A new paper uses a clever design to figure out if women are more willing to compete in teams than as individuals. The answer, in a laboratory test setting, is a resounding yes:

  • Even though men and women performed equally well on the task, 81% of men chose to compete as individuals compared with 28% of women.
  • When participants competed in teams, the gender competition gap shrank by 31 percentage points to 22%, with 67% of men choosing to enter the competition compared with 45% of women.

One of the clever parts of the study design was a series of different competitions that tried to untease the cause of different gender preferences. The result, say the authors, is that it really is a true difference in competitive preference, not just an artifact of risk aversion, feedback aversion, or confidence. Does this make a difference in the real world? Sure it does:

Countries that have party-list proportional representation, in which voters select a slate of candidates put forth by a party, generally have more than twice the female representation rate in their legislatures than countries that have single-member districts. Two countries that elect some members under each system, Germany and New Zealand, illustrate the differences most clearly. In the 1994 German election, 13% of the representatives elected from single-member districts were women, while 39% of the representatives elected from party-list districts were women. In New Zealand in 1996, the corresponding numbers were 15% and 45% for the single-member and party-list districts, respectively. These differences occur primarily because women are more likely to be candidates under proportional representation.

As I recall, we have much the same phenomenon in the United States. Once they decide to run, women generally do as well as men in political campaigns. The problem is that not very many are willing to run.

Our political system isn't likely to change to improve this situation, but this research does suggest there might be slate-oriented ways to get more women to run. Here's an example from my neck of the woods. In my hometown of Irvine, for historical reasons, there are basically two slates of candidates that run as a group for city council every couple of years. (I think of them as gangs, but I guess "slate" is a better word.) This system, accidental though it is, seems to attract a fair number of female candidates. People actually vote for councilmembers individually, and usually we end up with some winners from one slate and some from another. Nonetheless, merely running as part of a team seems to encourage more female participation.

That's just my impression, of course, and it might be wrong. But it might be worth another study to see if slate-like behavior, whether formal or informal, increases the number of women who run for political office in the United States.

Via Tyler Cowen.

Here is one result from Bloomberg's latest poll. (God knows why they decided to turn it into a pie chart—or a donut chart, I suppose—but that's what they gave us.) At first glance, it looks like Obama is doing okay. At second glance, though, what it really means is that everybody hates everybody else. Democrats all think Republicans are responsible for screwing up the country, and Republicans all think Democrats are responsible. The only difference is that Republicans can't decide who they hate more, Obama or Nancy Pelosi.

In other news, Republicans favor Rick Perry over Mitt Romney (26 percent to 22 percent), the overall electorate favors Obama over Perry (49 percent to 40 percent), a full 19 percent of Obama supporters say they no longer support him, and a trio of researchers say there's now a 38 percent chance of a double-dip recession in the United States. You may decide for yourself which of these things to be most alarmed about.

With friends like this, who needs Republicans? Today the Democratic congressional caucus, in a dazzling display of circular firing squaddishness, unloaded on President Obama's jobs bill:

“I think the American people are very skeptical of big pieces of legislation,” said Senator Robert Casey, Democrat from Pennsylvania....“I have said for months that I am not supporting a repeal of tax cuts for the oil industry unless there are other industries that contribute,” said Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana....“I have been very unequivocal,” said Representative Peter DeFazio, Democrat from Oregon. “No more tax cuts.”....“I have serious questions about the level of spending that President Obama proposed,” said Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia....Senator Kay Hagan declined on Wednesday to say her support for the bill that Mr. Obama spent the day touting in her state was indubitable..... “I’m going to have to look at it.“....Representative Heath Shuler, another North Carolina Democrat, said Congress should tame the deficit before approving new spending for job programs. “The most important thing is to get our fiscal house in order,” said Mr. Shuler.

Republicans must be laughing their asses off right now. For a brief moment it looked as if maybe, just maybe, Obama had put them in a tough spot: either support a jobs bill their base hated or else look like mindless obstructionists on the single issue most important to the American public. But now? All they have to do is lay low and let Democrats do the dirty work of undermining the bill for them. It's a pretty sweet deal. Sometimes politics is just too easy.

Like a lot of people, I've been trying to figure out whether Europe is doomed. I change my mind on pretty much a daily basis. So let's take stock. Greece and its massive debt load is Europe's immediate problem, of course, so here's some advice from Mario Blejer, who managed Argentina’s central bank after they defaulted on their debt in 2002:

This debt is unpayable. Greece should default, and default big....It doesn’t make sense to give money to Greece so Greece can pay the Germans back. All these projects, all the euro projects don’t make sense economically.

Kyle Bass, managing partner of Hayman Capital, agrees: "Greece has to default," he says. "It's going to be a hard default, and then it's going to be difficult to contain this contagion."

Roger that. Greece just flatly can't pay off its debts and will probably never be able to pay off its debts. So repudiation is inevitable, and Blejer is worth listening to on this score since Argentina has done fairly well since its crisis and subsequent default. There's more to this story, though, because Argentina didn't just default. They also abandoned their fixed peg with the dollar and allowed the peso to float, which resulted in a quick and massive currency devaluation and enormous inflation. After a period of intense pain, the devaluation worked: Argentine exports rebounded strongly because they had become so cheap, and this eventually revived the economy. But Blejer doesn't think that Greece should leave the euro, which seems odd at first since it's functionally equivalent to abandoning a currency peg, something that was part of the formula for Argentina's recovery. However, it's perfectly understandable if Forbes' Cyrus Sanati is right about what would happen if Greece abandoned the euro and switched back to a drachma that it then immediately devalued:

Moving back to its former currency would allow Greek exports to be competitive again with its neighbors, especially those that cater to tourists. Across the Aegean in Turkey, GDP grew by 8.8% in the second quarter. There is no reason why Greece couldn't capture some of that tourist market if it returns to a cheap currency.

But leaving the common currency would also lead to some nasty results. It would force Greece to raise cash to plug its budget shortfall and potentially pay yields that could run as high as 25% over German bonds, something that would probably be impossible. That would force Greece to make even larger cuts in government spending, further exacerbating its economic woes. The Greek banking system would almost certainly collapse in the changeover as the ECB would stop payments currently keeping them afloat. Without that cash infusion from the ECB, the Greek banks would be left with a massive funding gap equal to around 20% of their assets or 100 billion euros, according to an analysis by Citigroup.

A run on the Greek banking sector would result bringing economic activity in the country to a grinding halt. Imported products would be in short supply, creating serious political and social unrest throughout the country. The ensuing collapse in the Greek banking system would send shockwaves throughout Europe.

This is the rub. When Argentina abandoned its dollar peg and devalued its currency, it only affected Argentina. If Greece were to abandon the euro and replace it with devalued New Drachmas, it would affect the entire euro area. Every weak country in Europe would face crippling bank runs. After all, if you thought there was even the slightest chance of your deposits in, say, Banco de Santander or Banca Di Roma, being forcibly converted to New Pesetas or New Lira worth half what you deposited, you'd hustle over and pull out your money while the pulling was good. All of it. Pretty much every bank in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and perhaps a few other countries as well would be obliterated.

So this is basically where we're at. Greece can't pay its debts. Everyone and his dog knows this. But if Greece defaults and leaves the euro, you get the massive economic collapse and bank runs described above. Gavyn Davies says this is apparently no longer on the table:

Germany was reported to be examining these radical options at the weekend. However, having looked over the precipice, Angela Merkel, German chancellor, seems to have recoiled from them, for now. We will learn more in the next few days, but yesterday she hinted that she would still prefer a delayed, “orderly” Greek default, rather than an immediate and disorderly one. Unfortunately, neither option looks very appealing.

No indeed. But then, none of the other options look very appealing either. The only real option left is for Greece to default and for Europe's rich countries to recapitalize all the banks that would otherwise go bust thanks to their exposure to Greek bonds. But then what? Even with no debt, Greece is still a basket case, and as long as they stick with the euro there's no way to turbocharge their export market with a currency devaluation the way Argentina did. So then what? Either Europe continues to provide massive amounts of assistance for years to come, or else Greece collapses. And quite possibly a few other countries follow suit.

So as much as everyone hates the idea, massive amounts of assistance for years to come is probably the best bet. Apparently Merkel and other EU leaders are finally starting to realize this deep in their bones. It's infuriating, but the alternative isn't mere bank recapitalization and aid to Greece (which is galling but tolerable), it's continent-wide bank runs, further defaults in other countries, and the collapse of the euro. Merkel is finally looking into the abyss, and the abyss is looking back.

As for me, I guess I'm feeling slightly more optimistic about things today than I did a couple of days ago. But next week might be a different story.

Matt Yglesias likes this chart from USA Today that illustrates what has happened to household incomes over the past decade:

In fairness, you really do need to account for rising health insurance premiums before you conclude that average incomes have dropped. I'll spare you the details, but the census data shows that overall median incomes, adjusted for inflation, have dropped $3,719 over the past decade. However, the employer share of healthcare premiums has gone up almost exactly the same amount. Toss that back in, and total household compensation (cash plus health insurance) has been pretty much flat.

Still, that's pretty bad:

This, I think, does a great job of illustrating the fact that the asset price collapse –> recession –> lost decade cycle is really something that started 10 years ago rather than a forward-looking risk. It’s often said that the 2001 recession was "brief" and "mild," but the employment and income situation kept deteriorating for years and neither the employment-population ratio nor wages ever re-obtained their previous peak. The longer we go on not effectively addressing the additional labor market trauma of 2008-2009, the more this all merges into one giant pool of long-run economic dysfunction.

I keep meaning to write more about this, and I promise that someday I will. But there's a real phenomenon here that hasn't gotten enough attention. We often point to 1973 as an inflection point for workers: Before that, median incomes rose right along with economic growth, but starting that year income growth suddenly slowed dramatically. Instead of rising 2 to 3 percent a year, household income rose less than 1 percent per year.

It now looks to me like 2000 was another inflection point. Household incomes went from 1 percent growth to zero growth, and they've been stuck there ever since. Even researchers who are skeptical that income inequality rose dramatically after 1973 mostly accept that it's definitely risen since 2000. The entire past decade has been an economic disaster on multiple fronts, and that's one of the reasons the financial collapse of 2008 has been so terrible. We had a decade's worth of labor market weakness that was partly masked by a housing bubble, and it all came crashing down within a year or two. Instead of a long, slow slide, we got ten years worth of drops compressed into 24 months. For more on this, see Scott Winship here.

And I really will try to write more about this eventually. It's important. Unfortunately, the reasons are still hazy and there are dozens of theories about what's happening. But something sure is.

Jon Cohn points out today that the new Census Bureau report on poverty provides some pretty good evidence that Obamacare is already working. Thanks to the recession, the number of people without healthcare coverage has risen among most age groups. But as the chart on the right shows, among the young it's actually gone down. Why?

Why aren't 18- to 24-year-olds suffering the same fate? What makes them so special?....The circumstantial evidence suggests, very strongly, that the Affordable Care Act is the primary factor.

Remember, one of the first provisions to take effect was a requirement that insurers allow young adults, up to age 26, to stay on their parents’ policies if employer-sponsored insurance is not available. Even though that requirement didn't kick in until the fall, several insurers began offering such coverage earlier, in anticipation of the new rule....These numbers are striking — and seem to suggest that the Affordable Care Act is already helping large numbers of people.

This is what every single Republican presidential candidate and the entire Republican leadership wants to take away. Your mileage may vary, but it's not a vision of America most of us should welcome.

I haven't written about this for a while, but longtime readers may remember a couple of past studies suggesting that there's not much benefit to state programs that make it hard for teenagers to get drivers licenses. Today, a new, much larger study pretty much confirms this:

A nationwide analysis of crash data suggests that the restrictions may have backfired: While the number of fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers has fallen, deadly accidents among 18-to-19-year-olds have risen by an almost equal amount. In effect, experts say, the programs that dole out driving privileges in stages, however well-intentioned, have merely shifted the ranks of inexperienced drivers from younger to older teens.

....The researchers found that states with the most restrictive graduated licensing programs — such as those that required supervised driving time as well as having night-driving restrictions and passenger limitations — saw a 26% reduction in the rate of fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers compared with states without any restrictions. But the rate of fatal crashes among 18-year-old drivers in those states jumped 12% compared with the states without restrictions.

....A similar trend was seen when comparing drivers in states with strong graduated licensing programs with those in states with weak programs: The rate of fatal crashes among 16-year-old drivers was 16% lower but was 10% higher among 18-year-old drivers.

Overall, since the first program was enacted in 1996, graduated programs were linked to 1,348 fewer fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers and 1,086 more fatal crashes involving 18-year-old drivers.

The study can't tell us for sure why this is, but the most likely explanation is that it's not really age that's the factor in all these crashes. It's inexperience. When states tighten up requirements to get a drivers license, a lot of 16-year-olds decide not to bother getting one. They just wait until they're 18 and they can get a license under the standard rules. So when they take to the road they may be a couple of years older, but they're still brand new to driving. The result is lots of crashes.

What's the answer? Rolling back the new rules is vanishingly unlikely, especially since they don't appear to have made things actively worse. But in sort of a parody of conservative caricatures of liberal regulatory overkill — except this time it's coming from the private sector — an officer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that if the new laws have unintentionally made 18-year-olds more dangerous, maybe we just need more law. Tighten up requirements on 18 and 19-year-olds and we'll be all set! Huzzah!

Policy fights are one thing, but Republican strategists have long understood that there's a deeper level to politics, one where the goal isn't merely to fight the opposition's agenda but to actively subvert the infrastructure and funding that allow the opposing party to exist at all. There are several ways Republicans do this. They try to defund the Democratic Party by undermining the interest groups that support it — for example, by passing anti-labor laws that weaken unions or tort reform laws that cripple defense lawyers. They work to change the rules to deprive Democrats of votes — for example, via voter ID laws or crack-and-pack redistricting schemes. And they ferret out political norms that everyone has always followed and then break them to their advantage — for example, with mid-decade redistricting or by institutionalizing the filibuster.

It's all pretty ruthless. So what's next? Well, most states allocate electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. Barack Obama won Pennsylvania in 2008, and that victory gave him 21 electoral votes. The odds are good he can do it again in 2012. So the GOP's latest masterstroke is to do away with winner-take-all in the Keystone State. Nick Baumann explains:

Under the Republican plan—which has been endorsed by top Republicans in both houses of the state's legislature, as well as the governor, Tom Corbett—Pennsylvania would change from this system to one where each congressional district gets its own electoral vote....Under the Republican plan, if the GOP presidential nominee carries the GOP-leaning districts but Obama carries the state, the GOP nominee would get 12 electoral votes out of Pennsylvania, but Obama would only get eight—six for winning the blue districts, and two (representing the state's two senators) for carrying the state. This would have an effect equivalent to flipping a small winner-take-all state—say, Nevada, which has six electoral votes—from blue to red. And Republicans wouldn't even have to do any extra campaigning or spend any extra advertising dollars to do it.

And it's not just Pennsylvania:

It doesn't necessarily end there. After their epic sweep of state legislative and gubernatorial races in 2010, Republicans also have total political control of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, three other big states that traditionally go Democratic and went for Obama in 2012. Implementing a Pennsylvania-style system in those three places—in Ohio, for example, Democrats anticipate controlling just 4 or 5 of the state's 16 congressional districts—could offset Obama wins in states where he has expanded the electoral map, like Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, or New Mexico. "If all these rust belt folks get together and make this happen that could be really dramatic," says Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which coordinates state political races for the Dems.

Needless to say, there's no legitimate reason for this. "Pennsylvania Ponders Bold Democrat-Screwing Electoral Plan," reads Dave Weigel's Onion-esque headline, and that about sums it up. It's just a cynical ploy to change the electoral map to arbitrarily favor the Republican Party. If Pennsylvania looked likely to swing Republican, they'd change the rule back without blinking.

But here's what really so disheartening about the whole thing. As recently as a couple of decades ago this would have been a bridge too far for most of the party's mandarins: conservative pundits and senior GOP officials would have sounded off against it because it was just too raw a deal even for flinty political pros. But now we live in the era of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove and Tom DeLay and Fox News. There's really no one left who might object to this merely out of a decent respect for institutional integrity and fairmindedness.

At least, that's my guess. Maybe I'm wrong. But I'll be surprised if more than a tiny handful of Republican leaders or conservative pundits speak out against this plan. After all, when Republicans gave this same thing a try in California a few years ago, Fox News eagerly tipped it as a "reform" effort while a National Review writer nonchalantly brushed it off as just another day in the salt mines. "Politics ain’t beanbag," said Matthew Franck smugly. Nor did anyone blink earlier this year when Nebraska considered moving in the opposite direction because it's a Republican state and, in its case, winner-take-all would benefit the GOP next year. No one seriously bothered to condemn either of these efforts, and if Pennyslvania moves forward with theirs, I doubt anyone will bother this time either.

Overpaid in D.C.

So how about those overpaid government workers? We should probably just can the whole unionized lot of them and contract out their jobs to the lean-n-mean private sector. That'd save the taxpayers some serious dough, wouldn't it?

Maybe not. There's a reason that federal contractors are called Beltway Bandits, after all. The Project on Government Oversight took a look at how much private contracting really costs once you look at actual billing rates, and the private sector didn't come out looking too good: 

The result of POGO’s analysis was shocking. In 94 percent (33 of the 35) of the occupational series POGO analyzed, the average annual contractor billing rate was much more than the average annual full compensation for federal employees: on average, contractors may be billing the government approximately 1.83 times what the government pays federal employees to perform similar work. When the average annual contractor billing rates were compared with the average annual full compensation paid to private sector employees in the open market, POGO found that in all occupational classifications studied, the contractor billing rates were, on average, more than twice the costs incurred by private sector employers for the same services.

The most egregious example of an outsourced occupational classification that resulted in excessive costs rather than cost savings is claims assistance and examining—administrative support positions that involve examining, reviewing, developing, adjusting, reconsidering, or recommending authorization of claims by or against the federal government. To provide these services, on average, federal employees are fully compensated at $57,292 per year, private sector employees are fully compensated at $75,637 per year, and the average annual contractor billing rate is $276,598 per year.

$276,000 per year! Nice work if you can get it. Federal labor unions might be tough bargainers, but they're pikers compared to the suits on mahogany row. Those are the guys who really know how to work the system. If you're on the lookout for overpaid chair warmers with cushy jobs, that's your first stop.

Last night Michele Bachmann charged that a campaign contribution from Merck was responsible for Rick Perry's decision to mandate HPV vaccines for girls. Perry said he was offended at the thought that he could be bought for so little, and I figured he was basically right. "It's vanishingly unlikely that Merck's five grand played any real role in Perry's decision," I wrote.

But wait! I didn't have the whole story. It turns out it was more like $30,000

And wait again! Over the past five years, it turns out that Merck gave over $350,000 to the Republican Governors Association, a period in which Perry was heavily involved with the group, and the RGA in turn gave $4 million to Rick Perry.

And wait some more! Merck's lobbyist on the vaccine issue was Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff. Toomey recently co-founded a super PAC that plans to raise over $50 million for Perry's campaign.

So that's that. Now we know what it takes to get in the door and persuade Perry to do something that violates his most deeply held principles and enrages his most zealous supporters. Five grand is indeed far too little. But 30 grand plus 350 grand plus some arm twisting from a pal with deep pockets apparently does the trick. That makes Perry a pretty expensive date. On the other hand, if it were something that didn't violate his most deeply held principles, I imagine his price would go down.