Archive for September 2017


Trump’s priorities

Trump is so in love with big government policies to protect labor unions that he’s willing to put that goal ahead of reducing the suffering in Puerto Rico:

The Trump administration on Tuesday denied a request to waive shipping restrictions to help get fuel and supplies to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, saying it would do nothing to address the island’s main impediment to shipping, damaged ports.

The Jones Act limits shipping between coasts to U.S. flagged vessels. However, in the wake of brutal storms, the government has occasionally issued temporary waivers to allow the use of cheaper, tax free or more readily available foreign-flagged ships.

The Department of Homeland Security, which waived the act after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, did not agree an exemption would help this time.

Gee, I wonder why Trump was willing top help Texas and Florida, but not Puerto Rico?

Update:  Alex Tabarrok has a much better post.

Meanwhile Trump fulfills another campaign promise, have presidents focus on their job:

Say what you will about Bush and Katrina, at least he wasn’t spending all his time tweeting about sports.

But wait, Trump’s officials insist that these tweets are not about baiting blacks to whip up support among white voters, rather they are trying to “promote patriotism”.

So I guess this comment was about patriotism?

“Because you know, today if you hit too hard — 15 yards! Throw him out of the game. They had that last week, I watched for a coupled of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom! 15 yards. The referee goes on television, his wife’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game,” he said.

[As an aside, just as the absolutely worst way of trying to be happy is trying to be happy, the absolutely worst way of trying to promote patriotism is trying to promote patriotism.]

It looks like the voters of Alabama are about to pick another neanderthal in the tradition of George Wallace (this time standing in the courthouse door instead of the schoolhouse door.) The alt-right at Breitbart is celebrating Judge Moore’s strong opposition to DACA:

JACKSON: “Would you support an end to the Dreamer program that President Trump has still continued to push?

MOORE: “Pardon? The Dreamer program?”

JACKSON: “Yes sir. The DACA/DAPA. You’re not aware of what dreamers are?”

MOORE: “No.”

JACKSON: “Dreamers are — this is a big issue in the immigration debate. Dreamers are . . . ”

MOORE: “Why don’t you tell me what it is Dale, and quit beating around, and tell me what it is?”

JACKSON: “I’m in the process of doing that, Judge Moore.”

Oops, sorry, that wasn’t the Breitbart quote, it was a National Review quote showing that the Judge doesn’t know what DACA is.

BTW, did some sort of cultural change happen without anyone informing me?  Is it suddenly fashionable among GOP voters to support assholes and bullies and jerks who know nothing about public policy?

Welcome to the new Republican Party.  Here’s the guy they are rallying around to support in the November election:

The Vietnam veteran and lifelong Christian holds the view that the U.S. Constitution is a kind of extension of the Bible, and that the Founding Fathers intended their America to be a Christian nation.

In 2014, he went so far as to suggest that the First Amendment applies only to Christians. Speaking at an anti-abortion luncheon, Moore said: “Everybody, to include the U.S. Supreme Court, has been deceived as to one little word in the First Amendment called ‘religion.’” . . .

“Sodomy is against the laws of nature,” he told The Washington Post in a recent interview. “Let’s say the court decides to get rid of the law of gravity and says you can jump off the Empire State Building. Can they do that? No, they certainly can’t do that.”

In a 2002 child custody case during his first term as Alabama chief justice, Moore called being gay “an inherent evil” and “abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God.”

Moore has said he believes “homosexual conduct should be illegal” and that same-sex relations are akin to bestiality. After the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, Moore, who’d been reelected as chief justice of Alabama, instructed state judges to flout the order. In September 2016, he was once again removed from court for the remainder of his term.

But he wasn’t deterred. Moore announced his run for U.S. Senate several months later and continues to share his extreme views on the campaign trail.

“There is no such thing as evolution,” he recently told a Washington Post reporter. “That we came from a snake? No, I don’t believe that.”

Equally ludicrous to Moore is the idea that non-Christian faiths have the same religious legitimacy as his own. During a campaign stop this summer the candidate called Islam a “false religion” that’s “completely opposite with what our First Amendment stands for.”

But hey, Trump put Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, so there is nothing to worry about here.  All is well.

PS.  Trump was supposed to announce his big tax cut plan today, but instead we got basically nothing.  I could come up with a more detailed plan in one week.  This White House is amazingly incompetent—which shows what happens when you aren’t able to recruit good people to work in your administration.

PPS.  During the campaign, Trumpistas told me that Trump was a master “dealmaker”.  So I guess that’s why he chose to ridicule a Vietnam War hero for being captured, and then never apologize.  He figured that insulting soldiers who have spent years being tortured while you are out grabbing other men’s wives by the pussy is a good way to make people like you more, so that, you know, they’ll provide the crucial vote in the Senate when you try to fulfill your campaign promise to repeal Obamacare.

PPPS.  Of all the defenses for Trump’s failures that I’ve seen in the comment section, perhaps the silliest is the claim that the failure to repeal Obamacare is Congress’s fault, not Trump’s.  First, because Trump ran as a SUPERMAN who would force Congress to do his bidding.  Second, because Trump never even came up with a health care proposal.  Third, because Trump often trashed the repeal proposals that Congress did consider. Imagine if Obama had just left health care up to Congress, providing no leadership.  Especially when they could not lose a single vote in the Senate.  Trump could afford to lose two votes, and still seems to be falling short.  But to the Trumpistas, nothing is Trump’s fault.

In the long run we’re all rich, free and peaceful

It’s intellectually fashionable to be pessimistic, so let me push back with one of my occasional contrarian posts.  I’ll try to defend Fukuyama’s “End of History” hypothesis one more time.  Let’s start with peaceful:

1. A new study shows that the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928), which outlawed war, has been highly effective. If you took history in high school, you might recall your teacher make fun of the touching naiveté associated with this utopian treaty.  Well it looks like Kellogg and Briand might get the last laugh.  First a bit of background.  The act was intended to change the rules of war.  Previously, countries were allowed to keep territory they conquered.  It was wars of aggression that were outlawed, not civil wars, not wars to prevent proliferation of WMD, not wars aimed at preventing genocide.  And wars of conquest (which were common throughout almost all of human history), have almost stopped happening (with Russia’s recent acquisition of the Crimea a notable exception, and even that was not particularly violent.)

So the world is getting more peaceful.

2.  It’s fashionable to say that freedom is a western concept, and Fukuyama’s prediction doesn’t apply to the rest of the world.  People point to China’s one child policy, or Saudi Arabia’s unwillingness to let women drive.  I’m with Zhou En Lai; it’s too soon to say.  China recently abolished its one child policy, and today Saudi Arabia granted women the right to drive.  Maybe progress will stop and no more freedoms will be achieved in the non-Western world.  But my hunch is that modern technology will gradually make the world more liberal, by beaming images of successful western societies to everyone who has a smart phone.

So the world will get freer, even if the past decade has been a mixed bag.

3.  Here’s Tyler Cowen expressing pessimism about economic progress in poorer areas:

Increasingly, it seems that many parts of the Western world might never “catch up,” including Greece, southern Italy, much of the Balkans and much of Latin America, in addition to Puerto Rico. One of the pleasing features of the 1990s, in retrospect a delusion, was the notion that proper policy and good multilateral institutions would bring most of the world into consistent, steady-state growth at a higher rate than what the wealthier countries could manage.

I agree with most of what Tyler said about Puerto Rico, including his view that’s it’s future currently looks quite bleak.  But I find this paragraph to be far too pessimistic, and not even consistent with the data:

a.  Since 2000, the developing world has grown faster than the rich world.  Yes, that’s partly China, but it also includes lots of other populous Asian countries.  And Asia is perhaps 70% of the developing world.  Parts of Africa have also done pretty well since 2000.  But what makes this claim especially dubious is his reference to “proper policy”.  Most of the developing world rates far below the US in economic freedom (including freedom from corruption).  And those few countries that score high on the good policy scale (such as Chile and Estonia) have had a pretty good couple of decades.  If you want an African example, compare the growth rate of Botswana and Zimbabwe in recent decades.

b.  Yes, there are good reasons (including culture) to be pessimistic about the near term prospects of Greece and southern Italy.  But in 1970 there were good reasons (including culture) to be pessimistic about Ireland.  You might say that the Irish were always capable of much better, as evidenced by their success in America.  But Greeks and southern Italians have also been quite successful in America.  You might argue that corruption will keep Greece and southern Italy poor.  Yes, but for how long?  China is much more corrupt than Singapore, and much poorer.  But Singapore is also ethnically Chinese, and rooted out corruption through a determined effort of the government.  Corruption is not baked into the genes of the Chinese people.  Might the Chinese government be able to root out corruption? I don’t know, but the current leadership seems to be making an effort.

My point here is that “never” is a really long time.  If Tyler had said that Greece and southern Italy would remain relatively poor for another 80 years, I’d have no reason to disagree.  But another 80,000 years?  Who knows?

In the early 1940s the Kellogg-Briand Pact look like a pathetic failure.  Now it looks like a success.  Yesterday, it looked like Saudi women would remain oppressed.  Today there seems to be hope that they might start achieving more equality.  The arrow of history is still pointing toward more wealth, freedom and peace.  The real risk we face is not stagnation, but rather a sudden crisis that catches us unaware, like terrorists getting a WMD.

HT:  Scott Alexander, who also linked to this mind-boggling article:

The number one food exporter in the world is the United States. The number two food exporter in the world is the Netherlands, 1/270th the size and mostly urban.

Update:  Maybe not–check out comment section.

Weekend reading

It’s always useful to look at your country through the eyes of foreign observers.  I strongly encourage people to read this FT article, which discusses political correctness on campuses:

Since then, there has been a backlash against individual professors that seems only a step or two away from a Cultural Revolution-style shame circle.

If I were teaching freshman English, I’d have students read a book on the Cultural Revolution, as well as 1984 and Brave New World.  Just to give them a better sense of what’s happening in their own time and place.

If you look closely, however, there are actually two separate issues highlighted in the piece—left wing bias, and obsession with “safe spaces”.  As this Reason post shows, Republican students are almost as dismissive of free speech as Democrats:

[Among college students] Just 44 percent of self-identified Republicans said that hate speech was protected by the First Amendment, compared with 39 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of independents.

It seems like the extreme fear of being made uncomfortable is a generational thing, which crosses party lines.  (BTW, don’t take this as a typical boomer post trashing young people.  I think the millennials are much better than my generation in all sorts of dimensions.  For instance, they seem more polite and less violent.)

When I heard about Professor Weinstein’s problems at Evergreen College, I wondered if I was getting the full story.  Maybe he was sort of provoking the students.  And then I read this, about another Evergreen professor:

Nancy Koppelman, an American studies and humanities professor, described being “followed by white students who yelled and cursed at me, accused me of not caring about black and brown bodies, and claimed that if I did care I would follow their orders.” Ms. Koppelman, who is 5-foot-1, said the students towered over her, and “the only thing they would accept was my obedience.” She reported that the encounter so unnerved her that she was left physically shaking.

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, many of the victims were themselves devoted communists, who passioniately believed in the cause.  In America’s Cultural Revolution many of the victims are progressive faculty members.

During the early years of blogging, I followed  The best talks involved Glenn Loury and John McWhorter. has a very interesting interview of Loury:

My argument about political correctness is not tendentious or partisan — it’s analytical. The core of the argument is that when groups care a lot about maintaining conformity of belief on some matter of critical interest to them, then the hunt for heretics is always ongoing. We’re always looking for deviants. The willingness to speak in certain ways can be a sign of deviance, because if speakers know that punishment awaits them for speaking in particular ways, the only speakers willing to take the risks are indeed people who are not reliable on whatever the core belief or value is.

Loury and McWhorter both influenced my views on race.  (Their views are not neatly classifiable as “liberal” or “conservative”.)

How bizarre is America, circa 2017?  Consider the following two recent comments, one from a former NBA player, and one from the head of one of America’s most prestigious think tanks.  Which would you expect to be calm and thoughtful, and which would you expect to be rash and stupid?

There are some very thoughtful people working at Heritage.  I really feel sorry for them, being represented by a boss (Edwin Feulner) who sends out this sort of garbage in a fundraising letter.  Yeah, Trump is trying hard to “drain the swamp of corruption and privilege”.  Trump believes in the impartial rule of law, not blind loyalty to the leaders who happen to be on “our side”. Just pathetic.

PS.  Let’s have a vote in the comment section.  Which of Feulner’s five sentences is the most moronic?

Update:  Congratulations to Angela Merkel.  Like her or not, she’s the leader of the free world.  Also congrats to the FDP, my favorite German party.  Their vote share rose from below 5% to above 10%, so they are back in the government.

Where does Brexit stand today?

Here is the Financial Times:

Theresa May has been applauded by Brussels for her “constructive spirit” after she set out plans to keep Britain in the EU in all but name until 2021, five years after the country voted to leave the bloc.

In a conciliatory speech in Florence, Mrs May also said Britain would pay €20bn into the EU budget after Brexit and signalled the contribution was only a downpayment on what could be a considerably larger exit bill.

Although Britain will formally leave the EU in March 2019, under Mrs May’s model it would still be covered by all EU rules, European court judgments, the free movement of EU workers and budgetary contributions to Brussels until the transition ends. . . .

The speech delighted business leaders who believe Mrs May’s plan for a transition period of “around two years” after Brexit in March 2019 will avoid a cliff-edge and was welcomed by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator.

Here are some comments:

1.  By now it should be clear why I distinguished between the economic effects of “Brexit uncertainty” and the economic effects of Brexit itself.  We now know that Brexit uncertainty had no noticeable impact on UK real GDP growth (which was about the same in the 12 months after Brexit as during the 12 months before.)  I still believe that Brexit itself will lead to somewhat slower growth, as do the currency markets.  But the delay in Brexit has allowed a partially recovery in the pound, which has bounced back to $1.35, after dropping from $1.46 to $1.23 after the vote (and subsequent “Brexit means Brexit” rhetoric.)

2.  I think it’s very unlikely that the UK will (de facto) leave the EU in March 2021 (if ever).  May is rumored to have favored an even longer delay, but worried about a leadership challenge from Boris Johnson.  Notice she said “around two years”, which could mean three years.  Britain really doesn’t want to leave; that’s obvious.

3.  And by 2021 or 2022, who knows what the political situation will look like in the UK?  What if the Tories need support from the Liberal Dems after the next election? Would the LDs demand further delays? What if Labour wins?  Every year that goes by, more older Brexit voters die off and more younger Brits who are comfortable with a cosmopolitan UK enter the voting rolls.  Like gay rights and pot legalization, globalization has massive momentum in the long run, as there are truly vast differences between the views of the young and the old.

PS.  So the Tories promised to do Brexit, but obviously don’t actually want to do so. In the US, the GOP has promised to get rid of Obamacare. When will that happen? When it comes to health care policy, is history on the side of the GOP?   And I’d say something similar about the Tories.  In 2040, the UK will be more tightly integrated into Europe than in 2010, even if they are not formally in the EU.  Bryan Caplan may lose his Brexit bet, but only on a technicality.

PPS.  I’m guessing that this was Obama’s expression earlier this afternoon, when he heard about McCain’s decision.

I think McCain made a defensible decision, but not Rand Paul.  Given Paul’s ideology, he really should have supported Graham-Cassidy.  It’s far more libertarian than any plausible alternative that Congress is likely to enact.

Did the Great Recession reduce the US birth rate?

A few years ago it was conventional wisdom that the Great Recession reduced America’s birth rate.  That’s possible, but it’s striking how little evidence there is for that claim.  It’s true that the birth rate declined between 2007 and 2010, but we all know that correlation doesn’t prove causation.  And there’s a lot of evidence pointing in the opposite direction.  Here’s one popular measure of the birth rate:

Now let’s consider all of the evidence against the claim that the Great Recession reduced America’s birth rate:

1. Rich countries tend to have much lower birth rates than poor countries.  So poverty doesn’t seem to reduce birth rates.

2.  If you prefer time series evidence; the US birth rate has trended down for 100 years, even as we’ve become much richer.

3.  It’s true that the birth rate fell during the 1930s, but it fell much faster during the booming 1920s.  It fell especially sharply during 1955-73, one of the very best periods ever for having big nuclear families with stay at home moms.  The birth rate was flat during the bad period of 1979-83, when unemployment soared to 10.8%, but fell during the booming 1990s.  Go figure.

4.  In 2016, the birth rate declined in 2016 to the lowest rate ever, despite one of the fastest 2-year growth spurts in real median household income ever seen in US data:

There may be a slight lag in the impact of the economy on the birth rate, but if we don’t see a sharp rise in the birth rate in 2017, then we may need to revise the conventional wisdom on the Great Recession.

5.  The birth rate decline has been far sharper for teens than for other groups:

In the United States, teen-aged moms are increasingly rare. In 2016, the teen birth rate dropped 9% compared to the previous year, a new government report published Friday found. This record low for teens having babies continues a long-term trend.

The birth rate among teen girls has dropped 67% since 1991, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which presented preliminary data for 2016 based on a majority (99.9%) of births.

In 2016, the number of US births totaled 3,941,109, a decline of 1% compared to 2015. The fertility rate of 62 births per 1,000 women is a record low for the nation.

The teen rate is a “phenomenal decline,” said Dr. Elise Berlan, a physician in the section of adolescent medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Interestingly, this sharp decline in teen births occurred during a period when teens are increasingly delaying the adoption of adult-like behavior.  The share of teens that date, have sex, drive cars, drink alcohol, smoke, work on jobs, and other similar activities is falling sharply.  I doubt the Great Recession caused teens to not want to date, drink, or get a drivers license.  More likely, we are seeing a longer term cultural change, driven by factors unrelated to the business cycle.  (Also note that the really sharp decline in teen births began with the Great Recession, and has continued right up until the present time.)

One thing I can’t stand about cultural conservatives is that they are always pessimistic about the younger generation.  I recall back in 1991 that America’s cultural conservatives were wringing their hands at how the high teenage birth rate and crack cocaine addiction was going to lead to a generation of dysfunctional children.  Since then, we’ve seen a massive decline in teen births, and also a huge decline in crime, divorce, and lots of other metrics of social distress.  America’s teens are behaving amazing responsibly, (maybe too responsibly, IMHO).

So are the social conservatives trumpeting this wonderful turnaround?  No.  Instead of celebrating this cultural trend they find new things to worry about—rising use of opioids, single moms, or the fears that immigration will bring in low IQ people that dilute our gene pool.

I really, really wish that cultural conservatives would just cheer up.  (Or light up a joint in one of the states where it’s now legal, and chill.)