One of my complaints about Hillary Clinton during the email affair was the fact that she sometimes acted guilty even when she wasn't. Now it's Donald Trump's turn. Here is the Washington Post today:

The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.

....Yates and another witness at the planned hearing, former CIA director John Brennan, had made clear to government officials by Thursday that their testimony to the committee probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The following day, when Yates’s lawyer sent a letter to the White House indicating that she still wanted to testify, the hearing was canceled.

Yates, you'll recall, was the acting attorney general left over from the Obama administration who Trump fired for refusing to defend his first immigration order in court.

This whole Russia thing is crazy. Whenever I start believing there's really something there, I feel like I'm turning into a nutball conspiracy theorist. But if there isn't anything there, it's plenty odd that the Trump team keeps acting as if there were.

I'm a big fan of higher capital ratios (i.e., lower leverage) as a way of making the banking system safer, so I was disturbed when Tyler Cowen pointed to a new paper suggesting that high capital ratios don't reduce the likelihood of financial crises. Instead, a team of researchers suggests that what's more important is the type of capital a bank has. Deposits are the most stable source of funding for any bank, and liquidity is king. Put these together, and what's important is the loan-to-deposit ratio:

As you can see, the LtD ratio rose steadily in the postwar era, doubling from 50 percent to over 100 percent by 2008. This indicates that credit was expanding, with banks making more loans for every dollar in deposits they took in. This, the authors say, is a better predictor of financial crises than raw leverage:

In this triptych, capital ratios are in the middle, and they don't change much before and after a financial crisis (denoted by Year 0). However, right before a financial crisis there's a steady decline in deposits as a percentage of total assets (which indicates a decline in the quality an;d stability of a bank's capital base) and a steady rise in the loan-to-deposit ratio. These are the indicators that seem to be associated with financial crises.

So is there any point to higher capital standards? Yes indeed: they may not prevent financial crises, but they make recovery from a financial crisis much quicker. Just compare the green line and the red line in the charts below:

Both of these charts show the same thing: in countries with higher capital ratios, recovery from a financial crisis was far faster. Five years out, the difference was a full 13 percentage points of GDP per capita.

If these researchers are right—and I'll add the usual caveats about this being only one study etc.—then the key to a strong, resilient banking system is twofold: a low loan-to-deposit ratio produces a liquid capital base that helps avoid financial crises, while a low leverage ratio produces the necessary capital to recover quickly if a financial crisis hits anyway.

Leverage and liquidity are key. In one sense, this is nothing new, since anyone could have told you that. But this paper suggests that they're important for slightly different reasons than we thought.

This is all completely expected, but it's still depressing as hell. The Trump administration has already approved two new pipelines and said it will reconsider tougher fuel economy standards that Barack Obama put in place, but that was just the start. The LA Times reports that Trump's willful destruction of the planet will kick into high gear tomorrow:

President Trump on Tuesday will order the Environmental Protection Agency to dismantle his predecessor’s landmark climate effort, backing away from an aggressive plan to cut emissions at power plants that had been the foundation of America’s leadership on confronting global warming....The directive that administration officials said Trump will issue takes aim at the Clean Power Plan, a far-reaching initiative former President Obama signed in 2015.

....Trump’s plans to curb climate action also reach well beyond power plants. A pioneering EPA rule that sets a “social cost” for carbon, placing a dollar value on the long-term damage caused by each ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, will be eliminated. An Obama-era requirement that all government agencies factor climate effects into their decision making, particularly as they launch new projects, is also targeted. Trump will also lift a moratorium on coal leasing on federal land.

Oh, and apropos of Trump gutting climate change rules because climate change totally isn't a real thing, a paper published today suggests that climate change is permanently altering the jet stream in a way that produces conditions during the summer that are more favorable to long episodes of extreme weather. That means more extreme droughts, more extreme heat waves, more extreme rain, and so forth. No worries, though. Trump will be sure to take care of everyone affected by this stuff. You can count on it.

It's been...weeks, at least, since I've mentioned lead and crime, and today I got two nice little anecdotes at once. The first is from lead researcher extraordinaire Rick Nevin, who directs our attention to this chart:

As predicted by the lead-crime theory, the prison population of younger cohorts (15-25) has dropped the most. The 26-30 cohort is flat, and the older cohorts are making up a bigger proportion of the total prison population. Why? Because everyone under 30 grew up in a fairly lead-free environment, so they're less likely to commit serious crimes than similar cohorts in the past. 35-year-olds grew up at the tail end of the lead era, and are still moderately crime prone. Older cohorts were heavily lead poisoned as kids, and they've remained more crime prone even as they've grown older.

If you have a good memory, you may also recall a post I wrote four years ago explaining that lead poisoning affected blacks and Hispanics more than whites because they were more likely to grow up in dense urban environments with a lot of auto exhaust. Because of this, during the great crime wave of the 60s and 70s, their crime rates went up faster than white crime rates. The flip side of this is that with lead mostly gone, their crime rates are dropping faster than they are for whites. We can see this in the declining share of the jail population made up by blacks and Hispanics. Keith Humphreys shows us the mirror image of this, the rising share of the jail population made up by whites:

The lead hypothesis predicts that young cohorts are less crime prone than older cohorts, so their share of the jail and prison population should decline. It predicts that black crime rates will drop faster than white crime rates. And it also predicts that small-city crime rates will drop faster than big-city crime rates. All of these things have turned out to be true.

Lunchtime Photo

We have our first baby waterfowl of the season! These are baby Egyptian geese, which the Nestor of the 21st Century informs me are actually ducks. Shelducks, to be exact. Aren't these little shelducklings adorable?

Here's your weekly look at Donald Trump's job approval rating. He's now in a net hole of 15 percentage points, and still falling.

Earlier this morning I sketched out a possible compromise between Obamacare and Trumpcare that might have a chance of getting through Congress if everyone agrees to a plan that would rely on both Republican and Democratic votes. I consider the odds of such a thing small, but nevertheless it's worth looking at why nearly everyone should find this idea attractive:

  • Donald Trump gets a big win. Paul Ryan couldn't get his plan through Congress, but then Trump steps in and pulls off a huge deal. His presidency is back on track.
  • Republicans in Congress get an albatross off their backs. Right now, health care is a loser for them, and the Freedom Caucus is riding high. But if they pass a bipartisan plan, it sticks a finger in the eye of the FC ultras. And if they're worried about their base, they don't have to be. Trump will sell the hell out of the plan, and his fans will buy it.
  • Democrats have to make some concessions, but in return they get stability and permanence—and the possibility of future enhancements—for a social welfare program they've been trying to get enacted for decades.
  • The health care industry gets some certainty about the future, along with a system that promises to be a moneymaker for them.

Who are the losers in this deal? Hardly anyone. The ultras lose, but everyone wants them to lose. Rich people lose a bit because they continue paying a modest tax, but frankly, I haven't noticed that rich people are all that upset about it. They care more about capital gains taxes and top marginal rates. Talk radio shouters lose a reliable audience pot stirrer, but they'll support Trump in the end. And they have plenty of other ways of keeping their listeners at a fever pitch of outrage anyway.

Oh, and I almost forgot: the American people would be big winners too. Already, Obamacare covers 20 million people. A new and improved TrumpamaCare would probably get to 30 million within a few years.

Given all this, it's almost insane that this deal isn't likely to happen.

Here's a quick tour through the Donald Trump swamp today:

Jared Kushner, who has no evident qualification aside from being married to the boss's daughter, has been named to head up a new White House Office of American Innovation, which will have "sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions." I guess that bringing peace to the Middle East wasn't enough to keep Kushner busy.

Trump pal Carl Icahn is working on a plan to change the rule that governs the way corn-based ethanol is mixed into gasoline. Icahn is also the majority stakeholder in CVR Energy, which would have saved more than $200 million last year under Icahn's proposed change.

Rep. Devin Nunes, one of Trump's most loyal spear carriers, announced last week that there "might" have been "incidental" surveillance of some folks "close" to Donald Trump. But where did his bombshell come from? It turns out that Nunes met with his source at the White House grounds. So his "source" is most likely the White House itself. Maybe even Trump himself. It wouldn't be the first time Trump has done something like this.

I guess that's it for today. The day is young, though, so you never know.

The folks at EBRI have published the results of the 27th annual Retirement Confidence Survey, and once again it shows a puzzling disconnect between workers—who are relatively pessimistic about retirement—and actual retirees. Here's an example:

Generally speaking, workers are a lot more nervous about retirement than actual retirees. What's even more interesting, the disconnect began in the early aughts, when the economy was still booming. Since then, the gap has continued to grow. The 2017 results are only one data point, but they show a gap of 19 percentage points. What's going on? Why are workers so nervous, while actual retirees are reporting increased confidence?

Here's another chart:

Workers are apparently convinced that they'll never retire young and will most likely have to work forever. Actual retirees tell a much different story: 39 percent retired before age 60 and only 4 percent kept working after age 70.

I know it's fashionable to talk about how screwed Xers and millennials are, and how 401(k)s have wrecked retirement. But the data just flatly doesn't back this up. Millennials earn incomes that are pretty similar to boomers, and 401(k)s have turned out to be comparable to old-style pensions. It's true that the Social Security retirement age has increased, which might account for some of the difference in expected retirement age, but only in the 65-69 age band.

Actual retirees have a message for us: things aren't so bad. In reality, the vast majority of them retired by age 65 and the vast majority say they're financially comfortable. It's likely to be pretty much the same for today's workers.

Is bipartisanship coming back into style? With Republicans hopelessly divided, Reince Priebus suggested this morning that maybe it was time to work with Democrats on health care reform:

“I think it’s time for our folks to come together,” Mr. Priebus said, adding that it is time to “potentially get a few moderate Democrats on board, as well” as they try to bring down premiums and stabilize insurance markets.

That appeal was echoed by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican who opposed the House Republicans’ health bill and has also worked with Democrats to explore changes to the Affordable Care Act without repealing it.

I don't know if this is just wishful thinking, but there might be a deal to be made here. Obamacare has a number of smallish problems but only one big one: Its insurance pool is unbalanced, with too many older-sicker (OS) customers and too few younger-healthier (YH) customers. Insurers expected differently back in 2013, which is why they priced their policies too low at first, eventually leading to big premium increases last year. It's also why several insurers have pulled out of the Obamacare market entirely. Fix the pool, and you fix a bunch of other problems at the same time.

So how do we get more YH folks to buy insurance? There are carrots and sticks, and the biggest stick is to strengthen the individual mandate by increasing the tax penalty for not buying insurance (and tightening up enforcement). However, the individual mandate is the single most hated part of Obamacare among Republicans, so there's not much chance of doing anything there. At the same time, we also can't replace the mandate with Trumpcare's continuous coverage provision, since the CBO seems pretty convinced that this would decimate the market. Basically, this has to be left alone.

But what about carrots? The best way of attracting more YH customers is to make policies cheaper for them. There are several ways of doing this, but one way would be to combine the income-based subsidies of Obamacare with the age-based subsidies of Trumpcare. Something like this:

  • Reduce the income-based subsidies by about a third.
  • Add a flat-rate version of Trumpcare's age-based subsidies: $500 per person across the board.
  • Change the age band to 4:1, a compromise between Obamacare and Trumpcare.
  • Ensure continued funding of Cost Sharing Reductions.

This would probably be more popular than Obamacare's current subsidies, since middle-class workers would at least get something to help them out with insurance even if they made too much money to qualify for today's income-based subsidies. Nobody would be left out completely. Here's a rough guess at how this would look for a single individual:

Obviously there would be winners and losers here. Somebody with a detailed model would need to analyze this, but my horseback guess is that the overall changes would be fairly modest. Still, if the middle class gets a bigger share, the poor will get a smaller share. Likewise, if the young get a bigger share thanks to the widened age band, the old will get less. There's no way around that arithmetic unless Republicans are willing to increase the total subsidy level. But these are concessions that might be worth making.

What else? We have to leave the taxes in place, but Republicans seem to have a real issue with the medical devices tax. Democrats could agree to get rid of it. Maybe the employer mandate could also be repealed, since it doesn't seem to be all that necessary.

The devil, as always, is in the details, and there are other issues with Obamacare that could be shored up too. But balancing the pool is really the biggest one, and adopting a compromise between Obamacare and Trumpcare might do a workable job of fixing that.

Could this happen? Republicans, as we know, are averse to compromise of any sort because it brings instant charges of selling out from the true believers. But the true believers aren't very popular right now, so maybe Republicans would be willing—even eager!—to use this as a chance to take them down a peg. Among Democrats, the biggest opposition to a deal is going to come from people who don't want to give Donald Trump a victory of any kind. But for a chance to stabilize a program they've spent decades trying to get passed, they might be willing to talk.

Bipartisanship is in poor odor these days, so maybe this is all just pie in the sky. But it's at least worth investigating. After all, we don't need everybody on board, just 60 percent of each caucus. That might be doable.