• Lunchtime Photo

    My sister was over for pizza last night, so the management of Lunchtime Photo asked her to curate today’s selection. She chose this picture of Lower Yosemite Fall.

    February 15, 2018 — Yosemite National Park, California
  • Marco Rubio Wants to Give You a Loan to Have Kids

    Perusing my LA Times this morning, Michael Hiltzik brings me up to speed on the latest GOP plan for paid family leave:

    The idea of government-sponsored paid family leave is gaining popularity at the state level and in Washington, where Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ivanka Trump are “strategizing” to bring more Republicans into the fold….It’s a good idea that would finally bring the United States into line with every other high-income nation on Earth, as a recent analysis by the Urban Institute points out. But the Urban Institute also observes that the Rubio-Trump idea for financing the program through Social Security is a terrible idea.

    Wait. Social Security? What does that have to do with paid family leave? Here’s a previous Hiltzik column on the genesis of this proposal from Kristin Shapiro and Andrew Biggs:

    Shapiro and Biggs propose offering mothers and fathers the equivalent of Social Security disability for up to 12 weeks of leave….But unlike traditional Social Security disability coverage, the recipients would be required to pay the money back by delaying their Social Security retirement benefits.

    Details aside, let’s call this what it is: a loan. The Trubio plan basically offers new parents a 12-week loan that they have to pay back later. So why bring Social Security into this at all? Why not just handle it like student loans, with new parents getting a bank loan guaranteed by the federal government and repayment delayed for, say, ten years? Banks would love the guaranteed profits. It’s true that parental leave loans would be less lucrative than student loans since they’re only for 12 weeks, but maybe payday lenders could get into the act. That would make it a twofer for Republicans.

    It would also make it clear to recipients what they’re getting themselves into. “Delayed retirement” 40 years in the future seems pretty fuzzy to most people. A loan that has to be paid back in a decade is a lot more concrete. And at least it would be cheaper than the Trubio version. The Urban Institute, using their fabulous DYNASIM model, recently calculated an estimate of benefits vs. repayments for the Trubio plan, and it looked like this:

    On the bright side, the Trubio plan turns out to be fairly progressive since it inherits the progressiveness of Social Security payments and benefits. On the not-so-bright side, everyone with kids has a big loan to be paid off when they retire. This does not strike me as an especially family-friendly policy.

  • The Fresno State Tweet Brawl Has Nothing to do With Tenure

    Last week, Randa Jarrar, a professor at Cal State Fresno, tweeted her reaction to Barbara Bush’s death:

    As you might expect, this produced a wee bit of backlash. Yesterday, however, Fresno State said it would do nothing about this:

    Her comments, although disgraceful, are protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, although Professor Jarrar used tenure to defend her behavior, this private action is an issue of free speech and not related to her job or tenure.

    This is a key point. Every story I’ve read about this talks about the fact that Jarrar is protected by tenure, and much of the backlash has been about the evils of tenure. Jarrar herself said she would never be fired because she had tenure.

    But tenure had nothing to do with it. If she had been a clerk at the DMV, the outcome would have been the same. Public employees generally can’t be fired for things they say in their private lives. Employees of private companies, by contrast, can be fired for any reason at all,¹ including pissing everyone off with meanspirited tweets. This is because the First Amendment applies to the government, not to private actors.

    So keep this in mind. Regardless of what you think about Jarrar, the outcome here has nothing to do with tenure.

    ¹This is not a blanket rule, obviously, and it varies somewhat from state to state. Generally speaking, though, most of us are at-will employees, which means we can be fired if our boss doesn’t like the color of our shoes. The big exception is that you can’t be fired for a specific set of prohibited reasons: age, race, gender, religion, etc.

  • North Korea Isn’t “Closing” Its Nuclear Test Site. It Collapsed.

    Yonhap News/Newscom via ZUMA

    I sort of figured something like this must be going on:

    A large part of North Korea’s underground nuclear test facility is unusable due to the collapse of a cavity inside the mountain after the latest test-detonation occurred, according to Chinese seismologists involved in a soon-to-be-published study.

    ….Soon after the sixth and largest blast last September, satellite images suggested that one part of the site, a 7,200 foot granite peak called Mount Mantap had diminished in height. Some U.S. and South Korean experts suggested that tunnels inside the mountain—where five of North Korea’s six nuclear tests took place—had collapsed, rendering much of the site useless. Now, the two Chinese studies give credence to that theory….The researchers warned that a nuclear test of similar yield to September’s “would produce collapses in an even larger scale creating an environmental catastrophe,” according to the abstract.

    In other words, Kim Jong Un’s big announcement that North Korea was suspending nuclear tests and closing its test site were pretty much meaningless. It was something he had to do regardless, and it will probably take at least another year or two to build a new one.

  • Democrats Are Doing Pretty Well Since Trump Took Office

    Democrats may have lost the congressional special election in Arizona tonight, but they sure made up a lot of ground. Here’s the scorecard since the beginning of last year:

  • Mick Mulvaney Tells It Like It Is

    Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

    Mick Mulvaney has been running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau since November:

    Since then, he has frozen all new investigations and slowed down existing inquiries by requiring employees to produce detailed justifications….But he wants Congress to go further and has urged it to wrest funding of the independent watchdog from the Federal Reserve, a move that would give lawmakers — and those with access to them — more influence on the bureau’s actions. On Tuesday, he implored the financial services industry to help support the legislative changes he has requested.

    He concluded the speech, which included an appeal to diminish the bureau’s power, by describing the two types of people he was most responsive to as a congressman — constituents and lobbyists who contributed to his campaign.

    Please proceed, Mr. Mulvaney:

    “We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mr. Mulvaney, a former Republican lawmaker from South Carolina, told 1,300 bankers and lending industry officials at an American Bankers Association conference in Washington. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

    That seems bracingly clear. Most politicians don’t have either the arrogance or the cluelessness it would take to admit this in public, but Mulvaney does. Kudos.

  • Raw Metadata: What Kinds of Jobs Programs Work the Best?

    What’s the best way to get people working? There have been hundreds of jobs programs studied over the past few decades, and you can draw some general conclusions from them. A couple of years ago David Card and two colleagues published a meta-analysis of 207 studies conducted between 1980-2012. Here are their main results:

    Here’s their conclusion:

    Another clear finding in Table 3a is the relatively poor performance of public sector programs — a result that has been found in other previous analyses…. Estimated effect sizes tend to increase as the time horizon is extended from the short run to the medium run….Comparing across program types it is clear that the pattern of rising impacts is driven almost entirely by training-based programs, which show a relatively large gain in effect sizes from the short term to the medium term and only a small decline between the medium and longer runs. The patterns for the other types of programs suggest relatively constant or declining effect sizes over the post-program time horizon….Public sector employment programs have negligible, or even negative program impacts at all time horizons.

    The authors find, in general, that jobs programs have the highest impact on women and the long-term unemployed, and work best during recessions. Digging down a bit, training programs are most effective for the long-term unemployed, while threats and sanctions tend to work best for “disadvantaged” participants (i.e., those with low incomes and poor education).

    For what it’s worth, the sample size for direct public employment programs is modest, and the sample size for those operated over the long term is very small. This means that the large deterioration seen in these programs over the long term might be overstated.

  • Donald Trump Explains His Syria Policy

    "Sacre bleu, what is this moron saying now? Please, not more about the crates of cash. OMG. Now it's barrels of cash. Nobody ever told me Trump was going to be part of this job."Christy Bowe/Globe Photos via ZUMA

    Over lunch I was chatting with a friend and we were wondering what Donald Trump really wants to do about Syria. Does he want to get out? If so, why hire guys like John Bolton, who’d probably like to send a million troops over?

    It’s a mystery. That is, it was a mystery. Today Trump cleared everything up. We’re getting out:

    As far as Syria is concerned, I would love to get out. I’d love to bring our incredible warriors back home. They’ve done a great job. We’ve essentially just absolutely obliterated ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. And we’ve done a big favor to neighboring countries, frankly, but we’ve also done a favor for our country.

    But wait. Maybe we need to stay after all:

    With that being said, Emmanuel and myself have discussed the fact that we don’t want to give Iran open season to the Mediterranean, especially since we really control it. To a large extent, we really have controlled it and we’ve set control on it. So we’ll see what happens.

    No no no. Just kidding. We’re getting out:

    But we’re going to be coming home relatively soon. We finished, at least, almost our work with respect to ISIS in Syria, ISIS in Iraq, and we have done a job that nobody has been able to do. But with that being said, I do want to come home.

    Although first we have to accomplish some things:

    But I want to come home also with having accomplished what we have to accomplish. So we are discussing Syria as part of an overall deal. When they made the Iran deal, what they should have done is included Syria.

    And now a brief interruption from our lizard brain:

    When I say “should have” — before giving them, Iran, $150 billion and $1.8 billion in cash — $1.8 million in cash. You think about this. Before giving this kind of tremendous money, okay — $150 billion and $1.8 billion in cash — in barrels, I hear, it was taken out, and in boxes it was taken out — cash — they should have made a deal that covered Yemen, that covered Syria, that covered other parts of the Middle East where Iraq is — where Iran is involved. They didn’t do that.

    But back to the topic at hand. We’re getting out. Honest:

    So we want to come home. We’ll be coming home.

    Or maybe not:

    But we want to have a very, very strong — we want to leave a strong and lasting footprint, and that was a very big part of our discussion. Okay? Thank you.

    So…we’re coming home but not before we leave a strong and lasting footprint. Roger that.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Every week I try to use at least one photo each of animal, vegetable, and mineral. Surprisingly, it turns out that the vegetable member of this trio is the toughest to keep up with, but we’re now in rose season so I’ve restocked my queue. Today’s photo is a Julia Child rose, which makes me wonder how you get a rose named after yourself. I suppose some rose breeder just has to affix your name to a rose that turns out to be popular. So how about it? Do I have any fans out there who are rose breeders?

    April 14, 2018 — Irvine, California
  • Did Status Anxiety Power Trump to Victory? Let’s Look.

    The New York Times reports today on a new paper that looks at whether people voted for Trump out of a sense of economic anxiety:

    A study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences questions that explanation, the latest to suggest that Trump voters weren’t driven by anger over the past, but rather fear of what may come. White, Christian and male voters, the study suggests, turned to Mr. Trump because they felt their status was at risk.

    That’s certainly plausible. Let’s go to the study itself to see what it says:

    Although the panel does not include repeated measures asking directly about racial status threat—and such measures might be susceptible to social desirability bias in any case—it included a short form of the social dominance orientation (SDO) scale, tapping individual differences in support for hierarchy over equality. Psychologists most often use it as an indicator of a stable personal trait indicating animus toward outgroups, but those high in SDO also are known to oppose trade and foreign direct investment out of a desire to dominate other countries.

    The study compares a panel of voters who took an identical internet survey in 2012 and 2016, and it directly includes a set of questions measuring attitudes toward social dominance. But for some reason it doesn’t take the obvious next step of simply correlating increases in SDO with increases in support for Trump. That’s odd, isn’t it? Instead it looks at three other questions. Long story short, here are the results:

    I think you can see the problem: changes in SDO had only a tiny and barely significant effect on the vote for Trump, which suggests that it wasn’t all that important. So how do we save this study? It’s easy. Step 1: Examine other issues. Trump gained about 5 percentage points of support due to his views on trade. He lost about 5 percentage points due to his views on immigration. And he gained about 2 points for his China bashing.

    Step 2: Make a post-hoc claim that these issues are what really matters:

    Notably, all three of these issues capture potential racial and global status threat. For example, immigration captures the perceived threat of allowing those who are racially different into one’s country. Trade opposition captures Americans’fear of takeover by more dominant economic powers as well as racial opposition based on resentment of “others,” including  foreigners and businesses in countries that are racially different. Prejudicial attitudes toward domestic minorities predict trade attitudes more strongly than the vulnerability of a person’s occupation or industry of employment. Finally, China can be considered an outgroup threat both racially and with respect to threatening American global dominance.

    The real takeaway from this study is that Trump’s tough talk on trade was pretty popular. But that’s not very interesting, so it gets made into something else. This is how the game is played, kids.