Political Science

I’ll be interviewing Ed on June 13, 6-8 p.m., GMU Arlington campus, including about his new and very interesting book The Retreat of Western Liberalism.  Ed is also “chief American commentator” for The Financial Times, and author of one of the best general introductions to India, In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India.  Here is Ed’s Wikipedia page.  Here are event details.

I don’t usually “rerun” material for posts, but here is my December 9 Bloomberg piece on Trump:, discussing the greatest danger from a poorly functioning Trump regime:

It’s hard for a president with perceived conflicts of interest to make credible commitments to allies because the allies can’t be confident that a president will stick to a proposed agreement or course of action. The result is an unraveling of alliances, a decline in international trust and possibly dangerous rearmament and nuclear proliferation. It’s hard for a subsequent president to reverse those losses.

Hostile powers or lukewarm neutrals also will be confused if foreign policy is not run in the usual predictable, bureaucratized fashion. That raises the risk of conflict or it makes an amelioration of tensions less likely.

Here is also my earlier piece on the Trump administration and lies.

Despite laws mandating a shelter within a 30-minute walk of every Swiss home, the government won’t tell anyone exactly where their spot is until they need it. Otherwise, people would complain about having to hole up with someone they don’t like.

That is from Malia Wollan at the NYT, the short article is interesting throughout.

China is far and away the global leader in greenhouse gas emissions, and for all of the EU’s stern tone and finger wagging on climate change, the bloc’s latest data show that its emissions actually increased 0.5 percent in 2015. Contrast that with the United States, which saw emissions drop a whopping 3 percent last year as a result of the continuing (shale-enabled) transition from coal to natural gas.

That is from Jamie Horgan at The American Interest, who makes many other good points, including this:

One’s opinion of the new climate course Trump just charted for America will ultimately depend on how much faith one puts in climate diplomacy as the holy grail for addressing climate change. The truth is, climate diplomacy has always been more about preening, posturing, and moralizing—about optics—above all else. What happened today was also all about optics (intentionally so) and that’s why greens committed to finding “diplomatic” solutions are pulling their hair out today.

I still think it was a mistake to pull out, as “bad optics” are one form of “bad.”  Most of all, Trump’s action contributes to the common and growing perception that America simply isn’t reliable.  But have any market prices indicated that the world’s future is now likely to be more carbon-intensive?  I just don’t see it.

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

…it is possible to imagine an alternative vision where federal overhead allocations fall and the liberated money allows more scientists to get more (smaller) grants. Would that be a good idea?

If we look to the private sector as a model, maybe so. Private philanthropy is typically more oriented toward specific projects than toward overhead. One view is that makes federal government funding of overhead all the more important to fill in the gaps; an alternative take is that the private sector realizes a lot of overhead funding ends up wasted, and the federal government ought to see the same. There is some truth to both of these stories, but not surprisingly the academic scientific community is stressing the former.

Research funds spent on overhead strengthen the power and discretion of administrators (who capture and allocate the funds), senior scientists, the lab-based sciences and relatively expensive projects. They make universities more hierarchical and less egalitarian places, where the ability to bring in overhead funds yields status and influence.

Spending less on overhead and more on individual projects would favor small-scale research, and would decentralize authority and influence. Lower overhead allocations would give the government more authority over project choice, and the university less discretion, for better or worse. Overall, projects would have to prove themselves more in the broader world of prizes, donors and news coverage, rather than lobbying within the university for support.

A mixed bag of course — there is much more at the link.

That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column, here is a snippet of the argument:

After the war, Germany undertook an extensive and largely successful campaign of denazification. Other defeated nations, such as Austria or Japan, didn’t attempt anything comparable, much less succeed. In a relatively short period of time, Germany really did turn into a largely tolerant, peace-loving nation, acutely aware of the extreme nature of its previous wrongdoing. For all the imperfections in this process along the way, it is difficult in world history to find a comparable switch in attitudes.

Or take German unification. It was hardly obvious this project to bring together East Germany and West after the fall of communism would succeed or even come to fruition, as there was plenty of talk at the time of a binational federation or perhaps a slowly phased evolution toward unity. Yet Chancellor Helmut Kohl and other German leaders, supposedly staid figures, had the vision to see unification could be achieved rapidly and relatively smoothly. They just went ahead and did it, even though many of the world’s leaders, such as U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, were squeamish about the idea.

There are more arguments at the link, running up through the present day.  You also can count Germany’s role in the EU and also the construction of social welfare states.  Germany is in fact remarkably underappreciated as a political and also social innovator.

When it comes to supporting the military alliance, it seems the German public agrees more with the American president than with its own government.

According to the latest 2017 Global Attitudes survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of German respondents said Berlin should not take military action “if Russia got into a serious military conflict with one of its neighboring countries that is our NATO ally.” Yet Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which created NATO in 1949, commits member countries to come to the assistance of a fellow NATO member if that ally is attacked.

Here is the full article, via Bob Cottrell.

Places like Singapore have nice infrastructure because they have pro-saving public policies and effective cost controls on construction projects. America has neither. As long as this is the state of affairs, we will not have top-notch infrastructure, no matter how much money the federal government throws at the problem.

That is from Scott Sumner.

That is the new NBER working paper by Alberto Alesina, Bryony Reich, Alessandro Riboni, here is the abstract:

The increase in army size observed in early modern times changed the way states conducted wars. Starting in the late 18th century, states switched from mercenaries to a mass army by conscription. In order for the population to accept to fight and endure war, the government elites began to provide public goods, reduced rent extraction and adopted policies to homogenize the population with nation-building. This paper explores a variety of ways in which nation-building can be implemented and studies its effects as a function of technological innovation in warfare.

That is related to some recent work by Ferejohn and Rosenbluth.

I have no direct knowledge of the situation, but here is an extensive report from Bloomberg.  The summary headers are:

  • Paul Romer to give up management of research department
  • Researchers chafed against push to communicate more clearly

But there is more to the story than that.  And here is the FT story:

But some said Mr Romer’s management style, particularly over what some saw as a dogmatic approach to clear writing, was key to the move, citing the recent spat over “and” as evidence.

Circulating a draft of the upcoming World Development Report, Mr Romer warned against bank staff trying to pile their own pet projects and messages into the report. The tendency, he argued, had diluted the impact of past reports and led to a proliferation of “ands”.

“Because of this type of pressure to say that our message is ‘this, and this, and this too, and that …’ the word ‘and’ has become the most frequently used word in Bank prose,” he complained in an email.

“A WDR, like a knife, has to be narrow to penetrate deeply,” he added. “To drive home the importance of focus, I’ve told the authors that I will not clear the final report if the frequency of ‘and’ exceeds 2.6%.”

The 2.6 per cent bar, Mr Romer told the FT, marked the current frequency of “and” in scholarly writing. It also, according to an analysis of bank reports going back decades that he commissioned, was roughly where World Bank report authors landed in the institution’s early years.

But the use of the word “and” over the years had doubled to almost 7 per cent in World Bank reports, Mr Romer pointed out in a January memo to his staff.

I will now have to be more conscious about the use of those three little letters…

*Face Value*

by on May 25, 2017 at 9:35 am in Books, Political Science, Science | Permalink

The author is Alexander Todorov, and the subtitle is The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions.  Here is one short excerpt:

When Israeli and Japanese women rated these faces on trustworthiness, their impressions were predictably influenced by what they considered typical.  As the face became more similar to the typical Israeli face, Israelis trusted it more and Japanese trusted it less and less.  As the face became more similar to the typical Japanese face, the opposite occurred.  We trust those who look like members of our own tribe.

The book has excellent photos and plates, recommended.

Yes, the Raj Chetty.  Here is the transcript and podcast.  As far as I can tell, this is the only coverage of Chetty that covers his entire life and career, including his upbringing, his early life, and the evolution of his career, not to mention his taste in music.  Here is one bit:

COWEN: Now your father, he’s a well-known economist, and he studied econometrics with Arnold Zellner at University of Wisconsin. At what age did he start talking to you about Bayesian econometrics?

CHETTY: [laughs]

COWEN: Which is one of his fields, right?

CHETTY: That’s right, my dad did a lot of early work in Bayesian econometrics with Arnold Zellner, and the academic environment was something I grew up with since I was a kid. I’m the last person in my family to publish a paper. My sisters are also in academia on the medical and bio side. Whether it’s statistics or thinking about scientific questions or thinking about how to change things in the world, that’s the environment in which I grew up from the youngest of ages.

We also discuss his famous papers on kindergarten teachers, social mobility, and the other topics he is best known for working on, including tax salience and corporate dividends.  My favorite part is where Chetty explains what I call “the Raj Chetty production function,” namely why he has been part of so many very successful papers, but that is hard to excerpt.  There is also this:

COWEN: In music, the group the Piano Guys, speaking of Mormons. Overrated or underrated?

CHETTY: Underrated. I love the Piano Guys.


CHETTY: I think the Piano Guys are great in terms of doing renditions of popular songs.

COWEN: Not too triumphalist? Do you mean the major chords?

CHETTY: Maybe in some cases, but I like them.

COWEN: Bhindi or okra. Overrated or underrated?…

Self-recommending, if there ever was such a thing.

I will be doing a Conversations with Tyler with him, June 14, Arlington, 6:30 p.m., register here.

Here is Wikipedia on Ben Sasse.  In addition to being a Senator from Nebraska, he has extensive experience in government, was an assistant professor, president of Midland University, and he has a Ph.d. in history from Yale University, with a prize-winning dissertation on religious liberty and the origins of the conservative movement as it relates to the battle over school prayer.  He also now has the #1 best-selling book, on raising kids.

Just to be clear, I will not be making what you might call “very current events” the focus of this discussion.  So what should I ask him?

Update: rsvp link corrected.

That title made me think of the woodchuck…anyway, here is the abstract:

Fact-checking has gained prominence as a reformist movement to revitalize truth-seeking ideals in journalism. While fact-checkers are often assumed to code facts accurately, no studies have formally assessed fact-checkers’ performance. I evaluate the performance of two major online fact-checkers, Politfact at Tampa Bay Times and Fact Checker at Washington Post, comparing their interrater reliability using a method that is regularly utilized across the social sciences. I show that fact-checkers rarely fact-check the same statement, and when they do, there is little agreement in their ratings. Approximately, 1 in 10 statements is fact-checked by both fact-checking outlets, and among claims that both outlets check, their factual ratings have a Cohen’s κ of 0.52, an agreement rate much lower than what is acceptable for social scientific coding. The results suggest that difficulties in fact-checking elites’ statements may limit the ability of journalistic fact-checking to hold politicians accountable.

That paper (pdf) is by Chloe Lim, political science at Stanford.  For the pointer I thank Andrew Hall, some interesting political science papers on his home page.  Here is his very interesting book manuscript on how the devaluing of political offices drives polarization, worthy of a top publisher…

Crunching data from disparate states, Mr Chinoy says state borrowing rose by a whopping 32% in the year to March 2017, after a 25% rise in the previous year…

Bihar, the country’s poorest, with a budget deficit of nearly 6% of its state GDP last year and a hole in its finances after it banned alcohol sales…

That is from The Economist.