Results for “mood affiliation”
135 found

“The Myth of American Meritocracy: How corrupt are Ivy League admissions?”

There is a new and stimulating piece by Ron Unz, in The American Conservative.  The article covers plenty of ground, but I took away two main points.  The first is that there is massive and quite unjustified bias against Asian and Asian-American students in the U.S. admissions process.  Yes, I already thought that but it turns out it is much worse than I had thought.  Yet many people support this aspect of our current admissions systems, either directly or indirectly.

The second point is the claim that Jewish academic achievement in America is collapsing at the top end, in relative terms at least.

For reasons which are possibly irrational on my end, but perhaps not totally irrational, I am not entirely comfortable with the religious and ethnic and racial “counting” methods applied in this piece (blame me for mood affiliation if you wish).  Still, it is an interesting read and after some internal debate I thought I would pass it along, albeit with caveats.

In any case, the link to the article is here.

Michael Pollan on Proposition 37

I am a big fan of the food writings of Michael Pollan, but his recent opinion piece on GMO labeling could be stronger.

His argument for voting “yes” on mandatory labeling is mostly mood affiliation, namely that this is part of some broader battle against “Big Food.”  He doesn’t for instance consider how the Proposition may damage many smaller farmers, or that GMOs seem to lower carbon emissions and otherwise help the environment.  Here is yet another discussion of benefits, or see this survey post.

His final and in fact main argument contains a simple error in economics, all too common among food writers:

…to date, genetically modified foods don’t offer the eater any benefits whatsoever…

He forgot to mention that they increase supply and lower price.  Quick question: how did the GMO products otherwise obtain market share?

For the pointer I thank Michael.

Should there be required labeling of GMOs?

Here is one on-the-mark take (of many):

…there have been more than 300 independent medical studies on the health and safety of genetically modified foods. The World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association and many others have reached the same determination that foods made using GM ingredients are safe, and in fact are substantially equivalent to conventional alternatives. As a result, the FDA does not require labels on foods with genetically modified ingredients because it acknowledges they may mislead consumers into thinking there could be adverse health effects, which has no basis in scientific evidence.

Or try the National Academy of Sciences from 2010:

Many U.S. farmers who grow genetically engineered (GE) crops are realizing substantial economic and environmental benefits — such as lower production costs, fewer pest problems, reduced use of pesticides, and better yields — compared with conventional crops, says a new report from the National Research Council.

Here is a good NYT summary Op-Ed on that report.  There is not the scientific evidence for Mark Bittman’s recent evaluation that:

G.M.O.’s, to date, have neither become a panacea — far from it — nor created Frankenfoods, though by most estimates the evidence is far more damning than it is supportive.

It’s the tag there that is problematic.  He doesn’t offer a citation, nor has he in past columns offered convincing material to back this evaluation (you can read here for a somewhat more detailed account from Bittman; it simply minimizes benefits and does not support “by most estimates the evidence is far more damning than it is supportive”).  This earlier critique of Bittman is on the mark on virtually every point.

The standards of evidence being applied here are extremely weak.  In that last Bittman link he wrote that:

…The surge in suicides among Indian farmers has been attributed by some, at least in part, to G.E. crops…

The link is to a sensationalistic Daily Mail (tabloid) story, yet that gets translated into “has been attributed by some.”  In that story, the suicides were caused by indebtedness and supposedly the debts were in part caused by a desire by farmers to buy GMO crops.  In comparable terms one could write that anything one spends money on could cause suicide through the medium of indebtedness.

By the way, the Wikipedia treatment gives some more detailed citations suggesting that GMO crops are not a significant cause of farmer suicides in India.  The most careful study of the matter reports this:

We first show that there is no evidence in available data of a “resurgence” of farmer suicides in India in the last five years. Second, we find that Bt cotton technology has been very effective overall in India. However, the context in which Bt cotton was introduced has generated disappointing results in some particular districts and seasons. Third, our analysis clearly shows that Bt cotton is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the occurrence of farmer suicides. In contrast, many other factors have likely played a prominent role.

I would in fact be more supportive of the GMO labeling idea if renowned food writers such as Bittman, and many others including left-wing economists, would come out and boldly proclaim the science about GMOs to their readers.  Too often the tendency is to use a “I’ll try not to say anything literally incorrect, while insinuating there are big problems” method of scoring points against big agriculture.  (Another common trope is to switch the discussion to “distribution” and to suggest, either explicitly or implicitly, that a net benefit technology such as GMOs is somehow unnecessary or undesirable; dare I utter the words “mood affiliation“?)  GMO labeling is the one issue which has gained legal traction, so critics of “Big Ag” just can’t bring themselves to give it up.

Bittman’s whole column is about GMOs, but he gets at the important point only in his final sentence:

[With better information] We’d be able to make saner choices, and those choices would greatly affect Big Food’s ability to freely use genetically manipulated materials, an almost unlimited assortment of drugs and inhumane and environmentally destructive animal-production methods.

Overuse of antibiotics and animal treatment (both cruelty and environmental issues) — now those are two very real problems, backed by overwhelming scientific evidence.  The fact that the California referendum is instead about GMOs — which have overwhelming scientific evidence for net benefit and minimal risks — is the real scandal.

It’s time that our most renowned food writers woke up to that difference.  In the meantime, they are doing both us and themselves a deep disservice.

*The New New Deal*

That is the new book about ARRA and fiscal stimulus, by Michael Grunwald, available here with the subtitle The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.  Excerpt:

…it was an astonishingly big bill,  In constant dollars, it was more than 50 percent bigger than the entire New Deal, twice as big as the Louisiana Purchase and Marshall Plan combined.  As multibillion-dollar items were being erased and inserted with casual keystrokes, Obama aides who had served under President Bill Clinton occasionally paused to recall their futile push for a mere $19 billion stimulus that seemed impossibly huge in 1993, or their vicious internal battles over a few million bucks for beloved programs that suddenly seemed too trivial to discuss.

Critics of ARRA will not agree with everything in this book, but putting mood affiliation aside for a moment, the writing, research, and conception of the work are all excellent.

*Affluence and Influence*

The author is Martin Gilens and the subtitle is Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.  A few points:

1. It is an interesting book.

2. It is poorly written and the first fifty pages should have been abolished.

3. It argues, using a comprehensive data set, that the preferences of poor and even middle income people are neglected or underrepresented in the policy process.  The preferences of the wealthiest ten percent seem to have more sway.

4. It should take greater care to distinguish the preferences of the (often ill-informed) poor across means and ends.  Say a poor or middle class person feels “I want tariffs” and also “I want prosperity.”  The elites then push through free trade to produce prosperity and for that matter to get reelected and perhaps also to serve commercial interests and donors.  Have they met or frustrated the preferences of the poor?  By the metrics of Gilens the poor did not get their way but that is not obviously the correct conclusion.  Matt makes a related point.

5. Many lower- or middle-income voters decide to vote retrospectively over outcomes (mostly), rather than over policy inputs.  That suggests we should judge the responsiveness of the system in terms of how well it aims toward those outputs, not whether it gives lower-income voters their preferred policy inputs.

6. What is wrong with this simple alternative hypothesis?:  Politicians seek some measure of redistribution-weighted prosperity to get reelected.  Wealthier voters are better educated and smarter, so they have a better sense of which policies will bring that about.  It seems the wealthier voters are getting their way on policy inputs, but a deeper look shows the pressures on politicians are quite general.

7. I would be falling prey to the fallacy of mood affiliation if I simply assumed the author wanted policy to be more responsive to the wishes of the poor and middle class.  Still I can ask whether this would be a desirable end.  Aren’t they less educated and less well-informed on average?  Don’t they also care about politics less and derive less of their status from political processes and outcomes?  Do I want them to have a greater say over social issues, including gay marriage?  No.

Here is a Boston Review symposium on the book, including many responses from the notables on the sidebar, along with a response from the author.

Aaron Carroll on Medicaid Wars

Enough people have linked to this piece that I thought I should write a response, which you will find under the fold…

To start with a general remark.  Often defenders of ACA request some kind of conservative engagement with the policy, rather than voting for the 34th (?) time for outright repeal with no coherent story of replacement.  I’ve laid out a coherent scenario of how ACA could evolve into something which I consider better, and actually with only modest changes to the law itself.  The mandate gets narrowed, the system as a whole evolves into means-tested vouchers (which proponents such as Zeke Emanuel favor), and possibly HSAs are given a larger role again.  I say states will try to limit Medicaid growth, not that they should but that probably they can over the longer run.  Defenders of the current ACA don’t have to favor my analysis, but in fact what I get back is sheer annoyance from Carroll, repetition of Carroll from various others, and an attack from Krugman, with no substantive engagement on the policy proposal at all.

Carroll writes five times that he is annoyed by my piece, but in hardly any of those cases is he disagreeing with any position I took.  Let’s go through them one-by-one:

I get a bit annoyed when people claim that we can’t “afford” more government intervention or, god-forbid, single-payer. That kind of statement willfully ignores the fact that every country that has MORE government intervention spends LESS.

I most definitely did not say this and in fact I mentioned that single payer systems lower cost.  Spending more on Medicaid, however, will not save the U.S. money (the Oregon study shows this), whether or not we can normatively “afford” it.

I get a bit annoyed by the claim that an expansion of government insurance leads to lines and waiting when lots of countries have universal access and less of a wait-time problem than we do.

A significant influx of people into Medicaid, under current institutions, will lead to more queuing.  That is true whether or not you think other countries with single-payer have big queueing problems.  What I wrote was this:

Unfortunately, Medicaid has some of the worst features of single-payer systems. Typically, a single-payer system will bargain down medical prices, thus adding to affordability, but at the risk of having long lines of patients waiting for care. As it stands now, though, the low reimbursement rates of Medicaid already lead to long lines, or an inability to find a good doctor altogether, while the higher reimbursement rates of Medicare and private insurance keep health care costs high.

It’s even carefully worded “…at the risk of having long lines of patients waiting for care.”  Supply elasticities are positive and so single-payer systems do run this risk.  Yet I am clear that in critical regards the systems of other countries get the better end of this deal compared to the United States.

Another bit:

I get a bit annoyed by blanket claims that doctors won’t accept Medicaid. Such statements often ignore the fact that the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries are children and pregnant women. We don’t need all types of doctors to accept Medicaid patients in equal numbers. They also ignore the fact that lots of doctors won’t accept new patients with Medicare or private insurance, either.

It is very difficult to find a good doctor in northern Virginia who takes Medicaid and I speak from personal experience (helping others).  Or try any number of basic websites, with common quotations such as “Finding a Medicaid doctor constitutes a challenge…”  Medicaid dentists are hard to find.  Try calling say the Washingtonian “best doctors” list and see how many of them take Medicaid.  Large numbers of doctors do take Medicaid but overall they tend to be much worse and there are also problems with queuing.  Think about it: why would the lower payers end up first in line?

There is more annoyance:

I get a bit annoyed when people just claim government programs are “unpopular”. Like Medicare? I don’t think so. Is there any evidence that Medicaid is unpopular? I’d like to see it. Personally, I think that the fact that (a) all 50 states have bought in over time and (b) the Supreme Court just ruled that threatening to take it away is “coercive” speaks to the opposite. Additionally, polling shows the opposite of what Tyler (and lots of others) suggest.

I am sorry but this is a total “read fail.”  I am saying Medicaid (not “government programs” or “Medicare”) will become increasingly unpopular.  (In fact I am known for arguing that big government as a whole is quite popular.)  Every day in the newspaper there is handwringing by governors, not all Republican ones, about wishing to limit or escape Medicaid obligations.  A lot of them would prefer to get block grants and spend the money elsewhere (a simple question for Carroll: if Medicaid is so popular with voters, there is no reason to fear block grants to the states, right?  Voters surely will insist that Medicaid spending be kept at current levels or perhaps even increased.)  Daily Kos serves up plenty of evidence for the lukewarm support for Medicaid, as does Ezra Klein: “But, for a host of reasons, Democrats worry that Medicaid is more endangered than people realize.”  Also note how skimpy Medicaid coverage is in many states.  A lot of states don’t really try to cover poor adults, without children, at all.  Frankly this is standard fare, especially on the left, but somehow if I write it he gets annoyed.

If you poll people and ask them whether they favor health care for the poor, of course they will say yes.  The bottom line is this: right now we are borrowing about forty cents of every dollar spent.  As we move toward fiscal balance, which are among the most vulnerable programs?  Defense spending may be cut somewhat, but Medicaid is far more vulnerable than either Social Security or Medicare.  I didn’t know that was under dispute and in fact it really isn’t.

Some more annoyance from Carroll:

I get a bit annoyed at the blanket acceptance of the awesomeness of the free market in health care, when there is no phenomenal evidence of its success. And again, those countries with less free market are cheaper, universal, and often just as good. So why are we always trying to run away from them?

That is another “read fail.”  What did I call for in the column?

We would then have government-subsidized and mandated catastrophic insurance, and a freer market for other health care expenditures. We might even return to a health savings account approach on the noncatastrophic side.

I also note in the column that is not my first best, but we Americans probably cannot get easily to a first best system (for me a Singapore-style system, with single payer on the catastrophic side rather than mandates for private insurance purchase).  My accompanying blog post even noted that the HSAs could be supplemented with government funds, if it was so desired.

The real argument of the column is that ACA will fall apart for political reasons because it creates too many different groups with different treatment.  The “mood affiliation” of the column is something other than celebration of ACA, and so Carroll pulls out all of the old chestnuts and attacks them, rather than responding to the actual argument.  Basically he should go back and reread the piece itself.

“Libertarianism and the workplace”?

Numerous readers have asked me for a response to this lengthy post from Crooked Timber.  Travel commitments limit me from offering anything close to a full treatment, but here are a few points:

1. Is the complaint that workers aren’t getting enough of the pie?  Let’s consider giving them cash instead of workplace regulations.

2. It would be nice to see an estimate of how much the workers cared about the issues raised in this post, say in terms of willingness to pay.  I would start with that number.

3. Is the complaint that workers are getting an inefficient mix of money and workplace freedoms?  Maybe so, but I’ve yet to see the argument.  And what if it turned out they were getting too many workplace freedoms and not enough money, say because of intra-family externalities and the intra-family tax rate on the money?

4. Is the complaint is that workers should be getting the mix of money that the authors desire to see in place, rather than what the workers themselves wish to have, taking opportunity costs into account?  If so, I’m probably not on board but in any case let’s see the authors fess up to that upfront and then defend it.  Let’s see how many of the workers they can convince.

5. How about a brief mention of the fact that labor-managed firms are mostly not a big success?  Or that some rights can involve a notion of property?  I’d like to see an empirical paper on what kinds of workplace freedoms are allowed by labor-managed firms, more or less?

6. How about a brief mention of the fact that workplace regulations, in practice, very often are used to protect insiders and restrict employment for outsiders?

I find many (most?) of the cited restrictions on labor freedom, if that is the right phrase, defensible.  Consider this:

They can be fired for donating a kidney to their boss (fired by the same boss, that is), refusing to have their person and effects searched, calling the boss a “cheapskate” in a personal letter, and more.

The latter two seem obvious to me, and on the first perhaps it is better to give your kidney to a complete stranger.  Become friends later on, as Virginia Postrel did with Sally Satel, to avoid putting the other person in a conflict of interest situation.  (I do agree that a moral boss should have quit, but not that the firing should be legally prohibited per se.)  Presenting these and other mentions as self-evidently objectionable I don’t find so compelling.  I also see a big difference between “I can find a case settled like this” and “this is always the law” and on that we are left a bit at sea.

I am not comfortable with the mood affiliation of the piece.  How about a simple mention of the massive magnitude of employee theft in the United States, perhaps in the context of a boss wishing to search an employee?

When I was seventeen, I had a job in the produce department of a grocery store.  They made me wear a tie.  They did not let me curse.  Even if there was no work at the moment, I could not appear to be obviously slacking for fear of setting a bad example.  They had the right to search me, including for illegal drugs.  I suspect that “contract indeterminacies” gave them other rights too.

The company kept each and every one of its promises to me and they paid me on time every two weeks.  The company also taught me a lot.  I honor that company to this day.  I also did my best to keep each and every promise to them.

What I did observe was massive employee shirking, rampant drug use including what appeared to be on the job, regular rule-breaking, and a significant level of employee theft, sometimes in cahoots with customers.

I understand full well that’s only one anecdote and only one side of the picture, and yes the company did fire vulnerable workers and quite possibly not always with just cause.  Still I get uncomfortable when this other side of the story is ignored.  When I hear the phrase “workplace coercion,” the first thing I think of is employee theft, estimated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at over $50 billion a year.

Addendum: If I ponder my workplace at GMU, I see many more employees who take advantage of the boss, perhaps by shirking, or by not teaching well, than I see instances of the bosses taking advantage of the employees.  Make that two anecdotes.

What is austerity?

Or should that read what is “austerity”?

The May 11 IHT has a headline “German line on austerity appears to soften,” and the article is about monetary policy and inflation targeting (I don’t see it on line).  While monetary policy has ramifications for fiscal policy and output, I would not refer to tight money as “austerity,” in spite of the mood affiliation.

I googled “austerity define” and Wikipedia reports this:

In economics, austerity is a policy of deficit-cutting, lower spending, and a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided.

Notice that is mostly about spending, and notice the word “and.”  I find this definition confusing, especially if one interprets the “and” strictly.  Tax hikes are then mentioned:

Austerity policies are often used by governments to try to reduce their deficit spending while sometimes coupled with increases in taxes to pay back creditors to reduce debt.

That seems to make the “tax hikes” something other than “austerity policies.”  The Macmillan on-line dictionary makes it all about spending and not about taxes at all.

A financial source in the top ten, Investopedia, reports this:

A state of reduced spending and increased frugality in the financial sector. Austerity measures generally refer to the measures taken by governments to reduce expenditures in an attempt to shrink their growing budget deficits.

That starts with spending, then shifts to the financial sector (?), and the second sentence shifts back to spending.  That’s confusing too.  How do higher taxes fit in?  What are the baselines?

Krugman I do not think has offered a definition or measure of austerity (he spends more time doing a link-less attacking of others, including possibly myself, for claims about austerity which he does not document anyone making or they simply did not make), but he seems to think that automatic stabilizer-driven spending increases do not count as spending increases for the purpose of defining austerity.  Neither does spending on bank bailouts count for him.

I could imagine a definition something like this: “the net effect of all government fiscal policies on ngdp, relative to the baseline of a stabilized path for expected ngdp growth.”  Or should it read: “…relative to what will happen to ngdp growth in the absence of budgetary changes”?  I wonder if some Keynesians have in mind the baseline of “the expansionary policies which I think would be appropriate,” in which case doing less than the Keynesian optimum is always a form of austerity.  Angus notes correctly that clear definitions of austerity are hard to come by.

In Bucharest I cannot alas consult my library for further definitions.

In any case, austerity is a misleading and often misunderstood word.  It is better if we describe policies more concretely, and in fact that is not hard to do.  Furthermore, insisting on a clearer accounting should not be equated with “austerity denial.”

How good are the upper classes?

Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.

That is an abstract from Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Stephane Coté, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Dacher Keltner.  There is a gated version of the paper here,  a Wired summary hereDozens of other sources covered the paper on-line but virtually all fell afoul of mood affiliation (something is wrong with the wealthy and here is a chance to disapprove of them), and a very large number made the subtle shift from “upper class” to “wealthy,” which of course is not the same.

We need to be cautious in our interpretation of these results.  Of the seven tests, two of them showed that people driving more expensive cars are more in a hurry and more likely to cut off others or not yield.  That’s not praiseworthy, but hardly a major moral condemnation.  Several of the tests involved people being asked to imagine they were high class, not actual “high class” people themselves.  To that extent we are testing the lower class view of the upper classes, noting that I would not use those terms as given.  One of the tests showed that social class did not matter once we adjust for a person’s attitude toward greed.   A positive attitude toward greed is positively correlated with social class, but it was also easy enough to “prime” the lower class individuals to feel the same way, suggesting that extreme context dependence will hold here.

Let’s view these results in light of the literature as a whole (I haven’t seen any journalistic source do this).  Very often in studies the highest trust, lowest corruption societies in the world are the relatively wealthy Nordic countries, not poor countries.  There is plenty of evidence that it is low and falling incomes — not wealth — which helped to explain voter support for fascism.  Consumers are eager to buy products from companies such as Apple, and they regard the wealth of the shareholders, and the high profit margins, as a sign they will get a high quality product, not a reason to fear a rip-off.  (Can you think of many cases where consumers deliberately seek out lower-class suppliers to minimize the chance of rip-off?)  The work of Garett Jones shows that high IQ predicts greater cooperativeness.

That all said, allow me to speculate.  If I were playing bridge, and my opponents were wealthy, I really would expect them to cheat more, say with regard to the exchange of illegal cues between partners.  For one thing cheating requires some smarts and for another it requires some confidence that it can lead to victory.  I expect Vlade Divac to flop more to draw a foul, or expect Kobe Bryant to work harder to manipulate a referee, than I would expect from a lower-status rookie player.

One simple hypothesis — which for now I will take as the default, when you sum up all the evidence — is that high-status people cheat more at games and less at many other activities, including those of real life.  (They are also in more of a hurry on the road.)  That’s very different than how this paper is being reported, and it’s also a much more interesting hypothesis.

Addendum: Kevin Drum comments.

Why doesn’t the right-wing favor looser monetary policy?

Reading Scott’s post induced me to write down these few points.  I have noticed that right-wing public intellectuals are skeptical of more expansionary monetary policy for a few reasons:

1. There is a widespread belief that inflation helped cause the initial mess (not to mention centuries of other macroeconomic problems, plus the problems from the 1970s, plus the collapse of Zimbabwe), and that therefore inflation cannot be part of a preferred solution.  It feels like a move in the wrong direction, and like an affiliation with ideas that are dangerous.  I recall being fourteen years of age, being lectured about Andrew Dickson White’s work on assignats in Revolutionary France, and being bored because I already had heard the story.

2. There is a widespread belief that we have beat a lot of problems by “getting tough” with them.  Reagan got tough with the Soviet Union, soon enough we need to get tough with government spending, and perhaps therefore we also need to be “tough on inflation.”  The “turning on the spigot” metaphor feels like a move in the wrong direction.  Tough guys turn off spigots.

3. There is a widespread belief that central bank discretion always will be abused (by no means is this view totally implausible).  “Expansionary” monetary policy feels “more discretionary” than does “tight” monetary policy.  Run those two words through your mind: “expansionary,” and “tight.”  Which one sounds and feels more like “discretion”?  To ask such a question is to answer it.

Within these frameworks of beliefs, expansionary monetary policy just doesn’t feel right.  Yet I still agree with the arguments of Scott (and others) that it would have been the right thing to do.

Here is my initial post on the fallacy of mood affiliation.

Whence comes this sudden wave of economic determinism?

All of a sudden it is pulled out of the closest as a weapon against Charles Murray, such as by Paul Krugman (and here and here), Rortybomb, David Frum, and others.  Bryan Caplan brings some sanity to the debate:

I’m baffled by people who blame declining marriage rates on poverty.  Why?  Because being single is more expensive than being married.  Picture two singles living separately.  If they marry, they sharply cut their total housing costs.  They cut the total cost of furniture, appliances, fuel, and health insurance.  Even groceries get cheaper: think CostCo.

These savings are especially blatant when your income is low.  Even the official poverty line acknowledges them.  The Poverty Threshold for a household with one adult is $11,139; the Poverty Threshold for a household with two adults is $14,218.  When two individuals at the poverty line maintain separate households, they’re effectively spending 2*$11,139-$14,218=$8,060 a year to stay single.

But wait, there’s more.  Marriage doesn’t just cut expenses.  It raises couples’ income.  In the NLSY, married men earn about 40% more than comparable single men; married women earn about 10% less than comparable single women.  From a couples’ point of view, that’s a big net bonus.  And much of this bonus seems to be causal.

More plausibly it is the rise in female income (among other factors, including the rise of birth control, read more here) which is behind the decline in marriage, but that doesn’t fit with traditional mood affiliation, which finds the rise in female income to be good (which it is), and the decline in marriage to be — neither good nor bad per se but not exactly worth celebrating.  If you can blame capitalism and wage stagnation for the decline of the family among lower earners, so much the better for ideology but as a sociological proposition that is a very weak hypothesis (do you see convincing links to real sociological evidence, showing this to be the dominant factor? No) and as Caplan shows it doesn’t fit with the economics either.

Remind me again, how is wage stagnation supposed to explain the pronounced decline in religiosity, among lower earners, as shown by Murray?  It’s well-known that a secular outlook is a normal good, and that on average poorer countries are more religious than wealthier countries.

I’m struck by how many people are offering negative comment on the new Murray book who have not read it, or who do not appear to have read it.  I found it to be a much less controversial book than the commentary makes it seem, and actually I had stopped thinking about it, except for all the negative reviews I see it getting.  It is unpopular because it disrupts current moral narratives about economic and social decline, as much on the right as on the left I might add, not because it is relying on dubious facts.  It is simply redescribing inequality through a somewhat different lens.  There’s much less at stake here than meets the eye.

Maybe I should not even be responding, but then again I am a determinist and does not Karl Smith have a good forecasting record to date?

The new Charles Murray book

Kevin Drum offers comment:

…is it really true that back in 1963 the “upper tribe” and the “lower tribe” were more similar than they are today? It might seem that way in retrospect, but it sure didn’t at the time. It didn’t seem that way to Gunnar Myrdal or Michael Harrington, anyway. Overall, I can pretty easily buy the “Apart” piece of the title, but I’m a lot less sure about the “Growing” piece. For every example of a way in which top and bottom have diverged over the past 50 years, I suspect that you could also find an example of ways in which they’ve converged. It’s just that Murray wasn’t looking for any of those.

Perhaps electronic communications is one example, or maybe air conditioning, paging Don Boudreaux.  Sharing a greater number of absolute benefits is an extra commonality, for instance sharing “telephone plus internet” is more in common than just “everyone has a telephone,” even if the absolute number of differences is rising too.

This “mood affiliation” review is from a Rortybomb pointer I believe, excerpt:

Murray can’t tell you what really caused the class divide in marriage because the class-based changes in families he laments closely track the class warfare of the 1%. Up through the mid-’80s, upper class and working class divorce rates rose and fell together. Starting in 1990, the lines diverged, with the divorce rates of college graduates falling back to the level of the mid-sixties (before no-fault divorce) while the divorce and non-marital birth rates of everyone else continued to rise.

Do all the other social indicators follow this same pattern?  Did religiosity decline because of privileges for the wealthy and class warfare?  Are we supposed to think that broadly stagnant incomes for the lower classes caused more divorce for those individuals?  Didn’t stagnant incomes set in around 1973, with parts of the 1990s being relatively good times for the labor market?  In other words, those divorce rate and other social indicator changes are not the fault of the top one percent as this review would have you believe.  This latter point in the review makes more sense to me, though I don’t read it as contra Murray:

Third, women’s employment increased in the same period and women’s wages gained the most vis-à-vis men at the bottom of the income scale. As recently as 1990, women of all educational levels earned about the same percent of the hourly wages of men with the same education. To the extent the gendered “wage gap” varied, college educated women enjoyed slightly more parity with men than working class women. By 2007, the wage gap varied dramatically by class. College-educated women earned a smaller percentage of the hourly income of their male counterparts, while the wage gap between working-class men and women shrunk substantially.

…The result: a change in family norms. College-educated women postpone childbearing, invest in their careers, and conduct a long search for a compatible and reliable mate.

But does he have the stones to write “A hypergamy theory of changing social indicators”?

The liberation of American women also damaged the quality of public education, by removing the implicit subsidy of so many “captive” and smart female laborers.  I would say that the non-wealthy did not have good norms to deal with women’s liberation and maybe they could not have had such norms.  It’s time to come to terms with that history.  I am willing to embrace it, though I am not sure Murray is.

I’ve now read the book and I think it is very good, very well-written, and considerably more bulletproof than some of the critics are suggesting.  That said, not much in it surprised me or changed my views; admittedly these are areas where I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately.

What does the inequality-immobility link mean?

Justin Wolfers writes:

Predictably enough, I spent yesterday reading lefty blogs trumpeting Corak’s analysis, and right-leaning blogs who didn’t want to believe the inequality-mobility link, endorsing Winship. But both missed the bigger picture implications. Either you’re convinced by Corak that the data can be trusted, and that they show there’s a strong link between actual inequality and actual mobility.  Or you believe Winship that the data are a pretty poor proxy for what’s really happening, and so there’s actually a very strong link that’s being disguised by imperfect data.

Here is Scott’s latest response, with links to various critics.

As for my take, Justin is painting himself into a corner here of his own making.  Let’s step back for a moment.  I see two big and very real problems: slow income growth for many income classes and a problem with excessively high returns to finance at the very top.  (As an aside, both of these problems contain elements of both “left-wing concerns” and “right-wing concerns,” and both problems are deeper than any particular ideology can solve and they should make virtually everyone rethink their views).

Those are the problems and we should try to fix them.

If we could fix these problems, that would mean a smaller financial sector, less moral hazard, better allocation of capital, and for most/all income classes rates of income growth comparable to the 1948-1972 period, chop it up as you wish.  Imagine that everyone’s income went up three percent a year, every year, and every generation was about twice as rich as the parents.  Whether there then would be more or less marginal “churn” in the relative income rankings is not a matter of irrelevance but having somewhat more churn should not be viewed as a major social goal per se.  It would depend on the reason for the immobility, and the real focus of our concern would be the reason (e.g., bad schools? some kind of unfairness?), and not the marginal change in the numerical churn per se.

Given that background, and those two very real problems, you can in fact create other “problems” by creating and manipulating more complicated statistics, based on the initial problems, and that can lead you to various measures of inequality and immobility.  But not all inequalities are bad, or avoidable, and the same is true for immobilities.  The valid problems, as embedded in the new complicated measures, still will boil down to the two simpler problems mentioned above.  In the meantime, toying around with misleading and less transparent aggregate measures of inequality and immobility will bring confusion as to what is really at stake.

Focus on the two very real and fairly simple (as distinct from simple to fix) problems.

Addendum: If you are looking for Turing test fail, mood affiliation, unwillingness to recognize comparisons on the margin (as if I am defending hereditary aristocracy), and us vs. them thinking, here are John Quiggin, Brad DeLong, and Paul Krugman, as if I had staged a satirical interchange to illustrate and make fun of their occasional proclivities.  The commentary of Matt Yglesias, also on the left, does not commit any of these fallacies and in fact deftly sidesteps them; perhaps they should drink from his water, or from that of his father, who apparently did not finish high school.

Sentences to ponder

From a new NYT article:

“Education policies here are always written to be ‘the best’ or ‘the top this or that,’ ” he said. “We’re not like that. We want to be better than the Swedes. That’s enough for us.”

There is also this:

Besides high-quality teachers, Dr. Sahlberg pointed to Finland’s Lutheran leanings, almost religious belief in equality of opportunity, and a decision in 1957 to require subtitles on foreign television as key ingredients to the success story.

And this:

Dr. Sahlberg said another reason the system had succeeded was that “only dead fish follow the stream” — a Finnish expression.

Finland is going against the tide of the “global education reform movement,” which is based on core subjects, competition, standardization, test-based accountability, control.

A large number of Finns want to grow up to be teachers.

For the pointer I thank Adam Ozimek.  Here is Adam’s post on education and mood affiliation.

Claims about Germany and Europe which I disagree with

I’ll put a few of these under the fold…Karl Smith writes:

…the worse case endgame for a Euro failure is collapse of the global capitalist system, the political collapse of the West and the end of the Enlightenment. That’s fairly bad as things go and it could indeed happen.

I can imagine parts of eastern Europe or the Balkans going Fascist, but not Western Europe.  The consequences of a euro collapse would be dire, but not nearly that dire.  A few nice countries have nuclear weapons and battles over territory are no longer going to happen in that part of Europe.  A cynic would add that fascism was also a part of the Enlightenment.

Ezra Klein writes:

…it [the morality play] only works if you think of the European debt crisis as a crisis of Greece, where the governance really was terrible, the economic institutions weak and the labor market coddled. It doesn’t work for Ireland. Or for Spain, which was running a budget surplus as recently as 2005. And is anyone in this conversation really pretending to have deep knowledge of the character of Portugal?

Germans will perceive a moral issue in guaranteeing the solvency of these countries, whether or not they think those countries have “done anything wrong.”  My moral view is not exactly theirs (if I may generalize about various German views), but I hardly think such a German response is beyond the pale.  You can believe “we are not obliged to bail out a country that won’t pay us back, and with whom we wrote a no bail-out agreement,” without believing “they are morally culpable.”

Matt Yglesias tweets:

If there’s a “reasonable probability” euro crisis will “crush the german economy” that’s a sufficient case for action

Not necessarily, not if the action raises risk and raises the badness of a bad outcome, which indeed it does.  Have any of us actually done the decision analysis here?  I don’t see it.  Note also that Matt has been critical of Merkel in the past; now he is asking her to undertake a course of action which a bad politician would be incapable of seeing through.  We will need maestros, and maestras, to get this one right.

Ryan Avent writes:

Sometimes a bank run is just a bank run, and a moralising approach that fails to stop it does nothing but harm millions of innocent bystanders. The desire to stick with the moralising approach may nonetheless prove attractive in Germany and elsewhere.

I think solvency problems are very much on the line here, and a perpetual guarantee of the debts of other economies is not a trivial no-brainer, morally or otherwise.  It is doing much more than stopping a bank run, and once the guarantees are issued, through what credible mechanism can the plug ever be pulled on a country such as Italy, given the economic carnage which would result?

Reflecting on these responses in toto, I view these writers are wanting to make it a moral issue: “why can’t the mighty Germany simply solve this problem?  What is wrong with them and their moral views?” I view these writers as reacting to my original post — written in multiple voices and with parentheses in the title I should stress — with a bit of mood affiliation.  I view myself as trying to explain why moralizing perspectives miss the real difficulties in crafting a solution.