29 November 2018

Chesterton’s Gate a.k.a. Chesterton's Fence

The notion of Chesterton's Gate is one that I've thought is a good guide for policy making for a long time, but I never knew that this concept had this name. 
Chesterton's fence is the principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood. The quotation is from G. K. Chesterton's 1929 book The Thing, in the chapter entitled "The Drift from Domesticity":
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."
Chesterton's admonition should first be understood within his own historical context, as a response to certain socialists and reformers of his time (e.g. George Bernard Shaw).
From Wikipedia.

28 November 2018

The Balance of Power In The Federal Government As Of 2019 With A Quick Civics Lesson

How will the balance of power be in the U.S. federal government as a result of this year's recent midterm elections?

The U.S. Senate

The Midterm Election Results

As a result of today's election, in January of 2019, there will be 53 Republicans and 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. In the event of a tie vote, Republican Vice President Mike Pence, would vote with the Republicans, so Democrats need to win over 4 out of the 53 Republicans to secure a majority vote on anything. This represents a net loss of two Democratic party held U.S. Senate seats. To a great extent, this setback was a naturally expected consequence of the fact that more red states had Senate elections scheduled for the midterm elections in 2018 than blue states. 

The closest U.S. Senate race this year was the U.S. Senate race in Florida, which incumbent Senator Bill Nelson (one of the most conservative Democrats in the U.S. Senate, first elected in the year 2000) lost by a fraction of a percentage point in the face of significant voter suppression by the Republican Secretary of State, significant election administration irregularities, and the largest proportion of voters in the nation disqualified from voting due to prior felony convictions (about 1.4 million voters, who are disproportionately black).

The Lame Duck Session

This result removes pressure on Republicans to ratify Presidential nominations before the next session of Congress, since they will have a stronger majority then than they have now.

Unless the Senate exercise the "nuclear option" to eliminate the filibuster for ordinary legislation during the lame duck session, to take advantage of the brief period when Republicans control the House, the Senate and the Presidency before the representatives elected in November take office, it will not be able to pass any new legislation in the lame duck session without bipartisan support. Legislative filibuster reform will provide Republicans with little practical advantage, however, once Democrats control the House in January of 2019.

The 2020 Elections

A third of U.S. Senators face voters in 2020.

Senate races can't be gerrymandered, but the U.S. Senate has a built in red state advantage, so Democrats need significantly more than a majority of the national popular vote in U.S. Senate elections to win a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate.

The End Of The Filibuster

Also, it has become much more important to have a majority in the U.S. Senate over the last four years, as the filibuster, which used to require the de facto approval of 60 Senators to approve almost any legislation was eliminated for votes on Presidential nominations. And, the precedent, invoked once by each party now, of the mechanism by which it was eliminated in those cases, means that the filibuster could be eliminated in any other circumstances by any future majority determined enough to do so. Prior to this reform in the Senate rules, it was almost impossible to pass any legislation or nominations in the Senate without bipartisan support except in the rare years where one party had a 60 seat plus majority in the Senate, providing a significant check on the ability of either party to take any actions without bipartisan support. So, the Senate provides much less of a check on the majority party which also holds the Presidency than it has for almost all of living memory. 

Changes in 2013 and 2017 now require only a simple majority to invoke cloture on nominations, although legislation still requires 60 votes. On November 21, 2013, the Senate used the so-called "nuclear option," voting 52–48 — with all Republicans and three Democrats opposed — to eliminate the use of the filibuster on executive branch nominees and judicial nominees, except to the Supreme Court. On April 6, 2017, the Senate eliminated the sole remaining exception to the 2013 change by invoking the "nuclear option" for Supreme Court nominees. This was done in order to allow a simple majority to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court (after the Republican controlled U.S. Senate refused to hold hearings on or vote upon President Obama's U.S. Supreme Court nominee, despite teh fact that the nomination was made well before the end of the Congressional session and this had never been done before in the history of the Congress). The vote to change the rules was 52 to 48 along party lines. The same rule was later used to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

The Demise Of Moderate Senators

The mere party labels also obscure the fact that the partisan divide between the Republican and the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate will be deeper in 2019 than it was in 2017, because many of the most moderate Senators in both parties have been replaced by solidly partisan Democrats or Republicans. Also, there are fewer Democrats in the Senate serving from red states and fewer Republicans serving from blue states.

This trend is likely to continue in 2019, because the most vulnerable incumbent Senators in those races will be incumbent moderates in their respective parties, especially moderate Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine, the sole remaining Republican in either house of Congress from New England, who has taken a more conservative stance in her Senate voting record in the last year.

Other Senate Powers

The Senate has unilateral power to approve Presidential nominees for judgeships and senior executive branch positions in the federal government, mostly without having to worry about filibusters.

The Senate also has the power to approve treaties without U.S. House participation, although this requires a two-thirds majority vote. This means that if the Republicans are united in wanting to ratify a treaty proposed by the President, they need at least 14 out of 47 Senators who caucus with the Democrats to support the treaty for it to be approved. In practice, this means that any new U.S. treaty will require support from the Democratic party.

To try impeachments, although an official impeached by the U.S. House by a majority vote there can only be removed with a two-thirds majority vote of the U.S. Senate. So even if the Democrats are united in wanting to impeach the President or a lower executive branch or judicial branch official, they need 20 out of 53 Republicans to vote to remove that person from office following a Senate trial of the impeachment. In practice, this means that it will take support for the Republican party to remove any federal official from office following a trial on an impeachment made by the House. While this is a quasi-judicial function, in practice, Republicans would block any impeachment of a strong conservative partisan in the absence of overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing inconsistent with that person continuing to hold office. In particular, it makes removing Donald Trump or a conservative U.S. Supreme Court justice from office via impeachment virtually impossible.

Because an override of a Presidential veto takes a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate, it takes only 34 of the 53 Republicans in the U.S. Senate to uphold a Presidential veto. So, even if two-thirds of Representatives in the House vote to override a Presidential veto, all 47 Senators who caucus with the Democrats in the Senate are united, and 19 Republicans in the Senate break ranks with the President to attempt to override his veto, the veto will be sustained. In practice, this means that no veto can be overridden without support from both the Republican party and the Democratic party.

It also takes a two-thirds majority of each house of Congress to propose a new constitutional amendment, so this requires support of both Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats. The equal rights amendment, however, which would prohibit discrimination based upon sex as a matter of the express provisions of the U.S. Constitution, is still open for the states to ratify without further Congressional action, and will take effect if three-quarters of states ratify it.

The U.S. House

The Midterm Election Results

In the U.S. House elections this year, Democrats won 234 seats and are leading by a small margin in CA-21, while Republicans won 200 seats. Assuming that Democrats win a total of 235 seats, they will have had a net gain of 40 seats in the House. This is on the high end of expected range of Democratic seat pickups in this year's midterm elections, and would have been even higher were it not for significant gerrymandering in states such as North Carolina and Texas, and voter suppression efforts in many red states, especially in the South.

Notable Geographic Features Of The Midterm House Races

In California, assuming that the Democrats win CA-21, Democrats will control 46 out of 53 U.S. House seats in California (as well as both of its Senate seats). Five of the seats still controlled by Republicans are inland, in a contiguous block of territory mostly east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Two of the seats held by Republicans, including the seat of Duncan Hunter who is currently under indictment for various felonies, are adjacent districts in the suburbs of San Diego. None of these seven seats, interestingly, have any of the Pacific coastline. The two swaths of Republican controlled House districts are separated by just a few miles from each other at their nearest point. Republicans won six of these seats by wide margins and probably would have won Duncan Hunters southern suburban San Diego seat by a more secure margin than the 51.8% of the vote that he received had their candidate in the district not been under indictment and personally compromised as a result. The Democratically controlled House District in California form a single contiguous block that continues up the entire Pacific coast of Oregon. The only seats that Republicans control on the entire Pacific coast are its one seat in Alaska and one seat in Southwest Washington State.

On the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Delaware in the Northeast, Republicans also hold only two U.S. House districts, one on the eastern part of Long Island (NY-1), and one in New Jersey (NJ-4). On the other hand, however, Democrats control only three U.S. House District on the Gulf Coast. One in Key West (FL-26), one in Tampa, Florida (FL-14), and one at the southern tip of Texas (TX-34). Likewise, Democrats control only four seats on the Atlantic Coast south of Delaware, unless you count the sheltered coasts in Maryland: VA-2, VA-3, SC-1 and FL-20.

There is more geographic analysis of the midterm election results here.

Practical Implications

In 2019, the House will be the sole source of Democratic power in the federal government (something it entirely lacks now), although it is a significant one. Among other things, all ordinary legislation must pass the U.S. House and all appropriations must be initiated with a U.S. House bill. The power to control appropriations, moreover, because it must be exercised on an annual basis to prevent a federal government shutdown, can be used as leverage to obtain agreements from the President and Republicans in Congress on pretty much anything, to the extent that they want the federal government which they control to remain open for business, and Democrats are wiling to credibly threaten to do so.

The Lame Duck Session

Up until January 3, 2019, Republicans in the lame duck Congress can still pass legislation that they will not be able to pass when they lose the majority in the U.S. House at that time. But, since Democrats could filibuster legislation in the U.S. Senate unless Republicans exercise the "nuclear option" to eliminate that element of the filibuster as well (even though eliminating it will provide Republicans with little short term benefit after Democrats regain control of the House).

The 2020 Elections

All of these Representatives will face voters again in 2020, the last Congressional election before House seats are re-allocated between states and Congressional Districts are redrawn in 2022 based upon the results of the 2020 census, which will be conducted by Donald Trump's administration.

The Demise Of Moderates In The House

The mere party labels also obscure the fact that the partisan divide between the Republican and the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House will be deeper in 2019 than it was in 2017, because many of the most moderate Representatives in both parties have been replaced by solidly partisan Democrats or Republicans. Also, there are fewer Democrats in the House serving from red states and fewer Republicans serving from blue states.

Other House Powers

Because an override of a Presidential veto takes a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate, it takes only 146 of the 200 Republicans in the U.S. House to uphold a Presidential veto. So, even if two-thirds of Senators vote to override a Presidential veto, all 235 Democrats in the House are united, and 54 Republicans in the House break ranks with the President to attempt to override his veto, the veto will be sustained. In practice, this means that no veto can be overridden without support from both the Republican party and the Democratic party.

It also takes a two-thirds majority of each house of Congress to propose a new constitutional amendment, so  this requires the support of both House Republicans and House Democrats. The equal rights amendment, however, which would prohibit discrimination based upon sex as a matter of the express provisions of the U.S. Constitution, is still open for the states to ratify without further Congressional action, and will take effect if three-quarters of states ratify it.

The Presidency

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are Republicans, of course. 

The Powers Of The President

The President has the power to veto any legislation (which is impossible to override without strong Republican support in both the House and the Senate), the power to nominate candidates to fill all judicial vacancies and all significant executive branch officials, many (but not all) of whom serve at the pleasure of the President  and are obligated to follow his orders. 

The President is also the power to act as commander in chief of the U.S. military, has broad (but not unlimited) power to conduct U.S. diplomacy, and has broad (but not unlimited) power to issue regulations interpreting federal law, and broad (but not unlimited) to determine how the federal bureaucracy will enforce federal laws. The main checks on these powers are judicial review (which may ultimately be weaker when conservatives control the U.S. Supreme Court) and Congressional action primarily in the form of appropriations bills limiting his ability to spend money in a way that furthers particular items of the President's agenda with respect to carrying out and enforcing federal laws.

The President also proposes an annual budget for the federal government, which is routinely significantly reworked by Congress, that nonetheless serves as a starting point for annual budget negotiations and benefits from the President's greater access to information about what funding various federal agencies need, want and can use.

The 2020 Election

President Trump and Vice President Pence must win both a Republican party primary and the general election in order to be re-elected for a second four year term in 2020. 

Despite the fact that President Trump is very unpopular with the general population of likely voters in the United States he still has very strong support among the members of the Republican party who decide who the Republican party nominee for President will e in 2020, so his re-nomination, either with Vice President Pence, or a different Vice Presidential running mate of his choice, is virtually guaranteed in the Presidential primary season in 2020, assuming that he chooses to run for re-election (he will be 74 year old at that point and is not a picture of good mental or physical health).

If the Presidential election were held today, Trump would lose to a generic Democratic Presidential candidate in a landslide. In 2016, Trump eked out a victory with wins in three critical states (Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania) by the slimmest of margins, and support for him has fallen significantly since then. But, the next Presidential election is not for two more years, and the  Democratic candidate will be someone in particular, who may exceed expectations, or underperform, relative to a generic Presidential candidate.

Presidential races can't be gerrymandered and electoral vote counts for each state will not change in 2020 from 2016, but the electoral college has a built in red state advantage (due to the unequal division of U.S. Senate seats relative to population which, in practice, favors red states), so Democrats need significantly more than a majority of the national popular vote to win a Presidential election.

The U.S. Supreme Court

Five of the nine justice on the U.S. Supreme Court are solidly conservative leaning. Four of them Thomas (age 70), Alito (age 68), Gorsuch (age 51) and Kavanaugh (age 53) are very far right Republicans. Chief Justice Roberts (age 63) is still solidly conservative but not quite as extremely conservative leaning as the other four.  And, none of them are likely to need to be replaced on account of old age or death, for many years.

Moreover, one of the liberal leaning justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is 85 years old, and needs to stay on the bench at least another 25 months to have any chance of being replaced by another liberal justice, and liberal leaning U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Beyer is 80 years old.  The other two liberal leaning U.S. Supreme Court Justices, Sotomayor (64) and Kagan (58) are significantly younger.

The odds the President Trump will have an opportunity to appoint an unprecedented third justice to the U.S. Supreme Court replacing at least one of the four remaining liberal justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, most likely one or its two oldest justices, giving conservatives a six to three majority on the high court, is significant, even if he is not re-elected in 2020.

The lower federal courts currently mostly lean left due to eight years of President Obama's judicial appointments and appointed by earlier Democratic Presidents. But, there are plenty of conservative justices in the lower federal courts and that number rises as Donald Trump makes more appointments.

Also, of course, all courts in the United States, both state and federal, must follow precedents established by the U.S. Supreme Court, regardless of an individual judge's liberal or conservative leanings, so the partisan composition of the U.S. Supreme Court is a huge prize.


In The Short Term

Basically, at this point, after January of 2019, no new legislation changing the status quo can be passed without bipartisan support, and the only real leverage Democrats have to influence the status quo or to force Republicans to compromise and accept some of their legislation, is their ability to shut down the federal government by refusing to approve new appropriations bills if their demands are not met.

So, any conservative legislation that Trump or the Republicans want to pass has to clear Congress by the end of the year during the lame duck session. And, because the Republicans currently hold only 51 seats in the Senate, and the filibuster is still in place with respect to ordinary legislation, they will be hard pressed to pass much legislation in this way.

In the 2020 Election

The 2020 election could (and have a decent chance of) allowing Democrats to retake the Presidency and the U.S. Senate. And, the 2020 Census will almost probably result in a modest shift of House seats from red states to blue states, and from red areas within states to blue areas within states as they redistrict (in some cases subject to strictly anti-gerrymandering regulations adopted at the state level or via federal court cases).

Ironically, one of the greatest failures for Democrats in the last two years, the establishment of a very conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority, may also defuse a major issue that has been used to rally social conservatives behind Republicans for years, which is the need to secure a conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority in order to accomplish goals like narrowing or ending the abortion rights created by Roe v. Wade.  Populist social conservatives have far less of an incentive to go along with Republican economic policies that they are not strongly committed to, now that they have accomplished this goal.

In the same way, in Colorado, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, a.ka. TABOR, while it has been horrible for good governance, has also made it much easier for affluent moderates on social issues to vote for Democrats without worrying that their taxes will go up as a result, defusing the "tax and spend liberal" arguments used against Democrats in elections before TABOR was adopted and elsewhere in places where TABOR does not exist.

The Long Term Implications For The U.S. Supreme Court

But, these victories will not change the long term secure hold that conservatives will have on the U.S. Supreme Court short of a Kavanaugh indictment or impeachment, or a court packing plan that increases the size of the U.S. Supreme Court creating enough vacancies for a Democratic President and a U.S. Senate controlled by Democrats to give the court a liberal majority (i.e. at least two more seats, and possibly more). The legislation necessary to pack the court would also require Democrats to control the U.S. House and might require them to exercise the "nuclear option" to overcome a filibuster of this legislation.

Until Democrats reach that level of complete control of the elected offices of the federal government, however, the conservative domination of the U.S. Supreme Court will remain in place fro a very long time, possibly decades. And, it has been a very long time since there was a liberal majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. For most of recent memory, the swing vote on the U.S. Supreme Court has been, effectively, a very moderate Republican vote (something that is virtually an endangered species everywhere).

Those poses a host of potential problems for Democrats seeking to regain power and exercise it, both at the federal level and the state level, and will probably have the practical effect of substantially curtailing many constitutional rights and of invalidating some kinds of liberal legislation (for example, on the subject of gun control, election law, and religious exemptions to discrimination laws).

Since liberals have few avenues for recourse to restrain executive branch excesses other than the courts at this point, they have no choice but to enter this forum even though the justices at the top are inclined to disfavor their efforts.

One approach liberal public law and social and economic justice oriented litigators can use is to try to stay within settled precedents as much as possible, rather than pushing the envelope, to reduce the likelihood of negative U.S. Supreme Court intervention. Also, as a legislative matter, Democrats can work to narrow the jurisdictional scope of the federal courts, which will increasingly be an unfriendly forum to be used only when absolutely necessary relative to state courts, an agenda for which they may be able to receive bipartisan support, because this also shifts litigation in red states to conservative leaning state courts.

Another approach is to litigate in friendly state courts in blue states, pushing for recognition of state constitutional rights that are stronger than those under the federal constitution even when the texts have identical wording, and utilizing state legislation that is more liberal than any federal legislation in place on the same subject.

27 November 2018

Race And The Mississippi Senate Race Runoff Results

The Results

Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican won the runoff election for the U.S. Senate held today in Mississippi.

The results in the runoff election for U.S. Senate in Mississippi:

Cindy Hyde-Smith*Republican453,46854.0%
Mike EspyDemocrat386,42446.0
839,892 votes, 97% reporting (1,737 of 1,797 precincts)
* Incumbent

In the first round, the results were:

Cindy Hyde-Smith*Republican368,53641.5%
Mike EspyDemocrat360,11240.6
Chris McDanielRepublican146,01316.5
Tobey BarteeDemocrat12,7071.4

Thus, Hyde-Smith gained 12.5 percentage points, compared to 16.5% of the vote won by Republican Chris McDaniel in the first round. Naively, this suggests that about 24% of Chris McDaniels voters (almost one in four) favored Mike Espy instead of Cindy Hyde-Smith, assuming that all Tobey Bartee voters in the first round supported Espy in the second round.

On the other hand, while the vote totals aren't quite all in from this race yet, Republican voter turnout is about 63,000 votes less than it was in the first round, while Democratic voter turnout was up by about 13,600 (presumably mostly McDaniels voters). So, many McDaniels voters either voted for Espy or abstained from voting entirely, rather than vote for Hyde-Smith.

So, rather than voting for the Democrat, it appears that many Chris McDaniels supporters simply abstained from voting in the runoff election all together.

One of the reasons to prefer actual runoff elections like this one to "instant runoff voting' is that it gives voters a chance to contemplate their second choices more seriously, with more information now that the choice is real, something that doesn't necessarily happen to the same extent when the second choice decisions are merely hypothetical.

But, while some McDaniels voters clearly were unwilling to vote for openly racist, neo-Confederate Cindy Hyde-Smith, in this election, it wasn't enough to make a difference.

Race and Political Affiliation In Mississippi

Mississippi is about 37% black and about 4% Hispanic. In Mississippi, both of these groups overwhelmingly favor Democrats, while whites overwhelmingly favor Republicans, a phenomena sometimes called "racial block voting" in political science and election law circles.

Compared to the national averages, blacks in Mississippi are a bit more likely to be Democrats (the national average is about 90%), and whites in Mississippi are much more likely to be Republicans (the national average is about 55%), than in the nation as a whole.

Almost all of the people who voted for Espy in the first round were black or Hispanic. Roughly 88% of the voters who voted for Democrat Mike Espy in the second round were black or Hispanic, and almost all black and Hispanic voters who voted, voted for Espy each time. Actually, it was probably a bit less than that in both cases, because not every single black or Hispanic voter voters for the Democrat. It is also a bit less than that in the second case, because voter turnout in Mississippi is probably a little bit lower for blacks and Hispanics as a percentage of the voting age population than for whites, both due to felony disqualification from voting in Mississippi, lack of U.S. citizenship among Hispanics, and from lower voter turnout among those blacks and Hispanics who are eligible to vote.

Many of the whites who voted for Espy (who is black) in the second round (indeed, probably most of them) voted for McDaniels or Bartee in the first round, but couldn't stomach voting for openly racist and neo-Confederate Hyde-Smith (who, notably, started her political career as a Democrat, where her views made her unwelcome) in the second round.

It is also almost certain that whites who voted for Espy in the runoff election were disproportionately mainline Christians, and were even more disproportionately non-religious.

Almost all of the voters voting for Cindy Hyde-Smith were white, and roughly 92% of white voters voted for Cindy Hyde-Smith in the second round (probably a modest overestimate on both counts for the same reasons, but not far from the truth).

It is also almost certain that whites who voted for Hyde-Smith in the runoff election were disproportionately Evangelical Christians (which means significant more than 69% of Hyde-Smith voters were white Evangelical Christian Republicans).

In most of the U.S. there is a strong gender gap, with women more likely to vote Democratic, and men more likely to vote Republican. But, racial block voting in Mississippi tends to mute this gender gap, and the fact that Hyde-Smith is a woman running against a male opponent also tends to mute this gender gap. So, it isn't obvious, in the absence of exit polling, how much of a gender gap, if any, there was in this U.S. Senate election.

The Other Senate Race In Mississippi This Year

Mississippi actually had two U.S. Senate races this year, one an ordinary race and one to fill a vacancy. The Republican in the other race won 58.8% of the first round vote, almost the same percentage that voted for any Republican in the race that has now entered a runoff. This again illustrates that about 8% of white Mississippians who would normally vote Republican did not support Hyde-Smith.

Roger Wicker*Republican517,47558.8%
David BariaDemocrat344,22539.1
Danny BedwellLibertarian12,1481.4
Shawn O'HaraReform5,5410.6

Religion in Mississippi

The overwhelmingly Republican whites in Mississippi are atypical of the nation in their religious affiliations as well.

Mississippi has the lowest percentage of Roman Catholics of any U.S. state (4%), about two-third or more of whom are Hispanic (the white Catholic population of Mississippi is on the order of 1%). Mississippi also has very few Mormons (0.73%). It has a negligible percentage of Jewish adherents (about 0.1%).

Mississippi also has a low proportion of mainline Christians, excluding historically black denominations (12% of  the population, of whom two-thirds are mainline Christian Baptists or Methodists, and some of whom are not white) to white Evangelical Christians (41% of the population, mostly Baptists or non-denominational Evangelical Christians).

About 15% of the population of Mississippi is not religious (the largest non-Protestant population in the state), and about two-thirds of them are neither atheists nor agnostics, while about 5% are atheists or agnostics (roughly equal to the percentage of the population of Mississippi that is religious but not Protestant Christian).

About 69% of whites in Mississippi are Evangelical Christians. About 3% of whites are Roman Catholic or Mormon. The rest are almost all either non-religious or mainline Christians, probably about 12% mainline Christian and 16% non-religious. The atheist and agnostic proportion of non-religious whites is probably a bit more than a third. The last two percentages, however, involve some guesswork.

Blacks in Mississippi are mostly (about 70%+), adherents of historical black Protestant denominations (mostly Baptist), with the remainder being mainline Christians (about 12%) or non-religious (about 14%). The atheist and agnostic proportion of blacks is probably a bit less than a third. These percentages, however, involve some guesswork.

23 November 2018

Winning in 2020

What do Democrats need to do to win in the 2020 election and beyond?


* Show off the virtues of the Democratic agenda in state houses we control, rather than insisting on trying to show that Democrats can get something done primarily in Congress, where only legislation acceptable to Donald Trump and hard line Republicans in the Senate can pass. 

* Demonstrate at the state level that Democrats can take meaningful steps to reduce teen pregnancy, enact sensible gun control legislation, broaden access to higher education, legalize marijuana, reduce unnecessary and costly excessive incarceration, fund relatively inexpensive government bureaucracies and court systems at levels necessary to meet the needs of growing businesses, roll back unnecessary occupational licensing regulation, use all available means to make health care more accessible, etc.

* In Congress, one potentially fruitful way to cross the aisle may be to try to distinguish Mormon Republicans, whose bases in states like Utah and Idaho were skeptical of Trump in the first place, to break with other Republicans on select issues targeting Trump's corruption and immorality. The Democrat's hand will be strongest on budget and appropriations issues and those issues can be leveraged for gains on other fronts. Sentencing reform and marijuana legalization may be exceptions where good legislation can be passed as Republicans have eventually come around to Democratic positions on these issues.

* In particular, hammer the administration on unpopular decisions like weak approaches towards Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea, inhumane treatment of immigrants, especially children and Dreamers, tax cuts restricted to big corporations and the rich that have produced large, peacetime deficits, corruption, environmental regulations such as endangered species protections and clean water, poor disaster responses, and support for white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Democrats have nothing to gain from cooperating to achieve half-measures with Trump.

* Keep fighting back and building outrage over Trump's conduct as President. This is what drove record turnout for the midterms. The 2020 election can have record turnout too, particularly given record turnout from Millennials for their age group. 

Election Law Reform

* Push election administration innovations that increased voter turnout like election day voter registration and all mail-in ballots and an end of signature matching for mail-in ballots in states that Democrats control legislatively, and in states that Democrats do not control, by initiative where possible.

* Push legislation and ballot initiatives to mandate that only candidates with majorities can win seats, requiring runoffs or rank choice voting in cases where the plurality candidate receives less than 50% of the vote, so that third-party candidates don't act as spoilers.

State By State Efforts

* Flip states that Trump won narrowly in 2016. Many states were very narrow wins for Trump in 2016: Wisconsin (0.7%), Pennsylvania (0.7%), and Michigan (0.3%) stand out, but Arizona (3.5%), North Carolina (3.6%) and Florida (1.2%) are also states that were reasonably close in 2016 and can be flipped in 2020. These are states that a Democrat in 2020 running against a campaign by Trump who has shown his true colors ought to be able to win.

* Defend states that Clinton won narrowly in 2016. Maine (which went for Clinton by 3.0 percentage points, but gave Trump one electoral vote in the 2nd Congressional District by 10 percentage points, which flipped to a Democrat in the House in 2018), New Hampshire (0.3%), Minnesota (1.5%) and Nevada (2.4%) were narrow wins for Clinton in 2016 and can't be taken for granted. Clinton won Colorado with a 4.9% margin in 2016 and the trend line in Colorado in the midterms was even more strongly towards the Democratic party, so Colorado may need less attention in 2020.

* Iowa (9.4%) and Ohio (8.1%) which voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 are also winnable with the right candidate, even though they weren't close in 2016. A Midwestern nominee might be attractive.

* Democrats need a candidate who is strong in these swing states, not in states that are strongly GOP leaning, or in safe blue states.

* Work on long run party building in Arizona, following in the footsteps of similar successful efforts in Colorado, Nevada and Virginia. Arizona has supported moderate Northeastern style Republicans in the past. As the GOP has moved to the right, there is room for big tent Democrats to win Arizonans over. Even if Democrats don't win the Presidential election in 2020 in Arizona, this is one of the few states that has a potential to shift its long run partisan leanings in the long run, joining its neighbors California, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado in the mountain states. Democrats aren't up against deep seated cultural commitments in Arizona in the way that they are in the South and many rural states or states with large Mormon populations.

* In Florida, devote lots of resources early to registering to vote the 1.4 million people with felony records who were newly enfranchised by the passage of issue 4, and Hurricane Maria migrants from Puerto Rico; improve election administration in large counties where Democrats control county government; and pursue litigation now to outlaw and prevent dirty trick voter suppression tactics utilized in the midterm election cycle.

* Develop a stronger economic issues agenda to address the concerns of voters in the Rust Belt (e.g. Northern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, and Southern Michigan).

* Provide solid Democratic party candidates to take on Cory Gardner in Colorado and Susan Collins in Maine.

Beyond Gerrymandering Prevention

Even if you have independent commissions trying to be fair in how they draw districts, any given set of districts can be systemically biased in favor of one party or another. To get beyond that, a bigger reform is needed.

One such reform, which would make sense to introduce as a proposed constitutional amendment by initiative, at the state legislative election level, probably at first, only for the state house where every member faces the voters every two years, would be mixed member proportional representation.

This is or was used in New Zealand for its parliamentary elections.

In this system, Colorado would hold state house elections in 65 seats just as it does now (although with either ranked choice voting, or a runoff election between the top two candidates if no one wins a majority to eliminate third-party spoiler effects).

But, once the election was over, you would tally up the percentage of the popular vote cast for state house candidates from each party that won at least one seat in the state house.

Suppose that Democrats won 53% of the popular vote, Republicans won 42% of the popular vote, and third-parties won 5% of the popular vote, but the Democrats got 32 seats, the Republicans got 33 seats and third-parties won no seats in individual districts, due to gerrymandering. The Democrats would get 10 bonus seats to reconcile the popular vote to the per district total, and the state house would be expanded to 75 seats, 42 held by Democrats and 33 held by Republicans.

In addition to leveling the scales and encouraging voter turnout in "safe" seat races, it would also eliminate the incentive to gerrymander in the first place. But, the lion's share of the legislators would still be elected from traditional single member geographically based constituencies, providing a level of familiarity about their role.

Another reform which would also be adopted by initiative would be to elect the state senate by a party list system of proportional representation. Each voter would choose a political party rather than a candidate in the state senate race, and the seats would be allocated the political parties based upon their percentage of the vote, with a minimum threshold of about 1.5% to get at least one seat. 

In that scenario, suppose that Democrats won 53% of the popular vote, Republicans won 42% of the popular vote, and a third party won 5% of the popular vote. The third-party would get 2 state senate seats, the Republicans would get 15 state senate seats, and the Democrats would get 18 state senate seats.

20 November 2018

Life In A Bubble

I am well aware that I live in something of a bubble that insulated me from Christian conservatives. I'm aware that they are out there and I have no desire to interact with them socially. I think that their morals are deplorable and their lifestyle is self-destructive.

I've unfriended conservative on Facebook except for a few extended family members.

I live and work in the central part of a major central city in mostly affluent, liberal leaning neighborhoods. I rarely rub shoulders with farmers or blue collar workers in my personal life (although I do often enough in my professional life and do have cousins who are part of that world).

When I get news, I get it from the New York Times, CNN, the Denver Post, NPR and other bastions of the "mainstream media" which the right avoids because they think these sources have a liberal bias. I don't rely on Fox News, the least accurate of the big television networks which has a conservative slant.

When I watch entertainment programming, I am more likely to watch Marvel than D.C. Comics (the more liberal of the two major comic publishers). I am more inclined to watch the Santa Clarita Diet than I am NCIS. I enjoyed Remington Steele and Miami Vice more than Walker Texas Ranger.

When I listen to music, it is rock, or classical, or jazz, but almost never country music. I prefer a nightclub with house music or EDM to country line dancing or square dancing.

I am repulsed by the Confederate battle flag and Confederate monuments, even though I eat grits, biscuits and gravy, chicken friend steak, jambalaya, and other Southern foods (at least when I'm not on a diet). 

I drive an SUV or a small city car, not a pickup truck or a muscle car.

I have no problem if my children end up having relationships with someone of another race or the same sex, but would have to bite my tongue if one of them ended up with a conservative Christian Republican (something that fortunately appears to be a remote possibility given the friends and more than friends whom they have let us know about so far).

When it comes to sports and outdoor activities, I'd rather watch cricket than car racing. I'd rather hike than hunt. I prefer sailboats to motorboats. You'd have to pay me to watch WWF Wrestling, but I've spent time swimming in the ocean at several different Mexican resorts.

I am highly educated in both STEM and law, and trust knowledge obtained from academics and scientists. I even read scholarly journal articles in both science and non-science fields on a regular basis.

Almost all of my relatives went to college and most people that I know attended at least some college. My father went to graduate school at Stanford. My mother went to graduate school at the University of Chicago. I attended a top ten law school, and both my wife and my sister in law have master's degrees. Both of my wife's parents are medical doctors. My brother and I and our wives and my sister in law all attended selective liberal arts colleges, and my daughter is attending one right now. My sister in law's husband is a college graduate from an upper class New York City family. 

I do have friends from high school and before who didn't go to college including a few who went into the military. And, my father and his brother both served in the Army, I have a step-niece who is in the military, and my father in law served his required tour of duty in the South Korean military (all of them in peacetime). My best man at my wedding served in the National Guard (again, without being deployed). But, military service is mostly outside of my world and I specifically opted out of having military recruiters contract my children. The only extended family member who died in a war was a distant cousin who died in Vietnam. My patriline ancestor who came to the U.S. from Europe did so to dodge the draft in 1847. I couldn't identify someone's military rank by looking at their uniform, although I know far more about the military than most liberals of my social class.

I've never been arrested, but have been let of with warnings after traffic stops where I could have been ticketed or arrested several times. I've never bailed anyone out of jail. My entire legal experience with the criminal law first hand involves a few minor traffic tickets that were pleaded out and an appeal of a dog ordinance sanction from a municipal court. I don't fear for my physical safety when I walk around my neighborhood at night, even though I've been robbed at gunpoint right in front of my house, had a bike stolen off my front porch despite a bike lock, and had my car broken into two or three times. I usually lock my doors, but not without fail. The only people I knew growing up who have ever been to prison were school bullies. One was a rural poor kid who together with his big brothers beat up me and my friend in junior high school, he later went to federal prison for stealing social security checks. Another was a peer for a college professor father who went to prison for dealing drugs.

I would never report someone for drinking alcohol underage, using illegal drugs, being an adult prostitute or patronizing one, or an immigration violation, unless that tool were necessary to remove someone who was also a violent threat from my life or the life of a loved one. I don't consider any of those violations of the law to be in any way immoral or wrong, except for that fact that doing those things exposes you to law enforcement scrutiny.

My family has never been without health insurance, although we've had to pay dearly for it at times. We've never gone hungry. We've never been homeless. We've always had computers and books in our home, and we've had high speed internet access at home for as long as that has been a thing. We've always had a car. We've never had to share our home with extended family or another family for any extended period of time. I've never smoked tobacco and never had a drinking problem or a drug addiction.

I am an atheist who hasn't attended church except at Christmas for about nineteen years, except that my wife and I had briefly tried a Unitarian-Universalist church when our kids were elementary school aged (I maintain an affiliation with the American Humanist Association which historically emerged out of the Unitarian-Universalist denomination). I attended a church that was part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) when I lived in Grand Junction, Colorado for a few years (mostly the evening service), the Korean language services at a Korean Presbyterian Church when I lived in Buffalo, an Episcopal Church in college, and an ELCA Lutheran Church (and some of its pre-merger antecedents) growing up. Basically, my upbringing was in mainline Protestant churches, although the Korean Presbyterian Church had a bit of an Evangelical flavor culturally and a bit of a Confucian ethical substrate.

My interactions with the Roman Catholic Church have mostly been in scholarship (religious and secular), music, art, weddings and funerals. I've only attended Pentecostal Churches once or twice, once at an Assemblies of God Church that my in laws belonged to. Likewise I've had only rare and sporadic direct encounters with Evangelical Christian churches, the Mormon religion, and black Christian churches. My kids have probably spent as much time as Jewish religious services (bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, and funerals, for example) as they have at Christian ones (mostly Christmas with my grandparents). I am not unaware of Muslims in my community and have some sense of what goes on in Muslim religious rites (in part from a couple of classes I took in college), but I haven't had much contact with that either. And, I likewise have little contract with Hindu religious practice, something that I mostly know about through television, movies and anthropology.  

People Without Boats

Boat ownership isn't a trend I have my finger on the pulse of here in landlocked Denver, but my intuition on this such as it is, says that this trend is genuine. 
[B]oat ownership has seen a steep decline in the 20- to 39-year-old age category, with approximately 41 percent fewer 20- to 39-year-olds owning boats in 2015 than in 2005. In 2005, 4 percent of American males ages 20 to 39 owned a boat; but by 2015, that number dropped to only 2 percent.
From here.

This parallels, for example, the decline in hunting and fishing as a past time for younger Americans.

Conservatives Divided

In the last twenty years or so, the conservative movement in the Western world has fractured between free market globalists and populist nativists.
There’s a powerful moment at the start of Anne Applebaum’s recent essay in The Atlantic. She’s recalling a party she threw on Dec. 31, 1999, at her home in Poland. Many of the hundred-odd guests were Polish, but others flew in from around the world for a weekend together, to greet the new millennium. 
Most of the guests were conservatives — which in those days meant being anti-Communist and pro-market, but also believing in international alliances like NATO. The party was a great success, lasted all night and continued into brunch the following day. Everybody felt a part of the same team. 
“Nearly two decades later,” Applebaum writes, “I would now cross the street to avoid some of the people who were at my New Year’s Eve party.” She estimates that half the people at that party are no longer on speaking terms with the other half. . . . The same kinds of rifts have opened up among conservatives around the world, in Britain, Italy, Germany and the U.S. 
Some conservatives stayed on the political trajectory they were on in 1999. Others embraced populist nativism. They wandered into territory that is xenophobic, anti-Semitic, authoritarian. Still others were driven leftward by the reactionary revival.
- David Brooks, writing an Op-Ed column in the New York Times.

Brooks argues that deprived of a anti-communist moral cause that left the movement less spiritual, and that there are large ranks of people left disillusioned with meritocracy because they failed to thrive in it. For these disillusioned conservative, he reasons, you 
get a return of blood-and-soil nationalism. The losers in the meritocratic competition, the permanent outsiders, seize on ethnic nationalism to give themselves a sense of belonging, to explain their failures, to rally the masses and to upend the meritocracy. In office, what the populist nationalists do is this: They replace the idea of excellence with the idea of “patriotism.” Loyalty to the tribe is more important than professional competence.
Until you find some new moral purpose and start to value competence and integrity again, he argues the movement's future is bleak.

It is hard to deny that xenophobic populist nationalism is a global phenomena that has reached a particular extreme in recent years in the political world in the U.S. But, his estimate that have of conservatives have resisted this tendency and strayed the course seems optimistic, even though it closely matches Hillary Rodham Clinton's observation on the campaign trail that about half of Trump's supporters are "deplorables."

If you look at the polling data on a variety of questions, however, which tend to show a solid 35% base of support for Trump's worst tendencies (a larger share of older white men, a smaller share of white women and the young whites, and almost no people of color), this seems to be far more than half of the pre-existing conservative base. Indeed, it seems more like 75% to 90% of the political right. The conservative movement may have lost half of its elite, but among "ordinary folks" the shift to xenophobic anti-intellectual white nationalism seems to be almost total.

It is also hard to imagine circumstances that could bring these folks back to valuing competence and integrity, or finding a shared purpose that is actually moral. A movement may emerge in the political landscape that accomplishes these things, but visions of it are currently too far beyond the horizon to imagine.

People Have Savings Shortfalls For Reasons They Can't Control

One of the main justifications for the Social Security program is that people may have shortfalls of wealth in their old age to support themselves through no fault of their own, while privatization advocates tend to attribute savings shortfalls to bad decision making. The Social Security approach of a program that is a hybrid of an insurance model and a savings model is well support supported by the empirical reality. 
We define saving regret as the wish in hindsight to have saved more earlier in life. We measured saving regret and possible determinants in a survey of a probability sample of those aged 60-79. We investigate two main causes of saving regret: procrastination along with other psychological traits, and the role of shocks, both positive and negative. We find high levels of saving regret but relatively little of the variation is explained by procrastination and psychological factors. Shocks such as unemployment, health and divorce explain much more of the variation. The results have important implications for retirement saving policies.

18 November 2018

I Wish That High Speed Rail Was More Economically Viable In The U.S.

Rail fans have a proposal for a four phase high speed rail construction program for the United States. But, while I wish this would ever make economic sense, but it really doesn't, outside some selective niche corridors in the U.S.

A transcontinental high speed rail line, for example, does not make economic sense unless you can get speeds of about 6000 mph in an advanced hyperloop type system with construction costs per mile similar to existing high speed rail line estimates, speeds that are about eight times as fast as currently protoype hyperloop design.

Amtrak Fails Because It's Too Slow To Attract Enough Traffic To Make Economic Sense

It is no wonder that Amtrak is hemorrhaging cash outside the Northeast corridor. 

Our existing Amtrak passenger rail system in the U.S., outside the Acela corridor, with average speeds of 50 mph and post-subsidy costs per passenger mile somewhat higher than luxury buses, isn't competitive economically even if you skip interstate highways entirely and travel only on state highways by luxury bus. The operating expense subsidy per passenger mile is much greater than the cost of a commercial airline ticket between the same destinations in many case, with a flight time that is 10% of the Amtrak travel time. Unless the comfortable and scenic trip across the country is the destination, this doesn't make any economic sense.

Even the Acela corridor in along the Atlantic coast from D.C. to Boston more or less, which just barely breaks even economically, is just barely competitive with driving, since it averages about 75 mph in a region where the interstate highway speed limit is 55 mph and traffic frequently reduces your average speed below that, and an Acela ticket costs considerably more than driving or taking a bus. Also, traveling by Acela is only time competitive if both your initial place of departure and your destination are pretty close to train stations served by Acela service.

Of course, with dedicated 220 mph high speed rail lines in the Northeast Corridor from Boston to the District of Columbia, the system would probably win a much larger market share of the market for travel between those destinations, relative to buses, driving and flying on commercial aircraft, even at prices somewhat higher than those for existing Acela service. In the Northeast Corridor, and in a number of other medium length, high traffic corridors, as discussed below, high speed rail does make economic sense, even though there is probably no other niche where it makes sense in the U.S.

High Speed Rail Isn't Competitive With Existing Commercial Aircraft For Long Trips

Even at 220 mph with additional time spent stopped to let people on and off, rail cannot compete with airplane for long distance travel, since commercial aircraft can fly at 450-600 mph, from airport to airport, with no intermediate stops along the way, at a cost per mile that is only slightly more expensive (even after immense federal Amtrak subsidies per passenger mile on most non-Acela routes, and even with no rail infrastructure costs) than Amtrak travel at 50 mph for the same distances.

But, the sunk cost of the interstate highway system and our domestic commercial airline system, as well as population densities and traffic levels much lower than in places where high speed rail is used now (mostly Europe, Japan and China) and the immense costs per mile to build high speed rail lines, suggest that high speed rail will never make sense in most of the U.S. until jet fuel prices increase from 1/7th of the expenses of an airline today to something on the order of 15 or so times that much in inflation adjusted dollars (i.e. when oil starts selling for around $750 a barrel in 2018 dollars up from $40-$50 a barrel today). And, with jet fuel at those prices, high energy density batteries for electrically powered planes start to make economic sense.

Realistically, even at 220 mph, high speed rail is never going to be seriously competitive with commercial aircraft travel in the U.S. for long trips.

High Speed Rail Isn't Competitive With Cars and Buses For Short Trips

Our quite fast interstate highway system, coupled with intracity transit options that are anemic by international standards, also means that a rail system with train stations far enough apart to make sense for a 220 mph train, can't compete with cars and buses going point to point over short distances. This is because, with a high speed train, like an airport, you have to travel a considerable extra distance to get to the stop and then from the stop to your final destination, and this eats into the time you save by going 220 mph instead of 65-76 mph on the fastest highways.

High Speed Rail Can Make Economic Sense For Medium Length High Traffic Routes

Instead, the only niche where high speed rail is economically competitive in the United States is on medium length trips that have a high volume of traffic, and only if their speed is much greater than the 75 mph you can drive on an interstate highway. 

Rail only makes sense if it makes economic sense for people to ride it given the time and cost comparisons to driving or flying, to the extent that you can move a lot of passengers along that route by train on an average day, day after day for decades to come.

For example, high speed rail probably does make sense in Colorado from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs along I-25, if it was fast enough and cheap enough, and maybe even from Denver to Glenwood Springs, both of which are medium length, very high traffic corridors. But, it is very hard to justify extending those rail lines from Fort Collins to Cheyenne, Wyoming, or from Colorado Springs to Pueblo, Colorado or Albuquerque, New Mexico, or from Glenwood Springs, Colorado to Grand Junction, Colorado, because, given the much smaller volume of traffic on those parts of the routes, the cost of doing that per passenger mile relative to the cost of running luxury tour buses along I-25 or I-70 at 75 mph, is incredibly more expensive for a pretty modest time savings for the typical traveller.

Also, the main reason that high speed rail is competitive at those distances relative to air travel is that security screening is required for air travel but not for train travel. One horrific train based terrorist incident in the U.S. (and there have been terrorist incidents on passenger rail lines in France, Spain, England, Japan, India and Russia, for example), could easily destroy that advantage if security checkpoints are imposed for train travelers. 

There are a some corridors in parts of their Phase 1 map  of the high speed rail advocates where higher speed rail can make economic sense, like along the Pacific coast of California, Oregon and Washington State (possibly on to Vancouver, Canada and Tijuana, Mexico), or from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs in Colorado, or between some of the major cities in Texas, or in the Northeast Corridor (as discussed above).

In these high traffic, medium length corridors, the concept is even more attractive if you can go three times as fast at the anticipated 760 mph hyperloop system speeds. 

How Fast Does A Hyperloop Style System Have To Be To Make Sense For Long Routes?

For long distance travel on fixed pathways in a train to make sense you need you need the 760 mph plus of Elon Musk's hyperloop proposal, so you can be performance competitive with existing commercial airplanes. This speed limit is basically the speed of sound in ordinary air. To go faster, you need to replace the current design with an air filled tube with a system that sends passengers through a vacuum contained within the tubes.

But, even then, the cost of developing the technology for and building that much infrastructure for long distance routes (like NYC to LA) is probably much more costly than the cost of developing quieter supersonic airplanes, an almost ready for commercial production technology, that would move passengers at speeds of about 1500 mph with no new infrastructure investments and probably only about double the cost of existing commercial air travel per trip. The main reason we don't already use supersonic aircraft for domestic flights is the noise their sonic booms make when they fly over the country (the Concorde, the only commercial supersonic plane service to have ever flown, was used for transatlantic flights from NYC to London and Paris, where noise wasn't nearly as great a concern). Still, even at hyperloop speeds, with infrastructure costs per mile similar to other kinds of high speed rail systems, hyperloop is still only really competitive on medium length trips that have a high volume of traffic, although the economically viable trip length is quite a bit longer than it is for 220 mph rail systems. 

For a hyperloop type system to be competitive with supersonic commercial aircraft on long haul trips, from a travel time perspective, it would need to go faster than 1200 mph or so (a bit slower than the supersonic commercial aircraft because there are much shorter security waiting times), and to make economic sense it would have to have a decisive time advantage over flying to justify the infrastructure costs, so it would need to have speeds of at least something on the order of 2200 mph. Technologically, that isn't impossible. Theoretically, it ought to be possible as a matter of engineering possibility, to get a hyperloop style system to move passengers at as much as 14,000 mph. But, there is a big gap between what is theoretically possible and can be accomplished for a finite construction price, even with an R&D budget in the tens or low hundreds of billions of dollars.

Also, the economic returns to faster speeds show diminishing returns. An LA to NYC flight with existing aircraft is about four hours of flight time, in round numbers. In a 1200 mph hyperloop system, the trip is an hour and forty minutes or so, but significantly more expensive than a next generation supersonic commercial aircraft. In a supersonic plane, you can cut that to an hour and twenty-minutes or so at Mach 2. 

In a 2200 mph hyperloop system, the trip is about 54 minutes and it would also be significantly more expensive than a next generation supersonic commercial aircraft. It wouldn't be surprising at all if economically, if passengers wouldn't be willing to pay significantly more than a next generation supersonic commercial aircraft to shave 26 minutes off of a NYC to LA trip (the time savings would be even smaller if there were any intermediate stops on the hyperloop system along the way).

To cut the travel time for a hyperloop trip from NYC to LA to half the time of a supersonic commercial jet, i.e. to 40 minutes, which people might pay for, although getting the necessary volume of ridership would be challenging, it needs to hit 3000 mph, about four times the speed of the current design.

With a maximally theoretically possible 14,000 mph hyperloop style system, the NYC to LA trip time drops to about 9 minutes, which I'm sure that many business passengers would be willing to pay a substantial premium for, even if it was stretched to 15 or 20 minutes for one or two intermediate stops, or with a direct trip at 6000 mph or so, about eight times as fast as current design speeds.

And, all that time, you still have to stay competitive with hypothetical "hypersonic" commercial aircraft that travel at several times the speed of sound.

Now, then again, getting to hypersonic in commercial aircraft does pose so many technical problems that it will probably never happen.

And, realistically, once you transition from air filled hyperloop tubes in which you can reach 760 mph, and hyperloop tubes that contain a vacuum, this one (expensive in construction costs per mile) innovation can probably get you immediately to 6000 mph, while leaving a decent margin of error for the possibility of an near vacuum that is more like the boundary area between Earth's atmosphere and outer space, rather than a true deep space quality vacuum.

So, a line from NYC to LA with stops in Chicago and Denver that takes 30 minutes or so, isn't a completely unattainable possibility from either an economic or a technological matter. But, between R&D expenses and much greater construction expenses associated with a 6000 mph hyperloop system, you are looking at a price tag in the several hundreds of billions of dollars ballpark.

The additional construction expense, however, probably isn't justified by the economic benefits from increased ridership with a 6000 mph system in medium distance corridors, even though a 760 mph current technology hyperloop system might be very competitive with a 220 mph high speed rail system alternative.

Different Options For A San Diego To Seattle Trip And Pricing High Speed Rail

As I noted before, one of the corridors where high speed rail might make sense is along the Pacific coast. All estimates are for one way trips.

For example, on existing Amtrak service, the trip from San Diego to Seattle would take 35 hours and 16 minutes, plus 30 minutes travel time to and from the train station combined, for a total of 35 hours and 46 minutes and cost $133. The trips to and from the train station might end up costing $5 each for a total cost of $143. You also incur greater food costs on a trip this long of about $25, at about $5 per 4 hoursish chunk of non-sleeping time (eight hours in overnight trips) in excess of the 5 hours and 30 minutes for an airline flight, for a total of $168. This also doesn't reflect the substantial federal operating cost subsidy per passenger mile on this trip, which probably makes it more expensive once that is considered that the proposed hyperloop price that would get you there in 7% of the time.

By Greyhound bus, the trip from San Diego to Seattle would take 31 hours and 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes travel time to and from the bus station combined, for a total of 32 hours and 15 minutes. The bus ticket would cost $182 plus $5 each way to and from the bus station, for a total of $192. You also incur greater food costs on a trip this long of about $25, about $5 per 4 hoursish chunk of non-sleeping time (eight hours in overnight trips) in excess of the 5 hours and 30 minutes for an airline flight, for a total of $217. This doesn't receive a government operating cost subsidy.

It would take 18 hours and 45 minutes to drive that distance in a car or truck or charter bus, not counting meal break times. Realistically, it would take 20 hours, point to point, to make the trip unless you are die hard college students who can rotate drivers. At the standard IRS personal mileage rate of 18 cents per mile, the cost would be $226. you also incur greater food costs on a trip this long, estimated to be about $5 per 4 hoursish chunk of non-sleeping time (eight hours in overnight trips) in excess of the 5 hours and 30 minutes for an airline flight, for a total of about $241. A high speed rail line would absorb almost all short duration trip traffic on this route. This doesn't receive a government operating cost subsidy.

If you trimmed stop times at four intermediate stop (LA, one between LA and San Francisco, San Francisco and Portland, OR) to four and a half minutes, you could make the trip from San Diego to Seattle in a 220 mph high speed rail system in 6 hours. If you add the time traveling to and from the train station from a central city destination of 15 minutes at each end, you are at 6 hours and 30 minutes, from point to point for the 220 mph high speed rail trip. If you set the cost to compete with the less comfortable but one hour faster airline flight and considering the cheaper trip to and from the train station, you probably can't charge much more than $200 all in, and this leaves a budget of $190 for the train ticket itself, for this trip that is available to finance this operation, which might pick up half of the traffic volume in that corridor for the full distance trip, but a larger share to the traffic volume on shorter segments. The food costs would be similar to those in an airline flight.

By comparison, the airport gate to airport gate flight time from San Diego to Seattle on a commercial airline flight is about 3 hours, plus an hour on the front end to get through security and to your gate after being dropped off at the airport if you are cutting it close, for a total of 4 hours, and closer to 4 hours and 40 minutes if you are checking a bag after being checked in, in advance. If you add in trips to and from the airport to your respective destinations you are up to 5 hours and 30 minutes, from point to point, since airports are usually further from city centers than high speed rail stations. The plane ticket would be about $167 including the air travel taxes involved. The trips to and from the airport might end up costing $10 each, for a total cost of $187This doesn't receive more than a negligible government operating cost subsidy. This is the benchmark for food costs.

On a San Diego to Seattle route, a 760 mph hyperloop system trip would take about an hour and 40 minutes of relative comfort, plus about 5 minutes per intermediate stop. If it stopped at LA, San Francisco, one city in between those two, and Portland, in addition to San Diego and Seattle, it would be a two hour trip to go 1255 miles. If you add the time traveling to and from the train station from a central city destination of 15 minutes at each end, you are at 2 hours and 30 minutes, from point to point. Now, shaving 3 hours of travel time from the trip means that you could charge considerably more than a plane ticket and still get the lion's share of the travel volume in the corridor for all segment lengths. I suspect that you could charge $380 for this train ticket and also a $5 each trip to and from the train station and still take most of the traffic volume from the commercial flights with speeds this fast (double the all in commercial airline charge adjusted for reduced food costs). You also incur somewhat less food costs in a trip this short. saving $5. This implies a price for the train ticket alone in the ballpark of $370 with more trips than the 220 mph service. So, this is an extra $180 per full length trip more of revenue than the 220 mph high speed rail option, with a probably significantly high traffic volume (I estimate 60% more passenger volume, based on 50% of market share for 220 mph v. 80% of market share for 760 mph). This implies about 3.2 times as much operating revenue than a 220 mph high speed rail system.

Also, employee compensation expenses (which are a large share of the total operating expense in most transportation systems other than driving your own car), perhaps 30%-50%, would be roughly half that of the 220 mph high speed rail or the airline trip alternatives because the trips would be faster. My back of napkin estimate based upon 50% of the airline ticket cost of $157 before ticket taxes is $75 per passenger for the full trip on airlines, $80 per passenger on the 220 mph train, and $40 per passenger on the hyperloop. This implies an operating profit of about 3.5 times what the 220 mph high speed rail makes. Now, the Acela just barely breaks even on operating costs. So, the profit per full length trip on a 220 mph high speed rail system might be $20, and the profit per full length trip on a hyperloop system would be 3.5 times the 220 mph system's operating profit, so about $70 per full length passenger per trip times 50% of the existing flight traffic between the destinations, and without an operating subsidy.

So, the hyperloop system could support a significantly larger infrastructure cost and still make economic sense. But, the current estimates are that the infrastructure costs for the hyperloop system actually wouldn't be that much greater than the 220 mph high speed rail option

There are 50,000 passengers a day that leave the San Diego airport. If 8% of them were going to Seattle that would be 4,000 per day, times two because most people would fly round trip, times 365 days per year, you get roughly 3 million trips per year, which implies $210 million of profit per year. Using a 3% per annum interest rate on government bonds and an infinite amortization period, the amount of capital investment cost that this kind of profit could finance is about $7 billion. The estimated construction cost is $11.5 million per mile and you would need 1255 mile of line from San Diego to Seattle, a cost of $14.5 billion in capital expenditures. Of course, this doesn't include estimates of the revenues for shorter segment trips and the traffic estimate is not very precise. But, order of magnitude-wise, a hyperlink system ought to just about break even on a San Diego to Seattle route, and if it needed a construction subsidy, it would need significantly less than a 50% subsidy, when an 80% subsidy is the norm in U.S. transit funding. If it got the 80% customary infrastructure subsidy, it would need to support only $2.9 billion of system contribution to the capital costs, which is $5.1 billion less than what it could have afforded, which leaves a cushion for errors from not being conservative enough in andy and all of the other estimated numbers.

And funding this kind of transit might be a good investment for the federal government for other reasons such as reducing highway maintenance expenses and reduce air pollution and reduced demand for foreign oil, that might be well worth a $5.1 billion expenditure amortized over 30 years or so, for an annualize real dollar cost of about $170 million a year in inflation adjusted dollars (before reducing that for costs avoided), a small price to pay for a state of the art high speed rail system that is heavily used and pays for all of its operating costs without government subsidy and pays 20% of the capital investment from its own stream of "profits."