History

In some recent talks I’ve argued that the future may be coming first to both Israel and Singapore.  Today let’s consider Israel by listing a few features of that country:

1. The tech sector is important, and, partially as a result of that, income inequality is very high; see Paul Krugman’s post on the latter.

2. There is a large segment of lower middle class, intelligent bohemians, whose low incomes do not reflect their real standard of living and orderly lives.  Many of them study Torah, and receive a kind of (selective) guaranteed annual income.

3. The rent is too damn high, and that won’t be changing anytime soon, due to building restrictions.  The bohemian class generally chooses lower rent venues to pursue its preferred lifestyle.

4. Unlike most current North Americans, Israelis do not take geopolitical stability for granted.

5. There is intense and widespread concern with demographics and the economics of population.

There is a new version of the Mahabharata, in blank verse rather than prose, translated/created by Carole Satyamurti.  I’ve only read an initial sliver of it, but dramatically and linguistically it is very effective.  This is a beautiful edition, and deserves serious consideration as a purchase for just about every library.  I have yet to see any significant reviews of the work.

Official percent poor in 1964: 19.0%

Official percent poor in 2013: 14.5%

Reduction to correct for:

Value of noncash benefits – 3.0%

Omission of refundable tax credits – 3.0%

Replacing CPI-U with PCE index – 3.7%

Adjusted percent poor in 2013: 4.8%

That is adapted from a Christopher Jencks review, “The War on Poverty: Was It Lost?”, in the 2 April 2015 New York Review of Books.

Do any of you know a good link-accessible version of comparable information?  By the way, here is Ross Douthat on money and culture.

That tale doesn’t seem to fit the data.  DarwinCatholic reports:

There follows more hand-waving about how things are tough for those at the lower end of the economy. And they are. But here’s the problem. They always have been. The effect that we’re looking to explain is a massive decrease in marriage rates and increase in out-of-wedlock childbearing. If we’re going to explain that as driven by a bad economy, we’d expect to see the incomes of those people getting worse, right? But they haven’t.

There has been a near stagnation for the lowest quintile, but not general income declines.  And if I understand the author correctly those figures do not include government benefits, and it is widely admitted that the “war on poverty” has brought some successful results.  Or try this:

Since 1960 the out-of-wedlock birth rate for African Americans has increased by about 3.5x while the rate for Whites has increased by 10x. If you look at median incomes by race via the Census, you’ll see that inflation adjusted median income for African American men has gone up by 82% from 1960 to 2001, while for white men it’s only gone up by 35% (for women those numbers are 272% and 135% respectively.) This does have a certain inverse relation to what we see on out-of-wedlock births, in that white out of wedlock births have increased more, but again we have the problem that incomes have in fact gone up, while marriage and the family have clearly gone down.

Maybe “cultural factors” do play a role and it is not all about wages and the economics.  In passing, here is your “Jordan fact of the day”:

The US shows up low on the list, while right at the top with 94% percent of children living with two parents is that well known northern European social democracy… Jordan.

The post is excellent and interesting throughout.  For the pointer I thank Will.  In the meantime, score one for David Brooks.

I agree with much of the economics in his post, though I would frame the points with a different kind of rhetoric.  But I think Krugman is nonetheless wrong to oppose TPP.  You will notice the word “China” does not appear in his argument.  He closes with a question: “Why, exactly, should the Obama administration spend any political capital – alienating labor, disillusioning progressive activists – over such a deal?”  The answer is simple: either this deal happens on American terms, or an alternative deal arises on Chinese terms without our participation.  For rather significant foreign policy reasons we prefer the former, and the pragmatic side of President Obama understands this pretty well.

Addendum: Brad DeLong comments.

Corrado Gini, he of the Gini index, was a numbers man, at a time when statistics had become a modern science. In 1925, four years after Gini wrote “Measurement of Inequality of Incomes,” he signed the “Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals” (he was the only statistician to do so) and was soon running the Presidential Commission for the Study of Constitutional Reforms. As Jean-Guy Prévost reported in “A Total Science: Statistics in Liberal and Fascist Italy” (2009), Gini’s work was so closely tied to the Fascist state that, in 1944, after the regime fell, he was tried for being an apologist for Fascism. In the shadow of his trial, he joined the Movimento Unionista Italiano, a political party whose objective was to annex Italy to the United States. “This would solve all of Italy’s problems,” the movement’s founder, Santi Paladino, told a reporter for Time. (“Paladino has never visited the U.S., though his wife Francesca lived 24 years in The Bronx,” the magazine noted.) But, for Gini, the movement’s purpose was to provide him with some anti-Fascist credentials.

There is more here at the Jill Lepore review of the new Robert Putnam book (and other books), via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  And please no, I am not trying to suggest that an interest in inequality numbers is fascist in orientation, I simply find such historical tidbits fascinating.  Here are further sources on Corrado Gini, not surprisingly he was into eugenics too.

Even though the Greek electorate has elected left-wing leaders, the “the Greek government” hasn’t actually changed all that much.  It is still dysfunctional, corrupt, and very protective of special interests in nationally harmful ways.  Yet I find that if I criticize the Greek government on Twitter I receive many angry, self-righteous comebacks, often but not always from Greeks and usually with a left-wing slant.

One reason the Greek government is so popular with “the Left” has to do, I think, with theories of social change.  I often read or hear it suggested that, if only the truth is spoken in forthright, galvanizing terms, beneficial social change will follow.  This was a common meme in Krugman’s columns for instance over the years.  The claim was that Obama needed to be more like FDR and mobilize a coalition around a commonly articulated series of truths.  I don’t think it was ever promised this would succeed right away, due to Republican intransigience, but it has been portrayed as a good long-run investment in political change through the education of the citizenry.

The new Greek government of course has done this and more.  They have rather flamboyantly staked out extreme positions, insulted their opponents, and warned of the doom that will follow if renegotiations were to run along the lines of EU law rather than the New Old Keynesian economics.  They told their citizenry how much they were standing up for them, and how much this was a moral clash of progressive good vs. austerity evil, with the values of democracy and national sovereignty (supposedly) on the side of good.

The thing is, it’s turned out to be a total catastrophe.  As I had suggested early on, there is, in the ruling Greek coalition, no Plan B.  Germany and especially Spain just held tight on the negotiations and the Greek government more or less had to fold, not even wanting to vote on the negotiated plan.  That plan then failed to receive European approval, nor has Greece drummed up much general support from the other peripheral countries, and now no one knows what to do next.  The ECB, IMF, and others still have Greece “by the balls,” to cite one colloquial expression.  They’re still trying to spin that “the institutions” are not the Troika, but they don’t talk much about liberating the economy as a means of increasing exports.  It seems Emergency Liquidity Assistance may be up for review.  Oops.

The Greek government also riled up its citizens and now doesn’t know how to deliver anything satisfactory to them, to the detriment of political stability.  The latest irresponsible plan is to threaten a referendum on a new government, a new economic plan, or in one case even a referendum on euro membership was mentioned.  Message discipline is scarcely to be seen.

All of that is simply painting the Greek government into a corner all the more, since a referendum will simply heighten the demands for mutually inconsistent outcomes.  Signs of broader eurozone recovery, and the relative success of QE in talking down the value of the euro, have almost completely removed the bargaining power of Syrizas, or so it seems as of early March.

As I’ve said before, these people ruling Greece are The Not Very Serious People, and they are increasingly acquiring a reputation as such within the rest of the EU and eurozone.

All of this reminds me of the wisdom of Dani Rodrik and his propositions about the incompatibility of democracy, national sovereignty, and global economic integration.  Angry words won’t undo those constraints and they are not something you will hear the Greek government mention very often.

Krugman a few times has praised Syrizas for renegotiating the required primary surplus figures, but it seems this is hardly mattering.  Due to plummeting tax collection, the primary surplus is gone in any case, and the agreement with “the institutions” [read: Troika] is not even the main driver of the action here.  Greece needs to take steps to reestablish a higher [read: positive] primary surplus in any case.

The broader lesson is this: if politicians are not “speaking the truth to power,” there are usually some pretty good reasons for that.   As a political strategy, it doesn’t typically work and it is worse than irrelevant as it very often backfires.

The situation is still not beyond repair, but the Very Serious People are serious for a reason.

Today, it would be impossible to obtain a federal court order permitting a five-day protest march on a 52-mile stretch of a major U.S. highway. Under contemporary legal doctrine, the Selma protests would have ended March 8, 1965.

…Starting in the 1970s…the federal courts began rolling back this idea. A series of rulings erected what is known as the public forum doctrine, which lets a city, state or the federal government decide whether public property can be used for 1st Amendment activities. It also means that if courts do not designate a place a “traditional public forum,” government may forbid its use as a site of protest altogether.

That is from Ronald J. Krotosynszski, Jr., there is more of interest here.

China expert David Shambaugh is claiming exactly that in a bold argument.  Here is a summary of his brief:

He points to “five telling indications of the regime’s vulnerability”: an apparent lack of confidence among the country’s wealthy; intensified political repression, betraying insecurity among the leadership itself; a sense that “even many regime loyalists are just going through the motions”; corruption too pervasive and deep-rooted for Xi’s ongoing crackdown to fully address; and an economy “stuck in a series of systemic traps from which there is no easy exit.”

Shambaugh also argues “Communist rule in China is unlikely to end quietly.”

That’s pretty heady stuff and I am happy to link to material I disagree with, but disagree I do.  My reasons are simple:

1. There are internal coups, which are more or less invisible to most of the world, and external coups, where a visible overthrow of a government makes the front page and is accompanied by violent conflict in public places and a change in the labeling of the regime.  China already has shown its system can accommodate internal coups, for better or worse.  You can argue they have such internal coups (on average) every ten to twelve years.

2. It is entirely reasonable (though very hard to call) to expect another internal coup in China.

3. Does any coup in China prefer to a) jettison the Communist brand?, or b) refurbish the Communist brand?  I say b), by a long mile.  The Communists drove the foreigners out of the country, built the modern nation, and delivered close to ten percent growth for almost thirty-five years running.  Most of the time the Communist Party has been pretty popular, in spite of all the (justified) cynicism about the corruption.

4. Once you accept #3, and work back to rethink #1, you expect at most an internal coup in China, with external continuity and a maintenance of the Communist party brand, albeit in refurbished form.

5. The strongest version of Shambaugh’s argument is that there is no “core” to the internal coups, a’ la Gordon Tullock’s book Autocracy.  You get too many internal coups, or too many incipient internal coups, and the public square is required to impose structural equilibrium on the problem.  Maybe so, but that requires lots of claims about the internal dynamics of Chinese politics, and the lack of internal coup stability mechanisms.  The cited evidence by Shambaugh does not seem to bear directly on this question, and so I am back to having no strong reason to expect an external coup, much less a chaotic and bloody one.

That is the new Michael Walzer book, with the subtitle Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions.  The stated paradox is fairly simple, yet worthy of sustained attention:

Why have the leaders and militants of secular liberation not been able to consolidate their achievement and reproduce themselves in successive generations?  Over the past several decades, Indian intellectuals and academics have been debating this question in its local version: “Why is it,” one of them asks, “that the Nehruvian vision of a secular India failed to take hold?”

Other cases considered include Israel, Palestine, and Algeria, as well as the Middle East more generally.  Walzer doesn’t much try to answer his own question, but this book is very stimulating and worth the short amount of time it takes to read it.  I would modify the paradox however: I see various European nations which do consolidate and maintain largely secular nationalist movements.  How about Denmark or France?  If you find those examples troublesome, try Serbia or for that Vietnam or China.  There may be a more general issue of morphing, above and beyond the religious vs. secular issue.

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.

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.

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.

American military commanders rarely seek out deserters and even more rarely punish them.  At the height of the Iraq War, fewer than 5 percent of deserters received a court-martial, and fewer than one percent served prison time.

And:

…the only deserters who have consistently been punished by the American military are those who went to Canada.

The full article, by Wil S. Hylton, is interesting throughout.

Stone Age Britons imported wheat about 8,000 years ago in a surprising sign of sophistication for primitive hunter-gatherers long viewed as isolated from European agriculture, a study showed on Thursday.

British scientists found traces of wheat DNA in a Stone Age site off the south coast of England near the Isle of Wight, giving an unexpected sign of contact between ancient hunter-gatherers and farmers who eventually replaced them.

The wheat DNA was dated to 8,000 years ago, 2,000 years before Stone Age people in mainland Britain started growing cereals and 400 years before farming reached what is now northern Germany or France, they wrote in the journal Science.

“We were surprised to find wheat,” co-author Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick told Reuters of finds at Bouldnor Cliff.

“This is a smoking gun of cultural interaction,” between primitive hunter-gatherers in Britain and farmers in Europe, he said of the findings in the journal Science.

The find of wheat “will make us re-evaluate the relationships between farmers and hunter-gatherers,” he told Reuters.

There is more here, and the original research is here.  As I’ve said in the past, believing that early trade and globalization were more extensive than is usually believed is one of my “crank views.”