Utility: It’s (increasingly) all in your mind

We are long past the days of “fat cats”, when rich people could afford to eat more food than poor people.  And I’d argue that this is increasingly true almost everywhere you look.  When I was young, a Cadillac Eldorado was a vastly different car from a VW Beetle or Datsun.  Especially if cruising down the highway at 80 mph.  Today Datsun is called Nissan (one of the stupidest name changes in US history).  And while an Infiniti is a bit more luxurious than a Nissan, and the BMW handles somewhat better, I no longer think the experience of driving the Nissan is much different from a typical luxury car.  Even the size is similar.  Here’s the interior of their economy model (Sentra):


I went to Zillow, and randomly pulled off an ad for a 2800 sq foot condo in Chelsea—this one priced at $11 million.  And here’s a random 2600 sq. foot condo in Oklahoma City, priced at $260,000.  The NYC unit is more tastefully designed by NYC standards, but the OKC unit is more luxurious by OKC standards. In the Chelsea unit, you might want to have a $4000 midcentury-modern Poäng chair designed by Alvar Aalto:


In the OKC home you could install the Ikea version of the chair (shown above) for $79, down from a (inflation-adjusted price of) $350 in 1990.  How much utility does one get from the $4000 chair?  How much from the $79 chair?  It’s depends how you think about it–it’s the same chair.

Over at Econlog, I recently did a post about our post-stuff economy.  I grew up in the “stuff economy”, and I don’t think I’ll ever adapt to this new one.  But I suppose the millennials are right, it’s stupid to accumulate lots of stuff, for all the reasons that philosophers have emphasized down through the ages.  The upshot of all this is that the concept of “economic inequality” will become increasingly amorphous.  It won’t disappear by any means, indeed it might get “worse” in some sense.  But it will be harder to measure.  As an analogy, both cancer patients and hypochondriacs feel lots of pain. In both cases, the pain is “all in their heads”. That’s where you feel pain.  And that’s also where you register utility. What’s new is that it’s increasingly difficult to connect utility with physical objects (tumors in my medical analogy). (By the standards of peasant life in the Middle Ages, we are all a bunch of hypochondriacs—every one of us.) This has implications for everything from measuring the “Great Stagnation” to adjusting Social Security for “cost of living” (what does that even mean?) increases.

PS.  OK, maybe it’s not all in your head. I can’t really deny that this guy is better off than I am.  I’m jealous:screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-3-30-07-pm

PPS.  Did Donald leave a window open?  Look at Melania’s dress.

PPPS.  Seriously, this is more my style.

PPPPS.  Off topic.  The rich plan to vote Democratic this time.

Shun people for their actions, not their beliefs

[I have a new macro post over at Econlog]

Tom Brown pointed me to a report by David French, on the abuse directed at conservative reporters who stood up for their principles:

I distinctly remember the first time I saw a picture of my then-seven-year-old daughter’s face in a gas chamber. It was the evening of September 17, 2015. I had just posted a short item to the Corner calling out notorious Trump ally Ann Coulter for aping the white-nationalist language and rhetoric of the so-called alt-right. Within minutes, the tweets came flooding in. My youngest daughter is African American, adopted from Ethiopia, and in alt-right circles that’s an unforgivable sin. It’s called “race-cucking” or “raising the enemy.”

I saw images of my daughter’s face in gas chambers, with a smiling Trump in a Nazi uniform preparing to press a button and kill her. I saw her face photo-shopped into images of slaves. She was called a “niglet” and a “dindu.” The alt-right unleashed on my wife, Nancy, claiming that she had slept with black men while I was deployed to Iraq, and that I loved to watch while she had sex with “black bucks.” People sent her pornographic images of black men having sex with white women, with someone photoshopped to look like me, watching.

As you read the article (and you really should read the entire piece) keep in mind that while Trump may or may not be alt-right, it is beyond dispute that his message is extremely popular among the alt-right, and that his campaign chairman previously ran Breitbart, a leading media outlet for the alt-right.

Erick Erickson experienced his own ordeal more than a month before we did. After Erickson dis-invited Trump from his Red State gathering, angry Trump supporters showed up at his house. A grown man yelled at his children at a store, condemning their father for opposing Trump. Erickson wrote in the New York Times that his son is still fearful that Trump supporters will come back to their home.

In March, writer Bethany Mandel related her own experience. After tweeting about Trump’s anti-Semitic followers, she was called “slimy Jewess” and told that she “deserves the oven.” It got worse:

Not only was the anti-Semitic deluge scary and graphic, it got personal. Trump fans began to “dox” me — a term for adversaries’ attempt to ferret out private or identifying information online with malicious intent. My conversion to Judaism was used as a weapon against me, and I received death threats in my private Facebook mailbox, prompting me to file a police report.

Nor are these isolated incidents:

Earlier this month, Mi-Ai Parrish, president of the Arizona Republic, wrote a powerful response to the deluge of threats and bullying prompted by the paper’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton. An Anti-Defamation League report identified 800 journalists who’ve been targeted with anti-Semitic tweets, ten journalists (including NR’s own Jonah Goldberg) who’ve borne the brunt of the attacks, and one — my friend Ben Shapiro — who’s received a staggering amount of hate:

The article is full of many more examples, including death threats.  And for these reporters and their families the abuse never ends.  Some are buying guns to protect their families. We are becoming more like Russia, where it’s open season on reporters.  No wonder the alt-right likes people like Putin and Trump, who have total contempt for a free press.

Trump and his sleazy alt-right supporters still have a 17% chance of winning the election next month. Imagine waking up Nov. 9th into that sort of America.

Yes, the alt-right is only a small share of Trump supporters, and there are crazy people in all ideologies.  But I think it’s fair to say that the conservative opposition to the Trump campaign (especially the Jewish conservative opposition) has been attacked with an unprecedented level of vitriol and abuse. This is not like other elections, and it’s because of one man.

This is even worse than political correctness.  They are just as intolerant as the left-wing campus PC police, and fight for a far more disgusting cause.

An Australian named Lorenzo is one of my most thoughtful commenters.  In the comment section of a previous post on PC run amok, he made the following observation:

The classical liberal tradition is that your worth as a person gave you the freedom to express your opinions.

The underlying PC principle is that your opinions set your worth as a person, which is, of course, exactly the same principle that Mao operated under, particularly during the Cultural Revolution.

Respect people who have different opinions from you, disrespect people who behave like bullies.


What can we learn from the 1988 election?

Most people who follow politics understand that the South “flipped” from the Dems to the GOP during the decades after the 1964 Civil Rights bill was signed.  You can see that the realignment was pretty far along by 1988, when Dukakis only won 10 states, almost all in the North (plus one border state and Hawaii):

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-1-32-01-pmI’m not sure if people are as aware that these sorts of changes keep occurring, even in this election.  Thus California and West Virginia flipped more recently (in opposite directions.)  Vermont voted for Bush in 1988!

Iowa may be the most recent flip.  Not only did Dukakis win Iowa in 1988, he won by double digits, even more than in his home state of Massachusetts.  I think it’s fair to say that Clinton won’t do better in Iowa than in Massachusetts!

Indeed as recently as 2012, Obama won Iowa by 6%, that’s more than his 4% margin in the overall election.  But even as Hillary leads this election by 6% or 7%, polls have her trailing in Iowa.  To be fair, the betting markets have the state a tossup, and the polls are a bit out of date.  But even a tossup is a significant change from 2012.  That result would be 7% more GOP than average, vs. 2% more Democrat than average in 2012.  A 9% swing to the red.

Note that Iowa is not a rust belt state.  Its unemployment rate peaked at only 6.6% during the Great Recession, and is now down to 3.8%. Minnesota is expected to go Democratic this time, but by less than usual.

Since Trump does especially well among older voters, there must be large numbers of Iowa Trump supporters who pulled the lever for Dukakis in 1988.  I’d be interested in someone doing a good sociological study of these voters.  Talk to them, and ask them how they migrated from supporting a cerebral limousine liberal in 1988 to a dumb right-wing populist nationalist today.  (OK, don’t say “dumb” to them.) Those positions are about as far apart as you can get.  There aren’t that many immigrants in Iowa, and foreign trade benefits Iowa.  What’s the key issue? Is it a cultural realignment?  The big cities versus small towns?  (Immigrants are 4.9% of Iowa’s population, vs. 13.3% nationally.)

These realignments will keep happening.  I mentioned how the South flipped to the GOP, but Virginia has already flipped back, and North Carolina is starting to move back.  Even Texas is gradually getting bluer.  If we are moving to a big cities vs. small towns split then Texas will continue to trend blue, but will Maine then move red?  Trump is doing better in Maine than expected.

These trends tell me that if the GOP is to rebuild, it will probably be in the Midwest. Iowa and Ohio are two of the states that are clearly trending red, but the close polls in Minnesota tells me that the entire region is edging that way. If Hillary is doing poorly (as I expect) a mainstream Republican might be able to win the Midwest in 2020.  I also expect to eventually see a realignment of racial groups, but I’m not sure when and how.

All we know for sure is that the map 50 years from now will look very different from today—shockingly different.  But how?

PS.  This same phenomenon is happening in Europe, often in similar ways (big cities and educated people trending left, and small towns and rust belts trending right.)

PPS.  Texas and Florida now have 38 and 29 electoral votes, while Pennsylvania’s dropped down to 20 and Ohio to 18.  Iowa dropped from 8 to 6.

PPPS.  I have a new post on the EMH (it’s even better than I thought) over at Econlog.

America’s Cultural Revolution: Six degrees of separation from insanity

[After writing this post I discovered a Scott Aaronson post with a similar theme. Needless to say his is 10 times better, and is the one to read if you only have time for one. And if you have time for both . . . well, you should reconsider how you allocate your time.]

The Chinese Cultural Revolution killed roughly 1,000,000 people. America’s version will kill approximately zero. So let’s get that off the table right away. Nonetheless, I’m beginning to understand why so many Chinese-Americans see a parallel between China’s Cultural Revolution and America’s PC insanity.  Here’s J.K. Trotter:

At the same time, most of Altman’s frustration is self-imposed. True, there is a compelling argument to be made that a person should not be fired over their support of a particular political candidate; in the most abstract terms, nobody wants to live in a world where a person’s employment is threatened by their political beliefs, so long as those beliefs do not bear on their job performance. Whether or not this argument holds water for someone of Thiel’s stature and power is open for debate.

That doesn’t sound too unreasonable.  But then it gets worse; he insists that Thiel should be removed from the board despite that high-minded rhetoric about freedom.

And then it gets even worse.  Trotter then says that Sam Altman should resign if Thiel is not removed.

So let’s see.  Not only should Trump be shunned for his appalling political views, an otherwise highly respected Silicon Valley entrepreneur who just happens to support Trump (along with 80 million other Americans) should also be shunned.  And a person who despises Trump and works against him but who defends Thiel’s right to his own political views should also resign.  Does that mean I should be shunned too?  After all, I’m a guy who hates Trump, writing a post that defends a guy who hates Trump, who wrote a post defending a guy’s freedom to support Trump, who in turn supports Trump.  And suppose my mother sticks up for me?  Should she also be shunned?

It’s almost enough to make me vote . . . no, just kidding.

Question for Trotter.  Which people on the left are beyond the pale?  Suppose Thiel had supported Hugo Chavez?  How about Castro?  Mao?  Pol Pot?  Perhaps the degrees of separation could be calibrated to the awfulness of the left-winger:

Chavez:  One degree of separation. (Corbyn, Sean Penn, etc.)

Castro:  Two degrees of separation is still toxic.

Lenin:  Three degrees of separation.

Mao:  Four degrees of separation.

Pol Pot:  Five degrees of separation.

Remember the Monty Python routine where there was a joke so funny that listeners died laughing?  Now there are jokes so toxic that the listener (Billy Bush) gets fired. And in the comment section it gets even worse:

It’s ridiculous to argue that we should all just get along—that nobody can ever choose to stop associating with certain individuals or groups—in the name of some abstract ideal of comity. We should treat each other with respect, obviously, but if our politics doesn’t affect our actual lives, then it’s just an elaborate kind of sport.

So Trotter is saying what?  That you should stop being friends with someone because you don’t like their politics?  As a libertarian, I’d basically have no friends if I followed that rule.  I certainly never dated any libertarians when I was younger.  I have good friends who are borderline Marxists—who regard Hillary as a conservative. It doesn’t make me not want to associate with them.  I recall one colleague who once defended China’s one child policy.  That’s far worse than almost anything Trump’s proposed. (OK, except stealing Iraq’s oil.) I mean seriously, if we followed Trotter’s suggestion then what would it do to our society? And why is “comity” just an abstract ideal?

I would have thought that the belief that one should break up with friends over politics was some sort of shameful secret, like a preference for child pornography. I’m 61 year sold—has our society actually changed to where politics is splitting up friendships?  Are we that immature?

At this point some silly commenter will always bring up the Nazi example. Obviously if your friend is advocating mass murder, that’s not acceptable.  But there are millions of sweet little old ladies who plan to vote for Trump because they are Republicans, and lots of them are nicer people than am.  I’m not going to shun them for having different views from me.  Most people are well intentioned, they just disagree as to the best way of achieving a good society.  Thiel seems very well intentioned, passionate in all the various political causes he engages in. I think Trump is more likely to get us into a nuclear war, but lots of his fans sincerely believe Hillary is more likely.  Opinions differ.

BTW, like politics, religion is also not “a sport”. Should people be shunned for having a different religion?  They often were 100 years ago in America. Haven’t we progressed?  What about conservative Muslims—they believe some awful things. Should they also be shunned?  And if so, how’s that different from Trump?

Liberals used to pride themselves with having more empathy for “the other”.  I think there was even some truth to that claim.  They were more likely to go to an independent film on what it’s like to be a black person in the inner city, or a Palestinian on the West Bank.  But when it comes to politics it’s just the opposite.  I find that right wingers have a much better understanding of why left wingers believe what they do, than vice versa.

19 days to go: When will Trump release his tax plan?

I said tax plan, not tax return.  I know that he lied when he said he’d release his tax return before the election, and then lied again when asked why he changed his mind.  I’m talking about his tax plan, the one that would raise taxes on millions of working class Americans, while he slashes taxes from billionaire property developers from 40% to 15%.

I recall reading that his advisers said this was an oversight, and that their intention was to cut taxes for everyone (how wonderful!)  They said the tax plan would be revised.  Apparently his advisors are too incompetent to even deliver a tax plan that accords with his stump speeches.  So when will we get the new tax plan?

I’m still waiting . . . 19 days to go.

Don’t Americans have a right to know where a candidate stands on taxes, before going into the voting booth?  How long until we get the official tax plan?

I’ve spent so much time trashing Trump that it’s only fair to give him credit when he does the right thing.  Last night he sharply pivoted on trade, and now favors trade deals, indeed even trade deals that result in freer trade than the Obama deals:

Donald Trump — who has built his campaign around a dramatic rollback of American’s multinational trade deals — said Wednesday that under his administration that there would be “more free trade” than there is under President Barack Obama.

“So my plan – we’re going to negotiate trade deals. We’ll have free trade. More free trade than we have right now,” Trump said during the third presidential debate.

Kudos to Trump for finally seeing the light on trade.

(BTW, I don’t think candidates should have to release their tax returns, but if they promise to do so, they should do so.)