Millenials Like Stuff
June 22, 2015, 11:00 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Is the media finally catching on to how utterly stupid commentary focused on ‘Millenials’ has become?

Case in point, The most awkward times brands tried to target millennials. Describing some research the U.S. Potato Board (!) did into ‘Millenials':

Millennials like food. They have budgets and care about getting value for their money. Millennials are busy. And they generally have a positive attitude toward potatoes.


Millenials like food! It’s funny because it’s true.

On the other hand there’s this breathless piece in Forbes which, barely a second after acknowledging that ‘Millenials’ aren’t meaningfully different from other humans, warns – direly, it seems, that ‘Millenials’ – emphasis theirs –

will soon be the most dominant generation in the workforce

Oh my gosh! This is so noteworthy! A cohort of people defined as (something like) the people who are between 15 and 35 right now, will soon be ‘the most dominant generation in the workforce’, you know, that cohort of people that contains people (generally) between ages 22 and 65, but with a larger percentage focused on the middle ages…you know, those ages a person who is between 15 and 35 right now will become soon, due to, you know, time elapsing.


At least the ‘insights’ that Millenials like food, and being entertained, and not spending infinite money, etc. aren’t pure tautological rephrasings of the banal fact that time elapses – that people born X years ago are X years old right now, that people who are X years old right now will be X+Y years old Y years from now, etc., etc. No, the best ‘Millenial’-splaining in the genre is far more hilarious than that.

Left Argues For Keeping Fascist Law Because It Saves Money
June 19, 2015, 9:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The CBO released a report today projecting that if the ACA were repealed as of Jan. 1 2016, the subsequent deficits would increase by something in the range of $100-400 billion, cumulatively, over 10 years. (You may notice that they report more digits than I have shown here, reporting these numbers as “137” and “353” respectively, which is their right, and hilarious. Also they say some words about what would happen beyond the 10-year horizon, which is also hilarious.) The upper end of the range is without any ‘dynamic scoring’, i.e., attempt to include positive effects of repealing a tax on the economy; the lower range incorporates their model of such an effect.

I don’t know why they studied this question (in what universe can or will ACA be repealed as-of Jan. 1 2016?) but I’m going to go ahead and assume some genius (R) in Congress asked them to.

If you’re wondering why repealing ACA costs money, the answer appears to be that while ACA includes what one might think of as ‘Obamacare’ itself – you know, the actual stuff righties complain about – it also includes stuff about Medicare which (as far as I can tell) basically says ‘uh so we’re gonna just basically spend lots less on Medicare in the future? I guess?’. (Plus stupid boutique taxes like the medical-device tax that nobody likes but are presumably just put there to get the budget-scoring over the top.) Whether all these we’re-gonna-spend-less plans will indeed be followed to the letter with no other repercussions or feedback effects, in light of, y’know, political economy and reality, is left as an exercise to the reader. But CBO is required to take these future we’re-gonnas at face value either way, and so they rightly did. (Keep this in mind, by the way, because it’s the reason a raw CBO scoring of something, however good and respectable CBO is thought to be (and it is!), is not a valid part of a cost-benefit analysis of that thing.)

Anyway, not surprisingly, some usual suspects in the media are crowing about this report. Jordan Weissman says this means repealing ACA would be ‘very, very expensive for the government’. Jonathan Bernstein thinks this would ‘blow up the long-term federal budget deficit’ and so this means other free citizens who disagree with him vehemently about a thing in a democracy just need to move on and presumably shut up. Sarah Kliff says well I mostly skimmed because what’s the point of reading Sarah Kliff, but you get the idea.

I mean it makes perfect sense for pro-ACA lefties to be playing up this finding, because as we all know if there’s one thing pro-ACA lefties care about it’s the deficit. You might call them ‘deficit hawks’. They are always going around wringing their hands about the deficit and suggesting that we trim it, and that’s why they favored ACA in the first place. (For the deficit). They want us to trim the government so as to spend less money because if there’s one thing they dislike it’s debt. Less public debt – one might say, ‘austerity’ – is their main goal in all policies they favor or disfavor.

In light of these true facts, a simple compromise immediately comes to mind: let’s repeal just the Obamacare part of ACA – you know, the mandate, the rules about insurance plans, the subsidies – but keep all those great awesome Medicare-cuts parts! Then it’s sure to save money. Win-win! Problem solved. Right guys? Guys?

But I jest. Nobody give’s a rat’s ass about the deficit, of course. Nobody who favored Obamacare did so because they wanted to trim deficits. And I’m no different! I didn’t oppose ACA out of concern for ‘the deficit’ and I’m clearly not about to start now. That isn’t even what this is about. For anyone!

But even if it were: is any of this really so ‘very, very expensive’?

Let’s take the CBO number at face value. Let’s take the higher, non-dynamic number. Let’s round it up. So let’s go ahead and say repealing ACA would cost $400 billion over ten years. Over ten years, guys. This means $40 billion per year. Is $40 billion per year really ‘very, very expensive’ Jordan Weissman? Does it really ‘blow up the deficit’, Jonathan Bernstein? The total marketable debt outstanding is some $13 trillion. Something like a quarter of that, so $3 trillion-ish rolls over every year, we couldn’t seamlessly increment that number upward by a percent or two? The average interest alone on outstanding debt is some $200-300 billion and we’re like ‘whatever’, but that last $40 breaks the bank?

More context on numbers of this order of magnitude in government. The Department of Education recently randomly took a $22 billion writedown on student loans (of which they print $100-150 billion a year) and pretty much nobody noticed or cared, we kinda just absorbed it, cost of doing business don’cha know. The same CBO projects primary deficits hovering stably around $200ish billion a year for the next 10 years. You’re really trying to tell me that adding another $40 billion on top of that would ‘blow up the deficit’? To say nothing of what happens if reality is more like the dynamically-scored number of only $10-15 billion a year. Heck, that’s just normal slippage, rounding-error, leakage, pennies lost in your car seat. I mean, HHS can’t account for $3 billion (Obamacare-related!) they sent out to whoever-the-hell, and again, no one cares or noticed except on the righty fringe. Stuff like that’s gotta be happening all the time. So what’s another $13.7 billion, really?

All this, against a backdrop in which all the (often the same) Smart People engage in periodic handwringing over a shortage of sovereign debt. Everyone Knows that the US isn’t borrowing enough, and it’s damaging markets!

So you say that repealing ACA would increase cumulative deficits by (ooh scary) $353 billion over ten years? You know what I say? Bring it on! Not that I believe that a repeal is in the cards in the slightest, but just for the record: DEAL. I’d do that trade in a heartbeat. That’d be totally worth it to remove a bad, horrible, fascist law. (I’m really supposed to want to stick with a law I think is bad, horrible, and fascist, because it also projects to reduce the deficit a bit?)

I’d say these guys don’t know what the hell they are talking about with these faux deficit concerns, except of course, they don’t mean any of this seriously in the first place. It could have just as well been $10 billion or $10000 billion and they’d have written the exact same pieces. They’re not literally, sincerely putting forth ‘it would increase the deficit by $353 billion’ as an actual objective reason to oppose ACA repeal. It’s just a convenient talking-point they saw that appears to lean their way and so it’s getting shared around and inserted into Thinkpieces (without its really passing through anyone’s brain) because, well, that’s just what internet writer-type people do.

Well, most of them anyway.

How does it feel to treat me like you do
June 16, 2015, 9:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

At UC Berkeley it’s now explicitly a verboten ‘microaggression’ to express certain opinions, from the standardly-uncontroversial-conservative (e.g., “Affirmative action is racist”) to the generically-patriotic (“America is the land of opportunity”). Actually the only real question here is what took them so long? Seems like an oversight that these (previously unwritten and tacit) fascist speech codes hadn’t been written down until this late date.

Refreshing argument that having lawful ‘discretion’ to do a thing doesn’t mean you can just do whatever you want.

I don’t know diddly squat about this ‘trade bill’ that President Obama really wants to get passed (who possibly can?). Or I feel like I should say, is pretending to want to get passed because (even though he presumably doesn’t know diddly squat about it either way any more than I do) it would be an ‘accomplishment’™ for his ‘legacy’™, but the fact that Larry Summers is all for it is enough for me. (To oppose it, I mean, of course.) Although it was surprising that his reasons and argument are so obviously dumb, power-politics-driven, and substanceless in this case, instead of subtly so as is usually the case.

Tesla borrowed some more money. Some weird multi-bank combo of loan and credit line. Wait, why are banks allowed to make an outright $750mm bet on Tesla paying them back in 5 years, isn’t that a ‘prop trade’ oh nevermind.

The I-defaulted-on-my-student-loans guy (again, I forget his name, but you know the guy I mean, the guy who’s so very talented and important to the world we owed it to ourselves to buy him three degrees) says it’d have been ‘anti-democratic’ if he’d had to go to a college within reach of what he could afford using his own means (rather than those of his countrymen). Sigh. Three fancy degrees and he still doesn’t have a handle on a basic concept like what ‘democracy’ is.

Guy doesn’t want to spin records for gay people, so clearly he should be forced to. In the future we will all occasionally be forced to do a thing for a gay person somewhere, be it bake them a cake, cater stuff for them, host their weddings in our domiciles, spin them a New Order/Blue Monday 12″ (b/w The Beach), or what have you. Something party-related, anyway, that much has become abundantly clear. But seriously, am I the only one who thinks forcing people who disapprove of you to bake you cakes and cater your weddings and stuff is way more freaky, weird, bizarre, and abnormal behavior than just the (quite normal and healthy, almost laudable by comparison) doing of the gay-stuff? Me, if I said to some businessman ‘I want to give you money to do a thing’ and he said ‘I don’t like/approve of you so I’m not gonna’ I wouldn’t be all ‘please Mr. Government-Man make the guy who doesn’t like me take my money and then come awkwardly appear & bring stuff to my special personal event!’, I’d just shrug and say to the guy ‘ok screw you too’ and walk away and find someone who wouldn’t make the whole thing I was trying to do in the first place all super-weird and uncomfortable. I mean right?


June 16, 2015, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Millenials. Is there anything you can’t say about them?

Here’s some things Millenials want: homes, to get married (but not the same way that other generations do), to make the world a better place, to change the world (but make money too), but also not a well paid job but a job that’s fun, more than money, work-life balance, more flexibility in workplace schedule, food to be fresh and fun, to work in tech more than any other sector, stylish design, flavorful writing, and not just junk web video, to party not gamble in Atlantic City, and last but not least value but not at the expense of quality.

To hone in on the job issue, here’s some things Millenials want out of a job: meaningful work, high pay, sense of accomplishment. I mean, can you believe it? A starker difference between Millenials and preceding generations I cannot imagine. Who on earth ever heard of wanting meaningful work and high pay before 1990? The times, they sure are a-changin’ all right.

Here‘s a helpful piece with a photo, captioned “Millenials seek out value from their retailers”, of a guy (presumably a Millenial?) doing (presumably) just that. Did you ever imagine in your wildest dreams that a generation of people would come along who seek out value from their retailers instead of not seeking out value, as had been the custom and the norm since time immemorial?

Which reminds me, here’s some things Millenials value: experiences over owning things, stories and photos over video for trip inspiration, seeing the world up close and in person, birth control, transparency from the people and companies they interact with, ‘elationships’, immediacy, transparency, flexibility, simplicity and reliability, organizational “fit”, on-site or subsidized childcare, flexible work arrangements, as well as paid parental leave, Netflix, and smarts (which is not to say they don’t value quality because they do, it’s just that they expect to get it at the best possible price).

Isn’t all this fascinating?

I know I sure am riveted. What a scintillatingly unprecedented generation of humans, to have discovered and invented all these heretofore-neglected and unheard-of, new, and revolutionary wants and needs. Stuff the rest of us never even thought of, you know, stuff like: tasty food, and fun, and being entertained, and having good comfortable job situations rather than bad ones, and being happy with oneself instead of sad, and feeling like you’re doing good/right things instead of bad/wrong ones, and seeing your kids instead of not seeing your kids, and getting more stuff with one’s limited resources rather than less stuff, and sex and being able to have it instead of not have it, and (eureka! why didn’t I ever think of wanting this!) homes. I mean I could keep going because the list just goes on and on but you get the idea.

Millenials! They came up with all this stuff from scratch in just one short generation. Amazing!

Kling on ‘good schools’
June 14, 2015, 9:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Arnold Kling on schools:

One of my pet peeves is the metro section’s constant reference to the “excellent reputation” of Montgomery County schools. What the schools have is a reputation for having an excellent reputation

But that’s enough! That’s all you need, really. You want your kid in a school known for having an excellent reputation. Nothing more nothing less.

As I’ve said many times, the idea that some parent out there wants a ‘good school’ because of the diffuse statistical effect it will supposedly statistically have on his kid’s (cohort’s) expected-test-score N years forward, as can only be measured/distinguished in large dubious regressions with often statistically-insignificant loadings and problematic methodologies that lack sufficient control, just makes no sense. To the extent this is even about anything academic at all (see below), you want your kid in the ‘good school’ based on what college admissions will treat as ‘good schools’. And if the school is ‘only’ good by reputation that’s still sufficient. I mean I don’t even know what else ‘good’ can possibly mean, academically.

In fact, if you plot the percent of students that perform well on tests against percent of students not on free and reduced meals, Montgomery County schools fall right in line.

Well, sure. ‘Good schools’ is largely a euphemism for social class. You want to be in a neighborhood where your kid will be in a ‘good school’ because of what it indirectly indicates about the things you’re (in polite company, and in some cases, legally) not allowed to ask/say directly about that neighborhood.

The Important Guy With The Student Loans
June 10, 2015, 11:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As you may have heard, Some F’ing Guy You’ve Never Heard Of (I think that’s his name, remind me to doublecheck later) wrote a piece in the New York Times about how he hasn’t yet paid back his student loans because that would’ve inhibited him (Some F’ing Guy) from becoming the important person to the world that he is today. And then the world kinda freaked out for a day or two.

I say ‘hasn’t yet paid back’ rather than ‘defaulted on’ because, although the article is accompanied by a visual of what is presumably meant to be a Student-Loan-Card (is there really a card?) being burned, the debt isn’t magically gone, and it’s not quite clear to me or – as far as we can tell – even to him how he’ll possibly avoid paying it back eventually (unless he dies soon? but still, the government could garnish his, like, Social Security benefits?). This is because, as everyone knows, student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy for some historical vestigial reason no one can quite seem to articulate or justify nowadays. Which to me says, you simply can’t of your own volition fully ‘default on’ your student loans and call it a day the way Michael Scott declares “bankruptcy!”. I mean you can not-pay the payments they tell to pay but that just means that (unless/until they cut you some kind of deal) you’re delinquent on them, you’re late in paying them. You’re in the ’90+ days-delinquent’ bucket from day 90 forward. Well, this particular guy in the 90+ bucket sounds like when you drill down into the actual details he’s about 30 years delinquent, and his point in writing the article was to say, he thinks that’s just fine, he does, especially given how important to the world he turned out to be, and he just wants everyone to know that he’s made his peace with his own not-paying-money-back. Which (the writing of all that, if not the action behind it) you gotta kinda admire in and of itself, in a way?

But that’s not my point in bringing this up. My point in bringing this up was to say that I was wrong in my reaction to the spectacle. I was wrong on Twitter, because I Tweeted that I thought it was fine and dandy (basically) of him to ‘default on’ [sic] i.e. not-yet-pay-back his student loans. Now, my longtime readers know that I keep a mental tally of how many times I’ve been Wrong On The Blog, and when I consult this mental tally I think this now brings it up to 6. (If tweets count.) So this seems significant.

How was I wrong? Well, ‘you guys should default on your student loans’ – if that’s what he was saying – is just terrible, awful advice. My assumption based on taking what he wrote at face value was that it was a strategy that worked out for him (although on reflection I’m not even all that sure of that), but even if it did, it would work out horribly for 99.999% of everyone else. Not from ‘society’s’ point of view (I am not at all concerned about the morality of not-paying-back these loans) but from their, the borrowers’, point of view. Seriously kids, don’t try it.

Why was I wrong? I think it’s that ‘mood affiliation’ thing all the cool econ bloggers talk about (though I can’t be sure as I mostly just skim those guys). Basically, I am anti-student-loan, I have a bee in my bonnet when it comes to student loans, and so a guy coming forward who appears to throw a monkey-wrench in the logic behind them appealed to the dark nihilistic side of me that just wants to blow it all up. I really want to believe that guy is right when he intimates, for example, that if more followed his lead,

The government would get out of the loan-making and the loan-enforcement business.

Hear, hear! Can I get a hell yes. (I’m not sure he really means it BTW. Does this also mean no loans to Solyndra and Tesla?) Because yes, it was kind of stupid, in retrospect, to turn the U.S. Department of Education into one of the world’s largest banks, and to assign Department of Education administrator type people (who, don’t get me wrong, are perfectly nice people I’m sure) to run one of the world’s largest loan portfolios, inadvertently. I mean, wasn’t it?

On the other hand, maybe the government getting out of loan-making is not what would happen at all if everyone ‘burned their student-loan cards’. Maybe something much, much worse. After all he also says, in the very next sentence,

Congress might even explore a special, universal education tax that would make higher education affordable.

Which is just ill-thought-through shallow lefty blather. (I do like the idea that it’d be not just any-ol’ tax but a ‘special’ tax! “Honey would you put out the special good China, it’s time to pay the special tax today”)

The serious point behind my reaction is my awareness the rule no discharging of student loans in bankruptcy, combined with the rule of fair-value accounting for student loans, has led to something perverse. When the government makes a student-loan it pays out money, and it expects to get interest in return for the next 10+ years. Since that interest rate is 6.5% or whatever, which is higher than prevailing interest rates, the government gets to tell itself it has made money on the act of paying out money! Every. single. such. act. So every student loan being made reduces the deficit, it ‘makes taxpayers money’ – Elizabeth Warren is technically right about that.

This is perverse of course because in reality (if not accounting), some large fraction of those interest payments are never going to come. Some fraction of the student loan principal will never be paid back, one way or another. So the future money the government pretends to think it’s going to get from these people (which is why it ‘makes money’ in the act of making the loan) isn’t going to be there. There is, in reality, a large amount of losses baked into the accounting, and those losses just haven’t arrived yet. But they have started trickling in already. (Also! The loans that might actually be just fine are being methodically skimmed away for private profit. So we’ve got that going for us too, which is nice.)

So the reason I kinda-sorta liked this guy’s op-ed is because he was reminding the world and everyone: no, in fact, all these student-loans aren’t going to be automatically paid back. Since that is an obvious truth, my preference would be to recognize it, instead of to hide it in the accounting. Take the pain now instead of later. Pull off that band-aid. Let’s get it over with.

I stand by that. But meanwhile no, the literal advice the guy is giving – if that’s what it is – is totally dumb and horrible and misguided, for almost any person in a position to receive it.

Good column, Guy. I now see how important to the world you were that we needed to buy you a buncha degrees!

In which I defend Nate Silver (AGAIN)
June 7, 2015, 9:03 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Gene Callahan complains about this use of probability by Nate Silver:

The Cleveland Cavaliers led for much of Game 1 of the finals against the Golden State Warriors and had a better than 70 percent shot at winning it when LeBron James put the Cavs up by four with 5:08 left to play.

The complaints being that this 70% comes (presumably) from analysis of N prior game outcomes conditioned on similar situations, but the two teams in question weren’t going to be playing N games from there, that none of the previous teams who’d been in that situation were these two specific teams with these specific players, that such conditional expectation (necessarily) would be ignoring the particularities of the game like who was hot, etc etc.

But the thing is, I’m pretty sure any sports fan reading the stat knows all that. I mean, duh. It’s just an interesting reference point: the typical 4-point-lead with 5 minutes to play is a 70%-victory-guaranteer. The ‘4-point-lead with 5 to play’ has been transformed into a scalar that allows you to place all sorts of other situations along a single trajectory.

Anyone looking at the scoreboard could have read off that (a) the Cavs were winning, (b) by 4, and that (c) there was 5:08 left to play. But how big of a lead was that? How insurmountable? How much trouble were the Warriors in? What’s the magnitude of the reversal that ended up taking place? Wouldn’t it be nice to know, to have some context?

So in this case what the stat told you was that the Warriors wouldn’t have to perform better than 70% of 4-point-trailers in order to win (which they did). And that’s interesting. (It’s not?)

Callahan wants to say this use of statistics is bad.

In short, I think Silver’s statement only has the superficial appearance of being an objective statement about the particular game he was discussing, and is actually an example of “probabalism,” to coin a term: reflexively applying probability analysis to a situation without really considering what it means in that situation.

Maybe I just have a reflexive antipathy towards the act of trying to coin terms, in this age of ‘truthiness’ and ‘mathiness’. And admittedly, when people get philosophical about statistics and get in a big argument about ‘frequentism’ vs ‘Bayesianism’ it tends to go over my head and I get a headache. But I doubt Nate Silver would have any disagreement about what his usage ‘means'; it was evidently based on empirical analysis of other, similar games, and surely the one who collated that analysis would know that.

Gosh, why do I always find myself rising to the defense of Nate Silver. (In fact, my defense in 2012 is very similar to my defense here.)


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