Law

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

The reports of Boko Haram and terror killings are well known, and they reflect the interlocking and sometimes deadly combinations of regional, religious, sectarian and ethnic identities in the country, not to mention extreme inequalities of income and opportunity. Yet Nigeria has about 180 million people and is larger than Texas. The violence is the most frequently reported story in the West, but the underlying reality is far more complex and shows positive features.

For instance, the city of Lagos is in many regards a marvel of religious tolerance. Nigeria is about 50 percent Muslim and 40 percent Christian, and the area surrounding Lagos is also highly mixed in terms of religion. That may sound like a recipe for trouble, but in matters of religion Lagos is almost entirely peaceful. Religious intermarriage is common and usually not problematic, as is the case in many (not all) other parts of Nigeria as well. Many top Nigerian politicians have married outside their religion, kept two separate religions in the family and enjoyed continued political success.

Consider the scale and speed of this achievement. Lagos, with a population of about 20 million, is larger than many countries. It is the most commercially oriented part of Nigeria, and it grew so large only in the last few decades, as it attracted entrepreneurially minded people from many parts of Nigeria and other African countries. By one estimate, 85 new residents arrive every hour. That may sound chaotic, but in essence Nigeria has in a few decades created an almost entirely new, country-sized city built on the ideals and practice of religious tolerance. The current president, Muhammadu Buhari, is a Muslim who was supported in his election by many Christian leaders, on the grounds that he would fight corruption more effectively. His running mate served as a Pentecostal pastor.

There are several other points, including an assessment of on the ground safety (better than you might think), do read the whole thing.

That may not be in the cards anytime soon, but at least it has surfaced as a potential option, along with EU membership, to be considered by Icelandic referendum.  Matt Yglesias questions whether this might be a mistake.

I see the creation of the euro as a big mistake, and in general I favor flexible exchange rates, but on this question there is a plausible case for Iceland joining up with the euro.

First, Iceland cannot defend itself and does not want to rely only on the United States.  European Union membership helps out on that front, and the EU has at least been claiming that new members also will be euro-using members.  Fishing rights are a big deal for Iceland, and maybe the country will decide it does better within EU structures.

Second, and more to the macroeconomic point, very small countries do not always do well with floating rates.  For instance, no one suggests that every household should have its own currency.  Iceland, with a population of about 330,000, may be small enough to make this comparison at least a bit apt.  Keep in mind the biggest exports are tourism, fish, and aluminum products, not much else.  Using the euro may help tourism a bit, while I suspect the fisheries and aluminum smelters can get by with a mix of a) not employing that much labor anyway, and b) making wages more flexible if need be, rather than needing a floating rate to stay competitive.

Another way to put the point is this: floating rates are most useful as a protection against nominal shocks, not real shocks.  But when an economy is sufficiently small, real shocks tend to be the more significant problem because usually there is not so much diversification.

On the macro front, so what if Iceland becomes the north Atlantic version of how Panama, Ecuador, and El Salvador stand pegged with respect to the U.S. dollar?  Those economies have various troubles, but fixed exchange rates are fairly low on those lists.

Not long ago, the Icelandic economy was hit by a massive shock from capital flight, which in turn stemmed from a banking and real estate collapse.  Capital controls were imposed, in part because the flow of funds whiplash was so large relative to the size of the Icelandic economy.  Relying on continental, euro-denominated banking from Dutch, German, and other suppliers may well be a better option.  A true EU banking union, if one ever comes, would be better for Iceland yet.  In other words, in the eurozone Iceland might be better protected against at least some real shocks.

I don’t have a firm view here, so it is fine to think of my conclusion for Iceland as agnostic.  I ‘m just saying you can be a euro skeptic, and favor Icelandic euro membership, without fear of contradiction.  The European countries that should not be in the eurozone, such as Italy and Greece, are much bigger than Iceland and are also more economically diversified.

iceland

This was decided earlier in the year:

All computers used officially by public servants in Singapore will be cut off from the Internet from May next year, in an unprecedented move to tighten security.

A memo is going out to all government agencies, ministries and statutory boards here about the Internet blockade a year from now, The Straits Times has learnt.

There are some 100,000 computers in use by the public service and all of them will be affected.

“The Singapore Government regularly reviews our IT measures to make our network more secure,” a spokesman for the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said when contacted.

The move is aimed at plugging potential leaks from work e-mail and shared documents amid heightened security threats.

Trials started with some employees within the IDA – the lead agency for this exercise – as early as April. Web surfing can be done only on the employees’ personal tablets or mobile phones as these devices do not have access to government e-mail systems. Dedicated Internet terminals have been issued to those who need them for work.

The Straits Times understands that public servants will be allowed to forward work e-mails to their private accounts, if they need to.

Here is the article.  Here is Catherine Rampell on Trump and cybersecurity, she seems to be critical of what is possibly a Trump idea to have a White House without computers (without internet?).  That to me seems the only good procedural/bureaucratic idea I have heard from the incoming Trump administration.  Note that the government in Singapore is one of the smartest, forward-looking, and sophisticated in the world.  On this they are ahead of the curve (by the way I write more on the broader question here in my forthcoming The Complacent Class).

I’ve been wondering about this question, and the internet isn’t much help (here is background from Jonathan Adler if you are starting from scratch).  Say a foreign power pays money to my publisher, agent, or speaker’s bureau — does that count?  Intuitively, I would think so, even though the income is legally domestic.  But then it seems the clause is very difficult to define.  If I own an overseas business, or receive overseas royalties, or sell intellectual property overseas, must I trace the identity of every customer?  What if Angela Merkel bought a copy of one of my books translated into German?  Am I then, through the medium of royalties, taking money from a foreign power?  What if the Chinese government bought up a million copies of one of my books?  What if it is a Chinese shell company of unknown origins (they are common), which might be either state-owned or private, did so?  Or what the company is private, but itself owned by a state-owned company?  49 percent?  51 percent?  What if a state-owned Chinese company makes a large grant to a private individual, who then buys a million copies of a book?  Don’t library systems buy books, and aren’t most of them state-owned?

This line about China struck me:

Print sales, dominated by the country’s 580 state-owned publishing houses, are now worth 44 billion yuan ($7 billion).

Of course much of the income for the Obamas, during his time in office, came from royalties from book sales, including abroad and also in China.  For instance:

A large portion of the royalties came from sales overseas, an indication of the president’s popularity abroad. The tax return indicates that $1.6 million of the total book income was taxable in “various” foreign countries.

I cannot trace whether Obama’s Chinese publishers are state-owned companies, but most likely they are.  Some of the other Obama foreign publishers might be too.  Does that count as a violation of the clause?  Presumably there are foreign translations of some of Trump’s books too, or there will be.  JFK also had published books before he became president, and likely there were foreign rights sales of those too.

I get that this is a smaller issue, quantitatively speaking, than Trump’s foreign ventures, though foreign income was significant for President Obama in 2009 as a share of the total.  (Not to mention the difference in transparency or other possible differences in administration…I am not not not not not saying this is equivalence, so please don’t throw your weak-minded, question-begging, mood affiliated doctrine of “false equivalence” at me!)  And besides, the constitutional clause doesn’t say the payment has to be a large one.  At the time, I don’t recall anyone, myself included, thinking this was a violation of the emoluments clause, so again I am back to wondering what the clause exactly means.  In any case, you can imagine critics charging, rightly or wrongly, that a president might try too hard to be popular abroad.

Is selling intellectual property somehow different than selling hotel rooms?  Or is the unorthodox, Putin-oriented, “in your face” side of the Trump administration why we are framing the cases so differently?

“To whom” does a payment really go anyway?  And what is a “foreign power”?  What is a “state-owned company”?  The people at the WTO will tell you such questions can make your head spin.

china-books

Is the future equilibrium simply that future American presidents can be bribed through the sale of book and other IP rights, combined with aggressive “marketing” from foreign state-owned companies?  I would gladly learn more about this topic, and I am afraid that this year I am about to.

Professor John Van Reenen, who predicted ahead of the referendum that Brexit would cost up to £1,700 per household per year, has been given an OBE for services to economics and public policy making.

Other academics to receive honours include Professor Paul Cheshire, who has argued that the green belt should be opened up to ease the housing crisis. He will receive a CBE in the honours, which are recognising 1,197 people in total.

Here is information about some of the other picks, indirectly (an induced google) via Diane Coyle.

A French town is to christen one of its streets “rue du Brexit” in a move its far-Right Front National mayor says is to “pay tribute to the sovereign British people” who chose to leave the European Union.

Critics point out that the road is in an ugly industrial zone and “goes nowhere” as it is circular.

In a highly symbolic move, Julien Sanchez, FN mayor of Beaucaire in the southern Gard département (county), chose to place Brexit street next to “rue Robert Schumann” and “rue Jean Monnet” – streets named after two of the founding fathers of a post-war European Union.

Here is the link, via the excellent Samir Varma.

Microchips in every American?

by on December 30, 2016 at 12:31 am in Current Affairs, Law, Web/Tech | Permalink

What better way to move toward that goal than to start with the category labeled as “disabled”:

Last Thursday, the House passed HR 4919, also known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law, which would allow the US attorney general to award grants to law enforcement for the creation and operation of “locative tracking technology programs.” Though the program’s mission is to find “individuals with forms of dementia or children with developmental disabilities who have wandered from safe environments,” it provides no restriction on the tracking program’s inclusion of other individuals. The bill would also require the attorney general to work with the secretary of health and human services and unnamed health organizations to establish the “best practices” for the use of tracking devices.

…“While this initiative may have noble intentions, ‘small and temporary’ programs in the name of safety and security often evolve into permanent and enlarged bureaucracies that infringe on the American people’s freedoms. That is exactly what we have here. A safety problem exists for people with Alzheimer’s, autism and other mental health issues, so the fix, we are told, is to have the Department of Justice, start a tracking program so we can use some device or method to track these individuals 24/7,” Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said in a floor speech opposing the bill.

…Though the bill specifically mentions those with Alzheimer’s and autism, how long before these tracking programs are extended to those with ADHD and bipolar disorder, among other officially recognized disorders.

Even the dislike of authority is considered a mental disorder known as “Oppositional Defiant Disorder,” which could also warrant microchipping in the future. If these programs expand unchecked, how long will it be before all Americans are told that mass microchipping is necessary so that law enforcement and the government can better “protect” them?

I do hope we know better than this!

Here is the full story, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

Call me a moral hazard meanie…

by on December 29, 2016 at 12:38 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

Pensioners who need help being helped back to their feet after a fall at home will be charged £26 by their local council.

Tendring District Council said it would introduce the fee as part of its Careline service for elderly people who require home care.

An elderly rights campaign group has described the charge as “shocking” and equivalent to a ‘falling fine’.

The £25.92 annual charge means a carer will come to pick an elderly resident up after a fall.

…”These people will have no other option but to pay because if they don’t, they’re going to be lying there on the floor aren’t they?” he added.

Here is the full story.  Do keep in mind that the number of phone calls will exceed the number of people who require public sector assistance.

“The convulsions of a civilized state usually compose the most instructive and most interesting part of its history”

That is from Hume’s History of England, via Dan Klein and also Andrew Sabl.

Nigerian fake rice update

by on December 25, 2016 at 12:06 am in Food and Drink, Law | Permalink

Artificial food products such as fake rice recently confiscated by Nigerian customs officials are intended for restaurant displays and not to be eaten, according to manufacturers.

The fake rice was made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, “and should be labelled “artificial”, they said.

Nigerian customs recently confiscated 2.5 tonnes of fake rice but officials couldn’t discern what it was made of, according to a BBC report on Wednesday.

…Zhou Tao, a sales manager with an artificial food manufacturer in Yiwu, Zhejiang, said it was only intended for use in restaurant or store displays.

The artificial food products are popular with restaurants to display menu choices as they always look fresh and never rot. Artificial rice is made of PVC, a white, brittle plastic.

…He said he was puzzled why anyone would smuggle artificial rice to sell as real in Africa, as the product his company sold cost more than 70 yuan for 1kg, or 10 times the price of real rice in China. In Africa the cost would increase due to shipping and other costs.

Xiong Heping, the manager of another manufacturer in Shenzhen, said the rice was labelled “artificial”, when shipping to buyers in China or overseas.

Here is the full story, via George Chen.

The White House opposed a Republican-led push earlier this year to create an executive-branch task force to battle Russia’s covert information operations, according to a document obtained by POLITICO.

Sen. Tom Cotton, a leading GOP defense hawk who has long urged President Barack Obama to take a harder line on Russia, sought to force the White House to create a panel with representatives from a number of government agencies to counter Russian efforts “to exert covert influence,” including by exposing Russian “falsehoods, agents of influence, corruption, human rights abuses, terrorism, and assassinations.”

But the administration rejected the call, saying in a letter to Congress that hasn’t been released publicly that the panel would duplicate existing efforts to battle Russian influence operations — an argument Cotton rejects.

…The panel would not have been set up in time to have had an impact on Russia’s role in last month’s presidential election — even if the intelligence bill had become law. But the Arkansas senator said in an interview the White House’s dismissal of his proposal is symptomatic of the administration’s lax pre-election attitude toward Russia.

Here is the full story.  Here is my earlier post on this and related issues.

Nigeria has confiscated 2.5 tonnes of “plastic rice” smuggled into the country by unscrupulous businessmen, the customs service says.

Lagos customs chief Haruna Mamudu said the fake rice was intended to be sold in markets during the festive season.

He said the rice was very sticky after it was boiled and “only God knows what would have happened” if people ate it.

It is not clear where the seized sacks came from but rice made from plastic pellets was found in China last year.

Rice is the most popular staple food in Nigeria.

Here is the full story, via Jodi Ettenberg.

Addendum: Here is an update, as the story spirals into increasing confusion.

How to make annoying alarms

by on December 23, 2016 at 1:07 am in Law, Medicine, Science | Permalink

The faster an alarm goes, the more urgent it tends to sound. And in terms of pitch, alarms start high. Most adults can hear sounds between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz—Baldwin uses 1,000 Hz as a base frequency, which is at the bottom of the range of human speech. Above 20,000 Hz, she says, an alarm “starts sounding not really urgent, but like a squeak.”

Harmonics are also important. To be perceived as urgent, an alarm needs to have two or more notes rather than being a pure tone, “otherwise it can sound almost angelic and soothing,” says Baldwin. “It needs to be more complex and kind of harsh.” An example of this harshness is the alarm sound that plays on TVs across the U.S. as part of the Emergency Alert System. The discordant noise is synonymous with impending doom.

After the alarm designers create a range of sounds in the lab, says Baldwin, they will test the annoyance factor of these sounds in a process called “psychophysical matching, or psychophysical ratings.” Yes, this involves subjecting human beings to a bunch of irritating sounds. Participants determine how annoying the sounds are by sorting them into categories ranking them on a scale of one to 100. 

Then there’s more testing. “If it’s a medical alarm, for instance, we’ll start using that sound and then we’ll maybe measure people’s physiological response to it—does their heart rate go up, does their skin conductance level go down, what happens to their brain activity,” says Baldwin. Skin conductance measures how much the sound affects the body—skin gets better at conducting electricity when the body is physiologically aroused.

An effective audio alarm is one in which the annoyance factor and perceived urgency of the sound is matched to the hazard level—a soft little chime for the fridge door, say, and a “BREHHHHK BREHHHHK BREHHHHK” for a plane in a tailspin. “We want it to be detectable, so to get your attention, but for you to recognize what it means right away,” says Baldwin.

It turns out this is a problem in hospitals:

In hospitals in particular, there are “so many nuisance alarms going off all the time, that people—nurses, doctors—just tune them out,” says Baldwin. “They don’t even hear them anymore.” The statistics say that most of these alarms are not indications of peril. A 2012 review of medical audio alarms found that in one intensive therapy unit, “of 1455 soundings of alarms, only eight were associated with potentially life-threatening problems.”

Here is the full piece, from the excellent Atlas Obscura, and for the pointer I thank Torsten Kehler.

We show that promotions to top jobs dramatically increase women’s probability of divorce, but do not affect men’s marriages. This effect is causally estimated for top jobs in the political sector, where close electoral results deliver exogenous variation in promotions across job candidates. Descriptive evidence from job promotions to the position of CEO shows that private sector promotions result in the same gender inequality in the risk of divorce.

The paper is by Olle Folke and Johanna Rickne, via James Feigenbaum.

Legislative power grab for me but not for thee edition: remember when HRC was (possibly) considering Elizabeth Warren as her running mate?:

The thing is, ahead of past expected Senate vacancies, rather than looking for a loophole, Massachusetts state legislators have opted to simply change the appointment rules. Multiple times.

In 2004, the Democratic-controlled State House pushed through a bill that stripped then-Gov. Mitt Romney of his power to fill Sen. John Kerry’s seat, presumably with a fellow Republican, as the Democratic senator ran for president. The measure—to keep the seat vacant until a special election was held in 145 to 160 days—was ultimately passed with a veto-overriding two-thirds majority, despite the fact the Kerry ultimately lost to incumbent President George W. Bush.

But then in 2009, with Democrat Deval Patrick as governor, state legislators passed a bill at the behest of Sen. Ted Kennedy to give Patrick the power to choose a replacement for the terminally ill Democrat.

Would Massachusetts legislators change the rules a third time for Warren? According to state House and Senate leaders, there are no such plans.

Do you find this more or less objectionable than the recent changes in North Carolina?  Did you complain about them both with proportional fervor?  Do you now recognize that “whataboutism” is a highly useful means of testing whether your views and outrages are in fact justified?  I enjoyed the earlier comment by Albatross:

My outrage at the power grab in NC is somewhat diminished by my wish that something similar (legislative power grab to limit the power of the incoming executive) were happening at the federal level, too.