31 December 2019

Colorado Income Tax Falls From 4.63% to 4.5% In 2020

Democrats passed legislation in 2019 reducing the Colorado state income tax temporarily to 4.5% from its current 4.63% flat rate, for the year 2020.

Meta: This is post 365 between this blog and its sister blog for 2019, a posting rate of 1 blog post per day.

Quote of The Day

Comics are sort of wild, because you have to understand acting and be able to draw that acting.
- Shawn Lenore (December 31, 2019). 

29 December 2019

Wither China?

China presents serious paradoxes for conventional wisdom in both political theory and economic development. Here are some scattershot reflections on it.

On one hand, China has experienced immense rates of economic growth, year after year, without, so far, a really serious recession, and with huge infrastructure investments. It has built thousands of miles of high speed rail lines, major hydropower installations, and thrown up many cities as big or bigger than Denver in a blink of an eye.

Many countries have experienced the "demographic transition" associated with a shift from having a "Third World" economy to a developing one, with far fewer children per woman per lifetime. But, no other country has done so in such a forced, rapid and pervasive manner. Many countries have seen mass migrations from rural areas to urban ones to support economic development, but few have done so in such an intentional manner.

China's military has grown immense in scale and technology, almost despite itself. Unlike countries like Israel or North Korea, China's mobilization of active duty and reserve military personnel is not particularly intense relative to its population, nor are its defense expenditures relative to China's GDP. But, when you have roughly four times the population of the United States and an economy that is growing by leaps and bounds lifting more people out of poverty in the last generation or so than the rest of the world combined, that still adds up to lots of sailors and soldiers, and lots of advanced military equipment. It isn't that China has been particularly ambitious in its military build up either. Until the last decade or so, China's military technology, while sufficient to make it a "near peer" of the United States, has lagged behind the cutting edge of the United States, Japan, Western Europe and Russia. China doesn't really have a "blue sea navy" and is trying merely to be regional power militarily, not a global policeman that isn't designed to fight medium sized wars many thousands of miles from home for prolonged periods like the U.S, Russian, British and French militaries.

Chinese Communism diverged early on from the style of communism found in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In some ways, it was even more pervasive and disruptive of prior institutions than Soviet style communism. But, it was also more conscious of public opinion, less bureaucratic and established a loose approximation of Western style market based capitalism in its economy much sooner than the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe did.

Soviet style communism collapsed dramatically in the matter of a few years, and also immediately converted from a system of state managed enterprises to the kind of oligarchic, ill regulated developing economy that i more characteristic of Latin America or South Asia. Organized crime surged at that same time, built on the records of decades of unavoidable corruption to circumvent state institution mismanagement of the economy in the Soviet era. And, the long term effect have been a devastating and prolonged recession so bad that deaths of despair, especially among men, have surged so much that life expectancies have plummeted.

In contrast, China's economy has been transforming gradually since the end of the Cultural Revolution (basically since about 1980). It now has property rights, but they are weaker and less absolute than elsewhere in the world, for example, with very weak protections from exercises of eminent domain. Corruption is pervasive, but, to a great extent this corruption is firmly entrenched in the very fabric of mid-level to senior level executives in business and government alike. Break neck economic growth, with an emphasis on construction, manufacturing and mining in ways that have leapfrogged intermediate stages of technological innovation by copying progress previously made by others, has allowed poor decisions in the financial sector and in business management to go unpunished as a rising tide lifts all boats.

But, unlike elsewhere, where economic growth has led to more transparency and firmer rule of law, and to greater freedom of expression and political rights, in China, the pervasiveness of heavy handed government control of the media and private political, academic, social and religious expression would put the world of 1984 to shame. China has somehow managed to do that without squelching economic growth, despite the fact that unlikely most totalitarian regimes, China's economy is not predominantly based upon the exploitation of natural resources and instead requires broad based enthusiastic and relatively decentralized efforts for a large, skilled and semi-skilled domestic urban labor force.

China has also taken rather draconian steps to reduce ethnic diversity among its ethnic minorities who are small percentage-wise but large in absolute number and approach genocidal levels.

Meta Footnote: This is the 9,750th combined post at this blog and its sister blog, Dispatches From Turtle Island.

New Colorado Laws In 2020

The following ten new laws each take effect in Colorado on January 1, 2020 (most laws take effect on July 1, in Colorado, so these are the exceptions to the general rule, something that is usually done when preparation to comply administratively is needed):
HB19-1177: Extreme Risk Protection Orders 
Better known as the red flag law, this was one of the most contentious items to arise from the 2019 legislative session. This bill essentially allows a judge to temporarily seize the weapons of someone deemed a threat to themselves or others. Dozens of counties around the state, including Weld County, have passed resolutions declaring themselves second amendment sanctuary counties, meaning they don't plan to enforce the new law. . . . Per the language in the red flag law, it requires that courts develop a standard petition form by January 1, 2020 -- and that law enforcement develop their policies by that same date.  It also means that families and law enforcement agencies can petition the courts for extreme risk protection orders beginning in 2020.  
HB 19-1267: Out-of-network healthcare services
This law seeks to prevent medical providers from sending so-called “surprise medical bills” directly to patients ... which involves patients who visit facilities in-network with their health insurance nevertheless receiving unexpected out-of-network medical bills. 
HB 19-1039: Identity documents for transgender persons 
This new law eliminates the need for a transgender individual to obtain a court order in order to get a new birth certificate. It also lets people obtain a new driver’s license or state identification document if their gender identity is different from their birth sex. 
HB19-1267: Penalties for failure to pay wages 
Under this new law, employers that fail to pay wages or meet the state minimum wage can now be charged with theft – something that can range from anything from a petty offense to a felony. Previously, employers convicted of refusing to pay wages would be guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor. 
HB19-1014: Retail food establishments inspection and suspension 
This bill modifies provisions of the Food Protection Act in the following ways:- It clarifies the definition of “imminent health hazard”- Removes the minimum amount of a civil penalty and sets the maximum at $1,000- Creates a new civil penalty process for inspection violations- Requires the system to communicate inspection results only be revised through the triennial stakeholder process.
HB19-1210: Local government minimum wage 
This law allows local governments to establish a minimum wage for people working in their jurisdiction. Previous state law prohibited local governments from enacting minimum wage laws separate from those of the state. Under the new law, local governments are limited in how the minimum wage can increase: either $1.75 per hour or 15% of the state’s minimum wage, whichever is greater. Colorado’s minimum wage will increase to $12 per hour starting on January 1, 2020.
HB19-1328: Landlord and tenant duties regarding bed bugs
This bill requires tenants to notify landlords about potential bedbugs as soon as possible, and that landlords must inspect the offending units within 96 hours of receiving notice. In addition, landlords are responsible for all of the costs associated with mitigating bed bugs.
HB19-090: Peer-to-peer motor vehicle sharing program
This bill establishes regulations for peer-to-peer car sharing programs. These programs – like the Turo app – essentially let drivers rent cars directly from their owners for a fee. The legislation requires record keeping for transactions in these programs, emergency numbers for roadside assistance and insurance coverage.
HB19-1283: Disclosure of insurance liability coverage
This bill requires that car insurance customers and their insurers disclose information regarding automobile liability insurance coverage to individuals making claims. This information includes the name of the insurer, the name of the insured party, the limits of the liability coverage and a copy of the policy. Failure to do so could result in damages of $100 a day beginning 31 days after this information is first requested.
HB19-1086: Plumbing inspections ensure compliance 
This bill changes the requirements for renewing and reinstating plumber licenses. For instance, beginning on May 1, 2021, persons renewing their plumbing licenses need to have completed eight hours of continuing education for every year that has passed since their last renewal. It also mandates the State Plumbing Board adopt new rules for continuing education requirements and standards by July 1, 2020.
From 9News.

28 December 2019

Wrapping Up The Year And Looking Back

I am five blog posts away (between this blog and its sister blog with a little more than half the content at Wash Park Prophet) from a goal of 365 blog posts this year. This is on the low side compared to my posting rate in previous years, but still definitely very active as blogs go. 

A lot of the decline is due to shifting my creative output to Facebook and to posting questions and answers at several forums on the Stack Exchange network. I've probably made over 2,000 posts at Facebook for the year, where I am primarily a "Social Justice Warrior" (ignoring comments and "likes") and I also try to recognize the birthdays of each of my 1900ish Facebook friends. I am the number three contributor (in the world) at Law Stack Exchange, and a leading contributor at Politics Stack Exchange, in addition to participating at a lesser level at several other stack exchanges.

I've scanned at least 95% of the arXiv pre-prints posted in 2019 in the areas that I follow: astronomy, general relativity, high energy physics experiment, lattice physics, and phenomenology. I have bookmarked all of them that are interesting into several categories: "Physics" (basically everything that doesn't fit anywhere else), "Higgs boson", "muon g-2", "lepton universality violations", "Standard model constant measurements", "Neutrino physics", "Hadron physics" (basically quantum chromodynamics and nuclear physics), "Gravity" (including dark matter, dark energy, and astronomy), and "Matter creation" (including baryogenesis, leptogenesis, and nucleosynthesis). The most interesting that I've had time to write about ended up in about 85 blog posts at the Dispatches from Turtle Island blog.

I will have published 10,000 posts between these two blogs sometimes in the second half of 2020, about 15 years after this blog was started.

After many years of reading 40-50 books a year, 2018 was a total dud with only a handful of books read. But, in 2019, I am on track to read at least 12 books, with 30 pages to go in book number twelve (FYI, I count an entire manga series no matter how many volumes it has, often a dozen or more, as one book). 

I have six dead tree books (not all started in 2019) and nine e-books (two started in 2019, two started in 2018 and five started in 2017), in addition to the one that I'm almost finished with, that I am partway through reading and have't entirely abandoned (I usually give up if I have a long period of interruption after reading less than about 70 pages the first time). I probably won't finish more than twelve books this year, however, because the next three days are busy ones in turns of paying legal work.

I also journal regularly in bound paper journals and started my current one on January 1, 2019. I have five pages left to fill and three days to do it in. I'm not sure how many pages it has, but I'm guessing about 250.

I also write fiction for the desk drawer and have written about 18 pieces, a combination of sketches, scenes, story outlines and chapters, for perhaps a combined 100 pages or so, but not any publishable complete short stories or novels. I'll write at most one more before year end and probably not even that.

I've given several continuing legal education presentations this year accompanied by about four or five sets of written course materials.

I've read about 100 webcomics on a regular basis, some more faithfully than others, at some point in the last year. Some publish as often as three times a week. Others publish only every month or two. Most take hiatuses from time to time as well, and several have run their course and ended this year. I abandoned about half of them after falling hopelessly behind after an anniversary trip to Greece for a week and a half preceded and followed by intense work demands to make up for the absence.

I don't keep close track of my movie and TV series habits. But, of course, this year, I finally finished, 42 and a half years later, the nine movie core Star Wars series I've also seen the two stand alone feature films, many episodes of the animated Clone War series, a few episodes of the Mandalorian series featuring Baby Yoda, and I've read a few of the Star Wars universe books. I spent the early years of my love for fantasy and science fiction books trying to recreate the awe and wonder that Star Wars provided, until it became a life long habit.

I've also tried to wrap up several half-finished series I've been watching on and off on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus. There are a lot of these.

I've very much enjoyed listening to music on Spotify, including a lot of pop musics from Japan, Korea, India and Mexico. It has become very good at predicting what I will like in its customized music lists for me.

There Is An Active Modern Slave Trade From Uganda To The Gulf Monarchies

We don't need to wait for a dystopian world to arrive. In parts of the world it is already here.

The story quoted from below make a very credible case that a modern state slave trade between eastern Uganda and Persian Gulf monarchies, mostly involving women duped into thinking they are getting work as maids or servants (including involuntary organ donation), is something that it really happening now and not just a myth or a conspiracy theory. 

Enslaved Ugandans who complain in the Gulf states end up dead or grievously injured as punishment in incidents unconvincingly purported to be accidents (16 in the last year according to a Ugandan parliamentary report). 

The story doesn't talk about U.S. efforts to address this situation, because there have been none. The U.S. currently prioritizes trade with oil rich Middle Eastern monarchies over democracy or human rights.
When Christine Nambereke left Uganda for Oman last September, she hoped she was on her way to helping her husband and seven children fight crippling poverty. An agent had promised the 31-year-old a job as a housemaid with a monthly pay of 600,000 shillings ($168). But when she reached Muscat, she was sold as a slave. And when she returned to Uganda in early May, she was dead. 
Nambereke, from Bumbo village in eastern Uganda, is among 16 Ugandans who’ve died in the Middle East over just the past year, according to a parliamentary panel report from April this year. These women — all of whom died unnatural deaths after complaining of abuse — are just the most extreme examples of a growing epidemic of an increasingly open, modern slave trade that starts in Uganda’s eastern region and culminates in closed rooms in Gulf nations. 
And for some, even death doesn’t bring closure. . . .  After 22-year-old Shivan Kihembo died in Oman in October — months after she had been sold there — her father, Patrick Mugume, was asked by his daughter’s “owners” for money if he wanted her body back. “I sold my land … and sent it to her boss in Oman before the body was released,” he says.  
Like Nambereke, Kezia Nalwanga returned to Uganda from Oman dead in April, with medical reports indicating that she died by strangulation. Authorities are also recording cases of abuse from countries where Ugandans are legally allowed to work such as Jordan, Juliet Nakiyemba died at the age of 31 in October. A postmortem showed her kidneys had been removed prior to her death.
When Zubedah Nakitende complained to her Jordanian employers that her hands were aching from work, her boss gave her what she thought was water to wash her hands. It turned out to be an acid that ate up her fingers. Unable to work anymore, she was sent back to Uganda — where she had to have her fingers amputated. “We should support such girls when they come back so that they go back to normal life,” says Sophia Namutebi, a respected philanthropist and traditional healer who helped Nakitende. “We should also support families of those who die while there.’’
Abuse of migrant workers in these countries from Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia has been around for years, and slavery was officially abolished in the last two or three decades of the 20th century in these countries, but reality has lagged behind the laws on the books.

One of the most stunning aspects of this is that authorities have been powerless to shut down this open illegality.
At fast-spreading weekly markets, some women are promised jobs in the Gulf only to be sold once they get there, while others — many of them girls between the ages of 10 and 18 — are directly and publicly “bought” as slaves in Uganda and then resold in the Middle East, according to Ugandan authorities, Interpol, independent experts, legislators, victims and their families. 
The public sale of women started at Arapai, eastern Uganda’s second-largest market located 180 miles northeast of the capital Kampala, in January 2018, says Edina Nagudi, the local government’s officer in charge of the region’s markets. It began with the auction of around five girls on each day of the market, but the number rose to 20 within two months, she says. The practice quickly spread to other regional markets such as Chapi and Sire. At Arapai alone, up to 50 girls are now auctioned in a day, says Nagudi. Overall, more than 9,000 girls and young women are estimated to have been bought at these markets since last year — for as little as 50,000 shillings ($14), according to Betty Atim, a member of Parliament. 
Interpol . . . has been able to rescue only 12 Ugandan women over the past year. 
* * *  
Given the blood and toil that ties them, one might expect close relations between Uganda and Gulf nations. But Oman, Jordan and Kuwait don’t even have embassies in Kampala. 
* * * 
[W]hat’s different with Uganda, experts say, is the openness with which women are being auctioned in markets alongside domestic animals and household goods. 
At the cremation ceremony for Nambereke, much of the anger of hundreds of mourners was directed at Ugandan authorities. Officially, Uganda has banned its citizens from seeking work in most Middle Eastern countries — barring Saudi Arabia and Jordan — because it doesn’t have any diplomatic agreements on workers’ rights with those nations, says Uganda’s minister of gender Janat Mukwaya. 
* * *
Uganda has a per capita income of $604, so Nambereke was promised three times what the average citizen earns. It’s also no surprise that the markets where illegal traffickers find women they can dupe or buy are predominantly in eastern Uganda. It’s a part of the country that has seen far lower poverty reduction than other regions, according to the World Bank, with electricity available to only 6 percent of families, compared to 32 percent in the country’s central region. To get around the ban, traffickers take the women across the border into Kenya after fixing up their passports, and then fly them to the Middle East. 
Because they’re traveling to countries they’re barred from legally working in, even those women who initially went thinking they were getting employed are scared to try and reach out to authorities, experts say. And their host countries — in a region not known for its defense of human rights of migrants — have little incentive to prioritize concerns for these slaves over those of nations that legally send workers there. And so the slavery mounts — as do the deaths. 
* * * 
Some, like Stella Namazzi, who escaped from her masters in Jordan, return with tales of horror. “We were lined up in a big room,” she recalls. “Those who wanted to buy us came and pointed out who they wanted to buy. We were sold as if we were domestic animals.” For the traffickers, there’s big money involved: The women bought for $14 are sold for as much as $10,000 in the Middle East, authorities say. 
* * *
But what about prevention and law enforcement? 
Uganda police spokesman Fred Enanga says they plan to raid the eastern Uganda markets where girls are being sold and arrest both the sellers and the buyers. John Mugisha, the probation officer in Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, says they’ve sent an investigation team to the country’s east to probe the slave trade. The ministry, Mugisha adds, has also requested a budget of 34 billion shillings (nearly $100,000) to help tackle the growing crisis and rehabilitate the children bought in the markets. 
Meanwhile, the government is passing the buck around and hasn’t been able to stop the practice. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Henry Oryem Okello says the ministry of labor needs to act to arrest traffickers. Mugisha says the ministry of labor has asked local governments to step in with legal remedies. And the country’s labor commissioner, Lawrence Egulu, concedes that Uganda’s law against human trafficking is routinely violated but has no clear answer as to why the government hasn’t been able to put a stop to it. 

CFA Franc System In Trouble

In my opinion, the CFA Franc system has been a very positive contribution to Africa that has been a largely untold story. Monetary policy is an inferior tool at best for economic management, and the risk of corruption or incompetence in the central banking systems of these countries has been immense from 1945 to 2019 and continues to be.

A good counter-example is Latin America, which actually has a larger pool of competent civil servants to run their respective currencies than most members of the CFA Franc system, but in which almost ever country has at one point or another, frequently several times, experienced bouts of incredibly harmful hyperinflation due to mismanagement of monetary policy.
"Established in 1945, the CFA franc is used in two African monetary zones, one for eight west African countries and the other for six mostly petro-states in central Africa. Since 1999, it has been pegged to the euro, giving the member states monetary stability while supporting trade with Europe. 
In return, the members have to keep half of their foreign reserves in France, on which the French treasury pays 0.75 per cent interest."
A French official sits on the board of the regional central bank in both zones, and the currency is printed by France. Here is more from David Pilling and Neil Munshi at the FT. The French don’t like the optics it seems, and not all of the African nations benefit from losing the option of devaluing their currencies. The nature of the replacement system, however, is not yet clear. 
As an aside, occasionally you will meet people who claim this system costs the African nations hundreds of billions of dollars a year, through some kind of under-specified colonial imperialistic theft, combined with Junker fallacies I believe. You can file that one under “Big Time Conspiracy Theories That Most Americans Are Hardly Aware Of.” But I am, and it ain’t true: “…the current deal was actually profitable for the two African central banks because bank-to-bank credit is attracting a negative interest rate of -0.4%, but the central banks are receiving 0.75%.”
From here.

26 December 2019

The Root Cause Of Asylum Seeking At The Mexican Border

The Council on Foreign Relations, a bipartisan think-tank, explains in a nutshell, why we have seen a surge in asylum seekers at the Mexican border with the U.S. (the murder rate in the U.S. in 2018 was 5.0 per 100,000 population).

Fleeing the Northern Triangle

Map showing homicide rates across Central America

More than half a million people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras fled north in the first eight months of 2019, double the annual total in prior years. Many of them are seeking asylum from brutal violence, entrenched corruption, and grinding poverty in their home countries.

Quote Of The Day

You can say this in response to someone who asks you too many questions and then starts guessing, instead of waiting for an answer, perhaps to goad you into saying anything.

From here.

24 December 2019

Quote Of The Day

From here.

Vox's Twelve Best Social Science Papers Of The Decade

1. “Free Distribution or Cost-Sharing?” (2010) by Jessica Cohen and Pascaline Dupas 
giving away anti-malaria bednets for free dramatically increases their usage relative to charging a small, nominal fee. 
2. ”Using the Results from Rigorous Multisite Evaluations to Inform Local Policy Decisions” (2019) by Larry Orr, Robert Olsen, Stephen Bell, Ian Schmid, Azim Shivji, and Elizabeth Stuart 
you can’t just take average results and expect that the same effect will hold in your specific case. 
3. “Understanding the Average Impact of Microcredit Expansions: A Bayesian Hierarchical Analysis of Seven Randomized Experiments” (2019) by Rachael Meager 
Meager wrote a more accessible summary here 
Does a study conducted in one place generalize to other places? Does say, distributing bednets for free work well just in the parts of Kenya where Cohen and Dupas did their experiment, or does it work in all malaria-affected countries? Will a charter school chain that appears to deliver higher test scores in Boston work in Houston? This is exactly the problem that paper number two above found to be so serious in education policy: results don’t always generalize.
Meager’s paper is groundbreaking because it offers a way to predict how well study results will generalize. “The relevant question is not whether the effects vary across settings but by how much they vary,” she writes in her summary.
So Meager uses techniques from Bayesian statistics to measure how much the results of a specific intervention — microcredit or microfinance programs for the global poor, of the kind offered by groups like Grameen or Kiva — vary from study to study. She doesn’t have a huge number of studies to go on (only seven) but she’s able to use this method to find that the effectiveness of microcredit varies a bit, but not a huge amount, from place to place. That suggests our evidence on microcredit is reasonably externally valid: The results in a new location are likely to resemble the results in past locations pretty closely, if hardly perfectly. 
4. “Does School Spending Matter? The New Literature on an Old Question” (2018) by Kirabo Jackson 
In this review (ably summarized here for folks without NBER access), Jackson walks through 13 recent papers, many coauthored by Jackson himself, that use highly rigorous near-random methods to measure the influence of money on school outcomes. . . . does pouring more money into public schools improve outcomes? — and the answer, Jackson finds in the research base, is yes. I previously thought per-student funding didn’t matter much; I now think it matters a great deal. 
5. White Backlash: Immigration, Race, and American Politics (2015) by Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan Hajnal 
White Backlash is one of those books published before the 2016 elections that started to feel sharply prophetic as Donald Trump won the Republican nomination and then the presidency. Three years after the defeat of Mitt Romney led to speculation of a new durable demographic majority for Democratic presidents, Abrajano and Hajnal presented a detailed, quantitatively rich counterargument. 
6. “Democracy for Idealists” (2016) by Niko Kolodny 
It’s easy to construct a narrative in which democracy in the United States is eroding. Kolodny, one of the leading political philosophers currently working on questions of democratic theory, quietly posted an article a couple of years ago walking through this literature and trying to determine what, exactly, should trouble us about it and what shouldn’t. Voter ignorance is not a dire threat to democracy, he argues, nor is a lack of “responsiveness,” which he convincingly suggests is an incoherent ideal. What worries him most are concerns about the distribution of political influence: the fact that some Americans’ access to political influence is far greater than that of other Americans. This concern agitates toward an expansion of suffrage and toward resisting efforts to suppress the vote. But it makes our concern with practices like gerrymandering harder to articulate. 
7. “The Coalition Merchants” (2012) by Hans Noel 
If public opinion doesn’t determine the future of public policy, as the studies limned by Kolodny suggest, what does? Noel tells a compelling story that places “coalition merchants” — party activists, sympathetic journalists, and other ideologues — at the center, deciding “what goes with what” and what it means to be a conservative or a liberal. intellectuals like William F. Buckley and groups like Americans for Democratic Action were crucial in identifying support for government services with support for civil rights. 
8. “Valuing the Vote: The Redistribution of Voting Rights and State Funds following the Voting Rights Act of 1965” (2014) by Elizabeth Cascio and Ebonya Washington 
Washington’s paper with Cascio tells a more hopeful story, of what can happen when a disadvantaged ethnic group is finally given suffrage in an authoritarian regime. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 did a huge amount to break up the one-party states that prevailed in most Southern states after the end of Reconstruction, states which some scholars have likened to single-party dictatorships abroad. In doing so it gave black voters, and black communities as units, power over the provision of public goods that they lacked before. Cascio and Washington found that this shift produced meaningful changes, and in particular, a marked increase in government spending. They also offer some suggestive evidence that much of these transfers went to education spending, which (as the Jackson review above suggests) likely improved the quality of instruction for black students. 
9. “Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective” (2018) by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie Jones, and Sonya Porter 
You’d have to actively try to avoid including a paper by Chetty, Hendren, and the rest of the Opportunity Insights lab at Harvard on a list like this, given how much they’ve taught us about economic opportunity, segregation, higher education, and more (I have a big soft spot for Chetty et. al. on Danish retirement savings accounts).
Some of the findings are depressing but unsurprising: Black and American Indian children born into upper- or upper-middle-class families are nearly as likely to fall to the bottom fifth of the income distribution as to stay in the top fifth. Upward mobility for children born into the bottom fifth of the distribution is markedly higher among whites than among black or American Indian children. 
Others are depressing but surprising; conditional on their parents’ income (a big conditional, to be sure) black women outperform white women in terms of their individual earnings. This does not mean there is no income gap between white and black women (black women’s parents, after all, make a lot less on average than white women’s parents) — but it does provide strong evidence against both family structure-based and genetic explanations of racial inequality in the United States. 
10. “Cluelessness” (2016) by Hilary Greaves 
The choices we make have unpredictable consequences that ripple out for centuries or millennia, by affecting life and death. Greaves does a great job of explaining cases where this kind of cluelessness is fine (where we can just make our best guess as to which action will work out best) and in which cases it’s really, really troubling. 
11. “Occupy Liberalism! Or, Ten Reasons Why Liberalism Cannot Be Retrieved for Radicalism (And Why They’re All Wrong)” (2012) by Charles Mills 
he does not, as some Marxists and other radicals do, reject the liberal tradition wholesale. While he acknowledges and emphasizes the explicit racism of figures like John Locke and Immanuel Kant, he nonetheless has tried to develop what he calls a “black radical liberalism” that can overcome these origins. . . . he provides a stirring defense of traditional liberal values — like protection from unnecessary state encroachment on individual liberty — as necessary for racial justice. “Liberalism’s failure to systematically address structural oppression in supposedly liberal-democratic societies is a contingent artifact of the group perspectives and group interests privileged by those structures, not an intrinsic feature of liberalism’s conceptual apparatus,” he writes. 
12. Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor (2017) by Virginia Eubanks 
Eubanks studies three specific algorithmic systems currently used by state and county governments in the hopes of making service provision more efficient. The opening example, of Indiana’s botched eligibility system that wound up wrongfully denying access to Medicaid and food stamps to thousands of people, is pretty straightforwardly awful. But the examples of Pittsburgh’s algorithm for evaluating the severity of child abuse and neglect cases, and Los Angeles’s system for determining which homeless people should receive housing assistance, are subtler and in some ways more eye-opening. 
The LA system, for instance, seems to mostly work well — except that it masks the extent to which the city’s problem is structural (a lack of housing supply and crucially a lack of funding for permanent supportive housing) rather than an issue of rationing better through better algorithms. The Pittsburgh system helps remedy a very real problem of limited child and protective services resources for addressing cases of abuse, but because the algorithm is poorly designed and is predicting the wrong variable, it risks criminalizing poverty in certain cases. 
It’s an early example of the harms that misaligned AI can cause as deep learning becomes more and more capable in coming years, and a reminder of what can go awry when politicians mistake technical solutions for political solutions.
From Vox (omissions from original not all noted editorially).

Wealth Likes Company

High income families enjoy living in wealthy cities more than poor cities because they can buy more interesting things and have more choices. 
Relative to low-income households, high-income households enjoy 40 percent higher utility per dollar expenditure in wealthy cities, relative to poor cities. Similar patterns are observed across stores in different neighborhoods. Most of this variation is explained by differences in the product assortment offered, rather than the relative prices charged, by chains that operate in different markets.
Link here Via Marginal Revolution

23 December 2019

Tyler Cohen On Big Projects Worth Doing

Tyler Cohen at Marginal Revolution has a lot of very good ideas about things to study and do. I list the headings below:

More studies of super-effective people. 
A comprehensive analysis and critique of the NIH and NSF. 
Why is life expectancy so long in Hong Kong? 
Bloomberg Terminal for everything. 
A comprehensive guide to the American healthcare system. 
Better answers for how to quantify worker productivity. 
What should Widodo do? (Ten page plans for economic development in countries).
A comparative study of foundations and their efficacy. 
Institutional critiques. 
Cultures of excellence. 
Regeneration at the government layer. 
IQ paradox. 
Credible plans for new top-tier universities. 
Summaries of the state of knowledge in different fields. 
Mechanisms for better matching. 
What should Durkan do? (Ten page plans for urban development).

16 December 2019

Quote Of The Day

I hate that she's given me no way to defy her -- my boldness is just as pleasing to her as my compliance.
- Amy Ewing in "The Jewel". 

12 December 2019

Russian Military Still Hollow

Superficially and on paper, Russia's military is a close rival to the U.S., but its readiness and capabilities sometimes don't live up to  naive expectations.
Russia's only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, caught fire on Thursday morning during repair work in Russia's Arctic Sea port of Murmansk, according to Russian state news agencies. Six people are thought to have been injured and one person is believed to be missing so far, Russian state news agency TASS reported. 
The fire broke out during maintenance work in the first power unit and a thick plume of black smoke was seen from the upper deck. The area currently ablaze covers 120 square meters (1,292 square feet). Diesel fuel is currently burning, and firefighters are using foam to try to bring it under control.
From here.

Quote Of The Day

Challenge the findings of an investigation? Absolutely legitimate. Spin the parts that are good for your side? Everyone in politics does that. But to say up is down, day is night, apples are vegetables and baseball is played by horses on a chessboard? No. That’s not part of a healthy democracy.
Via Fully Myelinated

04 December 2019

Lawsuits And The Alternatives

A really good lawyer, like the one in the webcomic excerpt below, for a high powered client, considers alternatives to bringing lawsuits that can solve the client's problem, in this case, a tabloid article contains nude locker room photos of our female protagonist that has made her wealthy boyfriend and her very unhappy. 

It also illustrates how important the cost and speed of litigation is to the manner in which disputes are resolved.

From here.

Quote of the Day

A resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.
- Thomas Hardy