27 February 2018

Overcoming Rot

The United States of America does not want for the raw materials of prosperity and a just society.

We have many, many million decent people. We have thriving, tolerant, prosperous cities full of well organized talented people. We have brought some of the best people from all over the world into our society to make something entirely new. 

We are a nation of laws, and many of our judges and civil servants are willing to act bolding to protect those ideals and standards in the face of a political leadership that does not believe in those laws, does not believe in our nation's ideals, is corrupt, and has values no better than those of the KKK and the Nazis.

As our politicians over the last thirteen months has done their best to unravel all that is good in our society, our nation has not taken it meekly. We have fought back and stopped many of the worst proposals. A resistance has been organized and people have mobilized to get our nation back on the right track. The injustices and wrongs have not been ignored or normalized. We have been steadfast in distinguishing what the American people want from what is being done in their name.

They have learned to utilize power bases like big business, the legal profession, the medical profession, mainstream media, teachers, and the academy to take on opponents like the NRA, xenophobes, and a regressive attorney-general on criminal justice policy.

The opposition has started to bring its A game to this political fight. The Trump base in falling in on itself and making excuses instead of stepping up from an accidental victory that they weren't ready for.

Government is a matter of both power and choice. Most problems in democratic government don't have a single right solution. But, almost all of those problems have many wrong solutions. Gaining political power gives you the ability to choose solutions, but that doesn't get you very far is you only have the wrong solutions. You won't make your people, or even your supporters, better off that way.

America's center-left, and even its sane center-right which is out of power within its own faction, have solutions that can work. And, those solutions don't cease to be good ideas simply because they are not implemented. Ideas to improve our society that actually work have a power all their own. People who promote failed ideas, in contrast, are prone to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The current administration has an extremely narrow base. Old, white male Evangelical Christians, the NRA and Russian political leaders and their proxies back it. The young do not. Women do not. Non-whites do not. Non-Christians do not. Our former international allies (except Israel) do not. Big businesses are, at best, lukewarm despite receiving massive tax cuts and experiencing business regulation rolled back on almost every front. Credit card Republicans are pushing discredited economic solutions and poisoning our nation's economy with attacks on education and immigration critical to our nation's human capital, and on trade.

You can't defy political gravity forever. If you keep acting incompetent and craven; if you repeatedly enact widely unpopular policies; if you keep narrowing your basis by alienating everyone else even if they are inclined towards your coalition (as conservative activists at the CPAC conference did last week); if you show yourself to have no principles; if you lie more often than you tell the truth; eventually you pay a political price for that.

No politicians can keep all of their promises. But, the more often you betray you own promises when you didn't have to, the less power your promises will have to motivate voters when you go back to them.

This administration is so bad that it has united a lot of strange bedfellows. The tribal partisan base of racist Fox News watching, talk radio listening Trump supporters may be willing to adjust their values and worldview on a dime to match their leader.  

But, conservative elites aren't as spineless even if they must feign total support in the current political climate. There are plenty of conservatives who are not comfortable having a crass serial rapist and open adulterer who endorses pedophiles, idiots and racists as their leader, even if they are holding their noses for now. There are plenty of conservatives who have an agenda other than tearing down everything done in the Obama administration who recognize that government is a necessary evil. There are plenty of conservatives who have no taste for Donald Trump's affection for Russia and don't welcome Russian interference in American elections even when it helps their side.

Principled conservatives are certainly a minority at the moment. But, when Republicans have as thin support as they do in Congress, it doesn't take many dissenters to paralyze their political agendas. Don't forget that independent counsel Mueller is one of those principled conservatives.

And, if not before the mid-terms, certainly before the 2020 election, we are going to have a recession that our political leaders and their incompetent appointees will not be able to manage well. An administration that can command only a 35% favorability rating in a continued economic boom will fall even further if the economy staggers, as it inevitably does from time to time.

There is still enough of a foundation beneath the rot to rebuild our nation into one that we can be proud of and one that can be respected internationally, so long as we cut it away soon enough. And, it can be cut away, so long as the resistance remains motivated and energized.

19 February 2018

The Kids Are All Right

For over a decade, young people have been voting overwhelmingly for progressives and, more importantly, telling pollsters that they identify with or lean towards supporting the Democratic Party. 
If you think that's always been the case, you're wrong — despite the unpopular war in Vietnam and the swirling cultural revolution, Richard Nixon won under-30 voters in 1972. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter split young voters evenly in 1980, while Reagan and George H.W. Bush crushed it with the young in '84 and '88. Bill Clinton carried the youth vote in 1992 and 1996, but then George W. Bush tied Al Gore in 2000 with 18- to 24-year-olds and only barely lost the 25-29 bracket. 
Something remarkable began happening in 2004, though. That's the year John Kerry carried the under-30 vote by 9 points. And the next three presidential elections saw Democrats demolishing their opponents with young people by 34, 23, and 19 points. While the GOP's position with young voters has gotten better since 2008, the situation remains dire. There is simply no precedent for such a yawning gap in a party's fortunes with America's youngest voters over the course of four presidential cycles since pollsters started collecting this kind of data. And it is an ominous sign about the future of the Republican Party.
From here.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, people don't get significantly more conservative as they get older. They are conservative now, because they were conservative when they were young.

It isn't just a matter of partisanship either.

Young adults are more more LGBT and 420 friendly than older people, even if they are Evangelical Christians. But, they are also much more likely to identify as non-religious, or if they are Christian, to identify as simply "Christian" in a non-denominational sense, rather than as Evangelical or mainline Christian. This is even more true among students at elite universities who will provide our next generation of national leaders. For example, only 35% of Harvard freshmen identify as Christian, and half of them identify as Roman Catholic, a moderate force in American politics compared to many other Christian denominations, particularly under the leadership of Pope Francis.

My children's generation is the best behaved in terms of drugs, tobacco, crime, teen pregnancy and other risky behaviors than any other generation in history.

Young adults divorce less often than their parent's generation did. As families have gotten smaller, they have had more family resources devoted to them than earlier generations because those resources aren't spread amongst more siblings. This shift has been greatest in low income families. High income families have had somewhat more children, but have also had children later in life when families are more economically secure and have captured most of the nation's economic growth.

Few served in the relatively small, post-Cold War military, and those who did serve did signed up voluntarily, not because they were drafted. More grew up in cities and as a result, fewer hunt and fewer own guns.

They weren't exposed to lead. They have benefited from a generation's progress in public health and safety measures. Crime rates have been falling for most of their lives.

They aren't afraid of technology. Television, movies and the Internet have opened their eyes to a national and global culture, rather than trapping them in their parochial prejudices.

They are less white than earlier generations and less racist. They are more likely to have grown up knowing immigrants, non-Christians of multiple kinds, people who aren't white, and people who aren't heterosexual, so they are more tolerant than their grandparents.

The are politically active social justice warriors.

The mass hysteria and hate movement that is the Republican party today won't disappear because we change the hearts and minds of older people. It will happen because the young abandon it and fail to replace their elders who gradually die.

Still increasingly women are seeing though the deep misogyny of the GOP and changing their tune as well as shown in the table below. Early indications are that the trend of white women deserting the GOP will accelerate dramatically in the 2018 midterm elections:
In the Presidential election in 2016, white women (who made up 36% of all voters in 2016) preferred Trump over Clinton by 9 percentage points. Now, they favor Democrats over Republicans by 12 percentage points.
Female voter preferences in Presidential elections by year.

1976 D+4
1980 R+1
1984 R+16
1988 R+2
1992 D+7
1996 D+17
2000 D+10
2004 D+3
2008 D+13
2012 D+11
2016 D+12

Increasingly, Republicans are limited to grumpy old men who are determined to hold us back as a nation, and that isn't a majority coalition.

11 February 2018

Management Matters

A large share of the difference in productivity between firms in different countries and between firms within a country are attributable to the adoption by the more productive firms of management practices that are absent in the less productive firms according to a recent, gold standard study of the topic. This strongly echos insights I've drawn from the involvement of some of my extended family members in the establishment of a private college in Tanzania.

Some implications of this fact:

1. Management practices are something that can be intentionally changed. The present is not destiny. In contrast, efforts to identity average national IQ as a source of the difference in the wealth of nations only recommends complacency and provides no action items for economic development.

2. Most countries have at least some examples of firms using significantly better than the norm management practices that can serve as models for other firms. I suspect that the distribution of management practices within countries shows regional differences that help explain why big businesses can regularly sweep large regions in the face of local competition.

3. The people who have the power to change management practices in firms have a strong economic incentive to do so. Policy change is a matter of both power and choice. Here, informing choices is more important the power, because the people in power of immense incentives to listen to this advice.

4. Human capital is at least as important as financial capital, if not much more so. Breaking pervasive government policy decisions that assume the opposite is critical for economic development.

5. Management practices are more selective and empirically proven ways to tweak corporate culture than all or nothing aping of a culture with higher productivity a la early 20th century Turkey, which had businessmen dressing in a climate-inappropriate British fashion. This allows for reforms that are less culturally disruptive and may face less resistance.

Some details from the link (emphasis added):

Many estimates (e.g. Jones 2015) calculate that US productivity is more than 30 times larger than some sub-Saharan African countries. In practical terms, this means it would take a Liberian worker a month to produce what an American worker makes in a day, even if they had access to the same capital equipment and materials. . . .
This huge productivity spread between countries is mirrored by large productivity differences within countries. Output per worker is four times as great . . . for the top 10% of US establishments compared to the bottom 10%, even within a narrowly defined industry like cement or cardboard box production (Syverson 2011). And such cross-firm differences appear even greater for developing countries (Hsieh and Klenow 2009). . . .
The large, persistent gaps in basic managerial practices that we document are associated with large, persistent differences in firm performance. Better-managed firms are more productive, grow at a faster pace, and are less likely to die. Figure 3 shows [thatthere is] a close correlation between better-managed firms and higher productivity. This may not be causal of course, but we also observe these performance improvements after experimental interventions ‘injecting’ these type of management practices into Indian textile firms (Bloom et al. 2013). 
We performed a simple accounting exercise to evaluate the importance of management for the cross-country differences in productivity. We found that management accounted for about 30% of the unexplained TFP differentials driving the large differences in the wealth of nations.
TFR (total factor return) is a concept in the economic development and productivity literature that basically refers to productivity differences not explainable by other factors like capital investment spending. 

06 February 2018

Army Robots

Prototype robot tanks are supposed to be about three years away, but it isn't clear just how much autonomy that they will have. 

"We are going to build some tech demonstrators of the Robotic Combat Vehicle and actually get it into the hands of soldiers, ideally between 2020 and 2021," Nuckols said.
These early prototypes will be built from the Army's legacy vehicle platforms, but they "will likely not look like the legacy vehicle," he said. 
"The reason you don't want to take ... let's say an Abrams tank," Nuckols said. "Abrams is close to 80 tons now and has a significant sustainment burden. You don't want to have to pay for all of that weight and force protection when you don't have soldiers in the vehicle that you need to protect. 
"You could have the same capability on a 25-ton vehicle and potentially have the same lethality as an Abrams," he said. . . . 
If all goes well, "we are looking at potentially building a number of purpose-built Robotic Combat Vehicles sometime immediately following that 2021 experiment," he said. 
Critics will argue that the effort resembles the Army's failed Future Combat Systems, an ambitious effort to design a new fleet of lightweight manned and unmanned combat vehicles and other platforms to completely dominate future battlefields, Nuckols said. 
But the technology FCS depended on simply did not exist. The Army spent billions on FCS, only to see it fail when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates killed the 27-ton Manned Ground Vehicles portion of FCS in the 2010 budget while criticizing the advanced design as ill-suited to survive current battlefield threats. . . . 
"One of the critical underlying failures of FCS was the theory that you would be able to always see the enemy; that is just not possible. You are not always going to find the enemy first, no matter how good your sensors are and I think the Army understands that," he said. "You can't just always assume that you can have a lighter, less protected vehicle and be able to pick and choose exactly when and how you engage the enemy." 
From here.

Where Do Non-Religious People Live?

The blue areas are more secular, while the brown areas have the fewest secular people.

Quote of the Day

The bread of law is buttered with stupid.
- Jeffrey Gard (a Colorado attorney) (in a CLE presentation today).