Category: Political Science
I will be having a Conversations with Tyler with her, no associated public event. She has a new book coming out The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir. So what should I ask her?
The young will experience the effects of policies passed today for the greatest length of time but this is not reflected in their voting power. Put differently, the time-horizon of (self-interested) older voters is short so perhaps this biases the political system towards short time-horizon policies such as deficit spending or kicking the can down the road on global warming. Philosopher William MacAskill offers an alternative, age-weighted voting.
…one way of extending political time horizons and increasing is to age-weight votes. The idea is that younger people would get more heavily weighted votes than older people, very roughly in proportion with life expectancy. A natural first pass system (though I think it could be improved upon) would be:
- 18–27yr olds: 6x voting weight
- 28–37yr olds: 5x voting weight
- 38–47yr olds: 4x voting weight
- 48–57yr olds: 3x voting weight
- 58–67yr olds: 2x voting weight
- 68+yr olds: 1x voting weight
Note that, even with such heavy weights as these, the (effective) median voter age (in the US) would go from 55 to 40. (H/T Zach Groff for these numbers). Assuming that the median voter theorem approximately captures political dynamics of voting, weighting by (approximate) life-expectancy would therefore lengthen political horizons somewhat, but wouldn’t result in young people having all the power.
… In this scenario, all citizens get equal voting weight, it’s just that this voting power is unequally distributed throughout someone’s life.
MacAskill asks the right questions:
- Do younger people actually have more future-oriented views?
- Does extending political horizons by 20 years provide benefits from the perspective of much longer timescales?
- Are younger people less well-informed, and so apt to make worse decisions?
- Is this just a way of pushing particular (left-wing) political views?
- What would actually happen if this were put in place, and how good or bad would those effects be?
- What’s the best mechanism for implementing age-weighting voting?
- What would be the best plan for making age-weighting voting happen in the real world?
See the whole thing for some brief suggestions on answers.
I don’t have a major objection to the proposal, I just don’t think it would improve politics very much. Rational ignorance means that voters don’t know much and rational irrationality means that they don’t care to know more. The problem is collective decision making per se rather than the time-horizon of the non-existent median voter. Still the space of possible governance designs is far larger than the space that we have investigated, let alone used, so I applaud exploration in the design space.
By Nadia Urbinati, I think of this book as the next step after Martin Gurri. Here is one bit:
…the massive usage of the internet — which is an affordable and revolutionary means of interaction and information sharing by ordinary citizens — has supercharged the horizontal transformation of the audience and made the public into the only existing political actor outside institutions born from civil society.
But more significantly, populism is so diverse and the word is so often misused, how should we best understand it? First, by breaking down parties, the new internet populism raises the status of personalized individual leaders, such as Trump and also AOC. Thus:
…populism in power is actually a new form of mixed government in which one part of the population achieves a preeminent power over the other(s). As such, populism competes with (and, if possible, modifies) constitutional democracy in putting forth a specific and distinctive representation of the people and the sovereignty of the people.
Populism also has a hard time giving up power, because the rhetoric is purifying, and the pretense is that the current government does in fact represent a more or less unitary “will of the people,” enemies of the people aside of course. Elections are about revealing a majority opinion that (supposedly) already exists, and thus populism does not fit entirely easy into standard democratic practice.
Here is more:
As such, populism is more than merely a movement of contestation or mobilization, and it should not be confused with social movements in civil society. Populism is a movement of contestation against the existing political establishment, but one that seeks a majority that would rule with unchecked ambitions and plan to remain power for as long as possible, though without revoking political liberty or eliminating adversaries. The “benign” aspects of populism in power include its dwarfing of the opposition and minorities by humiliating them and creating an overwhelming propaganda campaign that endlessly reinforces the power of majority opinion.
Populism is not just a style of politics, so you can’t expect a successful and truly left-wing populism, nor will populists end up as a successful vehicle for “right-wing” ideas either. Beware!
There is too much political science jargon in this book, and many of the paragraphs are too long or too circuitous, and furthermore much of the best content is difficult to summarize. Nonetheless this book makes more sense to me than the treatments of populism I read in the mainstream press or in “intelligent” magazines, and I found it genuinely insightful throughout. Recommended, at least if you are up for a particular kind of read. You can pre-order the book here.
The author is Walter Scheidel and the subtitle is The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity. Imagine a whole book on what he calls “the second Great Divergence,” namely that China developed a large, relatively unified hegemonic state early on, while Europe remained (mostly) politically fragmented.
Have you ever wondered why the Roman empire did not, in some manner, re-form in the Western part of Europe? And how did it matter that China had a tradition of having to defend against the steppe while Europe did not? Here is one brief excerpt:
…East Asia was characterized by a unipolar or hegemonic political system for 68 percent of the years between 220 BCE and 1875. This pattern presents a stark contrast to the prevalence of a balanced system in Europe for 98 percent of the years from 1500 to 2000, or indeed at any time after the demise of the mature Roman empire.
Remoteness from the bulk of the Eurasian steppe was a constant, invariant across Europen history. Just as it did not matter if Latin Europe’s states were weak, it also did not matter if a large empire was in place. Unlike Chinese dynasties, the Roman empire did not bring forth a nomadic “shadow empire”: there was no ecological potential for it. The Pontic steppe, where Sarmatian tribes might have coalesced in response to the inducements of Roman wealth, was too detached from the Roman heartlands that lay behind the Carpathians, the Alps, and the Adriatic. To the west of the plains of Eastern Europe, both components of the “steppe effect” were conspicuous by their absence: and so — at least after Rome — was empire-building on a large scale.
If you wish to read a book to ponder the second Great Divergence, this is the one. You can pre-order it here.
I had never heard about this before:
The controversial practice of picking corporate sponsors for the European Union‘s rotating presidency is to continue, despite an outcry from MEPs.
EU countries have been raising eyebrows by doing deals with increasingly controversial multinational corporations during their stints overseeing debates at the EU council.
Romania’s presidency in the first half of 2019 was sponsored by Coca-Cola, with the US drinks giant’s logo plastered over banners and signs at meetings. One council summit in Bucharest featured Coca-Cola branded bean bag chairs, and a fridge of free drinks plastered with statistics about the company’s contribution to the economy.
Other sponsors of the council presidency have included car manufacturers, software companies, and other firms with vested interests in influencing EU policy.
But hopes that the incoming Finnish presidency, which took the helm this summer, might end the practice, were dashed after it picked German car manufacturer BMW as a sponsor – despite the firm being hit with a fine over its cars’ diesel emissions earlier this year.
Here is the transcript and audio, and here is the CWT summary:
If you want to speculate on the development of tech, no one has a better brain to pick than Neal Stephenson. Across more than a dozen books, he’s created vast story worlds driven by futuristic technologies that have both prophesied and even provoked real-world progress in crypto, social networks, and the creation of the web itself. Though Stephenson insists he’s more often wrong than right, his technical sharpness has even led to a half-joking suggestion that he might be Satoshi Nakamoto, the shadowy creator of bitcoin. His latest novel, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, involves a more literal sort of brain-picking, exploring what might happen when digitized brains can find a second existence in a virtual afterlife.
So what’s the implicit theology of a simulated world? Might we be living in one, and does it even matter? Stephenson joins Tyler to discuss the book and more, including the future of physical surveillance, how clothing will evolve, the kind of freedom you could expect on a Mars colony, whether today’s media fragmentation is trending us towards dystopia, why the Apollo moon landings were communism’s greatest triumph, whether we’re in a permanent secular innovation starvation, Leibniz as a philosopher, Dickens and Heinlein as writers, and what storytelling has to do with giving good driving directions.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: If we had a Mars colony, how politically free do you think it would be? Or would it just be like perpetual martial law? Like living on a nuclear submarine?
STEPHENSON: I think it would be a lot like living on a nuclear submarine because you can’t — being in space is almost like being in an intensive care unit in a hospital, in the sense that you’re completely dependent on a whole bunch of machines working in order to keep you alive. A lot of what we associate with freedom, with personal freedom, becomes too dangerous to contemplate in that kind of environment.
COWEN: Is there any Heinlein-esque-like scenario — Moon is a Harsh Mistress, where there’s a rebellion? People break free from the constraints of planet Earth. They chart their own institutions. It becomes like the settlements in the New World were.
STEPHENSON: Well, the settlements in the New World, I don’t think are a very good analogy because there it was possible — if you’re a white person in the New World and you have some basic skills, you can go anywhere you want.
An unheralded part of what happened there is that, when those people got into trouble, a lot of times, they were helped out by the indigenous peoples who were already there and who knew how to do stuff. None of those things are true in a space colony kind of environment. You don’t have indigenous people who know how to get food and how to get shelter. You don’t have that ability to just freely pick up stakes and move about.
COWEN: What will people wear in the future? Say a hundred years from now, will clothing evolve at all?
STEPHENSON: I think clothing is pretty highly evolved, right? If you look at, yeah, at any garment, say, a shirt — I was ironing a shirt today in my hotel room, and it is a frickin’ complicated object. We take it for granted, but you think about the fabric, the way the seams are laid out.
That’s just one example, of course, but you take any — shirts, shoes, any kind of specific item of clothing you want to talk about — once you take it apart and look at all the little decisions and innovations that have gone into it, it’s obvious that people have been optimizing this thing for hundreds or thousands of years.
New materials come along that enable people to do new kinds of things with clothing, but overall, I don’t think that a lot is going to change.
COWEN: Is there anything you would want smart clothing to do for you that, say, a better iPad could not?
STEPHENSON: The thing about clothing is that you change your clothes all the time. So if you become dependent on a particular technology that’s built into your shirt, that’s great as long as you’re wearing that shirt, but then as soon as you change to a different shirt, you don’t have it.
So what are you going to do? Are you going to make sure that every single one of your shirts has that same technology built into it? It seems easier to have it separate from the clothing that you wear, so that you don’t have to think about all those complications.
There is much more at the link, including discussions of some of his best-known novels…
The data came from Facebook:
During Obama’s initial 2008 bid for office, his team had already embraced technology in a greater capacity than any before it, assembling massive email lists and other targeted initiatives that earned Obama historic fundraising tallies. But for 2012, campaign manager Jim Messina wanted to take things even further.
To get there, his staff needed to link what had previously been disjointed databases of voter information (collected by volunteers, pollsters, and other campaign workers) into a single, comprehensive pool unrivaled in detail and scope. Whereas most voter logs used by campaigns often list only names and telephone numbers, Obama’s advanced tool dove into specifics like age, race, district, and voting history: it allowed field workers to rank voters intelligently and not waste time chasing unlikely votes.
That is the subject of my latest Bloomberg column, and here are the closing bits:
So that means the trade war is really all about Huawei and Taiwan. If the U.S. persists in trying to eliminate Huawei as a major company, by cutting off its American-supplied inputs and intimidating foreign customers and suppliers for Huawei equipment, it will be difficult for the Chinese to accept. In this case, the reluctance to make a deal will be on the Chinese side, and the structure and relative power of the various American interest groups are not essential to understanding the outcome.
The question, then, is whether the U.S. national security establishment, and in turn Congress (which has been heavily influenced on this question), will accept a compromise on Huawei. Maybe that means no Huawei communications technologies for the U.S. and its closest intelligence-sharing allies, but otherwise no war against the company. That is the first critical question to watch in the unfolding of this trade war. The answer is not yet known, though it seems Trump is willing to deal.
The second major question, equally important but less commented upon, is Taiwan. China has long professed a desire to reunite Taiwan with the mainland, using force if necessary. If you belong to the U.S. national security establishment, and you think a confrontation with China is necessary sooner or later, if only because of Taiwan, you would prefer sooner, before China gains in relative strength. And that militates in favor of the trade war continuing and possibly even escalating, as the U.S. continues to push against China and there is simply no bargain to be had.
It is far from clear what a U.S.-China deal over the status of Taiwan could look like. How much Americans actually care about Taiwan is debatable, but the U.S. is unlikely to abandon a commitment that would weaken its value as an ally around the world. And unlike with Huawei, it is difficult to see what a de-escalation of this issue might look like.
So: If the Huawei and Taiwan questions can be resolved, then the trade war should be eminently manageable. Now, does that make you optimistic or pessimistic?
There is much more at the link.
This excellent Sarah Kliff NYT article is from a few weeks ago, but I missed it the first time around. Here is the clincher:
“The whole debate was about the rate mechanism,” said Mr. Frockt, the state senator. “With the original bill, with Medicare rates [for the state’s public option], there was strong opposition from all quarters. The insurers, the hospitals, the doctors, everybody.”
Mr. Frockt and his colleagues ultimately raised the fees for the public option up to 160 percent of Medicare rates.
“I don’t think the bill would have passed at Medicare rates,” Mr. Frockt said. “I think having the Medicare-plus rates was crucial to getting the final few votes.”
Nonetheless the piece is interesting throughout, and illustrates some basic dilemmas with health care reform and public options in particular, especially when a sector is controlled by powerful lobbies.
So yes, Taiwan does have the weirdest politics in the world right now. Here is a reprise from my Bloomberg column last week:
Another candidate vying for the KMT nomination is Han Kuo-yu, mayor of Kaohsiung and a blunt-speaking outsider populist. He has called for closer ties with China and is believed to be China’s favored candidate, calling China and Taiwan “two individuals madly in love.” It is believed that Chinese cyber-operatives have been working to promote his candidacy. He might be more interesting yet.
What if Han wins the general election and calls for “peaceful reunification” of the two Chinas, based on “one country, two systems”? Solve for the equilibrium! I see the following options:
1. They go ahead with the deal, and voila, one China!
2. The system as a whole knows in advance if this is going to happen, and if it will another candidate runs in the general election, splitting the KMT-friendly vote, and Han never wins.
2b. Han just doesn’t win anyway, even though his margin in the primary was considerable and larger than expected.
3. The current president Tsai Ing-wen learns from Taiwanese intelligence that there are Chinese agents in the KMT and she suspends the general election and calls a kind of lukewarm martial law.
4. Han calls for reunification and is deposed by his own military, or a civil war within the government ensues.
5. Han foresees 2-4 and never calls for reunification in the first place.
Well people, which of these would it be? Here is general background (NYT) on the new primary results.
Mutual optimism theory holds that mutually optimistic beliefs about outcomes cause international conflict. Because beliefs are unobservable, this theory is difficult to test systematically. Here, I present a clean test of theory that relies exclusively on observable variables by exploiting novel features of naval battles in the age of sail, most notably an admiral’s ability to avoid battle by simply sailing away. Using a formal model, I show that the outcome of mutual naval battles, where either side could avoid battle by sailing away, should not be predictable from observable capability indicators. The outcome of unilateral battles, where only one side could sail away to avoid fighting, should be predictable from these same indicators. I test these predictions against all squadron-level British naval battles from 1650 to 1833. I show that observable strength indicators are substantially less predictive in mutual battles, confirming the core key theoretical prediction.
Scholars of foreign policy preference formation have accepted what Rathbun et al. (2016) call the “vertical hierarchy model,” which says that policy attitudes are determined by more abstract moral ideas about right and wrong. This paper turns this idea on its head by introducing the prejudice first model, arguing that foreign policy preferences and orientations are in part driven by attitudes towards the groups being affected by specific policies. Three experiments are used to test the utility of this framework. First, when conservatives heard about Muslims killing Christians, as opposed to the opposite scenario, they were more likely to support a humanitarian intervention and agree that the United States has a moral obligation to help those persecuted by their governments. Liberals showed no religious preference. When the relevant identity group was race, however, liberals were more likely to want to help blacks persecuted by whites, while conservatives showed no racial bias. In contrast, the degree of persecution mattered relatively little to respondents in either experiment. In another experiment, conservatives adopted more isolationist policies after reading a text about the country becoming more liberal, as opposed to a paragraph that said the United States was a relatively conservative country. The treatment showed the opposite effect on liberals, although the results fell just short of statistical significance. While not necessarily contradicting the vertical hierarchy model, the results indicate that prejudices and biases not only help influence foreign policy attitudes, but moral perceptions of right and wrong in international politics.
That is from Richard Hanania and Robert Trager. File under “Mood Affiliation…”
That is the topic of my Bloomberg column earlier in the week, here is one excerpt:
Chiang Kai-shek, the first leader of the island, was part of a generation of Asian visionary leaders which is perhaps without parallel. It includes Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Park Chung-Hee in South Korea, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in China, and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Whether you admire these figures or not, theirs was an unparalleled time for nation building and at a much swifter pace than in European history.
And there is no successful polity that has so many apparently insoluble problems:
Taiwan is also inextricably linked to the economy of the mainland. By one estimate, over 10% of the Taiwanese population lives or works in mainland China, including many of the most ambitious Taiwanese, and China is by far the number one counterparty for trade and investment. Taiwanese real wages stagnated from 2000-2016, in large part because it was more profitable for Taiwanese investors to send their capital to the mainland. The Taiwanese birth rate has plummeted to 1.2 per woman, possibly the lowest in the world.
The Chinese also wish to take them over, by the way. Finally, I close with some remarks on the forthcoming election.
As he prepared for Apollo 11’s lift-off, Neil Armstrong thought he had a 10 per cent chance of dying during the mission, and a 50 per cent chance of not walking on the Moon. “There was still a debate about if you stepped on to the Moon, would you step into 10ft of dust?” says former Nasa official Scott Hubbard.
The entire mission was vulnerable to a single-point failure: if the service module’s engine had failed, for example, there was no back-up.
Nasa’s whole attitude to risk has now changed. Until recently, each system was built to tolerate any two faults. This is now seen as a blunt approach, treating all components as equally important. So Nasa instead tries to limit the probability of failure. The chance of losing SLS and Orion on its first mission is one in 140, according to the agency’s analysis.
That is by Henry Mance and Yuichiro Kanematsu, in the FT, from their splendid look at the current attempt to drive a moon mission. And this:
“We do not have time or funds to build unique, one-of-a-kind systems,” William Gerstenmaier, a senior Nasa official, said recently. The agency’s biggest rocket — Boeing’s troubled Space Launch System (SLS) — will use some of the same engines as the Space Shuttle. Blake Rogers, an engineer at the Aerospace Corporation, a government-funded research agency, told the FT: “2024 is really soon. So there’s not a lot of brand-new technology…Today, Orion’s processing power will still be below 500MHz — significantly less than a MacBook.
Recommended, gated but of course you should subscribe to the FT.
Democracies are much richer than non-democracies and their wealth has made them the envy of the world. The close correlation between democracy, high GDP per capita, and economic, military, and cultural power has made modernity appear to be a package deal. When people look at rich, powerful countries they typically see a democracy and they think, “I want that.”
At the same time, however, the academic literature on the causal effect of democracy on growth has shown at best weak results. Here is the all-star team of Acemoglu, Naidu, Restrepo, and Robinson (ungated) in the JPE summarizing:
With the spectacular economic growth under nondemocracy in China, the eclipse of the Arab Spring, and the recent rise of populist politics in Europe and the United States, the view that democratic institutions are at best irrelevant and at worst a hindrance for economic growth has become increasingly popular in both academia and policy discourse. For example, the prominent New York Times columnist Tom Friedman (2009) argues that “one-party non democracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. ”Robert Barro (1997, 1) states this view even more boldly: “More political rights do not have an effect on growth.”
Although some recent contributions estimate a positive effect of democracy on growth, the pessimistic view of the economic implications of democracy is still widely shared. From their review of the academic literature until the mid-2000s, Gerring et al. (2005, 323) conclude that “the net effect of democracy on growth performance cross-nationally over the last five decades is negative or null.”
Acemoglu et al. continue, “In this paper, we challenge this view.” Indeed, using a multitude of sophisticated econometric strategies, Acemoglu et al. conclude “Democracy Does Cause Growth.” In their sample of 175 countries from 1960 to 2010, Acemoglu et al. find that democracies have a GDP per-capita about four times higher than nondemocracies ($2074 v. $8149). (This is uncorrected for time or other factors.) But how much of this difference is explained by democracy? Hardly any. Acemoglu et al. write:
Our estimates imply that a country that transitions from nondemocracy to democracy achieves about 20 percent higher GDP per capita in the next 25 years than a country that remains a nondemocracy.
In other words, if the average nondemocracy in their sample had transitioned to a democracy its GDP per capita would have increased from $2074 to $2489 in 25 years (i.e. this is the causal effect of democracy, ignoring other factors changing over time). Twenty percent is better than nothing and better than dictatorship but it’s weak tea. GDP per capita in the United States is about 20% higher than in Sweden, Denmark or Germany and 40% higher than in France but I don’t see a big demand in those countries to adopt US practices. Indeed, quite the opposite! If we want countries to adopt democracy, twenty percent higher GDP in 25 years is not a big carrot.
As someone who favors democracy as a limit on government abuse, I find this worrying. One optimistic response is that the nondemocracies that adopt the policies necessary to make a nation rich, such as support for property rights, open markets and the free exchange of ideas, may not be such bad places. These beasts, however, appear to be rare. But if they are truly rare there must be more to the democracy-GDP per capita correlation than Acemoglu et al. estimate. So what are they missing? I am uncertain.
If democracies don’t substantially increase growth, why are they rich? Acemoglu et al. don’t spend time on this question but the answer appears to be reverse causality (from wealth to democracy) and the fact that today’s rich democracies adopted capitalism early. But don’t expect the wealth to democracy link to be everywhere and always true, it’s culturally and historically bound. And catch-up is eliminating the benefits of the head start.
If much of the allure of democracy has been higher GDP per capita then the allure has been a mistake of confusing correlation for causation. A fortunate mistake but a mistake. The literature on democracy and growth implies that there is no reason to reject an alternative history in which the world’s leading industrial economy was a nondemocracy. Nor why we could not see some very rich nondemocracies in the future–nondemocracies that would be as on par with the United States as say Sweden, Denmark and Germany are today. If that happens, the case for democracy will look very much weaker than it does now as the correlation between democracy and wealth will be broken and the causal effect more evident even to those without sophisticated econometrics.
Hat tip: Garett Jones for discussion.