Well, Foreign Policy just reminded me that people in the Pentagon are taking this book very, very seriously.
This series has not been forgotten; other things have simply intervened. We still owe posts on the implausibility of the naval technology, the outright impossibility of the space battles, and the ridiculousness of the tactics used by the Hawaii occupation and resulting insurgency.
Right now, a short post on tone.
One problem for all books presenting a villain is how to get into that sweet spot where the villain is competent enough to be frightening, but not so competent as to become caricature. Some readers don’t mind caricature, of course. But Ghost Fleet bills itself as plausible, so it has to hit that sweet spot or fail.
In terms of what the Chinese actually do in the book (and ignoring the technical flaws) the authors more-or-less accomplish their goal. The Chinese of Ghost Fleet are improbably but plausibly competent, and such competence is required for the plot. The book suffered more from making their American opponents implausibly incompetent, at least at the beginning, rather than making the Chinese superhuman.
That said, there are ways to make competence seem like just that, normal old competence, rather than silly steely Nietzschean power-willing. The book did okay on the substance (ignoring its technical impossibilities) while failing in tone. It tossed in throwaway lines about the Chinese Directorate’s super competence for absolutely no reason — well, no reason other than playing on the implicit prejudices of readers primed to fear China in order to make them more scared of the villain.
And that was a major disappointment, especially since I believe that the authors were convinced that they were doing the opposite.
This piece at Slate is worth reading.
Short version: Voters are angry. “They just don’t agree on what they’re angry about.”
Two key quotes:
OK, you want a truly surprising result? Two Japanese scholars constructed an unbalanced panel of NBA players from the 1985-86 season to the 2015-16 season and found this:
Contrary to the results of previous studies, we find that non-white players are paid equally to white players with similar characteristics in the 1980s and 1990s, but that white players started to be paid 20 percent more than non-white players in the last 10 years. Our results are robust in all specification checks such as the quantile regressions, controlling the sample selection and controlling different contract types. Non-parametrically estimated density of the counter-factual salary of non-white players confirms our results. In addition, we find that neither the employers preference nor income gap of white and black fans explain this increasing salary gap.
You want to know how much we are talking about? Well, with the caveat that these estimates are very imprecise, you can go to page 3: “Consistent with the previous literature, which shows that racial salary discrimination was disappearing in the 1990s, we find that during the 1980s and 1990s, there was no white premium. However, in the 2000s, we find that the white premium becomes about 9 percent (p < 0.05) and in the 2010s, it reached 26 percent.”
Italics mine. And warranted, I think. Is the result convincing, and if so, what is going on?
The answer is no, not really. But it is interesting that democracies show no sign of the Marxist definition of exploitation, whereas non-democracies do.
In need a new tag for posts like this one.
I am currently starting a project that will (well, may) end with a comparison of Argentina and Canada. Along with Argentina and Australia, that is a comparison that many scholars have noted, even if the literature so far has shed less light on the mystery of Argentine failure than one might have expected.
A recent paper by Jorge Álvarez Scanniello, however, notes an even better comparison: Uruguay and New Zealand. (Apologies to all for also putting this post under the “Argentina” tag. I did it for future reference, at least until Typepad develops a widget for nested topic searches. In my defense, many Argentines are still unclear on the fact that Uruguay is a country.) Moreover, the paper focusses in on livestock. So it is a one-industry comparison between two like countries.
How similar were they? Well, here is chart of livestock exports as a % of all exports:
OK, so far, so similar. But maybe they exported to different markets or had different trade preferences, and therefore maybe experienced different economic shocks? Well, here are their terms of trade:
Pretty correlated until the 1990s, by which point Uruguay had already fallen from 80% of New Zealand’s income per capita circa 1925 to only 50%.
Well, maybe New Zealand was just a better place for cows and sheep?
Line 1 is the ratio of New Zealand’s “meat equivalent” per hectare to Uruguay’s. It is about the same until 1930, which is when (not coincidentally) N.Z. starts to pull away in the income tables. The other three measures do not go back as far (for details, page 6) but show the same post-1930 trend. Basically, the two places look about as good for cows until 1930, when New Zealand becomes a lot better.
So what happened?
Well, the paper has only hypotheses, but they are interesting. In New Zealand, university botanists in 1920-40 developed better strains of ryegrass combined with clover that could fix nitrogen and reduce fertilizer use. So, better pasture. Then, in 1940-66 the country started using aerial topdressing (dropping fertilizer from airplanes) combined with a great deal of government investment in things like rural roads and electrification.
In Uruguay, well, they saw what was happening in New Zealand. In 1951, Uruguay sent a team of experts to New Zealand to copy their technology for improving grasslands, but it never really went anywhere, with improved lands stalled out at 12% if the total around 1975. (Graph 10.) Why? Well, results on improved lands seemed to fall behind those in New Zealand. Since farmers were not really making more money, they stopped bothering.
In other words, something stopped Uruguay both from developing its own indigenous technology and from successfully adopting techniques from New Zealand.
What could that block have been?
I’m in New York City without my pen-and-paper journal, so I suspect I’ll post some musings about the trip over the next few days. Why not? Reading over this blog, I like some of the early travelogues the best.
But until then, a brief thought about Maryland drivers, courtesy of a senior traffic engineer who worked in both the District and Prince George’s County. His explanation for the disregard given pedestrians is simple: “Maryland has no cities and therefore no municipal laws about pedestrian safety. Therefore, drivers are not sensitized by local regulations.”
It is strange that the urban counties around D.C. have not passed such laws, but they haven’t. The explanation does have the benefit of comparing like-with-like.
There is one other possibility: the District, unlike, say, New York or Chicago, has gone out of its way to suburbanize traffic signals. For example, streets that look just like someplace in downtown Brooklyn will force pedestrians to wait for left turn signals ... even from one-way streets. Cars with D.C. plates (to further cite my traffic engineer friend) are likely driven by relatively upper-income people who also spend much time as pedestrians; they will therefore be more respectful than suburban drivers who (unlike somebody from Long Island driving into Queens) neither spend much time on foot nor have to adopt a different driving style when in the city.
I admit to a preference for non-cultural explanations, because they are falsifiable, so I like this one.
I also asked him about all the honking in the DMV. The difference with New York is striking. For three days I have been driving all over the counties of New York, Kings, Queens, and Nassau, plus the trip here and a long stop in Philly. Since leaving the Beltway the only horn sounds I have heard since then was (a) at a turnpike exit in New Jersey; (b) directed at me; and (c) thoroughly deserved.
So why the honking?
Well, that, he says, is cultural. “That is the District and Virginia too. People scoring self-importance points. Drives everyone nuts.”
The former governor of New Mexico is about to win the Libertarian Party nomination. Libertarianism is an extreme ideology, when taken seriously. But Gary Johnson seems to be to libertarianism what François Hollande is to socialism: in the direction but within the mainstream. In fact, looking over his policy positions, the only place where he seems to step outside political norms was an offhand call to eliminate Medicare Part D.
He also seems to be a bit nutty on monetary policy, but that is within Republican norms.
Whether any of this will get him past 15% in the polls (needed to be on the debate stage) or 5% in the popular vote (needed for federal funds) is beyond me. And I have no idea if his presence will swing any particular states, the way the Libertarian candidate may have swung the Virginia gubernatorial race in 2013.
Speaker Ryan may be helping the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico against the wishes of his caucus, but man is he letting them fly their freak flag when it comes to the District of Columbia. One Republican basically said that if Washingtonians did not like it, we could go join Maryland.
Bah. I do not like the idea because of a profound culture difference: Maryland drivers are terrible. And I mean terrible in a unique nowhere-else-in-America kind of way.
I just got into a yelling match with an asshole in an SUV who pretended to threaten to run me down when my kids and I were walking in an alleyway that he had turned into illegally. Fucking idiot, by the way, had a goddamned parking enforcement vehicle behind him when he revved his engine and lunged at me and my kids as we were walking. Pendejo. It ended poorly for him, as you can imagine.
I have had conversations with Marylanders in bars who admit to thinking pedestrians should get out of their way in crosswalks. Add that to the way they honk at anything, and it makes you almost long for Virginia. Really, the craziness drops a lot among cars with District plates and dries up across the Potomac. Unfortunately, I only live a few blocks from Maryland, so I have to deal with them.
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with drivers in that state? Disrespecting pedestrians and honking at everything. Where are we, Egypt? Brazil? Mexico City is becoming better than Maryland in this respect.
Note that I have lived in Boston and Miami. Marylanders do not drive badly the way Bostonians and Floridians drive badly. I drive badly the way Bostonians and Floridians drive badly. (Well, not Floridians.) Marylanders drive fine when it comes to signalling and stop signs and situational awareness and speed limits and respecting other vehicles ... well, except for the bloody honking.
But while the honking is annoying, Marylanders deserve their own circle of hell for the way they treat pedestrians. WTF?
But despite these strong cultural differences with Maryland (do not get me started on their traitorious racist anthem) the actions of Congress are beginning to make me think that maybe retrocession would not be such a bad idea.
To recap, the Puerto Rico Oversight Act as it currently stands will:
Without (1) and (7) the island goes to pieces right quick. You can see a (rather misleading) summary of what Republican supporters say the bill will do here.
My worry about the Oversight Board is not that it will cut budgets more drastically than an elected Puerto Rican government. The examples of Portugal, Spain, and Greece are pretty clear: when they cannot borrow anymore, elected officials do a fine job of imposing austerity. Maybe too fine a job. Rather, I worry that they won’t negotiate as hard as the government would. On the other hand, as Felix Salmon points out, the Board will consist of seasoned professionals who may be able to drive a harder bargain than Puerto Rican officials. So it is a bit of a wash.
But ... weirdly ... Republicans kept trying to neuter the bill in committee! (The link takes you to a blow-by-blow of the action.)
Consider the McClintock amendment. (Rep. McClintock, R-California, has in fact offered several amendments.) It would clarify that the bill would not apply to Puerto Rico debt obligations that are supported by a pledge of “full faith, credit and taxing power,” meaning, like, all of them. It would also clarify that nothing in the bill would alter debt holder rights or guarantees under Puerto Rico’s constitution or other laws. Which would, in effect, nullify bankruptcy protection by insuring that creditors could sue under Article 6, Section 8, of the Puerto Rican constitution.
Pretty blatant. Rejected 12 to 27. 12 Republicans in support, 16 Democrats opposed, 11 Republicans opposed.
Which Republicans opposed the amendment? Well, there was the committee chair, Rob Bishop (R-Utah). Good for Rob! The other Republicans that opposed it consisted of a collection of retirees on their way out (so under no political pressure), Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho, but born in Puerto Rico), Amata Radewagen (R-American Samoa), and a handful of others.
For most of the markup the Chairperson Bishop has been able to beat back amendments with points of order, but the more senior Republicans (including McClintock, obviously) lined up behind these poison pill amendments. The final vote was 29 to 10 and basically split the Republicans.
You gotta wonder what it will look like on the floor. If Paul Ryan lets it move without the majority of the caucus behind it, then he will have earned my respect. Sure, I may be a little disgusted at his resorts to magic asterisks to justify his silly budgets, that cut social insurance not because we have to but because he wants to ... but hey, reasonable people can disagree. If he gets this bill through and refrains from helping the Drumpfster this year, well, then the man will deserve to be the GOP nominee in 2020. Honorable opposition indeed!
Good luck with that, Paul.
Short version: PROMESA would grant bankruptcy protection to Puerto Rico. (Since I hate these cutesy names Congress loves, I will henceforth call it the Puerto Rico Oversight Act.) But the bill would also put P.R. under a fiscal receivership. An Oversight Board appointed by the President of the United States from lists submitted by Congressional leaders. The Board would essentially take control of the island’s budget process. In return, the Board would get the power to take Puerto Rico’s creditors to bankruptcy court, including the holders of general obligation debt. (That suspends a provision of the Puerto Rican constitution.) The board would also have the power to suspend federal minimum wage laws.
The Oversight Act is a less-than-great deal, but it is also less than it seems. First, without it Puerto Rico’s creditors will tie the place up in lawsuits. Nobody wants a board forcing budget cuts, but it’s better than a bunch of vulture funds making the decisions. Second, Puerto Rico will have to cut its budgets in any case: it can’t afford to borrow any more. The Board might make stupid decisions, but austerity is sadly already backed in the cake. Third, Puerto Rico will be able to restructure general obligation bonds. That is more than most plans involved; in fact, it gives Puerto Rico a power that most states lack. (Although to be honest, the law on that is less than clear. Start with the 11th Amendment and go from there.)
Senator Sanders opposes the bill, calling it colonialism. And he’s right! It is.
But what’s his legislative strategy to replace it and replace it quickly? Because the bill is way better than the status quo.
I don’t think he has a plan. I think this is an easy way to score political points, same as Senator Rubio did back when he was running for President. If it’s cheap talk, then I’m okay. But if he’s really mobilizing Democratic opposition, then he’s doing immense damage to the people of Puerto Rico and giving lots of power to hedge funds and their lawyers, aka “Wall Street billionaires.”
It would be ironic if actual livelihoods weren’t in the balance.
I would like to believe that the Senator from Vermont does indeed have a secret plan to get a better bill through, but I don’t.
OK, so when I flew into Mexico earlier this month I was astounded to see the brownish murk as my plane descended into the Valley of Mexico. The horizon disappeared, the mountains were invisible. After landing, the sky had a strange greyish tinge that persisted even when you looked straight up. My eyes watered. It was awful.
Back to the 1990s, I thought! The government declared a smog emergency, ultimately taking most cars off the road. By the time I flew out on the morning of Saturday, May 7th, the sky had gone back to a normal blue and you could see the mountains. Ozone levels had dropped from almost twice the safe limit (0.11 ppm) to “only” 2% above.
But it took heroic measures. The cutback on the number of cars in circulation was herculean.
Naturally, I wanted to see if things were really back to the 1990s. How bad was this smog emergency in historical perspective? Sadly, the data wasn’t easily available in one place. So I decided to get it. And after much looking, I managed to put together a complete series on the average maximum daily ozone reading for the Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México (ZMVM). That is to say, it takes the highest reading from all five metropolitan sectors for every day, then averages that across all the days of the month. The data from 1992 to 2010 (save 2003) are from INEGI, with the caveat that they changed the calculations in 2006 in a way that I do not fully understand. The data from all the other years are taken from hourly readings downloaded from the Atmospheric Monitoring Board of the D.F. government. I had to write some annoying Excel code to extract the data that I wanted, so I wouldn’t bet the bank on it having no errors.
Caveats aside, the numbers give a good idea of the trend:
Air quality has deteriorated markedly in the last three years, with spikes in May 2013, March 2014, April 2015 and ongoing for this year. But ... things are still better than they were when I left to work with Uncle Sam in 2002. And that despite an almost threefold increase in the number of motor vehicles in the metro area since then.
I was told several competing (but not necessarily exclusive) hypotheses. The obvious one is that the number of vehicles on the roads has finally outrun the decrease in smog per car. A complimentary one notes that congestion has markedly gotten worse with the increase in the number of vehicles ... and idling cars pump out more smog. Finally, the D.F. mayor decided to allow any car that could pass the smog check to get the coveted permission to hit the road every day of the week. It used to be that only newish cars could qualify; once the car got past a certain number of years, you could only drive it four weekdays out of five. That reform meant both that older cars could legally put out 25% more smog ... and, of course, some cars that should not have passed the smog check did with a little baksheesh.
And then there is the climate change hypothesis, but that is really a worry for the future.
But the future is coming fast. Even if things aren’t really back to the 1990s, it is clear that the government is going to have to do something fairly soon. The roads may be becoming saturated, but there is still lots of room for the number of vehicles on the road to increase. Traffic isn’t going to get better. And 2016 isn’t a fluke: as the data show, things have been getting worse for three years now.
Sadly, Die Hipster the blog is no more. But today South Brooklyn scored a victory over the new cool whatever not-Brooklyn Brooklyn with the restoration of express service on the F Train. That hasn’t existed since I was in high school! So, good.
Me, though, I’m more concerned with the Red Line these days. Hopefully, they’ll do the accelerated rebuilding, rip the band-aid off, and give me a subway train that I can use on evenings and weekends. My neighbors, they talk of these mysterious far-off times when you could count on the Metro after 8pm and on weekends, to which I simply marvel.
I am stunned, very surprised, almost shocked, certainly flabbergasted, quite open-mouthed, confused, what have you.
No, not at Bernie staying the race until California. Not at the acrimony expressed by Bernie supporters. And not even at the unrest in Nevada. (Stuff happens.)
But I am completely taken aback at Senator Sanders’ reaction to the Nevada incident. He really seems to have convinced himself that the Democratic nominating process is unfair, despite being entirely proportional. He seems to have gone a little, well, irrational. That makes me reassess his character, in an unflattering way.
I am not really worried that he will throw the election, although he could be doing a lot more to help the Democrats win in November. Nor am not worried that he will shift the party to the left; if he wanted to do that, he would be helping downballot candidates and creating a movement, which he is not.
(We didn’t he try to help Donna Edwards, for example? I live in the District, so I couldn’t vote in the primary. I would have probably voted for Van Hollen. But Edwards was a reasonable candidate and could have used the endorsement. Similarly, where is he in fundraising for other left-wing candidates?
In other words, this post is not ascribing more power to the Senator and his supporters than they have.
Rather, it is expressing my sadness that the Senator has refused to exercise any leadership or keep his eye on the ball. Something has happened to him over the past few months, and it is not good. In retrospect, it started with his acceptance of bogus numbers for his economic plan. It then became obvious that he was overreacting to mild attacks from the Clinton camp. Now he really does seem to have taken leave of his senses.
I would rather not have to watch a watered-down repeat of Chicago 1968 in Philadelphia 2016. Right now, Bernie seems to be acting a lot like Eugene McCarthy, only without the moral authority.
Details here. I would like to see more on profitability, but I suppose I can go look at the damn filings myself.
The basic problem is that the refineries are not optimized to produce higher grade fuels. That is fixable, but fixing it costs money, and money is not what Pemex has right now.
It makes the hubbub about oil imports from the U.S. a little ironic, since those imports were intended to help optimize refinery output.
The real question is whether a deep-pocketed buyer would find the refining business attractive. Pemex refining is earning a positive refining margin. The “refining margin” is less useful than it sounds. It is difference between total revenue from refined product sales and total costs of all crude oil, divided by the number of number of barrels of product sold. It ignores interest, transport and administrative costs. Add in those, and Pemex refining is losing money. (Page 20.)
But still, one imagines that a buyer could be found. The business seems far from terminal. I would like to know what Merlin and Dwight think.
This is not all the historical perspective that I would like. I would love to get some periodic estimates of the wage distribution. What percentage earned the minimum? How many jobs bunched up at the minimum? How did that vary across industries? There is a lot that you could do.
But in lieu of that, I will just give here the real California minimum wage from its beginning in 1918 to the final phase-in of the new plan to raise it to $15 nominal by 2022. (See the text of the bill here.) All numbers are in 2015 dollars. The wage is deflated by the California CPI back until 1956, and the U.S. CPI before that.
An explanation is in order for the projections. Note how the real minimum wage blips downwards in 2023 before stabilizing? That’s because the law has scheduled the wage to reach $15 nominal in January 2022 for large employers (barring a recession) but doesn’t start automatic inflation adjustments until August 2023. (See 1182.2, subdivision (c).)
I will admit to being very surprised that the minimum wage was that high in the 1920s and 1930s.
Let us just say that Watson did not cover itself with glory when it used its market analysis software to make conclusions about the presidential candidates based on their writings.
But get back to me in 2040. That is more-or-less my breathe-easy date: if computers and robots aren’t in the process of rapidly wrecking our social systems by then, then we will probably make it to the 22nd Century okay.
Put yourself in the position of an honest conservative. You don’t believe that Hillary Clinton will bring down America, or any such tripe, any more than I worried that President Marco Rubio would damage the Republic. But you do think that she would bring changes that would be bad for the country. Some would endanger our long-term prosperity; others you find morally distasteful on their own terms.
But you also believe that Donald Trump will be a wrecking ball. He might persecute political enemies, he will exacerbate racial tensions, he might destroy the alliance system and trade pacts that insure American hegemony. He would be a terrible president; here is the best case scenario. And this is without addressing the fact that you hate the idea of a president that you cannot tell your children deserves their respect.
A no-brainer, it would seem.
Except ... the Supreme Court. Trump has made many noises about appointing conservative judges. It is hard to see why he would renege on those promises once in office. (You might be wrong about that, of course, but there is no immediately obvious scenario in which he changes his mind.) Conservative control of SCOTUS is, to quote Joe Biden, “A big f--king deal.” It is not something to be tossed aside lightly.
And there is a good (but unquantifiable) chance a Trump presidency would be just a garden-variety mess: a Harding administration, or a Bush II, but with less chance of a protracted ground war. Plus, deep down, you might think protectionism is not all that bad an idea.
In short: on one hand, the significant risk of an unprecedentedly bad administration. (Well, since Rutherford Hayes, anyway. Explanation on request.) On the other hand, a conservative Supreme Court that will hamstring liberals and ease conservative reforms into the 2030s.
How do you choose? Oh, I know how I would choose. But flip the script and imagine an irresponsible isolationist left-winger with a weak connection to constitutional norms but likely to appoint liberals to the Supreme Court, and I know many liberals for whom that choice would not be easy. And that goes double if they were an elected Democrat.
So how do you choose?
I used to go to the Middle East a lot. But then stuff happened. I got disinvited by the government of Bahrain, wound up on Hezbollah’s side of a debate over energy policy in Lebanon, and experienced a surprisingly less-than-warm trip to Israel. Plus, the one time my wife and I get to Dubai, the Burj was closed! These days I have not been travelling there as much.
But this is the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot. So let’s visit the agreement. In the Arab middle east, Sykes-Picot is usually used as a shorthand for the European carve up that laid out the modern borders of the region between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. (Inasmuch as those borders still mean anything.)
But Sykes-Picot, in fact, laid out a rather different plan from the borders that actually emerged, as the below map shows.
Well, the map sort-of shows the agreement. You need to read the text of Sykes-Picot to really make sense of it. In essence, it worked as follows:
The agreement is often blamed for the current chaos, In the words of the Economist:
Even so, Sykes-Picot has become a byword for imperial treachery. George Antonius, an Arab historian, called it a shocking document, the product of “greed allied to suspicion and so leading to stupidity”. It was, in fact, one of three separate and irreconcilable wartime commitments that Britain made to France, the Arabs and the Jews. The resulting contradictions have been causing grief ever since.
Except, well, the agreement does not seem to have contradicted British promises to the Arabs. See the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence. In letter no. 4, the British say, “With regard to the vilayets of Bagdad and Basra, the Arabs will recognise that the established position and interests of Great Britain necessitate special administrative arrangements in order to secure these territories from foreign aggression, to promote the welfare of the local populations and to safeguard our mutual economic interests.” The Arabs agree to that in letter no. 5, as long as the occupation is temporary and accompanied by compensation. In letter no. 6, the British state that they have to give Aleppo and Beirut to the French; the Arabs agree in letter no. 7.
As for the Zone A/Zone B division, that was not a partition; rather, it laid out spheres of influence inside a sovereign state, along the lines (as mentioned above) of the Anglo-Russian Entente in Persia. The British were committed to handing back the “indirect” administration in the east ... but the Arabs agreed to allow London to decide for how long it would be held.
In other words, Sykes-Picot only violated Arab expectations by hiving off the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem ... although the Sharif of Mecca was to get a seat at the table in administering it. Otherwise, Sykes-Picot wasn’t the betrayal; the betrayal was that the ultimate borders didn’t follow it.
That said, it’s hard to see how the Sykes-Picot borders would have been any, you know, better. You would have had one giant state combining most of what we call Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, including big swathes of Kurdish territory. You would have had an “Iraqi” province, mainly Shia, eventually turned over to the giant Arab state. (I am sure that would go well, as the peoples of East Timor and Spanish Sahara can attest.) France would have carved out a strange country combining Arab Alawites, Arab Christians, Arab Shia (non-Alawite Shia), Druze, Arab Sunnis, and a whole bunch of Turkish peasants. Jewish settlers would have still flowed into the area under international administration. It would have been a mess, albeit a different mess.
Just not a “shocking” mess.
He points out that so far the impeachment has been a good thing: markets have risen and Interim President Michel Temer is known as a “dealmaker” who can manage Congress.
But! Temer has a hard row to hoe. He needs to restore fiscal stability while retaining social inclusive policies: i.e., income redistribution that actually redistributes income and gives people a stake in their polity. How can we know whether he can do that? Well, take it from the source:
In Brazil in Transition, my coauthors and I pose three questions to help us assess whether a leader such as Temer has what it takes: does he know what policies are needed to recover from the shock? Can he coordinate a coalition that includes economic and political actors as well as citizens to embrace those policies? And is he trusted and does he possess moral authority?
Lee doesn’t come out and say it, but his tone is negative. (He even briefly feints in the other direction, sardonically pointing out that at least you have to admit that Temer isn’t afraid of controversy.) His conclusion:
His early moves may please markets, but to satisfy Brazil’s diverse citizenry, he will need to demonstrate that he is not abandoning social inclusion. On this as well as his own fate in the ongoing corruption scandals: the jury is still out.
As for me, well ... I think the list of questions is an excellent one. The answers to the three are maybe, probably not, and hell no. The jury is certainly out, but there are a lot of signs coming out of the box.
Meanwhile, buy the book.
No points for guessing!
This essay (hat tip: Jon Rabinowitz) is a great read. Yes, the econometrics are pretty basic. Sure, the data is a little less-than-robust. (The guy collected rent data for S.F. back to 1949, but did not adjust for quality.) But the basic conclusion seems pretty good: letting development rip will at best hold back the tide.
I would add two points, however.
First, I worry about the model, simply because San Francisco is part of a metropolitan housing market. It really needs to include suburban development. Of course, the Bay Area has slammed suburban building shut even further than the County of San Francisco, but it is easier to imagine doubling the number of housing units in San Mateo and Alameda than it is to imagine doubling them in S.F. proper. Surely that would have a major effect.
Second, S.F. may be setting itself up for a major recession some day. I suspect not, to be honest: a gilded metro area looks depressingly plausible, particularly for the center of the computer industry. But a combination of a tech boom bust combined with an exhaustion of the supply of skilled people willing to live in the world’s first gilded metro area will kill the place dead.
At that point, New York will get another filip and the people who didn’t buy in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx when it was still relatively cheap will regret it. You know who you are. It isn’t too late.
In the realm of economic history, I have come across a few recent papers that take on the view that far-off history explains everything.
The first argues that Catholicism had a causal effect in holding back Irish development. That sounds controversial, but the paper does two additional things. One, it establishes plausible mechanisms: lower illiteracy and savings. Two, it shows, as you would expect, that the effect has been dramatically weakening over time. Moreover, read the conclusion: it is probably not what you would expect. (That said, I would not call the paper outstanding; right now, it is just interesting.)
Outstanding is a paper by Jeremiah Dittmar (LSE) and Ralf Meisenzahl (Federal Reserve) called “State capacity and public goods: institutional change, human capital and growth in early modern Germany.” Let me go to the abstract:
What are the origins and consequences of the state as a provider of public goods? We study legal reforms that established mass public education and increased state capacity in German cities during the 1500s. These fundamental changes in public goods provision occurred where ideological competition during the Protestant Reformation interacted with popular politics at the local level. We document that cities that formalized public goods provision in the 1500s began differentially producing and attracting upper tail human capital and grew to be significantly larger in the long-run. We study plague outbreaks in a narrow time period as exogenous shocks to local politics and find support for a causal interpretation of the relationship between public goods institutions, human capital, and growth. More broadly, we provide evidence on the origins of state capacity directly targeting welfare improvement.
They do not push the analysis to the modern day, but they do cover a 300-year span. In a sense, they are rehabilitating the idea that culture matters and pushing back (a little) against the idea that European state-building was all about war and the preparation for war.
I don’t have particularly strong opinions about Brazil’s new president, Michel Temer. The scandal accruing around the Rouseff administration certainly merited impeachment, even if the specific charge appears a bit overblown. And while I would be very hesitant to blame her for the recession, her economic management has been poor. This blog, in particular, has excoriated her energy policy, which devastated biofuels while wrecking Petrobras’s finances in order to subsidize gasoline.
But I want to say one thing about the new president. He has appointed no women to his cabinet. There are country’s and time-periods where that might be understandable, but in Brazil in 2016 you have to work to do that.
Some background. In Brazil in 2004, twelve years ago, women made up 46% of all lawyers, 41% of all doctors, 34% of all judges (18% of high court judges) and 14% of all engineers. Of major CEOs, women ran 19% of all utilities, 15% of all financial and insurance firms, 12% of all manufacturing companies, and 10% of all construction operations. They were less represented on boards (and made up only 16% of highly paid CEOs) but the numbers were not inconsiderable.
In other words: while the position of women in the Brazilian labor market is far from perfect (and worse than in most North Atlantic countries) there are enough high-powered women so that you need to go out of your way not to appoint any to cabinet-level positions.
Feel free to judge Michel Temer accordingly. Not that the rest of his cabinet would lead you to do otherwise.
The New York Times had an article today about Obama’s “war presidency.” It isn’t a bad article, but it makes much of the idea that there is something new in the idea of a U.S. fighting foreign enemies in less than “an all-consuming national campaign, in the tradition of World War II or, to a lesser degree, Vietnam.”
The article went on to say, “The longevity of his war record, military historians say, also reflects the changing definition of war.”
Except, as I wrote in 2012 in response to the debate around Rachel Maddow’s Drift, the definition of war hasn’t changed! I was disappointed that none of the people engaged in that debate recognized that history didn’t begin in 1945. So, it has lurched up again the idea that there is something new about having the U.S. continuously engaged in small-scale low-casualty low-footprint military actions, let me repeat what I said in 2012:
In 1898, the United States went to war with Spain. Between 1898 and 1902, American troops battled Philippine insurgents. Peace came to Luzon in 1901-02, but fighting continued on Mindanao until 1912. In 1904, the U.S. navy bombarded rebel positions in the Dominican Republic; eventually U.S. Marines wound up (with the permission of the local government) occupying the customhouses. In 1906-09, we occupied Cuba, although there was (to be fair) not much fighting. In 1907 and 1911, we deployed to Honduras to halt Nicaraguan invasions. Between 1912 and 1925, U.S. Marines actively hunted insurgents (the original Sandinistas) in Nicaragua. In 1914, we once again bombarded Dominican rebels; we also occupied Veracruz to prevent arms from getting to the government. Between 1914 and 1934, we occupied Haiti: unlike Cuba in 1906-09, that one did involve quite a bit of fighting. We did the same on the other side of Hispaniola in 1916-24. In 1916-17, we invaded northern Mexico after Pancho Villa attacked Columbus.
Then there was World War 1. After which ...
In 1917-19, U.S. troops again garrisoned Cuba. In 1919, we landed in Honduras to protect a neutral zone during a civil war. Between 1918 and 1920, American forces blundered pointlessly around Siberia doing something or other, and sustaining a lot of casualties. For a few days in Guatemala, Marines saw combat during a civil war in that country. In 1925, we invaded both Honduras and Panama during periods of unrest. In 1933 and 1934, we waved gunboats around Cuba, but no war was necessary, since we succeeded in overthrowing the government by what would today be called covert action.
And then, peace until 1941.
Counting ... between 1898 and 1934, the United States was at peace for all of ... well, never, actually.
It is true that with the exceptions of Mexico, Siberia, and Cuba, most of the American interventions were not sold as protecting what we would today call the Homeland. But those are three large exceptions!
In short, President Obama’s experience as a “president at war” rather than a “war president” is nothing new. McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover would find it very familiar.
Hillary as president, big burst of traffic. Mexico shows the amazing advance of solar power, something that may save the planet even if You-Know-Who is elected, meh. Oh, well.
Anyhoo, I just saw this email from Randy McDonald: “I’d be pretty curious to see your reaction to Jacobs on the blog. I know you’re a Moses fan, but that’s it.”
So, at his request, I’ll talk about Jane Jacobs. I did not intend to say anything, because why speak ill of the dead? I’m sure that she was a very nice person.
But my short version is: Death and Life of Great American Cities is bullshit.
Now, bullshit is a technical term. Bullshit is basically truthiness by another name. And Jacobs was truthy. She made claims about social cohesion coming from architecture for which she had no evidence. She refused to acknowledge that the pathologies of American cities in the 1960s were due to racism, not construction. She blasted entirely functional and pleasant “towers in the park” buildings but ignored the way well-intentioned traffic engineers were making suburbs unnecessarily unpleasant.
In fact, you can see how much bullshit she wrote from her defenders. Here is an essay Randy linked to called “Was Jane Jacobs right?” The dude manages to contradict himself. First, he claims that Torontonian neighborhoods have gentrified and become full of retail monocultures because of too much construction. Well, that is the purest form of bullshit: as Randy has documented, rising rents are creating such monocultures in old neighborhoods. Then he confuses typology for hypothesis testing, by showing us that dense districts in Milan are more dense. (No, really. That is what he shows.)
In a normal world, I might like Jane Jacobs. I am by no means ideologically averse to regulations that drive up housing costs. (Frex, requiring first-floor retail on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn.) She was right about highway building. (I like that Moses built stuff; I am less convinced that he built the right stuff, although really do wish the Cross-Brooklyn existed.) She was certainly right about most urban planning of the time, and her arguments apply to modern suburban planning quite well.
But we do not live in a normal world. We live in a world where Jacobite (Jacobin?) ideology means that everyone thinks it is entirely okay that the law protects cute streets like mine from the scourge of high rises. (Calling Eric Moore!) Hell, from the scourge of triple-deckers.
We live in a world where people can pretend that filtering does not exist. (The link goes to a study of the California housing market. Theory here.) And while the worst problems are in fact in the suburbs, where I suspect Jacobs would be fine with replacing quarter-acre plots with “missing middle” construction, the fact that we have decided to preserve our older neighborhoods in amber is creating just as many problems.
In short ... I usually do not buy slippery slope arguments, but it seems to me that the United States slid all the way down the goddamned slope that Jacobs greased back in the 1960s. If we need to bulldoze the West Village to get back to a normal housing market that serves all Americans (while making our cities greener in the process) then so be it.
Jane Jacobs caused none of that, of course. But she was emblematic. Her ideas have enabled much of the horror show that is the current American economy. Ironically, Canadian cities are doing (slightly!) better (in the face of worse pressure) because they are less beholden to her ideas than American ones.
Hasta la vista, cuteness. Bring on more buildings!
I hope that changed your mind, Randy! And even if it didn’t, when are you coming to D.C.?
I lost a Cinco de Mayo post, straight from Mexico City. So while I try to recover it, let me talk about solar power. The title of this post is ironic, since last week in the D.F. was far from sunny, in the worst possible way.
The picture is from last November, not last week.
Background: Mexico recently passed a new environmental law. Details here. Last month, the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) bid on clean energy certificates. Basically, the bids were to buy 20 years of clean electricity. In concrete terms, that was for about 6.2 million megawatt-hours (MWh) per year for two decades.
By itself, that is less-than-impressive. Mexico’s gross electricity production in 2015 came to about 299 million MWh. Total domestic sales came to about 212 million MWh. So six million more? Whatever.
But the amount ain’t the kicker. That was baked into the law. No, the kicker is everything else.
First, the CFE got offers for 102 million MWh. All that with a $71 per MWh price ceiling. (The price ceiling is a little complicated. Basically, CFE offered to pay a certain amount for the electricity plus a certain amount for a certificate insuring that the energy was green. The electricity had a price ceiling of $47 and the certificate a ceiling of $24. $47 + $24 = $71.)
Second, solar projects won 74% of the 5.4 million MWh ultimately bought. Projects here. That was unexpected!
Third, the average price for the solar bids was $50.7 per MWh ... without any subsidies! The lowest clocked in at $35; the highest at $68. We don’t have data on the cost of generation in Mexico, but we do know average retail prices (or at least we can calculate them from Sener data): $87 per MWh.
Now, don’t get too excited just yet. You can look up the wholesale price of electricity in the PJM region of the U.S. here. At this writing, it came to about $22 per MWh for PEPCO. But $51 is well-within the yearly range paid by American utilities. And it is within striking distance of the average $39 per MWh cost of your typical fossil steam plant in 2014, although natural gas prices were quite a bit higher then than now. (Coal, not so much.)
Moreover, there are going to be problems in execution. These projects need to get up and running by 2018. Some may be late and some may wind up losing money.
But it is, overall, great news ... and a great source of data, since these projects are not subsidized. ¡Viva México!
Some of my Democratic friends have been kvelling about “blueing” Republican voters in Arizona and Georgia, maybe even Utah.
Is that possible? Well, one take is to list the things that President Hillary Clinton would do without control of Congress but with (presumably) a friendly Supreme Court.
Our initial list was fairly radical. In fact, it was something that would quite reasonably give my Republican friends pause. (I am referring to actual real people, not some heuristic.) They would have to believe quite firmly that Donald Trump would be a national disaster to vote for that version of President HRC.
But then we discarded things that required Congress. And we discarded things that Hillary Clinton has never shown any sign of supporting. What was left looks … rather less radical. Other than expanded voting rights and LGBTQ issues, there is nothing that a future GOP united government could not reverse. (To be fair, it would be hard to reverse tightened environmental standards and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations. But it would not be impossible.) And in my experience, a lot of Republicans these days would love to get LGBTQ equality off the table.
So it looks like the kind of thing that would scare many Republicans rather less than the prospect of a President Trump.
Unless we left something out. Or (more likely) we’re using the wrong model of vote determination. But anyway, for your edification, here’s the list, Fourteen Points for the early 21st-century:
In short, pretty much the status-quo with some tinkering.
It doesn’t seem scary. But the GOP is the party that went completely unhinged in accusations of “socialism” and compared Obamacare to slavery. I’m not expecting much outright support for the Democratic candidate from GOP politicians. But it would seem that there isn’t terribly much here to frighten a large plurality of GOP voters.
Unless we’re wrong, of course.
I know, she made some radical sounding promises!
But they ain’t radical. Consider the statistics for 2015. In that year, the U.S. deported 235,413 people.
Of those, 165,935 were apprehended at the border or near ports of entry. Clinton has not promised to do anything about that, unless the apprehended are children. I don’t know how many children were deported in 2015, but I do know that only 7,643 unaccompanied children were deported between 2012 and 2015.
Of the 69,478 deportees apprehended away from the border or ports of entry, fully 63,539 were previously convicted of a crime. Of those, 41,516 were convicted felons. (Page 5.)
In other words, Hillary’s promise would cut deportations by at most 29,666 people, if you assume that all the children deported between 2012 and 2015 were both apprehended at the border and deported only in the 2015. That would give you a 12% cut in deportations, which is less than earth-shattering.
In fact, she said only criminals in the debate, not violent criminals. So we can include people with multiple misdemeanors. We’re now down to about 14,658 people who would be spared deportation ... a cut of 6%. And if you take the strictest definition of non-criminal interior deportations (which is what ICE uses, see page 5) you are talking only 5,942 people, implying a cut of less than 3%.
Even you make the same ridiculous assumption about child deportees, you get a reduction of less than 6%. A more realistic assumption (of, say, 3000 child deportations in 2015, all from the border) gets you a 4% cut in deportations under President Clinton. So call it a 4%-6% cut.
Open borders, that is not. As long as Mexico continues to keep Central Americans away from the border, it won’t even lead to another wave of entries.
Trump will demonize her proclamation to avoid deporting non-criminals, of course. (Shudder.) But she will be able to accurately point out that we are talking about risible numbers of people. Whether that will make a difference, I have no idea.
Division Street: America is a wartime thriller that takes place in an alternate 1971 where President Dick Nixon has been battling a zombie rising for over two years and now resides in the Western White House.
Main characters are Ben, an African-American National Guardsman, and Barbara, a Mary Tyler Moore type, alongside their respective families, all living in the Denver Safe Zone. Ben and his family are refugees from Pittsburgh, living initially in a tent city, and in suburban housing by the end of the first season. Barbara, the daughter of a ranching family in Greeley, CO, is drafted into Civil Defense.
Five projected seasons: The first focuses on clearing and holding Denver and the surrounding suburbs, reflecting Spielbergian fears from Poltergeist, Close Encounters, as well as Norman Lear comedies from the era. Like The Wire, The series expands organically to get a broader view of the response to the zombie threat, to include government/military response from the local, state, and federal level.
The fifth season focuses on Ben and Barbara’s participation in the campaign to retake America. In Army Group North, Ben ultimately becomes a company commander in the liberation of New York City. Barbara joins the Reconstruction and Reconciliation Corps, following her niece, a Marine NCO, in Army Group South, putting traitors, war profiteers, and others on trial, and reuniting communities with the federal government.
What makes Division Street: America compelling is its rich, complex characters whose arcs explore race, sex, and society in the face of the apocalypse. Pairs well with Man in the High Castle.
The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead manage to be both stupid and not-entertaining. This week I tried to watch. I wound up fast-forwarding. Why are they popular? And I am speaking as a huge zombie-flick fan. Somebody help me understand.
Economic historians have jumped on a trend of pinning differences today to events that happened hundreds of years ago. In some cases, the empirics are convincing and there is a theory to explain why it is not just a coincidence. (Coincidences happen!) Two examples: the roots of German anti-Semitism and the effects of the slave trade on Africa.
But sometimes the effect is either trivial to those who know the history (the ejido in Mexico) or simply hard to fathom. One of the latter is a famous finding by Daron Acemoglu (MIT), Davide Cantoni (Ludwig-MaximilliansUniversität), Simon Johnson (MIT) and Jim Robinson (Harvard) on the effects of French expansion during the Napoleonic Wars. Where the French army went in Germany, they find, urbanization increased later. The proposed mechanism are the reforms the French brought. Vive la révolution!
Or perhaps not. In an intriguing paper, Ece Guleryuz shows that urbanization also increased faster in the French departments closer to the Franco-German border. Since all of France underwent French revolutionary reforms, this result cast some doubt on the importance of Napoleon to later German economic growth.
The below map (I think, I dashed it off myself using the definitions in Appendix A) shows the areas under French influence in blue. The provinces that the authors of Acemoglu et. al. used as controls are in brown and red. (They used two different control areas.) The areas under French occupation are unsurprisingly closer to the postwar Franco-German border.
Since the article appeared in the American Economic Review, it has been taken as the canonical case that it is at least possible for foreign armies to impose long-lasting institutional change. But perhaps it is not so certain.