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Feel the Bern

Today marks the pinnacle of pathetic pandering in NYS as “we” head to the polls to annoint the latest power-mad, megalomaniacal people with our blessings of awesomeness. In that spirit, check out these 10 core principles from the “Bern’s” website:



  1. Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2020. In the year 2015, no one who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty.
  2. Putting at least 13 million Americans to work by investing $1 trillion over five years towards rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, railways, airports, public transit systems, ports, dams, wastewater plants, and other infrastructure needs.
  3. Reversing trade policies like NAFTA, CAFTA, and PNTR with China that have driven down wages and caused the loss of millions of jobs. If corporate America wants us to buy their products they need to manufacture those products in this country, not in China or other low-wage countries.
  4. Fighting for pay equity by signing the Paycheck Fairness Act into law. It is an outrage that women earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.
  5. Making tuition free at public colleges and universities throughout America. Everyone in this country who studies hard should be able to go to college regardless of income.
  6. Expanding Social Security by lifting the cap on taxable income above $250,000. At a time when the senior poverty rate is going up, we have got to make sure that every American can retire with dignity and respect.
  7. Guaranteeing healthcare as a right of citizenship by enacting a Medicare for all single-payer healthcare system. It’s time for the U.S. to join every major industrialized country on earth and provide universal healthcare to all.
  8. Requiring employers to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave; two weeks of paid vacation; and 7 days of paid sick days. Real family values are about making sure that parents have the time they need to bond with their babies and take care of their children and relatives when they get ill.
  9. Enacting a universal childcare and prekindergarten program. Every psychologist understands that the most formative years for a human being is from the ages 0-3. We have got to make sure every family in America has the opportunity to send their kids to a high quality childcare and pre-K program.
  10. Making it easier for workers to join unions by fighting for the Employee Free Choice Act. One of the most significant reasons for the 40-year decline in the middle class is that the rights of workers to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits have been severely undermined.

Is there greater evidence that (1) the economics profession has utterly failed; and (2) that people actually are engaged in symbolism and not serious thinking? If you were to conduct a poll of all of the economists at the top 50 economics departments in the country, and people were able to answer honestly and anonymously, not a single department would generate anywhere near reasonable levels of support for any of these positions, except possibly #9.

Say what you will about “science deniers” on the climate side, we are a nation of economic science deniers, and we are proud of it. The next time NASA wishes to send a probe into space, instead of relying on the science, I think we should allow populist politicians to enact mission plans and engineering plans based on populist impressions of how science works. If you think populism is reasonable economic policy, please tell me why we should not practice populist space propulsion or populist medicine? Anyone have a loved one with cancer? Use homeopathy! Anyone want to make a campfire? Use the phlogiston!

Have a nice day.

I enjoyed this report from the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, which is a nice nuts and bolts summary of the electricity challenges facing developed nations in the next 30 years. Here is the slide most people would simply reject out of hand:

Ontario Engineers

Science Deniers

In some of this week’s research findings we have:

  1. Women are much more likely to want jobs with more flexibility and stability, and to pay for it with lower wages. Science deniers take note. “While there is
    substantial heterogeneity in preferences, we find that women on average have a higher willingness to pay for jobs with greater work flexibility (lower hours, and part-time option availability) and job stability (lower risk of job loss), and men have a higher willingness to pay for jobs with higher earnings growth.  Using a follow-up survey several years after the experiment, we find a systematic relationship between the respondents’ job preferences as revealed during college and the actual workplace characteristics of the jobs these individuals are currently working at after college.” More here.
  2. Higher family income in early life is associated with better development of non-cognitive skills in children. Science deniers take note. Do you believe these results are causal? Should we live in cargo-cult world where we just give everyone lots of income and assume that the magic pixie dust of income will make everyone better off? You know my view – these are reflections of other things that are going on in households with higher income. If there is an intrepid grad student or researcher out there, I would love to confine these kinds of studies to criminals – and compare childrens’ outcomes in criminal families where some have high income due to drug dealing, contract killing and such, as compared to outcomes for children in poorer criminal households. Here is the paper.
  3. Acemoglu is going to win a Nobel prize soon.  This paper has really interesting implications if true. One implication would be that limiting social mobility is good for democracy. Science deniers take note! Do you think the Hillary-Bernie-ites would put this research into practice? After all, they are “taking back America” for the middle class.  Try this on for size, “When social mobility is endogenized, our model identifies new political economic forces limiting the amount of mobility in society – because the middle class will lose out from mobility at the bottom and because a peripheral coalition between the rich and the poor may oppose mobility at the top.”
  4. Should policing be dispersed or concentrated within a particular location? Important implications for well-being and residential segregation.
  5. Expansion of Medicaid under ObamaCare dramatically reduced financial stress for low-income families. Does anyone have bankruptcy data pre/post PPACA?

In a comment on the previous post, a friend of a commentor sends him evidence that glyphosate is toxic and obviously bad and obviously (we can surmise) should be banned.

Do people read their own bullshit? Do they think for more than half a second when they send stuff like this around the interweb? So, I spend hours and hours and hours trying to learn about round-up, GMOs, toxicity, read the review papers and such … and then some clown sends a note saying, just saying, that “glyphosate is toxic” and that “argument” wins the day?


Just spent 2 minutes reading the linked-to study and you will come to learn that someone is using a study where 600 people intentionally poisoned themselves with glyphosate, and where it kills a small share of them, as evidence for … what, exactly?


As they say, we’re doomed. Why do I bother?


Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam (sort of) coins a new phrase that is apt: “Rotary Phone Economics.” That is the kind of economics practiced and espoused by the Bern and the group of kids trying to have me unionized. You may be entertained by McAdam’s post. Now, I am not sure what I think of the entire post, but it is pretty clear at least that “Big Company” is synonymous with “evil” for the Rotary Phone Economics club. Note, too, that this is not an endorsement of “Big Company” … I think there is not nearly enough competition in telecommunications and there are likely places where lots of rent seeking is occurring that I just do not know about.

The kind of economics I might have some respect for, however, if you want to have an instinctual negative response to places like Verizon, is not the bash-brothers form of socialism that Bernie and his supporters seem to want, but something closer a feedback crazy free-market anti-capitalist position. More on that position over some beers one day!

Question: Does anyone have a clue for how well funded SEIU pensions are? Just curious.

Update: and in other news from the frontiers of our “Free Market Paradise” … Exxon strikes back from the stake against the burning of witches.

I spend a good deal of time making a point like this, somewhat more subtly of course, than the SciBabe. The title of her article is priceless, and spot on.


Lost in the hot rhetoric she uses is certainly the idea that “natural” is not to be conflated with “good.” This is obvious for things like arsenic. Arsenic occurs naturally. It is not a GMO. Now, it is not organic, but that is because it is not an organic substance. It is widespread. We are not running out of it. And it is toxic to us even in small doses. But the word “natural” has such emotional appeal that it has come to be synonymous with good.

I have a student from Dubai who tells me that it can get to 120 degrees in the summer where she lives. She told me that she would “die without air conditioning.” That air conditioning is unnatural, and of course being powered by coal is “unnaturally” making the planet dirtier and hotter. More generally, it is always worth reminding people that for millions of years man has fought her natural environment in a horrible struggle for survival. Nature was something to be feared not enjoyed.

I have one nit to pick with the SciBabe … we should stop calling GMOs GMOs. There are all kinds of ways that agricultural products can be manipulated – gene mutation, transgenic methods, etc. so the blanket term GMO is misleading. Second, there are obviously all kinds of “natural” GMO processes which happen without our distinct interventions yet those don’t seem to get a rise out of anyone. The sweet potato we know and love, via early selection, is the product of a gene from a bacteria inserting itself into the sweet potato genome. It’s exactly the same thing scientists now do in a lab.

I’ll send a craft beer from Wintercow Brewing Company to someone who can send me a picture from their store touting “non-GMO” Sweet Potatoes.


Well, at least there is some clarity on how this all started:


After refusing to answer almost all substantive questions I asked, we are at least able to understand how this started. Notice, by the way, the same conclusion to this student e-mail as the other one. So, they insert themselves into a situation that will cause harm to people. They can’t answer questions about it. Then they refuse to appreciate what they have done. “Dear Sir, we have broken your bedroom window, we stand in solidarity with other people who own windows, and no, you may not get a satisfactory answer for why we have done it.”

If anyone is bored enough to dig through all of the U of R webpages and pull out info on the contingent faculty, have at it. I will remind you to look at the yellow highlights above. We have no idea if they talked to 5 contingent faculty, 10, 20? And what does “most” mean? Finally, notice the ignorance at the end – as if the students think that once a union is here, that workers have free choice about whether to be a part of it. Surely they fully understand what it is that they are advocating for, correct? That was just a typo in an e-mail.

A reader sent me the following:


You know, one thing about this episode that has been revealing to me is that I am beginning to have an understanding for why Donald Trump is attracting so many votes, prior to this I was simply flummoxed.


This was a really interesting article from Vox about whether we are becoming too reliant on GPS. One point that seemed spot on was that by relying on GPS and not on maps and planning (at least in conjunction with it) people’s navigational senses are dulled. I am sure you have seen other applications of this – from students using calculators to do simple arithmetic, etc.

Maybe this is just me wearing ideological blinders, but indulge me for a second. Think about why else people worry about GPS? They seem to worry about being so reliant on a single system, a single technology, a fragile institution, for so much of our lives. Any shock to this system would be extremely disruptive especially since our “instincts” and senses are being dulled by our increasing reliance on this.

That story obviously has very natural parallels in other realms. Think about the fear people have of self-driving cars. Sure, they have the potential to be awesome, as does GPS, but the complete lack of control and individual feedback into that planned and pre-programmed system at a minimum makes people uncomfortable but ultimately may pose serious challenges for whether such a system could ever be successful. I am sure you have engaged in discussions over good beer about the trolley-like problems we run into when we try to program a self-driving car to avoid various impediments and people in roadways.

Now it is child’s play for me to continue in this line of thinking, but would you accept that these sorts of fears are common among lots and lots of people? I tend to think that fear of self-driving cars and fear of over-reliance on GPS or some other technology seems to cut across political beliefs, is that a decent assumption? Well, I find that extremely interesting. Think about the nuts and bolts of the concerns here – they are concerns over one-size-fits all, centrally planned situations where individuals lose autonomy.

I am not quite ready to suggest that if you are a lover of Trump and Hillary and Bernie and also are worried about GPS that you are a hypocrite, but rather I think what I am sensing is that there is a great unease about central planning and lack of individual sovereignty in all of us. The consequences of this sense, well, who knows. But as always, I wonder how there is not great internal conflict in folks who love the idea of expanded regulatory apparati, global governance or outright central planning, with these sorts of applications.


It looks like this entire union thing was started by …

… students.


I dug through my old emails to find that one. A student of mine had asked that question, innocently enough, back in October and I never gave it much thought. Until I received a note recently that included:


So, do any readers familiar with labor law know:

(1) Whether students can initiate an organizing campaign on behalf of faculty?

(2) How I would be able to secure the list of people that the union and students are targeting? I have asked several times both the SEIU rep and the students and they refuse to answer. I know that neither my university nor the NLRB actually has such a list.

  1. Robert Lucas seems to lend additional support for the “Skill-Biased Technical Change” argument for why measured income inequality has increased.
  2. Can competitive fiat currency competition produce stable prices? It is neat to see this conversation happening again, it’s been relatively dormant for some time.
  3. We need an Uber for moving.
  4. Efficient cheating? How about we just eliminate the tests entirely?
  5. He  (serendipitously) said it: “We find that faculty with higher pay and greater research productivity are less supportive of unionization, even after controlling for job title and department.  Attitudes matter as well:  after accounting for pay and productivity, faculty in fields documented elsewhere to have more politically liberal participants are more likely to support unionization.” For those at home needing a translation, unproductive progressives want unions. I, of course, am an unproductive something else.
  6. A well-articulated paper on coal externalities that includes study of both negative and positive spillovers. Well done. 
  7. The Fed bailing out the Commercial Paper market was a good idea.
  8. So, does aid now increase growth?

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