29 June 2018

Marital Child Bearing Rates And Divorce Rates Are Still Driven By Economics

None of this is new to regular readers of this blog, but since I wrote this recap in a Facebook post and comment, where it was really too long, I am going to repost this analysis here with some minor stylistic changes (e.g. you can't do paragraph breaks in Facebook comments).

The Post and Comment
[A]mong babies born to mothers who never went to college, a clear majority are born out of wedlock (58 percent). . . . Among babies born to mothers who went to college but never earned a degree, the out-of-wedlock rate is 44 percent. It’s only 10 percent for college-educated mothers.
From an opinion piece in the Washington Examiner (a conservative D.C. periodical). 

Notwithstanding the real thing called the "Anti-Flynn Effect" that has shown up in a few countries, I think I know what is driving this trend and it is economics, not intelligence. 

Real wages for non-college men have economically stagnated since the 70s and they face intermittent unemployment, and they haven't moved into formerly "women's" jobs. 

Economic prospects for non-college women have soared since the 1970s as new job fields have opened up and braun has become less economically important, and taking time off to have kids involves fewer long term economic sacrifices for less skilled work (there isn't a seniority/experience premium). 

Real wages for college educated people have surged since the 1970s absorbing almost all economic growth. 

College educated women who take time off to have kids pay a huge long term economic price for doing so since there are huge experience/seniority/maximal hours per week premiums in highly skilled work like law, public accounting, engineering, medicine and senior management in businesses, even though college women with children still have better economic prospects than non-college women with children. 

The relative economic potential of non-college men relative to non-college women with children has plummeted in the exact time that non-marital child bearing for them has surged, while the relative economic potential of college men relative to college women with children has stayed high. 

Women are willing to have children with men who are great providers relative to them, but the benefit of marriage for women is to capture the economic potential of their partners which they are dependent upon and that's grown pretty meager for non-college women. 

You see the same decline of marriage in places like Sweden where the long term economic sacrifice college educated women make to have children is much smaller.

And, you see very high marriage rates among women who have children, in places like Japan where the long term economic sacrifice women (even non-college educated women) who have children face is very high. 

African-American marriage collapsed first because African-American men have higher unemployment and lower wages for comparable levels of education than whites, plus the handicap of mass incarceration at far higher rates, while African-American women are at a much smaller economic disadvantage relative to white women, and because fewer African-Americans are college educated. 

A lot of conservative anti-gay rights sentiment is driven by the fact that their marriage institution is falling apart but they don't understand that the cause is mostly economic. A lot of conservative "anti-woman" sentiment is driven by the fact that greater economic prospects for non-college women is half the reason that their marriages and families are weaker (the other half being the stagnation of working class economic prospects due to automation, offshoring, immigration, and men's unwillingness or inability to equip themselves for an economy that now needs more brain than brawn. 

African-American communities drew different political lessons from the same phenomena because they were willfully excluded from conservative political circles by white racism and because the economic and incarceration causes of the decline of marriage in their communities was more obvious to them.

Further Discussion

It is worth noting how compelling the desire to have kids and spend some time as a primary caretaker for them is for women. This is something that even successful specialist medical doctors feel is an imperative for them.

As I note in a 2012 blog post, the decline of the African-American marriage very likely has economic causes, because as recently as 1950, when the economy was at a peak for working class men of all races (also giving rise to the "Great Migration" of blacks to the North), job prospects for women were still non-existent, and the mass incarceration phenomena had not emerged, there was no marriage gap.
70 percent of black women are unmarried, and they are more than twice as likely as white women to remain that way. Those black women who do marry are more likely than any other group of women to “marry down.” This is often chalked up to high incarceration rates—in 2009, of the nearly 1.5 million men in prison, 39 percent were black—but it’s more than that. Across all income levels, black men have dropped far behind black women professionally and educationally; women with college degrees outnumber men 2-to-1. In August, the unemployment rate among black men age 20 or older exceeded 17 percent. 
There had been no racial disparity in marriage rates in 1950, when 64% of black women were married. 
(As an aside, the dramatic change is Exhibit A in the case that Bell Curve style population genetic disparities, or "Roots" style ancient cultural legacies, aren't a good fit to explaining this change. Black women and black men have virtually the same genetic endowment, and the change in the nature of black marriage largely followed the Civil Right Movement from a status quo ante that wasn't racialized.)
The marriage gap for African-Americans was already alive and well, however, by 1965 when the Moynihan Report was released.

Another factor hidden in the statistics quoted above is that assortive marriage is on the rise. College educated women can and do depend economically on their husbands, in part, because they are more likely to be married to college educated men than they used to be, while non-college educated women can't and don't depend economically on the father's of their children, in part, because they are less likely to be married to college educated men than they used to be.

College educated white liberals, and non-Southern urban liberals generally, haven't been very concerned about "family values" because their families aren't falling apart. College educated women are married when they have children 90% of the time, and it is their falling divorce rates which have driven this trend noted by the Washington Examiner piece:
You have probably heard the statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce. This “data” point is as persistent as the notion that every piece of gum you swallow sticks to your ribs for seven years. Divorce, in fact, has been on a steady decline since the late 1970s. 
The U.S. Census Bureau measures the divorce rate by number of divorces per 1,000 married women. In 1979, that rate was 22.8. Divorce hit a 40-year low in 2015, with 16.8 divorces per 1,000 married women.
If the divorce rate were separated between the rate for college educated women and non-college educated women, the marriages of college educated women would have improved even more since the 1970s and would be significantly lower. As I noted in a blog post in 2008, quoting the Economist (via Non-Prophet):
[T]he divorce rate among college-educated women has plummeted. Of those who first tied the knot between 1975 and 1979, 29% were divorced within ten years. Among those who first married between 1990 and 1994, only 16.5% were. 
At the bottom of the education scale, the picture is reversed. Among high-school dropouts, the divorce rate rose from 38% for those who first married in 1975-79 to 46% for those who first married in 1990-94. Among those with a high school diploma but no college, it rose from 35% to 38%.
I strongly suspect that in the last decade the divorce rate divide between married women with no college and women with college degrees has grown even greater.

So, 58% of women with no college don't marry before having children, and women with no college are more than twice as likely to divorce within ten years if they do get married (38%+ v. 16.5%) as women who are college graduates. The odds of a woman with no college who has children having children while married and staying married for at least ten years are only about 25% or less versus 78% or more for women who are college graduates. 

Now, there is at least one data point which argues against my hypothesis linking marriage and economics, which I noted in a 2010 blog post:
The Pew Research Center interpreting Cenus Bureau data finds that education no longer has an impact on when a white woman will marry, or how likely she is to marry. College educated black women are more likely to marry than black women who lack a college education.
[White] women . . . ages 35 to 39, have been as likely to marry as those who did not graduate from college . . . For both groups, an analysis of 2008 figures shows 84 percent had married at some point before age 40.  
That is a significant shift from the 1990s, when young adults who didn't finish college were more likely to have wed than their better-educated counterparts, 75 percent to 69 percent. . . . 
Now, across the population, the typical age of marriage is 28 for both those who complete higher education and those who don't take that path or in some cases don't finish. . . .   
Since 1990, college-educated African-American women have been more likely to marry than their counterparts who do not have as much education . . .  That marriage gap among African-American women is sharpening[.]   
"College-educated women of all races . . . are marrying at rates similar to what the college-educated women of their mothers' generation did, but doing so later in life, and they are marrying at rates much higher than the college-educated women of their grandmothers' generation. And they have become less likely to divorce compared to their mothers' generation."
This doesn't change the fact, however, that white women who graduate from college are much more likely to have children after getting married than those who do not. As I noted in a 2013 blog post:
College-educated women typically have their first child two years after marrying. The high school graduates as a group have their first child two years before they ­marry.
And, I suspect that the higher rates of getting married at all for white women (often after they have children), doesn't change the fact that women who are college graduates are much less likely to divorce than those who are not. And, the still is a class based marriage gap, even if it is less pronounced for white women. As the Washington Examiner piece notes:
Nearly two-thirds of all adults over 25 were married in 1990. 
In 1960, 72 percent of all adults were married. Today, only half are married. Much of that shift is a delay in marriage — 18- to 25-year-olds don’t get married nearly as much as they used to. But that move away from young marriage doesn’t explain all the change. Record numbers of adults over age 25 have never been married: 23 percent of all men in 2012, compared to 9 percent in 1970, according to Pew Research
This drop isn’t even across classes, and it’s not a case of Wesleyan alumnae who write for HuffPo swearing off marriage as a tool of the patriarchy. The retreat from marriage is mostly a working-class thing. 
Look at adults over 25. The highly educated have long had a higher rate of marriage in this age cohort, but the gap has grown. In 1990, the college educated were about 9.5 percent more likely to married compared to those who never went to college. By 2015, the gap was 30 percent, according to Pew data.
The length of working class marriages helps to reconcile the gap between the "ever married" rate  at age 40, which is almost the same across all education levels for white women, and the percentage of adult women currently married at any given time.

And, the economic hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that unemployed men (even in "happy" marriages") are much ore likely to divorce than those who are employed, as I noted in a 2011 blog post. The study quoted there suggests that intermittent unemployment is a more important factor in working class divorce rates than stagnant wages for non-college educated men.

In a 2013 blog post I also note the greater marital stability seen in  the U.K. relative to the U.S. and consider what economic incentives could drive this trend that seems superficially contrary to the hypothesis that a stronger welfare state makes marriage weaker.

The Washington Examiner story also notes (as I have regularly observed in blog posts here) that the rise in out of wedlock births does not mean that teenage births have been on the rise. To the contrary, teenage births are on the decline and out of wedlock births now disproportionately involve adult women:
Teen motherhood was, in the 1990s, an infamous symbol of a declining morality bringing down the quality life, and spurring intergenerational poverty. In 1991 about 6 percent of all teenage girls had a baby. For black and Hispanic teens it was worse. 
By 2015 (the most recent data), the rate had dropped by more than 50 percent, falling to close to 2 percent. Every ethnic group saw a dramatic drop. Today, with the teen birth rate among blacks right around 3 percent and Hispanics below 4 percent, these demographics are now better on this score than whites were a generation ago. 
This drop in births isn’t due to abortion, or even simply to birth control. The fact — which would surprise the scolds of the 1990s — is that young people are having much less sex. Everyone is. Americans born in the 1990s (millennials and those even younger) were twice as likely as older generations to report having had no sexual partners in their early 20s. Overall, American adult sexual activity fell by 14 percent from the 1990s to the 2010s. Fewer high schoolers are having sex, according to CDC data: 41 percent in 2015, down from 48 percent in 2007.
Birth control is, however, still a very major factor in the declining teen birth rate, and in the declining overall birth rate. As the Washington Examiner piece notes:
The fertility rate in the U.S. hit its lowest level ever in 2016. Then last year, the rate dropped another 3 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, down to 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. That’s a massive one-year drop, and it meant that even though there are more women in their childbearing years than there were a decade ago, we got half a million fewer babies than in 2007.
A lot of this is due to fewer women having children a young ages, but the total number of children per lifetime per woman is also down. (Men and women with multiple partners over a lifetime, however, tend to have significantly more children than those who are married to one person for life.)

Against The Idiots Make Bad Spouses Hypothesis

Now, a very different interpretation of the class divide in out of wedlock births and divorces would be that people with less education have lower IQs on average, and that this leads them to make unwise choices regarding when to have children, to have more difficulty locating a good partner due to inferior dating prowess, and to have weaker abilities to negotiate marital disputes that threaten to get out of control.

There are good reasons to doubt this "ability" based hypothesis as an important factor, even though it may have some impact at the margins.

One is that the changes we've seen in marriage rates are recent and dramatic. If low IQ is fatal to your ability to get and stay married, and to wait to have children until you are married, why did this not happen prior to the 1970s? Why does it not happen in Japan?

One could argue that "no fault" divorce made possible something that otherwise wouldn't have happened, and this did occur at about the right time, but the divorce trends were in place before "no fault" divorce was adopted. New York State, the last state to make available "no fault" divorce experienced the same trends in non-marital child bearing and divorce that the rest of the nation did, for example. The African-American surge in non-marital child bearing similarly preceded both "no fault" divorce and mass incarceration for African-Americans.

A related notion is that as college graduation rates have greatly increased, from about 10% to about 33% from the late 1960s to the present, that the people who don't graduate from college are less competent.

This may impact marriage through intermediating economic factors. While non-college graduate men's economic prospects are mostly worse in relative terms because of changes in what the economy needs, a lot of the best and the brightest young men in the 1950s who didn't graduate from college were able to go into lucrative professions where success depended on their brains, like journalism and accounting and business management in big business, because a college credential wasn't a prerequisite to entry. Now, men seeking careers in those fields need a college degree as a ticket to entry and obtain one. Thus, the low unemployment, high wage part of the job pool historically available to non-college educated men have been shaved off, leaving the average non-college educated man a less fit provider than in the past.

But, again, it seems unlikely given all of the facts that the removal of these men from the pool of non-college educated husbands has so dramatically reduced the dating and husbanding skills of the remaining non-college educated husbands or husbands to be. The pool of non-college educated men has gone from 85% of men (college graduates used to be disproportionately male) to perhaps 60% of men (college graduates are now disproportionately women). But, the rise in divorce rates for non-college educated men and the rise in non-marital parenting for their children has surged much more quickly and not really in synch to this trend. Also, while more men are college graduates than used to be the case, far fewer men are high school dropouts than used to be the case when college was rare. So, while the cream has been skimmed, the dregs have also been removed, from an educational perspective.

Coming Attractions

I've been thinking a lot about how policy changes could lead to more stable families, because while multiple partners may arguably be better for the adults and make more economic sense in the current economy, it is pretty clear that it isn't better for the children. But, this post is already too long, and time is short, so that will have to wait for another day.

27 June 2018


Something like 98% of fiction is about people choosing to do not what is reasonable and sensible, but what is extraordinary and reckless. About 10% of the time, even in fiction, those who make that choice fail. But, then, they personally feel that it was worth having tried, despite the fact that they failed. In the rare case when people do make the reasonable and sensible choices in their lives in fiction, they often regret having done so.

About 95% of the time, in real life, people do what is reasonable and sensible, sometimes contentedly and sometimes while living lives of quiet desperation. Most of the time, in real life, when they do not make the reasonable and sensible choices, they fail. Most of the time, in real life, when they do fail, they regret their choice, unless that choice involved having children, which almost no one ever admits, even to themselves, that they regret. This isn't just because people deceive themselves. It is genuinely true that almost no one regrets having had children once they have children, no matter how much this changes their lives.

Reasonable and sensible, apparently, require no fictional cheerleaders. Or, perhaps, this issue selection bias. The people who write fiction did something extraordinary and reckless and prospered and assume that this in normal. They can't understand why other people didn't make the same choices that they did and try to win them over.

26 June 2018

Quote of the Day

There's a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn't mean love at first sight. It's the feeling when you meet someone that you're going to fall in love with them. Maybe you don't love them right away, but it's inevitable that you will.
- Nicola Yoon, "The Sun Is Also A Star" (2016).

25 June 2018

A Crime Our County Could Live Without

Whoever, falsely and with intent to defraud, holds himself out as or represents or pretends himself to be a member of, associated with, or an agent or representative for the 4–H clubs, an organization established by the Extension Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and the land grant colleges, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
18 U.S.C. § 916.

Where this crime is appropriate to punish at all, it is too lenient and too detached from the associated harms that can be better addressed with a civil action for fraud. Where it is not appropriate to punish, it is over criminalization.

22 June 2018

The Genetics Of Mental Health

A major new genome wide association study published in the journal Science has significant new findings related to mental health. The core finding of the study is as follows:
The final results indicated widespread genetic overlap across different types of psychiatric disorders, particularly between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia. The data also indicated strong overlap between anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as between OCD and Tourette syndrome. 
In contrast, neurological disorders such as Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis appeared more distinct from one another and from the psychiatric disorders -- except for migraine, which was genetically correlated to ADHD, major depressive disorder, and Tourette syndrome.
From here.

A full set of abstracts from the article appear below the fold.

How Monogamous Are Americans?

While the United States universally prohibits being married to more than one person at the same time, about 28% of people who have more than one child have children from more than one partner. A majority of African American men and a majority of African American women, who have more than one child, have children from more than one partner.

A significantly larger percentage of Americans who ever have one than one child (almost twice as large), will have children from more than one partner at some point in their lives. Of course, a significant percentage of men and women will never have children, or will only have one child in their lifetimes.

This is due predominantly to a series of monogamous relationships that produce children over a lifetime.

Mothers with children from mother than one father
The first national study of the prevalence of multiple partner fertility shows that 28 percent of all U.S. women with two or more children have children by more than one man.

While previous studies have examined how common multiple partner fertility is among younger women, or among women who live in urban areas, the research by Dorius is the first to assess prevalence among a national sample of U.S. women who have completed their child-bearing years. 
Dorius analyzed data on nearly 4,000 U.S. women who were interviewed more than 20 times over a period of 27 years, as part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The data included detail on individual men in each household, capturing what demographers call "relationship churning." For nonresidential relationships, Dorius triangulated information from mother and child reports to establish common paternity. 
She found that having children by different fathers was more common among minority women, with 59 percent of African American mothers, 35 percent of Hispanic mothers and 22 percent of white mothers reporting multiple partner fertility.

Women who were not living with a man when they gave birth and those with low income and less education were also more likely to have children by different men. But she also found that multiple partner fertility is surprisingly common at all levels of income and education and is frequently tied to marriage and divorce rather than just single parenthood.
From this April 2011 press release.

This is due mostly to serial monogamy. As this 2011 article explains:
Even many of the low-income women who are not married when they have a child intend to get married to their child’s father. According to figures from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, half of the children born to poor single moms are the offspring of a couple who are already living together. Only 10% of the kids are conceived with a man the mother doesn’t really know.
The Fragile Families study, summarizes in this June 2011 report, which was less representative because it was limited to urban children found that:
The most disadvantaged U.S. parents are also most likely to have children with more than one partner, creating complex family relationships and potentially exacerbating poverty, according to Marcia Carlson, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. 
As part of PRB’s 2010-2011 Policy Seminar series, Carlson examined the magnitude and implications of adults having children with more than one partner, a trend called “multi-partner fertility” by demographers and family researchers. She reported findings from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which is following a nationally representative group of nearly 5,000 urban children born in the late 1990s and their parents. 
Among the married parents surveyed, 21 percent had a child by another partner. That is, the mother, father, or both already had a child with someone else. Among the unmarried parents, 63 percent already had a child with another partner. This means that more than half of children with unmarried parents are “born into families with at least one half-sibling,” said Carlson. By the time those children celebrated their fifth birthdays, 71 percent had a half-sibling, reflecting the instability of unwed relationships. (The Fragile Families study found that two out of three couples had split up within five years after an unmarried birth.) 
In 2010, 41 percent of U.S. births were to unmarried parents. As a result, the share of U.S. children whose family lives are shaped by multi-partner fertility is substantial. Carlson also reported the findings of a variety of other studies indicating that as many as one in five children have a half-sibling, and as many as one in three mothers on welfare have a child with more than one partner. 
Overall, her findings suggest that having children with more than one partner is most common among parents who are young, African American, lived with one parent at age 15, and have lower education levels. The fathers were more likely to have spent time in jail and the birth was more likely to be the result of an unintended pregnancy. “The least advantaged couples are most likely to have children with multiple partners,” she said. “We are just beginning to get a handle on what this means for kids and families.”
Fathers with children from more than one mother

A report based upon 2002 survey data looks at multi-partner fertility data for fathers:
Nearly one-half (47 percent) had fathered at least one child.

■ Thirty-nine percent had had children with a single partner, including 17 percent with one child and 22 percent with two or more children.

■ Eight percent had experienced multiple-partner fertility; that is, they had fathered children with more than one mother.

Among a subsample of men in the study sample who fathered children, 18 percent reported having children with more than one woman (in separate analyses, not shown here).

The proportion of men who have fathered children with more than one woman increases with age. Analyses of data on our study sample of men aged 15-44 suggest that an estimated 5 percent will experience multiple-partner fertility by age 25 (see Figure 2). This proportion increases to 8 percent by age 30 and 12 percent by age 35. By age 40, an estimated 15 percent (or more than 1 in 7) will have children with more than one woman. 
The 18% figure in the father's survey is not comparable and inherently lower than the 28% figure in the mother's survey, because the mothers survey gave the percentage of mothers with more than one child who have children from different fathers, while the father's study dilutes that number with the 36% of fathers who have only single child.

Thus, 28% of father's who have more than one child have children with different mothers, the same percentage that applies to mothers in the 2011 study.

The father's study also illuminates the fact that the overall percentage of fathers and mothers who have children with more than one partner at any given time is lower than the percentage who will ultimately have children with more than one partner over the course of their lifetimes, which is at least 88% larger in the case of fathers.

Hispanic men are 21% more likely to have children with multiple mothers than non-Hispanic white men (compared to 59% more for Hispanic women relative to non-Hispanic white women). African American men are 229% more likely to have children with multiple mothers than non-Hispanic white men (compared to 269% more for African American women relative to non-Hispanic white women).

Men with children from more than one mother have far more children, on average, than the average man or the average father, with 73% having three or more children.

Men with children from more than one mother are twice as likely to have been incarcerated in their lives than men with children from one mother.

Men with children from more than one mother are likely to have first had sex and to have first had children earlier than average. And, 71% of men with children with more than one mother were married to at least one of the mothers (24% were married to all of the mothers).

21 June 2018

Statistically Speaking Because I'm In Colorado, It Isn't Raining Right Now

Old democracies usually don't fail, therefore democracy in the U.S. isn't in trouble, isn't a very convincing thesis. 
Influential voices in academia and the media contend that democracy is in decline worldwide and threatened in the US. 
Using a variety of measures, I show that the global proportion of democracies is actually at or near an all-time high; that the current rate of backsliding is not historically unusual; and that this rate is well explained by the economic characteristics of existing democracies. 
I confirm that breakdowns tend to occur in countries that are poor, have had relatively little democratic experience, and are in economic crisis. Extrapolating from historical data, I show that the estimated hazard of failure in a democracy as developed and seasoned as the US is extremely lowfar lower than in any democracy that has ended in the past. 
Some suggest that undemocratic public attitudes and erosion of elite norms threaten US institutions, but there is little evidence that these factors cause democratic breakdown. While deterioration in the quality of democracy in countries such as Hungary and Poland is itself cause for concern — as is the reversion to authoritarianism in Russia and Turkey — alarm about a global slide into autocracy is inconsistent with current evidence.
From Daniel Treisman, "Is Democracy in Danger? A Quick Look at the Data", paper prepared for presentation at conference on “Democratic Backsliding and Electoral Authoritarianism,” Yale University, May 4-5, 2018 (linked draft dated June 7, 2018).

Black Swans

Outliers happen and unprecedented things happen all the time. Treisman might be well advised to read "The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.


Moreover, a democracy can be in a dangerous time and only saved if we are not complacent, even if it does ultimately survive by dint of the efforts of people who recognize the risk and take aggressive and active steps to address it.

Is The Democracy Really Developed And Seasoned In The US?

Some parts of the U.S. have a much longer history of healthy democratic governance than others.

In many of the states where concern about democratic principles under Trump is weakest, that history isn't there.

In the American South, the franchise was particularly restricted prior to 1865, because the substantial proportion of the population that was enslaved had no vote, and neither did women, and neither did free white men who didn't own property which many sharecroppers didn't. There was a regime change in 1861 and in 1865 when the Confederacy surrendered, there was martial law for a period of time during Reconstruction. (This study doesn't even treat the U.S. Civil War or subsequent period of martial law in parts of the U.S. as a democratic break down.)

When Reconstruction ended, voter suppression denied the vote to perhaps 80-85% of black voters and a dominant party system in which the Democratic Party controlled every significant legislative body and every significant executive branch office throughout the region, remained in place for 90 years, that is, about three generations of de facto one party rule through the Civil Rights movement. The Republican Party wasn't actually banned. It could field candidates and hold meetings, subject to occasional KKK disruption, but it was as irrelevant in the South as the Libertarian Party is, or Green Party is, in today's two party system.

So, the South has only had any real semblance of full fledged democratic government for half a century, and even that experience has been fraught. For example, the are counties in Georgia in which all local government is run by a single elected county commission, elected at large, who has unilateral and complete legislative and executive branch power, and voting rights for all remain an ongoing problem, for example, in Florida, where felon disenfranchisement laws deprive a disproportionate share of black voters from voting in one of the few states that could be competitive between Democrats and Republicans.

Similarly, Utah was denied statehood until 1896, and has likewise had a dominant party system that is in practice little different from a one party state, for most of its history since then.

The weak tradition of democratic governance in large swath of the U.S. is one reason, among many, that democratic governance is less developed and seasoned than it appears.

20 June 2018

Not An Excuse But An Explanation

A piece in "The Week" by Matthew Walther offers an explanation for how "deplorable" Trump supporters got to be so heartless that deserves attention. I quote it at length because the points made are so critical to understanding the deep roots of the political divide in our nation and a political culture whose disregard for established norms has thrust our nation into a crisis.
You are also very likely to hear a defense of the policy from the average Trump supporter in the rural Midwest. Here in the bowels of Trump country, when the administration eventually reverses course, upsetting only Ann Coulter and a handful of contributors to Conservative Review, the images of sobbing children in metal boxes will have cost the president nothing. There are any number of reasons for this, many of which have to do with the ability of many voters to pretend that one or more of the non-arguments proffered above is convincing. But there are other, more important, reasons for this that are mostly invisible to members of my profession.

One is that in many parts of the country where Trump enjoys wide support, the invasiveness of Child Protective Services is a fact of life. Everyone here knows what it is like to see their children or grandchildren or their nephews and nieces taken away, frequently for nonsensical and capricious reasons. The women my wife sees enjoying weekly supervised visits with their children at the local public library in our small Michigan town live in childless homes because their toddler fell down once or because a member of their family was convicted of taking or selling drugs. Parenting is something they have learned to conceive of as a kind of privilege rather than as a right. 
They are accustomed to other sorts of random cruelties as well. Many of them live every day with the harassment of police officers, the condescension of teachers and social workers and the rest of the educational and public health bureaucracy, the leers of judges, the scolding of doctors and nurses, the incompetence of Veterans Affairs, even the smirks of grocery store clerks who seem to think that a woman who buys a case of beer while her children are in the shopping cart or when she is using food stamps to purchase her other groceries belong to a lower order of mammals. 
Their manners have been barbarized almost beyond description. Just the other day I was walking next to my older daughter, who is 2 and a half, while she rode her tricycle. Eventually we came to a crosswalk and waited for the signal; when it appeared a pick-up truck that had missed the light came within two feet of hitting us. When I looked up at the driver he rolled down his window screamed, "Next time I'll just run your f--kin' kid over!" (He declined my invitation to pull over and further discuss the matter with me on the sidewalk.) Incidents like this are a wholly unremarkable feature of life in a world in which even the casual inconvenience of having to wait five seconds at a stoplight can give rise to quasi-homocidal rage and the ludicrous sense of power that comes from being behind the wheel of an automobile when there are pedestrians present is intoxicating.

How did this happen? It is almost impossible to give a succinct account, but any meaningful answer would involve the endlessly disruptive pace of modern life, the rise of the internet, the decline of religion, the disappearance of meaningful work, drug and alcohol abuse, and the resilience of atavistically crude manners. 
None of this should be taken to suggest that the people I am talking about — even the one who almost ran over my daughter — are especially wicked. Anyone with a shred of empathy can see where most of these things come from. But there is a mode of politics in this country that appeals to the brokenness of their lives, the fracturing and poisoning of their imaginations, one that involves an affirmation of the thuggishness and despair with which they are so familiar and a suggestion that these feelings are the basis upon which a society might be organized. It did not begin with the rise of Trump. One could argue that it goes back to opposition to the civil rights movement or to the Know-Nothings or the anti-Federalists, all the way back to Cain and Abel, but I think in its modern incarnation it came into being with the Tea Party.
This is the story of people who don't care about others because they are so resentful of the treatment that they feel that they unjustifiably receive. Most of it flows from poverty. Most of the poverty flows from lacking the education and cultural capital necessary to function in a productive manner in modern society.

It is no longer possible for people with marginal functional literacy, who is disinclined to be docile at a desk or computer all day, who doesn't respect and tolerate others, to function in our economy.

Opportunities for unskilled laborers or blue collar workers to make a living have gone away with the manufacturing industry. Their unemployment rates are higher than everyone else's. They become physically unable to work in their customary profession far younger due to the toll that physical labor takes on your body and the demands your body must be able to manage to do that work.

Our society no longer needs what white working class men did for generations, and those men have mostly failed to find good alternatives. Yet, their options aren't great. Not everyone is capable of being book smart, and those who are leave the places they grew up and find greener pastures elsewhere.

Stretches of unemployment and depression further untether them from civilized society. The good manners that flow from knowing you can be fired without cause at any time whither away swiftly when you have nothing left to lose.

This piece doesn't offer a solution. But, it does ring true. Walther has accurately discerned, I think, where this seemingly unfathomable mass insanity and cauldron of hate comes from in the modern United States.

We know from the World Value Survey that poverty and uncertainty drive conservative values, while affluence and security creates liberals. So, in the long run, the way to change hearts and minds is to replace poverty with affluence and uncertainty with security.

In all likelihood, this isn't going to happen with the free market alone, which is doing exactly what it is designed to do when it harshly punishes people who can't contribute what the market needs, while rewarding handsomely people who do.

19 June 2018

Environmental Factors Influence IQ

There has been a great deal of skepticism expressed that education has any impact on IQ, but a large meta-analysis of research studies suggests that education does significantly increase IQ. 
Intelligence test scores and educational duration are positively correlated. This correlation could be interpreted in two ways: Students with greater propensity for intelligence go on to complete more education, or a longer education increases intelligence. We meta-analyzed three categories of quasiexperimental studies of educational effects on intelligence: those estimating education-intelligence associations after controlling for earlier intelligence, those using compulsory schooling policy changes as instrumental variables, and those using regression-discontinuity designs on school-entry age cutoffs. Across 142 effect sizes from 42 data sets involving over 600,000 participants, we found consistent evidence for beneficial effects of education on cognitive abilities of approximately 1 to 5 IQ points for an additional year of education. Moderator analyses indicated that the effects persisted across the life span and were present on all broad categories of cognitive ability studied. Education appears to be the most consistent, robust, and durable method yet to be identified for raising intelligence.
Stuard J. Ritchie and Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, "How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis" Psychological Science (June 18, 2018).

This is in line with recent research on the Flynn Effect and Anti-Flynn Effect which shows that changes nationwide in average intelligence are driven by environmental factors.
Using administrative register data with information on family relationships and cognitive ability for three decades of Norwegian male birth cohorts, we show that the increase, turning point, and decline of the Flynn effect can be recovered from within-family variation in intelligence scores. This establishes that the large changes in average cohort intelligence reflect environmental factors and not changing composition of parents, which in turn rules out several prominent hypotheses for retrograde Flynn effects. 
Population intelligence quotients increased throughout the 20th century—a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect—although recent years have seen a slowdown or reversal of this trend in several countries. To distinguish between the large set of proposed explanations, we categorize hypothesized causal factors by whether they accommodate the existence of within-family Flynn effects. Using administrative register data and cognitive ability scores from military conscription data covering three decades of Norwegian birth cohorts (1962–1991), we show that the observed Flynn effect, its turning point, and subsequent decline can all be fully recovered from within-family variation. The analysis controls for all factors shared by siblings and finds no evidence for prominent causal hypotheses of the decline implicating genes and environmental factors that vary between, but not within, families.
Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg, "Flynn effect and its reversal are both environmentally caused" PNAS (June 11, 2018) https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1718793115 (pay per view).

Of course, it has always been uncontroversial that negative environmental factors like pre-natal nutritional deficiencies and lead poisoning in children can lead to lower IQ. 

Probably the most mainstream position is that genetics quite strongly predict maximum intelligence, and that environmental factors, including lack of exposure to the quality education necessary to nurture your potential IQ, can prevent you from reaching your potential.

But since adequate education is so widespread in developed countries where nutrition and other heath factors that reduce IQ are rare for much of the population, our inaccurate intuition from data in these places is that environment plays a relatively minor role in determining IQ. This also leads us to underestimate the genetic IQ potential of populations abroad and domestically that suffer environmental impairments to IQ.

16 June 2018

Fertility, Marriage and Religion In My World

This Father's Day weekend, I am thinking about fertility.


I have twelve first cousins and a brother, for a total of fourteen people in my generation, of whom eight are men and six are women. Of the fourteen:

Six have no children (four female, two male)
One has one child (male)
Six have two children (five male, one female)
One has three children (female)

Overall, the fourteen people in my generation have sixteen children. My brother and I, who are in our forties, are the youngest in our generation, so there aren't likely to be any more. This is a lifetime fertility rate of 1.14, which is well below the replacement rate of about 2.1.

My father had one brother, and my mother had five siblings, for a total of eight people in my parent's generation - although, of course, that makes for only seven independent sets of parents. Of those seven sets of parents:

Two had no children (one female, one unknown)
Three had two children (three male)
Two had four children (one male, one female)

This is a lifetime fertility rate equivalent of 2.

The weighted average lifetime fertility rate of the two generations is 1.43.


All sixteen children were born in wedlock and none of the marriages that produced children have ended in divorce. Of the six who do not have children, both of the men and one of the women are married, one of the women has been in a marriage-like decades long committed opposite sex relationship that has not broken up, one of the women was married one for less than a year before divorcing, and one of the women was never married and died as a young adult.

In my parent's generation, all of the children were born in wedlock and none divorced. My father remarried as a widower, but no one else in that generation has remarried after losing a spouse to death at this point (this could conceivably change). Of the two who did not have children, neither married; one died as an infant and one died as an adult from a condition (M.S.) that first manifested when she was in college.


All of the members of my parents generation were/are life long members of mainline Lutheran denominations (the names changed over the years due to denominational mergers), and all of them raised their children in those churches.

In my generation, of the fourteen of us, at least four of us (29%) are no longer religious, nine (64%) are still mainline Lutherans and one (7%) is Christian but has been participated in non-Lutheran churches as an adult.


My extended family is an extreme example, but not that much of an exceptional one. Birth rates in the United States are at record lows as companies that make diapers are well aware.

Birth rates are also low in both Northern Europe, where my extended family's ancestors originate, and in Korea, where my wife's extended family's ancestors' originate.

As I note above, I had twelve first cousins. My two children have three first cousins.

14 June 2018

Are Suicide and Violent Crime Rates Inversely Related?

Suicide rates have increased across the United States — and in dozens of states by more than 30 percent, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based on public health data from 1999 to 2016.

Among suicide victims counted in 2015 in 27 states, 54 percent had no known mental health condition, researchers say in the June 8 report. For those who died, circumstances surrounding their suicide included relationship or job problems, the loss of a home, legal troubles and physical health issues. These factors played a role whether suicide victims had a diagnosed medical condition or not.
Overall, close to 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2016. . . . By state or jurisdiction, the rates of suicide in the most recent period studied (2014 to 2016) ranged from 6.9 per 100,000 people in the District of Columbia to 29.2 per 100,000 for Montana.
From Science News citing D. Stone et al. "Vital Signs: Trends in state suicide rates — United States, 1999-2016 and circumstances contributing to suicide — 27 states, 2015." 67 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 634 (June 8, 2018).

What else was happening as suicide rates surged?

All across the United States crime rates, including violent crime rates, were plummeting.

Image from here.

My hypothesis, changes in suicide rates are inversely correlated with changes in violent crime rates, which would be fairly easy to confirm by comparing changes in suicide rate with changes in violent crime rates on a state by state basis in the same time period (e.g. from data here and here).

Why would this happen?

Lots of people who might otherwise commit suicide, when violent crime rates are high, instead engage in criminal behavior that creates a high risk that they will be killed. Joining a gang or robbing a bank at gunpoint are not all that different from playing Russian roulette psychologically.

Even if it isn't such a direct tradeoff, the risk factors that make someone a potential suicide victim and the risk factors that make someone a potential violent crime victim and the risk factors that make someone a potential violent crime perpetrator heavily overlap, and less death and incapacitation from violent crime makes these highest risk individuals more available to become suicide victims.

This could also explain why adolescent and young black men have below average suicide rates, even though younger black children have above average suicide rates.

Other Considerations

There is a direct intersection between suicide and homicide although it is a relative small part of the overall relationship:
Suicide decedents without known mental health conditions also had significantly higher odds of perpetrating homicide followed by suicide (aOR = 2.9, 95% CI = 2.2–3.8).
An alternative thought: Increases in suicide rate and opioid overdoses are correlated strongly in this time period. Could opioid overdoses reduce crime by taking high risk people out of the pool of potential criminals?

12 June 2018

Japanese Family Law And Practice In A Nutshell


Marriage rates are quite low in Japan, in part, because Japanese young women feel that they have a better life when single than when married. There is very little employment discrimination against never married, childless women in Japan, but employment prospects for women who are married and/or have children are quite poor. The consequences of getting married and then divorced in Japan, especially if there are children, also discourage hasty marriages.

A significant minority of Japanese men seek wives from China, Korea or Thailand because Japanese women are disinclined to marry.

Marriage is by executing a family registry form, with any wedding ceremony having no legal significance. Western style Christian marriages are the most popular form of Christian religious observance in Japan, often by people who do not follow Christian religious practices in other parts of their lives.

Polygamy is forbidden. 

Men can marry at age 18, women can marry at 16. Minors who marry need parental consent. The age of majority in Japan is currently twenty, but that will be reduced to 18 as of April 1, 2022.

Arranged marriage is rare but not unheard of in the current generation, although the consent of the parties to the marriage is formally required. Arranged marriage (sometimes arranged when the children are quite young and not of marriage age) was quite common in prior generations, and predominant in the period significantly prior to World War II. 

The decline of arranged marriage closely coincided with the rise of the nuclear family in Japan (about 50% on the eve of World War II and now well in excess of 60%) in lieu of the traditional "ie" household that would typically include a married couple in the oldest generation, their married sons and their wives, and their unmarried children and grandchildren.

Ending The Marriage

Prior to World War II, Japan had one of the highest divorce rates in the world (although still low by modern standards) and a husband has a unilateral right to divorce his wife.

Divorce rates are now very low in Japan for reasons that will be summed up in the conclusion.

While granting a divorce in Japan is formally fault based and the party requesting a divorce that is not by mutual consent must be not at fault, divorces are fairly freely granted and in 90%-95% are granted in uncontested proceedings by filing a form, or a mediation with the consent of both spouses. There is no waiting period for a mutual consent divorce.

There is no waiting period following a divorce before remarriage is allowed due to a 2016 decision of the Japanese Supreme Court that ruled the prior waiting period unconstitutional.

Emerging practices ceremonially related to divorce in Japan are fascinating but beyond the scope of this post.

Property Division

Property is divided in a divorce in Japan on a de facto community property system. Property owned prior to divorce or received by gift or inheritance during marriage is separate property, all other property is split approximately equally with an adjustment for unpaid temporary spousal support if necessary. Company pensions have only been split in divorce property divisions since 2007.

In a divorce without common children, property division is the only significant issue to be decided in the divorce and this is quite formulaic.

In families that are not self-employed, residences, cash, postal savings accounts and a corporate pension make up most family wealth for most families. More elaborate investments such as stocks and personally owned bonds are considerably more rare in Japan than in the West.

There is a significant problem with Japanese citizen spouses (usually husbands) who are married to non-Japanese citizen spouses, forging divorce papers on behalf of their spouse, often on unfavorable terms, although there is a procedural method that can be used to prevent this from happening if it is feared (by filing a "non-consent to divorce motion" with the family registry that remains in effect until revoked). Obtaining relief when a divorce document is signed is very difficult and law enforcement does not take such cases very seriously, especially when a foreign spouse is involved.

Temporary Spousal Support

Temporary spousal support may be awarded for the pendency of the divorce because spouses must maintain their spouses and children during marriage at the same standard of living that they enjoy.

But, there is no post-divorce alimony, and divorce proceedings themselves tend to be short.

Paternity, Child Custody and Child Support

Paternity is presumed to be the husband's for married couples, but can be established legally in a father other than the husband in the case of an unmarried mother, or in the case of a married woman whose husband disavows paternity and prevails.

Child custody is an all or nothing affair as to each child. Each child is awarded to the husband or to the wife, with no visitation rights, and with no visitation or only minimal visitation voluntarily granted in practice. Even siblings who are awarded to different parents may never see their siblings again or only do so as adults. 

Prior to World War II, children were almost always award to the husband. But, now about 80%-90% of children end up with the wife, including almost all children born after the divorce, and with younger children more likely to end up with the mother.  In international divorces, however, Japanese citizens tend to be strongly favored over non-Japanese citizens in child custody decisions.

Parental child abduction of a child not awarded to a parent is more common in Japan than in any place other than Mexico, both domestically and internationally, and legal efforts to recover children who are abducted are usually ineffectual.

Child support is usually determined based upon a standard table with the husband's income, the wife's income, each spouse's self-employment status, who has custody of each child, and the age of each child. In very high income cases or exceptional cases, are more involved calculation can be used. Child support awards tend to be rather stingy. Only about 10-20% of divorced men pay the child support that they are obligated to pay and enforcement of this obligation is not very efficient. Child support ends when the children are grown, and collecting arrears of child support is particularly difficult.

Divorce Stigma

Divorce is a serious stigma for both divorced men and divorced women. Employers usually discriminate against both (and against couples with troubled marriages) in hiring and promotion, and some private schools will refused to admit children whose parents are divorced as students. 

Advice columns routinely counsel women in bad marriages to stick it out in all but the most dire and life threatening situations. 

This said, the stigma associated with divorce is declining.

Economic Incentives Not To Divorce

In practice, divorced women with children are usually awarded the children, but receive no meaningful and reliably paid economic support from their ex-husbands and have seriously diminished economic prospects as a result of their marriage, having children and their divorce. Divorced spouses are also often seen as inferior marriage prospects. And, if their husbands abduct their children, they may be hard pressed to get the children back. But, they will receive a fairly decent property settlement on a one time basis in a long marriage in an affluent family where lots of property was acquired during the marriage. Many divorced spouses will return with their children to live with their own parents if their parents are still living.

The economics of the situation also need to be considered in light of Japan's weak governmental social safety net (although Japan, like almost all other developed countries has universal health care). Many kinds of economic support provided by the government in the West (e.g. affordable housing support, unemployment payments, old age pensions, support when disabled and death benefits) is provided in Japan mostly by large employers committed to lifetime employment for their male employees and unmarried, childless female employees, although lifetime employment has grown less common over time. So, divorced women are cut off from the economic security provided by a husband's lifetime employment arrangement unless they remarry.

The result is that the economic pressure not to divorce is great and the pressure on divorced women to remarry is great. This is why divorce is so rare in Japan, and so prone to be avoided even in a bad marriage situation.

Footnote on birth control and abortion.

Historically, and still now to a great extent, condoms are the sole means of birth control in Japan. But condoms are used very reliably, with married Japanese women averaging about two children in their lifetimes, and unmarried Japanese women having children out of wedlock less often than almost any other country despite not being particular chaste. 

Abortion is quite common when condoms fail to prevent pregnancy and has little stigma attached to it.

A Personal History Of Portable Computers

According to Boing Boing, the first portable computer was 20 tons and fit in two semi-trailers in the 1950s. By 1958, that had dropped to 197 pounds, and by 1973 there was a 50 pound portable computer.

My own family's first portable computer was the Osborne which was about 25 pounds which hit the market in 1981.

The computer I'm using right now, a MacBook Air, is 3 pounds, although I have a newer laptop that is considerably heavier that I use mostly as a desktop computer.

Of course, my phone, which probably has more computing power than the Osborne did and a screen almost as large, weighs far less.

UPDATE June 15, 2018:

From the comments:

Dave Barnes said...
Dual 5¼-inch, single-sided 40 track floppy disk drives (1.2 MB each)
4 MHz Z80 CPU (note: single core, 8-bit)
64 KB main memory
5-inch, 52 character × 24 line monochrome CRT display

iPhone 8
64 GB solid state storage (“disk”) = 30,000 times more
2.39 GHz A11 Bionic chip CPU (6 cores, 64-bit) = ~500 times more powerful
2GB memory = 31,000 time more
4.7-inch widescreen LCD. 1334-by-750-pixel resolution at 326 ppi. = smaller but much greater resolution and in color
An iPhone 8 weighs 0.45 pounds (7.13 ounces), about 55 times lighter.

11 June 2018


The progressive movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century was rightly concerned about corruption in technocratic governmental positions. They came up with several widely adopted response to this problem, some of which were good solutions, and some of which were at best only marginally improved and at worst, exacerbated the problem.

One solution, which largely worked, was the establishment of civil service systems which hire based upon merit and adjudicate promotions and employment terminations for employees in the civil service system. This is how the lion's share of employees in federal, state and local governments with significant numbers of employees are selected. It insulates government agencies from Jacksonian and machine politics style political patronage in lower level positions.

A modest variation on the civil service system, the Missouri Plan for selecting and removing judges which is used in Colorado, has similarly been quite successful.

Another approach which has been far less successful and arguably made things worse, is to have multiple state and county level elected executive branch officials.

For example, in Colorado, we elect not just a Governor and Lieutenant Governor ticket, but also a Secretary of State, a state Treasurer, an Attorney-General, a state school board which in turn elects a state superintendent of schools, and CU-Regents who in turn select a chancellor for the University of Colorado public university system. Most counties, in turn, elect not just county commissioners (who have a dual legislative-executive role collectively), but also a sheriff, a coroner, a treasurer, an assessor, a county surveyor, and a clerk and recorder. Between the county level and the state level, there are elected District Attorneys.

The trouble is that some of these positions should involve ministerial, technocratic execution of laws in a manner that provides a neutral broker between competing political factions or simply because a job needs to be done, and a partisan elected official is arguably the worst kind of person to fill such a post.

At a minimum, the technocratic label should apply to the secretary of state, the state treasurer, coroners, the county treasurer, the county assessor, the county surveyor, and the clerk and recorder's office. For example, a partisan secretary of state and clerk and recorder, as chief election officers, is a recipe for bias in a post that needs to be unbiased.

Moreover, these down ticket races are hard for the public and the media to meaningfully supervise and monitor.

One possible solution would be to give both the Governor and the runner up for that office a statewide elected office. The Governor would appoint the Attorney-General and judges pursuant to the existing plan. The runner up would lead an "Accountability Council" of that runner up's appointees that would include the secretary of state, the state treasurer, a state independent counsel's office, the state auditor, the state water engineer, and the public defender's office, and would appoint for each county coroners, treasurers, surveyors and a clerk and recorder, possibly subject to veto by a unanimous county commission.

Another possible solution might be to have a Council of Technocrats made up of the State House Parliamentary, the State Senate Parliamentarian, the Clerk of the state Supreme Court, the Lieutenant Governor, and the runner up candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Or, the Colorado General Assembly could send a representative of the speaker/President of each body and a representative of the ranking minority member in each body. This body might make up the Accountability Council that would also appoint some or all of the technocratic posts and handle as much as possible of the redistricting process and the process of approving initiatives and recall petitions. I like the idea of not using the top person in each house of the general assembly and lieutenant governor candidates rather than governor candidates, to tame the egos involved.

But, the basic idea is that some posts should be technocrats appointed on a bipartisan basis.

For what its worth, economies of scale in the state like Colorado with many very low population counties, would be better served by locating the office of coroner at the judicial district or state level, rather than at the county level.

07 June 2018

The Movement Politics Threshold

A new study finds that when 25 percent of people in a group adopt a new social norm, it creates a tipping point where the entire group follows suit. This shows the direct causal effect of the size of a committed minority on its capacity to create social change.
From here.

The paper is Damon Centola et al. "Experimental Evidence for Tipping Points in Social Convention." Science (2018) DOI: 10.1126/science.aas8827

Other studies have put the number at 10% to 40% and point to the depth of commitment and memory length as key factors.

Early AI Expert Systems

The Apgar score for evaluating the health of newborn babies, invented by Dr. Virginia Apgar in 1952, was one of the earliest examples of an artificial intelligence expert system. It simply distills the wisdom of experts into an evidence based measure that produces an empirically validated result. 

These methods are often more accurate than human judgment because they weigh the material facts more accurately, and they ignore immaterial facts that often cloud human judgment. 

But, if they get too complex they can pose subtle dangers because they are often not sufficiently transparent.

"Black box" assessments make it hard to discern what factors that should be considered are omitted or underweighted. People using those systems can give them inaccurate inputs because they don't recognize their relevance. 

For example, an expert system for evaluating the health care needs of severely sick Medicaid patients denied many people sufficient care because one of the key factors was vaguely worded and often inputted incorrectly.

Theses systems can also consider factors that are correlated with outcomes that they do not cause, which shouldn't be considered for a variety of reasons. For example, many risk score systems that are used in sentencing decisions inappropriately consider race or proxies for race. 

04 June 2018

The Myth Of Contracts Being Written Based Upon Settled Law

A Colorado Supreme Court case decided today is a blow to the widely promulgated myth that important systemically used contracts have the language that they do because the meaning of the words used in them is settled law. Its opinion today in the case of Renfandt v. New York Life Insurance Company, 2018 CO 49, demonstrates that this is not the case, opening with the following language (bold emphasis added):
¶1 While appearing to be in a “zombie-like” state from a combination of prescription medication, alcohol, and marijuana, Mark Renfandt shot himself in the head and died. When Mark’s wife tried to collect life insurance benefits under a temporary coverage agreement issued by New York Life Insurance Company, the insurer denied the claim, citing a provision in the agreement that excluded coverage for “suicide . . . while sane or insane.”  
¶2 Mark’s wife sued New York Life in state court, asserting breach of contract and other claims. She argues that Mark’s death was not a suicide because the combination of substances that Mark ingested rendered him so intoxicated that he was unable to act volitionally or form suicidal intent when he shot himself. Thus, she contends, the policy’s suicide exclusion does not apply to Mark’s death.  
¶3 New York Life removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss the complaint. It maintains that the term “suicide” must be read in conjunction with the phrase “sane or insane,” and that this additional language in the agreement was meant to remove any inquiry into whether the decedent intended to kill himself.  
¶4 The United States District Court for the District of Colorado determined that the meaning of “suicide . . . while sane or insane” is unclear under Colorado law, and certified the question to this court under C.A.R. 21.1: Under Colorado law, does a life insurance policy’s exclusion for “suicide, sane or insane” exclude coverage (1) for all acts of self-destruction without regard to the insured’s intent or understanding of the nature and consequences of his/her actions or (2) for only acts of self-destruction committed when the insured intends to take his/her own life or understands the nature and consequences of his/her actions?  
¶5 The meaning of the term “suicide” in the context of an insurance policy exclusion—and how to construe such an exclusion when the term “suicide” is modified by the words “sane or insane”—are questions that have divided English and American courts since the early nineteenth century. Several American courts have held that the phrase “suicide, sane or insane” refers to acts of self-destruction regardless of whether the decedent understood the physical nature or consequences of his act or had a conscious purpose to take his life—in other words, regardless of whether the decedent acted with an intent to kill himself. Others have concluded that, for a death to be considered a suicide, the decedent must have intended to kill himself, and that the additional words “sane or insane” do not negate the essential requirement of suicidal intent. 
¶6 This disagreement appears to stem from different concepts of the term “suicide.” Some courts conceive of “suicide” broadly to mean any act of self-destruction. Others treat “suicide” as a concept that requires the decedent to be aware of the physical nature and consequences of his act, and to intend to kill himself. Under this view, “suicide” is limited to acts of intentional self-destruction; it is the deliberate termination of one’s existence.
The Court goes on to find that suicidal intent is necessary in Colorado. It's holding states:
¶7 This court has sided with the latter view, indicating in Lockwood v. Travelers Insurance Co., 498 P.2d 947, 951 (Colo. 1972), that suicide requires both a voluntary act (in that case, consciously pulling a trigger) and suicidal intent (i.e., an intent to cause one’s own death). Today, we reaffirm this view of the term “suicide” and conclude that the additional words “sane or insane” do not negate the requirement that the “suicide” 5 be an act of self-destruction taken with the intent to cause one’s own death. Thus, we answer the certified question: under Colorado law, a life insurance policy exclusion for “suicide, sane or insane” excludes coverage only if the insured, whether sane or insane at the time, committed an act of self-destruction with the intent to kill himself. 
Incidentally, suicide exclusions are also prohibited in life insurance policies on Colorado insured after when the death occurs after the first policy year, unless the policy is an accidental death policy. 

01 June 2018

Love Jihad

Why must a wonderful term like "Love Jihad" be considered a lynching worthy offense?
Gagandeep Singh, an officer in the northern state of Uttarakhand, shot to fame after a video of him saving a Muslim man from a Hindu mob went viral on social media last week. 
The man was visiting a temple with his Hindu girlfriend. 
The mob surrounded the man and tried to attack, accusing him of "love jihad". 
The term has been popularised by radical Hindu fringe groups who accuse Muslim men of participating in a conspiracy to turn Hindu women from their religion by seducing them.
From here.