• Labor Productivity Is Just Terrible These Days

    Jobs figures for November will be released in a couple of hours, and the consensus forecast is that they’ll be fine. While you wait, however, here’s another chart to look at:

    Productivity growth has dropped like a stone since 2005, and is currently hovering around 1 percent per year. That’s terrible. Unemployment is at 4 percent, which means businesses are employing a lot of people, but low productivity growth means this employment is only in lieu of investing in labor-saving machinery. After all, why bother with a big capital expenditure when future growth looks iffy and wages are flat? It’s easier and more flexible to just hire some cheap workers who can be laid off if business sours.

    There’s probably something of a pent-up demand right now for labor-saving equipment, and the Republican tax bill’s bizarrely enormous incentive to pull all investment into 2018 might be just the thing to kick it off. If that’s really the case, we can kiss off any chance of sustained wage growth in the near future.

  • There Has Been No Surge In Violent Crime Since Ferguson

    Hey, remember the great crime surge of 2015-16? It was all about the “Ferguson Effect,” as police officers became afraid to do their jobs properly for fear of being unfairly dragged into court by lefty activists. Hoodlums all realized this meant they could have a field day, and crime soared.

    Well, about that. Actual data for violent crime is now available through 2016, and at first it seemed like there really was a big increase in violent crime last year. But as Keith Humphreys pointed out today, this turned out to be mostly a mistake caused by a decennial redesign of the NCVS crime survey that added a whole lot of new counties. The folks at the Bureau of Justice Statistics explain:

    When the 2016 NCVS data collection was complete, a comparison of the 2015 and 2016 victimization estimates showed that the violent and property crime rates had increased. Given recent patterns in NCVS data, these increases seemed too large to be a result of actual growth in crime, suggesting that the sample redesign may have affected the victimization rates. To better understand these results, the 2015 and 2016 victimization rates for new and continuing sample counties were examined separately. These comparisons showed that from 2015 to 2016 there were no statistically significant differences for continuing sample counties in the rates of total property crime, total violent crime, and total serious violent crime.

    Oh. Good to know. Of course, there’s also the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting, which relies on crimes reported to police. Here’s both of them:¹

    As you can see, there was a violent crime increase in 2016, but it was basically noise level: UCR pegs it at 3.4 percent and the corrected NCVS report pegs it at 1.5 percent. And in the two year period 2015-16, there was essentially no increase at all.

    Before you get too comfortable, though, there are a few cities that really have seen significant increases in their murder rates. A survey of crime victims obviously can’t include murder, so we have only one source for this data, the FBI’s UCR. Nationally, it reports that we saw an increase in the murder rate of 9 percent in 2015 and then another 8 percent in 2016:

    The good news, such as it is, is that this isn’t truly a national rise. The big increases are limited to about half a dozen large cities, and those are big enough to affect the national rate.

    Bottom line: There are a handful of big cities that have seen a big increase in murder rates. Aside from that, however, violent crime has been flat or down for the past couple of years. In the post-Ferguson era, there simply hasn’t been a surge in violent crime.

    ¹NCVS data through 2015 here. NCVS comparable data for 2016 here. UCR data through 2014 here. UCR data for 2015-16 here.

  • Fox News: Men Are All at the Mercy of Anonymous Accusers Now

    Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via ZUMA

    Over at the Washington Post, Callum Borchers rounds up the reaction on Fox News to the forced resignation of Al Franken from the Senate. First up is Tucker Carlson:

    Imagine being accused by someone whose name you didn’t know of something that supposedly happened more than a decade ago. How would you respond? How could you respond? What if you were innocent, by the way? And what if nobody cared?”

    ….“What you saw today was a lynch mob,” Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich said Wednesday on Laura Ingraham’s show. The former House speaker argued that Democrats’ mind-set is, “Let’s just lynch him because when we are done, we will be so pure.”

    ….“They have now determined that it is worth sacrificing Franken, just like they did John Conyers — throw him overboard to save the political Titanic that is their party,” Ingraham said.

    ….“Don’t be fooled by any of this,” Sean Hannity added on his show Wednesday night. “This Democratic decision today obviously was coordinated, and to turn on Franken, it’s purely political.”

    It is not a coincidence that they’re all saying the exact same thing, and it’s not because they have a soft spot in their hearts for the author of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot. But just in case there’s anyone left in the United States who’s too naive to see what’s happening here, let’s make it clear: conservatives are using Franken as evidence that liberals will come after anyone—maybe even you—and send them off to reeducation camps at the mere whisper of an accusation. The social justice warriors don’t care about anything other than ridding the world of straight white men, and any old anonymous story from someone with a grudge could be enough to set them off.

    There are lots of Fox News viewers who are already convinced of this. Tell a risque joke and someone will anonymously complain to HR and you’ll get fired. It happened to a friend of mine! Well, a cousin of a friend of mine. That’s what my next door neighbor told me anyway.

    Our reckoning with the piggish behavior of powerful men is very much not a bipartisan affair. In Hollywood, for example, it’s full speed ahead. Why? Because once the dam broke, Hollywood is full of liberals who are willing to call out this behavior once they finally get up their nerve. But how about, say, Wall Street? Does anyone think it’s any less full of powerful men with digusting habits than Hollywood? Of course not. And yet, the silence from the conservative world of high finance is almost deafening. Nine weeks after the Harvey Weinstein story broke, there’s been a grand total of one (1) casualty on Wall Street: Harold Ford, a black former Democratic congressman.

    The conservative take on all this has come into sharper focus over the past few weeks:

    • There sure are a lot creepy liberals, aren’t there?
    • We are all at risk of having our lives ruined by radical lefty feminists who will get us fired over the slightest non-PC remark.

    In a just world, this strategy would be laughable. But in this world? I’m not so sure it won’t work.

  • Do Universities Increase Innovation In Their Communities?

    File this one under “random stuff that came through my Twitter feed today.” It’s a paper from Michael Andrews, a postdoc at Northwestern, and it examines whether universities promote innovation. The methodology is simple, though the work required to gather the data appears to be rather stunning. Basically, Andrews looks at counties that were chosen as sites for public universities (mostly in the 19th century) and examines whether they benefited from a subsquent upsurge in patent activity. The answer turns out to be yes.

    But there’s more to it. Andrews also looks at what he calls “consolation prize” counties:

    Consolation prizes are especially common in western states that were largely unsettled and achieved statehood after the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862. In these states, typically many state institutions were allocated at the same time, including the state capital, the state prison, the state hospital, or the state insane asylum. While numerous localities may have been lobbying to get a state institution, which locality ended up with which institution was as good as random. For one famous example, the Tucson delegation set out for Prescott for the Arizona territorial legislature in 1885 intent on getting the state mental hospital. But flooding on the Salt River delayed the delegation. By the time they reached Prescott, the mental hospital had already been spoken for; Tucson was stuck with state university.

    Poor Tucson! But I suppose things turned out OK for them in the long run. However, these consolation counties provide Andrews with a good natural test of whether universities themselves are responsible for the increase in patents. It turns out they aren’t:

    Table 13 shows results that explicitly consider the consolation prize counties. In column 1, I compare patenting in the college counties to consolation prize counties. The coefficient is a statistically insignificant 16%, smaller than the baseline estimate of 32%. This suggests that college counties do not increase their patenting much faster than counties that received prisons, hospitals, or insane asylums.

    There are some obvious jokes to be made here, but I’ll leave that to others. The surprising conclusion is that universities don’t, in fact, do much to increase innovation locally. Any county that gets a major state facility will see a similar increase in population and a similar increase in patent activity:

    Obviously universities do have an impact on innovation, but apparently it’s diffused all over the country as students graduate and move away. What’s left is usually a nice, bustling town, but not a hub of innovative activity.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    I don’t know about you, but I could use something simple and pretty right about now. This hibiscus is growing in my neighbor’s yard, and I love the bright yellows. Much nicer and livelier than your typical red or pink hibiscus, I think.

  • Trump’s Jerusalem Announcement Is All About Iran

    Wissam Nassar/DPA via ZUMA

    Like me, Marc Lynch is not especially nervous about the reaction to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital:

    Most likely, the recognition of Jerusalem will have none of the promised benefits for negotiations and relatively few of the threatened costs. This is not because Jerusalem does not matter, but rather because there is no real peace process to disrupt, little meaningful prospect for a two-state solution to squander, and little belief in U.S. neutrality to violate.

    ….Trump’s Jerusalem gamble is thus less about the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace than about whether Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran can be achieved in its absence. Israel’s tacit cooperation with Gulf states against Iran, long kept in the shadows, has increasingly been brought into the open despite the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Jerusalem gambit may well force a public reckoning over this semiprivate alignment.

    The major trends in regional politics could well make this gamble pay off. Saudi Arabia and its key partners have made it clear that they view regional confrontation with Iran as their most urgent strategic priority….The key question is whether Arab regimes do anything more to protest the recognition, or return to cooperation with the United States and Israel against Iran once the passions have faded. The Trump administration is probably right that they will do so quickly, barring the emergence of serious, sustained Palestinian mobilization that forces them into a tougher stance.

    This is not to say that there won’t be any blowback from Trump’s announcement. There might well be. But I suspect that most Arab states in the Middle East care a lot less about the Palestinian cause than they claim, and are willing to keep the inevitable protests under tight control. They mostly understand three fundamental facts:

    • There is no peace process, and there won’t be one anytime in the near future.
    • Israel is going to continue to steadily take over the territory it wants, no matter what the rest of the world thinks. There is nothing short of war that will stop this, and there is no one with both the strength and inclination to stop them.
    • Israel will allow neither the formation of a Palestinian state nor Palestinian integration into Israel.

    Trump is, fundamentally, asking Arab states to accept this privately, if not publicly, in return for a full-court press against Iran. Likewise, the gift of Jerusalem is primarily a gesture to maintain Israel’s confidence in the United States even as Trump cozies up with the Saudi coalition. Given the realities on the ground, I suspect that nearly all parties in the Middle East are willing to make this deal.

  • Obamacare Signups Hit 6 Million

    Here’s the latest estimate of Obamacare signups:

    Just a reminder of my seat-of-the-pants methodology here: We know the numbers for the federal exhange (HC.gov), and they’re currently up by 22 percent compared to last year. So I’m projecting that the total number is about 22 percent higher than last year as well. That gets us to just above 6 million total signups.

    Charles Gaba, naturally, has much more detail here. He notes that signups this week for HC.gov came in below his expectations, but some of the state exchanges have announced impressively large numbers.

    Will we match the 12 million total signups from last year? Auto-renewals will kick in shortly and add 1-2 million to the total number, and next week will presumably bring a flurry of last-minute signups. By then we’ll have a pretty good idea. But the final numbers won’t be available for another month after that, since some state exchanges have signup deadlines in January.

    My guess: it will be close, probably around 11-12 million.

  • Al Franken Is Out

    Al Franken has resigned from the Senate, effective sometime in the next few weeks. He says some of the allegations against him are false, while others he “remembers differently.” But, he says, it’s not about him. It’s about what’s best for Minnesotans.

    It’s pretty clear that Franken is resigning only under duress. He didn’t admit guilt, and he didn’t apologize. He said he regretted that, in his initial shock, he gave the “false impression” that he was “admitting to things he hadn’t done.” And there’s obviously some bitterness here: bitterness over his forced resignation while Donald Trump remains in office and the Republican Party supports Roy Moore—and, presumably, some bitterness that his Democratic colleagues abandoned him.

    This isn’t over. The women who made the original allegations are almost certain to speak out further. Will Franken respond?

  • The Rand Paul Attack Was All About…Yard Maintenance

    Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

    Why did Sen. Rand Paul’s neighbor attack him early last month? Washington Post reporter Justin Jouvenal persuaded Jim Skaggs to give him a tour of the gated neighborhood where it happened, and thinks he has the answer:

    They might have sparred over health care or taxes, but an acquaintance of both said they stood in their yards roughly a decade ago shouting at each other over the grass clippings Paul’s mower had shot on Rene Boucher’s property. “ ‘I ask him, I tell him and he won’t pay attention,’ ” the acquaintance, Bill Goodwin, recalls Boucher saying after the argument. “ ‘One of these days.’ ”

    ….Skaggs said Boucher was exacting about the standards for his yard — landscaping bags filled with waste were a common site on his property. Neighbors said Paul had a reputation for a more relaxed style that some felt didn’t always jibe with a community that features gas lamps, Greek statuary and a 13-page packet of rules. The senator had a pumpkin patch, compost and unraked leaves beneath some of his trees. Goodwin said it annoyed Boucher that Paul did not consistently cut his grass to the same height, and leaves from Paul’s trees blew on his property.

    ….[Boucher’s lawyer] said the old tensions over landscaping were triggered on Nov. 3 by a fresh incident he declined to detail.

    A friend of mine has a neighbor like Boucher. He vacuums his lawn. He measures the distance between his petunias. He complains when the wind blows leaves into his yard from neighboring trees. He became outraged some years ago when my friend replaced his lawn with native plants, and hasn’t spoken to him since.

    This stuff happens. I guess it even happens to famous people.

  • Don Jr. Refuses to Disclose Russia Conversation With Father

    This is all you're allowed to know about Don Jr's testimony today.Alex Edelman via ZUMA

    Donald Trump’s eldest son spent several hours under the klieg lights today testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee. But he didn’t say much:

    Donald Trump Jr. on Wednesday cited attorney-client privilege to avoid telling lawmakers about a conversation he had with his father, President Donald Trump, after news broke this summer that the younger Trump — and top campaign brass — had met with Russia-connected individuals in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. Though neither Trump Jr. nor the president is an attorney, Trump Jr. told the House Intelligence Committee that there was a lawyer in the room during the discussion, according to the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California. Schiff said he didn’t think it was a legitimate invocation of attorney-client privilege.

    I’m so tired these days. Unlike a lot of people, I recovered pretty quickly from Trump’s election. I didn’t binge eat or have trouble sleeping or find myself unable to concentrate on work. But over the past year he’s steadily worn me down. Every day we get more stuff like this. It’s completely insane, but there’s nothing much any of us can do except acknowledge it and move on. His cabinet won’t stop him. His family won’t stop him. The Republican Party won’t stop him as long as he keeps nominating judges they like. The Democratic Party has no power to stop anybody. And foreign leaders think he’s nuts.

    Our country is being run as if the mafia won the presidency last year. There are still plenty of guardrails around to keep us from becoming, once and for all, a banana republic with nuclear weapons, but for how long? Do we really have to spend the next three years praying every day that the guardrails can hold up just a little bit longer?