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Alex Tabarrok has a post today supporting the idea of term limits. He, like me, seems to support them on the grounds that if you know the opposite party may soon be in office, that may soften your governing stand while in office.

I want to believe this is what happens.

But in a world of term limits, do we not now have a world with more “one shot” interactions. Given my sense that people are time inconsistent (remember the behavioral economics criticisms) and present oriented, would we not expect to see politicians being even more opportunistic and ruthless today? After all, we hear all the time how people are not forward looking and radically discount the possibility that “bad things” will happen to them. Why would this not apply to elected officials in office?

On the other hand, I have been to hundreds of restaurants where I had no intention of going back, and nonetheless left tips.

What do you think? Ought we actually fear term limits?


  1. Bank lending and TARP, dog bites man edition: “Together, these results suggest that political considerations influence credit allocation in a politically
    mature system like the United States without the formal possibility of political interference in lending decisions, and that this
    influence is larger if the flows between banks and politicians are reciprocal”
  2. Watts Bar Unit 2 Nuclear Reactor comes online. It was started in … 1973. While new, it is still an old pressurized water reactor design. On the other hand, it is CO2 free and powers over 1 million homes.
  3. The very different labor market experiences of highly educated African-Americans since 1940 versus African-Americans with less education. Evidence against, and for, discrimination?
  4. It does not look like the PPACA (“Obamacare”) led to additional early retirements. My prediction: the PPACA will NOT be totally undone.
  5. Marty Weitzman thinks about a “World Climate Assembly” basically a world democracy that votes on only climate questions.
  6. Does hospital competition lead to lower quality? It depends. Of course, this is conditional competition, and I am not sure that this is actually a net “bad” result.

I just lost a bunch of bets, so why not one more (talk about irrational!).

I do not think Donald Trump will last a full four years as President. How confident? I’d put it at 60%.

Here is Peter Boettke, on the “outsider” status of Bernie Sanders:

Unpopular opinion — after watching Bernie Sanders on Meet the Press earlier today I am pretty sure he is as insincere and cynical as the worst of the DC political establishment. He is in fact a master agnotologist (sower of confusion on purpose to dupe ones audience) with his attacks on intellectual and political opposition. I cannot believe he generated youth excitement with his message. He has been in political power his entire adult life, why is he viewed as an outsider? Outsider to what we must ask.

Robin Hanson probably doesn’t care about getting invited to your dinner party either.

Dinner with Freddie would be fun.

Oh, you thought it was the Trumpian loonies? Think again. The same “democratizers” that came to U of R last spring have descended on Harvard. Isn’t it totally fascinating how “professional” the union organizing apparatus is? Sounds pretty darn ironic for a group of people who are “against the man.”  In any case, one of my dear former students at U of R is now a graduate student doing research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and they are trying to unionize graduate students across the campus at Harvard.

Here is the tone of what is going on to people who are not in support of the union effort:


Here is how my science student went off about it on Facebook:

So lets get this straight about the union, correct me if I’m wrong.

– it is GSAS-wide, and a simple majority wins and the will of the union is imposed on everyone.

-Departments cannot opt out, no matter what, no matter their share of the benefits/contributions

-you can opt out of joining the union, but you cannot opt out of paying, no matter if you voted no or did not vote, and it is deducted automatically which is downright subversive.

-only 40% of dues paid stays local. 60% goes UAW wide, including paying union fat-cat salaries (some make over 1*10^5 in salary alone), national political activism that many of us wouldn’t ask or allow to be funded. (Edited here to include the fact that the people so “enthusiastically” supporting these measures are compensated well for their time and effort, and part of your dues will go towards their efforts elsewhere to do this exact thing – why do you think G5\6’s are behind this?)

-According to their own documents, students in the sciences will be disproportionately affected because once we become members, we do not switch out like non-stems that may rotate in and out (all the benefits, only some of the dues). So we will be subsidizing the rest of the school

-oh I almost forgot! All of the people who would be most impacted, us, the G1’s, CANNOT FUCKING VOTE. We can do some kind of protest vote but of course they will only count it under some certain convoluted circumstances. So not only are we forced by a simple majority of the entire school, we are disqualified from even participating but must accept the outcome!

-Average raises year over year have been around 2-3% Dms wide. Our salaries as science graduate students are some of the best in the nation. If you really expect to net anything more, or anything period from joining a union after paying 1.5-2.5% in dues, you need to wake up. The administration is already well attuned to our needs, serves us very well, and our relationship with them is already in great standing. (Edited – forget about it if you have a Fellowship – NIH, NSF, private foundation, doesn’t matter, if you make more and/or have different benefits, you pay more. How they exactly will deal with the situation of bargaining for individuals like me, who knows).

My blood is boiling from writing this. I encourage you to be as loud and cantankerous as you possibly can. This crotchety man will not be forced into this shitty situation. Do what you can in the run up to the “election” I will most likely have a melt-down in front of these assholes very soon. If this resonates with you, share the shit out of it. If it doesn’t, cool beans, get ready to live with the consequences of other people’s decisions over our own lives, finances, and relationship with Harvard, GSAS, DMS, and BBS and each other.

Not on my fucking watch.

Here is the original correspondence that alerted me to the events of the day at Harvard:

Hi Professor, I hope everything is going alright with the semester coming to a close! I can’t help but think of you when I think of university union elections!

While it appears that there is more opposition to the organizing efforts as i may have though in the medical school/Biomedical Science programs, I am all too sure unfortunately that the other disciplines will all but vote overwhelmingly yes. That means of course by fiat i am forced to be part of it against my Will.
The most distressing thing however, is that since i am on a 2-year fellowship, i am paid through a foundation and not by the medical school. That means that also technically i am not part of the bargaining “unit”. anecdotally however, i’ve heard that they will still deduct their tribute from my pay automatically, although again i am not under their contract and will not even see any benefits of it!
I’ve reached out to the school admins but have yet to have heard anything as this is not a problem for most. What if anything can I do? Sorry to burden you with my troubles but i couldn’t think of anyone else to vent to about it!
I think you are right! But the unionistas are getting paid and I’m wasting valuable time that could be spent on learning and doing research that is contrarily not compensated.

The great thing is that despite this whole mess the research community here is amazing and every day I’m learning! …

They are paying shills to go to peoples labs and advocate on and offline for the union
They have paid for adds on facebook targeted to many programs in the sciences here
They are phonebanking
They are distributing facebook, email, contact, work location information and coordinating responses and messages to people
They are holding meetings on campus
I even recieved a message from someone i knew from my work at Columbia asking to rethink my positions after voicing some opinions on faceook
I have spent the last two hours with some others and we have one measly facebook group opposing the unionization. I have written posts showing their illogical ideas and surreptitious and conniving tactics. In that time i already recieved the aforementioned message from someone i know
ON TOP OF THIS, FIRST YEAR AND SOME SECOND YEAR STUDENTS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO VOTE. I have photographic evidence of correspondence with them saying that we do not count as “researches” (sic) and our votes are contested and can be counted by them after the election. Do i trust them, after all this to do that? if they win, are they going to count hundreds of no votes?
Besides the fact that I am, right now, sitting here in my lab at Dana-Farber DOING RESEARCH.
This is the most pissed off I may have ever been in my entire life. I am as you know, a little gunshy about speaking out about these things. but i dont care. this ends today, and this will not be forced on me.

So, I don’t know what is going on at Harvard, but surely it is similar to the thuggery that the UAW practiced when I was a grad student at Cornell and similar to the “very thoughtful” work of the SEIU on my campus this past Spring. The basic idea of course is that some (unproductive) graduate students want to unionize. Fine for them. But of course, they are not allowing everyone to vote in it (democracy!) and even so, everyone is going to be forced into the union whether they wanted it or not. And not only is everyone forced into the union, everyone is forced to pay dues – even if these students do not want any part of it and even if these students see no benefit from the union. Of course, a large chunk of the dues end up in the hands of the “party” and of course end up being used for political purposes and lining the pockets of well-paid union professionals. Classy.

If I had time I’d write more.

Please explain to me how this is not totalitarian anti-democratic narcissism?

Intentions and results are not the same thing. Now, this should seem pretty obvious to most people, but it gets lost in the popular fervor that explodes around most contentious issues. In class we try to discuss some sort of innocuous versions of this application so as to not get people too angry. For example, the intention of the Endangered Species Act is to make species more safe. The actual results of the act are somewhat murkier because the act misaligns the incentives of the people responsible for conservation on the ground with the goal of actual conservation. There are less innocuous examples of course. Policies intended to help workers with criminal records, like “ban the box” provisions in employment, actually make it harder for minority applicants with no criminal record to land jobs.

I can quite literally write 6,000 posts that go through examples of this, but no matter how many examples we see, our tendency as emotional human beings is to think about motivation and not the “colder” view of whether something actually works. But that doesn’t change the fact that the good majority of policy preferences (note I did not say “ideas”). And here is the problem. Of course, we end up blinding ourselves to ideas that actually have a chance or working. But more important, is that such focus on “consensus” motivation as a way of thinking about policy, is that it doesn’t even allow an honest and open conversation about the premise! What premise? That some of these policies may not even be well-intentioned. They may be so misguided that the intentions cannot possibly be what people think they are.

And a challenge in our intellectual and social climate today (or has it always been this way) is that in addition to many people not being interested in argument of ideas on the merits, on the incentives, on the results, we cannot even come near broaching the idea that the premise itself is misguided. Here is an innocuous example. When I grew up playing sports, our coaches worked us very hard. There were good reasons for this. There were times when I had bumps and bruises. There were times when I felt too tired to go on. There were times when I was disheartened after failing to meet a running or lifting goal, or after a hard fought loss. And our coaches regularly encouraged us to work hard, not just because it was going to translate into a better result in the future, but because it was good to do it qua doing it. You may want to colloquialize this as “suck it up,” but that term has been bastardized today. That doesn’t mean that you approve of the shitstorm that this world has become, or the circumstances that led you to have to suck it up, the point was to internalize and focus on the things you can do well, and have control over, and not let it paralyze you on your march toward bigger and better goals.

You cannot, of course, even come close to encouraging people to persevere. And a corollary of that, of course, is to recognize that you cannot even come close to publicly questioning the intentions of a policy. For example, I personally do NOT at all believe that the motivations of the anti-obesity campaign is a benign concern for people’s health. Indeed, I cannot believe that the argument that things like “fat taxes” are done in an effort to curb public medical expenditures. Why? In that case, it is not clear why 100 other policies are not morally and politically enforced to reduce health expenditures. How about banning sports? That would have a HUGE impact on medical costs. And furthermore, the problem in that case is that “we” as a society have decided to practice socialized medicine, and then use that as a total intellectual crowbar to intrude in areas of our lives on the grounds that it is good for health care costs. Further, no one actually thinks seriously about these issues anyway. If you are concerned about health care costs, it’s not at all clear that obesity increases them. If I am obese, I am going to die a lot sooner than if I am not obese. And living longer, even with smaller annual health care expenses, can certainly require a lot more medical expenses over the course of one’s life than if you are larger and die sooner. Indeed, the healthier I am, the more I am likely to spend on end of life palliative and extensive care, and the medical literature is quite clear on how expensive that is. But we do not even get to come close to having that discussion because it is seen as crude, crass and wrongheaded. That is, of course, hugely ironic. I don’t think for a single moment that the popular movements to tax soda and fatty foods and such has much to do with care for the people it is targeting. And I don’t need to be some alarmist libertarian “you are nanny staters” argument here. The argument is about creating power over yet another “out-group” versus your own enlightened “in-group.” Think about it. Do people who are obese not really understand that they are obese? Do they not understand that a segment of the world probably thinks of them differently than other people? Do they not understand that they are likely to suffer from health problems that non-obese people do? No way in h e double hockey stills. The attitude of the elites here is not just wrong it is totally condescending and enfeebling to the people they claim to be wanting to “help.” If I were a little bolder, I’d show you a dozen additional examples here. I feel very sorry for the people that policymakers and the elites are condescending too.

But heaven forbid we point that out. Or heaven forbid we suggest that the intention of some policies is not really what proponents say they are. Take the issue of climate change. The utter stupidity of the “denialist” versus “alarmist” divide is informative. First of all, talk about a weak man argument. The “alarmists” take the very worst examples of someone who questions climate issues, and then uses that as a stand in for ANYONE who actually has serious and legitimate concerns about issues where there is not only no scientific consensus but where it may be impossible to know. Go back to some of my old posts on feedback and the challenges of developing integrated assessment models on the economic side to see an application. And then of course the arguments around climate get all dressed up in “science” as there is such a thing as a scientific “outcome” when of course there is not. Science is a process of inquiry, and continuing evolution toward what may be truth, but in a world that is always changing. But that is all window-dressing. And here, I am about to commit the same weak man argument I just criticized. While there are clearly people out there who worry about our planet and what global warming can do to it, I can assure you that:

(1) Very few of them truly understand the climate science and economics and know how those risks relate to other known and serious risks

(2) Almost no one who vehemently is arguing about climate science is really arguing that. They are using this as a chance to “overturn the horrible system we live under today.” Of course, no one knows what “capitalism’ is, or whether we are living in it, or anything like that. But this is just a big, fat charade of an argument that we see over and over and over again when it comes to arguing any old policy. Think about it. Minimum wages should be raised. Because? Capitalism. Family-friend labor market policies should be enforced. Because? Capitalism. Taxes on the wealthy should be increased. Because? Capitalism. You find any contentious issue of the day, and no one is really debating the intentions or merits of it, people are having crappily veiled arguments about “the economic system” and they are not even doing that so well. So color me sour.

People of good faith and good intentions have been intellectually bullied for as long as I can remember. Again, you should see the names I am called and the attitude I am given not just by people who have never met me, but by people who have met me and totally choose to ignore the ideas we are talking about as separate from the person delivering them. That’s fine insofar as it goes, I don’t ultimately have to stay around and continue doing what I am doing – but I have always said to people, and I have rarely had anyone meet the challenge – you are not going to change my mind about something because you are emotional about it. You are not going to change my mind about something because of some witty facebook post you found, or some snippet from a tv show you like, or from some emotional story that seems to make your point. You are going to change my mind only by explaining how your policy works, and how it works better than either existing policy or the idea that I may be sharing with you. You cannot bully your way into support. It may work for a short while, but that intellectual strategy is in no way sustainable. And finally, it is going to be hard to convince me of an idea of you are not willing to admit somewhere, somehow, that you might be wrong or that your preferred view of the world may in fact be offensive to others, may impose costs on others and may not ultimately work out. I don’t here mean to say I am morally superior to anyone (I am quite a bad person, honestly), but anyone who has sat in class with me has heard me argue from time and time again, that “if my preferred policies were all implemented, I am not at  all confident the world we be a really fun place to live.”

There is much more to say, and in a much more pointed way, about the intellectual climate out there. But of course I am not permitted to have an honest conversation about it. It’s too bad too, because I definitely think that being able to do it would do a world of good for a lot of people.

Have a nice weekend.

Friday Fun Fact:

Where does the United States rank in the world in terms of public health dollars as a share of GDP? That is, think of Medicare, Medicaid, the VA and related medical expenses and how large a share of GDP do they comprise?

We rank (ignoring the tiny little countries like the Maldives and such) … tenth. 

At 8.3% of GDP, the US ranks between Norway and Belgium. Above us are Cuba, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, New Zealand, France, Austria, Germany and Japan. Below us are England, Canada and Finland.

We’d surely rank at the top of the list already if we had full-blown “single-payer” for what it’s worth.

Hamilton in Federalist 68:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,” yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.

And then of course, I was (and am) regularly ridiculed for appreciating (notice there is a difference between appreciate and worship) the insights of Hayek:

We must not deceive ourselves into believing that all good people must be democrats or will necessarily wish to have a share in the government. Many, no doubt, would rather entrust it to somebody whom they think more competent. Although this might be unwise, there is nothing bad or dishonorable in approving a dictatorship of the good. Totalitarianism, we can already hear it argued, is a powerful system alike for good and evil, and the purpose for which it will be used depends entirely on the dictators. And those who think that it is not the system which we need fear, but the danger that it might be run by bad men, might even be tempted to forestall this danger by seeing that it is established in time by good men.

Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful in a society tending towards totalitarianism. Who does not see this has not yet grasped the full width of the gulf which separates totalitarianism from a liberal regime, the utter difference between the whole moral atmosphere under collectivism and the essentially individualist Western civilization.

While we are apt to think that, since the desire for a collectivist system springs from high moral motives, such a system must be the breeding ground for the highest virtues, there is, in fact, no reason why any system should necessarily enhance those attitudes which serve the purpose for which it was designed. The ruling moral views will depend partly on the qualities that will lead individuals to success in a collectivist or totalitarian system, and partly on the requirements of the totalitarian machinery.

That socialism can be put into practice only by methods which most socialists disapprove is, of course, a lesson learnt by many social reformers in the past. The old socialist parties were inhibited by their democratic ideals, they did not possess the ruthlessness required for the performance of their chosen task. It is characteristic that both in Germany and Italy the success of Fascism was preceded by the refusal of the socialist parties to take over the responsibilities of government. They were unwilling wholeheartedly to employ the methods to which they had pointed the way. They still hoped for the miracle of a majority agreeing on a particular plan for the organisation of the whole of society; others had already learnt the lesson that in a planned society the question can no longer be on what a majority of the people agree, but what is the largest single group whose members agree sufficiently to make unified direction of all affairs possible; or, if no such group large enough to enforce its views exists, how it can be created and who will succeed in creating it.

There are three main reasons why such a numerous and strong group with fairly homogeneous views is not likely to be formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society. By our standards the principles on which such a group would be selected will be almost entirely negative.

In the first instance, it is probably true that in general the higher the education and intelligence of individuals becomes, the more their views and tastes are differentiated and the less likely they are to agree on a particular hierarchy of values. It is a corollary of this that if we wish to find a high degree of uniformity and similarity of outlook, we have to descend to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive and “common” instincts and tastes prevail. This does not mean that the majority of people have low moral standards; it merely means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar are the people with low standards. It is, as it were, the lowest common denominator which unites the largest number of people. If a numerous group is needed, strong enough to impose their views on the values of life on all the rest, it will never be those with highly differentiated and developed tastes it will be those who form the “mass” in the derogatory sense of the term, the least original and independent, who will be able to put the weight of their numbers behind their particular ideals.

If, however, a potential dictator had to rely entirely on those whose uncomplicated and primitive instincts happen to be very similar, their number would scarcely give sufficient weight to their endeavors. He will have to increase their numbers by converting more to the same simple creed.

Here comes in the second negative principle of selection: he will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party. (wintercow emphasis: this applies not just to the Trumpistas of course, though many will read this that way).

It is in connection with the deliberate effort of the skillful demagogue to weld together a closely coherent and homogeneous body of supporters that the third and perhaps most important negative element of selection enters. It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative programme, on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off, than on any positive task. The contrast between the “we” and the “they”, the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action. It is consequently always employed by those who seek, not merely support of a policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses. From their point of view it has the great advantage of leaving them greater freedom of action than almost any positive programme. The enemy, whether he be internal like the “Jew” or the “Kulak”, or external, seems to be an indispensable requisite in the armoury of a totalitarian leader.

That in Germany it was the Jew who became the enemy till his place was taken by the “plutocracies” was no less a result of the anti-capitalist resentment on which the whole movement was based than the selection of the Kulak in Russia. In Germany and Austria the Jew had come to be regarded as the representative of capitalism because a traditional dislike of large classes of the population for commercial pursuits had left these more readily accessible to a group that was practically excluded from the more highly esteemed occupations. It is the old story ofthe alien race being admitted only to the less respected trades and then being hated still more for practising them. The fact that German anti-semitism and anti-capitalism spring from the same root is of great importance for the understanding of what has happened there, but this is rarely grasped by foreign observers.

One of the inherent contradictions of the collectivist philosophy is, that while basing itself on the humanistic morals which individualism has developed, it is practicable only within a relatively small group. That socialism so long as it remains theoretical, is internationalist, while as soon as it is put into practice, whether in Russia or in Germany, it becomes violently nationalist, is one of the reasons why “liberal socialism” as most people in the Western world imagine it is purely theoretical, while the practice of socialism is everywhere totalitarian. Collectivism has no room for the wide humanitarianism of liberalism but only for the narrow particularism of the totalitarian.

It would, however, be highly unjust to regard the masses of the totalitarian people as devoid of moral fervor because they give unstinted support to a system which to us seems a denial of most moral values. For the great majority of them the opposite is probably true: the intensity of the moral emotions behind a movement like that of National-Socialism or communism can probably be compared only to those of the great religious movements of history. Once you admit that the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation, most of those features of totalitarian regimes which horrify us follow of necessity.

Where there is one common all-overriding end there is no room for any general morals or rules.

There is thus in the positions of power little to attract those who hold moral beliefs of the kind which in the past have guided the European peoples, little which could compensate for the distastefulness of many of the particular tasks, and little opportunity to gratify any more idealistic desires, to recompense for the undeniable risk, the sacrifice of most of the pleasures of private life and of personal independence which the posts of great responsibility involve. The only tastes which are satisfied are the taste for power as such, the pleasure of being obeyed and of being part of a well-functioning and immensely powerful machine to which everything else must give way.

It is only too true when a distinguished American economist concludes from a similar brief enumeration of the duties of the authorities of a collectivist state that they would have to do these things whether they wanted to or not: and the probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tenderhearted person would get the job of whipping-master in a slave plantation.

That is from his famous Chapter 10. Read the whole thing, slippery slopes and all. It is fairly stunning to see how many people are invoking these Hayekian arguments today while ridiculing him and his ideas for decades.

What is Your Theory?

There are 152 million Americans with jobs today.

There are 2.6 million of these workers making the minimum wage, or less (federal). So, double it so that I cover all of the states that have higher wages and to be conservative.

What is your explanation for why 96.5% of workers, or about 147 million workers, are paid any more than the minimum?

Folks, remember, the Presidency doesn’t matter much – but I do think there is some writing on the wall from what we see from the messages that have resonated with voters …

… we are a country of economic illiterates (and statistical ones too – ahem, polling and uncertainty bands anyone?). If there was ever a repudiation of our profession and how good a job I have done, this year is it.

Are we doomed?

Who knows.

But I think the folks who understand that there is a tension between dynamism and conservatism have it right.

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