Political Science

It is a pretty mixed bag, as illustrated by this newly published paper by Dean Lacy, the abstract is here:

The 2012 election campaign popularized the notion that people who benefit from federal spending vote for Democrats, while people who pay the preponderance of taxes vote Republican. A survey conducted during the election included questions to test this hypothesis and to assess the accuracy of voters’ perceptions of federal spending. Voters’ perceptions of their benefit from federal spending are determined by family income, age, employment status, and number of children, as well as by party identification and race. Voters aged 65 and older who believe they are net beneficiaries of federal spending are more likely to be Democrats and vote for Barack Obama than seniors who believe they are net contributors to the federal government. However, the 77.5 percent of voters under age 65 who believe they are net beneficiaries of federal spending are as likely to vote for Romney as for Obama and as likely to be Republicans as Democrats. Voters who live in states that receive more in federal funds than they pay in federal taxes are less likely to vote for Obama or to be Democrats. For most of the electorate, dependence on federal spending is unrelated to vote choice.

Hat tip goes to Kevin Lewis.  I am not able to find an ungated copy.

Kevin also points us to this interesting paper interpreting the Scandinavian model.  The authors are Erling Barth, Karl O. Moene, and Fredrik Willumsen, and the abstract is this:

The small open economies in Scandinavia have for long periods had high work effort, small wage differentials, high productivity, and a generous welfare state. To understand how this might be an economic and political equilibrium we combine models of collective wage bargaining, creative job destruction, and welfare spending. The two-tier system of wage bargaining provides microeconomic efficiency and wage compression. Combined with a vintage approach to the process of creative destruction we show how wage compression fuels investments, enhances average productivity and increases the mean wage by allocating more of the work force to the most modern activities. Finally, we show how the political support of welfare spending is fueled by both a higher mean wage and a lower wage dispersion.

Again, I cannot find an ungated copy.

“The voices in Israel go from, ‘Let’s create some friction with Hamas, to show we’re serious,’ to the idea of taking back the Gaza Strip,” says Ya’akov Amidror, a retired general who was until recently Netanyahu’s national security adviser. “And democratic systems are craziest ones in the international arena, because the leadership has to take into consideration all of these ideas.”

There is more here, mostly on what kind of future Hamas will have if any, interesting throughout.

Haaretz reports that some of the current rockets have a range of 150 km, which is longer than most of what has been fired in the past.  So here is my question: when do those rockets become sufficiently powerful and numerous that they can close down Tel Aviv Airport, which is of course the main route in and out of Israel, especially for well-off people.  If that can happen, is this not like a housing bubble game, where things can go very sour very quickly?  And in the meantime, will the Israel government attempt “lower the mean, increase the variance” strategies, if only to forestall what is to them an obviously unacceptable outcome, namely that Hamas can could close Tel Aviv airport at will?  Are we already at the point of seeing such mean-reducing strategies?  If not, how much worse will things be when we get there?

In March 1917, the EEF [Egyptian Expeditionary Force, from Great Britain] launched offensive operations in southern Palestine.

That is from the new and noteworthy book by Kristian Coates Unrichsen, The First World War in the Middle East.  I wouldn’t say it is a fun book, but it is clear, well-written, and very good background reading on a number of today’s crises.

That is a new website from Daniel Klein and the Adam Smith Institute, “A review of the changes 1880-1940 to the central semantics of liberal civilization.”

Ilan Mochari reports:

4. Depersonalize the key questions. Yeh suggests approaching your employees by saying something like this: “It’s my job to help you overcome bottlenecks and all the things that are in your way. What things are preventing you from accomplishing your mission, and how can I solve them?”

Phrasing the question this way enables you to emphasize the mission, rather than the employee himself. It allows the employee to describe what’s wrong with his job, without feeling like he’s critiquing his own performance or ability to adapt to challenging circumstances.

Casnocha says he learned a great conversational tactic from Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University. The idea is another form of depersonalizing questions: Ask an employee what “most people” think of a certain situation. Usually, the employee will tell you what most people think. But in doing so, she will also provide a glimpse of her own personal feelings. Specifically, Casnocha suggests these conversational cues:

How is everyone feeling about what’s going on in the office?
What do you think people are frustrated about here at work?

These questions allow you, as a leader, to follow up on whatever topics arise. But you can do so delicately, without pouncing on the employee who–even in sharing what “most people” think–has just displayed a great deal of vulnerability.

The British government is pulling out all the stops for Scotland with a referendum on independence two months away, going so far as to lobby the United States government to allow the importation of that famous Scottish delicacy made from sheep’s innards, haggis.

The problem, it seems, is sheep lungs, which the United States banned for consumption in 1971. But lungs are vital to traditional haggis, which usually also contains minced sheep heart and liver, mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices. It’s all stuffed into a sheep’s stomach, which is then simmered for several hours. Delicious, no?

There is more here.  But is the market really there?  I hope not.  Please keep this in mind:

There is apparently a shocking lack of knowledge about haggis. According to a not-very-scientific online survey in 2003, carried out by the haggis manufacturer Hall’s of Broxburn, a third of American visitors to Scotland believed that haggis was an animal. Nearly a quarter thought they could catch one.

93% of that country is satisfied with the degree of freedom in that country, ranking it #3 in the world (New Zealand is #1 by that standard).

There is more here.  U.S. is #36.

Happy Fourth of July!

Transformers: Age of Extinction opened this weekend with $100 million in America and $92 million in China (with $22 million in Russia).

Here is more, mostly a series of broader points about China, many of which I do not agree with but interesting nonetheless.  Here is my previous review of Transformers.

Here is a bit on Chinese product placement in the movie:

…everyone in the audience was puzzled as to why Jack Reynor was drinking Chinese Red Bull in Texas. Is it even available there?

Culturally, some aspects did not translate. There was puzzlement in the audience when Reynor pulled out a laminated photocopy of a Texas legal loophole that meant his relationship with Nicola Peltz, who is 17 years old in the film while he is supposedly 20, does not come under statutory rape laws.

The article has a variety of points of interest.  There is also this:

One Chinese man who was dumped by his girlfriend seven years ago for being too poor spent $40,000 booking four whole IMAX cinemas for the first-day showings of Age of Extinction.

He then posted the receipts on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, which is banned, presumably in case the Decepticons plan to try and attack China.

Here is one of them, coming to me in an email from the Sinocism China Newsletter, about the growing demands for democracy in Hong Kong:

Any public suggestion that the People’s Liberation Army might intervene here was politically unacceptable until very recently, but it is now raised as a possibility by some of Beijing’s advisers. “A showdown is getting more and more inevitable by the day, and some degree of violence is imminent,” said Lau Nai-keung, one of Beijing’s most prominent allies in Hong Kong. “If worst comes to worst, the P.L.A. will come out of its barracks.” Mr. Lau is one of the six Hong Kong members of the Basic Law Committee, a group under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in Beijing that sets policies relating to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

An associated NYT story is here.  Uighur terrorism has been another story that has snuck up on us.  How many more China stories will be sneaking up on us this year?  Next?

The author of this new and excellent book is David Skarbek and the subtitle is How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System.  It carries rave blurbs from Thomas Schelling and also Philip Keefer.  My favorite section was the discussion of how the rate of gang formation in prisons depends on how the prisons are governed (start at p.65).  For instance when prison officials cannot reliably protect prison inhabitants, gang membership is especially likely.  Gangs rarely operate in UK prisons and when they are do they are usually far less powerful.  Some observers believe that indeterminate sentences increase inmate frustration and stimulate gang formation within prisons.  Female prisoners in many states, such as California, also do not have gangs in the traditional sense, although they may form into “small families.”  Gangs are also more likely in large prisons with many inmates than in small prisons.

A very interesting book, which should be read by anyone with an interest in this topic.

Everyone else is covering this, still it seems worthy of mention in this space too:

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show.

The full story is here, and also it seems the U.S. government is trying to put that reporter in jail for his work.  And here is my 2007 column on Blackwater: “Private contractors may not respect virtue for its own sake, but like most businesses, they will respect the wishes of their most powerful customers, in this case governments. What is wrong with Blackwater may, most of all, mirror what is wrong with Uncle Sam.”

Addendum: The documents by the way are here.  Check out p.6, it reads to me a bit less threatening, and more commentary on the chaos of Iraq, than some accounts are making it out to be.

Activists tell of ‘being travelled’ – sent on lavish trips, chaperoned by police – to keep them out of the government’s way.

As top Communist leaders gathered in Beijing the veteran Chinese political activist He Depu was obliged to leave town – on an all-expenses-paid holiday to the tropical island of Hainan, complete with police escorts.

It is an unusual method of muzzling dissent, but He is one of dozens of campaigners who rights groups say have been forced to take vacations – sometimes featuring luxurious hotels beside sun-drenched beaches, trips to tourist sites and lavish dinners – courtesy of the authorities.

It happens so often that dissidents have coined a phrase for it: “being travelled”.

He, 57, had not been charged with any crime but officers took him 1,400 miles (2,300km) to Hainan for 10 days to ensure he was not in the capital for this year’s annual meeting of China’s legislature, he said.

Two policemen accompanied him, his wife and another dissident for dips in the ocean and visits to a large Buddha statue, he said.

“We had a pretty good time because a decent amount of money was spent on the trip – the local government paid for everything.”

Altogether eight activists have told Agence France-Presse of being forced on holiday in recent years.

The pointer is from Mark Thorson.

…my reading of the available evidence convinces me that a social policy that channels benefits through work and thereby encourages paid employment has important advantages over a UBI [universal basic income] in helping the disadvantaged to live full, happy, productive, and rewarding lives.

What evidence? Let’s start with the well-established finding that unemployment has major negative effects on well-being, including both mental and physical health. And the effects are remarkably persistent. A study using German panel data examined changes in reported life satisfaction after marriage, divorce, birth of a child, death of a spouse, layoff, and unemployment. All had predictable effects in the short term, but for five of the six the effect generally wore off with time: the joy of having a new baby subsided, while the pain of a loved one’s death gradually faded. The exception was unemployment: even after five years, the researchers found little evidence of adaptation.

Evidence even more directly on point comes from the experience of welfare reform – specifically, the imposition of work requirements on recipients of public assistance. Interestingly, studies of the economic consequences of reform showed little or no change in recipients’ material well-being. But a pair of studies found a positive impact on single mothers’ happiness as a result of moving off welfare and finding work.

There is more here.  And Ross Douthat offers related remarks on whether it really is possible to encourage work — how well have previous welfare reforms succeeded in this end?

Inside the razor wire on Eagle Crest Way, in rural Clallam Bay, Wash., telephone calls start at $3.15. Emails out, beyond the security fence, run 33 cents. Money transfers in, to what pass for bank accounts, cost $4.95.

Within that perimeter lies the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, a state prison — and an attractive business opportunity. One private company, JPay, has a grip on Internet and financial services. Another, Global Tel-Link, controls the phones.

The problem of course is unfettered monopoly, not the private companies per se, but private companies are often more efficient at exploiting the gains from potential monopoly power.  Still, government is in on the act too:

In Baldwin County, Ala., for instance, the sheriff’s department collects 84 percent of the gross revenue from calls at the county jail.

The story is here, and for the pointer I thank Henry Farrell.