28 January 2019

Economic Development Is Path Dependent

We think about our economy being global. But, it actually is quite geography dependent with economic growth and particular industries being highly concentrated in location. 


A key factor is that most industries involve networks of firms. A factory or manufacturing company isn't an island. It is a hub of other factories and firms that provide it with parts and services that it needs.

So, when Apple tried to build a Mac factory in Texas they had a problem. Texas didn't have the network of suppliers that Apple had at its factories in China. And, this lack of key suppliers for necessary parts was one of the important reasons that Apple abandoned its plan to build Macs in Texas in favor of the Chinese status quo where the whole network, only some of which was owned and controlled by Apple itself, present.

Once the network is in place, the incentive to continue to develop the economy in places that have the other components of the network in place usually prevails over the desire to relocate a firm or part of its activities somewhere else. And, when the same incentive applies to all firms in an industry, you get massive development in some places, while other places which have all the raw materials and much of the human capital needed are passed over.

25 January 2019

Who Put Them In Charge?

It feels like the clergy and really most people who claim to be Christian have soured since the 1970s or so and become heartless and mean spirited and often outright evil.

It feels like the political right has gotten much uglier in the time period since Trump's campaign for President began. There was a time when the Republican party saw itself as the party of grown ups, of decorum. Those days seem to be gone.

I'd like to believe that bad systems made it possible for the wrong people to attain positions of power. But, I'm not comfortable in that conclusion. Maybe there are just a lot more bad people out there than most of us would like to believe.

It is particularly striking because this hasn't happened on the Q T. Main stream media outlets, social media, blogs, academics and leaders of other countries have publicly identified every lie, every abuse, every distraction, every hint of corruption (often born out by later investigations). But, it keeps happening even though everyone knows it's happening. Because too many on the right, overwhelmingly conservative Christians, want this to happen or don't care.

It is so ugly.

The rest of us are resisting and taking political action. But, the playing field isn't a fair one. Dirty tricks and unfair rules too often prevail. Huge swaths of the population have walled themselves off from reason. It is especially out of control for Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation (i.e. people born before 1965).

The world has changed and they haven't.

Why did the world go crazy? I can provide rational explanations. But, emotionally, it is still baffling.

Someday, someone is doing to decide that the process isn't working, that our constitution has become a suicide pact, and break the rules. Our political process and leadership are so far out of touch with the processes and elites in the rest of our society. I hope that when that happens it will be one of the good guys, and not one of the bad guys, but I am not in the least confident that this is how it will play out, because the good guys have more respect for the process than the bad guys do.

Being Sick Sucks

I am going on two continuous weeks of being sick, have slept 40 of the last 48 hours, missed several days of work, had to move to continue a trial, and I'm still coughing and half dazed, although it is better than it was at the low point. This is with a wide assortment of vitamins, home remedies, over the counter medicines and prescription medicines over that time period. 

Despite all of the advances medicine has made, if you get a moderately bad but not life threatening viral infection, suck it up and rest, while treating the symptoms, is ultimately the best we can do to cure it.

On the plus side I've lost more than 52 pounds since April 2, 2018, almost none of which because I'm sick.

22 January 2019

Why Did Denunciations Work In The Cultural Revolution?

In a series of twitter posts, T. Greer explains how and why Mao's strategy of denouncing political opponents worked in the culture revolution without deployment of actual physical force and observes that mainstream political science doesn't really have a good theoretical understanding of this actually quite intuitive tactic. 

Greer notes that similar tactics are likely to be used in the process of selecting a Democratic Party nominee in 2020.

SCOTUS Rules Against Patent Holders Again

Yet again, the U.S. Supreme Court has made a ruling favoring weaker patent laws, although this time affirming the Federal Circuit's holding to that effect, rather than reversing it. In this case, it reaffirmed prior precedents holding that the requirement that a patent be filed within a year of making the product available for sale can't be circumvented by keeping the patentable details confidential.

21 January 2019

Stray Thoughts

* The Trump Administration has broken all past records concerning government shutdowns in the United States except for the record of the number of separate shutdowns per Presidency where he is currently tied in second place (he is tied for first place in number of shutdowns in a single Presidential term already). One more would tie Ronald Reagan who had three one day shutdowns over two terms.

He has the longest single shutdown. The most combined days of shutdown in a Presidential term or a Presidency. The shutdown affecting the most worker-days. It will no doubt be the most expensive to the government.

From here. The chart doesn't reflect another 420,000 "essential employees" who aren't furloughed but aren't getting paid either.

* The vast majority of government employees in the United States are not affected by the shutdown. The vast majority of government employees (more than 93% of civilians) work for state and local governments. All military employees of the federal government except the Coast Guard, and more than half of the civilian employees of the federal government are not affected because their appropriations bills were passed.

* There is enough bipartisan support in Congress to end the shutdown with a continuing resolution. Indeed, there is enough support to override a Presidential veto. Bills to do so have previously passed unanimously in both houses of Congress. The unwillingness of Mitch McConnell, who is a U.S. Senator from Kentucky and the majority leader in the Senate, to hold that vote to contradict Trump is the reason we are still shut down.

* A teacher's strike is looming in Denver as negotiations have broken down between the district and the teacher's union. There will be votes on January 19th and 22nd regarding a strike. A simultaneous Denver Public Schools teacher's strike and federal government shutdown are likely.

* Ultimately, the conservatism generally is driven by economic scarcity and insecurity. Racism, a center of attention on this Martin Luther King, Jr. day, is an indirect consequence of a feeling on the part of whites who are seeing real wage stagnation and persistent unemployment that they are suffering economically that opportunities that are "theirs" are going to others. Blue collar men in the U.S. have seen their relative status in society and capacity to provide dramatically eroded in the last 50 years. When that problem is addressed, the fuel that drives racism and xenophobia will be gone although racism won't go until that condition persists long enough for the existing racists to die.

* The U.S. in on the wrong track in multiple respects. It has ceased to invest sufficiently in infrastructure. It has permitted ranks of the desperately poor to persist in a way that no other developed nation does. It has too many people who have lost touch with reality, don't trust accurate sources of information, believe that education does more harm than good, and have developed a mean demeanor that condemns empathy as weakness. Deaths of despair like suicides and opioid overdoses are on the rise.

* Lots of people who recognize that big problems of the United States as problems have framed those problems in ways that suggest solutions that don't work. 

For example, the single biggest solution to a lack of affordable housing is to relax land use regulation, but many people think that rent controls and subsidizing the construction of affordable housing is the answer.

* It doesn't help to have a federal government run by people who don't believe in government as worthwhile or legitimate, who have the backing of a minority of the general population due to archaic flaws in our electoral system, who have the backing of an even smaller share of the economic wealth of the nation. This is unstable. Three million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump who won by razor thin margins to take the electoral college with dubious election administration decisions suppressing the vote and rampant lies. Not for the first time in recent memory either. Democrats represent two-thirds of the GDP of the nation because its urban base is much, much more productive.

* For all of the bleakness of the moment, it could be far worse. The agenda of inclusiveness has made great strides. Some has the criminal justice and drug war reform movement (sentencing reforms passed Congress even as all else came to a halt). 

The courts have restrained many of Trump's worst excesses and now there are Democrats controlling the House of Representatives to do so as well. Technology continues to improve. The NRA is in dire financial straights and has been a pariah in corporate America. The demographics that support the right wing are in decline and Republicans have almost completely forfeited the Millennial generation. The shutdown is going to hurt the GOP badly in 2020. Christianity, in general, is in decline in the United States.

* Every country has its problems. Far right movements have made political gains across Europe. Russia has engaged in unanswered military aggressions against the Ukraine. Syria and Yemen are active war zones that are living hellscapes. The situation in Afghanistan seems to be deteriorating. Latin America is plagued with extremely high murder rates and corruption driven by drug cartels. An insane far right President has been elected to lead Brazil. The continued existence of the United Kingdom is in doubt as a Brexit vote to leave the E.U. has proved intractable to implement. China's economy, while growing fast, is vulnerable and relies on deeply problematic and usustainable authoritarian approaches to maintain it. India's Hindu nationalists parties are pretty much as crazy as Christian conservatives on many scientific matters. The Sahel from coast to coast in Africa is immersed in a series of genocidal wars with religious dimensions and economic causes. Many countries, e.g. Finland and Canada and Iceland and New Zealand, are doing better in many respects. But, they all have problems and many of them have really big problems.

* There has never been a time when people have had so much access to global music, media and information. The Internet has made a lot of amazing things possible with deep cultural implications.

*  One by one, little by little, new discoveries are improving our technological ability to provide better health care, even though the U.S. is seeing falling life expectancy in many respects. China put a rover on the dark side of the moon this year. There is enough information being gathered about dark matter to sometimes right the ship on that front and find the true solution. The Standard Model works very, very well.

15 January 2019

Brain Mush

Being sick sucks!

My brain is total mush.

Every ten or fifteen minutes of calm and seeming focus is obliterated with a cough and a splitting headache.

I can't read. I can't write anything more than a sentence or two without the world getting all funny. Watching a 45 minute TV episode takes way too much concentration to attempt.

Make it stop!

I may not be posting for a while, while I recover.


14 January 2019


One of my very first experiences in the State of Colorado was being pulled over for the alleged traffic offense discussed in a case decided by the Colorado Supreme Court today (I escaped with a warning and then as in this case, the stop was actually a pre-text driven by a desire to search my car.) The Court held that it is not against the law to fail to signal for at least 200 feet before changing lanes in Colorado, so long as you do signal before changing lanes.

An earlier appellate precedent in Colorado has also discredited the other reason asserted for stopping me, that my fuzzy dice obscured my vision.

11 January 2019

What Is An Animal?

Biologists have one seemingly objective definition of an "animal" for a particular taxonomic purpose. But, for other purposes, a different definition (which I have come up with, whether or not someone else unknown to me has done the same thing) is appropriate:
An animal is any physical system too complex to be understood as a machine.
Note that this definition has a subjective component, so the classification of a thing is observer dependent. Your automobile, for example, may be a machine from the perspective of your automobile mechanic, but may be an animal, from your perspective. 

The computers I used when they were first available and you assembled them from kits and did a lot of the programming yourself, were machines. But, the computer upon which I am typing this blog post, and the Internet, through which this blog post reaches you, are animals from my perspective and from the perspective of most observers.

When something is a machine, one approach to interacting with it makes sense. When something is an animal, a different approach to interacting with it makes sense.

The way you interact with an animal in this sense is pretty much the same whether the animal would also be classified by a biologist as an animal or not.

Teachers Matter

The modern trend is to emphasize the underappreciated importance of hereditary contributions to IQ and personality to one's success and functionality in life, while downplaying the importance of environmental impacts from parents and teachers. But, as this anecdote illustrates, at the very granular concrete level of things like the particular details of your adult writing style, teachers matter.

Yesterday evening, I spent about an hour editing a brief I'd written for style. I'd done all the research, identified the facts, and organized them into a logical presentation order over the previous few days and it was otherwise ready to file. But, it was hard to follow at points and boring in others, mostly because of several recurring style issues that I have when I am not consciously paying attention to my writing style.

It occurred to me while I was editing it, that about 75% of my bad habits are writing rules and style preferences I was taught in the 5th grade by Mrs. Wozniak (a truly horrible teacher). She was a teacher at Kramer Elementary School, the only public elementary school in the small town where I grew up (Oxford, Ohio).

For example, in 5th grade we learned that combining sentences whenever possible and favoring complex sentence constructions was preferred. That was sophisticated writing, which was better the simple writing. But, I was never taught that these were actually bad writing habits until I had been a practicing attorney for several years and my supervising partners edited my work.

Old habits, especially old habits that you followed since you were a child, for about fourteen years before you realizing that they were bad ones, are hard to break.

As I am in the moment, I write in the way that I was taught growing up which is most natural to me. But, I've learned, over almost a quarter of a century of practicing law, what flaws tend to be present in material that I write this way. However, I can only see them when I stop composing, step away from what I have written so that I can reapproach it "cold" and out of the moment. When I do that I can then examine what I wrote anew with my less intuitive, more formal "editor" hat on. (The former reflects "thinking fast" processes of thinking, the latter reflects "thinking slow" processes of thinking.)

Earlier this week, I was talking colleague about a decade and a half older than I am, who went to an elite private school in Washington D.C. This colleague has an excellent writing style (even if now and then we have disagreements on how to deal with other issues that come up in handling cases for clients). He was describing the writing instruction he remembers receiving at about the same age from his late elementary school teacher. In contrast to what I was taught at that age, his instruction hewed very closely to the style favored in legal writing today, which is exemplified by legal writing guru Bryan Garner.

Alas, my experience, and often much worse atrocities of composition, learned young, are the norm. I learned that very clearly when my wife was an English composition instructor at Mesa State College and shared with me the essays her students produced, and later when she shared with me that papers written by students in a Women's Studies class she was teaching while she was in graduate school. I've also seen it myself, reviewing the written work I my subordinates in the practice of law, and of my clients and the written work of opposing counsel in some of my cases.

Good teachers can improve you for the better for a lifetime. But, bad ones are an albatross around your neck that must be overcome.

08 January 2019

Today In The Courts

* A unanimous Ninth Circuit panel has held that federal statute prohibiting the possession of firearms by an alien unlawfully present in the United States withstands constitutional scrutiny and is a valid exercise of Congress’s authority. It is important to note that the fact that the statute was federal is important, because the federal government has the exclusive power to regulate immigration. A similar state statute would probably be unconstitutional on federalism grounds. The argument that the Second Amendment right extended to all persons regardless of citizenship status wasn't frivolous, as most of the protections of the Bill of Rights apply to all persons without regard to citizenship status, but the Second Amendment's reference to a "well regulated" militia means that reasonable regulation of Second Amendment rights is allowed and this regulation was found to be a reasonable one.

* The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Federal Arbitration Act allows the determination of whether a dispute is subject to arbitration in a contract to be allocated to an arbitrator in an arbitration clause and that no exception that that rule exists even if the claim that the dispute is subject to arbitration is clearly groundless. This opinion for a unanimous court in Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc. is one of the first from Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. This continues a long line of case in which arbitration clauses have been upheld in the face of low court efforts to narrow their scope and effect.

* U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas delivered an opinion for a unanimous Court in Culbertson v. Berryhill, holding that the 25% of recovery statutory cap on attorneys' fees in Social Security benefits cases applies to two different reasons that attorneys' fees can be awarded by statute separately, rather than capping the combined total of two kind of attorneys' fees that can be awarded under the statute. This effectively doubles the maximum amount of attorneys' fees that may be awarded in Social Security benefits litigation. This technical decision is contrary to prevailing wisdom about how the cap applied (and is probably also contrary to legislative intent), and flows from poor drafting in the statute. The cap is quite restrictive, making these cases unattractive to lawyers and the new rule will make such cases more attractive to lawyers, but at the cost of leaving beneficiaries with a reduced share of already modest benefits in many cases.

01 January 2019

Demons, Angels And Nephilim - Reflections On Tracking

One day, sketching out some ideas for a possible fictional story that never panned out, I came up with fanciful names for different tracks that kids could be put into in a school system.

The top 5% or so of the most promising students in terms of academics and character, on track to go to selective colleges and to graduate schools and other elite professions after that, were called the "angels" (e.g., future physicians).

The middle 90% were broken into three tracks of roughly equal size. The "preppies" who were academically strong enough and conformist enough to graduate from college (e.g., future pharmacists and registered nurses and physicians assistants). The "techies" who were bright enough and had the right inclination to joint the skilled trades or earn associate's degrees or occupational certificates (e.g., future licensed practical nurses). The "proles" were good kids who were capable of being self-supporting, but just weren't going to do well in any kind of further education or highly skilled trade.

At the bottom 5% were the students who were already on track for violent crime, academic failure, and turbulent personal lives, broken up into two groups. Most were "demons". A minority of them (perhaps 0.5% of the total) were "nephilim" who were smart and/or display inspired moments of good character, but were also disruptive and had turbulent lives that got them into trouble.

The names are fanciful, and the tracking system sketched out was more rigid than what exists in reality, but the proportions are roughly what the status quo produces.

Our society, in the United States, does a reasonably tolerable job of preparing angels and preppies through public K-12 schools, public colleges and universities, and private colleges and universities supported by financial aid systems, although family affluence plays too great a part in the kind of education that equally academically capable students receive. There is a good argument that there is degree inflation in many fields, but we do prepare youths on these tracks adequately.

The same is not true for the other two-thirds of young people.

Kids who would probably thrive on a techie track in both school and subsequent careers in the U.S., instead are typically put in dumbed down versions of curricula designed to prepare them for four year liberal arts college degrees which don't interest them at all because they have no use to them, and are then urged to enroll in college programs that they will most likely drop out of without completing.

Kids who would be put on a prole track in the status quo in the U.S. leave high school without functional literacy, without any marketable skills or job experience, and without any guidance in how to navigate adult life. They work at unskilled jobs, often in retail or food service, designed with the assumption that they are only a passing step on the path to something better, and they don't have options for housing, transportation, health care, or anything else that can allow them to live decent lives in the long run without much job advancement with what they earn.

Kids who would be put on a demon track get suspended or expelled or otherwise disciplined in school until they drop out, have contact with the juvenile justice system as adolescents, may join gangs, and eventually drift into the adult criminal justice system, vagrancy, or life at the margins of society.

There is almost no recognition at all in our society that there might be any kids who are nephilim, who get into a lot trouble but could also be very promising if given a chance to be nurtured, even though there are cases such as people who earn college degrees in prison and end up their only due to happenstance to some extent, who fit that description.

I believe that techies would be better served by being formally tracked into quality vocational education in high school and apprenticeships and community college programs afterwards than they are by the status quo.

I believe that proles would be better served by being formally tracks into programs giving them job experience in fairly unskilled jobs, teaching them life skills and "adulting", and having some formal support systems in place into their early twenties to provide them with structure and guidance similar to the residential side of being in college, than they are by the status quo.

Some techies and proles might be well served by a chance to experience military service or serve in a parallel civilian public service corps.

I believe that demons and nephilim are people who are reasonably easy to identify with fairly modest effort, who should really be targeted for intense and sustained intervention and support before they go too far off the rails, because they and society suffer in the relatively laissez faire approach taken to them until they are arrested for serious crimes in the status quo.

Educators and parents are often uncomfortable with formal tracking because they are terrified to an unreasonable degree about limiting people's possibilities, but in the process, provide inferior means to develop the potential that roughly two-thirds of students do have by trying to force feed them into a watered down preppie track to which they do not belong and in which they will never thrive.

It is all good and well to have outs by which someone who starts on one path can end up on another one.

For example, in the military, while most officers start the careers as active duty soldiers and sailors by attending a military academy or a reserve officer training program in college or through direct commissioning of clergy, lawyers and doctors, soldiers and sailors who start out at the bottom as enlisted soldiers and sailors who show promise in performing their duties can be picked to attend officer candidate school and earn a commission as a military officer. About one in five officers secured their commissions through this path, although there is considerable variation by service with almost two-thirds of Marine Officers following this course, while only about one in nine Army officers does.

Similarly, in civilian life, while most people who earn four year college degrees do so by entering a four year degree program directly, a minority transfer from a community college program where they may or may not have earned an associate's degree. About 20% of bachelor's degrees are earned by people who previously earned a two year degree, and some community college students transfer into four year programs without earning a two year degree.

But, while ways to jump to another path are desirable, it is equally or more important that people be well prepared for the career and life path that they are most likely to end up on in the best possible way, rather than letting the tail wag the dog.

Do Covered Roads Make Sense In Urban Areas?

A Kaiser Permanente parking lot near the Denver-Aurora border near Alameda and Havana.

Imagine a street in a urban residential neighborhood covered with structures similar to those of the parking lot shown above.

Snow removal wouldn't be necessary. The street would stay free of ice. The diversion of snow and ice from the road and the lack of a need to put salt or sand on the road would make potholes and other forms of road surface deterioration that requires maintenance less common. 

Summer shade would also reduce road deterioration and reduce the extent to which the street contributes to a heat bubble, cooling the neighborhood. 

Light pollution from street lights at night to the larger community would be reduced. Solar panels atop the covers would power the street lights and perhaps return power to the grid as well.

These structures probably aren't terribly expensive to build, and maintaining a traditional tree canopy over urban streets that serves a similar purpose, can be challenging in the arid west.