31 March 2021

Personal Bankruptcies Down, Commercial Bankruptcies Up In Pandemic

This makes sense, but it is easy to see how one wouldn't have predicted it.
Bankruptcy filings by consumers under chapter 7 were down 22% last year compared with 2019, while individual filings under chapter 13 fell 46%. . . .

By contrast, commercial bankruptcy filings rose 29%, with more than 7,100 businesses seeking chapter 11 protection last year.…

Economists and bankruptcy lawyers say federal suspensions of evictions, home foreclosures and student-loan obligations have helped limit bankruptcies—though they worry bankruptcy rates could go up after aid ends. Household spending also dropped as people stayed home, canceled travel and socially distanced to avoid the coronavirus. Several rounds of government aid padded incomes with direct payments to households and enhanced unemployment benefits. The personal saving rate rose.

30 March 2021

Cosmopolitan Cities Attract Risk Takers

It is a well established and nearly universal law of economics that productivity per capita scales with urban density. One reason for this is that these cities attract risk takers.
Some metropolitan areas (e.g., Berlin, New York) have a cosmopolitan culture. That is, they serve as centers of economic development and value diversity, creativity, and equality. These areas offer economic and creative opportunities that are open to anyone willing to take a risk. Therefore, such cities may attract people who are high in risk-taking. 
We first showed that real-world risk-taking is more common in cities with a more cosmopolitan culture (Study 1). Second, we found that people who are more prone to risk-taking as measured by self-report (Studies 2a and 2b) and observed behavior (Study 3, preregistered) have greater preferences for cosmopolitan cities as residential destinations. Third, we tested a causal link between risk-taking and preference for cosmopolitan cities. Inducing a prevention focus (known to inhibit risk-taking) reduced people’s desire to settle in cosmopolitan cities (Study 4). We discuss implications for economic growth and migration to cosmopolitan cities.
Timur Sevincer et al. , "Risky Business: Cosmopolitan Culture and Risk-Taking" Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, forthcoming (Hat Tip: Kevin Lewis).

27 March 2021

Americans In Long Term Slide Of Health

A new study shows a widespread slide in physical and mental health in the U.S. over the last few decades, a sure and troubling sign of a declining nation. 

The decline is greatest among whites, especially white men, in ways that are suggestive of one largely regional subculture, associated with Trumpism, driving down the average. The article is closed access, however, so it is hard to know for sure.
Morbidity and mortality have been increasing among middle-aged and young-old Americans since the turn of the [21st] century. We investigate whether these unfavorable trends extend to younger cohorts and their underlying physiological, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms. 
Applying generalized linear mixed effects models to 62,833 adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1988-2016) and 625,221 adults from the National Health Interview Surveys (1997-2018), we find that for all gender and racial groups, physiological dysregulation has increased continuously from Baby Boomers through late-Gen X and Gen Y. 
The magnitude of the increase is higher for White men than other groups, while Black men have a steepest increase in low urinary albumin (a marker of chronic inflammation). 
In addition, Whites undergo distinctive increases in anxiety, depression, and heavy drinking, and have a higher level than Blacks and Hispanics of smoking and drug use in recent cohorts. Smoking is not responsible for the increasing physiological dysregulation across cohorts. The obesity epidemic contributes to the increase in metabolic syndrome, but not in low urinary albumin. 
The worsening physiological and mental health profiles among younger generations imply a challenging morbidity and mortality prospect for the United States, one that may be particularly inauspicious for Whites.

Another recent study also supports this interpretation to some extent. The experience of coal mining areas like Appalachia and Wyoming in the United States is replicated in Europe.
In this paper we examine the impact of natural resource wealth by focusing on historical coal-mining across European regions. As an exogenous source of variation in coal extraction activities, we rely on the presence of coal-deposits located on the earth’s surface, which historically facilitated the discovery and extraction of coal. 
Our results show that former coal-mining regions are substantially poorer, with (at least) 10% smaller per-capita GDP than comparable regions in the same country that did not mine coal. We provide evidence that much of this lag is explained by lower levels of human capital accumulation and that this human-capital effect is concentrated in men. Finally, we provide suggestive evidence that the persistently lower levels of human capital in coal mining regions that we document result from the crystallization of negative attitudes towards education and lower future orientations in these regions.
Elena Esposito & Scott Abramson, "The European coal curse" Journal of Economic Growth, Pages 77–112 (March 2021).

26 March 2021

Portable Nuclear Power Plants And The Alternatives

Nuclear power has lots of benefits that this proposal for a 1-5 megawatt portable nuclear power plant illustrates well. I'm not convinced that it is a great solution near war zones, however.

Portable Nuclear Power Plants

The Pentagon has selected two companies to move forward with developing small, portable nuclear reactors for military use in the field.

BWXT Advanced Technologies and X-energy were chosen by the department’s Strategic Capabilities Office to continue on with Project Pele, which seeks to develop a reactor of 1- to 5-megawatt output that can last at least three years at full power. In addition, the reactors must be designed to operate within three days of delivery and be safely removed in as few as seven days if needed.

The two companies, along with Westinghouse Government Services, were each given preliminary contracts of less than $15 million in March 2020 to begin design work. The final design is due to the Strategic Capabilities Office in 2022, at which point the Defense Department will make a decision on whether to move forward with testing the systems.

“We are thrilled with the progress our industrial partners have made on their designs,” Jeff Waksman, Project Pele’s program manager, said in a statement. “We are confident that by early 2022 we will have two engineering designs matured to a sufficient state that we will be able to determine suitability for possible construction and testing.”

The Pentagon has long eyed nuclear power as a potential way to reduce both its energy cost and its vulnerability in its dependence on local energy grids. According to a news release, the Defense Department uses “approximately 30 Terawatt-hours of electricity per year and more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day.”

According to an October 2018 technical report by the Nuclear Energy Institute, 90 percent of military installations have “an average annual energy use that can be met by an installed capacity of nuclear power” of 40 MWe (megawatt electrical) or less. 

. . .

That effort, ordered in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, involves a pilot program aimed at demonstrating the efficacy of a small nuclear reactor in the 2- to 10-MWe range, with initial testing at a Department of Energy site around 2023.

While Project Pele is focused on the potential for deployable nuclear reactors, the acquisition and sustainment effort is focused on domestic military installations, with the goal of being operational by 2027.

From here.

A one megawatt power plant is enough to power about 500 homes.

If the illustration showing one unit fitting into a C-130 transport aircraft or a single semi-truck load or a single rail car is correct, the size would be on the order of 20 short tons to generate 1 megawatt of electricity for three years. Refueling in place for another three years, however, could involve a much smaller payload.

This is, at least, a factor of twenty better than the next best alternative (natural gas) in terms of logistics burden, and much better than that relative to diesel, coal, wind power, or solar power. The advantage is proportionately greater if the 20 ton portable nuclear power plant provided more than 1 megawatt of power. If it could produce 5 megawatts of power, the advantage would be a factor of 100 better.

The cost of such a power plant isn't clear.

If the power plant unit cost scaled proportionately to larger nuclear power plants, the cost of the power plant would be on the order of $1-$6 million for a 1 megawatt plant, but it isn't obvious that this is a reasonable assumption. It would have a useful life of several decades.

According to the same source, nuclear power plant fuel costs about $1,390 per kilogram and a kilogram of fuel generates about 360 megawatt hours of electricity. So, it needs about 73 kilograms of fuel for three years for a 1 megawatt plant at a fuel cost of $101,470 (far lower than any of the alternatives in addition to being much easier to deliver in a single trip).

Put another way, it takes about 1 gram of nuclear power plant fuel to power one house for one gram. The fuel cost for that one week is about $1.39.

Nuclear power plants also involve high level nuclear waste disposal issues that aren't currently resolved in the U.S. and would add additional cost. It would generate no air pollution, however. There are environmental issues involved in mining uranium, but because so little uranium is needed for fuel, these concerns shouldn't be overstated.

The national security concerns involved in keeping 73 kilograms of uranium based nuclear fuel safe from adversaries and preventing proliferation of uranium that could be used in nuclear weapons is a serious concern in a front line military application.

But the same concerns would not apply in civilian applications in remote domestic areas like small Alaskan villages or Hawaiian islands, where grid based power generation could be a problem.

Fossil Fuel Alternatives

Fossil fuels are far less portable, even without considering the power plants themselves.

Natural Gas Generators

How does natural gas compare?
A high efficiency, natural gas-fired combined-cycle power plant might consume about 7000 Btus of gas to produce one kilowatt-hour of electricity. That would be about 7 cubic feet of natural gas. It would therefoe take about 7000 cubic feet of gas to produce one megawatt-hour. In the U.S. today, one thousand cubic feet of gas sells at wholesale for about US$7.00 (seven dollars. So it would cost about $49 (wholesale price) just for the fuel to make 1 MW-hr of electricity this way.
So, 184 million cubic fee of natural gas would be needed to run a 1 megawatt power plant for three years. The fuel cost at U.S. natural gas prices would be about $1,288,000 over three years (in addition to the cost of the power plant). 

A fully loaded semi-truck can carry about 11 tons of liquid natural gas (which means that 184 million cubic feet of natural gas is about eighteen truckloads shipped in liquid natural gas form).

The power plant costs about $215,000 (used without installation or delivery). See also hereThe generator itself isn't huge (certainly less than one truckload, and probably less than about 20 tons). 

Additional materials (and weight) to store the natural gas until needed might be required and might take another truckload or so.

The combined weight would be about 20 truckloads to operate it for three years.

A much more powerful 42 megawatt gas turbine electrical generator weighs about 151 short tons with a width of 170 inches, a length of 650 inches, and a height of 194 inches, in addition to a need for 90 square feet of duct flow areas at the inlet and 57 square feet of exhaust area. This would be 4.6 short tons if it scaled linearly, although it probably would actually weigh more than that because there are probably efficiency of scale.

This is far and away the lowest logistical burden of the fossil fuel alternatives, in addition to being much cheaper than the diesel generator option.

Natural gas produces the least air pollution, by far, of the fossil fuels, although the environmental impacts of producing natural gas through fracking are material.

Diesel Generators

It would take 2,102,400 gallons of petroleum liquids (50,058 U.S. barrels of oil, weighing about 7,359 short tons, or about 180 semi-tanker trucks full) to run a 1 megawatt power plant for three years. At about $3 per gallon for diesel fuel (commonly used by the military) it would cost about $6,307,200 to run diesel powered electricity generators producing 1 megawatt of power for three years (in addition to the cost of the generator).

A one new megawatt diesel generator (fuel not included) weights about 8.7 short tons and costs about $180,000 (including shipping but not including installation) with dimensions of about 169" x 79" x 93" but without fuel tanks. One twice that capacity with everything included weighs about 21.25 tons:
A 2,000 kW set can be housed in a 40 ft (12 m) ISO container with fuel tank, controls, power distribution equipment and all other equipment needed to operate as a standalone power station or as a standby backup to grid power. These units, referred to as power modules, are gensets on large triple axle trailers weighing 85,000 pounds (38,555 kg) or more.

The combined fuel and generator weight for a 1 megawatt diesel power plant would be about 7,380 short tons in 181 truckloads to operate it for three years.

Diesel fuel produces lots of air pollution, although not as much as coal, producing petroleum and refining it to produce diesel fuel has major environmental impacts, and so does the harm caused by inevitable oil spills when it is transported.

Coal Fired Power Plants

It would take about 14,454 short tons of coal to to run a 1 megawatt power plant for three years (at a U.S. delivered price of $38.52 per short ton), for a cost of $556,768 over three years. This is about 627 semi-tractor loads of coal (see here and here).

This is in addition to the cost of the generator and the size of a coal fired 1 megawatt power plant is less easily available since a typical coal fired power plant has a 600 megawatt power producing capacity.

The cost of a fully installed 1 megawatt coal fired power plant, meeting utility grade emissions standards, and ignoring economies of scale, is about $4 million. It would probably take more than 1 truckload to ship a one megawatt coal fired power plant. Generously estimating that it would take three truckloads, the total shipping requirement is 630 truckloads to operate it for three years.

Coal produces an immense amount of highly damaging air pollution, producing it has catastrophic environmental consequences in the area it is produced, and coal has not insignificant amounts of toxic and radioactive materials in it that make storing coal and disposing of coal waste a major environmental threat that can leach into ground water as well. Coal spills, however, are trivial threats compared to oil spills and do not present nearly as much of an explosive risks of a natural gas transportation incident (although coal dust can explode).

Renewable Power Comparisons

Wind Power

A single large wind turbine can generate 1.5-1.8 megawatts of electricity, and weighs 164-334 tons, in addition to a concrete anchor of more than 1000 tons. The total height, including the blades is 328-410 feet.

The turbine itself would require 10-20 truckloads (given how awkward it is to ship), and about 50 truckloads of cement would be required. Since two turbines would be required about 120-140 truckloads of materials would have to be shipped to build a power plant with annual generating capacity comparable to a 1 megawatt nuclear power plant, although it would obviously operate for much more than three years.

You need about 50 acres of land area per industrial sized wind turbine, but unlike the land used for a solar farm, the land at the base of a wind turbine can be used for other purposes. They cost about $1.5 million to $2 million per megawatt installed, although obviously, with no fuel costs.

Because wind turbines don't generate electricity at peak capacity 24/7 so it takes more than 1 megawatt of power production capacity to match the annual electrical output of a 1 megawatt fossil fuel or nuclear power plant, although the disparity of about 3-1 is less than for solar power. It takes about two big wind turbines to match the annual power generation of a 1 megawatt fossil fuel or nuclear power plant.

Also, in the absence of a larger power grid, some sort of battery or electricity storage system would need to be in place at additional cost and logistical demands to provide 24/7 power. It would take a roughly 2.5 megawatt hour capacity battery system (2500 kWh) to make a 3 megawatt capacity wind turbine system provide 24/7 power equivalent to a 1 megawatt fossil fuel or nuclear powered system.

Projected electric car scale battery costs as of 2024 are about $100 per kWh, which would imply about $250,000 for a battery support for a 24/7 megawatt capacity wind power system. This is fairly modest relative to the $4.5 million to $6 million installation cost. They would also not be all the huge in size at about 6 kilograms per kWh, which is about 15 metric tons (or about 16.5 short tons) for a 2.5 megawatt battery. The battery unit adds about 1 truckload to the total weight of the system.

Wind power has a mild and possible to mitigate impact on birds. It generates no air or water pollution. The materials used to build wind power turbines are mostly mundane and not particularly environmentally problematic (e.g. cement and steel) compared to many other possibilities. A few exotic materials used in wind turbine electronics create some environmental impacts when produced, however.

Solar Power

It takes roughly 5 megawatts of peak solar power generation capacity to produce the same amount of average electricity per day as a 1 megawatt fossil fuel or nuclear power plant, because a solar power plant doesn't generate electricity 24/7.

It costs about $22 million to build a 5 megawatt solar farm, although it would generate power for more than three years and only needs to be serviced 3-4 times a year (another source says closer to $5 million, but this may be after subsidies), although it would obviously operate for much more than three years. 

It would take about 35 acres of land, and isn't remotely portable. 

It isn't entirely obvious how many truckloads of materials would be required for a solar farm of this scale, but it would be considerable. The solar panels themselves weigh about 133 pounds per kilowatt of power generation capacity, which would imply that a one megawatt solar farm would have 133,000 pounds (62.5 short tons) of solar panels, which would be about three truckloads. But, a great deal of additional weight would be required for mountings, cement pads upon which to place the mountings, and the electrical grid connecting the panels.

Also, in the absence of a larger power grid, some sort of battery or electricity storage system would need to be in place at additional cost and logistical demands to provide 24/7 power. It would take about a 1.5 megawatt hour battery capacity for a 5 megawatt solar farm to provide 24/7 power comparable to a 1 megawatt nuclear power plant. This would cost about $150,000 and weight about 8 metric tons (about 8.8 short tons).

Still, the total number of truckloads of materials involved in a solar farm would be quite competitive with diesel generators, coal fired power plants or wind power, and maybe even with natural gas, although the footprint of the solar system on the ground would be vastly greater than any of the other alternatives.

Solar power generates no air or water pollution. The materials used to build solar panels, however, create some environmental impacts when produced and if they have to be discarded. They also take up a lot of open space, which may or may not have had more desirable uses such as farmland, parks, housing, and open space/natural habitats.

My understanding is that solar panels require more annual maintenance on average (e.g. to replace or repair damaged panels from hail storms) than wind turbines do.

Operating Costs

None of these estimates consider operating costs other than fuel, which are implicitly assumed to be comparable. But, the operating costs other than fuel (mostly utility personnel) would not be immaterial and would not necessarily be all that similar between the options.

The Path To A Professorship Is Multigenerational

Unsurprising (similar observations have been conventional wisdom since the time of the American Revolution), but appropriate to acknowledge.
Using a survey of 7218 professors in PhD-granting departments in the United States across eight disciplines in STEM, social sciences, and the humanities, we find that the estimated median childhood household income among faculty is 23.7% higher than the general public, and faculty are 25 times more likely to have a parent with a PhD. Moreover, the proportion of faculty with PhD parents nearly doubles at more prestigious universities and is stable across the past 50 years.
From here.

25 March 2021

Today at SCOTUS

The U.S. Supreme Court made two rulings today.

Long Arm Jurisdiction In Product Liability Cases

In Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial Dist., No. 19-368 (U.S. March 25, 2021), a unanimous court held that Ford could be sued for injuries suffered in Montana and Minnesota, respectively, as a result of defective vehicles which were purchased used in those states, but sold new in other states, despite the fact that Ford is incorporated in Delaware, has its principle offices in Michigan, and did not design or manufacture the vehicles in those states. Five justices writing in the majority provide one justification. Gorsuch, Thomas and Alito concur.

This case is a serious step back from a string of recent cases greatly limiting the ability of Plaintiffs to secure jurisdiction over defendants in tort cases. 

Most notably, "general jurisdiction" (which authorizes lawsuits against a company in a state on any matter without regard to where it arises) which used to be available in any state in which a corporation has an agent or office for the conduct of business in a state, under International Shoe, which would have made this case an easy one, since there are Ford dealerships in both Montana and Minnesota, has now been restricted to states in which a firm has a headquarters, is incorporated, or has a secondary office amounting to a headquarters.

So, the court was forced to determine if these cases gave rise to "specific jurisdiction" connected to these particular incidents, despite the fact that none of Ford's actions in the specific chain of causation of these particular incidents was readily linked to conduct of the company in Montana or Minnesota. 

The Court held that while acts committed in a state can provide one basis for specific jurisdiction, other activity in a state and a connection of the incident giving rise to the lawsuit in a state, together, at least, can give rise to specific jurisdiction as well. Here, since Ford actively markets to and does business with people in Montana and Minnesota, and the incidents in question took place in those states and harmed residents of those states, that specific jurisdiction was still present. 

The majority also presented a counter-example in which an individual craftsman merely selling a few custom made goods over the Internet and mails to someone in a state might not be subject to product liability suits in the state where the goods were sold. 

The exact theory of why these results obtained was muddy, spawning the two concurring opinions.

Liability For Excessive Use Of Force By Police

In Torres v. MadridNo .19-292 (U.S. March 25, 2020), the Court delivered a 5-3 decision (Barrett not participating) regarding search and seizure law, holding that the application of physical force to the body of a person with intent to restrain is a seizure even if the person does not submit and is not subdued. The fact pattern, according to the official syllabus of the decision was as follows:

Respondents Janice Madrid and Richard Williamson, officers with the New Mexico State Police, arrived at an Albuquerque apartment complex to execute an arrest warrant and approached petitioner Roxanne Torres, then standing near a Toyota FJ Cruiser. The officers attempted to speak with her as she got into the driver’s seat. Believing the officers to be carjackers, Torres hit the gas to escape. The officers fired their service pistols 13 times to stop Torres, striking her twice. Torres managed to escape and drove to a hospital 75 miles away, only to be airlifted back to a hospital in Albuquerque, where the police arrested her the next day. 
Torres later sought damages from the officers under 42 U. S. C. §1983. She claimed that the officers used excessive force against her and that the shooting constituted an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Affirming the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the officers, the Tenth Circuit held that “a suspect’s continued flight after being shot by police negates a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim.” 769 Fed. Appx. 654, 657. 

Gorsuch, Thomas and Alito dissented.

Truly Universal Sufferage

I favor a very broad level of universal suffrage.

The right to vote should be extended to everyone who is or will be sixteen years of age on the next general or municipal election day, who resides in a state (or resided in a state prior to incarceration in prison or military service, in which case that individual should vote based upon the address where they resided immediately prior to incarceration or military service), without regard to citizenship.

Ideally, parents of children not old enough to vote, when the children reside in the state, should be entitled to cast an additional vote on behalf of each such child, as well. 

In cases where there is only one parent of a child who resides in the state who resides in the state, that parent would cast the vote for that child. In cases where there are two parents of a child who resides in the state who resides in the state, and one parent is male and the other parent is female, the male parent would cast the vote for the male children not old enough to vote, and the female parent would cast the vote for the female children not old enough to vote. In cases where a child who resides in the state is not identified as male or female, or the child has two parents are both of the same sex and each of them reside in the state, the person who casts the vote for the child would be determined by mutual agreement of the parents, or if no agreement was reached, as determined by lot in the first year and alternating each subsequent year.

Voter registration would not be required, nor would presentation of identification.

24 March 2021

Western State Gun Laws

The most regulated state (California) has a third as many gun deaths per capita as the least regulated state (Wyoming).

+Universal background checks include background checks on private purchases, such as at gun shows or over the internet.
++Federal law prohibits people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or with a domestic violence restraining order from possessing a gun, but excludes partners who are not married, convicted stalkers and others. States are not forced to report domestic violence convictions to the federal background-check database.
+++Federal law prohibits possession of a firearm by any person who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or involuntarily “committed to any mental institution.” But states are not required to report the identities of these individuals to the FBI, and many do not.

(1) To review the exceptions, click here.
(2) Utah conducts its own background checks on guns purchased from licensed dealers.
(3) Colorado prohibits large capacity ammunition magazines but does not regulate assault weapons or 50 caliber rifles.
(4) Only while the person is serving probation for that conviction.
(5) Only if a firearm is used in perpetrating domestic violence.
(6) To review exceptions, click here.
(7) To review exceptions, click here.

Via the High Country News (chart in 2015 story updated as of March 23, 2021).

COVID Vaccine Access

COVID vaccine appointment availability in Texas

COVID vaccine appointments are very hard to get in major urban centers (where belief in their desirability is high) and easy to get in rural areas and small towns (where COVID denial rates are high).

English In China

The English language is a mandatory subject in Chinese schools, although this is controversial. If I recall correctly, it is also mandatory in Japan.

Is English really that important? A Chinese lawmaker at the two sessions has proposed removing English as a core subject for Chinese students receiving compulsory education, triggering heated discussion on Chinese social media.

The proposal was made by Xu Jin, a member of the Central Committee of the Jiusan Society and also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). It has also been proposed by other lawmakers in previous years.

Some experts said the idea is just narrow-minded populism and is unlikely to be adopted, as China's importance in globalization means that it needs the global language to share views and technology with the outside world. Others said it was reasonable as the majority of Chinese people do not use English in their lives, except during their education.

"In the compulsory education stage, English and other foreign language courses should no longer be set as the main subjects equivalent to Chinese and mathematics, and should be removed as compulsory subjects from the college entrance examination," Xu said.

Xu believes the amount of time spent on English by students will not lead to commensurate results in future employment. English teaching hours account for about 10 percent of students' total class hours, but English is only useful for less than 10 percent of college graduates, he said.

Instead, smart devices offering translation could provide professional, competitive translation services and more problem-solving than English teaching goals that run through the entire compulsory education, Xu said, adding that translation is one of the first occupations that will die out in the era of artificial intelligence….
There's not a snowball's chance in hell that students and their parents will be willing to cut back on English language education. Good English is a ticket for getting into the best schools and universities, and for going abroad. The same situation obtains for plans to deal with myopia among youth, as we have just seen two days ago: "Myopia in the Middle Kingdom" (3/16/18). The demand for English education is ever greater; the strain on students' eyes are ever more demanding.

The craze for English increases every year, and I must say that the level of English ability of students from China in my classes — and I have lots of them — is astonishingly good, and getting better all the time. China is not going to go back behind a bamboo curtain, and even the formidable Great Firewall cannot extinguish the burning desire of Chinese citizens, especially youth, for global information sources. It simply will not happen, because even the children of the highest ranking Party members — together with their parents — are complicit.

Needless to say, the requirement is not reciprocal. No English language speaking country (with the possible exception of Australia) requires instruction in Chinese or Japanese.

Anecdotally, neither the study of English in Chinese K-12 schools, nor the study of foreign languages in U.S. schools, produces functional levels of foreign language fluency in a very significant share of students taking those languages as school subjects.  The quality of English language instruction in China is improving, however, as noted above.

In contrast, European foreign language instruction, anecdotally, at least, seems to be very successful at producing a large percentage of people with functional levels of foreign language fluency in the studied languages (which are usually other European languages).

23 March 2021

The World Would Be Better If . . .

The world would be a better place if all gun owners committed suicide today. They are a blight on our society.

Colorado Supreme Court Directly Evaluates Tape Recorded Interrogation

Normally, an appellate court defers to the trial court's findings of fact regarding evidence presented at trial, even when there is a transcript available. 

But, in a case where the central fact is what happened in a tape recorded police interrogation, the Colorado Supreme Court has held that it may review the taped recorded evidence de novo since it is in the same position as the trial court with respect to this evidence.
[W]e may independently review audio-recorded interrogations:
“[W]here the statements sought to be suppressed are audio- and video-recorded, and there are no disputed facts outside the recording controlling the issue of suppression, we are in a similar position as the trial court to determine whether the statements should be suppressed.” Thus, we may undertake an independent review of the audio or video recording to determine whether the statements were properly suppressed in light of the controlling law. 
Clark, ¶ 23 (quoting People v. Kutlak, 2016 CO 1, ¶ 13, 364 P.3d 199, 203).

From People v. Padilla, 2021 CO 18, ¶ 14 (March 22, 2021).

The rule articulated in Padilla is on its face limited to suppression hearings prior to criminal trials, but it would be easy to imagine this doctrine being expanded.

Given the amount of evidence that is presented in the form of video or audio recordings these days in trial courts, and the fact that trial court proceedings are often video or audio recorded, this could signal a trend shifting the balance of power between trial courts and appellate courts on issues previously considered to be questions of fact to be resolved once and for all in the trial court.

Sixteen Years Of SCOTUS Patent Law Cases

There has been lots of U.S. Supreme Court action in patent law in the last 16 years (30 major cases are recited below, with one additional important case currently pending), which has collectively mostly weakened patent law, with some exceptions. 

There has been little major patent legislation since 2011 when the American Invents Act, which was the last major overhaul of U.S. statutory patent law was adopted. The AIA eliminated tax strategy patents (a case to resolve the issue had been pending when the legislative fix arrived).
A background report for Congress from the Congressional research service on patent law and procedure can be found here.

A major case deciding the constitutionality of part of the AIA and the remedy if it is unconstitutional is pending in Arthrex which has had oral arguments but not decision on the merits yet.

* Thryv, Inc. v. Click-to-Call Technologies, LP (2020) (7-2), the Court disagreed with the Federal Circuit and held that the PTAB’s decision on whether a petition for inter partes review is timely is not judicially reviewable replying on Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. 2131 (2016).

* SAS Institute, Inc. v. Iancu (2018), the United States Supreme Court decided an important aspect of procedure in IPR cases holding that once an inter partes review is instituted by the Director of the USPTO, the PTAB must decide the patentability of all of the claims challenged.

* Sandoz Inc. v. Amgen Inc. (2017), the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs the Federal Circuit on a patent law issue related to patent claims in products (basically drugs) biologically similar to products subject to an existing patent making it harder to "puppy guard" such a patent.

* Impressions Products, Inc. v. Lexmark Int'l, Inc. (2017), Reversing the Federal Circuit to weaken the rights of patent holders, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the first sale doctrine terminates all patent rights in an item, both in the case of sales in the U.S. and sales outside the U.S., even if the contract of sale purports to reserve patent rights in that particular item produces using the patent.

* TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC (2017), In 1990, the Federal Circuit held that due to an amendment to the general venue statute that patent lawsuits could be brought in any district that has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. This gave rise to extreme forum shopping by patent trolls with the Eastern District of Texas arising as a very plaintiff friendly venue in which many patent infringement cases were brought, despite it having only minimal contacts with the patent holder. This 8-0 decision overrules the 1990 decision of the Federal Circuit and holds that the 1957 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that patent lawsuits may be brought only in the state where a defendant is incorporated remains good law.

* SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC (2017), the equitable doctrine of laches cannot be used to bar the recovery of patent infringement damages incurred within the six year statute of limitations; this follows another recent ruling that laches does not bar the recovery of damages for patent infringement incurred within the three year statute of limitations.

* Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple, Inc. (2016), in the case of a multicomponent product, the relevant “article of manufacture” for arriving at a [35 U.S.C.] §289 damages award need not be the end product sold to the consumer but may be only a component of that product.

* Limelight Networks v. Akamai Technologies (2014), liability for inducing infringement could not exist when there was no direct infringement (the conduct in question involved part of a patented process being carried out by one party, who allegedly urged customers to carry out the balance of the patented process themselves, so that no one person infringed)

* Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments (2014), the Court rebuked a standard for what kind of patent description was excessively vague that was absurdly indulgent to the patent applicant.

* Alice v. CLS Bank, Int'l. (2014), prohibited software that generically applied an abstract idea that is not otherwise patentable, have made it dramatically more difficult to obtain patents, particularly the subset of patents called "business method patents" which include most software patents. In January of 2004, only a little more than 2% of patent applications were rejected (on Section 101 grounds which governs what is patentable). By July of 2015, that percentage is about 15%.

Before Alice in July of 2014, about 31% of business method patent applications were rejected on Section 101 grounds (already a major increase from 2007 when the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a more expensive definition of "obviousness" under Section 101 for patent law purposes in KSR International v. Teleflex (see below), and 2010 when the U.S. Supreme Court in Bilski v. Kappos (see below) articulated a new (and functionally more restrictive) legal standard for granting software patents (although not as restrictive as the federal circuit case it reviewed which is linked), while affirming that software patents could still be obtained). After Alice, 82% of business method patent applications were rejected.

* Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc. (2014) (unanimous) and Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Management Systems (2014) (unanimous) (the Federal Circuit had set too high a standard for the recovery of attorneys' fees for frivolous patent prosecutions)

* Medtronic v. Mirowski (2014) (unanimous) (burden of proof wrongly placed on someone other than the patent holder)

* Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics (2013) (unanimous) (invalidated patents on naturally occurring DNA sequences)

* Gunn v. Minton (2013) (unanimous) (overruling Federal Circuit precedents which had held that federal courts have broad jurisdiction over claims of malpractice in attorney malpractice cases where the underlying malpractice involved patent law, while reviewing a Texas Supreme Court ruling)

* Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. (2012) (unanimous) (district court's factual findings made clear that drug monitoring device patent merely restated a law of nature and was invalid)

* Caraco v. Novo (2012) (unanimous) (alleged infringers right to bring counterclaims expanded)

* Bowman v. Monsanto Co. (2012) (unanimous) (first sale doctrine does not invalidate ban on reproducing crops grown with patented GMO seeds)

* Kappos v. Hyatt (2012) (unanimous)(expanding ability of applicant denied a patent to challenge the denial with additional evidence)

* Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Ltd. Partnership (2011) (unanimous) (presumption of validity of patent continues to apply during patent re-examination process conducted by PTO).

* Stanford v. Roche (2011) (a case over who is entitled to a patent between two potential patent holders)

* Global-Tech v. SEB (2011) (8-1) (added knowledge of infringement element in claim for induced patent infringement)

* Bilski v. Kappos (2009) (unanimous to reverse, complicated holding as to extent of new law) (analysis to determine validity of business method patents tightened, dramatically narrowing their availability)

* Quanta Computer, Inc. v. LG Electronics, Inc. (2008) (unanimous) (disavows Federal Circuit doctrines allowing patent holders to limit use of patented device after a first sale)

* KSR v. Teleflex (2007) (unanimous) (tightened standard for obviousness in order to qualify for patent protection)

* MedImmune v. Genentech (2007) (8-1) (allows for contests of patent validity without risking liability by infringing patent prior to legal ruling on question)

* Microsoft v. AT&T (2007) (7-1) (U.S. patents laws don't have extraterritorial application; U.S. patent law doesn't apply to software copied abroad and not repatriated.)

* eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C. (2006) (unanimous) (sets higher standard for obtaining injunctions once infringement is established)

* Merck KGaA v. Integra Lifesciences I, Ltd. (2005) (unanimous) (exemption from patent infringement applies to use of patented drugs for narrow purposes of research associated with FDA drug approval process)

A Modest Proposal

Every gun owner should be registered in a selective service lottery. Every single time someone is killed as a result of the use of a gun in a crime, someone in that lottery should be selected at random and executed. 

Maybe if they personally bore the consequences, they'd realize that mass, largely unregulated civilian gun ownership is a horrible idea.

22 March 2021

Paper Consumption Trends

The digital revolution hasn't had much of an impact on paper consumption. It is rising in Asia (a lot), rising in Africa (where the total amount of paper consumed is tiny), and level or declining modestly elsewhere.

From here.

21 March 2021

COVID So Far In The U.S.

The U.S. population is about 330 million people.

About 542,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. (in a single year, making it a leading cause of death that didn't exist before and much worse that the flu). The deaths are at the high end of what I predicted a year ago in March. About 30 million people have tested positive for it (about 9%), but closer to 108 million have had it (about 32%), many of whom were asymptomatic or only mildly so, and not tested. (From here). 

And, about 84 million have received at least one dose of vaccine (some of whom overlap with those who have had it) which is 66.8% (two-thirds) of the priority population and 24.5% of the total population After a surge starting about that time, cases are at late October levels again and overall falling, and deaths are at early November levels and overall falling. Vaccinations is carefully targeted at those most at risk of death or serious cases not leading to death from COVID-19 so the proportion of cases resulting in deaths should fall as vaccination rates rise. (From here).

My best estimate is about 50% of Americans have some sort of immunity, either via a previous infection or a vaccination.

At current pace, we may have 90% partial vaccination rates by late July, and 90% full vaccination rates by August. (From here).

Basically, it took a year to come up with a vaccine (which is incredibly fast), and it will take about six months to have it very widely administered.

Whether the pandemic lasts after that depends largely on the infection and spread rates of new variants on people with old vaccines and previous infections with old strains, as well as on how fast booster shots for new strains can be developed and distributed.

18 March 2021

Mundane Policies That Make Sense

Debt Collection

* Impose sanctions on people trying to collect zombie debt and other unfair first party debt collection practices.

* Require assignments of debts to be disclosed as a matter of public record and to be disclosed to the debtor with a copy of fully executed assignment documentation.

* Establish a deadline for setting aside default judgments that does not begin until collection activities are commenced.

* Cap attorney fees to a percentage of the debt collected in debt collection actions, and to an additional flat amount in eviction and foreclosure cases.

* Require parties evicting someone from a residence to use reasonable care in removing personal property of the tenant or occupant from the premises and to put the property removed in a storage unit prepaid for at least two months.

* Repeal the holder in due course doctrine (which allows assignees of checks or promissory note used to pay for goods or services to be paid without regard to defenses present in the transaction that gave rise to the original debt that the check or promissory note paid for).

* Repeal the credit agreement statute of frauds.

* End the practice of using newspaper notices to give notice by publication of legal proceedings such a probate proceedings and real property actions.

* Prohibit fees for paying an overdraft or a charge exceeding a credit limit other than non-default interest.

* Prohibit late fees and default interest rates on debts.

Consumer Protection and Consumer Affairs

* Provide for civil forfeiture of all assets of companies that market via robocalls.

* Penalize telecommunications companies that fail to take adequate measures to stop robocalling firms, or to allow spoofing of caller numbers.

* Outlaw extended warranties, third-party product and home warranties, service contract, and credit monitoring firms that are not organized as non-profits or as mutual companies.

* Allow all privacy disclosures and all securities law disclosures to be made by providing a URL, rather than by delivering paper disclosures.

* Make PIN protection for credit card and debit card transactions the industry standard requirement.

Insolvency and Bankruptcy

* Require all publicly held companies and all companies with government contracts, to have adequate insurance in force and to be bonded with respect to all debts owed to trade creditors, employees, and consumers.

* Give trade creditors priority over general creditors in bankruptcy.

* End the priority for tax creditors in bankruptcy.

* Treat all late fees, all default rate interest, all exemplary or punitive damage awards, and all fines behind all priority and general creditors and all voluntarily subordinated debt in bankruptcy.

* Allow cram downs of residential mortgages and car loans in bankruptcy.

* Require Chapter 7 debtors to pay the maximum garnishment amount from the income as if it were all wage and salary income, at the maximum rate allowed for garnishments from wage and salary income, by law, for three years if the debts are not paid sooner.

Civil Gideon

* Provide a legal right to counsel at public expense in any litigation over parental rights and responsibilities, termination of parental rights, immigration and citizenship status, guardianship, civil commitment, and seeking or defending against protective orders.

* Provide a legal right to counsel at public expense in all residential evictions and foreclosures of owner occupied homes.

Health Care

* Provide for some form of universal access to health care through insurance and/or government programs.

* Require all health insurance companies to be operated on a non-profit basis or as mutual companies.

* Require all hospitals to be operated on a non-profit basis.

* Prohibit health care providers from collecting payments other than co-pays set forth on the face of a health insurance card from anyone who has any form of health insurance from anyone from a patient's health insurance company or the government program providing their healthcare.

* Prohibit health care providers at a single location from issuing separate invoices for health care services at that location.

Education Funding And Student Loans

* End property tax and sales tax financing of education and use state income taxes to finance it instead.

* Do not treat any funds borrowed for "for profit" educational institutions to be prohibited from being discharged in bankruptcy.

* Meet 100% of the need based cost of higher education for anyone who is academically qualified to pursue it and is in good standing, at a non-profit or government owned institution of higher education.


* Impose water taxes on the use of water by water rights owners, with a per household exemption for household use.

* Impose strict civil liability for providing unsafe drinking water to customers.

Energy, Environment, And Transportation

* Use airships to serve roadless areas and allowing areas to be returned to roadless status.

* Discontinue non-high speed AMTRAK service.

* Upgrade the Northeast Corridor to truly high speed rail.

* Impose an excise tax on new cars proportionate to their lifetime air pollution emissions.

* Discontinue the use of internal combustion engine personal motor vehicles in Hawaii.

* Impose odometer based taxes to full pay for roads and highways at the state and local level without a general fund subsidy.

* Increase gasoline and diesel taxes sufficiently to pay for roads and highways at the federal level without a general fund subsidy.

* Discontinue the use of coal fired power plants.

* Discontinue the use of heating oil.

* Discontinue the use of petroleum fuels electricity generation in Hawaii.

* Establish a permanent storage site for high level nuclear waste.

* Allow bicycles to be used on sidewalks and a developed system of care free bike paths, rather than on city streets.

* Provide carport style covers for street parking areas.

* Establish municipal snow removal from sidewalks.


* End excise taxes on alcohol.

* Reduce the drinking age to 18 years old.

* Decriminalize prostitution.

* Legalize marijuana.

* Legalize, in a regulated manner, psychedelic drugs. 

* Legalize harm reduction programs for substance abusers.