Political Science

That is the new, excellent, and detailed book by Eric Schliesser, a political scientist at Amsterdam.  I would say that Schliesser is a very learned “left Smithian,” and that you should take the subtitle very very seriously.  Here is one excerpt:

1. I argue that while Smith certainly took experience and empirical science seriously, he should not be understood as a empiricist in epistemology and his moral epistemology; he relies crucially on innate ideas and innate mental structure.

2. This book gives the first extensive (albeit not exhaustive) study and taxonomy of Smith’s theory of the passions, which I treat as elements of his system (cf. Hume’s treatise 1.1.4.7).  In fact, I argue that the content of a social passion is inherently normative in Smith’s approach.

3. I argue that Smith is decidedly reserved about deploying mathematics within his political economy.

4. I argue that Smith’s account of liberty should not be identified with the so-called liberty of the moderns, or freedom of contract.  While Smith certainly was a defender of freedom of contract, his account of liberty is more expansive (and more attractive).

Sometimes I draw a distinction between “branching” books, whose arguments spread out in many different directions and draw many distinctions, and “channeling” books, which try to put the material into a narrower, common framework.  (Reading each requires quite distinct sets of skills!)  This is a branching book.  You can order it here.

I thank my colleague David Levy for the pointer to this work.

Via Alex — the Alex — here is the story.  Excerpt:

It turns out that from 2011-2014, the Department of Defense spent $5.4 million in contracts with 14 NFL teams for flag ceremonies. The National Guard got in on the action too, and gave $6.7 million to the NFL for the same kind of thing from 2013 to 2015.

…Before 2009, football players standing for the national anthem wasn’t even a thing. The teams stayed in the locker room until after “and the hoooome of the braaaave,” and then ran onto the field. No one was offended, and no one was on cable news eliciting tears from disrespected military families. But then, the Department of Defense and the National Guard got involved. They began to pay the NFL millions of dollars to have ostentatious flag ceremonies before games.

There is even a whole Senate report objecting to this entire practice, with John McCain as one of the most vocal critics.  As I’ve suggested lately, maybe the ceremony really isn’t so patriotic after all.

 

That is a Twitter suggestion, and I believe this option warrants serious consideration.

The obvious candidate would be New York State, and of course New York could be given more federal funds to ease the fiscal burden.  The state would have more representatives in the House, but there would be no gain of two Democratic Senators for Puerto Rico, which might limit opposition from the Republican Party.  Puerto Rico also might be given some special dispensations regarding the Spanish language and some other cultural markers.

I am not sure how Puerto Rico would feel about such an arrangement at this point, but under many alternative arrangements a big chunk of the island’s population simply empties out, and much of it to New York at that.

On the other hand, Puerto Rico + Alberta could make 52…sorry Monique!

Addendum: As for the shorter run, here is one report of relevance:

While the federal government continues to calculate a damage estimate, responders deployed to the region are focused on logistics like getting food and water to millions of people who remain without power as temperatures hit 90 degrees and humidity hovers above 70 percent.

The administration contends that much of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is so damaged that officials can’t even begin damage assessment, meaning the federal government may not know for weeks how many roads, buildings or power lines will need to be rebuilt.

“The issue is not paying for any of this,” the administration source said. “It’s like: Paying for what?”

Here is the power supply, before and after the storm.  I’ve seen informal reports that over 40 percent of the island does not currently have usable drinking water.  Or what about people who need medications or dialysis?  Here are some photos.

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

Worse yet, the island has about $123 billion in debt and pension obligations, compared with a gross domestic product of slightly more than $100 billion, a number that is sure to fall. In the last decade, the island has lost about 9 percent of its population, including many ambitious and talented individuals. In the past 20 years, Puerto Rico’s labor force shrank by about 20 percent, with the health-care sector being especially hard hit. The population of children under 5 has fallen 37 percent since 2000, and Puerto Rico has more of its population over 60 than any U.S. state.

And then came Hurricane Maria.  According to a recent NYT piece, almost half of American’s don’t know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens.

In my considered opinion, using government money to help Puerto Rico has a much higher humanitarian return than devoting it to the further subsidization of health care.

I say no, in my latest Bloomberg column.  Here is one bit:

We live in a country where very often the concession stands don’t stop operating during the anthem, nor do fans stop walking through the concourse. We’re fooling ourselves to think that current practices are really showing respect for the nation or its military.

And:

Anthem practices shouldn’t be viewed as sacrosanct, and no one would think the absence of an anthem unpatriotic if expectations were set differently. Professional sports don’t start their competitions with the Pledge of Allegiance, and that is hardly considered an act of treason. Nor do we play the anthem before movies, as is mandatory in India. Furthermore, “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t sanctioned by Congress as our national anthem until 1931. Earlier in the history of baseball, the anthem was played during the seventh-inning stretch. It was only during World War II that the anthem was played regularly at the beginning of each game, rather than for special games alone, such as the World Series.

Might we consider moving back to some of these earlier practices? To play the anthem before the players are present or during a mid-game break, or perhaps to cease the practice altogether?

Finally:

The awkward, hard-to-admit truth is that the American national anthem is a form of right-wing political correctness, designed to embarrass or intimidate those who do not see fit to sing along and pay the demanded respect.

Here is a piece by Cass Sunstein also on the theme of right-wing political correctness.

Larry was in superb form, and we talked about mentoring, innovation in higher education, monopoly in the American economy, the optimal rate of capital income taxation, philanthropy, Hermann Melville, the benefits of labor unions, Mexico, Russia, and China, Fed undershooting on the inflation target, and Larry’s table tennis adventure in the summer Jewish Olympics. Here is the podcast, video, and transcript.

Here is one excerpt:

SUMMERS: Second, the VIX — people tend to underappreciate this. The volatility of the market moves very much with the level of the market. The reason is that if a company has $100 of debt and $100 of equity, and then the stock market goes up, it’s 50/50 levered.

If the stock market goes up by $100, then it has $100 of debt and $200 of equity and it’s only one-third levered. So when the stock market goes up, its volatility naturally goes down. And the stock market has gone way up over the last 10 months. That’s a factor operating to make its volatility go significantly down.

It’s also the case if you look at surprises. The magnitude of errors in the consensus estimates of company profits or the consensus estimates of industrial production or what have you, numbers have been coming in close to consensus to an unusual degree over the last few months.

I think all those things contribute to the relatively low level of the VIX, but those are more in the way of ex post explanations. If you had told me everything that was going on in the world and asked me to guess where the VIX would be, I would expect it to have been a little higher than it is right now.

And:

COWEN: If there’s an ongoing demand shortfall, as is suggested by many secular stagnation approaches, does that mean monopoly cannot be a major economic problem because that’s from the supply side, and that the supply side constraint isn’t really binding if you think of there as being multiple Lagrangians. Forgive me for getting technical for a moment. Do you see what I’m saying?

SUMMERS: That wouldn’t have been the way I’d have thought about it, Tyler, but what you’re saying might be right. I think I’d be inclined to say that, if there’s more monopoly, there’s more money going to monopoly firms where there’s a low propensity to spend it, both because the firms don’t invest and because the owners of the firms tend to be rich or endowments that have a low propensity to spend.

So the greater monopoly power, to the extent that it exists, is one factor operating to raise savings and reduce investment which contributes to demand shortfalls and secular stagnation.

I also think that there’s likely to be less entry in competition in markets that aren’t growing rapidly than there is in markets that are growing rapidly. There’s a sense in which less demand over time creates its own lack of supply.

And:

COWEN: What mental qualities make for a good table tennis player?

SUMMERS: Judging by my performance, qualities that I do not possess.

[laughter]

SUMMERS: I think a deft wrist, a certain capacity for concentration, and a great deal of practice. While I practiced intensely in the run-up to the activity, there were other participants who had been practicing intensely for decades. And that gave them a substantial advantage.

Recommended!

If you think you know someone who is very smart, Larry is almost certainly smarter.

This is from a job market paper at Stockholm University, by Sirus Dehdari:

This paper studies the effects of economic distress on support for far-right parties. Using Swedish election data, I show that shocks to unemployment risk among unskilled native-born workers account for 5 to 7 percent of the increased vote share for the Swedish far-right party Sweden Democrats. In areas with an influx of unskilled immigrants equal to a one standard deviation larger than the average influx, the effect of the unemployment risk shock to unskilled native-born workers is exacerbated by almost 140 percent. These findings are in line with theories suggesting that voters attribute their impaired economic status to immigration. Furthermore, I find no effects on voting for other anti-EU and anti-globalization parties, challenging the notion that economic distress increases anti-globalization sentiment. Using detailed survey data, I present suggestive evidence of how increased salience of political issues related to immigration channels economic distress into support for far-right parties, consistent with theories on political opportunity structure and salience of sociocultural political issues.

Here is Dehdari’s cv, all via Matt Yglesias.

Highlights

Individuals experiencing extreme weather activity more likely to support climate adaptation policy.

Effect of extreme weather activity on opinion is modest and not consistent across specific adaptation policies.

Effect of extreme weather activity on opinion diminishes over time.

Here is the paper, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Vipin Narang says yes:

The strategy turns on Kim’s main calculation that the United States will say it’s not worth losing a major American city to get rid of him.

Of course he could not knock out a major American or allied target, but he could use them somewhere.  And the use would boost his, uh…credibility.  In fact Charles Murray is worried.

I think of the model this way.  If Kim is irrational, we have obvious reason to worry, and of course a first strike could not be ruled out.  Remember Pearl Harbor?  (Or is that “Remember Pearl Harbor!”)

Alternatively, say all involved parties are fully rational in the selfish sense.  Fully rational agents make purely forward-looking calculations.  So if Kim used a nuke to kill a sparrow in North Korea, we would not attack because fear of losing an American city would far outweigh desire to retaliate for the loss of the sparrow.

How about one sparrow in the DMZ?  In Japan?  In the Arctic?  In a Malaysian airport?  Or maybe one sparrow, three sled dogs, and thirty Inuit?

At what point do we give it a go, and risk a poorly aimed North Korean ICBM being shot off into the sky?

What if Kim uses “only” a biological or chemical weapon, designed for minimum but noticeable impact, on a nearby country?  You should think of Kim’s strategy space as a continuous variable, with some noise added of course.

Is the space of “boosts his credibility and domestic stature, but without too much upping the risk of massive American retaliation” really the empty set?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  I give it about one percent, which in expected value terms is still a real worry.

…we first propose a new instrument for exposure to media bias to complement estimates based on news channel availability: the channel positions of news channels in cable television lineups. The channel position is the ordinal position of news channels in the cable lineup. The assertion is thus that the Fox News Channel will be watched more when it is channel position 25 instead of channel position 65. We demonstrate that a one-standard-deviation decrease in Fox News’s channel position is associated with an increase of approximately 2.5 minutes per week in time spent watching Fox News. We estimate that watching the Fox News Channel for this additional 2.5 minutes per week increases the vote share of the Republican presidential candidate by 0.3 percentage points among voters induced into watching by variation in channel position. The corresponding effect of watching MSNBC for 2.5 additional minutes per week is an imprecise zero.

That is by Gregory J. Martin and Ali Yurukoglu, just published in the most recent AER.  Here are ungated copies.

The post is interesting throughout, here are the closing paragraphs:

The left is more okay with people forming distinct subgroups, even as it thinks more in terms of treating everyone equally, even across very wide scopes, and including wide scopes in more divisive debates. The right wants to make redistribution more conditional, more wants to punish free riders, and wants norm violators to be more consistently punished. The left tends to presume large scale cooperation is feasible, while right tends to presume competition more. The left hopes for big gains from change while the right worries about change damaging things that now work.

Views tend to drift leftward as nations and the world gets richer. Left versus right isn’t very useful for prediction individual behavior outside of politics, even as it is the main parameter that robustly determines large scale political ciliations. People tend to think differently about politics on what they see as the largest scales; for example, there are whole separate fields of political science and political philosophy, which don’t overlap much with fields dealing with smaller scale politics, such as in clubs and firms.

I shouldn’t need to say it but I will anyway: it is obvious that a safe playful talky collective isn’t always the best way to deal with things. Its value varies with context. So sometimes those who are more reluctant to invoke it are right to be wary, while at other times those who are eager to apply it are right to push for it. It is not obvious, at least to me, whether on average the instincts of the left or the right are more helpful.

Do read the whole thing.

And then, [James] Buchanan offers a brief comment on his views on education and school vouchers. Critically, he voices reservations about the introduction of vouchers. Why? Because, as he writes, he is concerned “somehow, to avoid the evils of race-class-cultural segregation that an unregulated voucher scheme might introduce.” Buchanan then goes on to express support for introducing competition in the provision of education, but notes that this should be done in a way that serves “at the same time, to secure the potential benefits of commonly shared experiences, including exposure to other races, classes, and cultures.” In short, though brief, Buchanan’s letter eloquently expresses a vision of education that champions the value of diversity, explicitly condemns “the evils of race-class-cultural segregation,” and notes his reservations about school vouchers if they threaten these values.

That is from Georg Vanberg, and this is fully consistent with the twenty or so years I had of frank conversations with the man.  Here is the letter itself (pdf).