Political Science

That is the title of a new paper (pdf) by Marion Fourcade, Etienne Ollion, and Yann Algan, here is the abstract:

In this essay, we investigate the dominant position of economics within the network of the social sciences in the United States.  We begin by documenting the relative insularity of economics, using bibliometric data.  Next we analyze the tight management of the field from the top down, which gives economics its characteristic hierarchical structure.  Economists also distinguish themselves from other social scientists through their much better material situation (many teach in business schools, have external consulting activities), their more individualist worldviews, and in the confidence they have in their discipline’s ability to fix the world’s problems.  Taken together, these traits constitute what we call the superiority of economists, where economists’ objective supremacy is intimately linked with their subjective sense of authority and entitlement.  While this superiority has certainly fueled economists’ practical involvement and their considerable influence over the economy, it has also exposed them to more conflicts of interest, political critique, even derision.

The paper has interesting bits throughout, such as:

…the top five sociology departments now [total] 35.4 percent in the American Journal of Sociology, but 45.4 percent in the Journal of Political Economy, and a sky-high 57.6 percent in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

The section on the rise of finance starts on p.18, worth a read.  And here Paul Krugman adds extensive and very interesting comments.  My view is that economists are in fact the smartest of the social scientists (on average), but this also has led economics to degenerate somewhat into a game of signaling smarts, to the detriment of breadth and knowledge of facts about the world.

For the pointers I thank Gabriel Zucman and Claudia Sahm, who comments as well.

“Corinthian Colleges, accused of exploiting students, finds a buyer for half its schools.  The unlikely savior?  A student loan debt collection company.”

Note that quotation is in the print edition but I don’t see it on-line.

Sergei Guriev, a former ­adviser to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and a former board member of Russia’s largest state bank, said: “If nothing changes, if sanctions aren’t removed and the price of oil does not go up, then in two years the Russian government will have a major problem — it will lack cash and it will not be able to borrow it.”

The luxury goods market may contract up to eighteen percent this year in Russia.  There is more here, via www.macrodigest.com.

The most contentious may be one put forward by a group called Ecopop, which would limit immigration to 0.2 per cent of the resident population. That has alarmed businesses, who worry it would make it harder to hire skilled staff and sour relations with the EU, which is Switzerland’s largest export market.

Another initiative would force the central bank to hold 20 per cent of its assets in gold, as well as ban it from selling any of its holdings of the metal. Gold bug supporters say it would strengthen Switzerland’s independence but the central bank has warned it will make harder its job of ensuring economic stability.

And the third would scrap the system of tax privileges for wealthy foreigners that prompted such people as Michael Schumacher, German Formula 1 racing driver, and Ingvar Kamprad, Swedish Ikea founder, to call Switzerland home.

The full FT story is here.  I am hoping they all fail, although the social scientist in me is curious about #2.

The Bloomberg editorial staff says no:

Videos often lack critical context, and studies have repeatedly shown that jurors can be misled by variables such as a film’s angle or focus, which can unduly sway perceptions of guilt. That cuts both ways: Footage of a protester bumping into a cop, devoid of context, could make life much easier on a prosecutor.

Police cameras are also prone to intentional abuse. With mysterious frequency, they seem to accidentally get switched off or malfunction at critical moments. One obvious remedy is to require that cops always keep them on. But that can be counterproductive. Witnesses and victims may be less forthcoming on camera. Attracting competent officers could become harder if their every interaction is recorded. Crucially, officers may simply avoid engaging certain communities, or avoid areas where confrontations are likely, if they know they’re being filmed.

Finally, equipping police with cameras and audio recorders means that they’re constantly conducting surveillance on innocent civilians — and potentially storing it all. Police frequently enter private homes and encounter people in medical emergencies who may not want to be filmed. Some officers may be tempted to record people on the basis of race or religion. And some departments have asserted that the public has no right to see such footage.

In short, a policy intended to empower the public and monitor the police could have precisely the opposite effect.

There is more here, food for thought of course.  Via Adam Minter.

THREE times in the last 35 years, Russian military forces have crossed international borders – in Afghanistan in 1979, Georgia in 2008 and the Crimea earlier this year. As Simon Derrick, the currency strategist at BNY Mellon points out, each occasion coincided with a peak in the oil price. And each incursion was followed by a very sharp fall in the price of crude (see chart).

…If the previous episodes are any guide, oil has a fair way to fall.

That is from Buttonwood at The Economist, file under “speculative”…

Jonathan Chapman, a job market candidate at CalTech, has a new paper (pdf) which suggests that was the case:

Many theories of democratization suggest that extending the right to vote will lead to increased government expenditure (e.g. Meltzer and Richard, 1981; Lizzeri and Persico, 2004; Acemoglu and Robinson, 2000). However, these models frequently assume that government can engage in transfer expenditure, which is often not true for local governments. This paper presents and tests a model in which government expenditure is limited to the provision of public goods. The model predicts that the poor and the rich desire lower public goods expenditure than the middle class: the rich  because of the relatively high tax burden, and the poor because of a high marginal utility of consumption. Consequently extensions of the franchise to the poor can be associated with declines in government expenditure on public goods. This prediction is tested using a new dataset of local  government financial accounts in England between 1867 and 1900, which captures government expenditure on key infrastructure projects that are not included in many studies of national democratic reform. The empirical analysis exploits plausibly exogenous variation in the extent of the franchise to identify the effects of extending voting rights to the poor. The results show strong support for the theoretical prediction: expenditure increased following relatively small extensions of the franchise, but fell following extensions of the franchise beyond around 50% of the adult male population.

It is perhaps too quick a jump from 19th century England to contemporary advanced economies.  Still, it is an interesting hypothesis that the current thinning out of the middle class will decrease the political support for infrastructure investment.

The story is here, his book is Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.  Previous MR coverage is here, it was one of my favorite non-fiction books of the year.

Robin Hanson reports:

My last post got me thinking about the liberal vs. conservative slant of different jobs. Here are two sources of data.

Consider some jobs that lean conservative: police, doctor, religious worker, insurance broker. These seem to be jobs where there are rare big bad things that can go wrong, and you want to trust workers to keep those from happening. That explanation can also makes some sense of these other conservative jobs: graders & sorters, electrical contractors, car dealers, truckers, coal miners, construction workers, gas service station workers, non-professor scientist. Conservatives are more focused on fear of bad things, and protecting against them.

Now consider a set of jobs that lean liberal: professor, journalist, artist, musician, author. From these you might focus on the fact that these jobs have rare but big upsides. So the focus here might be on the small chance that a worker will be come a rare huge success. This plausibly seems the opposite of a conservative focus on rare big losses.

But consider these other liberal jobs: psychiatrist, lawyer, teacher. Here the focus might be just on people who talk well. And that can also make sense of many of the previous list of liberal jobs. It might also makes sense of another big liberal job: civil servant.

I’m not suggesting these are the only factors that influence which jobs are liberal vs. conservative, but they do seem worth exploring.

Which other factors might help explain the distribution of conservative vs. liberal jobs?

In my article for a Cato Symposium I cite foreign policy:

It is possible that we are still living inside the biggest bubble of them all and that is called “the peace bubble.” I’ve also heard this described as the bubble of “Pax Americana,” although that is a more partisan take on the role of America in global peace. You might think the chance of this being a “peace bubble” is say only five or ten percent. Maybe so, but still in expected value terms that is still the most important issue to worry about. The breaking of that peace bubble on a larger scale could endanger all of the progress and accumulated well-being of the human race, including the United States.

Let’s not forget that over the next one hundred years, if the world remains relatively peaceful, it is unlikely that most global innovation will come from the United States. China in particular may assume a major role as a generator of new ideas, just as the United States supplied a wide variety of useful innovations to Great Britain starting in the mid to late 19th century. Even if a “Fortress America” could survive geopolitical turmoil in the broader world, it would be a much poorer place. We rely on the rest of the world for inspiration, for creation, for appreciation, for increasing market size and thus the spurring of American innovations, and of course we rely on the rest of the world for innovations more directly. A future America in a chaotic world is much, much poorer and riskier than a future America in a peaceful world.

I should note that I am indebted to John Nye and Garry Kasparov for this notion of Pax Americana as the biggest bubble of them all.  There are several other arguments in the piece, for instance:

When electing a President or a Congress, foreign policy should be by far our number one concern. That said, I don’t think there is any simple formula for getting foreign policy right. Unlike many libertarians, I do not adhere to a strictly non-interventionist stance on foreign policy. I believe in alliances among the world’s relatively free and (one hopes) peaceful nations. I believe that American intervention has at some critical times led to much greater freedom and prosperity. Without the current and past American security umbrella, for instance, I believe much of Asia would be a far less free place than it is today, starting but not ending with Taiwan and South Korea.

I am, however, also skeptical of conservative or hawkish claims that we simply need to get tough with the bad guys in the world. A market-oriented economist, as I view myself, should be well aware of the general arguments about the difficulty of government planning and the importance of unforeseen, unintended consequences from government action. Furthermore government policies, once they get underway, are often hijacked by special interest groups or by voters who are uninformed, misinformed, or who react emotionally rather than analytically. We should not be especially optimistic about the ability of our government to pull off successful foreign interventions.

Daniel Larison comments on me here (when I write “For better or worse,” that means I am not judging a possible Syria intervention, contra Larison.  Otherwise the popularity of drones is a good example of American squeamishness, another example being our early withdrawal from Iraq.)  The broader symposium is here, it has many quality contributors.  Here is Eli Dourado on incentive pay for Congress.

Addendum: Arnold Kling comments.

This passage is from Gao Wenqian’s Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary:

Doctors in China could not conduct major medical procedures on top leaders without the approval of the Politburo Standing Committee.  Such was the long-standing rule.  Thus, in 1975, Deng Ziaoping and Marshal Ye Jianying, leaders among the old CCP cadres who had generally despised the Cultural Revolution and had shown little enthusiasm for the political style of the mercurial Jiang Qing, now had to negotiate emergency surgery for Zhou Enlai with her allies Wang Hongwen and Zhang Chunqiao.  For once, these tough political adversaries managed to see eye-to-eye.  They all gave their consent to surgery and sent their decision to Mao, who always had the final say.

Zhou Enlai had four operations before dying of cancer.  For the last two operations, however, Mao instructed the doctors to tell Zhou that in fact he was being cured and the tumors were removed.  He ceased to believe that when the unbearable pain arrived.

We’ve now seen a good twenty-five years of autocrats backing down, ceding power, and refusing to escalate, starting  around 1989 if not earlier.  Arguably North Korea and Saddam Hussein have been partial exceptions, but even there North Korea has stayed in its shell and Saddam had in fact largely disarmed his WMD.  We also see many autocrats — most notably those of China — who pursue remarkably sophisticated courses of action.  Just think how much more deftly they handled Occupy Hong Kong than the Ferguson police dealt with their situation.  Even the Iranian leaders seem quite sophisticated, even though most of us do not share their goals or endorse their means.

I call it The Great Autocrat Moderation.

If we look back in history, are autocrats generally this rational and conciliatory?  I am struck reading the new Andrew Roberts biography of Napoleon how he grew drunk with success and overreached and of course eventually failed (twice).  Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao are some additional obvious examples of autocrats who, in terms of procedural rationality, simply collapsed at some point and very dramatically overreached.

Of course these are tricky examples.  The most famous autocrats are arguably going to be more subject to overreach, which in part drives their fame (infamy), and so if we consult our historical memories we may be selecting for overreach.  Your typical earlier autocrat may have been more rational than this list of ambitious tyrants might imply.  Was the typical dictator of Paraguay, historically speaking, really so irrational?  Still, it does seem that autocrats have been relatively benign as of late.

So how about Putin?  Is he like the autocrats of the last twenty-five years, or he is more like Napoleon and Mussolini with regard to his long-term procedural rationality?

I do not myself expect The Great Autocrat Moderation to continue for much longer. Let us not forget that some autocratic “tournaments” select for overreach, namely the autocrat had to think he could, against long odds, rise to the top and stay there.

I am indebted to a conversation with John Nye about the topics of this blog post.

D.C. police have made plans for millions of dollars in anticipated proceeds from future civil seizures of cash and property, even though federal guidelines say “agencies may not commit” to such spending in advance, documents show.

The city’s proposed budget and financial plan for fiscal 2015 includes about $2.7 million for the District police department’s “special purpose fund” through 2018. The fund covers payments for informants and rewards.

As to how the underlying incentives work, this will refresh your memory:

Civil forfeiture laws permit local and state police to take cash, cars, homes and other property from people suspected of involvement in drug trafficking or other wrongdoing without proving a crime has occurred. Police can make seizures under state or federal laws.

Since 2009, D.C. officers have made more than 12,000 seizures under city and federal laws, according to records and data obtained from the city by The Washington Post through the District’s open records law. Half of the more than $5.5 million in cash seizures were for $141 or less, with more than a thousand for less than $20. D.C. police have seized more than 1,000 cars, some for minor offenses allegedly committed by the children or friends of the vehicle owners, documents show.

When D.C. police seize cash or property under District law, the proceeds go into the city’s general fund. But proceeds of seizures made under federal law go directly to the police department through the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, which allows local departments to join with federal agencies in forfeitures and keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds.

That is all from Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Steve Rich, another installment in their pathbreaking series, scroll down to the bottom of the page for links to the rest.

Losing to Win

by on November 16, 2014 at 1:27 am in Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the title of a paper from Kai Steverson, who is on the job market from Princeton this year:

Abstract: We study an infinite horizon model of political competition where parties face a trade-off between winning today and winning tomorrow. Parties choose between nominating moderates, who are more viable, or partisans, who can energize the base and draw in new voters which helps win future elections. Only moderates can win in equilibrium and so the winning party fails to invest in its base and has a weaker future. Hence the longer a party is in power the more likely they are to lose, a pattern that finds strong support in the data. This dynamic also creates an electoral cycle where parties regularly take turns in power.

The paper is here (pdf), Kai’s job market paper on Tiebout competition and minorities is here (pdf), it covers how mobility can lead to a race to the bottom when it comes to protecting the rights of minority workers.

Over the more than four centuries from the time of Ivan the Terrible, Russia expanded an average of fifty square miles per day.

That is from the extraordinary new Stephen Kotkin biography of Stalin, titled Stalin.  The first volume of 949 pp. brings the reader up only until 1928.  A lot still happened after that.