United States fact of the day

by on March 6, 2015 at 11:04 am in Data Source, History | Permalink

Percentage of annual net electricity generation by renewables in 1948: 32

Percentage of annual net electricity generation by renewables in 2005: 11

The main difference of course is the fall in the relative import of hydroelectric power.

By the way, those numbers are read off a graph and thus are approximate.  They are from p.67 of Mara Prentiss, Energy Revolution: The Physics and the Promise of Efficient Technology, new and noteworthy from The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, recommended.

Friday assorted links

by on March 6, 2015 at 8:05 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Ross Douthat on King v. Burwell.

2. The most American headline ever?

3. Japan may legalize noisy children.

4. David Brooks on the continuing importance of education.

5. Vincent van Gogh’s reds have been turning white.

Jean Pisani-Ferry makes a few good arguments, this is the most interesting:

…an exit would force European policymakers to formalize their so-far unwritten and even unspecified rules for divorce. Beyond broad principles of international law – for example, that what matters for deciding an asset’s post-divorce currency denomination are the law governing the underlying contract and the corresponding jurisdiction – there are no agreed rules for deciding how conversion into a new currency would be carried out. A Grexit would force these rules to be defined, therefore making it clear what a euro is worth, depending on where it is held, by whom, and in what form. Indeed this would not only make the break-up risk more imaginable; it would also make it much more concrete.

The entire piece is here.  File under “The End of Creative Ambiguity.”  That file is growing larger all the time.

That is a new paper (pdf) by Xianchi Dai and Ayelet Fishbach,the abstract is here:

The proposed model suggests that desire depends on the length of nonconsumption of a good and the presence of salient alternatives, and that desire is at least partially constructed. In the absence of salient alternatives, a longer nonconsumption period results in stronger desire for the unconsumed good. However, in the presence of salient alternatives, individuals infer that they have developed new tastes, and thus a longer nonconsumption period results in a weaker desire for the unconsumed good. Five studies support this model across nonconsumption of various  goods: food from home when attending college (study 1); chametz food during the Passover holiday (study 2); social media (i.e., abstaining from Facebook; study 3); and cultural foods (i.e., forgoing Japanese food, study 4; and Thai food, study 5). We discuss implications of our findings for when and how the experience of desire is constructed and situationally determined.

The copyright on Mein Kampf is running out in 2016, so what will Germany do?  Here is the latest:

The Institut für Zeitgeschichte got the call, and apparently their critical edition should be available already shortly after the copyright runs out, in January 2016. In Die Zeit they report on some of the details — including that the two-volume edition might extend to 2000 pages, some 780 of actual text and the rest taken up largely by the up to 5000 explanatory notes.

That is from Literary Saloon.

Thursday assorted links

by on March 5, 2015 at 11:58 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. More on why greater unionization won’t make much of a dent in inequality.

2. What happens when you crash the Ivy League for four years without registering?

3. The professionalization of fourth grade sports.

4. How standards of living have evolved over time, the real stuff.

5. Thomas Edsall on Larry Summers and populism.

6. Who gets the Sweet Briar endowment?

7. New data on what finger length might mean.

8. Ryan Decker is taking a job at the Fed.

In Ferguson and the Modern Debtor’s Prison I wrote:

You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant “low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.”

The DOJ report on the Ferguson Police Department verifies this in stunning detail:

Ferguson has allowed its focus on revenue generation to fundamentally compromise the role of Ferguson’s municipal court. The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct.

… Our investigation has found overwhelming evidence of minor municipal code violations resulting in multiple arrests, jail time, and payments that exceed the cost of the original ticket many times over. One woman, discussed above, received two parking tickets for a single violation in 2007 that then totaled $151 plus fees. Over seven years later, she still owed Ferguson $541—after already paying $550 in fines and fees, having multiple arrest warrants issued against her, and being arrested and jailed on several occasions.

Predatory fining was incentivized:

FPD has communicated to officers not only that they must focus on bringing in revenue, but that the department has little concern with how officers do this. FPD’s weak systems of supervision, review, and accountability…have sent a potent message to officers that their violations of law and policy will be tolerated, provided that officers continue to be “productive” in making arrests and writing citations. Where officers fail to meet productivity goals, supervisors have been instructed to alter officer assignments or impose discipline.

Excessive, illegal and sometimes criminal force was used routinely:

This culture within FPD influences officer activities in all areas of policing, beyond just ticketing. Officers expect and demand compliance even when they lack legal authority. They are inclined to interpret the exercise of free-speech rights as unlawful disobedience, innocent movements as physical threats, indications of mental or physical illness as belligerence. Police supervisors and leadership do too little to ensure that officers act in accordance with law and policy, and rarely respond meaningfully to civilian complaints of officer misconduct. The result is a pattern of stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment; infringement on free expression, as well as retaliation for protected expression, in violation of the First Amendment; and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Here is one example:

In January 2013, a patrol sergeant stopped an African-American man after he saw the man talk to an individual in a truck and then walk away. The sergeant detained the man, although he did not articulate any reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. When the man declined to answer questions or submit to a frisk—which the sergeant sought to execute despite articulating no reason to believe the man was armed—the sergeant grabbed the man by the belt, drew his ECW [i.e. taser, AT], and ordered the man to comply. The man crossed his arms and objected that he had not done anything wrong. Video captured by the ECW’s built-in camera shows that the man made no aggressive movement toward the officer. The sergeant fired the ECW, applying a five-second cycle of electricity and causing the man to fall to the ground. The sergeant almost immediately applied the ECW again, which he later justified in his report by claiming that the man tried to stand up. The video makes clear, however, that the man never tried to stand—he only writhed in pain on the ground. The video also shows that the sergeant applied the ECW nearly continuously for 20 seconds, longer than represented in his report. The man was charged with Failure to Comply and Resisting Arrest, but no independent criminal violation.

Here is another, especially interesting, example:

While the record demonstrates a pattern of stops that are improper from the beginning, it also exposes encounters that start as constitutionally defensible but quickly cross the line. For example, in the summer of 2012, an officer detained a 32-year-old African-American man who was sitting in his car cooling off after playing basketball. The officer arguably had grounds to stop and question the man, since his windows appeared more deeply tinted than permitted under Ferguson’s code. Without cause, the officer went on to accuse the man of being a pedophile, prohibit the man from using his cell phone, order the man out of his car for a pat-down despite having no reason to believe he was armed, and ask to search his car. When the man refused, citing his constitutional rights, the officer reportedly pointed a gun at his head, and arrested him. The officer charged the man with eight different counts, including making a false declaration for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of “Michael”) and an address that, although legitimate, differed from the one on his license. The officer also charged the man both with having an expired operator’s license, and with having no operator’s license in possession. The man told us he lost his job as a contractor with the federal government as a result of the charges.

Although the report says the initial stop was constitutionally defensible, the initial stop was also clearly bullshit. “The officer arguably had grounds to stop and question the man, since his windows appeared more deeply tinted than permitted under Ferguson’s code.” Deep tinting!!!

Missouri, like most states, has a window tint law which essentially requires that tinting not be so dark as to impede the ability of the driver to see out of the car. Ok. But why does Ferguson have a window tint law! What this means is that you can be fined for driving through Ferguson for window tinting which is legal in the rest of Missouri. Absurd. Correction: the code appears to be the same as the state code but passed as a municipal ordinance so fines were collected locally. The purpose of the law was simply to extract more blood:

NYTimes: Last year Ferguson drivers paid $12,400 in fines for driving cars with tinted windows. They paid another $4,905 for loud music coming out of their cars.

The abuse in Ferguson shouldn’t really surprise us–this is how most governments behave most of the time. Democracy constrains what governments do but it’s a thin constraint easily capable of being pierced when stressed.

The worst abuses of government happen when an invading gang conquer people of a different race, religion and culture. What happened in Ferguson was similar only the rulers stayed the same and the population of the ruled changed. In 1990 Ferguson was 74% white and 25% black. Just 20 years later the percentages had nearly inverted, 29% white and 67% black. The population of rulers, however, changed more slowly so white rulers found themselves overlording a population that was foreign to them. As a result, democracy broke down and government as usual, banditry and abuse, broke out.

Paul E. Smaldino and Joshua M. Epstein have a new paper, note they are not responsible for my blog post heading, they called it “Social conformity despite individual preferences for distinctiveness.”  The abstract is here:

We demonstrate that individual behaviours directed at the attainment of distinctiveness can in fact produce complete social conformity. We thus offer an unexpected generative mechanism for this central social phenomenon. Specifically, we establish that agents who have fixed needs to be distinct and adapt their positions to achieve distinctiveness goals, can nevertheless self-organize to a limiting state of absolute conformity. This seemingly paradoxical result is deduced formally from a small number of natural assumptions and is then explored at length computationally. Interesting departures from this conformity equilibrium are also possible, including divergence in positions. The effect of extremist minorities on these dynamics is discussed. A simple extension is then introduced, which allows the model to generate and maintain social diversity, including multimodal distinctiveness distributions. The paper contributes formal definitions, analytical deductions and counterintuitive findings to the literature on individual distinctiveness and social conformity.

Other sources for paper drafts are here, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Ms Schneider reckons that more than half of the world’s feed crops will soon be eaten by Chinese pigs.

That is from The Economist, via Scott Sumner, whose post is of interest more generally on numerous matters.  Scott also cites The Economist for telling us that in China smaller cities are more densely populated than larger cities.

Here is the GMU press release:

Marginal Revolution University’s “Everyday Economics” video series has been nominated for an International Academy of Web Television award in the Best Documentary or Educational Series category.

There is more information here.

Just to repeat myself….

by on March 4, 2015 at 9:21 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

1. The obviously correct legal answer is to toss at least part of ACA back into the hands of Congress for a rewrite.  (There is rarely a well-defined “intent of the legislature” in most matters of detail, yet the wording itself is clear.)  But since many people do not like what Congress would do (or not do) in this situation, this is an option which cannot be discussed very much.  The critics would have to let on that they do not consider the current Congress to be a legitimate governing body.

2. Along the lines of my recent blog post, it is remarkable how many “ugly” pictures of Hillary Clinton I have seen since the email scandal broke.  Aren’t there pretty pictures of Hillary with a Blackberry?

Labor union sentences to ponder

by on March 4, 2015 at 2:14 am in Economics | Permalink

to raise labor share, unions have to decrease markups or the cost of capital; don’t see evidence or mechanism there

That is from A Macroeconomist, on Twitter.  A union which simply grabs for more from the employer will raise marginal cost and induce an offsetting boost in the price, restoring capital’s share (to some degree, depending on assumptions), and of course passing some of the burden along to consumers, most of whom are workers.  The tweeter did also note that unions might decrease income inequality within the category of labor, however.  Nick Bunker comments on that.  Via Kevin Lewis, here is a new and interesting paper on how unions might reduce wage inequality.  David Henderson comments on unions and prices.

I am often struck by the conflict between one supposition and one fact.  First, employers are supposed to be reaping some big surplus from hiring unskilled labor.  Second, when a downturn comes, it is unskilled labor who are laid off.

I used to think it was a decent enough school, and now:

Sweet Briar College announced today that it is shutting down at the end of this academic year.

Small colleges close or merge from time to time, more frequently since the economic downturn started in 2008. But the move is unusual in that Sweet Briar still has a $94 million endowment, regional accreditation and some well-respected programs. But college officials said that the trend lines were too unfavorable, and that efforts to consider different strategies didn’t yield any viable options. So the college decided to close now, with some sense of order, rather than dragging out the process for several more years, as it could have done.

The story is here, and this is not the last such event of its kind.  Why is it failing financially?  Here is one take:

Sweet Briar officials cited overarching challenges that the college has been unable to handle: the lack of interest from female high school students in attending a women’s college like Sweet Briar, declining interest in liberal arts colleges generally and declining interest in attending colleges in rural areas. Sweet Briar is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. “We are 30 minutes from a Starbucks,” said James F. Jones Jr., president of the college.

It seems to me that many other small colleges are in a far worse position, but are instead papering over the cracks, for how long I do not know.  Update: This revised version of the story has additional information.

Tuesday assorted links

by on March 3, 2015 at 2:29 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The New Rambler, a new book review journal, edited by Eric Posner, Arian Vermeule, and Blakey Vermeule, looks very good plus I owe them a review.

2. Toulouse School of Economics magazine (pdf).

3. WaPo covers the best places to visit internationally, now that the dollar is stronger.

4. How much did ATMs displace bank tellers?

5. It’s all about the land, not the capital-output ratio.

So the problem is not that austerity was tried and failed in Greece. It is that, despite unprecedented international generosity, fiscal policy was completely out of control and needed major adjustments. Insufficient spending was never an issue. From 1998 to 2007, Greece’s annual per capita GDP growth averaged 3.8%, the second fastest in Western Europe, behind only Ireland.

…Unsustainable growth paths often end in a sudden stop of capital inflows, forcing countries to bring their spending back in line with production. In Greece, however, official lenders’ unprecedented munificence made the adjustment more gradual than in, say, Latvia or Ireland.

There are many other good points at the link.  Hausmann makes this point:

Greece never had the productive structure to be as rich as it was: its income was inflated by massive amounts of borrowed money that was not used to upgrade its productive capacity.

And then the closer can only be described as an “ouch”!:

Unfortunately, this is not what many Greeks (or Spaniards) believe. A large plurality of them voted for Syriza, which wants to reallocate resources to wage increases and subsidies and does not even mention exports in its growth strategy. They would be wise to remember that having Stiglitz as a cheerleader and Podemos as advisers did not save Venezuela from its current hyper-inflationary catastrophe.

As I’ve said before, that out of control Greek government spending and borrowing has been converted into a (supposed) cautionary tale about the dangers of fiscal conservatism is one of the greatest (and most unfortunate) public relations triumphs of modern times.  That said, I would have preferred it if Hausmann had paid more attention to monetary policy.