July 28, 2015, 8:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Yeah, being scared to talk about race is pretty white.

Sounds like a pretty gay hobby.

Congress seems to be scrambling for tricky ways to ‘pay for’ highway projects by raising or not-cutting revenue on other, unrelated stuff. I don’t get it, it’s almost as if Congress thinks more debt is bad. Shouldn’t Smart People call them derpy?

This piece on whites and Asians self-segregating in California schools rings true and also so what? One might suggest that perhaps this is more troubling.

Ok fine I guess I’ll admit there’s someone smarter than I am. You didn’t think I’d ever do that did you.

Chipotle is America’s favorite ‘healthy’ [sic] food. Money quote:

“The fact they’ve convinced consumers that the product is healthy is incredible,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president at food industry research firm Technomic, told Business Insider. “We’re talking about 1300 calorie burritos.”

Unsurprisingly, millenials were mentioned:

“Millennials care less about calories and more about where their food comes from,” he said.

While previous generations counted calories, millennials care more about food being “fresh, less processed and with fewer artificial ingredients,” Morgan Stanley writes.

Riiight. (Especially love this insight into what millenials ‘care more about’ from spreadsheet jockeys at Morgan Stanley.)

I guess not all science fiction authors are nice, well-adjusted individuals. I mean, Marion Zimmer Bradley & her husband, for example, sound like they were real jerks.

Scott Sumner doesn’t get why the Fed would want to raise rates anytime soon:

I’ve spent my entire life studying monetary economics, and especially the Fed, and yet even I would not be able to explain to an economics student what the Fed is trying to achieve with the forthcoming rate increase.

One word: credibility! Also, I think they need to raise rates at least like 25bps so that they’ll be able to lower rates 25bps later (if and when they should later decide, for equally inexplicable reasons, that they should need to lower rates). Clear enough?

Vladimir Putin is the richest person in the world.

A point I have tried to make myself.

The facts and science and argument of these highly intelligent celebrities have convinced me of the greatness of the #IranDeal (whatever the hell is in it, because hell if I (or they for that matter) know), how about you?

What makes ‘progressives’ happy
July 24, 2015, 8:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I guess it’s already time for one of my least-favorite Presidential election traditions:

  1. The candidates each come out with various ‘plans’ for fiscal and taxey type things, and
  2. Everyone proceeds to analyze these ‘plans’ as if  a President’s ‘plan’ is somehow automatically enacted lock stock & barrel on inauguration day – even though everyone knows very well that’s not how our system works.

I don’t get it. I didn’t get it in 2008 or 2012 and I still don’t get it today.

But nevermind, let’s do it again! Hillary announced a ‘plan’ to alter the capital-gains taxation schedule guys, so we better analyze it! I suspect this by Jordan Weissman is going to be a typical entry in step 2 of the tradition. And overall it is a reasonably balanced and descriptive of the ‘plan’ and its pros/cons (real and political).

Let me just single out this then:

It might work. It might not. But, ultimately, it’s a progressive tax increase on investment income, and that should make many progressives happy. Regardless of whether it changes investors’s behavior, it will raise some money from the wealthy

Fascinating, right? Whether it ‘works’ or not, it ‘should make many progressives happy’. Why? Because it will ‘raise some money from the wealthy’.

This is exactly right and a good description of what it means to be ‘progressive': who cares about the actual real practical effects, what they want to do – all they want to do – is to tax the weatlhy, to ‘raise some money from’ them. If a policy does that, and nothing else, it ‘makes progressives happy’.

This, despite the fact that there is no good reason for them to even want the government to ‘raise money from’ the wealthy or anyone else in the first place! Logically, taking their economic arguments at face value, most ‘Progressives’ shouldn’t want to tax anything at all – there is simply no need. ‘Raise money’? What for? The government prints the money, it makes up fiscal deficits whatever they are by issuing debt, and ‘progressives’ think that’s all just fine and dandy and if you disagree you’re a Derpy McDerperson. Just read their actual arguments (in other contexts)!

So despite all that why does raising taxes on the wealthy, raising money from them, ‘make progressives happy’? I doubt even they could explain it. It’s just something psychological. Seeing money garnished from others, in and of itself, ‘makes them happy’. ‘Progressive’ is just the word for the mass phenomenon that occurs when this bitter, passive-aggressive impulse is translated into the political sphere.

July 23, 2015, 8:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Interesting piece on how little we in the West know/understand about the rise of ISIS. We just can’t understand what attracts people to it:

Again, we can list the different external groups that have provided funding and support to ISIS. But there are no logical connections of ideology, identity, or interests that should link Iran, the Taliban, and the Baathists to one another or to ISIS.

Well, except for that whole Islam thing.

But other than that, no logical connections that anyone can think of!

Volcker Rule: Bloody murder, so what
July 22, 2015, 9:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Matt Levine in this piece on the Volcker Rule makes essentially all the same points, observations, and critiques about it that I did in my quixotic bizarre early-2010s campaign against it. Including

  • You can’t sharply, objectively distinguish ‘prop trading’ based on the trades themselves.
  • If there’s a distinction, it exists largely in the trader’s mind.
  • To take the stated criteria of which trades aren’t ok literally and consistently would mean to ban banking as we know it.
  • Since no one’s  really proposing to do that (EDIT: almost no one), the ban will (inevitably) be enforced vaguely and inconsistently, which invites regulators to second-guess after the fact and make up ad hoc criteria for what is/isn’t ok – with unstated but obvious implications for the rule of law. A quote from the Levine piece:

    “we’re entering a period of rulemaking by enforcement, in which regulators will look at stuff, give it the smell test and say, ‘That’s OK,’ or give it a sniff and say, ‘That’s not OK.’”

    Oh, lovely. Yglesiocracy FTW!

  • The attempt to regulate away ‘prop’, given the impossibility of defining it, becomes like trying to (as per the title of Levine’s 2015 piece, and of my 2012 piece) just ban losing money.

These are all points Levine now, in 2015, makes matter-of-factly, almost as asides, with a gentle chuckle, in a random piece. I guess they’re now just conventional wisdom, everyone knows them already, yeah, yeah, ad hoc regs, fake distinction, there’s no rule of law, we get it. Yet they are the very points I, internet wacko, was banging my head against a wall trying to drive home in 2011-13!

This is all very depressing because from this we learn:

1. I can point to confirmation of my judgment on this entire matter and basically every point I ever made for my case, and yet
2. It just doesn’t freaking matter.

It’s as if I’ve been screaming ‘bloody murder’ only to encounter – after a long delay – the response: ‘ok, so there’s a bloody murder. And? Your point?’

Everyone Knows, independent of any given facts or arguments, that the Volcker Rule was a necessary thing that Needed To Be Done. Even most of the people who will read the Levine piece and nod their heads. But then walk away still intoning the catechism, “but the Volcker Rule still Needed To Be Done.”

So, whatever. Bloody murder, big whoop, who cares.

P.S. One place I do quibble with Levine:

The rule told banks to stop doing proprietary trading. Banks stopped doing proprietary trading.

I get he’s trying to make a point there, but it’s important (to me anyway) to emphasize that strictly speaking this isn’t actually true. Not really. They certainly stopped having desks called ‘prop desks’, and I’m sure nobody in a regulated bank with any smarts is doing trades they’re willing to (openly/in mixed company) call ‘prop trades’. But again – as Levine agrees elsewhere in the piece! – some fraction of business-as-usual trading and underwriting and similar activity (including, I would assert, much of what actually makes them money, and bonuses) just is ‘prop’ by any sane definition, if ‘prop’ were ever to be consistently-defined. Which it won’t.

So, congrats regulators. You did it! You set up a regulatory framework that will induce bank employees to become better at hiding and less transparent about the prop trading they do to make their yearly P&L targets, camouflaging all their activity as just ‘meeting expectation of client demand’ so that now – as opposed to 2010 – it will look as if what they’re doing to collect their fat bonuses is blessed and wholesome, instead of the same ol’ shit.

Use and misuse of metrics
July 21, 2015, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The idea that, counter to their supposed rugged-individualist philosophies, ‘red’ states siphon more money from the fedgov than ‘blue’ states is a pretty standard and well-worn Smart talking-point. Something seems fishy about this though.

Using data from the IRS, WalletHub ranked all 50 states on four key metrics: return on taxes paid to the federal government, federal funding as a percentage of state revenue, the number of federal employees per 1,000 residents, and the number of non-defense federal employees per 1,000 residents.

Seems like these rankings are then (ugh) blended together, using some arbitrary and made-up weights. The resulting mess is put forth as a metric of ‘dependency’, i.e., of the state on the federal government. (I guess, though even if this metric made sense it’s a pretty muddled concept.)

Anyway, some of the graphs in the piece are confusing (N.B. the red dots are not ‘red’ states), but the headline result is clearly supposed to be that ‘red states’ are more ‘dependent’ on the federal government than ‘blue states’. They are so by a precise score of 33.2 to 18.3:

Aha! Gotcha, you leeching red states! This is just #science.

Let’s take a closer look at this dependency-metric. One of the factors: ‘federal funding as a percentage of state revenue’. Well, state revenue = state taxes + federal funding, more or less. There are presumably exceptions, states (e.g. Alaska?) that get significant revenue from natural resources or other non-tax sources, but generally speaking, a state with low or zero taxes should almost automatically score ‘high’, i.e. bad, i.e. ‘dependent’ on this metric. So all else equal, what is being touted as a finding that red states are dependent is just a tautology – states with low state-tax revenues get low state-tax revenues, duh! – in disguise.

Another component of the metric has to do with how many federal employees a state has. This takes a deeper dive but could very well have a similar explanation (i.e., if it has fewer state employee positions, that portion of the workforce naturally takes more fed jobs?). Curiously, the authors use & rank two separate categories for federal employees and non-defense federal employees (weighted, #scientifically, with factors 0.5 and 0.25 respectively), so there’s room for all sorts of speculation as to why they felt the need to do that. (Make blue California look better?)

The other big component is ‘return on taxes paid to the federal government’, which isn’t quite clear but seems to just correlate with GDP. Have a low GDP, your residents will send less income-tax dollars to the feds, this will make that state’s ‘return on taxes’ higher, all else equal. And then if GDP-by-state correlates with red-blue – for example because ‘blue’ states are dominated by snooty effete wealthy SWPL cosmopolitans – well there you go.

Anyway, from all this we ‘learn’ that low-state-tax states don’t collect a lot of state taxes, and low-GDP states don’t contribute a lot of net federal tax revenue. These obvious and, on the face of them, a priori morally- and ‘dependency-‘ neutral facts about such states have been relabeled as those states being ‘dependent on the federal government’ for your spinning pleasure. In conclusion, New Mexico is the ‘most dependent’ state. Enjoy & use this talking-point wisely, Smart People.

And so that’s how you use and misuse ‘metrics’ in social science and schlock pseudo econ analysis.

UPDATE: Some more thoughts about New Mexico. My guess is that New Mexico’s outsizes number of federal contracts/employees relate mostly to (a) national labs and (b) military bases. Anyway, the fact that the federal government set up national labs & military bases in New Mexico, and pays people to work there and maintain them, presumably plays a large role in why New Mexico becomes scored by the above metric as ‘dependent on the federal government’ – like it’s getting a handout.

That’s a bit strange, isn’t it? I don’t mean to discount the influence and role of federal money, nor that New Mexico’s legislators lobby to keep it flowing. But is the rest of the country getting nothing whatsoever from the deal? Presumably the country gets scientific research and, well, defense out of it. If these sites weren’t in New Mexico, and we still wanted to have them, they’d have to be somewhere else. In fact, couldn’t one justifiably say that the federal government is disproportionately ‘dependent on’ New Mexico for a good chunk of its scientific research and military siting? When you pay someone to haul your trash, do your taxes, or police your neighborhood, is he ‘dependent on’ you or are you dependent on him?

Actually, isn’t the real answer ‘neither’?

Seems to me the notion of ‘dependence’ painted by this metric is just the household fallacy (=treating the government as a household), combined with the sort of backward mercantalist economics that treats a salaried job as a handout instead of an exchange.

Yglesias, totally disinterestedly, complains that you have to be ‘rich’ to get your kids in ‘good’ public schools
July 21, 2015, 11:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Matthew Yglesias complains on Vox: Want a good public education for your kids? Better be rich first.

He features this chart:

It doesn’t take a socioeconomic genius to see the logical problem here, as many already have on Twitter. The plot correlates a measure of a) how smart the students are vs. a result of b) how wealthy the parents are, binned by school. And lo and behold it reveals the (wholly unsurprising) fact that higher family wealth correlates with kids who do better on tests.

What’s that got to do with how ‘good’ the school actually is? (Unless of course by ‘good’ you mean something else entirely.)

So that’s funny enough. What really makes that post a perfect-storm for RWCG-fodder though is that (as usual with Matthew Yglesias) it seems likely there’s an autobiographical angle. I know it’s unsporting and against the rules of polite debate to point this out, but it’s just that so often, the (ostensibly class-conscious and disinterestedly progressive) topics that interest Matthew Yglesias tend to magically align with whatever’s going on in the life, and threatens to hinder the social advancement (or even mere convenience) of, one Matthew Yglesias. I’m not gonna bother to dig up links but if you wish you can find Yglesias posts on such things as

  • Things that inconvenience him (e.g. how Amtrak trains handle boarding procedures, the bad wi-fi on Amtrak, or more recently, brick sidewalks that make it hard to push strollers)
  • Things that he finds aesthetically displeasing (e.g. cracks in the sidewalk)
  • Zoning rules which make housing more expensive/restricted, especially in DC (a big interest of his especially around the time he was buying a condo in…DC)

To pause on that last item for a moment. The conservosphere made a big deal of his purchase, which I criticized at the time. (Dude’s gotta live somewhere, this is just what stuff costs where he is, etc.) But now that he’s (as his readers also know) recently had a kid, and suddenly blogging about these (faux) ‘school goodness’ statistics, surely one can be forgiven for connecting some dots and wondering, golly, where would that Logan Circle condo he bought a couple years back places him on the DC public-school-zone map. Can’t one?

Well, it’s not that hard to look this stuff up, and best I can tell (I could certainly be wrong), it should place him in Garrison. Just to be clear, that’s the lonely dot in the lower-right quadrant, with a relatively high average home price but a super-low (~25%) test-score metric on par with some of the more, er, diverse areas. Yet just nearby are acceptably upper-right-quadrant schools Seaton & Cleveland, and he would appear to be tantalizingly close to that top-rightmost dot Ross, representing Dupont Circle.

So, I mean. I’m just gonna ask it. Is that what the bleeding-heart lefty is really complaining about with this piece? That his pricey condo still wasn’t enough to get him to the cream of the crop areas where the public-schools are ‘good’ (i.e., where the kids his kid would be mixing with come from more uniformly-wealthy families)? I mean like, damn, what’s an important voxsplaining progressive gotta do to keep his kids from the rabble?

Just saying.

Of course, never fear. I’m sure his kid is destined for private school anyway, and/or they’ll sell out & move to the ‘burbs before kindergarten. Can’t wait to see the caring selfless disinterested lefty blog-post socioanalyses that’d result from that.

UPDATE: I rest my case, I guess. Kind of anticlimactic really. Like, he doesn’t even have any self-consciousness about it.

UPDATE 2: A more careful analysis that correlates home-price to something that actually does try to measure school quality, ‘median growth percentile’. Which may not be a perfect metric but at least (unlike mere test scores) it tries!

The result for Yglesias’s school?

But I crunched the numbers, Matt, and Garrison is hardly terrible. If you had used better metrics, you would have discovered it’s just about average.

So we see that according to the data, Yglesias’s complaint can simply not be that his local school is ‘bad’. It can only be that the kids it contains test as if they are, on average, from poorer families. One possible, even likely, reason for this phenomenon is that the school just has a high dispersion in wealth/demographics – i.e., some kids from wealthy and super-wealthy families mixed in a population with a larger bloc of kids from poorer families.

I note as an aside that, for example, Garrison is about 85% black & Hispanic. Idyllic nearby super-achieving Ross, meanwhile is 32% black & Hispanic, 49% white, 8% Asian.

So again, I’m just wondering, what precisely is Yglesias’s complaint with all this fretting about whether his nearby school is ‘good’? Gee, I wonder.

The recently-appearing growth barrier
July 21, 2015, 7:05 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

You may have heard that J.E.B. “Jeb” Bush recently ‘promised’ 4 percent economic growth. You may have heard this because he gave a speech whose contents are often being reported/headlined as ‘promising’ 4 percent economic growth. This has sent Smart People into a tizzy of feverishly writing rebuttals. They just can not let this ‘promise’ stand.

Looks like here’s the relevant part of the speech I think they’re all talking about:

So many challenges could be overcome if we just get this economy growing at full strength. There is not a reason in the world why we cannot grow at a rate of four percent a year.

And that will be my goal as President – four percent growth, and the 19 million new jobs that come with it.

I don’t know about the English comprehension of Smart People. I’m not a Jeb Bush fan, but to me, this is just him saying a) ‘there is not a reason in the world’ that growth can’t be four percent, and b) that’s his ‘goal’.

What on earth is the big deal? What do you want him to say? This is like the blandest gruel to be angry about.

Taking the statements in reverse order: ok, Smartypants, should it not be the stated goal of a Presidential candidate to enact policies that he thinks would increase economic growth? And is there a reason in the world that growth can’t be four percent?

To read Smart People, you’d think their answer to the second question is yes: an economic growth rate of four percent is somehow a physical impossibility, like traveling faster than the speed of light. If this is the case it’s a pretty recent development. Back in 2009-2011, recently-elected President Obama’s own OMB was projecting higher than 4% growth rates for the future-year 2013. Why weren’t the Smart People out in force then, to tsk-tsk and ‘debunk’ that projection, insinuate that Obama and those in the OMB who made the projection must be economic ignorami, and remind us all condescendingly that everyone who knows any economics at all knows that the magical threshold of 4% is metaphysically impossible? (Or is it just that it only became metaphysically impossible sometime after 2011?)

Something about this ‘4 percent’ number really strikes an emotional chord with Smart People. Look at ’em. They need to rebut it, to debunk it, to spin and fight against it.

What’s really going on? Two big factors.

When/where Smart People merely disagree that a policy being proposed by Bush as part of his “4% Growth” project will indeed increase growth, they’re (being Smart) not content to just say that. “I disagree that will promote as much growth as he is implying”, after all, is a pretty underwhelming rebuttal. Ok, so you disagree with an (R) policy, big deal, we already knew that. That’ll never win the debate! No, better to gussy-up that opinion with #science by making-up a straw man (‘promise’) and then claiming it’s ‘impossible’. Smart People have an emotional need for their opinions and preferences to somehow all be #science.

The other factor here is that, for at least some of the policies in question, Smart People don’t actually even disagree that they’d promote growth. They just don’t like those policies anyway, and don’t want people to like or want them, regardless of how much growth they’d engender. Hence the need to paint a 4% growth target (or any round-number that, they fear, sounds like a significant goal/benchmark) as unattainable and not even worth seeking. “Yes ok I admit that’d increase growth, probably, but it’s only like 0.1% or something, not even worth doing.” This wouldn’t be surprising because the typical Smart People menu of policy preferences is chock full of items that ‘only’ clamp down on growth by a number like 0.1% (each). Of course, add up 20 of them and you could get from 2% to 4% growth by just not doing them, but that’s precisely what Smart People don’t want you to notice.

So instead we get the desperate, emotional smoke-and-mirrors that is ‘Jeb Bush promised 4% growth LOL that’s so dumb he doesn’t know any economics I have a economics PhD let me tell you how dumb that is in a hastily-typed-out op-ed!!1′. Which is so very Smart.


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