28 July 2022

Robotic Lawn Mowers Ready For Prime Time

The Denver Post reports that local firm Scythe Robotics is about to still mass producing robotic lawn mowers

Longmont-based Scythe Robotics needs more space to handle about 7,000 reservations it has received for its automated robotic lawn mowers that landscaping contractors across the country are clamoring to get their hands on. . . .

The company has built 20 of its robotic mowers and hopes to build another 200 of its fifth-generation model by the end of next year, Morrison said. Once it gets a 50,000-square-foot facility completed, it will be off to the races.

“We are aiming to make 10,000 machines a year by that point, so we can satisfy demand,” Morrison said.

Between manufacturing, engineering, sales and administrative positions, the company is looking to create 394 net new jobs paying an average annual wage of $116,881, which is 157% of the average for Boulder County. About half of those jobs will be in manufacturing. The company currently has 37 employees, including 28 in Colorado.

Landscapers have long struggled to find enough workers willing to take on the physically demanding work. Many have relied on crews from Mexico and elsewhere, but bringing in seasonal workers on temporary visas has become much more difficult, and the pandemic didn’t help.

Mowing robots offer a way to automate more mundane tasks so the fewer workers available can take on more interesting and specialized assignments. But the machines are complicated and require many more sensors, cameras and safeguards than those robotic vacuums free-roaming in homes. The consequences of their failure to recognize obstacles, whether it is a rabbit or a sprinkler head or bike path with heavy traffic, are more severe and potentially catastrophic.

Even if the mowers could be built more cheaply overseas, they weigh 1,300 pounds, which makes shipping costs problematic. 

This blog noted in 2016 that efforts to develop this technology were in the works and close to viable.

While seemingly a minor innovation, this, like self-driving trucks and robotic burger flipping machines, have the potential to profoundly disrupt the low skill job market.

Indeed, the firm will probably reduce net jobs in the state if its technology is widely adopted.

Wikipedia and Legal Research

A study in Ireland found that cases cited in Wikipedia were 20% more likely to be cited by trial court judges than cases not cited in Wikipedia.

Life Imprisonment In The Federal Criminal Justice System

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has released new information about offenders serving sentences of life in prison (formally and de facto) in the federal system. It is used in only a small proportion of the cases in which it is authorized by statute. It is a less of an issue in the federal system than in the state system because serious violent crimes for which such sentences are most often imposed are rare in the federal system.

The reports treats any sentence of imprisonment 470 months or longer as a de facto life sentence. "Between fiscal years 2016 and 2021, de facto life sentences ranged from 471 months (39.3 years) to 7,200 months—the equivalent of 600 years. The median de facto life sentence was 548 months (45.7 years)." 

This definition is probably too narrow since much shorter sentences for older offenders still amount to de facto life sentences. In particular, as another recent U.S. Sentencing Commission report reveals:

Nearly forty percent (38.6%) of offenders who were sentenced at 70 years of age or older received a sentence that exceeds their life expectancy, compared to 7.1 percent of offenders 65 through 69, and less than one percent of offenders under the age of 50.

Here are some highlights from the life sentencing report: 

There are numerous federal criminal statutes authorizing a sentence of life as the maximum sentence allowed, such as for offenses involving drug trafficking, racketeering, and firearms crimes. While convictions under these statutes are common, sentences of life imprisonment are rare, accounting for only a small proportion of all federal offenders sentenced. . . . 
Offenders Sentenced to Life Imprisonment
* During fiscal years 2016 through 2021, there were 709 federal offenders sentenced to life imprisonment, which accounted for 0.2 percent of the total federal offender population. 
* Almost half (48.7%) of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment were convicted of murder. 
* Approximately half (47.5%) of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment were found to either have possessed a weapon in connection with their instant offense or were convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) — for possession or use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime. This is almost five times the rate for offenders who were sentenced to less than life imprisonment (9.8%). 
* Nearly one-third (31.4%) of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment received an aggravating role enhancement as an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in the offense, which is approximately eight times higher than those sentenced to less than life imprisonment (4.2%). 
* Offenders sentenced to life imprisonment qualified as repeat and dangerous sex offenders in 11.8 percent of cases, in comparison to 0.6 percent of offenders sentenced to less than life imprisonment. 
* The trial rate of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment was 75.6 percent, which was over thirty times higher than the 2.3 percent trial rate for all other federal offenders. 
Offenders Sentenced to De Facto Life Imprisonment 
* There were 799 offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment, which accounted for 0.2 percent of the total federal offender population. 
* Half (50.6%) of offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment were convicted of sexual abuse. 
* One-third (33.2%) of offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment were found to either have possessed a weapon in connection with their instant offense or were convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) — for possession or use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime. 
* More than one-in-seven (15.4%) offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment received an aggravating role enhancement as an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in the offense. 
* Offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment qualified as repeat and dangerous sex offenders in 39.4 percent of cases. 
* The trial rate of offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment was 39.4 percent.

Via the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog. Full report here.

26 July 2022

What Limits The Use Of "Deepfakes"?

From here.

Next Generation Destroyer Designs Commissioned

The U.S. Navy has hired two major naval defense contractors to design a next generation destroyer, the DDG-51 project.

This is a bad idea. One of the things that the U.S. military definitely doesn't need is another large, manned surface combatant.

22 July 2022

The Rural v. Urban Political Divide And Adults Our Economy Doesn't Need

What Was Wrong With Real World Socialism?

The standard Econ 101 explanation for the failure to communist-socialist economic systems is that by separating rewards from productive activity, they destroy the incentive to be productive and efficient. In Econ 201 you may further learn about the deep flaws in the Marxist Labor Theory of Value.

Neither of these explanations are entirely wrong, but they give rise to a misleading narrative that can lead to bad policy focused on monetary incentives for individuals to make them individually more productive.

In truth, the connection between rewards that serve as incentives and the nature of the work that most people do is only indirect and attenuated for the vast majority of actors in the economy who don't interface directly with the market. For most people, the main incentive to work and work well is to avoid being fired and to be promoted by managers hired by an employer, and that holds just as true in socialist economies as it does in capitalist ones.

It turns out that in practice, the number one thing that socialist economies do poorly and capitalist ones do will, is shut down firms that fail to be economically self-sufficient at the firm level. In socialist economies, failing firms are subsidized and given far too many second chances.

The United States has relative few large, economically not self-sustaining, firms. The most notable of them is AMTRAK, the national passenger rail company, which survives only on large, wasteful operating subsidies for an inferior product in an a company that is not at all innovative. 

Socialist economies, historically, have had vast numbers of AMTRAKs that constituted an immense drain on their national economies and impeded progress.

Why Is There An Urban-Rural Divide?

What does this have to do with the urban-rural political divide in the U.S.?

The connection is that the urban-rural political divide in the U.S. and many of its other current political pathologies, are to a very large extent, although not exclusively, driven by a prosperity gap. Urban areas in the U.S. are economically productive and affluent and have political values that are associated with affluence and economic security. Rural areas in the U.S. are far less economically productive, poor, and economically insecure, and have political values that are associated with those conditions.

In particular, conditions in "red America" which is disproportionately found in rural areas and small towns, have been so profoundly stagnant economically for the last fifty years that whole political communities have given up on improving the system and are resorting to nihilism, sour grapes, and a "burn the whole thing down" attitude towards democratic capitalism, science, and any notion of a shared factual reality that can be discerned from trustworthy sources.

Why does this happen?

In an idealized Econ 101 world, disparities between poor economically unproductive areas and rich economically productive areas are resolved by people moving from poor areas to rich areas until an equilibrium is reached.

If this happened, there would still be urban v. rural political divides in the U.S., but they wouldn't be nearly as severe and would have a very different character.

But, of course, we don't live in an idealized Econ 101 world. There are barriers to migration from unproductive rural to productive urban areas that undermine these incentives, there are barriers to migration generally that act as "friction" in the system regardless of the incentives, and there are factors the tie people to unproductive areas.

Technology has relentlessly reduced the need for rural workers from the year 1800 to the present, in almost every single year. There has been gradual migration to cities, but it hasn't kept up and hasn't been rapid enough to resolve the imbalances.

A huge array of subsidies and regulatory incentives allow rural business and towns to continue with minimal disruption when they no longer make economic sense, and despite the externalities, like misallocation of scarce water supplies, environmental damage, and worker mistreatment that results from these choices. Most of the farms in the United States aren't productive enough to support even a single family, but policy incentives and sentimental attachments to those farms, keep them from going anyway. Our nation's rural economies have millions of AMTRAK firms that are not failing and being shut down when they should be. Rural America also has millions of retirees outside the workforce who cling to homesteads where it is vastly more expensive to provide them what they need than it is in urban areas, leaving the difference split with both higher costs, mostly subsidized by the government, and inferior services.

There is also a sorting effect. 

Economically productive urban areas have lots of meaningful work that requires educated and skilled people to do it, but struggles to find opportunities for work that is productive enough to support a living wage for people who are less educated or less skilled.

Rural areas, due to a steady flow of outmigration (even though it isn't fast enough) have low housing costs which keep the costs of living low, and have industries that haven't modernized because government policy buffers make it possible for them to stay in business without doing so, and these less modern businesses have more uses for less educated and less skilled workers that are sufficiently productive to cover a local living wage, although these jobs too are increasingly scarce leading to stagnant wages and regular bouts of unemployment.

As a result, urban areas get to first pick of the labor market, and rural areas are left with the gleanings and with people who are continuing to live there despite strong economic opportunities elsewhere for non-economic reasons. This just further magnifies the productivity gap and makes the divide worse.

Alleviating The Urban-Rural Divide

We could, as a matter of government policy, gradually "take off the training wheels" and "crutches" that prevent unproductive rural firms from failing. 

We could cease to allow rural retirees to make an extremely costly economic choice to remain where they lived their working years free of incentives to align themselves with the economic costs that society faces as a result of their choices.

If we did so, rural areas would depopulate faster, rural economies would modernize and become more productive, and the people who remained in those areas would be more affluent and economically secure. 

As a result of these changes, the "fuck the system" and "damn the truth" subculture that has evolved in rural America would fade away. So would deaths of despair from causes like suicide in rural areas and opioid overdoses in rural and small town America. The urban-rural divide in the American economy would wane to a manageable level that would enhance the long term health of American democracy.

The Problem Of Adults Our Economy Doesn't Need

Of course, that's only half the problem.

Ending subsidies for the rural economy and people unreasonably staying in rural areas when they retire would solve the rural-urban political divide to a manageable extent. 

But it would leave unresolved a second and distinct problem that isn't intrinsically related to it, even though they coincide in the early 21st century United States.

The other problem is that our society has lots of people, especially working age men, who aren't college educated and don't have skills that continue to have economic value sufficient to justify paying them a living wage in a modern economy, but who are unable or unwilling to do what it takes to become more useful and more productive, as a larger share of their female peers have. 

If the slack that subsidies create in the rural economy were removed, the uneducated and unskilled men in those economies would have no haven or way to survive, and would be even more desperate and alienated.

Our entrepreneurs have failed to come up with work for them that is economically productive enough to support a living wage for more than a small minority of them.

Their economic malaise drives a great deal of crime, family failure, child abuse and neglect, political resentment, civic distrust, and general societal malfunction.

So, the second half of the problem is to find something worthwhile for them to do.

Finding Something For Unproductive Workers To Do

Perhaps this means finding ways to transfer wealth to them with dignity in order to prevent them from causing trouble for everyone else.

To some extent, rural subsidies have been a backdoor way to achieve these ends, but they've produced considerable unforeseen political and economic side effects that are reaching a breaking point.

In times of war, we've addressed this problem as a society by widespread military enlistment. Yet, at the moment the U.S. military has a near record low number of active duty military personnel and yet the Army is still struggling mightily to recruit enough people who meet its minimum standards to fill its ranks. Even the Army struggles to find any use for many of the members of this alienated group of uneducated and unskilled men. (Note that one can be skilled and can be smart without  higher education, but the skilled and smart uneducated men aren't the problem.)

In the Great Depression, less successfully, we tried to address this problem with programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and public works construction programs. 

Today, it is a difficult, complex, and central problem faced by our society that I don't have an easy answer for while writing this post. 

A higher minimum wage solves the living wage problem, but leaves other people who aren't productive enough to justify a minimum wage pay as an economic proposition more often unemployed. 

A low minimum wage, however, results in backdoor subsidies of marginally productive for profit businesses that can continue to do business only if they pay their employees a living wage, when their employees need government support on top of their wages to survive. 

It creates a legion of AMTRAKs, even though it does it less obviously. It is something of a Goodwill Enterprises business model, with hidden subsidies for marginal workers (in the case of Goodwill, financed with charitable organization tax breaks and private in kind charity in the form of donations of unneeded goods).

Also, when the minimum wage is too low, very profitable businesses can pay workers much less than their economic productivity as a result of government welfare benefits to those workers that makes the situation sustainable, because the ability to survive with a sub-living wage undermines the bargaining position of overabundant unskilled and uneducated workers, with an economic effect that transfers money spent on government welfare benefits for low income workers to top executives and owners of firms that pay wages far lower than they could afford to the workers receiving those subsidies. This, in a nutshell, is the story of Walmart and is, at least in from my perspective, even more problematic.

There have been dozens of serious efforts in the post-World War II era to establish job training programs for displaced workers, and pretty much every single one of those programs, except public higher education and military enlistment, have been dismal failures that end up on the scrap heap of failed policies that are forgotten when policy makers go down that path once again.

This post merely motivates the need for a solution and the nature of the problem, rather than offering up a simple solution to it and briefly illustrates the difficulties associated with some of the most obvious solutions. 

I'll ponder better solutions to this problem on another day.

21 July 2022

Statistics On Long U.S. Prison Sentences

Most of this data is unsurprising, but long prison sentences are increasingly common and account for well over a majority of prison inmates nationwide in the U.S. 

One of the main sources of the differences in incarceration rates between the U.S. and most other developed countries is the wider use of long prison sentences in the U.S. There are about half a million people serving long prison sentences in the U.S. at any given time.

Women are much more likely to be serving long sentences for property or drug crimes than men who are more likely to be serving long sentences for violent crimes (which are overwhelmingly committed by men).

People with long sentences account for a relatively small share of state prison admissions and releases, but because they serve long periods, their numbers stack up over time. In 2019, 17% of people admitted to prison were sentenced to 10 years or more, and 3% of those released had served 10 years or more. At year-end, 57% of people in prison were serving a long prison sentence, up from 46% in 2005. 
The length of time served by people sentenced to 10 years or more has grown. Between 2005 and 2019, the average amount of time served by this group increased from 9.7 years to 15.5 years.
The share of people convicted of a violent crime who received long sentences grew from 7% in 2005 to 10% in 2019. The percentage of people convicted of property and drug offenses who received long sentences remained stable, at 3% and 2%, respectively.

The shares of Black and White people receiving long sentences have grown over time and the gap between those shares has widened, from 1 percentage point in 2005 to 4 percentage points in 2019. When accounting for conviction offenses, Black people are more likely to receive long sentences for violent crimes while White people are for some property crimes. White people convicted of drug crimes were more likely than Black people to get a long sentence in 2005 but less likely by 2019.
Compared to other age groups, people aged 55 and over are the fastest-growing age group serving long sentences. Between 2005 and 2019, the share of people serving long sentences who were aged 55 and over grew from 8% to 20%.

Men are more likely than women to receive and serve a long sentence. On average, men are about 72% more likely to receive a long sentence and over three times more likely to serve a long sentence than women, mostly because men are convicted of more serious, violent crimes. Greater shares of both men (up 4%) and women (up 3%) received sentences of 10 years or more in 2019 than in 2005.

Via the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog quoting the Council of Criminal Justice

Islamic Medieval Criminal Law

In the Middle Ages, Europe was characterized by arbitrary, and frequently harsh feudal "rule of man" while Islam had a legal system that at least somewhat restrained its political leaders. 

Islamic criminal justice, while harsh, just as it is today, was less harsh and less arbitrary than European criminal justice was in the Middle Ages. Islamic society at the time was also more urban, more scientific, and had a larger class of scholars with access to more knowledge preserved in written texts. 

Perhaps not coincidentally, the balance of power between the Islamic world and Christendom shifted back in favor of Christendom in Iberia and the Balkans, and in terms of global economic competition, around the same time that the Renaissance arrived in Europe restoring urbanity, Roman legal concepts, and the intellectual mettle of European civilization.

Calling modern Islamist fundamentalist criminal jurisprudence medieval, is as much a comparison to European medieval (and more accurately, early modern European) criminal justice practice, as it is to medieval Islamic criminal justice practice.
The striking thing about medieval Islamic criminal law is that it featured a jurisprudence of doubt and lenity facing off against political practices of control and severity. Principles of Islamic criminal law placed interpretive authority in the group of scholar-jurists who gained expertise to read divine texts to say what the Law is (sharīʿa). Practices of Islamic criminal law authorized executive authorities—caliphs, sultans, and their agents—power over law enforcement (siyāsa). Principles informed the task of expert jurists and state-appointed judges in defining legitimate punishment derived from Islam’s foundational texts. Practices informed the wide array of severe punishment that law enforcement officials meted out regularly, with a justification that it was “in the public interest” (maṣlaḥa). Principles often justified limited punishment by means of “deterrence” (zajr) and “spiritual rehabilitation” (kaffāra). Practices often justified unrestrained punishment as a means of maintaining law and order, social control, or might as right. The principles of punishment, practices of punishment, and justifications for punishment typically operated in siloes separated by a wide plain. This chapter explores the ground where they met.
Intisar A. Rabb, Enforcement and Punishment in Medieval Islamic Law (in CULTURAL HISTORY OF CRIME AND PUNISHMENT IN THE MEDIEVAL AGE (Sarah McDougall, Karl Shoemaker eds., Bloomsbury 2022) [Forthcoming]) on SSRN.

An Ordinary Appellate Court Ruling In Colorado

This post is not about an epic rule of law. It concerns the pedestrian and hardly "sexy" question of whether a county government can have liability when someone is injured by falling in a county parking structure allegedly caused by its failure to warn pedestrians of a hard to see step. This was decided by the Colorado Court of Appeals today.

Law professors love using these kinds of humble cases for teaching purposes to teach law to students (both in law school and in undergraduate legal courses like business law). This is the kind of case that would be perfect as a very first case in an undergraduate course about law like one that I took, called "practical law" when I was an undergraduate student.

I mention it for several reasons.

First, the decision is a rare, but increasingly common one, in which the opinion is illustrated with photographs embedded in the opinion itself. This makes this opinion less stale than dusty old English or early American cases that are common place in law school textbooks, making it feel more relevant and real and modern.

Second, the opinion also has the modern system of case numbers and paragraph numbers instituted to free litigants of the copyright protections that might apply (although case law later held that it did not) to commercial pagination of court opinions. Familiarity with this system is important in legal writing and research. 

Third, the decision is notable because the trial court judge ruled against the government (in a decision affirmed on appeal) on the legal status of the government that built, operates and maintain the courthouse from which the trial judge was ruling works, in regard to a parking lot that is literally right outside the front door of the courthouse. This illustrates Colorado's wisdom in having state court trial judges who preside in county courthouses appointed by the governor with secure tenure, allowing them to be independent in the lawsuits against local governments that frequently arise in these courts, rather than being appointed by local officials or as an ordinary partisan or non-partisan elected office, as many other states do. It provides a starting point to talk about state constitutional law, and the practical aspects of the separation of powers and judicial independence with a concrete example.

Fourth, it illustrates the basic rule of law regarding when premises liability exists, as well as a notable partial exception to that rule in some cases where the government owns real property. So, one can teach the private property and public property rules for liability in slip and fall cases in a single case.

Fifth, the decision, like most appeals regarding a claim of governmental immunity of some kind, is an interlocutory appeal, resolving the issue of governmental immunity before the case is litigated or tried. This is permitted in order to preserve the benefits of being immune and thus able to avoid litigation entirely, and not just not a rule that leads to a lack of liability on the merits. The general rule is that civil cases can only be appealed once a final judgment is entered in the case. So, it is a nice way to teach this fine point of civil procedure.

Sixth, it holds as a matter of first impression not decided by any previous Colorado appellate court, that the waiver of governmental immunity for dangerous conditions in public buildings extends to parking garages, and can apply to design and warning issues as well as failures to maintain the garage property (e.g. failure to remove snow and ice, or to repair cracked concrete). In a classroom setting, the "black letter law rule" that the case announces is often the least important point, because the law changes over time and can differ from one state to another, but it illustrates how new black letter law rules are created by the caselaw system of precedents in the U.S. legal system. The twenty-four pages the opinion takes to reach its really quite narrow and straight forward conclusion also illustrates the kind of reasoning and that depth of analysis that is typical in civil litigation.

For what it is worth, I believe that the case was rightly decided and the result is what I would have expected in this situation before seeing the opinion, as a lawyer whose first job in Colorado was with a firm that had a contract with CIRSA (the county insurance pool) to defend county governments from tort lawsuits.

20 July 2022

My Personal Encounters With COVID

So far, knock on wood, I've managed to escape COVID for twenty-eight months, despite having had more exposure to the larger world as the primary grocery shopper in the family and the person who has worked most outside our home, and despite having fairly close exposure to both my daughter and my wife when they were infected with highly infectious variants. I've been careful to social distance and mask, for as long as that was being widely done and then in addition in higher risk situations when it wasn't required or widely normative. I've had four jabs, each almost as soon as it was possible, with one of the boosters mixed from the type that I had for the original vaccination. Still, to some extent I've simply had good luck.

I'm in my 50s, I have been obese for most of the pandemic (there was a couple of month period when I wasn't but I've slowly gained back a lot of weight that I lost), and have underlying conditions so I'm at fairly high risk for a severe case if I received one, although being vaccinated and boosted definitely reduces the risk and other people are older and have more severe underlying conditions that place them at greater risk.

Not everyone is so lucky. 

My son had Delta and Omicron, despite two jabs and in the case of the Omicron infection, a Delta infection several months earlier. My daughter had Omicron or one of its BA variants, despite being fully vaccinated and boosted once. My wife had a BA variant of Omicron (and unlike my son and daughter, no really plausible way to explain where she could have gotten it), despite four jabs, three of one kind and one of another. 

Fortunately, in the case of my kids, in part because they were in their early 20s and vaccinated, and in the case of my wife, because she is overall in good health and is vaccinated and boosted, none of them have had long COVID or symptoms so severe that hospitalization was a possibility that needed to be seriously considered. I think it is also likely that my daughter and wife had exposure to fairly low viral loads probably each in single incidents, while my son my have had higher viral load exposures. I also think it is possible that some of the later variants often don't cause quite as severe cases. All of their cases were mild to moderate in severity.

We have extended family members who've had much more severe cases, although none were hospitalized and it was much less severe in the children than in the adults, in one case causing an underlying condition to become much more severe. The most severe case involved an extended family member who stubbornly refused to get vaccinated and refused to allow his children to be vaccinated to the great dismay of the rest of the family. The vaccinated family members and the unvaccinated children had comparative mild cases, although they were seriously sick compared to most pre-COVID infectious diseases.

A close family friend has had long COVID for many months only to be reinfected and suffer from long COVID again. Several people who worked in my office (including about half of the people working in my office when the pandemic began) have had severe cases, with one hospitalized and also suffering from long COVID. A healthy significant other of one of my employees who was in her 20s had a fairly bad case of COVID, as did my employee, and they thought that she had recovered fully, but she was then hospitalized for weeks with kidney failure about a month after her COVID recovery. 

A close family friend in her 50s, a former co-worker in his late 30s, and a client in his 40s all had very severe cases of COVID, although not quite to the level of hospitalization.

The COVID death most personally hitting close to home was a high school student whom my children knew of with multiple, very severe conditions who was one of the first children to die in the pandemic, fairly early on in the pandemic. So far, no one closer to us than that has died of COVID.

18 July 2022

Colorado Moves Forward On Independent Domestic Relations Paralegals

The Colorado Supreme Court in a newsletter today states that: 

Licensed Legal Paraprofessional Proposal Open for Public Comment 
The Colorado Supreme Court has published for public comment the implementation plan to license legal paraprofessionals (“LLPs”) for a limited practice of law in the area of domestic relations. The 26-page plan outlines how interested paraprofessionals who meet educational and experiential requirements could become licensed for this limited practice of law by taking and passing designated family law and ethics exams and clearing character and fitness requirements.

The scope of practice would include marital dissolution and allocation of parental responsibility cases when the client meets certain income or asset criteria associated with less complicated matters. Under the current proposal, LLPs would be allowed to accompany their clients to court, and could respond to factual questions if requested by the court, but would not be allowed to orally advocate for their clients or to conduct hearings or trials.

The Court is inviting public comment on the entire proposal, and specifically the issues of what asset or income criteria are appropriate limits for LLP representation of clients. A working group has proposed that the LLPs would be allowed to serve only clients in marital dissolution cases with a net marital estate of $200,000 or less. The same working group proposed that an income cap be set for representing a client in an allocation of parental responsibility matter, which could be a dollar threshold or a percentage of federal poverty guidelines. Cases involving more assets or income tend to correlate with more complex issues for which a lawyer’s education and expertise may be needed.

Utah, Washington, and Arizona now have licensed legal paralegal or legal technician programs covering certain types of family law matters, among other matters. These jurisdictions have reported that many if not most of these licensed non-lawyers practice in firms with lawyers, but may be more affordable to modest-means clients. A number of other states are either considering or piloting similar programs.

To review the implementation plan and the various proposed rule and statutory changes, and for instructions on how to provide public comments, go to the Court’s proposed rule change website and review the information under “PALS implementation report and plan.” The deadline for public comments is September 14, 2022 at 4 p.m.

The Colorado Bar Association is hosting a virtual “town hall” where speakers from the working group will provide more information and answer questions about the implementation plan. That event is August 9, 2022, from 12-1 p.m. The CBA will post the link to participate at its website. The event is open to both members and non-members of the CBA, and is open to non-lawyers.

Additional information and updates about the LLP program can be found here.

I was on the Colorado Bar Association committee that started work on the proposal many years ago, but left when the CBA came down strongly against the development. In a rare move, however, the Colorado Supreme Court pushed to move forward despite CBA opposition.

13 July 2022

Urbanization In U.S. States

The charts below show the Urban Population as a percentage of the total population by U.S. region and state according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

This rose in every U.S. state, territory and region from 2000 to 2010 except: Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Maine.

Especially in the Western U.S., urbanizations percentages are often much higher than crude measures of population density like people per square mile of land in the state would suggest.

12 July 2022

Lots of Institutional Investors Are Dumb Money

Lots of institutional investors make objectively bad investments, involving half the investments in start ups made, and 10% of money invested in startups, often because they place too much faith in the the founders of the businesses. 
Do institutional investors invest efficiently? 
To study this question I combine a novel dataset of over 16,000 startups (representing over $9 billion in investments) with machine learning methods to evaluate the decisions of early-stage investors. By comparing investor choices to an algorithm’s predictions, I show that approximately half of the investments were predictably bad—based on information known at the time of investment, the predicted return of the investment was less than readily available outside options. The cost of these poor investments is 1000 basis points, totalling over $900 million in my data. 
I provide suggestive evidence that over-reliance on the founders’ background is one mechanism underlying these choices. Together the results suggest that high stakes and firm sophistication are not sufficient for efficient use of information in capital allocation decisions.

06 July 2022

California Is An Economic Powerhouse

California has the 5th largest economy in the world (GDP $3.35 trillion), bigger than the economy of India ($2.65 trillion), bigger than France ($2.58 trillion), and bigger than the U.K. ($2.64 trillion). 

China ($12.24 trillion), Japan ($4.72 trillion), and Germany ($3.69 trillion) (and the U.S. as a whole at $22.85 trillion) are the only countries with a GDP larger than California's. California's economy is also larger than any other U.S. state or territory.

Washington D.C. ($226,861), New York State ($93,463), Massachusetts ($91,129), and Washington State ($86,265) are the only U.S. states or territories with a per capita GDP greater than California ($85,546). The per capita GDP of the U.S. as a whole is $62,624. 

Luxembourg ($105,280) is the only country with a per capita GDP greater than California.

The Red States (based upon the 2020 Presidential election) with the highest GDP per capita are:

1. North Dakota $81,795 (#7 of the 50 states and D.C.)
2. Nebraska $76,584 (#9)
3. Alaska $75,027 (#10)
4. Wyoming $71,911 (#15)
5. Iowa $68,859 (#18)
6. South Dakota $68,359 (#20)
7. Texas $67,235 (#21)
8. Utah $66,011 (#22)
9. Kansas $65,530 (#23)
10. Ohio $62,517 (#27)

The notion that Blue state policies are bad for business doesn't hold water, unless your business is the fossil fuel business  or agriculture.

It is also notable that the nine most economically productive Red states (and the only ones with per capita GDP greater than the U.S. average) are west of the Mississippi River.

An Assessment Of The Ukraine War

A new report makes an assessment of the weaknesses in the military capabilities of Ukraine and what could address them. 

Ukraine has the will to achieve the operational defeat of the Russian military. At present, however, several Russian advantages and Ukrainian weaknesses are leading to an attritional conflict that risks a protracted war, eventually favouring Russia. 
• Russian electronic warfare (EW) is denying Ukraine a sufficiently fast kill chain to destroy Russia’s artillery. 
• Russian artillery is fixing the Ukrainian military and preventing the Ukrainians from concentrating to undertake offensive manoeuvre. 
• Russian cruise missiles are imposing a high economic and political cost on Ukraine. 
• A shortage of skilled infantry and armoured operators is limiting Ukraine’s offensive combat power. 
• Limited staff capacity is limiting Ukraine’s ability to plan and execute combined operations at scale. 
Ukraine’s international partners have the ability to reverse these dynamics to enable Ukraine to retake its lost territory. This cannot be achieved through the piecemeal delivery of a large number of different fleets of equipment, each with separate training, maintenance and logistical needs. Instead, Ukraine’s partners should rationalise the support they provide around a small number of platforms. Ukraine’s key capability requirements are: 
• Anti-radiation seekers for loitering munitions to suppress or destroy Russian EW complexes. 
• Multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) to target and destroy Russian logistics and ammunition stockpiles to starve Russian artillery of ammunition. 
• 155-mm howitzers and ammunition to prevent Russian troop concentration and support Ukrainian troop concentrations. 
• Secure communications systems. 
• Anti-tank guided weapons and man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS). 
• Protected mobility to enable Ukrainian troops to manoeuvre under artillery threat. 
• Point defences to protect critical infrastructure. 
It is also necessary for Ukraine to receive training at scale to form new units able to undertake offensive operations and to receive staff and junior leadership training to support the orchestration of combined arms offensive manoeuvre.

From this report

04 July 2022

Disrupted Dating Habits Led To Education Reform In The U.K. In the 1860 To 1870s

Axios retells a remarkable story:

When Queen Victoria's mother and husband died in quick succession, the result was a significant expansion of public education in England.

  • That's the conclusion of what is easily my favorite economics paper of the year so far, from Marc Goñi of the University of Bergen in Norway.

How it worked: The 1860s were a high point for assortative mating within the English elite. The peerage, in particular, "was likely the most exclusive elite ever to exist," writes Goñi: "unusually small, exclusive, and rich."

  • The mechanism for maintaining that small ultra-elite group was the London Season — a series of balls where the eligible offspring of the peerage would meet and match.
  • Invitations were extended only to families of the highest social status, and attendance was very expensive, meaning you needed to be well-born and rich to participate.

What happened: When the Queen went into mourning, the Season was effectively canceled for three successive years (1861–1863). As a result, posh rich daughters failed to meet posh rich men, and married commoners instead.

  • Peer–commoner intermarriage rose by 40%; titled women married husbands 44 percentile ranks poorer in terms of family landholdings.
  • Such marriages caused real harm to the daughter's brothers and even fathers. Her brothers were 50% less likely to enter parliament; her family's prestige fell; and she was much less likely to become the kind of terrifying matriarch so familiar to readers of PG Wodehouse.

The bottom line: Constituencies that were no longer represented in parliament by the local peer were much less likely to oppose the introduction of state education — which eventually became law in the 1870s.

Even if you dismiss the political outcome as inevitable sooner or later in the 19th century, the fact that assortative marriage practices in the U.K. were so fragile that the could change so dramatically despite the major socio-economic impacts of the shift is remarkable all by itself. 

Race And Long Term Returns To U.S. Army Service

Serving in the Army provides big returns to black veterans.
This paper links the universe of Army applicants between 1990 and 2011 to their federal tax records and other administrative data and uses two eligibility thresholds in the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) in a regression discontinuity design to estimate the effects of Army enlistment on earnings and related outcomes.  
In the 19 years following application, Army service increases average annual earnings by over $$4,000 at both cutoffs. However, whether service increases long-run earnings varies significantly by race. Black service members experience annual gains of $5,500 to $15,000 11–19 years after applying while White service members do not experience significant changes. 
By providing Black service members a stable and well-paying Army job and by opening doors to higher-paid post-service employment, the Army significantly closes the Black-White earnings gap in our sample.
From the full paper by Kyle Greenberg, et.al.