Month: June 2020

Have we already defunded the police?

Here is more complete data on police expenditures, interesting throughout, via Charles Fain Lehman.  The sociology of this issue I find fascinating.  Usually in Progressive lore, if you defund an agency, you lower its quality and make it all the more dysfunctional.  But in this case, defunding the bureaucracy, namely the police, is supposed to solve the problem.  Is there anywhere a well-worked out model of why this particular bureaucracy might be different from the others?  (Maybe it is, I would gladly link to such an argument!)  Or, dare I say it, is this just mood affiliation and once again…politics isn’t about policy.  I’ll give 4-1 odds on the latter.

Saturday assorted links

Why do people hate the media so much?

I usually do not wish to reprise posts, but this one from 2016 deserves another exposure, given recent events.  What would be the point of trying to rewrite the same idea in other words?:

Haven’t you noticed this?

I have a simple hypothesis.  No matter what the media tells you their job is, the feature of media that actually draws viewer interest is how media stories either raise or lower particular individuals in status.  (It’s a bit like “politics isn’t about policy.”)  That’s even true for this blog, though of course that is never my direct intention.

But now you can see why people get so teed off at the media.  The status ranking of individuals implied by a particular media source is never the same as yours, and often not even close.  You hold more of a grudge from the status slights than you get a positive and memorable charge from the status agreements.

In essence, (some) media is insulting your own personal status rankings all the time.  You might even say the media is insulting you.  Indeed that is why other people enjoy those media sources, because they take pleasure in your status, and the status of your allies, being lowered.  It’s like they get to throw a media pie in your face.

In return you resent the media.

A good rule of thumb is that if you resent the media “lots,” you are probably making a number of other emotional mistakes in your political thought.

Here is the original link.  And here is my 2017 post on social media, also more relevant than ever.  And here is my 2016 post on how today’s world reminds me increasingly of the Reformation — all the more true today and even this week.

Toward a model of the New York City police

Bill de Blasio has excused police officers who swing batons at unarmed protesters and ram their vehicles into crowds. He has repeatedly stuck by his commissioner, Dermot Shea, and maintained the police have acted with the utmost discretion, though eyewitness testimony and videos suggest otherwise. Former aides who worked to elect a mayor on a platform of police reform are aghast. What went wrong, exactly?

Why does the Mayor of New York City defer so egregiously to his police department? Why does this keep happening?

Mass protests aren’t new to New York City. Neither is police violence. The police department in New York is a paramilitary that operates with little accountability, relative to other city agencies. A police commissioner in New York can be thought of as an appointed mayor of a quasi-independent fiefdom. The police commissioner, ultimately, must answer to the mayor and City Council—mayors can fire commissioners at any time—but the police can cow those who oppose them politically. As recently as 2015, one year after Eric Garner died in police custody, the otherwise progressive City Council led a multi-year campaign to hire 1,000 new police officers. This year, in their latest stimulus bill, House Democrats included $300 million for a nationwide police expansion. Politicians of both political parties have supported bolstering police power for decades.

That is from Ross Barkan, here is more:

Police, in this calculus, safeguard property value. If police don’t do their jobs, a mainstream Democratic politician would tell you, the city could spiral into chaos. Crime would skyrocket. Property value would decline. The real estate and investor class would lose confidence in New York and stop investing their capital. Any pivot toward a model of social democratic urban planning—or even, at the minimum, a reduction in the NYPD’s near $6 billion budget—would trigger this unraveling. De Blasio’s appointment of Bratton, the Giuliani-era police commissioner, can be understood in this context. Bratton was a liberal mayor’s concession to a business and real estate establishment he believed needed to be placated. It was a signal that his administration, no matter its reputation, would never veer too far left. De Blasio is of the belief that any progressive reform can’t happen without police to maintain New York’s low crime rate. Any spike will sap political capital for his projects.

Police unions understand politicians. Pat Lynch has been leading the PBA since 1999. He has merely followed a playbook written by past union presidents, who literally staged riots and race-baiting, citywide referendums when mild reforms of the department were proposed. The threat police have dangled over mayors, left and right, is rather simple: you make us angry and we will unleash disorder.

There is more of interest at the link, and for the pointer I thank Jordan.

*The Address Book*

The author is Deirdre Mask and the subtitle is What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power.  The opening bit would have fit under “New York City fact of the day”:

In some years,  more than 40 percent of all local laws passed by the New York City Council have been street name changes.

I guess that is because garbage collection, education, and policing are running so smoothly.  Does any other fact so well sum up the pathology of our time?

In Paris, only 2.6 percent of the street names commemorate women, and this is expected to be a “growth sector,” as they say.  I liked this sentence:

Tantner is perhaps the world’s leading expert on house numbers.

House numbers were in fact one of the more important results of the 18th century Enlightenment.  For all their benefits in enabling mail, or finding your way, there was a dark side because they also made it easier to tax or imprison you, sometimes a good thing but not always.

Number streets are an especially American phenomenon, and today “every American city with more than a half million people has numerical street names.  Second Street is the most common street name in America…”

Recommended, you can order it here.

Operation Warp Speed Needs to Go to Warp 10

Operation Warp Speed is following the right plan by paying for vaccine capacity to be built even before clinical trials are completed. OWS, however, should be bigger and should have more diverse vaccine candidates. OWS has spent well under $5 billion. At current rates, the US economy is losing about $40 billion a week. Thus, if $20 billion could advance a vaccine by just one week that would be a good deal. As I said in the LA Times, “It might seem expensive to invest in capacity for a vaccine that is never approved, but it’s even more expensive to delay a vaccine that could end the pandemic.”

I am also concerned that OWS is narrowing down the list of candidates too early:

NYTimes: Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and the Oxford-AstraZeneca group have already received a total of $2.2 billion in federal funding to support their vaccine programs. Their selection as finalists, along with Merck and Pfizer, will give all five companies access to additional government money, help in running clinical trials and financial and logistical support for a manufacturing base that is being built even before it is clear which if any of the vaccines in development will work.

These are all good programs and one of them will probably be successful but we also want to support some long-shots because a small probability of a very big gain is still a big gain.

The five candidates also all use new technologies and are less diverse than I would prefer. There are a lot of different vaccine platforms, Live-Attenuated, Deactivated, Protein Subunit, Viral Vector, DNA and mRNA among others. The Accelerating Health Technologies team that I am a part of collected data on over 100 vaccine candidates and their characteristics. We then created a model to compute an optimal portfolio. We estimated that it’s necessary to have 15-20 candidates in the portfolio to get to a 80-90% chance of at least one success and that you want diverse candidates because the second candidate from the same platform probably fails if the first candidate from that platform fails. Moderna and Pfrizer are both mRNA vaccines–a platform that has never been used before–while AstraZeneca, Johnson and Johnson and Merck are using somewhat different viral vector platforms (Adenovirus for AstraZeneca and J & J and measles for Merck) which is also a relatively novel approach. I think it would be better if there were some tried and true platforms such as a Deactivated or Protein Subunit vaccine in the mix. As Larry Summers said, “if you will die of starvation if you don’t get a pizza in two hours, order 5 pizzas”. I would change that to order 10 pizzas and order from different companies!

One way to diversify the portfolio is to make deals with other countries to avoid the prisoner’s dilemma of vaccine portfolios. The prisoner’s dilemma is that each country has an incentive to invest in the vaccine most likely to succeed but if every country does this the world has put all its eggs in one basket. To avoid that, you need some global coordination. One country invests in Vaccine A, the other invests in Vaccine B and they agree to share capacity regardless of which vaccine works.

So my critique is that OWS is good policy but it would be even better if more vaccine candidates and more diverse vaccine candidates were part of the program. In contrast, the critiques being offered in Congress are ridiculous and dangerous.

Democrats in Congress are already seeking details about the contracts with the companies, many of which are still wrapped in secrecy. They are asking how much Americans will have to pay to be vaccinated and whether the firms, or American taxpayers, will retain the profits and intellectual property.

How much will Americans have to pay to be vaccinated??? A lot less than they are paying for not being vaccinated! The worry about profits is entirely backwards. The problem is that the profits of vaccine manufacturers are far too small to give them the correct social incentives not that the profits are too large. The stupidity of this is aggravating.

Skepticism about Trump administration policies is understandable but I am concerned that one of the best things the Trump administration is doing to combat the virus will be impeded and undermined by politics.

New Emergent Ventures winners, ninth cohort

Mikko Packalen, with co-authors, fellow in Progress Studies, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Waterloo, to improve science, in particular to study superior methods for improving systems of science citation.  Here is some previous MR coverage of his work.

Daniel Gallardo Albarrán, post doc at Wageningen University, Netherlands, for historical research on European and other policy responses to plagues.

Anna Steingold, Barnard College, general career support and to investigate small business successes and failure in New York City.

Fasih Zulfiqar, Karachi, Pakistan, home schooled and #1 economics student on the Pakistan national exam.  For the study of economics in college and general career support.

Dylan White, living in Dubai, philosophy and tutor background, to start a podcast on travel and tourism during pandemic times.

Sarvasv Kulpati, Singapore, about to start UC Berkeley (if possible), interested in education and technology.

Bekhzod Khoshimov, Ph.d. candidate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin School of Business, for the study of entrepreneurship and to develop his podcast matters related to political economy and also Uzbekistan and Russia.  Here is his interview with James Robinson.

The return to studying economics is fairly high

Selection bias may confound the identification of field-specific returns to higher education. This study investigates the wage return to studying economics by leveraging a policy that prevented students with low introductory grades from declaring the major. Regression discontinuity estimates show that policy-complying economics majors — who appear representative on observables — earned $22,000 (58%) higher annual early-career wages than they would have with their second-choice majors, despite otherwise-unchanged educational investment and attainment. Cross-industry wage variation explains half of the return, with economics majors channeled towards high-wage economics-related industries. Differences between institution-specific or nationally-representative average wages by major well-approximate the estimated causal return.

That is from a new paper by Zachary Bleemer and Aashish Mehta, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Solve for the equilibrium

What might be some alternate (if possibly slightly unfair) titles?  How about

“A Swede by Any Other Name” or “America > Sweden”?

“Refuting Friedman-Savage, convexity all over”

“Their capitalist bosses made them turn out”

“They all supported lockdown in the poll”

What else?


Thursday assorted links

1. Karl Friston responds on immunological dark matter.  And more on Friston, again highly speculative, use with caution.

2. From a well-known epidemiologist — yikes.  And yes I fully grant you can find comparable sins from economists.  Of course it is easy enough to pick on such egregious statements, the broader worry is that hardly anyone will admit the more prosaic and less scandalous but no less relevant: “My initial lockdown recommendations were not sustainable and I did not realize it at the time.”  Ferguson, Cummings, people on the Florida beach, and now the demonstrations and also the rioters all reflect that.  The “what do the people really want?” debate has been settled, in US and UK at least, and the results should make us feel uncomfortable.  That said, on the bright side the authorities claim no new cases from the Lake of the Ozarks frolic.  Now let’s hope it is actually true.

3. Over forty percent of companies are not paying their rents.

4. Norwegian mudslide video, recommended.

5. Mexican students design low-cost solar lamps from waste materials.

That was then, this is now, *Mayday 1971* edition

That forthcoming book is authored by Lawrence Roberts, and the subtitle is A White House at War, A Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America’s Biggest Mass Arrest.  Here is one excerpt:

The president had made his wishes clear.  That was why Kleindienst was pushing a military solution.  The police chief made one last attempt to dissuade him.  Let’s just suppose the crowd is big enough to shut down the government, Jerry said.  Wouldn’t it be better for us, he gently suggested, if the militants could crow only that they had defeated the police, rather than the mighty U.S. military?  An army official chimed in on Jerry’s side.  Why not wait a day, see if the troops were really necessary?


Chesapeake travel notes

Now is an ideal time to visit Maryland’s Eastern Shore, if only for a few days.  There are open vistas, water birds, charming old homes, and plenty of signs of Revolutionary and 19th century history.  (At that time the Chesapeake was a focal area with important water access, now it is a literal “backwater.”)  None of those features are diminished by opening restrictions or social distancing.  Most of the restaurants you want to eat in were serving outside anyway.  Mask observance I would describe as “not below average.”  On Tilghman island, you can see one of the old Navy research stations where they worked to make radar operational, plus there is a nice 19th century church.  The whole “white guys with boats” thing I find boring, however.

St. Michael’s is one of the nicest small towns in all of America.  It is also where Frederick Douglass spent some of his early life as a slave and downtown you can see the above plaque.