Category: Political Science

Countering The Narrative

A surprising fact about the 2016 election is that Trump received fewer votes from whites with the highest levels of racial resentment than Romney did in 2012…Trump’s vote totals improved the most among swing voters: low-socioeconomic status whites who are political moderates.

That is from recent research by Justin Grimmer and William Marble, hat tip anonymous.

Assessing State Capacity Libertarianism

Ryan Murphy and Colin O’Reilly suddenly have a 33 pp. (yes substantive) paper on my January 1 blog post on State Capacity Libertarianism (on speed, perhaps they have learned from a master).  Here is the abstract:

Cowen (2020) argues for a redirection of effort towards “State Capacity Libertarianism,” which keeps the core of policy proposals from libertarianism intact while emphasizing a select set of policies aimed at furthering economic growth. These policies center on the ability of the state to accomplish that which it sets out to accomplish, i.e. state capacity. This paper interprets Cowen’s proposal in terms of an interaction between economic freedom and state capacity. Using four measures of state capacity, it finds that state capacity and economic freedom are neither additive nor complementary. Rather, they are substitutes for one another. These results are uncomfortable for conventional libertarianism, for the advocates of state capacity, and for State Capacity Libertarianism itself. One measure of state capacity we use is a novel measure using data from the Varieties of Democracy dataset, which may be useful for researchers in other contexts.

I am very pleased (and flattered) they undertook this investigation.  In terms of response on the particulars, I would say that State Capacity Libertarianism is about living standard levels, not marginal growth rates holding per capita income constant (as they do), which tends to drain off the benefits of state capacity.  You can run into similar misspecification problems by regressing against growth rates for the particular American states, whereas again the levels ought to be central to the analysis.  I readily admit the levels are not easy to handle econometrically, mostly because (outside of some oil principalities) “all good things go together,” and the correct causal model is not well understood.

In any case, the debate will go on.

U.S. military fact of the day

In 2016, Politico reported that the total number of trombone, trumpet, keyboard and other instrument players [in the U.S. military] stands at about 6,500.

That’s a lot of Souza marches, but the State Department fields a bigger squad of diplomats. There are 8,106 Foreign Service officers, according to a State Department report. (The State Department has about another 5,700 people to support the diplomats, but they don’t do direct diplomatic work.) Still, there are a good 1,600 more diplomats than musicians.

Here is further information.  Here is another relevant source.  Via Andrew Goldman.

Damir Marusic and Aaron Sibarium interview me for *The American Interest*

It was far-ranging, here is the opening bit:

Damir Marusic for TAI: Tyler, thanks so much for joining us today. One of the themes we’re trying to grapple with here at the magazine is the perception that liberal democratic capitalism is in some kind of crisis. Is there a crisis?

TC: Crisis, what does that word mean? There’s been a crisis my whole lifetime.

And:

TC: I think addiction is an underrated issue. It’s stressed in Homer’s Odyssey and in Plato, it’s one of the classic problems of public order—yet we’ve been treating it like some little tiny annoyance, when in fact it’s a central problem for the liberal order.

And:

AS: What about co-determination?

TC: There are too many people with the right to say no in America as it is. We need to get things done speedier, with fewer obstacles that create veto points. So no, I don’t favor that.

And:

AS: John Maynard Keynes.

TC: I suppose underrated. He was a polymath. Polymaths tend to be underrated, and Keynes was a phenomenal writer. I’m not a Keynesian on macroeconomics, but when you read him, it’s so fresh and startling and just fantastic. So I’d say underrated.

And:

AS: Slavoj Zizek, the quirky communist philosopher you debated recently.

TC: Way underrated. I had breakfast with Zizek before my dialogue with him, and he’s one of the 10 people I’ve met who knows the most and can command it. Now that said, he speaks in code and he’s kind of “crazy,” and his style irritates many people because he never answers any question directly. You get his Hegelian whatever. He has his partisans who are awful, but ordinary intellectuals don’t notice him and he’s pretty phenomenal actually. So I’d say very underrated.

Here is the full interview, a podcast version is coming too.

My Conversation with the excellent Reid Hoffman

This one is better than the other available conversations with Reid, here is the transcript and audio.  Here is part of the CWTeam summary:

Reid joined Tyler to talk about all these leverage points and more, including the Silicon Valley cultural meme he most disagrees with, how Wittgenstein influenced the design of LinkedIn, mystical atheism, what it was like being on Firing Line, why he’s never said anything outrageous, how he and Peter Thiel interpret The Tempest differently, the most misunderstood thing about friendship, how to improve talent certification, what’s needed from science fiction, and his three new ideas for board games.

Excerpt:

COWEN: If we think of Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, they could arguably, by the standards of many people, be called weird. I’ve reviewed all the books you’ve written and a lot of your public talks. I can’t recall you saying a single thing that’s outrageous in any way whatsoever. Why aren’t you weirder?

HOFFMAN: [laughs] Maybe I mask it better. That’s my Straussian element, that I hide my weirdness. I would say that a little bit of it comes down to a theory about what is the right way of evolving discourse.

I think I probably do have a variety of views that people would think is weird. I, for example, think of myself as a mystical atheist, which is neither the full atheist category nor any religious category, but some blend in the middle. Or the fact that I actually think that the notion of capitalism is one of the world’s leading interesting technologies, but it’s not a particularly good philosophy, and you’d think that’s odd for an entrepreneur or an investor, and so forth.

So I have areas where I would say groups of people would think I’m weird. I may not highlight it because I tend to always speak in a way to, how do I think I help us make the most progress? And I would only say the weird things if I thought that was the thing that would result from that.

COWEN: So there are weird things that are in your mind?

HOFFMAN: Yes, yeah.

And:

COWEN: How did your interest in the late Wittgenstein influence the construction and design of LinkedIn? I’m sure they ask you this all the time in interviews.

HOFFMAN: [laughs] All the time. The question I’ve always been expecting. I would say that the notion of thinking about — a central part of later Wittgenstein is to think that we play language games, that the way that we form identity and community, both of ourselves and as individuals, is the way that we discourse and the way that we see each other and the way that we elaborate language.

That pattern of which ways we communicate with each other, what’s the channel we do, and what’s the environment that we’re in comes from insights from — including later Wittgenstein, who I think was one of the best modern philosophers in thinking about how language is core to the people that we are and that we become.

COWEN: What else from philosophy influenced the construction and design of LinkedIn?

Recommended.  For help in arranging this Conversation I am very much indebted to Ben Casnocha.

Gangs really matter

We study the effects that two of the largest gangs in Latin America, MS-13 and 18th Street, have on economic development in El Salvador. We exploit the fact that the emergence of gangs in El Salvador was in part the consequence of an exogenous shift in US immigration policy that led to the deportation of gang leaders from the United States to El Salvador. Using the exogenous variation in the timing of the deportations and the boundaries of the territories controlled by the gangs, we perform a spatial regression discontinuity design and a difference-in-differences analysis to estimate the causal effect that living under the rule of gangs has on development outcomes. Our results show that individuals living under gang control have significantly worse education, wealth, and less income than individuals living only 50 meters away in areas not controlled by gangs. None of these discontinuities existed before the arrival of gangs from the US. The results are not determined by exposure to violence, lower provision of public goods, or selective migration away from gang locations. We argue that our findings are mostly driven by gangs restricting residents’ mobility and labor choices. We find that individuals living under the rule of gangs have less freedom of movement and end up working in smaller firms. The results are relevant for many developing countries where non-state actors control parts of the country.

That is from a new paper by Nikita Melnikov, Carlos Schmidt-Padilla, and Maria Micaela Sviatschi.  Via the excellent Samir Varma.

The culture that is Buckingham: what is the underlying structural model?

The Duke of Cambridge has spoken of his “sadness” at the broken bond with his brother and voiced sorrow that the royal family is no longer a “team”.

As the Queen called emergency peace talks tomorrow at Sandringham to end the Windsors’ civil war, The Sunday Times can reveal that Prince William has said he feels sorrow that he and Prince Harry are now “separate entities” and expressed hope that they might pull together again in future.

“I’ve put my arm around my brother all our lives and I can’t do that any more; we’re separate entities,” he told a friend.

…Tom Bradby, who did the recent ITV interview in which Harry and Meghan confessed their sense of isolation, warned failure to keep the pair on side could lead the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to do a “no-holds-barred” interview that could damage the monarchy further.

…Harry and Meghan may have their security downgraded, with protection squad officers armed only with Tasers rather than guns.

Here is the full piece from the London TimesSome reports say Meghan now has a deal with Disney, maybe she will do voice-over for a princess…

Africa Luxembourg Ethiopia Congo state capacity facts of the day

Government revenues average about 17% of gdp in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the IMF. Nigeria has more than 300 times as many people as Luxembourg, but collects less tax. If Ethiopia shared out its tax revenues equally, each citizen would get around $80 a year. The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is so penurious that its annual health spending per person could not buy a copy of this newspaper.

That is from The Economist.

Facts about deaths of Roman emperors

Of the 69 rulers of the unified Roman Empire, from Augustus (d. 14 CE) to Theodosius (d. 395 CE), 62% suffered violent death. This has been known for a while, if not quantitatively at least qualitatively. What is not known, however, and has never been examined is the time-to-violent-death of Roman emperors…

Nonparametric and parametric results show that: (i) emperors faced a significantly high risk of violent death in the first year of their rule, which is reminiscent of infant mortality in reliability engineering; (ii) their risk of violent death further increased after 12 years, which is reminiscent of wear-out period in reliability engineering; (iii) their failure rate displayed a bathtub-like curve, similar to that of a host of mechanical engineering items and electronic components. Results also showed that the stochastic process underlying the violent deaths of emperors is remarkably well captured by a (mixture) Weibull distribution.

That is from a new paper by Joseph Homer Saleh, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

How fake news will alter foreign policy

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column:

Just hours after Iran’s missile strike this week on U.S.-Iraqi bases in Iraq, the Iranian government made an incredible claim: The attack, it said, had killed 80 Americans and wounded about 200, all of whom were immediately removed from the site by helicopter. U.S. officials, meanwhile, said that there were no U.S. casualties

U.S. officials may be quite happy that Iran is claiming this “victory” without any Americans having to die. In essence, manufactured casualties may now be able to substitute for actual casualties, at least for some limited purposes.

The most likely purveyors of these fake-news casualties are the weaker sides in military conflicts. They can use fake news reports of revenge to pacify their populations. And the prouder a nation’s citizens are, the more useful such fake-news casualties will be. Fake-news casualties are also easier to fabricate in countries with censorship of the press, such as Iran.

To use the game-theoretic language of deterrence: Threats to retaliate in a painful way are now less credible because lying about retaliation is now an alternative.

Note that the U.S. does not have a comparable ability to invoke fake-news casualties….

But not all is rosy:

The possibility of fake news means that when more powerful countries wish to take action, they need to do something quite vivid and dramatic. There is no doubt — in either the U.S. or Iran — that America did in fact kill Soleimani.

All in the tradition of Thomas Schelling of course.  Solve for the equilibrium!

Too much transparency makes the world more opaque.

Kathleen Kingsbury of the NYTimes editorial page is proudly announcing that instead of following their historic practice of talking with the candidates off-the-record and then announcing an endorsement they will be utterly “transparent.”

On Jan. 19, the @nytimes editorial board will publish our choice for the Democratic nomination for president. It won’t be the first time we’ve endorsed a candidate — we’ve been doing that since 1860 — but we aim to make it our most transparent endorsement process to date. Historically, endorsement interviews are off-the-record — meaning nothing said leaves the room, other than the board’s final judgement.

[But now,] in a first for @nytopinion, all presidential candidate interviews will be on the record and filmed. Next week, we’ll be publishing the full, annotated transcripts online.

What an awful idea, sure to neuter whatever influence the NYTimes might once have had.

Here’s the problem. Under the off-the-record system a candidate could sit down with some smart people and say things like “look, I know tariffs won’t help but the WTO will knock them down anyway and I need to appeal to my base.” Or, “taxes on billionaires won’t raise enough to fund everything I want but to raise taxes on the middle class we need the middle class to know that everyone is going to pay their fair share.” Or “Our troops are demoralized and the plan isn’t working.” If everything is recorded, none of this can happen.

Indeed, what possible value-added can the NYTimes make with a “transparent,” “public” process? Everything that will be said, has been said.

In contrast, a non-transparent, off-the-record process can reveal new information because less transparent can be more honest. The off-the-record system isn’t a guarantee of useful information, as the NYTimes has its biases and the off-the-record system only works because it is coarse, but coarse systems can reveal more information.

The demand for transparency seems so innocuous. Who could be against greater transparency? But transparency is inimical to privacy. And we care about privacy in part, because we can be more honest and truthful in private than in public. A credible off-the-record system leaks a bit of honesty into the public domain and thus improves information overall. Too much transparency, in contrast, makes the world more opaque.

The new culture of matching

Using detailed data on individual campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans, our estimates show that firms are considerably more likely to announce a merger, complete a merger, and a have shorter time-to-completion when their political attitudes are closer. Furthermore, acquisition announcement returns and post-merger operating performance are significantly higher when the acquirer and the target have more similar political attitudes.

That is from a new research paper by Duchin, Farroukh, Harford, and Patel.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The Big Farmer Bailout Was Never Debated

Farmers are getting billions of dollars in bailout money to compensate for the trade war with China. If big banks or big business were being bailed out there would be an uproar but big farmer bailouts seem immune to opposition as Dan Charles points out in this piece from NPR:

…a few weeks later, the USDA announced another $16 billion in trade-related aid to farmers. It came on top of the previous year’s $12 billion package, for a grand total of $28 billion in two years. About $19 billion of that money had been paid out by the end of 2019, and the rest will be paid in 2020.

…it’s an enormous amount of money, more than the final cost of bailing out the auto industry during the financial crisis of 2008. The auto industry bailout was fiercely debated in Congress. Yet the USDA created this new program out of thin air; it decided that an old law authorizing a USDA program called the Commodity Credit Corp. already gave it the authority to spend this money.

“What’s unique about this is, [it] didn’t go through Congress,” Glauber says. Some people have raised questions about whether using the Commodity Credit Corp. for this new purpose is legal.

This is a telling example of how politics works–the process rather than the fundamental question determines much of the outcome. In this case, since the spending was not authorized by Congress there was no debate. No debate in Congress meant no opportunity for soundbites, no debate in the media and thus no debate among the public. The battle for attention was lost before it was begun. On the plus side there was no opportunity for grandstanding in Congress either and the money was approved and spent quickly.

Slavoj Žižek on His Stubborn Attachment to Communism

There is now transcript and audio from the Holberg debate in Bergen, Norway, courtesy of the CWTeam, here is their summary of the event:

This bonus episode features audio from the Holberg Debate in Bergen, Norway between Tyler and Slavoj Žižek held on December 7, 2019. They discuss the reasons Slavoj (still) considers himself a Communist, why he considers The Handmaid’s Tale “nostalgia for the present,” what he likes about Greta Thunberg, what Marx got right about the commodification of beliefs, his concerns about ecology and surveillance in communist states like China today, the reasons academia should maintain its ‘useless character,’ his beginnings as a Heideggerian, why he is distrustful of liberal optimism, the “Fukuyama dilemma” we face, the importance of “empty manners,” and more.

Excerpt:

COWEN: You know the old joke, what’s the difference between a Communist and a Nazi? Tenure.

[laughter]

ŽIŽEK: You mean university tenure?

COWEN: Yes. It’s a joke, but the point is you don’t need Communism. You are much smarter than Communism.

I would describe the proceedings as “rollicking,” including the segment about “smoking the prick.”