Students in a single elementary grade classroom differ in age by about 12 months. Do the older students do better than the younger students? Plenty of evidence says yes, but all the existing studies have shortcomings, says Pablo Peña, "the most important of which is that their identification strategies implicitly assume the absence of selection into gestational seasons."

Gestational seasons? Let's not get into that. Long story short, Peña found a school district in Mexico that suddenly changed its age cutoff from September 1 to December 1 a few years ago and was willing to provide student test data broken down by birthdate. Unlike many studies, which only look at a data for a single year, Peña was able to track students across seven years. Here's the basic data after the change in age cutoff:

The bottom half of the chart shows scores on standardized Spanish and math tests, and year after year the older kids do better. However, one encouraging finding here is that the age effect fades over time. Eight-year-olds (far right of chart) show very large differences in standardized scores, while 14-year-olds (far left) show a smaller range of differences.

But now we'd like to know the cause of these differences. Is it a function of absolute age? Or is it a function of relative age within a classroom? According to Peña, it's both. For the younger kids, their relatively poor showing is strictly a function of age. By comparing results with a neighboring school district, he concludes that their scores would be the same as the older kids if they were tested a few months later. The older children, however, suffer a bit from having younger kids in the same classroom. "Holding age at test constant, being older relative one's classmates has a negative effect on test scores."

The long-term effect of all this is quite small. However, younger kids do have a slightly worse chance of getting into college, since they're younger when they take college admissions tests. This results in poorer scores due solely to their age, not their mental abilities. Peña estimates a difference of about 1 percent.

It's not clear to me how much this matters, or whether there's anything we can do about it. You have to have a cutoff date, after all. However, it does suggest that "redshirting," the practice of deliberately holding back your child a year so she'll be the oldest in her class, has mixed results. Overall, her education will probably suffer a bit. But her odds of doing well on college entrance exams will be slightly better. It sounds like a wash to me. Parents probably ought to stop worrying about it and spend their time on more productive pursuits instead.

Let the Lobbying Begin

Sure, Donald Trump may be a man-child with at least betting odds of destroying the world, but who cares? On K Street, it's time to par-tay:

Oil and gas firms are pressing to roll back federal regulations on drilling. Verizon Inc. and other large telecommunications firms want changes to the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules. Airlines are seeking stronger enforcement of an aviation agreement that they believe favors foreign carriers on the most prized international routes. Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and other defense contractors are scrambling to protect against cuts in the Pentagon’s budget....McDonald’s Corp., Choice Hotels International Inc. and other restaurant, hotel and retail companies are pushing to overturn an Obama administration decision to make it easier for unions to organize employees at franchises like McDonald’s.

This is called "draining the swamp," folks.

Sen. Bob Corker (R–Tenn.) supports repealing Obamacare and replacing it at the same time. The problem, he told Politico, is that he's not sure if Donald Trump does:

If it is his view, it would be really good if he would consider tweeting it out very clearly.

I guess this is how the White House will handle Hill relations in the future. Congressional leaders will toss out ideas in the press, Trump will give them a thumbs up or a thumbs down via Twitter, and the cycle will repeat. Eventually they'll come to a conclusion of some sort. Maybe.

This is a modern-day update of the rarely used "government by wall poster" system. Originally invented in ancient Assyria, it was most recently used in China in the 70s, where it produced chaos and, eventually, a reform government. We should be so lucky.

Rand Paul says Donald Trump isn't happy with "repeal and delay":

President-elect Donald Trump backed waiting to repeal the Affordable Care Act until a replacement proposal is in hand in a Friday night phone call with Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican said Monday, adding to momentum for changing GOP leaders’ strategy on dismantling the 2010 health-care law.

....“I believe we should vote on replacement the same day we vote on repeal,” Mr. Paul said in an interview Monday. Mr. Trump called the senator on Friday night “to say he agrees completely,” Mr. Paul said.

Uh oh. That's a mistake, though it's an easy one for an amateur to make. For the record: Mr. Trump calls no one. Other people call Mr. Trump. This is very important to Mr. Trump. He's very insistent on following proper protocol, which is that others should be seen groveling to him, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, there's a more serious mistake here too: Paul spoke publicly about Trump's wishes before Trump did. This gives others plenty of time to corner Trump and talk him into changing his mind and then "explaining" that Paul didn't get things quite right. It's much better not to alert others to your conversation.

All that said, this fits the various smoke signals that have come out of Trump Tower for a while now, so maybe Trump really is serious about offering a replacement for Obamacare at the same time as repeal. I hope so. Obviously I'd prefer no repeal at all, but at the very least the American public deserves to know what Trump has in mind when the health coverage they currently have is ripped away from them.

We're going to be seeing a lot of this over the next four years:

How do I know? Because Trump sounds like Dr. Evil here. ONE! BILLION! DOLLARS! For comparison, here is total foreign direct investment since the start of the century:

Every year, there are hundreds of investments of a billion dollars by foreign companies in the US. The Fiat Chrysler announcement is entirely routine.

Still, that's hundreds of opportunities every year for Trump to blather about how he's making America great again. Just keep in mind that it's all nonsense. I figure trend FDI should reach about $3.9 trillion in 2017. Wake me up if Trump manages to get it significantly higher than that, but please don't insult me by trumpeting every piddling contribution along the way as if he were raining pixie dust over the entire economy.

UPDATE: The original headline and text way overstated the flow of new FDI each year. Sorry. It's fixed now.

With the announcement of son-in-law Jared Kushner as "senior advisor to the president," the inner circle of Donald Trump's White House has now taken shape. For those of you who want to understand the role each member plays, here's a quick reference:

  • Jared Kushner = Rasputin
  • James Flynn = Dick Cheney
  • Reince Priebus = H.R. Haldeman
  • Steve Bannon = Louis Howe
  • Mike Pence = Cardinal Mazarin
  • Kellyanne Conway = Baghdad Bob
  • Sean Spicer = Ron Ziegler
  • Mick Mulvaney = David Stockman

Any questions?

Who really lives in a bubble? The cosmopolitan residents of big cities or the tradition-minded residents of small towns and rural areas?

I don't know, and I'm not going to try to answer this question. I just want to remind everyone what the actual theory here is. The theory is that although country mice might not personally experience much diversity in their lives, they are saturated with it in the media. They know all about us city mice and how we live because they watch TV and movies, listen to music, and read magazines that relentlessly portray our lives and our beliefs. Nearly all of this media is produced by urban folks, and for the most part it presents cosmopolitan urban lives sympathetically and accurately. Even TV news gets in the act. The three network evening news broadcasts pull an audience massively greater than anything Fox News gets.

Most urban residents, by contrast, don't know much about small-town life because it's almost never portrayed in the media except comedically or satirically. They may think of themselves as open-minded and tolerant, but in fact they have little idea of how rural Americans really behave and are openly disdainful of most of their beliefs.

I'm not especially taking sides on this, just pointing out the actual argument that conservatives make. The "bubble" here isn't a question of whether you have a Somali family living down the street or have never traveled outside the US. The bubble is whether you have some genuine understanding of both American rural life and American city life. Conservatives argue that the country mice do much better on this score than the city mice.

Recently, the go-to argument from the anti-Obamacare forces has been about deductibles. Sure, 20 million people have insurance. Sure, most of them can afford the premiums. But what's the point if all it buys you is crappy insurance with a $6,000 deductible? As Nathan Nascimento put in National Review a few months ago, "what good is health-insurance coverage for middle- and low-income families if they can’t afford to use it?"

These crocodile tears would be amusing if they weren't so infuriating. Nobody on the right has ever been willing to support higher funding so that deductibles can come down. In fact, folks on the right love high deductibles. It puts "skin in the game." A combination of HSAs and high-deductible health policies is one of the standard bits of smoke-and-mirrors offered up by conservatives when you ask them what kind of national health care plan they'd like to see replace Obamacare.

But let's put that aside for a moment and ask another question: what are the deductibles under Obamacare really like, anyway?1 Here's the answer:

The average deductible decreased from $900 to $850 in 2016. And as you can see if we extrapolate from the figures in the table, it looks like nearly two-thirds of all enrollees had deductibles under $1,000. Only about a fifth had the horror-story $6,000+ deductibles that we hear so much about.

But that's not all. We don't have figures for how this breaks down, but my guess is that the majority of the people with high deductibles are the famous "young invincibles" who are single, don't qualify for subsidies because they're fairly well off, and don't think they're going to get sick. So they buy the cheapest plan they can, take advantage of the preventive care stuff they're allowed before the deductible kicks in, and go about their lives. No one in their right mind who had any kind of real health issues would ever buy a plan like this.

There are undoubtedly exceptions to this. There always are in a country the size of ours. I'm all for helping these folks out, but one way or another, that calls for more money, not less. Anybody who says otherwise is just playing with you.

1Hat tip to Andrew Sprung, who drew my attention to this table today.

Did Russian hacking during the 2016 campaign tip the election to Donald Trump? In the LA Times today, Noah Bierman and Brian Bennett have this to say:

The truth is no one knows for sure because the election was so close in so many states that no one factor can be credited or blamed, especially in last year’s highly combustible campaign.

This is exactly backward. The fact that the election was so close means that lots of things might have tipped the election all by themselves. The Russian hacking is one of them. Consider Bierman and Bennett's own case:

Extensive news coverage of the how the leaked emails showed political machinations by Democratic Party operatives often drowned out Clinton’s agenda....English-language news channel Russia Today...posted a video on YouTube in early November, for example. Called “Trump Will Not Be Permitted to Win,” it featured Julian Assange, the fugitive founder of WikiLeaks, and was watched 2.2 million times....U.S. intelligence officials say anti-Clinton stories and posts flooded social media from the Internet Research Agency near St. Petersburg, which the report described as a network of “professional trolls” led by a Putin ally.

Putin’s most tangible victory may have come last summer. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in July, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) was forced to quit her post as Democratic National Committee chairwoman after emails posted on Wikileaks showed that supposedly neutral DNC officials had backed Clinton over her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the primaries.

....In October, Trump similarly seized on leaked emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. They showed that Donna Brazile, a former CNN commentator who replaced Wasserman Schultz at the DNC, had shared a pair of questions with Clinton’s team before a televised candidates’ forum and debate....The leak showed nothing illegal. But it bolstered the idea that Clinton was a Washington insider who benefited from fellow elites.

....The most damaging leaks for Clinton may have been transcripts of excerpts of her highly paid speeches to Wall Street bankers, released in October....There were no smoking guns in the leaks. But they included her admission that her growing wealth since she and Bill Clinton left the White House in 2001 had made her “kind of far removed” from the anger and frustration many Americans felt after the 2008 recession. She also called for "a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future, with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it."

That's a lot of stuff! Does it seem likely that all of this, plus the fact that it kept Clinton's email woes front and center, made a difference of 1 percent in a few swing states? Sure, I'd say so. Did other things make a difference too? Yes indeed. But given how close the election was, there's a pretty good chance that Putin's campaign of cyber-chaos had enough oomph to swing things all by itself.

I'm a little surprised this hasn't produced more panic. In the United States I understand why it hasn't: Democrats don't want to sound like sore losers and Republicans don't care as long as their guy won. But what about the rest of the world? It's been common knowledge for a while that Russia does this kind of stuff, but their actions in the US election represent a quantum leap in how far they're willing to go. And there's not much doubt that Putin will keep at it.

After all, it worked a treat. And thanks to a gullible press and normal partisan politics, it'll keep working. The next leak will get as much attention as these did, and the one after that too. We have no societal defense against this stuff.

Yesterday I noted that the intelligence report on Russian hacking devoted an awful lot of space to RT America, the Kremlin-funded cable TV network. That struck me as odd since I don't think RT had much influence on the election. Shortly after I wrote that, I got this tweet:

And this email:

I think you underestimate the influence of RT on the Jill Stein and "Never Hillary" crowd among Bernie supporters. This is only one aspect of delegitimizing the center. A leftist progressive friend who works on Syrian refugee issues was really disturbed by how many on that part of the spectrum think Putin is just dandy.

And this from Vox's Zack Beauchamp:

The ODNI report focuses, to an almost surprising degree, on RT — the Kremlin’s international, English-language propaganda media outlet. The report contains several striking observations about RT’s reach, message, and proximity to the Russian government.

....According to the report, RT — as well as Sputnik, another Russian government–funded English-language propaganda outlet — began aggressively producing pro-Trump and anti-Clinton content starting in March 2016. That just so happens to be the exact same time the Russian hacking campaign targeting Democrats began.

....During the 2016 campaign, RT aired a number of weird, conspiratorial segments — some starring WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange — that cast Clinton as corrupt and funded by ISIS and portrayed the US electoral system as rigged.

Put this all together and you have a portrait of a sometimes Alex Jones-esque "alternative channel" that appeals to fringe elements on both the left and right and successfully hides its identity from them. As the charts from the ODNI report show, it's also one with a growing social media presence, even if the precise numbers in the report aren't wholly reliable. I still don't know whether this translated into more than a negligible impact on the race, but I thought it was worth passing along. It may be that RT is more important than I give it credit for.