You may have heard people muttering lately about a Republican effort to revive Obamacare repeal. Sarah Kliff has all the details here, but I don't plan to say much about it for now. There are several reasons:

  • The CBO has basically told us already that the old version of Trumpcare was as bad as just repealing Obamacare and not replacing it with anything. The ultras in the House want to make Trumpcare even worse, but it's a little hard to see how they can do that. Can they really make things worse than they were before Obamacare was passed? I wouldn't put anything past them, I guess, but it seems a little pointless to follow the twists and turns of bad vs. really bad vs. catastrophically bad.
     
  • Trump still has to face the same political dynamic as he did before: if he makes Trumpcare even worse, he might get the ultras back on his side but he'll lose more of the moderates. It remains unclear if there's a sweet spot to be found.
     
  • Finally, keep in mind that the House was supposed to be the easy part. For a long time, we all just assumed Paul Ryan would manage to pass something, but then the real battle would be in the Senate. That's still the case. And if it's hard to figure out where the sweet spot in the House would be, it's all but impossible to figure out where it would be in the Senate.

That said, Republicans do have one thing going for them: the defeat of Trumpcare was a political debacle that might have woken them up. One way or another, if health care gets back on the agenda they might be extra motivated to make sure that something passes. Going down in flames twice in a few months would be pretty devastating.

A trio of researchers at Stanford University has taken a first cut at the effects of AB60, a new California law that allows undocumented immigrants to get a drivers license. They performed a pretty straightforward regression that compared the rate of accidents in various counties to the number of AB60 licenses issued. They were interested not in the absolute level of accidents, but in whether the rate changed after AB60 was passed.

In the case of all accidents, they found no change. In the case of fatal accidents, they found no change. But in the case of hit-and-run accidents, they found a very strong change:

Counties that issued very few AB60 licenses saw an increase in hit-and-run accidents. Counties that issued a lot of AB60 licenses saw a big drop. The authors conclude from all this that (a) most unauthorized immigrants were driving unlicensed before AB60 and were already experienced drivers, and (b) with less fear of serious repercussions, they were more likely not to flee the site of a hit-and-run collision:

The fact that most AB60 license holders were driving unlicensed before the policy change points to a potential explanation for why accidents per capita and the share of fatal accidents were unaffected by this law: the majority of new license holders had sufficient driving experience, and obtaining a driver’s license did not change their routine driving behavior.

....AB60 explicitly prohibits law enforcement officers from reporting license holders to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Consequently, unauthorized immigrants with a valid form of in-state driving authorization have weaker incentives to flee the scene after an accident, because they are less likely to fear deportation. Alternatively, unauthorized immigrants involved in an accident before the reform also may have been concerned about having their car impounded as a result of driving without a license. Fees to recover a vehicle after impoundment can easily exceed $1,000....With AB60 in place, however, unauthorized immigrants who obtain a license may no longer fear impoundment of their vehicles and are, thus, more likely to stay after involved in an accident.

AB60 was passed in 2015, so this is a very short-term study. Follow-on studies will tell us whether the AB60 effect is for real or not.

From Rick Hasen:

"AMK" is Anthony McLeod Kennedy,1 the famous swing justice of the current Supreme Court lineup. And sure, this is a perfectly serviceable argument. If it floats your boat, go with it.

My own argument is a little different: Piss off, Republicans. You can keep whining about the 30-year-old rejection of Robert Bork forever—and I'm sure you will—but he got hearings and a fair vote. He was voted down because he was too extreme, and the next judge nominated by Reagan was approved 97-0 by a Democratic Senate. That was during an election year, by the way. You guys, by contrast, refused to even consider Merrick Garland because you didn't want anyone nominated by Barack Obama to serve on the court. Just like you didn't want anyone nominated by Barack Obama to serve on the Federal Circuit Court, so you filibustered all of his nominees.

You can make up all the ridiculous "traditions" you want, but everyone knows what you did. And no party with even a pretense of a spine would let you get away with it. So of course Democrats are going to filibuster Gorsuch and make you go nuclear. You're going to do it anyway the first time you need to, and everyone knows it. So what's the point of putting it off?

That's it. That's the only reason anyone needs. You took nuclear to the next level already, and it would be craven for Democrats to shrug and let you get away with it. You made this bed, now it's yours to lie in.

1Yes, I had to look up his middle name.

This is not motivated by anything in particular. I just happened to come across it last night:

January data for all 50 states is here. I chose to highlight California because it's big and diverse and I happen to live there. There's no special point I want to make except for the fact that a single state or national-level unemployment rate hides a lot of detail. Here in California, the Bay Area is fine. San Diego is fine. Los Angeles is fine. Sacramento is fine. But El Centro and Fresno and Santa Cruz and Chico aren't all that fine (though some of this seasonal). It's just one reason why the politics of inland California are so different from the politics of the 50-mile coastal strip that everyone thinks of as "California."

Here we go:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a sweeping review of federal agreements with dozens of law enforcement agencies....In a memorandum dated March 31 and made public Monday, the attorney general directed his staff to look at whether law enforcement programs adhere to principles put forth by the Trump administration, including one declaring that “the individual misdeeds of bad actors should not impugn” the work police officers perform “in keeping American communities safe.”

I think we can safely guess that many or most of these agreements will, upon review, be discovered to be heavy-handed and unfair sanctions based on a few individual bad apples. They will then be gutted or thrown out.

These are shaping up to be golden years for police departments, who are getting a very clear message: Paint the town red, boys. No need to worry anymore about the feds ginning up any ridiculous "civil rights" concerns just because you harass lots of black people or beat up prisoners in your jails. Just catch us some bad dudes, OK?

James Pethokoukis has a pair of posts up today that reignite a longstanding question: What's the right way to measure inflation? And what does that mean about earnings and income mobility over time?

These are both complicated questions, but we can start with a very simple chart. If we want to compare, say, 30-year-old men to their fathers, and their fathers to their fathers, we can do it pretty easily. The Census Bureau collects data on median cash earnings (i.e., not counting health care, employment perks, or government benefits) and then all we have to do is adjust for inflation. But which measure of inflation?

The CPI story is grim: In the previous generation, young men earned about 8 percent more than their fathers. That's not great, but it's better than nothing. However, in this generation, millennial men earn 10 percent less than their fathers.

The PCE story is different. In the previous generation, young men earned 22 percent more than their fathers. That's pretty good. In the current generation, millennial men earn about the same amount as their fathers. Stagnation like that is bad news, but at least millennials aren't literally losing ground.

So which should we believe? There are arguments for both, and it's a political hot potato too since inflation measures show up in all sorts of benefit calculations. It would be nice if the economic community could thrash out agreement on an overall best measure, and then make it available as a standard series going back 70 years, but if it turns out that the new measure leads to (for example) lower cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security benefits, you can expect a massive pushback. Republicans have shown a particularly aggressive form of this kind of political hackery in the past, approving of new inflation measures that would decrease benefits, but opposing the same measures if they meant that people might pay higher taxes.

All that conceded, we really should be able to agree on a good, general-purpose inflation measure. We can still have lots of different measures for specialized purposes, but the headline inflation rate should be something that, say, 90 percent of economists can agree about. (There will always be a few outliers.)

In a way, though, this doesn't matter too much for the question of how millennial men are doing. On one measure, their market earnings have dropped from 124 percent of per-capita GDP to 72 percent. On the other measure they've dropped from 108 percent to 72 percent. That's pretty grim either way.

For more on this, Pethokoukis points us, first, to a new study by Bruce Sacerdote, which suggests that consumption has increased substantially over the past several decades, once you adjust for inflation bias and include the growth of government benefits. On a less happy note, he also points us to a study by Scott Winship about income mobility. Winship concludes that although there's still a fair amount of income mobility within the broad middle class, there's very little at either end. Poor kids stay poor, and rich kids stay rich.

Lunchtime Photo

Ever since I first took some pictures of our hummingbirds, I've been working diligently to get better ones. For the camera nerds out there, I quickly decided that the minimum settings I needed were f/8 at 1/1000th of second using ISO 800. That combination will only work on a very sunny day, so I had to wait for our string of overcast days to go away. They finally did, and then the tree trimmers came for their annual visit, which made the backyard even sunnier. I even bought a new feeder, but that turned out to be a disaster. The hummingbirds wouldn't come near it. So I put the old one back and this produced plenty of hungry hummingbirds.

I also got some spectacular pictures. The detail is excellent, and that means all the bird folks in comments should finally be able to tell me for sure which brand of hummingbird I have. I expect answers, people.

UPDATE: Now the bird folks are saying they need to see the back of the hummingbird to tell for sure what it is. Sadly, I don't have a picture of its back. But I do have a picture that shows a bit of the back. Does that help?

UPDATE 2: We are now 99.5 percent sure that this an immature male Allen's hummingbird, about a year old. So there you have it.

UPDATE 3: Then again, my mother thinks it's a female Allen's. I guess you have to decide who you trust more, the hive mind or my mother.

The Washington Post has a story on the front page today that's already become so common it's almost a cliche. It's about the small-town folks who voted for Donald Trump but somehow didn't realize he was going to do things that might harm them. Today's example features on-the-ground reporting from Durant, Oklahoma, and Exhibit A is Betty Harris:

She likes the president’s promises to crack down on illegal immigration, which she thinks has hurt the job market, and to bully manufacturers into staying in the country. She said both of her daughters were out of work for months because they worked for companies that moved overseas.

But Harris is upset by the president’s proposed budget, which would dramatically cut funding for the Robert T. Davis Senior Center, managed by the Bryan County Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

There seem to be an awful lot of people who heard only one thing from Trump during the campaign: He was going to build a wall and keep out all the Mexicans. Now, as best I can tell, the unauthorized population of Durant is at most 1 percent. But no matter. Illegal immigration still seemed like a scary thing, and Harris was all in favor of stopping it cold.

Over and over, I read stories where I hear this. Trump got the votes of people who liked his promise to stop illegal immigration. And that was about it. They didn't really hear the part about repealing Obamacare. They didn't hear the part about cutting the budget. They didn't hear the part about climate change being a hoax. They didn't hear the part about 86ing regulations that protect workers but are disliked by big corporations. They didn't hear the part about big tariffs, which would make the stuff they buy more expensive. They didn't hear the part—or didn't care—about gigantic tax cuts for the rich.

Over and over, it's illegal immigration. And now they're shocked that Trump wants to take away their health care and their senior center and their workplace safety rules and all the financial regulations that protect consumers. They didn't notice him talking about all of that. Or else they didn't think he was serious. Or they didn't realize that when they voted for Trump, they were voting for a White House full of true-believing conservatives who have never cared about the working class and still don't.

The saddest part, from their point of view, is that they're probably not even going to get their wall. They're just going to get all the stuff they didn't want.

The Wall Street Journal has a story today titled "The Rising Retirement Perils of 401(k) ‘Leakage.’" This refers to people taking out loans from their 401(k) plans or cashing them out when they leave a job. I have two comments.

First, it's not clear to me that the Journal's own evidence supports the idea of some kind of retirement "peril." Here are the three charts they present:

Chart #1 shows a steady increase in 401(k) assets over the past decade. That's good news.

Chart #2 shows a smallish increase (18 percent to 21 percent) in the number of people who took out loans from their 401(k) accounts in 2009-13. This was the depths of the Great Recession, and it's hardly surprising news. By 2014 the number was already going back down.

Chart #3 shows the average size of 401(k) loans. Median is what we care about, and it shows no change at all. It's been hovering around $4,000 for the past two decades.

None of this strikes me as especially nerve-wracking. I just don't see any big crisis here.

But that brings me to my second comment. One of the paradoxes of retirement is how much control people should have over their own accounts. On one end you have personal savings, which you can do anything with. On the other end you have Social Security, which you can't do anything with. You pay in via mandatory payroll taxes, and when you retire you get a guaranteed monthly payment. Period.

401(k) accounts are in the middle. You don't have to pay in, but everyone is encouraged to. And there are rules about how much you can withdraw during your working years, but those rules are flexible.

Should they be? We could do away with the flexibility, but liberals argue that this just makes 401(k)s into a clumsy version of Social Security. If that's the vision, why not just do away with the whole thing and increase Social Security instead?

Conservatives mostly take the opposite approach. But again, if you provide lots of flexibility, why bother with 401(k) accounts at all? Just let people save on their own. The tax deferment of 401(k) accounts isn't all that great anyway.

This explains my own sentiment toward 401(k) accounts. I happen to believe in two things. First, the federal government should guarantee a minimum safety-net retirement for everyone. I'd like it to be more generous for the bottom third, but roughly speaking I think Social Security fits the bill pretty well.

Second, although encouraging workers to save more for retirement is admirable—and human nature being what it is, a bit of benign paternalism is probably a good idea here—people ought to have some control over what happens to their money. They know their own situation best, after all. If they have medical bills or college tuition bills, they might very well conclude that spending money now is more important than a more comfortable retirement. Once they're retired, they might prefer a large lump sum—maybe to buy a house or an RV or something like that—rather than a monthly payout. A 401(k) account allows this kind of thing within limits, and I like that. True, some people will do foolish things, but that's life. That's why we have Social Security.

Our retirement system is fairly accidental and jury-rigged, but I think it's turned out pretty well. Social Security provides a basic safety net, while 401(k) accounts provide an incentive to save more but allow more flexibility than Social Security. It's a good combination, and it's getting better as new rules bring more and more people into the 401(k) universe. There are modest changes I'd make to both pieces of this retirement package, but on the whole I think it works pretty well.

The sequence of spin and dissimulation in the great Trump wiretapping affair has been a master class in...something. I'm not quite sure what yet. But it's worth setting out for future generations. To get the ball rolling and remind everyone how this got started, here is Trump's original tweet from a month ago:

There's nothing true about this. Trump got it from a Breitbart piece that summarized a Mark Levin rant that relied on a British story about a brief FBI investigation of a server at Trump Tower that was communicating with a Russian bank. He couldn't admit that, though, and thus began a long campaign that has sucked up the time of the White House, Republicans in Congress, and Fox News, all desperately trying to redefine this into a real story. Here's how it went:

  1. Obama became some part of the executive branch.
  2. Wiretap became surveillance of some kind.
  3. Trump Tower became Trump.
  4. Trump became anyone associated with Trump.
  5. Surveillance became criminal investigation of Trump campaign team. Oops. Wrong turn. Let's ditch that one.
  6. Second try: surveillance became routine monitoring of foreign officials that happened to include Trump officials on the other end.
  7. Routine monitoring became unmasking of Trump officials.

And now we have the latest version of this from Eli Lake:

White House lawyers last month discovered that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

....Rice's requests to unmask the names of Trump transition officials does not vindicate Trump's own tweets from March 4 in which he accused Obama of illegally tapping Trump Tower. There remains no evidence to support that claim....The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice's unmasking requests were likely within the law.

Susan Rice, recall, was the National Security Advisor at the time, and most likely requested unmasking of names from intelligence reports all the time. Apparently some of those times included Trump transition officials. How many times? "Dozens." How does that compare to her usual number of requests? There's no telling. Does this have anything to do with Trump's original tweet? No. Was it illegal or wrong in any way? Probably not.

But! Susan Rice is also a Republican bête noir, the villainess of Benghazi who LIED ON TV repeatedly and tried to get everyone to believe that the attacks were due to an INTERNET VIDEO when we knew all along they were really the work of RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS, a phrase that OBAMA WAS UNWILLING TO UTTER.

So it's a big win to get Rice's name back in the news. So far, though, it doesn't advance the story in any way. Maybe it will eventually. As usual, we'll just have to wait.