Matt Yglesias calls this a "wild" result. It's from a new NBER paper by a trio of researchers:

Medical and public health innovations in the 1940s quickly resulted in significant health improvements around the world. Countries with initially higher mortality from infectious diseases experienced greater increases in life expectancy, population, and — over the following 40 years — social conflict. This result is robust across alternative measures of conflict and is not driven by differential trends between countries with varying baseline characteristics. At least during this time period, a faster increase in population made social conflict more likely, probably because it increased competition for scarce resources in low income countries.

Initially, I was intrigued because this seemed like a distinctly un-wild result. Fast population growth as a cause of war seems like conventional wisdom, not something new. But I was curious, so I took a look at the paper. Stripped to its core, the authors present an equation that looks like this:

Conflict = 0.617 * log(Population)

They say that this "implies that the average change (0.676) in log population from 1940 to 1980 leads approximately to 4.17 more years in conflict during the 1980s relative to the 1940s." In ordinary language, it means that a doubling of population leads to about 4.3 more years of conflict per decade. Here's their chart:

I have some issues here. First, the authors say that a "faster increase" in population makes social conflict more likely—which makes sense—but their regression equation says only that bigger countries have more conflict, not faster growing countries. Second, the basic correlation here is that from 1940-80, both population and conflict grew. They believe that population growth spurred by health improvements caused conflict to increase, but the universe of possible explanations for this is almost limitless.1 Third, the correlation suddenly breaks down after 1980.

The authors suggest that "increasing population without a corresponding increase in resources and technology, raised the likelihood of civil war — presumably because there was an more intense competition for scarce resources." Again, this makes sense, but in fact there was an increase in resources. World population roughly doubled from 1940-80, but thanks to the Green Revolution, so did the production of cereal grains:

Food production increased faster than population growth from 1940-80, but conflict increased anyway. It continued to increase faster than population growth from 1980-2015, and conflict decreased. The authors suggest there's something special about the earlier period, but don't really provide any idea of what that might be. If I had to guess, I'd suggest the culprit is decolonization following World War II. That would explain both the increase from 1940-80 and the decrease after that. But this is just a guess.

1Before anyone asks: Given the timeframes involved here, lead is not likely to be a major factor. But it might have added a tailwind.

Lunchtime Photo

The rest of you may be waiting for Congress to pass an infrastructure bill, but not us. In Irvine and other surrounding areas, it's build, build, build. We have not one, but two Marine Corps bases that were shuttered in 1994, and after a seemingly endless set of negotiations, followed by a housing bust that brought everything to a halt, we've given developers the green light to build with abandon. This particular truck is hauling away dirt at MCAS Tustin (home of the blimp hangars that I'll show you someday), but there's also plenty of action at MCAS El Toro. All this construction is, naturally, a matter of huge controversy for the usual reasons of traffic and noise (and, um, the possibility of more low-income residents), but the voters have more-or-less spoken, and they voted to build. So that's what we're doing.

I'm not quite sure what prompted this, but who cares? I will never forget that FBI Director James Comey was responsible for Donald Trump, and here's yet another example that illustrates this. It's the basic Pollster chart showing Trump's favorability rating:

After the release of the Comey letter, Trump's favorability shot up six points. It's dipped slightly since then, but only by a few hairs. In over a year of campaigning, only one thing had a serious impact on the presidential race. James Comey.

VP Mike Pence is on the Korean Peninsula today:

David Frum would like to see more than just a few staged visuals:

I was vaguely planning to write a post reminding everyone that we still have only two options regarding North Korea, but the New York Times reminds me that we have three:

  • a military strike that could ignite a full-blown war;
  • pressure on China to impose tougher sanctions to persuade the North to change course, an approach that failed for his predecessors;
  • or a deal that could require significant concessions, with no guarantee that North Korea would fulfill its promises.

I'd forgotten all about the diplomatic option, what with Rex Tillerson insisting that the era of "strategic patience" was over and Pence warning North Korea not to test US "resolve." But I suppose it might actually be the most likely one. A military strike designed to take out North Korea's bomb/missile-making capacity would require a lot more than a few dozen cruise missiles. It would probably take weeks and would indeed touch off a real, live hot war that I doubt Trump has any stomach for.1 The China option is currently underway, and I suspect it has a better chance of success than in the past, simply because China is a little more fed up with Kim Jong-un than in the past. But it's still unlikely to work.

And that leaves diplomacy. This also has close to a zero chance of working, but it might have a decent chance of providing Trump with something he can claim is the greatest treaty ever signed. Maybe that will be enough for him.

1I hope not, anyway.

Phil Klinkner takes to the pages of the LA Times this morning to tell us that immigration was a big deal in the 2016 election:

Comparing the results of the 2012 and 2016 ANES surveys shows that Trump increased his vote over Mitt Romney’s on a number of immigration-related issues. In 2012 and 2016, the ANES asked respondents their feelings toward immigrants in the country illegally. Respondents could rate them anywhere between 100 (most positive) or 0 (most negative). Among those with positive views (above 50), there was no change between 2012 and 2016, with Romney and Trump each receiving 22% of the vote. Among those who had negative views, however, Trump did better than Romney, capturing 60% of the vote compared with only 55% for Romney.

....Overall, immigration represented one of the biggest divides between Trump and Clinton voters. Among Trump voters, 67% endorsed building a southern border wall and 47% of them favored it a great deal. In contrast, 77% of Clinton voters opposed building a wall and 67 % strongly opposed it.

This gibes with my anecdotal view that a fair number of Trump voters didn't pay much attention to anything he said except that he was going to build a wall and keep the Mexicans out. All the budget and regulation and Obamacare and climate change stuff was just noise that they didn't take very seriously. But building a wall was nice and simple, and they thought it would bring back their jobs and keep their towns safe.

Having said that, though, I want to repeat a warning: everyone should stop looking for tectonic changes that account for Trump's win. Hillary Clinton was running for a third Democratic term during OK-but-not-great economic times, and that's always difficult. Most of the fundamentals-based models predicted she'd win by a couple of percentage points, and she actually did much better than that—until James Comey decided to destroy her. And even at that, she did win by a couple of percentage points. It was a fluke of the Electoral College that put Trump in the White House, not a historic shift in voting patterns.

The real question is how Trump won the Republican primary. At the presidential level, that's a far more interesting topic than what happened in a fairly ordinary general election.

According to Gallup, views of President Trump's have plummeted since February:

On the other hand, according to Pollster his approval rating has been improving for the past couple of weeks:

I guess a couple of high-profile bombings can do wonders even if people don't really trust you much anymore.

What's on our president's mind on this lovely Easter morning? Let's check in:

This came after a series of tweets griping about folks who still want to see his tax returns; the paid agitators behind yesterday's rallies; and China not being a currency manipulator as long as they play ball on North Korea. You can almost feel the morning star of our Savior's resurrection infusing Trump's heart with warmth and gladness, can't you?

Speaking of which, I gather that there was no sunrise service on Trump's schedule today. That's OK with me—I slept in too—but it's kind of funny, especially since Politico informs us that Trump is becoming more Godly now that he's in the Oval Office:

President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks — calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court Justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids.

He's also taken other steps to further cultivate a Christian right that helped elect him, granting new levels of access to Christian media and pushing socially conservative positions that don't appear to come naturally to him.

Apparently Trump isn't even a Christmas-and-Easter Christian, but he's still "cultivating" the Christian right. He may be an atheist in practice—none of us actually believe his recent nonsense about praying more often, do we?—but that won't stop the Christian right from embracing Trump as long as he's against abortion and Democrats and says the word "God" once in a while. With practice, maybe he'll even be able to toss out the occasional Biblical allusion.

It probably sounds like there's not much warmth in my heart either this morning, and obviously I need to work on that when it comes to Trump. After all, even here in the land of palm trees, light arises in the darkness for us upright folks.

UPDATE: I guess Trump attended Easter services after all. It all happened at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach.

Via Gallup, here's another hot-off-the-presses example of different partisan responses to similar situations:

Republican views of the taxes they pay improved substantially when Bush and Trump were elected—even before any actual changes were made to the tax code—while Democrats had essentially no reaction when Obama was elected. Likewise, Republican views declined sharply when Obama was elected, but Democratic views didn't decline when Bush and Trump were elected.

Now, this is not a great example. Republicans take taxes more seriously than Democrats, and they expect that Republican presidents will cut taxes. The fact that their view of tax fairness changes even before anything happens may simply reflect their justified confidence that their taxes will indeed go down under a Republican administration.

If, instead, the question were, "What's your view of racial justice in America?" it's possible that Democrats would react strongly to the election of a Republican, while Republicans wouldn't care much. Does anybody know of any actual examples like this?

Thomas Edsall writes that as we recovered from the Great Recession, big cities did pretty well but rural areas didn't. "The fact that people living outside big cities were battered so acutely by the recession goes a long way toward explaining President Trump’s victory in the last election," he says, which he illustrates with this chart:

I don't think there's much question that Edsall is right in general, but this particular chart seemed off somehow. It combines both population growth and employment rate in a confusing way, and it covers the whole country, so it doesn't account for the way different states responded to the recession. I pondered for a while what I'd rather see, and decided to examine the unemployment rate in California counties. California has a good mix of big cities and rural counties, including a lot of farming counties that voted heavily for Trump, and every county benefited from identical state policies since they're all in the same state. Here's the chart, which compares unemployment at the peak of the last expansion to today:

There are four points I can make about this:

  • If you draw an overall trend line (light gray line), it turns out that that unemployment declined a bit more in smaller counties than in larger counties.
  • The big cities (purple) all fall into a very small cluster, showing declines between about -1 percent and 0. The smaller counties (orange) are scattered all over the place, from -3 percent all the way up to +4 percent.
  • The average drop in unemployment is roughly the same in both big cities and the rest of the state. Big cities (-0.39 percent) did marginally better than everyone else (-0.25 percent).
  • The main farming counties have done poorly. Their unemployment rate has increased by +1.0 percent.

This is just one state, and I'm not trying to pretend that this data offers anything conclusive. What's more, Edsall has some other facts and figures to back up his point. Still, I'll toss out two guesses:

  • Big cities may have recovered better than rural areas, but only modestly. The difference isn't huge, and by itself doesn't really explain why Trump won.
  • The large effect Edsall sees may be due to differing state responses to the recession. I suspect that rural red states shot themselves in the foot by adopting conservative policies (cut taxes, slash spending) that hurt their recovery. This may have been an especially big factor in the 2008-09 recession, since the federal government did less than usual to cushion the blow.

I don't know if anyone with real econometric chops has tested my second guess. If I find anything, I'll follow up.

Lunchtime Photo

This was taken a day after this month's full moon on the campus of Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. This was formerly the site of the Crystal Cathedral, one of Orange County's most famous landmarks, built by the Rev. Robert Schuller in 1980. After Schuller's empire went bankrupt in 2010, the Catholic Church bought the entire 34-acre campus and made it the seat of the diocese of Orange. After many years of fundraising, the cathedral is currently undergoing renovations to make it suitable for Catholic masses. It's expected to be consecrated and reopened later this year or 2018.