The ‘Count My Vote More’ Normative Principle
July 30, 2012, 9:40 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ezra Klein Jamelle Bouie** says You Can’t Beat Voter ID With Just Facts. This must be why non-facts play such a prominent role in the argument against voter ID. (Hey, he said it, not me.)

Here’s his main non-fact, i.e. how he intends ‘engage voters on the plane of ideals and principles’:

Simply put, voter-ID laws place a limit on the number of voters who are able to vote. Unless you have loose laws for identification, there will be some people who won’t have the paperwork or resources to prove their identity at the ballot box (registration is no longer adequate). If you see voting as an important act of citizenship, then this is unacceptable; we should be more concerned with maximizing the franchise, not restricting it.

Every time I hear this sort of argument I marvel. I don’t know if there is a lapse in logic or basic innumeracy going on here, but this argument of ‘ideals and principles’ fails even on its own terms. Namely: to someone who genuinely believes that voting is an ‘important act of citizenship’, of solemn importance and meaning, ensuring that only those eligible to vote (for starters, citizens) do vote should be paramount. If you don’t think it’s paramount, I have to question whether you’re living up to the ideals and principles you purport to hold.

This is because – and I can’t believe this needs to be said – every ineligible vote completely cancels out the vote of someone who was solemnly and sincerely carrying out that ‘important act of citizenship’ Ezra Klein Bouie pretends to care about so much. Letting that cancellation occur is, logically and mathematically, the same thing as throwing the eligible voter’s vote in the trash. So you tell me Ezra Klein: Why is that ok? It can’t be, not if you really care about voting on principle.

Thus it’s clear that ‘maximizing the franchise’ is just the wrong metric for caring about voting as an ideal. It’s the metric for something, just not voting as an ideal. People who care about voting in the abstract, in the plane of ideals and principles, would consider a limit on the number able to vote a feature, not a bug. What is the opposite of a limit? No limit at all. What principle exactly does that maximize?

It’s not hard to figure out. It’s entirely transparent in fact, and you really have to try dang hard to pretend otherwise. The Ezra Kleins of the world seek to ‘maximize the franchise’ because they believe – probably correctly – that the fraudulent portion of the vote will disproportionately break the way they favor. Mathematically, as long as this is predictable and systematic (and I think that it is, and I think Ezra Klein Bouie thinks that it is), that is the exact same thing as giving their votes some extra weight.

So no, it’s not hard at all to understand why Ezra Klein would favor multiplying the votes of Ezra Klein and other eligible voters who agree with Ezra Klein by, say, 1.1 before every tally. But for him to pretend it is required out of some ‘normative’ deep principle or ideal is a bit rich. Unless of course that principle is just that the votes of folks who agree with Ezra Klein about stuff should count for a little bit more. Which, deep down, is probably what they think.

**Argh. I had the author wrong. The reason is that these articles show up in an RSS feed based on ‘Ezra Klein’. But that is no excuse for my mistake. My points above stand, of course, but the lazy snark would need major revisions. Thanks to Josh Hedlund for pointing out my error(s).

July 29, 2012, 5:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
  • John Mauldin on LIBORgate:

    The larger question that really needs to be asked is how in the name of all that is holy did we get to a place where we base hundreds of trillions of dollars of transactions worldwide on a number whose provenance is not clearly transparent.

    As you know, I blame math.

  • I’m confused, if they turn the toilets away from Mecca, doesn’t that mean people using them are pooping in Mecca’s direction? Or does ‘away from Mecca’ mean the opposite – that they turn them so that the poop goes away from Mecca? But in that case they’re facing Mecca when they poop. That’s no good either. To be really safe, shouldn’t these toilets really go orthogonal to Mecca, arranged in (say) rings tangent to the great circles that are of a constant distance from Mecca? Use surveyors, satellites and GPS to get the arrangement right. Follow terrain and dig stepped trenches as necessary. Then both the poop, and squatters’ gazes as they poop, just orbit Mecca as a center – it is not an attractor of either field. It seems to me that is the only respectful way to place portable toilets.

    I kid, of course, but I’m with Pastorius here:

    I bet in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan the toilets are facing random directions.

    This (like the idea, apparently believed by politically-correct idiots, that Islam commands its adherents to pretend pigs don’t exist) is precisely the type of ‘tolerant towards Muslims’ rule that is more likely to have been made up by some politically-correct British lady, rather than any actual Muslim. The other possibility (~20% likelihood) is that British Muslims make this shit up to take the piss out of the gullible politically-correct British, and see how much they can get the British establishment to dance like puppets, laughing all the while.

  • I have officially spent more time studying Kieran Healy’s useful Olympics-sport diagram than I am likely to spend actually watching any part of these Olympics. Minor quibble: ‘baseball’ clearly belongs in the absolute upper left. Other than that, it looks pretty accurate, although I can’t speak for the placement of ‘Dressage’ as I have no idea what the hell it is.

Thinking Alike
July 29, 2012, 12:08 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

If you get deja vu reading The Parallel Universe of the Volcker Rule, don’t worry, it’s just because you read RWCG. Recommended.

Link Dump
July 28, 2012, 11:39 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m not actually sure I read all of these.

  • “Sustainability” and “Local Living Economy” as code words for race and rain.

    If you like your community the way it is or want to attract more of your kind of people, resistance to Wal-Martish globalization makes sense as a way to put up price barriers to discourage being flooded demographically.

    Of course, rain helps too.

    In this vein you can also do stuff like use the owners’ political views as an excuse to deny business permits to, e.g., a chicken fast-food chain. We all know who eats that stuff don’t we?

  • Bryan Caplan disapproves of conservative opposition to ‘cost-effectiveness research’. Here’s his ‘charitable story’:

    Many people – even people who strongly favor heavy government subsidies for medicine – deeply distrust policy wonks. They fear that these wonks will use cost-effectiveness research to trump the medical decisions they’d like to make in consultation with their doctors (who they do trust). The simplest way to prevent the wonks from usurping patients’ sovereignty is to prevent cost-effectiveness research from happening in the first place.

    This seems to assume that the ‘cost-effectiveness research’ itself is unimpeachable – it’s just that we conservatives distrust the policy wonks who implement it. I would suggest Bryan is leaving out an important part of explanation, which is that conservatives distrust the researchers too. And not only due to a fear of bias or rent-seeking (though those are definitely factors!). There is a deeper problem, and RWCG readers know what it is: All large calculations are wrong.

  • Government Is Not an Investor
  • Break Up the Banks? Be Careful of What You Ask For

    The most effective solution to risk-taking by big banks, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is to stop trying to micromanage what risk banks are taking and start pulling back their safety net.

    Two words: Hell. Yeah.

  • The Problem With Sluts. Wait, there’s a problem? ;-)
  • Economists Idea Bag Seems Empty. I wish Falkenstein would stop mincing words and say what he really thinks.
  • Why Are Keynesians of All People Calling for Tax Increases in a Crap Economy?
  • Income distributions and misleading poll questions (#OWS)

    Disingenuous, pseudo-quantitative arguments piss me off.

    Fair enough (me too I reckon), but you know what really pisses me off? Discussions that treat income ‘distribution’ as something that ought to be determined via public-opinion surveys. The premise of such an ‘honest’ and ‘quantitative’ argument is that it is okay and moral (and not stealing) to take Peter’s property if enough Pauls wanna.

  • Foseti’s post on The three branches of USG should be required reading. For, like, the Internet.

Jonathan Chait Knows Black When He Hears It
July 28, 2012, 9:40 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Jonathan Chait thinks that the reason folks are up in arms about ‘you didn’t build that’ is that, in Jonathan Chait’s expert analysis, Obama was talking all black and stuff when he said it. That’s what it sounded like to Jonathan Chait anyway: Obama sounded totally black to Jonathan Chait. HELL OF black.

This is part of a case Jonathan Chait is trying to build that other people (i.e., not Jonathan Chait) are racists who (unlike Jonathan Chait) can’t listen to or react to President Obama without thinking of his race.

RELATED RWCG FLASHBACK (2009): Lefties saw chimp in editorial cartoon, lefties thought of President Obama, lefties called the artist racist. (Link)

July 28, 2012, 9:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am sure all the SWPLs trying to keep out that chicken place on account of its owner’s incorrect personal opinions will turn their attention to Whole Foods any day now.

I’m A Awesome Olympic Fan
July 27, 2012, 5:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Catching wind of some sort of Romney gaffe has made me aware that there’s gonna be Olympics in London (?) soon. As I understand things, Romney said something about the Olympics, and/or London, and as per everything else Romney does or doesn’t do or say, all the Smart People now agree that this thing he said, whatever it was (it’s too boring for me to look into), proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he should not be made the next President-guy of the United States. That much is clear.

Anyway, fascinating political ramifications aside, what I wanted to know is, what happened to Beijing? I totally thought there were gonna be Olympics in Beijing. China was all into it cuz it was going to represent their entrance onto the world stage as a grand and great power that everyone was gonna have to fall in love with and everything. Seems like it was in all the papers and such too. I’m sure I would have noticed if they had some Olympics in Beijing.

How Far We’ve Come
July 27, 2012, 5:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m not sure the Seinfeld episode The Couch would have been nearly as funny if, instead of merely storming out of Papi’s restaurant and breaking up with her furniture-mover boyfriend upon learning of their anti-abortion views, Elaine had instead convinced then-Mayor Giuliani to shut down Papi’s pizza business and whatshisname’s moving business respectively, as people of her political bent seem instinctively inclined to do today.

We’ve actually devolved to the point that large numbers of people are unable to even live up to those standards intentionally portrayed as exemplars of horrible, self-centered, and venal behavior on Seinfeld just a decade and a half ago.

The Cliff
July 27, 2012, 5:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

What struck me about this story making the rounds, of 5 friends who photographed themselves every 5 years, is what on earth happened to them between photos #6 and #7 (focus on the two guys at the right for example)?

Per the article, this would be when they are age 44-49. So that’s where the cliff is…

Russ Roberts Learns How A Bill Becomes A Law
July 26, 2012, 7:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am not sure that Russ Roberts has correctly identified The worst part of Dodd-Frank:

The illuminating part is that TWO YEARS after Dodd-Frank passed, its provisions are not completely specified. …

There’s gotta be something far worse than that about Dodd-Frank…

Now yes, it’s bad that a law ‘passed’ by Congress still hasn’t been created, but the fact that bureaucracy and not our legislature makes our laws is no longer news, or shouldn’t be. At least not to anyone who reads Foseti.

The Great “Quant” Shortage
July 26, 2012, 7:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Via FT Alphaville comes Banks will struggle to fill top quant roles, says Andreasen.

Ah, the familiar lament of the senior guy who lived through, and benefited from, a bubble in his field. His generation of “quants” (gawd how I hate that word!) created hyper-inflated views of their own worth, sucked unwarranted buttloads of money out of the system (much of which we now know was fraudulent, because it essentially came from miscalculated and Ponzi-style valuations of CDOs and the like), incentivizing larger and larger waves of young people to try to get on the gravy train, but they’re all not up to the magically-stupid standards he is now making up after the fact to apply to people younger than himself. You will note this thesis happens to correspond to a world view in which people of his “quant” generation are to be thought of as quite secure and ensconced and necessarily well-compensated in their roles, and lock younger generations out – coincidentally.

Anyway, what are the actual complaints? First he complains

Go to a quant conference, and you will struggle to find a speaker under 40.

I’m torn here because I can’t envision whether I’d think or more, or less, of an under-40 “quant” who wasted their time at too many of those “quant conferences”. I mean, I guess they’re good for networking, for when you need to switch jobs…

But the main substantive complaint, such as it is, essentially boils down to this:

He claims to have been using the same questions in job interviews throughout his 15 years in the business, but says applicants now cannot answer questions they haven’t seen before, and lays the blame at the feet of the education system.

Yes, the education system. Surely the blame cannot be placed on the insular, overly-academic “quant question”-centric culture they cooked up as a means of filtering people into the overpaid special club. Why, it’s almost as if applicants who wanted in this club began to notice stuff like the fact that this joker asks the same damn questions for 15 years, and to actually respond to the resulting (dumb, lazy) set of incentives.

But it’s a bit hard to get worked up over a claim that banks won’t be able to find enough smart “top quants”, since it has become less and less obvious over the years whether they really even need any.

Kristen Stewart, You Broke My Heart
July 26, 2012, 2:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Kristen Stewart apology-fest appears to be entering a second day of news cycles and I, for one, can’t get enough. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to see this show up automatically in my Google Reader:

So it goes without saying I now have a dedicated tab open to Google News’s realtime coverage of Kristen Stewartpalooza. It also goes without saying that I’ve gotten nothing else done all day. Mesmerizing.

Helpfully, Google News has a timeline of the number of sources covering this story. Time discretization is not specified so it’s not clear how to integrate this curve but I think it’s safe to say that overall it numbers in the thousands (a number to which I’m now adding my blog, for all I know):

For comparison, here’s the same graph for what is evidently a far less important story cluster (‘syria chemical weapons’). Note the left axis peaks at ~100 rather than ~500:

I suppose interest in the Syria story could spike, rendering this comparison obsolete, if it were to be revealed that Kristen Stewart also made out with Bashar Assad. Well, stay tuned. I know I will!

UPDATE: For those wondering: Kristen Stewart, I have just pieced together after much study, is apparently some sort of cinema play-actress. More on this as it develops.

UPDATE 2: I’ve made a video about my feelings on this, as I couldn’t hold it in any longer. Okay, here’s me:

Man Bites Dog
July 26, 2012, 1:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s so rare to see a “liberal” nowadays actually being liberal that it merits special comment. Kevin Drum on the Chick-Fil-A thing:

…you don’t hand out business licenses based on whether you agree with the political views of the executives. Not in America, anyway.

Exactly. Well, I hope that he’s right, anyway. From his keyboard to his fellow “liberals’” fascist ears…

UPDATE: Fixed the post subject..

Is The Merkley Prop Desk Accepting Applications?
July 26, 2012, 11:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

It was with some interest that I read Matthew Yglesias’s description of an apparent new plan by Senator Jeff Merkley to use the government purse to help underwater homeowners:

Merkeley’s proposal is to set up an entity—comparable to the HOLC of the New Deal—whose purpose is to borrow a gigantic sum of money from financial markets at today’s ultra-cheap US government cost of funds, and then buy up all the outstanding underwater mortgages that are out there. Then the new entity will offer each underwater homeowner one of three refinancing options…

In other words, he wants to create an entity that (a) finances itself at USG borrowing costs, (b) buys up distressed assets, and then (c) approaches those assets’ issuers and offers to sell them back at current mark-to-market in exchange newer-vintage assets on slightly better borrowing terms. The idea is to make money on the spread between (c) and (a) and hope that the renegotiated terms reduce default rates.

Without going into the potential stimulative merits or demerits of such an idea, let me just note the irony. If Senator Jeff Merkley were a private citizen proposing to do this with private capital, we’d call it a hedge fund. But since he instead intends to fund with government money, I think we have to call this (more or less) a bank. In particular, though, Merkley specifically wants this new bank not to accept deposits or do things on behalf of clients, but rather to engage in a gigantic prop trade: to use government money to accumulate a long-short portfolio of distressed assets for profit. The proposed Merkley Bank is entirely a prop desk.

Senator Merkley, of course, is the guy who has been one of the most vocal supporters of the Volcker Rule. You see, he doesn’t like the idea of people taking large risks with taxpayer money.

Wrong Kind Of Traitor
July 26, 2012, 11:21 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sandra Day O’Connor was technically part-correct in response to a softball straw-man question from Patrick Leahy:

Leahy wanted to know what O’Connor thought about critics who called Roberts a traitor to conservative ideals and accused him of betraying President George W. Bush, who appointed Roberts to the high court.

She replied: “It’s unfortunate because I think comments like that demonstrate only too well a lack of understanding some of our citizens have about the role of the judicial branch.” Federal judges owe their only allegiance to the Constitution, O’Connor said in a defense of judicial independence.

It’s absolutely correct that federal judges owe their only allegiance to the Constitution. O’Connor is right on that point. So no, John Roberts did not (as Leahy/O’Connor would have us believe, in a pure invented straw-man, ‘critics’ are saying) ‘betray George W. Bush’.

No. John Roberts betrayed the Constitution to which he owes his allegiance, with his idiotic, indefensible, incoherent decision based on transparently disingenuous reasoning and utter sophistry. His allegiance was owed to the Constitution, yes, and that’s why he is a traitor, because his decision was wrong and unconstitutional.

Does that help, Norman Geras?

They Didn’t Win That
July 26, 2012, 10:45 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am as aghast as anyone at the crimes apparently enabled due to the power of the Penn St. football program, but the punishment handed down to ‘vacate’ their victories going back to some point in time struck me as creepy and Orwellian. Apparently I am not as alone in that view as I might have guessed.

This also came up with the baseball steroids scandal; I recall some folks floating the idea of ‘striking’ Barry Bonds’s and Mark McGwires’ and Sammy Sosa’s (and on and on? Palmeiro? Brady Anderson?) home run totals from the record books. I didn’t like this idea any better and found it Orwellian then.

All of these sporting events either occurred and had winners or they did not. The on-field events either occurred or they did not. The purpose of historical sports statistics is to record what happened, not what should have happened according to someone’s morality. A win is a win, not a canonization or a stamp of approval. Most grownups understand this, I think.

Yet the change-history approach to punishment seems to be on the rise. I don’t think there were serious proposals to whitewash sports statistics and records for wrongdoers 50 years ago. Even during the Roger Maris/Babe Ruth controversy, all that Ford Frick did was have an asterisk put next to his home run total – not strike it from history altogether.

But now, airbrushing seems to be many peoples’ first idea.

I gather the argument is: ‘We need to punish these people in a way that will deter others. Having these wins and records by their name is a huge motivator, so removing them is the maximal tool available.’ I think this is completely wrong. Even under the standard narrative that the Sandusky affair happened because Penn St. as an institution was corrupted by devotion to its football program, ultimately it was money that was the corrupting factor, not the ‘wins’ per se; the wins are a means to the money, but not the end in itself (that is, if you agree that they were as corrupt as their detractors say). If you want to suggest that a football program was corrupted, fine, but you have a hard time telling that story without money being involved.

Thus fines are very appropriate, including punitive fines perhaps, as a way to punish Penn St. and other programs. Remove the financial incentive. But ‘vacating’ wins as well is utterly beside the point.

I suspect the history-rewriting approach to punishment was cooked up by and makes sense to people who are steeped in academics: after all, it mistakes the CV used to get a reward (i.e. salary) for the reward itself. And it is only easy to confuse the two if you are part of a culture that worships the CV. To such people, editing line-items out of a person’s CV is the worst possible punishment they can imagine. (It’s probably quite the power trip, as well.) But ultimately it is a misguided and foolish approach to punishment, and we shouldn’t welcome or encourage it.

Beta-Male Problems
July 26, 2012, 9:35 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

When Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl, Names Pile Up

News reading tip: You can just look at the headline & the photo. The text of the article is redundant.

Quick Take On Kwak
July 25, 2012, 12:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

James Kwak asks Can Financial Regulation Be Fixed? A good starting point might be to understand the financial transactions you’re trying to regulate:

Kay’s proposal is to replace today’s intricate rules, which only provide employment for loophole-seeking lawyers, with broad fiduciary duty standards. Then, for example, the ABACUS case wouldn’t have hinged on whether the fact that John Paulson was betting against the CDO was material and should have been disclosed, but on whether Goldman was acting in the best interests of its buy-side clients.

Help me out: if Goldman, as a market-maker, had been ‘acting in the best interests of its buy-side clients’ wouldn’t that have meant they were ripping off John Paulson (the short seller) on the other side? Why would it have been ok to screw John Paulson’s firm in order to deliver ACA a good investment? Or are they supposed to perfectly magically balance the best interests of both sides, and if so, how on earth are they to determine what those are, if not via the agreed market price?

One answer, the free-market answer, is that the ‘best interests’ of a free-market actor – especially a ‘Qualified Institutional Buyer’ like ACA – are determined and stated and expressed by that actor himself, by making the independent decision to buy or sell something. In doing so, that actor is saying (when buying): ‘I want the thing more than the cash it costs’, or (when selling) ‘I want the cash more than the thing’. In saying that, he’s telling you what his ‘best interests’ are. Who the hell are you to say otherwise? You’re not the boss of him.

Hence, ACA (the buyer/protection seller of the Abacus deal) believed and thought and said to Goldman, evidently, that in their view investing in the Abacus CDO was in their best interests. You, genius internet commentator, like me, can look back on that view and correctly characterize it as idiotic. But it was their view. What was Goldman supposed to do? Argue with them? ‘Sorry, buying that isn’t in your interests’? or ‘maybe it’s in your interests but you should ask for more spread’? And then go back to Paulson on the short side and insist he pay more? And then he says ‘naw doesn’t work there’ and the deal doesn’t happen at all? Why is that the right outcome? I mean, besides with our collective perfect internet hindsight?

I do agree with Kwak (and Felix Salmon) about one thing though:

Felix Salmon, however, builds on Kay to argue that what we really need is a financial services market where reputations matter and firms have an incentive to maintain them. That’s clearly not the world we live in today: Goldman gets a reputation for screwing its customers, but they don’t lose any business because those customers (a) figure it’s just a cost of doing business and (b) don’t have any meaningfully different choices. And to get there, Salmon continues, “we’re going to need to see today’s financial behemoths broken up into many small pieces.”

Better regulation would be great at the margin. So would more highly-paid, highly-motivated regulators. But as Salmon says, “the real problem here isn’t regulatory, and as a result there isn’t a regulatory solution.”

Indeed. If firms had more incentive to maintain reputations that would be beneficial. I also can’t argue with having smaller firms not behemoths. What both of those things point to, of course, is increasing competition in finance.

Unfortunately, the modern push for increased ‘regulation’ does not push in that direction, it pushes in the opposite direction. People who regularly proselytize for stifling and mammoth regulations that require an army of lawyers to comply with, and then point at the Goldmans of the world and lament how behemoth they are and how they have bad incentives because clients have no meaningful choice to go anywhere else, have only themselves to blame.

Can We Finally Drop The Pretense That The CBO Does Honest, Reality-Based Accounting?
July 25, 2012, 11:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

After the Supreme Court’s unjustifiable, idiotic and illegitimate Obamacare decision, I noted some conservatives trying to console themselves with a weird, thin fantasy like ‘Well, at least the decision will somehow force the CBO to re-score the costs of Obamacare way upward, which will help us because [insert vague hand-waving here]‘.

I always thought this was insane and that there was approximately a 0.00% chance that the CBO’s revision would correspond to these conservatives’ fantasies, so much so that it made my head hurt. That’s why I was relieved that the revised report finally came out, because it punctures that fantasy so I can stop hearing about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am sure a lot of smart, accountant- and economist-type people are on the payroll of the CBO. But the output they produce is not genuine, honest financial accounting, and hopefully we can stop pretending that it is now.

Universities: Psychopath Enablers
July 25, 2012, 9:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The evidence just keeps piling up:

James Holmes received thousands from grad-school grants ahead of deadly Aurora shooting

Shut these places down already. Right-minded people support sensible gun-control laws; but where is the public-outcry for university-control laws?


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