24 October 2016

Evolved Libertarians - Or Why Gary Johnson Couldn't Name a World Leader

Chris Mathews asked presidential candidate Gary Johnson to name a world leader who he admired. Johnson couldn't do it.

It's easy to dismiss Johnson's drawing a blank as proof that he's simply not that aware of the outside world. I suspect it instead gets to something more fundamental: Libertarians don't really have real-world examples of what they're advocating.

It's worth contrasting Ayn Rand - libertarians favorite thinker - with other folks who have founded economic theories. Most importantly, Rand was a novelist and possibly the best writer of the lot.

Adam Smith's Wealth of Nation is still a great read but it doesn't really have a plot like Rand's books. He had observed and heard reports of phenomenal changes that were taking place as the Industrial Revolution was beginning to transform Britain and its colonies. (1776 was an amazing year.  James Watts had made some final changes to the design of the steam engine that would allow it to spread across numerous industries, automating work as it did. The first engineering textbook was published. The American colonies began the most fascinating experiment in the history of government. And The Wealth of Nations was published. All of this fueled a transformation that began lifting incomes for the first time since Homer and the ancient Greeks.) He opens with specialization and how focusing on one element of a task can greatly increase output. It might not be an empirical work in today's sense of the word but it certainly was grounded in real world events that he projected outwards in time and impact. Adam Smith did less to describe some abstract possibility than explain what was already happening.

Karl Marx's Das Capital is, by contrast, a dense and confusing read. He did point to abuse and poverty and suggested the possibility of government intervention in this. That might have been a lasting contribution. But his explanations of how the economy actually works are more literary than practical, more a demonstration of genius locked behind closed doors than genius forced to accommodate real events. The book and the policies based on it make little sense and don't do a particularly good job of explaining current affairs, predicting future events, or guiding policy.

John Maynard Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money is also a tough read but it rewards the effort.  He wrote it in the wake of the Great Depression, arguably the most wrenching economic event since Wealth of Nations had been published. The Great Depression had driven unemployment up to 25% and cut GDP by half. This demanded some sort of an explanation and Keynes provided one. He explained that it is possible for capital markets to hit an equilibrium that leaves labor markets in dire shape. That is, investors might have a great reason to avoid investing which could depress hiring which could, in turn, depress investing and so on. Economies can perpetuate misery if action isn't taken to intervene in this cycle. Put another way, there is a general equilibrium for the whole economy - measured in things like GDP and employment - that doesn't automatically or always realize its potential just because capital markets are at an equilibrium. Keynes' theories helped to create legislation, policies, and agencies that kept the West from anything close to the Great Depression until much of that legislation was dismantled in the 90s and aughts, just before the Great Recession.

Keynes wrote about capital markets and actually made millions investing in stocks. He did have bouts in which he lost money, as any investor does, but on the whole his returns beat the market by a considerable margin. He understood capital markets at the practical as well as theoretical level.

Which brings us to Ayn Rand.

She didn't do so well at the level of actual policy recommendation or personal success. It's worth remembering that she wasn't a researcher who based her studies on extensive analysis of data. She was a novelist. Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were exciting books but they are works of fiction. (The story of great people who dared to defy convention to go their own way is both central to progress and inimical to it. It is true that people who stand up to tradition are the source of progress; progress only follows, though, from their convincing the rest of their society to follow their lead, whether it be in the use of telephones or democracy. Social creators first separate themselves from the herd and then bring the herd along. Progress isn't like a monastery that you can retreat to alone; that's nature.) Her ideas are exciting but they're not actually based on data or anything you can translate into policy.  At a theoretical level, she didn't really leave much that could be translated into coherent policy, the way that Keynes did.

She also struggled at a personal level. Keynes was rich. Rand died living in public housing, dependent on Medicare and welfare. She wasn't exactly an example of fierce independence. Keynes' life helped to clarify his philosophy; Rand's life merely muddled hers.

And yet she is the intellectual parent of the libertarian movement in the same way that Marx was parent to communism or Smith father of capitalism and Keynes the modern welfare state. Ron Paul - perennial libertarian candidate - named his son Rand after her.

We can point to countries that have adopted Smith's capitalism, Marx's communism, and Keynes' managed market economy. There are dozens of examples of each.

We can't point to any countries that have adopted Rand's libertarian philosophy. There are a host of reasons for this but bottom line, this explains that when asked who he admired, Gary Johnson drew a blank because there are no examples of presidents or prime ministers or kings who have illustrated what Ayn Rand was advocating. The fact that there are no examples helps with the libertarian movement because it leaves the definition of libertarian loose enough that it has wider appeal than it might hope for had it been defined more specifically for actual countries or situations. ("Oh! You mean that we shouldn't regulate driving speeds but should just leave it people's judgement? I can't go along with that!" Or, "You don't think that we should have an FDA but should just let people sell whatever drugs or foods they can sell and let the market punish or reward them depending on whether their product ends or enhances life? Hmm. That sounds promising.")

Yet for all my criticism of libertarians - and I have plenty - I do think that it would be a fascinating experiment to see what happened if a random group of - say - 10 million people were put into a space without any laws or economic regulations to see what would happen. I think it would be fascinating and think that we could learn so much from such an experiment. That said, I also think that with time, we'd have government emerge, welfare for sick and elderly, community investment in childhood education, and even mechanisms put in place to make sure everyone had access to potable water, roads, and electricity. It's perfectly conceivable to me that more of those solutions would be purely "market" based but it also seems highly probable to me that this community would not only realize that even defining that market would actually mean agreeing on and passing laws that have to be enforced but also would mean the emergence of a public sector to solve the problems that markets simply don't. What would we get if we put in place a purely libertarian state? Within a quarter to half a century, I think that we'd see it evolve into what we have in places as diverse as San Francisco, Copenhagen, Singapore, and London. That is, I think we'd see a modern market-based, government enhanced economy tapping the dynamics Adam Smith described and subject to the occasional intervention Keynes recommended, just like we have now. Nixon famously said in the 1970s, "We're all Keynesians now." In the same way, I think it's true that we've been evolved libertarians for some time now.

21 October 2016

Why We Had to Wait for the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment for a Woman President

We have certain expectations of our presidents.

They'll go to the right schools.. About half of our presidents graduated from or attended prestigious schools like Harvard (8 did), Yale (5), Princeton (3), Columbia (3), William & Mary (3), or Stanford (1).

After attending these schools, they'll get important jobs like governor (17) or senator (16).

There are exceptions. Johnson used to ask around the table about which schools the folks gathered there had attended before saying, "Hmm. I guess I'm the only Southwest Texas College graduate here." [Thanks for that tidbit Bill Abendroth.] As you might guess, 8 presidents - including George Washington - didn't even graduate from university but none served after 1900. You won't be taken seriously in a presidential election today if your only schooling was at Mesa Community College.

Which brings me to my point. We expect a certain level of accomplishment of the presidential candidates we take seriously but we didn't even let women attempt those accomplishments until recently. We've had no women presidents in part because we haven't let women enter the institutions we expect our candidates to come from.

Yale began to admit women in 1969.
Hillary Rodham started Yale Law School in 1969.

To put that in perspective, Harvard awarded its first degree to a black man in 1870. It did not go coed until 1977, 107 years later.

Given that the graduates of certain prestigious schools have to then go on to get certain prestigious jobs before we generally consider them as serious candidates, it makes perfect sense that we haven't seen a serious woman candidate before Hillary Clinton. She got started on this journey as soon as it was institutionally possible. (And obviously if the country were completely indifferent between men and women, she could have been the Clinton who served from 1993 to 2000. Institutional realities weren't the only obstacle. So were attitudes and expectations.)

Institutional realities matter. It wasn't until 1623 that England passed legislation that gave inventors patent protection and provided an incentive to invest in developing new products. Almost no one had access to patent protection before the 17th century and inventions were rare. By the end of that century the first patent for a steam engine had been approved. In the next century, the Industrial Revolution had begun and incomes began to rise for the first time in thousands of years as hundreds and then thousands began to take advantage of this new institution of patent protection.

Whites held all the records for major league baseball before 1947. It wasn't because blacks couldn't play. It was because blacks weren't allowed to play.  Now, decades into the integration of baseball, 8 of the top 10 career home run hitters are players of color.

Progress depends on two things. One is inventing new institutions, as when the English passed patent law legislation. The other is when you give new groups access to old institutions, like when Major League Baseball let blacks join. Progress follows from creating new institutions and letting more people use them in the same way that it follows from inventing new technology and getting that widely adopted.

Outside of institutions, humans don't accomplish much. Let a person fight a gorilla one on one without any tools and it no contest. Within institutions, able to coordinate, specialize and leverage individual efforts, humans can accomplish a lot. Let 100 gorillas fight 100 humans with access to tools, language, training, planning, and coordination, and it is no contest. (This example of gorillas fighting humans is one that Yuval Noah Harari makes in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind.)

Now women have access to the same institutions men do. (This access is running at roughly the same rate in institutions like universities but at a lower rate in institutions like corporate boardrooms.) All this suggests that Hillary Rodham Clinton is just the start of this parade. Those prestigious schools may not have graduated any women before her, but they've graduated hundreds of thousands since. You can be sure that at least a couple will eventually sit in the Oval Office.

Before the rest of that parade comes, in 2020 - the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote - we will have our first woman president. It seems appropriate to commemorate that anniversary by broadening access to this country's most elite institution.

First woman and first man president, pictured 200 years apart.
Hair length and jackets similar but she gets jewelry and he gets ruffles.

20 October 2016

What "Politically Correct" Really Means

"What I like about Trump," so many says, "is that he isn't politically correct. He's not afraid to say what he really means."

I've puzzled over what's meant by that. At first blush you might think they're happy to talk like an angry rapper but I know that this people don't talk like that. At second blush you might think they're happy to offend people. I think that is closer to the truth but still not really it. I've watched who they react to and who they bristle at and who they love to hear from and I think I know what "politically correct" actually means.

If you say, "Actually, you can't just say that deficit spending is bad. It really does depend. If you ....," what a lot of people hear is "I'm going to make an excuse for deficit spending ... blah blah blah blah."

What infuriates Trump delights his base. He speaks plainly about complex topics. There is a problem with terrorism? Ban Muslims. There is a problem with job creation? Build a wall. There is a problem with economic growth? Cut taxes.

It's not really that he speaks his mind. It's that he speaks so plainly people don't get lost or confused. He doesn't throw in any "if, then" statements that mark the speech of an expert but can confuse an amateur.

Why isn't simple speech politically correct? Because it makes for bad policy. You can't just "bomb the shit out of them" and expect it to result in good. Among other things, it would help to carefully define them. It would be valuable to explore other alternatives, to take care that whoever "them" is you don't indiscriminately kill their children, etc. Sloppy speech leads to bad policy in the same way that sloppy work in manufacturing or programming leads to a bad product. But Sloppy, politically incorrect speech is so much easier. It doesn't make any demands on the citizens to learn anything or to put out effort. It doesn't make any demands on them to trust experts who might talk in ways they don't quite understand. Bad policy might lead to every kind of miserable reality but it doesn't require the discomfort or hard work of thinking.

Disdain for politically correct speech means that people who are actually ignorant about policy can feel smart about it.

A Conspiracy of Conspiracies, Small Mind in a Big World, and Don John's Dying Wish

A Conspiracy of Conspiracies

Trump isn't losing. He's the victim of a media conspiracy.

To be more specific, he's not actually losing to Clinton because she isn't a legitimate candidate. She's guilty of a great crime and would be in jail except that there is an FBI conspiracy. Even the Department of Justice is conspiring against Don John.

And when the votes come in on November 8, he won't actually lose because there is a vast, nationwide conspiracy at the polls.

It is so much worse than Trump thinks. It's not just the media, the legal system and election system that is against him. It's the American people. They're in a conspiracy to keep him out of office.

The system - most every system - is rigged.

Small Mind in a Big World

Trump doesn't actually have any big ideas, it's just that his mind is so small that it makes his ideas look big.

For instance, he spoke so many times about how stupid the Obama administration is. "What happened to the element of surprise," Trump asks in discussing the attack to take back Mosul from ISIS in Iraq. "I started hearing about this, what, three months ago?" I would not tell anyone what I was doing, he says.

This is telling. In Trump's small mind, there is no one to coordinate with. There are no Iraqis or Kurds who live in this area and govern it. There are no American generals who might have better ideas about how and where to attack. In Trump's simple mind, it is a simple attack. He has the idea and then "poof!" his forces attack. But of course you don't attack ISIS within a city of two million within a foreign democracy quite that way. You have to coordinate and prepare. You have to communicate. What seems stupid in Don John's small and simple mind is actually necessary in the large and complex real world.

Trump's Dying Grasp on What Matters Most

In last night's debate, Trump seemed to prove at least one of three things:
1. He's stupid.
2. He thinks that enough American people are stupid to get him elected.
3. He has no desire to win this election.

1. and 2. might be exclusive. It is possible that he's really intelligent but just spouts complete nonsense because he knows that it sells with a certain group of Americans. [see below] It is possible but it is not likely. He has repeatedly shown in each debate that he can remain focused, concise, and coherent for only about 20 to 40 minutes. (Had these been 30 minute debates, he might have won each one, in the same way that he can write a tweet but not an op-ed, or in the same way he won his 6 to 12 minutes of debate time in each Republican debate with so many opponents.)

3. above seems likely. His desire to win the presidency has never been as clear as his desire for attention. Donald is 70. He vividly remembers the 80s when he came into the spotlight of media attention. That was about 35 years ago. Why does that matter? In 35 years, Donald will be dead. His death is closer in time than his rise to fame. It's not just that he's got an insatiable appetite for attention. He's running for the presidency as a fight against his own mortality and he's never more alive than when every media outlet in America is focused on his next word.

His "I"ll keep you in suspense," comment about whether he'll accept the election outcome should be heard in that light. He knows that he's going to lose. That doesn't bother him nearly as much as losing the attention he craves like a junkie craves heroin. He needs bigger doses every week and every week he says or does something even more outrageous to make sure he that he gets it. "I'll keep you in suspense" is his way of ensuring that even when he loses he can't be dismissed. The world will remain more riveted on his concession speech than they will on Hillary Clinton's historic win as the first female president in history. And in Don John's small mind, that makes perfect sense.

And finally, I leave you with this video recapping Don John's - and the Republican's - 2016 campaign.


see below:
Evidence that he's either stupid or hopes that Americans are? He decries a debt of $19 trillion and yet his plan would add trillions more than current projections. How does he address this? His plan to cut taxes will drive GDP growth rate up to 4% or higher. Facts from this Stanford report show per capita GDP growth is remarkably stable and has been for about 150 years.

Trump very casually says that his plan will drive growth of 4% or higher as if this were trivial or common. It's neither. The fact that he would predict it as a way to dismiss arguments that his budget plan would seriously drive up deficits is proof that he's either stupid or thinks the voters are.

19 October 2016

Why Labor Force Participation Rates Have Dropped

Here's a very simple graph with a very simple trend line:

The value it tracks over the decades is the percentage of men in the labor force. Every year this percentage declines and over a period of about 68 years, it has dropped from about 87% to about 69%, a fall of roughly 2.5 percentage points per decade. In no decade did it finish higher than it started.

I don't know why. I'll speculate at the end of this post but I do know that whatever is going on, it didn't just start in the last few years. It likely started before your career did.

Here's another simple graph and another simple trend line:

Between 1946 and 2000, women were joining the workforce at a faster rate than men were leaving. During that time, the participation rate of men dropped 11.6 points, from 86.7% to 75.1%. Meanwhile, women's participation rate rose 28 points, from 32% to 60.1%.

Why did women's participation rate rise? I don't know. The simplest explanation seems to be the pill, birth control options that let women delay careers for four to six years to get an education rather than for 20 to 30 years to raise children. Advances in contraception and female enrollment in schools (Yale only began to admit women in 1969) meant that women could plan families and careers in a way that let them choose one or the other or both.

The net effect of women joining the workforce faster than men were leaving was to drive steadily higher participation rates. Overall labor participation rate looks like this:

A question you might have reasonably asked in 2000 was whether women would continue to enter the workforce at a faster rate than men were going to leave it. I suspect that any reasonable person would take about five minutes to think this through and say, "Well at some point the rate at which women are joining the labor force will level off. It can't go above 100% and it's likely to stall out considerably short of 100%"

That seems like a reasonable thing for hypothetical you to have said and if you look at the labor force participation rate since, you'll see two things.

One, the rate at which men are leaving the workforce is still dropping off, and at about the same rate that it was last century.

Once we hit 2000, women's rate of participation began to drop off at a similar rate.

Women have possibly entered a plateau relative to men and have now joined them in their steady, decades long drop in participation rates.

The net effect is that labor force participation rate has dropped since 2000.

It would be foolish to think that the Great Recession and its aftermath hasn't impacted the rate of labor force participation for men and women. As I've mentioned so many times, in the last three decades of the 20th century, the American economy created 18 to 20 million jobs per decade. In the first decade of this century, it destroyed 1 million. That is going to impact everything from median income and unemployment numbers to labor participation rate. That said, a deeper trend than what would be explained by any boom or bust seems to be playing out here.

Here are some possible reason that the labor force participation rate is dropping every decade. 

More Leisure Time:
It might be what the technologists were enthused about a century ago: a future in which people have to work less.

In 1900, the average work week was nearly 60 hours. By 1950, it was just over 40 and people had more material goods and services than were imagined in 1900. Perhaps the drop in labor participation rate since 1950 shows a further continuation of this trend of needing fewer hours to get what we want and rather than showing up in shorter work hours it is showing up in a smaller workforce. 

More Education:
The labor force participation rate is for people over 16. In 1900, fewer than 10% of 14 to 17 year olds were formally enrolled in education. Now, roughly half are in college or university at 18. As people are in school longer, labor participation rates drop.

Earlier Retirement:
A growing portion of the population makes a lot of money. Sometimes they spend this on bigger houses. Sometimes they spend this on earlier retirement. It's conceivable that people are dropping out of the workforce earlier as people become more affluent.

Unqualified to Work:
Once upon a time, you could find work for anyone who wasn't seriously disabled. Increasingly, machines are automating work, from digging ditches to dispensing cash. The requirements for performing typical jobs may have gone up in terms of problem-solving ability, etc. It's conceivable that a growing portion of the population is unable to contribute enough value to justify paying them even minimum wage, leaving them out of the workforce. 

Video Games are More Engaging than Work:
It could be that we seek out flow experiences and leisure - from video games and spectator sports to hiking in the woods - now offers more joy than work. Beyond a certain income level, people would rather put themselves into play than work. Video game designers know how to fully engage us; efforts towards the gamification of work, by contrast, have only begun. We want to be engaged and it's harder to find that in work and easier to find that in leisure.

I don't know why participation rate is dropping but I do know this: any deeper reason will have to explain the data since 1948, not just 2008, because that is when the data began to show this trend. 

18 October 2016

"Mexico's Not Sending Their Best:" How Trump May Have Poisoned the GOP's Future

Jamelle Bouie of Slate wrote an insightful piece on how Trump's alienation of Latinos could move them solidly into the Democratic camp in the same way that Goldwater's alienation of blacks in 1964 has made them such faithful Democratic voters since. It's definitely worth reading but in this piece I'll just focus on the numbers.

Hispanics are a growing percentage of the population. Since about 1980, they've had a growing tendency to vote Democratic. This combination is deadly for the GOP. In 1980,they had a small impact on the election. In 2016, their impact will be huge.

Republicans have won 5 of the last 11 presidential elections. If Hispanics had the same impact on each of those past elections as they'll have on this one, Republicans would have won only 2 of the last 11.

If your group makes up 50% of the population and your group is 50 points more likely to vote Republican (75% of your group votes Republican vs. 25% who votes Democrat), you will swing the whole election by 25 points. That is, if you're a big group and have a strong tendency to vote one way, you'll probably decide the election.

If an election is close, though, you don't have to be 50% of the population to make the difference. Even if you are 5% of the population, if your group is 50 points more likely to vote Republican, you will swing the election by 2.5 points, enough to give Republicans a victory in a close election.

In 1980, Hispanics made up 6.4% of the population. 56% of them voted Democrat and 35% voted Republican, giving Democrats a 21 point edge. So, with a 21 point edge among 6.4% of the population, Hispanics impacted the 1980 vote by 1.3 points. If the rest of the nation were evenly split, they'd have given the Democrat a victory by 1.3 points. (In fact, Reagan beat Carter by 9.7 points, 50.7% to 41%.)

The Hispanic edge in Reagan's first election in 1980 was 21 points. It was even smaller in 2004 at 18 points. (George W. Bush speaks Spanish.) But generally speaking, Hispanic's tendency to vote Democratic has edged steadily in Democrats' favor.

This year, the gap is the highest on record. and the percentage of Hispanics is its highest on record. That's a pretty powerful combination. 73% of Hispanics are likely to vote for Clinton and only 16% are likely to vote for Trump. Coupled with the fact that Hispanics are now 17.6% of the population, this translates into a 10 point impact. That's huge.

Of course this overstates their impact at least twice, though. First, Hispanics are not evenly distributed around the country; they are not going to impact Ohio's election as much as they will California's. (Although Florida, a swing-state, is third behind California and Texas for number of Hispanics and there is a decent chance that Hispanics will change Arizona's traditionally Republican vote this year.) Secondly, Hispanics are less likely to vote than the general population. Nonetheless, this calculation makes an important point: Hispanics will impact this election more than they have any election in history and that impact is big.

Trump didn't just attack illegal aliens. He attacked an American-born judge of Mexican heritage. As House Speaker Paul Ryan pointed out, that's a textbook definition of racism. It's no wonder that so Hispanics are voting against him. Central to the question of whether the GOP has a future is this question of whether Republicans can win them back.

How big is a 10 point impact? Enough to have made Reagan a loser in 1980. Think about that. Even if the GOP can offer a candidate with Reagan's broad appeal, it still will not be enough to win the presidency. That's not much of a future.

15 October 2016

The GOP's Problem with Women Enters a New Chapter

"Sure Donald Trump said vile things but Bill Clinton did them."

The first problem with this is that it assumes Don John didn't do anything. That's dubious. But there's a deeper problem with this that gets to a theme in the GOP.

If you think that an affair and sexual assault is equivalent, you don't appreciate the importance of consent. Sometimes a woman wants sexual attention. Sometimes she doesn't. If she doesn't want your sexual attention, just about anything you say or do is at the very least offensive and might even be abusive. If she does want it, usually anything you say or do is fine. Assault is less about where you touch than whether or not the woman welcomes your touch. Woman's consent makes all the difference.

But this gets to the theme in the GOP: woman's will isn't that important. Most conservatives roughly fifty years ago thought that women shouldn't have access to contraceptives. Most conservatives today think they shouldn't have access to abortion. Some even to this day think that it's not possible for a man to rape his wife. And now we see that quite a few believe that there is no difference between an affair and assault. This fits a pattern.

[And lest you point out that an affair is rarely consented to by the wife, I'll readily agree. Still, if we're comparing a married man engaged in assault and a married man engaged in an affair, the wife's lack of consent is a constant.]

14 October 2016

Is Seattle The Most Dynamic Economy in the US?

The average company in the S&P 50 was founded in 1930 and is worth $209.7 billion. 86 years old, it has created about $2.5 billion a year in stock value since its founding.

The regions of the country are very different though. Based just on total valuation, the top three regions are the Bay Area, New York, and Seattle.

New York metro area has the most companies in this list: 10 out of 50. They are more than a century old, though; the average founding date is 1899.

Second on this list is the Bay Area with 9. The average founding date here is 1955.

This plays into a simple measure of dynamics. Two companies might each be worth $100 billion but the one that is only a decade old is more dynamic than the one that is a century old.

The ten companies around New York are worth a combined $1,955.4 billion. The average value they've created per year since their founding is $3.2 billion.

The nine companies in the Bay Area are worth a combined $2,641.4 billion. Not only are they worth more on average, they've created far more value per year: $10.6 billion.

Seattle is third on the list of metro areas for valuation of S&P 50 firms even though it has only 2 on the list. Microsoft and Amazon are worth a combined $836.6 billion and - both relatively young firms - have created an average of $14.3 billion per year, making it the most dynamic region in the country by this measure.

The average age of New York's top companies is 117 years old. The Bay Area is 61. Seattle? Just 32, which is a pretty stark contrast to Dallas, which also has two companies on the list (Exxon and AT&T), but have an average age of 143 years.

I think we do a poor job of tracking wealth creation. Median and average wages matter but if one person makes $100,000 a year and gets no uptick in wealth from her share of the company and another makes $90,000 a year but gets $20,000 in extra wealth because of an uptick in stock, the second person arguably has a more valuable job. A more comprehensive measurement of dynamic (one that, for instance, actually included the S&P 500 at a minimum) might be a nice complement to wage information for an area. And it might even make the mediocre data on wage growth seem impressive.

Companies included on New York's list:
JPMorgan Chase
Verizon Communications

On Bay Area's list:
Alphabet (Google)
Wells Fargo

13 October 2016

2016: Year of the Woman

Well, you know what Don John, first pick of evangelicals says: "Women. They're the assault of the earth."

Women won't just be the ones whose votes will beat Don John. They are the ones for whom the votes will be cast.

The first four votes I cast on my ballot - President, Senate, US Congress and State Assembly - were all for women and all are favored to win. (The only two choices for Senate are two women so there is no question about which gender will win that race.) It will be interesting to see if this is an anomaly for my district or if women are going to break records across the country.

Just Remember - These Are Real People and So is That Hatred You're Feeling

This summer I was talking to the nephew of a former premier of a major Canadian province (equivalent to the governor of a state). His uncle had been in the news quite a lot back in the 1980s, even here in the States, and, as a fiscal conservative governing over a recession, he made a number of painful cuts to the budget. He was vilified for his actions.

The premier died a couple of years ago and his mind had started to slip in his last years. Towards the very end of his life, he was re-living the trauma of the attacks on him by the press and political opponents. Of all the great things he accomplished, his power and fame, what shaped his last days was the struggle of his worst days. So powerful were those memories that they slipped from memory into what he was actually experiencing. All over again.

It's worth remembering that these are real people in office or running for it. You don't have to hate them to decide not to vote for them. And it's not just that they are real people. That hate that could so easily consume you is a real emotion.

Media and the Angry Voter

Fox was founded in October 1996. In the six presidential elections before that, the GOP won by an average of 5.6 points. (4 victories, two by double-digits.) In the six presidential elections since (counting this one, including the latest poll numbers at fivethirtyeight), they've lost by an average of 4 points. Even though George W. was elected twice, he won the popular vote only once, and that by 2.4 points. No other Republican has won since Fox began to broadcast.

I don't know if Fox style news is caused by their impotency at the polls or is causing it. In any case, it's hard to believe that it's helped. It has done wonders for Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes' net worth but it's not obvious that it's done much for the Republican Party.


In any case, Fox is a specific instance of a wider trend. Media has become increasingly sophisticated at driving up ratings. It does this by finding the most alarming news or possibilities available from among all the things happening on 7 continents, in 200 countries, among 7 billion people. With that much to select from, there's always something. Always.

Then the media puzzles over why voters are increasingly frightened and angry.


11 October 2016

Time for a Sex Strike?

2,500 years ago, Aristophones wrote a play in which the women of Athens withheld sex until the men ended the Pelopponesian War. It worked.

In modern times, women in Togo, Colombia, and the Philippines have launched similar sex strikes. It might be something American women consider.

There is a huge gender split in this year's election. Clinton leads among women by 33 points and trails Trump by 11 points among men. This is, as far as I can tell, unprecedented. Nate Silver posted these maps here.

This is what it would look like if only women voted:

This is what it would look like if only men voted:

This race is probably over for Trump in any case but it might not be a bad insurance policy if women were to time a sex strike the first week of November. Or even just distract men on election day. In either case, the country would be better off if left in women's hands.

09 October 2016

In Defense of Politics on Facebook

I'm that guy who is unafraid to post something political on Facebook. I know it upsets some of my friends, many of whom are conservative and wearies others who are moderate or liberal. But I don't apologize for this simple reason: politics is how we decide what we're doing as a group. Religion is a private decision but politics is a group decision.

If you decide to vote for a freeway expansion, I have to pay for that with additional taxes. If you decide to vote against a freeway expansion, I have to pay for that with additional commute time. If you decide to vote for an amateur who doesn't understand foreign policy or the market, I have to pay for that in terms of costly, disastrous wars and costly, disastrous recessions.

We're in this together. If you're about to vote for an outcome I see as dangerous, I want you to know why it's a bad idea. And I expect you to point out the same to me. It's called dialogue.

Social media gives a unique opportunity to democratize not just the vote but the discussion leading up to it.

Obviously people can make any discussion / argument a battle of wits or an accusation of stupidity but friendships should not be equivalent to a witless protection program. Our friends should be a resource for helping us to understand the world a little better, even if all we understand is how their perspective or situation is different from ours.