29 October 2010

Business, Deficit Still Better Than Under Bush


1. What was the average monthly private sector job growth in 2008, the final year of the Bush presidency, and what has it been so far in 2010?

2. What was the Federal deficit for the last fiscal year of the Bush presidency, and what was it for the first full fiscal year of the Obama presidency?

3. What was the stock market at on the last day of the Bush presidency? What is it at today? . . .


1. In 2008, we lost an average of 317,250 private sector jobs per month. In 2010, we have gained an average of 95,888 private sector jobs per month. That's a difference of nearly five million jobs between Bush's last year in office and President Obama's second year.

2. In FY2009, which began on September 1, 2008 and represents the Bush Administration's final budget, the budget deficit was $1.416 trillion. In FY2010, the first budget of the Obama Administration, the budget deficit was $1.291 trillion, a decline of $125 billion. . . .

3. On Bush's final day in office, the Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 closed at 7,949, 1,440, and 805, respectively. Today, as of 10:15AM Pacific, they are at 11,108, 2,512, and 1,183. That means since President Obama took office, the Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 have increased 40%, 74%, and 47%, respectively.

From here.

Unemployment To Be High In 2011

Historically, unemployment rates track economic growth rates over the previous year. If that trend holds, we need 3% annualized GDP growth simply to tread water at a 9.6% unemployment rate. Even a 5% annualized GDP growth rate leaves us at 8.7% unemployment. The consensus expectation is closer to the current rate of GDP growth, which is 2%. This could return us to 10% unemployment.

Reality is messier than a simple formula, of course. The changes vary by about +/- 1 percentage point from the predicted value, and unemployment rates tend to be sticky, rarely changing more than one percentage point per year in periods of moderately good or moderately bad economic growth. Also, the low changes in absolute unemployment rate percentage is partially a function of the change being from starting point unemployment numbers well under the current 9.6%, so GDP change may produce a bigger result.

Also, GDP has still not recovered to pre-recession levels. We are 0.8% below where we were when the recession started, and probably won't return to that point until early 2011.

Housing prices in Detroit have fallen to 1995 levels, in Las Vegas to 2000 levels, and in Denver to mid-2002 levels. Seattle and Portland, Oregon remain at 2005 levels (suggesting that they may yet have room to fall).

How Many People Are Rich (Rerun)?

The President and most Democrats propose a net worth minimum of $3.5 million for the estate tax. How many people have a net worth of over $3.5 million? About 300,000 according to the I.R.S.

This means that 99.9% of the people in the United States would have net worths that would not subject them to the estate tax under this proposal.

Do Ads Matter?

Seth Masket, a political scientist, is pretty typical of the profession in the tools he uses to make predictions about electoral outcomes and other political realities.

For example, he notes that Presidential approval ratings have little to do with legislative accomplishments and a lot to do with the state of the economy.

He is likewise skeptical that late breaking information should change his electoral predictions. He bases that prediction on Presidential approval ratings on Labor Day and nine month GDP growth rates at around the same time.

There are other models of electoral outcomes by political scientists, but most of them share of the common feature of giving little or no weight to the quality of the campaigning that goes on. They look at who controls the Presidency, how many seats controlled by each party usually vote for the other party, the number of open seats, whether it is a midterm or non-midterm election, voter registration changes since the last election, unemployment rates and similar factors.

Most political science models implicitly assume that the quality of campaign season rhetoric, the amount of money spent by 527s, the laws passed in the last couple of years, and so on, have a relatively modest effect on electoral outcomes.

If these models are basically right, then campaign finance regulation may not be that important because campaign ads purchased with that money may not have much of an impact on the outcome. It may be that money poured into races is caused by strong candidate support, rather than the other way around (as there is no doubt that winning candidates tend to have raised more money, and hence there is a correlation, even if there is not a strong line of causation, between campaign spending and electoral results).

Of course, most political science models also have high margins of error, and campaign finance may be the "God of the Gaps" that determines where in the range of possibilities outcomes end up.

But, there is lots of competition for that role. Late disclosure of key information can dramatically swing elections (e.g. the disclosure of Scott McInnis's plagerism just before the primary election). Candidate recruiting clearly matters as well - conservative districts won by Democrats, for example, are overwhelmingly won by conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Third party spoilers can also skew outcomes, something that is critical to Hickenlooper's lead this year and which was an important factor that helped elect Bill Clinton. Particularly back in the days when elections were conducted exclusively on election day, weather on the day of the election impacted turnout, often with decisive results. Newspaper endorsements and free media coverage play a part. Perhaps the stances that candidates take on issues and "foot in mouth moments" do matter somwhat.

To the extent that some or all of these factors matter, the share of the margin of error in political science models of electoral outcomes attributable to the actual conduct of the campaign shrinks.

This doesn't mean, of course, that spending doesn't matter at all. But, it does mean that if each candidate spends what they can raise in typical years, that the results more or less cancel out.

Put another way, theoretically, it is possible to distinguish between people who would vote that same way with or without campaign advertising and those who changed their vote because of campaign advertising. If the outcomes don't depend much upon campaign ads, then the number of people who changed their vote because of campaign advertising is presumably quite small. Thus, the amount of campaign spending per vote swung may be an order of magnitude or two more than the amount of campaign spending per vote cast. In dollar terms, this means that it may cost something on the order of a hundred dollars or more to change a single marginal vote.

If true, perhaps the immense amount of effort that goes into trying to make elections more fair via campaign finance regulation is mispent. For example, maybe offering pre-paid stamps on ballots and mandatory voter registration and all mail in ballots would have more impact at leveling the playing field at a comparable cost. Maybe allowing candidates to make brief statements in the "Blue Book" would counterbalance immense volumes of much more expensive campaigning. Maybe making election day a holiday would have a bigger impact.

In a constitutional order where we place a premium on the Freedom of Speech, especially in the political context, these alternatives are attractive, not just from a cost perspective, but because they don't regulate speech in the same way that campaign finance regulation does.

Of course, on the other hand, if campaign finance does indeed have a big impact and the prevailing political science models have more to do with convenience than accuracy, then perhaps greater regulation is in order.

28 October 2010

Dishonest Politicians And Those Who Believe Them

There are people who think that negative political ads are wrong. I'm not one of them. The most important things voters need to know about candidates are usually the bad things. We should know what's wrong with a candidate's policies and what personal failings a candidate has before we vote. It matters a lot more that voters make the right choice in races where there is something accurate and negative to say about one or both candidates than in one where both candidates are angels.

There are also people who think that too much money is spent on political campaigns. I'm not one of them. We spend far more money in our economy advertising soda and beer brands than we do on informing people about the people who want to lead our country for the next few years, and about the policy decisions that have been left for them to make at the ballot box. Moreover, we know that the average voter is woefully ill informed.

The trouble with the political campaign process in my mind is neither information that is too negative, nor too much information. It is information that isn't accurate enough.

The problem isn't a matter of mere isolated misstatements. It is a wholesale disconnect from reality at the core of the conservative electorate that makes up the Tea Party, adheres to conservative Christianity, makes up the Republican base, listens to talk radio, and watches Fox News.

You know who I mean.

These are the Birthers, who doubted that President Obama was born in the United States. These are the people who think that Iraq was connected to 9-11 or still believe that it had weapons of mass destruction. These are the climate change deniers. These are the people who push for abstinence based sex education even though overwhelming empirical evidence shows that it doesn't work. These are the people who think that states have a right to secede or defy federal law. These are the people who think that the U.S. Constitution was based on the Bible. These are the people who think that our schools ought to teach Creationism and Intelligent Design in biology class and teach the Bible as accurate history. These are the people who deny that the U.S. Constitution provides for the separation of church and state.

These are the people who think that illegal immigrants in the United States are more likely to commit crimes, when in fact, they are far less likely to do so. These are the people who think the government spends more money providing services to illegal immigrants than they pay in taxes, despite all evidence to the contrary. These are the people who think that thousands of non-citizens in Colorado are registering to vote despite knowing that they aren't eligible to vote and saying that they aren't citizens on voter registration forms.

These are the people who want to lower taxes and lower the national debt, without having any clue what that implies for government services. These are the people who think tax cuts increase government revenue, despite overwhelming empirical evidence that they don't, ever. These are the people who think middle class families pay estate taxes. These are the people who support Colorado Proposition 102 because they think pretrial services programs increase government spending, despite overwhelming empirical evidence that they save taxpayers immense sums of money. These are the people who support Colorado Propositions 60, 61 and 101 without having any clue what that does to our state budget. These are the people who think that the death penalty saves public money.

Maybe the leaders of the starve the beast ideology, like Doug Bruce and John Andrews, actually have some sense of the harm that their proposals do to government and simply have such a screwed up view of the world that they don't care. But, I don't believe that the people who listen to them and believe them do.

These are the people who love Medicare and Veteran's Administration health care, but are opposed to socialized medicine. These are the people who think that a mild tax incentive to encourage people to buy private health insurance is in the words of Colorado conservative figure John Andrews "central planning for one-sixth of the economy." These are the people who think that medical malpractice claims are an important reason that the cost of health care is soaring.

We don't turn people away from the polls for being ill informed. And, isolated, random, lack of knowledge doesn't do much harm. But, systematic denial of reality by 30% or so of the voting public puts a horrible burden on the mechanisms of democracy. Demagogues like Glenn Beck, who make it their business to delude as many people as possible for political gain, are despicable.

What is wrong with these people?

People have genuine, insurmountable disagreements in their values. I can understand and accept that. Our political process exists to adjudicate those disputes. But, there is a difference between political differences based on differences in values and political differences based on belief in lies that people have been actively fed and have grown accustomed to lapping up. Disagreements based on false facts aren't legitimate.

Democrats believe in the power of rationality and knowledge and honesty to produce good decisions. Perhaps they believe in these ideals, and in fairness in the process, too strongly for our political system. We are loathe to tap into the public's fears and emotions, even when that is what drives their decision making process. We're also too slow and ineffective at the process of calling out liars. We're unwilling to make up absurd "big lies" and stick to them for months and years on end.

There are fair minded, reality based Republicans out there. I've met them. But, they are a minority in their party these days. And, many of those Republicans who do have a clue and gain power in their party lack another trait that used to be the hallmark of their party. They don't know how to behave with civility. They don't know the meaning of the word responsibility.

There are cheap and dirty tricks too. Running TV ads discouraging Latinos to vote. Challenging voter registrations of people who know are probably legitimate voters. Accusing people of voting one way on legislation when they did the opposite. Giving money to third parties you hate just to take votes from your real opponent. Bringing lawsuits that you know don't have merit.

I don't think that the criminalization of politics is the solution. Enforcing criminal libel laws aren't going to make politics cleaner. The problem runs deeper than that. Tens of millions of people embrace a fantasy constitution, a fantasy reality, and a set of beliefs about how our economy and political system work that is just factually untrue. When tens of millions of people are running away from the truth as fast as they can, it is hardly surprising that they often make bad decisions. What does it take to wake them up? I don't know. But, it is troubling that so many seemingly normal people believe such strange, and more importantly untrue, things.

There is a cottage industry out there of people like Bell Curve co-author Charles Murray telling the "New Elite" that:

What sets the tea party apart from other observers of the New Elite is its hostility, rooted in the charge that elites are isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans.

Let me propose that those allegations have merit.

He makes a stalwart case that the New Elite is living in a cultural bubble:

Get into a conversation about television with members of the New Elite, and they can probably talk about a few trendy shows -- "Mad Men" now, "The Sopranos" a few years ago. But they haven't any idea who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right." They know who Oprah is, but they've never watched one of her shows from beginning to end.

Talk to them about sports, and you may get an animated discussion of yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but they are unlikely to know who Jimmie Johnson is (the really famous Jimmie Johnson, not the former Dallas Cowboys coach), and the acronym MMA means nothing to them.

They can talk about books endlessly, but they've never read a "Left Behind" novel (65 million copies sold) or a Harlequin romance (part of a genre with a core readership of 29 million Americans).

They take interesting vacations and can tell you all about a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada or an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor, but they wouldn't be caught dead in an RV or on a cruise ship (unless it was a small one going to the Galapagos). They have never heard of Branson, Mo.

There are so many quintessentially American things that few members of the New Elite have experienced. They probably haven't ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or lived for at least a year in a small town (college doesn't count) or in an urban neighborhood in which most of their neighbors did not have college degrees (gentrifying neighborhoods don't count). They are unlikely to have spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line (graduate school doesn't count) or to have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian. They are unlikely to have even visited a factory floor, let alone worked on one.

As John Andrews put it in an op-ed in last Sunday's Denver Post, quoting British historian Paul Johnson:

"Beware intellectuals. Not merely should they be kept away from power. They should be objects of suspicion when they offer collective advice." . . . The Tea Party movement is evidence of millions of Americans losing patience with the beneficent rule of enlightened experts that has been progressivism's holy grail since the days of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson[.]

Is it any surprise that this anti-intellectualism comes from someone claiming affiliation with Colorado Christian University in his byline?

These would be good arguments if they weren't arguing false inferences. Are the reality based liberal politicians the one who getting in the way of the interests of the average guy? No.

The very people who are claiming to be in touch with America's put upon working class are the very same people who are doing their damnedest to rob the working class blind, take away what government does that benefits them, repeal the regulations that protect them, and end almost all taxes that the "New Elite" pays on their wealth. It is rank exploitation. It is a P.T. Barnum ("There's a sucker born every minute") attitude towards the the average man.

Progressive policy wonks can come up short when it comes to getting a message across to the average guy. Al Gore was the quintessential example of that. But, their hearts are pure, and their competent. They're trying to do the right thing and putting all the accumulated knowledge at our disposal to work figuring out what is the right thing to do, unlike the average Republican politician who thinks that what the only lesson to learn in economics is that the market will do the right thing when left to its own devices. But, the problems they have to solve are big ones and the political will hasn't always been there.

The Tea Party isn't, really, complaining that American elites are out of touch. It has been the Democrats making war on Wall Street abuses that has been doing that. The Tea Party isn't asking for people to get their point of view. They instead have brought the hollow cry that they are overtaxed at a time when taxes have never been lower, and that they are being oppressed by a health care bill that doesn't look anything remotely like the one that just became law, to a new level of shrillness. They are fighting over policy, not style or sensitivity, and since the facts aren't on their side, they are making them up.

Republicans are mounting an intense version of the Chewbacca Defense. They're spouting non-sense and irrelevancy to hide the fact that they don't have a clue about how to fix our nation and want to return to the policies that got us in this mess in the first place.

Tea Party backers are also claiming to be people that they aren't. These aren't salt of the earth ordinary people. Their affluent, educated suburbanites with mortgages and Internet access who mow their lawns short, keep their SUVs shiny, work in office parks and never encounter people who don't look like they do.

Republicans have also lost all sense of quality control in their candidate vetting process. Here in Colorado, we have Dan Maes, perhaps the only man in the state who can make a malicious raving idiot like Tom Tancredo look good by comparison. In Kentucky, their running seriously creepy Rand Paul. In a down ticket Colorado race this year, they're running a guy who shot a gun at his wife for the state legislature, and a guy whose performance as an election lawyer left his client with a half a million dollars in penalties for Secretary of State. A couple years ago, they ran someone who was convinced that organ donation was murder for coroner and got him elected in Montrose County (also home to a Republican District Attorney who is in prison right now for rape). In politics, the man is the message, and the Republican message doesn't show the public much respect.

Should Democrats expect to be vulnerable in this election? Yes. They should. This nation was slipping into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression just before they swept Democrats into office in 2008, and its not over yet. They took important steps to deal with the problems our nation is facing, but it wasn't enough. Despite healthy majorities in the House and Senate and control of the Presidency, they didn't manage to show the courage of their convictions and pass all the legislation that our nation needed.

But, that doesn't mean that voters should replace them with people who are even worse. The Republican party isn't offering solutions. Its proposals don't match its rhetoric. It is promising what it knows it can't deliver. It is encouraging people to let their dismay at the economy boil over into political violence. It has taken the position that stupidity is good policy. It is elevated the writings of a Cold War lunatic to policy gospel.

I'd sooner trust the nation to a class full of fifth graders than to the bat shit crazy people who are carrying the Tea Party banner. Fifth graders aren't as good at lying to themselves, and are still pure enough to want to do the right thing.

In five days, we'll learn how many people were suckers and took the Tea Party bait. Until then, its time to turn on the alarm clock full blast and hope that enough people wake up.

27 October 2010

Ford, GM Healthy, Chrysler Not

Ford made a $1.7 billion profit in the third quarter, is on track to convert much of its debt to equity, is increasing its market share, and is surging to a high water mark in its product quality ratings.

GM is making progress too, increasing its quality rankings, shedding money losing brands, and getting its post-bankruptcy debts under control.

But, Chrysler saw its namesake brand drop to dead last in product quality ratings of 27 brands, and has not rebounded from bankruptcy nearly as fast. Its other brands are also suffering from shabby quality. Its partnership with Fiat should bring the Fiat 500 minicar to market for the 2011 product year, but Chrysler has no electric car contender in 2011 (a plug in electric Fiat 500 is planned for the 2012 model year) and is weak in the gas-electric hybrid category as well. It has not made major shakeups to its anemic product line yet. Chrysler's bailout is becoming one of the biggest taxpayer costs of the financial crisis bailouts, because its debts are unlikely to be recovered in full from repayment of debt and stock sales.

Chrysler just edged out Honda in September sales, but remained well behind GM, Ford and Toyota. Chrysler hasn't yet posted a post-bankruptcy profit.

Toyota's Scion had the fewest problems of any brand in the survey. It was followed by Porsche, Acura, Honda and Nissan's Infiniti luxury brand. The Toyota brand ranked sixth, down from third last year. It was followed by Subaru and Volvo. Lexus, which had been a top finisher in past years, fell to ninth. Ford was 10th but rose from 16th the previous year.

Consumer Reports rankings, released Tuesday, are widely used by buyers shopping for cars and trucks. . . . The survey of about 960,000 of the magazine's subscribers also restored recommended ratings for eight recalled Toyota brand models.

The Chrysler brand was ranked last of 27 brands shown in the survey, the magazine said, while Jeep ranked 20th and Dodge was 24th. No Chrysler vehicles scored above average in reliability.

As Consumer Reports explains:

Chrysler Corporation hasn't shared in the success of the other Detroit manufacturers. The Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands are saddled with dated models. Twelve of the 20 models that CR had sufficient data for rate below average in reliability. None of Chrysler Corporation's models score above average. With Fiat's acquisition of Chrysler, many of its products will either be replaced or redesigned in the near future.

Those rating will dog Chrysler sales in the year to come.

Lots of Job Creation Needed

Not good.

[T]he economy is down about 8.1 million jobs from where it was when the recession began, in December 2007. Considering population growth, the economy should have added 3.4 million jobs during the recession[.] . . . To fully recover, the country would need to add 11.5 million jobs.

6 Days To The Election In Colorado

* The Vice Chair of the Adams County Democratic Party, Bob Trucker, appears to have given money to two Republican candidates this election cycle (one statewide and the other in Adams County), as well as having brought false criminal charges against the Republican candidate for Attorney General (for which he is now facing charges) and serving as a spokesman for a Proposition 102, a bail bond industry backed initiative that is non-compliant in campaign finance and has strong bipartisan opposition.

I'm stunned, although occasional scandals seem to errupt from the Adams County Democratic Party now and then. Most recently, the past county party treasurer of ten years, Elmer "Butch" Hicks, has also been embroiled in scandal resulting in felony embezzlement criminal charges being filed against him in September of this year).

* Yet another survey shows the U.S. Senate race in Colorado between Michael Bennet and Ken Buck to be a coin toss (43-42).

* Polling summarized at Real Clear Politics suggest that West Virginia and Washington State are leaning towards Democrats, that Pennsylvania and Illinois are leaning towards Republicans, and that Alaska, Colorado and Nevada are down to less than two percentage point in favor of Republicans, with the latest unreported state poll from Colorado bringing the average polling here to almost dead even, the closest in the country.

That result with Alaska, Colorado and Nevada going to Republicans would leave Democrats with 51 seats in the U.S. Senate. But, Democrats could hold 54 seats with only a slight shift in the political atmosphere as election day approaches, in a year when cell phone effects may be distorting the polling significantly in favor of Republicans.

The same source thinks that 225 seats in the House lean GOP already and that 32 more are toss ups (a majority would be 218). But, I'm skeptical because the quality of the data in those races is not nearly as solid as in the Democratic races. They do finally have a post-August poll for CO-3 (incumbent Democrat John Salazar v. Republican Scott Tipton) which was taken in October listed showing Tipton ahead by 4 percentage points, however, which does make that prediction more credible than it was until this poll was included. A poll by the same firm in CO-3 found Republican Gardner to have a three percentage point lead over incumbent Democrat Betsy Markey.

If Democrats lose both CO-3 and CO-4, but hold both houses of the state legislature and win the Governor's race, there will be a strong incentive in the redistricting process to try to crave out four Dem leaning districts, rather than the five that Democrats hold now, creating three heavily Republican "sacrifice" Districts in order to pick up a seat reasonably reliably in 2012.

C-130 Replacement Program Suffers Concept Mush

The C-130 short range cargo plane is one of the oldest aircraft designs in the Air Force, so its due for a redesign, in theory, with R&D starting in 2014 and new planes flying in 2024. But, the trouble is that the Air Force isn't really sure what it wants.

The aircraft would replace the 450-aircraft C-130 fleet, but the USAF may buy no more than 250. Even after at least five years of discussion, the USAF still does not know whether it wants a fixed-wing, tiltrotor, rotorcraft or airship. . . . the next C-130 may have to carry up to 190% more payload and assume a new mission — mounted vertical maneuver. Taking on the MVM mission means dropping off medium-weight armored vehicles — think Bradleys, not Abrams — in places the enemy does not expect. Long, concrete runways? Not any more. Fifteen hundred feet of level, hard-packed surface? That might work. Perhaps better: a clearing big enough to land a really big tiltrotor or helicopter.

It's asked the defense industry for input.

One fo the main reasons that the Air Force is so unclear about what a short range cargo aircraft should do, is that it isn't the real customer. Logistics is something that the Air Force does as a service to the Army (and to a lesser extent that Marines). But, they and not the Army, get to decide what the Army should receive to meet its needs.

Here, as in the area of close air support, the Air Force simply doesn't have the bureacratic incentives to do the job optimally for the people who will need that job done well.

How Big Does It Need To Be? Should The Cargo Designers Have A Say?

The truth of the matter is that airlift is not a decision that should be made in a vacuum. The capacity of the C-130 and its big sister aircraft, the C-17 and C-5, are major design criterion for everything that they carry. If something can't be transported by air, it won't be available for soldiers until several weeks after it begins. There may be some need for larger aircraft, and some need for smaller vehicles and systems for it to transport.

The Stryker, a lightweight version of the U.S. multiple rocket launcher system, and a variety of other recent major Army projects have been driven by what the C-130 can carry, a decision that has left some in the Army concerned that underweight vehicles and weapons are being fielded simply because the C-130 is too small, the C-17 is too scarce, and the C-5 can't land in anyplace more primative than a half decent airport. Logistics considerations have also been a major design factor in the Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

The Army's main battle tanks (at 70 tons each) and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles (at 35 tons each) are to big to transport by C-130 (which can carry 20 tons), and that has limited their usefulness. The C-17 can carry one tank, or two Bradleys. In the past, the Army has usually preferred to Bradleys to one tank when push comes to shove and the choice must be made.

One option for a C-130 replacement would be to make a next generation C-130 that could carry 35-40 tons, while being smaller and less expensive and more numerous than the C-17, and to keep new military vehicles under those size constraints.

The Trouble With Airships, Helicopters and Jets

Airships (e.g. lighter than air aircraft such as blimps) have a potential place in the logistics system. They can cross any terrain on land or sea without having to transfer cargo, don't depend on existing infrastructure, can land vertically, and have a speed and fuel efficiency similar to a truck. But, they aren't appropriate for situations where there is hostile fire is possible, or where speed and surprise are necessary, so they are more of a substitute for rail, transport truck convoys, and ships, than for the C-130 or other traditional airlift options. They can carry large loads relative to those of fixed wing aircraft. Concept airships have been designed to carry loads of up to 160 tons (compared to about 122 tons for a C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft, the largest in the U.S. military fleet). Major military contractors have developed drone airships as military concept systems as recently as 2006 with a one ton payload for intelligence applications. "In 2010, the U.S. Army awarded a $517 million (£350.6 million) contract to Northrop Grumman, to develop Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) systems." DARPA considered projects up to 450 tons of payload capacity and a 12,000 mile range in its WALRUS program discontinued in 2006. Top speed for an airship, due to drag considerations, is 80-100 miles per hour. The top alititude for an airship is 3,000-8,000 feet. For comparison purposes, research into high speed military sealift ships has focused on payloads of 500 to 5,000 tons.

Helicopters are slower than fixed wing aircraft, harder to maintain in the field, and use more fuel. The Air Force is also loathe to consider big transport helicopters because helicopters are generally under the jurisdiction of the Army. The C-47 Chinook, the largest Army transport helicopter, can carry a load of about 12 tons, a load similar to that of the C-27J, a fixed wing cargo aircraft that is bascially a "mini-C-130" that has recently entered military service. The Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion used by the U.S. Marine Corps can carry up to a 16 ton external load.

The Soviet Union created four different models of very large transport helicopters that could carry from 11 to 40 tons during the Cold War, but the only one to carry more than a 20 ton load "was considered a failure by its manufacturer and Soviet authorities. The V-12 was simply too big and difficult to maneuver to be a practical machine." It was cancelled after two prototypes. The 20 ton payload capacity Russian Mil Mi-26 is the largest transport helicopter in service today.

Conventional wisdom is that helicopters don't scale well and aren't good heavy transport vehicles.

Fuel efficiency and low speed manuverability has also been one of the main attactions associated with the C-130's propeller, rather than jet engine design.

The Trouble With Tiltrotors

The military's MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft has a 5 ton payload capacity (it can't even carry a Humvee), which is small relative to other air transports, was extremely expensive to develop, and has still had maintainance issues in the field. It isn't at obvious that there is a huge gap in military need that needs to be filled by a tiltrotor aircraft between proven designs for short takeoff and landing fixed wing aircraft, and helicopters, with comparable payloads. It is an expensive and fussy alternative to buy in large numbers to fill a gap if there is one.

The C-130 is also already very large for an aircraft that might deploy from ships at sea (aircraft carrier landings with C-130s have been done once or twice on an experimental basis to test the concept), even ships as big as American supercarriers. Yet, one of the main motivations for the tiltrotor capability of the MV-22 was the ability to deploy from ships, which required greater vertical landing capabilities.

Possibilities: Seaplanes, Drones, And Short Drops

A seaplane version of a C-130 successor could be easily developed (there used to be a similar seaplane in service in the Air Force) could serve a similar need for deployment from the sea. A C-130 successor seaplane could also land any place with a decent lake or coast, without having to have any runway preparation. This wouldn't be as much of a technological breakthough as a vertical landing tilt-rotor plane, but would still open up many landing options that are not available in the status quo.

One approach to the "Mounted Vertical Manuever" goal would be to have an aircraft outfitted for very low altitude, low speed airdrops, essentially dangling its cargo just above the ground, at a low speed, and dropping it tens of feet instead of tens of thousands of feet in an airdrop to a destination. While a hover would be nice for this kind of manuver, a plane that could briefly slow itself to 80-90 miles per hour at a low altitude over a field or highway for a cargo drop might be able to meet this objective, and a somewhat higher speed might be workable with "batman-like" rear parachutes to slow down the dropped cargo as it falls a short distance to the ground. There have been efforts to design high lift, low speed drone aircraft, for example the "FanWing" with a circular fan that runs the length of the aircraft.

Another question is whether there is room for an unmanned cargo aircraft in the U.S. fleet. When the cargo isn't soldiers, the need for a perfect safety and reliability record isn't as great, and it costs a great deal to extract the last little bit of reliability out of an aircraft. Unmanned aircraft can carry a greater percentage of their weight in cargo with the same performance. They can be sent to places where the fear of being shot down would be too great for manned aircraft. Drone technology is already in place to deal with many of the key technology barriers to this kind of project. A drone cargo aircraft probably wouldn't make sense as a reaplcement for the entire C-130 fleet, but it could take on many of its jobs.

Low State Taxes Not Good For Business

The Tax Foundation has ranked the states based on their state tax burdens, with the highest tax burden states called those with the "chilliest business tax climate."

The trouble is that when you look at results, state tax burdens aren't tightly linked to economic growth or per capita income, although both economic growth and higher per capita income are slightly favored in high state tax states.

The Data

Slow growing states disproportionately have low state taxes. Fast growing states disproportionately have high state taxes.

Seven of the ten slowest growing states are in the lowest twenty-five in state tax burden; six of the ten fastest growing states are in the highest twenty-five in state tax burden.

Affluent states are slightly more likely to be high state tax states, while poor states are slightly more likely to be low state tax states.

Four of the ten most affluent states are in the bottom twenty-five in state tax burden; six of the ten most affluent states are in the top twenty-five in state tax burden. Five of the nine poorest states are in the bottom twenty-five in state tax burden; four of the nine poorest states are in the top twenty-five in state tax burden (a tie for 40th place leaves a poor of nine at the bottom).

More Details

The top ten and bottom ten by state tax burdens are below, followed in each case by state GDP percentage growth from 2006-2008 rank, and state per capita income rank (ties get the same, higher, rank).

Tax Rank - State - State GDP Growth Rank - State Per Capita Income

Low Tax States
1 South Dakota - 3 - 25
2 Alaska - 50 - 8
3 Wyoming - 2 - 5
4 Nevada - 41 - 17
5 Florida - 48 - 21
6 Montana - 14 - 39
7 New Hampshire - 14 - 10
8 Delaware - 48 - 18
9 Utah - 20 - 48
10 Indiana - 41 - 40

Six of the ten slowest growing states have the lowest state tax burdens, as do two of the ten fastest growing states.

One of the nine poorest states have the lowest state tax burdens, as do three of the ten most affluent states.

High Tax States
41 North Carolina - 37 - 40
42 Rhode Island - 46 - 16
43 Minnesota - 9 - 11
44 Maryland - 22 - 6
45 Iowa - 8 - 28
46 Ohio - 45 - 33
47 Connecticut - 40 - 1
48 New Jersey - 31 - 2
49 California - 34 - 9
50 New York - 18 - 4

Three of ten slowest growing states have the highest state tax burdens, as do two of the ten fastest growing states.

None of the nine poorest states have the highest state tax budens, while five of the ten most affluent states have the highest state tax burdens.

State Tax Ranking Of States In The Top or Bottom Ten By Other Measures:
11 Washington State - 9 - 13
12 Virginia - 22 - 7
13 Texas - 9 - 26
15 Colorado - 4 - 12
18 Idaho - 38 - 44
19 Kentucky - 39 - 47
21 Mississippi - 16 - 50
24 South Carolina - 31 - 45
25 Georgia - 41 - 38

One of the slowest growing states is in the next lowest fifteen states in state tax burden, three of the fastest growing states are in the next lowest fifteen states in state tax burden.

Four of the nine poorest states are in the next lowest fifteen states in state tax burden, one of the most affluent states are in the next lowest fifteen states in state tax burden.

30 Oklahoma - 5 - 34
32 Massachusetts - 13 - 3
33 New Mexico - 9 - 43
34 Arizona - 41 - 41
35 Kansas - 7 - 23
37 West Virginia - 6 - 49
39 Arkansas - 27 - 46

One of the ten slowest growing states is in the next highest fifteen states in state tax burden, four of the ten fastest growing states are in the next highest fifteen states in state tax burden.

Four of the nine poorest states are in the next highest fifteen states in state tax burden, one of the ten most affluent states are in the next highest fifteen states in state tax burden.

Genetic Evidence For "W" Traits

An earlier post at this blog noted a study showing that IQ does not itself explain grades in school and hypothesizing a "W" factor (for work ethic) that might explain some of the variation.

A new study looked at three dopamine system genes (previously associated with conditions including ADHD) that may explain some of that "W" factor.

[The study examined] DNA and lifestyle data from a representative group of 2,500 U.S. middle- and high-school students who were tracked from 1994 to 2008 in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

“We found that as the number of certain dopaminergic gene variants increased, grade point averages decreased, and the difference was statistically significant . . . For example, the GPA of a student with specific variants of three dopaminergic genes might be around 2.8, versus a GPA of around 3.3 without the variants. . . . they found a marginally significant negative effect on English grades for students with a single dopamine variant in a gene known as DAT1, but no apparent effect on math, history or science. In contrast, a variant in the DRD2 gene was correlated with a markedly negative effect on grades in all four subjects. Students with a single, DRD4 variant had significantly lower grades in English and math, but only marginally lower grades in history and science.

None of the dopamine genes are associated with IQ (and here).

The Genetics of Body Odor And Earwax

Body odor and earwax type are two of the traits that tend to distinguish Asians from non-Asians. In particular, Koreans are less prone to B.O. and have drier ear wax than any other population. Given that my name is half-Korean (as are my children), this is naturally a topic of interest. Everything you could possibly want to know about the genetics of these traits is found in a blog post by Razib Khan.

He notes research hypothesizing a link between high latitudes and the dry earwax gene, and also research that suggests that the dry earwax gene, something that would seem to have little selective impact, may be linked to the same gene that regulates body odor. Low body odor might conceivably confer the 1% per generation selective advantage that would appear to be necessary to account for the current mix of those genes over the 50,000 years the distinction between Asia and the rest of the world is appeared to have evolved.

"Recent" population migrations could also help explain the current mix.

While modern humans have been present in Europe for 50,000 years, more or less, most have roots in the warmer far Southern Europe or the Near East in the last 8,000 years, and the links to Southern Europe and the Near East are even younger as one moves North in Europe. Thus, current Europeans have faced cold weather selection pressures for less long than their current domiciles would imply.

The demographic history of Asia, in a nutshell, is one of Northeast Asian population migrating South and pushing South and West, with existing populations forced to migrate away from these wave of expansion. Japan and Korea have strong and relatively recent (i.e. within the last 4000 years) genetic ties to the vincinity of Manchuria and the region to the North of there. Mongolian and Turkish speaking populations of Central Asia arrived in Central Asia from roughly the same region mostly in the last 2000 years or so (before then, Central Asia had stronger ancestry links to Europe). The ancestors of many Southeast Asian arrived their from Southern China when Han Chinese from the North squeezed the out of their homelands. Thus, many East Asians have demographic histories from further North (or in the case of some Han Chinese, from higher elevations towards the Tibetan Plateu), than their current homes.

One can also imagine body odor reaching a tipping point in the sexual selection process. When lots of people have body odor, low body odor may be unimportant in choosing a spouse. But, as body odor becomes more rare, people may be more prone to notice it and avoid choosing a smelly spouse. Alternately, one can imagine low body odor being considered a positive social class indicator in time periods when expanding populations from low body odor Northeast Asia were conquering populations where people tended to have more body odor.


This post is noted are responded to in this post which notes that with regard to selective advantage that:

People can interpret results however they want, it’s a free country. In fact I do so all the time. But I want to enter into the record that I’m skeptical of this particular model of negative selection against stinkiness.

FWIW, I'm not particularly wedding to any particular hypothesis, but can't find any that are more plausible either.

European Muslims Socially Conservative

It is hardly surprising, but somewhat ironic, that the people in Europe whose values most closely resemble those of American Evangelical Christians on social issues are Islamic immigrant populations. The non-immigrant French, meanwhile tend to be more liberal on these issues than the Germans or the British.

26 October 2010

Basel To Wall Street: Golden Parachutes Bad

The Basel Committee has issued corporate governance principles . . . . The principles flatly state that golden parachute arrangements under which terminated executives receive large payouts irrespective of performance are generally not consistent with sound compensation practice.

From here.

Basel is the same group coming up with capital requirements for the global banking system. The statement on Golden Parachute arrangements is the most clear of the group's pronouncements.

The New Coalitions

The front page of the Wall Street Journal notes today that the Democrats at risk of losing their seats in Congress this year are disproportionately, conservative Blue Dog Democrats, while the Tea Party movement is likely to shift the Republican coalition to the right. Moderate Republicans were already scarce and several more of them will be gone in 2011.

Of 54 Blue Dogs in the House, six already have retired or decided to seek other offices. Of those trying to stay, 39 are in competitive races, according to the Cook Political Report, and 22 of those are in pure toss-ups. . . . The election figures to bring to Washington some 50 newcomers on the Republican side—some of whom will replace retiring Republicans, others who will take over Democratic seats—and few of them are from the political center. Instead, the tea-party movement has helped produce a crop of Republican newcomers who are ideologically to the right, and often quite intense about their views. . . .

It's a similar story in the Senate. There, the center is being thinned by the retirements of Democrats Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and Republican George Voinovich of Ohio, all lawmakers with a proclivity to reach across the partisan divide.

Meantime, Sen. Edward Kennedy, the leading example of a liberal Democrat who could work with conservatives, has died. And Sen. John McCain, once known as the maverick Republican ready to work with the other party, seems to have lost his appetite for doing so after enduring a bitter presidential election and an equally bitter conservative challenge from within his own party this year.

Simultaneously, the election figures to produce a full-blown caucus of tea-party adherents in the Senate, which will push the center of gravity among Republicans there to the right. The new Senate could well include Republican tea-party favorites Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ken Buck of Colorado, Joe Miller of Alaska and, perhaps, Sharron Angle of Nevada.

The total toll for Congression Democratic in the House has been estimated at 50, although I have predicted and stand by my predictions that this estimate is overstated and that Democrats will hold onto a thin majority in the House of Representatives.

Still, any way you cut it, the result will be a more stark partisanship in a Congress with few moderates.

The Wall Street Journal also featured, however, the schisms that are emerging in Colorado's Tea Party movement, as Dan Maes, their poster boy in the Governor's race has imploded, and the over reaching anti-tax Colorado Propositions 60, 61, and 101 have been opposed by Democrats and Republicans, business and labor alike. For example, Republican Mark Hillman, who has served as Colorado State Treasurer and the Republican State Senate Majority leader, in an op-ed piece in the Denver Daily News today, urges reads "not to throw three sticks of dynamite into state and local government." None of the three measures is polling with more than 21% support, and Propositions 62 (personhood) and 63 (anti-health care reform) which Tea Party backers tend to support, are also doing dismally in the polls. The Wall Street Journal story on the Tea Party notes that identification with the Tea Party movement is falling rapidly:

In early April, a Rasmussen Reports poll found Colorado had one of the highest rates of tea-party participation in the U.S.: 33% of voters considered themselves members of the movement. That has now dropped to 23%, according to a Rasmussen poll released Oct. 1. The national rate fell to 17% from 24% during that time, the poll found.

Not all of the trends on the Democratic side are in the liberal direction, however. Senator Michael Bennet cam out against "the current language of the [pro-union] Employee Free Choice Act" in a U.S. Senate race debate with Ken Buck on Saturday, a move that comes across as a betrayal of the union movement that has historically been at the core of the Democratic Party base and reinforces his image as a corporatist leaning Democrat.

Whether this is a wise move a week before an election where Bennet and Buck are equally matched is hard to tell. He risks damping the enthusiasm of a base the needs to get out the vote in force to get him re-elected. But, he may win over moderate Republicans and unaffiliated voters concerned about Ken Buck's ideological extremism, and realistically, that same extremism from Ken Buck leaves Democrats with no little choice to support Bennet, who is still to the left of Ken Salazar, whom Colorado Democrats fervantly supported when having a Democratic Senator at all seemed like a wonderful prize.

Governor Bill Ritter's ambivalence about the union movement was arguably one of the points that helped him secure widespread support in his first run for Governor, but lack of confidence from the base may also have been a factor in his decision not to run for re-election.

If Democrats do hold onto the majority, the support of the Blue Dogs that remain will be absolutely essential for every vote, and the legislative coalition in Congress will have to continue to focus on big tent politics that can secure their support.

Even if Democrats do hold a majority in the House, though, conservative Democrats will be outnumbered by liberals in the coalition to possibly the greatest extent in the history of American politics. The Democrats were the more conservative party in the United States for the first century after the Civil War, and had a large contingent of "Dixiecrats" until the process of "realignment" began to run its course over the last few elections. This election is likely to be the final act in the realignment process, leaving conservatives almost exclusively in the Republican party, and liberals almost exclusively in the Democratic party.

If Democrats lose a House majority, however, Blue Dog numbers will be even smaller, and the Democratic party will have more to gain from rhetorical unity at a time when the Democratic coalition in Congress is united, than it will from consistently holding onto support from Blue Dogs in Congress who can no longer deliver legislative results. Indeed, I would not be at all surprised to see some of the more conservative remaining Blue Dogs to change parties and become Republicans in order to allow them to have a say in the law making process - minority party members in the House have very little influence on anything.

Likewise in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats are forecast to hold onto the majority, but to lack a filibuster proof sixty votes, even with support from conservative Democrats, the inability of conservative Democrats to deliver consistent results may undermine their power in the caucus.

The Republican's small tent is going to look even smaller when the economy starts to recover and the right wing extremism rooted in high unemployment and a weak economy ease, which they will by the time that 2012 rolls around. A Democratic President and likely Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, means that the only substantial achieivement that Republicans will be able to secure over the next two years without compromises they have sworn not to make, will be political deadlock.

Since the Republicans have already retreated to small tent politics, under the influence of the Tea Party movement, and the Democrats look likely to retreat their if they lose too much ground in this election, the political center will be up for grabs.

Of course, the political center is elusive. It often doesn't fit neat liberal-conservative lines. Majorities favor both legalizing pot and punitive anti-immigration laws. Subtle differences in how questions about social issues like abortion and gay rights are worded produce dramatic changes in how much support they receive from political moderates. But, there are moderates out there.

Catholics, center-left mainline denomination Christians, first ring suburb residents, economically well off Hispanics, socially conservative working class union members, big city cops, academic economists, and technocrats working for big businesses all tend towards the political middle. The nation is full of suburban white couples with Republican men and Democratic leaning women. Young Evangelicals are more liberal on social issues and charitably minded than their elders, but are also allergic to mixing religion and politics.

Small business has historically been strongly in the Republican camp, but over reach by Republican activists and a movement within the Democratic party to cast issues in terms of big business v. the rest of the country, has the potential to shift that equation.

Democrats, in an effort to keep their tent big, have moderated their focus on gun control and have parted ways somewhat with the left wing tradition of favoring secularism to embrace "people of faith" and "real" religious values.

Republicans also have room to expand their coalition, although they don't seem inclined to do so. There are many conservative gays and lesbians, blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Muslims and Jews who are kept out of the GOP by its insistance on describing our nation as a Christian one, its crypto-racist tendencies, virulent anti-immigrant stances, and stark opposition to gay rights.

Many of the blue collar, ex-military and public safety workers who belong to unions are sympathetic to Republican stances on social issues and many economic issues as well, but can't embrace a party that sees no place for unions at all in the political economy.

Many more in the big business world would like to more openly support the Republican party, which has had their back on so many issues, but are reluctant to do so because some Republican party stances on social issues are so toxic from a public relations perspective.

And, it is hard to see how the Republican party coalition can ever expand with their leaders calling for deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare, as many of their Tea Party members have this election cycle.

Yet, why would anyone in the Republican party veer from a veer to the right strategy that won them major electoral gains in 2010 for the 2012 election?

Still, with both parties retreating to small tents, in the 2014 election cycle, there will be an open season as small tent, ideologically well defined parties grasp for their piece of the ideological center. Both can do so, but only if they make a conscious effort to see how that can be accomplished in a way consistent with their values and holding on to essential components of their existing coalitions.

25 October 2010

National Taxpayers Union Not A Serious Think Tank

Any think tank that can recommend that Colorado voters give the thumbs up to Propositions 60, 61, and 101, as the National Taxpayers Union does in its voting guide this year, is not a serious think tank of people with any clue about public finance. The organization also opposes every single local government mill levy or bond issue in the state.

In the view of this organization, spending money on government services, no matter what the benefit or need, is always a bad thing. It believes in "starve the beast" even if you're riding it.

Notable Recent Colorado Polling

Denver Post-Survey USA polls released Sunday and today make a variety of points worth noting, with the last day of voting a week from tomorrow and many ballots already cast in Colorado.

The race between Buck and Bennet has reached a dead tie. The downticket races for Secretary of State and State Treasurer, and to a lesser extent Attorney-General, have such a large share of voters who haven't considered the races that the polls are all but useless in those races. Hickenlooper is still a lock for Governor of Colorado, and Maes looks likely to drag the Republican party to minor party status with less than 10% of the vote. Propositions 60, 61, 62, 63 and 101 are all on track to fail decisively.

I was particularly struck by immense gender gap in the races for Governor and U.S. Senate. Women favor Democrats. The gender gap in the Hickenlooper-Tancredo race is 28 percentage points. Men actually favor Tancredo over Hickenlooper, 46-43, while women prefer Hickenlooper over Tancredo decisively, 56-31. Only 20% of Republicans surveyed favor their party's nominee Dan Maes, and his support from all likely voters is just 9%.

There is also a 24 percentage point swing between Bennet and Buck along gender lines.

53 percent of respondents supporting Buck are men and 53 percent of respondents supporting Bennet are women. Also, about 40 percent of Buck's supporters are women, while 42 percent of Bennet's supporters are men.

Indeed, the fact that women more intensely dislike Tancredo than they dislike Buck is particularly striking, because Buck has taken far more overtly sexist stances in the race.

This set of polls don't mention it, but there is also a resurgent generation gap. The young are much more liberal than the old. The Republican party is the party of cranky old men. The Democratic party is the party of compassionate young women.

Today's survey also included polling on side issues. Marijuana legalization was favored 46-43. Arizona style anti-immigration laws were favored 57-40.

President Obama's approval ratings in Colorado have gone from 36-53 in September to 43-49 in October, i.e. from -17 to -6.

Jobs and the economy is the #1 issue for a large share of voters of all political persuasions (67% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans and 62% of unaffiliated voters). Republicans care next about the federal deficit (16%) and immigration (13%). Independents also care about the deficit first (12%) and the immigration (10%) second. The federal deficit and health care are tied (at 7% each) as runner up concerns for Democrats.

On tax cuts, 10% think all of the Bush tax cuts should expire, a 47% plurality favor the administration position of extending them only for the non-wealthy, and 30% think that even tax cuts for the rich should be extended.

Despite the importance across party lines of deficit reduction, 76% of Republican voters, 46% of unaffiliated voters and 19% of Democratic voters think that all of the Bush tax cuts should be extended. How Republicans think that the deficit can be reduced while extending the Bush tax cuts is unclear. Most Republicans also don't want to cut defense, and closing the federal deficit while extending the Bush tax cuts, not cutting defense, and repealing health care reform, if not mathematically impossible, is certainly politically impossible.

22 October 2010

Economic Development and the Indo-Europeans

The story told here will . . . allow us to see the great majority of large-scale empires that have arisen throughout world history (and in both the “West” and much of the “East”, other than China) as arising from a shared cultural origin that goes much further back in time. Examples of such empires from ancient times will include the Roman, Athenian, Macedonian, Byzantine, Hittite, Mauryan, Carthaginian, Achaemenid, Sassanid, and Parthian empires; examples from the medieval period will include the Umayyad, Abassid, Sassanid, Carolingian, Danish, Mughal, Hapsburg, and German empires; and examples from more modern times will include the Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Dutch, British, French, Austro-Hungarian, German, Italian, and - most recently - American empires. These empires did not face the same difficulties in sustaining large-scale societies with the rule of law that many developing nations have, and features of their common origin may help to explain why.

From here by Robin Bradley Kar (University of Illinois College of Law).

A standard account of the history of Western Civilization looks at Western Civilization's evolution from Greco-Roman and Jewish culture to become prominent worldwide in a colonial era that starts a thousand years after the fall of the Roman empire.

The article, instead, makes the case for Indo-European cultural inheritances, rather than merely Greco-Roman and Hebrew cultural influences, as a foundation for a much wider collection of empires than those included in the typical "Western Civilization" story. Here is a taste of the argument from the article:

Comparative cultural studies have also revealed a surprising degree of formal and substantive similarities between the cultural descendants of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, not only at the level of language but also at the level of mythology, social structure, religion, ritual, music, and poetics—to name a few. . . .

For present purposes, two similarities will be of particular importance. The first is the tendency of many traditional Indo-European cultures to promote a specific division of society into three—and sometimes four—distinct classes, with one class tasked with war and ruling (the aristocratic class), a second tasked with performing various sacred and religious duties (the priestly, and often the judicial, class), a third tasked with carrying out a broad range of more common vocations such as crafts, trade, animal husbandry, and agriculture (the common class), and—in some cases—a fourth tasked with the so-called ―menial or ―servile tasks (the servant class). The Celtic and Indian branches of the Indo-European family are, for example, some of the most geographically distant and yet they both exhibit this precise four-part division. . . .

The second relevant similarity is the tendency of many traditional Indo-European cultures to rely on their spiritual class to act as the repositories of a complex set of oral traditions. In many traditional Celtic and Indian societies, for example, these persons—who were typically called the ―Druids in Celtic culture and the ―Brahmans in Hindu culture—were initiated into the priestly class by means of a highly rigorous apprenticeship. . . . For example, the Druids of some periods were tasked with memorizing the oral Laws of Fénechus, which formed the basis for the ancient Irish law system; and the Brahmans of certain periods were tasked with memorizing the oral Laws of Manu, which formed the basis for traditional Hindu law. Comparative cultural scholars have found striking resemblances between these oral traditions, and the earliest recorded version of the Laws of Manu is typically dated back to somewhere between 200 BC and 200 AD—though we can be quite sure that earlier traditions preceded this one. When reduced to writing, the Laws of Manu span a remarkable 12 chapters with 2684 provisions. Importantly, the members of the Indo-European spiritual classes, who were responsible for memorizing and transmitting oral traditions like these, were also often responsible for drawing on these oral traditions to advise the ruling classes on a host of spiritual, legal and political matters.

The article then makes the case for the Roman Catholic Church as the intellectual successor of this Indo-European traditional of a priestly class preserving a legal tradition. Here are some key threads of that argument (emphasis in the original):

In the ancient Roman, Greek, and Hittite legal traditions, one finds a parallel treatment of offenses committed by someone who is not considered a legal person – a slave, a child, a cow, or the like. In principle, several outcomes are possible; for example, declaring the offense to be a nonoffense (as is done with some juvenile offenses in the United States); providing restitution; turning the offender over to the person who suffered from the offense; and so on. What is interesting is that all three ancient traditions offer the same resolution – a choice is allowed between restitution and turning the offender over to the plaintiff. Thus, the structures of the legal codes are completely parallel, with not just one outcome being prescribed but a choice between two outcomes and, moreover, the same choices (out of several conceivable ones) being specified in all three traditions. Further, cognate vocabulary is used . . . . The structural parallels combined with the linguistic parallels thus permit us to infer a common origin for the legal practices being compared and even provide us with an idea of the technical language covering situations in Proto-Indo-European. . . .

[T]here is, in fact, considerable controversy over where exactly to locate the Proto Indo-European homeland. Still, there is broad consensus among experts that these people were primitive, nomadic pastoralists who originated somewhere outside of the Indian subcontinent, and who brought Indo-European culture to the Indian subcontinent sometime in or around 1500 BC. If some of the Western descendants of these nomads (such as the ancient Romans and Greeks) were subsequently able to develop rich cultural traditions, which were capable of supporting large scale human civilizations, and could form the basis for large parts of Western Civilization, then we really should pay tribute to their immense bursts of subsequent creativity. If this is what had happened, then it would also make sense to begin the story we tell ourselves about the earliest origins of Western Law and Western Civilization right here. But this is not—in my view—what happened. . . .

[M]y primary interest (at least in this project) is in the origins of Indo-European legal traditions and the cultural conditions that support them. As will become clear over the course of this project, this topic is both intimately related to and importantly separable from more traditional inquiries into the origins of the Indo European languages and peoples. To foreshadow, I will be arguing that certain early social phenomena in the Indus Valley gave rise to the cultural and legal traditions that have helped subsequent Indo-European groups transition to complex societies with the rule of law. Still, this view is logically consistent with the idea that even earlier Proto-Indo-European groups (or their ancestors) may have migrated into the Indus Valley from the West. . . . Still, [in] any such migrations . . . the groups in question would have lacked any traditions relevant to sustaining large-scale civilizations or the rule of law. These more specific Indo-European traditions developed in Indus Valley—on the present view—and it therefore here that we must locate the origins of significant aspects of Western Law and Western Civilization. . . .

[T]he Harappans also spoke a dialect of Proto-Indo-European—or so, at least, I will be arguing, thereby staking out a minority claim in the literature. The development of the early civilizations in the Indus Valley played a major role in the prehistoric coordination and expansion of the Proto-Indo-European language family as well, and, indeed, although some dialects of Proto-Indo-European were probably already spoken in a number of adjacent areas, the socio-cultural developments in the Indus Valley further stabilized these dialects and helped them to spread even further over several millennia. In the process of becoming one of the very first major world civilizations, the Harappans also developed a range of important cultural innovations that were specifically adapted to the maintenance of large scale human civilization.

The second half of the article sums up in a compact way, a fairly comprehensive pre-history of the world with a focus on the history of the major language families.

The argument expounded is basically a version of the Out of India theory of the Indo-European origins, moderated in a way that adopts the prevailing Kurgan theory of Indo-European origins, while positing a secondary layer of cultural evolution and nucleus of expansion for the Indus River Valley area.


The argument that many of the Indo-European societies have common cultural traditions in legal concepts that extend further than the traditional core of Western Civilization, is plausible and has merit.

The argument that these common cultural traditions were developed in the Indus River Valley, rather than received from there has significant barriers which it shares in common with the "Out of India" hypothesis of Indo-European language origins, despite being a distinct and more nuanced version of that hypothesis that contradicts the prevailing Kurgan hypothesis less strongly.

Supporting Evidence

There are facts that recommend the article's thesis that distinctively Indo-European cultural traits have roots in the Indus River Valley:

1. The demise of the Saravasti River system around 1900 BCE provides a powerful motive force for a previously statis oriented society to transition the an aggressive effort to seek a new homeland for its people, and helps explain the transition to the distinctive cultural marker of later Indo-European societies: cremation.

2. It explains why the Tocharians, who have linguistic commonality with other Europeans, but who split from other Indo-Europeans prior to 1900 BCE, have an Indo-European language and cultural ties to Kurgan people, but lack the distinctive crematory practices of other Indo-Europeans, and we not in an aggressive expansionist mode until much later in their history, when they were forced from their homeland in the Tarim Basin by invaders from the East.

3. There is a lack of evidence of a violent pastoral nomadic invasion of the Indus River Valley around 1900 BCE, and the Vedic texts both lack an "origins myth" and seem to refer to conditions that existed in the Indus River Valley far earlier than 1900 BCE.

4. It moots any coincidence in the fact that the first documented smelting of iron took place in Indo-Aryan territory around 1800 BCE and in Hittite Anatolia a couple of hundred years earlier.

5. It explains how some many terms for settled agriculture made their way into as society of nomadic pastoralist Indo-Europeans from the Kurgan culture.

6. Our limited linguistic knowledge of the Harappan language makes it impossible to rule out the possibility that the Harappans spoke an Indo-European language. The observations of Michael Witzel, who wrote in "Substrate Languages in Old Indo-Aryan," EJVS 5,1, Aug. 1999, 1-67, that there is not an apparant Dravidian substrate in the earliest Vedic Sanskrit, which could be consistent with an Indo-European language speaking Harappan society. Among the academic scholars who take this view are Shikaripura Ranganatha Rao.

Contradictory Evidence

There are also problems with approach.

1. The evidence of cremation in the Greek and Balkan areas precedes by a couple hundred years, the evidence of cremation in the Indus River Valley at Cemetery H. The evidence of iron smelting by the Hittites coincides with the appearance of cremation in Greece and the Balkan area, and precedes the appearance of iron in the Indus River Valley by that same couple hundred years amount of time.

The timing of the current finds would suggest that the timing of the dramatic evolution of Indo-European culture and shift to an expansionist mode in the article's hypothesis right, but that the expansion happened in the other direction.

2. The Vinca culture and its successor "house burning culture" complex, was a culture similar in scale and sophistication to that of the Indus River Valley civilization, and is a culture where ongoing contact and ultimate domination of the similarly peaceful Old European Neolithic culture by Kurgan peoples at a time of major cultural transformation is well documented in the archeological record.

Indeed, the similarity of the Vinca culture and the the Indus River Valley culture would help explain how the Indo-Aryans would able to take the reins so quickly in South Asia. They were replaying the conquests of their grandparents using the same methods.

3. The mtDNA haplotype R2 is common in the Indus River Valley in many of the same places where uniparental DNA types associated with Indo-Europeans are found, but is almost absent outside South Asia. If there had been a major secondary expansion of people out of the Indus River Valley around 1900 BCE to the West, we would expect mtDNA type R2 to be a constant companion of mtDNA haplotype R1a, which is normally seen as a strong marker of Indo-European expansions in South Asia, Anatolia and Europe. But, we don't.

This could be reconciled if there was strong population structure in the Indus River Valley, with mtDNA type R1a found in the North, and mtDNA type R2 found in the South at the time of Indo-European secondary expansion from the former Harappan empire. But, this isn't consistent with the archeological indications that the Harappan empire was one of the most unified ancient empires known to man from the very beginning.

The problem isn't limited to mtDNA R2. There is a large inventory of distinctively South Asian uniparental DNA haplotypes that collectively account for a large share of the South Asian population, including the population of the Indus River Valley area, which are almost completely absent from the rest of the world. But, there are uniparental DNA haplotypes found in both Europe and South Asia, and those haplotypes are found in the highest frequencies among high caste individuals who speak Indo-European languages. This is consistent with an Indo-European population invasion, and inconsistent with a major secondary Indo-European expansion out of India.

Alternately, Southern Europeans could have borrowed culturally from fellow Indo-European language speakers in the Indus River Valley without actual population replacement, a scenario that makes more sense with a horse riding plains people whose ruling classes would share a common heritage than it does in the case of people who have no cultural ties.

4. This hypothesis supposes that the Harappans acquired the Indo-European language from nomadic pastoralists, yet there is strong continuity in Indus River Valley civilization from its earliest Neolithic period formative period to the demise of Harappan Civilization.

One must be quite fussy in how one assumes that language transfer took place in this scenario. Adoption of substrate language and culture by a ruling class isn't unprecedented. Indeed, the case of this happening in the Greek part of the Roman Empire is part of the standard Western Civilization narrative. But, the ability of nomadic pastoralists to insert themselves into a ruling class so seamlessly would be notable.

The evidence of discontinuity associated with Kurgan society contact that is found in the Balkans at about the right time, isn't found in Harappan era in South Asia. In particular, there is little evidence of the use of domesticated horses at any point in Harappan society, until aobut 1900 BCE, yet any society impacted enough by Indo-European pastoralists to adopt their language would have made wide use of horses.

5. The climate change that lead to the demise of the Saravasti River in the Harappan area also coincides with major climate change in Southeast Europe and the Near East that probably led to the fall of dynasties in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and was believed to have precipitated the weakening of the Vinca and related civilizations in Southeast Europe that opened them up to Kurgan society domination.

6. The vocabulary of Proto-Indo-European includes core words for plants and animals that are found well to the North of Harappan territory. If there was a long soujourn of independent linguistic and cultural evolution in Harappan territory before a secondary expansion from that area, one would have expected many of these words to be lost in Sanskrit from disuse, and more names of distinctively South Asian plants and animals to have been preserved in some fashion in the Western Indo-European languages.

7. Divisions of society into a learned priestly caste (presumably, the proto-lawyers), a ruling caste, a warrior caste and commoners may be a relatively natural one in Bronze Age societies that can evolve independently. The emergence of distinctive ruling and priestly classes is found among non-Indo-European Egyptians, Sumerians, Minoans, Japanese, Incas, Mayans and Hungarians. Special status for warriors also seems to be present almost as soon as late Neolithic/Bronze Age socities and chiefdomships emerge, if not earlier.

In a scenario where distinctively Indo-European cultural traits are inherited from West to East, rather than in the reverse direction, as the article proposes, this societal structure may even have been borrowed by Hittites and Myceneans from predecessor Peligasian, Minoan, Hattic, Mesopotamian and Egyptian societies with whom they would have had contact.

8. During the fall of the Roman Empire, one of the most distinctive differences between the Indo-European language speaking Germanic invaders and the Indo-European language speaking Romans was the legal culture. The Roman legal culture was a recognizably "rational" legal culture with which modern Western legal systems have a direct evolutionary link. The Germanic approach to dispute resolution involved institutions like trial by ordeal and trial by combat that had been largely abandoned in classical Western cultures at least as far back as the Greek Golden Age. A hypothesis that posits a common Indo-European legal tradition does not comport with this observation.

9. Similarities between Hindu and Celtic legal cultures in the time period cited (200 BCE to 200 CE) do not show the direction of cultural transfer, simply their common origin.

10. The Harappan society, even in its late period, rather than being strongly stratified as it typical in Indo-European societies, as the author notes, was actually one of the most egalitarian large ancient empires. The material remains of that society do not provide strong evidence of the kind of caste system found in Vedic India. There is really no evidence of any kind of warrior class in Harappan society, and there is likewise not the evidence of a klepocratic ruling class found in other ancient cultural complexes of similar technological sophistication. If social class distinction was one of the hallmarks of the Indo-Europeans, then the Harappan society was an unlikely source for it. The priestly class doesn't emerge as important in Vedic society until a period after the early Rig Vedic period. Harappan religion, with its central role for the bull, also resembles the pre-Indo-European Minoan religious tradition. If Indo-Europeans arrived and dominated the society in its late period, we would expect more material evidence of social stratification.

11. There is similarly, little or no evidence of polytheism in even late Harappan society, yet that is one of the distinctive elements of Indo-European religion, the ancient Egyptian religion, and the Sumerian religion. The evidence appears to favor, instead, a Harappan society with a fertility cult similar to that of early Neolithic peoples in Old Europe and Anatolia. If Indo-Europeans arrived and dominated the society in its late period, we would expect temples to polytheistic gods to be in evidence.


The case for Indo-European being a relatively minor language until a secondary expansion around 4000 years ago is solid. But, the weight of the evidence seems to favor an expansion from somewhere in Southeast Europe that reached the Indus River Valley within a century or two more strongly than one out of the Indus River Valley to the West.

Finds of cremation or iron use or widespread horse use in the Indus River Valley a few hundred years earlier than current finds would suggest an opposite conclusion. But, the Indus River Valley has been relatively thoroughly studied in the period since this civilization was discovered in 1921, so the likelihood of new finds here that would fundamentally reverse that chronology seems unlikely. This suggests that pre-Vedic Harappan society probably did not speak an Indo-European language.

Footnote on the Harappan Language

If the Harappans didn't speak an Indo-European language, what was their language like?

The evidence that the Harappans spoke some language in the Dravidan language family prior to the Vedic era also looks increasingly weak. The archeological evidence seem to show only weak trade links between the Dravidians and the Harappans, who had strong trade links with Mesopotamia for much of their history. The crops used by the Harappans are Near Eastern crops that can into use within one or two thousand years of the earliest Neolithic era when they appeared in the Near East, while the crops used by the early Dravidians were Sahel African crops that appeared in South Asia a couple of thousand years later. The claim that there is a Dravidian substrate in the earliest Sanskrit writings has been seriously undermined by recent scholarship. The case for a linguistic and cultural link between the Dravidian languages and the Niger-Congo languages and culture in ways unlikely to be developed independently has been made quite strongly by multiple academic scholars. The age depth of the languages in the Dravidian language family, which remain reasonably similar to each other, also belies an age as old as that of the Harappan languages.

Michael Witzel's argument that Dravidian is not a substrate language in early Sanskrit is considerably stronger than his argument that there is an Austroasiatic substrate in early Sanskrit. Also, even if there is such a substrate, it does not necessarily follow that the substrate is Harappan in origin. South Asian Munda languages are on the far Western expanse of the Austroasiatic languages, which are believed to have expanded from a point of origin in coastal South China starting at a point in time roughly contemporary with that of the transition of the earlier Indus River Valley civilization with which it shows continuity into the actual Harappan civilization. The Harappans simply couldn't have encountered Austroasiatic language speaking peoples for the first several thousand years of the Indus River Valley civilization. And, agricultural traces of East Asian domesticates, as opposed to Near Eastern and local domesticates, do not emerge onto the scene as the Indus River Valley civilization evolved into full fledged Harappan civilization as you would expect if the Austroasiatic culture were to have enough of an influence to produce a language shift.

The case for the Harappan language having an Afro-Asiatic link (a language family that includes Semitic) also seems weak. Harappan language speakers were present in Sumeria before that region transitioned to the Semitic Akkadian language, which arrived in Sumeria at that point from the West. The sea trade routes between Sumeria and the Harappan in the pre-Akkadian era took place via the Persian Gulf and does not appear to have been within the range of Egyptian maritime trade in that era. Egyptian sea trade with India comes much later in its history. Egypt and the Indus River Valley received agricultural crops and domesticated animals with Near Eastern origins at about the same time, in opposite directions. And, if the Semitic languages originated to the West of Sumeria, then one would expect early Neolithic civilizations to the East of Sumeria to have Sumerian affinities, while early Neolithic civilizations to the West of Sumeria to have Semitic or at least Afro-Asiatic affinities. The Old European civilizations of Southeast Europe and the Anatolian civilizations that the Indus River Valley civilization appears to have the most similarities with did not speak Semitic languages, which have no known presence North of the Levant prior to the appearance on the historical scene of the Phonecians, at a point in time when the Harappan civilization had long since collapsed.

The only literary or proto-literary evidence we have of the Harappan language is in its seals, which show similarities with seal systems used by the Sumerians and the Vinca culture of Southeastern Old Europe, and perhaps also the records maintained in Linear A script by the Minoans, all of whom traded with the Sumerian to some extent, although the specific content of those early literary or proto-literary systems have not been deciphered or directly linked to each other.

Thus, in sum, it seems unlikely that the Harappans spoke a language that was Dravidian, Austroasiatic, Indo-European, or Afro-Asiatic. (No one seriously even proposed a relationship of Harappan to Tibeto-Burmese, Austronesian, Hmong, Papuan, Native American, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo or Khoisan languages that is stronger than that of Harappan to some other extant language no in those language families.)

The unity of the Harappan civilization at all points in its history, its disunity with preceding hunter-gather cultures in the area, its long trade ties with Sumeria, the continuity of its civilization, and the origins of its crops all point to a likely origin of Harappan civilization as a monolingual population from the Mesopotamian or Anatolian part of the Fertile Cresent, who managed to endure without meaningful interruption for many thousands of years, until it collapsed for reasons including climate around 4000 years ago, give or take a couple hundred years.

My hypothesis is that the languages of Sumeria, Elam, Harappa, the Minoans, Limnean, the pre-Indo-European Greeks, and the Linear Pottery branch of the Old European Neolithic expansion of agriculture into Europe all spoke languages that were part of the single language family and shared a common cultural heritage. But, some combination of Indo-European languages, Semitic languages, Dravidian languages (in a couple of historic area colonizations in Western South Asia), Turkic languages (in Anatolia if they were spoken there), and Uralic languages (Hungary), in approximately that order of importance, have led to the extinction of every last one of the living languages of this macro-linguistic family, and Sumerian and Elam are the only two languages of this family in which we have any meaningful written texts.

If any living language is a member of that family, one of the language families spoken in the Caucuses would seem the most likely candidates for the closest living language relative of Harappan (although I would be at a loss to say whether NW Caucasian, NE Caucasian or Kartevelian languages were closer). But, I have been convinced to remain agnostic about the relationship of Basque, Etruscan, the languages spoken only in the Caucases, the pre-Indo-European languages of Anatolia and the Northern Taurus Mountains (like Hattic, Hurrian and Kassite), and the pre-Indo-European languages of Southern Mediterrean/Atlantic/Megalithic people in Old Europe.

There is an argument to be made that they were part of the same language family (perhaps splitting off at an earlier time depth) as the Sumerian language family. There is an argument to be made that some of these languages could have Afro-Asiatic connections. There is an argument that these languages formed one or more entirely separate language families. The roots of the languages as pre-Neolithic or post-Neolithic outside of the Fertile Cresent is unclear. But, those connections don't make much of a difference in resolving the question of what languages were spoken by the Harappans.

There is reasonably strong genetic evidence to suggest that the earliest agriculturalists of Western Europe were from a genetically distinct population (most strongly associated with mtDNA haplotype R1b) from that of the LBK agriculturalists of Central and Eastern Europe including Southeastern Europe (where R1a, N1a and other haplotypes are found). There also appears to be strong genetic evidence that they were distinct genetically from a population of Upper Paleolithic modern human hunter-gatherers in Europe whose mtDNA lineages showed a high frequency of U4 and U5 haplotypes - the closest genetic relatives of those Upper Paleolithic modern human hunter-gatherers today are probably the Uralic language speaking Estonians, although the strength of the genetic relationship and their linguistic relationship, if any, is not clear. There is reasonable dispute over whether the genetic matriline ancestors of the R1b populations of Europe arrived in the early Neolithic (probably starting around 6000 BCE), or earlier, in the period of time between the last glacial maximum (around 20000 years ago) and the Neolithic era in Europe, or perhaps even earlier than that. My instinct is to favor an early Neolithic origin.

21 October 2010

TARP Surprisingly Cheap

TARP bailout funds are likely to be repaid in full, with interest, except for about $50 billion worth. And, so far, it has made about $25 billion of interest on the loans over what it would have earned had it simply made Treasury bond investments, as it usually does. Thus, the total cost of the program (which will generate more interest payments before it is terminated) is less than $25 billion.

For that one time net $25 billion or less expenditure, the federal government prevented many healthy busineses from collapsing simply because bankers had panicked and were refusing to make even safe loans, and saved many tens of thousands of middle class jobs at GM and Chrysler in the long term; which would otherwise probably moved overseas as imported vehicles made abroad replaced GM and Chrysler market share (in part). The tax revenues generated by those jobs that would otherwise have been lost will also reduce the net taxpayer cost of TARP significantly,

This isn't chump change and spending tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to save each long term middle class job isn't cheap, but it is a tiny fraction of the perceived taxpayer expenditure based on the total amount loaned, rather than the defaults net of interest. And, the benefits are underestimated.

Parallel programs, like the temporary government guarantee that privately insured money market funds would not break the buck, and FDIC operations, have also been surprisingly cheap, shut down panic, and been paid for to the extent they produced a cost, largely by the industry itself.

Ineffective stimulus money, like the home buyer tax credit, which created almost no increase in real estate sales over a period of more than a few months at an immense taxpayer cost, made far less sense.