Month: March 2017

American sexual frequency estimates of the day

American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s in data from the nationally representative General Social Survey, N = 26,620, 1989–2014. This was partially due to the higher percentage of unpartnered individuals, who have sex less frequently on average. Sexual frequency declined among the partnered (married or living together) but stayed steady among the unpartnered, reducing the marital/partnered advantage for sexual frequency. Declines in sexual frequency were similar across gender, race, region, educational level, and work status and were largest among those in their 50s, those with school-age children, and those who did not watch pornography. In analyses separating the effects of age, time period, and cohort, the decline was primarily due to birth cohort (year of birth, also known as generation). With age and time period controlled, those born in the 1930s (Silent generation) had sex the most often, whereas those born in the 1990s (Millennials and iGen) had sex the least often. The decline was not linked to longer working hours or increased pornography use. Age had a strong effect on sexual frequency: Americans in their 20s had sex an average of about 80 times per year, compared to about 20 times per year for those in their 60s. The results suggest that Americans are having sex less frequently due to two primary factors: An increasing number of individuals without a steady or marital partner and a decline in sexual frequency among those with partners.

Here is the article, by Twenge, Sherman, and Wells, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The Devil is in the Details

That is the title of a recent paper in the Journal of Development Economics (NBER version here, 2013 ungated version here), and although the piece does not feel dramatic at first it is one of my favorite articles of the year.  It pins down some critical features of economic underdevelopment better than any study I know.  The subtitle, by the way, is “The Successes and Limitations of Bureaucratic Reform in India,” the authors are Iqbal Dhaliwal and Rema Hanna, and the work is set in rural Karnataka.

It is not easy to excerpt from, so I will summarize the narrative:

1. Using biometric technology — thumbprints — to monitor absenteeism induces staff attendance for public health workers to rise by almost 15 percent.

2. That in turn leads to a reduction in low-birth weight babies.

3. Yet the government proved not so interested in monitoring attendance on a more regular basis, not even to enforce their pre-existing human resource policies.  Potential penalties against late or absent doctors were not, for the most part, enforced.

4. Following the implementation of monitoring, the doctors showed the least improvement in attendance of all the workers, in fact virtually no improvement.  The entire positive effect came from nurses, lab technicians, and lower level staff.

5. The government was reluctant to continue the monitoring because it feared staff attrition and staff discord, especially from the doctors.  There is growing private sector demand for doctors, and many doctors are considering leaving these clinics for superior pay elsewhere, and perhaps also superior location.  Therefore the doctors are given, de facto, a very lenient absence and lateness policy, in lieu of a pay hike.

6. It is already the case that many of these doctors moonlight on the side, or have separate private practices, and that spending more time at the public clinic is not their major priority.

7. It is not easy for the underfunded local government to pay these doctors more, and thus a high level of lateness and absenteeism continues.  I wonder also what would be the morale costs on the non-doctors, if the monitoring were to be continued to be enforced in this differential manner over a longer period of time.

The long reach of black markets in everything

A rhino has been shot dead by poachers at a zoo in France in what is believed to be the first such incident in Europe.

Keepers found Vince, a four-year-old white rhino, in his enclosure at Thoiry Zoo on Tuesday morning.

One of his horns had been hacked off with a chainsaw, police said.

The African rhino’s horn commands high prices on the black market, with about 100 killed every month in the wild.

However, this is thought to be the first time poachers have targeted a rhino living in a European zoo.

Here is the article, via Ray Lopez.

Gender Reversal Teaches Uncomfortable Lessons

How would the Trump-Clinton debates have been perceived if the genders had been reversed? Two professors worked with trained actors to duplicate not just the words but also the mannerisms of Trump and Clinton–only with a female actor playing Trump, now called Brenda King, and a male actor playing Clinton, now called Jonathan Gordon.

[The professors] began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression—his tendency to interrupt and attack—would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.

What happened, however, was quite different. Audiences in two sold out performances were shocked. They liked Brenda King and distrusted Jonathan Gordon!

We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened”—meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman—that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another—a musical theater composer, actually—said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it….Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience.

Here’s a clip:

Has creative destruction become more destructive?

John Komlos has a new paper on this topic, here is the abstract:

Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction as the engine of capitalist development is well-known. However, that the destructive part of creative destruction is a social and economic cost and therefore biases our estimate of the impact of the innovation on GDP is hardly acknowledged, with the notable exception of Witt (1996.“Innovations, Externalities and the Problem of Economic Progress.” Public Choice 89:113 –30). Admittedly, during the First and Second Industrial Revolutions the magnitude of the destructive component of innovation was no doubt small compared to the net value added to GDP. However, we conjecture that recently the destructive component of innovations has increased relative to the size of the creative component as the new technologies are often creating products which are close substitutes for the ones they replace whose value depreciates substantially in the process of destruction. Consequently, the contribution of recent innovations to GDP is likely upwardly biased. This note calls for further research in innovation economics in order to measure and decompose the effects of innovations into their creative and destructive components in order to provide improved estimates of their contribution to GDP and to employment.

Think of Uber being a relatively close substitute for taxicabs, for instance.  Speculative, as they say, and the paper does not in fact actually demonstrate these conclusions, but at least we should be asking such questions more often.

A Border Adjustment Tax just means more new loopholes

That is the focus of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit from it:

Under one somewhat-neglected feature of [one version of] the tax, companies could no longer deduct advertising, interest, rent and employee benefit costs from their bills for tax due. This is a recipe for major tax dodges and the further politicization of government-business relations.

To think through these problems, note that under circulating versions of the tax reform a company still can deduct its asset acquisition and inventory costs. So, to cite one potential problem, if a company acquires a building it can deduct that expense, but not if it rents a similar building. The result is that the rental market would suffer badly. Some companies would put up their own structures, but others might engage in temporary “repurchase” agreements so they are owning their space (“asset acquisition”) rather than renting it. That’s just one example of the big loopholes the new tax code could create.

There is no single canonical account of how a border adjustment tax would work, so maybe that loophole won’t apply to your preferred version. (Here is a 2016 outline, but expect further changes and details; this KPMG document is useful on options.) But the general point is this: By creating such a sharp distinction between deductible and nondeductible business expenses, the opportunities for tax arbitrage and tax-code lobbying are huge. The suspicion is that most business expenditures could, one way or another, be converted into forms that allow for full and immediate expensing.

How about a version of the tax that allows for deductibility of newly constructed but not purchased buildings? Well, that would encourage overinvestment in new construction. You can also imagine building purchases accompanied by overbilled site modifications (with some of that money being returned in another associated transaction), so the refitted structure could count as new construction.

As I say in the piece, please do note that many people have their particular favored versions of the tax, sometimes designed to avoid various specific problems that are raised.  But I don’t think any version of the tax will avoid these problems in general.  Full and immediate expensing is a potent lure, and it will attract a great of gamesmanship.

Reddit AMA with me

Tuesday assorted links

1. Dylan Matthews on a Give Directly UBI experiment in Kenya.

2. Mackerels are a medium of exchange in some U.S. prisons (short video).

3. Yuval Levin reviews The Complacent Class: “Cowen’s book is rich in thought-provoking insights and is a testament to his own voracious curiosity and open-minded intelligence. There is more to it than any summary could hope to capture.”

4. Bob Luddy reviews The Complacent Class in American Spectator: “The Complacent Class defines the daunting challenges of our times.”

5. Facts about blue-footed boobies (NYT).

Immigrant Doctors

One percent of all the physicians in the United States come from the six countries targeted in Donald Trump’s new Executive Order. I found that a surprisingly high number. According to the Immigrant Doctors Project, those 7000 physicians provide 14 million doctors’ appointments each year and many of them are located in the poorer, whiter, and rural parts of the country.

I don’t see this as a knockdown argument against the policy but it does illustrate a surprising cost and also how much the United States benefits from the immigration of the highly-skilled and educated.

America’s Placebo President

That is my new piece in The American Interest, here is one excerpt:

When I ponder why the American electorate turned to such an unorthodox President as Donald Trump, I think first of the idea of control.

…To date, the commentary on Trump has focused on perceived losses of control, such as 9/11 or diminishing global influence on the foreign policy side, and the loss of manufacturing jobs, real wage stagnation, and rising use of opioids on the domestic side. Those events all did raise the background level of anxiety, but the bigger picture is that the rise of Trump actually coincides with America righting its ship, at least to some extent, especially in economic matters.


In other words, Trump’s main policy is his rhetoric, and his very act of promising to restore control to the “deplorables” is a significant signal of control itself. In essence, Trump supporters are diagnosing America’s problems in terms of deficient discourse in the public sphere, as if they had read George Orwell and the Frankfurt School philosophers on the general topic but are drawing more on alt-right inspirations for the specifics of their critique.


I was struck when one of my friends (a Trump supporter) described Trump’s policy positions as not so different from Dwight Eisenhower’s. At first the assertion shocked me, because I typically think of Trump as so erratic and Eisenhower as so extremely reliable. On reflection it occurred to me that the world Trump actually wants does bear a lot of resemblance to what Eisenhower loved and fought for, even if most Americans have moved on and accepted or embraced most of the social changes the nation has accumulated since that time. Consider how much the world of Eisenhower looks like the dream of Trump: There were hardly any Muslims living in America under Eisenhower’s presidency, he deported significant numbers of illegal Mexican immigrants, tariffs (but also taxes) were higher, and there was no NAFTA or TPP.

We are used to conceptualizing political positions in relative terms, in part to help us judge people’s social status. So if someone (say Ike) was a “moderate” back in the 1950s, we instinctively think of that person as in some way similar to today’s moderates. But an alternative perspective, bracing at times, is to simply to compare positions in absolute terms, and that makes a lot of Trump’s views resolutely ordinary in the broader sweep of American history.

Do read the whole thing.