Kevin Drum

Subscribe to Kevin Drum feed Kevin Drum
Smart, fearless journalism
Updated: 11 min 37 sec ago

Friday Cat Blogging – 6 December 2019

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 15:00

Today we have two pictures. The top picture is of Hilbert in his natural habitat lurking on the fence. The bottom pictures shows the rare Hilbert duck in its natural habitat floating peacefully in our little lake.

Categories: Politics

Inflation! Inflation! Inflation! Inflation! Inflation! Inflation! Inflation! Inflation!

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 14:12

Over at the Washington Post, Heather Long is scratching her head:

By just about any metric this is the best job market since the late 1990s. The economy has been adding jobs for 110 straight months — a record streak. Jobs are plentiful. Unemployment is at a half-century low. And the unemployment rates for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Americans with less than a high school education are all at the lowest levels since the Labor Department began keeping track. There’s a lot to cheer.

But one of the few head scratchers in this strong jobs picture is why wages aren’t growing as fast as they did in the late 1990s, when yearly wage growth routinely topped 4 percent.

Many hoped this would be the year wages really accelerated. After all, business leaders have been complaining for months they can’t find enough workers — both highly skilled and not — and the natural response to that is usually to bump up pay. But wage growth peaked in February at 3.4 percent and has pulled back since then, puzzling economists.
“From late 2017 through late 2018, it looked like wage growth was picking up. That ended. Wage growth has been backsliding this year,” tweeted economist Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

Do I even need to write the rest of this post? Long presents a couple of charts that show nominal wage growth even though inflation was a point or two higher during the late 90s than it is now. Accounting for inflation, here is wage growth for blue-collar workers:

The six-year stretch from 1994-2000 showed wage growth almost identical to the six year stretch from 2014-2019. Wages today are continuing to grow at about the same rate that they’ve been growing during the entire period since 2014.

What makes this especially bizarre is that Long suggests a few reasons for the wage “slowdown,” and one of them is inflation! But then she sort of poo-poos the whole idea, acknowledging only that “Some say wages do not need to rise as much if inflation remains low.” Some? How about every single person in the world who understands what inflation is?

It’s at times like this that I wish I were a drinker, because I could use a stiff belt right now. How does this stuff keep happening?

Categories: Politics

Nearby Police Shootings Are Bad For Unborn Black Babies

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 13:12

Today is turning out to be chart day. Here’s a pretty fascinating study by Harvard’s Joscha Legewie of 3.9 million births in California. The question is: do nearby police shootings have any effect on the birthweight of babies nine months later? The answer turns out to be yes, but only for black babies and only if the victim is an unarmed black man:

As usual, I have added both color and rough trendlines to make the chart more readable. There are two things to see here about the birthweight effect. First, the more nearby the shooting, the bigger the effect. Second, the effect is seen only in shootings that happen during the first and second trimesters. Shootings during the third trimester don’t have any impact. This is not too surprising since the obvious mechanism for all this is increased stress in the mother, and stress is known to have stronger effects early in pregnancies.

Neither whites nor Hispanics show any effect at all. And oddly, although African-American babies react negatively to police shootings of black men, they actually react positively to police shootings of non-blacks. The most obvious conclusion from these results is (a) black mothers are especially sensitive to nearby police shootings, and (b) if it turns out that a non-black man was shot, it provokes a sense of relief that is sometimes good for the pregnancy.

The birthweight effect of police shootings ranges from about 50 grams to 25 grams, which is 1-2 ounces. That may not seem like much, but it’s a fair chunk of the average difference in infant bodyweight that’s long been observed between black and white mothers. Here is Legewie:

Exposure to a single police killing of an unarmed black individual during pregnancy accounts for as much as a third of the black-white gap in birth weight. This finding indicates that police violence is an environmental stressor that contributes to the stark and enduring black-white disparities in infant health and therefore the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage at the earliest stages of life. Birth weight and gestational age are not only related to infant death in the short term; the consequences are long term with implications for cognitive development, test scores, ADHD, and others.

….The study also has important research implications….By estimating the effect of police killings on birth outcomes, this study highlights how the criminal justice system can adversely affect disparities in health. Linking vital records with incident-level event data showcases an innovative approach to study the health consequences of acute environmental stressors. This approach encourages future studies based on vital records, medical claims data, or other administrative health records to examine the impacts of an array of events on population health including the persisting black-white disparities in infant health.

More research, please!

Categories: Politics

Sexual Assault Is Reported on About 2 Uber Trips Per Million

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 11:15

Uber has released its long-awaited report on the prevalence of sexual assaults in its ride-sharing business:

Note that this is per billion rides. In 2018 there were at total of 3,045 sexual assaults reported over 1.3 billion rides. This amounts to a little over 2,300 reports per billion rides, or about 2.3 per million. In percentage terms, that’s 0.000002 percent.

I don’t know how this compares to ordinary taxi rides, since no one seems to compile that information. However, a recent YouGov poll finds that 55 percent of women sometimes or always feel unsafe taking a taxi by themselves.

Categories: Politics

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in November

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 09:26

The American economy gained 266,000 jobs last month. We need 90,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth, which means that net job growth clocked in at 176,000 jobs. This seems like a very robust number, but unfortunately most of it was a statistical artifact of a lot of people exiting the labor force. In real life, the number of employed was up modestly and the number of unemployed was down modestly. The employment-population ratio stayed the same as last month. The headline unemployment rate ticked down slightly to 3.5 percent.

Hourly wages for blue-collar workers were up a very healthy 3.7 percent. With inflation running at roughly 1.8 percent these days, that’s a real hourly wage increase of about 2.1 percent. That’s a great number, and it would be even better if we could sustain it for several months running.

Categories: Politics

Here’s (One Reason) Why Democrats Should Get Behind a Massive Climate R&D Project

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 18:42

I’ve written before that I think massive investment in R&D is the single most important thing we can do to address climate change. And I’ll write about it again! There are various reasons that I believe this—which I will review at great length in the near future—but since “How are you going to pay for that?” is such a hot button among Democrats right now, it’s worth mentioning one big benefit of an R&D program: It all but pays for itself.

Climate R&D is a mix of basic science and applied research, and estimates of the return on this kind of thing hover in the range of 20-30 percent annually. Think tanks can provide detailed models of how this pencils out over the long term, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation¹ suggests that government spending of, say, $200 billion per year would cost about $4 trillion over 25 years but increase GDP by enough to produce about $3 trillion in additional tax revenue. The remaining balance is pretty small: perhaps around 1-2 percent of the current federal budget annually. This is easily fundable. Hell, we increased the military budget by that much a couple of years ago without even bothering to pretend that we were funding it.

This is something that Democratic candidates and think tanks should pick up on. A massive research program might cost a fair penny at first, but over time it would mostly pay itself back. The net cost would be surprisingly small—and that’s not even counting the benefit of not incinerating our planet.

¹That is, no accounting for inflation or NPV, and no sophisticated input/output model of the economy. Just some rough numbers.

Categories: Politics

The Hack Gap Rears Its Ugly Head Yet Again

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 17:30

Yesterday, testifying before Congress, Stanford University professor Pamela Karlan made this quip:

The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son Barron, he cannot make him a baron.

There is nothing wrong with saying this. Nonetheless, Republicans pretended to be outraged by it, and as near as I can tell there was no pushback. Not a single Republican stepped up to say “Give it a rest, guys.”

This was a startlingly successful strategy. Reporters mostly bought into the Republican outrage, and even more tellingly, so did many Democrats, who suggested that Karlan really shouldn’t have “brought up the president’s son.” Eventually this forced Karlan to say sorry, which prompted yet another round of faux Republican outrage over her (of course) inadequate apology.

This was a minor affair, quickly forgotten. But it reminds me once again of the Hack Gap. Conservatives instinctively circled the wagons after the first person let loose on Karlan. Many joined in and none defended Karlan. Liberals, by contrast, were divided. Some were clear from the start that the whole thing was entirely fake, but others apparently felt like they had to demonstrate their reasonableness, which they did by saying that while it was no big deal, “still she really should have left Barron out of it.”

I shall have more to say about this later, but I’m not going to tell you when and it won’t be obvious that I’m doing it. It will just be a little test.

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 15:30

This is the Chicago skyline as seen from Navy Pier. Sadly, I took this picture before my experiments with panoramic shooting. Still, even when it’s cropped a little tight who doesn’t like a nice nighttime skyline?

October 22, 2019 — Chicago, Illinois
Categories: Politics

The Secret of Donald Trump’s Success: BHC06

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 14:35

The Washington Post published a story yesterday about the undocumented workers employed by Donald Trump’s Bedminster golf club. But the real scoop comes halfway through:

Trump loved Tic Tacs. But not an arbitrary amount. He wanted, in his bedroom bureau at all times, two full containers of white Tic Tacs and one container that was half full. The same rule applied to the Bronx Colors-brand face makeup from Switzerland that Trump slathered on — two full containers, one half full — even if it meant the housekeepers had to regularly bring new shirts from the pro shop because of the rust-colored stains on the collars. A special washing machine in the laundry room was reserved for his wife Melania Trump’s clothing.

How about that? The marketing boffins at Bronx Colors were quick to take advantage of this revelation. Their website features a prominent screenshot of the Post story along with a special offer to all customers that’s good through Saturday:

Hmmm. BHC06. Let’s take a look:

Yep, that’s our boy! I wonder what the backstory is here? When did Trump find out about this stuff? Why did he pick a shade called, simply, “Orange”? Our gossip media, which is far more aggressive than our national political media, needs to get on this. We want answers.

Categories: Politics

English Speakers Pay a Lot For Their Subways

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 13:24

Via Tyler Cowen, here is Alon Levy’s estimate of the cost to build subway lines around the world. Levy has estimates for 101 recent projects, but in this chart I’ve included only rich countries with at least three projects:

According to Levy, it’s all about the stations:

Cheaper stations, people! No more excuses.

Categories: Politics

Chart of the Day: Taxes in America

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 12:10

The latest OECD tax figures are out and the United States is continuing its march toward having the lowest taxes among advanced economies anywhere:

This includes all taxes—income, corporate, property, etc.—at all levels of government. It includes everything. Here’s the breakdown:

Look at those nice, low corporate taxes. It’s a good time to be a big corporation in America.

Categories: Politics

The Blob Is Going After Iran

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 17:51

A few months ago Donald Trump decided to suddenly yank our troops from Syria. We’d already beaten ISIS, so why not? It was time to get out. But the Wall Street Journal reports today that apparently things have changed:

The Trump administration is considering a significant expansion of the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East, including dozens more ships, other military hardware and as many as 14,000 additional troops to counter Iran, U.S. officials said. The deployment could double the number of U.S. military personnel who have been sent to the region since the start of a troop buildup in May. President Trump is expected to make a decision on the new deployments as soon as this month, those officials said.

Ah yes. To counter Iran. Apparently our current military presence in the Gulf is just too thin to provide us with the ability to respond if Iran were to fire a missile or something:

Hell, this military escalation probably isn’t even Trump’s idea. It’s the blob at work. Still, it was his idea to piss off Iran just because Barack Obama had done the opposite, and now he—and we—are paying the price. We never learn, do we?

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 15:30

I don’t know what this particular peak is called—or even if it’s big enough to have a name—but I took this picture through the windshield of our car as Professor Marc and I were driving on I80 shortly after leaving Sacramento airport on our way to Chicago. This was the very last instant that the sun was still shining on it. Within a minute or so the entire ridge was in shadow.

October 10, 2019 — Near Truckee, California
Categories: Politics

Climate Scientists Get an A For Their Warming Predictions

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 14:55

The key metric in all models of the earth’s climate is sensitivity. That is, how much will the globe warm for every ton of greenhouse gases that we dump into the atmosphere? If sensitivity is low, we have little to worry about. If sensitivity is high, we’re well on our way to broiling ourselves to death.

Naturally, then, it’s important to get this right. Today, a new paper was released that reviews how accurate climate scientists have been at determining this, and the answer is that they’ve been remarkably good at it. Here’s the original chart from the paper, which covers 15 models that have been published since 1970:

This is a little hard to follow, so I’ve created an unauthorized version that shows how far off each model has been in percentage terms:

As you can see, once you get past the very earliest crude models, the climate community has done pretty well. With only a couple of exceptions, their models have predicted sensitivity within ±20 percent or so. The average of all the modern models is -11 percent, which means (a) the models have been very close to reality, and (b) if anything, the models have been a little low. The earth is actually warming faster than they’ve predicted.

Moral of the story: listen to the climate scientists. Their models are pretty good, and there’s little reason to think they’ve missed anything important. Keep this in mind when your skeptic friends start going on about urban heat islands or solar cycles or whatnot. Because guess what? Climate scientists know about all these things too! Some of them don’t matter, and the ones that do have already been incorporated into current models. Climate change is real.

Categories: Politics

A Million-Dollar Donation From Ukraine to the Trump Campaign Would Be Corrupt. So Why Isn’t a Million-Dollar Investigation?

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 13:47

The House is currently hearing from constitutional scholars about whether Ukrainegate constitutes an impeachable offense. I would like to offer up a hypothetical. Consider the following two demands from the Trump team:

Demand #1: The president won’t release military aid until Zelensky goes on TV and commits to opening a serious investigation of Burisma and the Bidens.

Demand #2: The president won’t release military aid until Zelensky commits to spending at least $1 million for an investigation of Burisma and the Bidens.

Practically speaking, these are identical. Both demand an investigation of the Bidens that would benefit Trump personally. Both demand a way of binding Ukraine to carry out the investigation: the first with a public announcement, the second with a budgetary outlay. And both say essentially the same thing since any serious investigation of the Bidens would certainly cost Ukraine at least $1 million.

The only difference is that demand #2 actually states the dollar amount out loud. In demand #1, it’s merely implicit.

And yet, in much of the public’s mind, this minuscule difference seems to be key. As long as you take care never to be caught actually mentioning money, it’s not corrupt. Discuss.

Categories: Politics

Carbon Emissions Are Up in 2019 Yet Again

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 12:18

In news that should shock no one, the forecasters at the Global Carbon Project estimate that carbon emissions increased yet again in 2019:

Needless to say, we are supposed to be cutting carbon emissions if we want to have any chance of preventing the planet from incinerating by the time our grandchildren our grown. But we don’t have the self-discipline to even stabilize emissions, let alone cut them.

It’s hard to find any good news in all this, but I won’t let you say I didn’t try. Here is per-capita carbon emissions for the six largest economic areas:

With the exception of India, which is starting from a very small base, per-capita emissions have mostly stabilized or declined over the past decade. This is largely because we use less energy to accomplish the same tasks, and that really is good news. It’s nowhere near good enough news, mind you, but at least it’s something that’s moving in the right direction.

Categories: Politics

Kamala Harris Just Never Got Serious Enough

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 17:48

As a proud employee of a 501(c)3, I have to be a little careful about expressing my personal support for political candidates. But now that Kamala Harris is out, I can say a bit more about her.

Initially, I was tentatively in her camp. I’ve seen her in Senate hearings and she’s very impressive. She has considerable political experience. She’s plenty liberal, but knows how to play nice when she has to, unlike folks like Bernie Sanders. She obviously had an inside track on both the black vote and the women’s vote. I knew perfectly well that she had done some things as California attorney general that would hurt her in a Democratic primary, but everyone with experience has at least a few issues like this. Overall, she seemed like a good, serious contender.

Then came the Biden moment in the first debate. “You also worked … to oppose busing,” she said to Biden, who was standing right across from her. “And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

Now, this was something of a cheap shot, but I was OK with that. Like they say, politics ain’t beanbag, and I was actually pleased to see that Harris was willing to be a little mean. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is not going to beat Trump in November. But things went downhill from there.

What Harris should have done is taken the poll bump and the fundraising bump and then smoothed things over. The very next day she should have said something a little conciliatory. “I understand it was different times, and I don’t really hold this against Joe even though I would have done something different.” This would have accomplished a couple of things. First, it would have taken the issue off the table and reduced the inevitable rain of media fact checks, which were never going to make her look good. Second, it would have allowed Harris to get off of busing, which is not a popular topic even now, and move on to other subjects.

Instead, she treated her mini-victory in the debate as a template. The fact checks came in and Harris was wobbly responding to them. But because it had worked, she seemingly started looking around for other trivial little things that she could toss out to get a bit of a media bounce. It made her seem unserious, the captive of a media strategy instead of a candidate with real policy chops. And that’s what she needed. She should have used her moment in the spotlight to get some attention for well-thought-out policy ideas that positioned her where she naturally belongs: clearly progressive, but not trying to out-left Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. That never really happened, and she eventually seemed like a one-hit wonder continually casting about for a second hit.

So I became increasingly disenchanted with her. If you’re going to triangulate, you have do it like you mean it. She didn’t, and the man behind the curtain was a little too obvious.

This is not the conventional story about Harris, by the way. Jamilah King summarizes that for us today, saying that Harris “ultimately could not reconcile the nearly two decades she spent in law enforcement with a rapidly changing political landscape on criminal justice issues that’s driven by the progressive base’s desire for systemic change.” That may well be the case, and I don’t know how many people had reactions similar to mine. But I’ll bet at least a few did.

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 15:30

This is a Nuttall’s woodpecker outside the Orange County Zoo, where a bunch of them routinely flock. At least, I think that’s what it is based on the discussion of woodpeckers inside the nearby nature center. But I’m sure we’ll get positive ID in comments . . .

April 6, 2019 — Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, California
Categories: Politics

Kamala Harris Is Out

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 14:06

In the last election cycle I thought Scott Walker was the money candidate. He dropped out before the first primary. This cycle I thought Kamala Harris had a pretty good chance of becoming President Harris. Now she’s out before the first primary.

Moral of the story: Never listen to me.

Categories: Politics

America Gets an A in Reading, a Gentleman’s D+ in Math

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 11:06

Hooray! The new PISA scores are out and I have them exclusively. That is, I have them exclusively unless there’s someone else who also wants them. Here are the worldwide scores in reading:

Personally, I have learned to ignore the four Asian “countries” that are always at the top. These are all large cities where they cherry-pick who’s going to take the test, and I have no confidence that it’s any kind of random sample.

That said, the United States ranks 9th out of the remaining 75 countries that took the test. That seems pretty good to me. Better than Denmark, better than Germany, better than Italy, better than Britain, and better than France.

As it happens, we did kinda poorly on the math exam, but that’s OK. We’ll be the ones reading cue cards and keeping all the overseas scientists entertained as they build the robots that will eventually save us from global doom. It’ll all work out. You’ll see.

Categories: Politics