Grant, a former Auburn University sorority girl, founded Rushbiddies in 2009 after helping see her own daughter through a successful recruitment week at Auburn. She now works with girls, and usually also their moms, in private consultations in person or over the phone (prices start at $100 for a 90 minute session) and through group workshops, covering everything from what to wear to what to say. She’ll also suggest who to ask for recommendations and how to get in if your GPA is under 3.0—essentially preparing girls for every scenario, question, dress code requirement, and trap that will come up.

That is by Alyssa Giacobbe.

Tuesday assorted links

by on September 19, 2017 at 12:33 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

The Color of Law

by on September 19, 2017 at 7:25 am in Books, Economics, History, Law | Permalink

Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law is a good history of government discrimination against African-Americans in the housing market. Most notably, the FHA and the VA refused to guarantee mortgage loans or loans to builders unless the neighborhood was segregated. Indeed, the FHA wouldn’t even insure a project if there were too many African Americans living nearby.

In 1940, for example, a Detroit builder was denied FHA insurance for a project that was near an African American neighborhood. He then constructed a half-mile concrete wall, six feed high and a foot thick, separating the two neighborhoods, and the FHA then approved the loan.

Rothstein is no libertarian but to his credit he does acknowledge that one of the few anti-segregation forces in the early twentieth century was the Lochner influenced reasoning of the Supreme Court. In Louisville, Kentucky, wealthy blacks began to buy houses in previously white neighborhoods. In response, the city passed an ordinance making it illegal for blacks to move into majority-white neighborhoods and vice-versa. The NAACP organized a test case. Warley, an African American, agreed to buy a house from Buchanan, if not prevented by law from doing so. Buchanan then argued that the law reduced the value of his house because he could not sell to Warley or other African-Americans. Thus, the ordinance was a taking which violated the 14th Amendment right not to be deprived of property without due process of law.

The State of Kentucky responded with a brief arguing that segregation was divinely ordained and that “negroes carry a blight with them wherever they go.” The racism was sickening but Kentucky also had the great mass of intellectuals behind it because they were asserting the progressive belief that the state’s police powers could and should overrule individual rights, especially property rights. Under Lochner, however, “unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary interference with the right and liberty of the individual to contract” violated the 14th Amendment. Rothstein writes:

“In 1917, the Supreme Court overturned the racial zoning ordinance of Louisville, Kentucky, where many neighborhoods included both races before twentieth-century segregation….The Court majority was enamored of the idea that the central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was not to protect the rights of freed slaves but a business rule: “freedom of contract.” Relying on this interpretation, the Court had struck down minimum wage and workplace safety laws on the grounds that they interfered with the right of workers and business owners to negotiate individual employment conditions without government interference. Similarly, the Court ruled that racial zoning ordinances interfered with the right of a property owner to sell to whomever he pleased.”

Sure, it’s a grudging acknowledgment, but most people don’t even do that so give Rothstein credit where credit is due.

Governments evolved other measures to promote segregation such as zoning laws and the white-subsidy systems of the FHA and VA. Nevertheless, Buchanan v. Warley was likely an very important decision. Bill Fischel goes so far as to argue that Buchanan v. Warley prevented apartheid in America.

Addendum: On segregation and Lochner, see David Bernstein’s excellent book Rehabilitating Lochner from which I have also drawn.

The economics of Graham-Cassidy

by on September 19, 2017 at 1:20 am in Economics, Law, Medicine | Permalink

It is good for forcing some fiscal discipline on health care, but state governments are fiscally too weak to take over America’s public sector health care finance.  That is the message of my latest Bloomberg column.  Here is one excerpt:

There is another problem with state experimentation in this context. So many health-care problems are on the supply side, namely weak incentives for quality care, barriers to entry and innovation, and regulations that raise costs but don’t improve safety. Ideally policy experimentation could cover all of these dimensions, but almost all of the debate is on the side of financing and insurance coverage. With a more or less fixed set of supply-side institutions, simply pushing more financing decisions into state governments may not produce much, if any, improvement.

So overall the reform doesn’t seem to be feasible.  But here is the part to bug you:

It is a legitimate worry that Graham-Cassidy might cut health-care benefits in an unequal fashion, but the bill may be more egalitarian than it at first appears. Due to the embedded formulas, the bill redistributes resources to red states, in particular states that have not already accepted the Medicaid expansion from Obamacare. Often those are rural states, some of them in economic decline. Favoring such states does have an egalitarian aspect, even if the Republican Party isn’t very effective in explaining the policy in those terms.

The biggest losers from Graham-Cassidy are likely New York and California, two states with very costly Medicaid rolls. That might appear anti-egalitarian, but is it really? The beneficiaries in those states tend to be relatively young, and thus their human capital endowments, in the form of future life enjoyment, are usually quite high. All things considered, a 28-year old lower middle-class immigrant in Los Angeles is arguably better off than a 61-year-old in Nebraska with $100,000 in the bank. Giving a benefit to the red state individual actually may reflect the more egalitarian sentiment, although that’s not usually how health-care policy discussions are framed by either Democrats or Republicans.

Like it or not, the forward-looking perspective is probably the correct one here.  One not altogether illogical response is to treat this as a reductio ad absurdum on egalitarian ideas.  Another response is to base health care policy more on efficiency, and again to discard the egalitarian ideal, which in turn would resurrect some chance of being able to defend redistribution toward the young.  What doesn’t make sense is to invoke egalitarian ideals only selectively, as people are fond of doing.

Here is one proposal:

What if I told you that the credit rating companies already had a system to verify identities before opening new accounts — but, because this would be a minor inconvenience, and a drag on their profits, they only allow this status to last for 90 days for any given account unless a police report can be filed, and furthermore, while they may claim that they’ll do this, it’s not actually a legal requirement? From a Krebs on Security piece from 2015 (as ever, Krebs is two years ahead of the zeitgeist):

“With a fraud alert on your credit file, lenders or service providers should not grant credit in your name without first contacting you to obtain your approval — by phone or whatever other method you specify when you apply for the fraud alert … Fraud alerts only last for 90 days, although you can renew them as often as you like. More importantly, while lenders and service providers are supposed to seek and obtain your approval before granting credit in your name if you have a fraud alert on your file, they’re not legally required to do this.”

That’s right: a solution to the ongoing insane catastrophe which is the American credit system already exists. The infrastructure and process for it is already in place. But thanks to regulatory capture, an inability to understand the scale of data hacks that modern technology enables, or sheer incompetence, it only exists on a case-by-case, opt-in, short-term solution.

Obviously everybody should have this verification — “two-factor authentication,” if you will — turned on and kept on. This would not be a panacea, of course. Security hipsters will loudly protest that phones and email are terrible second authentication factors that no one should even consider using. Phone and email are not ideal, but the point is, universalizing this existing solution would hugely improve matters for a relatively trivial cost.

That is from Jon Evans.  I still would like to know what is the social cost of identity theft.  Furthermore, what is the cost of identity theft as a ratio of the cost of some people simply not paying borrowed money back?

Everyone is all a-flutter on this issue, and attacking Equifax, but I am looking for more reliable information before voicing an opinion.

*The Color of Money*

by on September 18, 2017 at 2:08 pm in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

The author is Mehrsa Baradaran, and the subtitle is Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap.  Here is one excerpt:

Not only were black bankers stuck in a perpetual money pit, but they were often cast as the villains when thing went wrong.  That their loans went primarily to the black middle class and were out of reach of the majority of blacks sometimes made black banks the targets of criticism.  Abram Harris was one of these critics.  Harris was the first nationally renowned black economist and the first to do a comprehensive study of black banks, called The Negro as Capitalist (1936).  Harris headed the Howard economics department from 1936 to 1945, when he became the first black economist at the University of Chicago.  He was recruited there by Frank Knight…Harris had held Marxist sympathies while at Howard, but with his move to Chicago, his economic philosophy became more traditional.

Here is Wikipedia on Harris.  As for Baradaran, I found this to be “two books in one.”  First, it was an OK and useful but not original look at the evolution of the racial wealth gap.  Second, it was a very interesting but interspersed history of black banking in America.  Overall recommended.  Here is the book’s home page.

Monday assorted links

by on September 18, 2017 at 12:26 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Buffett Wins Bet

by on September 18, 2017 at 7:25 am in Economics | Permalink

NYPost: The Oracle of Omaha once again has proven that Wall Street’s pricey investments are often a lousy deal. Warren Buffett made a $1 million bet at end of 2007 with hedge fund manager Ted Seides of Protégé Partners. Buffett wagered that a low-cost S&P 500 index fund would perform better than a group of Protégé’s hedge funds.

Buffett’s index investment bet is so far ahead that Seides concedes the match, although it doesn’t officially end until Dec. 31.

The problem for Seides is his five funds through the middle of this year have been only able to gain 2.2% a year since 2008, compared with more than 7% a year for the S&P 500 — a huge difference. That means Seides’ $1 million hedge fund investments have only earned $220,000 [through 2016] in the same period that Buffett’s low-fee investment gained $854,000.

I am shocked that Seides put his money on five funds-of-funds, thus piling fees on fees. It was a loser bet. Mark Perry at Carpe Diem has more of the stats.

In one way, this is another win for index fund investing but there is still an anomaly. The S&P trounced the hedge funds but it still lost to an investment in Berkshire Hathaway! (see addendum) Admittedly the race was pretty close at times but after ten years Berkshire was up 91.5% and the S&P 500 up 69.1%.

Addendum: An astute reader with access to a Bloomberg terminal points out that an investment in the S&P 500 pays dividends while famously Berkshire Hathaway does not. Moreover, when you compare total returns the S&P 500 is up 110.7% over this period and Berkshire is up 91.8% so indexing over this period even beats Buffett!

Reed Hastings, the Netflix CEO who co-founded the company long before “streaming” entered the popular lexicon, was born during a fairly remarkable year for film. 1960 was the year Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho astounded and terrified audiences, influencing a half-century of horror to come. It was a year of outstanding comedies (Billy Wilder’s The Apartment), outstanding epics (Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus) and outstandingly creepy thrillers (Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom—a close cousin of Psycho).

But in the vast world of Netflix streaming, 1960 doesn’t exist. There’s one movie from 1961 available to watch (the original Parent Trap) and one selection from 1959 (Compulsion), but not a single film from 1960. It’s like it never happened. There aren’t any movies from 1963 either. Or 1968, 1955 or 1948. There are no Hitchcock films on Netflix. No classics from Sergio Leone or François Truffaut. When Debbie Reynolds died last Christmas week, grieving fans had to turn to Amazon Video for Singin’ in the Rain and Susan Slept Here. You could fill a large film studies textbook with what’s not available on Netflix.

Netflix’s selection of classic cinema is abominable—and it seems to shrink more every year or so. As of this month, the streaming platform offers just 43 movies made before 1970, and fewer than 25 from the pre-1950 era (several of which are World War II documentaries). It’s the sort of classics selection you’d expect to find in a decrepit video store in 1993, not on a leading entertainment platform that serves some 100 million global subscribers.

The bottom line is that streaming rights are expensive, whereas for shipping around DVDs the company can simply buy a disc.  Alternatively, you could say that the law for tangible media — such as discs — is less infested with special interests than the law for digital rights?  What does that say about our future?

Here is the article, via Ted Gioia.

What I’ve been reading

by on September 18, 2017 at 1:04 am in Books | Permalink

1. Peter Sloterdijk, Selected Exaggerations: Conversations and Interviews, 1993-2012.  No, he’s not a fraud, and this volume is probably the best introduction to his thought.  Is there an extended argument here?  I am not sure, but I did enjoy this bit:

The existential philosophers have greatly overstated homelessness.  In fact, people sit in their apartments with their delusions and cushion themselves as best they can.

But why does he have to follow up with?:

Living means continuously updating the immune system — and that is precisely what foam theory can help us show more clearly than before.

In the German-speaking world he passes for one of the most important world thinkers.

2. Declan Kiberd, After Ireland: Writing the Nation from Beckett to the Present.  A very high quality and original look at how Irish literature reflects the nation’s development, though it assumes a fair knowledge of the works being discussed.

3. Fred Hersch, Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life in and Out of Jazz.  How someone from a previous generation a) became a star jazz pianist, b) discovered gay liberation, and c) woke from a coma to resume a miraculous career.

4. Stephen Greenblatt, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve.  In general I am a Greenblatt fan, and not persuaded by the critics of his popularizations, but this book is not doing it for me.  For the Hebrew Bible I prefer to read densely argued Straussians.

5. William Ian Miller, The Anatomy of DisgustMiller’s books from the 1990s remain an underrated source of “stuff for smart people.”  His book on disgust could be the best in that series, for me this is a reread and yes it did hold up.

Sunday assorted links

by on September 17, 2017 at 1:24 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

A City on the Hill

by on September 17, 2017 at 7:43 am in Economics, Law, Religion | Permalink

The Redeemed Christian Church of Nigeria has built its own private city.

A 25-megawatt power plant with gas piped in from the Nigerian capital serves the 5,000 private homes on site, 500 of them built by the church’s construction company. New housing estates are springing up every few months where thick palm forests grew just a few years ago. Education is provided, from creche to university level. The Redemption Camp health centre has an emergency unit and a maternity ward.

On Holiness Avenue, a branch of Tantaliser’s fast food chain does a brisk trade. There is an on-site post office, a supermarket, a dozen banks, furniture makers and mechanics’ workshops. An aerodrome and a polytechnic are in the works.

…“If you wait for the government, it won’t get done,” says Olubiyi. So the camp relies on the government for very little – it builds its own roads, collects its own rubbish, and organises its own sewerage systems. And being well out of Lagos, like the other megachurches’ camps, means that it has little to do with municipal authorities. Government officials can check that the church is complying with regulations, but they are expected to report to the camp’s relevant office. Sometimes, according to the head of the power plant, the government sends the technicians running its own stations to learn from them.

There is a police station on site, which occasionally deals with a death or the disappearance of a child, but the camp’s security is mostly provided by its small army of private guards in blue uniforms. They direct traffic, deal with crowd control, and stop children who haven’t paid for the wristband from going into Emmanuel Park – home to the aforementioned ferris wheel.

As in Gurgaon, India, where the government fails opportunities are opened for entrepreneurs who think big.

Why men are not earning more

by on September 17, 2017 at 2:33 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

“And it all starts at age 25,” Mr. Guvenen said. The decline in lifetime earnings is largely a result of lower incomes at younger ages rather than at older ages, he said, and “that was very surprising to us.”

Most younger men ended up with less because they started out earning less than their counterparts in previous years, and saw little growth in their early years. They entered the work force with lower wages and never caught up.

That is from a very good NYT piece by Patricia Cohen.  And note that in spite of all the recent very good economic news, for men the basic story really hasn’t changed, namely that of stagnation as a class.

I wonder sometimes if a Malthusian/Marxian story might be at work here.  At relevant margins, perhaps it is always easier to talk/pay a woman to do a quality hour’s additional work than to talk/pay a man to do the same.  And so as the demand for such additional hours opens up, the gains go to women, not men.  That is at least for the lower income brackets, and perhaps the very most for younger earners.  In other words, especially at young ages, women might be serving as a kind of “reserve army of the underemployed.”

Via Ben Schmidt, the term becomes common only in the 1970s:

I’d like to see a detailed look at actual journal practices, but my personal sense is that editorial review was the norm until fairly recently, not review by a team of outside referees.  In 1956, for instance, the American Historical Review asked for only one submission copy, and it seems the same was true as late as 1970.  I doubt they made the photocopies themselves. Schmidt seems to suggest that the practices of government funders nudged the academic professions into more formal peer review with multiple referee reports.

Further research is needed (how about we ask some really old people?), at least if peer review decides it is worthy of publication.  Frankly I suspect such work would stand a better chance under editorial review.

In the meantime, here is a tweet from the I didn’t know she was on Twitter Judy Chevalier:

I have just produced a 28-page “responses to reviewer and editor questions” for a 39-page paper.

I’d rather have another paper from Judy.

By the way, scientific papers are getting less readable.