30 September 2023

Reconstruction Revisited

One of the sources of many modern political woes in the United States is that Reconstruction after the U.S. Civil War ended before the South was reconstructed.

This could have, and probably should have, been handled differently. Some things that we should have done instead:

* Execute all of the Confederate regime's elected officials, senior political appointees ("officers" of the regime's government), judges, military officers and spies for treason.

* Execute all pro-slavery clergy.

* Permanently remove the right to vote of every Confederate government official, every every Confederate solider who was a volunteer, and everyone who had ever owned a slave as an adult. Make it a crime for any of these persons to bear arms.

* Seize all real property and all other significant property (including all firearms and military equipment) of the families of everyone executed due to these Reconstruction mandates, everyone whose right to vote was lost, everyone who served voluntarily in the Confederate military and died, and every slave owner. Use this seized property for reparations to the freed slaves and exiled Native American tribes. Reparations for former slaves would be in a concept something alone the lines of "40 acres and a mule" affording freed slaves the resources necessary to survive as subsistence freeholder farmers.

* Seize all property of pro-slavery churches and pro-slavery or pro-confederacy political or civic organization. Use this seized property as part of the funding for integrated, universal, free public educational institutions and libraries.

* Convert all states that seceded to unorganized federal territories eligible for readmission to the United States as states only when they we sufficiently reconstructed. These would be under military rule for a decade or two in any given place before territorial self-rule subject to Congressional direction and a federally appointed territorial governor would be permitted.

In this kind of scenario, the South might have actually reconstructed itself.

29 September 2023

Tanks Are Not Anti-Tank Weapons

When it comes to tanks, in particular, the lesson of the Ukrainian war is that tank-on-tank battles have become a rarity—which means that the relative sophistication of a tank is no longer as important. Fewer than 5% of tanks destroyed since the war began had been hit by other tanks, according to Ukrainian officials, with the rest succumbing to mines, artillery, antitank missiles and drones.
From the Wall Street Journal via Marginal Revolution.

27 September 2023

Cousin Marriage In The U.S. Ties People To Depressed Rural Areas

Cousin marriage bans in the U.S. push young people into cities where they are less tightly bound to close family and find better economic prospects.
Close-kin marriage, by sustaining tightly knit family structures, may impede development
We find support for this hypothesis using U.S. state bans on cousin marriage. Our measure of cousin marriage comes from the excess frequency of same-surname marriages, a method borrowed from population genetics that we apply to millions of marriage records from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Using census data, we first show that married cousins are more rural and have lower-paying occupations. 
We then turn to an event study analysis to understand how cousin marriage bans affected outcomes for treated birth cohorts. We find that these bans led individuals from families with high rates of cousin marriage to migrate off farms and into urban areas. They also gradually shift to higher-paying occupations. We observe increased dispersion, with individuals from these families living in a wider range of locations and adopting more diverse occupations. 
Our findings suggest that these changes were driven by the social and cultural effects of dispersed family ties rather than genetics. Notably, the bans also caused more people to live in institutional settings for the elderly, infirm, or destitute, suggesting weaker support from kin.
Arkadev Ghosh, Sam Il Myoung Hwang, Munir Squires, "Economic Consequences of Kinship: Evidence From U.S. Bans on Cousin Marriage" 138(4) The Quarterly Journal of Economics 2559–2606 (published online May 23, 2023 in advance of November 2023 journal issue). https://doi.org/10.1093/qje/qjad018 

Nurture Is Overrated

Conventional twin studies overestimate the environmental differences between families relevant to educational attainment.
- From here. Specifically:
Estimates of shared environmental influence on educational attainment (EA) using the Classical Twin Design (CTD) have been enlisted as genetically sensitive measures of unequal opportunity. However, key assumptions of the CTD appear violated for EA. 
In this study we compared CTD estimates of shared environmental influence on EA with estimates from a Nuclear Twin and Family Design (NTFD) in the same 982 German families. Our CTD model estimated shared environmental influence at 43%. After accounting for assortative mating, our best fitting NTFD model estimated shared environmental influence at 26%, disaggregating this into twin-specific shared environments (16%) and environmental influences shared by all siblings (10%). 
Only the sibling shared environment captures environmental influences that reliably differ between families, suggesting the CTD substantially overestimates between-family differences in educational opportunity. Moreover, parental education was found to have no environmental effect on offspring education once genetic influences were accounted for.

I'm not surprised despite the fact that it hurts one's pride as a parent to know this fact. There is also a limitation of range effect at work. Really bad environmental circumstances for a family can impair the likelihood that children in the family will receive an education. But essentially no German families enrolled in twin studies are subject to those effects, in part, because Germany has basically free, universal higher education, which many other countries do not.

Surveys About Know Facts

One of the interesting kinds of media story is one that looks at survey responses to questions that aren't opinions and instead are matters that can be determined to be factually true or not from sources not reasonable subject to question. The Washington Post chart above from today is an example of that kind of story.

These stories make people who know the truth feel good about themselves and feel a bit of contempt for the ignorant because mostly they are willfully ignorant about those facts. The people who are willfully ignorant about those facts, however, don't read the Washington Post or other reliable sources of information that would report that news. The fact that a survey on a question like this was done at all may also cause Republican supporters to believe that the matter asked about must be a matter of opinion, although, of course, that isn't the case any more than the law of gravity.

Extremely solid scientific evidence establishes that there is a new wave of COVID-19 dominated by a particular new strain underway in the United States. When people say that there is no new wave in answer to the survey, they don't just have a difference of opinion, they are factually wrong. I could cite to data that shows that they are factually wrong, but the existence of a new COVID wave or not this autumn and winter isn't the point of this post.

As noted in another recent post, conservative Republicans are the most likely to have factually wrong beliefs about the world. For example, more than 75% of Democrats correctly answer that there is a new COVID wave underway, while a thin majority of Republicans deny the truth.

One commentator to that post noted, this GOP base that no longer believes truthful and accurate information about reality got there, in part, because they have the losing hand in our economy and society, while the sources of truthful and accurate information about reality have prospered, so they figure that the intellectual elite is the source of their woes and doesn't trust them.

But of course, it is a vicious cycle. If you don't believe truthful and accurate information, you are more prone to make bad decisions, and that leaves you even worse off. In this case, not believing in the threat has made Republicans anti-vax.

This, in turn, will causally, and almost certainly, lead to Republicans being disproportionately likely to get more seriously sick and being disproportionately likely to die during the next COVID wave. Many tens of thousands of mostly elderly conservative Republicans will die as a result during this COVID wave.

Worse yet, this anti-vax sentiment among Republicans is not confined to the COVID vaccine anymore, even though it was once rare among Republicans except members of very extreme religious sects and hard core left wing Hippie vegan types, and wasn't nearly so partisan.

So, not only are Republicans going to suffer and die more from COVID-19 this fall and winter, they are also going to suffer more from RSV (a severe respiratory virus for which a new vaccine is being released for the first time this fall), and the flu. This will disproportionately kill many thousands of additional, mostly elderly conservative Republicans.

And, in proof that people aren't just cynical self-maximizers out for their own good, this will make lots of Democrats very sad. This is so even though this will give Democrats a slight political edge in the 2024 election on the margins, since elderly conservative Republican voters have very reliable voter turnout. The impact is spread out widely so the electoral effect will be  barely noticeable statistically, but it could tip a close political race or two, which in a closely politically divided nation that is close to 50-50 in national elections, could be a big deal.

Meanwhile, it will further aggravate the perception of the Republican base that their being persecuted (driving conspiracy theories with it). This is so even though this time, this Republican misfortune is basically their own fault.

Unfortunately, it is well known that presenting people with facts alone rarely causes people to change their factually false beliefs, if this is at odds with their overall partisan and cultural worldviews. Ultimately, if Republicans want their supporters to get sick and die less often, rather than simply pandering to them, they have to craft their messages from the inside rather than simply receiving them from non-Republican experts from outside their political and cultural circle. So far, very few Republican leaders are brave enough to attempt this feat. So, instead, they lead their supporters further along the vicious circle.

Rants And Quick Hits

 * There really ought to be a law forcing firms to make their IT systems accept names that many current databases do not, such as hyphenated names, names with apostrophes, names with accented letters, single names with two words and a space, and names with only one or two letters in them. It is such a godawful pervasive form of discrimination against a specified class of people (that includes me, my son's girlfriend, and my wife and in-laws even before we married). It is also very easy to fix with only a modest amount of non-laziness.

* I similarly hate the limitations on file names in many Microsoft Products (One Drive/Sharepoint, here's looking at you) that other programs lack. This is one of Microsoft's many sins that is a persistent pain in the ass.

* There ought to be a defense to disabled parking offenses for someone who doesn't have a tag or license plate but is actually assisting a disabled person in their car on a particular trip.

* The construction trades really ought to be regulated at the state level, rather than having separate licenses for every municipality and for the unincorporated part of every county, usually without even any reciprocity system.

* Building codes should be a copyright free part of the public record. So should the Restatements of Law. It is unconscionable for authoritative sources of law to be available solely on a pay per view basis. If necessary, have the government use the power of eminent domain to buy out the copyright holders.

* Hurray for the iPhone abandoning under E.U. insistence, the lightning power connector in favor of a USB-C connection. The U.S. government should have done the same thing.

* I dread the potential merger of Kroger and Albertsons, which would put almost every "regular" grocery store in Colorado (in contrast to niche organic or gourmet grocery stores with higher prices) under common ownership except a few stores divested to Win-Dixie in an effort to appease regulators (which could easy close down a few years later). A grocery store monopoly in Colorado would be horrible for consumers, and would likewise be horrible in other states similarly impacted.

* Unpopular opinion, but 1950s houses and "mid-century modern" are extremely fugly, far more so than the new homes criticized for that today.

* U.S. cities really made an early strategic mistake in classifying sidewalks as easements that property owners have to maintain to a certain standard of maintenance and snow removal, rather than as public roads for pedestrians which would be maintained by the city as part of its general expenses from property tax and other revenues the way that city streets are handled. Sidewalks are a "network" asset that work only as well as the worst link in the network, and collectivized snow removal would be vastly more efficient (and prevent a lot of injuries and deaths of the elderly and infirm trying to do it themselves) than the status quo of homeowner clearing of sidewalks.

* Someday, when I am not dealing with more urgent repairs like the remedying of the removal of a structural wall that a contractor said wasn't a structural wall, I will get around to replacing the last couple hundred square feet of conventional lawn in my home with a lower maintenance xeriscape alternative. Bluegrass lawns make absolutely no sense in the arid western U.S. I really like the Western U.S. centered Sunset magazine aesthetic and cultural movement that is responsive to its local conditions in that regard and I am pleased to learn that is hasn't gone out of business even though it suspended publication for a number of months and isn't as widely available in grocery store magazine stands anymore:

In March 2020, with the magazine struggling financially due to loss of advertising revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company put most of its employees on unpaid leave. During the pandemic, the company briefly ceased printing the magazine but returned to print with the December 2020 issue.

* In the same vein as xeriscaping, the Western U.S. should transition to something like the Old Mexico daily schedule that is quiescent in the hot midday, but has more public activity in the evenings. 

* Similarly, the American business and professional class should continue to recognize that business suits and ties invented to meet the needs of professional in London, Berlin, Paris, and Northern Italy are ill-suited to sweltering summers of most of the United States which are virtually unknown in Europe (most of which doesn't even routinely need air condition in the summer). French and British colonists themselves didn't feel so constrained when they presided over colonial governments in tropical Africa and India in shorts and short sleeves. Americans need not straight jacket themselves into Ataturk's mandate that businessmen and professionals in Turkey wear wool, European style suits and top hats in the early 1900s in an effort to "modernize" (even though his basic insight that cultural change in inseparable from modernization and economic development wasn't fundamentally wrong). We need to think more like the Japanese on the verge of ending a long period of isolation, whose Emperor sent emissaries out all over the world to see how other countries more advanced than them at the time did things and then picked, chose, and adapted Western ways of doing things in a way that was sensitive to their own local conditions and culture.

* The big picture is that we should be changing our culture to be in better harmony with the conditions of the world we live in, rather than being so tradition bound culturally, whether its yards, the hours we have dinner and work outside, or our clothing.

* The U.S. has backfilled its falling total fertility rate a.k.a. TFR (i.e. number of children per women per lifetime) with immigration to keep its population stable as it has undergone demographic transition with its economic development. The capacity of China, Japan, Korea, and Japan to do the same, in a manner that is within the realm of the politically possible is much more difficult. None of these cultures is very receptive to immigration. This is true even between these East Asian nations with a lot of shared history and culture. Korean migrants are ill treated in China and Japan. Chinese people aren't too welcome in China either. Korea has an officially sponsored pride in its national homogeneity although South Korean farmers who can't find wives are starting to secure wives from Southeast Asia especially. China's 1.4 billion people with dramatically falling TFR has a need for people to refill its workforce that greatly exceeds the supply of people willing to relocate there. Maybe it is good to have a smaller global population as we are approaching peak global population, to place less of a strain on our planet's carrying capacity, and maybe the demographic transition that comes with economic development reflects a buried hidden wisdom that a higher standing of living ideally supports fewer people.

* The similarities between much of the Islamic world and the Victorian era and early 20th century are striking. It suggests that the Islamic world may sooner or later experience a cultural transition similar to the West from the Victorian era to the present. In the fights over the hijab in Iran, we see echos of the 1920s flappers. Most Islamic countries are treating women a lot better now than they did half a century ago even though it can be hard to see when comparing these countries to the modern West. Even though Islam allows polygamy, Tunisia and Turkey have banned it as a matter of secular law that doesn't force anyone to do something that Islam bans. The death penalty and corporal punishment are much more common in the Islamic world than in the West (and this is also common in communist countries for some reason), but apart from holdouts like Iran and Saudi Arabia, its declined a lot just as it did in industrial era Europe. Countries like Iran and Turkey are genuine, if flawed, Islamic democracies, although Afghanistan seems to have regressed. What does the Islamic transition to modernity look like? How does a global transition to a post-petroleum economy impact that?

* The nation's legal system is really digging into Trump. On the civil side, he had to settle the Trump U. case, he lost the rape/defamation case, he lost a major motion for summary judgment in a case in New York related to asset value fraud. And then he has the New York criminal fraud case, the January 6 case, the Georgia election fraud case, and the Florida classified documents case, all on track as the election comes in. And, the insurrection disqualification cases are pending.

* In 1970s the G-7 countries contained 67% of global GDP, today it's only 30%. There is every reason to think that this trend will continue. It is easier to have a higher GDP growth rate percentage when you are copying economic solutions and technologies that someone else has already proven to work successfully than it is to come up with new ways to grow the economy from scratch. So the percentage gap between G-7 countries and non-G-7 countries in GDP per capita should narrow and at the same time, less economically developed countries are growing as their population grows at a higher percentage rate than more economically developed countries whose populations are often shrinking or stagnant. As the G-7 countries dominate the global economy less strongly over time, all sorts of things change, among them the character of international trade and the feasibility of an across the board export based economy like the U.S. had post-WWII because WWII destroyed the economic infrastructure of the rest of the world more than it did the economic infrastructure of the U.S. which just had to shift its factories from making swords to making ploughshares. Probably, we'll see more orientation towards domestic production and more specialized export markets in each country.

* Intellectual property laws and privacy laws need reforms. IP laws need to be weaker. Privacy laws need to be more manageable - our current reactions are too cumbersome and overrate privacy against other values, including free speech.

21 September 2023

The Delusional Party

A P.R.R.I. poll in 2021 found that 23 percent of Republicans agree that “The government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation.” Even now, some two-thirds of Republicans believe that President Biden was not legitimately elected. Only 40 percent of Republicans say that the benefits of Covid vaccines outweigh the risks (which is why research suggests that Covid may have disproportionately killed Republicans).

18 September 2023

Major Flaws In The U.S. Constitution Recapped

The U.S. Constitution and its related political rules are deeply flawed and obsolete, but remain because they are hard to amend. Also, due to the power of imitation, state governments in the U.S. are also flawed (although less starkly in many respects), despite the fact that their constitutions are much easier to amend.
In sum, the 20th century ushered in the modern democratic era—an age in which many of the institutional fetters on popular majorities that were designed by pre-democratic monarchies and aristocracies were dismantled. Democracies all over the world abolished or weakened their most egregiously counter-majoritarian institutions. Conservative defenders of these institutions anxiously warned of impending instability, chaos, or tyranny. But that has rarely ensued since World War II. Indeed, countries such as Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the U.K. were both more stable and more democratic at the close of the 20th century than they were at the beginning. Eliminating counter-majoritarianism helped give rise to modern democracy.

America also took important steps toward majority rule in the 20th century. The Nineteenth Amendment (ratified in 1920) extended voting rights to women, and the 1924 Snyder Act extended citizenship and voting rights to Native Americans—although it was not until the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the United States met minimal standards for universal suffrage…

But America’s 20th-century reforms did not go as far as in other democracies. For example, whereas every other presidential democracy in the world did away with indirect elections during the 20th century, in America the Electoral College remains intact.

America also retained its first-past-the-post electoral system, even though it creates situations of minority rule, especially in state legislatures. The United States, Canada, and the U.K. are the only rich Western democracies not to have adopted more proportional election rules in the 20th century

The united states, once a democratic innovator, now lags behind. The persistence of our pre-democratic institutions as other democracies have dismantled theirs has made America a uniquely counter-majoritarian democracy at the dawn of the 21st century. Consider the following: 
America is the only presidential democracy in the world in which the president is elected via an electoral college, rather than directly by voters. Only in America, then, can a president be “elected against the majority expressed at the polls.” 
America is one of the few remaining democracies that retains a bicameral legislature with a powerful upper chamber, and it is one of an even smaller number of democracies in which a powerful upper chamber is severely malapportioned because of the “equal representation of unequal states” (only Argentina and Brazil are worse). Most important, it is the world’s only democracy with both a strong, malapportioned Senate and a legislative-minority veto (the filibuster). In no other democracy do legislative minorities routinely and permanently thwart legislative majorities. 
America is one of the few established democracies (along with Canada, India, Jamaica, and the U.K.) with first-past-the-post electoral rules that permit electoral pluralities to be manufactured into legislative majorities and, in some cases, allow parties that garner fewer votes to win legislative majorities.
America is the only democracy in the world with lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices. All other established democracies have either term limits, a mandatory retirement age, or both.

One reason America has become such an outlier is that, among the world’s democracies, the U.S. Constitution is the hardest to change. In Norway, a constitutional amendment requires a supermajority of two-thirds support in two successive elected Parliaments, but the country has no equivalent to America’s extraordinarily difficult state-level ratification process. According to the constitutional scholars Tom Ginsburg and James Melton, the relative flexibility of the constitution allows Norwegians to “update the formal text in ways that keep it modern.” Americans are not so fortunate.

Of the 31 democracies examined by the political theorist Donald Lutz in his comparative study of constitutional-amendment processes, the United States stands at the top of his Index of Difficulty, exceeding the next-highest-scoring countries (Australia and Switzerland) by a wide margin. Not only do constitutional amendments require the approval of two-thirds majorities in both the House and the Senate; they must be ratified by three-quarters of the states. For this reason, the United States has one of the lowest rates of constitutional change in the world. According to the U.S. Senate, 11,848 attempts have been made to amend the U.S. Constitution. But only 27 of them have been successful. America’s Constitution has been amended only 12 times since Reconstruction, most recently in 1992—more than three decades ago.
From here.

Selecting Political Leaders

It is well known that the political process does a poor job of selecting the best people to govern a governmental body. There are few proven solutions to this problem, although arguably strong civil service protections for all but the most senior civil servants help.
Mounk: Why is it that the incentives of the system are rewarding the worst kind of behavior and bringing out the worst in people and, when I look at the history of the United Kingdom for the last ten years, not rewarding the people whom I think we would agree would be better in public service?

Stewart: Well, I think it’s partly that you’re not selecting for somebody’s ability to govern a country. You’re not trying to find people who are strong at critical thinking, or who are skilled managers, or who have particularly impressive ideas. It’s not a selection process like you would select a CEO or a university professor. You’re basically selecting through a party system, so that the first thing that matters is what kind of people impress the party. And the people that impress the party in the UK system tend to be people who have been engaged with party politics from a very, very young age, who have demonstrated their loyalty out on the street by campaigning, delivering leaflets, or have worked as a special advisor or assistant to a minister or a Member of Parliament.

When you enter politics, there are strong pressures to demonstrate loyalty to the party and the leader, and equally strong pressures to establish your name in the media and through social media, often through making very provocative comments, creating a very binary black and white vision of the world. The combination of party media and campaigning means that the system selects for somebody who is going to very naturally produce very binary options in very clear colors, who doesn’t admit any form of complexity, doubt, or humility; who’s perpetually confident in their vision of the world. Perhaps this is the sort of mask which they put on in order to get elected. But the problem is, the mask is painted with a poison. And when they take off the mask, the poison is still corroding their face. So when they sit around the cabinet table, they have to demonstrate critical thinking, and critical thinking is the opposite of all those things. Suddenly, they have to think about complexity, they have to be humble, they have to be open to other people’s ideas, they have to be able to change their minds. They have to be interested in nuance and detail. None of those things are the things which enable a Donald Trump or Boris Johnson to flourish in the first place.

I think it is particularly corrosive on the right.
From here.

Are This Many People Are Really Not Straight?

I have real doubts about these numbers. I suspect that a lot of people identifying as "bisexual" or "something else" are basically "straight" from a clinical perspective but are open to experimentation and aren't freaked out by casual same sex contact.

There could also be self-selection of non-straight people away from Christianity and Islam.

Book Of Mormon Geography

Background with much more is found here.

12 September 2023

Why Do Cops Do Bad Things?

A new study blames insufficient training for inappropriate law enforcement actions.
What causes adverse policing outcomes, such as excessive uses of force and unnecessary arrests? 
Prevailing explanations focus on problematic officers or deficient regulations and oversight. Here, we introduce a new, overlooked perspective. 
We suggest that the cognitive demands inherent in policing can undermine officer decision-making. Unless officers are prepared for these demands, they may jump to conclusions too quickly without fully considering alternative ways of seeing a situation. This can lead to adverse policing outcomes. 
To test this perspective, we created a new training that teaches officers to more deliberately consider different ways of interpreting the situations they encounter. We evaluated this training using a randomized controlled trial with 2,070 officers from the Chicago Police Department. In a series of lab assessments, we find that treated officers were significantly more likely to consider a wider range of evidence and develop more explanations for subjects' actions. 
Critically, we also find that training affected officer performance in the field, leading to reductions in uses of force, discretionary arrests, and arrests of Black civilians. Meanwhile, officer activity levels remained unchanged, and trained officers were less likely to be injured on duty. 
Our results highlight the value of considering the cognitive aspects of policing and demonstrate the power of using behaviorally informed approaches to improve officer decision-making and policing outcomes.
Oeindrila Dube, Sandy Jo MacArthur & Anuj K. Shah, "A Cognitive View of Policing" NBER WORKING PAPER 31651 (September 2023) DOI 10.3386/w31651

The State Of The Presidential Nomination Race In Iowa

A Trump v. Biden Presidential election in 2024 still seems to be the most likely outcome, but Trump's standing is growing less secure. No viable alternative to Biden has emerged, however.

A new Emerson College poll shows that Iowa Republican caucus voters have soured on Donald Trump, dropping their support by 13 points, from 62% in May to 49% last week. Their support for . . . Ron DeSantis, also dropped, from 20% to 14% in the same time period. . . .
[C]onservative entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tom Scott (R-S.C.) appeared to be gaining some ground, both rising 5 points. Ramaswamy increased from 2 percent to 7 percent, and Scott from 3 percent to 8 percent.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also saw slight raises of 2 points each. Haley went from 5 percent to 7 percent and Burgum from 1 percent to 3 percent support.

Six percent of Republican caucus voters were undecided, the poll found.
. . .

President Biden's numbers greatly dropped, from 69% to 50%, while Robert F. Kennedy Jr. fell from 11% to 9% and Marrianne Williamson tumbled from 10% to 7%.

Via Boing Boing

The percentage of undecided Democrats in Iowa has grown from 10% to 34%, leaving room for a new entrant to quickly gain support if a viable Democratic Presidential candidate other than Biden materialized.

11 September 2023

State Building in Mexico Wasn't Easy

We easily forget how messy the path to the present can be. The emergence of the Mexican nation and state is one example of this mess process in action.
Mexico in the nineteenth century presents a dramatic example of this problem. Mexico suffered extreme political instability and strife in the nineteenth century. There were 800 revolts between 1821 and 1875. Between independence in 1821 and 1900, Mexico had 72 different chief executives, meaning that the average term was only a little more than one year long. Likewise, the country had 112 finance ministers between 1830 and 1863. In addition there were several invasions and secessionist movements.

The country also experimented with several different forms of government, including two empires (one headed by a French-backed, Austrian-born member of the Habsburg dynasty), one disputed period where there were presidents from both main parties, four republics, one provisional republic, and a long dictatorship. President Guadalupe Victoria was the first constitutionally elected president of the country, and the only one who would complete a full term in the first 30 years of independence.
Some other examples: There were four Mexican presidents in the years 1829, 1839, 1846, 1847, and 1853, while there were five in 1844 and 1855 and eight in 1833. Antonio López de Santa Anna, who was President of Mexico on ten separate occasions, was president four different times in a single year.

Mexico faced constant challenges to its sovereignty in the first 50 years of independence, from the secessions of Texas and Central America, to the secession attempts of the Yucatán, as well as numerous smaller rebellions.

07 September 2023

There Is Lots Of Room For Progress In Medicine

The state of the art technology in 2023 is closer to long term theoretical limitations in some areas than others. Some technologies, like aircraft and nuclear power, have only modest room for improvement beyond their theoretical limits.

But, there is particularly great room for improvements with profound societal implications during my lifetime and the lifetime of my children in the area of medical science and technology.

Consider, in particular, the quest for a cure for cancer. We have a decent biochemical understanding of cancer. We have some treatments for cancer in our arsenal that work for some kinds of cancer in some circumstances. It is an area for which there is lots of funding for research.

We know that curing or dramatically reducing the lethality of cancer is possible in principle because we've identified animals, and even some select human subpopulations that have dramatically lower cancer rates than those of the average humans.

We know that certain kinds of cancer are caused by viruses and have a good idea about how to develop vaccines against those viruses, one of which, vaccines for the main viruses that cause cervical cancer, is already in wide use.

We are also making good progress on drugs to treat cancer once you develop it. Some of these drugs can be targeted on an individualized basis to the cancer in a particular person. Some of these drugs have far fewer side effects than earlier chemotherapies because they have effects that better distinguish between cancer cells and normal cells. Some of these drugs have broader application to multiple kinds of cancer.

And, we are making progress in more accurately diagnosing cancer's onset early when it is easier to treat and has done less harm.

It isn't unreasonable to think that in twenty to forty years that advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment could reduce cancer death rates by 80%-90%, on top of incremental but steady reductions in cancer death rates that have already been made by possible through medical research and its wide dissemination.

Now, cancer is one of the two leading causes of all deaths, and makes up an even larger share of deaths of "natural causes" in old age (the other one is cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes). But advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment could lead cancer to join the ranks of leprosy, the bubonic plague, and HIV as a disease that is still devastating if not treated, but whose lethality can be dramatically reduced as a matter of course with effective treatments.

Dramatically reducing the lethality of cancer would profoundly extend the life expectancy of people around the world and would in short order have a transformative effect on society.

Now, the benefits of dramatically reducing the lethality of cancer also shouldn't be overstated. Old age involves a wide array of declines in body functionality. It just so happens that cancer and breakdowns of the cardiovascular system are most often the first to manifest in a way that can be deadly. But if cancer becomes much less deadly, people who otherwise would have died of cancer will often instead often die of some other geriatric condition, not all that many years later in many cases. 

They will die of geriatric falls. They will die because they drive to drive despite declining vision and reaction times. They will die from breakdowns of their cardiovascular systems, or kidney failure, or liver failure, or complications of old age associated dementia. They will die from medical mistakes. They will die from the flu or COVID.

Old age makes your body break down and this can make death by some means or another associated with these break downs almost inevitable. And, the vast majority of animals have a lifespan that is quiet similar measured in units of heartbeats per lifetime, so it is medically more challenging to come up with treatments that stop, slow down, or reverse the global cellular aging process itself.

But there are a handful of animal models of animals that appear to surpass the barrier of the biochemical cellular aging progress itself. 

We don't understand the process and the mechanisms for modifying cellular aging quite as well as we understand cancer, but we do have a fairly good big picture understanding of how the aging process works, and we have had a few small successes in trying to modify it (at least in animal models). There is no fundamental theoretical scientific reason that we shouldn't be able to stop, slow, or reverse the aging process. Ultimately, learning how to do this is just one more biochemical engineering problem that is solvable in principle, even though it is difficult and complicated.

Slowing down the aging process is a holy grail of medical research because it has such potentially broad applicability. If you can develop a treatment that causes someone to have a body that biochemically looks like it is 50 years old at age 75, a one-third reduction in the rate at which the aging process proceeds without actually even stopping or reversing the process, the number of people who could live long past age 100 would soar.

Slowing down the aging process would dramatically reduce the death rates from basically all geriatric causes of death simultaneously at any given age, and would also increase the health of older people receiving the treatments at every age thus improving their quality of life.

Taken together a dramatic reduction in the lethality of cancer, followed perhaps two or three decades later by treatments that significantly slow down the aging process, would profoundly change human society forever going forward.

And, along the way, there are other major killers which are likewise basically just bioengineering problems to solve, for which there is no good reason to think that they can't be overcome with enough time, money, and brainpower devoted to the maladies.

We now know that M.S. is predominantly caused by a virus and can probably develop a vaccine to immunize people against that virus in a decade or so. We are making good progress in developing vaccines and treatments that greatly reduce the toll of malaria. We are making good progress in being able to cure HIV. There is promising research on a "vaccine" that would dramatically reduce the vulnerability of people treated with it to tooth decay and gum disease in the next decade or two. Wide spectrum, long lasting vaccines for many variations of the flu and of the common cold look viable in the next decade or two. There is no good reason that an effective vaccine for syphilis couldn't be developed.

Gene therapy may soon be able to cure a wide array of single mutation Mendelian genetic disorders and conditions. We are finding more and more ways to replace organs and other body parts that have failed, either with transplants, or custom grown replacements, or with mechanical substitutes whose quality is greatly increasing.

We aren't anywhere close to reaching immortality and curing all diseases and maladies. But a huge swath of medical conditions seem likely to go the way of measles, mumps, rubella, polio, small pox, cholera, leprosy, the bubonic plague, tuberculosis, gangrene, bacteria infections, scurvy, rickets, lead poisoning, mercury poisoning, maternal mortality, infant death, and folate deficiency, all of which had an immense public health impact a century or two ago, and are now important primarily for their historic impact.

The Incidence Of Corporate Tax Breaks In The U.S.

A 17%-25% share of the benefit that publicly held corporations receive from corporate tax breaks goes towards compensation for their five highest paid executives.
I analyze the effect of two corporate tax breaks, bonus depreciation and the Domestic Production Activities Deduction (DPAD), on executive compensation in publicly traded US firms. I find both tax breaks significantly increase executive compensation. For every dollar a firm benefits from the tax breaks, compensation of the firm's top five highest-paid executives increases by $0.17 to $0.25. The tax breaks increase compensation primarily in firms with weaker governance structures, suggesting the compensation response is driven by executive rent extraction.
Eric Ohrn, "Corporate Tax Breaks and Executive Compensation" American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 215-255 (August 2023).

A Clever Research Design Tracks Corruption In Italy

It is possible to identify lies about birth dates in public records statistically, even if you can't tell which particular birth dates are lies. This trick was used to track honesty by region in Italy, and shifts in the honest of different regions over time.
Using census data, we study false birth-date registrations in Italy, a phenomenon well known to demographers, in a setting that allows us to separate honesty from the benefits of cheating and deterrence. By comparing migrants leaving a locality with those who remain in it, we illustrate the tendency of Italians to sort themselves across geographic areas according to their honesty levels. Over time, this tendency has modified the average honesty level in each locality, with relevant consequences for the distribution across geographic areas of outcomes like human capital, productivity, earnings growth, and the quality of local politicians and government.
Massimo Anelli, Tommaso Colussi, and Andrea Ichino, "Rule Breaking, Honesty, and Migration" 66(2) Journal of Law and Economics (2023) (Supplemental Data here). This closed access paper is analyzed in the comments at Marginal Revolution and at another blog that it links to discussing the paper.

An Indirect Estimate Of COVID On The Labor Supply

A new study indirectly estimates the combined impact of long COVID, acute COVID hospitalization for more than week, and COVID deaths, on the U.S. labor supply.

COVID reduced the size of the U.S. labor force by about 500,000 people losing $9,000 of wages each, of which about $8,100 each was from absences after the first week of COVID related sick leave, an average of about 9 more weeks of lost earnings, although like any arithmetic mean, this can probably be broken into a minority who lost much more than ten weeks of work, and a majority who lost significantly less than ten weeks of work.

The abstract and citation for the study are as follows:
We show that Covid-19 illnesses and related work absences persistently reduce labor supply. Using an event study, we estimate that workers with week-long Covid-19 absences are 7 percentage points less likely to be in the labor force one year later compared to otherwise-similar workers who do not miss a week of work for health reasons.

Our estimates suggest Covid-19 absences have reduced the U.S. labor force by approximately 500,000 people (0.2 percent of adults) and imply an average labor supply loss per Covid-19 absence equivalent to $9,000 in forgone earnings, about 90 percent of which reflects losses beyond the initial absence week.
Gopi Shah Goda and Evan J. Soltas, "The impacts of Covid-19 absences on workers" 222 Journal of Public Economics 104889 (June 2023).

Parents in College

There are lots of non-traditional students in colleges and universities, but they struggle to earn degrees. 

Census data from the 2021 American Community Survey data analyzed by Colorado’s demographer suggests that parents make up a little less than a third of undergraduate students at all of the state’s colleges and universities.

That’s close to what national data collected by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showed in 2016: about 22% of all college undergraduates were parents. The institute found 42% of all community college students and just 17% of students at public four-year universities were parents. 
. . .
Student parents carry higher GPAs on average but are 10 times less likely to graduate, according to the women’s policy research institute. They are also more likely to be Black and low-income, take on more student loan debt, and struggle to find housing.
From Chalkbeat Colorado. A link to an Atlantic story in the article notes that "despite having a higher GPA on average than their peers, 52 percent of student-parents like her leave college within six years without completing their degree."

06 September 2023

Premature Death In The Demimonde

Most unsolved gun murders, and a substantial share of all murders, involved adolescent and young adult men, mostly non-white, in gangs in poverty stricken neighborhoods. Prostitutes, homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, people with traumatic brain injuries, severely mentally ill people with some particular mental illness like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and PTSD (often veterans), high school dropouts, runaways, foster children who have at some time been abused or neglected, people with juvenile delinquency or criminal records, disowned LGBT people, and disabled older men without any college education, are also particular vulnerable to premature death. And, of course, these categories have lots of overlap.

Targeting assistance these populations could greatly reduce premature deaths in the U.S., but there isn't the politically will to do so. Politicians and the public don't care much about people in this demimonde.

01 September 2023

Appalachian Economics

The ARC classifies 27.2 percent of North Appalachian counties as distressed but only 9.6 percent of South Appalachian counties that way. 
Over 70 percent of counties in South Appalachia have grown in population since the 2020 Census. North Appalachia lost 17,131 people in total, while South Appalachia gained 127,585. 
The difference in net in-migration is even more stark. While the North posted positive net domestic in-migration of 22,563, the South tallied almost 300,000—13 times as high. 
The story is similar for jobs, with the North losing 227,049 positions since the pre-pandemic year of 2019, while the South actually exceeded its pre-Covid levels by 66,377. 
In other words, much of South Appalachia is seeing a population inflow and is growing in both population and employment.
From here.

The Mason-Dixon line is used to divide North Appalachia from South Appalachia. North Appalachia is more dependent upon coal mining and fossil fuels, and some of it has a rust belt economy, among other differences.

Time Entry Sucks!

There is nothing I hate more about the practice of law than entering in time entries of absolutely everything I do in 0.1 hour increments. After a quarter of a century of doing it, I still absolutely hate it.