Things tagged pol:

Distributional Impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Quiz for you: Do “the rich” pay less taxes under the new tax plan?

Ok, now look at this data:

Sill say so? By what definition?

Via John Cochrane.

The hard road of free markets

John Cochrane lays down some wisdom:

The sad paradox of free markets is that free markets do not need people to understand them to work. But democracy does require voters to understand how things work.

Pro-Neutrality, Anti-Title II

Ben Thompson at Stratechery:

I believe that Ajit Pai is right to return regulation to the same light touch under which the Internet developed and broadband grew for two decades. I am amenable to Congress passing a law specifically banning ISPs from blocking content, but believe that for everything else, including paid prioritization, we are better off taking a “wait-and-see” approach; after all, we are just as likely to “see” new products and services as we are to see startup foreclosure.

One law professor's overview of the confusing net neutrality debate

Orin Kerr presents Gus Hurwitz on The Volokh Conspiracy:

The most confounding aspect of the contemporary net neutrality discussion to me is the social meanings that the concept has taken on. These meanings are entirely detached from the substance of the debate, but have come to define popular conceptions of what net neutrality means. They are, as best I can tell, wholly unassailable, in the sense that one cannot engage with them. This is probably the most important and intellectually interesting aspect of the debate - it raises important questions about the nature of regulation and the administrative state in complex technical settings.

The most notable aspect is that net neutrality has become a social justice cause. Progressive activist groups of all stripes have come to believe that net neutrality is essential to and allied with their causes. I do not know how this happened – but it is frustrating, because net neutrality is likely adverse to many of their interests.

The Ideological Turing Test

What it would take to change my mind on net neutrality

Tyler Cowen at MR:

Keep in mind, I’ve favored net neutrality for most of my history as a blogger. You really could change my mind back to that stance. Here is what you should do.

The effect of partisanship and political advertising on close family ties

Using anonymized smartphone-location data and precinct-level voting, we show that Thanksgiving dinners attended by residents from opposing-party precincts were 30 to 50 minutes shorter than same-party dinners. This decline from a mean of 257 minutes survives extensive spatial and demographic controls. Reductions in the duration of Thanksgiving dinner in 2016 tripled for travelers from media markets with heavy political advertising—an effect not observed in 2015—implying a relationship to election-related behavior. Effects appear asymmetric: Although fewer Democratic-precinct residents traveled in 2016 than in 2015, Republican-precinct residents shortened their Thanksgiving dinners by more minutes in response to political differences. Nationwide, 34 million hours of cross-partisan Thanksgiving dinner discourse were lost in 2016 owing to partisan effects.

From the abstract of this paper by M. Keith Chen and Ryne Rohla, which I haven’t read. Via MR.

Things that go bump in the night in Riyadh

David Hearst:

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Hariri’s resignation, the Saudi purge, and the Houthi missile fired at Riyadh are interconnected

Delaware's Odd, Beautiful, Contentious, Private Utopia

Jesse Walker in Reason:

Arden’s origins go back to the Delaware Invasion of 1895 and ‘96, when the Single Tax movement tried to take over the state. The Single Taxers were followers of Henry George, a 19th century economist who argued that government should be financed solely by a tax on land values. No income tax, no sales tax, no tax on the improvements to a property—just one tax on land. The campaigners crisscrossed the state in armbands, knapsacks, and Union Army uniforms, delivering streetcorner speeches and singing Single Tax songs (“Get the landlords off your backs/With our little Single Tax/And there’s lots of fun ahead for Delaware!”). More than a few got tossed in jail for their efforts.

The invasion was a flop. A disaster, really. Not only did their gubernatorial candidate get only 2.4 percent of the vote, but within a year the movement’s foes would insert a provision into the state constitution that made a George-style tax impossible.

Unable to achieve their ideas at the ballot box, a group of Georgists decided to take another approach. In 1900 they acquired some farmland outside Wilmington, created what amounted to a community land trust, leased out plots to anyone who wanted to move in, levied rents based on the value of the unimproved land, and used the rent money to pay for public goods. In other words, they set up a private town and enacted the Single Tax program contractually. And with that double experiment in communalism and privatization, Arden was born.

Politicians reject evidence that conflicts with their beliefs

Casper Dahlmann and Niels Bjørn Petersen in the WaPo:

We conducted a survey of 954 Danish local politicians. […] We then divided the politicians into two groups. One group got the data — but without any information as to whether the school was public or private. The schools were just labeled “School A” and “School B.” The other group got the exact same data, but instead of “School A” and “School B,” the schools’ titles were “Public School” and “Private School.”

If politicians are influenced by their ideologies, we would expect that they would be able to interpret the information about “School B” and “School A” correctly. However, the other group would be influenced by their ideological beliefs about private versus public provision of welfare services in ways that might lead them to make mistakes.

This is exactly what we found. Most politicians interpreting data from “School A” and “School B” were perfectly capable of interpreting the information correctly. However, when they were asked to interpret data about a “Public School” and a “Private School” they often misinterpreted it, to make the evidence fit their desired conclusion.

How Washington Made Harvey Worse

Michael Grunwald in Politico:

Hurricane Harvey was a disaster foretold.

Nearly two decades before the storm’s historic assault on homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast of Texas this week, the National Wildlife Federation released a groundbreaking report about the United States government’s dysfunctional flood insurance program, demonstrating how it was making catastrophes worse by encouraging Americans to build and rebuild in flood-prone areas.

Inside the C.E.O. Rebellion Against Trump’s Advisory Councils

Before they could make a statement announcing their decision, however, Mr. Trump spoke. He had caught wind of their planned defection and wanted to have the last word. Taking to Twitter, he wrote: “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”

You can’t quit, you’re fired!

Ben Sasse on the Space between Nebraska and Neverland

Tyler interviews Ben Sasse:

I do think that one of the things we misunderstand about our politics — maybe I’ve two things that I think we misunderstand about our politics.

One, most of our political problems are downstream from culture, and we keep acting like we’ll be able to fix our politics with politics, and I don’t really think we can because our politics are a mess because we don’t understand where we are in economic history: this transition from industrialization to whatever the digital economy looks like, and therefore shorter and shorter average duration of jobs, and therefore a transition from villages and urban ethnic neighborhoods where there was known, dense social networks to this new thing.

We’ll produce new forms of social capital, but it might take half a century or a century, and it’s going to be really painful and disruptive as we go through this time.

NPR Tweeted The Declaration Of Independence And Some Trump Supporters Were Offended

Julia Reinstein at Buzzfeed:

In celebration of the 4th of July, National Public Radio tweeted out the Declaration of Independence in a series of more than 100 tweets on Tuesday.

I am amused by Buzzfeed’s slug: we-hold-these-alternative-truths-to-be-self-evident

Somerdale to Skarbimierz

James Meek in London Review of Books:

How to explain Poland’s swing against the European Union? How to explain the election of the Catholic fundamentalist, authoritarian, populist, Eurosceptic Law and Justice Party to rule a booming country that has benefited from more than €130 billion in EU investment in its roads, railways and schools, a country where only a few years after EU accession in 2004 hundreds of foreign factories and distribution centres opened, employing hundreds of thousands of people, a country whose citizens have taken advantage of EU freedom of movement to travel, work and study across the continent in their millions?

Human Theory of the Left

Eliezer Yudkowsky on Facebook, so quoted in it’s entirety here for posterity:

Bryan Caplan’s Simplistic Theory of Left and Right says “The Left is anti-market and the Right is anti-Left”. This theory is half wrong, and will for this reason confuse the Left in particular. It ought to be a clue that if you ask the Left whether they’re anti-market, most of the Left will answer, “Of course not,” whereas if you ask the Right whether they’re anti-Left, they’ll answer “Hell yes we are.” People may understand themselves poorly a lot of the time, but they often know what they hate.

My “Human Theory of the Left” is as follows: The Left holds markets to the same standards as human beings.

Consider a small group of 50 people disconnected from the outside world, as in the world where humans evolved. When you offer somebody fifty carrots for an antelope haunch, that price carries with it a great array of judgments and considerations, like whether that person has done you any favors in the past, and how much effort it took them to hunt the antelope, and how much effort it took you to gather the carrots. If you offer them an unusually generous price, you’d expect them to give good prices in return in the future. A low price is either a status-lowering insult, or carries with it a judgment that the other person already has lower status than you.

And that’s what the Left sees when they look at somebody being paid $8/hour. They don’t see a supply curve, or a demand curve; or a tautology that for every loaf of bread bought there must be a loaf of bread sold, and therefore supply is always and everywhere equal to demand; they don’t see a price as the input to the supply function and demand function which makes their output be equal. They see a judgment about how hard an employee works, and how much they need and deserve.

So of course they hate whatever looks at a poor starving mother and says “$8/hour”. Who wouldn’t?

Ask them and they’ll tell you: They don’t hate markets. They just think that the prices and outcomes aren’t fair, and that tribal action is required for everyone to get together and decide that the prices and outcomes should be fairer.

If this post gets shared outside my own feed, some people will be reading this and wondering why I wouldn’t want prices to be fair.

And they’ll suspect that I must worship the Holy Market and believe its prices to be wise and fair; and that if I object to any regulation it’s because I want the holy, wise and fair Market Price to be undisturbed.

This incidentally is what your non-economist friends hear you saying whenever you use the phrase “efficient markets”. They think you are talking about market prices being, maybe not fair, but the most efficient thing for society; and they’re wondering what you mean by “efficiency”, and who benefits from that, and whether it’s worth it, and whether the goods being produced by all this efficiency are actually flowing to the people making $8/hour.

You reply, “What the hell that is not even remotely anything the efficient markets hypothesis is talking about at all, you’re not even in the right genre of thoughts, the weak form of the EMH says that the supply/demand-intersecting price for a highly-liquid well-traded financial asset is a rational subjective estimate of the expectation of its supply/demand-intersecting price two years later taking into account all public information, because otherwise it would be possible to pump money out of the predictable price changes. The EMH is a descriptive statement about price changes over time, not a normative statement about the relation of asset prices to anything else in the outside world.”

This is not a short paragraph in the standard human ontology.

“So you think that $8/hour wages are efficient?” they say.

“No,” you reply, “that’s just not remotely what the word efficient means at all. The EMH is about price changes, not prices, and it has nothing to do with this. But I do think that $8/hour is balancing the supply function and the demand function for that kind of labor.”

“And you think it’s good for society for these functions to be balanced?” they inquire.

The one is willing to consider the force of the argument they think they’re hearing–that the market is a weird and foreign god which will nonetheless bring us the right benefits if we make it the right sacrifices. But, they respond, is the market god really bringing us these benefits? Aren’t some people getting shafted? Aren’t some people being sacrificed to save others, maybe a lot of people being sacrificed to save a few others, and isn’t that worth the tribe getting together and deciding to change things?

And you clutch your hair and say, “No, you don’t get it, you know the market is doing something important but you don’t understand what that thing is, you think the markets are like arteries carrying goods around and they can get blocked and starve some tissues, and you want to perform surgery on the arteries to unblock them, but actually THE MARKETS ARE RIBOSOMES AND YOU’RE TRYING TO EDIT THE DNA CODE AND EVERYTHING WILL BREAK SIMULTANEOUSLY LIKE IT DID IN VENEZUELA.”

And what they hear you saying is “The markets are wise, and their prices carry wisdom you knoweth not; do you have an arm like the Lord, and can your voice thunder like His?”

Because, they know in their bones, when a corporation pays an employee $8/hour, it means something. It means something about the employer and it says something about what the employer believes about the employee. And if you say “WAIT DON’T MESS WITH THAT” there’s a lot of things you might mean that have short sentences in their ontology: you could mean that you believe $8/hour is the fair price; you could mean you believe the price is unfair but that it’s worth throwing the employees under the bus so that society keeps functioning; you could believe that maybe the market knows something you don’t.

And all of those things, one way or another, are saying that you believe there’s some virtue in that $8/hour price, some virtue transmitted to it by the virtue you think is present within the market that assigns it. And that’s a cruel thing to say to someone getting $8/hour, isn’t it?

Just look at what the market does. How can you believe that it’s wise, or right, or fair?

And they can’t believe that you don’t think that–even though you’ll very loudly tell them you don’t think that–when you are being like “IF YOU WANT THEM TO HAVE MORE MONEY THEN JUST GIVE THEM MONEY BUT FOR GOD’S SAKE DON’T MESS WITH THE NUMBER THAT SAYS 8.”

This by the way is another example of why it’s an important meta-conversational principle to pay a lot of attention to what people say they believe and want, and what they tell you they don’t believe and want. And that if nothing else should give you pause in saying that the Left is anti-market when so many moderate leftists would immediately say “But that’s not what I believe!”

Maybe we’d have an easier time explaining economics if we deleted every appearance of the words “price” and “wage” and substituted “supply-demand equilibrator”. A national $15/hour minimum supply-demand equilibrator sounds a bit more dangerous, doesn’t it? Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, or better yet use hourly wage subsidies. Establish a land value tax and give the money to poor people, while being careful not to establish new paperwork requirements that exclude busy or struggling people and being careful about phaseout thresholds. Or if you really insist on looking at things in the simplest possible way, then take money away from rich people and give it to poor people. It’ll do less damage than messing with the supply-demand equilibrators.

I feel like I’m at a banquet watching people trying to eat the plates and they’re like “No, no, I understand what food does, you’re just not familiar with the studies showing that eating small amounts of ceramic doesn’t hurt much” and I’m like “If you knew what food does and what the plates do then you would not be TRYING to eat the plates.”

I honestly wonder if we’d have better luck explaining economics if we used the metaphor of a terrifying and incomprehensible alien deity that is kept barely contained by a complicated and humanly meaningless ritual, and that if somebody upsets the ritual prices then It will break loose and all the electrical plants will simultaneously catch fire. Because that probably is the closest translation of the math we believe into a native human ontology.

Want to help the bottom 30%? Don’t scribble over the mad inscriptions that are closest to them, trying to prettify the blood-drawn curves. Mess with any other numbers than those, move money around in any other way than that, because It is standing very near to them already.

People like Bryan Caplan see people in 6000BC wearing animal skins as the native state of affairs without the Market. People like Bryan keep trying to explain how the Market got us away from that, hoping to foster some good feelings about the Market that will lead people to maybe have some respect for its $8/hour figure.

If my Human Theory of the Left is true, then this is exactly the wrong thing to say, and eternally doomed to failure. To praise that which would offer $8/hour to a struggling family, is directly an insult to that family, by the humanly standard codes of honor. If you want people to leave the $8/hour price alone, and you want to make the point about 6000BC, you could maybe try saying, “And that’s what Tekram does if you have no price rituals at all.”

But don’t try to tell them that the Market is good, or wise, or kind. They can see with their own eyes that’s false.

Some good discussion in the comments, including from Caplan.

Federalism in Blue and Red

Are you a liberal that lives in a rich blue state? Do you look down on red states that cut services as they cut taxes? Perhaps you should check your privilege, and read this excellent article by Joshua T. McCabe on fiscal capacity in National Affairs:

In 2012, Republican governor Sam Brownback and the Republican state legislature in Kansas undertook what would soon be characterized as a radical experiment in supply-side economics. Over the following several years, they reduced the state’s progressive income tax from a top rate of 6.45% down to 4.6% and essentially raised the state’s sales tax from 5.7% to 6.5%. Grover Norquist and Art Laffer were ecstatic while liberals predicted gloom and doom. Five years later, as revenues plunged and the legislature scrambled to find enough money to fund schools and basic services, liberal pundits around the country let out a collective “I told you so.”

Meanwhile, few people noticed that analogous changes were underway in true-blue Massachusetts. In 2009, Democratic governor Deval Patrick and the Democratic state legislature likewise raised the state’s sales tax from 5% to 6.25%. Over the following several years, that same legislature — but with Republican governor Charlie Baker — reduced the state’s flat income tax from 5.3% to 5.1%. Despite strikingly similar shifts in its tax structure, Massachusetts received essentially no praise from supply-side evangelists or condemnation from liberal pundits. More important, no budget crisis followed. What explains these divergent outcomes following similar tax reforms?

Libertarian Social Engineering

Jason Kuznicki at Cato Unbound:

To my mind there are two ways to do libertarian activism.

One approach is easy, deeply satisfying, and - at least on our current margin - it’s basically ineffective. The other approach is difficult, usually thankless, and - I dare say it - revolutionary when it works.

Let’s call the first way libertarian moralizing. We know it by what it aims to produce: The intended product is more libertarians. Eventually we’ll persuade everyone, or at least enough of everyone, and then we’ll change the world.


To pick a completely incendiary name, I will call this second type of activism libertarian social engineering. By this I mean the deliberate attempt to create, on an incremental, case-by-case basis, the new, voluntary institutions and practices that a society would need if it were to become significantly more private, more decentralized, and more free. I mean here institutions like cryptocurrency, which is already well known; private institutions of assurance and trust in consumer satisfaction and safety; and Alexander Tabarrok’s idea of the Dominant Assurance Contract, which is exceptionally obscure, but which stands to my mind a fair chance of making almost all state action obsolete.

How American Politics Went Insane

Jonathan Rauch in The Alantic:

Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns and in the government itself.

Our intricate, informal system of political intermediation, which took many decades to build, did not commit suicide or die of old age; we reformed it to death. For decades, well-meaning political reformers have attacked intermediaries as corrupt, undemocratic, unnecessary, or (usually) all of the above. Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties, which is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system. Eventually, you will get sick.

Not about directly about Tump, written early last year. Pointing out a lot of the cronyism and other regressive structures in politics may have helped the whole system function better. But which direction forward, change our political system, or go back to how it was?

The Anarchist in the Woodshop

Daniel D. Clausen discusses Christopher Schwarz’s work at Lost Art Press:

[The Anarchist’s Design Book] explains, again in narrative form, how to make that kind of simple furniture. With more or less the same basic set of flea market tools in the Anarchist’s Tool Chest, along with a willingness to try, experiment, fail, and try again, Schwarz shows that most people can turn out simple, functional furniture. And it will be better made than what is available flat packed from local box stores, and at a fraction of the price of antiques or what handmade furniture costs. Since crafts people have to make a living building something like a chair a week, if they are quick, that sort of production will never be democratically available. It is cost prohibitive for all but the wealthy, and always will be. (This critique, also leveled at William Morris’s Arts and Crafts movement—that the laborers were making furniture for the rich and thus failing at the Marxist goal of revolution—has never struck me as very damning. There has to be some mechanism to get money from where the money currently is, and we ought to be forgiven if we prefer this one to violence.)

The larger political argument in these “anarchist” books is that in a society structured by late consumer capitalism, we’ve all sold our birthright to making things for the bowl of pottage that is IKEA bookshelves and meaninglessness. It’s an appealing argument for direct action, not just in politics, but in daily material life.

The surprise success of Schwartz’s books prompts some questions: What conditions is Lost Art Press responding to? And why has this response been so successful?

The conditions, obviously, are the same ones that suffuse our political moment. Sit down to actually read Karl Marx and it will be difficult not to grant that his analysis of the conditions of capitalism, if not his rather nebulous prescriptions, are prescient. His labor theory of value is appealing, especially to those who have skill in making things. The concentration of capital, high barriers to entry, and economies of scale with diminishing returns all work against the “petite bourgeois” craftsman.