Political Science

From Ryan Avent:

Anthony Randazzo of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think-tank, and Jonathan Haidt of New York University recently asked a group of academic economists both moral questions (is it fairer to divide resources equally, or according to effort?) and questions about economics. They found a high correlation between the economists’ views on ethics and on economics. The correlation was not limited to matters of debate—how much governments should intervene to reduce inequality, say—but also encompassed more empirical questions, such as how fiscal austerity affects economies on the ropes. Another study found that, in supposedly empirical research, right-leaning economists discerned more economically damaging effects from increases in taxes than left-leaning ones.

There is considerably more at the link.  The Randazzo and Haidt study is from Econ Journal Watch.

That is the new Kirk J. Beattie book, and I find it one of the very best studies on how Washington actually works; I am less interested in the determinants of Middle East policy per se.  Here is one bit:

On the Senate side, I got the distinct impression that the constituents are not, in general, as important to senators as they are to House members.  One gets the distinct impression that individuals with financial clout are far more likely to get senators’ attention than others.  As one staffer put it, “If you’re talking to me, you’re talking about money.  People are not coming to these issues for the first time.  But for us, where our constituents are is very marginal.”  That said, a small number of well-heeled individuals can get senators’ attention in many but certainly not all cases.  The bias here runs distinctly in favor of putative supporters of Israel.  While other religious or ethno-religious factors are in play, like the size and strength of a senator’s evangelical community, senators appear to be less concerned about these voices, unless of course the senator either shares or sees utility in that perspective.  This parallels views held by House staffers, leaving one to think that evangelical senators’ commitment to Israel exceeds the level of pro-Israel concern by the evangelical masses.

Among other virtues, the book offers a new (to me) channel for how money might affect politics.  Even if donors cannot “buy positions” from politicians, the need to stay competitive in a more or less zero-sum fundraising game means that Congressional staff do not have enough time to study or learn issues very well, and thus depend all the more on outside sources of information.

Definitely recommended, you can buy it here.

When Cruz was thirteen his father brought him to Rolland Storey, a kindly and charismatic septuagenarian who ran a conservative foundation aimed at teaching youth about economics and government.  Storey educated his pupils about the brightest minds of free market economics: they pored over Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, and marveled at Frederic Bastiat’s denunciations of socialism as legal plunder.  A veteran of vaudeville, Storey liked to re-create constitutional conventions and assign students to play delegates in mock debates.  Many of his students were gifted, but none could keep up with Cruz in terms of passion and inherent ability.  Thrust into some of the momentous scenes from world history, the thirteen-year-old was perfectly at home.

That anecdote is from McKay Coppins, The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party’s Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House, a fun read with lots of background information I did not know.

I will never forget the time Gregory Rehmke took me to meet Rolland Storey in Houston.  But that is a story for another place and time…

There is a reason chess evolved the way it did:

…we find that queenly reigns participated more in inter-state conflicts, without experiencing more internal conflict. Moreover, the tendency of queens to participate as conflict aggressors varied based on marital status.

Among married monarchs, queens were more likely to participate as attackers than kings. Among unmarried monarchs, queens were more likely to be attacked than kings. These results are consistent with an account in which queens relied on their spouses to manage state affairs, enabling them to pursue more aggressive war policies. Kings, on the other hand, were less inclined to utilize a similar division of labor.

This asymmetry in how queens relied on male spouses and kings relied on female spouses strengthened the relative capacity of queenly reigns, facilitating their greater participation in warfare.

As Chris Blattman tells us, that is from “A new paper, Queens, by Oeindrila Dube and S.P. Harish.”

The vigorousness of the Taiwanese election cycle puts to rest the myth that somehow the Chinese do not have the cultural capital for democracy.

DanC wrote to me:

Could the desire of the Saudis to have an IPO for Aramco be a way to hedge the risk of a revolt?  Future revenues only have value to the royal family if they remain in charge.  The greater the threat of ISIS, or some other group, causing a change in government, the greater the desire to sell some of their land locked assets today.

Me from September:

I say watch for who is exposed to the sudden weekend ten to fifteen percent devaluation.  Lots of other EM currencies have gone down by about that amount, why should China be so different or immune?  The Chinese government isn’t going to spend trillions of dollars on fighting a losing battle in the currency wars, they are simply waiting for the right time for this to happen.  Don’t be caught off-guard.

I still think Ted Cruz will be the Republican nominee, as for some while he has been focused on becoming President and he has the requisite level of talent.  Many Democrats are underestimating how rapidly he will be able to shift to the center.  Hillary calling him a flip-flopper will set peoples’ minds at ease, not turn them against Cruz.

I’m glad we played it cool with Iran this time around but let’s be clear — it’s them playing us, not vice versa.

India just celebrated five years without polio.

I don’t like most Tarantino movies, except for Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill, vol.I.; I usually find his style too mannered and self-conscious.  And I read so many negative or lukewarm reviews in the American press.  But more positive evaluations started to trickle in, as the British Guardian, Telegraph, and FT all gave it five stars, and some of my friends seemed to like it.  One of my canonical views is that when critics have split views on a talented director, you should go see the movie.  I am very glad I did.

Think of the film as a retelling of John Locke’s social compact story, except the individuals are not tabula rasa in terms of history, but rather they bring ineradicable racial and historical backgrounds to the table, epistemically uncertain backgrounds as well.  The game-theoretic solution concepts unfold accordingly.  The setting and details of the story are then set up to spoof Agatha Christie and the British haunted house tradition, except with snow, guns, and the American West as props.

Recommended, even for skeptics, Straussian throughout.

The Bank once comfortably earned enough to be self-sustaining. Today, it is rapidly becoming welfare-dependent. Periodic contributions from wealthy governments have propped up lending to poor countries, but these are unlikely to be increased, and some may be discontinued as donors redeploy aid budgets to refugee programs.

The problem is not that emerging economies have no desire to borrow; they desperately need funds for infrastructure and other investments. The problem is that the Bank is too slow to process loans, which has increasingly made it the last choice for many of its potential clients.

Whereas a commercial lender might take three months to prepare and disburse a loan, the Bank takes more than two years. And its efforts to speed up the process, which began in 2013, have reduced the average time only slightly, from 28 months to 25.2 months; in some regions (accounting for a third of the Bank’s lending), the wait has actually increased.

One clear indicator of the Bank’s performance is how high a premium governments are willing to pay to avoid it. A 20-year loan from the World Bank has an interest rate of about 4%, and the poorest countries can borrow for less than 1% (“International Development Association loans”). Nonetheless, many countries are choosing much more expensive commercial loans or bond issues. For example, Ghana, despite being eligible for IDA loans, recently chose to raise money from the bond market, from which it received an interest rate several times higher.

That is by Ngaire Woods.

New York City’s top traffic agent is a relentless, ruthless street-sweeper who slings summonses at a rate of one every 9 minutes, 45 seconds.

South Brooklyn’s orange tsunami, Arnous Morin, 53, wrote nearly 19,000 parking tickets in fiscal year 2015, an average of 76 per day he worked, city rec­ords analyzed by The Post and AAA Northeast show.

The one-man ticket blitz dished out 4,000 more summonses than the city’s No. 2 traffic cop.

And Morin’s base pay of $36,000 was eclipsed 33 times over by the amount of fines he generated for city coffers — $1.2 million.

Morin, who was a Catholic-school principal in his native Haiti, is unapologetic about his lack of mercy for motorists.

“Never, never. It’s never OK to break the law,” he told The Post at his Canarsie home. “The law is hard, but it’s the law. You can’t break the law for any reason.”

He is in fact paid about 63k a year with overtime.  And he has been ticketed three times himself, though I believe not by himself.  He claims to hold a knowledge of the entirety of South Brooklyn in his head.


The story is here, with other interesting points, via Jordan Schneider.

Joel S. Wit, who has negotiated with North Koreans for over twenty years, has a very interesting NYT piece on that topic, here is one excerpt:

The North Koreans may know a lot about the outside world, but they don’t know everything, even about the United States, their main adversary. In one meeting, an official asked, “Why do the president and secretary of state keep saying that the United States will not allow North Korea to have nuclear weapons when in fact you are not doing much to stop us?” He deduced that there must be a hidden agenda. “It’s because you want us to have nuclear weapons as an excuse to tighten your grip on South Korea and Japan, your two allies.” We responded that there was no hidden agenda and that the United States really did not want the North to have those weapons. I’m not sure we convinced him.

The piece is interesting throughout, most of all Wit stresses their realism and sophistication as negotiators, and urges us not to think of them as lunatics.

Do you like or dislike this mix?:

The prime minister [of the UK] will call for a revolution in child rearing this weekend by suggesting that all parents should attend classes on how to discipline their children.

In a move likely to enrage those fearful of an encroaching “nanny state”,  David Cameron will say that it should be the norm for parents to receive instruction on how to behave around their offspring.

As part of a speech on the family, Cameron will announce plans for a parenting classes voucher scheme, claiming that all parents need help and that there is too little state-sponsored guidance on offer.

I believe most Americans at least do not find this an intuitively appealing combination of policies.  It seems to “insult” the poor at the same time that it brings the state into what for conservatives is the sacred realm of the family.

I wish I could say a policy which irritates so many people is likely to be a good thing, yet I can’t quite see this one working out for the better.  And yes I do know the RCT evidence that personal trainers and coaches can improve the lives of the poor in the developing world.

At the end of the day, the great benefit of field experiments to economics and political scientists is that it’s forced some of the best social scientists to try to get complicated things done in unfamiliar places, and deal with all the constraints, bureaucrats, logistics, and impediments to reform you can imagine.

Arguably, the tacit knowledge these academics have developed about development and reform will be more influential to their long run work and world view than the experiments themselves.

That is from Chris Blattman.  He concludes:

We are all Albert Hirschman now.

From Nick Robinson at Harvard Law:

While the ubiquity of lawyers in U.S. electoral politics has frequently been noted, there has been almost no research on how their prevalence has changed over time, why these changes might have occurred, or the consequences of any such shift. This working paper helps fill this gap by using a unique data set that extends over two hundred years to chart the occupational background of members of the U.S. Congress. It finds that lawyers’ dominance in Congress is in slow, but steady, retreat. In the mid-19th century almost 80% of members of Congress were lawyers. By the 1960s this had dropped to a bit under 60%, and by 2015 it was slightly under 40%. The working paper also details variation of the prevalence of lawyers in Congress on the basis of geographic region, gender, race, and political party. It puts forward a set of arguments about why lawyers have traditionally had such success in U.S. federal electoral politics, including the politicization of the US justice system and the comparative advantage lawyers have over other occupations in terms of access to resources and career flexibility. It then claims that lawyers’ electoral decline may be the result of changes within the legal profession, as well as the emergence of a competing full-time professionalized political class, comprised of political aides and members of civil society, who have made politics a career. It ends by briefly exploring some of the potential ramifications of this decline on the legal profession.

File under…”division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.”

Hat tip goes to www.bookforum.com.

Here is an excerpt from the now published Tonio Andrade book, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History:

Part of the answer of course has to do with industrialization.  Steamships destroyed warjunks, towed long trains of traditional vessels into position, reconnoitered shallows and narrows, and, equally importantly, decreased communication times, allowing for minute, systematic coordination of the war effort.  Similarly, industrial ironworks made strong, supple metal for muskets and cannons, and steam power was used to bore cannons and mix, crumble, and sort gunpowder.

But industrialization isn’t the only answer.  Many of the innovations that most helped the British weren’t about steam power or the division of labor or mechanized factories.  They stemmed, rather, from the application of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century experimental science to warfare.  During the mid-1700s, new scientific discoveries enabled Europeans to measure the speed of projectiles, understand the effects of wind resistance, model trajectories, make better and more consistent gunpowder, develop deadly airborne missiles, and master the use of explosive shells.  These innovations as much as the use of steamship and industrial manufacturing techniques underlay the British edge in the Opium War.

Here is my previous coverage of the book.

For all the talk about recent advances in economics, you don’t hear much about one of the very biggest: how rapidly researchers are filling in the contours of Chinese economic history.

I would like to learn more about the U.S. Navy.  What should I read?

I thank you all in advance for your excellent suggestions.

There is a new and very important regulatory database now published and on-line:

RegData: A numerical database on industry-specific regulations for all United States industries and federal regulations, 1997–2012

Omar Al-Ubaydli and Patrick A. McLaughlin


We introduce RegData, formerly known as the Industry-specific Regulatory Constraint Database. RegData annually quantifies federal regulations by industry and regulatory agency for all federal regulations from 1997–2012. The quantification of regulations at the industry level for all industries is without precedent. RegData measures regulation for industries at the two, three, and four-digit levels of the North American Industry Classification System. We created this database using text analysis to count binding constraints in the wording of regulations, as codified in the Code of Federal Regulations, and to measure the applicability of regulatory text to different industries. We validate our measures of regulation by examining known episodes of regulatory growth and deregulation, as well as by comparing our measures to an existing, cross-sectional measure of regulation. Researchers can use this database to study the determinants of industry regulations and to study regulations’ effects on a massive array of dependent variables, both across industries and time.

Here is the published piece.  Here is a working paper version.  Here is the database itself.  Here is background and an explanation of different versions of the data base.