August 2011, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Walter Williams Gives Us Some Historical Perspective on black unemployment.
Chapter 3 of "Race and Economics," my most recent book, starts out, "Some might find it puzzling that during times of gross racial discrimination, black unemployment was lower and blacks were more active in the labor force than they are today."  Up until the late 1950s, the labor force participation rate of black teens and adults was equal to or greater than their white counterparts.  In fact, in 1910, 71 percent of black males older than 9 were employed, compared with 51 percent for whites.  As early as 1890, the duration of unemployment among blacks was shorter than it was among whites, whereas today unemployment is both higher and longer-lasting among blacks than among whites.
You could argue that many blacks had little choice; they had to work or starve, and in the South, where most blacks lived then, the public schools were poor almost everywhere, and the black schools were often abysmal.

All that said, Williams is right to say that uneducated, often unskilled, blacks were able to compete in labor markets by taking less pay.  They were such strong competitors that the Davis-Bacon Act was passed partly in order to exclude them from many labor markets.  And there were many other formal, and informal, steps taken to exclude them from competing in job markets.
- 4:17 PM, 31 August 2011   [link]

Some Of These Muslim Women Have Chips On Their Shoulders:   That's how I would explain this "brawl", as the Daily Mail calls it.
A theme park was forced to shut its gates to visitors when a mass brawl broke out after Muslim women were banned from rides unless they removed their headscarves.

Two park rangers were injured and 15 people, including three women, were arrested in the scuffle at Rye Playland in New York yesterday.  They have since been charged with disorderly conduct and assault.
It's possible, of course, that the park employees or police provoked the quarrel; it's also possible that these women came intending to cause trouble.

But I think my explanation, that they have chips on their shoulders, and were willing to start a quarrel when they were asked to comply with safety rules is the most likely explanation of the brawl.

(Two interesting details:  The theme park is owned by the county, and the Muslim American Society of New York, which organized a mass visit, was warned in advance about the rule against headgear on some of the rides.)
- 12:14 PM, 31 August 2011
Professor Althouse looked at the the Daily News story and found it biased.  (I had looked at both stories, but chose the one in the British paper because I thought it was fairer.  And here's the amusing part:  The British version was based on the American version, so some reporter or editor at the Daily Mail saw the same faults that Althouse and I did — and corrected them.)
- 7:50 AM, 1 September 2011   [link]

Michelle Bachmann Was Joking when she said that an earthquake and a hurricane were messages.  If you listen to the crowd reaction, you can tell that her audience gets the joke, which makes it odd that the Politico reporter took her seriously.

But there are always a few, in any crowd, who don't get jokes.  (Perhaps more than a few, judging by the comments after the article.)

Oh, and Charles Krauthammer was joking, too.  (His version of the joke was better, in my opinion.)
- 7:56 AM, 31 August 2011   [link]

Alan Krueger Is Lucky He Is A Democrat:  Otherwise, his conclusion on unemployment insurance — that it tends to worsen unemployment — would get him into a lot of trouble with the Democrats on Capitol Hill, now that he is taking up his new position.
President Obama's pick as chairman of the White House Council on Economic Advisors co-authored a paper that showed that extending unemployment benefits will likely exacerbate joblessness.  The paper's findings run counter to the president's economic argument for an unemployment benefit extension, which is expected to be a major part of the jobs plan he will unveil early next month.
(Krueger's conclusions were not new; other economists had come to similar conclusions earlier.  And many of us have known people who viewed unemployment benefits as a chance for a much-deserved vacation, and didn't start a serious job search until they ran out.)

Nor is that the only area in which he has unorthodox opinions; he did research that disputes the argument that terrorists come from "impoverished, uneducated environments".

(Again, other researchers have come to similar conclusions.  And, though you probably have never known any terrorists, you must have noticed that many of the most famous come from well-off, educated environments.)

On the other hand, Krueger is probably most famous for his work (with David Card) arguing that increases in the minimum wage did not cut employment.

(Most other researchers have come to opposite conclusions on the minimum wage.)

It will be interesting to see whether Krueger influences President Obama, whether Krueger's research affects policy choices.  I don't think that Obama will listen to Krueger, but I hope that I am proved wrong.

(Heritage post by way of Hot Air.)
- 6:08 AM, 31 August 2011
More on Krueger's ideas here and here.
- 1:01 PM, 31 August 2011   [link]

"He's Mine"  The Daily Mail has an entertaining collection of pictures showing women claiming their man.  It's striking just how similar the poses are, though I suppose that the pictures were chosen partly for that reason.

(I don't think that men are quite as consistent when they say "she's mine".  In my experience, men usually make that claim by putting an arm around the woman's shoulders.)
- 12:18 PM, 30 August 2011   [link]

Do The Rich Pay Their Fair Share Of Taxes?  Depends on what you mean by fair, and those who opine on this subject almost never stop to define the word, before they rush ahead to give us their opinions.

But you can say this:  In the last three decades, the American income tax system has become more progressive, with the better off paying a larger share than they did in, say, 1980.  And poor families, more and more, are being given income support through the income tax system.

There's a useful chart, illustrating those conclusions, in this post.

(I probably should repeat, even though I emphasized income tax in that second paragraph, that most working poor pay social security and Medicare taxes.  However it is also true that these programs are sort-of insurance programs, but insurance programs that are highly progressive in their payments.  It is not simple, even conceptually, to decide how to treat them in discussions of our tax system's progressivity.)

And there is this surprising comparative conclusion.
Indeed, because of the expansion of tax benefits aimed at low- and middle-income households, the OECD finds that the U.S. has the most progressive income tax system of any industrialized country.  What that means is that the top 10 percent of U.S. taxpayers pay a larger share of the income tax burden than do the wealthiest decile in any other industrialized country, including traditionally "high-tax" countries such as France, Italy, and Sweden.[7]

Meanwhile, because of the generosity of such preferences as the EITC and child credit, low-income Americans have the lowest income tax burden of any OECD nation. Indeed, the study reports that while most countries rely more on cash transfers than taxes to redistribute income, the U.S. stands out as "achieving greater redistribution through the tax system than through cash transfers."[8]
We're number 1!  (Sorry, couldn't resist that.)

On the whole, I favored most of the tax changes that produced this result.  But I have begun to wonder whether they have had unfortunate side effects.

(One way they might have bad effects is by discouraging work by those less well off.   When benefits pile up for the poor, it is easy to end up with a system (though these systems are almost never systematic) in which the poor face very high marginal taxes on additional income.

By way of the TaxProf.)
- 10:53 AM, 30 August 2011   [link]

Dukakis And Onyango Obama?  Did President Obama's uncle (all right, half uncle) benefit from a Dukakis policy that gave welfare to illegal immigrants?
In President Obama's 1995 memoir "Dreams from My Father" he writes that he learned in 1988 through family members in Kenya that his Uncle Omar came to the United States 25 years prior.  A number of commentators are mentioning that President Obama's uncle may have benefited from a policy from the days that go back to former Massachusetts Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis, whereby illegal immigrants were assigned identification numbers that looked similar to social security numbers.
The AP story they quote shows how that might have happened.

Interesting possibility, though there are other ways he might have gotten his identification.   (He's had a Massachusetts drivers license for more than twenty years.)

(Unlike Obama's Aunt Zeituni, his uncle now has a job.)
- 8:19 AM, 30 August 2011   [link]

Curlew Airlines Flew Right through Irene.
A whimbrel named Chinquapin that flew through Hurricane Irene during its annual migration from Canada to Brazil last week is resting up for a few days in the Bahamas before continuing on its way, researchers told ABC News today.
Chinquapin probably deserves a few vacation days in the Bahamas, after that flight.

(Whimbrels are a kind of curlew.

Although the researchers who were tracking Chinquapin think the bird fought the storm winds, it occurs to me that he might have benefited from them — if he had flown on the right side of the storm.)
- 7:49 AM, 30 August 2011   [link]

Another Illegal Arrested:  With awfully good connections.
BARACK Obama's long-lost "Uncle Omar" has been arrested for alleged drink-driving outside Boston and detained as an illegal immigrant, The Times can reveal.

The arrest ends a mystery over the fate of a relative that the US President wrote in his memoir had moved to America from Kenya in the 1960s, although the circumstances of his discovery may now prove to be an embarrassment for the White House.

Official records say Onyango Obama, 67, was picked up outside the Chicken Bone Saloon in Framingham, Massachusetts, at 7.10pm on August 24.  Police say he nearly crashed his Mitsubishi 4x4 into a patrol car, and then insisted that the officer should have given way to him.  A report filed with the Framingham District Court said that a breathalyser at the police station registered his blood alcohol at 0.14mg/100ml of blood, above the state limit of 0.08mg.
(Barack Obama's father also had one or two little problems with drunk driving.)

I wouldn't bet on the uncle being deported, given what happened to Obama's Aunt Zeituni, who has been living off the American taxpayer for years now.  (I don't think that Obama interfered in that decision; I do think that the relationship helped her case.   But she has been so clever over the years at exploiting our systems that she might have won even if she weren't the president's aunt.)

(One of the more striking things about President Obama is his lack of family feeling, other than for his daughters and (I hope) his wife.  I have not seen any stories about him helping any of them, even after he became a rich man.  And some of them could use his help.)
- 9:27 AM, 29 August 2011   [link]

Irene's Killer Trees:  Of the 21 deaths listed in this ABC summary, 11 were from falling trees.  (Two electrocutions in the list may have been caused, indirectly, by falling trees; the article does not say what knocked down the power lines, but usually they are taken down by trees.)

It's likely, in my opinion, that most of those 11 deaths could have been prevented if people had removed trees that might threaten their homes during a bad storm.  When you are preparing for a disaster, you may want to take a close look at trees near your home as part of those preparations.
- 7:33 AM, 29 August 2011   [link]

FEMA Lets Rookie Pose For Pictures:  That headline may seem unfair, but it's more accurate than the one that AFP used.
Obama takes charge at hurricane command center

US President Barack Obama warned the US east coast was in for a "long 72 hours" as he led his government's response to Hurricane Irene at a disaster command center in Washington.
If Obama were younger, this would cute, like those pictures of kids being mayor for a day.

As it is, it is annoying, mostly because of the sycophantic coverage.  But I don't suppose Obama's visit did much harm, coming as late as it did.
- 6:36 AM, 28 August 2011
The comments following the article are mostly savage attacks on Obama.  I suspect that's partly because the article was linked at Drudge (which is more read by conservatives than leftists), and partly because readers were provoked by that unfortunate "takes charge" headline.
- 7:50 AM, 29 August 2011   [link]

Up, Up, And Away:  The Boeing 787 has received certification from the FAA.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday certified Boeing's 787 Dreamliner to carry passengers, ending more than 20 months of flight testing and analysis.

The move clears the way for Boeing to deliver the first jet to All Nippon Airways (ANA) of Japan on Sept. 25, three years and four months later than originally planned.
Boeing budgeted $5 billion for development, originally; they now expect to spend between $12 and $18 billion.

In the article, Dominic Gates describes some of the reasons for the delays.  If I had to summarize what he said in a sentence it would be something like this:  Boeing was too optimistic, and the FAA was too slow moving.

(One odd detail:  An electrical fire last November caused months of delays.  It was blamed on "debris in an electrical-control panel".  Are we to conclude that engineers, or technicians, didn't keep a test plane neat and clean?)
- 3:21 PM, 27 August 2011   [link]

Charles Blow Has A Most Entertaining Column Today:   Though unintentionally, as he recycles ideas that may have been fresh in the late 1950s, but have since collapsed under the weight of evidence against them, and the changes in society.

As our use of food stamps soars to record levels, he worries about food insecurity.  And he views the fact that nearly half of our children receive supplements under the WIC program as evidence that our children are lacking food, not that our taxpayers are generous.

Here's my favorite sentence from the column:
We have to remove the stigma and judgment around sex.
He means judgmentalism not judgment, but I like the sentence as it is, for its unintentional honesty.

Every society — let me repeat, every society — surrounds sex with stigmas of one kind or another.  Successful societies tie most sex to creating and raising children, using an immense array of "shalts" and "shalt nots" to shape behavior.

Blow would rather this wasn't true, and so he ignores what anyone can see — if they open their eyes.
- 2:55 PM, 27 August 2011   [link]

Etiquette During The Obama Era:  Today's New Yorker cartoon shows two businessmen walking together.  One is saying to the other, "I've stopped carrying a briefcase.  I don't like to flaunt my employment."
- 2:44 PM, 26 August 2011   [link]

Diamond Planet?  Well, sort of.  This article from Time is the best popular explanation I've found for that claim.
[Matthew] Bailes and his team couldn't actually detect the carbon or oxygen, but given the mass of the "planet" and their understanding of the lifecycle of stars, there's not much else it could be.  And because a Jupiter's worth of carbon would have a pretty powerful gravity of its own, it would almost certainly have crushed itself into crystalline form — in other words, diamond.  "We can't uniquely say what percentage of the planet would be diamond," says Bailes, since the details of the process aren't absolutely clear.  But it would likely be a lot.
Enough, certainly, to provide a very impressive engagement ring.

(You can find some videos on this discovery here.)
- 2:16 PM, 26 August 2011   [link]

International Consequences Of The Australian Sex Scandal:   Perhaps I should have said possible or likely consequences in that post title, but I now think they are so likely that I left out the qualifier.

As you no doubt recall from the earlier post, Julia Gillard's Labor government is in serious trouble because Member of Parliament Craig Thomson has been accused of using his union's money to pay for prostitutes.  Since the Gillard government has the narrowest possible majority in Australia's House, the loss of Thomson's seat, which looks likely, would probably bring down the government and force a new election, which Labor would, judging by recent polls, lose.

All right, why should this matter much — other than for the entertainment value — to anyone outside Australia?

To explain why I think it will, we need to go back a little bit.  In March 1996, Liberal John Howard became prime minister and held that office until December 2007.  (Reminder:  The Australian Liberal Party is, in American terms, conservative; or, to put it another way, in Australian terms, the American Republican Party is liberal.)

He was defeated by Labor's Kevin Rudd, mostly, as far as I can tell, because Australians were ready for a change — though so far they haven't been wholly pleased by the change they got.  Rudd turned out to be a better campaigner than national leader, and he was thrown out by his party in favor of Julia Gillard.  (The very rough American equivalent would be if, for example, Hillary Clinton displaced Barack Obama, two or three years into his first term.)

Gillard called for an early election, which resulted in a tie between Labor and the opposition Liberal-National coalition.  She was able to get the support of three independents and one Green and stayed in power, barely.

During the campaign, she had promised, unequivocally, not to impose a carbon tax.  (It is likely that she would have lost if she had made the opposite promise.)  Like many other candidates, she was promising to produce "Green" results, without significant costs for the public.  Almost immediately after the election, she announced a plan for a carbon tax.

Most likely, Gillard hoped that she would stay in office long enough so that the voters would forgive that broken promise.  And with a healthy economy to help, that doesn't seem completely implausible.  (She may have noticed how Clinton was able to win re-election in 1996, despite breaking his 1992 promise of a "middle class" tax cut.   But Clinton was more skillful when he announced that he was breaking his promise, sounding sad that he hadn't been able to keep it.)

Gillard did just what Al Gore would have told her to do on climate change.  She proposed a carbon tax, even though the tax is unpopular in Australia — and would, even if all goes as planned, have almost no effect on the world's climate, given Australia's small population (about 23 million).

If you believe what Gore says he believes, that's the right thing to do.  It is even, some would argue, acceptable to deceive the public because the long-term costs of climate change are so large.

If her government is driven from office, ambitious politicians all around the world will draw the conclusion, fairly or not, that carbon taxes, or other expensive efforts to stave off climate change, are losing issues.  They may give symbolic measures their support, but they will avoid any measures that look costly, especially any measures that destroy jobs.

Which politicians?  Mitt Romney, for a start, and I suspect many more will come to similar conclusions.

(There's a complication, but it supports my general conclusion that politicians are likely to see carbon taxes as losing issues.  The current leader of the Liberal Party is Tony Abbott.  He displaced Malcolm Turnbull partly because Turnbull favored a tax on carbon emissions.)
- 1:34 PM, 26 August 2011   [link]

Regulations Viewed From Below:  Tigerhawk provides an astonishing example to illustrate his general argument:  Drug company executives can be held criminally responsible for acts they did not know about.  (The discussion in the comments is worth reading, too.)

Warren Stephens makes a more general argument.
As the CEO of an investment bank based in Middle America and specializing in the middle market, I speak regularly with the leaders of midsize companies.  Many of them talk about the uncertain regulatory and tax environment we are in as a deterrent to growth.   I will try to give you a few examples of what they say.

Most middle market CEOs literally cannot keep up with the changes in regulation and the behavior of the regulators.  For example, they are scratching their collective heads as they watch the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) challenge whether Boeing violated labor laws by putting a plant in South Carolina to assemble its 787 Dreamliner.  The concern is whether this an indication of future action the NLRB may take against middle market companies that have far fewer resources than Boeing to fight back.

Then there is health care.  At this point, assuming President Obama's health-care reform begins to go into effect in 2013—scarcely a year and a half away—no one knows for certain its impact on his or her company.  That is a very unsettling unknown as CEOs try to plan their budgets.
As far as I can tell, Obama either does not understand the problems these regulations cause, or sees them as a necessary price for progress.

But the latest numbers on growth give us even more reason to fear Amerisclerosis, an affliction caused more by over-regulation than by high taxes.

(Here's the usual Wikipedia article on Sarbanes-Oxley, which is mentioned in both the post and the op-ed.  Note the astonishing range of opinions on its costs and benefits.)
- 7:34 AM, 26 August 2011   [link]

Hurricane Irene:  If you want to follow it, a good place to start would be this Anthony Watts post.
- 6:24 AM, 26 August 2011   [link]

Courtland Milloy Is Right:  Partly right, anyway, when he criticizes the new statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Who gets the job? A Chinese national with an apparent preference for the heroic and authoritarian.
. . .
The result is a stern colossus, dressed no less in a style of suit similar to ones found on many statues of Stalin.  In America's militaristic culture, King's take-no-prisoners personae will surely resonate — especially among many in the black middle class, which places a premium on order and discipline.  King's expression reminds me of a parent or teacher about to administer some tough love with a belt.
Milloy is right when he says that Lei Yixin should not have been chosen to create the statue, and he is right when he says the statue looks like many statues of Stalin, or, more precisely, Mao.

And he is very right when he goes on to criticize China for its human rights record.

Milloy is wrong when he says that a black sculptor should have done the work, just as he would be wrong to say that white sculptors should create statues of Abraham Lincoln.

(And he's wrong , of course, to say that America has a militaristic culture.  I'll leave it to members of the black middle class to say whether they place too much emphasis on order and discipline.)
- 8:38 AM, 25 August 2011   [link]

"Buckets Of Common Sense"  The Obama campaign, Jake Tapper tells us, is looking for some writers.
"We're looking for writers who can tell stories in 140 characters or less, put complex policy into Facebook-friendly terms, and help plan and create original content that people will be compelled to share with their friends," the post reads.  "You should have a head for politics, a sense of humor, and buckets of common sense."
That last reminded me of an old Austrian-Prussian joke.

Hold on a second, there is a connection.  Here's the joke:
A Prussian officer was sneering at the Austrians.  "You Austrians", he said, "fight only for money, while we Prussians fight for honor."

The Austrian officer replied:  "That's understandable; each fights for what he does not have."
(No word on whether that exchange of insults resulted in a duel.

And so, if the Obama campaign is looking for people with "buckets of common sense", it must be because common sense is in short supply there.
- 8:04 AM, 25 August 2011   [link]