Archive for April, 2013

Negative-sum Politics

“For the GOP, politics is not a zero-sum game — and I don’t mean this in a good way. It is entirely possible for Obama to lose on a variety of issues and for Republicans to lose as well, in ways that make future victories less likely.”

Michael Gerson (Washington Post) decries those in the GOP who are “convinced that the only duty of an opposition party is to oppose” rather than to offer a compelling alternative.  Greg Sargent agrees (the Plum Line), referring to the GOP’s “post-policy nihilism.” Both are worth reading.

The case being made by Gerson and Sargent may be a bit overstated. However, it seems like the GOP was the party of ideas for much of the last few decades, likely the product of heavy investments in think tanks and the vigorous interplay of competing factions of the conservative coalition. While the Democrats sought to preserve the status quo and maintain a disintegrating New Deal coalition, conservatives and libertarians were often deeply engaged in a serious examination of core public policies and the generation of alternatives. Much of this, in turn, influenced policy decisions. Whether one is speaking of economic management, education, tax policy, regulatory design, or welfare reform, the story of post-1970s domestic policy simply cannot be told without referencing these debates.

To say that the GOP was the party of ideas is not to say that all the ideas were good ideas (are they ever?). To claim that the GOP is no longer the party of ideas is not to suggest that the Democrats have somehow assumed this role.  Indeed, it may be the case that no party can make this claim. If this is the case, we may have competition between two parties of “no” in an era when ideas are critically needed.


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In Freedom in the 50 States, we present some statistical results on the association between the three dimensions of freedom — fiscal, regulatory, and personal — and “net interstate migration,” that is, the number of movers into a state from other states minus the number of movers from a state to other states, divided by initial population. We found that all three dimensions are positively associated with net in-migration, usually statistically significantly so. Moreover, the substantive importance of the associations is large. A half-point increase in each of the three dimensions, measured in 2001, is associated with between two and five percentage points more in-migration from 2000 to 2011, as a percentage of 2000 population.

The results seem to imply that Americans value freedom and are willing to vote with their feet for it. Of course, some freedoms are not very plausibly related to migration. Tobacco, alcohol, and gambling laws can be evaded through travel or the black market. It seems unlikely that very many people at all will move from New York simply because of the high cigarette taxes. There are cheaper alternatives. And some freedoms with high symbolic importance, like eminent domain reform or legalization of sodomy (prior to 2003), are unlikely to drive anyone to move, simply because so few people are likely to suffer from their denial. Sodomy laws were almost never enforced, and eminent domain for private gain is rather rare even where totally unregulated.

But some other freedoms are plausibly related to migration. People definitely consider tax burden in their choice of a new home. Business regulation can dampen job opportunities, and people tend to move where the jobs are. Medical cannabis users move where their medicine is legal; gun enthusiasts move where their lifestyle is respected; same-sex couples move where they have legal rights; home-schooling parents move where they can educate with less state control.

In this blog post, I explore some other ways of testing whether the relationship between freedom and migration is causal. The first technique is something I call “matched-neighbors analysis.” The independent variables here, including freedom, represent the value of the variable for the given state minus the average value for its neighbors (technically, the weighted-average value, where the weights are the neighboring states’ populations — I’ve also tried using a pure average, with nearly identical results). This procedure is called “spatial differencing.” So the notion here is that states that are freer than their neighbors will be more likely to see net in-migration. Let’s see if that’s true.

First, some specs: regressions include all 50 states (unlike the results with just the Lower 48 included in the F50S study), all independent variables are standardized to mean zero and standard deviation one (so that the coefficient estimates represent the effect of a standard-deviation change in each variable), and the dependent variable, net migration, is measured over 2000-2012 instead of just 2000-2011 as in the original study. Here are the results: (more…)

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Quick but effective video from the Cato Institute:


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Grading time is here, but these pieces/stories might provide some helpful between-papers distraction:

1.  More violence in Iraq.  According to CNN, “At least 25 people were killed and 69 others were wounded in five car bombings in Iraq on Monday.”

2.  Friend of Pileus Damon Linker finds a Christian message in Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder.”  Apparently everyone else in the movie crit biz missed it – which isn’t surprising considering how illiterate so many American elites are (including Christians!) about religion.  This was a real problem when I was teaching ethics at an elite northeastern SLAC and tried to discuss the Christian pacifist tradition.  The students had no ability to critically engage the arguments in the reading on the many sides of that issue.  It was a very depressing teaching experience.  Whether one is a believer, a deist, an agnostic, an atheist or otherwise, it is impossible to deny that religion is an important force in the world and liberally educated students should know a bit about the major traditions.

3.  On Rand Paul’s alleged 180 on drones

4.  O. Henry’s fictional “A Newspaper Story” might be a good medium through which to teach the difference between correlation and causation if the usual ways aren’t working or you want to try something new and different.  A three page short-story (in my edition), it is a fun but quick read.  See here.

5.  And don’t forget, it is playoff beard time.  Is there any doubt that Lanny McDonald had the best one of all-time?  Here’s hoping that Tyler Seguin has an excuse to prove he can even grow one!

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Columbian Centinel editorial, January 4, 1794:

It is unworthy of the dignity, as well as equity, of Americans, to become partizans of either of the belligerent nations. We are bound to wish liberty and good government to every people under heaven—Having professed an impartial neutrality, public exultation shewn on one side, and goading the other with scorn, reproach and obloquy, gives the lie to our profession of hostility. We solemnly announce to the world that we shall not inter-meddle. Where then is the propriety of our newspapers, clubs, and some of our public bodies, shewing dispositions the very reverse of our professions?

And I highly recommend dipping your toe into the great primary resources available in the Document Library at the Teaching American History website. 


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The Economist has come out against race-based affirmative action in the United States, a surprising (to me) move given the magazine’s socially left-of-center outlook (e.g., for legalizing drugs and banning handguns). Indeed, the way in which affirmative action as currently practiced discriminates against Asians even more than against whites is difficult to justify. (I argued here that state-sponsored affirmative action is not inherently unjust.) Moreover, the paternalist case against affirmative action cannot be dismissed out of hand:

[After California banned affirmative action, t]he number of blacks and Hispanics enrolled fell, particularly at the flagship schools, Berkeley and UCLA.

What was more surprising was that in the entering class of 2000 a record number of black students graduated on time. Mr Sander and Mr Taylor argue that previously low black graduation rates were a result of the mismatch which occurs when a student granted preferential admission winds up at an institution for which he is not academically suited. He begins at a marked relative disadvantage and falls behind quickly. His grades get lower and lower and in the worst cases he loses confidence and fails to graduate.

Mr Sander and Mr Taylor attribute a host of bad outcomes to mismatch. For example, more black than white high-school seniors aspire to science and engineering careers, but once in college twice as many black students as white abandon those challenging fields.

Note that if you buy this argument against affirmative action, you should also oppose “legacy” preferences in affirmative action (and rational parents would not oppose the move, leaving no apparent constituency on the other side of the question).

Nevertheless, affirmative action in the United States is not as noxious as ethnic and racial preferences in many other parts of the world. In Sri Lanka, ethnic Sinhalese university applicants receive large preferences relative to ethnic Tamils. The reason seems to be nothing other than that Sinhalese are the majority in the country, and they will damned well discriminate against minorities however they please. (Such is the reality of democracy in the developing world.) In Malaysia, Malays and other bumiputera receive wide-ranging preferences in education and business. (For instance, firms must have at least 40% Malay ownership.) Chinese and Indians suffer.

So in most of the world, “affirmative action” just means that politically dominant ethnic groups get to repress the politically subordinate. But in the United States, affirmative action does not mean the translation of the ethnic majority’s political power into other spheres of social life. Blacks in the U.S. remain a small minority of the population and thus suffer from collective political disadvantage (due in part as well to their overwhelming support for one political party, which leads politicians to take their votes for granted). Eliminating all educational and economic advantages for blacks will alienate most of them. Of course, many African-Americans oppose affirmative action — but most still support it and see a role for it. The Supreme Court should be reluctant to impose a judicial solution to a sensitive political problem. A sweeping ruling constitutionally prohibiting virtually all racial preferences in all walks of life is more likely to increase racial tension than diminish it. The justices should apply the law but do so humbly, with the understanding that nine justices cannot foresee all future political contingencies.

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John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman (Politico) report (unsurprisingly) that those who brought us the Affordable Care Act are scurrying to create exemptions for Capitol Hill. The big concern: the costs of insurance on the exchanges will lead to the rapid exodus of legislative aides—a policy-induced brain drain.

The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides.

They continue:

The problem stems from whether members and aides set to enter the exchanges would have their health insurance premiums subsidized by their employer — in this case, the federal government. If not, aides and lawmakers in both parties fear that staffers — especially low-paid junior aides — could be hit with thousands of dollars in new health care costs, prompting them to seek jobs elsewhere. Older, more senior staffers could also retire or jump to the private sector rather than face a big financial penalty. Plus, lawmakers — especially those with long careers in public service and smaller bank accounts — are also concerned about the hit to their own wallets.

Nancy Pelosi famously assured her audience “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Now that lawmakers have found out what is in it, it appears they are not too pleased.  Or should we interpret their actions differently?

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