31 August 2021

Abolishing Colorado's State Income Tax Is A Horrible Idea

Democratic Governor Polis floated an idea on Monday to abolish Colorado's state income tax, as nine other states have done. This is a horrible idea which almost all Democrats in the Colorado General Assembly, where they hold a majority in the state house and state senate, oppose.

Here are some basic background facts.

Colorado imposes a 4.55% flat tax rate on personal and corporate federal taxable income (including capital gains, qualified dividend income, and other investment and self-employment income) with some minor modifications and some additional tax credits. The instructions for Form 104, the Colorado equivalent to IRS Form 1040, disclose the status quo in terms of revenues, expenditures and income incidents by type of tax (as of 2017 due to a data gathering lag):

Unlike the federal government, Colorado must have a balanced budget each year and is limited in its legally authorized ability to incur debt. Any drop in revenue means a dollar for dollar drop in state government spending. Higher education usually bears the deepest brunt of cuts, but state spending cuts can effect almost everything. 

Colorado's state constitution also requires popular referendums on all tax increases and all significant revenue increases that are not refunded to taxpayers (called TABOR for the taxpayer bill of rights), imposes a minimum level of state K-12 education spending, and has a number of other quirks, although the Gallagher Amendment (which imposes differential property tax assessment rates on residential and non-residential real estate with significant state level impacts as well) was significantly reformed by a 2020 ballot measure. Federal Medicaid mandates and other federal programs and state and federal constitutional mandates impose additional involuntary spending requirements on state government. 

Every alternative form of revenue to replace a state income tax is more regressive, i.e. it disproportionately favors people with higher incomes. Alternatives like funding schools with property taxes (which Colorado does partially now) also create regional disparities in school funding that violate the state constitution.

The standard deduction means that single people with incomes of less than $12,550, heads of households with incomes of less than $18,800, and married couples with incomes of less than $25,100 a year pay zero state income tax. In many cases, additional above the line and itemized deductions, and tax credits further reduce their state income tax burden. State income taxation only begins above this threshold. So, for example, a married couple with a $30,000 adjusted gross income that takes the standard deduction and receives no state tax credits would pay $223 in state income tax for the year.

Colorado's state sales tax rate is 2.9%. Local sales taxes from multiple levels of local government range from 0% to 8.3% and averages 4.6%, for a combined sales tax rate, on average, of 7.5%. The sales subject to sales tax are not exactly identical between state and local sales taxes, but they are very similar.

Colorado's state government (excluding local government) gets 70.6% of its tax revenues from income taxes, 18.9% from regular sales and use taxes, and 10.5% from other taxes such as gas taxes, alcohol taxes, tobacco taxes and car registration fees.

In Colorado, 36.7% of all state and local tax revenues come from the state income tax, 32.1% from property taxes, 25.0% from regular sales and use taxes, and 6.2% from other taxes such as gas taxes, alcohol taxes, tobacco taxes, car registration fees, and occupational licensing fees.

Each one percentage point of state sale tax rates generates 6.4% of the state's tax revenues.

Each one percentage point of state income taxes generates 15.2% of the state's tax revenues.

A 2.375% state sales tax rate generates the same income as a 1% state income tax rate.

To replace Colorado's state income tax on a revenue neutral basis with a state sales tax would require a state sales tax rate of 13.7% in addition to an average 4.6% local sales tax rate, would result in a combined sales tax rate of 18.3%. The top combined state and local sales tax rate would be 22%.

Conversely, Colorado could abolish its state sales tax entirely by increasing its state income tax rate to 5.77%. This would reduce the average combined local sales tax in Colorado from 7.5% to 4.6%.

Sales taxes in Colorado, and in most states, exempt rent, real estate purchases, groceries, and services like medical care charges. Most non-U.S. value added taxes have a much broader tax base that includes these things, but still effectively exempts unearned income from taxation.

Many states without a state income tax impose a back door tax on business income with no deduction for wages paid, which is effectively a 0% tax rate for investment income and a similar tax rate, imposed indirectly, on business income and wage and salary income. 

States without a state income tax are also sometimes supported by natural resource taxes (like Alaska), taxes on gambling (Nevada), or state property taxes. Colorado has no dominant driver of the economy that can be taxed in this manner, but could impose state property taxes in lieu of state income taxes. Property taxes would have to increase by 215% across the board if state property taxes replaced state income taxes.

States with no state income tax tend to have the most regressive tax systems overall (the chart is as of 2017; Colorado is the second from the right yellow bar in the chart the the most rightward yellow bar being Utah, Alaska is the further right blue bar, the other blue bar is New Hampshire; the green bars are Montana, Oregon and Delaware).

Hispanic Populations No Longer Have Excessive Incarceration Or Crime Rates

Hispanic distrust of police officers has also fallen.
Parallel changes appear in who the criminal justice system employs. From 1997 to 2016, the proportion of police officers who were African-American was stable, whereas the proportion who were Hispanic increased 61%. This helps explain why a June 2021 Gallup poll found that the proportion of Hispanics expressing “a lot” or “a great deal” of trust in police was 49%, almost as high as whites (56%), and far greater than that of African-Americans (27%). Hispanic views on policing and crime may also be similar to whites because the two groups rate of being violent crime victims is almost identical (21.3 per thousand persons for Hispanics, 21.0 for whites).

All via Marginal Revolution

Hispanics are slightly less likely to be jailed than whites…

A Council on Criminal Justice analysis found that in 2000, the rate of being on probation was 1.6 times higher and the rate of being parole was 3.6 times higher for Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites. But by 2016, the probation disparity had disappeared and the parole disparity had shrunk by 85%. Hispanics still faced a 60% higher risk of being incarcerated in a state prison. This is an enormous and worrying disparity, but the Council noted that it decreased by 60% since 2000…

The dwindling of Hispanic-white disparities is even more remarkable in light of criminal behavior being so heavily concentrated in adolescence and young adulthood. The median age for Hispanics is 29.8 years versus 43.7 for whites, meaning even in a system free of prejudice that punished solely on the basis of crimes committed, we would expect criminal justice disparities between the populations to be growing, not shrinking.

From an earlier post at the same blog

The most plausible explanation for Hispanics is assimilation, much like the Irish and Italian immigrants that preceded them. 

A good tracker for the extent of assimilation (which is also high among most Asian American populations) is the rate of out marriage for members of an ethnic group, which approaches 50% for Hispanic and Asian American women in the U.S. and rises from first, to one point five, to second, and so on generations.

Selective deportation of immigrants who have committed crimes has also probably had an impact, both by removing criminals from the community, and by providing a stronger deterrent than for native born individuals weighing the costs and benefits of crime.

26 August 2021

Cultural Trends In Twenty-First Century Life

This are a few cultural trends in the 21st century.

Beyond American Media

When I was in high school, one of the very specific things that I wished I had was an ability to access popular culture, news and scholarly works from other countries.

I was a couple of decades ahead of my time, and I assumed at the time that it would probably be impossible, but here we are.

I now routinely listen to music in Japanese, Korean, Tamil, Telugu, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin and Hebrew. This is mostly due to Spotify and SiriusXM. 

I watch TV shows and movies from Japan, Korea, Turkey, Mexico, Russia, France, Canada, England, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Germany, China, Taiwan, South Africa, and Sweden. This is mostly due to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Crunchyroll, but also before that due to independent art house movie theaters.

I read comics from Korea, Japan, Turkey, Canada, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Spain, and France. Mostly, this is due to Webtoons and Top Webcomics, although free scanlations on the Internet (which are harder to find these days after a crackdown) and library collections hooked me on manga and manhwa  ( 만화) and graphic novels.

I read cutting edge scientific journal articles from France, Mexico, Israel, China, Russia, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Polynesia, Australia, Ukraine, Turkey, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, and sometimes many of the above and more in a single publication. I read many of those articles within hours or days of their release. Mostly this is due to arXiv, bioRxiv, PLOS, Science Daily and science blogs. SSRN and blogs provide similar access to legal and social science journal articles.

I read news accounts from most countries in the world. I refer to legal codes and digest from around the world with some regularity, partially for work and partially for hobbies. In both cases, comparative and international law and politics study I did in college and law school has provided a firm foundation.

The novels I read are less cosmopolitan, but there have certainly been translated international titles as part of the mix (a mix that is also now about fifty percent electronic).

It isn't free, but it is far less expensive than I expected.

Societal Norms, Practices And World Views


The United States is in the most exciting part of the logistic curve of secularization, one that I am a part of, having been raised Lutheran, and having experimented with other mainline Christian churches as a young adult (I was actually an Episcopalian Sunday school teacher for a year in college) despite really losing true belief in God around age fifteen or so. The more time I spend away from it, the more absurd it all seems. And, globalization, especially in media from East Asia, has helped that transition by familiarizing me with societies where Christianity is marginal rather than central, and by providing constant reminders that the world is not uniform religiously, with undermines the worldview of a single monotheistic God that is the same for everyone.

In the 2020 election, fully 45% of Biden voters and 20% of Trump voters were not Christian. Most were non-religious, although not necessarily atheist or agnostic in self-identification, although there are significant numbers of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, adherents of Eastern Religions, neopagans, and spiritual people who don't adhere to an organized religion.

Neither of my children were raised religious or baptized, although they had some exposure to Christianity through grandparents and an occasional funeral, and probably equally as much exposure to Jewish religious services through Jewish friends of the family. They've also each had religious close friends and significant others, one Mormon, one Muslim, some Catholic, and some Orthodox Christian and Jewish. When I was growing up, that would have been unthinkable. Now, it is a typical experience for their generation.

The residual Christianity has grown more conservative and more political, but the association of Christianity with homophobia, with racism, with mistreatment of the poor, with misogyny, with child molestation, with support for rape and domestic violence, and with clergy greed and excess has undermined much of Christianity's moral authority. 

Also, in the last several years this trend has stalled, with non-religious ranks stable and mainline Christianity growing a little at the expense of white Evangelical Christianity. So, it isn't clear is this is just a short term pause, or the beginning of a new trend.

Gay Rights

In high school, I was only vaguely aware that homosexuality existed and had never met anyone who was at a personal level (and never knew that transgender or bisexual or other gender atypical people existed at all). 

This changed dramatically when I went to a college that was a safe haven for LGBT+ folks. My children have had many gay friends (some quite close) and known many LGBT+ adults growing up from a violin teacher of many years to elected officials in Denver to parents of their friends to my clients. 

The legalization of same sex marriage has become the law of the land. I wouldn't have guessed that this would happened by now in my wildest dreams while I was in high school, or even college.

Dating, Polygamy and Marriage

Dating and finding spouses has increasingly become driven by online matchmaking.

Consent is taken more seriously in dating type relationships, and even within marriage (with marital rape widely criminalized), than it used to be, because the "sexual revolution" was seen as having gone too far.

Polygamy (both Muslim and heterodox Mormon, and in my case, some clients of mine who were neither) and polyamory, are familiar concepts now, whose legalization is being vetted. 

Laws against fornication and adultery and unmarried cohabitation are largely gone (outside the U.S. military justice system), effectively decriminalizing these relationships.

In part, this is because, serial monogamy generating children from multiple successive marriages and non-marital relationships has created a de facto sort of polygamy, as it has become normative for both parents to remain involved in the lives of their children even after their parents are no longer together, entwined through parenting time exchanges, child support and sometimes alimony. 

"No fault" divorce certainly helped to facilitate this, but mostly it has been driven by economics as I've discussed many times elsewhere, with the upper middle class living traditional monogamous married life with shared children born into stable marriages, the the working class increasingly having children out of wedlock, not just as teens (indeed teen marriage and child bearing are at all time lows), marrying after having kids more often than before, and having short lived marriages with most marriages not enduring until the couple's children are adults.


Pornography is ubiquitous, easily available for free on the Internet, and more hard core than it used to be (except child pornography) and the impact has been not what was expected. Rape is less common despite more reporting and more expensive definitions of it. And, in general, people who consume it have not been more depraved.


The U.S. remains an outlier in criminalizing prostitution almost everywhere but a few counties in Nevada (and even there it is a crime for members of the U.S. military and a firing offense for federal employees and contractors), but the anti-prostitution efforts have focused on "human trafficking", while "sugar baby" relationships have received grudging acceptance.

Birth Control

Hormonal birth control pills were invented about a decade before I was born and both hormonal birth control and IUDs have become ubiquitous and the norm rather than the exception. Unwanted pregnancies are now vastly more rare than they used to be. Opposition even to birth control is another factor that has undermined the authority of conservative Christianity and sent people away from the faith entirely.


Abortion was legalized when I was a preschooler and has remained legal despite concerted conservative religious attempts to ban it, but wider use of birth control and better prospects for young women have reduced pregnancy rates in young people to record lows, and the proportion of pregnancies ending in abortions has fallen proportionately to all time post-Roe v. Wade lows. Abortion clinics have faced pressure to close in conservative areas and violence, but over the counter emergency contraception for the first few days after sex without birth control, and the RU-486 abortion pill for early term abortions has reduced the need for clinics in some of the highest demand portions of pregnancy. Deaths from illegal abortions have basically ceased. A conservative U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to overrule or narrow Roe v. Wade

Drugs and Criminal Justice

The shadow legalization of marijuana is another thing that would have been unthinkable and radical when I was in high school that is now common place and mainstream and will probably have the last federal government restrictions stripped soon despite our President's history as a leading proponent of the war on drugs. 

The war on drugs has now deescalated in the United States with most of the most draconian drug crime penalties relaxed, and some of the most notorious sentences reduced with commutations and legislative amnesties or sentence reductions for those incarcerated already (although many unlikely people are still serving those draconian sentences today).  But, the U.S. has refrained from moving towards all out decriminalization as Portugal has done very successfully.

But, the war on drugs continues to ravage much of Central America and Mexico, undermining their criminal justice systems and producing the world's highest murder rates in places not in the midst of actual wars. Much of that violence is being fueled with guns illegally imported from the United States.

The death penalty remains, but more states have abolished it and it is being used less often. The courts and the commutation process have thinned death rows considerably, and innocent projects have used DNA evidence and other techniques to cast doubt on a fair minority of sentences.

Did Free Ideas Fuel Germany's Economic Revolution

There is a long standing hypothesis, contrary to the intellectual foundations of intellectual property law, that weak or non-existent intellectual property laws are better for economic development and economic growth, than strong intellectual property laws.  Early 19th century German history tends to support that hypothesis.

A German economic historian makes a strong case that Germany's lack of effective copyright laws in the 19th century was critical to Germany's industrial expansion in that time period.
No Copyright Law 
The Real Reason for Germany's Industrial Expansion?

Did Germany experience rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due to an absence of copyright law? A German historian argues that the massive proliferation of books, and thus knowledge, laid the foundation for the country's industrial might.


The entire country seemed to be obsessed with reading. The sudden passion for books struck even booksellers as strange and in 1836 led literary critic Wolfgang Menzel to declare Germans "a people of poets and thinkers."

"That famous phrase is completely misconstrued," declares economic historian Eckhard Höffner, 44. "It refers not to literary greats such as Goethe and Schiller," he explains, "but to the fact that an incomparable mass of reading material was being produced in Germany."

Höffner has researched that early heyday of printed material in Germany and reached a surprising conclusion -- unlike neighboring England and France, Germany experienced an unparalleled explosion of knowledge in the 19th century.

German authors during this period wrote ceaselessly. Around 14,000 new publications appeared in a single year in 1843. Measured against population numbers at the time, this reaches nearly today's level. And although novels were published as well, the majority of the works were academic papers.

The situation in England was very different. "For the period of the Enlightenment and bourgeois emancipation, we see deplorable progress in Great Britain," Höffner states.

Equally Developed Industrial Nation

Indeed, only 1,000 new works appeared annually in England at that time -- 10 times fewer than in Germany -- and this was not without consequences. Höffner believes it was the chronically weak book market that caused England, the colonial power, to fritter away its head start within the span of a century, while the underdeveloped agrarian state of Germany caught up rapidly, becoming an equally developed industrial nation by 1900.

Germany, on the other hand, didn't bother with the concept of copyright for a long time. Prussia, then by far Germany's biggest state, introduced a copyright law in 1837, but Germany's continued division into small states meant that it was hardly possible to enforce the law throughout the empire.

Höffner's diligent research is the first academic work to examine the effects of the copyright over a comparatively long period of time and based on a direct comparison between two countries, and his findings have caused a stir among academics. Until now, copyright was seen as a great achievement and a guarantee for a flourishing book market. Authors are only motivated to write, runs the conventional belief, if they know their rights will be protected.

Yet a historical comparison, at least, reaches a different conclusion. Publishers in England exploited their monopoly shamelessly. New discoveries were generally published in limited editions of at most 750 copies and sold at a price that often exceeded the weekly salary of an educated worker.

London's most prominent publishers made very good money with this system, some driving around the city in gilt carriages. Their customers were the wealthy and the nobility, and their books regarded as pure luxury goods. In the few libraries that did exist, the valuable volumes were chained to the shelves to protect them from potential thieves.

In Germany during the same period, publishers had plagiarizers -- who could reprint each new publication and sell it cheaply without fear of punishment -- breathing down their necks. Successful publishers were the ones who took a sophisticated approach in reaction to these copycats and devised a form of publication still common today, issuing fancy editions for their wealthy customers and low-priced paperbacks for the masses.

A Multitude of Treatises

This created a book market very different from the one found in England. Bestsellers and academic works were introduced to the German public in large numbers and at extremely low prices. "So many thousands of people in the most hidden corners of Germany, who could not have thought of buying books due to the expensive prices, have put together, little by little, a small library of reprints," the historian Heinrich Bensen wrote enthusiastically at the time.

The prospect of a wide readership motivated scientists in particular to publish the results of their research. In Höffner's analysis, "a completely new form of imparting knowledge established itself."

Essentially the only method for disseminating new knowledge that people of that period had known was verbal instruction from a master or scholar at a university. Now, suddenly, a multitude of high-level treatises circulated throughout the country.

The "Literature Newspaper" reported in 1826 that "the majority of works concern natural objects of all types and especially the practical application of nature studies in medicine, industry, agriculture, etc." Scholars in Germany churned out tracts and handbooks on topics such as chemistry, mechanics, engineering, optics and the production of steel.

In England during the same period, an elite circle indulged in a classical educational canon centered more on literature, philosophy, theology, languages and historiography. Practical instruction manuals of the type being mass-produced in Germany, on topics from constructing dikes to planting grain, were for the most part lacking in England. "In Great Britain, people were dependent on the medieval method of hearsay for the dissemination of this useful, modern knowledge," Höffner explains.

The German proliferation of knowledge created a curious situation that hardly anyone is likely to have noticed at the time. Sigismund Hermbstädt, for example, a chemistry and pharmacy professor in Berlin, who has long since disappeared into the oblivion of history, earned more royalties for his "Principles of Leather Tanning" published in 1806 than British author Mary Shelley did for her horror novel "Frankenstein," which is still famous today.

'Lively Scholarly Discourse'

The trade in technical literature was so strong that publishers constantly worried about having a large enough supply, and this situation gave even the less talented scientific authors a good bargaining position in relation to publishers. Many professors supplemented their salaries with substantial additional income from the publication of handbooks and informational brochures.

Höffner explains that this "lively scholarly discourse" laid the basis for the Gründerzeit, or foundation period, the term used to describe the rapid industrial expansion in Germany in the late 19th century. The period produced later industrial magnates such as Alfred Krupp and Werner von Siemens.

The market for scientific literature didn't collapse even as copyright law gradually became established in Germany in the 1840s. German publishers did, however, react to the new situation in a restrictive way reminiscent of their British colleagues, cranking up prices and doing away with the low-price market.

Authors, now guaranteed the rights to their own works, were often annoyed by this development. Heinrich Heine, for example, wrote to his publisher Julius Campe on October 24, 1854, in a rather acerbic mood: "Due to the tremendously high prices you have established, I will hardly see a second edition of the book anytime soon. But you must set lower prices, dear Campe, for otherwise I really don't see why I was so lenient with my material interests."

How Rich Are The 1% By Country

The top 1% of wealth varies a lot from country to country. It is $8 million in Monaco, but only $400,000 in Russia.

Also, keep in mind that the chart above is only showing the top twenty countries in the list of thirty countries studied.
The entry point for Monaco’s richest 1% is almost 400 times greater than in Kenya, the lowest ranked of 30 locations in Knight Frank’s study.

So, in Kenya, you are in the richest 1% at about $20,000 of net worth. 

It occurs to me that it would be fruitful to normalize this to per capita GDP in order to measure income concentration.

Japan at $1,500,000, with a high per capita GDP, for example, looks pretty egalitarian, while Singapore, at $2,900,000, with a fairly comparable per capital GDP looks very unequal.

The United Arab Emirates at $1,300,000 is considerably less than I would have expected. China, at $850,000 is pretty high for a country that is nominally still Communist.

The very rich (defined as $30 million or more of net worth) are concentrated in a small number of countries:

24 August 2021

U.S. Youth Suicide, Homicide, And Drug Overdose Death Trendlines By Gender And Race

U.S. Youth Suicide And Homicide Rates By Gender, Race And Ethnicity
Suicide rates for black kids are way up. The Journal of the American Medical Association notes that for both male and female youth aged 15 to 24 years, suicide rates were higher among:

* American Indian or Alaskan Native youth (eg, 2019 rate among female youth: 23.0 per 100 000 individuals)

* White youth (6.1 per 100 000 individuals)

* Asian or Pacific Islander youth (5.1 per 100 000 individuals)

* Hispanic youth (4.4 per 100 000 individuals) for all years

* Black youth (4.3 per 100 000 individuals)

* The suicide rate increased for Black male youth in this age group by 47%, from 12.2 per 100 000 individuals in 2013 to 17.9 per 100 000 individuals in 2019.

* The suicide rate increased for Asian or Pacific Islander male youth in this age group by 40%, from 12.0 per 100 000 individuals in 2013 to 16.8 per 100 000 individuals in 2019.

At some point not so long ago, suicide rates for black youths are still on the low side, relatively speaking, despite growing significantly. But relatively low rates of death from suicide are offset by very high rates of homicide deaths for black youths. 

Not broken down by race, the trends for homicide, suicide and firearm related teen deaths are as follows:

From here

Overall youth homicide rates hit a record low in 2014 and rose 32% over the next four years. Overall youth suicide rates hit a low in about 2007 and have increased 76% since then.

Broken down by race and gender the numbers for homicide and suicide deaths per 100,000 teens from 1994 to 2017 (from the same source) are as follows:

Combined suicide and homicide teen deaths are down for all races and ethnicities except non-Hispanic whites and American Indian teen boys. 

In the case of American Indian teens, the total numbers going into the rate calculations are too small to be statistically meaningful (i.e. they are basically statistical flukes). The 61% decline in homicides, 11% decline in suicides, and 32% decline in combined suicides and homicides, from 1994 to 2017 resulting from pooling the statistics from American Indian teen boys and girls to get a more statistically meaningful sample sizes is a more meaningful number for the rate of change over time.

But, the numbers for non-Hispanic white suicides are not a fluke. 

Hispanic teens are now comparable to Non-Hispanic white teens in combined suicides plus homicides, with fewer suicides compensating for more homicides. This probably reflects greater assimilation following an extended period of time of stalled Hispanic immigration to the U.S.

Even today, homicide deaths greatly disproportionately impact black teens relative to other teens, whose suicide rates, while surging, are still lower than average. But, the overall death rate from trauma and other preventable causes of death for black youths is down. 

Are Drug Overdose Deaths Related?

My intuition is that there is strong geographic population structure hiding in the non-Hispanic white homicide and suicide numbers, that mirrors trends in drug overdoes deaths. The number of drug overdose deaths for the U.S. as a whole has surged in the last twenty years, especially in the time period that has been marked by the sharpest increases in suicide rates:
It would be interesting to compare accidental drug overdose deaths in these time periods for the same age groups by race and ethnicity. The surging drug overdose death problem in the U.S. is certainly not limited to adults. The data over time by gender and race and ethnicity for children in the U.S. is as follows:

These disparities mirror those in suicide rates by race and gender, which makes sense because the classification of a drug overdoes death as accidental or as a suicide by poisoning is often as much a question of the mood affiliation of the person classifying the cause of death as it is something that can be determined scientifically.

By race and ethnicity without controlling for age over the last twenty years the data are as follows (from top to bottom on the right hand side the line are non-Hispanic white, black, Hispanic, and other): 

Total drug overdose death rates by state are as follows (from the same source):
Non-Hispanic whites in Appalachia have particularly high drug overdose death rates.

The map for overdose death rates for non-Hispanic whites by state is as follows (data not available from the District of Columbia due to sample size issues):

Within these states, rural and suburban non-Hispanic whites are disproportionately affected.

Drug overdose rates for non-Hispanic blacks by state:

Non-Hispanic blacks in the Rust Belt are much more at risk of deaths from drug overdoses than those in the South.

Drug overdose death rates for Hispanics by state:

Is There A Homicide-Suicide Substitution Effect?

There is a superficially plausible argument that across the board, some significant portion of homicide deaths, are really "suicide by murderer" cases of people who would otherwise have killed themselves seeing taking high risks as an easier way out. Similarly, it is plausible that a significant share of accidental drug overdoses are basically "statistical suicides".

But, the trouble with a substitution "suicide by murderer" hypothesis is that homicide rates and suicide rates have tended to move in the same general direction. The rise in suicide rates now parallels a rise in homicide rates after hitting an all time low a few years ago.

Does Access To Firearms Explain The Racial Disparity In Suicide Rates?

Another plausible explanation for racial disparity in suicide rates could be differing rates of household gun ownership, which a 2017 Pew study documents:

Data from 2019 in the U.S. regarding the means by which teenagers commit suicide show that firearms are the leading methods of suicide among U.S. teens, especially teenage boys, which much more likely to commit suicide than teenage girls.

The fact that racial disparities in suicide rates are lower for teen girls, who are less likely to use firearms to commit suicide, and greater for teen boys, who are more likely to do so, again, suggests that firearms access may be an important driver of the racial disparities.

Studies looking at the impact of "means reduction", through new gun control laws, on suicide rates also supports the conclusion that access to firearms in a household may be an important factor in differences in teen suicide rates. 

21 August 2021

Shells, Grenades, Rockets, Missiles and Bombs

This post compares the characteristic of heavy machine gun bullet, and grenade launching cannon, tank, mortar, howitzer, and naval gun shells which are still in use, unguided rockets which are still used, the smallest commonly used bombs in the U.S. arsenal, and a variety of missiles and torpedos in use today. 

The primary purpose of this comparison is to put unguided direct and indirect fire guns and artillery shells in the context of other kinds of weapons, in order to evaluate the pros and cons of replacing them.

Unguided shells and rockets are much cheaper than guided weapons system, mostly because the guidance systems are expensive. But it takes far fewer guided weapons than unguided weapons to destroy a specific target, especially at longer ranges.

Launch systems for rockets, missiles and mortars are typically much smaller and lighter than direct fire main tank gun systems, and indirect fire howitzers and naval guns.

The weight of different kinds of munitions is partially a function of propellant weight in addition to warhead weight. But, this still provides some sense of the relative destructive power of different munitions against reinforced or armored targets. Additional information is provided on a selective basis.

Machine Gun Rounds, Grenades and Cannon Shells

NATO 12.7mmx99mm machine gun round (0.1 pounds) Used in 0.50 caliber machine guns.

M61 Vulcan 20mm round (0.2 pounds) Used on F-4 fighter aircraft

GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon shell (0.8 pounds) Used on A-10 ground attack fighter aircraft.

NATO 40mmx53mm (also here) automatic grenade launcher shell (0.8 pounds). Range up to 1.4 miles. 230-300 feet minimum range. 13-16 foot blast radius. Used in automatic grenade launchers mounted on tripods, vehicles or helicopters, such as the Mk 19 grenade launcher, the Mk 47 “Striker” 40mm Grenade Machine Guns (GMGs), the Heckler & Koch GMG or the South African Vektor Y3 AGL.

Rockets and Recoilless Rifle (a.k.a. Bazooka) Rounds

50mm-66mm M72 LAW (4 pounds)

Hydra 70mm rocket (14 pounds) Each rocket costs $2800.

Artillery And Tank Shells

81mm L16/M252 mortar shell (10 pounds) mortar launcher is 78 pounds. 3.5 mile range (1956).

90mm CN90 F4 light tank round (23 pounds) Used in Panhard ERC light wheeled tank.

105mm U.S. M101 HE howitzer shell (42 pounds) The 105mm (about 4") has a 33 pound shell, weighs two tons, and has a range well under 7 miles, with less accuracy than the 155mm model. 

107mm M30 mortar shell (12-22 pounds).

120mm mortar shell (29 pounds) 4 pound warhead; 5 mile range.

127 mm (5") Mk 45 U.S. naval artillery gun (70 pounds). This is standard on U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers, Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, and was used on decommissioned California-class cruisers, Kidd-class destroyers, Spruance-class destroyers, Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships (later removed), and Virginia-class cruisers.

155mm M795 U.S. high explosive howitzer shell (103 pounds) The 155mm (about 6") M777 howitzer, used by the U.S. Marines, has a 90 pound shell, weighs four tons, and has a range of 12 miles with conventional shells and 24 miles with guided shells (Excalibur) which are more accurate as well. Existing Paladin M109 mobile howitzers used by the U.S. Army has a range of about 30 kilometers (18 miles); the design requirement for the existing systems was a target zone of 180 feet radius to about 900 feet depending upon range and other factor; it weighs 27.5 tons (and thus can't be carried in a C-130) and has a maximum speed of 35 mph. The Crusader mobile howitzer, which was cancelled, was going to cost on the order of $24 million or more per one howitzer vehicle. A standard 155mm howitzer shell costs about $1,500 per round

Small Missiles

Bofors RB56 anti-tank missile (23 pounds)

BAE Systems Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) (32 pounds). A laser guidance kit that converts dumb rockets into precision-guided munitions that fits between the standard rocket motor and the standard warhead of a 2.75-inch-diameter (70-mm) Hydra 70 unguided rocket.  All four guidance wings of the rocket are equipped with Distributed Aperture Semi-Active Laser Seeker (DASALS) technology sensors. Once fired, the wings deploy, and the optics lock-in, guiding the missile to the target with pinpoint accuracy. Used with a wide variety of fixed- and rotor-winged aircraft and ground platforms. The APKWS requires no modifications of the Hydra 70 rocket to be installed, nor does the aircraft carrying it need to be altered. The current APKWS design has a range of 3.11 miles when it’s launched from a rotary-wing platform and 6.8 miles from a fixed-wing aircraft.  Each conversion kit costs $22,000 in addition to $2,800 for the rocket.

Stinger missiles (34 pounds) 6.6 pound warhead. It has a range of 2.4 to 3 miles depending on the altitude of the target (the longer range is for higher altitude targets) and travels at a peak speed of Mach 2.54.  Each missile costs $38,000. 

Chinese HJ-12 anti-tank missile (37 pounds).

BGM-71 TOW missile (42 pounds)

Israeli Spike missile (75 pounds) (1981)

Chinese HJ-10 missile (94-95 pounds) 6 mile range

Brimstone anti-tank missile (110 pounds) initial version having a 7.5 mile range from a helicopter and 12 mile range from a fixed wing aircraft. Version II has a 24 mile range from a helicopter and a 36 mile range from a fixed wing aircraft.

Small Bombs

GBU-44/B Viper Strike (42 pounds) guided bomb.

GBU-39 small diameter bomb (250 pounds) guided bomb.

GBU-12 Paveway II (500 pounds) guided bomb. 99 deliveries of guided munitions will yield a circular error probable (CEP) of only 3.6 feet, versus a CEP of 310 feet for 99 unguided bombs dropped under similar conditions. Each bomb costs $21,896. 


Mk 46 torpedo (506 pounds)

324mm Mk 54 torpedo (750 pounds) warhead 100 pounds. Each torpedo costs $1 million.

Larger Missiles

U.S. Army Standard MLRS artillery missile (560-675 pounds). ranges from 20 to 103 miles; warheads up to about 200 pounds. One MLRS system can fit on a C-130 transport plane and carries 6 rockets and has little armor protection (a HIMARS truck). The other M270 MLRS system at 25 tons carries twelve rockets and is built on the armored platform of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which is too big for a C-130 transport, but two of which can fit on the larger C-17 transport plane. The smaller model MLRS system costs about $5 million for the launcher. The range of an MLRS rocket is about 60 kilometers, at which range it has an accuracy of 10-20 feet carrying 200 pounds of high explosives, comparable in accuracy to that of a "smart bomb" dropped by aircraft. Each rocket costs $30,000.

Raytheon Naval Strike Missile (900 pounds) (also here) 276 pound warhead. 115 mile range. Used in U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ships, in Constellation-class frigates, and also in Remotely Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary (ROGUE) Fires, an unmanned missile launcher built on a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) chassis with a Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) launcher. Also used by frigates and corvettes and missile boats by Norway, Malaysia and Poland. A fighter aircraft deployed version called the "Joint Strike Missile" also to be used in Norway's submarines is planned. Each missile costs $2,194,000.

Harpoon anti-ship missile (1,523 pounds) 488 pound warhead, has a 170 mile range which it traverses at 537 miles per hour skimming over the sea. Each missile costs $1.41 million.

SLAM surface to surface missile (1,598 pounds) 800 pound warhead, range 170 miles at 531 miles per hour. Each missile costs $3.03 million. 

Tomahawk surface to surface missile (2,900-3,500 pounds) 1,000 pound warhead (or a nuclear warhead), and has an 810 mile range which it traverses at 550 miles per hour traveling 98-164 feet above the ground. Each missile costs $1.54 million.

MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile (ATacMS) (3,890 pounds).

LGM-30 Minuteman III Nuclear Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) (65,000 to 75,432 pounds) 400-600 pound warhead with 1,045,000,000 pound of TNT yield equivalent. 8,000 mile range. Mach 23 maximum speed. (1970). Each missile costs $20,000,000 (in 2019 dollars).

Large Bombs

BLU-109 (1,927 pounds) unguided bomb designed to be a "bunker buster" (1985).

GBU-27 Paveway III (2,000 pounds) laser guided bomb. First used in combat in 1991 (modified from BLU-109). Each bomb costs $55,600.

BLU-82 (15,000 pounds) unguided "Daisy Cutter" bomb. Retired in 2008 to be replaced by MOAB. Delivered from either a C-130 or MC-130 transport aircraft or a CH-54 heavy-lift "SkyCrane". Used by U.S. military in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

GBU-43/B MOAB (21,600 pounds) Deployed by C-130. Entered service in 2003. First used in combat in 2017 in the 13 April 2017 airstrike against an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIS) tunnel complex in Achin District, Afghanistan. Each bomb costs $170,000.

A Howitzer Substitute Missile?

One idea worth considering would be a missile designed to replace conventional howitzers with more accuracy, similar range, similar explosive punch, a smaller delivery system, a lower cost per missile than the existing MLRS system and for the delivery system.

So, we'd be talking about a missile with about a third or less of the range of an existing MLRS system missile, and a 33-90 pound warhead as opposed to a 200 pound warhead, with essentially the same guidance system. Perhaps it would use a launcher similar to the HIMARs system (at a cost of about $5 million) but would have a 12-24 missile capacity, rather than a six missile capacity.

Afghanistan Reflections

* The Taliban seized control of almost the entire territory of Afghanistan, including Kabul, its capitol, rapidly as U.S. forces withdrew. Some of this may have been symbolic and due to the collapse of morale it caused. But, a few thousand well disciplined and trained U.S. military personnel, mostly in training and support roles, and providing reconnaissance and close air support for Afghan National Army troops (in theory, numbering about 100,000 and greatly outnumber the Taliban forces who took greater casualties, were less well trained and were less well equipped), were also a tipping point. 

* It is beyond any reasonable doubt that the U.S. did a dismally bad job of ending the operation in Afghanistan. It failed to get its own people, other friendly foreigners, and its Afghan allies out of the country in good order. It didn't manage to deny the Taliban access to its advanced weapons and equipment. Its abrupt departure that was ill-coordinated with Afghan National Army forces was deeply disheartening to them and contributed to their utter collapse as U.S. forces left, rather than leaving them in the strongest possible position, despite months and years of advanced notice that this was in the works. The U.S. departure may have been a bipartisan political necessity, but it didn't have to end in an ugly rout.

* The very small initial force in Afghanistan in 2001 with heavy air support was extremely successful at turning the tide of an ongoing civil war then.

* The close air support wasn't terribly advanced. B-52s aren't all that different from their 1950s version. The AC-130, is a short haul cargo plane with a big artillery piece hanging out the side. The A-10 is a Vietnam era, subsonic, non-stealth aircraft. More modern armed drones and more modern fighter aircraft were involved too (even the B-1B bomber was pressed into service in close air support in what was largely a debacle), but weren't particularly pivotal. On the other hand, this was far superior to the nascent Afghan air force made up of a couple dozen or so glorified Cessna class general aviation aircraft, modified to fire missiles designed for helicopters or to drop smaller bombers.

* Despite the fact that this was predominantly a ground war, ambushes by light infantry were the main threat. There was some improved explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan, but not nearly as many as in more economic developed Iraq. The Taliban had few vehicles more advanced than pickup trucks and jeeps with heavy machine guns mounted on them. The Taliban had essentially no armored vehicles. The Taliban had essentially no modern missiles. The Taliban had no air force. The Taliban's most potent weapons were suicide bombers and truck bombs. (Afghanistan is landlocked, so, of course, neither side had any naval forces, although some U.S. Navy personnel served in the conflict.) The U.S. and its allies deployed few (if any) heavy tanks to the conflict.

* The Taliban survived two decades, after having ruled most of Afghanistan for five years and coming to the brink of running the entire country. They collapsed when U.S. forces arrived in 2001 because the Taliban had allowed a terrorist group the conducted the 9-11 attacks to operate there, but retreated to Northern Pakistan and regrouped. Pakistan cooperated with the U.S. enough to allow U.S. Special Forces to assassinate Osama bin Laden there during the Obama Administration, but did not cooperate enough to allow the U.S., Afghanistan, and its allies to take their fight against the Taliban to their new base of operations.

* The U.S. won battle after battle, but the U.S. means of fighting this war was very expensive and without sufficient nation building, created dependency rather than an Afghan National Army that could stand on its own feet. The number of troops involved was never huge and the casualties per year were modest for a civil war being actively fought, for the vast majority of the U.S. military presence. But the cost of the operation approached $300 million per day, it was the longest foreign military engagement in U.S. history (the "Indian Wars" on the U.S. frontier, collectively, lasted longer), and the U.S. eventually grew tired of it, allowing the Taliban to win the war of attrition which it fought at a higher cost in lives, but a vastly lower cost in treasure. The U.S. never managed to figure out how to conduct this "small war" on a more proportionate budget.

* The Afghan government was, as a matter of constitutional law, a government in which the supreme law of the land was Islamic law. Almost everyone in Afghanistan except the foreign troops are Muslim. Yes, the Taliban are Muslim too, but they were one Sunni Islamic faction fighting are Sunni Muslims.

* The Taliban were organized and obtained the money that made them possible in significant part from Saudi Arabian elites who don't fully support the ruling monarch's foreign policies. The notion that the U.S. was the primary driving force behind the Taliban, as claimed in some memes, is false, although the U.S. did support anti-Soviet insurgents (who were Muslim, like everyone in Afghanistan is) in Afghanistan back in the Reagan administration.

* Afghanistan has been almost continuously at war since the late 1970s. The last twenty years have been characterized by an ongoing Taliban insurgency, but it was not by any means the most violent or deadly period of ongoing civil war over the last forty plus years. But you have to go all of the way back to the 1970s to find a time when the future looked bright and people were at peace in this country.

* Forty years of wars and enduring wave after wave of refugees have left Afghanistan without the human capital it really needed to return to a functioning civic society. It is the most wretched and impoverished country outside of Africa as a result of the endless war.

* The Afghan warlords whose cause the U.S. took up against the Taliban in 2001 when they were on the verge of total defeat were no angels, although they were still probably better than the Taliban.

* The U.S. and its allies were not very successful at nation building. In part, this was because they disavowed it, framing their task as a strictly military mission. In part, this was due to a lack of human capital to run a full fledge system of national, regional, and local governments in this fashion properly, even with $ 4 billion a year in foreign aid supplementing its budget. In part, this was because the Western style parliamentary governmental system put in place with an Islamic flavor chose uninspiring leaders who weren't up to the job and whose lack of experience and competence gave rise to a deeply corrupt system that reached even its military.

* The corruption was probably not entirely unrelated to high rates of cousin marriage and a heavily clan based civil society in Afghanistan, which is ill suited to an impersonal state.

* The Taliban's message of strict Islamic law, ruthlessly enforced in a manner that was also mindful of its own ability to control people by doing so, despite meager financial resources and inferior military training, won the war of ideas over the Western-style democratic republic model offered up by the U.S. and its allies. A more Western-style model may have improved the lives of many Afghans, especially women, but it didn't win over many die hard defenders and advocates at the grass roots. Afghan troops vanished in the face of serious Taliban offenses, rather than fiercely defending their truf from the insurgents.

* Delaying Taliban rule by twenty years was not meaningless. It temporarily but seriously disrupted the leading anti-Western terrorist organization and there was no subsequent major successful Islamic terrorist attacks on the U.S. again after 9-11. It changed the lives of a generation, mostly for the better. It delayed it to a time period when Islamic fundamentalism, while alive and well in various parts of the world including Afghanistan, is certainly less of a clear and present danger to the Western world than it was in 2001. Early indications are that the Taliban of 2021 has also moderated itself at least a little relative to what it was in 2001, although the Taliban's conduct effectively terrorizing smaller cities and town and rural areas in between leaves one wondering how sincere this front really is right now. The past twenty years has also dented Afghanistan's status as the biggest source in the world for illegal opium. Afghanistan has also provided the U.S. with battle hardened military veterans and advances in weapons and tactics arising from that experience, but at the cost of life shattering physical and mental disabilities for many soldiers who served there.

* Still, the reasonable expectation is that life under Taliban rule in Afghanistan will get much worse (especially for women and girls, but also economically and for the country as a whole), compared to the status quo in the short to medium term. This is so even though, Taliban hegemony might ultimately bring the absence of war necessary for progress and moderation if it persists for a long enough time spent governing to moderate this Islamist movement to the extent. A best case scenario, for example, might be similar to the Shi'ite theocracy in Iran has done so over the last four decades after the Islamic revolution there. But Saudi Arabia and other Islamic monarchies in the Persian Gulf strongly suggest that highly repressive regimes on their model can persist for a very long time.

* A key reason that a Western-style republic model lost the war of ideas was because it was a message that Afghanistan wasn't ready to receive yet. This was a country that needed a more basic democratic model than the one that it tried to adopt, and that maybe should have had a transition period of more competent, civilian, non-democratic rule to provide people with a lived example before leaving people who have mostly never known functional democratic government in times of peace to try to govern themselves. On the other hand, it isn't as if the Soviet style one party state that preceded the pre-U.S. invasion Taliban fared any better. The monarchy that preceded that, while longer lived and more peaceful, was hardly a shining model of success. The 1970s was pretty much the only time in modern history that Afghanistan was in good shape and seemingly on a track of a better future.

* Early in the conflict, the U.S. tried to use military and CIA led approaches to detaining, punishing, and interrogating people suspected of being connected with al-Qaeda. This effort was a dismal failure. It undermined the integrity of the U.S. justice system and U.S. "soft power" in favor of dubious military tribunals for Guantanamo Bay detainees who were mostly small fry when they were first detained that resulted in few actual convictions. Using civilian U.S. District Courts for terrorism prosecutions has been far more fruitful.

* The Authorization for the Use Of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress after 9-11 in 2001 with an eye primarily towards what became the war in Afghanistan has justified U.S. military action against violent Islamist organizations all over the world since then. With its original justification spent, there is some chance that the AUMF will be repealed by Congress and reduce the authority of the President to deploy U.S. military forces on these kinds of missions outside Afghanistan going forward. The other military operations have involved very modest numbers of U.S. troops with armed drones and less advanced military equipment.

* After the Vietnam War, the military tried to discourage political leaders from fighting more wars like it by restructuring its forces to be less well suited to those kinds of conflicts. Political leaders mostly ignored this fact and kept deploying the military to low intensity, counter-insurgency conflicts with a military that was intentionally not well equipped and trained to fight in this kind of conflict. This was a mistake and should not be repeated. Military leaders may prefer to plan for major international wars against "near peer" opponents, but that kind of preparation does not translate well to having force components who can prevail in asymmetric "small wars" against non-near peer opponents like the Taliban. But, the U.S. will almost inevitably be drawn into fighting conflicts like the Afghan War in the future.