21 October 2017

Who Carries Guns? Does It Work?

The NRA is wrong on the fact and the bad policies it has advance kill thousands of Americans every year. People who carry loaded handguns are a clear and present danger to the American public. Nine empirical studies published in the last three years establishes many key facts relevant to the gun control debate.
Roughly 3 million Americans carry loaded handguns with them every day, primarily for protection, according to a new analysis of a national survey of gun owners published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The information comes from the National Firearms Survey, which the authors – a group of public health experts at the University of Washington, Harvard University and the University of Colorado – administered in 2015. The nationally representative survey was conducted online with 4,000 U.S. adults, including more than 1,500 who identified themselves as handgun owners. The survey asked handgun owners how often they carried a loaded handgun on their person when away from home.

The peer-reviewed study concluded that roughly 9 million people carried loaded handguns at least once a month, including 3 million who carried them every day. People who carry handguns at least once a month were disproportionately likely to be conservative men between the ages of 18 and 29 residing in Southern states.

Four out of 5 of them said that personal protection was the primary reason they carried a loaded handgun. Nearly 6 percent reported being threatened by another person with a firearm at least once in the past five years. And 1 out of 5 reported carrying a concealed handgun without a permit, even in states where such a permit is required. . . . .

Many states have broadened their concealed-carry policies in recent years. Before 2003, for instance, Vermont was the only state where a person could legally carry a concealed handgun without a permit. Since then, 11 other states have passed laws eliminating permit requirements for concealed carry. Many other states have passed laws making it easier to obtain concealed-carry permits. The result has been an explosion in the number of concealed-carry permit holders in the United States, from 2.7 million in 1999 to 14.5 million in 2016. That figure doesn’t account for individuals living in states without permitting requirements. . . .

Examining crime data from 1991 to 2015, the study, conducted by a team of researchers from Boston University, Children’s Hospital Boston, and Duke University, found that “shall-issue concealed carry permitting laws were significantly associated with 6.5% higher total homicide rates, 8.6% higher firearm-related homicide rates, and 10.6% higher handgun-specific homicide rates compared with may-issue states.”

The study also offered an explanation for why earlier studies, using data primarily from the 1990s and earlier, showed different results. Demand for handgun permits was relatively modest in earlier decades. But during the concealed-carry boom of the 2000s, demand for handguns soared. Gun manufacturers’ output increased dramatically.
From here.

Some other research:

* Another survey in 2015 also adds information about how many guns are purchased without background checks:
The national survey of firearms ownership reported by Miller and colleagues provides much-needed estimates of the household ownership of guns and the transactions by which private citizens acquire their firearms. For guns acquired in the 2 years before this nationally representative survey in 2015, 22% of the transactions (whether a purchase, a gift, an inheritance, or other) did not include a background check. . . . the proportion of transactions involving a retail dealer has not changed much, if at all, since the earlier survey—Miller and colleagues estimate 64%, compared with the NSPOF [1994] figure of approximately 60% (with some uncertainty due to inconsistent responses and sampling error). A few states have closed the private-sale loophole since then, whereas others have repealed their background check requirement. . . . [C]onsiderable evidence indicates that gang members and other active offenders obtain their guns from private transactions rather than from retail dealers
Citing:

*Miller, M., Hepburn, L., Azrael, D., "Firearm acquisition without background checks. Results of a national survey." 166 Ann Intern Med  233-239 (2017) (this is down from 40% in 1994, per the NSPOF, which was prior to implementation of the Brady Act).

* Cook P.J., Parker S.T., Pollack, H.A., "Sources of guns to dangerous people: what we learn by asking them.", 79 Prev. Med 28-36 (2015).

* Another study:
In the USA, homicide is a leading cause of death for young males and a major cause of racial disparities in life expectancy for men. There are intense debate and little rigorous research on the effects of firearm sales regulation on homicides. This study estimates the impact of Missouri's 2007 repeal of its permit-to-purchase (PTP) handgun law on states' homicide rates and controls for changes in poverty, unemployment, crime, incarceration, policing levels, and other policies that could potentially affect homicides. Using death certificate data available through 2010, the repeal of Missouri's PTP law was associated with an increase in annual firearm homicides rates of 1.09 per 100,000 (+23%) but was unrelated to changes in non-firearm homicide rates. Using Uniform Crime Reporting data from police through 2012, the law's repeal was associated with increased annual murders rates of 0.93 per 100,000 (+16%). These estimated effects translate to increases of between 55 and 63 homicides per year in Missouri.
Webster, D., et al., "Effects of the repeal of Missouri's handgun purchaser licensing law on homicides." 91 J. Urban Health 293-302 (2014).

* Mental health and access to guns:
Analyses from the National Comorbidity Study Replication provide the first nationally representative estimates of the co-occurrence of impulsive angry behavior and possessing or carrying a gun among adults with and without certain mental disorders and demographic characteristics. The study found that a large number of individuals in the United States self-report patterns of impulsive angry behavior and also possess firearms at home (8.9%) or carry guns outside the home (1.5%). These data document associations of numerous common mental disorders and combinations of angry behavior with gun access. Because only a small proportion of persons with this risky combination have ever been involuntarily hospitalized for a mental health problem, most will not be subject to existing mental health-related legal restrictions on firearms resulting from a history of involuntary commitment. Excluding a large proportion of the general population from gun possession is also not likely to be feasible. Behavioral risk-based approaches to firearms restriction, such as expanding the definition of gun-prohibited persons to include those with violent misdemeanor convictions and multiple DUI convictions, could be a more effective public health policy to prevent gun violence in the population.
Jeffrey W. Swanson, et al., "Guns, Impulsive Angry Behavior, and Mental Disorders: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R)" 33 (2-3) Behavioral Sciences & The Law 199-212 (June 2015).

* Gun use in self-defense:
Objectives 
To describe the epidemiology of self-defense gun use (SDGU) and the relative effectiveness of SDGU in preventing injury and property loss. 
Methods 
Data come from the National Crime Victimization Survey for 2007–2011, focusing on personal contact crimes. For property loss, we examined incidents where the intent was to steal property. Multivariate analyses controlled for age, gender of offender and victim, if offender had a gun, urbanicity, and thirteen types of self-protective action. 
Results 
Of over 14,000 incidents in which the victim was present, 127 (0.9%) involved a SDGU. SDGU was more common among males, in rural areas, away from home, against male offenders and against offenders with a gun. After any protective action, 4.2% of victims were injured; after SDGU, 4.1% of victims were injured. In property crimes, 55.9% of victims who took protective action lost property, 38.5% of SDGU victims lost property, and 34.9% of victims who used a weapon other than a gun lost property. 
Conclusions 
Compared to other protective actions, the National Crime Victimization Surveys provide little evidence that SDGU is uniquely beneficial in reducing the likelihood of injury or property loss.
David Hemenway and Sara J. Solnick, "The epidemiology of self-defense gun use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys 2007-2011", 79 Preventive Medicine 22-27 (October 2015).

Suicide and gun ownership:
Importance Suicide is the second leading cause of death among US adolescents, and in-home firearm access is an independent risk factor for suicide. Given recommendations to limit firearm access by those with mental health risk factors for suicide, we hypothesized that adolescents with such risk factors would be less likely to report in-home firearm access. 
Objectives To estimate the prevalence of self-reported in-home firearm access among US adolescents, to quantify the lifetime prevalence of mental illness and suicidality (ie, suicidal ideation, planning, or attempt) among adolescents living with a firearm in the home, and to compare the prevalence of in-home firearm access between adolescents with and without specific mental health risk factors for suicide. 
Design, Setting, and Participants Cross-sectional analysis of data from the National Comorbidity Survey–Adolescent Supplement, a nationally representative survey of 10 123 US adolescents (age range, 13-18 years) who were interviewed between February 2001 and January 2004 (response rate 82.9%). 
Exposures Risk factors for suicide, including a history of any mental health disorder, suicidality, or any combination of the 2. 
Main Outcomes and Measures Self-reported access to a firearm in the home. 
Results One in three respondents (2778 [29.1%]) of the weighted survey sample reported living in a home with a firearm and responded to a question about firearm access; 1089 (40.9%) of those adolescents reported easy access to and the ability to shoot that firearm. Among adolescents with a firearm in home, those with access were significantly more likely to be older (15.6 vs 15.1 years), male (70.1% vs 50.9%), of non-Hispanic white race/ethnicity (86.6% vs 78.3%), and living in high-income households (40.0% vs 31.8%), and in rural areas (28.1% vs 22.6%) (P < .05 for all). Adolescents with firearm access also had a higher lifetime prevalence of alcohol abuse (10.1% vs 3.8%, P < .001) and drug abuse (11.4% vs 6.9%, P < .01) compared with those without firearm access. In multivariable analyses, adolescents with a history of mental illness without a history of suicidality (prevalence ratio [PR], 1.13; 95% CI, 0.98-1.29) and adolescents with a history of suicidality with or without a history of mental illness (PR, 1.20; 95% CI, 0.96-1.51) were as likely to report in-home firearm access as those without such histories. 
Conclusions and Relevance Adolescents with risk factors for suicide were just as likely to report in-home firearm access as those without such risk factors. Given that firearms are the second most common means of suicide among adolescents, further attention to developing and implementing evidence-based strategies to decrease firearm access in this age group is warranted.
Joseph A. Simonetti, MD, MPH, et al., "Psychiatric Comorbidity, Suicidality, and In-Home Firearm Access Among a Nationally Representative Sample of Adolescents" 72(2) JAMA Psychiatry 152-159 (February 2015).

Mass shootings and gun ownership:
Objective: Model the global distribution of public mass shooters around the world. 
Method: Negative binomial regression is used to test the effects of homicide rates, suicide rates, firearm ownership rates, and several control variables on public mass shooters per country from 1966 to 2012. 
Results: The global distribution of public mass shooters appears partially attributable to cross-national differences in firearms availability but not associated with cross-national homicide or suicide rates. 
Conclusion: The United States and other nations with high firearm ownership rates may be particularly susceptible to future public mass shootings, even if they are relatively peaceful or mentally healthy according to other national indicators.
Lankford, Adam, "Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries" 31(2) Violence and Victims; New York 187-199 (2016).

20 October 2017

When Do Higher Tax Rates Lead To Lower Tax Collections?

The Laffer curve peak at which higher tax rates lead to lower tax revenues is quantified for 27 OECD countries here. It ranges from top marginal rates of 60% to 76% by country, with the U.S. at the highest end of that range, and Luxembourg at the low end. Top rates exceed the Laffer curve peak as estimated by this study in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Sweden is the furthest beyond this peak.

Czechia (46%), Mexico (33%), New Zealand (44%) and Poland (47%) are the only countries with a lower top marginal rate than the U.S. (48%) by this methodology. The top rate in the U.S. is lower relative to its Laffer curve peak than every other OECD country except Slovakia which ties it at 30% and Mexico which is at 28%.

The notion that the U.S. has uncompetitively high tax rates relative to its economic peers is simply not born out by the evidence.

19 October 2017

ASGH 2017 Abstracts

The abstracts of the conference presentations at the American Society of Human Genetics Conference in Orlando, Florida for 2017 which is currently in progress is available here. It sorts by first digit of the paper number so, for example, 2, 20, 201 and 2001 are all adjacent to each other. Plenary and platform talks have numbers up to 372. Higher numbers are poster-presentations.

General observation. Lots of studies looked at whether disease predictive tools like risk scores work across ancestry lines. Generally they do, but often they omit additional ancestry specific genes with similar phenotypic consequences.

14 Sperm have more de novo mutations than other kinds of cells
Various sporadic human diseases, ranging from autism spectrum disorders to congenital heart disease and muscular dystrophies, are caused by de novo mutations. In a classical model, these are assumed to occur at a low rate in the parental germ cells (10-4-10-8). Consequently, de novo mutations identified by genetic testing are often assigned a low risk of recurrence in siblings. This idea is increasingly challenged by the detection of mosaicism in the parents. However, previous studies were largely restricted to the analysis of somatic tissues, whose genetic information is, by definition, not transmitted to the next generation. Here, we directly assessed the presence of inherited “de novo” mutations in paternal sperm and discovered abundant, germline restricted mosaicism. These samples were collected from a panel of fourteen families with a proband presenting with autism spectrum disorder. For all of these a candidate de novomutation had been identified in our ongoing genetic studies of this disorder. Employing digital droplet PCR, the causative variants were detectable in 4 sperm samples, but virtually absent or drastically reduced in the somatic tissue for 3. The latter mutations were present a high allelic fractions (AF), comprising SNVs in NR2F1 (AF=8%) and GRIN2A (AF=15%), as well as a large deletion of CACNG2 (AF=10%). As a consequence, the GRIN2A variant, despite being undetectable in the father by classical genetic testing, was inherited by three siblings presenting with phenotypes consistent with this mutation.
We next used deep whole genome sequencing (90x) of matched sperm and blood samples of four fathers to test for germline mosaicism of all de novo variants present in the offspring. 5-10% of these mutations were detectable in the paternal sperm, half of which were absent or at very low levels (<2%) in the matched blood. These data, together with an unbiased analysis employing mosaic variant detection algorithms, suggest that germline-specific or germline-enriched mosaicism is currently underestimated. This information has important potential implications for clinical practice. Based on our results, genetic analysis of sperm has the potential to quantify individualized recurrence risks for affected families, but could also have predictive value for prospective fathers.
18 Alternative splicing of brain-expressed transcripts distinguishes major adult psychiatric disorders

19 Sexually dimorphic DNA methylation in human brain and relevance to psychiatric disorders

134 Gene x environment links between obesity and depression

204 Migraine risk inheritance patterns in Finland

216 Genome testing is very useful in treating NICU patients

1033 Genetics of child onset psychosis

1038 Gene associated with intellectual disability with severe self-harm

1048 DNA testing determines cause of 30% of intellectual disability cases not otherwise determinable

1287 Estimating contamination in DNA samples without doing comparisons

1314 Estimating genetic condition frequency with a combination of determination of frequency in people with monogenetic cause disease and review of population sample of genomes

1461 Infant development is affected by their microbiomes.

1596 Large, long term study evaluates stroke risk

1611 Search for opiod addiction gene in white women

1612 New markers for schizophrenia severity (about 80% hereditary)

1700 Genes involved in disorders of sex development (e.g. hemaphrodites)

2059 FASD (Fetal Alcoholism Spectrum Disorder) is indistinguishable from ADHD and has genetic origins rather that prenatal alcohol exposure origins; FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) has an environmental cause and is very distinct from FASD and ADHD.

2099 Some ADHD genes found in African-Americans are not found in other populations. A stable 6%-7% of kids are diagnosed with ADHD which is 75% to 90% genetic. (One of the other studies notes an 80% persistence from childhood to adulthood.)

2144 Genetics of ADHD hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention dimensions are quite different

2199 Most lifespan benefits of education are mediated through smoking or not

2468 DNA studies of kids with ADHD are worth it 8%-13% of the time.

2523 Discusses mosaicism and chimerism in humans

2579 Aging as measured by telomeres in preschoolers already differs based on sex and race in New Zealand children

2767 BMI is 48%-60% hereditary

2842 Alcoholism is 50%-65% hereditary

17 October 2017

Military Works On Plan B If GPS Navigation Fails

The U.S. Army is working on "systems that combine cameras with inertial measurement units, or IMU, which are made of sensors such as gyroscopes and accelerometers. By joining this sensor data to a camera’s visual feedback, a soldier would be able to navigate effectively, even without GPS."

The idea is that you start from a known location (your last GPS ping), and then keep track of how far you've moved in each direction, while calibrating drift in your inertial measurements by using cameras to compare landmarks and landforms to what should be there is the IMU is on track.

While this is a military development, there's no obvious reason that similar capabilities couldn't be put in a small unit that would communicate via Bluetooth with your civilian smartphone where the camera element and "brains" of the system could be housed.

Shout Out To IT Folks For No Good Reason


From here.

Have a nice day!

12 October 2017

The Culture That Is Japan

The Japanese are very good at rapidly self-organizing themselves. Elevator etiquette is no exception. As an article at Boing Boing explains, they have a system for determining who on an elevator is the "elevator captain", with simple rules of succession, and the elevator captain is responsible operating the buttons on the elevator for maximum efficiency.

Americans tend to think mostly about individual competencies and fail to recognize the extent to which groups can have collective competencies as well, which the Japanese hone far more than we do. Something that is particularly important about these group competency is that unlike individual competencies which are to a substantial extent inherited, and hence can only be improved so much through instruction, group competencies are almost entirely learned and hence can be improved with proper socialization.

Quote Of The Day

French special forces listen to philosophers yelling at each other.
From Questionable Content.

10 October 2017

The Gifted (Episode 2) And Other Rants

Isn't it amazing that the same TV network that provides us with Fox News can also offer up a show like Marvel Universe project The Gifted which is hardly a conservative TV show in the tradition of Walker Texas Ranger or Naval Criminal Investigation Services or Touched By An Angel?

Episode 2 of the show brought echoes of Orange Is The New Black, and boldly advances stories about oppression, injustice and abuse of the federal government's powers against people who are treated as second class citizens.

Almost nine months into the Trump administration, the political center and the political left in the United States is learning what it looks like to see a decade of gains systemically rolled back by a mad king. Someone his Secretary of States called a "fucking moron" and the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, a ranking member of his own party from Tennessee, a place that strongly backed Trump in the Presidential election, complains that Trump has turned the White House into an "adult daycare center." This is not normal.

But, the center-left is learning the lesson that politics isn't a game anymore. The right has lost its decency. White supremacists and Nazis are coming out into the light. The President has pardoned a Sheriff who defied federal judges and violated civil rights en masse. The knives are out and people are starting to get hurt. It is war now, and lots of people are fighting for their very existence.

The right has overplayed its hand.

Ultimately, the prosperity of the United States doesn't come from rural American and small towns, it comes from university towns, coastal megacities, and the I-25 corridor in Colorado. Blue America is vastly more economically productive, and vastly less dysfunctional, than Red America. Blue America connects us to the global economy. Red America can't find North Korea on a map. Blue America has scientists, economists, lawyers and MBAs. Red America has blue collar men who can't hold down jobs and refuse to adapt to a changing economy. Blue America grapples with reality. Red America can't handle the truth. Blue America knows how to use policy to solve social problems. Red America thinks that gun violence and police brutality are inevitable and pretty much welcomes and praises both.

Blue America got complacent after eight years of benign rule under President Obama followed by polling that inaccurately predicted that Hillary Clinton was sure to win the Presidency. But, Blue America is now acutely aware that the political system in the United States is rigged by gerrymandering, voter suppression and the electoral college, and it is going to have to play dirty and do whatever it takes to regain power and prevent our nation from rushing headlong into decline. I believe it can prevail.

09 October 2017

Indigenous Peoples' Day

It is officially Indigenous Peoples' Day in Denver. (Accompanied by a snow storm and freezing temperatures following a 75 degree and sunny day yesterday.)

Some thoughts:

* Indigenous Peoples' Day was invented as a substitute for Columbus Day.

* Columbus Day, in turn, was an effort of the Knights of Columbus and Italian-Americans, generally, then a comparatively young and disadvantaged immigrant population and minority Roman Catholic religious population, to gain a focus for their "tribes." Since then, white Roman Catholics, generally, and Italian-Americans, in particular, have increasingly come to identify as white Americans rather than identifying strongly with their particular national origin, as they have assimilated over roughly a hundred years since the main wave of Italian immigration to the United States. 

* The indigenous population of the Americas collapsed more than 90% following the arrival of Columbus in 1492 CE, as a proximate result of the arrival of Columbus and his crew. 

* Most of that decline was due to the arrival of Old World diseases that people in the New World did not have resistance to, a result that no one could have anticipated at the time and that Columbus, his crew, and subsequent waves of Old World colonists did not fully understand. In what would become Mexico, the primary cause determined from examining bodies in mass graves dug when the population was collapsing, was a virulent strain of salmonella. In North America, a couple of centuries later, small pox was the main culprit. The germ theory of disease would not be widely accepted for centuries and wouldn't even be proposed for another half a century.

* There was a spread of new diseases from the New World to the Old World, most notably, syphilis, which Columbus's crew brought back to Europe with them. But, it wasn't proportionate.

* This isn't to say that early European visitors to the New World treated the indigenous population well or in good faith. They leveraged the advantage they obtained from massive disease deaths to conquer indigenous populations. The harm caused by forced relocation and loss of land was far worse than the actual battle deaths in the "Indian Wars" as the U.S. military defines them.

* It is hard to argue that what indigenous people in the United States have ended up with ca. 2017, is a raw deal.

* This has left a lot of distrust, with the consequence that Native American populations in the U.S. have largely refused to cooperate with efforts to document their populations and heritage with DNA tests of contemporary populations and with ancient DNA, in a loss to science that can't fully be restored if Native American populations embrace these efforts to discern their heritage later on.

* Some of the most despised efforts, like forcible boarding schools for Native American populations designed to assimilate them into modern U.S. culture, erased cultural ties and destroyed families, while simultaneously producing the greatest levels of conventional socio-economic success for their alumni compared to people who grew up in reservations.

* Historically, the Native American criminal justice system has erred on the side of under enforcement of Indian on Indian crime, rather than by being too harsh.

* Sovereignty hasn't been used in a very economically advantageous manner by Indian Nations with reservations. Casino gambling, tax dodges and acceptance of toxic and nuclear waste dumping sites have been some of the main economic uses to which it has been put. Reservations are often too small, to poor in land quality, and too removed from the traditional territories of their inhabitants, to make continued use of traditional subsistence living viable economically.

06 October 2017

Quote Of The Day Regarding Modern India

[H]ow about there being no state called “India” in the past and that India is really a modern nation state? I think this holds a lot more water than most people (Indians) realize. India is a modern nation-state, and its political culture differs from what came before in very important ways. E.g. there’s no denying the fact that India never had any culture of universal adult franchise before, or never before in India was an exercise in active, top-down social engineering been attempted (cf. caste reservations for the uninitiated), or women given legally equal status as men, or the existence of a single federal state unifying everything from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to Ladakh etc. These laws and the culture that animates them are thoroughly unIndian in provenance. To a guy from, say, the Gupta Empire modern India would therefore be politically foreign, revolting and fascinating in equal measure.
From Brown Pundits.

05 October 2017

MBAs v. Lawyers Quote Of The Day

Amazon.com Inc. is hiring 1,000 MBAs a year
Tech companies, once averse to hiring PowerPoint-loving B-school grads, have embraced them in the past few years. Ms. Park said business students understand Amazon’s customer-obsessed ethos and tend to be “risk oriented,” scrappy and analytical. 
One might question whether an MBA is likely to be "scrappier" than someone who didn't spend $100,000 on an MBA, or more "analytical" than a computer scientist, but certainly "risk oriented" is a standard descriptor. Going to business school is a fairly safe, conventional, keep-your-options-open career move, and so the stereotype is that MBAs tend to be fairly risk-averse. Not risk-averse like law students -- no one's as risk-averse as law students -- but, compared to a college dropout starting a company in her garage, you'd expect an MBA to be a bit more cautious, a bit less likely to "move fast and break things." And that is a big part of why tech companies were once averse to hiring them: If your goal is to disrupt the status quo, why hire someone who has spent her life trying to fit into it? 
But as "tech" has eaten the world, that mindset has changed, or at least diversified. Amazon is a disruptive force in many ways, but it is also a $464 billion market-cap company that is the dominant retailer of many products. There are plenty of startups in garages that still want to move fast and break things and disrupt the status quo, but Amazon is the status quo, and it doesn't necessarily want to break any of the things that have made it so gigantic and successful. So it brings in the MBAs.
From here.

04 October 2017

Fun With What3Words

My office (not just my office suite, by my personal office) is located at task.people.transmitted on the 20th floor according to the What3Words system for identifying locations in lieu of latitude and longitude, which is really pretty darned cool.

The Gifted

The new Fox TV series, "The Gifted", an X-Men spin-off whose pilot aired on Monday, is remarkably good. It captures the zeitgeist of our era.  (I streamed it the day after. I don't have cable or satellite TV or a working antenna to get broadcast TV.)

The premier was sandwiched between oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court on two cases addressing how the law treats undocumented immigrants, the same day that the U.S. joined countries like Saudi Arabia to vote at the U.N. against condemning the death penalty for LGBT people just for being gay, and as the President tries to secure funds for a border wall with Mexico. 

It deals with how a tiny minority of mutants is bullied, treated inhumanely by authorities, detained and mistreated in detention, singled out, and often forced to live underground. Mutants and their families cross the border with Mexico illegally, to get into Mexico where life is better for them.

One of the issues discussed in the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday was the plight of pregnant women in immigration detention while facing deportation, and one of the mutant detainees in the series is pregnant.

It imagines a public distressed by dramatic incidents of mutants out of control uses of their powers that police are ill suited to respond to, the day after the biggest gun massacre in modern times takes place in Las Vegas.

In an era where the military and to a lesser extent police, are turning to use drones for reconnaissance and armed with weapons, the protagonists experience what it is like to have to flee for their lives from drones.

The ensemble script allows many promising actors who work well together to shine without requiring a single star to carry the entire show.

While it is a spin-off of the X-Men in the X-Men universe, it is decidedly not an "X-Men" themed production. The X-Men themselves disappeared a number of years ago in this reality. These mutants are not using their powers to change the world as comic book superheroes. Instead, they are merely to survive in a world that fears them. Their powers protect family members and friends, rather than putting arch-villains in their place.

One curious feature of the show, driven purely by a chase after state film agency subsidies, is that the show is set in greater Atlanta, but is filmed in Texas.

TANF Block Grants Were A Failure

Look at what happened with welfare, or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which was turned into a fixed block grant to the states during the Clinton administration and has become a Republican exemplar of the efficiency argument ever since. “In 1996, we block-granted money for welfare reform, and it worked like a charm,” Graham said at a news conference this month, making the case for his health-care legislation. “We put governors in charge of the program. We held them accountable.” 
But the welfare rolls shrank mostly because states kicked people off of the program, not because the program got more effective and efficient. An initiative that used to cover 68 of every 100 families in poverty now reaches just 23 of every 100 with cash benefits, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found. Plus, given more flexibility and authority, states started using the money for initiatives other than cash benefits for poor mothers, such as early-childhood education and job training. That led to wide state-by-state differences in program outcomes. California covers 65 out of every 100 families in poverty with cash benefits under TANF, for instance, while Louisiana covers just four. 
From The Atlantic.

It also notes that Social Security and the IRS are both extremely efficient at what they do compared to either the states or other countries.

03 October 2017

The Platte River Basin

Denver is a part of the Platte River basin that in turn feeds into the Mississippi River basin (other parts of Colorado are sources for many of the other major U.S. river basins). The Platte River basin is part of the Louisiana Territory as the French had claimed the entire Mississippi River basin as their own. The territory of Colorado that is west of the Continental Divide and much of Southern Colorado, in contrast, was not part of the Louisiana territory. Much of that territory was part of "Old Mexico".

Here is a nice map of that river basin via a Facebook post by John Orr whose blog is Coyote Gulch.


30 September 2017

How Many People Have Been Convicted Of Felonies In The U.S.?


New research on the growth in the scope and scale of felony convictions finds that, as of 2010, 3 percent of the total US population and 15 percent of the African-American male population have served time in prison. People with felony convictions more broadly account for 8 percent of the overall population and 33 percent of the African-American male population. . . . The study estimates that as of 2010 there were 19 million people in the U.S. that have a felony record, including those who have been to prison, jail or on felony probation.
From Science Daily.

The paper is:

Sarah K. S. Shannon, Christopher Uggen, Jason Schnittker, Melissa Thompson, Sara Wakefield, Michael Massoglia. "The Growth, Scope, and Spatial Distribution of People With Felony Records in the United States, 1948–2010." Demography (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s13524-017-0611-1

27 September 2017

Trump Is Finally Rolling Out A Tax Proposal

I have a personal interest in having some clue about what kind of tax policies may be considered or adopted by the Trump administration. I'll be part of a national panel discussing it in early December and have to get my materials in order for that talk in a month. So far, there have been some trial balloons that have mostly fizzled (deservedly), but no real comprehensive proposal, until today.

Now, the New York Times (quoted where indicated by block quotes below) has cribbed the "United Framework For Fixing Our Broken Tax Code" that his Treasury Secretary, a top economic advisor, and half a dozen influential members of Congress have been hammering out behind the scenes for weeks. This process, which kept politically savvy wonks in the room and Trump and his close cronies out of it, has produced the kind of Republican establishment tax reform proposal you'd expect from central casting.

This is a much less radical change than the repeal and replace proposal for Obamacare, so it isn't unthinkable that Republicans will be able to hold together their coalition and get some version of this legislation passed, possibly with some modest Democratic support in exchange for some modest tweaks to the proposals and reductions in the bottom line revenue reductions.

The major substantive points floated at this time are as follows:

THE PRICE TAG:
Members of the Senate Budget Committee have agreed on a budget resolution that would allow for a $1.5 trillion tax cut over 10 years. Studies of similar plans produced by Mr. Trump and House Republicans have been projected to cost $3 trillion to $7 trillion over a decade.

A preliminary estimate from the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that the policies in the framework would cost between $2 trillion to $2.5 trillion over a decade.
The administration is trying, contrary to all econometric evidence to argue that much of the cost of the cuts will be paid for with increased revenues created by economic growth at an unrealistic sustained 4% per annum.

In fact, there is very little in the proposal for which there is any track record of stimulating economic growth when similar measures were adopted in the past. Empirically, economic growth is associated with higher top marginal tax rates, not lower ones, and the core feature of the plan is to lower top marginal tax rates.

Republicans probably don't have the votes to pass the legislation unless they can reduce the projected revenue losses to at least the Senate Budget Committee proposal levels, for example, by keeping the 39.6% tax bracket, perhaps with a higher income cutoff, and by making capital gains accrued at death immediately taxable for liquid assets.

INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAXATION:
[T]he plan would collapse the tax brackets from seven to three, with tax rates of 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent, administration officials said. The current top rate is 39.6 percent and the lowest rate is 10 percent. The framework also gives Congress the option of creating a higher, fourth, rate above 35 percent to ensure that the rich are paying their fair share.
The alternative minimum tax would be repealed. The standard deduction would double to $12,000 for individuals and to $24,000 for married couples.
It would also increase the child tax credit from $1,000 to an unspecified amount and create a new $500 tax credit for dependents, such as the elderly, who are not children.
It isn't clear whether the earned income tax credit (EITC) would survive. If not, a significant number of working poor taxpayers will actually experience a tax increase, because they will continue to pay FICA taxes or self-employment taxes and won't be able to offset those taxes with the EITC.
Most itemized deductions, including those widely used for state and local tax expenses, would also be eliminated. However, the plan would preserve the deductions for mortgage interest expenses and charitable giving and keep incentives for education and retirement savings plans.
ESTATE TAXES:

The estate tax and generation skipping transfer tax would be repealed. The future of the gift tax is not expressly mentioned, but presumably it would be repealed as well.

BUSINESS TAXES:
The proposal calls for reducing the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent[.] 
A new tax rate would be created for so-called pass-through businesses. These businesses, partnerships and sole proprietorships whose profits “pass through” to their owners, would be taxed at a [maximum] rate of 25 percent, not the individual rate of their owners, like under the current law. 
It will be left to Congress to create safeguards that prevent wealthy individuals from incorporating as pass-through businesses, which would tax their income at a lower rate. Another administration official insisted that measures would be put in place so that there are not “games played” in this regard.
This includes sole proprietorship income. Interest deductions for pass-through businesses might also be limited. 

In practice, preventing "games played" is exceedingly difficult in the proposed framework and the nature of the tax code provisions put in place to prevent revenue from flowing to pass through entities to escape higher tax rates will have a huge impact on the proposal's revenue impact. Much of existing corporate tax law exists precisely to prevent this kind of tax base leakage with only modest success.
Another big change for companies would be a limitation of the deductibility for corporate interest expenses in exchange for the opportunity to immediately expense business investments. The ability to write these expenses off immediately would last only five years, and the limitations for deducting interest have yet to be determined. . . .
Section 199 treatment of "domestic manufacturing" income would end.
The plan also calls on the tax committees to eliminate most of the tax credits that businesses currently use. Among those that would remain are the prized tax credit for research and development and the low-income-housing credit[.]
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TAXATION:

Currently U.S. individuals and businesses are taxed on their worldwide income less a credit for taxes paid abroad on foreign income and an exclusion for certain wage and salary income earned abroad. This would be replaced by a "territorial tax system". 
In theory this means that companies would not be taxed on their overseas earnings, but to prevent erosion of the tax base, Republicans plan to impose some form of tax on foreign profits at a rate that has yet to be determined. 
The transition to the new system would also include a one-time repatriation tax to encourage companies to bring offshore profits back to the United States. There would be different repatriation rates for different types of assets, but as with many parts of the proposal, the rates would be up to Congress to decide.
It isn't clear how the IRS will continue to tax income from easily moveable intangible assets of big businesses like intellectual property rights, investment income, controlled life insurance companies, and the like.

NOT MENTIONED:

The New York Times account does not address some other critical questions that could emerge as the details are worked out.

* Will the tax treatment of capital gains change in any way, in terms of special rates, treatment at death, or other policies favorable to capital gains income?

* Will special treatment for "qualified dividends" of corporations change?

* Will the pass-through taxation rate apply to income earned by trusts and estates?

* How will health insurance benefits (especially for the self-employed) be taxed?

* Will the taxes that fund the Obamacare subsidies be repealed?

A Narrative To Understand STD Statistics

This year, just like every year in recent memory, the nation's STD statistics for 2016 tell basically the same story. This post seeks to make sense of these statistics with a somewhat oversimplified narrative, some links of which are very well documented, and others of which are merely the most plausible explanations of the data.

Some Facts

* African-Americans experience STDs at the highest rate followed by Native Americans (including Native Hawaiians), followed by Hispanics, for pretty much every STD. White and Asians have the lowest rates. Often, but not always, people with more than one race tend to track the lower risk populations.

* HPV infections, which can sometimes cause cervical cancer, but is otherwise non-symptomatic is about 4.5 times as common as the next most common form of STD, chlamydia. STD rates in black teens were almost two and a half times as great as in white and Mexican-American teens in a Denver based study.

* According to the same Denver based study, STD rates are also more than four times higher in teens who are incarcerated in juvenile detention facilities than in those who are not.

Chlamydia, at 1.6 million case a year in the U.S. is much more common than gonorrhea at 469,000 cases as year, which in turn is much more common that syphilis at 27,814 cases per year. All three  of these STDS can be cured with antibiotics if caught soon enough and if the strains are not antibiotic resistant, but syphilis is much more serious a health risk than chlamydia or gonorrhea. Many other serious STDs like AIDs (caused by HIV infection) and hepatitis cannot be cured by antibiotics and are also more rare than gonorrhea. About two-thirds of chlamydia cases affect women, while gonorrhea affects about 40% more men than women. Antimicrobial-resistant gonorrhea is much more common in men who have sex with men than in the general population.

* About half of male chlamydia cases (about 16% of the total) involve men who have sex with men (somewhat less than half in men aged 24 and younger and more than half in men 25 and older with MSM predominant among male chlamydia sufferers in men 40 years old and older). The sample used, however, is not fully representative.

* About 45% of gonorrhea cases involve men who have sex with men, although there is considerable regional variation in this figure (for example, the percentage is, unsurprisingly, highest in San Francisco) and the sample used is not fully representative.

* Syphilis is predominantly experienced by men (about 88% of all cases). About 80% of the men with syphilis (and about 70% of all people with syphilis) are "men who have sex with men" (MSM) and are disproportionately black and Hispanic. About 47% of syphilis sufferers are also HIV positive.
MSM accounted for 80.6% of male P&S syphilis cases with information about sex of sex partners in 2016. Of MSM P&S syphilis cases, 36.8% were White, 29.1% were Black, and 24.0% were Hispanic. Relative to the percentage of the US population that is White (62.3%), Black (12.3%), and Hispanic (17.1%), this represents a significant inequality in the burden of disease for non-White MSM, which was also evident among MSW and women. In addition, among MSM P&S syphilis cases with known HIV status in 2016, 47.0% were also reported to be HIV-positive.
While the report doesn't otherwise discuss HIV or other serious STDs like hepatitis, these infections follow a similar pattern.

* There are about 37,600 new HIV infections each year in the U.S. and the vast majority of those cases involve men who have sex with men, injection drug users, and their black and Hispanic female partners and children. Of them, 27,577 (73% of new HIV infections) are men who have sex with men (of whom only about 7,570 are white MSM).

* Among women, there are about 980 new HIV cases from injection drug use and 6,391 new cases from heterosexual contact (mostly with men in high risk categories) each year. These involve 5,152 black or Hispanic women, 968 white women and about 1,251 women of other races and ethnicities.

* Among men who are not MSM, there are about 1,412 new HIV cases from injection drug use and 2,948 new cases from heterosexual contact each year. These involve about 1,926 black men and 2,334 men of other races or ethnicities (a bit less than 2,000 of whom are white).

* About 117 new HIV cases each year involve blood based transmission (including 34 children) and about 86 new cases each year are present at birth.

* About 1.1 million people in the U.S. have HIV and about 1 in 7 of them don't know that they do.

A Narrative To Explain The Facts

Non-gay, non-bisexual men who have sex with men, and many women and children with STDs

One key to understanding the statistics is that lots of "men who have sex with men", especially black, Hispanic and Native American men who have sex with men, are not gay or bisexual in the usual sense of having a natural sexual attraction to and sexual preference for other men relative to women.

Instead, a large share of MSMs in the United States are men who had sex with other men (at least initially) in jail or prison while incarcerated, despite being primarily or predominantly sexually attracted to women. Often, those sexual interactions involve prison rape, pure and simple, by leaders of the prison gang hierarchy who choose to have sex with men as a second best substitute to sex with women against victims who are at the bottom of the prison hierarchy and have no choice. Sometimes, the pressure for non-gay, non-bisexual men to serve leaders of the prison gang hierarchy is not physical force, but the threat of force or the promise of reward in a prison's crude barter economy.

Caveat: This hypothesis is not a great match to direct survey data of the general public, but given the sensitivity of a subject like same sex prison rape, it isn't unreasonable to think that the most plausible inferences from STD diagnosis based data collected by treating medical professionals is likely to be more reliable than random survey data collected by government bureaucrats or contractors hired on their behalf. Also, the percentage of men who admit to having sex with other men is significantly higher than the percentage of men who identify as gay, and the transmission rate of STDs from black men who have sex with men to black women appears to be significantly higher than for white men.

(Black and Hispanic men are also overrepresented in the military were long periods of time without access to female sexual partners is common. It isn't clear to what extent male service members have sex with men despite not having a predominantly gay or bisexual sexual orientation. No epidemiological studies of which I am aware identify military veterans as a population with above average risk, but that could be because the risks faced by veterans who are men who have have had sex with men is fully captured by the MSM risk factor, discouraging further investigation.)

A significant share of the women with syphilis and HIV are sexual partners of ex-cons who are infected when they have sex with their men after they are released.

Injection drug users who share needles spread these diseases from infected people to other men and women who are injection drug users and their sexual partners, as well providing an important source of STD infections to prison populations full of injection drug users who then end up being men who have sex with men.

Infants born with these STDs have mothers with STDS who tend to be partners of ex-cons, to be injection drug users, and/or to be partners of injection drug users.

Gay and bisexual men, especially if they are black, Hispanic or Native American

Certainly, STD rates are also much higher among genuinely gay and bisexual men who have sex with men than in other populations. There are several factors that drive this trend.

This is in part because a fairly high baseline rates of infection with STDs including AIDs were spread throughout the community of gay men before the threat was recognized (it was first recognized as a disease in 1981 but arrived around 1969) and before these conditions spread widely among straight men who weren't drug users and hadn't been in prison. But, greater awareness of the threat led to more careful efforts to avoid infection before a high baseline rate of infection was established in heterosexual community. (In contrast, in Africa, where AIDS originated, a high baseline rate of HIV infection was established in the heterosexual population before there was a widespread awareness of the risk.)

This is in part because gay and bisexual men have probably historically been less monogamous than men who have sex with women only, bisexual women and lesbians. Greater cultural acceptance of gay men and the legalization of same sex marriage may change this situation.

This is also because gay and bisexual men, not being concerned about pregnancy, use barrier contraception at lower rates than men who have sex with women (and this was true to a much higher degree before there was widespread awareness of the HIV threat), and also because anal sex is probably a more efficient transmitter of STDs than vaginal sex or lesbian sex, and because barrier contraception (i.e. condoms) are more likely to fail in anal sex involving men than in the vaginal sex involving a man and a woman for which they were primarily designed.

This is in part because men infected in prison after having had sex with other men, offer sex to other men who were not prison inmates as male prostitutes or as "survival sex" once they are out of prison because their economic prospects are bleak. This option can be more important percentage-wise for gay and bisexual men seeking sex with men because there are a lot fewer gay and bisexual men out there than there are straight and bisexual women combined, and a lot of the gay and bisexual men in lots of places are closeted and thus hard to find as fully consensual partners. This is a particular risk for black and Hispanic gay and bisexual men who are more likely to have connection to former inmates, who are particularly scarce making resort to prostitutes and transitory partners more common, and who, on average, also have less adequate access to health care that could cure these infections and could interrupt their spread.

Conclusions

The bad news is that government mismanagement of correctional institutions is responsible for a major public health threat from serious STDs that disproportionately harms black, Hispanic, Native American, gay and bisexual men.

The good news is that the government has a great capacity, should it choose to put its mind to it, to reform how it manages jails and prisons, and how it provides health care to inmates and former inmates that is pertinent to controlling the public health risk from STDs. For example, STD testing and treatment for inmates who are incarcerated and those approaching their release dates should be routine. The government also has considerable capacity to reduce incarceration rates which would greatly reduce the share of the population exposed to these extremely high STD risk experiences.

The government also has a great capacity, proven in other countries, to reduce the spread of serious STDs through the exchange of needles by injection drug users.

So, two of the principle means by which the most serious STDs are spread in the United States are very amenable to correction through public policy changes. 

Also, the fairly distinct populations at highest risk of serious STDs are quite manageable targets for public relations campaigns raising awareness of the risks and the means by which those risks can be mitigated, if there is the political will to spread those messages (something that can be done in the private sector as well as by government).

It is also the case that the risk of STDs (and especially of serious STDs like syphilis, antibiotic resistant gonorrhea and HIV) to white and Asian people who are heterosexual men and women, lesbians, and bisexual women, who don't have ex-cons or injection drug users or men who have sex with men of any type in their intimate social circles (collectively, the lion's share of the U.S. population), face risks of STDs (and especially risks of serious STDs) that is much lower than one would expect knowing only the overall averages. The current situation is much better than it was historically when STDs spread by heterosexual prostitutes particular to military service members were a much more serious problem.

The downside of the fairly focused risk group for serious STDs, however, is that it makes mobilizing the political will to change the situation very difficult, particularly because those most affected tend to have particularly little political clout.

26 September 2017

Puerto Rico and Maria

Puerto Rico, which was already in fiscal crisis, has been devastated by Hurricane Maria.

What should be done?

Should large numbers of Puerto Ricans, at least temporarily, relocate to the mainline during the rebuilding period as many people from New Orleans and the vicinity did after Hurricane Katrina? 

A fair number of NOLA refugees were gone for good, permanently reducing the population of the city and the state of Louisiana. Does that make sense for Puerto Rico?

If not (or in any case for those who do not leave), how can the privation existing on the island be mitigated much more quickly than it is being mitigated right now? 

Should we be taking this opportunity to rebuild in a manner that is more resistant to Hurricane damages knowing that climate change makes the hurricane risk going forward higher than it has been historically?

For example, are there ways to rebuild the electrical and communications grid more robustly? How can the water supply system be made more hurricane-proof? Are there ways to make its dams less at risk of failure? Should building codes be enforced strictly now despite the shortage of inspectors, limited resources for construction, and need for rapid rebuilding work that works at odds with dealing with the current crisis? Should roads be rebuilt more sturdily, or does it make more sense to acknowledge that some infrastructure will be regularly destroyed by weather than invent only an amount that reflects its shorter than average useful life? Do there need to be better shelters in place? 

Remarkably the death toll in Puerto Rico seems to have been pretty modest for the scale of the disaster although we may not yet know everything yet since communications are still down across the island.

Are there places in Puerto Rico that are "stupid zones" that shouldn't be rebuilt (at least not with government flood insurance, etc.)?

Also:
Worse yet, the island has about $123 billion in debt and pension obligations, compared with a gross domestic product of slightly more than $100 billion, a number that is sure to fall. In the last decade, the island has lost about 9 percent of its population, including many ambitious and talented individuals. In the past 20 years, Puerto Rico’s labor force shrank by about 20 percent, with the health-care sector being especially hard hit. The population of children under 5 has fallen 37 percent since 2000, and Puerto Rico has more of its population over 60 than any U.S. state.
Via Marginal Revolution.

Maybe migration to the mainland that was already underway will simply be sped up by Maria.

Property Crime Down For 14th Straight Year In U.S.

The News
The estimated number of violent crimes in the nation increased for the second straight year, rising 4.1 percent in 2016 when compared with 2015 data, according to FBI figures released today. Property crimes dropped 1.3 percent, marking the 14th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined. 
The 2016 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 386.3 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the estimated rate of property crime was 2,450.7 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The violent crime rate rose 3.4 percent compared with the 2015 rate, and the property crime rate declined 2.0 percent.
From the FBI relying on Table 1 of the report for which this is a press release.

Property Crime

Property crimes rates per 100,000 people have decreased steadily for 15 years from 2001 to 2016, the most recent year for which data is available (one more year than the number of years the raw number of property crimes has declined since from 2001 to 2002 in increase in crime incidents was overshadowed by an increase in population).

The 2001, property crime rate per 100,000 people was 3,658.1 while in 2001 it was 2,450.7, a decline of 33% in 15 years.

Also, the 2000 to 2001 slight increase in the property crime rate was only a minor blip in a longer term downward trend. In 1997, the property crime rat per 100,000 people was 4,316.3. The 2016 property crime rate is 43% lower than it was in 1997.

Looking at sub-components of property crime:

* The burglary rate is down 49% from 1997 to 2016.

* The larceny rate is down 40% from 1997 to 2016.

* The motor vehicle theft rate is down 53% from 1997 to 2016 despite increasing from 2014 to 2016. The peak decline the motor vehicle theft rate in 2014 from 1997 was 57%. Some of this increase in excess of overall crime rate reductions may reflect technology that makes it harder to steal cars.

Burglaries and motor vehicle theft (and robberies) all net a greater average value of property stolen than simple larceny, so it is increasingly hard to earn income from property crime.

It seems plausible to me that some of the decline in the larceny rate may reflect decreased reporting as the value of tangible personal property has fallen relative to other forms of spending. Stuff that can be stolen is cheaper than it used to be and may not be worth reporting as stolen.

Violent Crime

The violent crime rate in 1997 per 100,000 people was 611.0. The 2016 violent crime rate of 386.3 per 100,000 people is 37% below the rate in 1997.

The violent crime rate hit its lowest recent point in 2014 at 361.6 per 100,000 people (41% below the peak). The violent crime rate in 2016 was about 7% above the low point.

* The robbery rate is down 45% from 1997 to 2016 and increased only 1.5% since its 2014 low point.

The 538 blog looks at the trends in murder rates, an analysis summed up in this chart:



It also notes that declines since a peak around 1991 (25 years ago) have been even greater. Robbery, burglary and auto theft (all of which are big ticket property crimes) are all down more than 62% since 1991. Murder, rape, aggravated assault and ordinary theft have fallen less strongly.

538 also offers some insights on non-index crime drug law enforcement trends:



Incarceration Rates Compared

Historically, incarceration rates soared between 1974 and 1994 (more than ten-fold over twenty years), and then continued to rise more modestly until the peaked in the period from 1994 to 2006 (about 20% over 12 years). Since 2006 incarceration rates have declined by about 11% over a decade from the peak incarceration rate.

In 2015, there were 1,476,847 people in state and federal prisons for a U.S. population of 320,896,618, a rate of 460 per 100,000 people.

In 1997, there were about 1,350,000 people in state and federal prisons for a U.S. population of 267,783,607, a rate of about 504 per 100,000 people.

At the peak raw number of people in state and federal prisons in 2006 of about 1,550,000 in state and federal prisons, when the population was 299,398,484, the rate was about 518 per 100,000 people.

Thus, during ten years during which the rate at which people were incarcerated in state and federal prisons has fallen, property crimes rates have continued to fall steadily and violent crime rates fell for eight of those ten years.

More on incarceration and crime in a Marginal Revolution post that reports a report that the marginal crime reduction from more incarceration in the U.S. has hit zero or might even be negative.

Analysis

Good News

While a couple of years of increases in violent crimes in the last two years (which other evidence suggests is mostly confined to a handful of cities) is not good news and generally speaking, we care more about violent crime than property crime, the twenty year trend in U.S. crime rates is still remarkable positive.

Mostly A Common Trend

Despite the fact that property crime rates and violent crime rates don't exactly track each other, the trends are close enough to each other (37% v. 43% over a decade) to infer that most of the decline in crime rates has a common source (also robbery, which is classified as a violent crime and makes up about 25% of the violent crime total, is also a crime that involves property).

Some of this is due to a shrinking "crime age" population as a share of the total population, but that is a pretty modest share of the total decline. Abortion rates and less lead pollution have also been credited with a targeted decline in the "at risk" crime age population, and these factors could credibly account for a larger share of the total although also certainly not all of it.

Teens Are Also Better Behaved

It also comes at a time when teen pregnancy, alcohol use and drug use are all at record lows. Fewer teens are dropping out of high school and more are going to college.

Adult Blue Collar Men Despair 

Opiate abuse (with overdose deaths), alcohol abuse, disabilities at younger ages and suicide are all up for blue collar adult men, but this apparently hasn't translated into higher crime, although an examination of the state specific data might cast more light on why other forms of despair don't seem to have produced much more crime.

Drunk driving (and traffic deaths generally), however, is down significantly.

The Economy Has Improved In The Long Run

There has been economic growth over the last 20 years, although a minor (2001) and a severe (2008) recession along the way didn't seem to increase crime rates, and most of the benefits of that economic growth has accrued to the wealthy who were already committing crimes at very low rate. Increased economic inequality has apparently not increased crime.

Incarceration Compared

It has happened despite declining rates of incarceration in state and federal prisons.

Incarceration rates have fallen much more slowly than crime rates, however. Crime rates were decreasing significantly from 1997 to 2006, while incarceration rates continued to rise. Crime rates have fallen much faster than incarceration rates since 2006.

Admittedly, incarceration is a lagging indicator, but we are now at 1970s crime rates, but we have early 1990s incarceration rates, and an average prison sentence is only several years. Sentences for crimes continued to get longer even as crime rates fell.

It is entirely possible that we incarcerated too few people in the 1970s thereby exposing the public to people who posed a high crime risk (although why were crime rates so low with so few people incarcerated in that case?). But, we are almost certainly incarcerating too many people now with the highest (or nearly the highest) incarceration rate in the world and a ratio of crime rates to incarceration rates that continues to increase.

We are getting less bang for our buck from longer sentences now because early on, longer sentences put away people who would have been released before "aging out" of the high crime age bracket, while now lots of people sentences to long sentences long ago have aged out and represent a much more modest threat to the public than they did earlier, but are still incarcerated.

Deinstitutionalization

Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill was one major factor that coincided with a rise in incarceration. The number of people in inpatient mental health care fell by something like 900,000 while the number of people now under criminal justice system supervision is about 800,000.

Medical Care

Improved medical care could explain part of the decline in the murder rate, but not the decline in other kinds of violent crimes that has happened at the same time.

Has This Reduced Property Insurance Rates?

While it is a question for another day, it doesn't seem that property insurance rates have fallen despite the dramatic decline in property crimes. Perhaps crime is a very minor factor in property insurance claims relative to accidental damage to property (e.g. from storms and fires) and perhaps inflation overstates the relative property insurance amounts in real dollar terms. But, it is worth looking into at some point.

Vera Says Vive La Difference!

A guide to the 2016 FBI statistics from the Vera Institute emphasizes variation in crime rates from place to place with "hyper-local" problems driving the trends this year.

UPDATE October 9, 2017:

A Longer Term Perspective

These data points can be integrated with longer term crime data. This suggests that as of 2009, we were at a 100 year low in crime rates in the U.S., and probably lower than any earlier period in United States history. So, the crime rate in 2014 may be the lowest of all time in the United States.

25 September 2017

Reinventing The Wheel

A study analyzing crime data in Philadelphia for 10 years found that rates of violent crime and disorderly conduct are higher when the weather is warmer and more pleasant, even rising sharply during warmer-than-typical winter days.
From here.

This finding would be much more impressive if it weren't for the fact that this conclusion was considered to be established enough to put in the Social Psychology textbook that one of my parents used in college, sometime at least 50 years ago. It is nice that the finding replicates, but the press release breathlessly reports it as if it is something new under the sun. The paper is:

Leah H. Schinasi, Ghassan B. Hamra. "A Time Series Analysis of Associations between Daily Temperature and Crime Events in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania." Journal of Urban Health (2017); DOI: 10.1007/s11524-017-0181-y

Gene Therapy Cures MS In Mice

An experimental gene therapy has cured MS in mice.

The paper is:

Geoffrey D. Keeler, Sandeep Kumar, Brett Palaschak, Emily L. Silverberg, David M. Markusic, Noah T. Jones, Brad E. Hoffman. "Gene Therapy-Induced Antigen-Specific Tregs Inhibit Neuro-inflammation and Reverse Disease in a Mouse Model of Multiple Sclerosis." Molecular Therapy (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.ymthe.2017.09.001

22 September 2017

The Little Known Tort Of Harming Others With A False Tax Return

It isn't every day that I discover a new tort after having practiced law for more than twenty years. So, it bears mentioning. I've been aware of the underlying improper tactic for a long time, but didn't know about the statutory remedy for it until now. The basic concern is that you can cause a tax mess for someone if you create a Form 1099 or K-1 which you issue to someone to them saying that they have earned income when they haven't, and there are very few limits on creating a 1099 or K-1 in the first place. 
[Internal Revenue Code] Section 7434(a) provides: “If any person willfully files a fraudulent information return with respect to payments purported to be made to any other person, such other person may bring a civil action for damages against the person so filing such a return.” . . . 
[There is a] surprisingly large amount of case law on this section to address a variety of common issues that arise in these lawsuits. For a good overview of these issues see Stephen's useful blog post here.
From TaxProf Blog.

20 September 2017

The Marshmallow Test Results Have Improved Over Time

Children, on average, are significantly better at delaying gratification in the "marshmallow test" than they were 50 years ago. The abstract of the new paper is as follows:
Have children gotten worse at their ability to delay gratification? We analyze the past 50 years of data on the Marshmallow test of delay of gratification. Children must wait to get two preferred treats; if they cannot wait, they only get one. Duration for how long children can delay has been associated with a host of positive life outcomes. Here we provide the first evidence on whether children’s ability to delay gratification has truly been decreasing, as theories of technology or a culture of instant gratification have predicted. Before analyzing the data, we polled 260 experts in cognitive development, 84% of who believed kids these days are getting worse or are no different. Contrary to this prediction, kids these days are better able to delay gratification than they were in the past, corresponding to a fifth of a standard deviation increase in ability per decade. 
The magnitude of the change is comparable to that of the Flynn effect that was observed in the same time period, i.e. a secular increase in average IQ over time. As the introduction in the body text of the paper explains:
All cognitive abilities have undergone secular increases over the past century (Flynn, 1984). The increase generally runs between 2.3–3 points of overall intelligence per decade (around 1/5 of a standard deviation; Trahan et al., 2014).
The reason for this not known and this empirical result contradicts conventional wisdom in the field.

Some examinations of the Flynn effect have pointed to the improvements mostly coming from a reduction in the number of people scoring at the low end of IQ tests, rather than an improvement at the top, suggesting that a decline in developmental disabilities, perhaps due to better pre-natal care and reduced pollution (e.g. from lead exposure) or improved nutrition, could be a factor, which might also apply to the Marshmallow test improvements over time, even if the Marshmallow test implicates cognitive abilities orthogonal to IQ that involve different brain processes.

Notably, another mention of the related concept of "attention" has remained constant over time in a study comparing results in 1983 to those in 2012, despite increasing diagnosis of attention deficit disorder conditions.

UPDATE: The Marshmallow Test study may be seriously flawed. The truth may actually be  that  Marshmallow Test results are unchanged. Eliminating three very earlier outliers from 1968-1971 from the meta-analysis shows an unvarying trend line from 1971 to the present. The strong implication is that methodological flaws in the first few tests were not recognized and caused the time that children were willing to wait to be much shorter than in all subsequent replications of the study.

Thus, rather than supporting a Flynn effect for patience, it actually confirms the result that attention tests are unchanged in the similar time period which makes sense because the traits related to attention and the Marshmallow Test appear to be closely related (and also related to the Big Five personality trait "conscientiousness" and the trait known as "grit").