Meg Whitman—former eBay CEO, former Republican candidate for California governor, and current mortal enemy of Donald Trump—asked Speaker of the House Paul Ryan how he could endorse a guy who's just the latest version of Hitler and Mussolini:

Ryan explained the difficult political situation he was in, as the leader of House Republicans. While spending a couple of weeks last month deliberating about an endorsement, many of his members increased pressure on him to back Trump. Many of them represent districts where Republican voters are strongly supportive of Trump, Ryan explained....The audience was described as largely anti-Trump yet sympathetic to Ryan's predicament.

Translation: Yes, Trump is a singularly moronic and demagogic candidate, and it's appalling to think of him in charge of a lemonade stand, let alone the US nuclear codes. But hey, we still have to win the House, so Trump 2016!

I was chatting with a friend yesterday about the (alleged) anger of low-income whites this election season, and she asked what kinds of concrete, long-term trends might be responsible for this. Concrete in the sense of important, measurable stuff that truly makes people's lives worse. The truth is that I don't know of many. Crime is down. Teen pregnancy is down. Student test scores are up. Graduation rates are up. Illicit drug dependence is down (yes, really) and it's way down among teenagers. The growth rate of health care costs is on a multi-decade downward trend. The Great Recession did immense damage, but we've been recovering nicely for several years: growth is steady; unemployment is below 5 percent; inflation is below 2 percent; job openings are rising; and household debt, which has been trending downward for nearly a decade, is at its lowest point since 1980.

So what negative trends are there? That is, big trends, the kind that affect lots of people and aren't easy to turn around. Rising student debt, for example, wouldn't qualify. In the great scheme of things, it's not that damaging,1 and it could be turned around pretty easily if we felt like it. It's not burned into the fabric of society or anything.

Nor am I thinking of partisan issues. If you're liberal, you're unhappy about the growing assault on abortion in red states. If you're conservative, you're unhappy about the growing acceptance of gay marriage. That kind of stuff is always around.

That said, two big negative trends come to mind. First, wages have been sluggish for decades and flat-out stagnant since the beginning of the century.2 Second, marriage rates have continued to slide. This produces more single mothers struggling to raise kids with no help, and more single fathers who cough up child support every month but don't see their kids much and live frustratingly solitary lives. And the standard of living for both is effectively worse than it was for their parents, since they're managing two households on about the same income.

In terms of broad societal trends, life has improved over the past couple of decades in nearly every respect—even for the working and middle classes. But these two big exceptions might be enough to produce an electorate that's pissed off enough to elect Donald Trump.

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth saying that my own personal view remains the same as ever: the electorate isn't more pissed off than it usually is. All that's happened is that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have milked the normal amount of voter anger more effectively than usual, and social media has amplified it more than in the past. The case for this seems overwhelming to me—though I'm still open to contrary arguments based on actual evidence. But if you continue to believe in the anger theory and you want to know why people are so angry these days, wages and marriage are the two trends I'd look at.

1FWIW, I recommend you give this some real thought before dashing off to Twitter to tell me what a clueless moron I must be.

2The long decline in the labor participation rate is a related issue, but it's much trickier to figure out exactly what's going on with this. The participation rate for men has been declining steadily since 1950, so obviously it's not caused by something that just started in the past couple of decades. About half of the decline is due to retirements. And there's some evidence that the declining rate for women is mostly caused by giving up second jobs that never provided much net income in the first place. So...call this half a trend if you want, and then you've got two and a half trends to think about.

Three Little Questions

The First: How long before l'affaire Curiel dies down and Republicans go back to being outraged at any suggestion that Donald Trump is a racist?

The Second: Many of us have been on the receiving end of overwhelming Twitter mobs—most of them angry and semi-literate, some genuinely violent. But have any of you ever experienced the opposite? That is, hundreds and hundred of tweets overwhelming your Twitter feed to tell you how great you are and how your latest piece was a work of genius? Let's be clear: I'm talking about a universe in which you are not Beyoncé, and yet you receive a tidal wave of tweets from total strangers coming at you so fast and furious that you can barely keep up with them.

The Third: A week ago Hillary gave a speech demolishing Donald Trump's vague gestures toward a foreign policy. A couple of days later Trump told Jake Tapper that he planned a "little retort." We were supposed to get it on Monday, but it never happened. Do you think he's going to follow through eventually, or should I just throw this onto my ever-lengthening list of things Trump promises but never delivers?

Friday Bird Blogging

I'm not quite reduced to posting pictures of seagulls yet, but I'm getting there if those baby geese don't show up soon. In the meantime, here's a snowy egret. We don't often see them in our local pond, though they're hardly uncommon around here. There are lots of them in a nearby marsh, and at least a few who hang out in a nearby flood control channel. But we get them every once in a while. They're lovely critters, aren't they?

Friday Cat Blogging - 10 June 2016

Marian bought a new pod a few days ago. Apparently it's supposed to look like a rock, but I'd say it looks more like Jetsons-retro. All it needs is an antenna to complete the look. It's now upstairs in the sewing room, where both cats compete for it off and on.

In other news, Palmerston the Foreign Office cat is learning Japanese.

I commented briefly yesterday on the CBO's latest report about the distribution of household income, but I didn't get a chance to show you the main event: Income growth since the Reagan era. Here it is:

The nice thing about the CBO income estimates is that they're pretty comprehensive. This one, for example, shows market income, which consists of labor income (including cash wages, health insurance, and the employer’s share of Social Security, Medicare, and federal unemployment insurance payroll taxes), business income, capital income (including capital gains), and retirement income. Other CBO income measures include government transfers, so you can get a good sense of how incomes are affected by social welfare programs.

As you can see, the market incomes of the rich bounce up and down a fair amount because they rely on volatile income sources like stocks and other investments. 2013 was not a good year for them—though we already know that they made up some of this ground in 2014 and 2015.

But for the unrich—which is, roughly speaking, everyone making less than $100,000 per year—nothing ever changes. During a period when real GDP per capita increased 77 percent, the income of the unrich has increased only 18 percent. That's about half a percent per year, and all of it came from a single decade: 1993-2003. The rest of the time there's been literally zero growth in the income of the unrich.

Economic anxiety may not be the real motivation for angry voters in this election, but it sure ought to be.

A new Pew report says that Hispanics are pretty optimistic about the future. Ben Casselman comments:

Hispanics’ optimism seems to fly in the face of one of the dominant narratives of this year’s presidential campaign: voters’ economic anxiety. Despite an economy that has, by most conventional measures, improved by leaps and bounds since President Obama took office, Donald Trump and, to a lesser degree, Bernie Sanders have successfully tapped into a deep well of anger and fear about the country’s economic direction. But that anger is concentrated among whites; many minority voters, as the Pew survey shows, are far more optimistic.

A few months back, I argued that voters’ anger stems more from longer-run anxiety than from concern over their immediate economic prospects....Gallup in recent months has shown a divergence between Americans’ relatively positive assessment of their current economic conditions and their increasingly pessimistic outlook.

But for many non-whites, the pattern is the opposite: They are concerned about the present but optimistic about the future....40 percent said their finances were in good shape, compared with 43 percent for the public at large — but they see brighter days ahead. More than 70 percent expect their children to be better off than they are.

If you insist on continuing to look at this year's election through an economic lens, you'll never figure out what's going on. Overall, middle-class incomes have been pretty stagnant over the past couple of decades: up during the dotcom boom, down during the Great Recession, and ending up pretty close to where they were in 1994. That's obviously a source of frustration. But it's not as if this only affected whites while blacks and Hispanics have been kicking ass:

"Economic anxiety" as a campaign issue has always been a red herring. And even if you back off a bit and try to limit it solely to the notion that whites are losing ground to minorities, the evidence still doesn't back you up. You can cherry pick here and there if you want to make that case, but it's tough sledding. Basically, everyone's been in the same boat, and blacks and Hispanics haven't really made up any ground versus whites.

So white anger isn't really about blacks and Hispanics taking their jobs. Or about blacks and Hispanics making more money and leaving whites behind. Nor do whites have any special economic reason to be more pessimistic about the future than blacks and Hispanics.

If you want to get to the root of this white anxiety, you have to go to its roots. It's cultural, not economic. It's demographics, not paychecks. It's about not being the boss anymore. It's about lower-class white communities now exhibiting pathologies—drug abuse, low marriage rates, etc.—that were once reasons for them to look down on blacks.

Really, we just need to give up on the whole "economic anxiety" argument. When something only affects whites and lacks any real economic motivation, race is a whole lot more likely to explain things than jobs. Let's not keep looking around the economic lamppost just because the light is better there.

Karin Lang, a State Department official responsible for records management, testified yesterday about Hillary Clinton's email practices:

Lang, a career employee who in July 2015 became director of the Executive Secretariat staff, which is responsible for records management, said that while a unit responsible for FOIA requests was told that Clinton had no government email account when she took office in January 2009, no one in the unit ever asked whether she used a personal account to conduct business before she stepped down in 2013.

"Prior to Secretary Kerry, no secretary of state used a State.gov email address," said Lang, supporting an explanation given by aides to the presumptive Democratic nominee for president that her email setup while at State was not unusual.

…Lang said that the FOIA office did not begin to search for records in response to Judicial Watch's 2013 request for information concerning Abedin's employment until after the group sued, and that at the unit chief's direction, the FOIA office searched only human-resources records, not emails.

Apparently the head of State's FOIA unit "grew curious" about Hillary's email arrangement when that famous picture of her using a BlackBerry first appeared. It just goes to show that fame has both its ups and downs.

But now a question. This is probably going to expose an embarrassing lack of knowledge, but I finally have to ask. After Vice News1 filed its lawsuit against Hillary, a judge eventually ordered State to release every single email she had sent and received as secretary of state. Another judge recently ordered a similar broad release in a different case brought by the Republican National Committee.

What's the deal with this? Has any cabinet officer ever been ordered to release the entirety of his or her correspondence—either hard copy or digital—before? Is a broad FOIA request all that's required? Or does this kind of thing only happen to Hillary Clinton?

1Or Judicial Watch? Or someone else? I can't keep all 35 suits demanding the release of Hillary's emails straight.

Thursday Egyptian Goose Blogging

Still no sightings of the baby geese. Soon, I'm going to be reduced to posting pictures of seagulls. But not yet! Today we have a lovely Egyptian Goose. Which is actually a duck. But as you've probably figured out, I'm pretty casual about types of waterfowl, so this doesn't bother me. In my book, they're all ducks anyway.

Under Obamacare, employers are required to either provide health insurance to their full-time employees or else pay a fine. In 2015, this mandate went into effect for companies with over 100 employees. In 2016 it went into effect for companies with over 50 employees.

A "full-time" employee is one who works 30 hours per week or more, so it makes sense that some small companies might have cut the hours of their full-time employees in order to avoid having to pay for health insurance. But did that actually happen?

This is a surprisingly hard question to answer. There's some anecdotal evidence from small business owners who say they've done exactly that, but only a little. Nor is there much from workers. But really, we'd prefer quantitative evidence anyway. If there are a lot of employers doing this, it should show up in the numbers.

But which numbers? Ideally, we'd like to see evidence of workers getting their work week cut to exactly 29 hours. That would be strong evidence that Obamacare was at fault. But we don't have those numbers. Alternatively, we could compare adjoining regions with and without the mandate, and compare their rate of part-time workers. If one region stayed steady and the other increased right around 2015 and then again in 2016, Obamacare would be the likely culprit. But the mandate is nationwide, so we can't do that.

So what can we do? Well, we could create a model of part-time workers that fits the past, and then see how it well it predicts what happened after Obamacare went into effect. A Goldman Sachs economist did just that, and came up with these charts for the food-service and retail industries, the ones that have always been the most resistant to providing their workers with health insurance:

The model says the number of workers who are part-time involuntarily should have followed the green dashed line, but in reality the number only went down as much as the solid blue line. This gap suggests that we have more involuntary part-time workers than we should, which led conservative sites to report that Obamacare is "forcing hundreds of thousands of people into part-time work." But Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times notes that the author of the report is considerably more circumspect. You can read about it here.

But I think there's a bigger problem here. The aftermath of the Great Recession has been unique in a lot of ways, which means that models of previous recessions probably aren't very reliable forecasters. That's especially true when you're dealing with very small numbers, as we are here.

And then there's a yet bigger problem: I don't think Goldman's economist even used the right numbers in the first place. His model relies on the number of people who report that they're working "part-time for economic reasons," but there are two kinds of these workers. The first are those who can't find full-time work because the economy is bad. That's not what we're looking for. The second are workers who report that they "could find only part-time work." That's what we're after: People who want to work full-time, but have been put on part-time status for reasons other than slack labor conditions.

So did Obamacare cause a change in that number? We don't have a model, but we don't need one—at least, not for starters. The first step is much simpler: just look at the trendline and see if there's any kind of inflection point when the mandate went into effect. Here's the chart:

I don't see anything. The 2015 mandate was pretty weak, and I wouldn't expect that it had much effect. But the 2016 mandate was more serious and applied to more businesses, so I would expect to see something there. And yet...there's nothing. The trendline doesn't show any change at all—and certainly nothing like 200-300,000 workers. That would be a big spike on a chart that only goes from 2 million to 2.7 million in the first place.

This is all kind of peculiar. I never bought the conservative arguments of part-time Armageddon, but it makes sense that some employers would try to save money by reducing their number of full-timers. Looking at the data, though, I'm hard pressed to see any effect. If I squint real hard, maybe I can convince myself that the trendline took a jump in Q3 of last year and never fully recovered from it. Or, who knows: maybe that spike in May of 2016 will continue—though it's not clear why a mandate beginning in January would suddenly cause employers to react five months later.

In any case, those are both nits. As it stands, the evidence suggests almost no effect at all. And that's something I'd like to understand better. The interesting question here isn't why part-time employment spiked, it's why part-time employment didn't spike. It seems like it should have. Once again—as it's done before—Obamacare is working even better than I would have expected.