Paging Karl Smith! Suzy Khimm writes today about something that I remember getting a bit of attention a few years ago: namely that as we baby boomers age, we're all going to sell our houses. This is going to put an unusually large number of old houses on the market, which could keep the construction market depressed for a long time. It's our final parting gift to the younger generation.

But is it true? Suzy is writing about a new study from the Bipartisan Policy Center, so I went off to read it. In the executive summary, it says this:

Depending on assumptions about the economic recovery, seniors will release a net of 10.6–11.3 million housing units between 2010 and 2020....Between 2000 and 2010, the net release of homes totaled some 10.5 million units.

So, um, pretty much the same. The next decade will see a release of maybe a few hundred thousand more old homes than the last decade. That's a rounding error. Here's the detail, which accounts for different forecasts of economic growth:

Under the low scenario, total absorption of owner-occupied housing amounts to only 13.3 million units; after subtracting the units released by older adults, this would mean an increase of only 3.8 million in owner-occupied units for the decade, compared with an increase of slightly more than six million for the decade from 2000 to 2010. The high scenario, by contrast, would bring a projected 18.6 million new households into homeownership and yield a net growth of 10 million new homeowners.

In the medium scenario, there would be an increase of about 7 million units, compared to 6 million for the past decade. That doesn't sound especially Armageddon-like. I'm having a hard time getting too panicked about this.

In any case, this is a chicken-and-egg problem. If the economy is bad, then fewer people will buy homes. If the economy is good, more people will buy homes. No surprise there. But of course, if more people buy homes, that will help drive the recovery. Would you care to weigh in on this, Karl?

UPDATE: In fairness, I should note that the study also suggests that this release of housing will be quite different in different states, so there could be substantial issues in some regions but not in others. Also, we're going to need a lot of new retirement and assisted-living homes as the baby boom generation ages. But I think we already knew that.

Rush Limbaugh

Bob Somerby points out today that Rush Limbaugh has been spewing bile for years. And yet, he says, "We liberals have been too lazy, too feckless, too ditto-headed to insist that big news orgs challenge Limbaugh." So Limbaugh has mostly gotten away with it.

I don't really buy Bob's examples of supposed liberal fecklessness. They involve things like claiming that lower taxes will bring in more revenue, which has been conservative dogma for years. It's also been the subject of relentless fights. Still, it's true that Limbaugh has said terrible stuff in the past, but it's only SlutGate that's come close to generating a serious level of blowback against him. How come?

I don't know. But I was reminded of a Suzy Khimm piece from a couple of weeks ago that asked a similar question about the proposed ultrasound law in Virginia, which also generated a tremendous amount of liberal protest:

What makes this all slightly surprising is that the Virginia law is not new. Twenty states have ultrasound-related abortion restrictions...So why is an old abortion restriction suddenly coming under fierce protest this time around? Analysts say that a new political landscape, coupled with a shift in abortion rights rhetoric, have allowed opponents to successfully push back against an abortion restriction that has passed with much less protest in a half-dozen other states.

...."In any of these contests, you need to get people passionate," says Anna Esacove, a sociologist at Muhlenberg College who studies abortion politics. "Framing this as rape creates a passionate response for people who are against the laws. Even if people don't think it's rape, it gets people talking about it."

....The messaging reminds some who have followed reproductive health politics of the antiabortion movement's successful rhetoric in pursuing a ban on "Partial-Birth Abortion."..."Partial-birth abortion was really a watershed in terms of rhetoric," says Deana Rohlinger, a sociologist at Florida State University whose research focuses on social movements. "When the National Right to Life tested it, it just tested through the roof, and now it's history."

If this is right, it's bad news for Bob, who's consistently argued against the Foxification of the left and for a tough but fundamentally factual approach to fighting the modern right. But Suzy is suggesting that although the key to success in Virginia was partly better organization, it was mostly about using more incendiary language. Likewise, in the case of Rush, the key to success had nothing to do with his odious point of view. It was all because we could highlight a single word—"slut"—that enraged people.

I don't know if this is correct. I'm just tossing it out for comment. But politics has always been about emotion, not cool logic, and maybe these two recent examples suggest that liberals are rediscovering that lesson. We'll see.

Apologies for the lack of Super Tuesday posting. Five minutes of Newt's victory speech sucked all the wind out of me. So here's my wrapup: Mitt Romney used to be the inevitable nominee. After last night, he's still the inevitable nominee. As David Corn notes, Gingrich is obviously the walking dead at this point, but is too egotistical and just plain mean to realize it. Ditto for Santorum, though I suppose you could argue that he still has a tiny chance of winning.

At this point, I can just barely conceive of a scenario where everyone doubles down and refuses to exit the race, preventing Romney from winning a clear majority on the first ballot. But by "barely," I mean "like the odds of an asteroid landing on one of Mitt's cars." It's unlikely in the first place, and the pressure on both Santorum and Gingrich to stop the bloodletting would be intense if they tried to hold out. I don't think they could do it.

Like it or not — and no one does — it's Mitt. Might as well get used to it.

UPDATE: Nerd alert of the day comes from Dave Weigel: "[Romney's] strategy from state to state looks a bit like Galactus's strategy for planet-devouring: Move in, absorb everything. Restore Our Future is his Silver Surfer, softening up the terrain and warning of doom." Okey dokey. Dave also points out something that struck me as well last night: when the talking heads talked about Ohio, it was almost as if Romney was a Democratic candidate. All night, he racked up big wins in the big urban counties while Santorum colored the state purple with wins in all the rural counties. That sure sounds like a mirror image of November to me.

The iPad 3 — or the iPad HD or whatever Apple decides to call it — is coming out today, and I have no plans to get one. At least, I didn't have any plans to get one until yesterday. Now I'm thinking about it.

Why? Because something suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't thought about before. I regularly use a remote access program called TeamViewer to do tech support on my mother's computer. I also have it installed on my laptop so that I can access my desktop PC. I've always known that an iPad client was also available, but for some reason it never clicked with me that I could actually use it. But of course, I can. And that would mean that I'd have a lovely iPad with all the usual lovely iPad functionality, but I'd also be able to pop up my desktop Windows screen anytime I want and use the stuff that's unique to it. And if all the rumors are right and the iPad 3 has a new super high-res display, I assume that my desktop screen would scale down to iPad size fairly cleanly.

I still don't know if I'll get an iPad, but I'm suddenly thinking that I might. The combination of high-res viewing, Kindle app, and remote desktop make it a pretty appealing idea. I just hadn't ever thought about that combination before.

I guess there's no reason for any of you to be interested in this. But you might be! So I'm sharing. Any of you ever tried this with an iPad 2?

According to Newt Gingrich, (a) we "discovered" fracking by drilling for it, (b) biofuels made from algae are ridiculous, (c) we can solve our oil problem by drilling for natural gas, (d) we can totally get gasoline down to $2.50 a gallon, and (e) if Iran screws with the Strait of Hormuz we should invade their country. Or possibly just nuke them. He wasn't real specific about that. And that was after calling Barack Obama "incoherent."

Also: this was just in the three or four minutes of his speech that I listened to. Holy cow.

From Barack Obama, on the casual bellicosity toward Iran that's overtaken the Republican Party:

This is not a game...If some of these folks think we should launch a war, let them say so, and explain to the American people.

On a related note, Paul Waldman has a question: "When Do Reporters Start Calling Mitt Romney a Liar?" It's a poser, all right. Romney has repeatedly said that Obama doesn't support sanctions against Iran; that Obama refuses to leave military options open; and that Obama hasn't clearly said that it's unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. This isn't a matter of exaggeration or interpretation. These are exactly the things Obama has done. Romney is just flat-out lying.

On the other hand, Obama has also made it clear that he thinks war is a last resort, not a first. Romney could truthfully say that about him. But as Obama says, if that's his position, maybe he ought to step up to the plate and let everyone know.

This is yesterday's news, but I just now got around to reading Mitt Romney's USA Today op-ed from 2009 in which he criticized the way healthcare reform was being designed and recommended that Obama look instead to Romney's healthcare reform in Massachusetts:

With more than 1,300 health insurance companies, a federal government insurance company isn’t necessary. It would inevitably lead to massive taxpayer subsidies, to lobbyist-inspired coverage mandates [etc.]....Our experience also demonstrates that getting every citizen insured doesn’t have to break the bank. First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages “free riders” to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others.

So Romney's advice is to (a) avoid mandates and instead (b) use tax penalties to encourage the uninsured to buy insurance. And he's specifically recommending this as a model for national legislation.

But this is, of course, exactly what PPACA does. If you don't have insurance, you have to pay a tax penalty. That's how the mandate is enforced. And it's what Romney recommended Obama do.

At this point I guess it doesn't matter. Everyone knows perfectly well that Romney shepherded through a healthcare reform bill in Massachusetts that included a mandate, and everyone knows that he used to point to it as a model for the whole country. And either you care about this, or else you've already decided to shrug your shoulders and just accept Romney's obfuscations on the subject. Still, it's pretty remarkable that he's getting away with it. As recently as two years ago, he thought that a mandate enforced by a tax penalty was aces. Today he thinks it's the gravest threat to the country since Pearl Harbor. Go figure.

So how are those Iranian oil sanctions going? Stuart Staniford took a crack at figuring it out yesterday, but luckily for me I got busy with other stuff and didn't link to his post. "Luckily" because he's now spent several hours obsessing even more over Iranian production data and has what he thinks is a more reliable look at how much oil Iran is producing. The chart is below. Stuart's conclusion:

My interpretation of the [data] is that Iran used to be able to produce about 4mbd of oil. They voluntarily reduced production following the 2001 recession (in line with the behavior of other OPEC nations at the time). However, while the reduction at the end of 2008 may also have been voluntary, the fact that they've made no increase in production in 2011 — the opposite in fact — suggests they've lost the capacity to produce (or at least export) that much oil. I assume this is due to western sanctions.

Whether the sanctions are "working" depends on whether you think we ought to be pressuring Iran over its nuclear program. But that's certainly what the Obama administration wants to do, and judged on their own terms it looks like the sanctions are working. If Iran really has been forced to reduce production by 400,000 bbd, that comes to about $40 million per day, or $14 billion per year. Depending on how you count, that amounts to about 2-3% of GDP.

UPDATE: But even if oil production is down, isn't that more than made up for by higher prices caused by the sanctions in the first place? Maybe. It depends on how much oil Iran sells on the spot market and how much is tied up in long-term contracts. I'm not sure if anyone really knows that, and I don't know what the terms of Iran's long-term contracts are anyway. So this is, admittedly, a bit of a crapshoot. Either way, though, Iran certainly seems to be selling less than they could if the sanctions didn't exist.

I see that the hounds have been let loose on Amazon today. Matt Yglesias has a new eBook out, The Rent is Too Damn High, and according to the chart accompanying the Amazon page it's already garnered 24 one-star reviews. Not bad! This reviewer explains what's up:

If you purchase this book, you'll be putting money in the pocked of a ghoul who revels in the deaths of people he disagrees with politically. Of course, if this is your intention, you're no better than he.

A few days ago Matt tweeted something nasty about Andrew Breitbart after his death, so now Breitbart's fans — who obviously haven't read the book and don't care about it — are surging into Amazon to take their revenge. Isn't the internet wonderful?

I haven't read the book myself because I'm swamped with other stuff, so I can't say anything in particular about it. However, I'm familiar with Matt's general argument that the high price of city living is an obvious sign that there's high demand for housing in cities, which means that we ought to loosen up zoning and construction regulations and allow more housing to be built. Since cities are engines of economic growth, and bigger cities are even bigger engines, this would be good for everyone. If you want to read his full argument, which I imagine is pretty cogent, it will only set you back $3.99 thanks to the marvel of the Kindle eBook publishing model.

But none of this matters at Amazon itself. Their review section is merely a place to piss on your political enemies. I suppose that's nothing new, but this is certainly a starker example than usual. Caveat lector.

Atrios:

My prediction is that a whole lot of public money will be spent setting up a "driverless car" system that will never actually work.

...adding, I'm sure such a thing would be quite possible (near future if not now) if we built up such a system from scratch. That's not going to happen.

I'll take that bet! The link goes to an odd piece in the Atlantic worrying that in an era of driverless cars everything will be optimized for cars, not people. But that makes no sense. One of the core functions of any driver, human or otherwise, is to avoid running over pedestrians. A driverless car that couldn't do that would be worthless.

My guess is that a big part of the disagreement over the future of driverless cars boils down to a disagreement over how smart computers can get. I think they're going to get pretty smart, and that within a decade or two operating a car will be child's play for them. There will be a transition period that's likely to be messy — though probably no messier than today's all-human traffic nightmare — but eventually you won't even be allowed to drive a car. Every car on the road will be automated, and our grandchildren will be gobsmacked to learn that anything as unreliable as a human being was ever allowed to pilot a two-ton metal box traveling 60 miles an hour.

When that happens, it will be a golden age for pedestrians. Sure, cars won't need signals at intersections, but neither will people. If you want to cross a road, you'll just cross. The cars will slow down and avoid you. You could cross blindfolded and be perfectly safe. You'll be able to cross freeways. You'll be able to walk diagonally across intersections. You'll be able to do anything you want, and the cars will be responsible for avoiding you. Your biggest danger will come from cyclists and other pedestrians, not cars.

That's my guess, anyway.