Current Affairs

In early April, shortly after his team celebrated a postseason championship, a George Washington men’s basketball player visited a campus Title IX coordinator to log complaints about Coach Mike Lonergan. Lonergan, the player believed, had created an offensive, intolerable environment, evidenced in his mind — and in the minds of many of his teammates — by the spate of transfers during the coach’s five-year tenure.

There is much more to the story, here is just one bit, from a player:

“It was always weird. When he goes on those rants, it’s like, how do you react? How do you respond to something like that? Players kind of just stayed away from him. We knew every time it would be you and him, he would go on some kind of weird rant. We would just kind of stay away from him. He did a great job in terms of winning. Off the court, something weird is always going to come out.”

Can you imagine that response to either Bobby Knight or John Wooden?  But at GW many players have left the school, refusing to play under the coach’s tutelage.  He may yet be dismissed and possibly also sued for creating an abusive environment.  In the old days, at the end the team wins, everyone bonds, and the coach is a hero.  Or was it really ever like that?  Maybe we have just stopped pretending.

That is via Peter Boettke.  Via Mark Thorson, the Japanese just made their last VCR player.

This topic seems to have entered the news cycle.  I am not sure how, so I thought I would add a few observations in the interests of clarity:

1. Under the most plausible “yes” scenario, Lucifer inhabits the corpus of us all, not just the Clinton family grandchildren included.

2. The correct answer is still “probably not.”

3. Is there a greater chance that Hillary Clinton is in fact Lucifer himself, rather than merely being possessed by him?  (Would that not also be a new kind of transgender relation?)  No, more likely she would have a Satanic familiar.  In most equilibria, the number of familiars is greater than the number of Satans.  Far greater.

4. Saul D. Alinsky once cited (Milton’s) Lucifer: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”  Who does that sound like?  Not Hillary.

5. I find it striking how many observers can so suddenly grow intolerant of religious sentiment, once such sentiment upsets the status relationships they are so intent in seeing through.  It is considered politically incorrect and indeed downright unacceptable to mock those who believe the Deity is present in various religious ceremonies.  Yet may not the Deity’s former premier angel also reside somewhere?  Is it more plausible to believe the demoted angel haunts an obscure mold or grape than that he has carved out a small corner in the crook of the elbow of Hillary Clinton?  What if someone held the latter to be true on grounds of religion and faith?  Is the chance there simply too low compared to the chance of other specific religious beliefs being true?  Where exactly is the probability threshold set for allowed mockery?  How many other people would you need to have believing that with you before it would be “a religion” rather than…?

6. No sir, the separation of church and state will not save you here.  If you indeed felt Lucifer inhabited the corpus of Hillary Clinton, it would be strange to stay silent about such ontology on the grounds of the First Amendment.  So any potential ridiculousness of said belief must derive from epistemic grounds, and not its political implications or uses.

7. The Straussian interpretation of the Republican Convention is the correct one, which is perhaps one reason why Peter Thiel will be speaking there.  They are not saying what they are saying, in fact they are saying “the world is going to hell, and many of those amongst us have been traitorously disloyal.  That is why we scream out stupidities, debase ourselves, and court attention by waving our arms in ridiculous ways.  We are a small church seeking to become larger.”  Is that not how many smaller churches behave?  Is that not how some of the early branches of the Christian church behaved?  Did they have any influence?  See also the remarks of Cass Sunstein.

8. You may or may not agree with the true message of the Convention, but if you think it is merely stupid you are, sooner or later, in for a big surprise.

The New York Times

by on July 20, 2016 at 2:20 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

I have written for the Times for ten years now, and, excited as I am about moving to Bloomberg, I am sad for my time there to be coming to an end.  It is the world’s greatest newspaper and probably will be for some time to come.  They also have treated me consistently well and always made me feel welcome, and were only nice and encouraging to me when I announced my departure.  I’ve had great and understanding editors in Tom Redburn and Jeff Sommer, Jeff for the last eight or so years of my writing for them.  I’ve been reading the Times for the last forty-four or so years of my life, since I was about ten, and I am not about to stop.  One further testament to the paper is that two of the main people from Bloomberg who recruited me had their background at…The New York Times.

Soon I’ll write a bit about Bloomberg and what I’ll be doing there.

Yes, globalization, immigration, and wage stagnation are all factors, not to mention the cultural issues.  But there is another culprit: inadequate savings.  This, by the way, helps explain why so much of the Trump support comes from relatively old people.  Here is one bit from my Bloomberg View column today:

Social Security is already the primary source of income for retired Americans, yet Social Security benefits for the elderly average only $16,000 a year, and traditional private-sector pensions have dwindled in importance.

When it comes to comparative retirement security, in an international comparison the United States finished 19th for three years in a row. Even relatively optimistic assessments suggest that only about 28 percent of American households will be able to maintain their pre-retirement living standards.

…As for today’s 45-to-69-year-olds, only 36 percent claim to be engaging in net savings. And only 45 percent of all people earning $75,000 to $100,000 a year claim to have net positive savings, as measured in 2012. That helps explain why the typical Trump voter in the Republican primaries earned a relatively high income of about $72,000 a year and still worried about his or her economic future.

We all know that falling incomes often have more political salience than low incomes.  Furthermore this weakness of the American economy does not show up in either gdp or unemployment statistics.  My conclusion is this:

Trump is himself often portrayed as impetuous. It is less commonly remarked that he may be in part the result of a broader and larger impatience that has plagued American society for decades.

Do read the whole thing.

Addendum: Here is commentary from Kevin Drum but I do not think he rebuts the estimates that consumption levels will be declining, often significantly, for a big chunk of this population.

Here is my next column from Bloomberg View, here is one excerpt:

The broader and more disturbing implication is that the entire global economy may be more vulnerable to mood swings. Our peers influence our moods, but today’s peers are more global than ever because of social media and the spread of satellite and cable television. That could make a given mood swing in one nation or region more potent and further-reaching than before.

Insofar as pessimistic moods spread across borders more readily, the notion of safe havens will weaken. There is a longstanding result in financial research that in bad times national stock markets move together more closely, and in ways that may not be justified fully by fundamentals. It is now common for some cross-country stock indices to have correlations as high as 0.8, which was unprecedented several decades ago. In the 1970s those same correlations might have been 0.4 or lower yet.

Unfortunately, contagion may be more dangerous than in the past, because right now the world is not in such an ideal place…

As for finance and investment, higher contagion rates will mean that many assets have higher systemic risk and lower diversification value, because they are not well insulated from the travails of the global economy. “Decoupling” is now recognized to be largely a myth. That may be one reason why negative nominal yield securities are so popular and seem to be sustainable, contrary to expectations but a few years ago.

The growing contagion of mood swings also may be a factor behind the slowdown in economic globalization. Why go to the trouble of investing abroad, for instance, if those assets do not yield much risk protection compared to one’s home market?

The most disturbing possibility may be that in today’s world, bad moods spread across borders more readily than good moods. The most nefarious sign of this is the apparent effectiveness of social media in radicalizing some people at a distance and turning them into violent perpetrators.

Do read the whole thing.

Bryan Caplan writes:

The fact that Londoners showed little sympathy for Brexit is telling: People who experience true mass immigration first-hand tend to stop seeing it as a problem.  “Backlash,” as Tyler Cowen calls it, is a symptom of insufficient migration – the zone where immigrants are noticeable but not ubiquitous.  I know he disagrees, but I honestly can’t figure out why.

The post makes many other different and interesting points, but I’ll stick with this one.  Here goes:

1. Had the UK had much freer immigration, London would be much more crowded.  With truly open borders, people would be sleeping on the sidewalks in large numbers.  London itself would have turned against such a high level of immigration, which quickly would have turned into a perceived occupation.

2. Changes often have different effects than levels: “Where foreign-born populations increased by more than 200% between 2001 and 2014, a Leave vote followed in 94% of cases. The proportion of migrants may be relatively low in Leave strongholds such as Boston, Lincolnshire, but it has soared in a short period of time. High numbers of migrants don’t bother Britons; high rates of change do.”

In other words, had there been higher levels of immigration into non-London parts of the UK, the backlash may well have been stronger yet.  For a careful reader of the Caplanian corpus, that is in fact a Caplanian point and I am surprised it did not occur to Bryan.

3. The highest quality and most easily assimilating immigrants will be attracted to London and the greater London area.  Packing Birmingham with London-style levels of immigration won’t give you London-style immigrants, nor will it turn Birmingham into London.

4. London already has a population pre-selected to like immigration.  Spreading London-like levels of immigration to the rest of England wouldn’t make immigration as popular elsewhere as it is currently in London, even if that immigration went as well elsewhere (which would not be the case, see #3).

5. Post 1980s, England underwent a very rapid and significant change with respect to the number of immigrants it allowed to stay in the country.  If that wasn’t fast enough for the open borders idea to avoid a backlash along the way, then perhaps the new saying ought to be “Only whiplash avoids backlash.”  But that won’t exactly be popular either.

There is a very simple interpretation of current events, including of course the Trump movement in the United States.  It is “the backlash effect against immigration is stronger than we used to think, and we need to adjust our expectations accordingly.”  When Bryan writes “I know he disagrees, but I honestly can’t figure out why”, I think he is simply afraid to stare that rather obvious truth in the eye.  In any case, it’s staring rather directly at him.

Theresa May has indicated that Brexit could be delayed as she said she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed “UK approach” backed by Scotland.

The Prime Minister on Friday travelled to Scotland to meet Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, and discuss plans for Britain’s Brexit negotiation.

In a sign that the new Prime Minister is committed to keeping the Union intact, she said she will not trigger Article 50 – the formal process for withdrawing from the EU – until all the devolved nations in the country agree.

That is from The Daily Telegraph.  Here is my previous post on whether Article 50 ever will be invoked.

Here is my first column for Bloomberg View (more on that transition soon), on the research of Erik Myersson:

In autocracies, successful coups often improve economic performance, perhaps by replacing an incompetent or malevolent leader. In democratic countries, however, a successful coup is associated with lower per capita growth rates by an average of 1 to 1.3 percentage points per year over the following decade. On average, these coups reverse beneficial economic reforms, especially for the financial sector.

When a coup does overthrow a democratically elected government, it tends to bring a military leader and significant changes in policy, and not usually for the better. There are long-run correlations of such successful coups against democracies with lower investment, lower schooling and higher infant mortality.

…for failed coups in democracies the more general historical results are quite different. In fact, they are difficult to distinguish from no economic growth effects at all. Given the various imprecisions of statistics, this does not prove that failed coups will have no growth effects, but it can be said that the numbers give us no clear reason to be worried, at least not over the 10-year time horizon chosen by Meyersson. This may be one reason why asset markets do not seem to be panicking over the failed Turkish coup attempt.

To be sure, there are some possible or even likely short run effects of the recent turmoil, such as declines in tourism or foreign investment. Still, the data as a whole are showing that the long-run fundamentals of democracies with failed coups tend to reassert themselves within the 10-year time horizon, and those short-run disruptions end up mattering less than we might think.

Do read the whole thing.  You will note that shares of the Turkish closed end mutual fund are still up about thirteen percent for the year (FT link), though down 2.5 percent at Friday’s close.

Now if Turkey had left the European Union, that would be a different matter altogether…

A central Pennsylvania man is accused of spraying fluid used to embalm a human brain on marijuana that he then smoked.

State police in Carlisle on Thursday charged Joshua Lee Long, 26, with abuse of a corpse and conspiracy.

WGAL-TV says court records indicate Long’s aunt discovered the brain in a department store bag while cleaning out a trailer.

…Court records indicate a coroner concluded the brain was real and that Long supposedly named it Freddy. According to the arrest affidavit, the coroners who examined the brain believe it is “most likely” a stolen medical specimen.

Here is more, via Tim B.

In other words, last night was an outlier.  Here is Jonathan M. Powell and Clayton L. Thyne in the Journal of Peace Research:

We also see some interesting trends in the frequency of coup attempts over time. As shown in Figure 2, there is a fairly clear decline in the total frequency of coup attempts over time. The high point for coup attempts came in the mid-1960s, followed by two more bubbles in the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. The number of successful coups has likewise decreased over time. We saw 12 successful coups in both 1963 and 1966. The mid- to late-1970s also saw a brief burst of successful coups (ranging from 3 to 9 for each year). An interesting trend emerges when we look at the percentage of coup attempts that resulted in successful regime changes, which we plot on the right side of the Y-axis. The mean success rate is 48% during the entire time span. This rate saw early peaks around 1970 and 1980, and then a decline until the turn of the century. However, we see another spike in the success rate starting in 2003. Twelve of the 18 (67%) coup attempts since then have been successful, and only one of the most recent four coup attempts has failed. While coups have certainly waned over time, the recent success of coup plotters suggests that coups remain a key element of governmental instability.

I cannot readily pull out Figure 2 from the pdf, but it is on p.7 of the document.  Note that their data run up through 2010, and thus do not cover the Arab Spring.

Here is Naunihal Singh, writing at Monkey Cage a few years ago:

More fundamentally problematic, however, is the assumption that popular opinion has an impact on coups. Although this claim is common in political science, there is no evidence to support it. Over the course of writing my book, “Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups,” I spent 300 hours talking with participants in 10 coup attempts in Ghana and statistically analyzed the determinants of every coup attempt and outcome in the world from 1950 to 2000. Based on this evidence, I argue that there is no reason to believe that military factions hesitate to attempt coups when popular opinion is against them, or that coup attempts are more likely to fail when the populace is opposed.

Over the course of this research, I observed that conspirators devoted very little consideration during coup plotting to the question of how the population would react. Coup makers are largely convinced that their cause is just (even when the coup comes from a partisan or personal interest), and that they will have widespread popular support for their actions, with perhaps limited opposition coming from entrenched special interests.

…there is no relationship between economic growth rates and the likelihood of a coup. Similarly, there is no relationship between regime type and coup attempts. Even though democracies are presumed to have higher levels of legitimacy than other kinds of political regimes, they were no more or less likely to experience coup attempts. Lastly, coup attempts were actually more likely to occur during presidential election years, which suggests that conspirators were acting to thwart the popular will rather than being constrained by it.

…The bottom line is that the dynamics of a coup attempt are almost entirely internal to the military.

Read the whole thing.  Nam Kyu Kim dissents from some of those propositions.  Note that since early 2015, Turkish growth rates have been in the four to six percent range, hardly miserable.

From Istanbul, follow him here.  Here is my 2010 post “Why Timur Kuran is one of our most important thinkers.”  Timur’s work has held up very well since then, to say the least.

Addendum: Here are remarks from Turkish economist Dani Rodrik.

Go to this link, and click on “Coup-proofing in Turkey.”  (Or try here.)  It is a recent 2006 account of what the Turkish government has tried to do to make the country coup-proof, by Gokhan Bacik and Sammas Salur.  They tried many institutional changes toward that end.  Here is one paragraph:

In terms of coup-proofing, the first issue is the military aspect. Gül is now the commander of the armed forces. First of all, any high level military appointment requires his consent. All major military appointments and promotions also require his official endorsement. Yet, the traditional alliance between the president and the army against the government was dissolved. In the past, the corridor between the army and the president worked so far as an instrument of influence over the political elites. The formula “army plus the president”, to remind six of the former presidents were generals, put the government into a restricted zone. Thus, by the fall of presidency, the officers lost a very important historical corridor that kept them legally in the political game. Now, putting aside a third costly option they should either obey the president or stop. Ironically, as a result of this situation, weekly meetings are scheduled between the prime minister and chief of staff as no routine tête-à-tête meeting ever took place before. The lack of such a regular meeting in the past was basically the army’s autonomous position. Gül’s presidency, a man out of the traditional Kemalist quota, weaken the traditional role of army vis a vis political elites.

It doesn’t seem it worked!  The paper nonetheless makes for interesting reading.  It talks about increasing power for the courts, changes to the intelligence services, increasing reliance on the police, and other attempted coup-proofing strategies in Turkey.  Note that in the past Turkish military coups have been relatively bloodless and swift; we’ll see if that is still the case.  If things do turn violent, which seems at least possible given what I am right now seeing on my TV screen, that suggests in some cases “coup-proofing” may be overrated.

Remember the paper that said “conservatives” were on average more likely to exhibit “psychoticism,” but then it turned out there was a statistical mistake and this should have been attributed to “liberals,” at least within the confines of the paper’s model?  How did it all happen, and why did it take so long to correct?  Jesse Singal has the scoop, here is one excerpt:

Hatemi is convinced that Ludeke is out to get him. In our phone conversation, he repeatedly impressed on me just how minor the error is, how few times the papers in question had been cited, and how much of an overreaction it was for anyone to care all that much. “This error is freaking tangential and minor and there’s nothing novel in the error, whether [the sign on the correlation] was plus or minus,” he told me. “There’s no story. And I wish there was — if there’s any story, it’s, Should people be allowed to honestly correct their errors, or should you lampoon them and badmouth them for everything they didn’t do because they had a real error they admit to?”

Yes it’s that kind of story.  There is much more at the link, including tales of academics acting “like dicks.”  Here is the conclusion of the piece:

…the social-science landscape isn’t yet as embracing as it could be — and should be — of the replicators, challengers, and other would-be nudges like Ludeke who tend to make science better and more rigorous, who make it harder for people to coast by on big names and sloppy research.

For the pointer I thank Daniel Klein.