Solve for the equilibrium

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

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

“Refuting Friedman-Savage, convexity all over”

“Their capitalist bosses made them turn out”

“They all supported lockdown in the poll”

What else?

VTEKL.

Thursday assorted links

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

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

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

4. Norwegian mudslide video, recommended.

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

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

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

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

Recommended.

Chesapeake travel notes

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

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

What should I ask Rachel Harmon?

I will be doing a Conversation with her, and she is a professor of law at the University of Virginia with a specialty in policing.  From her home page:

Rachel Harmon’s scholarship focuses on policing and its legal regulation, and her work has appeared recently in the NYU, Michigan and Stanford law reviews, among others. She teaches in the areas of criminal law and procedure, policing and civil rights. Harmon often advises nonprofit organizations and police departments on legal issues involving the police. She is currently associate reporter for the American Law Institute’s project on policing, and in fall 2017, she served as a law enforcement expert for the Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Here is her scholar.google.com profile.  So what should I ask her?

Our regulatory state is broken, installment #1837

Americans returning from China landed at U.S. airports by the thousands in early February, potential carriers of a deadly virus who had been diverted to a handful of cities for screening by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Their arrival prompted a frantic scramble by local and state officials to press the travelers to self-quarantine, and to monitor whether anyone fell ill. It was one of the earliest tests of whether the public health system in the United States could contain the contagion.

But the effort was frustrated as the C.D.C.’s decades-old notification system delivered information collected at the airports that was riddled with duplicative records, bad phone numbers and incomplete addresses. For weeks, officials tried to track passengers using lists sent by the C.D.C., scouring information about each flight in separate spreadsheets.

“It was insane,” said Dr. Sharon Balter, a director at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. When the system went offline in mid-February, briefly halting the flow of passenger data, local officials listened in disbelief on a conference call as the C.D.C. responded to the possibility that infected travelers might slip away.

“Just let them go,” two of the health officials recall being told.

Here is the full NYT piece, thorough, excellent, and scary throughout, and it shows a first-rate understanding of bureaucracy.  Don’t forget the CDC budget has risen steadily in real terms.

Wednesday assorted links

My excellent Conversation with Ashley Mears

Tired of lockdown, pandemic, and rioting?  Here is a podcast on some of their polar opposites, conducted by “a bridge and tunnel guy” with an accomplished sociologist.  Here is the audio and transcript, here is the summary:

Ashley Mears is a former fashion model turned academic sociologist, and her book Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit is one of Tyler’s favorites of the year. The book, the result of eighteen months of field research, describes how young women exchange “bodily capital” for free drinks and access to glamorous events, boosting the status of the big-spending men they accompany.

Ashley joined Tyler to discuss her book and experience as a model, including the economics of bottle service, which kinds of men seek the club experience (and which can’t get in), why Tyler is right to be suspicious of restaurants filled with beautiful women, why club music is so loud, the surprising reason party girls don’t want to be paid, what it’s like to be scouted, why fashion models don’t smile, the truths contained in Zoolander, how her own beauty and glamour have influenced her academic career, how Barbara Ehrenreich inspired her work, her unique tip for staying focused while writing, and more.

Here is one excerpt especially dear to my heart:

COWEN: Let’s say I had a rule not to eat food in restaurants that were full of beautiful women, thinking that the food will be worse. Is that a good rule or a bad rule?

MEARS: I know this rule, because I was reading that when you published that book. It was when I was doing the field work in 2012, 2013. And I remember reading it and laughing, because you were saying avoid trendy restaurants with beautiful women. And I was like, “Yeah, I’m one of those people that’s actually ruining the food but creating value in these other forms because being a part of this scene and producing status.” So yeah, I think that’s absolutely correct.

And:

COWEN: I have so many naive, uninformed questions, but why is the music so loud in these clubs? Who benefits from that?

MEARS: Who benefits?

COWEN: I find the music too loud in McDonald’s, right?

MEARS: Clubs are also in this business of trying to manufacture and experience what Emile Durkheim would call this collective effervescence, like losing yourself in the moment. And that’s really possible when you’re able to tune out the other things, like if somebody is feeling insecure about the way they dance or if somebody is not sure of what to say.

Having really loud music that has a beat where everybody just does the same thing, which is nod to the beat — that helps to tune people into one another, and it helps build up a vibe and a kind of energy, so the point is to lose yourself in the music in these spaces.

And:

COWEN: Let’s say you sat down with one of these 20-year-old young women, and you taught them everything you know from your studies, what you know about bodily capital, sociological theories of exploitation. You could throw at them whatever you wanted. They would read the book. They would listen to your video, talk with you. Would that change their behavior any?

MEARS: I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so. They might not be too surprised even to learn that this is a job for promoters, and the promoters make money doing this. Most of them know that. They didn’t know how much money promoters are making. They don’t know how much money the clubs are making, but they know that they’re contributing to those profits, and they know that there’s this inequality built into it.

…in this world, there’s a widespread assumption that everybody uses everybody else. The women are using the club for the pleasures that they can get from it. They’re using the promoter for the pleasures they can get from him, the access. The promoters are using the young women. The clients are using the promoters.

The drawing line is when there’s a perception of abuse. People have a clear sense that lying about being exclusively romantic would be a clear violation, so that would be abusive. But use is okay. Mutual exploitation is okay.

Definitely recommended, a unique and fascinating episode.  And again, I strongly recommend Ashley’s new book Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit, one of my favorite books of the year.

Is this why budget deficits might prove sustainable?

By Adrien Auclert, Hannes Malmberg, Frederic Martenet, and Matthew Rognlie:

We use a shift-share approach to quantify the general equilibrium effects of population aging on wealth accumulation, real interest rates, and capital flows. Combining population projections with household survey data from the US and 24 other countries,we project the evolution of wealth-to-GDP ratios by changing the age distribution,holding life-cycle asset and income profiles constant. We find that this compositional effect of aging is large and heterogeneous across countries, ranging from 85 percent-age points in Japan to 310 percentage points in India over the rest of the twenty-first century. In a general equilibrium overlapping generations model, our shift-share provides a very good approximation to the evolution of the wealth-to-GDP ratio due to demographic change when interest rates remain constant. In an integrated world economy, aging generates large global imbalances in the twenty-first century, pushing net foreign asset positions to levels several times larger than those observed until today.

Via Steven Bogden.  This is very likely an important piece.

Just how weird are things now?

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

If I have learned one thing over the last few weeks, it is that the psychology of the American public is weirder — and perhaps more flexible — than I ever would have thought.

Consider, as just one example among many, the issue of nursing homes. According to some estimates, about 40% of the deaths associated with Covid-19 have occurred in nursing homes, with more almost certain to come.

You might think that those 40,000-plus deaths would be a major national scandal. But so far the response has been subdued. Yes, there has been ample news coverage, but there are no riots in response, no social movement to “clean up the nursing homes,” no Ralph Nader-like crusader who has made this his or her political cause.

Nor has there been much resulting vilification. There are plenty of condemnations of technology billionaires, but very few of nursing-home CEOs. Many of the state and local politicians who oversee public-sector nursing homes have been rewarded with higher approval ratings.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, of those 40,000 deaths, surely a considerable number are African-American (data by race is hard to come by). This could be an issue for Black Lives Matter, but somehow it isn’t.

There is indeed much more at the link.

Tuesday assorted links

Model this New York City police force

Last night, and some previous nights, many storefronts in Manhattan were trashed, there was looting in Soho, or how about this description from Rachel Olding at The Daily Beast?:

Hard to describe how rampant the looting was tonight in Midtown Manhattan and how lawless it was. Complete anarchy. Literally hundreds of stores up and down Broadway, Fifth Ave, Sixth Ave. Kids ruling the streets like it was a party.

Now, those are among the most visible and “high value” spots in the whole city and the NYPD has over 38,000 police to draw upon.  So what is the best model of why all that trouble happened and indeed was allowed to happen?  I see a few candidates:

1. Those police are not sufficiently well trained.

2. Those police are trained but they are afraid of confronting protestors and so they don’t do it.

3. The mayor de facto doesn’t want the police to be too involved, as that might be unpopular with swing voters in the primaries or even the general election.

4. The police union insists, de facto, that not many police be sent directly into such confrontations.

5. There is a general lack of accountability, and so there is failure at multiple levels, and so many good things simply do not happen, but for reasons which are not always entirely concrete.

6. The police do not have the right technology to handle these kinds of problems.

Which is it, and which other hypotheses am I neglecting?

As a more general observation, if this problem cannot be solved, complaining about Trump holding the Bible and the tear gas on the way to the church ultimately will fall upon deaf ears.  Ultimately the American public are not going to side against “the thin blue line” (i.e., the police), so to win all those important civil liberties victories you also need the police doing the proper job effectively. Maybe I picked the wrong Google terms but “why didn’t New York police stop rioters” does not in fact yield anything substantive on the question I am asking.  How can that be?  While you’re at it, model that too!

Addendum: One reader hypothesis is to send a signal to the mayor for criticizing them. Another is here: “Similar to Baltimore, the police in Minneapolis will make it clear that looting and widespread private property destruction will be tolerated for the remainder of the protests as a way to conflate protesters and looters and “teach a lesson to” their liberal civilian bosses

Police Union Privileges Revisited

The post below, Police Union Privileges, from 2018 is worth revisiting. As I wrote in a follow-up, police union privileges are only one part of a system and reform requires system-thinking. Nevertheless, getting rid of these special privileges, including so-called qualified immunity and restoring the equal rule of law are good places to start. Need I also mention that police should not keep fines and forfeitures–the negative consequences of which I documented in To Serve and Collect, my paper with Makowsky and Stratmann.

——————

Earlier I wrote about how police unions in some parts of the country (especially common in NJ and NY, yet a firing offense in some other jurisdictions, edit 2020) give to every officer dozens of “get out of jail” cards to give to friends, family, politicians, lawyers, judges and other connected people. The cards let police on the street know that the subject is to be given “professional courtesy” and they can be used to get out of speeding tickets and other infractions. Today, drawing on the Police Union Contracting Project, I discuss how union contracts and Law Officer “Bill of Rights” give police legal privileges that regular people don’t get.

In 50 cities and 13 states, for example, union contracts “restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place.” In Virginia police officers have a right to at least a five-day delay before being interrogated. In Louisiana police officers have up to 30 days during which no questioning is allowed and they cannot be questioned for sustained periods of time or without breaks. In some cities, police officers can only be interrogated during work hours. Regular people do not get these privileges.

The key to a good interrogation is that the suspect doesn’t know what the interrogator knows so the suspect can be caught in a lie which unravels their story. Thus, the Florida Police Bill of Rights is stunning in what it allows police officers:

The law enforcement officer or correctional officer under investigation must be informed of the nature of the investigation before any interrogation begins, and he or she must be informed of the names of all complainants. All identifiable witnesses shall be interviewed, whenever possible, prior to the beginning of the investigative interview of the accused officer. The complaint, all witness statements, including all other existing subject officer statements, and all other existing evidence, including, but not limited to, incident reports, GPS locator information, and audio or video recordings relating to the incident under investigation, must be provided to each officer who is the subject of the complaint before the beginning of any investigative interview of that officer.

By knowing what the interrogators know, the suspect can craft a story that fits the known facts–and the time privilege gives them the opportunity to do so.

Moreover, how do you think complainants feel knowing that the police officer they are complaining about “must be informed of the names of all complainants.” I respect and admire police officers but frankly I think this rule is dangerous. Would you come forward?

How effective would criminal interrogations be if the following rules held for ordinary citizens?

The law enforcement officer or correctional officer under interrogation may not be subjected to offensive language or be threatened with transfer, dismissal, or disciplinary action. A promise or reward may not be made as an inducement to answer any questions.

What does it say about our justice system that the police don’t want their own tactics used against them?

In the United States if you are arrested–even for a misdemeanor or minor crime, even if the charges are dropped, even if you are found not guilty–you will likely be burdened with an arrest record that can increase the difficulty of getting a job, an occupational license, or housing. But even in the unlikely event that a police officer is officially reprimanded many states and cities require that such information is automatically erased after a year or two. The automatic erasure of complaints makes it difficult to identify problem officers or a pattern of abuse.

Louisiana’s Police Officer Bill of Rights is one of the most extreme. It states that police have the right to expunge any violation of criminal battery and assault and any violation of criminal laws involving an “obvious domestic abuse.” Truly this is hard to believe but here is the law (note that sections (2)(a) and (b) do not appear, as I read it, to be limited to anonymous or unsubstantiated complaints).

A law enforcement officer, upon written request, shall have any record of a formal complaint made against the officer for any violation of a municipal or parish ordinance or state criminal statute listed in Paragraph (2) of this Subsection involving domestic violence expunged from his personnel file, if the complaint was made anonymously to the police department and the charges are not substantiated within twelve months of the lodging of the complaint. (2)(a) Any violation of a municipal or parish ordinance or state statute defining criminal battery and assault. (b) Any violation of other municipal or parish ordinances or state statutes including criminal trespass, criminal damage to property, or disturbing the peace if the incident occurred at either the home of the victim or the officer or the violation was the result of an obvious domestic dispute.

In an excellent post on get out of free jail cards, Julian Sanchez writes:

…beyond being an affront to the ideal of the rule of law in the abstract, it seems plausible that these “get out of jail free” cards help to reinforce the sort of us-against-them mentality that alienates so many communities from their police forces. Police departments that want to demonstrate they’re serious about the principle of equality under the law shouldn’t be debating how many of these cards an average cop gets to hand out; they should be scrapping them entirely.

Equality under the law also requires that privileges and immunities extend to all citizens equally.

What do economists believe about infrastructure?

Support for massive investments in transportation infrastructure, possibly with a change in the share of spending on transit, seems widespread. Such proposals are often motivated by the belief that our infrastructure is crumbling, that infrastructure causes economic growth, that current funding regimes disadvantage rural drivers at the expense of urban public transit, or that capacity expansions will reduce congestion. In fact, most US transportation infrastructure is not deteriorating and the existing scientific literature and does not show that infrastructure creates growth or reduces congestion. However, current annual expenditure on public transit buses exceeds that on interstate construction and maintenance. The evidence suggests the importance of an examination of how funding is allocated across modes but not of massive new expenditures.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Matthew Turner, Gilles Duranton, and Geetika Nagpal.