30 September 2020

The Campaign Contributor Class Is Small

What percentage of people make significant campaign contributions to federal elections?

About 1% of Americans adults contribute more than $200 to all federal candidates combined in a two year election cycle, and about than 0.1% of American adults make big contributions of $2,700 or more to all federal candidates combined per two year election cycle (via Open Secrets).

23 September 2020

Why Is A New U.S. Civil War Unlikely?

Trump has been trying to foment the seeds of a violent civil war in his followers.  A game designer, in a widely shared analysis, has even discussed four possible civil war scenarios. This is unlikely to happen. 


In the big picture, an election related civil war is unlikely in 2020 in the United States because civil wars almost always hinge upon disputes over the legitimacy of the ruler and the ruler's regime. As I noted in the linked post:
People do not fight wars because taxes are too high, or they disagree with the way money is allocated in the national budget, or for any other of the multitude of public policy sins that a government can commit. Public policy issues are relevant to which contestants in a war receive support of various kinds while it is waged, and to crafting solutions that will bring legitimacy to a new regime after a war, but are for the most part unimportant in causing wars to arise.
But the likelihood of an election result where the legitimacy of final election result is subject to bona fide dispute is low in our political system.

The Electoral College

I hate the Electoral College. It is grossly unfair. But it is also a powerful force to make succession more robust in the United States in the face of close and contested elections.

The Electoral College means that Electoral Votes are award in separate contests in 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, with the races in Nebraska and Maine decided on both a statewide level and in individual Congressional Districts - four Congressional District in Nebraska and two in Maine.

The winner is either the candidate who gets 270 electoral votes, or the candidate who wins a vote conducted using weird state by state delegation rules in the U.S. House of Representatives if there is an electoral vote tie (269 electoral votes for each candidate unless electoral votes are earned by a third-party candidate).

Most of the 57 different electoral vote contests will not be close.

From the FiveThirtyEight website.

Of the 57 contests, 56 of them are in elections administered by state and local governments, and the remaining one, in the District of Columbia, is the most lopsided of all of the 57 contests. The currently projected outcome in the District of Columbia is that Biden will get 91% of the vote and Trump will get 6% of the vote. So, there will never be a contested electoral vote dispute in the only contest in the Presidential election which is administered by federal officials.

Disputes regarding election outcomes in any given one of the 57 contests are only viable if a race is close. 

Even a two percentage point margin of victory is clear enough that it won't generate much controversy, and realistically, given polling and historic experience, only about one to six of the 57 contests will be that close.

Moreover, disputed elections in close races are only material if they occur in marginal contests that could determine which candidate gets 270 electoral votes.

For example, in today's polling averages of Presidential election polls in battleground states at Real Clear Politics, the states that are within two percentage points of a tie are North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Iowa. But none of those states are likely to be necessary for a Biden victory, if Biden wins. Biden leads by 3.8% in Pennsylvania and 4.4% in Arizona, which are much more likely to be marginal states and are margins that if reproduced a few weeks from now on election day, would be too large to give rise to a plausible dispute over who won the election, even if Biden's electoral vote margin was a small one and not a landslide. 

It is, of course, possible that the actual election day margin for the winner of the Presidential race on November 3 in marginal states like Pennsylvania and Arizona could end up being razor thin and produce disputed election results in those particular and pivotal states. But if voters voted on election day the way that they are leaning now with only a small shift towards Trump relative to current polling that is similar across the board nationally, the outcomes of the election in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Iowa aren't going to matter.

It doesn't take a landslide result for a candidate to avoid a disputed election. It just takes a 2% margin of victory or more for the winning candidate in the state that delivers that candidate his 270th electoral vote.

Usually, if the margin of victory in the marginal states is more than 0.5% there isn't a recount and the election result is clear enough. The odds of the Presidential election this year hinging on a recount, according to 538 is about 5%

Overall the odds of Biden winning according to 538 are about 77% and the odds of Biden winning the popular vote but not the electoral vote are about 11%, while the odds of Trump winning the popular vote and the electoral vote are about 12%, with almost no chance that Biden wins the electoral vote but not the popular vote. 

Biden leads in national poll quality weighted polling averages from 538, as of September 23, 2020 by 7.2 percentage points.

According to 538, the odds of no candidate receiving an electoral college majority and Congress deciding the election are less than 1% this year.

How Election Disputes Play Out

Even in those circumstances, where there is a disputed election, resolution of the dispute is limited to the states with narrow margins of victory that in the first instance (certainly less than two percentage points, and realistically, much closer), play out with state and local election administration officials (usually primarily a state secretary of state and county clerks who are elected on a partisan basis) conducting the count.

A federal court case that starts in a federal district court in a state and could work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, or a state court cases that could conceivably work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, could follow.

Ultimately, however, resolution of Presidential election disputes is vested in Congress. The federal government's executive branch has no role in the process of resolving a disputed Presidential election.

The mere fact that there is a clearly delineated process that is widely disseminated, even if it is arcane, in and of itself, disfavors violent action because there is a long formal process to contest in through the January after the election, a time period during which passions over unfair election outcomes that are allegedly fraudulent can cool.

And, the fact that this is mostly a state and local matter, and that it is confined to specific electoral process disputes in a handful of states, also discourages the kind of outrage that leads to violent political protests from spreading nationally, because it denies protestors a shared national level political cause.

Late Counted Mail-In Ballots Won't Flip A Trump Victory To A Biden One

Trump’s supporters expect two large-scale riots in the fall. One will come right after Election Day, when Trump will be ahead in the vote count. This is because we’re in a pandemic, and Republicans will vote in person while Democrats will vote by mail (in fact, several Democrat-run states mandate it). Trump will be ahead on election night if this holds. The second riot will come when the Democrats “discover” millions of mailed-in ballots which will give Biden the win, which (according to them) will be fraudulent.

From here

While Democrats are more likely to vote by mail, and Republicans are more likely to vote in person, the scenario in which early results show a Republican victory in a marginal state, and Democrats surge ahead in late counted mail in ballots, is unlikely.

Most states that conduct elections by mail-in ballot require those ballots to be received by election officials by the time that the polls close on election day. A couple of states, including Washington State, count mail-in ballots that are merely postmarked on election day. But that states that allow that are all safely Democratic states in which there will not be disputed elections.

The only battleground states this year are likely to be close and could conceivably be marginal, outcome deciding states are Florida, Maine, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire and Michigan. Most of them have elections better administered now than Florida's was in the 2000 election.

Colorado's mail-in ballot system, in which ballots must be received by election day by election officials is much more typical. And, in that system, the first announced election results mostly include mailed in ballots, because all ballots received by election day by election officials (which is usually the lion's share of all mail-in ballots) are counted before the polls close, with results ready to be announced immediately. 

In contrast, election officials generally don't start to tally up votes cast in person on election day until the polls close and those results tickle in over the course of election day evening and into the next day or two.

So, this year, any flip in results is much more likely to go from a Democrat who received strong support in mail-in ballots to a Republican who did better in election day polling, than the other way around.

What Triggers Violence?

As I've noted before at this blog, the United States, historically, has extraordinary low rates of informal street protests and strikes and violence in its democratic process.

In many countries, France to name one prominent example, national general strikes that can spill over into conflicts in the street between law enforcement and protesters are common. Many countries have long histories of politically motivated killings of candidates and political party officials. 

The U.S., by and large, does not. There hasn't been a significant street protest over election results in the 20th or 21st centuries, even in close and controversial elections like the Bush v. Gore election dispute over a very close outcome in the marginal state of Florida that was ultimately resolved in an unprincipled and partisan decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The predominant reasons that people on the left in the United States hold in the streets protests are alleged incidents of excessive use of force by local law enforcement officials, most recently, the Black Lives Matter organized protests this year over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and also several other police killings like Elijah Woods in Aurora, Colorado.

For the most part, political violence in the United States is a tactic of the political right, that is usually deployed to suppress the vote (as in a recent effort by Trump supporters to scare of early voters in Virginia), not to protest the outcome after the fact.

One reason that there aren't a lot of after the fact election result protests involving national elections, is illustrated by the Bush v. Gore case. In the United States, at this moment in time, it doesn't feel like it makes sense for someone in Texas or Illinois, for example, to conduct a protest in their home state over vote miscounting atrocities made by state and local officials in Florida.

While the election result is divisive nationally, the United States is fairly well sorted politically along geographic lines. We have Red States and Blue States. We have red counties and blue counties within Red States and Blue States. 

There are relatively few places in the United States where fierce disagreements with your neighbors are common, and you only get a war when there are two sides to tango. Urban areas are liberal. Rural areas are conservative. And, where it is most likely to happen, in the suburbs, zoning laws and history have created a low density environment with few places well suited to large gatherings and a culture of privacy that is ill suited to rioting and urban warfare.

There are places in the U.S. where renegade sheriffs might be inclined to cast their lot with an anti-Biden insurgency, although there are none where law enforcement would join an anti-Trump insurgency. But the only places where this would happen would be rural counties with tiny sheriffs departments that have no sway over the masses who live in urban and suburban areas in large metropolitan areas. And, if they fired a shot at state police or National Guard troops brought in to restrain them, the tiny size of their departments would lead them to be crushed and collapse in an instant.

National protests need national organization and a common demand. The biggest plausibly advanced national cause that Trump has encouraged is opposition to mail-in voting. But this hasn't triggered marches and demonstrations in advance of the election so far, and fights over election laws after the election has already happened don't make a lot of sense as a cause either. It is hard to build consensus around a demand that the double digit percentage of the electorate who actually did cast votes by mail in the most recent election, many of whom voted your way, shouldn't have their votes counted after the fact.

22 September 2020

Reducing The Size Of The Federal Criminal Court Docket

Suppose that you are concerned about federal judges whom you disagree with ideologically, and federal executive branch law enforcement, which you don't trust.

One way to mitigate this concern is to narrow of scope of things that the federal courts are responsible for addressing. On the civil side, which I have discussed in several previous blog posts, the primary way to do this is to narrow the civil jurisdiction of the U.S. District Courts.

On the criminal side of the docket, the way to do this is to repeal federal crimes that are also state crimes, where feasible without substantively decriminalizing some important kind of criminal conduct entirely (where decriminalization doesn't make sense on substantive grounds anyway).

In terms of major top line categories, federal criminal cases break down as follows:

* Violent Crimes 2.4%

* Property Offenses 11.3%

* Drug Offenses 27.8%

* Firearms and Explosives Offenses 13.9%

* Sex Offenses 3.6%

* Justice System Offenses 0.9%

* Immigration Offenses 33.5%

* General Offenses 1.9%

* Regulatory Offenses 1.5%

* Traffic Offenses 2.2%

The single most commonly charged offense is illegal reentry by an alien which accounts for 27.5% of all federal criminal defendants. Like all immigration offenses, it has no state law equivalent, but there is no really compelling reason to make this offense a crime, rather than simply making it an administrative immigration matter that is a grounds for deportation and for denial of future immigration benefits. Improper entry by an alien accounts for just 0.6% of all federal criminal defendants but is another unnecessary federal immigration crime.

There are some basically irreducible components to the federal criminal docket. One is that felonies committed in Indian Country (i.e. on Indian Reservations) are prosecuted in federal court, rather than in state courts or in tribal courts (although a separate federal court system for felonies committed in Indian Country akin to the "local" courts of U.S. territories like the Virgin Islands and Guam could be and probably should be created). The other is that all crimes committed in certain federally controlled territories (e.g. National Parks) are prosecuted in federal court, even petty crimes like traffic offenses.

This still leaves many federal crimes that are easily repealed and left to state and local authorities (with the estimated impact on the federal docket): Most federal homicides (0.1%), bank robbery (0.6%), kidnapping (0.2%), most racketeering offenses (0.6%), theft and embezzlement from banks and financial institutions (0.1%), many federal fraud offenses (0.7%), pornography offenses (1.7%), and all intrastate drug offenses (25.5%), for example, could be repealed.

Combined, repealing the crime of illegal re-entry by an aliens, and the other crimes suggested would reduce the federal criminal docket by 57.5% and probably a little more than that (about 52,000 fewer federal criminal defendants per year, leaving about 38,000 federal criminal defendants per year). This would also greatly shrink the federal prison system, although not proportionately, since the immigration offenses decriminalized typically involve short, often mere "time served" sentences.

Combined with a significant (roughly 51.9%) reduction in federal civil dockets by simply repealing 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (general federal question jurisdiction) which accounts for about 18.4% of cases that don't have an additional specific jurisdictional basis, and 1332 (diversity jurisdiction) which accounts for 32.9% of civil cases filed in federal court), these straight forward reforms could greatly reduce the importance of the federal courts (prisoner's petitions would make up about a 39% of the remaining cases), thereby decreasing the stakes in federal judicial appointments below the U.S. Supreme Court level.

In greater detail, the federal district court criminal docket is as follows:

21 September 2020

Crime Rates Fell In 2019

A long view from the Uniform Crime Reports which includes only crimes reported to law enforcement. U.S. violent crime rates are roughly the same now as they were 50 years ago.

Despite hype to the contrary, crime rates fell significantly in 2019. The rate of violent crime excluding simple assault declined 15% from 2018 to 2019. Among females, the rate of violent victimization excluding simple assault fell 27%. Rape and sexual assault victimizations declined 37%. 

The rate of violent victimization in urban areas declined 20%.

The rate of property crime declined 6%. This decline in property crime was partly due to a 22% decrease in burglary to a 17 year (or more) low more than 70% below its 1994 peak.

From the Bureau of Justice Statistics summarizing this report. It is based upon surveys asking people if they were crime victims, so it does not measure murder rates.

How Often Do Parents Predecease Their Minor Children?

In the United States, children are more likely to lose one parent to death than to a termination of parental rights, but are less likely to lose both parents due to death, than through a termination of parental rights. 

Children are much more likely to end up in foster care, or to be adopted by strangers (as of the termination of parental rights or death of the last parent), due to both parents having parental rights terminated, than they are because they are orphaned as children (also when children are orphaned, a guardianship with a relative as a guardian for a minor child is more common relative to foster care than in a termination of parental rights scenario, although guardianships of minors due to the termination of the parental rights of both parents, usually by a grandparent or aunt or uncle or older sibling, is not uncommon). 

From the U.S. Census Bureau (in a 2019 report) (prettier charts here).

Among children who are currently under age 18 (some of whom who haven't lost a parent yet will lose one or both parents before becoming an adult), 0.7% do not have a mother living, 2.2% do not have a father living, 2.8% have at least one deceased parent, and both parents are deceased for 0.1%.

Among young adults age 18-24, which roughly captures the likelihood of losing a parent while a minor, 2.1% have a deceased mother, 5.9% have a deceased father, 7.7% have at least one deceased parent, and both parents are decreased for 0.3%.

As noted in yesterday's post at this blog, the odds that at least one parent's parental rights will be terminated during the life of a child is roughly 1%. 

This number isn't exactly comparable, however, because it is far more common for both parents to have their parental rights terminated, than for both parents to die while their children are minors.

It also isn't clear to what extent the data on termination of parental rights includes cases in which a father is never identified for a child and a father-child bond is never established.

Losing a parent to death and losing a parent due to termination of a parental rights are both more common when children are poor, and when they are black or Hispanic or Native American.

20 September 2020

How Often Are Parental Rights Terminated?

Overall, about 1% of children in the U.S. have biological parents whose parental rights are terminated for abuse and neglect (or voluntarily incident to an adoption of an infant). I'll save detailed analysis for another day.
Recent research has used synthetic cohort life tables to show that having a Child Protective Services investigation, experiencing confirmed maltreatment, and being placed in foster care are more common for American children than would be expected based on daily or annual rates for these events. In this article, we extend this literature by using synthetic cohort life tables and data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System to generate the first cumulative prevalence estimates of termination of parental rights. The results provide support for four conclusions. First, according to the 2016 estimate, 1 in 100 U.S. children will experience the termination of parental rights by age 18. Second, the risk of experiencing this event is highest in the first few years of life. Third, risks are highest for Native American and African American children. Nearly 3.0% of Native American children and around 1.5% of African American children will ever experience this event. Finally, there is dramatic variation across states in the risk of experiencing this event and in racial/ethnic inequality in this risk. Taken together, these findings suggest that parental rights termination, which involves the permanent loss of access to children for parents, is far more common than often thought.
Christopher Wildeman, Frank R. Edwards, and Sara Wakefield, "The Cumulative Prevalence of Termination of Parental Rights for U.S. Children, 2000–2016" 25(1) Child Maltreatment 32-42 (May 21, 2020) doi: 10.1177/1077559519848499 (open access).

There is substantial regional variation in this rate in addition to ethnic variation (image and quoted body text from the paper cited above):

American Indian and Alaska Native children are 2.7 times more likely than White children to ever experience the termination of both parents’ rights, and African American children are 2.4 times more likely than White children to experience the termination of parental rights. 
Finally, there is dramatic variation across states both in the risk of experiencing this event for the total population of children and in racial/ethnic inequality in this risk; children in some states have 6–7 times the risk of having their parental rights terminated as children who live in states with the lowest rates of termination of parental rights. 

The Demographic Transition In The Middle East And North Africa


The demographic transition towards having fewer children per woman per lifetime as per capita GDP increases is nearly universal across a great many cultures, including the Islamic cultures of Southwest Asia and North Africa (often described as MENA for Middle East and North Africa).

Razib Khan suggests, not implausibly although it is hard to prove, that the decline in Islamic terrorism activity, that seemed so salient a decade ago, might be driven by this demographic shift that reduces the supply of young "disposable" men.

Two countries neighboring this region, at least, are becoming less religious, it seems. In Turkey:
Polling by the agency Konda in 2019 also found that people aged 15-29 described themselves as less “religiously conservative” than older generations, and less religious than the same age group a decade earlier – respondents said they did not necessarily cover their hair, pray regularly or fast during Ramadan.

The overall drop in people who described themselves as religiously conservative was 7%, down from 32% in 2008, and those who said they fast during Ramadan declined from 77% to 65%.

An anonymous survey in Iran also identifies a trend towards secularism, with a plurality of "nones" who are not overtly atheist identifying but don't identify with an organized religious identity either.

Our results reveal dramatic changes in Iranian religiosity, with an increase in secularization and a diversity of faiths and beliefs. Compared with Iran's 99.5% census figure, we found that only 40% identified as Muslim.

In contrast with state propaganda that portrays Iran as a Shi'ite nation, only 32% explicitly identified as such, while 5% said they were Sunni Muslim and 3% Sufi Muslim. Another 9% said they were atheists, along with 7% who prefer the label of spirituality. Among the other selected religions, 8% said they were Zoroastrians—which we interpret as a reflection of Persian nationalism and a desire for an alternative to Islam, rather than strict adherence to the Zoroastrian faith—while 1.5% said they were Christian.
Most Iranians, 78%, believe in God, but only 37% believe in life after death and only 30% believe in heaven and hell. In line with other anthropological research, a quarter of our respondents said they believed in jinns or genies. Around 20% said they did not believe in any of the options, including God.

These numbers demonstrate that a general process of secularization, known to encourage religious diversity, is taking place in Iran. An overwhelming majority, 90%, described themselves as hailing from believing or practicing religious families. Yet 47% reported losing their religion in their lifetime, and 6% said they changed from one religious orientation to another. Younger people reported higher levels of irreligiosity and conversion to Christianity than older respondents.

A third said they occasionally drank alcohol in a country that legally enforces temperance. Over 60% said they did not perform the obligatory Muslim daily prayers, synchronous with a 2020 state-backed poll in which 60% reported not observing the fast during Ramadan (the majority due to being "sick"). In comparison, in a comprehensive survey conducted in 1975 before the Islamic Revolution, over 80% said they always prayed and observed the fast.

17 September 2020

Perjury Prosecutions Are Very Rare

Colorado is a state with a population of roughly five million people. There are many hundreds of thousands of court cases in the state each year in which often multiple affidavits or declarations are filed and depositions are taken under oath, there are thousands of evidentiary hearings in the state courts of the state each year, and there are myriad documents executed by its citizens under oath or under penalty of perjury outside a court setting (e.g. in government paperwork).

An intentional false statement of material fact (i.e. a lie) made in testimony made under oath in a hearing, trial or deposition, or in an affidavit or a declaration or other document signed under penalty of perjury, can be prosecuted criminally in a perjury case under state law.

Most of the statements made under oath do not contain perjury, but a significant minority percentage do. Even if perjury were committed just 1% of the time (which is probably low), there would be thousands of instances of perjury committed each year in the State of Colorado.

How many perjury prosecutions were commenced in the entire state of Colorado in all of its state courts (except Denver county court which is statistically separate) in the 2019 fiscal year (ending June 30, 2019)?


There are 5 filed in District Court, which were probably felonies. There were 2 filed in juvenile delinquency actions. There were 6 filed in County Court, which were either misdemeanors or criminal complaints that would later have been transferred to District Court and would be in that case duplicative.

There is no reason to think that plea bargaining rates are significantly different in perjury cases relative to other kinds of criminal cases, so there are probably no more than one or two perjury trials in the entire state of Colorado in a typical year.

Despite the fact that the threat of a criminal prosecution for perjury is a backbone of our court system and many of our administrative and civil legal processes outside of court, perjury prosecutions are almost never brought.

Prosecution practices may differ from state to state, but Colorado is almost always statistically typical, and this is the norm. The threat of criminal prosecution for lying under oath is ever present, but the reality of such a criminal prosecution is almost non-existent.

16 September 2020

Why Do We Teach Literary Criticism So Intensely?

Despite the fact that the U.S. spends years of college prep track students' lives teaching them to produce literary criticism, and produces many tens of thousands of English majors each year with the same skill set, exceedingly little literary criticism beyond short book reviews in news periodicals do it, very few people consume it, and what is done isn't easily accessible.

We should cut back on literary criticism education long before we cut back on Algebra as many proponents of some new "more useful" curricular content often suggest to make room for their proposals.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that there shouldn't be some academic instruction in writing essays about classic works of literature, or that we should abolish the English major. It is a question of emphasis, magnitude and weight. This is an area we devote more time to than makes sense, while we devote fewer resources than we should to other things that the classroom setting education of teenagers and people in their early 20s could be focusing upon instead. 

In much the same way, for most of its history, the primary admissions criteria to Harvard was a good ability to read and write in ancient Greek and Latin. As recently as the 1950s, almost everyone who was college bound studied Latin in high school, and likewise studied the works of Classical Greek and Roman authors. 

Latin is still taught in some high schools, and colleges still have some Classics majors. But lots of high schools and lots of colleges don't teach Latin or ancient Greek, and don't have Classics programs. The number of professional academics, graduate students and undergraduate college majors in the field has dwindled to a trickle. And, yet, our civilization has done just fine without it. 

Classics was a cultural field primarily used to sort the educated from the educated, with minimal intrinsic value, just as English literature is today. Both humanities disciplines provide historical context and encourage the development of reason and empathy. But there are myriad other ways that the same general intellectual capacities and factual knowledge can be conveyed.

15 September 2020

The Misery Of The Ik Of Uganda (Or Not)

I am not convinced by this single account of the accuracy and authenticity of this account of the Ik people of Uganda

But since it is published in a well written book length account by a reputable publisher and an author who we have some reason to believe is better informed than most, I recount it anyway, because it is so striking:
The Ik are a people of northern Uganda who live at what must surely be the extreme of deprivation and disaster. A largely hunting and gathering people who have in recent times practiced some crop planting, the Ik are not classifiable as a complex society in the sense of Chapter 2. They are, nonetheless, a morbidly fascinating case of collapse in which a former, low level of social complexity has essentially disappeared.

Due to drought and disruption by national boundaries of the traditional cycle of movement, the Ik live in such a food- and water-scarce environment that there is absolutely no advantage to reciprocity and social sharing. The Ik, in consequence, display almost nothing of what could be considered societal organization. They are so highly fragmented that most activities, especially subsistence, are pursued individually. Each Ik will spend days or weeks on his or her own, searching for food and water. Sharing is virtually nonexistent. Two siblings or other kin can live side-by-side, one dying of starvation and the other well nourished, without the latter giving the slightest assistance to the other. The family as a social unit has become dysfunctional. Even conjugal pairs don't form a cooperative unit except for a few specific purposes. Their motivation for marriage or cohabitation is that one person can't build a house alone. The members of a conjugal pair forage alone, and do not share food. Indeed, their foraging is so independent that if both members happen to be at their residence together it is by accident.

Each conjugal compound is stockaded against the others. Several compounds together form a village, but this is a largely meaningless occurrence. Villages have no political functions or organization, not even a central meeting place.

Children are minimally cared for by their mothers until age three, and then are put out to fend for themselves. This separation is absolute. By age three they are expected to find their own food and shelter, and those that survive do provide for themselves. Children band into age-sets for protection, since adults will steal a child's food whenever possible. No food sharing occurs within an age-set. Groups of children will forage in agricultural fields, which scares off birds and baboons. This is often given as the reason for having children.

Although little is known about how the Ik got to their present situation, there are some indications of former organizational patterns. They possess clan names, although today these have no structural significance. They live in villages, but these no longer have any political meaning. The traditional authority structure of family, lineage, and clan leaders has been progressively weakened. It appears that a former level of organization has simply been abandoned by the Ik as unprofitable and unsuitable in their present distress (Turnbull 1978).
From Boing Boing via Doug Belshaw at his website Open Tinkering from The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Tainter who appears, in turn, to rely on Turnbull (1978) as a source.

Wikipedia recounts criticism of Turnbull's ethnography upon which Tainter relies:
While popular, the book was controversial, and the accuracy and methodology of Turnbull's work has been questioned. Turnbull himself mentions his sources' uncooperative nature and tendency to lie. Bernd Heine gives the following examples to support his claims that Turnbull's conclusions and methodology were flawed.

* There is evidence that Turnbull had limited knowledge of Ik language and tradition—and virtually no knowledge of the flora and fauna of the region. He seems to have misrepresented the Ik by describing them as traditionally being hunters and gatherers forced by circumstance to become farmers, when there is ample linguistic and cultural evidence that the Ik were farmers long before they were displaced from their hunting grounds after the formation of Kidepo National Park—the event that Turnbull says forced the Ik to become farmers.

* Some of Turnbull's main informants were not Ik, but Diding'a people. Lomeja, a local who helped teach Turnbull the Ik dialect, was undoubtedly Diding'a, and according to informants of linguist Bernd Heine (who studied the Ik in early 1983) spoke only broken Ik. Moreover, three out of the six villages Turnbull studied were headed by non-Ik people.

* Turnbull's claim that Ik raided cattle and frequently did "a double deal" by selling information concerning the raid to the victims is not corroborated by the Dodoth County Chief's monthly reports, as well as records of the Administrator in Moroto between 1963 and 1969. Rather, these files and reports actually suggest that the largest number of cattle raids occurred in parts of Dodoth County where no mention of Ik raiding livestock can be found in any of these documents.

* Turnbull's claims that adultery was common among the Ik is contrary to statements of informants interviewed by Bernd Heine in 1983. They reported that during the two years Turnbull stayed in Pirre there was only one case of adultery. Heine writes: "All Ik elders interviewed stated that there are no indications whatsoever in the oral traditions to suggest that adulterers were burnt in the past." (Turnbull's work itself expressed doubt as to the veracity of his source's claims to that effect.)

* Heine adds, "...Turnbull's account of Ik culture turned out to be at variance with most observations we made—to the extent that at times I was under the impression that I was dealing with an entirely different people."

Heine endorsed the conclusion of T.O. Beidelman.

"This book cannot be discussed in any proper sociological terms, for we are provided with only snatches of data. Rather than being a study of the Ik, this is an autobiographical portrait of the author utilizing the Ik as counters for expressing his personal feelings and experiences in the field."

Turnbull also argued that Ik society was already destroyed and all that could be done was to save individual tribal members. Consequently Turnbull advocated to the Ugandan government forcible relocation of random tribal members (with no more than ten people in any relocated group). . . .
Physician and poet Lewis Thomas wrote an essay entitled "The Ik"; Cevin Soling read this as a child, sparking an interest that ultimately led to his making a documentary, Ikland (2011). It was produced in the mid-2000s by Spectacle Films and directed by Soling and David Hilbert. The film depicts the Ik people in a positive light by showing how easily befriended they are, how they survive and live as families, their music and dancing and even their ability to step into acting roles. The documentary concludes with members of the tribe staging a performance of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, as a metaphor of redemption. 
It is generally true that there is a general trend that the empathy that is a unifying thread of political liberalism tends to decline with economic privation (and that secularism tends to decline with insecurity). But, Turnbull's account is probably over the top in its inaccuracy.

Is A Perfection Premium A Cognitive Bias?

A new paper suggests that a "perfection premium" is a real phenomena and is also a distorting cognitive bias. It isn't obvious that this is a correct assessment.

The paper and its abstract are as follows:
This research documents a perfection premium in evaluative judgments wherein individuals disproportionately reward perfection on an attribute compared to near-perfect values on the same attribute. For example, individuals consider a student who earns a perfect score of 36 on the American College Test to be more intelligent than a student who earns a near-perfect 35, and this difference in perceived intelligence is significantly greater than the difference between students whose scores are 35 versus 34. The authors also show that the perfection premium occurs because people spontaneously place perfect items into a separate mental category than other items. As a result of this categorization process, the perceived evaluative distance between perfect and near-perfect items is exaggerated. Four experiments provide evidence in favor of the perfection premium and support for the proposed underlying mechanism in both social cognition and decision-making contexts.

The trouble is that I'm not sure that a perfection premium is a cognitive bias. Most scoring systems, like ACT scores, have a domain of validity. They discriminate meaningfully in a normal distribution over a range of performance. Consider the ACT:

The top score included not just everyone who is one unit better in a normal distribution broken up into 36 units than the previous score (a 2.62 sigma above average result). It also includes everyone who would have a score more than 36 if the normal distribution were continued beyond the domain of applicability of the test.

If having a genius student in the student body who would score 42 on the ACT is its scoring range extended that far is more valuable to the institution than having a student who is merely very smart and would score 36 on the ACT even if its scoring extended higher. 

These are sometimes called "ceiling effects."

If a significant number of applicants with a perfect score receive a 36 only because the scoring range doesn't go any higher, it may be perfectly rational, and not a cognitive basis to have a "perfection premium". 

Also, the correct amount of the "perfection premium" depends upon the extent  to which the institution values having a small number of ultra-high performers (who may bring outsized recognition to the institution) relative to merely very high performers. There is no way to determine the correct premium for ultra-high performers in a vacuum.

A handful of people who would have scored much higher than 36 on the ACT if it were possible might very well bring outsized benefits to the institution in terms of awards, recognition, admissions to top grad schools that look good for the institution, much sought after organization leaders, faculty research assistants to mentor, or what have you. So a perfection premium may be appropriate.

I also question how real a "perfection premium" really is. Normally, admissions offices and hiring departments triage people into almost automatically deny, almost automatically admit/hire, and a middle ground of further deliberation. Everyone with a perfect or near perfect application goes into the almost automatically admit/hire and the threshold for decision making is almost never near the perfect threshold. If it was, the process would be reformed to be harder so it would be easier to distinguish between large numbers of seemingly perfect applicants.

14 September 2020

Colorado Supreme Court Overhauls Legal Advertising Ethics Rules

The Colorado Supreme Court has overhauled the Rules of Professional Conduct applicable to lawyers related to legal advertising, replacing strict limitations in former Rules 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 and 7.5 with two more flexible and lenient rules, 7.1 (barring false or misleading advertising by attorneys) and 7.2 (limiting referral fees and regulating what disclosures are required if a specialty is communicated). The changes are effective immediately (September 10, 2020).

The old rules have frequently been criticized as unreasonable limitation of commercial free speech and harken back to the time when the economics of legal practice were more heavily regulated. The old rules  that were discarded primarily limited cold call solicitations aimed at injury victims.

11 September 2020

Harm Avoider Constitutionalism

This is basically a law and economics approach with a humane and sensible twist.

How does the Supreme Court actually decide difficult questions of constitutional law? Standard accounts point to a range of interpretive approaches such as originalism, common law constitutionalism, political process theory, interest-balancing, and constitutional pluralism. And once the list of commonly used interpretive approaches is set, normative debates often follow over which is best.

In this Article, I argue that another theory belongs on the list. In a surprising number of cases spanning a range of doctrinal areas such as Congress’s Article I power, equal protection, substantive due process, presidential immunity, and the dormant commerce clause, the Court has decided hard constitutional questions using a kind of argument that has evaded scholarly attention thus far. Rather than relying on original meaning, precedent, or other common tools for discerning the Constitution’s proper application, the Court has decided these cases on the basis of a raw, second-order consideration: which group, if the Court rules against it, would be better able to avoid the harm it would suffer? And in each case, the Supreme Court has consciously ruled against the best harm-avoider, trusting in that group’s superior ability to protect its interests outside the courts. I call this approach “harm-avoider constitutionalism.”

This Article uncovers harm-avoider constitutionalism as a distinct—and powerful—theory by which the Supreme Court decides hard cases. To be sure, the theory does not help in every case. But where it does, harm-avoider constitutionalism furthers significant virtues. It curbs judicial partisanship. It bolsters the Court’s legitimacy by ensuring that losing groups have more effective responses to their defeats than attacking the Court. It encourages litigants to identify solutions rather than belittle their opponents. And it enables the Court to pursue an important, yet under-looked objective in hard cases: to do the least harm possible.

Tang, Aaron, "Harm-Avoider Constitutionalism" (September 8, 2020). California Law Review, Forthcoming

09 September 2020

Decades of stagnant wages are a reality for a broad swath of Americans

The meme below is misleading at best. the median income figures aren't too far off from reality for inflation adjusted dollars, but are just plain wrong for the nominal dollars implied by the cost of eggs comparison provided. The reality is inflation adjusted 2018 dollars is that median income for Americans aged 25 to 34 was: 

$35,648 in 2016 (+0.9%)

$35,337 in 1977

Thus, young adults have received none of the benefit of the last four decades of economic growth and productivity growth in the United States.

Overall median income:

$32,542 in 2016 (+ 33.7%)

$24,334 in 1977.

If economic growth had been shared equitably over the last four decades, the median income for Americans aged 25 to 35 in inflation adjusted 2018 dollars would be:

$47,245.57 in 2016. 

In other words, the median young adult would make about $1000 a month more than they do.

This is the age at which people tend to start having kids, so this impacts not just the well being of young adults, but the well being of most children in the United States.

But, they aren't four times as poor as their peers from four decades ago as the meme implies. In fairness, the inconsistency is a product of the original tweet not clarifying that inflation adjusted dollars were used and the person responding to it misunderstanding what the numbers meant.

Image may contain: text that says 'ian bremmer @ianbremmer Follow Things not looking so good for millennials.. MEDIAN INCOME 34k Americans aged 25 to 34 1977 34k 2016 Owen Watson Watson @ohwatson Follow Price of a loaf of bread: 1977 $0.32 2016: $1.96 Median income, ages 25-34: 1977: $34,000 2016: $34,000 But sure let's keep paying people to write articles about how our generation is at fault for society's problems'

08 September 2020

The Last Five Years Of The Dow Jones Industrial Index

I am well aware that the S&P 500 and other broader market indexes are more representative of the U.S. stock market as a whole, but they tell the same basic message as the Dow and have less impact on popular opinion and political sentiment.

In my humble opinion, the stock market is still grossly overvalued and is certainly due for at least a correction (i.e. a 10% drop from its most recent peak). The pandemic has created Great Depression level rates of unemployment, GDP contraction, loan defaults, rent non-payment and business failure, and international trade shrinkage. This is not just confined to small businesses. And, we are not out of the woods yet. This poses a threat to big business equity that the market is underestimating.

07 September 2020

U.S. Senate Race Update With 57 Days To Go

Democrats need 50 seats to control the U.S. Senate if Biden wins the Presidential race (a net gain of three seats), and 51 if Trump wins the Presidential race (a net gain of four seats). 

It is more likely than not that Democrats will regain control of the U.S. Senate, and Biden has a clear lead over Trump in Presidential polling at the moment, so they may need a net gain of only three seats. But it is far from certain.

Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Mexico have Democrats running for re-election in the U.S. Senate this year, all of whom are likely to win re-election, although the races in Michigan and Minnesota have polling that favors the Democratic incumbents by small enough margins that the races could be lost.

Democrats are almost sure to lose a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, where incumbent Democrat Doug Jones, trails his Republican challenger, Tommy Tuberville, by 10-17 percentage points in the polls.

This means that the Democrats need to pick up 4 more seats to control the Senate if Biden wins, and 5 more seats to control the Senate is Biden loses.

Democrats are leading in 4 races that could produce turnovers, have 3 more potential turnover races that are toss up races, and have a realistic underdog's shot at 3 more races.

Which turnover seats are in play:

* Arizona, where Kelly, the Democrat, leads by healthy margins in the lion's share of recent polls in a race against the Republican who filled John McCain's vacancy.

* Colorado, where Hickenlooper, the Democrat leads by healthy margins over incumbent Republican Cory Gardner in all recent polling, despite a lackluster primary campaign.

* In Georgia, there are two U.S. Senate races. In one, the Democrat, Ossoff faces the Republican Perdue, in a race that is a polling toss up.  In the other, the Democrat, Warnock, trails the Republican, Loeffler and Collins, consistently, in the polls.

* In Kansas, the race between Bollier, the Democrat, and Marshall, the Republican, is a toss up in the polls.

* In Kentucky, the Democrat, McGrath, trails incumbent Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but his lead had shrunk to the low single digits in many recent polls.

* In Montana, the Democrat, Bullock, had been leading in the polls in early July, but the Republican, Daines, has had a modest lead in the polls since then.

Earlier hints that the U.S. Senate races in Texas might be winnable for the Democrats are not supported by any recent polling.

Real Clear Politics, when push comes to shove, sees Democrats gaining a majority in the U.S. Senate in this election, although their call of Colorado as a "toss up" because they don't have any polling in the race (even though 538 has plenty of polls linked above) is laughable.

Presidential Race Update With 57 Days To Go

Joe Biden is the clear front runner in Presidential race to be decided on November 3, 2020. But Biden has only about a 71% chance of winning, which is incredibly close given how unpopular and unsuccessful a President Trump has been. 

It would take a 4.6 percentage point swing in the polls in favor of Trump for him to win.

The marginal states are currently Pennsylvania and Arizona.

On the other hand, it would take only a 1.9 percentage point swing in the polls towards Biden for Biden to have a landslide win with 414 electoral votes to Trump's 126 electoral votes.

One encouraging feature of the Presidential race is that it has been really fairly static since Biden became the presumptive nominee, without huge swings one way or the other. For example, the Democratic Party National Convention and Republican Party National Convention don't appear to have had much impact on the race at all.

It is not a level playing field. Biden needs to win the popular vote by about 3.0 percentage points to win the electoral college vote, and ties in the electoral college vote go to Trump. 

Democrat Al Gore lost to Republican George W. Bush in 2000, and Democrat Hillary Clinton lost to Republican Donald Trump in 2016, despite winning the popular vote. 

George H.W. Bush, in the 1988 Presidential election, was the last Republican to win the popular vote in an open race. George W. Bush won re-election in the 2004 Presidential election, however, with a majority of the popular vote. 

The 4.6 percentage point swing necessary for Trump to win the electoral college is much more likely than a 7.3 percentage point swing in the popular vote he would need to win the popular vote. If Trump does win re-election, he will most likely do so without winning the popular vote for a second time (a new record).

Prior to 2000, the last time that the winner of the popular vote lost in the electoral college was in 1888. In that race and the previous popular vote loss, the Democrat lost and the Republican won. In the popular vote loss before that, the Democrat-Republican candidate lost.


Based on 538 assessments as of today:

Overall odds: Biden 71% Trump 28% Tie 1%.

In the event of a tie, each state's members of the House of Representatives vote, with one vote per state cast by the majority in each delegation (or not vote cast if there is a tie). 

In a tie breaker vote measure, Trump almost surely wins, even though Democrats will almost surely have a majority in the House. Currently he'd win 26 states to Biden's 22 with 2 states tied. So Trump actually only needs 269 electoral votes to win, while Biden needs 270 electoral votes to win.

Popular Vote

Biden share of popular vote: Biden + 7.3 percentage points (Biden currently leads in national polling by 7.5 percentage points).

Predicted third-party share of popular vote: 2.3%

Electoral Vote

In addition to his "safe" states, Trump needs to win 10 out of 15 prizes in play:

* one Congressional District that leans his way (in Maine), 

* six toss-up states where he leads by less than two percentage points or trails by less than three percentage points (Texas, Ohio, Iowa, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida), 

* one toss-up Congressional District (in Nebraska), and 

*at least two of the seven states that lean Biden (most plausibly Arizona and Pennsylvania).

In addition to his "safe" states, Biden needs to win 6 out of 15 prizes in play:

* six out of seven states the lean Biden (most plausibly, New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona).

*  None of the six "toss-up" states or the "toss-up" district in Nebraska

*  Not the "lean Trump" district in Maine.

State by State Summary

Safe Trump (125)

Safe GOP (97 EV) (MT, MS, NE-1, IN, AR, LA, TN, UT, NE, KY, AL, SD, ND, OK, ID, WV, WY, NE-3)

Kansas (6) + 12.1 Trump

Missouri (10) +10.9 Trump

Alaska (3) + 9.1 Trump

South Carolina (9) +8.9 Trump

Lean Trump (1)

Maine-2 (1) + 4.0 Trump

Toss Up States (123)

Ohio (18) + 1.9 Trump

Iowa (6) + 1.6 Trump

Georgia (16) + 1.5 Trump

Texas (38) + 1.1 Trump

North Carolina (15) + 1.8 Biden

Nebraska - 2 (1) + 1.8 Biden

Florida (29) + 2.7 Biden

Lean Biden (77)

Pennsylvania (20) + 4.4 Biden 

Arizona (11) + 4.6 Biden -- MARGINAL STATE 271 Biden EVs

Nevada (6)  + 5.4 Biden

Minnesota (10) +6.2 Biden

Michigan (16) + 6.6 Biden

Wisconsin (10) + 7.5 Biden

New Hampshire (4) + 8.2 Biden

Safe Biden (214)

Maine (2) + 9.9 Biden

Colorado (9) + 12.1 Biden

Safe Dem (203 EV) (VA, NM, OR, NJ, CT, ME-1, IL, DE, RI, WA, NY, MD, CA, MA, HI, VT, DC)