Category: Law

Fact Checking Increases Fake News

Florian Ederer and Weicheng Min have an interesting new paper called Bayesian Persuasion with Lie Detection which shows that under some conditions fact checking can increase fake news.

How does lie detection constrain the potential for one person to persuade another to change her action? We consider a model of Bayesian persuasion in which the Receiver can detect lies with positive probability. We show that the Sender lies more when the lie detection probability increases. As long as this probability is sufficiently small, the Sender’s and the Receiver’s equilibrium payoffs are unaffected by the presence of lie detection because the Sender simply compensates by lying more. However, when the lie detection probability is sufficiently high, the Sender’s equilibrium payoff decreases and the Receiver’s equilibrium payoff increases with the lie detection probability.

The paper is difficult so here’s my stab at the intuition.

Suppose that politicians always want war but war is not always good. If voters can always detect a lie, politicians would always report war-is-good only when war was good and not-war when war was bad. Now suppose that voters can never detect a lie and also that the true probability of war being good is low. In this case, if politicians always report war-is-good then the voters would always ignore the politicians and choose no-war. But suppose that politicians always report war-is-good when war is good but sometimes report war-is-bad when war is bad (and, of course, sometimes report war-is-good when war is bad). In this situation, voters could be better off listening to politicians than ignoring them completely and the politicians will also be better off because they will get war more often—always when it is good and sometimes when it is bad. So, even though they always want war, how often should politicians report war-is-bad when war is bad? Just enough so that the voters are indifferent between following the politician’s advice and ignoring it altogether. In other words, voters have a threat point—ignore the politician completely. Knowing this threat point, politicians should tell the truth just enough so that voters prefer following the politician’s advice to ignoring them completely. Thus, even though voters can never detect a lie, politicians should sometimes tell the truth.

Now assume that there is (imperfect) lie detection. It’s immediately obvious that holding all else equal voters will be better off because now they will detect some of the times politicians say war-is-good when in fact war-is-bad. But precisely for this reason, all else will not be held equal, politicians will now report war-is-good when it is bad more often, i.e. they will lie more often. Working “backwards”, the voters threat point—ignore the politicians altogether—hasn’t changed and so their expected utility won’t change but that means that lie detection can’t make them better off and the reason is that politicians will lie more often.

In fact, lie detection doesn’t help the voters unless it is very accurate–perhaps more accurate than in our world.

Note that in this model voters cannot punish politicians for lying nor is there any opportunity for politicians to signal, to take costly actions that could separate truth tellers from liars. The model is all about “senders” and “receivers” of information–it’s a model of Bayesian persuasion not Bayesian punishment. In a model with punishment the ability to detect lies–even the ability to detect lies ex post–could result in more optimistic scenarios. Similarly, signaling might help, at the expense of some cost.

Nevertheless, the lesson I take is that information revelation is rarely pure. Information revelation is strategic–what is revealed and when it is revealed are choices in a game that may have complex and counter-intuitive equilibria.

For more, see Peter Coy’s interesting article on Bayesian persuasion in the New York Times.

Making shootings more salient makes gun laws weaker

There have been dozens of high-profile mass shootings in recent decades. This paper presents three main findings about the impact of mass shootings on gun policy. First, mass shootings evoke large policy responses. A single mass shooting leads to a 15% increase in the number of firearm bills introduced within a state in the year after a mass shooting. This effect increases with the extent of media coverage. Second, mass shootings account for a small portion of all gun deaths but have an outsized influence relative to other homicides. Third, when looking at bills that were actually enacted into law, the impact of mass shootings depends on the party in power. The annual number of laws that loosen gun restrictions doubles in the year following a mass shooting in states with Republican-controlled legislatures. We find no significant effect of mass shootings on laws enacted when there is a Democrat-controlled legislature, nor do we find a significant effect of mass shootings on the enactment of laws that tighten gun restrictions.

That is from Michael Luca, Deepak Malhotra, and Christopher Poliquin, via Matt Yglesias.  Many on Twitter and social media would do well to heed this point.  On a related point, I agree with Chris Hayes’s point that the shooter drills and the like probably should be stopped, as they too make school shootings more salient for the potential shooters.  My contribution to the salience is not going to go much beyond this blog post.  I also find this topic makes many people stupid.

A new take on “defund the police”

There is less to the idea than meets the eye, do not forget the counties:

This paper finds that disbanding police departments leads to fewer police-related deaths, fewer reported crimes, and lower law enforcement expenditures. However, the number of crimes reported by the sheriff for the entire county increases by an amount commensurate to the decrease in the number of crimes reported by cities that disbanded their police department. Furthermore, disbanding police departments is associated with an increase in county sheriffs spending which offsets the city savings. Thus, disbanding police departments does not appear to impact overall crime, shifts responsibility for law enforcement onto other governments, and reduces the available information about cities’ crimes.

That is from a new paper by Richard T. Boylan, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The FDA should make Paxlovid easier to get

Pharmacists still cannot prescribe the medication themselves, a step that would cut the time it takes patients to secure the drug.

The Food and Drug Administration “is looking at this and thinking about it,” Dr. Jha said. “Whether they’re going to make a change, when and how, etc., is totally in their wheelhouse.”

Many patients are still handling the sometimes-cumbersome steps on their own: locating a virus test, then securing a Paxlovid prescription from a health provider, then finding a pharmacy that carries the pill, all within days of first showing symptoms.

Dr. Jha described being frustrated by physician colleagues who have told him they still limit Paxlovid to patients 65 years and older.

But no they still will not do this.  I repeat myself, but you need to keep in mind the only time panel members have resigned from the FDA is when the Biden administration pushed through the booster shots.

Here is the full NYT article, via Rich Berger.

Bribe-Switching

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) prohibits US firms from paying bribes to foreign public officials. We show that FCPA enforcement has no positive effect on the GDP per capita of the countries of these officials but, rather, increases their countries shadow economy. When public officials take bribes both from legal and illegal markets, corruption enforcement in legal markets induces them to make up for lost rents by taking more bribes from illegal markets. In equilibrium, they enforce less against illegal producers, thereby increasing the size of illegal markets.  We find that one case of FCPA enforcement alone increases the shadow economy by as much as 0.25 percentage points (pp), homicide rates by 0.02 pp, and trade misinvoicing by 0.5 pp.

That is a new paper by Jamie Bologna Pavlik and Desiree Desierto.  I am very pleased to now have Desiree as my colleague at George Mason University.

The magnitude of depolicing

Using a time regression discontinuity design, we estimate a 72.7 percent decrease in lower-level “quality of life” arrests, and a 69 percent decrease in non-index crime arrests in Minneapolis following George Floyd’s death. Our results also show that the decrease in arrests is driven by a 69 percent decrease in police-initiated calls for service. Using the same approach, we find a much smaller decrease of 2.7 percent in arrests and a 1.5 percent decrease in police calls following police-involved shootings. Our results, thus, suggest that the Ferguson Effect exists, and it is much larger following highly publicized events of police violence such as George Floyd’s death.

That is from the new AER, by Maya Mikdash and Reem Zaiour, “Does (All) Police Violence Cause De-policing? Evidence from George Floyd and Police Shootings in Minneapolis.”  The title I find slightly Straussian, I hope not outright naive.

The Unfairness Doctrine

The great George Will hits another one out of the ballpark with some useful reminders:

Government pratfalls such as the Disinformation Governance Board are doubly useful, as reminders of government’s embrace of even preposterous ideas if they will expand its power, and as occasions for progressives to demonstrate that there is no government expansion they will not embrace.

…Using radio spectrum scarcity as an excuse, even before the Fairness Doctrine was created, Republicans running Washington in the late 1920s pressured a New York station owned by the Socialist Party to show “due regard” for other opinions. What regard was “due”? The government knew. So, it prevented the Chicago Federation of Labor from buying a station, saying all stations should serve “the general public.”

In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration conditioned one station’s license renewal on ending anti-FDR editorials. (Tulane Law School professor Amy Gajda’s new book, “Seek and Hide: The Tangled History of the Right to Privacy,” reports that earlier, FDR had “unsuccessfully pushed for a code of conduct for newspapers as part of the Depression-era National Recovery Act and had envisioned bestowing on compliant newspapers an image of a blue eagle as a sort of presidential seal of approval.”)

John F. Kennedy’s Federal Communications Commission harassed conservative radio, and when a conservative broadcaster said Lyndon B. Johnson used the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 as an excuse for Vietnam escalation, the Fairness Doctrine was wielded to force the broadcaster to air a response.

Hat tip: Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek.

“NAIMBY” goes beyond just belling the cat

In April, Akureyri—the largest municipality in the country’s north, with a population of 19,000 people and some 2,000 to 3,000 cats—decided to ban their feline residents from night roaming outside. Neighboring Húsavík banned cats several years ago from going outdoors day and night. Other Icelandic towns are considering bans as the issue of free-roaming cats increasingly makes its way from online forums to local politics, with the arguments generally falling into two categories. Some people—the “no animals in my backyard” or NAIMBY-ists—proclaim free-roaming cats are nuisances that should be confined like any other pet. Others think beyond the anthropocentric: cats kill birds and disrupt ecosystems.

And:

Surveys suggest Icelanders’ support for cat curfews is highest in regions with private homes and private gardens. Their reasoning is predominantly idiosyncratic, likening roaming cats to visits from rowdy town drunks. To paraphrase some online comments about cat visitations: “cat urine sprayed the patio,” “challenged another cat to a 3:00 a.m. duel and killed the yellow daffodils,” “last week he came into the house, and the pharmacy is out of pet-allergy drugs.” Cat supporters reply along the lines of, “Get a life and try to tolerate the outside world; cats are a delight and have roamed Iceland as long as we have.”

Here is the full Icelandic story, from the always excellent The Browser.  Is there a corresponding YAIMBY movement?

Poor New Jersey the benefits of self-service gasoline

Most of the world’s population lives in countries that ban the self-service sale of gasoline. Causal effects of this regulation can hardly be assessed in these countries due to a lack of policy changes, but a recent quasi-experiment in the state of Oregon allows us to analyze the impact of the ban. From 1992 to 2017, the state of Oregon was one of two US states that banned self-service at gasoline stations. Oregon adjusted regulations at the start of 2018 to allow self-service at gasoline stations in counties with populations below 40,000 individuals. I examine the repeal of this self-service ban and its effects on gasoline prices. I apply a difference-in-differences design using high frequency data of gasoline prices and find that repealing the self-service ban reduced gasoline prices by 4.4 cents per gallon in affected Oregon counties. This effect represents approximately $90 in expected annual savings for a household with three licensed drivers. The results are statistically significant in all specifications and are essential to the policy debate on whether to keep self-service bans in U.S. states and countries with the same regulation.

That is from Vitor Melo at Clemson University, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Testing Freedom

I did a podcast with Brink Lindsey of the Niskanen Center. Here’s one bit on the FDA’s long-history of banning home tests:

Brink Lindsey: …it’s on the rapid testing that we had inexplicable delays. Rapid tests, home tests were ubiquitous in Europe and Asia months before they were in the United States. What was going on?

Alex Tabarrok: So I think it’s not actually inexplicable because the FDA has a long, long history of just hating people testing themselves. So the FDA was against pregnancy tests, they didn’t like that, they said women they need to consult with a doctor, only the physician can do the test because literally women could become hysterical if they were pregnant or if they weren’t pregnant, this was a safety issue. There was no question that the test itself was safe or worked. Instead what the FDA said, “We can regulate this because the user using it, this could create safety issues because they could commit suicide or they could do something crazy.” So they totally expanded the meaning of safety from is the test safe to can somebody be trusted to use a pregnancy test?

Then we had exactly the same thing with AIDS testing. So we delayed personal at-home tests for AIDS for literally 25 years. 25 years these tests were unavailable because the FDA again said, “Well, they’re dangerous.” And why are they dangerous? “Well, we don’t know what people will do with this knowledge about their own bodies.” Now, of course, you can get an HIV test from Amazon and the world hasn’t collapsed. They did the same thing with genetic tests from companies like 23andMe. So I said, “Our bodies ourselves, our DNA ourselves.” That people have a right to know about the functioning of their own bodies. This to me is a very clear violation of the Constitutions on multiple respects. It just stuns me, it just stuns me that anybody could think that you don’t have a right to know, we’re going to prevent you from learning something about the operation of your own body.

Again, the issue here was never does the test work. In fact, the labs which produce these tests, those labs are regulated outside of the FDA. So whether the test actually works, whether yes, it identifies this gene, all issues of that nature, what is the sensitivity and the specificity, are the tests produced in a proper laboratory, I don’t have a lot of problem with that because that’s all something which the consumers themselves would want. What I do have a problem with is then the FDA saying, “No, you can’t have access to this test because we don’t know what you’re going to do about it, what you’re going to think about it.” And that to me is outrageous.

Here’s the full transcript and video.

Let’s eliminate the Covid test entry requirement for the U.S.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, you ought to be able to guess most of my arguments.  Here is the very end:

I am not arguing for passivity in the face of danger. It is distressing that US policymakers do not seem interested in spending big for pandemic preparedness. America needs a new Operation Warp Speed for pan-coronavirus vaccines and nasal spray vaccines. It should be gathering more data on Covid and improving its system of clinical trials for anti-Covid remedies, among other measures.

I am simply saying that removing the Covid test for entry to the US would bring an end to one of the more egregious instances of “hygiene theater.” And it would send a signal that America is welcoming the world once again.

Recommended.  And note that the most responsible European countries do not impose such tests.

Ask and they shall deliver

The EU is preparing to loosen its environmental regulations as it seeks to replace Russian fossil fuels with renewable energy and imported hydrogen power.

Companies in the bloc would be allowed to build wind and solar projects without the need for an environmental impact assessment, according to draft proposals obtained by the Financial Times that call for the fast-track permitting of renewable projects in designated “go-to” areas.

The EU’s 27 member states, which control energy policy, would be obliged to earmark a sufficient number of these areas to meet the bloc’s renewable energy targets. A “strategic” impact assessment would be needed before an area was selected.

“Lengthy and complex administrative procedures are a key barrier for investments in renewables and their related infrastructure,” according to the draft. The plans could “result in the occasional killing or disturbance of birds and other protected species”, it added.

Here is more from the FT.  Via Albert Rio.

Slovakian Asks Good Questions About American Suburbs

My questions are:

  • What do you actually do? Are you always stuck inside? What did you do when you were a child and couldn’t drive?

  • Why do you have these sorts of strange regulations? Are your officials so incompetent? Is this due to lobbying from car or oil companies? I don’t get it.

  • Why is there no public transport? It seems like the only thing is the yellow school bus, idk.

  • He says there can be only one family houses. Why? Why can’t you have idk a commie block in the middle of such a suburb? Or row houses or whatever.

  • Why are there no businesses inside these? I mean, he says it’s illegal, just why? If I lived in such a place, I’d just buy a house next to mine and turn it into a tavern or a convenience store or whatever. Is that simply not possible and illegal?

  • These places have front and backyards. But they’re mostly empty. Some backyards have a pool maybe, but it’s mostly just green grass. Why don’t you grow plants in your yards? Like potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes or whatever. Why do you own this land, if you never use it?

Originally from Reddit.

Systemic Bias versus Concentrated Bias

Discrimination exists but rather than being systemic Campbell and Brauer argue it’s due to a small number of prejudiced individuals.

Discrimination has persisted in our society despite steady improvements in explicit attitudes toward marginalized social groups. The most common explanation for this apparent paradox is that due to implicit biases, most individuals behave in slightly discriminatory ways outside of their own awareness (the dispersed discrimination account). Another explanation holds that a numerical minority of individuals who are moderately or highly biased are responsible for most observed discriminatory behaviors (the concentrated discrimination account). We tested these 2 accounts against each other in a series of studies at a large, public university (total N = 16,600). In 4 large-scale surveys, students from marginalized groups reported that they generally felt welcome and respected on campus (albeit less so than nonmarginalized students) and that a numerical minority of their peers (around 20%) engage in subtle or explicit forms of discrimination. In 5 field experiments with 8 different samples, we manipulated the social group membership of trained confederates and measured the behaviors of naïve bystanders. The results showed that between 5% and 20% of the participants treated the confederates belonging to marginalized groups more negatively than nonmarginalized confederates. Our findings are inconsistent with the dispersed discrimination account but support the concentrated discrimination account. The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Our results suggest that the Pareto principle also applies to discrimination, at least at the large, public university where the studies were conducted. We discuss implications for prodiversity initiatives.

The cause of discrimination matters because as Hambrick notes writing about this paper in Scientific American:

 In recent years, the view that most people engage in discriminatory acts because of implicit biases has gained widespread public acceptance. In a 2016 presidential debate, Hillary Clinton commented that “implicit bias is a problem for everyone.” Campbell and Brauer’s findings suggest it’s still not clear the extent to which implicit biases explain discriminatory conduct. (Other work has called into question the validity of implicit bias measures for predicting real-world discrimination.) Research aimed at answering this fundamental question will inform the design of interventions that may one day meaningfully reduce levels of discrimination.

….If, for example, a small number of explicitly prejudiced people are responsible for most or all of the discrimination occurring in a company, an intervention that requires all employees to undergo implicit bias training will probably fail to address the problem. Research suggests that interventions that convey the message that nearly everyone engages in discriminatory behavior may even make the workplace atmosphere worse for marginalized employees, because after the training, nonmarginalized employees may avoid interacting with them out of fear of unwittingly discriminating.

GDPR and the Lost Generation of Innovative Apps

Using data on 4.1 million apps at the Google Play Store from 2016 to 2019, we document that GDPR induced the exit of about a third of available apps; and in the quarters following implementation, entry of new apps fell by half. We estimate a structural model of demand and entry in the app market. Comparing long-run equilibria with and without GDPR, we find that GDPR reduces consumer surplus and aggregate app usage by about a third. Whatever the privacy benefits of GDPR, they come at substantial costs in foregone innovation.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Rebecca Janßen, Reinhold Kesler, Michael E. Kummer & Joel Waldfogel.