30 October 2023

What Makes A Good Snow/Off Road Car Or Truck?

What makes a good snow/off road car or truck?

Of course, learning how to drive in snowy, slippery, and off road conditions (ideally, both in the light and in the dark) matters just as much as the vehicle itself. But the vehicle matters too. 

In order of importance, a good snow/off road car or truck should have these characteristics and/or features:

1. Tires properly inflated for the conditions with lots of tread. Tires let you stop, which is more important that four wheel drive or all wheel drive which lets you go. Chains can partially make up for otherwise insufficient tire tread.

2. Sufficient clearance. Mazda Miatas are horrible and can't even clear a couple of inches of snow on a raised driveway (in common with many sports cars designed for peak speed in dry paved roads). Five inches is usually tolerable. Subarus, at 8.7 inches with a couple of exceptions (e.g., the Impreza) are usually adequate for even off road conditions. Jeeps and Hummers are better. In theory, things like angles of attack and various other measurements of a vehicle's capabilities to handle variously shaped terrain also matter, but in practice, if you have enough ground clearance, everything else will probably work out as well. A decent suspension is also closely related to adequate clearance.

3. Four wheel drive or all wheel drive (four wheel drive is marginally better than all wheel drive, and more than four wheels, for example, on a fire truck or 6x6 or 8x8 wheeled vehicle, can be better). If you can't have either of these, front wheel drive is better than rear wheel drive.

4. An ability to intentionally drive in low gear (not a big factor as almost all vehicles can do this).

5. Traction control and anti-lock brakes. You have to know you have these features, however, as you drive differently with them when you are skidding.

6. Fog lights, if you are driving in blowing snow or fog.

7. More weight, within reason. More weight generally means more traction, but too much weight (e.g., more than ten tons) can make it impossible to cross bridges in rural areas. More weight also usually means less fuel efficiency, which is a problem if you need to travel for long distances between refueling opportunities.

8. Narrower width, within reason. A narrower vehicle can fit through tighter spaces, around tighter corners, and into smaller parking spaces. But if the vehicle is too narrow this can lead to a problematic high center of gravity.

9. Lower center of gravity and height, within reason. Vehicles with a higher center of gravity are more prone to rollover accidents. A vehicle that is taller is more prone to being blown around by high winds and can't pass through narrow underpasses.

10. Traction generating tools on hand in case you are stuck (this could be kitty litter, traction boards, shovels, or other traction generating devices).

11. A full sized spare tire and jack and tire changing tool(s).

12. Greater range with a suitable fuel tank to support it. When you are far from civilization you need to be able to travel further between refueling. Range is a combination of fuel efficiency and the size of your fuel supply.

13. A decent heater and air conditioning that work.

14. Rear window wipers and washers (to clear mud that flys up in your rear window as you drive and falling snow).

15. Straight up and down windows (this reduces the time spent clearing snow from the windows, but reduces fuel efficiency and aerodynamics).

16. A winch. This is the ultimate way to get yourself or a pal unstuck, but is only needed if somebody really screwed up in the first place a long way away from a tow truck.

17. Extra bright headlights, if you are driving in the dark off-road.

18. Metal cages for vulnerable parts. A front metal grill in front of the bumper and metal cages around headlights and any other vulnerable parts of the vehicle can reduce damage if something bumps them, which is more likely in snowy, slippery, and off road driving.

19. A stronger engine. The big concern here is the ability to generate lots of torque in low gears. But this is well down the list of factors that are likely to make a big difference, and this usually comes at the cost of less fuel efficiency which can also be an issue since it limits your range.

20. Heated seats.

There are other things worth mentioning that are good to have including which relate mostly to what you carry and how: 

* a good emergency kit and set of survival supplies (especially water, something to hold water, blankets, food that doesn't have to be cooked, a lighter, a knife, rope, flares, and a good first aid kit);

* good places to stow your camping, biking, skiing, fishing, snow shoeing, or other gear for your outdoor adventures (either inside, or in a truck bed, or in a roof rack or on a trailer for which you have a hitch - covered storage is usually better than uncovered storage, unless you routinely carry oversized and odd sized cargo);

* a place to charge phones and other electronics, or back up charging devices;

* satellite radio for places with no radio channels and no cell service;

* easy to clean upholstery covers and footwell covers.

* extra motor oil, coolant, windshield wash, car fuel, and a stand alone battery jumping machine; and

a satellite phone.

It is also worth noting that if you have more than one vehicle, only one of them needs to be good in snow and off road conditions in most cases. Your other vehicles don't need to be equally capable unless you truly live in the deep wilderness. 

If you face extreme conditions only infrequently, the best option may be to rent or borrow a vehicle suited for extreme conditions in the rare circumstances when those capabilities are necessary.

Ground War In Gaza (Gaza War Part IV)

The Gaza Strip is ultimately not a very big place. It is about twice as wide and twice as long as Manhattan and is similarly densely populated. It is smaller geographically than most U.S. counties; it is smaller than three U.S. survey townships and the military conflict is concentrated in a northern 1/3 to 1/2 of the Gaza strip. "Deep incursions" into Gaza can mean a dozen miles or less. 

There has been talk of a ground war campaign lasting for months, although it isn't clear why it would take so long. 

Israel has up to 600,000 troops at its disposal (half, activated reservists), and a full range of modern military systems. The Israelis can call in air strikes with guided munitions at will on short notice.

Hamas had something more like 6,000 armed men before it launched its raid on Israel, some of whom are no doubt already dead or seriously wounded. Hamas has essentially no armored vehicles and no naval forces of any kind. Its soldiers use unarmored civilian motor vehicles and motorcycles, with dwindling fuel supplies. They are armed mostly with small arms, as well as a modest number of drones as its air force, and infantry or civilian truck carried missiles, and IEDs, as its most potent weapons. Hamas can draw blood from Israeli Defense Force troops as they move in and kill the hostages it holds, but ultimately,  Hamas is totally outmatched militarily.

Hamas is boxed in by the Gaza border fence and an Israeli navy patrolled sea. They have no place to run. It does have an extensive tunnel and underground bunker system within Gaza City, although the Israelis know where at least some of the tunnels and bunkers are located. 

Hamas has no access to new military supplies. It probably didn't have all that expansive reserves of ammunition and rockets before this latest conflict began. 

Much of the city, especially in places Hamas was believed to use, has been reduced to rubble. The electrical grid of Gaza City is without power, and new shipments of food, fuel, water, and medicine to the Gaza Strip are minimal. Hamas accidentally bombed and largely destroyed one of the main hospitals in Gaza.

A handful of Hamas hostages have been released, a small number of died, a few are known to be alive and have been shown on video clips, and most of perhaps a hundred or a hundred and fifty hostages, are unaccounted for. Recovering hostages is probably the IDFs first priority.

Hezbollah militias in Lebanon, supported by Iran, on Israel's Northern border, have tried to fire rockets at Israel and raid it, but mostly ineffectually. Iran has made great noise about Israel's actions in diplomatic circles, but Hamas in Gaza has no one taking military action to support it. 

The main focus of diplomatic efforts has been on providing humanitarian aid to Gazan civilians via its border with Egypt, only a trickle of which has occurred. Gazan refugees are apparently not welcome in Egypt.

One of the biggest problems for Israel and civilian Gazans, is that with a death warrant effectively issued by Israel for anyone remotely senior in the Hamas led government or organization, there is really no one in a position for Israel to enter into diplomacy with in Gaza. For example, no one is in a position to deliver an unconditional surrender to Israel that had any meaningful effect, even if this is what Gazans overwhelmingly wanted to do.

This may be why the ground campaign is anticipated to last so long. It won't be over until every last fighter in Gaza is defeated, because there is no easy way for Hamas fighters to surrender.

The Washington Post describes what ground combat activities have commenced there:

Moving quickly, in darkness and daylight, Israeli tanks and soldiers entered the outskirts of Gaza City on Monday, reaching the main highway that connects north and south in the 25-mile-long enclave. The Israeli forces were so close to the city that ground troops called in airstrikes on Hamas targets. . . . 
Earlier in the day, other dramatic video footage taken by Palestinian journalists and geolocated by The Washington Post showed a white sedan traveling on the highway toward the Netzarim junction, where there was at least one Israeli tank. As the car executed a slow U-turn, the tank appeared to fire on and hit the vehicle. (Netzarim was an Israeli agricultural settlement whose last residents were evicted by Israeli soldiers in 2005 during their pullout from the Gaza Strip.)
Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari declined to comment on the incident on the highway on Monday, but told a news conference that Israel has “expanded the activity of our forces and additional forces entered the strip, including infantry, armored corps, combat engineering and artillery corps.”

“There is also direct contact between our forces on the ground and terrorists as the fighting continues inside the Gaza Strip,” Hagari said.

Without offering much detail, the Israeli military and the Shin Bet internal security agency issued a joint statement saying they had rescued an Israeli soldier who was taken hostage on Oct. 7 during the raids by Hamas into Israel. The soldier was identified as Private Ori Megidish. Authorities said she was in good health and photos appeared on Israeli media sites of her reunited with her family.

In other signs of a deeper incursion into Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces told journalists that Israeli troops spotted “an antitank missile launching post in the area of the al-Azhar University, and guided a fighter jet to strike them.” The university campus is located just south of Gaza City. Social media reports from Gaza said Israeli troops were in the area. 
Earlier, IDF soldiers hoisted an Israeli flag atop a beachside hotel north of Gaza City. 
Until now, short video clips released by the IDF mostly show tanks and troops operating on the periphery of Gaza, mainly in farmlands and the edges of urban areas. 
There are only two main roads connecting north and south in Gaza. One of them runs along the exposed coast and the other is Salah al-Din road, the main artery. 

The COVID Vaccines Saved Many Lives

Leveraging the staggered rollout of vaccines, we find that the vaccination campaign across 141 countries averted 2.4 million excess deaths. . . . We also find that an equitable counterfactual distribution of vaccines, with vaccination in each country proportional to its population, would have saved roughly 670,000 more lives.

According to the World Health Organization there have been 6,974,473 COVID deaths to date, worldwide. So, vaccines prevented about 25% of COVID deaths that would have occurred without them.

27 October 2023

China Is Unlikely To Start A War

With Russia knocked down a peg by its disastrous performance in the Ukraine War, Afghanistan fallen to the Taliban, none of the usual candidates in the Middle East coming forward publicly to try to pounce on Israel in the face of its intense response to an Iranian supported Hamas massacre and Hezbollah rocket attacks from Lebanon, and North Korea lobbing nuclear ready missiles in tests but taking no conventional warfare steps and its leader shaking hands with South Korea's leader, all attention has turned to China.

As a country with 1.4 billion people, a gross national product that is 76% of the size of the U.S. GNP, and decades of intense economic growth, China's has had the resources to fund a large and advanced military, without even seriously militarizing its society with large numbers of soldiers relative to its population or seriously straining the ability of its government to pay for it. 

China's merely regional aspirations also allow it to concentrate its military resources. China hasn't tried to mimic the United States and Russia by deploying a large blue sea navy far from its coast, or by trying to serve as a "global policeman". China has some blue sea navy capabilities with modern aircraft carriers, surface combatants, and longer range than coastal submarine, it has long range missiles (some of which carry nuclear missiles), and it even has some reasonably long range military aircraft. But China has shown little interest in flexing its military muscles further from home than the Philippines, Southeast Asia, the Western Pacific Ocean, and the East China Sea. 

China certainly has no plans to invade any country in the Americas, or to repeat the mistake that Japan made in World War II when Japan attacked Hawaii in 1941.

There is no indication that China has any intention of starting hostilities to the North, with Russia or Mongolia or on its borders with the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia. 

Despite some border skirmishes over worthless, almost uninhabited mountain territory on its border with India, this conflict seems to be more about pride and honor than anything substantive. China shows no indication that it wants to seize meaningfully inhabited parts of Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, or Myanmar. China seems to have bitten off as much as it can chew when it conquered Tibet and now thinks better of any other campaigns to repeat that experience.

China could easily have conquered the communist regimes in North Korea, Cambodia, Laos, or Vietnam outright, but appears to be content to merely leave them as tributary states in its sphere of influence that emulate it and kowtow to it. 

In part, China appears to have concluded from the troublesome resistance its has received from ethnic minorities in semiautonomous regions like Inner Mongolia, and from ethnic minorities like the Uyghurs, the Tibetans, and the Manchurians, that it prefers to be a nation-state dominated by a Han Chinese core to being a sprawling multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural empire.

China doesn't really want to have to absorb Japan or North Korea or South Korea or Vietnam or Laos or Cambodia or the Philippines or Indonesia or Thailand, let alone Australia or New Zealand or Papua New Guinea. 

China isn't even grumbling about trying to unify Chinese diaspora populations in Western influenced places with large Chinese minorities, like Singapore or Malaysia. It swallowed up Macao easily enough, when its 99 year lease expired, but has found that even trying to absorb Hong Kong without destroying what makes it valuable has been highly challenging, even when the British handed it over without a fight when its 99 year lease expired.

China has a large and technologically advanced Army ground forces with no place to go. It has state of the art tanks and anti-tank forces, but no plausible conflicts, other than an invasion of Taiwan or a campaign to put down North Korea's regime if it gets out of hand, to use it. 

It is conceivable that China might need to fight a counterinsurgency conflict in its own territory, or to aid one of its tributary states in doing so. But there is no way that any plausible insurgent force in these places could acquire "near peer" conventional military force weapons to its own forces in any meaningful amount in the foreseeable future.

The United States also has large, technologically advanced ground forces in its Army and Marines, but unlike China, it has used those ground troops as expeditionary military forces to fight foreign wars on a regular basis since at least World War I. China hasn't been involved directly in a foreign war on an expeditionary basis since World War II, even though it supported proxy Communist regimes in Korea and Southeast Asia.

Since the 1980s, China's military ambitions have focused largely on regaining control of Taiwan (which itself arrogantly claims sovereignty over mainland China, an ambition that has been futile for seven decades) and expanding its dominance in the portions of the seas near it, some closer to the Philippines and Japan than to its own coast, that the rest of the world considers to be international waters.

Taiwan is attractive because it is very close to mainland China, and it is predominantly ethnic Chinese, which makes it feel to the People's Republic of China like a territory that it could assimilate in a manner similar to its current effort to reintegrate Hong Kong into the People's Republic of China. 

The prospect of a military conquest of Taiwan is also attractive to China's military leadership, much as it is the military leadership of the United States, because it justifies immense expenditures for naval forces, air forces, and ground forces who can participate in an amphibious assault on the island of Formosa.

If China's barriers to this conquest were primarily military, it would have happened long ago. The People's Republic of China has something like 70 times more people than Taiwan does, vastly more economic resources, and can focus on this single front without fearing distractions from some other conflict at the same time. Taiwan's economy is more technologically advanced and developed than China's but that gap has fallen steadily, and when it comes to military technology, they are close to parity with China potentially having the edge at this point. Even if China had to incur three or even ten times the casualties as Taiwan did in an offensive war against it, ultimately, China has a greater capacity to bear those losses than Taiwan does. 

This said, however, one of the reasons that the last significant amphibious assault in the history of the world was seventy years ago in the Korean War is that military technologies have shifted in a way this makes this strategy which has always been extremely challenging and costly, even more difficult to carry out effectively. It is just too easy with modern anti-ship missiles, submarines, sea mines, and more to sink amphibious assault surface combatants with hundreds or even thousands of ground troops on them before they even reach the shore. And as military technologies mature and advance, the balance continues to shift, again and again, against warships and toward military forces that want to stop warships. Ukraine has managed to seriously bloody Russia's Black Sea fleet, despite not having any real navy to speak of at all.

Taiwan does have the United States, with the worlds largest and most advanced military force and nuclear weapons as it patron. But a reasonable Chinese military strategist could wager, and would probably be correct, that the United States, while it would provide as much support in conventional warfare to protect Taiwan as it could, would not be willing to start a global nuclear war with China to protect Taiwan's sovereignty, something that Taiwan itself blows hot and cold on in its own domestic politics. Likewise, while China would very much like to have Taiwan as a jewel in its crown, it seems unlikely that China would risk starting a nuclear war with the United States to get it. Nuclear missiles are blunt instruments that serve few legitimate military purposes in the hands of rational military leaders in positions of high command. And, unlike the leaders of North Korea, China's leaders have consistently shown themselves to be calculating and rational, rather than insane and reckless, for the last half century or so since the Cultural Revolution ended.

Instead, the main barrier to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is that fact that both countries "live in glass houses." Modern China's economy and prosperity is rooted in its export oriented manufacturing base, which is increasingly moving up the chain of technological sophistication. Taiwan, likewise, has an export based commercial economy that, most famously, it the global center of advanced computer processor manufacturing. China and Taiwan even have significant and strong trade ties with each other.

Unlike Russia, which has survived global economic sanctions and boycotts with only minor cuts and bruises so far, because the only exports that are very important to the health of Russia's domestic economy are natural gas and oil, both China and Taiwan have economies which are heavily reliant on international trade, much of it with rich Western countries. 

In an all out war, the sophisticated high tech factories that make that export based economy possible would be completely wiped out for decades in Taiwan, although the heavy capital investments of mainland China would be harder to really devastate. But it also isn't just physical capital investments that matter. You can't manufacture world class computer processors with unwilling serfs. The prime exports of both economies require the voluntary, and indeed, enthusiastic participation of legions of sophisticated engineers, factory managers, technicians, financial and managerial professionals, and more generally a health, decentralized, reasonably economically free commercial sector and social class. All it would take for China to kill the goose that lays Taiwan's golden eggs would be quiet work to rule, "quiet quitting" type behavior from its managerial, professional, administrative, and technical classes. No flashing explosives or armed resistance would be necessary.

Equally important, if any significant part of the developed world decided to boycott Chinese exports because of a Chinese invasion and conquest of Taiwan, as part of a general mobilization against it akin to the general mobilization against Russia that took place in the immediate wake of its invasion of Ukraine, the impact this would have on China would be far more severe than the impact these sanctions had on Russia.

China wouldn't lose all of its trading partners. It could still keep selling its ware to the communist regimes of Southeast Asia and to Russia, for example. But its trade to those countries is already close to maxed out, because it is a leading global exporter. There is no place it could sell its wares that could replace its immense exports to developed Western capitalist countries around the world, if it lost access to those markets, which it likely would, at least in the medium term.

The economic blowback that China would experience in reaction to an invasion of Taiwan from the developed Western capitalist countries of the world would be at least as bad as the Great Depression was in the United States, if not worse. Hundreds of millions of ordinary Chinese people would lose their jobs and would be trust into abject poverty. Factories up and down China's densely populated eastern coastal regions would be shuttered. People who managed to hold onto jobs might see their incomes cut in half. The massive progress China has made in the past couple of decades in eradicating extreme poverty globally would be undone.

In an economy already heavily driven by extravagant public works projects, there would be little room to boost an economy facing collapse from a sudden interruption of its export trade with more spending on public works and infrastructure. A loss of access to supplies of imported raw materials would further cripple Chinese manufacturers ability to export goods even communist or formerly communist countries that continued to support China, and to manufacture goods for domestic consumption. Imported comforts would dwindle to the consternation of Chinese business elites that now snap up second homes in Vancouver and foreign educations and travel for their children and have acquired expensive and exotic tastes. 

Also, despite its vast population, now more or less tied with India, in China, lives are no longer cheap. The average Chinese woman has less than one child in a lifetime. Many young men in China are not just only children, but are also the only grandchild of four grandparents. A historical preference for boys as China experienced its demographic transition in the face of its one child policy have left China with a surplus of military service aged men, although it has barely tapped it since it has so many young men relative to the needs of its military. 

China is far removed from places with the demographics of places like the Gaza Strip, where almost 50% of the population is under the age of eighteen, couples tend to marry in their early twenties, and women generally have many children in their lifetimes. Too many mouths to feed and too few jobs to support them isn't a problem that China has at the moment. Every young adult man and woman is precious in the eyes of modern China, so each life lost in a war to take Taiwan would have an amplified social impact. China is not psychologically prepared to lose the millions of lives and hundreds of sunken ships that it would have to expend to take Taiwan.

Given the current situation of China and Taiwan, the only way it would make sense for China to conquer Taiwan would be if it could accomplish this in an almost bloodless fait accompli in a matter of days, which the Taiwanese people collective gave up and accepted as inevitable at the outset, much like the sudden, nearly bloodless Russian conquest of Crimea in 2014 that was basically over before the world had time to react to it, or come to Ukraine's aid.

But while the Taiwanese people do predominantly speak a Chinese topolect, and do have strong cultural ties to mainland China, the similarities between Crimea and Taiwan end there. Modern Taiwan's is the product of a society of Western leaning exiles from the Maoist Communist revolution in mainland China. The Chinese speaking people of Taiwan are the majority and have been in opposition to the communist regime of mainland China from the start, unlike the Russian speaking people of Crimea who were a minority in Ukraine and felt cultural and political kinship with their post-Soviet co-ethnics in Russia proper. 

There is no reason to think that Taiwan would accept their new Chinese overlords quietly or peacefully with resignation and obedience to the new regime. This would be a war of people with nowhere else to go in Taiwan defending their home, who have been preparing for this fight for much longer than the Ukrainians prepared for a Russian invasion, and with all of the ferocity of the Ukrainians defending their territory. And, like Ukraine, the Taiwanese would have ample military and economic support from Western-leaning allies including the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Australia with technologically modern military forces. So, the only scenario that would make the price that China would have to pay to take Taiwan simply isn't a plausible possibility.

Thus, the only ground war that China has shown any interest in fighting would be far too costly to China, even if it wins, to make the fight worth it to China. And, because China's leadership is rational and pragmatic enough to realize this fact, it is extremely unlikely that China will invade Taiwan.

Really the only military actions that it seems plausible for China to undertake in the near future is a continuation of its low grade, gradual efforts to use its naval and air power, and ground troops on artificial islands, to extend its dominance in the international waters of the East China sea and the Western Pacific as far as the international waters near the Philippines. The prizes here are fishing territory, oceanic mineral resources, greater control of the East Asian shipping industry, and national pride at a modest military cost. And, these are prizes which the allies of Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan are unwilling to exert the level of overwhelming trade, diplomatic, and military power necessary to completely thwart China from achieving these aims.

Biden World

Welcome to Biden world.

Inflation is modest (3.4%). Economic growth is high (4.9% annualized, seasonally adjusted). Unemployment is low (3.8%).

Teen birth rates in the U.S. are at an all time historic low.

Violent crime was near a 25 year low before the pandemic in 2019, and is returning to the trend line after a pandemic surge:

The murder rate in big cities that bounced up in the pandemic (2020-2021) has fallen again (down 5% in 2022 and down another 12% so far this year compared to the same time period in 2022) to return to almost pre-pandemic levels.

The war on marijuana is almost over and Biden is working to remove its Schedule I controlled substance status (which would end punitive federal taxation of the industry and allow marijuana businesses to use banks):

Russia's conventional military might has crumbled and NATO is stronger. The U.S. is out of Afghanistan. Israel's continued existence is not seriously threatened. China has not invaded Taiwan.

COVID deaths are way down.

More than a thousand people have been held criminally accountable for the January 6, 2021 attempted self-coup and even the people at the top are being held accountable.

Bad cops are being held accountable at much higher rates in recent years.

Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States rose by two-thirds in 2022, comprising 5.8 percent of all new vehicles sold. This represents a significant increase from the 3.2 percent market share in 2021.

This is expected to increase substantially again in 2023. 

Mike Johnson's Economic Policies

Republicans favor policies that make people poor, sick, and stupid.

Republican Congressman Mike Johnson is the newly elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. What policies does he favor? Paul Krugman, writing an op-ed pieces at the New York Times, tells us:

Until his sudden elevation to speaker, Johnson was a relatively little-known figure. . . . now that Johnson has become the face of his party, people really should look at the budget proposal the committee released for 2020 under his chairmanship. . . . 

Start with Social Security, where the budget calls for raising the retirement age — already set to rise to 67 — to 69 or 70, with possible further increases as life expectancy rises. . . . Then there’s Medicare, for which the budget proposes increasing the eligibility age “so it is aligned with the normal retirement age for Social Security and then indexing this age to life expectancy.” Translation: Raise the Medicare age from 65 to 70, then keep raising it. . . . 
Most nonelderly Americans receive health insurance through their employers. But this system depends greatly on policies that the study committee proposed eliminating. You see, benefits don’t count as taxable income — but in order to maintain this tax advantage, companies (roughly speaking) must cover all their employees, as opposed to offering benefits only to highly compensated individualsThe committee budget would eliminate this incentive for broad coverage by limiting the tax deduction for employer benefits and offering the same deduction for insurance purchased by individuals. As a result, some employers would probably just give their top earners cash, which they could use to buy expensive individual plans, while dropping coverage for the rest of their workers. . . . 
the budget would impose savage cuts — $3 trillion over a decade — on Medicaid, children’s health coverage and subsidies that help lower-income Americans afford insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

How many Americans would lose health insurance under these proposals? 
Back in 2017 the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Donald Trump’s attempt to repeal Obamacare would cause 23 million Americans to lose coverage. The Republican Study Committee’s proposals are far more draconian and far-reaching, so the losses would presumably be much bigger.

26 October 2023

Quote Of The Day

If you are unable to slam your hand in a car door to cause great pain, may I suggest you call Verizon Tech Support?
- Dan Danbom, Facebook, October 26, 2023.

25 October 2023

Race, Religion, and Household Debt

Low consumer debt levels are a natural consequence of an inability to pay consumer debt, not a consequence of religiously or culturally driven thrift.
Religion has been shown to have both a direct and indirect role in shaping personal values, especially pertaining to money and wealth accumulation. Existing research establishes a strong relationship between religious affiliation and wealth attainment. However, previous scholarship has largely ignored the link between religious affiliation and debt, an important yet overlooked indicator of total net worth. 
To address this gap, we utilize data from the 2017 wave of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and examine how religious affiliation is associated with two forms of household debt: credit card and mortgage debt. Findings from a series of logistic regression models indicate that Black Protestants have the lowest rates of both credit card and mortgage debt and Hispanic/Latinx Catholics have comparably low rates of credit card debt relative to Conservative Protestants. KHB decomposition analyses reveal that race/ethnicity explain some of the relationship between a Black Protestant or Hispanic/Latinx Catholic religious affiliation and household debt
While our study is the first to document the link between religious affiliation and debt profiles of Americans, we would encourage future research to explore how other elements of religiosity—long acknowledged by sociologists to affect wealth and social status—influence different types of debt accumulation in nuanced and meaningful ways.
Tristen Clifton, Mackenzie Brewer, Laura Upenieks, "Religious affiliation and debt among U.S. households" 115 Social Science Research 102911 (September 2023). The sample studied was as follows:
Approximately 30% of respondents report having no religious affiliation. Over a quarter of the sample is Catholic, with White Catholics comprising about 12% of the sample and Hispanic/Latinx Catholics making up 13%. Conservative Protestants make up about 10% of the sample, Black Protestants another 6%, and mainline Protestants also 6%. The remaining 23% of the sample is made up of other Christian denominations or . . .

An alternative explanation is that bad credit ratings and low incomes, rather than a religious and culturally driven aversion to debt, drives the low levels of household debt in these ethnic/religious communities. This tends to be supported by the review of the literature which notes that: 

Previous work revels large inequalities in wealth accumulation among religious groups (Keister 2003, 2008), with conservative Protestants estimated to have the lowest levels of wealth accumulation over the life course and Jewish and Catholic Americans to have the highest levels of wealth (Keister 2012).
It would have been less interesting to write a paper that said that people with less income, less wealth, and less good credit tend to have less credit card and mortgage debt. But most of the effect of religion on consumer debt levels is mediated through the effect of race (the conclusion of the paper above notes that: "We found that race explains much of these relationships[.]"), and almost all of the effect on consumer credit due to both race and religion is mediated by income, wealth, and credit ratings.

19 October 2023

A New Missile For Ukraine

The U.S. has provided a small number of new, longer range artillery missiles (called ATACMS missiles) to Ukraine which it has used on a Russian helicopter base in a recent strike. The new missiles are launched from launchers that they already have as part of the HIMARs multiple rocket launcher system (MLRS), but with one missile with a 100 mile range per magazine, instead of the usual six missiles with a 24 mile range.

The shorter range, more abundant and cheaper 24 mile range artillery missiles were especially useful for striking cannon artillery (e.g. howitzers) which have a range of less than 24 miles, from a point of safety, and striking opposing forces behind defensive lines of mine fields and trenches and anti-armor barriers. This is critical in Ukraine since the airspace there is contested with Russian jet fighters and anti-aircraft missile systems, so helicopters and fighter aircraft and bombers can't be used reliably for that purpose.

The new longer range artillery missiles are especially useful for striking field air based and troop bases that are further behind enemy lines that have not been as tightly secured with bunkers and anti-missile defenses, because Ukraine previously didn't have a way to strike these bases.

The 100 mile range of this new missile is comparable to hitting a garage sized target in Vail or Pueblo from a missile launched from Civic Center in Denver. The GPS and inertial guidance system for the missiles assure that they almost always hit their targets (unguided howitzer rounds and unguided bombs dropped by planes are far less accurate). Even longer range version of these missiles exist in the U.S. arsenal, but those were not transferred to Urkaine, presumably to maintain U.S. military superiority and to discourage Ukraine from striking so deeply into Russia that it provokes a nuclear escalation of the conflict.

The missiles provided to Ukraine, which have a cluster bomb warhead, damage everything near that target for an area similar in size to the hub of a general aviation airport that is a "soft" (i.e. unarmored) target like people, helicopters, planes, fuel tanks, exposed missiles and ammunition stores, and radar systems that aren't inside buildings with bullet proof walls.

The new missiles cost about $1.5 million each, adjusted for inflation to current U.S. dollars since they were originally purchased.

The U.S. is in the process of replacing ATACMS missiles with new "precision strike" missiles with a 300-400 mile range that can be delivered in two missile magazines that can be used in the lighter HIMARs launchers, or the heavier M2 Bradly Infantry Fighting Vehicle derived M270 MLRS system. These missiles are only legally possible for the U.S. to develop and deploy recently as they were previously banned by a now abrogated treaty which prohibited the use of intermediate range ballistic missiles.

From the U.S. perspective, providing a small number of ATACMS missiles to Ukraine serves multiple purposes. First, it helps Ukraine in its current fight somewhat stalemated fight, using resources that might otherwise have simply been discarded by the U.S. military when upgraded successor missiles were deployed. Second, Ukraine's successes in destroying Russian military equipment and killing Russian soldiers reduces the military resources that Russia has available to threaten U.S. NATO allies in Europe in any medium term future conflict. Third, Ukraine's use of the missiles provides a "sandbox" in which the missiles capabilities and problems can be tested and revealed in a real world combat situation, which makes these missiles or similar ones a more credible threat in future conflicts, and which can guide the development of their successor artillery missiles and the military doctrines for using them, by allowing the successor missile designs to address any unforeseen flaws in these designs and in the way that they are used (without putting Americans in harm's way to do so).

18 October 2023

What Criminal Justice Policies Influence Murder Rates?

International data and other analyses tends to find that gun control does indeed influence murder rates. 

One difficulty may be that the effectiveness of U.S. gun control law is impaired by having a border free zone that makes buying guns where they are legal and transporting them to places where they are banned or restricted a trivial matter.

Overall, I'm skeptical of the statistical methods used, which make a lot of seemingly ad hoc methodological decisions. Moody's publication history shows him to be a conservative hack. But nonetheless, it is a study that deserves mention.
This study investigates the effects of most of the major firearm and crime control policies on murder. We use two-way fixed-effects models based on state-level panel data from 1970-2018. We include a comprehensive list of relevant policy variables to control for their influence in determining the effect of each. We do a specification search using four commonly used econometric methods to estimate three models of the crime equation. A Bonferroni correction is used to control for false rejections. A robustness check using new difference-in-differences estimators confirms the results.

We find that, with the possible exception of constitutional carry laws, no firearm policy can be shown to have a significant long-run effect on murder. However, we find that the traditional policies of prison incarceration and police presence significantly reduce murder in the long run. We also find that executions have no significant long-run effect on murder. Finally, there is considerable evidence that three-strikes laws increase murder in the long run.
Carlisle Moody, "A Comprehensive Analysis of the Effect of Crime-Control Policies on Murder" (September 14, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4574358 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4574358

17 October 2023

Quote Of The Day

The journalist, along with the demagogue in general, the lawyer — and the artist as well — has no fixed social position. He belongs to a kind of pariah caste that “society” always judges socially by its least ethical members. As a result, the most outlandish ideas about journalists and their work are common currency.
- Max Weber’s lecture on politics, originally delivered in 1919 (translated from the original German).

Why Do DOD Schools Have Good Test Scores?

Schools run by the Department of Defense have very good test scores compared to the public schools in pretty much every U.S. state.

Why is this so?

K-12 school test performance consistently tracks parental education and socio-economic status, etc. It has little to do with how the education process is conducted as opposed to who the kids the system has to teach are. In U.S. military base schools: 

(1) none of the service member parents are in the bottom 30-40% academically and none of the service member parents are high school dropouts – few of the non-service member parents are either due to assortative marriage trends, 

(2) none of the parents have serious criminal records (disciplinary problems are far more hereditary than you think); 

(3) the proportion of kids with very low academic potential/IQ and learning disabilities are far below the general population and that means that teachers don’t have to devote disproportionate time to meeting the needs of these kids, 

(4) few kids are “gifted” (since few parents are selective college material) and “gifted” kids also takes disproportionate time from teachers away from meeting the needs of “regular” kids in regular comprehensive schools, 

(5) the share of kids from married two parent households is much greater than in the no college parents demographic generally, even if the service member parent is absent for prolonged period of time, because military pay strongly incentivizes marriage and having kids; 

(6) no kids lack health care, are homeless, lack food, or are in sustained poverty (basically, the U.S. military is a socialist economy, with both the good things and the bad things that come with that); 

(7) few older kids have to work, or can even find work with all the moving around that they do, 

(8) all kids have at least one fluent English speaking parent and most have two and all have predominantly native English speaking peers in school, and 

(9) most kids will eventually have at least one parent with some college.

These factors are much more important than anything having to do with the Department of Defense school's methods of instruction. One should not take seriously, given this fact, the claim that it matters much that:
Consistent with military culture, they set high standards and create a disciplined classroom culture. In 2015, the schools overhauled their curriculum using principles from the Common Core, a national program that many other districts have abandoned after criticism from both the political right and left. But the approach seems to benefit students. “Unlike the Common Core, which was carried out haphazardly across the country, the Defense Department’s plan was orchestrated with, well, military precision,” Sarah writes.

The fact that these schools are reasonably well funded doesn't hurt but probably isn't pivotal. 

Likewise, the fact that they are racially and economically integrated aren't bad, but probably isn't a key factor. And, while DOD schools are indeed racially integrated, a key to their success is actually, as noted above, that they aren't really economically integrated. They are far fewer children from poor families than public schools do, and have fewer children from very affluent families than public school do. Disproportionately few children educated in DOD schools are in "the 1%" or even the top 5% of income or wealth.

I do believe that it is likely that the good performance of DOD schools in the face of the difficulties of the COVID pandemic may have something to do with how they were run at that time, however. DOD schools improved or held steady at a time when public schools saw declining test scores due to instructional glitches caused by the pandemic. If you want to use DOD schools as a model for anything, look at that aspect of  their instructional approach.

16 October 2023

The Incidence Of Corporate Taxation

One study estimates that:

Our central finding is that firm owners receive roughly half of the benefit of a corporate tax cut, while workers and landowners receive 35–40 percent and 10–15 percent, respectively.

I am inclined to think that this underestimates the extent to which firm owners are the primary beneficiaries. Their bargains with everyone else are already maximized when a corporation has a profit that is taxed. 

Also, benefits to "workers" may, in fact, be benefits to senior executives at the firm who are often also firm owners. Not infrequently, they even own land that is rented to the firm.

Trauma In Childhood Is Long Lasting

The evidence that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have life long negative effects on people who experience them is overwhelming.
Using four cross-sectional data files for the United States and Europe we show that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) have a significant impact on subjective wellbeing (SWB) in adulthood. Death of a parent, parental separation or divorce, financial difficulties, the prolonged absence of a parent, quarreling between parents, parental unemployment, sexual assault, experiencing long-term health problems, being bullied at school and being beaten or punched as a child all have long-term impacts on wellbeing. 
These experiences impact a wide range of wellbeing measures in adulthood including satisfaction with many aspects of everyday life, happiness and life satisfaction, self-assessed health, and are positively linked to measures of negative affect including the GHQ6. The evidence linking ACEs to lower SWB in adulthood is consistent across fifty different measures including sixteen positive affect and twenty-six negative affect measures relating to assessments of one’s one life, and eight variables capturing how the individual feels about the area she lives in, including unemployment, drugs, violence and vandalism plus democracy in their country. 
Trauma in childhood is long lasting.
David G. Blanchflower and Alex Bryson, "The Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Adults' Subjective Wellbeing" Blanchflower, David G. and Bryson, Alex, The Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Adults' Subjective Wellbeing. IZA Discussion Paper No. 16479 (September 29, 2023) Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4587415 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4587415

Salient Aspects Of The 2023 Hamas Attack On Israel (Gaza War Part III)

* The attack this month on Israel was a military operation sanctioned and organized by Hamas.

* Hamas is the legitimate self-governing regime of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and was elected although its ability to retain power was partially a function of a flawed democratic process.

* The Hamas attack was planned for more than a year and was an unprovoked surprise attack.

* About 2000 Hamas soldiers left the Gaza Strip, although additional looters may also have crossed over. Several thousand people were involved in preparing for and conducting the attack in all.

* The primary goals of that attack were to take a significant number of hostages and to kill as many civilians as possible. The Israeli soldiers and security forces killed were a means to that end. This is definitely a Hamas war crime by all people involved in the attack in any part of the operation.

* Hamas has as its goal, the complete elimination of Israel and restoration of Palestinian control of the entire country.

* Prior to the Gaza border fence, Palestinian terrorist organizations, including Hamas, routinely carried out smaller terrorist attacks on Israel and Hamas routinely fires missiles and rockets towards Israel.

* While there were some Hamas casualties in the attack, the lion's share of the attackers successfully returned to the Gaza Strip and brought about 150 hostages with them. About 1200 Israelis (including foreigners in Israel), mostly civilians, were killed in the attack.

* The attack lasted about a day or two, with final mop up taking another day or two.

* Hamas used mostly civilian vehicles, a few drones, and mostly small arms, with a few heavy 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns and some short range, infantry carried rockets or rocket propelled grenades, together with some explosives and tractors to breach the border fence around Gaza in a small number of places.

* Hamas has probably hidden hostages and some of its soldiers in underground tunnels and bunkers in Gaza.

* As this is written, about nine days after the attack, most of the Hamas soldiers and officials involved in the attack are at large and none of the hostages have been recovered.

* Israel's democratically elected government has declared war on Hamas.

* The issue presented now is what response by Israel is appropriate in these circumstances. This is a question that Israel will ultimately resolve more or less unilaterally. It may consider the views of the international community, but it is unlikely to be forced to comply with those views absent truly extraordinarily harsh response, and Hamas and the Palestinians will surely have little or no say in the matter. It can make Israeli invading ground forces bleed a little and spend some of its treasure on the effort, but it is ultimately no match for them.

(Primary New York Times Source)

12 October 2023

The Israeli-Hamas War: A Recap (Gaza War Part II)

Hamas is the political party and civic organization that controls the government of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Unlike the now defunct Palestinian Liberation Front, it is expressly Islamist, rather than being nationalist and embracing the Christian minority. It has made the Palestinian territories into a de facto one party state. It has not been permitted by Israel to have a military, but has covertly organized irregular military forces, somewhat more organized and better equipped than a mere terrorist organization.

Hamas was stupid to start a war with a country that controls its access to electricity, water, food, medicine, and fuel, has vastly superior military capabilities, and has stronger international allies. 

Israel has now resolved to eliminate Hamas entirely, although whether this is a practical possibility is another matter. If Israel doesn't want to allow Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to have some measure of self-government, it would have to directly govern these territories, which is a task it has thus far refrained from taking on.

This is the sixth day of the conflict, which Israel has declared to be a war.
Israeli jets continued to pound the densely populated Gaza Strip on Thursday in response to Hamas’ brutal terror attacks Saturday that left at least 1,200 people dead and thousands of others injured.

It has implemented a "complete siege," of the Hamas-run enclave, cutting off food, electricity, fuel and water. . . . 

Hamas is holding as many as 150 people hostage, according to Israeli authorities. Israel is cutting off any electricity, water or fuel to Gaza until the hostages are returned home, Energy Minister Israel Katz said. Hamas . . .  is warning that it will start executing hostages if Israel targets people in Gaza without warning. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesperson for the IDF, said "reason dictates" that the hostages are being kept underground. . . . 

Israel is continuing airstrikes and withholding essential supplies from Gaza. Food and water are limited and "quickly running out" on the enclave, the deputy head of emergencies of the UN World Food Programme said. Gaza’s only power station stopped working on Wednesday after running out of fuel, the head of the Gaza power authority said. So far, more than 330,000 people have been displaced there, according to a statement by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. . . .

At least 27 Americans have been killed and 14 are unaccounted for. . . .
Officials around the world are working to evacuate their citizens from Israel following the attacks by Hamas, organizing repatriation flights . . . . 

There are no plans to put US troops on the ground in Israel . . . pointing instead to a wide array of intelligence sharing, and weapons and munitions contributions to Israel. The United Kingdom has also sent warships and surveillance aircraft to the eastern Mediterranean to support Israel[.]
From CNN. Another CNN story in the same feed reports that:
At least 1,537 people — including 500 children and 267 women — have been killed since Israel started strikes on Gaza following the deadly Hamas attack last Saturday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. An additional 6,612 people have sustained injuries, the ministry added.

About 18% of the people in the Gaza Strip have been displaced in the last six days. 

No countries in the Middle East have taken any meaningful military measures to support Hamas, in the face of imminent U.S. and British military support for Israel, which is itself militarily strong.

There have been rocket attacks on Israel in connection with the Hamas attack from Syria, to which Israel has responded militarily. Russia has protested the counterattacks on Syria but has not taken military action to respond to them. Iran is suspected of having provided arms and intelligence to support Hamas possibly, in part, via crypto currency funding.

The Israeli Parliament has formed a unity coalition government for the duration of the war.

For reference, there are about 9.79 million people in Israel (apart from the West Bank and Gaza strip but including about 57,000 Israelis in Israeli settlements in the West Bank) of whom about 7.62 million are Israelis and not Palestinians or Arabs or foreigners, about 2.31 million people outside Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and about 1.82 million people in the Gaza Strip. The total population controlled by Israel in all of these areas combined is 13.92 million. This doesn't include about 0.22 million foreigners at any one time for a grand total of 14.14 million.

The area of the Gaza Strip is about 139 square miles. This includes a significant amount of farmland and desert open space.

For comparison purposes, Denver has an area of 155 square miles and a population of 711,463 people.

Militarily, Israel has complete control of the airspace, controls the sea adjacent to the Gaza Strip coast, and has surrounded the Gaza Strip with a wall that has only two official gates, one in the North to Israel and one in the south to Egypt, which are both currently closed. Israel has a missile defense system called the Iron Dome, although it isn't perfect. Israel has a large and advanced conventional military including about 300,000 well trained and drilled reservists who have all been mobilized, as well as a modern air force, navy, and ground forces.

Hamas has no heavy military systems like tanks or aircraft or naval ships or infantry fighting vehicles or howitzers, and no anti-air defenses, but does have some rockets, missiles, and small arms. Hamas probably has some drones although Israel has more drones and more advanced drones and intelligence supplemented by U.S. and British allies.

Israel is home to about 45% of the world's Jews. The U.S. is home to another 45% of so. The remainder are scattered around the world with small numbers of Jews in almost every country. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been a major source of international tension since the first efforts to establish Israel began (mostly with British sponsorship) in  the late 1800s and early 1900s with statehood announced in 1947.

For historical and political reasons that aren't clear to me, the option of ceding the Gaza Strip to Egypt, and ceding the West Bank to Jordan, is not one that has been taken, or even seriously considered in recent years. The Kingdom of Jordan does serve as a surrogate for Palestinians in some international affairs.

The Impact Of Legalizing Marijuana

Colorado received a particularly large economic boost because it was an early adopter of recreational marijuana legalization. 

One important social benefit that isn't quantified is the social benefit arising from people not being incarcerated for and receiving criminal records for marijuana violations. 

Another factor not considered is the social benefit arising from people who use marijuana without having substance abuse difficulties (and sometimes with medical benefits). Likewise, beneficial substitution of marijuana for alcohol is not analyzed.

There are lots of other methodological issues, and while a 35% increase in chronic homelessness seems high and could have confounding factors, the paper says that it is "just outside of statistical significance."
We analyze the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana on state economic and social outcomes (2000–20) using difference-in-differences estimation robust to staggered timing and heterogeneity of treatment. 
We find moderate economic gains and accompanied by some social costs. Post-legalization, average state income grew by 3 percent, house prices by 6 percent, and population by 2 percent. However, substance use disorders, chronic homelessness, and arrests increased by 17, 35, and 13 percent, respectively. 
Although some of our estimates are noisy, our findings suggest that the economic benefits of legalization are broadly distributed, while the social costs may be more concentrated among individuals who use marijuana heavily. States that legalized early experienced similar social costs but larger economic gains, implying a potential first-mover advantage.

09 October 2023

The Nobel Prize In Economics

Claudia Goldin wins the Nobel! Goldin is an economic historian, she was inspired to go into economics by Alfred Kahn (later the architect of airline deregulation) and became a student of Robert Fogel at the University of Chicago. Goldin pioneered the historical analysis of the labor market and gender. If you want to read a single Goldin piece then very fortuitously and appropriately her NBER paper called…Why Women Won just appeared as an NBER working paper! The Nobel Prize committee’s Scientific Background is a good summary of her work including her important work on education with Larry Katz.
From here (with more good material available at the link). The abstract of the new NBER paper linked above states:
How, when, and why did women in the US obtain legal rights equal to men’s regarding the workplace, marriage, family, Social Security, criminal justice, credit markets, and other parts of the economy and society, decades after they gained the right to vote? 
The story begins with the civil rights movement and the somewhat fortuitous nature of the early and key women’s rights legislation. The women’s movement formed and pressed for further rights. Of the 155 critical moments in women’s rights history I’ve compiled from 1905 to 2023, 45% occurred between 1963 and 1973. The greatly increased employment of women, the formation of women’s rights associations, the belief that women’s votes mattered, and the unstinting efforts of various members of Congress were behind the advances. But women soon became splintered by marital status, employment, region, and religion far more than men. A substantial group of women emerged in the 1970s to oppose various rights for women, just as they did during the suffrage movement. They remain a potent force today.

Why Aren't Political Assassinations More Common?

This heavily overlaps my answer to this question at Politics.SE, but I am not indenting this self-quotation for ease of reading.
Given the presence of internet, good encryption, and digital cash, why hasn't "assasination politics" taken off?
The main reason that this doesn't happen is that participants in the political process and business leaders who want to influence politics are more dentological (i.e. they make ethical decisions on a rules based basis) and less utilitarian (i.e. they make decisions considering only the pros and cons of conduct on a probability weighted basis) and less cynical (i.e. caring only about their own self-interests) than we give them credit for being.

But there is wide consensus among political players that assassination isn't an acceptable political tactic, so this option isn't even "on the table" for consideration from the people who would order hits in developed countries.

There are places, such as societies where organized crime plays a pervasive role (e.g. the so called "narco-states" like Ecuador, Mexico, and not so long ago, Columbia, and much earlier, mafia controlled Southern Italy), or where totalitarian regimes consider this an acceptable tactic (see, e.g., Putin's Russia or China) where assassination or extra-legal execution is common place.

The ability to anonymously retain hit men isn't the limiting factor that is preventing assassination politics in places where assassinations are currently rare (although the recent example, of a non-political hit in a professional dispute that was the cause of lengthy litigation that got subcontracted several times in China before everyone involved was caught illustrates the role these technologies can play in hired killing outside of politics).

It is already overwhelming true, and has been true for a long time, that the political end of removing a politician or judge from the "political field" in developed nations through political violence is far cheaper and easier in raw dollars and technological capacity, than it is to achieve the same ends through lawful legal and political means. A skilled sniper paid tens of thousands of U.S. dollars worth of untraceable cash or precious metals or gemstones can kill an individual target at a distance of many hundreds of yards with only a modest risk of being caught in the act.

Digital cash and crypto-currencies address an issue that hasn't historically been a problem. There have been lots of ways to untraceably transfer value with plain old paper cash or valuable objects for literally thousands of years. Before there was the Internet, there were anonymous snail mail drops and trustworthy brokers between people who want to carry out hits and people who are willing to carry them out. Codes sufficiently good to not be deciphered by authorities seeking to solve assassinations likewise date back, at least, to the Greco-Roman classical era, if not earlier.

The term "assassin" itself dates to the use of the term to refer to members of the Nizari branch of Ismaili Muslims at the time of the Crusades, when the newly established sect ruled part of northern Persia (1094–1256 CE) and sought to kill what they saw as illegitimate European invaders and conquerors (and their perceived allies).

Ultimately, politics is about co-opting the power of government and the law to achieve your ends. Achieving political power through assassination may allow you to win that zero-sum game of short term battles for control of the law making and enforcing apparatus. But in doing so, you undermine the authority and value of being able to control what laws are made by undermining the ability of the state to secure compliance with the law.

So, if you are a politician, or a big business person, your interest in having people obey that laws that you as a member of the establishment can influence to some degree makes the policy of obeying the laws prohibiting political murders more important to you than the gains you could achieve by violating those laws yourself, even if the risk that you will be caught is modest.

If you open the floodgates to widespread use of political assassination as a political tactic, eventually, you may be assassinated. Equally important, the vitality of a strong state with a strong rule of law that you would hope to control would be undermined.

Also, in most democracies, there are relatively few political figures who, if assassinated, wouldn't be replaced by someone advancing similar policies in short order. So, in a lot of political systems, political assassinations of a great many potential targets only provide a modest and short-term benefit, to the person doing so. A political assassination only makes "rational" sense (1) if the person assassinated is firmly entrenched so that they cannot be removed by other means, and if the replacement for that person in the political system would be very different on the issues important to the person commissioning the assassin, or (2) if the purpose of the assassination is more to intimidate promising people supporting some cause you are opposed to from participating in politics entirely, than to remove the particular person assassinated from power.

Who actually uses assassination and other forms of violence as a tactic?

Criminal gangs, Appalachian families in blood feuds with each other, and lower working class men in legal disputes with each other, all of whom are particularly ill-equipped to achieve their desired ends in through the legal system.

The use of assassination as a tactic is tied to weak states, to cultures of honor that arise in weak states, to regimes that have significant numbers of subjects who view them as illegitimate, and to situations where some form of corruption or lack of democracy or current or imminent permanent minority status for the people using that means is perceived as making non-violent means of securing political gain utterly futile.

Assassination and other forms of political violence are tactics people use when there seems to be no other viable option to achieve their needs which they perceive as intensely urgent, or when the targets of the assassination are so dehumanized that the rule against assassination no longer seems to apply to them.

Another way to think about it is that political violence is a form of asymmetric warfare that occurs when people reach a point of declaring war to achieve their ends. The decision to cross this threshold is justified in much the same way that decisions to declare war generally are justified.

The same factors that drive the decision to use political assassination as a tactic or not, also drive the openness, for example, of the American far-right, to using the rhetoric of political violence, something that is on the rise in the U.S. These advocates perceive that they are on the brink of losing cultural and political hegemony to people with values whom they view as completely unacceptable in a non-negotiable manner, and that neither the political institutions in the U.S. nor its courts provide them with a way to preserve a way of life that they seek to maintain, so they are willing to consider violent alternatives to the non-violent political and legal process to continue to remain in power.