Category: Political Science

Tyrone on polarization, polarization is good polarization is gone

For a few years now, a number of you have been asking me where Tyrone, my evil twin brother, has gone.  The truth is a sad one: I have had to put him away, because in these especially fractious times his particular brand of malfeasance is less funny than before.  His wisecracks cut too close to the bone, and so many matters on MR have become more somber — no more dating advice either!

Nonetheless, is there a stable equilibrium to be had?  If Tyrone receives little or no surplus, he becomes all the more…unruly.  And so, risking punishment, he snuck out this message to Alex T., and I agreed to print it, for fear that further transmissions would occur (I do respect the Laffer Curve, and at an optimal punishment level I still can get away with some editing of his words).  Here is the ridiculous nonsense that Tyrone reports this time around, and you can see he is gaming the message to encourage his own liberation:

Tyrone:

Tyler and his media friends keep on reporting that political polarization has gone up.  But that’s wrong: it has radically fallen.  Just look at economic issues.  As of 2011, many Republicans were for some ostensible Tea Party version of economic liberty, or at least they pretended to be.  Now both parties are very bad on economic issues.  For instance, you’ll find protectionist ideas all over the political spectrum.

The wonderful thing about polarization was this: it forced people who didn’t really believe in economic liberty to act as if they did.  The resulting gridlock was better than letting people’s real instincts come out.

Trump of course used to be a Democrat, and our president himself draws bad ideas from both sides of the aisle.  Which party again was campaigning against NAFTA?  What is they say?: Look into trade as an issue. and you see a man’s soul.

What about abortion, that (supposedly) most polarizing of issues?  As Matt Yglesias noted:

About a third of Republicans are pro-choice and about a third of Democrats are pro-life.

Yes that is a real difference, but it hardly sounds like two worldviews, standing irrevocably cleaved and apart.  And a lot of those positions are in actuality fairly nuanced in their details.

According to Larry M. Bartels, about a quarter of the Democrats on cultural issues stand closer to the Republican party than to the average position of their own party.  And talking through the poll data on Christian black women — often Democrats but on average not exactly “progressives” — would require a lengthy missive of its own.

Nor do I see either party speaking up for free speech on campus, except in the most opportunistic terms.  Republicans are pushing bills to crack down on left-wing protests against conservative talks, while the left is trying to limit those same conservative talks.  Distinction without a difference, your Tyrone says, and he should know.  I yearn for the “good ol’ days” when the New Left was for free speech and the conservatives were largely more skeptical.  At least someone was for it, and in an oppositional kind of way.

Contrary to standard reports, the urban-rural divide has not really been growing.

Is the view that Asian-Americans have the wrong personality a Steve Bannon idea, or is it a Harvard idea?

Trump wants to change various governmental rules and norms to cement his own power, such as dumping the filibuster and perhaps reinterpreting the emoluments clause and expanding executive authority of trade and immigration.  Democrats talk of dumping the electoral college or, right now, bringing back FDR’s “court-packing” plan.

It is widely granted that traditional political parties are blowing up (NYT).  Plenty of people wanted Trump and Sanders to run together as a ticket.  And in just about every European country, immigration and terrorism poll as the major issues, neither of those being the traditional territory for previous polarization.

The thing is, when people really believe in something, they end up polarized.  Of course they don’t agree on everything, and so polarization ensues along the dimensions of difference.  Less polarization is a symptom of believing in less more generally, and don’t confuse the resulting obnoxious fractiousness with greater polarization.  Instead, it is a sign that ideas are no longer ruling the day.  And indeed, religious participation is down in America and the secularization thesis is finally beginning to bite.  Polarization, however unpleasant it may have felt at the time, meant order.

Tyler again:

What can I say people? Tyrone now opposed to obnoxious fractiousness?  In spite of his periodically reasonable tone this time around, don’t believe it for a moment — he hasn’t changed.  Nor is polarization down.  Polarization between Tyler and Tyrone clearly has gone up as of late, thus his enforced silence.  Tyler believes in free speech, and he knows that freedom from harm for others requires the silence of Tyrone.  And so is freedom realized, and to thunderous applause.

Who knows when you will hear from Tyrone again?  Maybe I’ll let him do a restaurant review instead.

Ethnolinguistic favoritism in African politics

African political leaders have a tendency to favor members of their own ethnic group. Yet for all other ethnic groups in a country, it is unclear whether having a similar ethnicity to the leader is beneficial. To shed light on this issue, I use a continuous measure of linguistic similarity to quantify the ethnic similarity of a leader to all ethnic groups in a country. Combined with panel data on 163 ethnic groups partitioned across 35 sub-Saharan countries, I use within-group time variation in similarity that results from a partitioned group’s concurrent exposure to multiple national leaders. Findings show that ethnic favoritism is more widespread than previously believed: in addition to evidence of coethnic favoritism, I document evidence of non-coethnic favoritism that typically goes undetected in the absence of a continuous measure of similarity. I also find that patronage tends to be targeted toward ethnic regions rather than individuals of a particular ethnic group. I relate these results to the literature on coalition building, and provide evidence that ethnicity is one of the guiding principles behind high-level government appointments.

That is from Andrew Dickens in the latest American Economic Review.

The origins of WEIRD psychology

This is one of the most important topics, right?  Well, here is a new and quite thorough paper by Jonathan Schulz, Duman Bahrami-Rad, Jonathan Beauchamp, and Joseph Henrich.  Here is the abstract:

Recent research not only confirms the existence of substantial psychological variation around the globe but also highlights the peculiarity of populations that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD). We propose that much of this variation arose as people psychologically adapted to differing kin-based institutions—the set of social norms governing descent, marriage, residence and related domains. We further propose that part of the variation in these institutions arose historically from the Catholic Church’s marriage and family policies, which contributed to the dissolution of Europe’s traditional kin-based institutions, leading eventually to the predominance of nuclear families and impersonal institutions. By combining data on 20 psychological outcomes with historical measures of both kinship and Church exposure, we find support for these ideas in a comprehensive array of analyses across countries, among European regions and between individuals with different cultural backgrounds.

As you might expect, a paper like this is fairly qualitative by its nature, and this one will not convince everybody.  Who can separate out all those causal pathways?  Even in a paper that is basically a short book.

Object all you want, but there is some chance that this is one of the half dozen most important social science and/or history papers ever written.  So maybe a few of you should read it.

And the print in the references to the supplementary materials is small, so maybe I missed it, but I don’t think there is any citation to Steve Sailer, who has been pushing a version of this idea for many years.

The slippery slope

Members of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’ family were followed by the owner of the restaurant they were kicked out of over the weekend after they settled an alternative place to dine.

During an interview Monday on Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s radio show, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the father of the press secretary, said Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., tailed Sanders’ in-laws across the street and along with a number of other people protested their presence at the restaurant to which they had migrated.

Sanders and her husband were said to not be present at the second restaurant.

Here is more.  I still believe in freedom of association in matters such as this, but I also think you should, as a personal decision, serve Republicans at the lunch counter.  This is what starts to happen when you don’t..  Civility remains underrated, and is this a good time to apply just a little behavioral economics to how the interactions might escalate.

Via Megan.

The economics of land mines

Landmine contamination affects the lives of millions in many conflict-ridden countries long after the cessation of hostilities. Yet, little research exists on its impact on post-conflict recovery. In this study, we explore the economic consequences of landmine clearance in Mozambique, the only country that has moved from “heavily-contaminated” in 1992 to “mine-free” status in 2015. First, we compile a dataset detailing the evolution of clearance, collecting thousands of reports from the numerous demining actors. Second, we exploit the timing of demining to assess its impact on local economic activity, as reflected in satellite images of light density at night. The analysis reveals a moderate positive association that masks sizeable heterogeneity. Economic activity responds strongly to clearance of the transportation network, trade hubs, and more populous areas, while the demining-development association is weak in rural areas of low population density. Third, recognizing that landmine removal recon figured the accessibility to the transportation infrastructure, we apply a “market-access” approach to quantify both its direct and indirect effects. The market-access estimates reveal substantial improvements on aggregate economic activity. The market-access benefits of demining are also present in localities without any contamination. Fourth, counterfactual policy simulations project considerable gains had the fragmented process of clearance in Mozambique been centrally coordinated, prioritizing clearance of the colonial transportation routes.

That is a new NBER paper by Giorgio Chiovelli, Stelios Michalopoulos, and Elias  Papaioannou, via Dan Wang.  File under “Not Unrelated to NIMBY.”

What should I ask Claire Lehmann?

I will be doing a Conversation with her (no associated public event), if you don’t already know here is Wikipedia on Claire:

Claire Lehmann is an Australian psychologist, writer, and the founding editor of Quillette.

Lehmann founded Quillette in October 2015, with the goal of publishing intellectually rigorous material that makes arguments or presents data not in keeping with the contemporary intellectual consensus.

Here is Claire on Twitter.  Here is her own home page and bio.  Here is the Quillette Patreon page.

So what should I ask her?

Kenneth Arrow says

1. The family of development economist Hollis Chenery owned the race horse Secretariat (!, related sources).

2. The opposition to putting the Reagan Library at Hoover and Stanford came from NIMBY considerations, not ideology.

3. The historian of Germany Gordon Craig was the greatest lecturer Arrow ever heard [TC: I can’t find any of him on YouTube.]

4. Arrow: “Well, I do remember an awful lot, and it’s not photographic memory.  I don’t remember the page exactly.  I read things in some order, and they come back, but I can’t explain how or why it happens.

…I think it’s just a desire to understand.  I just enjoy learning things.  Learning.  I don’t mean…I like to systematize, not just memorize.  To put them together.  I have this characteristic, even when I was young.  I treat everything like it was geography; in my mind I’d try to put the things on a map.  When I was reading history I’d try to make up genealogical tables, of the kings of England or something.  So I had this tendency to try to systematize things, to try and understand remote sounding things.”

5. His advice for Larry Summers [his nephew]: “Err on the side of too much regulation.”

6. Arrow once spent six months on the Council of Economic Advisors.  His two major effects may have been to veto an American version of the SST and to help veto the digging of a second Panama Canal.

Those are all from the frank interviews with Arrow in On Ethics and Economics: Conversations with Kenneth J. Arrow, by Arrow of course and also by Kristen Renwick Monroe and Nicholas Monroe Lampros.  Interesting throughout.

The NBA vs. the NFL

[Lebron] James has more than 38 million followers on Instagram and nearly 42 million on Twitter. Brady, the N.F.L.’s biggest star, has 4.1 million Instagram followers and is not active on Twitter.

The best of those N.B.A. players are also power brokers behind the scenes. The executive committee of the N.B.A. players’ union looks like a future wing of the Hall of Fame, including James, Curry, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony.

The John Branch article (NYT) is interesting throughout on the economics of sports, social media, American politics, and race.  I’ve said it before, but the NBA is one of the best-functioning institutions in America today.

Do liberals and conservatives shop differently?

I usually urge care in interpreting or even believing such results, but if you are game here is another entry into the sweepstakes:

In our research, conservatives tended to differentiate themselves through products that show that they are better than others – for example, by choosing products from high-status luxury brands. In contrast, liberals tended to differentiate themselves through products that show that they are unique from others – for example, by choosing products with unconventional designs or colors. These distinct preferences emerged across multiple studies in which U.S. participants (university students who completed surveys in the lab, adults who took surveys online, and members of a research panel) indicated their political ideology and made real or hypothetical choices between products.

In one study, participants chose between coffee mugs that would be customized with their names and the message “Just Better” or “Just Different.” Conservatives were 2.2 times more likely than liberals to choose the mug that signaled superiority (“Just Better”) over the one that signaled uniqueness (“Just Different”). In another study, participants could win a gift card from one of two brands as a reward for participation — Ralph Lauren, which based on our numerous pretests of consumers’ brand perceptions generally signals superiority, and Urban Outfitters, which based on our pretests generally signals uniqueness. Conservatives tended to prefer Ralph Lauren, whereas liberals tended to prefer Urban Outfitters.

That is from Nailya Ordabayeva.

Was the Colombian peace deal so wonderful?

It seems to be increasingly unpopular with the Colombian electorate, and now there is this report:

Hundreds of Colombian farmers, activists, and community organisers have been killed over the past 18 months, despite the landmark peace deal that supposedly ended 52 years of war. For them, and for local leaders in the former conflict zones, the war – which left an estimated 220,000 dead and seven million displaced over five decades – didn’t end: it only became worse.

“Whenever we hear talk of peace, we worry,” says Anadelia Trochez, 43, president of the community council in El Ceral, a village in the Cauca Valley, the most productive coca-growing area in the country. “Out here, that usually means more trouble.”

Of course that is not the final word, but the evidence increasingly suggests it is a perspective to be taken seriously.  I recall how many outsiders swooned when the initial Colombian peace deal was first announced, and how tragic they considered it when the Colombian electorate rejected the first version of the deal.  Critics of the deal were considered warmongers.  Those are classic signs of mood affiliation.

The pointer is from Tom Murphy.

Is the bilateral approach to trade liberalization really so bad?

That is my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

It seems we are bureaucratizing trade as much as liberating it. Perhaps that is no surprise. If you wish to induce numerous nations to sign on to a deal, you will have to offer exceptions, clauses and conditions for them. The eventual result is that a free-trade treaty morphs into a managed-trade treaty. I still believe that the various trade agreements that have been passed or drawn up are for the better, but I also can’t help being disappointed by them. Note also that progress through the World Trade Organization had ground to a halt even before the election of Trump.

We are now in a setting where the world’s No. 2 economy — China, on its way to being No. 1 — is strongly opposed to free-trade ideals and free flows of information, especially for its own home market.

Enter bilateralism. The smartest case for trade bilateralism is that trade in many goods is already fairly free, but some egregious examples of tariffs and trade barriers remain. Look at agriculture, European restrictions on beef hormones in beef, and the Chinese unwillingness to allow in foreign companies. Targeted strategic bargaining, backed by concrete threats emanating from a relatively powerful nation — in this case the U.S. — could demand removal of those restrictions. Furthermore, the negotiating process would be more directly transactional and less cartelized and bureaucratic.

My colleague John Nye, an economist at George Mason University, has argued that the free-trade revolution of the 19th century came about because of a major trade agreement between Britain and France in 1860. Other European nations were fearful of being locked out of subsequent deals, and they hurried to sign bilateral trade treaties with Britain and France. There was a competition to make deals rather than cartelization of the process.

That said, our current pursuit of this approach does not seem to have enough allies on our side, and thus I doubt if it will work.  There is much more in the rest of the column.

Is democracy in danger?

From the highly regarded Daniel Treisman:

Influential voices in academia and the media contend that democracy is in decline worldwide and threatened in the US. Using a variety of measures, I show that the global proportion of democracies is actually at or near an all-time high; that the current rate of backsliding is not historically unusual; and that this rate is well explained by the economic characteristics of existing democracies. I confirm that breakdowns tend to occur in countries that are poor, have had relatively little democratic experience, and are in economic crisis. Extrapolating from historical data, I show that the estimated hazard of failure in a democracy as developed and seasoned as the US is extremely low — far lower than in any democracy that has ended in the past. Some suggest that undemocratic public attitudes and erosion of elite norms threaten US institutions, but there is little evidence that these factors cause democratic breakdown. While deterioration in the quality of democracy in countries such as Hungary and Poland is itself cause for concern — as is the reversion to authoritarianism in Russia and Turkey — alarm about a global slide into autocracy is inconsistent with current evidence.

The pointer is from the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Will AI blur the difference between private and public sectors?

…there are incredibly powerful non-state actors who are also competing furiously to develop this technology. All of the 7 most important technology companies in the world–Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu–are making huge investments in AI, from low level frameworks and silicon to consumer products.  It goes without saying that their expertise in machine learning leads any state actor at the moment.

As the applications of machine learning grow, the interactions between these companies and different nation states will grow in complexity. Consider for example road transportation, where we are gradually moving towards on demand, autonomous cars. This will increasingly blur the line between publicly funded mass transportation (e.g. a bus) and private transport (a shared Uber). If this leads to a new natural monopoly in road transportation should it be managed by the state (e.g. the call in London for “Khan’s Cars”) or by a British company, or by a multinational company like Uber?

As Mariana Mazzucato outlined in her fantastic book The Entrepreneurial State, states have historically played a crucial role in underwriting long term, high risk research in science and technology by funding either academic research or the military. These technologies are often then commercialised by private companies. With the rise of visionary and wealthy technology companies like Google we are seeing more high risk long term research being funded by the private sector. DeepMind is a prime example of this. This creates tension when the interests of a private company like Google and a state are not aligned. An example of this is the recent interactions between Google and the Pentagon where over 4000 Google employees protested against Google’s participation in “warfare technologies” and as a result Google decided to not renew its contract with the Pentagon. This is a rapidly evolving topic. Only a week earlier Sergey Brin had said that “he understood the controversy and had discussed the matter extensively with Mr. Page and Mr. Pichai. However, he said he thought that it was better for peace if the world’s militaries were intertwined with international organizations like Google rather than working solely with nationalistic defense contractors”.

Here is more of interest from Ian Hogarth, via…whoever it was that sent it to me!

*Empire of Guns*

The author is Priya Satia, and the subtitle is The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution.  Here is one good bit:

In fact, there were so many transitions between peace and war that it is difficult to establish what “normal” economic conditions were.  Eighteenth-century Europeans accepted war as “inevitable, an ordinary fact of human existence.”  It was an utterly unexceptional state of affairs.  For Britons in particular, war was something that happened abroad and that kept truly damaging disruption — invasion or rebellion — at bay.  Wars that were disruptive elsewhere were understood as preservationist in Britain…Adam Smith’s complaints about the costs of war, about the “ruinous expedient” of perpetual funding and high public debt in peacetime, staked out a contrarian position; The Wealth of Nations (1776) was a work of persuasion.  His and other voices in favor of pacific development grew louder from the margins.  By denormalizing war, liberal political economy raised the stakes of the century’s long final wars from 1793 to 1815, which could be stomached only as an exceptional, apocalyptic stage on the way to permanent peace.

In their wake, nineteenth-century Britain packaged their empire as a primarily civilian enterprise focused on liberty, forgetting the earlier collective investment in and profit from the wars that had produced it..

The book offers many points of interest.

Which technological advances have improved the working of autocracy?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

“What have been the really major advances of the past 20 years?” is one of the most common debated questions in my circles. The smartphone is probably nominated most often, while Google, Facebook and fracking have their advocates too. Yet we hardly ever talk about one of the most important developments, perhaps because it raises uncomfortable political issues: the governance technologies and strategies of authoritarian regimes have become much more efficient

The big innovation in authoritarian governance has been this: subsequent autocratic leaders, most of all in China, have found ways of both liberalizing and staying in power. The good news is that people living under authoritarian governments have much, much better lives than before. The corresponding bad news is that autocracy works better than it used to and thus it is more popular and probably also more enduring. The notion that autocratic government would fade away, either in practice or as an ideological competitor to Western liberalism, simply isn’t tenable any more…

A second development was when authoritarian leaders realized that absolute prohibitions on free speech were counterproductive, and they learned how to manage an intermediate solution.  Allowing partial speech rights is useful as a safety valve, it allows major dissidents to be identified and monitored, and absolute speech prohibitions tended to wreck the economy and discourage foreign investment, leading to unpopularity of the government. At the same time, an autocratic government could come down hard on the truly threatening ideas when needed.

Scientific public opinion polling has been another advance in authoritarian states. In 1987, the Economic System Reform Institute of China conducted the first Chinese public opinion survey, a breakthrough event. Under Chairman Mao in contrast, the incentive was to report only the good news. In the 1990s, however, Chinese public opinion surveys boomed and also became much more scientific.

There is much more at the link, one of my more interesting columns as of late.