapons from these small number of potential adversaries in well defined geographic areas could dramatically reduce the need for U.S. military spending and military spending by U.S. allies, on naval forces.  A treaty that is effective in limiting the use of submarines near the East Asian coast, or in the Persian Gulf, for example, could dramatically reduce the need to invest in naval forces.

We Should Look For Opportunities To Turn Potential Adversaries Into Allies.

So could progress in overall diplomatic relations with these nations that makes them no longer threats to the U.S. and its allies.  For example, if a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan no longer becomes a plausible military scenario, perhaps because Taiwan agrees to accept a status similar to Hong Kong as an autonomous region within a modernizing and moderating China, then much of the justification for the size of the U.S. Navy and U.S. military presence in Japan collapses.  Similarly, if the current regime in North Korea is replaced by a less militarized and embattled one that seeks unification with South Korea, another key justification for U.S. naval forces could be eliminated.

Increased economic ties with China and Russia in the post-Cold War era have already had this effect to a considerable effect.  It is not clear, for example, whose side China would take if North Korea were to ramp up its use of military force, even though in the past, it was clear that China would back North Korea as a fellow communist nation.  North Korea has not done a good job of maintaining strong ties to either Russia or China, both of which have progressed beyond early Cold War style communist regimes in the meantime.

Policy initiatives designed to change public opinion in places like China and Russia and even Iran (North Korea is a lost cause on this front) deserve more attention from U.S. diplomatic resources.

We Should Set Realistic Goals For U.S. Military Capabilities In Force-Size Driving Potential Conflict Areas

Likewise, considerable progress could be made by setting realistic goals about what the U.S. would hope to accomplish militarily in military conflict with these countries.  For example, military plans based on securing regime change in China or Russia, or embargoing these countries, are unrealistic.  More realistic goals for these regions would be (1) to protect both U.S. territories (Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Samoa), and U.S. allies like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the Phillipines from Chinese or Russian naval invasions, (2) to keep commercial shipping flowing in this vicinity of the Pacific Ocean and in the Persian Gult, and (3) to provide resources to address intermediate and long range missile strikes by nations like Iran and North Korea.

We Should Adopt Strategies That Rely More Heavily On The Naval Resources Of Local Allies

U.S. military planners also need to stop assuming that the norm will be that the U.S. takes naval action without the involvement of our allies in a particular region who also have naval forces.  Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Israel and the nations of Western Europe, for example, all have naval forces of their own that would be allied with the U.S. in any signficant future naval war.

22 October 2012

Virtue Impotent To Treat Obesity Related Diabetes

Gina Kolata reports on a surprising result for a long-term study of diet and exercise in the treatment of type 2 diabetes: "Diabetes Study Ends Early With a Surprising Result".
The study randomly assigned 5,145 overweight or obese people with Type 2 diabetes to either a rigorous diet and exercise regimen or to sessions in which they got general health information. The diet involved 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day for those weighing less than 250 pounds and 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day for those weighing more. The exercise program was at least 175 minutes a week of moderate exercise.
But 11 years after the study began, researchers concluded it was futile to continue — the two groups had nearly identical rates of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular deaths.
One expert quoted in the article thinks that the large effects of smoking cessation, statin drugs and blood pressure medications may swamp the small effect of diet and exercise. Swamp the small effect of diet and exercise on type 2 diabetes in obese patients? Wow.
From the New York Times via John Hawks.

Another recent study linked in my previous post at this blog today (actually two) notes that exercise programs are ineffective at treating juvenile obesity in practice.  Those studies are:

  1. B. Metcalf, W. Henley, T. Wilkin. Effectiveness of intervention on physical activity of children: systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials with objectively measured outcomes (EarlyBird 54). BMJ, 2012; 345 (sep27 1): e5888 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e5888
  2. M. Hamer, A. Fisher. Are interventions to promote physical activity in children a waste of time? BMJ, 2012; 345 (sep27 1): e6320 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e6320
As a treatment method, exercise is not very effective at all in treating obsesity and related health problems in people who already have them, and diet doesn't seem to be very effective in treating diabetics in people who have it. 

Both rigorous diet programs and exercise programs are very challenging in the lives of participants, so recognizing their limited effectiveness, despite all logic that says that these programs should work, is essential.  It should at least provide some solace to people who have tried these approaches without getting results to know that they are not alone.

Empirical evidence regarding what actually does work is better than a completely solid theory regarding what should work any day.  And, in the area of treating obesity, reason and experience are very much at odds.  Why this is the case is hard to tell, but it is the reality. 

One can't simply do large scale experiments, in the case referenced by Hawks for eleven years, and ignore the fact that some treatment modalities, for whatever reason, don't work.

Fruits and Vegetables May Equal Happiness

Humans run on a fuel called food. Yet economists and other social scientists rarely study what people eat. We provide simple evidence consistent with the existence of a link between the consumption of fruit and vegetables and high well-being.

In cross-sectional data, happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables. The pattern is remarkably robust to adjustment for a large number of other demographic, social and economic variables. Well-being peaks at approximately 7 portions per day.

We document this relationship in three data sets, covering approximately 80,000 randomly selected British individuals, and for seven measures of well-being (life satisfaction, WEMWBS mental well-being, GHQ mental disorders, self-reported health, happiness, nervousness, and feeling low).

Reverse causality and problems of confounding remain possible. We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of our analysis, how government policy-makers might wish to react to it, and what kinds of further research -- especially randomized trials -- would be valuable.

- David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, Sarah Stewart-Brown, "Is Psychological Well-being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables?" (Abstract), NBER Working Paper No. 18469 (October 2012) (emphasis added) (hat tip to Marginal Revolution).


Hurray for abstracts that genuinely summarize the key findings of the research, as this one does! The dose-response relationship after controlling for economic variables is particularly convincing.

Query if the relationship is unduly strengthened by the fact that the social safety net in Britain doesn't permit large numbers of people to suffer the kinds of deep privation that are possible in the United States (e.g. lack of health care for serious chronic medical conditions, high murder rates, very long periods of incarceration, truly dire sustained poverty, etc.) in statistically significant numbers?

Does Britain have the kinds of "food deserts" that are common in low income neighborhoods in the United States (i.e. neighborhoods with no local full service grocery stores)?

Fruits and vegetables as a source of happiness seems a rather more persuasive way to market them than under the theory that they are "good for you."

Diet Will Not Change Through Food Alone.

There in anecdotal evidence, for example, from food channel reality shows, that simply providing "healthy food" to people who aren't eating it isn't sufficient.  People who don't have health diets often also don't know what to do with these kinds of food.  Eating habits are part of a larger lifestyle and set of "food folkways", rather than a raw input that can be viewed in isolation.  Until the people in a household who prepare meals and buy food integrate fruits and vegetables into their menu planning and set of recipes and snack options that they are comfortable with and in the habit of using, making the food available isn't enough.  One rule of thumb is that it takes three weeks to develop a habit.

Notably, many professional dieticians don't follow their own advice very well and are heavier than one might hope themselves.

On the other hand, the benefits of developing these habits is great and has the potential to be relatively inexpensive.  Another recent study has shown that changing diet is quite effective at addressing youth obesity in practice, while exercise programs as actually implemented are virtually worthless at doing so despite the fact that this reality is rather counterintuitive.

Current home economics education currently doesn't and never has met this need in most schools.  In my own experience in junior high school, I was taught how to make casseroles and jello dishes.  My daughter was taught how to make meals with Hamburger Helper(r) at Hamilton Middle School, although both of my children leaned much more about healthy eating lifestyles from the Chez Panisse movement garden to table food program at Steele Elementary School in Washington Park (both are schools in the Denver Public Schools district in Colorado).

The Ethics and Practice of Cultural Imperialism

Of course, any daily living instruction risks running afoul of cultural objections from parents in a multi-ethnic population from diverse social classes.  It smacks of cultural imperialism.  Parents expect their kids to learn facts and academic knowledge, not to have them abandon the cultural roots of their families, of which food is often a core manifestation.

I'm not necessarily against cultural imperialism even in public schools, however, because it works.  The most successful schools of choice in terms of value added academic outcomes (like KIPP, the Denver School of Science and Technology, and D'Evelyn in metropolitan Denver) all engage in concerted and conscious efforts to not merely impart knowledge but also culturally shape their students at a very personal level that may break with folkways and cultural modes of dealing with life that they have learned at home.  All of these schools make an serious effort to inculcate successful upper middle class Yankee habits and instincts in students who lack them when they start attending these schools.  Japanese public education, aided by a strong societal consensus on these matters, also takes this approach.

The reality is that social class has cultural components that can be taught, and that meeting the sometimes expressly stated objective of public education to allow people to overcome social class barriers can only be mass produced with a teaching approach that fundamentally changes the cultural come from of its students. 

Ataturk was less insane than he seemed when he mandated that modern Turks where bowler hats and suit jackets in a clime far more balmy than England or Northern Italy where those fashions were invented.  The exact means were a bit over the top, the his recognition that modern culture is a package deal with insightful for its time and partially explains why Turkey is the most socially liberal of almost all of the predominantly Islamic countries in the world (although other factors, such as the large Alevi population of Turkey whose culture is quite different from that of the Sunni Arabs of places like Saudi Arabia is also a factor).

Often, the best way to address the cultural imperialism issue is to have these innovations come from inside a community, in its own way, rather than being imposed from the outside.  Even the device of school choice, by bringing a voluntary element to the table on the part of the child and family, can make a big difference in how acceptable cultural imperialism in schools is for those involved.


A few meta style points at this blog by way of reminder to newbies:

(1) Since I'm a lawyer, I routinely cite to scholarly sources in a reasonable approximation of the Bluebook form (secondary title, "A Uniform System of Citation") used by legal academics regardless of the citation custom in the discipline I reference, unless I am being lazy and cutting and pasting from another source.

(2) I routinely add or remove paragraph breaks in quoted material so that it reads better in a blog format.

(3) When time and presence of mind permit, I credit the source that directed me to the quoted material with a hat tip, but I do not feel an absolute moral obligation to do so. This is an extra. I also feel I have adequately credited a source if I merely include a hyperlink rather than a full citation, and if I include a hyperlink to another source that contains either a hyperlink or reference sufficient to locate the original source.

(4) I frequently edit, with editorial indication through brackets and ellipsis, omissions and editorial additions. I usually, unless I am very harried, indicate when emphasis is my own, but a reader should not automatically assume that emphasis in the quoted material without acknowledgement is not added editorially. Sometimes, I get in a rush and fail to note this, although it is usually obvious.

(5) I avoid inverting the order of quoted material in a single block quote, but often do so in multiple block quotes.

(6) A block quote not immediately followed by a hyperlink is from a previously linked source in the post.

(7) I sometimes make typos as I don't have a professional copywriter for my blog. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes I don't. Unless an omission is in a title or otherwise truly glaring, or reverses the meaning of a phrase, feel no obligation to correct me in the comments. See also the general disclaimer page for this blog regarding gremlins and so forth. This blog is prone to regular gremlin infestations.

19 October 2012

Trickle Down Economics Is Still Voodoo

The centerpiece of Mitt Romney’s tax plan is an across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal tax rates. ... His plan rests on the assertion that lower taxes for high-income taxpayers will increase economic activity and employment... This assertion ... is not supported by the evidence
Over all, our research shows that tax cuts for the bottom 95 percent are much more effective than tax cuts for the top 5 percent at increasing job creation in the subsequent two years. Other analysts reach similar conclusions.
Via the Economist's View blog and Tax Cuts for Job Creators, by Laura D’Andrea Tyson and Owen Zidar, Commentary, NY Times.

Creationist Politics

From Jude, in the comments:

My youngest child is 18 this year, so I have now officially created 3 additional voters[.]
This is a kind of Creationist politics that I can support.

17 October 2012

I Voted.

Early and often. 

My ballot arrived yesterday, but the last postal pickup had long gone by the time I got home from work.  I'd already decided how to vote in most of the races before I received it.  After I opened it up, I spent a little time figuring out who to vote for in the incumbent-free, four way, non-partisan Regional Transportation District race I get to vote in (it turned out to be a fairly easy choice after I looked into it), and reviewed the last few judges of the Colorado Court of Appeals facing retention elections that I hadn't decided on one more time.   Then, I marked my choices.  I mailed the ballot out today, twenty days before election day, and slightly resenting the fact that I had to pay 65 cents of postage to cast my vote, even though the money itself is trivial; the symbolism is just plain wrong.  They banned poll taxes decades ago.

It feels appropriate to vote just a couple of days after I've done my tax return.

Neither the last Presidential debate, nor any October surprises, will change my vote now.  No harried campaign staffers will have to try to make sure that I remember to vote.  Most years, I would plan on taking election day off and getting out the vote myself.  This year, still recovering from back surgery, I'll just get on the Internet after the polls close and watch the results come in.  I'll probably make popcorn and drink beer.  If the pollsters and pundits are right, the politically landscape will look pretty much the same as it was before the election on the day after the election.  Some of the faces will change, but no dramatic shifts in political power have been predicted.

As food for thought, I will leave you with a link to an essay explaining why Voter ID laws really are a cynical political tactic of Republican campaign strategists to keep poor blacks from voting.  The essay notes that rank and file Republicans honestly believe the concocted voter fraud stories used to justify these measures.  But, people like Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler and other Republicans nationwide have tried (and failed) to sell to the public and judges in cases challenging the laws on the claim that this is a problem, mostly unsuccessfully, because the kind of fraud that voter ID laws purport to address is extremely rare.  Waking up to that fact was a key step in transforming the author into a Democrat.

16 October 2012

Scotland May Leave U.K. As Soon As 2014

The prime minister of the United Kingdom has agreed in principle called the Edinburgh Agreement to allow Scotland to hold a referendum whose precise details would be legislated by the Scottish parliament in consultation with ministers from the parliament of the United Kingdom, on whether or not it should become a country independent of the United Kingdom by the end of the year 2014. 

While the agreement doesn't say so in so many words, the implication of the agreement is that the unilateral determination of the people of Scotland in the referrendum would be honored by the United Kingdom without giving people in other parts of the United Kingdom, i.e. England, Wales or Northern Ireland, a say in the matter. 

The United Kingdom was created when England annexed Scotland in 1707.  Scotland has had considerable regional autonomy since 1999, thirteen years ago and this has generally worked quite smoothly.

Opinion polls at the moment suggest that independence as opposed to mere continued autonomy does not have majority support among the Scots.  But, this sentiment may change now that achieving independence no longer carries the threat of intense diplomatic or legal protests from the British parliament, or the risk that a violent insurgency might break out.  An independence that can be peacefully and cooperatively secured in an undisputedly legal manner (and hence is also more likely to lead to easy separate admission to the European Union) may be more attractive to the average Scotman than independence in general.  Fear of unknown future perils is usually one of the biggest barriers to independence movements.  So many places that secure independence or try to endure extreme misery in the process of trying to do so, as the example of their neighbors, the Irish, made clear.

Why Is Cameron Offering This Deal?

Why would conservative party leader and Prime Minister David Cameron (who leads a coalition government that also includes the Liberal Party) agree to the Liberal Party's platform position supporting this referrendum?

One big reason (other than the fact that Cameron had to give away something to get a majority coalition government that he could lead) is that geographically, the conservative party has come to become almost an English nationalist party, given that its electoral performance outside of England (and in English immigrant populations) is so dismal.  The Conservative Party's strength in England and weakness elsewhere is something of a mirror of the American Republican Party's strength in the South and Great Plains and relative weakness in the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific states.  Granting Scotland independence greatly increases the likelihood that the Conservative Party will be able to secure majorities in the parliament of the rump United Kingdom in future elections. 

The Liberal Party, meanwhile, after not receiving a share of representatives in parliament commensurate with its electoral support and given its deep intellectual support for ideals of good government, is sympathetic to other underdog minorities in the British political system like Scotland.  And, if the referrendum results in Scotland staying in the United Kingdom anyway, as seems most likely at the moment, the Liberal Party's efforts on behalf of the Scots will still be remembers fondly there and may lead to a long term expansion of the territory where the Liberal Party has strong political support.

Of course, allowing the Scottish people to vote on the issue also effectively sucks the air out of any insipient group advocating violent or even merely illegal and disruptive means to advocate for Scottish independence, even if the vote goes against them.  It is hard to mobilize people to get angry at a "colonial overlord" who is willing to let you hold a public vote on whether you want independence on terms you personally put into writing, and is then willing to respect the decision of the voters in that referrendum.

Reasons To Think That England Might Act In Good Faith

The Scots have many precedents to reassure them that their independence might be achieved smoothly if they vote for it now that the Edinburgh Agreement is in place.

While this hasn't always been the case (both the United States and Ireland fought long and bloody wars to secure independence from England, and the annexation of Scotland came only after roughly a century of near continuous massive bloodshed in the border region between England and Scotland), in more recent history, the United Kingdom's has had ceded sovereignty and/or broad grants of highly autonomous self-rule to a great many of its possessions in a relatively graceful and civilized manner.  Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and many of the United Kingdom's colonial possessions were granted autonomy without a serious fuss. 

The United Kingdom's grant of independence to India, while secured in the face of local protests and not bloodless, did not take a full fledged civil war or decades of victious insurgencies (the vicious and bloody civil war would come later to India when Pakistan split itself off from it, and Kashmir would provide India with its prolonged insurgency after it had been granted independence as well).  This is one of the very few cases where a grant of independence to a European colony did not lead to a coup, a one party state, or some similarly anti-democratic result and England in the case of India was the first European colonial power that I can recall to grant independence to a colony that was not ethnically European.

The Greater European Context

This comes at a time when movements for regional independence are bubbling up in Belgium, Spain and probably other places in Europe as well.  The willingness of the U.K. to strike a deal may embolden other populations seeking independence.  Flemish Nationalists secured large numbers of seats in local election in Belgium yesterday.  Catalonians are demanding an independence referrendum of their own and have marched one and a half million strong (20% of the population of the entire region) in the streets within the past few weeks.  And, any decision to let Catalonians vote on independence would be met with a powerful cry of "me too" from the Basque autonomous region.

All three populations, like the Scottish people, already have their own regional elected legislative bodies, organized nationalist movements, a history as a sovereign region of their own at some point, and considerable autonomy to enact at least some kinds of legislation on their own.

For the Catalonians, even if independence with the consent of the Spanish parliament isn't granted, greater autonomy for the regional government may be granted to it.

Catalonia wants to be able to collect its own taxes and send a share to Madrid, rather than the other way around. That would make it different from most of Spain's other 16 regional government, but similar to the northern Basque country.
The more that governmental adminstration is performed by a regional government, the easier it would be for it to unilaterally declare its independence while carrying on the ordinary business of government without interruption.


While this may be somewhat of an overgeneralization, many of the most vigorous regional independence movements seem to have their roots in ethnically distinct regions that are more affluent or prosperous economically who are motivated by a desire to not have to subsidize or be held back economically by poorer and more backward parts of a multiethnic country.  This applies to the Northern League in Italy as well.

Scotland, however, does not fit this mold.  The GDP of Scotland about $33,680 U.S. per capita per year is lower than, but not all that much different from the GDP of England, which is about $35,000 U.S. per capita per year. 

On the other hand, however, Scotland is much poorer than London ($50,600), and has centuries of experience with absentee landlords in London non-governmentally sucking all of its fortunes away from it.  To the extent that this is still the case, a desire for independence may be rooted more in an effort to find a way to prevent private sector flows of funds out of the country than the desire to keep local tax money local that has fueled many other secessionist movements.

Another key distributive economic issue in the event that Scotland wins its independence is how the United Kingdom's North Sea oil revenues would be shared.  The Scottish, who are geographically closer to these oil fields may feel entitled to this, but nothing in the Edinburgh Agreement implies the the United Kingdom would be ceding complete ownership and control of these resources.

Of course, unlike the Flemish, the Catalans, and the Basque (but in common with the Northern Italians), both the Scots and the English speak the same language, even if there are regional difference in dialect.  So, there may be less of a cultural impetus for the Scots to break away than there is for some of its secessionist European peers to do so.

It is also interesting that all of the countries with really active secessionist movements at the moment: the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Spain, have constitutional monarchies (another thing lacking in Italy where the Northern League has been relatively quite lately despite a severe economic crisis in Italy as well). 

Could it be that symbolically placing sovereignty in a person, who can personally remain the sovereign of a country (or have a child or relative to the current sovereign become their monarch continuing the constitutional monarchy in that way) even after it gains independence from its existing government if the region seeking independence wishes, reduces the symbolic attachment that people have the the sovereignty of the the unified bureaucratic institution of the nation-state itself?

Reflections On Facial Hair

A grew a moustache in my freshman year in high school, and by the time that I was a senior, I had a neatly trimmed full beard and short scissors cut hair.  When I went to college, I let my hair and beard grow progressively longer until I had below shoulder length straight hair and a huge wild mountain man beard by my last semester of college.  After a summer shoveling dirt for a project at home before my sophomore year that left me with blistery scars in the palms of my hands, I looked like the classical depictions of the resurrected Jesus Christ in jeans, Chuck Taylors and a flannel shirt.

I got into a serious relationship with the woman I would marry during the last semester of my undergraduate education.  She liked neither facial hair nor long hair on men.  One weekend that spring, I got a buzz cut and shaved my face clean, causing every single one of my professors over the next week to ask the "guest" in the classroom to introduce himself.  Less than twenty-four hours after my college commencement ceremony, I started law school and keep the short haircut and clean shaven face for the next twenty and a half years.

Late this summer, my wife and I separated.  Two weeks ago, I had back surgery that kept me away from work long enough to grow back a beard without a long intermediate scraggly period that everyone would have to watch emerge.  So, I decided it was time for a change and grew a beard.  I now have essentially the same beard and haircut that I did in my senior year of high school, although I haven't gotten trimming it just so down to the science that I had then.  I'll have to spend some quality time sometime this week giving some real thought to what kind of look facial hair and haircut look I want to develop and how to keep it looking the way that I want it to look.

Most male fashion choices involve small numbers of simple choices with meta rules that guide making each one: khakis or jeans, with jeans being the less formal choice; a business suit that can be navy blue, dark gray or light gray, with dark suits conveying more authority and light gray usually reserved for days when it is warmer.  Dress shoes come in maroon or black.  Black is the default, maroon is a bit classier and calls more attention to you.  Dress socks and belts suitable to wear to a law office client meeting or court come in black and black.  Dress shirts suitable to wear to court come in white, off white, French blue or light blue, with certain combinations of suit colors and shirt colors being forbidden - white is for conveying honesty and neutrality, French blue conveys authority and pretention, the others provide middle ground variety.  The only acceptable jewelry items for men of my generation and sensibilities who are dressing business formal (which is not so formal that one would wear cuff links) are a wrist watch, and a wedding ring or a class ring.  Politicians and war heroes can add a flag lapel tie tack or pin, or a tie tack or pin denoting a military honor.  I keep the time with my cell phone in my pocket, and don't wear any of these items these days.

The world of facial hair presents far more choices and offers far less guidance.  Do you have a full beard?  If so, should it be long or short?  Should it merge with your sideburns?  Are there areas that should be trimmed other than for length?  Should you have just a moustache, and if so should it be narrow or wide, have curly ends or squared off ends, and should it be trimmed above your upper lip?  Should you instead have a goatee?  A soul patch?  Should your facial hair convey sharp edges or soften your look?  Should you have a scraggly stubbly Don Johnson look?  A trimmed area under the chin?  Every alternative makes a fashion statement and there are so many choices.  Your regular hair cutting style choices, which used to be pretty straight forward and small in number, now have become far more complex as they must be evaluated on the basis of how well they interface with your facial hair decisions.

It's a bit ironic that the most exclusively masculine of all fashion options for a man is the one that makes you feel the most empathy for the endless array of amorphous style options that women must make each day.  But, it is a bit a fun change of pace to take on the new creative challenge involved in working it out, which is so entirely different from any other kind of intellectual activity I ever engage in otherwise.

Ouch! 2011 Was Not Kind.

O.K., I admit it, I am often the cobbler whose children have no shoes, a lawyer whose practice includes tax work e-filing his tax return at that last moment on October 15, the extended deadline for filing your 2011 tax returns.

The process revealed just how demanding the 2011 calendar year was compared to the 2010 calendar year.

One of the painful items wasn't actually tax related at all.  In 2010, I was receiving COBRA coverage from a former big law firm employer that laid off everyone in my regional office including me a while back.  In most of 2011, I was receiving group of one health insurance coverage through the Colorado Bar Association which is actually a pretty good deal compared to some of the alternatives.  My deductible increased by about $4,000 a year, but the coverage was otherwise more or less identical and was provided by the same company with no changes in providers.  My premium increased by $3,020 from 2010 to 2011 mostly because I went from being part of a large group to being part of a "group of one."  The change in deductible made little difference in 2011 when my family's out of pocket health insurance expenses were unexceptional, but will make a huge difference this year since two weeks ago, I got back surgery for a squished disk complete with an MRI, another bit of specialized radiology, a neurosurgeon and an anethesiologist.  Basically, my cost of health care went up by about $3,000 from 2010 to 2011 and by an additional $4,700 from 2011 to 2012 between further premium increases and larger out of pocket health care expenses, for precisely the same level of care from precisely the same providers. Ouch!

But, it gets worse.  In 2010, the federal income tax finally treated the health insurance expenses of self-employed people like myself the same way it treats wage and salary earnings.  The health insurance expenses of self-employed people were deducted before computing self-employment taxes, before computing tax credits, and before considering income for any other purpose.

In 2011, the federal income tax law reverted to the old rule, computing self-employment taxes based on before health insurance expenses rather than after.  A random $800 tax credit called the Making Work Pay Credit present in 2010 was absent in 2011, and a number of other less notable provisions were also modified (the self-employment and FICA tax rates were actually lowered by two percentage points for 2011 without a change in the self-employment tax base, although the self-employment and FICA tax rates will go up to a rate higher than it started at in 2013).

I actually started calculating my 2011 taxes under the 2010 rules using last year's return as a model, and then recalculated my taxes for 2011 taxes under the 2011 tax laws that actually apply.  Bottom line, my taxes under the 2011 tax laws were about $3,300 higher than under the 2010 tax laws, something that I hadn't expected because I've had other things on my mind that the annual round of tax law changes.  This in turn, meant that I hadn't paid enough estimated taxes and owe a modest penalty for not paying enough by April 17 of this year.  Double ouch!

Between health care premium increases and federal tax increases between 2010 and 2011, I am about $6,300 worse off (ignoring penalties for failing to pay sufficient estimated taxes) than I would have been had the 2010 tax laws and health insurance premiums been in place and everything else in my life, from law practice revenues to business expenses to everything else in life, had been exactly the same.  The gap due to health care and federal taxes alone for me, between 2010 and 2012 will be something on the order of $12,000, all other things being equal.

This is enough to dampen anyone's recovery, and before the health insurance company and IRS stepped in, 2011 had been looking much better than 2010.  Even with those setbacks, one year further removed from the financial crisis (which hit lawyers with practices like mine very hard), I was still clearly better off by a large margin, but it was a two steps forward and one step back situation that I could do nothing about.

15 October 2012

European Secessionist Movements

In Spain, the renewed vigor of the Catalan secessionists movement is gaining a lot of international attention.  The Basque independence movement also appears to be gaining political traction in Spain.

In Belgium, there seems to be little but spit, bubble gum, and a common monarch holding the linguistically divided country's two regions and its mixed leading city together.

Scotland has been making noises of late about gaining greater autonomy, and already has considerable independence in practice from England, with its own legislature, its own judicial system, and a variety of very different laws and governmental institutions than its southern neighbor within the United Kingdom.

While I haven't heard any recent news from Italy, at time, its Northern regions (roughly corresponding to the parts of Italy that were never part of the Kingdom of Sicily), have actively campaigned for independence in the post-World War II era.

There may be other active and viable secessionist movements among E.U. member nations, but I'm not aware of them.

While obviously not European, Quebec for a long time was very keen to secede from Canada, although this impulse seems to have been quite muted in the last few years, and Quebec's French nationalist party took an immense blow at the polls in the most recent Canadian parliamentary election, if I recall correctly.

One theory that has been advanced to explain the rise in regionalism in Europe is that the possibility that the multiple countries arising from a divided country that is an E.U. member might all become members of the E.U. and thus not face all of the economic isolation and reduction in capacity to act collectively in the face of a crisis that a small sovereign state outside of a larger federation would have to deal with has made secession a more attractive option for E.U. member countries facing deep internal cultural divisions.

Another theory is that the break up of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia (and further Kosovo from Serbia), Ethiopia and Sudan in recent memory, have provided evidence that while splitting up a single nation-state into component parts may be painful, that it is not necessarily an intolerable price to pay for autonomy or impossible to achieve, particularly if it can be brought about by political means rather than an insurgency or military intervention.

While some of the divisions involve a deep linguistic divide, in other cases, the divide linguistically does not seem all that deep - just a difference in mutually intelligible dialects within a single language.

14 October 2012

What If Colorado Ballot Issue 65 Were Adopted?

Colorado Ballot Issue 65 directs Colorado's state and federal legislators to draft and advocate for a campaign finance constitutional amendment. While it would not be binding even if it was passed, at least some of Colorado's legislators would feel some obligation to at least try to comply with the voter's wishes if it did pass.

What kind of language could someone like me who is very concerned about protections for political speech as a core of our democracy live with? I gave it a shot and came up with the language below as a starting point for discussing the kind of language that might reasonably balance the right to free political speech with concerns about the undue influence of monied interests in American politics.


The core ideas in the draft, which is set forth verbatim at the bottom of this post, are mostly designed to fairly narrowly constitutionally overrule the notion of corporate personhood in the context of campaign contributions, an issue embodied in the controversial Citizens United case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sections 1 and 2 provide that a law may constitutionally insist that campaign contributions be traceable to specific, disclosed natural persons and may impose reasonable, uniform, per contributor limits on their contributions to any given political race.

Note that the draft amendment allows any natural person to make contributions in any U.S. political race, even if the person isn't personally allowed to vote in that particular political race or any political race. By implication, however, this language authorizes governments to prohibit of campaign contributions by corporations, unions, non-profits and governments, although it does protect the right of entities to act as intermediaries who bundle contributions from disclosed U.S. voters.

It does not apply prior to the point in time at which a candidate gains ballot access, and does not apply to political speech that does not advocate for particular candidates or pertains to ballot measures. The distinction between ballot measures and candidate races flows from the notion that ballot language can't be "bribed" or influenced by campaign contribution money after it is adopted and show favoritism, while candidates may. Also, the distinction between generally policy discussion and advocacy for ballot measures is muddier than the distinction between advocacy for political candidates.

Section 3 provides political opinion made at a disclosed person or entity's own expense in their own publications, or at no expense financed by a contributor, may not be regulated, even if that person is not otherwise entitled to vote in any election.

This key definitional distinction between contributions and one's own speech is a safe harbor for such traditional political speech forums such as newspaper opinion pages, op-ed columns and letters to the editor, and for church and entity newsletters, websites and blogs.

The existence of this exception largely turns the limitations on campaign finance into time, place and manner restrictions. The distinction between media speech and "corporate" political speech is inherently problematic. There is no obvious reason that Rupert Murdock's media empire should benefit from a safe harbor, while Ben and Jerry of ice cream fame should be highly restricted in the extent to which their corporation may have a political voice.

Section 4 provides that campaign finance law violations may not be used to change electoral results or deprive someone of their political rights.

Fines for campaign finance violations must be proportionate to the office and incarceration for a campaign finance violation must be short. Thus, they must be purely collateral matters whose enforcement can not effectively be used to suppress political dissent or add uncertainty to disputed elections.

A lurking issue here that is not addressed concerns issues related to selective enforcement by winners of elections. For example, a President or state Secretary of State who wins an election might vigorously enforce campaign finance laws after the election against violators who opposed members of his political party while ignoring violators who support members of his political party. Colorado's current Secretary of State, Scott Gessler, has been accused of precisely this kind of behavior. Yet, in general, illegal contributions to election losers who are most at risk of prosecutions for campaign finance violations, are categorically people who made contributions that won't have an ongoing detrimental impact on the political process, while illegal contributors to election winners who are categorically more likely to pose the very kinds of risks that campaign finance laws were designed to address are likely, on average, to be the subject of more lenient and less diligent enforcement efforts. 

The institutional arrangements which might mitigate this important risk are too intricate to include in an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Sections 5 and 6 address federalism issues.

Section 5 clarifies issues of subject matter and long arm jurisdiction of courts where campaign finance laws are enforced. Section 6 provides that campaign finance laws for elections to offices and ballot issues in a particular governmental entity may only be enacted by that governmental entity and are subject to any constitutional limits established by that governmental entity's constitution.

I don't expect that either of these sections are particularly controversial beyond the controversy over the substance of the limitations allowed. These provisions are common sense rules of the road that are helpful because there are a number of other alternative rules of the road that could also be fought over if an express statement weren't included.

Is this good policy?

Is it good to suppress anonymous political speech?

One aspect of this proposal, about which I am ambivalent, is that it effectively criminalizes a significant chunk of anonymous political speech. Yet, this kind of speech, in the form of documents like the Federalist Papers, that was pivotal in our country's founding and is also very important to the political arm of any revolutionary political movement.  One of the important features of the free political speech and democracy is to make democratic processes more attractive than extra-legal action and these proposals have the potential to bias political movements against buying into the democratic process.

This harm is mitigated by the fact that it applies only once the choice to proceed via the democratic process has been made by candidates and advocates of ballot measures and the candidates and proponents of the ideas behind the ballot measures have thus already escaped the most obvious routes by which they could be suppressed. A call for a revolution or new set of policies that wasn't on a ballot anywhere isn't governed by this amendment. Neither is an expression of opinion about specific pending legislation that voters do not have a direct say upon. Hence, it has no impact on grass roots lobbying of already elected officials.

Is it good to suppress overt corporate or union political contributions?

Another aspect of this proposal is that it deprives entities, which already lack a right to vote of their own, of even the possibility of a meaningful collective voice. Why shouldn't what the Federalist papers called "factions" and specifically contemplated would play an important role in American politics, have a voice in their capacity as "factions" rather than merely through members of that faction.

Is it so bad that a union or corporation be able to use its economic power to express its opinion on a candidate or ballot issue?

Often a disclosed union or corporate campaign contribution will have practical value to a voter by helping a voter to evaluate which corporations and unions believe that they will be helped or hurt by a candidate or ballot measure, something that can help both supporters of the corporate or union position and opponents of the corporate or union position.

For example, in school board elections, knowing the institutional affiliation of donors to school board candidates is often the most informative way to learn the policy leanings of candidates whose public statements are often vague or indistinguishable from other candidates.

When contributions are made by natural persons who are affiliated with a corporation or union, people who want to trace the source of the money have to do large numbers of mini-private investigations to connect the dots that would otherwise be obvious if direct corporate or union contributions were allowed. Breaking contributions down to natural persons can be effective at limiting the capacity of wealth to give someone excess political power, but it can actually undermine the disclosure aspect of campaign finance regulation.

Do contribution limitations make politics cleaner?

A core belief that drives a large share of all campaign finance regulation is the belief that campaign contributions can be used to effectively bribe candidates who eventually do get elected to take legislative action on their behalf, thereby distorting the political process. Most campaign finance reform advocates (e.g. Common Cause) see campaign contribution limitations as just one form of anti-corruption legislation. The trouble is that the way that campaign contributions influence the political process is considerably more complicated.

For one thing, more often than not, campaign contributors use their money to back candidates who have already adopted political positions that favor them before they even considered running for public office.

The conventional notion of a bribe involves the use of money to change how someone would act, but in the case of campaign finance, the purported recipient of the bribe is getting money to do what he or she would have done anyway in most cases.

Requirements that campaign contributors be "independent" of the candidate in some situations and not coordinate with the candidate aren't all that effective at addressing the fact that monied interests often prefer one candidate to another and can use their funds to advance their preference effectively without any interaction with the candidate at all. Indeed, they may be able to take actions that are more effective when the candidate can truthfully deny any involvement in the actions of their proxies and even complain about those proxy actions, than they could have been if the candidate that they favor could be held more directly responsible for their advertising conduct.

Campaign contributions also don't bribe voters.

Generally speaking, campaign contributions are not used to provide personal gain to any outcome determinative number of voters. They may be used to hire a few sign making companies and pay money to television stations and newspapers (in both cases, the same companies and media outlets often receive money from both sides of many races), and to hire campaign workers who may feel some loyalty to the person who paid them money for their services but often supported the candidate or issue before they were hired anyway.

Direct bribery of voters as an important political tool pretty much died with progressive era civil service, government procurement, and anti-machine politics election law reforms by the 1920s at the latest, except for a certain amount of pay to play politics by construction companies looking for road building bids and municipal bond industry officials. Indeed, campaign contributions are generally spent on mailings and political advertisements that annoy the voters they are targeted at, even when they are effective. When it comes to imparting personal economic gain to voters, campaign advertisements (which is where most of the money goes) are almost "anti-bribes" that low the personal utility of a voter.

The impact of campaign contributions is almost entirely dervived from the content of the speech it directs at voters. And, one of the core ideas of American political theory is that voters should be making decisions influenced only by political speech.

Keep in mind also, that a great many voters actually have less information about the candidates that they will be voting upon than would be optimal.

While a considerable amount of money is spent on political campaigns, a lot of the spending by candidates themselves goes towards name recognition advertising that more often than not even deliberately fails to disclose or downplays the candidate's political party affiliation.

Almost no private campaign contribution funds are devoted to the kind of comprehensive, even handed evaluation of candidates and ballot measures (especially below the top of the ticket) that would be most useful to voters - non-profits good government groups (like the League of Women Voters), government agencies (like the bodies that prepare the information packets that Colorado voters receive), unpaid or minimally paid bloggers, and the mass media continue to have a near monopoly on this kind of analysis.

People who dislike unlimited campaign contributions also tend to dislike "negative campaigning" and "attack ads", despite the fact that this kind of advertising tends to be the most effective in swaying voters. The sense that too much money is spent on political campaigns is driven to a considerable degree by the feeling that these kinds of ads have negative value because they can be misleading and because the undermine the civility of the political process.

There is, of course, no necessary connection between misleading campaign advertising and the amount of money spent on political advertising.

Campaign contribution limits also have institutional effects that are the opposite of those intended from an anti-bribery perspective. They force candidates for public office to spend money time raising money and make candidates beholden to more contributors. Since almost all contributors have more money than the vast majority of rank and file voters, widening the necessary base of contributors makes all candidates more beholden to the wishes of the class of people affluent enough to make some kind of political contribution relative to the wishes of people who can't make any political contributions, since a contributor whose political views are at odds with the vast majority of people affluent enough to contribute at all can't contribute enough to allow a candidate to ignore other members of that affluent class of individuals.  Put another way, campaign contribution limits favor the upper middle class to the detriment of rich progressives whose views are at odds with most of the rest of the upper class and upper middle class.

There are other ways that campaign contribution limits are problematic, not least among them being how very hard it is to prevent loopholes from swallowing the general rules restricting campaign contributions and spending in any meaningful way consistent with any kind of even minimal protection of First Amendment rights related to political speech.

For all those reasons, I do not believe that campaign finance regulation, in general, and campaign contribution limitations, in particular, do much good. Narrower efforts to limit the political influence of big corporations are even more futile.

But, lots of people, particularly liberals, have personal political world views that see a class of politicians controlled by corporate money and power as the root of most of the world's social ills, and if you believe this, crude campaign contribution limitations and a ban on corporate campaign contributions is the natural lynch pin of any plan to achieve progress on any other issue by political means. To those people, I would say that while this makes lots of superficial sense, it simply is not an effective tool to achieve that end and there are lots of process tools that would be much more effective (like finding ways to dramatically increase the share of eligible voters who actually vote through changes in the political process).

Draft Campaign Finance Amendment Language

Section 1: The Constitution of the United States of America, as amended, shall not prohibit Congress, State or an elected governing body of a federal territory, commonwealth or district, from passing laws requiring all contributions to another, that are used to advocate for or against, in the name of anyone other than the contributor, a candidate who has been authorized to appear on the ballot in for any elective office in a specific election be traceable by members of the public to one or more publicly disclosed natural persons, subject to such exceptions or exclusions as are provided by such a law. This amendment does not apply to political discussion that does not advocate for or against a candidate who has been authorized to appear on a ballot for a specific election for a specific office.

Section 2: A law permitted by Section 1 of this Amendment may set a limit, which is uniform for elected to the same legislative body or the same legislative office, on the maximum amount of contributions subject to such disclosure requirements that a natural person may make in a single election cycle for that office, in connection with a particular elective office, provided that this limitation may not be unreasonable small relative to amounts spent to advocate for or against candidates of that kind before the law was adopted, and provided that the amount is adjusted for inflation accruing after the law is adopted in each new election cycle. In the case of any candidate for the United States House of Representative, the United States Senate, or a ticket of candidates for President and Vice President (and any electors pledged to such candidates), an initial limit on contributions shall be not less than $5,000 per person per election cycle for that particular elective office.

Section 3: Neither Congress, nor any State shall make any law that prohibits or require disclosure from any person, or for profit, non-profit or cooperative entity with a substantial existence and purpose apart from political advertising and advocacy, in connection with the any publication in a publication controlled by that person or entity, of that person or entity's own opinions regarding any candidate for any office, for which that person or entity does not receive separate payment from any contributor, which are disclosed as that person's opinion or as the entity's own opinions or as the opinion of a disclosed editorial board of an entity. Likewise, neither Congress, nor any State shall make any law that prohibits or require disclosure from a person or entity whose opinions regarding any candidate for any office are published with no expense to the person or entity stating the opinion, if the publication of this opinion is not paid for by any contributor.

Section 4: No penalty for a violation of a law authorized by this amendment shall alter in any way the outcome of any election. No fine or monetary penalty or forfeiture for any particular violation of such a law shall not be in excess of (1) the actual cost including attorneys' fees in bringing the action, (2) three times the amount of any contribution made in excess of the limits established by law, and (3) the full amount of any contribution which would have been lawful had it been disclosed. No one may be incarcerated prior to trial solely for a violation of such a law and any criminal penalty for a violation of such a law shall be more serious than a misdemeanor, shall not cause a forfeiture of the political rights of the person so convicted before or after conviction, and shall not be punishable by more than six months of incarceration.

Section 5: The federal courts of the United States of America with jurisdiction over all or part of the geographic area in which resident voters are entitled to vote on the candidate with respect to which a contribution is made, shall have jurisdiction over any action to enforce any such law against anyone, anywhere in the world, provided however that the courts of a State shall have exclusive jurisdiction over any action by a State or subdivision of a State or any natural person or any entity to enforce any such law enacted in that State against a resident of that State.

Section 6: This amendment does not pre-empt provisions in state or local or territorial or commonwealth or district organic documents or constitutions prohibiting such laws. No State, or elected governing body of a federal territory, commonwealth or district shall pass any law requiring the disclosure or, of limiting, contributions to advocate for or against a candidate for the United States House of Representative, the United States Senate, or a ticket of candidates for President and Vice President (and any electors pledged to such candidates), regulating in any way contributions to advocate for or against a candidates for elected office in any jurisdiction other than its own.