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July 24, 2014 12:46 PM The $21 Gift Horse

By James Wimberley

David Klemencic is one of the appellants in the Halbig v. Burwell lawauit that threatens to upend the entire subsidy scheme in the federal ACA exchanges. (He turned out to be the key one to establish standing as an injured party, here page 9.) He objects to paying $21 a year for a Bronze policy with the subsidies. That’s not a number picked from thin air, it’s a calculation supplied under oath by Donald Moulds, the acting assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the HHS (h/t Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones). On the open market, the cover would cost the 20-year-old Klemencic $1600 by his own account. If he refuses to buy the policy, he will become liable to pay a fine of $100. That’s the injury he complains of. The gift horse has the wrong-shaped ears.

You have to marvel at the principled folly of American libertarians. A man is offered health insurance worth $1600 a year for $21, and he refuses it because it comes from the evil coercive government. He’d rather die – and on his own principles no doubt should, if he injures himself badly enough with his own nail gun and there’s no third party to sue. In practice, he would go to the ER as a free rider on the state taxpayers under pre-ACA rights to emergency treatment, but no doubt he would overcome his principles and submit to help.

My question is about the ethics of the behaviour of Michael Cannon and Jonathan Adler, the right-wing policy wonk and jurist who ginned up the case. You come across a loon who proposes to do something dangerous and totally against his own interests, like removing the seatbelts from his car or the fire extinguisher from his boat, because. What’s the right thing to do? Either try to persuade him to change his mind, or report him to the cops, or pass by on the other side as experience suggests that the other courses are ineffective and loons will be loons. That’s not what Cannon and Adler did. To all appearances, they encouraged him in his self-destructive behaviour, inflating his grievance into joining their high-profile lawsuit. He can’t change his mind now without shame. That was plain wrong. Adler sometimes comments here, so I invite him to defend his actions.

The omelette for which Klemencic serves these libertarian nihilists as the broken egg will break many more if their Cunning Plan comes off and the Supremes support nutty textualism against common sense out of conservative spite. The HHS will stop paying the subsidies to nearly 5 million policyholders through the federal exchanges, creating a massive discrimination with those lucky enough to live in California or Kentucky. Many will have to cancel their policies and become ininsured. A number of policyholders and their family members will die as a result, before the law can be repaired federally (at earliest in 2017), or holdout states set up their own exchanges (in some cases, never). Fiat iniustia, ruat caelum.

If your child died as a result of the actions of Klemencic, Cannon and Adler, would you think of guns? It would be the manly frontier thing to do.

BTW, my uninformed prediction is that the panel decision of the DC Circuit will be reversed en banc, aligning it with the 4th Circuit, and the Supremes will decline to take the case to save themselves the embarrassment of another split decision advertising their internal political divisions or a conservative climbdown. Maybe I’m an optimistic liberal loon.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

July 24, 2014 9:12 AM They’re Not Harry Reid’s Judges

By Jonathan Bernstein

Mind if I get a little cranky?

I’ve been reading commentary, from both liberal and conservative perspectives, that explains the presence of a Democratic majority on the full D.C. Circuit Court as a result of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision last year to “go nuclear” on the Senate filibuster, imposing simple-majority cloture.

That’s not technically wrong. But it’s not really correct, either.

The underlying story isn’t about the filibuster at all. The reason that the majority of the court’s judges was appointed by Democrats is very simple: Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 and 2012. Oh, and since 2007 the Senate has had a unified Democratic majority, as well.

Under such conditions, the natural course of events was for Obama to nominate, and the Senate to confirm, judges to openings on the federal bench. That didn’t happen. Instead, the Senate minority blockaded three seats on the DC Circuit Court, and pledged to continue defeating any nominees for those positions for the duration of Obama’s second term. Not only was this unprecedented, as far as I know the notion of reflexively blocking all presidential appointments had never occurred to a Senate majority before, let alone a minority. Yes, individual appointments to the federal bench had been blocked over the years for various reasons, including some partisan ones. And yes, during George W. Bush’s presidency, as the filibuster war escalated, Democrats targeted a handful of nominees who they considered “extreme.” And at the very end of a presidency it’s not unusual — it may be even reasonable — for the Senate to shut down nominations for lifetime appointments.

But three circuit court seats? Blockaded for a full presidential term? No way.

Given the election of a Democrat to the White House and a 55-to-45 Democratic majority in the Senate, Reid absolutely had to react. My point isn’t that presidents should automatically get all their nominations confirmed. Indeed, it’s very unfortunate that the Senate went nuclear; I actually support cloture by supermajority for judicial appointments. But the system can’t work if the minority abuses its rights.

Identifying Reid and the Democrats as the key actors in the confirmation fight gets everything backward. From 2009 to 2013, Republicans began treating the routine nomination and confirmation of judges as some sort of extraordinary power grab. They accused Obama of “packing” the courts merely by exercising his constitutional obligation to appoint judges to vacancies. That intransigence made the filibuster untenable. When Republicans refused to abide by longstanding institutional norms, majority-imposed reform became necessary for the Senate to function at all. That’s not a story about Obama, Reid or Democrats. The decisive actors were Republicans. We shouldn’t suggest otherwise.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

July 23, 2014 4:40 PM America Is Not Superman

By Jim Sleeper

As a stopped clock is right twice a day, the American pundits I criticized here in May and June — Leon Wieseltier, David Brooks, William Kristol - were right to warn that Vladimir Putin is a menace and that his Russia is evolving into a danger to liberal democracy. It doesn’t matter that Putin didn’t have his finger on the trigger of the anti-aircraft missile that brought this truth home to Europeans whose pusillanimity our pundits never tire of exposing.

The same pundits - and I would add Charles Krauthammer, Robert Kagan, Richard Cohen, Roger Cohen, and many more — were also right when they said such things and worse about Saddam Hussein, even if they were wrong then about who had what finger on what triggers. But where did their alarums take us and Iraqis?

The answers are horrifying enough to justify our asking what’s driving such people’s constant warnings and where their current drum-banging would take us, Europe, and Russia.

What, we’re entitled to ask, drove some of these same pundits to urge the United States to arm mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, thereby empowering the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden? What drove some of them to agitate for war with Iran? What drove some of them even to justify the Vietnam War, even retroactively, against its obvious folly?

What has always driven them to expend so much energy disparaging and discrediting those who’ve doubted the wisdom of such ventures? Might there be a pattern of motivations - a syndrome - that only occasionally intersects with reality, as it seems to be doing now in Ukraine?

That it is a pattern, not just a disjointed series of bad judgments, is evident in the writings of the pundits themselves. “The world has become normal again,” wrote Robert Kagan in 2007, exulting that liberal democrats who’d imagined “the end of history” with the end of the Cold War were awakening to the eternal necessity of face-offs with thugs in places such as Iraq, in Iran, in Libya, in Syria, and so on.

What drives his and others’ exultation, not to say gloating, about liberals belated recognition of dangers such as the one that brought down the Malaysian Airlines flight is their understandable but misdirected obsession with dispelling the specter of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in Munich, 1938.

Kagan and the others feel driven to dispel that specter — and to make the world safe for a liberal world order they’ve become incapable of questioning - by reviving neo-Wilsonian war fevers of 1917 and Wolfowitzian war fevers of 1997/2003.

They never reckon seriously with the truth that the first of these war fevers only seeded the rise of fascism and Communism from within the interstices of the liberal world order they supposedly championed, leaving us with World War II, the specter of nuclear Armageddon, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and other disasters

The second, Wolfowitizian fevers delivered what we’ve torn open and left broken in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Similarly misdirected if understandable obsessions have driven Israel to seed something worse than what it might have enabled had its leaders not been just as obsessed as Kagan and his cohort.

Certainly these pundits’ warning that much of the world is cold, dark, and hard is a truism: It’s always true on one level, but not always therefore useful, and sometimes it’s actually destructive. Someone who’s demonstrably fixated on issuing such warnings, not just twice a day but every hour of the day, has probably internalized a bit too much of the world’s coldness, darkness and hardness to be very effective in countering it.

There are indeed times (as I put it here in March) when liberals must fight to defend liberalism and defeat enemies who’ve arisen, as did fascism and much of Communism, from within the interstices and contradictions of liberal capitalism itself. I endorsed the historian Timothy Snyder’s claim that “the real danger to a democratic Europe is Putin’s aggrieved, aggressive, and suppurating Russia.”

But some pundits and political leaders such as Rudy Giuliani, whose 2008 presidential bid was supported by some of the pundits I’ve mentioned, seem to live for such times — and to forget or deny that the Western liberal order fosters some of these menaces and won’t truly overcome them by displacing all of the blame onto the obvious outliers and outlaws.

That so many American opinion makers and political leaders (and the Rupert Murdochs who encourage them) fail to understand and actively blur such distinctions is as great a danger as Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin are to our republic and its deepest sources of strength. That’s the tragedy of the bellicose pundits. It should be explored with greater depth (and even empathy) than I can offer in this post.

But if you have literally two minutes to watch a humorous instance of this tragic misunderstanding and miscarriage of American strength and promise, watch this exchange, which I witnessed in Amsterdam in 2009, between Robert Kagan and one of his favorite targets, France’s then-foreign minister Dominique DeVillepin, who had blocked Security Council approval of the Iraq War.

Watch Kagan exult that even though Americans have only “piggy-backed” on Western civilization and the Enlightenment instead of creating a civilization themselves, they’ve become —like Superman, on whose example Kagan says proudly that he was raised — the most trustworthy defenders of that civilization “from Europe” itself. Feel his truism’s allure, as the editors of The New Republic undoubtedly did when they published Kagan’s recent essay, “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire.”

Then watch DeVillepin explain what Kagan missed: That Superman today not only rescues people from catastrophes; he generates them, financially, culturally, and militarily, and sometimes resembles a Frankenstein. And think about where Americans are now, thanks partly to the misapprehensions propagated by Kagan, Kristol, Wieseltier, and Brooks. Freedom and the American republic are in trouble, alright, but these writers’ bad judgment is no small part of the reason.

July 23, 2014 11:23 AM Chuck Schumer Gets Primaries All Wrong

By Jonathan Bernstein

In an op-ed today endorsing the California two-two primary system, Senator Chuck Schumer gets so many things wrong, in so many ways, that I can’t get to it all in one post.

I’ll stick, for now, to the most basic and pragmatic reason Schumer is wrong: the reform he trumpets wouldn’t achieve what he says it would.

The New York Democrat is upset about partisan polarization. But the top-two primary system doesn’t produce less polarization. FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten has a nice review of some of the academic literature. The evidence doesn’t support any kind of moderating effect.

Instead, political scientists have found that parties are adapting to the rules and finding ways to get the candidate they want anyway. That’s roughly analogous to what happened in presidential nominations after reform took power away from the national convention and placed it in state primaries and caucuses. At first, the results were random and unstable. Over time, however, the party actors adapted, and learned to use the “invisible primary” period to compete for and coordinate over the nomination. By the time the voters get involved, the parties send powerful cues about which candidate or candidates are acceptable, and the others either drop out or have little chance.

The primaries and caucuses aren’t exactly rigged; formally, they still have the power to nominate, and its technically possible for a Herman Cain or Dennis Kucinich to win. Moreover, if party actors — the politicians, formal party officials and staff, campaign and governing professionals, activists, party-aligned interest groups and party-aligned partisan media who have the biggest say in nomination politics — don’t reach a consensus, the parties and caucuses choose between the finalists, as Democrats did in 2008. But realistically, if a consensus can be reached among those leaders, then party voters are going to get the message and go along.

Multicandidate, one-round primary elections are already a fairly random and unstable way to choose nominees. Add the further complication of “top-two,” and the parties are going to have even more incentive to settle their differences before the vote instead of accepting whatever outcome emerges. And since party actors are polarized and more ideological than rank-and-file voters, it’s no surprise that these primaries will produce winners who act at least as polarized as those who come out of regular primaries.

Schumer points to post-reform California as a success story (his other example, Louisiana, is hardly a cradle of good government). Yet as Seth Masket noted a while ago, California is an example of how smoothly united government can run. Since the one-party government elected in a 2012 landslide has the Democrats in charge, it’s no wonder that Schumer likes the results. But if that’s the case, what he likes is the results of party polarization: unified ideological parties given full control of government get a lot done. Top-two had nothing to do with it.

Schumer also gets wrong the role of gerrymandering (no, it doesn’t cause polarization) and big money (no, it wasn’t caused by Citizens United and other recent court decisions). Not to mention that his history is all wrong — the proliferation of presidential primaries were in fact a consequence of McGovern-Fraser reforms, but primaries for other offices preceded that by about 50 years. And then there’s the question of polarization itself, which is far more complicated than he lets on. But for now, the basic point is that the top-two reform just doesn’t eliminate, or even moderate, partisan polarization.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

July 23, 2014 9:33 AM The Enduring Myth of the “Killer Heroin”

By Keith Humphreys

I was at a meeting with the Australian drug addiction researcher Shane Darke last week, which gave me the chance to congratulate him for publically predicting correctly that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s autopsy would show that the actor’s tragic overdose death was due to a combination of drugs and not an unusually strong or contaminated batch of heroin.

I talked with Harold Pollack recently about how careful research on overdoses destroyed my prior belief in “killer heroin” hype:

There’s a very nice paper just out by Professors Shane Darke and Michael Farrell, who are two of the world’s leading experts on the topic…toxicology studies of overdosed people very rarely find that impurities played an important role…victims didn’t particularly receive high doses, either. Such findings surprised me. The fact that we’ve got 16,000 people a year dying from pure, legally-manufactured opiate analgesics shows you that it’s really not about the unpredictability of illegal markets, it’s about the drugs per se.

The killer heroin/impure heroin narrative sounds plausible on its face, but the data completely undermine it. Data notwithstanding, here it is again from Isaac Campos in a recent article by German Lopez.

The most dangerous thing about taking heroin right now is you don’t know what you’re really taking. You don’t know how pure it is, which makes it very easy to overdose,” Campos says

I can’t be judgmental of Campos as I would have said the same thing, with confidence, at one point (particularly before the nation was flooded with pure, consistent, labeled opioids like Oxycodone and the result was…an overdose epidemic). But I would respectfully ask him and everyone else to look at the data on overdoses and have a rethink. Successfully tackling the overdose crisis — which is now causing almost as many deaths in the U.S. a year as AIDS did at its peak — will not be facilitated by incorrect assumptions about the nature of the problem.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

July 22, 2014 8:39 AM Tangled-Web Department

By Mark Kleiman

Julia Ioffe, reporting on the insane theories about the Maylasian jetliner peddled on Russian TV and in Russian newspapers, points reports that Vladimir Putin is now caught in a trap of his own making.

Russian mass media is now dominated by an extreme-nationalist lunatic fringe, built up by Putin and his cronies but no longer under their detailed control. And the alternative reality presented there influences not only mass public opinion but also elite opinion, since to stay in touch people with real decisions to make have to pay attention to the prolefeed. If Putin wanted to act responsibly, he’d be swimming against the tide. Yes, it’s his tide, in the sense that he made it, but Ioffe - quoting a Karl Rove/Mark Penn figure named Gleb Pavlovsky, who fell out with Putin after helping to engineer his last election - suggests that he cannot control it in detail.

It’s a scary picture.

What’s scarier is that, if you change the names, it applies to the relationships among the plutocrats, the GOP apparatchiki, and the world of the Murdochized press, the Koch-driven think-tanks, and Red Blogistan.

Orwell was right: there are historical moments when insisting that 2+ 2 = 4 is a radical political act.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

July 21, 2014 6:05 PM The Decline of America’s National Innovation System

By Robert D. Atkinson

Understanding the value of innovation, where it comes from, and how to enhance it is vital for American policymakers trying to improve national economic performance.

Unfortunately, America’s innovation environment - our “national innovation system” (NIS) – is currently threatened by misguided public distrust of technological progress and the economic, political, and social institutions that help create it.

While the right cringes at “crony capitalism” and insists the government should not partner with private industries, the left equates business success to the “one-percent.” Combined, these viewpoints contribute to “neo-Ludditism,”a growing fear of innovation and technological progress, whether regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), big data, or automation. Misconceptions of how technology will impact privacy, labor markets, health outcomes, and personal freedoms are perpetuated by interest groups and the media and damage America’s ability to effectively compete internationally in the most advanced industries.

These trends are particularly troubling given the efforts of our global competitors to strengthen their own innovation systems and promote their use in boosting economic and job growth.

As I describe in a recent report, America’s National Innovation System is best understood as being comprised of three separate components: (1) a strong and collaborative business environment; (2) a supportive trade, tax, and regulatory environment; and (3) an innovation policy environment that supports research, entrepreneurship, and human capital development. Together, these three components can be visualized as an innovation “triangle,” with each “side” supporting a valuable success factor necessary for excelling in a globalized, knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy. Three strong sides will foster economic evolution and keep a nation at the top of the world economy.

It is clear that the first side of the triangle - the business environment in America – remains strong. U.S. firms are among the tops in the world in reinvesting profits in information technology goods, providing venture capital, and offering financing options to firms.

The second side of the triangle - the U.S. trade and tax environment – is also healthy. Because our system primarily focuses on protecting and benefitting consumers of goods and services—as opposed to producers—the United States erects few barriers to entry for new businesses. When market forces fail to deliver competition, stringent anti-trust policies ensure non-monopolistic prices for consumers. As a result, our regulatory, standards, and intellectual property systems are actually fairly good at keeping up with technology and adapting to accommodate new entrants.

Of course there is room for improvement. At times, businesses are caught focusing on short-term profits at the expense of long-term objectives as Americans become increasingly unwilling to invest in the future. Moreover, budget cuts for regulatory agencies means they have less ability to calculate the costs and benefits of individual regulations, decreasing efficiency and effectiveness. Consequentially, the regulatory burden for young firms has increased over the last 20 years, and it is now easier to open a business in Canada than in the United States.

But the national innovation policy environment, which used to be America’s strength, is perhaps the weakest component of the American innovation success triangle. The United States does not provide nearly enough federal funding for research and development (R&D) in pure and applied sciences, which has led to a steady decline in technological discoveries, advancements, and commercialization by U.S. companies. American labs and universities also fail to effectively facilitate technology transfers to the private sector or to develop the public/private partnerships which are necessary to produce successful high-tech innovation clusters.

Furthermore, the American education system produces an under-supply of graduates with the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills demanded by the most advanced sectors of the economy. Finally, America turns away too many highly-skilled immigrants who create new businesses, engage in academic research, and infuse creative energy into the economy.

The United States used to have the world’s strongest innovation triangle. However, as other nations have realized and the United States has not, nations are currently in a race to build the most effective National Innovation Systems. The nation that wins this race will reap the rewards of future economic prosperity and global leadership that the United States enjoyed since the end of World War II. Already, American high-tech manufacturing strength is slipping and our advantage in science and technological discovery has greatly diminished.

To rebuild the world’s strongest National Innovation System, the United States must strengthen trade, tax, and regulatory institutions, implement policies to encourage research, human capital development, and the flow of ideas, and abandon its absurd phobia of scientific advancement. If we fail to do so, the United States will be left with a slower economy, fewer jobs and a less prosperous society overall.

[Cross-posted at Republic 3.0]

July 21, 2014 9:44 AM Three Ways of Looking at Marijuana Consumption Data

By Keith Humphreys

Here’s a nice chart from Andrew Sullivan on marijuana consumption in Colorado. It illustrates a point that has been made many times by drug policy analysts such as Mark Kleiman and Beau Kilmer: The total volume of pot consumption is accounted for almost entirely by users who smoke every day or nearly every day. Envisioning how different stakeholders would respond to this evidence can be helpful both for appreciating the impossibility of value-free evidence-based policy and for understanding one of the basic dilemmas of legal marijuana regulation.

colorado

AT THE PUBLIC HEALTH CONFERENCE: “Colleagues, you can see from this chart that not all marijuana users are of equal concern to us. Some people use the drug rarely, and we know that such users tend to be high social capital individuals who could set their lives right in the unlikely event that they did develop a drug problem. So we should focus instead on these heavy users in the bottom two bars of the chart, who tend not incidentally to be people with less education, less income and poorer access to health care. The evidence we have shows that the primary risks of this drug, for example marijuana dependence, mental health problems and poor school and work performance, are concentrated in the subset of people who use every day or almost every day. Let us therefore resolve to keep the size of this group as small as possible through high taxes that discourage heavy consumption, caps on THC content that reduce the ability of the drug to promote dependence and limits on advertising and points of sale in vulnerable communities.”

AT THE CORPORATE BOARD MEETING: “Well friends, you can see from this chart that not all of our customers are of equal concern to us. We can’t make much money from the people in the top few bars of the chart, so we should focus mainly on the heavy users who provide us the bulk of our revenue. We need to move as much of the population as possible into this high-revenue bracket. So let’s all agree to press for lower taxes, higher THC content and as much advertising and as many retail locations as possible in the communities where our best customers tend to live.”

AT THE STATE LEGISLATURE: “Fellow committee members, as you know we have seen this chart twice today, once when the public health advocates visited and again when the marijuana industry lobbyists visited. Both groups agreed on the evidence but they wanted us to respond to it in opposite ways. And that’s not the end of what we have to consider. The state budget analyst’s office has calculated that almost 90% of the marijuana tax revenue we wanted from legalization comes from the people in the bottom bars of this chart. We care about public health but our budget situation this year is challenging and a marijuana tax revenue drop might force us to sacrifice other important priorities.”

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

July 21, 2014 9:40 AM Does Socialism Cause Dishonesty?

By Mark Kleiman

Here’s an interesting natural experiment.

For external, historical reasons, workers in one half of a culturally and linguistically unified but politically divided country had the right to organize unions to defend their interests against employers, while in the other half of that country workers’ organizations were state-controlled in the interests of management, and genuine union activity was punished by firing if not worse.  After that country was reunified, randomly chosen people from the union half and the non-union half were subjected to a standard psychological test measuring the propensity to cheat.  Those who had grown up under conditions were ordinary people could defend themselves openly from oppression by their bosses turned out to be more honest than their peers from the non-union part of the country.

Conclusion: Unionization makes people behave well, while union-busting makes them behave badly. 

Of course, it’s not an entirely clean experiment. The non-union side (East Germany) was under foreign control, with a secret-police network that recruited as much as one-third of the population as informants. So possibly dishonesty is caused by living in a world of fear and distrust, rather than by the absence of workers’ rights alone.

Worse than that, the non-union half was systematically looted by the occupying power, while the union half was treated much better by its conquerors and became rich. So maybe it’s scarcity, rather than or in addition to denial of workers’ rights, that makes people dishonest.

Still and all the result  is what it is: a strong labor movement is associated with improved morality.

Only somehow that’s not the conclusion the authors of the study (including Don Ariely, a prominent behavioral economist and the author of a good semi-popular book on the subject, Predictably Irrational) decided to draw. Instead, they focused on the fact that West Germany had, alongside wealth, the rule of law, personal freedom, and a strong trade-union movement, a primarily market-based economy, while East Germany was under the Soviet system – what Orwell accurately labeled “oligarchic collectivism” – with arbitrary government with no rule of law and no respect for human rights; residents could be and were shot for trying to emigrate, and many tried just the same.

Using a definition favored only by Bolsheviki and fans of plutocracy, Ariely et al. elect to call the East German tyranny “socialism,” and pretend that their study shows that living under “socialism” worsens the morals of a population.

Having reached an extreme conclusion from a single poorly-defined case study, Ariely and his colleagues then stop, without trying to test their conclusion out of sample. Sweden, for example, has great personal liberty, honest government, and the rule of law, but much more state ownership of enterprise, more tightly regulated markets, and a far more redistributive tax-and-transfer system than Germany.  Swedes are also (if we restrict our attention to mostly-Lutheran Northern Germany) culturally similar to Germans.

Would Ariely and his co-authors be willing to bet that Swedes are less honest than Germans (or Norwegians, living under a regime closer to German mixed capitalism than to Swedish social democracy)?  If so, I’m happy to take the other end of the bet.

The same applies if we were to compare Israelis raised in explicitly socialist kibbutzim to other Israelis, or  Englishpeople  raised before the Thatcher era with those raised after, or Canadians with Americans. (After all, the same people who use the word “socialist” to describe Stalinist tyranny also use it to describe national health insurance.)

Of course in all of those cases one could name other factors that might influence the outcomes. But that’s precisely the point: the same is true of the German case. Yet Ariely and his colleagues seem to think they’ve proven something, and the Economist and Alex Tabarrok (who certainly knows better) at Marginal Revolution and Mark J. Perry at AEI (who may not know better) swallow it whole, without raising a single methodological red flag. “When it comes to ethics, a capitalist upbringing appears to trump a socialist one,” trumpets the Economisthoping, that its readers will vote to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer by “reforming” union power out of the labor markets.

To call this a “mistake” would, it seems to me, be far too generous. A blunder that extreme only happens when the people making it want to fool themselves and others. It’s an example of what Dan Kahan calls “motivated cognition.”

Do the thought experiment for yourself.  Imagine that the results had come out the other way: say, showing that Chileans became less honest while Pinochet’s minions were gouging out their opponents’ eyeballs and Milton Friedman was gushing about the “miracle of Chile”? How do you think the paper would read, and what do you think the Economist, Marginal Revolution, and AEI would have had to say about its methods?

I know that some of my libertarian friends consider my views of their movement uncharitable, but honest to God, the combination of high IQ and good formal economics training with great willingness to believe and repeat obvious nonsense that characterizes that group is really hard to take.  Of course con-cons and professional lefties also believe some truly stupid sh*t,  but neither group is as good as the glibertarians at pretending to be Serious Social Scientists.

Here’s a Pro Tip: If you never reach and publish a conclusion that doesn’t support  your prejudices, no on has any reason to take any of your results seriously.

Footnote Yes, publishing, or promoting, a shoddy piece of propaganda disguised as “research” does get a bit self-referential when the nominal topic is “dishonesty.”

Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

July 21, 2014 9:36 AM The Road to Bipartisanship Does Not Lie Through Campaign Finance Reform

By Seth Masket

The amount of money crossing the national and state party books is seen as a good indicator of party strength. So when party soft money was banned in 2002, opponents of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act proclaimed, in simple syllogistic fashion, that parties would perforce be weakened. And when subsequent judicial decisions and administrative actions or inactions loosened the restrictions on political money not directly flowing through the parties, the further weakening of parties was inevitable. These claims seem perfectly logical and sensible, but they fall short of achieving empirical confirmation—over the last few years, two decades and century.

That’s from a very nice new paper (PDF) from Thomas Mann and Anthony Corrado entitled “Party Polarization and Campaign Finance,” published this week by Brookings. If you want to understand the recent history of campaign finance regulation in the United States as well as its tenuous relationship with party polarization, I encourage you to give it a read.

In particular, Mann and Corrado note that the informal network nature of parties makes the idea of disempowering them by defunding them pretty much a non-starter. They also go over the recent research on the ideological stances of small donors, large donors, and megadonors, noting some important differences but also concluding that such donors have played only a very small role, and possibly no role at all, in the polarization of Congress. Appropriately, they address differences between the two parties on these important trends.

Their conclusion is rather a disappointing one for those who desire both depolarization and less spending in politics: not only is campaign finance reform unlikely to mitigate partisanship, but you’re probably not going to get serious campaign finance reform in the current polarized environment. Nonetheless, I strongly encourage people concerned about these issues to read this piece.

[Cross-posted at The Mischiefs of Faction]

July 18, 2014 1:52 PM Why “Ann Coulter” Would Love Cricket

By Henry Farrell

Somehow I saw this rather lame attempt to parody Ann Coulter yesterday. I don’t mind football, I’ve even come to enjoy watching it a bit as a result of my daughter’s enthusiasm, but I do enjoy the odd rant against it, and have always found it funny that Americans assume that because of my accent I have a favorite team and know the offside rule (I don’t have a favorite team, but I do know the offside rule, though my knowing it is rather like my ability to recall the entire cast of the Love Boat, the result of an unhealthy tendency to remember entirely unimportant things that I don’t care about).

So here are “Coulter”’s objections to football (many of which, btw, suggest “she” has never seen a game), with responses providing evidence that the article is, in fact, an attempt by Geoffrey Boycott to popularize cricket among American conservatives:


1. Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls—all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out, they’re standing alone at the plate. But there’s also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks.

Cricket: wickets, sixes, fours, catches, run—outs; long hops, dropped catches, hit wicket, Alastair Cook’s current form. Anyway, the perfect balance between teamwork and individual achievement/failure.

2. No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level.

Cricket isn’t co-ed (whatever that means).

3. No other “sport” ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer.

Cricket: No scoreless ties. On this count cricket is superior to all “American” sports, because even scored ties are almost impossible, and are the most thrilling games of all (33 first class ties since 1948, worldwide). If scoring is what you care about, cricket beats all other sports hands down: the 1st test between India and England last week yielded 1342 runs and 29 wickets!

4. The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport…Baseball and basketball present a constant threat of personal disgrace [sic: I assume from context she means danger—ed]. In hockey, there are three or four fights a game—and it’s not a stroll on beach to be on ice with a puck flying around at 100 miles per hour.

Cricket: The ball is smaller than, and heavier than, a baseball, and it (normally) hits the ground before reaching the batsman: 85-90 miles an hour are not uncommon speeds. The fielders routinely catch the ball at similar speeds. Oh, and none of this wimpy “mitt” business. Bare hands. Sometimes just a few feet away from where the ball is hit. . Oh, and Ewen Chatfield.

5. You can’t use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs.

Cricket: plenty of hands (bowling, catching (see above), holding bats, etc)

6. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is “catching on” is exceeded only by the ones pretending women’s basketball is fascinating. I note that we don’t have to be endlessly told how exciting football is.

Cricket: NOBODY is telling you how exciting cricket is, or that it is catching on. [NOTE: in fact we are being constantly told how exciting “football” is: it’s constantly marketed, and, incidentally, talent-development is achieved mainly through huge public subsidies in the form of funding for public high school athletic directors, football fields, uniforms, and coaches; at a cost to the actual education of kids in those high schools (not just the opportunity cost of the funds but, worse, principals who knowingly hire incompetent social studies and science teachers because they will be good coaches).]

7. It’s foreign.

Cricket: its existence in the US predates both American Football and Baseball. The first official international cricket match was an all-North American affair, and took place in New York. Cricket was, in the 1840s and 1850s “by far the biggest sport in the USA”.
Oh, also, one of the two greatest books about cricket,Anyone But England: Cricket and the National Malaise, is by a North American Marxist; and the other, Beyond a Boundary, is by a Marxist who lived in the US for 15 years (before, admittedly, being deported).

8. Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it’s European. Naturally, the metric system emerged from the French Revolution, during the brief intervals when they weren’t committing mass murder by guillotine.

Cricket: Actually, I didn’t understand this point, it just seemed like a random stringing together of words, but, whatever cricket is like, it is not like the metric system.

9. Soccer is not “catching on.” Headlines this week proclaimed “Record U.S. ratings for World Cup,” and we had to hear—again—about the “growing popularity of soccer in the United States.”

Cricket: Nobody is telling you that cricket is “catching on”. But it is.

[Cross-posted at Crooked Timber]

July 18, 2014 9:29 AM What Republican Foreign-Policy Fight?

By Jonathan Bernstein

Kevin Drum asks:

Honest question here. I’ve been wondering this for a while, but it crystallized last night after reading this Ross Douthat post about conservative foreign policy. My question is: Is there really a big foreign policy split in the Republican Party?

Good question. Drum says that if this is simply a fight between Senator Rand Paul and everyone else, it isn’t a meaningful split. And Paul is much quicker to seek rhetorical safe ground than his father was.

The way to look at this question is to remember that most of the time, and for most people in both parties, foreign affairs and national security aren’t central to either their electoral prospects or their policy concerns. Other than in times of war, voters generally don’t care about foreign policy. With the exception of people who specialize in the issue, the same appears to be true of many politicians and governing professionals from both parties.

So unless a party believes its electoral interests are at stake or unless new people enter the party who care passionately about foreign policy, the debate takes place mostly among specialists. For Republicans, many of those were either in the George W. Bush administration or strong cheerleaders for its actions. And many of them never stopped defending the Bush administration’s record.

It’s interesting that, over the last decade, very few Republicans seem to have seen the Bush foreign-policy record as an electoral risk, at least beyond the course correction immediately after the 2006 election. That’s very different from the way Democrats reacted to their own foreign-policy fiascos in 1968 and after.

So I suppose the answer is that there is a foreign-policy split between the Paulites and an overwhelming majority of the Republican Party. And that many sensible Republicans within that majority believe something when horribly wrong among their national security-professionals in the middle of the last decade, but there’s no movement to do anything about it.

This isn’t a recipe for future policy success.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

July 18, 2014 9:13 AM Weekend Film Recommendation: He Walked By Night

By Keith Humphreys

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Last week I recommended The Naked City, one of the many crime investigation procedurals that became popular after World War II and continue to be a staple of television and movies today. This week’s recommendation opened in theaters a few months after The Naked City, but is markedly different than that film because of its pronounced noir elements: He Walked by Night.

Normally, police detectives have substantial advantages over perpetrators. The typical violent offender is unintelligent, impulsive, minimally-skilled and ignorant of police procedures. But every once in awhile a criminal comes along who is smart, planful, technically proficient and knowledgeable about the investigative methods of law enforcement. One of such extraordinarily dangerous people was Erwin M. Walker, who repeatedly evaded Los Angeles law enforcement while engaging in an extended violent crime spree in 1946. He Walked by Night is a Dragnet-style dramatization of the Walker case, and indeed the origins of that famous radio and TV show are right here to see.

Richard Basehart gives an icily compelling portrayal of Walker, who is here re-named Roy Morgan. Basehart’s is particularly skilled at embodying Morgan’s disturbing level of emotional restraint, even when he is inflicting violence on others. The only visible break in the killer’s sociopathic detachment comes in a riveting scene in which he does meatball surgery on himself to remove a bullet from his ribcage. On the other side, Roy Roberts, as Police Captain Breen, is credible as usual in one of his many no-nonsense authority figure roles. Some of the portrayals of police procedure (e.g., the assembling of a composite sketch) will be dramatically slow for modern audiences who have seen it all before. But of course that wasn’t true of audiences in 1948, so be forgiving.

he walked by night 7The docudrama’s look is one of the many jewels in legendary cinematographer John Alton’s crown. In an interview, he said the crew and director all asked him where the lights were when they started filming the justly famous chase through the sewers. He told them that a single flashlight was enough, which gives you an idea of how very dark he preferred his shots. If you watch very carefully you will see that the king of darkness did have a trick up his sleeve: There are wires visibly trailing the actors in some of the sewer chase shots, indicating that he rigged the flashlights with much more powerful than usual light bulbs.

In addition to Alton’s bravura work behind the camera, this film also benefits from effective use of silence. In several highly arresting sequences (no pun intended), the sound goes dead as the police close in on the killer. The suspense is amped up enormously by these eerie scenes, as hunter and prey creep noiselessly through the dark until a violent confrontation shatters the silence.

The one mystery this film does not solve is who directed what. Alfred Werker got the director’s credit on screen, but it was later revealed that much of the film was actually directed by Anthony Mann (whose work I have previously touted here and here). Some scenes scream “Mann” in their style but others could have been directed by either him or Werker. Whoever did what, this taut, exciting film hangs together in tone and style with no directorial seams showing.

He Walked by Night is sadly little remembered today, but it did launch some much better known radio and television shows. Jack Webb, who plays a police investigator here, befriended L.A. police technical advisor Marty Wynn on the set and soon launched Dragnet to dramatize the real-life cases of the L.A.P.D. (FYI: This story is well-told in John Buntin’s terrific book L.A. Noir). Richard Basehart never became a big movie star, but was able to parlay his modest cinema success into a long-running career on television, most notably as Admiral Nelson on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

This thrilling, visually stunning docudrama is in the public domain, so I am posting it right here for you to enjoy.

p.s. The fabulous sewer chase sequence in one of the greatest films in British history, 1948′s The Third Man bears more than a little resemblance to the similar sequence in He Walked by Night. No one seems to know for sure, but given that He Walked by Night’s production studio, Eagle-Lion films, had extensive British ties it is entirely possible that Carol Reed et al saw this movie and decided to mount something along the same lines.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

July 17, 2014 8:06 AM Inflation Cranks Keep Cranking

By Ramesh Ponnuru

“I don’t think you have until 2012 before this gets out of control and there’s hyperinflation. It could go past that to 2014, but we’re seeing all sorts of things happening now that are accelerating the inflation process.” Thus spoke economist John Williams in May 2011.

The Consumer Price Index rose 1.6 percent in 2012 and another 1.6 percent in 2013. It has been rising at a somewhat faster clip so far this year, but slower than it was in, say, the first few months of 2008. The Billion Prices Project, which collects a wide range of data from online retailers, gives roughly the same picture as the CPI.

There’s no hyperinflation if you believe the official statistics.

Some people don’t, including Williams. His “Shadow Government Statistics” website argues that the government systematically understates inflation. Some conservatives and libertarians lend credence to his numbers, as Amity Shlaes does at National Review Online today.

Measuring inflation is admittedly tricky. But it’s easier to measure the total amount of goods and services produced and bought, and these output numbers tell a story that is much more consistent with the official version than the “shadow” statistics.

If inflation were as high as these conservatives claim, then the economy would have to be shrinking fast. Williams is willing to bite that bullet: His site would have you believe that the economy has been continuously shrinking since 2005. But if that’s the case, then we also ought to see rapidly rising unemployment. Even he isn’t willing to go that far.

People who think inflation is much higher than officially estimated generally argue that the Federal Reserve is hurting American consumers by raising the prices of food, gas and other necessities. That’s where Shlaes is coming from.

It’s certainly true that a looser monetary policy raises those prices and a tighter one would bring them down. But these policies would have the same effect on the price of labor. It’s the ratio of goods and prices to wages that matters for living standards. There’s no reason to think that the Fed’s policies are doing anything to increase the percentage of household budgets spent on food.

If we want to bring down the price of food relative to wages, we’d be better off looking at our agricultural policies than at our monetary policy. And we’d be better off, as well, if we stopped paying attention to statistical cranks.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

July 17, 2014 7:59 AM Mommy Police With Real Handcuffs

By Megan McArdle

A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

I’m not interested in defending mothers who are under stress or are low-wage workers without a lot of great child-care options. I mean, fine, but these defenses should be unnecessary because what the heck are we doing arresting parents for things that were perfectly normal 30 years ago?

At the age of 9, I walked to school with a group of other 9-year-olds. Or by myself. Across the very busy streets of the Upper West Side, at a time when New York City really was very dangerous. Past housing projects. Around construction sites. My sister rode the subway to school at that age. My best friend got on the crosstown bus by herself in the first grade. Attrition rate among my classmates and myself: 0.

Leaving an infant in a car is extremely dangerous, and parents should take great care not to do so, including buying something like this. Leaving an 11-year-old alone in the car is no more dangerous than letting her go to the ladies’ room by herself. Infants die in cars because they can’t regulate their own body temperature very well, open the doors or windows, or get out of the car. If your 11-year-old doesn’t know how to open your car doors or has to be strapped in, then by all means, take them into the store with you. But if you are the parent of a normal, healthy child, then there’s no reason that he or she cannot be left by themselves for a few minutes.

Nor is there any reason that a normally intelligent 9-year-old cannot be allowed to play in a busy, safe park by herself. Could something bad happen? Yes, though the risks of accident in a crowded park are pretty limited. But something bad can happen anywhere. The rate of stranger abductions is very low, and it has been very low for a long time. Yet when I ask parents why they can’t let their kid out of their sight, stranger abductions generally top the list.

You know what’s really dangerous to your child? Getting in a car. It’s the leading cause of death among kids ages 5 to 14, followed by cancer and drowning. Stranger abductions are way, way, way down on the list. Yet at the same time we’ve been tethering our children to our knees in an effort to make sure nothing bad ever happens, we’ve actually slightly increased the number of vehicle miles they travel. Why aren’t the cops on that?

You can argue that driving is necessary, but it seems to me that raising independent children is also necessary. Arresting parents who allow any child younger than a college freshman to spend time alone amounts to a legal mandate to keep kids timid and tethered. This should not be an object of public policy.

What is truly bizarre is that the cops cuffing these women were most likely raised with exactly the freedom they are now punishing. Do they think their parents should have been put in jail? Or have the intervening years rendered tweens unable to figure out how the car doors work?

I’m not saying that parents should take their toddlers into the wilderness and leave them there to hike their way out. What I can’t understand is how our society has lost the ability to distinguish between that and letting your pre-teen hang out in the car for a half-hour or spend some time in a nearby park. As Jessica Grose says, if this had been illegal in 1972, every single mother in America would have been in jail. Yet millions upon millions of us lived to tell the tale.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

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