Saturday, January 31, 2015

Andrew Sullivan

You've probably seen that Andrew Sullivan plans to retire from blogging soon.

I can't tell you how proud I was when he linked to my post about him for the 10th anniversary of his blog, in 2010.

So many other writers were paying tribute to him that day, and many of them were being more complimentary than I was. He had solicited "toasts and roasts," but they seemed to be mostly the former.

My post lauded him for some things but was quite critical of him in other ways, and I even mentioned that I had stopped reading his blog.

I thought the fact that he would link to a post by an obscure person like me, and even quote the critical parts on his blog, when he had so many more positive posts to choose from that day, really said something about his character.

From my post on his 10th bloggiversary:

Self-righteousness and dogmatism are generally not a perfect fit with foreign policy. Sullivan's style is what it is. It isn't perfect, as even he admits. But he has done far more good than most cheerleaders for the Iraq war by exposing and analyzing his own shortcomings in thinking about war.

But when I think of Sullivan's political voice, I won't think first about foreign policy. I'll think about the issue he showed me how to think about.

His opening remarks about same-sex marriage in that video (back in 1997, before he was a blogger) are dated. He thought Hawaii was soon to be the first state in the US with same-sex marriage; the first such state was Massachusetts in 2004, and Hawaii still doesn't have it. [That was true when I wrote this in 2010; the law recognizing same-sex marriage in Hawaii was signed in 2013. — JAC] He didn't do a great job at predicting the future, but his message still has great resonance today.

I was going to find some choice moment of this video, transcribe it, and quote it here to draw your attention to it. But I would have felt like just transcribing the whole thing. So please, watch the whole thing. To say this is Sullivan at his best would be an understatement.

I love how he starts by giving definitions of homosexuality and heterosexuality that seem so uncontroversial as to be hardly worth explaining — and then leverages those definitions into his case for same-sex marriage (both as something that should happen and as the most important front in the gay rights movement).

Though he's often criticized as overly emotional about political issues, he took the political issue he feels the most strongly about in his life and made his case with lucid logic. He did it when it was a lot less popular than it is now, and he did it over and over.

Thank you, Andrew Sullivan. You have made a difference.
This is Andrew

(Photo of Andrew Sullivan by Trey Ratcliff.)

What to make of Mitt Romney's announcement that he's not going to run for president?

My mom (Ann Althouse) offers this analysis:

I've been more or less positive about Romney's running again, . . . but even though I do like him, I was concerned that he was becoming the front-runner mostly on name recognition, and that was not good for the overall competition within the GOP. I'd like to see the plausible candidates go through a process of presenting themselves to us — especially in debates — and giving us a chance to scrutinize them and maybe warm up to them, and it's appropriate for Romney to stand back and allow that to happen.

If various seemingly plausible candidates fail to get traction or crash for some reason, there's the elder statesman Romney, prepared to serve if needed. I like him there. It fits with the idea that he was going to use as his pitch: That he's a dutiful, modest man, a humble servant, who responds to a calling.

So: Don't call us, we'll call you.
Romney did just enough to put the idea in everyone’s heads that he’s still a real possibility. So if the field turns out to be weak, people will naturally think of him.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The wife of the Prime Minister of India

WaPo reports:

She’s waiting for him, as she has been all her life. But when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dined with Barack and Michelle Obama at a glittering banquet Sunday night, his wife wasn’t by his side. Modi, 64, kept his teenage marriage a secret for decades during his political ascent and only last year admitted that his wife exists.

The wife, Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi, is a retired teacher who lives in a small town in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. Although she had not heard from her husband in years, she says she still hopes to join him one day in the capital as his spouse.

“If he calls me, I will go,” she said in an interview. “I hear all his speeches on TV. I feel very good when I hear him speak. I want him to fulfill all his promises to the people. That’s my prayer to God.”

Narendra Modi, the son of a man who sold tea in a railway station, comes from a lower caste called Ghanchi. He and his wife were promised to each other as young adolescents in keeping with the traditions of their community. They were then married in a small ceremony when she was 17 and he was 18. . . .

Nearly a dozen guards watch her around the clock and follow her in a shiny car as she takes auto rickshaws and public transportation, they say. When she visits friends or relatives, they have to cook for the guards, she said.

“The security travels in an air-conditioned car. But my sister takes buses, trains and auto rickshaws. What kind of justice is this? Should a prime minister's wife not get a car?” her brother asked.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The new political correctness

Insightfully analyzed by Jon Chait:

Under p.c. culture, the same idea can be expressed identically by two people but received differently depending on the race and sex of the individuals doing the expressing. This has led to elaborate norms and terminology within certain communities on the left. For instance, “mansplaining,” a concept popularized in 2008 by Rebecca Solnit, who described the tendency of men to patronizingly hold forth to women on subjects the woman knows better, . . . has now grown into an all-purpose term of abuse that can be used to discredit any argument by any man. (MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry once disdainfully called White House press secretary Jay Carney’s defense of the relative pay of men and women in the administration “man­splaining,” even though the question he responded to was posed by a male.) . . .

If a person who is accused of bias attempts to defend his intentions, he merely compounds his own guilt. (Here one might find oneself accused of man/white/straightsplaining.) It is likewise taboo to request that the accusation be rendered in a less hostile manner. This is called “tone policing.” If you are accused of bias, or “called out,” reflection and apology are the only acceptable response — to dispute a call-out only makes it worse. There is no allowance in p.c. culture for the possibility that the accusation may be erroneous. A white person or a man can achieve the status of “ally,” however, if he follows the rules of p.c. dialogue. A community, virtual or real, that adheres to the rules is deemed “safe.” The extensive terminology plays a crucial role, locking in shared ideological assumptions that make meaningful disagreement impossible. . . .

The Marxist left has always dismissed liberalism’s commitment to protecting the rights of its political opponents — you know, the old line often misattributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” — as hopelessly naïve. If you maintain equal political rights for the oppressive capitalists and their proletarian victims, this will simply keep in place society’s unequal power relations. Why respect the rights of the class whose power you’re trying to smash? And so, according to Marxist thinking, your political rights depend entirely on what class you belong to.

The modern far left has borrowed the Marxist critique of liberalism and substituted race and gender identities for economic ones. “The liberal view,” wrote MacKinnon 30 years ago, “is that abstract categories — like speech or equality — define systems. Every time you strengthen free speech in one place, you strengthen it everywhere. Strengthening the free speech of the Klan strengthens the free speech of Blacks.” She deemed this nonsensical: “It equates substantive powerlessness with substantive power and calls treating these the same, ‘equality.’ ”

Political correctness appeals to liberals because it claims to represent a more authentic and strident opposition to their shared enemy of race and gender bias. And of course liberals are correct not only to oppose racism and sexism but to grasp (in a way conservatives generally do not) that these biases cast a nefarious and continuing shadow over nearly every facet of American life. Since race and gender biases are embedded in our social and familial habits, our economic patterns, and even our subconscious minds, they need to be fought with some level of consciousness. The mere absence of overt discrimination will not do.

Liberals believe (or ought to believe) that social progress can continue while we maintain our traditional ideal of a free political marketplace where we can reason together as individuals. Political correctness challenges that bedrock liberal ideal. While politically less threatening than conservatism (the far right still commands far more power in American life), the p.c. left is actually more philosophically threatening. It is an undemocratic creed. . . .

The p.c. style of politics has one serious, possibly fatal drawback: It is exhausting. Claims of victimhood that are useful within the left-wing subculture may alienate much of America. The movement’s dour puritanism can move people to outrage, but it may prove ill suited to the hopeful mood required of mass politics. Nor does it bode well for the movement’s longevity that many of its allies are worn out. “It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing,” confessed the progressive writer Freddie deBoer. “There are so many ways to step on a land mine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them. I’m far from alone in feeling that it’s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks.” [The Nation's Michelle] Goldberg wrote recently about people “who feel emotionally savaged by their involvement in [online feminism] — not because of sexist trolls, but because of the slashing righteousness of other feminists.” Former Feministing editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay told her, “Everyone is so scared to speak right now.”

That the new political correctness has bludgeoned even many of its own supporters into despondent silence is a triumph, but one of limited use. Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree. The historical record of political movements that sought to expand freedom for the oppressed by eliminating it for their enemies is dismal. The historical record of American liberalism, which has extended social freedoms to blacks, Jews, gays, and women, is glorious. And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Revering the irreverent

In an article called "Satire Lives," Adam Gopnick writes this in the New Yorker:

The staff of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, massacred in an act that shocked the world last week, were not the gentle daily satirists of American editorial cartooning. Nor were they anything like the ironic observers and comedians of manners most often to be found in our own beloved stable here at The New Yorker. (Though, to be sure, the covers of this magazine have startled a few readers and started a few fights.) They worked instead in a peculiarly French and savage tradition, forged in a long nineteenth-century guerrilla war between republicans and the Church and the monarchy. There are satirical magazines and “name” cartoonists in London and other European capitals, particularly Brussels, but they tend to be artier in touch and more media-centric in concern. Charlie Hebdo was—will be again, let us hope—a satirical journal of a kind these days found in France almost alone. Not at all meta or ironic, like The Onion, or a place for political gossip, like the Paris weekly Le Canard Enchaîné or London’s Private Eye, it kept alive the nineteenth-century style of direct, high-spirited, and extremely outrageous caricature . . . .

For those who recall Charlie Hebdo as it really, rankly was, the act of turning its murdered cartoonists into pawns in a game of another kind of public piety—making them martyrs, misunderstood messengers of the right to free expression—seems to risk betraying their memory. Wolinski, Cabu, Honoré: like soccer players in Brazil, each was known in France by a single name. A small irreverent smile comes to the lips at the thought of the flag being lowered, as it was throughout France last week, for these anarchist mischief-makers, and they would surely have roared at the irony of being solemnly mourned and marched for by former President Nicolas Sarkozy and the current President, François Hollande. The cartoonists didn’t just mock those men’s politics; they regularly amplified their sexual appetites and diminished their sexual appurtenances. It is wonderful to see Pope Francis condemning the horror, but also worth remembering that magazine’s special Christmas issue, titled “The True Story of Baby Jesus,” whose cover bore a drawing of a startled Mary giving notably frontal birth to her child. (Did the Pope see it?)
So Charlie Hebdo was nothing like the Onion, eh? Did the New Yorker writer see the Onion's article "No One Murdered Because Of This Image" — with an illustration showing several religious figures, including Jesus, in an orgy, with genitals and breasts on display?

The New Yorker article goes on:
[Charlie Hebdo] was offensive to Jews, offensive to Muslims, offensive to Catholics, offensive to feminists, offensive to the right and to the left, while being aligned with it—offensive to everybody, equally. . . . The right to mock and to blaspheme and to make religions and politicians and bien-pensants all look ridiculous was what the magazine held dear, and it is what its cartoonists were killed for—and we diminish their sacrifice if we give their actions shelter in another kind of piety or make them seem too noble, when what they pursued was the joy of ignobility. . . .

“Nothing Sacred” was the motto on the banner of the cartoonists who died, and who were under what turned out to be the tragic illusion that the Republic could protect them from the wrath of faith. “Nothing Sacred”: we forget at our ease, sometimes, and in the pleasure of shared laughter, just how noble and hard-won this motto can be.
While it may be ironic to imbue Charlie Hebdo with too much nobility or piety — attitudes that would seem to be the opposite of what the publication stands for — I actually think it's important to revere the irreverent. We've certainly been doing that with the Marx Brothers for 80 years, for instance. It's a strength, not a weakness, for a society to be able to not take itself too seriously.

Now, I don't find Charlie Hebdo particularly funny (what little I've seen of it), and maybe they haven't always exercised the best judgment about how to walk the fine line humorists often need to walk between being outrageously funny and causing pointless outrage. But there's no way to make sure that all comedians always show the most sensitive judgment; by their very nature, they're sometimes going to slip up and land on the wrong side of the line. This will occasionally cause offense. But that's just the price of living in a world with humor and satire — which serve a vital role in puncturing pretense, deflating pomposity, giving us permission to laugh at authority figures.

Humorists are like the child in "The Emperor's New Clothes," who points out what everyone else is thinking but no one else has the nerve to say: the emperor isn't wearing any clothes. And if anything in the world is ripe for this kind of treatment, it's religion!

Something fundamental about the enemy has been revealed by its decision to carry out summary mass executions, and to arrogate worldwide jurisdiction in doing so . . . over cartoons. The Charlie Hebdo killings, the Danish cartoon killings, and the North Korea/The Interview incident have made clear that we need to send a serious message to the world about the freedom to be unserious — as Tina Fey put it, "the right to make dumb jokes."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

How to tell when a naive person is trying to sound intelligent

They'll take a simple idea and try to make it sound complex. As if they haven't noticed how much of a waste of time this is, and how much more there is to gain from making complex ideas simple.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Do Obama's anti-homemaker proposals make sense?

Ramesh Ponnuru says they don't:

He wants to triple the existing tax credit for child-care expenses, and create a new credit for second earners. Those proposals will help some parents and couples, but have nothing to offer families where one parent concentrates on home-based tasks. The second-earner credit is probably too small to affect couples’ decisions about work and child-care arrangements. So its main effect will be to lower the share of the tax burden paid by two-earner couples who were going to be working even without the credit.

Why do that?

There are two standard economic justifications for shifting the tax burden in this way, neither of them convincing.

One is that two-earner couples have higher costs than single-earner couples making the same income, so it's harder for them to pay the same taxes. But that seems like using the tax code to counteract the efficiency advantages of a particular way of dividing a family's labor, which doesn't make much sense. And it seems like an especially weak argument since, in the real world, single-earner couples have smaller incomes.

The second justification is that a progressive tax code, when applied to families rather than individuals, can penalize second earners. A second earner will often pay a higher tax rate than she would if she were single and making the same income, because she moves to a higher bracket when she marries a wage earner. The tax code thus discourages her from working. That's true, but it's just a special case of the way taxes discourage work, and not one that seems especially unjust or destructive. Marriage is (among other things) an economic partnership, and this feature of the tax code reflects that it involves pooling resources.

If the second-earner credit ignores that feature of marriage, Obama's other proposal ignores how little Americans like commercial child care. Surveys suggest that most parents prefer that small children be primarily cared for by a parent at home, and the Census Bureau reports that less than a quarter of them are in organized care facilities.

Given these preferences, it would make more sense to enlarge the child tax credit -- not the child-care credit -- and let parents use it as they see fit rather than requiring them to use the commercial day care most of them try to avoid. Some of them, it's true, might use the extra money to let one parent scale back from full-time to part-time work, or from part-time work to leaving the labor force.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Auto-tuned conversations

A comic from Zach Weiner's Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which is worth checking out regularly:


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

State of the Union

I can't believe I missed the chance to see Obama repeat the same proposals I've been reading about for weeks but with soaring rhetoric, a very determined tone of voice, and the occasional humorous aside.

President Obama's community-college plan

The Washington Post Editorial Board is unimpressed with Obama's plan to subsidize community-college tuition, which he's going to announce in tonight's State of the Union address. The plan would supposedly save an average of $3,800 per student for 9 million students a year, three-quarters of which would be paid for by the federal government, with the rest covered by state governments. Here's what WaPo has to say:

[U]nder Mr. Obama’s plan, taxpayers would pay even for those who could pay for themselves. If additional money can be found for education, why not direct it to those who face the highest barriers? Further increasing the size of Pell Grants, for example, would be a more progressive way to help very needy students. Larger Pell Grants would also be usable at four-year colleges and universities, which could give some poor students a better chance at success, and not just at community colleges. The government should at least make Pell Grants available year-round, so that students could study over the summer, rather than just during the school year. These are all higher priorities.

If the president wants to help those who earn just too much to qualify for Pell Grants, he could consider means testing community college tuition assistance some other way. The White House, however, hasn’t gamed out how means testing would affect the proposal, in part, apparently, for philosophical reasons. “The president believes that it is time to make college education the norm, and that about 100 years ago this country decided that high school would be the norm and that now is the time to make sure that all Americans, regardless of age, have access to higher education,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Friday. That’s a fine goal. But in an era of constrained resources, there are better ways of improving access to higher education than establishing a new middle-class entitlement.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Call it the scientific ignorance of the American voter — but don't call it the stupidity . . .

"Over 80 percent of Americans support 'mandatory labels on foods containing DNA.'"

But why? And who cares? Ilya Somin explains why this is a big deal:

"A recent survey by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics finds that over 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,” about the same number as support mandatory labeling of GMO foods “produced with genetic engineering.” Oklahoma State economist Jayson Lusk has some additional details on the survey. If the government does impose mandatory labeling on foods containing DNA, perhaps the label might look something like this:
WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The Surgeon General has determined that DNA is linked to a variety of diseases in both animals and humans. In some configurations, it is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children.
The Oklahoma State survey result is probably an example of the intersection between scientific ignorance and political ignorance, both of which are widespread. The most obvious explanation for the data is that most of these people don’t really understand what DNA is, and don’t realize that it is contained in almost all food. . . .

Polls repeatedly show that much of the public is often ignorant of both basic scientific facts. . . . A 2012 National Science Foundation survey even found that about 25% of Americans don’t know that the Earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa. . . .

It would be a mistake to assume that widespread political and scientific ignorance are the result of “the stupidity of the American voter,” as Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber put it. Political ignorance is not primarily the result of stupidity. For most people, it is a rational reaction to the enormous size and complexity of government and the reality that the chance that their vote will have an impact on electoral outcomes is extremely low. The same is true of much scientific ignorance. For many people, there is little benefit to understanding much about genetics or DNA. Most Americans can even go about their daily business perfectly well without knowing that the Earth revolves around the sun. Even the smartest people are inevitably ignorant of the vast majority of information out there. We all have to focus our time and energy on learning that information which is most likely to be instrumentally useful, or at least provide entertainment value. For large numbers of people, much basic political and scientific information doesn’t make the cut.

Unfortunately, this is a case where individually rational behavior leads to potentially dangerous collective outcomes. While it doesn’t much matter whether any individual voter is ignorant about science or public policy, when a majority (or even a large minority) of the electorate is ignorant in these ways, it can lead to the adoption of dangerous and counterproductive government policies. In this case, excessive and unnecessary warning labels on food products could confuse consumers, and divert their limited attention from real dangers.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mitt Romney's plan for 2016

Dave Weigel reports:

[Romney] sketched out the basic outlines of a potential campaign, saying the nation would be focused on a post-Obama era and taking a swipe at the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination by saying, “The results of the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama foreign policy have been devastating," he said, adding that "terrorism is not on the run."

Sounding every bit like a candidate, Romney said the party needed to be focused in 2016 on three things: Making the world safer; ensuring that all Americans have an equal chance at opportunity; and lifting the poor out of poverty.
So his plan is to flip-flop on whether he's concerned about the poor.

Weigel dryly adds:
Whether Romney is the best messenger for those points remains unclear. Some Republicans declined to put their skepticism on the record after the speech.

"Hate speech"

I hate this article!

This might be the worst paragraph:

Speech that offends, insults, demeans, threatens, disrespects, incites hatred or violence, and/or violates basic human rights and freedoms has absolutely no place in even the freest society. In fact, it has no place in any free society, as bigotry is fundamentally anti-freedom by its very nature. The human right to freedom of speech must always be balanced against the human rights to dignity, respect, honor, non-discrimination, and freedom from hatred. Civilized countries consider hate speech to be among the most serious crimes around, with many countries even placing it on par with murder. In some countries, people are automatically declared guilty of hate speech and other hate crimes unless they can absolutely prove their innocence beyond any reasonable doubt. The principle of guilty until proven innocent may seem a bit harsh to some, but it makes sense when you consider how severe the crime of hate speech is – it is a crime that simply cannot be tolerated in a democracy. Hate speech is not merely speech, but is, in fact, a form of violence and the international community has established hate speech to be a form of violence many times. Hate speech doesn’t merely CAUSE violence. Hate speech IS violence.
What I'd like to know is: how does the author think government should deal with someone who says, "I hate men," or "Men are stupid"? I don't agree with those statements. They're hurtful, sexist, and offensive. But I don't want the government to stop people from saying them. And if government can't stop people from saying those things, it also can't stop people from making hateful statements about women, blacks, whites, gays, etc.

In the comments: some suspect the article was intended to be satirical. (But it's not very funny . . .)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

France suppresses speech at the free speech rally

Andrew Napolitano writes, in Reason magazine:

The photos of 40 of the world's government leaders marching arm-in-arm along a Paris boulevard on Sunday with the president of the United States not among them was a provocative image that has fomented much debate. The march was, of course, in direct response to the murderous attacks on workers at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by a pair of brothers named Kouachi, and on shoppers at a Paris kosher supermarket by one of the brothers' comrades.

The debate has been about whether President Obama should have been at the march. The march was billed as a defense of freedom of speech in the West; yet it hardly could have been held in a less free speech-friendly Western environment, and the debate over Obama's absence misses the point. . . .

[E]ven though the French Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, French governments treat speech as a gift from the government, not as a natural right of all persons, as our Constitution does.

The French government has prohibited speech it considers to be hateful and even made it criminal. When the predecessor magazine to Charlie Hebdo once mocked the death of Charles de Gaulle, the French government shut it down—permanently. . . .

And how hypocritical was it of the French government to claim it defends free speech! In France, you can go to jail if you publicly express hatred for a group whose members may be defined generally by characteristics of birth, such as gender, age, race, place of origin or religion.

You can also go to jail for using speech to defy the government. This past weekend, millions of folks in France wore buttons and headbands that proclaimed in French: "I am Charlie Hebdo." Those whose buttons proclaimed "I am not Charlie Hebdo" were asked by the police to remove them. Those who wore buttons that proclaimed, either satirically or hatefully, "I am Kouachi" were arrested. Arrested for speech at a march in support of free speech? Yes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Wall Street Journal is skeptical of Romney 2016.

WSJ editorial:

Mr. Romney is a man of admirable personal character, but his political profile is, well, protean. He made the cardinal mistake of pandering to conservatives rather than offering a vision that would attract them. He claimed to be “severely conservative” and embraced “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants, a political killer. But he refused to break from his RomneyCare record in Massachusetts even though it undermined his criticism of ObamaCare. A third campaign would resurrect all of that political baggage—and videotape.

The businessman also failed on his own self-professed terms as a superior manager. His convention was the worst since George H.W. Bush’s in 1992, focusing more on his biography than a message. This left him open to President Obama’s barrage against his record at Bain Capital, which Mr. Romney failed to defend because that would have meant playing on Democratic turf, as his strategists liked to put it. The unanswered charges suppressed GOP turnout in key states like Ohio.

Mr. Romney’s campaign team was notable for its mediocrities, led by a strategist whose theory of the race was that voters had already rejected Mr. Obama so the challenger merely needed to seem like a safe alternative. He thus never laid out an economic narrative to counter Mr. Obama’s claim that he had saved the country from a GOP Depression and needed more time for his solutions to work.

And don’t forget the management calamity of Mr. Romney’s voter turnout operation, code-named Orca. Mr. Romney likes to say he reveres “data,” but Mr. Obama’s campaign was years ahead of Mr. Romney’s in using Big Data and social media to boost turnout. The Romney campaign was so clueless on voter mobilization that well into Election Night the candidate still thought he would win. He lost a winnable race 51%-47%, including every closely contested state save North Carolina.

Mr. Romney had his good moments, notably choosing Paul Ryan as running mate and the first debate. He also, eventually, adopted solid proposals on tax and Medicare reform after his initial and forgettable 59-point plan. More comfortable with slide decks than ideas, he still struggled to make a compelling argument for the agenda he claimed to favor.

Mr. Romney’s post-election diagnosis also doesn’t inspire confidence that he has learned the right lessons. He said Mr. Obama won because he promised “extraordinary financial gifts” to voters. “It’s a proven political strategy,” Mr. Romney said. “Giving away free stuff is a hard thing to compete with.” Maybe so, but if he can’t sell a larger message of growth and opportunity, he won’t defeat Hillary Clinton’s gifts either.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Let the negative campaigning begin!

The New York Times reports on former Senator Rick Santorum's attacks against some of the other (potential) Republican candidates:

Discussing [Mike] Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, Mr. Santorum raised four policy issues that he said would prompt questions about Mr. Huckabee’s fealty to conservative principles. Mr. Santorum was even harsher when discussing [Rand] Paul of Kentucky and [Ted] Cruz of Texas, both first-term senators, dismissing them as “bomb throwers” with scant achievements. . . .

The criticisms . . . illustrate the two simultaneous campaigns already taking shape. While former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and perhaps [Mitt] Romney begin vying for commitments from center-right contributors, elected officials and activists, a parallel race is taking place among more conservative contenders including Mr. Santorum, Mr. Huckabee and the two senators.

Already, there is notably less restraint in the language used by the more conservative aspirants than in the public statements from the establishment-backed potential candidates.

“Do we really want someone with this little experience?” Mr. Santorum asked, referring to Mr. Paul, Mr. Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who is also in his first term. “And the only experience they have basically — not Rubio, but Cruz and Paul because I don’t think Rubio is going to go — is bomb throwing? Do we really want somebody who’s a bomb thrower, with no track record of any accomplishments?”

Mr. Paul’s top strategist responded that the party should not take advice from a politician who was soundly defeated in 2006.

“Senator Santorum lost re-election in [Pennsylvania] by 18 points nearly a decade ago, and has spent the time since then trying to convince people to elect him to an even higher office than the one he was booted out of,” said Doug Stafford, senior adviser to Mr. Paul. “We will pass on responding to his alleged wisdom.”

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why are sports so popular?

This 4-minute voice memo helped me understand why sports are so popular.

I might have put some of his points in a different way. But I think Joel van Vliet has hit on something important here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Romney 2016

WaPo reports:

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, told Republican donors in New York on Friday that he is seriously considering a third presidential campaign in 2016, according to a source present at the meeting. . . .

“One of the more interesting things was Mitt said, ‘People ask if I really want to be president,’ and he said, ‘I’ve run twice. Yeah, I want to be president.’”
If that's one of the more interesting things he said, I'd hate to hear the more boring things . . .

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Free speech

Zach Weiner on free speech (link 1, link 2):

The whole point of free speech is to protect transgressive speech. Saying "pie is nice" has never required legal protection.

Having free speech except when it's offensive is like having an umbrella that only works when the sky is clear.

Monday, January 5, 2015

How does raising the minimum wage affect employment levels?

A large literature has examined the effects on employment of raising the minimum wage, with different researchers arriving at conflicting conclusions. The core reason that economists can’t answer questions like this better is that we usually can’t run controlled experiments. There is always some reason that the legislators chose to raise the minimum wage, often related to prevailing economic conditions. We can never be sure if changes in employment that followed the legislation were the result of those motivating conditions or the result of the legislation itself. For example, if Congress only raises the minimum wage when the economy is on the rebound and all wages are about to rise anyway, we’d usually observe a rise in employment following a hike in the minimum wage that is not caused by the legislation itself. UCSD Ph.D. candidate Michael Wither and his adviser Professor Jeffrey Clemens have some interesting new research that sheds some more light on this question. . . .

Clemens and Wither found that the federal minimum wage hike resulted in about a 6% decrease in the probability that low-wage individuals would have a job based on this comparison of states in which the minimum wage hike would have been binding and those for which it would not. The hike in the minimum wage thus appears to have raised the wage for low-skilled workers but made it harder for them to find jobs.
(Source.)

Two things to remember to keep this in perspective:

1. Reducing employment is just one of many ways workers can be hurt by raising the minimum wage. It can also cause employers to avoid giving raises to higher-level employees, cut benefits, offer less hours, raise prices (paid by low-wage workers who are also customers at their own companies or other companies), etc.

2. Unemployment is a particularly bad problem for a person to have — it's a far worse problem than not being paid quite enough. So even a small disemployment effect could be good reason to oppose raising the minimum wage.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Correction . . ."

". . . This article was totally wrong."

[T]he problems seem systemic, not the kind that can be fixed simply by asking writers to slow down or hiring a few more editors. Vox has hired a number of Bright Young People—and is run by the Brightest Young People—and the house style seems to be, "Write as if you are an expert, in a tone assuming that everything one needs to know about a subject can be found in your article." These Bright Young People may well be near-experts on one or two subjects, or at least close enough to pass as such online, but Vox publishes at the same rapid pace as the rest of the internet, on an exceptional and ever-growing number of topics, and there's only so much authoritativeness to go around.
I lost interest in Vox after I noticed that an article about law was clearly written by someone who wasn't a legal expert; the writer seemed to have mistakenly believed s/he was well-versed in a certain criminal procedure issue just by reading some news reports about a Supreme Court case.

"2015? You mean we're in the future?!"