• Obamacare Enrollments Continue to Thrive

    CMS reports today that Obamacare enrollments through the federal exchange are now up to 2.3 million this year. That’s about a 50 percent increase over the same period last year. If we assume that state exchange enrollments are up the same amount, total enrollments so far amount to just over 5 million:

    This is all based on eyeballing Charles Gaba’s famous chart, so it might be off slightly. And projections are, obviously, just projections. We don’t have confirmed figures for total national enrollment yet. Still, it’s good to see that signup activity seems to be very robust. With only three weeks left to sign up on the federal exchange, this needs to keep up.

  • Another Shoe Drops in the Florian Jaeger Affair

    WBNS-10TV

    Last month Madison Pauly reported on Florian Jaeger, a linguistics professor at the University of Rochester:

    Celeste Kidd was elated when she learned, in 2007, that she had been invited to interview for a Ph.D. program at the University of Rochester in New York….As she began the interview process, Kidd was told that in addition to Aslin, she would be encouraged to work closely with the department’s prized recent hire, professor T. Florian Jaeger, an expert in linguistics and computational methods. She met with Jaeger—but left the interview disturbed. Rather than asking about her research, she says, the professor invited her to a party that weekend, which she declined. Within days, he had sent her a message on Facebook. “you should have come to that other party,” he wrote.

    “I wanted to come, and ordinarily I would have but what with my not being accepted into Rochester yet, I didn’t want to make myself look like I enjoyed myself too much too often, you know?” Kidd wrote back.

    “you should not be worried about that type of stuff. at least no with me,” Jaeger replied. He added: “rochester used to be the place for legendary parties (with lots of nudity,etc. =)”

    Initially the university defended Jaeger and dismissed the complaints filed by Kidd, now an assistant professor at Rochester, and six other faculty members (plus one former grad student). But that was pre-Harvey Weinstein. Today the Washington Post reports that a second shoe has dropped in the Jaeger affair:

    Hundreds of professors are urging their students not to apply to the University of Rochester, a private research university in western New York. The boycott comes after allegations that Florian Jaeger, a professor in the brain and cognitive science department, preyed on female students. Eight current and former Rochester researchers filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the university in September for what they viewed as the administration’s failure to adequately protect its students.

    ….[It] is unprecedented for these discussions to occur openly. This the first time academics have issued this sort of public statement, said Heidi Lockwood, a Southern Connecticut State University professor of philosophy and co-author of the letter of concern.

    ….The university has commissioned another investigation, led by attorney Mary Jo White, a former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission….White “has accepted the assignment on conditions of unconditional independence and unfettered access to all witnesses, documents, and information within the University’s control,” a representative for the University of Rochester wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

    Stay tuned. In September, this might have gone nowhere. Today, it might finally get taken more seriously.

  • Nine Out of Ten Economists Agree: The Republican Tax Bill Is Ridiculous

    The latest question put to the IGM Economic Experts Panel was about the Republican tax plan. Without further ado, the results:

    Will it increase GDP? Oh hell no. Will it increase the debt? Hell yes. It’s designed to increase the debt.

    My favorite answer to Question 1 comes from Oliver Hart of Harvard: “The incentive effects are unclear to me. Some of the simplifications make sense but many of the changes look like hand-outs to the rich.”

    You don’t say? Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago wins for his answer to Question 2: “Cut taxes. Lose money. Repeat.”

    What a mess. There’s really no reason to think that corporate taxes are too high in America, but it’s still possible that legitimate tax reform could help the economy. That calls for tax reform that simplifies the corporate code; thoughtfully reforms our current worldwide taxation system; reduces industry subsidies and tax preferences; moderately lowers rates; and ends up revenue neutral. Unfortunately, what we have is a tax bill that includes a few useful features buried inside a chaotic assortment of giveaways to the wealthy and other special interests. It’s unlikely to accomplish much except to make a few rich people about $1.5 trillion richer over the next ten years. Even most conservatives support it only tepidly.

    But if there’s a single thing in this bill that demonstrates the difference between Republicans and Democrats, it’s not the favoritism toward the rich. I pretty much take that for granted these days. Rather, it’s the treatment of worldwide income.

    There’s broad agreement that the US system, which taxes all the income of domestic companies but provides credits for taxes paid to foreign countries, is clumsy and inefficient. Most countries rely instead on a territorial system that taxes only income earned within their borders. This is something that Republicans could have taken on and that the business community would likely have supported. The problem is that it’s not a simple matter that fits on a bumper sticker or gets cheers at a rally. Transitioning to a territorial system is complex and full of potholes.

    If this were a Democratic priority, liberal think tanks would have spent the past decade churning out dozens of detailed models and white papers, and legislative aides would be ready to dive in and start working on it. But if you scan conservative think tanks, you’ll find a few op-ed length proposals for a territorial tax and not much more. Not enough, anyway, that Republicans felt confident about taking it on this year. They just don’t care enough about detailed policy to be able to do stuff like this. So instead they threw a few ideas in the air, tossed out the ones that got any pushback, and ended up with an embarrassing collection of hobbyhorses and giveaways. It’s the same story as health care: after seven years of denouncing Obamacare, Republicans had little more than a few bullet points to work with when it turned out they couldn’t just repeal the entire law and be done with it. Detailed replacement proposals were almost nonexistent.

    Republicans can blow raspberries at honest wonks all they want, but this is the result: For anything complex, they’re incapable of passing legislation that’s worthwhile even from their own point of view.

  • We’re in Danger of Squandering Our Sexual Abuse Moment

    Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

    John Conyers is the latest politician to be accused of sexual harassment:

    Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, moved swiftly on Tuesday against the House’s longest serving lawmaker, calling for the House Ethics Committee to investigate sexual harassment charges against Representative John Conyers Jr., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

    Good for Pelosi. If there’s a credible accusation against a Democrat, it should be investigated. Ditto for Republicans.

    But there’s the rub. The charges against Conyers were leaked to Mike Cernovich, a nutcase white nationalist who was a big supporter of the insane Pizzagate conspiracy last year. The partisan motivations here are pretty obvious.

    Likewise, after Leeann Tweeden accused Al Franken of improper behavior, a conservative radio host jumped on the bandwagon with a series of absurd allegations. Again, this was obviously a partisan hit.

    Meanwhile, Roy Moore and Donald Trump have simply denied all the allegations against them—loudly and threateningly. Earlier today, Trump basically endorsed Moore on this basis. “He totally denies it,” Trump explained.

    There’s a partisan issue here, but there’s also, for lack of a better phrase, an asshole issue as well. If you’re fundamentally a decent human being, like Franken, you apologize. Then you get investigated. Then you might resign, because lots of your fellow decent human beings think you should.

    But if you’re an asshole, not only do you deny the charges, you do your best to smear the accusers. That’s what Moore and Trump have done. This gives your fellow assholes the cover they need to back off while they “wait for more evidence.”

    The result is that the more decent you are, the more likely you are to pay the price for your sexual misconduct. The more of an asshole you are, the less likely you’ll pay any price.

    This is hardly an ironclad rule. Harvey Weinstein is pretty clearly a huge asshole, but the allegations against him are so numerous and so disgusting that nothing he says or does is going to matter much. That said, if we’re going to investigate Al Franken for some fairly minor offenses, let’s also investigate Donald Trump over his far worse and far more numerous offenses. And if we’re going to investigate John Conyers over allegations that were eventually settled by Congress’s Office of Compliance—as we certainly should—let’s not rely solely on partisan leaks. Let’s open the books and take a look at everyone who’s been accused of bad behavior.

    The fastest way for this moment in time to be squandered is for it to become a partisan football. If liberals eat their own because they believe sexual abuse is intolerable, but conservatives survive by simply denying and blustering, what do you think will happen? First, conservatives will spot an opportunity: a way of taking advantage of liberal principles that they’ve learned doesn’t apply to them. Second, liberals will probably start to back off. Like it or not, this is just human nature. No group ever remains completely committed to a principled stand if it becomes obvious that it only applies to themselves.

    I wish I had an answer to this problem, but I don’t. Nevertheless, it’s worth putting out there. Maybe somebody else has something productive to say about this.

  • Net Neutrality Is All About the Little Guy

    Richard B. Levine/Levine Roberts/Newscom via ZUMA

    The FCC is getting ready to kill off net neutrality rules, which means that internet providers will be allowed to play favorites with different content from different companies. Tyler Cowen suggests this is really no big deal. He looks at two studies:

    In the past, the FCC went through a process to extend [net neutrality] in response to a court order invalidating its earlier net neutrality policy….Most relevant corporate share prices didn’t much react to these events, which suggests that the net neutrality decisions weren’t so important for the sector.

    ….A second recent study is by José Francisco Tudón Maldonado, a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Chicago. Tudón Maldonado looked at Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch.tv, a popular platform for video games, eSports and musical performances, among other services. Twitch itself advocates net neutrality, but applies its own service prioritization rules within the system. Tudón Maldonado found that Twitch users benefit from this prioritization, receiving higher quality programs and suffering less from bandwidth congestion.

    I think this misunderstands the entire net neutrality debate. The first study looks solely at large public companies, but those aren’t the ones likely to lose out if net neutrality goes away. Generally speaking, they’re big enough and rich enough to cut favorable deals with internet providers regardless of the regulatory environment. It’s startups and small companies that are more likely to have problems. If YouTube has to cut a deal with Comcast to keep its videos running smoothly, they’ll do it. But what if a startup competitor wants the same treatment? They might not be offered the same deal, and even if they are they probably can’t afford it anyway. None of this shows up in the stock prices of big content providers.

    The second study looks at the effect of content-neutral congestion policies. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole here, but in simple terms it’s safe to say that no one objects if internet providers adopt policies designed to manage traffic congestion on their networks as long as those policies don’t discriminate based on the content of the traffic. This is a tricky issue, and the Twitch.tv case isn’t entirely cut and dry. But it’s mostly about favoring content that its customers access most often, which means they aren’t discriminating based on who owns what content.

    In other words, I don’t think either of these studies addresses the real issue of eliminating net neutrality: namely that it allows internet providers to actively discriminate against small companies that can’t afford to pay special fees for good service. It also allows vertically integrated internet providers—like Comcast/NBC and AT&T/Time Warner—to favor their own content at the expense of others.

    If there were real competition in the internet provider space, this would all be moot. If Comcast screwed around with competitive content providers, its customers would get disgusted and switch to someone else. But in practice, most areas don’t have any real competition. You sign up with your local cable company, and that’s pretty much it. If some small sites don’t seem to work very well, you’ll probably shrug and just figure that they aren’t very good. And even if you figure out that Comcast is deliberately screwing with them, there isn’t much you can do about it.

    Of course, the big internet providers all swear they would never do this. Maybe so. But if they’d never do it, why the big objection to rules that say they can never do it?

  • Thousands of Blacks Are Denied Voting Rights Because They’re Poor

    I did not know this:

    Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being denied the right to vote because they are poor. In nine states, Republican legislators have enacted laws that disenfranchise anyone with outstanding legal fees or court fines. For example, in Alabama more than 100,000 people who owe money — roughly 3 percent of the state’s voting-age population — have been struck from voting rolls.

    AL.com adds a bit more detail:

    In Alabama and eight other states from Nevada to Tennessee, anyone who has lost the franchise cannot regain it until they pay off any outstanding court fines, legal fees and victim restitution. In Alabama, that requirement has fostered an underclass of thousands of people who are unable to vote because they do not have enough money.

    In a recent paper, Marc Meredith and Michael Morse calculate that in Alabama, the fees and fines levied on felons amount to an average of about $5,000 per person, and half of the money owed is in the form of legal fees. Here’s how those fees break down:

    This affects blacks much more than whites:

    Many laws that have a disparate impact on the poor also are likely to have a disparate racial impact because of the strong link between race and wealth in America….The right panel of Figure 3 supplies the missing data and demonstrates that black ex-felons are about 9.4 percentage points (p.p.) less likely to be eligible to vote because of an outstanding [legal] debt….[The] fourth panel of Figure 4 reveals that the disparate impact in eligibility is reproduced in the share of applications denied….Black applicants are 26 p.p. more likely to be denied due to an outstanding debt than non-black applicants.

    Here are figures 3 and 4 from the paper. The size of the fees and fines levied on felons is about the same for blacks and whites, but blacks are more likely to have unpaid fees and fines and far more likely to be denied restitution of voting rights due to outstanding fees and fines:

    This is the intersection of class and race. The reason blacks are more likely to have unpaid fees and fines is because they’re poorer than whites. But the reason they’re poorer is inextricably bound up in persistent and systemic racism. No court has ever found that this disparate impact of unpaid fees and fines on voting rights is disallowed by the Constitution, but Meredith and Morse suggest that maybe they should start.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is a koi swimming around at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon, one of the few semi-rural places left in Orange County. I was there a few months ago, and was surprised to learn they had a koi pond. I don’t think it was there the last time I visited, which was probably about 50 years ago. I guess I should keep a little more up to date.

  • The Senate Tax Bill Will—Oh, You Know Already, Don’t You?

    I still feel like crap today. On the bright side, I feel slightly less like crap than yesterday. Nevertheless, that probably means I should stick to nice, easy subjects. I think I managed to screw up yesterday’s post about the income of the top 1 percent five or six times before I finally got it right.¹

    The Republican tax bill is always good for an easy post. Let’s try that. Here’s the latest Penn Wharton estimate of the effects of the bill all the way through 2040²:

    There you go. By 2040, more than two decades from now, the Senate bill will create an extra $2 trillion in debt. At the same time, it will increase both GDP and labor income by 0.5 percent. That’s 0.02 percent per year, which is basically noise level. We can’t even come close to measuring GDP that accurately. For all practical purposes, the likely effect of the bill on GDP and labor income is zero.

    No one in the Republican Party seems to care about that, and charts full of numbers don’t have any impact on the average voter. Still, just for the record, I figure it’s worth posting this stuff. Someone ought to.

    ¹It’s now correct, and probably fairly understandable too. Thanks, readers!

    ²The Penn Wharton folks produce both high and low estimates. I’ve averaged them here to get a single number for each category.

  • Is Donald Trump Using the Justice Department to Punish CNN?

    Why is the Justice Department suing to prevent AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner? Is it for legitimate antitrust reasons? Michael Hiltzik makes that case here. Or is it because Time Warner owns CNN and Donald Trump hates CNN? Is this just a way for Trump to take revenge on his least favorite news channel? James Hohmann provides seven reasons that might be the case:

    1. In every other area, the Trump administration is bending over backward to boost big business.
    2. The head of the antitrust division has changed his view on the issue to match the president’s.
    3. The administration’s denials are full of lawyerly language that leaves wiggle room.
    4. Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not respect the independence of the Justice Department. Why would he prize the autonomy of the antitrust division any more than he did the FBI?
    5. There are no precedents for this kind of lawsuit succeeding.
    6. The president has made no secret of his deep personal disdain for CNN.
    7. White House officials have previously hinted that Trump might wade into the antitrust process.

    I have no particular ax to grind here. I’d like to see antitrust laws prosecuted more vigorously as a general matter, but I also want to see them applied even-handedly. And I don’t care about CNN one way or the other. However, I’d like to add one more point to Hohmann’s seven. I’m just not sure which way it cuts:

    1. Trump would have to be an idiot to have interfered with this. AT&T’s lawyers are going to demand every scrap of evidence about how this decision was made, and given Trump’s public statements about CNN it’s possible that a judge will let them have it. That probably won’t turn out well.

    This is obviously a good reason for Trump not to have interfered. On the other hand, Trump is an idiot. So I don’t know how to score this one.

    In any case, this could be a pretty entertaining case if AT&T’s lawyers decide to go to the mats. I’d be curious to hear from an expert or two about how likely it is that AT&T could do some serious damage to the Trump administration during discovery.

  • Donald Trump’s Response to Disaster Aid for California: Nothing

    Paul Kitagaki Jr/Sacramento Bee via ZUMA

    A few weeks ago, California requested $7.4 billion in disaster aid following the massive series of wildfires in the northern part of the state that killed 43 people and destroyed nearly 9,000 structures. Actually, let’s back up. That’s not quite accurate. California’s Democratic governor, its two Democratic senators, and its 39 Democratic members of Congress asked for $7.4 billion. With only one exception, California’s Republican delegation boycotted a request for disaster funding for their own state.

    Yesterday the Trump administration responded to California’s request:

    While the request includes anemic supplemental funding for states ravaged by hurricanes, it contains no funding whatsoever for rebuilding the communities in California devastated by the recent wildfires…. “For the Administration to not request even a single additional penny to help rebuild the communities devastated by the worst fires in California’s history is mind-boggling,” [said the two congressmen who led the disaster relief effort].

    This brings the toxicity of partisan politics to jaw-dropping levels. California Republicans won’t even stick up for their own state, and a Republican president offers nothing in response to an enormous natural disaster. Why? No reason was given, but Occam’s Razor suggests that the best guess is the most obvious one: California is a Democratic state that didn’t vote for Donald Trump. You don’t mess with the family.