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13 Aug 05:48

Tax-credit scholarship programs provide options for parents - A “geoeconomics” approach to China: Hard-hitting economic tools and sanctions

by Grant Addison

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been clear and concise in his assessment of the Illinois school reform bill, reminding everyone that the point of it is, first and foremost, to ensure that every child in the state gets access to the education they deserve, and taxpayers and families get a positive social return from the millions they invest into the system. While the hard part of any political negotiation is to develop solutions that achieve those goals, thankfully a number of families in partnership with education, faith and business leaders are showing us how it can be done. We just have to be willing to listen to what this broad bipartisan, multi-ethnic coalition is trying to accomplish: Breaking the poverty of opportunity in Illinois.

tax-credit school choice

@lambretta1_22 via Twenty20

One way to accomplish this is to use the education funding bill to enact a tax credit scholarship program. Seventeen state legislatures have enacted tax credit laws that allow individuals and corporations to allocate a portion of their owed state taxes to private, nonprofit, scholarship-granting organizations that issue scholarships to K-12 students. These scholarships allow parents to choose to send their child to a private school if they believe that is the best option for their child.

None of these 17 states have had school districts go bankrupt because of the tax credit scholarship program, nor have millions of students been left without a public school to attend. Scare tactics of this nature were used in an attempt to stop the passage of the Illinois Tax Credits for Educational Expenses Program in 1999. Guess what? More than 285,000 parents with children enrolled in private and public schools benefited from this program in 2014.

Tools such as the tax credit scholarship further empower students to gain access to diverse learning environments, which is a good reason why tax credits are the fastest-growing private school choice program in the country.

Research also validates that parents’ decision to participate in a tax credit scholarship program goes beyond test scores alone. In Georgia, where I am a trustee of the largest tax credit scholarship program in the state, a 2013 study found that parents pick private schools for reasons that include more individualized attention, values of the school, class size, safety and learning (the same things public school parents want for their children). This finding is one of the most important aspects of the American parental choice movement: multiple factors matter in the school selection process.

Another important part about the American parental choice movement is that it is not anti-public education. Let us honor the fact that Illinois has some great public schools and teachers. Millions of families rely on them to help students obtain good jobs, prepare them for service in our armed forces, and pursue post-secondary opportunities. But let us acknowledge that Illinois has some great private schools and teachers, too.

Like many states, Illinois now finds itself at a crossroads. Faced with an extraordinarily challenging legislative fight over education funding, lawmakers must decide whether to trust families to choose where to enroll their children, or whether it is prudent to continue down the path of a one-size-fits all education mindset that has proven unable to break the cycle of poverty for all children.

Public and private schools matter to any opportunity society. So do family, educator, philanthropic, business, and nonprofit partnerships. This civil society approach is essential to help more students realize the benefits of a learning-and-earning economy.

Now, the moment is ripe for the Illinois governor and legislature to invent a new future — one that will have a profound impact on generations to come.

10 Aug 14:04

Indian feminism and the role of the environment: Why the Google memo is still right

by Artir

In my previous post here I explained why the Google memo is fundamentally right in its factual claims about the broad population, which in turn explains the proportion of women in Google itself. Here I discuss some arguments against what has already been explained.

The first argument is the

Argument ad Asia

Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-07 18-46-51.png

The argument here is that there are many countries where women are the majority among students in science. Most of these countries are not what one could call gender egalitarian. As I explained in the previous post, if one’s explanation is that the main driver of unequal outcomes is sexism, one would have to expect that the less sexism the more women in science, but we don’t see that.

Still, one can make another point from this chart: that this proves that culture matters. It is not a genetic given that women have to be 40% or less in STEM.

What is more, one can make a stronger

Argumentum ad India

  1. In India, for whatever reason, 43% of undergrads in CS are women
  2. Thus, it is not set in stone that they must be a smaller fraction
  3. Thus the cause for the differences cannot be genetic in nature
  4. Then it is environmental, and adequate policies can change it

Or one can go full gung-ho and make the

Argumentum ad Saudi Arabia

  1. In Saudi Arabia, for whatever reason, 59% of students in CS are women
  2. Thus, it is not set in stone that they must be a smaller fraction
  3. Thus the cause for the differences cannot be genetic in nature
  4. Then it is environmental, and adequate policies can change it

Coming closer home, there is the

Argumentum ad MIT

  1. MIT has a 46% share of females
  2. MIT focuses on engineering
  3. MIT has succeeded in almost equalising the ratios for engineering
  4. Thus, regardless of other factors, good diversity policies alone can unskew the ratios

Argumentum ad Harvey Mudd

  1. Harvey Mudd college went from 15% females in CS to 55%
  2. Harvey Mudd has succeeded in equalising the ratio
  3. Thus, regardless of other factors, good diversity policies alone can unskew the ratios

Argumentum ad Carnegie Mellon University

  1. CMU went from 34.3% to 48.5% females in CS
  2. Harvey Mudd has succeeded in equalising the ratio
  3. Thus, regardless of other factors, good diversity policies alone can unskew the ratios



Why the arguments ad Asia fail

Is it a Western bias?

One could then claim that perhaps the skew is a western thing. A glance at data from other developed nations like Japan, Korea,  Singapore, or Israel confirms that this is not the case:


Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-09 18-35-21.png


Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-09 18-41-42.png


Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-09 19-01-54.png

There is simply no developed country where the pattern (women tend to cluster in education, humanities, bio, and men in engineering, and IT) does not hold.

So then, what in the fact that countries develop makes it so that less developed countries have more equal ratios? It is highly dubious that it is gender equality itself. India is  one of the most sexist countries on Earth:

Saudi Arabia

So then what happens with India or Saudi Arabia? It cannot be that they are more feminist. The reason why that is happening may be of crucial importance. Let us study Saudi Arabia first:

Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-09 19-56-18.png

This may suggest an answer: perhaps it’s not that more women choose computer science. What matters for the ratio of both women choosing, and men choosing.

Interestingly, the OECD reports the same number of males and females attending bachelors. What is interesting is that a large fraction of men, instead of pursuing bachelors, pursue what the OECD calls “Short-cycle tertiary education”. The ratio there is 73.4% male, and 30% of the aggregate men who attend either short cycle education or bachelors are in those short cycle courses. The graph above is for bachelor level. If we look at those short courses in science, mathematics, and computing (Which, it has to be remarked, is not just CS), the percentage of females is 24.2%.

We should ask a different question, perhaps: What do women study? The usual:

Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-09 20-18-36.png

So there’s a potential explanation: a statistical mismeasure. Unfortunately I couldn’t find much more information.

[Edit. I found some extra information here, some bits below]

Arab women are still more likely to study arts and humanities and less likely to study science and engineering than Arab men.


Despite the overall steep increase of Arab female education rates, commensurate increases in Arab female employment have yet to materialize (see figure 2). The Arab world is an aberration to economic theories that assume that increased education of women leads to significant change in their employment levels. In fact, Arab women with post-secondary educations are more likely to be unemployed than women who do not have a post-secondary education.


Arab women’s employment is highly gendered, as women are more likely to work for the public sector, as well as in traditional roles of teaching, administrative and clerical services, and social and welfare services like nursing. In a study on the UAE, researchers found that career choices
were more likely based on societal pressures of what were deemed to be respectable occupations for Emirati women. Here, the public sector was viewed as a respectable work environment with short hours that end early in the day, substantial time off, and oversight by and of fellow nationals. There was greater skepticism and uncertainty about private sector environments with more diverse workforces, longer hours, more work-related travel, and
fewer adherences to conservative customs. As a result of this gendered sorting, the UAE public sector is overwhelmingly female—65 percent of civil servants are women.20



Let’s move on to India. In 2012-13, 43% of the total student population were women. Out of the 9.3 million female students, 34.6% are in science and technology fields. Within that, 19.1% are in engineering. You may wonder where do the majority go. Here’s the answer. Note that this is not the fraction of women within field. This is where women decide to go out of the whole female population.

Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-09 20-35-40.png

Now, within fields, this is the proportion of women:

Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-09 20-38-58

But this is odd. If out of the women who go to university, 10% go to engineering school  how comes 20% are in engineering? (Maybe the 2000 data has changed substantially?) If we also know that women are 40-46% of the total, this means men are going elsewhere. So we need more information. Like this graph here

Source: Education statistics, Ministry of Human Resource Development; figures in %)

Does the pattern reemerge here? It seems so. If one takes into account that there are 12.4+1.9+0.6=14. million women in uni and 14+1.8+1.6=17.4 million men, then one can calculate the gender ratios by degree and make even more plots. Here at Nintil we love plots.




And by field:



So our answer to where men are going is to “Other”. That category is absorbing 20.2% of all males. But if we look at bachelors and masters of technology, the pattern comes back. For some reason nursing is absent from the data above, but the data is available here: the percentage of women is 81%. For bachelor of computer applications, also absent from the above, 43% are women.

If we further zoom into and peruse engineering data for undergraduates, we finally find a key reason:


Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-09 21-51-14.png

Basically, while within engineering the proportions of women in what we might assimilate to CS is higher than in the west, women are MASSIVELY underrepresented in mechanical engineering, which is the biggest branch of engineering in India.

So this is a key part to  solution to the apparent discordance with the international pattern: In the aggregate, women are still preferring “people-subjects” and men are preferring “things-subjects”, but WITHIN things-subjects, preferences are different compared to the West. We might ask this question: Out of the entire set of women who study at university, how many are in computer science in India? And the answer is 3.4%. . If we ask the same question for the United States,  from here we get 5450 female CS ungraduates. From here we get 14 million female undegraduates. A simple division gives us how many female students pick CS. And the answer is 3.9%.

India (II)

I made mistakes in my previous paragraph. I wasn’t careful in picking sources, and I wasn’t careful doing simple math. Turns out I had also chosen total female enrolled population, not number of graduates. I sometimes make mistakes. But I won’t let them uncorrected.

There were 1914 female bachelor graduates in CS (data from 2013-14).  And according to the same data, there were 11306 males. That means that 46% of CS graduates were female. This is odd, given the gap everyone else reports in the US. The gap here is 14%. If we instead consider all the category of “Computer and information sciences and support services”, we get a gap of 18%. In total, 1.068 million females graduated. If we take computer science narrowly defined, 0.18% of women picked it.  If we take computer science broadly defined (including the support services bit), the figure is 0.93%.

Now, for India, we have to go to table 35 of the document linked above, we can get the figures for a variety of categories that sound computer sciencey-. The denominator in this case is 3.2 million women

  • IT & Computer: 2.64% (84660 female students)
  • Computer Engineering: 2.47% (79236 female students)
  • Information Technology: 0.81% (26143 female students)

For completion let’s look at postgraduates too, as for the Indian data there is no item called CS except for postgraduate studies.

  • 11948 female students completed postgraduate students vs 6231 male ones in CS. Thus there are 65% women in CS Masters. In the degrees cited above, the ratio was more equal.
  • Out of the 739150 female students who got a postgrad in India, 11948 picked CS. This means 1.61%.

This it is not a naming conventions issue: contrary to my expectations, women do choose studies in computer science in India in a greater proportion than in the US.

Why? One hypothesis is of course sexism, or perceptions of CS being a male industry in the US, vs being perceived as being perceived as neutral. Testing the sexism hypothesis is difficult. (How would you do it?)

Another hypothesis is that male-female preferences in things vs people oriented tend to be similar, but that, as I mentioned earlier, the distribution is different within those fields, perhaps due to different earnings, or perhaps, yes, because of relative sexism. In other words: Is this higher choice of CS because women choose other STEM subjects less, or because they choose fields like education, nursing, or psychology less?  The relative sexism hypothesis, that CS is less sexist, than, say mechanical engineering in India, would predict that CS is chosen more, mechanical engineering is chosen less, and also that on the aggregate, that women would choose more CS. We have confirmed that women do in fact choose more CS.

Do men choose CS less? In the US, 1.41% of all men chose CS narrowly defined, and 5.66% broadly defined. In India, it was 3.38% for the broadly defined measure. For the narrow measure we have to compare MScs: 0.93% for India and 1.7% for the US. Thus men also choose less CS in India too. Now that we are at it, we can get the numbers for mechanical engineering: 2.65% (US) and 5.1% (India). Almost twice as many in India!

Do women choose less mechanical engineering? In the US, 0.30% of all women chose mechanical engineering, while in India it was 0.284%, similar enough.

To recap until now this dance of numbers:

  • Women pick CS more than in the US
  • Women pick mechanical engineering at equal rates vs the US
  • Men pick CS less than in the US

If we aggregate the US and India data and create STEM (Science, Engineering, and IT&Compute in India and Engineering, math/stats, physical sciences, biosciences, and computational science) and Education and health professions on the other side, we get that:

  • In the US, 57% of students were women. In India, 50%
  • In the US, 35% of STEM students in India are women. In India 41.75%
  • In the US, 18% of engineering students were women. In India, 32%
  • In the US, 84.3% of Education and Health students are women. In India, 63.72%
  • In the US, 10.46% of women chose STEM, and 25.89% of men chose STEM
  • In India, 24.80% of women chose STEM, and 35.43% of men chose STEM

The “choice gap” (Difference between the (gender in STEM/total students of that gender)x(male,female) between men and women was 10.63pp in India, and 15.43pp in the US for STEM, and 6.34pp (India) and 24.49pp (US)

  1. The gap in STEM is, at the light of the data, 6 points bigger in the US than in India.
  2. Women choose less education and health degrees in India, and they choose more STEM
  3. Men choose roughly as much education and health degrees in both countries. In India, they also choose more STEM.
  4. Both genders chose more STEM in India

So I have to admit my argument above was wrong. The lower gap in India still needs an explanation. This explanation should ideally account for the fact that that the gap in STEM is lower in developing countries. As I find extremely unlikely that there is  less sexism exists in STEM in those countries given that they are broadly more sexist, I am confident there has to be another explanation. Another argument against sexism is that if one looks at just the Indian Institutes of Technology, universities that only do STEM and accept only the top 5% students in a national exam, and look at gender ratios, one finds gender shares of 8.8-9.2%.  If STEM is seen as less male-typed, this shouldn’t happen.  But what about CS? I couldn’t find data for CS in the IITs, so I went to some of them, and looked at the gender ratios among staff. At IIT Kharagpur, IIT Delhi or IIT Bombay again almost all of the are male. For students, one has to manually click the student profiles, so I randomly clicked a bunch in each (My time is limited!), and again, most are male.

If the major factor holding back women in CS were sexism, and some people argue this doesn’t exist in India, why the IIT population look like it does? Partly because few women apply (17% of total), and then out of the women who sit the exam, 15% qualify, while 24% of men qualify.

This is consistent with the differences-in-the-tails hypothesis, and/or males being more competitive.

Let’s return to OECD data. Maybe these differences are driven by different methodologies?


Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-12 11-10-34.pngIndia is the most gender-egalitarian of all the countries in the OECD, and certainly there are more women in STEM in India than in the US, and a bit lower than the OECD average. Countries with the lowest gaps in STEM were Italy, Poland, Arentina, Iceland, Greece, Brazil, Costa Rica, Denmark, and Indonesia. Countries with the biggest gaps were Austria, Finland, Lithuania, Netherlands, United Stated, Germany, Chile, UK, Canada, Norway, Japan, Ireland, and Switzerland. Smallest at Poland (38% women), largest in Japan (12.5% female)

Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-12 11-21-11.png

India doesn’t appear in this table, but at glance we can see that except in the US, Indonesia, and Turkey, in every country more than 20% men study engineering, manufacturing and construction. In no country more than 20% of women study engineering.

Education follows a more interesting pattern. In no country more men studied these fields more than women, although Northern Ireland and Turkey come close.  In most contries, the gap is of a similar size, and the gap seems to be smaller when less people choose those fields, except in Turkey.

Curiously, the US, along with Indonesia and Turkey, has the smallest gap between the % of men who study engineering and the % of women who do. The pattern here seems to be that the lower the absolute number of people studying engineering, the smaller the gap.

One reason could be that the this is not taking into account the science, mathematics, and computing category(SMC). The US is the country with the highest SMC to engineering, manufacturing, and construction(EMC) ratio. (Table A15).

One possible explanation is differences in pay. For teachers, for example, there is a correlation between how much male teachers earn relative to other university educated males, and the % of male teachers (r between 0.5 and 0.6). If females are less financially driven, we would expect a lower correlation for females. If so, then we would also expect that in countries with a higher ratio of teacher pay to the average, we would see less women. An this seems true to some extent. From OECD Figure D5.a, for primary education and this, countries with the lowest pay ratio for males were as follow (parenthesis are the % of female teachers) Hungary (96.95%), Italy(95.88%), Czech Republic(92.83%), the US(87.16%), and Norway(74.79%). Countries with the highest ratio, Luxembourg(74.5%), Finland(79.49%), Belgium(81.71%), Denmark(69.14%), Sweden(77.17%), and Slovenia(96.94%). Low pay ratio countries average 89.6% female. Countries with high pay ratio average 79.82% female. This lends some support to the idea that pay differentials are driving the observed choices of fields.

In the US, median earnings of tech workers were. Median bachelor salaries were $54k in the US. A ratio of 1.5.

In India, ICT services workers had a median gross hourly wage of 341.8 . For all bachelors, it was 274.6. So the ratio is 1.24. This is some indication that perhaps relative effects are at play?

Oone can also look at the field of IT itself 30% are women. Just like in the US. So what are those women doing with their titles? Or according to other study, 26.6%, again, like in the US

Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-12 14-13-20.png

If anything, this raises the question of Mexico and Russia. But India seems to have the same proportion as the US.

So where are those women going after they graduate? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Maybe they marry. One final hypothesis is that parents push daughters into STEM so that they are better positioned in the marriage “market”. This dynamic wouldn’t apply to the IITs, as as much as parents want to push their daughters into them, the exams are selective. This explanation also could make sense of why other developing countries have a higher rate of females in STEM. But is it true?  Maybe they emigrate en masse?

I honestly don’t know at this point. The only possible way forward now is to go cross-country and look at what explains the overall pattern. This will have to come in a future post.

But the fact that there is a gap in STEM in India, especially in engineering, and a substantially bigger gap, even in CS, at elite tech universities still stands (Would the sexism theory explain this). More women choose CS, but also less men choose CS, and more choose mechanical engineering. On the aggregate, women choose STEM more than women choose STEM in the US. This is consistent with the overall pattern about developed and developing countries. Within STEM, why CS? It could indeed be that it is indeed more friendly to women. Or maybe these results are mismeasurement. If IT broadly speaking is seen as more women friendly, but then IT companies are discriminatory (And, as we have seen, the % of women in IT does not reflect the number of female graduates), why would they study it in the first place? To finish off this section, one last look at OECD data, if you still doubt the robustness of crossnational patterns:

Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-13 10-07-30.png




Why the arguments ad colleges in the US fail


For the case of MIT, the issue with the argument is that first, if one disaggregates that data and looks at specific majors (I’ll focus on the bigger ones), you can see that the pattern is still there: people and life related majors tend to be populated by women, and the reverse for men.


Harvey Mudd

So we have this

Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-09 22-13-44.png

And we can furthermore add this

Captura de pantalla de 2017-08-09 22-15-53.png

I have one minor and major comment to make. The minor one, that this result still makes sense if preferences are driven by our human nature. Given a fixed preference for CS, for example, if all colleges make the same effort in attracting women, all will get an equal share. If some colleges make more of an effort in attracting women, they will probably accomplish attracting more women. But this “pull” will come at the expense of other unis. Thus the overall ratio will stay the same, while it will show an increasing trend in some colleges, and a decreasing in others.

My major comment is that Harvey Mudd is a comparatively small college. In 2014, 21 male students and 15 female students graduated from there. In comparison, for Berkeley the ratio was 17%. , with around 300 students. Could it be noise? With such a small number of students, it is plausible. If this is correct, we would expect that universities with a larger number of students in CS will have a smaller variance in their gender ratio. Think of this as doing a meta analysis: Each college can be taken as an estimate of the “true” ratio, plus noise. We can plot the gender ratio and compare it with the number of students. Data from here. And indeed, that is what we see:


Carnegie Mellon University

According to the data just shown, CMU had a gender ratio of 18.7% in 2014 and 23% in 2015. Total student population for CS was 256 and and 274, respectively.  Carnegie Mellon has data for first year students here. It shows ratios of 34.6% in 2013, 40.6% in 2014, 31.3% in 2015, and 48.5% in 2016. Their population was 136,138,147, and 165. Look at where they fall in the scale above, and you may get an estimate as to the why their ratio is what it is. Last year people wouldn’t have been able to use the CMU argument, so this is not very solid.

What would be a good critique of this argument? To show that the strength of prevalence of diversity programmes is correlated with an increase in the future number of female students. This would still leave open the question of whether it is possible to increase levels of female students in STEM, especially CS, at an aggregate level.

A better critique would be to show that diversity encouragement policies works in the largest institutions, or to show that there is a correlation between having more women friendly policies and an institution being smaller. Doing that is left as an exercise for the reader.


The arguments put forward against the view that it is preferences (or other factors that cut across cultures such the fact that intelligence has ) that drives the distribution of women in STEM fails. One could present more arguments, but I don’t gave high hopes for them succeeding. One could point to Malaysia or something, or keep pointing to any single country where the ratio is over 45%  and ask me to explain it, but my time is not unlimited. But I am willing to bet that it is possible to find an explanation for all those cases.

The environment and culture matters, as do economic incentives. But how do they matter? First, it matters if it is institutionally forbidden for women to study in university. Second, it matters if women have been made to think that they are not apt to study in university, when they are obviously apt. It also matters what majors are more likely to lead to higher salaries in the future, or the sort of industry that exists in the country. It also matters if the choice of majors is limited and one has it difficult to choose psychology or English literature. It also matters if your family pushes you to study a career that you may not want, but that you are socially expected to have. And so on.

Regardless, one thing is clear: If you progressively remove all of that and let people express their preferences naturally, what you see is what you get: a skewed gender proportion in university degrees.

This is not to say that those forces are absent in Western developed countries, this is to say that they are there to a lesser extent than in developed countries. Also, this doesn’t mean that you can undo the situation just diversity courses, or a stronger emphasis on outreach to get more women in STEM. That will change things on the margin. It is not pointless to do; we have some biases in preferences, that is not good or bad, it is what is is. They need not be left as they are. Young men are also more violent on average than young women, and that is a preference (for aggression) that we all think should be reduced in intensity.

For education one can still make a case for exerting pressure on those preferences, but it is not as easy: Everyone comes to accept violence as bad over time and to think that those teenage fights were just fruit of testosterone playing funny tricks. But no one thinks choosing medicine over CS is immoral.

What would it take in terms of culture and institutions to achieve equality? Here you have some policy proposals that I don’t endorse, but that are useful for that end:

  • Banning or restricting men from certain degrees
  • Setting quotas for women by degree
  • Brainwashing men into thinking that they are not apt for university, in the same way that women thought they were not apt back decades ago
  • Increasing taxes in those sector of employment with more men

You probably don’t endorse this either. (I hope). But this is what it takes to close the gap in STEM if you want to play with culture and institutions. Reducing sexism and encouraging women to join STEM I see as a good thing (Who wouldn’t?), but one shouldn’t delude oneself that just because there are still vestiges of discrimination around, removing then will achieve equality in the distribution of university degrees. Maybe there is convincing quantitative evidence for the huge relevance of discrimination. But I haven’t seen it. Because, most likely, it doesn’t exist.



07 Aug 14:40

There really is no ‘gender wage gap.’ There’s a ‘gender earnings gap’ but ‘paying women well’ won’t close that gap - Discussing bailouts for elected officials and the stagnant health care debate: Miller on WWL AM 870's 'Live, Local Talk' • AEI

by Mark Perry

Here’s Tim Worstall writing in Forbes today (“Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Wrong Here – Just Paying Women More Won’t Close Gender Pay Gap“), emphasis added:

The idea that we can close the gender pay gap just by paying women more seems reasonable enough, as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg (pictured above) has intimated on BBC radio. Sadly though this isn’t in fact the correct answer. The gender pay gap does not exist because men and women are paid less for the same jobs, it exists because men and women tend to do slightly different jobs. When equal jobs being done out there is reached then we will have gender pay parity. Because, as before, we already have the same pay for the same job.

This thus is wrong, or at best an incomplete understanding of the issue:

Fairer pay for women must be backed up by stronger policies at work, according to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. But the firm’s chief operating officer, in an interview for BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, said the first step is to “start paying women well.”

That’s rather to put the cart before the horse for the company of course. Why would anyone just want to have to pay more wages? But it’s also to miss the actual construction of the gender pay gap itself. It simply is not that a woman and a man doing exactly the same job get different pay because of their genders. Quite apart from anything else that is illegal and in a society as litigious as ours if it were happening on any scale we’d never be able to use the courts for anything else. Half the legal profession would be taking such cases on contingency fees.

What does happen is that men and women slightly end up doing different jobs and more than that there’s a large difference in the number who climb the greasy pole to the top. It isn’t that, say, female senior managers are paid less than male senior managers it’s that there are fewer female senior managers than male. This hugely skews those average figures like the 77 cents per dollar that are bandied about.

Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Sunday she believed job openings should be contested by equal numbers of women and men.

“We need to start paying women well and we need the public and the corporate policy to get there,” she said. “Certainly, women applying for jobs at the same rate as men, women running for office at the same rate as men, that has got to be part of the answer.”

The other half of that proposal is absolutely correct given the above analysis. As and when there are equal numbers of each gender doing the same sorts of jobs to the same sort of level then there will be no gender pay gap.

MP: It’s an important, but overlooked point that there really is no gender wage gap, rather, there’s a gender earnings gap and that pay gap has almost nothing to do with gender discrimination. That is, there is almost no evidence that men and women working in the same position with the same background, education and qualifications are paid differently. Whether it’s the Target Corporation, Facebook, the University of Virginia, the United Way, the White House or McDonald’s, there is almost no evidence that any of those organizations have two pay scales: one for men (at a higher wage) and one for women (at a lower wage). Of course, that would be illegal, and if that practice existed, organizations would be exposed to legal action and “half the legal profession would be taking such cases on contingency fees” as Tim points out.

What certainly does exist is a well-documented gender earnings gap when the unadjusted median earnings of men and women are compared without correcting for any of the dozens of relevant factors that explain the natural differences in earnings by gender. For example, it’s been a verifiable statistical fact that a gender earnings gap has existed at the White House for as long as those salary records have been available (since 1995). Although men and women at the White House get paid the same for the same job, there are always more men than women in the highest-paid positions and more women than men in the lowest-paid, and that’s the case for both Democratic and Republican presidents. So while there’s likely no gender discrimination and no gender wage gap at the White House, there IS a gender earnings gap that persists year after year, regardless of the president or party. And the gender earnings gap at the White House, like the gender earnings gap that exists for most organizations and throughout the entire US economy, reflects the fact that men and women “do slightly different jobs” as Worstall says. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that men and women mostly do much different jobs, and labor market data show huge gender differences by occupation.

Therefore, if the goal is to close the gender earnings gap, Sandberg’s solution “to start paying women well” will fail – men and women are both getting paid well when they both work in the same position and have the same job qualifications. For example, women who work at the White House are already getting paid well, and receive the same wage as their male counterparts. To close the gender earnings gap at the White House would require that more women remain in the labor force and acquire continuous work experience to qualify for the highest-paid, senior-level positions. Currently, there are just apparently more men than women with the extensive and continuous work experience, who are willing to work long hours under demanding conditions to be hired for the senior White House positions – and that was the same for Bush II, Obama, and Trump.

To close the gender earnings gap — assuming that is even a desirable goal — wouldn’t involve closing a gender wage gap that doesn’t even really exist, it would involve closing lots of other gender gaps that do exist and lead to gender differences in earnings. Below are 20 gender gaps that reflect gender differences in the labor market, and are gaps that generally favor men and help explain why men earn higher incomes on average than women. (Most of the gender differences below are discussed in Warren Farrel’s excellent book “Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap — and What Women Can Do About It.“)

  1. Men disproportionately gravitate towards higher paying occupations in technology and hard sciences (e.g., petroleum engineer).
  2. Men disproportionately choose higher-risk, higher paying occupations with greater safety risks for occupational injuries and fatalities (e.g., oil field worker, roofer, and logging).
  3. Men are more willing to work outdoors in uncomfortable, physically demanding work environments (construction, oil field workers, commercial fishing, logging).
  4. Men are more willing than women to choose demanding, intense jobs where you can’t check out at the end of the work day (e.g., corporate attorney, senior White House staff).
  5. Men select jobs with higher pay but with lower personal fulfillment (tax accountant).
  6. Men select jobs with higher financial and emotional risks (e.g., venture capitalist).
  7. Men are more willing than women to work the worst shifts during the worst hours.
  8. Men often choose higher paying subfields (e.g., surgery and anesthesiology).
  9. Men are more willing to work in dirty or unpleasant environments with minimal human contact (e.g., prison guard, steel worker, truck drivers).
  10. Men work longer hours per week than women on average.
  11. Men more frequently than women invest in updating their skills with greater financial payoffs (e.g., master’s degree in computer technology vs. master’s degree in education).
  12. Men are more likely than women to have more years of continuous experience in their current occupation.
  13. Men are more likely than women to have more years of recent, uninterrupted experience with their current employer.
  14. More work more weeks during the year than women, on average.
  15. Men are less likely than women to be absent from work (e.g., doctor’s visits, sick days, taking time off when children are sick, etc.).
  16. Men are more willing than women to tolerate longer commute times.
  17. Men are more willing to relocate, especially to undesirable locations at their company’s request.
  18. Men are more willing than women, on average, to travel extensively on the job.
  19. Men are more willing than women to take the risk of a variable income, e.g., to be paid by commission vs. a fixed salary.
  20. Men often produce more output, e.g., scholarly research articles for university professors.

Note: None of those gaps above apply universally, but reflect overall gender differences that apply in general and on average.

Bottom Line: To close the gender earnings gap, women have a lot of gaps to close and Sheryl Sandberg at least partially recognizes that. Women have to be willing to work more hours per week, more weeks per year, work more in higher-risk jobs and be more exposed to occupational injuries and fatalities (e.g., be willing to experience 50% of workplace fatalities instead of the current 7%), work more in jobs that are physically demanding in more hostile work environments, be willing to commute longer distances, take less time off work for family reasons, take fewer sick days, be willing to accept higher-risk variable incomes like commission-based compensation, be willing to travel more and relocate more often, accept jobs with less human contact, sacrifice job-related personal fulfilment, etc. To paraphrase Worstall, unless and until there are equal numbers of each gender working in the same occupations, for the same number of hours and with the same years of continuous experience, commuting the same times, suffering the same number of occupational fatalities, etc., there will be a  gender earnings gap. The only way to close that gap is to get to a point where men and women are completely interchangeable in their family and work roles, and getting to that outcome is probably impossible; and an outcome that even women apparently don’t want, given their current demonstrated preferences for career options, work hours, commute times, and family responsibilities.

02 Aug 13:09

Trump Budget Full of Spending Increases

by John Stossel

Remember President Trump's "terrible" budget cuts?

"Promises Little but Pain," warned The New York Times.

"Harsh and shortsighted," cried The Washington Post.

Then Congress passed a budget. President Trump signed it. Do you notice the "pain"?

I follow the news closely, but until I researched this column, I didn't know that Congress actually raised spending on the very agencies Trump wanted to cut.

Trump called for a $4.7 billion dollar cut to the Agriculture Department. Congress increased the department's appropriation by $12.8 billion.

He called for a $15 billion cut to Health and Human Services. Congress instead gave them $2.8 billion more.

Trump wanted a $6.2 billion cut to Housing and Urban Development. Congress gave HUD a half-billion-dollar increase.

Trump wanted the Commerce Department's budget cut by $1.4 billion. Congress made no cut.

And so on.

Why wasn't that news? Because in Washington, and in the media's eyes, spending increases are expected. And cuts are always "terrible."

America continues on its road to bankruptcy.

What will those departments do with their new money?

The Agriculture Department says its mission is to "promote agricultural production that better nourishes Americans." Politicians claim we need the department to guarantee an adequate food supply.


Because of the free market, agricultural entrepreneurs provide plenty of food. Fruit and vegetable farmers rarely get subsidies, but there are ample supplies of fruits and vegetables.

We don't need an Agriculture Department any more than we need a Hollywood Movie Department or iPhone Department.

Most of what the department does is corporate welfare. America's richest corn and grain farmers collect most of the money.

Politicians eagerly give money to people who visit their offices and pour out tales of need.

Corn and grain farmers visit and whine because they have millions of dollars at stake.

You don't visit because each subsidy costs you just a few bucks.

So the corporate welfare continues.

Members of Congress might stop the wasteful spending if they spent their own money. But they don't. They spend ours.

Congress ignored Trump's request to cut the Commerce Department, too.

Commerce's biggest program is NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA pushes climate change alarmism, producing PSAs that warn Arctic ice is "thinning at an alarming rate!"

If that's a serious problem, NOAA's spending won't stop it. NOAA's bureaucrats got caught buying a $300,000 yacht—and using it to go fishing.

The department says what they do is "critical." They fund "centers in every state that consult with companies facing technological problems."

Government is good at fixing tech problems? News to me.

The department claims "every dollar of federal investment ... generates around $30" because each "$2,400 investment" creates a job.

I'm sure they help some politically savvy companies, but their claim ignores the good things your money would have done had it stayed in the private sector. That's the unseen cost of funding every department. We'll never know what our dollars might have done had they not been taken from us by government.

Maybe a new Steve Jobs would have invented a...

I don't know. We'll never know, because government grabbed the money.

President Trump seems to understand that government wastes money, but after proposing cuts to some departments, he was eager to increase military spending. So Congress did. The military got the biggest increase.

Defense, at least, is a proper role of government. Government should keep us safe. But our current military is wasteful and involved in needless foreign entanglements.

We spend as much as the next seven countries combined—eight times more than Russia spends. Many of the missions our politicians give the military—interventions in places like Iraq, Libya and Syria—made us less safe by destabilizing the Middle East and creating new terrorists.

Congress should cut spending to the military and to the departments Trump wanted to cut.

But politicians almost never cut. Despite all those headlines about "harsh," "painful," "terrible" cuts, government increased spending again.

We are going broke. Later this year, the national debt will reach $20 trillion. Yet Congress appropriated more—a Republican-majority Congress.

Politicians sure are generous with other people's money.

One small positive note: I'm told the city government in Toronto is bringing down the price of that $65,000 staircase I wrote about last week to $10,000. Keep cutting.


31 Jul 08:14

Caught Red-Handed: Google Search Suppresses Climate Realism

by Leo Goldstein
Claims that Google Search improperly downranks some websites are frequent but not always correct, and they’re hard to prove even if they are. But the latest available (May 2017) Google Search Quality Evaluation General Guidelines provide conclusive proof of intentional, severe, and malicious suppression of climate realist views.  A quote: “High quality information pages on…
29 Jul 13:00


by pseudoerasmus

I just noticed Tyler Cowen had blogged a Boston Globe article about the number of loanwords in various languages (is there something from the press Cowen will not blog ?), and his own take was to ask, which major language has the lowest percentage of foreign loanwords ? He seems to think Chinese could be one, but many people in the comments section (correctly) reject the suggestion. Here I talk about “Japanese-made Chinese words”.


There are two basic kinds of loanwords amongst languages : the “conventional” one where both the meaning and the form of the word are borrowed simultaneously ; and the other where the meaning is borrowed but the form is “translated” into indigenous roots — or “calque“.

In the “conventional” loanword, the borrowing is usually apparent because the original form hasn’t changed too much. English, a world champion importer and exporter of words, contains tens of thousands of Latin and French borrowings whose appearance is only slightly modified, such as guarantee and importance. In more recent borrowings, English hardly bothers even with perfunctory transformation, e.g., tsunami and angst. Likewise, languages like Turkish and Indonesian don’t invent new words for “electromagnetism” ; they only modify the word to reflect the local difference in pronunciation and spelling standards.

But in calque languages, the loanwords tend to be invisible. An example is the Russian самолёт (samolyot “self-flight” or airplane), which looks and sounds purely Slavic. Both Russian and German are abundant in calques, but not as much as Arabic, a language which on first appearance seems to lack any foreign loanwords. In fact its abstract vocabulary is heavily borrowed from classical Greek (and later the modern western languages), but the actual words were calqued from Semitic roots. Sometimes the borrowing first took place in Syriac, which lent to Arabic.

English and the Romance languages normally do not create calques from indigenous roots, but they still have thousands of “classicising” calques — neologisms built on Greek or Latin roots which were not found in the original languages. Thus microscope is created entirely out of Greek parts, viticulture from Latin, and automobile, a miscegenation of Greek and Latin.


Most people are aware that Classical Chinese stands in a similar relation to Japanese and other East Asian languages, as Greek and Latin have stood to the modern European languages. Japanese has borrowed thousands of whole words of Chinese origin, but using classical Chinese roots the Japanese have also come up with calques called wasei kango (和製漢語) or “Japanese-made Chinese”. A pretty basic example is the formal Japanese word for car, or jidosha (自動車 or “self motion vehicle”) — which is almost exactly parallel to the classicising calque automobile. (That set of characters is not used in Chinese to denote “automobile”. {Edit: 29 March 2017: an acerbic commenter says this is not true.}

Since the Japanese were the first in East Asia to adopt Western knowledge and technology on a large scale, they had to find equivalents of new words by the thousands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A great many of these were “borrowed back” by the Chinese. According to this source,

Chinese reform leader Kang Youwei 康有為 once said: “I regard the West as a cow, and the Japanese as a farmhand, while I myself sit back and enjoy the food!’” Early Japanese translations made large numbers of important scholarly works and concepts from the West widely available to Chinese audiences; the Chinese felt that Japanese was an “easier” language than Western ones for a Chinese to learn. The Qing court sent increasing numbers of students to Japan – 13,000 in 1906. Between 1902-1904, translations from Japanese accounted for 62.2 per cent of all translations into Chinese. The great majority of these works were themselves translations from English and other Western languages..

But because the Chinese language has its own way of pronouncing Chinese characters that’s different from Japanese, the reborrowed words may sound completely different and many Chinese people may not even know these had been first coined in Japan.

Here is a very short list of “Japanese-made Chinese” words which did get exported to Chinese [source]:

  • telephone, train or tram, electron
  • chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy
  • philosophy, history
  • library, art, religion, comedy, symphony
  • system, industry, corporation, market, international
  • communism, communist party, proletariat
  • people’s republic

Notice the word “philosophy”, which may surprise some people because, after all, wasn’t classical Chinese civilisation full of philosophers ? Yes, but beware of anachronism ! We moderns find the similarity, but East Asians, when first confronted with European philosophy, considered it something quite different from Confucius et al.

Basically, a great many modern words in Chinese related to science, technology, government, and commerce, as well as abstract western concepts which may not have had an exact equivalent in East Asia, trace back to late 19th and early 20th century coinages in Japan. An article in a modern Chinese newspaper would be impossible without these Sino-Japanese calques.

In some cases, the Japanese went looking in ancient Chinese texts for words with similar but not identical meanings, and resurrected them by giving them modern, western significance.  These include : society, capital, revolution, economy, law, science, election, heredity, literature, etc. There are also some pure Japanese words written in Chinese characters that were borrowed.

But the “glamour words” are not the extent of it. I was completely surprised to learn that Chinese appears to have borrowed a range of fairly mundane phrases or compounds from Japanese. Some examples include “new products appearance”, “shopping district”, “low birth rate”, and “housekeeping”. The nature of the Chinese character system implies that a new phrase or compound is almost a low-grade invention, because there’s no inevitable way such words must be formed.

(In Korean, the situation is more complicated, since it has heavy influence from both China and Japan. In short, the Korean language has directly borrowed Chinese loanwords, “Korean-made Chinese” words, “Japanese-made Chinese” words exported to Korea, European words converted into Japanese form and then exported to Korea, etc.)

Japanese used to have a lot of Portuguese and Dutch loanwords as a result of contact with traders starting in the 16th century, but most of those are now obsolete. One major survivor is the Japanese word for bread (パン pan), which is derived from the Portuguese pão. I’m convinced, though I can’t prove it, that the knowledge of the Luso-Japanese word pan was the impetus behind the Chinese translation of “bread” as mian bao (lit. “wheat bun”, simplified 面包 traditional 麵包). The fact that bao sounds like pan is pure coincidence, and its character has been used in words referring to various kinds of filled buns for a very very long time. But the main reason I believe in the pan-bao connexion is that in some other Chinese languages (e.g., Wu or Shanghainese, and Min Nan or Taiwanese) the second character would be read as pao or pau. Technically, /b/ and /p/ are voiced and unvoiced variants of the same sound. Vietnamese, I believe, also uses a cognate of mian bao, especially in reference to that headcheese-on-baguette sandwich, whose choice might have been influenced by the French pain. I could be completely wrong, but it would be neat if all this were true !


Speaking of bread… The point of the above is that Japan has been the intermediary for the diffusion of Western modernity in East Asia. And that also shows up in bread, or rather bakery items in general. Anyone who has been to East Asia knows it’s full of bakeries and patisseries just like this (image source):


In such places the delicacies on offer include familiar western staples, like croissant, baguette or strawberry shortcakes, which are western, but with localised taste ; and various semi-traditional pan-Asian buns filled with bean paste or chestnut purée. But there are also many hybrid pseudo-western bizarreries, with no equivalent elsewhere in the world, such as :


The above is Japan’s answer to both China and the West : fried noodles in a hot dog bun. More specifically, the noodles are yakisoba, itself a very modern interpretation of fried noodles dating from the early 20th century, one of whose principal ingredients is … Worcestershire sauce, or, rather, the Japanese version of it. The green bits are dried seaweed flakes (actually algae, but that’s being pedantic). This alarming combination of starches probably emerged after the war with the American occupation, but I’m not sure.

But Japan’s caricature of globalisation is surely the karei pan, or bun filled with Japanese “curry“, covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried :


The breadcrumbs are panko, the coarse type preferred by the Japanese which has become inexplicably trendy in many western countries. The British pseudo-Indian “curry” was most likely an import along with many other semi-western dishes that are mainstays of Japanese dining today. The Japanese twist on “curry” is primarily that it’s a roux of starch and palm oil, made from dissolving the semblance of a chocolate bar in water, into which miscellaneous detritus are then introduced.

Bakeries like the above are ubiquitous in East Asia, and they are imitations of the Japanese bakery model, so to speak. It would also seem, the Japanese preference for ultra-refined white flour for making breads and pastries has been transferred to the rest of East Asia. The fashionable sort of “whole grain” breads mixed with twigs and birdseed that one finds at trendy locales in western countries, is not yet widespread. (Though brown rice is making a comeback in Japan.)

Speaking of both loanwords and food, one Japanese word that’s not European-derived but was coined in response to industrialisation and later imparted to Chinese is ajinomoto (MSG powder ; Japanese 味の素 lit. “principle of taste”, Chinese 味之素). A Japanese scientist early in the 20th century had isolated umami, one of the fundamental tastes, and this was the basis of a major international food corporation, Ajinomoto, the world’s largest supplier of MSG as well as aspartame. Since so much of East Asia’s cuisines are based on exploiting and intensifying the naturally occurring glutamates in their ingredients, Japanese MSG played a major role in Asia’s enormous processed food industry.

The history of MSG and its extremely widespread use in global food processing is something I consider a synecdoche of Japanese industrialisation, but that’s a topic for another day.

Filed under: East Asia, Food, Languages Tagged: calques, Chinese, Chinese borrowings from Japanese, Hanzi, Japanese, Japanese-made Chinese words, Kanji, loanwords, wasei kango, 和製漢語
21 Jul 08:25

Grade Inflation is Worse Than We Thought

by Jason Willick

American high schools are giving out higher and higher grades even as real academic ability stagnates. USA Today reports:

Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen.

In 1998, it was 38.9%. By last year, it had grown to 47%.

That’s right: Nearly half of America’s Class of 2016 are A students. Meanwhile, their average SAT score fell from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600-point scale — suggesting that those A’s on report cards might be fool’s gold.

The erosion of intellectual standards is worse at the elite level: “the upward creep is most pronounced in schools with large numbers of white, wealthy students. And its especially noticeable in private schools, where the rate of inflation was about three times higher than in public schools.” This is probably explained at least partly by the attitudes of overbearing parents whose children are in the Ivy League rat race: Giving out anything less than an A is likely to lead to email protestations and parent-teacher conferences with mom and dad.

It’s also significant that even as high school grades become less and less meaningful, pressure is building in the educational establishment to de-emphasize or dumb down alternate measures of achievement, like the SAT, which are supposedly unfair to the poor and disadvantaged, and class rankings, which create too much rancor and competition. In the long run, though, this will only help boost the fortunes of elite students even further: Without a strong objective component in the college admissions process, quickly-inflating GPAs will help rich students roll their competitors from below.

The post Grade Inflation is Worse Than We Thought appeared first on The American Interest.

21 Jul 07:44

How Humans Reached Australia 65,000 Years Ago

by Erik Shilling

Archaeologists said Wednesday that they have evidence that humans were in Australia around 65,000 years ago, or about 18,000 years earlier than previous evidence showed. These humans, who made and left a variety of stone tools excavated from a rock shelter called Madjedbebe in northwest Australia, would have been among the first to leave Africa, where modern humans originated before migrating across the globe.

Why Australia? Sixty-five thousand years ago was the middle of a glacial period. The path to Australia, across the Middle East, through India and Southeast Asia, would have been a temperate alternative to exploring frosty Western Europe.

It still wasn't an easy journey, and not all of it was on foot. As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, "The discovery also confirms that Australian Aborigines undertook the first major maritime migration in the world—they had to sail a minimum of [55 miles] across open sea to reach their destination whatever route they took in their long journey out of Africa."


They might have made that crossing through the waters pictured above. At the top there is Timor, and at the bottom the northern tip of Western Australia. At the time of this early migration, sea level was low, since a lot of water was tied up in glaciers. So it may not have been very far from the island of Timor to Sahul, the landmass that included Australia and New Guinea, as seen below.


Fifty-five miles may not sound like a lot, compared to a journey that covered thousands, but imagine setting off in a prehistoric boat, perhaps seeing only the horizon and open water, and thinking that you'll probably die, but then doing it anyway.

20 Jul 10:56

Not quite Forgotten Treasures: Part 2, Cahokia

by evolutiontheorist
Illustration of Cahokia Mounds, Illinois

It took almost 400 years between Columbus’s arrival in the New World and the complete military domination of the USA by the invaders–but it happened.

The Americas before Columbus arrived were a place of amazing contrasts–from the igloo-dwelling, hunter-gathering Eskimo to the literate, city-building, cannibal Aztecs. At the southern tip of of Patagonia lies the Tierra del Fuego–so named because the nearly naked locals opted to cope with their frigid climate by carrying fire everywhere.

The oldest still-occupied towns in the US are the Acoma and Taos Pueblos of New Mexico, built nearly a thousand years ago (though today the vast majority of residents live in newer housing with electricity and running water built nearby the historic pueblos.) But the oldest overall is Cahokia, occupied between 600 and 1400 AD:

Cahokia was the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Mississippian culture that developed advanced societies across much of what is now the central and southeastern United States, beginning more than 1000 years before European contact.[5] Today, Cahokia Mounds is considered the largest and most complex archaeological site north of the great pre-Columbian cities in Mexico. …

Cahokia became the most important center for the peoples known today as Mississippians. Their settlements ranged across what is now the Midwest, Eastern, and Southeastern United States. Cahokia was located in a strategic position near the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. It maintained trade links with communities as far away as the Great Lakes to the north and the Gulf Coast to the south, trading in such exotic items as copper, Mill Creek chert,[13] and whelk shells.

Mill Creek chert, most notably, was used in the production of hoes, a high demand tool for farmers around Cahokia and other Mississippian centers. Cahokia’s control of the manufacture and distribution of these hand tools was an important economic activity that allowed the city to thrive.[14]Mississippian culture pottery and stone tools in the Cahokian style were found at the Silvernale site near Red Wing, Minnesota, and materials and trade goods from Pennsylvania, the Gulf Coast and Lake Superior have been excavated at Cahokia. Bartering, not money was used in trade.[15]

Although it was home to only about 1,000 people before c. 1050, its population grew rapidly after that date. According to a 2007 study in Quaternary Science Reviews, “Between AD 1050 and 1100, Cahokia’s population increased from between 1400 and 2800 people to between 10,200 and 15,300 people”.[16] an estimate that applies only to a 1.8 km2 high density central occupation area.[17] Archaeologists estimate the city’s population at between 6,000 and 40,000 at its peak,[citation needed] with more people living in outlying farming villages that supplied the main urban center. … If the highest population estimates are correct, Cahokia was larger than any subsequent city in the United States until the 1780s, when Philadelphia’s population grew beyond 40,000.[18]

Monk’s Mound, Cahokia

Like many early cities, Cahokia has distinctive, flat-topped pyramids, (here called “mounds”)–probably not because pyramids are magical or because the Cahokians were in contact with Egyptians or aliens, but because it’s the easiest large shape to build. The Cahokians lacked good stone build with and draft animals to haul materials over long distance, so Cahokia’s 120 mounds were built largely of compacted earth:

To achieve that, thousands of workers over decades moved more than an “estimated 55 million cubic feet [1,600,000 m3] of earth in woven baskets to create this network of mounds and community plazas. Monks Mound, for example, covers 14 acres (5.7 ha), rises 100 ft (30 m), and was topped by a massive 5,000 sq ft (460 m2) building another 50 ft (15 m) high.”[4]

Monks Mound is the largest structure and central focus of the city: a massive platform mound with four terraces, 10 stories tall, and the largest man-made earthen mound north of Mexico. Facing south, it is 100 ft (30 m) high, 951 ft (290 m) long, 836 ft (255 m) wide and covers 13.8 acres (5.6 ha).[24] It also contains about 814,000 cu yd (622,000 m3) of earth.[14] The mound was built higher and wider over the course of several centuries through as many as ten separate construction episodes, as the mound was built taller and the terraces and apron were added.[24]

Since the mounds are made of dirt and it rains in Illinois, erosion is an issue.

Excavation on the top of Monks Mound has revealed evidence of a large building, likely a temple or the residence of the paramount chief, which would have been seen throughout the city. This building was about 105 ft (32 m) long and 48 feet (15 m) wide, and could have been as much as 50 ft (15 m) high. It was about 5,000 sq ft (460 m2).

A large flat plaza located adjacent to Monks Mound was a place where games and public rituals took place.

Reconstructed piece from Etowah Indian Mounds, Georgia

The Cahokians (and Mississippians in general) had mastered the art of copper working, producing fine ritual art like the dancing warrior to the left. Copper can be worked and shaped while still cold; the Mississippians had not learned how to make bronze nor smelt iron.

The Cahokians also built a Stonehenge-style “Woodhenge”:

a ceremonial area with a 412 feet (126 m) in diameter circle of 48 upright wooden posts.[1] Archaeologists date the placement of at least one of the posts to approximately 950 CE.[2] Archaeological research has shown that four of the posts were at the cardinal locations of north, south, east and west, the eastern and western posts marking the position of the equinox sunrise and sunsets. Four other posts in the circle were shown to be at the summer solstice sunrise and sunset and the winter solstice sunrise and sunset positions.

Woodhenge, Cahokia

If you make your sundial big enough, it can double as a clock–a useful trick for a society with a priestly class that wants to do special ceremonies on specific dates.

Woodhenge was eventually dismantled (and moved elsewhere), and the site converted to a cemetery. Some of the burials were of wealthy individuals–perhaps rulers–but most appear to be victims of mass human sacrifice:

A large rectangular pit was dug into the southeast corner of the mound and a mass burial of 24 women was made in it….

A small platform was constructed near the southeastern ramp and four young males with their arms interlocked and missing their hands and skulls were laid out on the platform.[6] Some researchers have concluded that the four men may represent the four cardinal directions.[11]

In a pit excavated next to these four men were placed the bodies of a large group of young women. This mass grave contained the remains of 53 females ranging in age between 15–30 years of age, arranged in two layers separated by matting.[4][6][8] The young women show evidence of having been strangled before being arranged in neat rows in the pit.[11] Analysis of bones and dental traits of these women have led archaeologists to believe these individuals were not from the same social class and ethnic group as other individuals interred in the mound. …

Next to this mound to the southwest another mass burial was made.[4] This burial is the most grisly found at the site, containing 39 men and women who appear to have been violently killed. … The victims were then killed and thrown over the edge of the pit. These people showed signs of meeting a violent end, including several being incompletely decapitated, some with fractured skulls and others with fractured jawbones.[6] The evidence shows that some of these individuals were buried alive: “From the vertical position of some of the fingers, which appear to have been digging in the sand, it is apparent that not all of the victims were dead when they were interred – that some had been trying to pull themselves out of the mass of bodies.”[4] The presence of arrowheads in the back of some of these victims, coupled with the beheadings and other evidence of violent death, has led some researchers to conclude that these victims show evidence of warfare or were even the losers of a rebellion against the rulers of Cahokia … On top of them were the remains of 15 elite individuals laid out upon litters made from cedar poles and cane matting .[6] Radiocarbon dating of the cedar poles used for the litters in the top layer burials in this pit determined that this burial was made approximately 100 years after the woodhenge circle had been constructed, or in approximately 1030 CE.[4]

Lovely people.

Since the Mississippian culture had not entirely disappeared by the time European chronicles arrived in the area, we actually have an account of a royal Mississippian burial accompanied by ritual sacrifice. According to Wikipedia:

Upon the death of “Tattooed Serpent” [of the Natchez,] in 1725, the war chief and younger brother of the “Great Sun” or Chief of the Natchez; two of his wives, one of his sisters… his first warrior, his doctor, his head servant and the servant’s wife, his nurse, and a craftsman of war clubs all chose to die and be interred with him, as well as several old women and an infant who was strangled by his parents.[14] Great honor was associated with such a sacrifice, and their kin was held in high esteem.[15] After a funeral procession with the chiefs body carried on a litter made of cane matting and cedar poles ended at the temple (which was located on top of a low platform mound); the retainers with their faces painted red and accompanied by their relatives dressed up in their finest garments, were drugged with large doses of nicotine and ritually strangled. Tattooed Serpent was then buried in a trench inside the temple floor and the retainers were buried in other locations atop the mound surrounding the temple. …[14]

Artsist’s conception of Watson Brake

Cahokia is only one of the Mississippian people’s many settlements–at least 85 similar sites have been discovered, and that’s just the Mississippians. Other cultures also built mounds, such as the Watson Brake site in Louisiana, built around 3500 BC. (Perhaps these were really all the same culture, but archaeologists classify them as different ones.) The Mississippian sites are generally distinguished by:

  1. Earthen pyramids or mounds
  2. The development of large-scale, corn-based agriculture
  3. Shell-tempered pottery
  4. Large trade network extending from the Rockies to the Atlantic, Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico
  5. Social hierarchy and centralization of political power, with cities like Cahokia dominant over smaller towns
  6. A particular style of art and artifacts, reflecting Mississippian religious beliefs and lifestyles

Though Cahokia itself was abandoned around 1300 AD, Early European explorers such as Hernando de Soto encountered other Mississippian peoples and made records of them:

De Soto observed people living in fortified towns with lofty mounds and plazas, and surmised that many of the mounds served as foundations for priestly temples. Near present-day Augusta, Georgia, de Soto encountered a mound-building group ruled by a queen, Cofitachequi. She told him that the mounds within her territory served as the burial places for nobles.

But like Etzanoa, by the time the Europeans returned, the settlements had been abandoned, most likely due to diseases caught from the French and Spanish.

18 Jul 12:54

The emptiness of life will save us from mass unemployment

by pseudoerasmus

I don’t I have much to add to the debate about the dystopian robot future scenario envisioned by many people. But I do think the nightmare scenario is less mass unemployment than a kind of revamped neo-mediaevalism. I’m not predicting that, so much as saying that’s the worst-case scenario. {Edit 28/12/2016: This was written more than 2 years ago as a half-joke to mock trends in luxury consumption more than anything else.}

In the past 250 years, technological progress has not caused unemployment because human wants have been infinite. Every time productivity (output per unit of input) rises, the implied extra income in the economy still gets spent on something (at least when there isn’t a recession), and extra work gets created to produce that something. In other words, fewer inputs may be used to make one unit of output, but more output always gets desired / created. (OK, that sounds Say’s Law-ish, but please be patient.)

Environmentalists understand keenly that when energy prices fall, people frequently just drive more or fly more, or the savings get spent, ultimately, on something else that uses energy. Productivity growth produces the same effect. Which is why, as of now, we’ve never had permanent mass unemployment from technological displacement.

After the basic needs of food and shelter are satisfied, people go in search of other fulfillments — more caloric, varied, and exotic diets; more living space to fill with ever more stuff; 58 changes of clothes instead of 2 per year; more leisure in the form of vacations and entertainment; and ever more marginal extensions of life expectancy. That’s all very obvious.

But as people get wealthier, they demand not only more quantity of stuff, but also ever more trivial and even imaginary increments to the quality of goods and services. How else to explain the market for, say, honey in a jar that’s ‘raw’, unfiltered, unpasteurised, ‘fair-trade’, non-GMO, single-country-origin, single-bee-colony, and single-flower-species ?

Ironically, as production becomes more brutally efficient with labour-saving technology, consumption becomes more ‘inefficient’. The hallmark of consumption by the rich has always been its labour-intensiveness. Think of aristocratic dining halls as recently as the Gilded Age, with one liveried footman for every guest at the long table in the dining hall.

That’s why ‘hand-made’ has snob appeal. Bespoke fetishists may think of it as “valuing timeless artisanal quality”, as does one London financial journalist who apparently has not only suits and shoes custom-made by hand, but also socks, neck ties, and (!) pocket squares. (When those silks stick out of the breast pocket, woe unto those rolled edges sewn with plebeian machine-neatness…) This tailor-blogger with a cult following makes suits by hand, or ‘deconstructs’ famous brands, and blogs about every lovely stitch. But in reality such sartorial epicureanism is about deriving more and more marginal utility out of sillier and sillier quality ‘improvements’. And such things point to the niche consumption fantasies of the merely upper-middle-class.

As long as there are still some things machines can’t do, I don’t see why that infinite-wants process can’t be extended indefinitely in the world where 15% earn a charmed living and 85% can at best aspire to the status of lumpenbourgeoisie. People — rich people — will just get even more petty, demanding, absurd, and elaborate in the infinity of their wants. I can’t imagine how exactly, but don’t underestimate the emptiness of human life !

The 15% of workers (in Tyler Cowen’s reckoning) who will succeed in the future must know how to work with AI-flavoured machines in a very complex production chain of human-machine complements. Such a profile would favour not only intelligence, but also conscientiousness, precision, discipline, and cooperative team work. The 85% who won’t make that cut, Cowen imagines, will scrounge around as petty entrepreneurs, freelancers, ‘consultants’, street-vendors, mobile taquería purveyors serving “Korean tacos” handled by tattooed hipsters and transacting with Paypal and iPad, and other genres of precariously ‘self-employed’. The lowest segment of that low segment will be “threshold earners” who proudly just “get by and who do not push ambitiously for a higher wage or stronger credentials at every step”. The culture will change to make that sort of thing hip, respectable, and freedom-enhancing.

Why can’t the conspicuous-luxury consumption sector account for a growing share of employment, as the top 10-15% capture a larger and larger share of GDP growth on account of skill-biased technological change (or what ever is the latest cause-du-jour of growing inequality)? Really, why not ?

With the advent of settled agriculture and the rise of cities, most human beings have most of the time worked for the rich in one form or another — whether as slaves/serfs, or sharecroppers, or free peasants paying confiscatory taxes, or factory workers, or service sector drones. There have been periods of freedom for frontier freeholders, but those don’t last very long.

Perhaps the future promises a world where the majority will still work for the rich, but in enhancing their lifestyles rather helping to generate their capital income. From adjutants in production to adjutants in consumption.

The size of the class that can afford absurdly infinite and infinitely absurd wants will expand. In 2013, the 99th percentile of household income in the USA was $385,000 and the average income of the top 1%, numbering approximately 1.7 million households, was $717,000. That’s nothing! After taxes, after the big mortgage payment for the primary house and the vacation spare, after school fees for two offspring, there’s barely enough income left for a maid and a resident minder for the children. It’s definitely not enough to afford the whimsical last-minute day-trip by 90-minute suborbital flight from New York to Tokyo just to indulge in sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro.

If economic growth of the future is severely skill-biased and concentrated in the top 10-15%, just think of the capacity for potential expansion in luxury consumption. The lifestyles of the top 0.1% will trickle gradually to aspirants in the 0.9%, just as the 5% will be closer to apeing the bottom of the top 1%, and down the line.

Given the number of workers employed in service at stately houses in England or robber-baron America, as late as 1914, or in developing countries today, you can easily imagine such “household establishments” being reproduced in the developed countries, but in more egalitarian-seeming ways. You’ll get the resident in-house staff ranging from manservants to henhouse keepers for each house owned at different locations. But a lot of the luxury service will come in the form of freelance labour that won’t seem nearly as bonded and mediaeval as hereditary footmen in a manor house or a fan-wallah in a maharajah palace. So there needn’t be a total reversion to the Downton Abbey world to suppose that more and more of the top 15% will consume snobbish labour-intensive goods as incomes grow and labour in the bottom 85% gets cheaper.

Why would a 5-percenter go to the chic supermarket or the picturesque farmer’s market for organic milk once a week, which is really for the sad people at the top of the fourth quintile, when he can keep a milk-cow of his own, hire a full-time farmhand to maintain it, and every morning partake of superfresh, hyperlocal, unpasteurised milk from his own arugula-fed, hand-massaged cow with the low-yield but high-quality magic-udder ? That doesn’t mean he won’t send his manservant (aka “personal assistant” in egalitarianese) to the market so he can also now and then try that subtly different, vaguely briney-creamy milk from the clover-fed Bronze-Age heritage-breed cows of the Vendée, delivered daily by the newest version of Concorde. Posh markets will continue to exist because the chic will always talk local and seasonal but will always want winter strawberries and asparagus from Chile and South Africa.

More 5- and 10-percenters will have full-time cooks, who won’t be inordinately skilled, but everything will be made from scratch from their urban gardens and small dedicated suburban livestock menagerie, or collected by the dedicated forager-hunter they co-employ with a neighbour. Right now the well-healed go to restaurants where ‘innovative’ chefs work with ingredients harvested that very day, foraged that very day, caught that very day, and even slaughtered that very day. But the rich of the not-so-distant future could get a less elaborate version of that at home ! And why not, if it involves no effort on their part ? Of course they would still go to restaurants because of the comparative advantage offered by highly specialised chefs in originating more novel, trendy dishes.

I draw my hypotheticals from food because I know something about foodies and cuisines, and because in my unimaginative laziness I really can’t think of better examples. Social arrangements of the future are difficult to predict.

18 Jul 12:22

Slaughtered Christians “A Viable Target”?

by Raymond Ibrahim

Reprinted from The Gatestone Institute.

Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. 

The uptick in often lethal persecution of Christians in Muslim regions has caused many Christian leaders to appeal for aid. Canon Andrew White, the prominent minister known as the “Vicar of Baghdad” told Fox News in March, “If there is anything I can tell Americans it is that your fellow brothers and sisters are suffering, they are desperate for help,” he said. “And it is not just a matter of praying for peace. They need a lot – food, resources, clothes, everything. They need everything.”

White also went as far as to say that Christianity in Iraq, where it has been since the times of the apostles, is finished.

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As Fox News reported:

“Thirty years ago, there were approximately 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. The number dwindled to around 1 million after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and a year ago it was estimated that there were less than 250,000 left. Numbers have continued to decline as families flee, and today even approximate figures are difficult to obtain.”

According to a Vatican Radio report, Nigerian Catholic Bishop Joseph Bagobiri responded to “the recent atrocities of Fulani [Muslim] Cattle herdsmen…, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Christians and the destruction of property worth millions of Naira,” by calling on all Christian denominations to implement counter measures against the “systematic elimination of Christianity in the northern part of Nigeria.”

One source said that in one of these assaults, two of the victims “had their eyes plucked out.” A survivor of another said, “The sad thing is that these Fulanis have been attacking our communities, and no one is doing anything about it.”

Commenting on the “horrific attacks” on Coptic Christians in Egypt between December 2016 and March 2017 — during which 40 “innocent children, women and men had their lives brutally and tragically ended for no other reason except that they are Christians” — Coptic Bishop Anba Angaelos of the United Kingdom said the slaughter has “gone largely unnoticed by the international community.” He continued:

“In our fast moving world that is filled with so much news of tragedy, war and death, it is all too easy for atrocities to become ‘incidents,’ and for individuals suffering them to become mere statistics, very quickly pushed aside by the next item of news. In the eyes of the perpetrators they are a viable target, and in the eyes of the world they become a regrettable phenomenon; yet what is actually left behind is traumatized individuals, families and communities that have lost loved ones, living the reality of themselves being targeted.”

report released in early 2017 by Open Doors — a non-denominational mission supporting persecuted Christians in over 60 countries — reveals:

• “Islamic extremism” remains the dominant force responsible for the persecution of Christians in 40 of the 50 worst nations;

• Nine out of the 10 worst nations for Christians have a Muslim majority (with North Korea being the only non-Islamic exception);

• In the 21 (18 of which are Muslim-majority) worst nations for Christians, “100 percent of Christians experience persecution”;

• 1,329 churches have been attacked, damaged, or destroyed, mostly in Muslim-majority nations;

• Muslim Somalia is now the second worst nation for Christians, who are executed instantly if their faith is discovered, or even rumored;

• In Nigeria — where more Christians have been slaughtered by Muslims than possibly in any other nation — the killing of Christians went up by 62 percent;

• The nation where the most violent and sexual attacks on Christians take place – Muslim-majority Pakistan — rose to the number four spot on the list of the worst countries for Christians.

Accounts of widespread Muslim persecution of Christians to surface in the month of March include, but are not limited to, the following:

Muslim Slaughter of Christians

Nigeria: A Christian mother and her three children — aged four, five and nine — were “hacked to death by unknown assailants within a church premises” in Muslim-majority Lagos State. The incident occurred around 3 a.m., “when the woman and her children had gone to the ‘Holy Land’ part of a Cherubim and Seraphim church. Their bodies were seen “in a pool of blood by some worshipers,” who arrived at the church later in the morning. The three children died inside the church. Their mother died an hour after making it to the hospital. Police said they were still seeking a motive.

Somalia: Assassins dispatched by the militant Islamic group Al Shabaab — “The Youth” — invaded the home of a clandestine Christian family during the night, and murdered the 35-year-old wife and mother, along with her 11-year-old son, as they slept. The 38-year-old husband and father was shot in the chest and survived. His three other young children escaped through the back door of the house and also survived. According to the account of the man of the house, the four gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar” [“God is great”] and said they “cannot allow the defiling of our religion with a foreign, Western religion.”

Somalia is widely considered the second worst nation for Christians. There, the mere suspicion or accusation that someone is secretly living as a Christian can lead to a public execution.

Pakistan: After refusing to work on Sunday, as his Muslim employer demanded he do, a 20-year-old Christian sanitation worker was killed in a drive-by shooting by two assailants on motorcycles. The victim’s family attorney said that the employer had warned the worker that he would face “dire consequences” if he did not comply, and threatened to “cut off his legs and riddle his body with bullets” for defying his order. “Many Muslims find it hard to accept refusal by a ‘lowly’ Christian,” a Christian rights activist said. “This is not the first time a Christian sanitary worker has been killed or subjected to violence for refusing to comply with unjust demands of persons from the Muslim majority.”

Muslim Attacks on Christian Missionaries and “Apostates”

Philippines: A 70 year-old Irish nun living on the island of Mindanao — notorious for its separatist, extremist Muslim population — was attacked by a masked assailant who beat her so badly that she required surgery. Sister Kathleen Melia, who has spent more than 30 years serving the Philippines, was locking up her convent on March 1, when a masked man covered her mouth with his hand, and began to punch her.

Uganda: A Muslim who discovered that his 21-year-old daughter had converted to Christianity beat her up and threw her out of the house. When she fled to her pastor for sanctuary, her father contacted the police and accused the church leader — a married father-of-six — of having abducted her and turning her into a “human sacrifice.” Police immediately arrested the pastor, a former Muslim and well-known sheikh, who embraced Christianity in 2003. Since then, he has lost his job; his first wife left him; his extended family beat and disowned him; an aunt tried to poison him with insecticide; and one of several Islamic attacks on his home left one of his daughters dead. During his interrogation, the pastor explained that the girl he allegedly “sacrificed” was not only still alive, but taking a tailoring course. When located by police, the young woman confirmed her pastor’s version of events, saying that her father had vowed to “fight hard until we destroy everything [the pastor was] doing.”

Iran: Two Christian converts, a mother and son, were arrested in their home and taken to an unknown location. During the raid, bibles and other books on Christian theology were confiscated.

Another convert to Christianity, imprisoned since 2013 for working in a house church and orphanage, has been denied urgent health care a heart defect, “drastic” weight loss, weakness and depression.

A five-year prison sentence issued to a Christian convert — for allegedly “forming a group in order to disrupt national security” — was confirmed by the Revolutionary Court. Human rights activists involved in his case say, however, that the convict “is in prison only for his [Christian] beliefs.”

Malaysia: A pastor accused of attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity — a crime in Malaysia — was abducted in what was seen on closed-circuit TV to be a professional job, and is feared dead, due to no ransom having been demanded, and despite the family’s offer of reward money to anyone with information on the case.

Muslim Attacks on Churches

Central African Republic: Muslim converts to Christianity were attacked by a Muslim mob while worshiping at a Central Africa church. Brandishing swords and iron bars, the mob shouted “Allahu Akbar” [“Allah is the greatest”], while destroying the church and ripping off its roof. They then stabbed the pastor and beat up members of the congregation. This was one of at least three Muslim attacks on churches in the Central African Republic between January and March of 2017.

Indonesia: The government shut down three churches, two Protestant and one Catholic, on the grounds that it “cannot guarantee their safety” after intimidation by a radical Muslim group. “We are struggling for our right to worship,” a church leader lamented. Possibly emboldened by the government’s action, hundreds of Muslims demonstrated in front of the Santa Clara Church in Bekasi, and called on the mayor to revoke the church’s permits. After the mayor said he would not do so, “even if I am shot,” protesters hurled rocks and bottles at the police, and tried to force their way into the church. Police used tear gas to disperse the mob. This violence is part of a reportedly growing trend of intolerance, particularly against Christians, in Indonesia.

Iraq: A church in Mosul was turned into a religious police base by ISIS, which desecrated it with Islamic graffiti and damaged the stone cross above its front door. According to a report by NDTV:

“Not a single crucifix, or statue of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary has survived in the building’s nave, from which all mark of Christianity has been methodically removed… Terrorists have scribbled their noms de guerre on the church’s walls, and a large chandelier has been dumped in the yard.”

Kuwait: A Muslim man dressed in traditional thobe and armed with a long kitchen knife burst into a Catholic church in Kuwait City during mass, went straight to the officiating priest, and demanded “to see the Pope.”  He then walked to the podium and “tried to seize the microphone from the priest,” says the report. Several ushers managed to remove him from the church premises and hand him to police, which are always stationed outside the church during service hours.  Kuwaiti authorities later stated that the man “suffers from mental health issues” and “denied involvement of any terrorist organization or threat to the church or its parishioners.”

Muslim Discrimination against and Hostility towards Christians

Egypt: A Muslim man sexually harassed and attempted to slit the throat of a Christian woman on a busy street, in broad daylight. Passersby intervened, holding the perpetrator until authorities arrived. The woman was rushed to a hospital and survived.

In addition, the brother of an 18-year-old Christian girl who was abducted earlier this year learned that his sister had been given a new Muslim identity and was being held by security services. When the family approached the national security headquarters and demanded that she be set free, authorities denied knowledge of her whereabouts. As family and friends proceeded to protest, singing Christian hymns, the police responded with violence, wounding several participants.

Nigeria: According to a report in the Christian Post, Christians displaced by Islamic attacks at the hands of Boko Haram terrorists are being denied food and vital assistance at camps run by local Muslim organizations. As many as 1.8 million people in Nigeria are currently facing starvation. Bishop William Naga, who fled his home in the Borno state, said, “They will give food to the refugees, but if you are a Christian they will not give you food. They will openly tell you that the relief is not for Christians.” A human rights activist elaborated:

“Christians often get pushed to the back of the line. Because Muslims are the majority there, even non-extremist Muslims, some of their neighbors are typically going to get preferential treatment by those providing food and assistance because of their Muslim faith.”

Pakistan: A Muslim family falsely accused their 15-year-old Christian maid and her father of stealing, after the girl fell ill with appendicitis and could not work until she recuperated. The father and daughter were arrested and are now engaged in a legal battle to prove their innocence.

A Pakistani government want-ad for street sweepers states that applicants must be Hindu, Christian or Shia — anyone but the dominant Sunni Muslim population – illustrates the way in which minorities are prevented from earning a living wage. When minority groups protested, officials responded by saying the word “Shia” was added by mistake, as they are still considered Muslims.

A Pakistani prosecutor reportedly has been blackmailing Christians facing trial — over the lynching of two men suspected of bombing two churches – to convert to Islam in exchange for their acquittal. One lawyer said that the prosecutor’s office has used this tactic before, but that it was “simply ignored.”

United States: A sophomore at Rollins College in Florida was suspended for challenging a Muslim professor’s assertion that the crucifixion of Jesus never took place, and that his disciples never believed he was God. After the incident, during a Middle East Humanities class, the straight-A student was graded an “F” on a major essay. When he confronted the professor about this, she filed a complaint with the school, claiming he made her feel “unsafe.”

The student recounted that one day, the professor led a discussion about the application of Sharia Law, and a Muslim in the class said gays and adulterers should be beheaded. No action was taken against that person, however.

A week after the student contacted a lawyer, his suspension was lifted.

About this Series

The persecution of Christians in the Islamic world has become endemic.  Accordingly, “Muslim Persecution of Christians” was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month. It serves two purposes:

1)          To document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, if not chronic, persecution of Christians.

2)          To show that such persecution is not “random,” but systematic and interrelated—that it is rooted in a worldview inspired by Islamic Sharia.

Accordingly, whatever the anecdote of persecution, it typically fits under a specific theme, including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; apostasy, blasphemy, and proselytism laws that criminalize and sometimes punish with death those who “offend” Islam; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam;  theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (financial tribute expected from non-Muslims); overall expectations for Christians to behave like cowed dhimmis, or third-class, “tolerated” citizens; and simple violence and murder. Sometimes it is a combination thereof.

Because these accounts of persecution span different ethnicities, languages, and locales—from Morocco in the West, to Indonesia in the East—it should be clear that one thing alone binds them: Islam—whether the strict application of Islamic Sharia law, or the supremacist culture born of it.

Previous Reports:

February, 2017

January, 2017

December, 2016

November, 2016

October, 2016

September, 2016

August, 2016

July, 2016

June, 2016

May, 2016

April, 2016

March, 2016

February, 2016

January, 2016

December, 2015

November, 2015

October, 2015

September, 2015

August, 2015

July, 2015

June, 2015

May, 2015

April, 2015

March, 2015

February, 2015

January, 2015

December, 2014

November, 2014

October, 2014

September, 2014

August, 2014

July, 2014

June, 2014

May, 2014

April, 2014

March, 2014

February, 2014

January, 2014

December, 2013

November, 2013

October, 2013

September, 2013

August, 2013

July, 2013

June, 2013

May, 2013

April, 2013

March, 2013

February, 2013

January, 2013

December, 2012

November, 2012

October, 2012

September, 2012 

August, 2012

July, 2012

June, 2012

May, 2012

April, 2012

March, 2012

February, 2012

January, 2012

December, 2011

November, 2011

October, 2011

September, 2011

August, 2011

July, 2011

14 Jul 00:23

Dadaist Science

by Nathan Cofnas

Earlier this month Stephen Hawking declared: “We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible.


11 Jul 14:02

Remy: People Will Die!

by ReasonTV

Remy channels his inner Elizabeth Warren to vilify the other side.

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Written and performed by Remy
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People need kidneys, it's sad but decreed
yet this Senator's hoarding one more than she needs
I offer this bill and I hope you'll vote "aye"
Unless, of course, you just want PEOPLE TO DIE!

Traffic deaths have many crying with fear
Over 30,000 people are dying each year
this modest change I propose must be applied
Unless, of course, you just want PEOPLE TO DIE!

Alcohol deaths are exceeding comparisons
Black people, white people, Native Americans
We need to ban alcohol, it can't be denied
Unless, of course, you just want PEOPLE TO DIE!

Murders are bad. They have no defenders
yet many are committed by repeat offenders
I say lifetime in prison, whatever the crime
unless, of course, you want PEOPLE TO DIE!

So I don't have a bill, or a groan to detail
I just need a short clip for my donor email
That good? Cool. Tim, dinner at five? Yeah.

These car deaths I mentioned are terrible stuff
It just doesn't seem that one seatbelt's enough
Either vote for my act so that fewer will cry
Unless, of course, you just want PEOPLE TO DIE!

The carbs. The container. We cannot ignore
Whipped cream's killing more people than ever before
This bill would be passed and be ratified
if those people there didn't want PEOPLE TO DIE!

Why not weigh all the costs, the effects, the results
Empathize with each other as if we were adults
Use our brains to craft arguments--not vilify
See that freedom's a trade-off--YOU WANT PEOPLE TO DIE!
11 Jul 01:41

The Wages of the Campus Revolts

by Jason Willick

Colleges have been perceived as liberal bastions for decades, but the latest round of campus culture warring—beginning around 2014 and continuing through the present day—has had a sudden and dramatic impact on conservatives’ perceptions of the Ivory Tower. According to a new Pew survey, Republicans saw colleges and universities as having a “positive effect on the way things are going in the country” by about a 20 point margin until 2015. In the last two years, however, GOP esteem of America’s higher education institutions started to collapse. Today, Republican 58 percent of Republican voters say colleges have a negative effect on American society, compared to just 36 percent who say they have a positive effect.

The reason for the collapse is clear: Over the past few years, leftwing activism on college campuses has reached a level of intensity not seen since at least the “canon wars” of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and possibly not since the countercultural movements of the 1960s. Meanwhile, campus PC blowups—over trigger warnings, safe spaces, sexual harassment, and offensive speakers—dovetailed with the 2016 presidential campaign, as Hillary Clinton touted “intersectionality” on her Twitter feed and Donald Trump reveled in raising a middle finger to the ever-proliferating codes of academic liberalism.

Conservative media has also played an important role. Privileged students ensconced in $60,000-per-year institutions shouting down speakers for incorrect opinions on gender pronouns makes the perfect foil for the new anti-PC right. So right-wing journalists have followed the excesses of the campus left closely, spreading news of the latest insanity far and wide, often with a touch of hyperbole thrown in.

Most campus lefties will probably look at these numbers as evidence that Republicans are even more anti-intellectual than they thought, and that the #resistance against them needs to be taken up a few notches. This would be a big mistake. The homogenization of leftwing views on college campuses, and the obvious hostility to conservative ones was bound to produce a backlash from conservative voters. That backlash has been wrapped up in class conflict between a highly-credentialed professional class and a working class that finds higher education and the well-paying jobs it provides to the elite increasingly out of reach.

Meanwhile, Republicans control an overwhelming share of America’s statehouses, and so have unprecedented power to defund and restructure public higher education. And Congressional Republicans could restrict the flow of student loans that academia depends on or subject massive university endowments to ordinary tax rates (most are currently exempt). In other words, America’s higher education system, as currently structured, depends on consensus support from both parties. If universities continue to torch their reputation with the right, they may find that some of the privileges and resources and social prestige they have become accustomed to will go up in flames as well.

The post The Wages of the Campus Revolts appeared first on The American Interest.

11 Jul 00:32

Newspaper Publishers Want Congress to Bail Them Out of Bad Investments

by Ira Stoll

It's the sort of brazen move that might ordinarily trigger a front-page news story or an outraged editorial—a bunch of very rich individuals asking Congress to write them a law that would give them better negotiating power against other rich individuals.

Yet in this case, the rich individuals wanting special treatment are the newspaper owners themselves. The Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos (worth $83.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire's Index), The New York Times largest shareholder Carlos Slim (worth $61.1 billion), and Buffalo News owner Warren Buffett ($76.9 billion), publicly pleading poverty, are asking Congress for a helping hand in their negotiations with Google, controlled by Sergey Brin ($45.6 billion) and Larry Page ($46.8 billion).

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, the Bezos-Slim-Buffett front man, David Chavern, president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, complained about what he called "an economically squeezed news industry." The Times, in a column sympathetic to the effort, likened the news providers to "serfs." Maybe Serf Bezos should have considered the economics of the news industry when he bought the Post, or Serf Slim when he bought his stake in the Times. The idea that Congress needs to roll to the rescue to bail "serfs" like Messrs. Bezos, Buffett, and Slim out of bad investments just doesn't pass the laugh test.

In respect of the Times, it's particularly comical, because, as an editorial matter, the paper generally favors stricter antitrust enforcement. The newspaper that less than two years ago was editorializing that Congress "should also study whether there are ways to strengthen the antitrust laws," now is backing the move for what its own columnist describes as "an anticompetitive safe haven," "a limited antitrust exemption."

One of Robert Bork's great scholarly insights was that if there's any logic to enforcing antitrust laws or enacting them in the first place at all, it is with a eye toward protecting consumers. The publishers make a case that news is a kind of special case because consumers are harmed by a decline in news quality. Or, as the Times quoted Chavern, "If you want a free news model, you will get news…But it will be garbage news."

I'm a paying, seven-day-a-week print newspaper subscriber who earns a living as a journalist primarily on the basis of people's willingness to pay for news. So I sympathize on some level with what Chavern is saying. But even I can see that his argument is, to use his own term, "garbage." Some excellent news—the CBS Evening News in its Walter Cronkite heyday, "60 Minutes"—is and was "free" to consumers, who paid with their willingness to be subjected to commercials. In this past election, the prediction model of the expensive, paid New York Times was just as wrong as that of the free Huffington Post. Nate Silver had a better prediction over at ESPN's free website.

Even if you buy the questionable idea that more expensive news automatically equals better news, it's a further, and even more tenuous, logical leap from that idea to the notion that Congress ought to interpose itself on one side of a set of business negotiations to make it easier for the publishers to make their news more expensive to consumers, or their ads more expensive to advertisers.

If publishers want to permit competing suppliers to negotiate prices and terms on a cooperative basis, then let them support changing the law to allow it in every industry, without special treatment for journalistic enterprises.

The Google-Facebook world has taken advertising and subscription revenue dollars out of publisher pockets. But it's been a huge boon to marketers and to readers. Advertisers can now reach targets more efficiently at a fraction of what they used to pay for print ads, and readers can now get news from a variety of sites and editors and journalists, from Matt Drudge to Mike Allen to Glenn Reynolds, rather than having to rely on the judgment of their one hometown newspaper editor. Not even Congress has the power to turn back that clock to the old days. Nor would anyone with any sense want it to, other than someone lucky (or unlucky) enough to have inherited a newspaper, or foolish enough to have overpaid for one.

08 Jul 13:05

State Capacity & the Sino-Japanese Divergence

by pseudoerasmus

Why China did not industrialise before Western Europe may be a tantalising and irresistible subject, but frankly it’s a parlour game. What remains underexplored, however, is the more tractable issue of why Japan managed, but China failed, to initiate an early transition to modern growth and convergence with the West. A recent paper argues that the gap in state capacity between Qing China and Tokugawa Japan was responsible for the divergence. [Edit: Please note, this blogpost disputes that argument.]

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, numerous countries confronted by the military and economic superiority of the European powers launched themselves upon a path of reform and modernisation. The Ottoman empire, well before its abolition by Atatürk, had seen almost a century of fitful reform. Iran’s Reza Shah (père) and Egypt’s Sa’id Pasha were also self-conscious modernisers attempting to remedy their countries’ backwardness and weakness. And there was also the motley collection of events collectively known as the “Late Qing Reform”, whose most famous legacy was the abolition of the imperial examination system. Nonetheless, only Japan managed to drastically alter its institutions and society, import western technology, and generate sustained economic growth.

A working paper, “Asia’s Little Divergence: State Capacity in China and Japan before 1850” (Sng & Moriguchi 2014), proposes some solutions to this mystery. (It was reviewed here, courtesy of Bernardo Batiz-Lazo.)

In this yet another geographical theory of Chinese decline, Sng & Moriguchi argue in effect that China’s size made it intrinsically less governable than Japan. With a bigger territory, the ruler is more dependent on local agents to collect taxes but simultaneously less able to monitor their corruption because of the high costs of transport and information in the premodern era. The ruler must share with his agents the surplus extracted from the peasantry, but cannot increase taxes lest the peasants revolt. More interestingly, they also argue, tax rates will fall even as the economy expands and the ruler will spend less on public goods like infrastructure.

[Sng & Moriguchi construct a dynamic game modelling the interaction amongst ruler, agent, and peasant, in order to suggest this is a general result in geographically bigger polities. Personally I don’t see much value added by this model because the results seem kind of obvious given the assumptions, which include the probability of audit of the agent by the ruler as a decreasing function of geographical size.]

The taxes collected by the Qing state did decline on a per capita basis even as the Chinese economy grew :


In stark contrast, the Tokugawa shogunate was becoming more effective well before the imperial restoration under the Meiji emperor. Because of their greater taxing ability, the Tokugawa could provide more public goods than the Qing in the form of roads, bridges, ports, lighthouses, firefighters, emergency granaries in case of crop failures, etc.

sng public goods

Therefore, according to Sng & Moriguchi, Meiji Japan and Republican China inherited the “governing infrastructures” of their predecessors :

…the extraordinary geographical size of China imposed increasingly insurmountable constraints on the regime’s capacity to collect taxes and provide essential local public goods as its economy expanded.55 It is our conjecture that this factor alone might have been sufficient in holding back China’s transition from stagnation to growth even in the absence of Western imperialism.56 By contrast, aided partly by Japan’s geographical compactness, the Tokugawa shogunate and the local lords were able to perform basic functions and thereby maintain social order up until the arrival of the Black Ships.57

Edit : Note to all people who apparently stop reading here. The preceding was my description of someone else’s analysis. I disagree with the preceding. I argue Japan’s disunity and China’s unity are implicated.


I don’t find differences in state capacity, defined as fiscal capacity, terribly convincing as an important element of the divergence between Chinese and Japanese fortunes in the second half the 19th century. I agree with Bin Wong. Even if late imperial China’s ability to generate revenue and supply services was declining after 1700, the Qing still managed to suppress not only the Taiping rebellion, one of the largest and bloodiest civil insurrections in human history, but also other revolts at roughly the same time (Nien, the Hui, Dungans). Even taking into account participation from the western powers, that speaks to an impressive mobilisation of support and resources despite being in the “decadent” phase.

At the end of 1860, the Qing emperor had fled north of the Great Wall from whence his ancestors had hailed ; the western powers had occupied and partly burnt his capital ; and bizarre pseudo-Christian cultist-revolutionaries had declared a new state in one of China’s most important cities, Nanjing. Yet within a year, the Qing were back. At the very least, the Qing state did not yet face an insurmountable “crisis of legitimacy” in a way they definitely faced after their defeat in war with the Japanese in 1894-95.

Contrast this with the situation in Japan after its forced opening to the West in 1858. The Tokugawa suppressed one rebellion after another, but within a decade the regime collapsed as more and more vassals defected from the shogunal banner. And most of those insurrections issued from the southwestern extremity of Japan. That’s where the rival feudal lords who would eventually overthrow the shoguns and restore the emperor originated.

The Qing comeback after the Taiping is consistent with the very long-run pattern we see in Chinese history. China, stereotypically, experienced “dynastic cycles” with both surging and decadent phases. But these cycles became less volatile over time. The closer we get to the present, “core” China experienced more time under unification than under fragmentation, even during peaks of warfare and violence :

index of chinese unity

(Source of the graphic: Ma 2011)

Sng & Moriguchi only show taxes up to 1850. But what happened to Qing taxes after the Taiping rebellion ? They rose. An earlier paper (Sng 2014) by one of the co-authors mentions this in passing, but attributes it to the decentralisation and quasi-federalism the Qing were compelled to practise after the Taiping war.

But in reality the Qing simply found other, more indirect sources of revenue. After 1850, they became much more reliant on customs duties as foreign commerce expanded :

qing taxes

[ Source : The Rise of Fiscal States: A Global History 1500-1914 ] Even in real terms, though not in per capita terms, state revenues in the twilight of the Qing were as high as at the peak of their consolidation in the early 18th century.


The problem with the fiscal capacity approach is it doesn’t explain the right facts about China and Japan. How ever else they may have differed, the most important difference between the late Qing and late Tokugawa when it came to adjusting to modernity, was that a substantial fraction of the elites in the latter was apparently ready, earlier, to embrace radical change in society.

The opponents of the Tokugawa policy of opening to the West were xenophobic and ostensibly conservative. But when the shoguns were actually overthrown and the emperor restored to (nominal) power, the new leaders were anything but conservative or traditionalist. More importantly, a disproportionate share of the Meiji imperial elites came from Japan’s periphery. (More on this below.)

China also had its own kind of imperial reassertion after the Taiping rebellion was crushed — the so-called Tongzhi Restoration. This has been interpreted quite variously over the decades in western historiography. In the 1950s, in the hands of John King Fairbank, the Tongzhi restoration became the standard-bearer of proto-westernisation. But a later generation saw it as the last gasp of neo-Confucian traditionalism. Also, because the Taiping were defeated with vital assistance from local, semi-private militias from Hunan and Anhui organised nominally in the name of the Qing, the reassertion of imperial power has even been seen as a precursor to the warlordism of the 1920s and 1930s. How ever you interpret it, the provincial Han elites eventually rallied to the cause of the Manchurian Qing and the result was quite unlike the Meiji restoration in Japan.

From an economic history point of view, maybe the best gauge of the political attitude between the end of the Taiping war and the Sino-Japanese war is the railway network. The Qing, or factions within the imperial government, would not permit their construction. It was not until after China’s defeat by modernised Japanese armed forces in the war of 1894-95 that the government changed course and tried, haphazardly, a more “Japanese” approach. From Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run :

railway maddisonKCRC_early_railway_network_of_China

[railway map from Wikipedia]

But why this difference in elite attitudes in the mid-19th century ? I have no idea, but it must have something to do with Japan’s longstanding fractious feudalism and China’s tradition of centralised authority. The Tokugawa state even at its zenith was still “weak” in the sense of not having a monopoly on violence or even currency. From Jansen :

Domains were called upon for cooperation in connection with building projects, but they were not directly taxed by the bakufu. A domain lived on the income derived from its own lands. The bakufu set guidelines for military forces, but it had no control over domain armed forces. The [Tokugawa] bakufu could issue instructions about permissible currency within its borders, but the daimyo, although he was supposed to get bakufu approval, could issue paper money for use within his territories and could even mint copper cash. At the end of the Tokugawa period there were hundreds of forms of exchange in circulation, most of them limited to use within domain borders. In sum, several dozen of the domains were very nearly independent states, with their own armies, administrative and law codes, tax systems, and tax codes. Small wonder that residents of a large domain like Tosa or Satsuma thought of it as a country and could not conceive of a hierarchy of authority that extended beyond their lord. The “han” part of the “bakuhan state” thus represented a significant limitation on centralization and Japan’s development as a nation state.

The aforementioned domains of Satsuma and Tosa, along with Choshu, overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868. The ancestors of these vassal clans (daimyo) and other rebel houses enfeoffed in the southwest of Japan had been defeated 268 years earlier in the civil war that put the Tokugawa in power. In other words, many of the very losers in that war remained in their autonomous redoubts and nursed their rivalrous grievances. The Tokugawa controlled them precariously and only with much effort. This is what the political patchwork of Tokugawa Japan looked like :

japan tozama fudai

[Map also from Jansen. You can click to enlarge.] Fudai = “insider” or allies of the Tokugawa coalition which won the Battle of Sekigahara ; and Tozama = “outsiders” or the losers of that battle (or those who remained neutral and declared allegiance to the Tokugawa only after the battle).


The comparison of China and Japan also goes against the spirit of the “great divergence” scholarship of the last 20 years. Instead of comparing England or the Netherlands with China, historians began comparing single European countries or regions with commensurate “macro regions” in China, such as Lingnan or the Lower Yangzi.

The regional concept matters for “fiscal capacity” as well. Even if imperial China had always been a “low tax regime” compared with Europe, its taxing and spending would not have been uniform throughout the empire. So some of Sng & Moriguchi’s per capita public goods data may be misleading. As a general rule, empires behave differently toward core and periphery. Walter Scheidel, in a comparison of the Roman and Han fiscal regimes, argues they had different patterns of extraction but a more similar pattern of allocation. Rome under both the republic and the principate extracted revenue from its provinces, disproportionately via indirect sources, primarily in order to benefit the Italian heartland. The Han empire both taxed and spent in approximately the same place, the Yangzi valley region. For the Qing, there probably wasn’t much point in building roads in Gansu province (which is bigger than Japan) when most of the taxable peasants whose rice tribute they relied on inhabited the provinces of the Lower Yangzi.

An earlier paper (Sng 2014) by one of the co-authors does argue this very thing for Qing China. It uses the location of the imperial postal network and the prefectural seats to suggest the concentration of state activity. Of course the rulers of China were also keenly aware some regions of China were more prone to rebellion than others.

pop&roaddensity[Source: Sng 2014] peasant rebellions[Source: Kung & Ma]



In the final analysis, when you look at the Lower Yangzi macro region, you begin to think, this whole business of a big divergence between Japan and China is exaggerated. From “Economic Growth in the Lower Yangzi Region of China in 1911-37” :

loweryangzi comparison loweryangzi

Clearly, the region that had always been the most advanced in China, and the region that is right now amongst the most advanced, was already experiencing “modern” growth comparable with Japan in the interwar period. Japan’s headstart over China in per capita income probably preceded 1800, but the gap with the “Lower Yangzi Macro region” or even the combined Jiangsu-Zheijiang provinces in 1930 would surely have been much smaller, had the attitude of the Qing government or the provincial elites at the end of the 1860s been quite different.  (You could make similar observations at more micro levels, e.g., in sericulture & silk textiles.)

Shanghai itself, as an international treaty port, was administered by a commission of western businessmen, complete with a western legal and institutional framework. How about outside Shanghai ? In the two decades prior to the Japanese invasion, just how much state capacity could have existed in the semi-governed environs of Shanghai ? Neither the republican regime in Nanjing nor the various warlords could have had as much “fiscal capacity” as the Japanese. Perhaps it was enough that the region was just a bit more more peaceful than the rest of China, at least before the Japanese invasion.

Edit: I have already heard nitpickings on Twitter that I underplay the Western intervention in the Taiping war (including “Chinese” Gordon and the American Frederick  Townsend Ward) ; and overplay the provincial rallying to the Qing… But the fact remains, the Hunan Army, which took the Taiping capital of Nanjing, was not controlled by Beijing yet was disbanded by its leader. He might have attempted a seizure of power in the capital, yet submitted to the Qing. The Anhui army was not disbanded, but its leader became an important Qing official who would later suppress the Nian rebellion.

04 Jul 02:19

The India-Israel Breakthrough

by Sean Keeley
This week, Narendra Modi will make history as India’s first Prime Minister to make an official visit to Israel. As the FT reports, he will be putting the Palestinian issue aside to forge closer ties on defense, agriculture, tech, and trade:

Mr Modi’s trip, which begins on Tuesday, puts the seal on an increasingly close relationship, underpinned especially by billions of dollars in arms sales.  […]

During the three-day visit, Mr Modi will discuss trade with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as addressing a crowd of around 4,000 people of Indian origin in Tel Aviv.

But he is not planning to travel to Ramallah to visit Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. While Mr Modi hosted Mr Abbas in Delhi last month, this trip will be focused on India’s expanding defence, technological and commercial ties with the Jewish state.

“Mr Modi is de-hyphenating relations,” says PR Kumaraswamy, who teaches on the Middle East at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “Its links with Israel are no longer merely an aspect of its policy towards the Palestinians.”

25 years after establishing formal diplomatic ties, the India-Israel partnership is stepping out of the shadows. In part, theirs is a relationship built on defense dollars: as India makes a mad dash to modernize its military and upgrade its arsenal, Israel has become its third-largest arms supplier, with $599 million worth of weapons sold last year. And if April’s $2 billion arms deal is any indication, that figure will only rise in years to come, as Delhi turns to Israeli expertise on missile defense and cyber technology to boost its own capabilities, particularly along the Pakistani border.

The bilateral economic relationship has been blossoming in other sectors, too. When Modi visits Israel this week, he will bring 15 top executives from Indian firms like Wipro and Reliant to establish a joint CEO forum with Israel. That is a sign of how innovative commercial exchanges are already transforming the relationship. In the agriculture sector, for instance,  Israeli water recycling technology is helping India grow food more efficiently; Israel has also established 26 agricultural expertise centers in India to teach local farmers new tricks. In the cyber field, meanwhile, Israel Aerospace Industries is working with local Indian partners on space cooperation and developing high-res radar satellites. All this redounds to India’s benefit; expect more high-profile deals in crucial sectors to be announced during Modi’s trip.

But this is not just a story about a transactional exchange of arms, money, and expertise. It is also about the successful expansion of Israeli diplomacy away from Europe. From the Gulf to Africa to all across Asia, Israeli diplomacy is more active and diversified than ever before.

This is important for many reasons, but fundamentally it reflects a recognition that Israel is not a West European state. Much of Israel’s population consists of refugees from the Arab world, many of whom fled or were driven from their ancestral homes by Arabs enraged and humiliated by Israeli victories in 1949, 1957 and 1967. Others come from parts of Russia that were never part of the West.

Israel’s integration into the non-western world was delayed by Arab hostility. But Arab power is weakening: of the world’s major cultural and economic regions, only sub-Saharan Africa has had less economic and political development since World War Two than the Arab world. As OPEC’s power over world oil prices declines, and as sectarian war and political failure rip the Arab world apart, Israeli tech prowess and close links to the United States make it a valued partner for more and more of the postcolonial world.

Westerners who judge Israeli leaders solely by their willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians have long considered Netanyahu a frustrating figure and a poor strategist. Frustrating he may be, but Israel’s steady progress in reducing its diplomatic isolation while diversifying its exports on his watch is a significant accomplishment. It’s difficult to think of any Western leaders who have done as much to advance their country’s interests. The fact that Netanyahu has done more to build Israeli ties with the third world than Obama managed to achieve for the U.S. is one of the ironies of the modern world.

As one of the world’s tech leaders, as a pioneer in cyberwar defense, as an emerging natural gas exporter, as a leader in desalinization and irrigation tech, and as one of the most accomplished arms producers in a world that is rapidly rearming, Israel is poised for a new era of diplomatic progress.

The post The India-Israel Breakthrough appeared first on The American Interest.

03 Jul 15:58

Go Ahead, Put Salt on Your Food

by Ronald Bailey

"Salt," an unknown wit once said, "is what makes things taste bad when it isn't in them." In that sense, government nutrition nannies have spent decades urging Americans to make their food taste bad.

In June 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued proposed guidelines to the food industry to reduce the amount of sodium in many prepared foods. The agency, noting that the average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium daily, wants to cut that back to only 2,300 mg. That is basically the amount of sodium in one teaspoon of salt. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) similarly advises that "most Americans should consume less sodium" because "excess sodium can increase your blood pressure and your risk for a heart disease and stroke."

There's one problem: Evidence has been gathering for years that government salt consumption guidelines might well kill more people than they save.

The research does suggest that some subset of Americans may be especially sensitive to salt and would benefit from consuming less. Among those are folks with ancestors from Sub-Saharan Africa. But for most people, the risk lies elsewhere.

A 2014 meta-analysis of more than two dozen relevant studies, published in the American Journal of Hypertension, concluded that risk of death appeared to be lowest among individuals consuming between 2,565 mg and 4,796 mg of sodium per day, with higher rates of death above and below that consumption range. As noted above, the FDA itself reports that average daily consumption is 3,400 mg—right in the middle of the ideal range.

In April, a new study by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine, who followed more than 2,600 people for 16 years, once again debunked the dire claims about salt. "We saw no evidence that a diet lower in sodium had any long-term beneficial effects on blood pressure," said lead researcher Lynn Moore. "Our findings add to growing evidence that current recommendations for sodium intake may be misguided."

In fact, the authors found that study participants who consumed less than 2,500 mg a day had higher blood pressure than those who consumed more. They also pointed out that other research has also found that people who consume very high or very low amounts are both at greater cardiovascular risk. "Those with the lowest risk," they noted, "had sodium intakes in the middle, which is the range consumed by most Americans."

25 Jun 14:55

India’s real migration challenge has little to do with skilled visas and the United States - AEI • American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

by Sahana Kumar

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with President Donald Trump next week, increased U.S. restrictions on skilled immigrants visas will likely come up. However, the real migrant challenge — and opportunity — facing India comes from within its own borders. India’s internal migrant population has grown substantially in recent years, spurred by individuals moving from the country’s struggling north to the wealthier west and south. Central and state governments respond by either overlooking this trend, or trying to prevent it. Instead, they should understand how internal migration could vitally impact India’s economic trajectory, and that easing the transition for the millions who have already made the journey is the smart choice for India’s future.

This is not a small issue. According to India’s most recent economic survey, the rate of interstate migration between 2001 and 2011 doubled compared to the previous decade, growing at 4.5 percent annually.  To put these numbers into perspective, annual interstate migration in India averaged about 5 to 6 million migrants a year, or over twice the 2.4 million immigrants received by the European Union during the height of the 2015 Syria refugee crisis.

Staggering economic inequities among India’s states drive these migration flows. The northern state of Bihar, one of the centers of emigration, has a per capita income roughly equivalent to Somalia (around $520) with a birth rate of 3.4 children per woman. The southern state of Kerala, one of the main destinations, boasts a per capita income over quadruple Bihar’s (around $2,350) with a birth rate (1.6 children per woman) on par with Denmark.

A migrant labourer sits under a quilt at an open space on a cold winter morning in the old quarters of Delhi. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

These contrasts exemplify a core paradox in India’s development: the population is growing fastest in the north, while the money remains in the west and south. As noted by Ambit Capital, a well-known Indian finance house, the combination of a youth bulge, a poor gender ratio, and weak economic prospects means the country’s north “runs the risk of exploding as millions of barely literate men face a lifetime without jobs and without women.” In this context, internal migration appears not only inevitable, but even welcome.

This is not to deny that migration brings its own set of challenges. Western and Southern India may look prosperous comparatively, but the streams of workers from southern states trekking to Singapore and the Persian Gulf shows that these regions need jobs too. Nor does migration untangle the web that is Indian identity politics, where politicians in cities like Mumbai trot out charged tropes of migrant hordes taking jobs from the natives.

To avoid these issues, politicians often propose development schemes in poorer regions, which they claim will prevent migration. However migration can’t be prevented in the short run, even with a concerted effort to boost growth in the country’s north. The rapid increase in emigration during the 2000s for example, occurred during a period of high growth in Bihar. Since migration itself requires costs, higher incomes only allow more people to move. Fundamentally, until the prospects at home exceed the payoff from migration, migration won’t stop.US-India

In reality, internal migration could actually benefit India in the long term. Economic development has historically always driven people to cities of opportunity. Faster urban growth means higher incomes, better service access, and increased economic growth rates – a boost India urgently needs. While this certainly doesn’t mean that the government stop aiding weaker regions, it requires politicians to give up the idea that jobs programs will quell the “flight-not-fight desperation” pervading the poorest parts of the country. Instead, the government should recognize that better integrating migrants will allow India to reap the benefits of urban growth.

Tracking internal migrants remains the primary hurdle to successful transitions. Migrants live precariously, lacking vital identification required to access everything from food subsidies to telephone service. Often hired through middlemen for informal sector jobs like construction, they work with no official contracts and little protection from exploitation.

Some recent developments look promising. The drive to register every Indian through biometric identification, known as Aadhaar, could alleviate identification problems (though glitches remain with covering migrant workers). Meanwhile other destination-state governments could emulate states like Tamil Nadu, which last year finished a survey charting the number and characteristics of internal migrants across the state. As officials noted, this could help the state track working conditions and ensure better access to public services.

Unlocking India’s true economic potential lies in ensuring that more of its workers find opportunities internally. To achieve that, the government needs to recognize that internal migrants may play a bigger role in India’s economic future than its more celebrated emigrants abroad.

25 Jun 07:54

Where Have All The Public Companies Gone?

by admin

From the WSJ today, this interesting bit:

In less than two decades, more than half of all publicly traded companies have disappeared. There were 7,355 U.S. stocks in November 1997, according to the Center for Research in Security Prices at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Nowadays, there are fewer than 3,600....

“Twenty years ago, there were over 4,000 stocks smaller” than the inclusion cutoff for the Russell 2000, says Lubos Pastor, a finance professor at the University of Chicago. “That number is down to less than 1,000 today.”

The article discusses the trend in the context of stock pickers having a smaller palette to work with, as it were, but obviously there are likely some economic implications here as well.  The first words the popped into my head were "Dodd-Frank" but for all the problems with that law, the chart makes clear that most of the decline occurred long before that law was passed.

Postscript:  The title of the article is "Stock Picking Is Dying Because There Are No More Stocks to Pick."  Maybe, but I would have been less charitable by saying that it was because as a group stock pickers have never been able to out-perform the market averages, even when there were twice as many stocks to choose from.

Update:  A reader writes:

Matt Levine, Bloomberg writer, has suggested recently that the reason this has happened is not that regulations on public companies have become especially onerous, it's that access to private money is easier now.

Public company regulations were always kind of onerous, but it was worth it to get access to the money only available in the public market. These days, when you can raise billions of dollars without ever going public, why bother?

In the context of stock-picking, I suppose all the good ones have moved to private equity firms.  As I suppose, have gone the good industry analysts

25 Jun 06:48

Why the Amish Are Building America’s RVs

by Allison Yates

The Amish settlements of Nappanee and Elkhart-La Grange are less than an hour’s drive apart and both about a three-hour drive north of Indianapolis, Indiana. The flat, almost treeless landscape is home to horse stables and barns, white wooden houses, antiquated farming equipment and nearly 30,000 Amish. Regardless of the decade, these communities seem to remain constant in appearance.

Permissible technology for the Amish varies by community depending on the bishop—the local religious leader who determines the rules. Some, like Northern Indiana’s Amish, allow gas to power laundry machines and indoor lighting, or business owners to use cell phones and email at work. Generally, though, modern technology beyond work purposes is prohibited, and no matter how progressive the community, operating a motor vehicle, even for work, is out of the question.

But there’s more than meets the eye, and it only takes a bit longer in the region to take notice—the number of Recreational Vehicles (RVs) such as campers, fifth-wheel trailers, or motorhomes. Trailers are pulled behind trucks, and tour bus-sized coaches squeeze through the small-town streets.

According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, RV manufacturing is a $50 billion business in the United States, employing nearly 300,000 Americans. Most of the RVs in America—80 percent—are made in Northern Indiana.


The Amish in this region don’t just live near the RV epicenter—they’re building the vehicles. According to Steve Nolt, Senior Scholar at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, most of the Amish men under 65 work in factories. The majority of these manufacturing plants either assemble RVS or supply parts such as cabinets or windows.

Such increased Amish involvement in the non-Amish workplaces has had irrevocable consequences on their community. In the PBS documentary American Experience: The Amish, Donald B. Kraybill even called the shift the “most significant and the most consequential change since they came to North America.”

Unlike other Amish communities across the U.S., Northern Indiana Amish have always had some relationship to the outside world. After they came to the region in the 1840s, they didn’t live in such close proximity to non-Amish as they do now, but they were never isolated.

When most Amish men were farmers, it was common for them to work seasonally with non-Amish in town, on more traditional things like cabinet making or carpentry, or even making cigar boxes, boats and band instruments. Nolt, who conducted interviews in the late ‘90s with Amish workers in the boat-making industry, said interviewees pointed to the fact that making the wooden boats was similar to wood working.


So when Milo Miller started the first RV manufacturer in Elkhart County in 1933, it wasn’t out of the realm for Amish to begin participating in the seasonal work it offered—something Nolt explained was an “already established pattern that seemed inviting.” And there were a lot of chances to participate in this industry. Miller’s company quickly started to attract more suppliers and manufacturers to the region. By 1948, Elkhart County had already been dubbed the “RV Capital of the World” and continued to supply America’s post-war demand for affordable recreation.

Yet, how did the RV situation shift from a comfortable, seasonal job for some of the Amish, to employing 56.3 percent of men in the Nappanee settlement and 53 percent in the Elkhart-LaGrange settlement, according to Nolt’s data?

The big reason, says Nolt, is what he called an “economic squeeze and demographic crisis,” a shift in the 1980s that pushed the Amish (and other farmers across the country) from the farms into the factory. By the time the 1980s Farm Crisis hit, Amish families had already grown larger and larger,and there were fewer opportunities for them to own land. Today, most people who own farms inherited them. Buying land and farming is not only out of most people’s price ranges, but it’s a tough business to compete with America’s mega-farms.

The strong RV industry provided jobs for Northern Indiana’s Amish once farming was no longer a plausible option. Year-round, Amish men go into work at 4:00-5:00am, riding into town in a bike or buggy, and working until they complete their day’s quota. The faster they work, the sooner they go home. In Newmar’s Nappanee factory, for example, once workers finish eight RVs, they’re done for the day. Some might not even have to work a full eight-hour day, and wages are relatively high—reported to be around $4,000 a month and up.


The more the factory work immerses the Amish in the outside world, though, the more they struggle to find a place to thrive economically while holding onto their values. The transition from occasional seasonal work to the majority of men working in factories has created a cultural conflict that few anticipated.

“The good thing is they put a lot of meat on the table and feed a lot of families,” says Ola Yoder, the Amish CEO of Kountry Wood Products and a former factory worker. The change it’s caused is “tremendous, and I’m not sure if it’s a good thing.” Born in an Amish community in Arthur, Illinois, he moved to the Nappanee settlement over four decades ago when he heard the factory jobs were paying “a big $5” an hour. Now, it’s upwards of $15.00.

Although many believe the high factory wages create a fairer society—the rate forces Amish businesses to pay competitive rates, otherwise they’d lose employees to RV industry—others allude to the potential for problems. Two of the Amish’s most important values are humility and equality, but Amish factory workers now speak openly about wages and compare them often. With their increased salaries, they buy bigger boats and advanced hunting equipment, stirring a subtle hierarchy.

Erik Wesner, author of Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive and the man behind the popular blog Amish America, has written about local perceptions of the industry. Wesner explains that given the volume of manufacturers in the region, it’s hard to generalize one workplace over the other, but Amish have three major concerns with the industry: money, work environment, and stress. Compared to traditional farm work, “it’s a fast-paced environment, it’s stressful, there’s swearing, stories about drugs,” says Wesner. “By the nature of the work, you have to be sharp and on your toes.”


M. Yoder, an Amish man who works in a trailer factory in Shipshewana, said he doesn’t “like getting mad at all” but he can’t help but feel the pressure of the adrenaline. He’s had arguments with his superiors. The speed required has also made him wasteful–it’s easier to throw away excess materials in a time crunch than put them back where they belong.

L. Yoder would rather be working on his apple orchard or taking care of his bee colonies, but to be able to pay his high mortgage (a trade-off he made to be able to live on expensive property close to friends and family) he feels like he has no other choice than to work in the factories.

The RV industry in northern Indiana has long been a benefit to the local communities, Amish and non-Amish, as well as depended on the strong workforce the region provided. The Amish factory workers, who otherwise would never have contact with motor vehicles, are doing fast-paced physical labor and reaping the economic benefits, but not without a cost. Less time on the fields means more time with families and more money means the ability to buy expensive land—something that the community is grateful for. The critics, though, are quick to point out their skepticism. They have to ask, says Ola Yoder, “Where’s this going to end up at?”

13 May 01:19

Florence Nightingale Was Born 197 Years Ago, and Her Infographics Were Better Than Most of the Internet's

by Cara Giaimo

When someone mentions Florence Nightingale, who was born this week in 1820, one particular image likely comes to mind: A caring presence, head covered by a shawl, holding a lamp as she ministers to patients in the dark. The "Lady with the Lamp," as she was known, still serves as a symbol for nurses everywhere.

But for every hour Nightingale spent burning the midnight oil to help a sick soldier, she likely spent another up late doing something else: working on some of the world's first explicitly persuasive infographics. In addition to caretaking and advocating, Nightingale was a dedicated statistician, constantly gathering information and thinking up new ways to compare and present it.

In August of 1856, Nightingale headed home from her famous stint at Scutari hospital in Crimea, where she had successfully lobbied to improve conditions and to expand the role of nurses. Upon her return to Britain, she was greeted as a hero—the press knew her as "a 'ministering angel'," and luminaries were eager to donate to training funds established in her name.


But in private, she had two things on her mind: death and statistics. Even if the most recent war had ended, there would be more, she reasoned, and without some kind of permanent reform, Nightingale feared all future wars would look much the same—full of needless deaths, even off the battlefield. "Oh, my poor men who endured so patiently," she wrote to a friend in late 1856, thinking back on the soldiers she had treated who hadn't made it. "I feel I have been such a bad mother to you, to come home and leave you lying in your Crimean graves, 73 percent in eight regiments during six months from disease alone."

Nightingale had always had an affinity for math—as a child, she filled notebooks with tables of data about the fruits and vegetables in her garden, and according to one of her contemporaries, Francis Galton, she believed that statistics were the most effective way to "understand God's thoughts."

Her months in the war hospitals of Crimea provided her with plenty of opportunities to gather information, something that, in her view, those in charge had been fairly lax about. "The Army Medical Statistics… do not appear hitherto to have contemplated the necessity of [tabulating the sick at a given time]," she later wrote. "It cannot be ascertained correctly even for the Crimean Army."


When she returned, sheafs of stats in tow, it was to a Britain gripped by its own numerical fervor. In 1834, scientists there founded the London Statistical Society, which aimed at "procuring, arranging and publishing facts," in order "to illustrate the condition and prospects of society." Three years later, the country set up a General Register Office to record births, deaths, and marriages. Soon, journalists and politicians were comparing sets of numbers in order to demonstrate particular correlations—between education and crime, say, or relationship status and longevity.

When, in February of 1857, the Secretary of War reached out to Nightingale and asked her to "communicate her opinions" about hospital treatments in Crimea, she saw her chance. Rather than drawing up some brief notes, she quickly began work on what would become Notes on Matters Affecting Health, Efficiency, and Hospital Administration in the British Army, an 850-page report that combines stories and observations with tables, graphs, and charts.

The report took her two years of near-constant work: peers, she wrote, accused her of "making my pillow of Blue-books." It also taught her something surprising—far more Crimean War soldiers had died from preventable diseases than from anything else, including combat. What's more, after a sanitary commission was sent to Crimea to clean up the hospital, death rates plummeted. These conclusions—and the data that supported them—were "like light shining in a dark place," wrote her mentor and collaborator, the epidemiologist William Farr.


With such a massive tome on offer, though, Nightingale feared that this most vital conclusion might be overlooked. So she developed a series of charts meant to make it even clearer to the reader. Her most famous graph, displayed at the top of this article, shows the number of soldier deaths per month from various causes. Each pie slice represents a different month, from April 1854 through March 1856, and each color stands for a different cause of death. It takes just a quick glance to achieve the two main takeaways: that disease, colored blue, killed far more soldiers than either "wounds" (red) or "other" (black), and that it was reduced greatly in 1855.

Nightingale called this chart type—which she seems to have invented— "the coxcomb," due to its shape and color. Although she wasn't the first person to present statistics in chart form—that honor goes to William Playfair of Scotland, who published a book of infographics in 1786—"she may have been the first to use them for persuading people of the need for change," writes the historian Hugh Small.


After she completed her report, Nightingale worked hard to turn its conclusions into common knowledge, privately distributing it to influential people and writing several more reports, many of which included coxcombs. When she received pushback from Army doctors, who thought sanitary measures a waste of money, she even leaked some of her charts to the press.

Eventually, Nightingale defeated said critics, and her findings won out. By the 1880s, sanitation standards in the British Army had greatly improved—soldiers were given the space and time to wash their clothing, bedding, and selves more regularly, among other reforms—and these gains had spilled over into the general population as well. As the statistician Jil Matheson told the Guardian in 2010, "the 'Lady with the Lamp' was also a lady with powerful ideas"—and it's those ideas that truly helped Britain shine.

28 Mar 23:13

Occupational Licensing Reform Gains an Unlikely Boost from the FTC

by J.D. Tuccille

"The health and safety arguments about why these occupations need to be licensed range from dubious to ridiculous," Federal Trade Commission Acting Chair Maureen K. Ohlhausen says about her push to roll back government-mandated licenses for an ever-growing list of jobs. "I challenge anyone to explain why the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from rogue interior designers carpet-bombing living rooms with ugly throw pillows."

Federal concern about the proliferation of occupational licensing requirements isn't exactly brand new. Last year, the Obama administration announced $7.5 million in grants to organizations working to reduce licensing requirements. That's a year after the feds published a report noting that "By one estimate, licensing restrictions cost millions of jobs nationwide and raise consumer expenses by over one hundred billion dollars."

Government officials may be honestly interested in the threats to competition, job opportunity, and consumer prices posed by licensing laws, but the issue also hits close to home. "Military spouses are especially affected by state occupational licensing requirements," noted a 2012 report from the Departments of the Treasury and Defense. "About 35 percent of military spouses work in professions that require state licenses or certification. They move across state lines far more frequently than the general population. These moves present administrative and financial channels."

Shuffled from post to post, military spouses may not have the time to retrain, let alone the money to buy permission, to engage in trades in which they're already perfectly proficient. And unhappy spouses make for unhappy troops—a problem when officials have made wide-ranging and seemingly endless military commitments.

But Ohlhausen's commitment to rolling back licensing takes the matter to a brand new level. The acting FTC chair told Damon Root in the January 2017 issue of Reason that her vision is for the commission to "promote greater competition and choices for consumers, but also liberty for people who want to enter these businesses."

Since then, the FTC has launched a new section of its Website devoted to economic liberty. The new pages point out, among other things, that "nearly thirty percent of American jobs require a license today, up from less than five percent in the 1950s." It adds, "Unnecessary licensing restrictions erect significant barriers and impose costs that cause real harm to American workers, employers, consumers, and our economy as a whole, with no measurable benefits to consumers or society."

Not that licensing is primarily intended to benefit anybody other than a select few. "Dishing out special economic benefits to certain in-state industries remains the favored pastime of state and local governments," the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals approvingly noted in 2004. Other courts have since differed on the righteousness of overt economic protectionism, but there's no doubt that many occupational licensing laws are meant to do nothing more than limit competition to existing hairdressers, massage therapists, builders, interior designers, and all sorts of other well-connected business people.

But while that effectively lines the pockets of established practitioners, other people suffer. "Because it limits which workers can enter a field, licensing necessarily excludes people who would work in an occupation if the barriers were lower," noted the 2015 federal report. "Fewer workers means higher wages for those who secure a license, but lower wages for excluded workers and higher prices for consumers."

That said, occupational licensing is a vice indulged in primarily by state governments. What can a federal official like Ohlhausen do to make things better? Well, Ohlhausen gets much of the credit for pushing the FTC toward its 2015 Supreme Court victory over the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners, which had barred non-dentists from the tooth-whitening business. That's an indication that the federal government's arm-twisting skills might occasionally be turned in a pro-liberty direction.

And Ohlhausen's ascendance comes at a moment when occupational licensing is recognized as a creeping scourge by people across the political spectrum. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and of course libertarians, recognize that forcing people to beg permission—and pay fees and time--to make a living is choking off opportunity and prosperity.

Last month, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey slapped down the State Board of Cosmetology, which had been investigating Juan Carlos Montes de Oca for giving away haircuts without a license. The former homeless man turned cosmetology student faced fines for his charitable efforts on behalf of people still living on the streets.

Ducey's intervention came less than a year after Arizona eliminated licensing for several occupations and eased restrictions for others. If the state had been more aggressive with its reforms, the governor's act of mercy would have been unnecessary, since haircuts given or sold would have been recognized as no concern of regulators. As it is, the State Board of Cosmetology became a laughingstock and may well inspire its own demise.

Florida lawmakers are already inspired. In a state where licenses to cut hair require 1,200 hours of training and a $223 fee, legislators propose to deregulate about two dozen trades so that new entrants can serve willing customers without first jumping through government hoops.

Perhaps recognizing that protecting existing practitioners from competitors is not a winning argument, Curtis Austin, executive director of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges, unconvincingly told lawmakers that, "if you look at those places where they deregulate these issues in cosmetology, up to 85 percent of people contract skin diseases."

Really? Is there any evidence of that?

On a related note, many schools have established a lucrative sideline for themselves by selling government-mandated training to would-be workers—and those schools are, themselves, licensed.

Michigan has already eliminated licensing for seven occupations, and the Detroit News is urging state officials to ditch more. The paper draws off new Mackinac Center research demonstrating that requiring people to seek government permission before working "worsens income inequality without improving public safety."

Nebraska's Governor Pete Ricketts (R) also wants to reduce or eliminate licensing requirements for about 20 occupations, though his efforts were thwarted this month. Opposition came both from protected practitioners and schools that make a buck selling required training.

The FTC's Ohlhausen is absolutely right that "health and safety arguments about why these occupations need to be licensed range from dubious to ridiculous."

But self-serving arguments by people who profit from the restrictions are pretty effective all by themselves. It's good to have another prominent voice in place to oppose them.

18 Mar 03:56

By calling for land redistribution without compensation, Zuma is following Mugabe

by Martin Plaut

How to repeat the Mugabe mantra

By calling for land redistribution without compensation, Zuma is following his Zimbabwean counterpart and throwing his foes into confusion

Africa Confidential, London
17 March 2017

Just as mounting political crises again threatened to overwhelm President Jacob Zuma, he pulled out the land card to buy himself breathing space before the African National Congress’s elective conference in nine months’ time. The beleaguered ANC leader demonstrated his capacity for coming back against all the odds when he endorsed the idea of a ‘pre-colonial land audit’, followed by ‘a single law to address the issue of land restitution without compensation’. This gambit could restore his political fortunes by winning new allies on the left. It would require abandoning the existing constitutional mechanisms for land reform and compensation, and moving to a more radical, expropriatory model.

At the same time, Zuma faces an explosive situation when up to 17 million welfare recipients could fail to receive their money. On 1 April, a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling comes into effect that declared unlawful the government’s contract with the main provider of cash services for its US$10 billion in benefit payments. Social Welfare Minister Bathabile Dlamini has consistently refused to make alternative arrangements for the payments.However, land reform is fast becoming the hottest political issue in the governing party and the country at large. Property rights are protected in Section 25 of the constitution, which endorses the principle of land reform, land restitution and security of tenure, and establishes the principle of ‘just and equitable’ compensation for expropriation carried out for public purpose.

Any attempt to introduce ‘expropriation without compensation’, which has now become the war cry of Zuma’s supporters in the ANC, would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament to change the constitution. It would remove one of the key pillars of a document embodying the lengthily and thoroughly negotiated compromise that 23 years ago ended apartheid and ushered in majority rule.

Zuma’s intervention drew a range of reactions: Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who won 6% of the vote in the 2014 general elections, had already called the ANC’s bluff at the end of last month by proposing a motion in Parliament for the law to be changed to allow for land expropriation without compensation. That was defeated by 266 votes to 33 but the ANC’s commitment ‘to return the land to the people’ appeared on the surface somewhat hollow. The faction supporting Cyril Ramaphosa helped to defeat the motion and is believed to be in effective control of the ANC’s parliamentary caucus. The ANC’s two Triple Alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party, which support Ramaphosa, also oppose expropriation without compensation.

The EFF would support the ANC if it brought in a motion to change the constitution in favour of ‘expropriation without compensation’, a senior party member told Africa Confidential this week. ‘For us, constitutional change is victory…. For us, land is paramount.’ The EFF will also endeavour to use the issue to deepen the split in the ANC between the Zuma and Ramaphosa factions, we hear.

Land is likely to become the central issue in the 2019 general elections, when the ANC will be in danger of losing its simple majority in Parliament and will be seeking new political allies. The implications of Zuma’s ploy are already apparent. The current arrangement whereby the EFF supports the centrist Democratic Alliance in two key cities, Johannesburg and Tshwane (Pretoria), is one of convenience. It is very unlikely to last if the EFF can extract such fundamental concessions from the ANC; some say it would amount to a reverse take-over of the governing party.

Conservative white farmers warned of a ‘race war’ if the ANC proceeded with changing the constitution but the markets, which would have gone into free fall if an ANC leader had made such an announcement even a couple of years ago, hardly reacted. The market calm suggested that Zuma’s intervention was little more than rhetoric to deflect attention from deep divisions in the ANC, its failure to move on promises of land reform and the series of political storm-clouds hanging over his government. Land rights expert Aninka Claassens, who heads the Centre for Law and Society at the University of Cape Town, said that the call for expropriation without compensation was an attempt to distract attention from the fact that government still held ownership over the vast majority of ‘tribal’ land. The ANC had opted to support a system of tribal patronage rather than implementing genuine and lasting land reform, she added.

Land experts have ridiculed the notion of a ‘pre-colonial audit’ because the government has failed in over two decades to complete even an audit of the land it does own, let alone an audit of land ownership before the 1913 Land Act which allocated a vastly disproportionate part of the land in South Africa to white people. The negotiated settlement in 1994 used 1913 as the cut-off point for defining property rights.

From 1994 to date, 4,850,100 hectares have been acquired through the land redistribution programme and financial compensation amounting to 11.6 billion rand (US$882 mn.) was paid out to land claimants who opted for this alternative. Zuma is also attempting to placate restive chiefs hungry for land in the former black homelands set up in the apartheid era, which is still owned by the central government.

The Congress of Traditional Leaders, which is part of the ANC alliance, has hinted at withdrawing from it unless the government transfers land tenure to the Leaders in their traditional areas to shore up their patronage over those who reside in the former homelands. Zuma has long appeased traditional leaders as he sees their power as crucial to ensuring his own political survival and that of the ANC in 2019 (AC Vol 57 No 4). He has repeatedly raised the issue of land expropriation without compensation in addresses to such leaders, the most recent being when he addressed the House of Traditional Leaders just four days after the ANC had rejected the EFF motion to amend the constitution.

A further indication that Zuma’s intervention on land was more about politics than giving notice of the ANC’s intention, was the fact that there is no trace of any proposal to change the constitution or introduce land restitution without compensation in the documents, which have just been published, to be presented at the ANC policy conference in June. One document overseen by ANC economic policy head Enoch Godongwana and approved by ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe firmly rejected land expropriation as ANC policy. Both men have aligned themselves with Ramaphosa’s campaign. Zuma tried at the ANC’s January extended National Executive Committee meeting to have the draft economic transformation discussion changed to make expropriation explicit ANC policy but the Ramaphosa faction opposed it.

The proposals emerging from the conference will not become official policy until they are endorsed at December’s elective conference, which will choose an ANC leader before national elections in 2019, when Zuma’s turn at the helm officially ends. Now though, a growing body of opinion in the ANC leadership says he should step down after a new party leader is elected in December (AC Vol 57 No 21).While land reform is one of the most
pressing issues in the ANC – and in society as a whole – all references in the policy documents still stress that land restitution should take place within the constitution, which means abiding by property rights.

Zuma’s critics say that he has failed to implement land reform within the existing constitution, which provides ample mechanisms for restitution. They argue that the government already has the power to transfer land title to millions of black people living on rural and peri-urban land with a single law, which would have a hugely stabilising effect.

Deputy President Ramaphosa, who is seen as the main rival to Zuma’s former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in the race to succeed him, insisted pointedly that there were two strategies for much-needed land reform: one was to change the constitution and the other was ‘implementing what is in the constitution’ (AC Vol 58 No 1). ‘The ANC’s commitment is deep and thorough,’ said Ramaphosa. ‘We will solve this problem.’

Meanwhile, Dlamini-Zuma, who is still seen as the front-runner in the succession race, was preparing to visit the United Kingdom later this month to talk to investors and think-tanks, and attend a lunch at Buckingham Palace. She has been trying to campaign below the radar in the Eastern Cape and other areas with mixed success, despite a six-month hand-over period at the African Union which runs until mid-year and the fact that the ANC does not favour campaigning by aspiring candidates.

Dlamini-Zuma’s ex-husband has taken strategic control of her campaign for the presidency and is moving the populist gambit on land reform and ‘radical economic transformation’ to the centre of her electoral appeal, say ANC sources. That will create a powerful and telling contrast with the moderate Ramaphosa and can mobilise huge numbers of poor electors for whom there is no more emotive issue than land. The fine details of the ANC’s failure to move on land reform and the existence of heavily negotiated provisions in the existing constitution will be washed away, the strategists say, in an emotional frenzy. For Ramaphosa and his supporters to call this tactic ‘naked opportunism’ may not help them.Meanwhile, Dlamini-Zuma’s main backer, Welfare Minister Dlamini, who also chairs the ANC Women’s League, has faced furious public criticism for her mishandling of the welfare payment crisis. The senior EFF member told AC that his party was as implacably opposed to Dlamini-Zuma taking over from her ex-husband as it was to Zuma himself: ‘As far as we are concerned, she would be a terrible choice.

’Suspicions about Bathabile Dlamini’s motives run so deep that the musings of a Rand Daily Mail anonymous columnist, ‘Lily Gosam’, are spreading well beyond the paper’s traditional readership. In a column entitled ‘Zuma’s secret blueprint for total power’, the author claims that Dlamini and Zuma have plotted to ensure that welfare payments do not reach their recipients on 1 April. The claim is that if that happens, Zuma will lay the blame at the door of the Treasury, controlled by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, and that will finally give him an excuse to sack Gordhan, as he has long desired. Zuma and his allies judge that even though Gordhan’s department is not responsible for welfare payments, most less-educated welfare recipients will blame it nonetheless.

17 Mar 02:42

What economic lessons about medical costs can we learn from the competitive market for cosmetic procedures?

by Mark Perry

Between 1998 and 2016 prices for “Medical Care Services” in the US (as measured by the BLS’s CPI for Medical Care Services) more than doubled (+100.5% increase) while the prices for “Hospital and Related Services” (data here) nearly tripled (+177% increase). Those increases in the costs of medical-related services compare to only a 47.2% increase in consumer prices in general over that period (BLS data here). On an annual basis, the cost of medical care services in the US have increased almost 4% per year since 1998 and the cost of hospital services increased annually by 5.8%. In contrast, overall inflation averaged only 2.2% per year over that period. The only consumer product or service that has increased more than medical care services and about the same as hospital costs over the last several decades is college tuition and fees, which have increased nearly 6% annually since 1998 for public universities.

One of the reasons that the costs of medical care services in the US have increased more than twice as much as general consumer prices since 1998 is that a large and increasing share of medical costs are paid by third parties (private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, Department of Veterans Affairs, etc.) and only a small and shrinking percentage of health care costs are paid out-of-pocket by consumers. According to government data, almost half (47.6%) of health care expenditures in 1960 were paid by consumers out-of-pocket, and by 1990 that share had fallen to 19% and by 2015 to only 10.5% (see chart above). It’s no big surprise that overall health care costs have continued to rise over time as the share of third-party payments has risen to almost 90% and the out-of-pocket share approaches 10%. Consumers of health care have significantly reduced incentives to monitor prices and be cost-conscious buyers of medical and hospital services when they pay only about 10% themselves, and the incentives of medical care providers to hold costs down are greatly reduced knowing that their customers aren’t paying out of pocket and aren’t price sensitive.

How would the market for medical services operate differently if prices were transparent and consumers were paying out-of-pocket for medical procedures in a competitive market? Well, we can look to the $15 billion US market for elective cosmetic surgery for some answers. In every year since 1997, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery has issued an annual report on cosmetic procedures in the US (both surgical and nonsurgical) that includes the number of procedures, the average cost per procedure (starting in 1998), the total spending per procedure, and the age and gender distribution for each procedure and for all procedures. Here is a link to the press release for the 2016 report, and the full report is available here.

The table above (click to enlarge) displays the 20 cosmetic procedures that were available in both 1998 and 2016, the average prices for those procedures in each year (in current dollars), the number of each of those procedures performed in those two years, and the percent increase in average price for each procedure between 1998 and 2016. The procedures are ranked by the number of procedures last year. Here’s are some interesting finding from this year’s report and the table above:

  1. For the top ten most popular cosmetic procedures displayed above for last year, none of them has increased in price since 1998 more than the 47.2% increase in overall consumer prices, meaning that the real, inflation-adjusted price of all ten of those procedures has fallen over the last 18 years.
  2. For the three most popular procedures in 2016 (botox, laser hair removal and chemical peel – all nonsurgical cosmetic procedures), the nominal price for each has actually fallen since 1998 by large double-digit percentage declines of -11.3%, -21.7% and -34.8% respectively. That is, the prices for those prices have fallen in price since 1998 measured in current dollars, even before making any adjustments for inflation. Note also that the demand for those three procedures has increased dramatically, especially botox procedures (29 time increase since 1998) and laser hair removal (9.5 time increase).
  3. The two most popular surgical cosmetic procedures last year were liposuction and breast augmentation, which have increased in current dollar prices by 30.6% and 26.2% respectively since 1998. Both of those average price increases were less than the 47.2% increase in consumer prices over the last 18 years, meaning that the real, inflation-adjusted prices for liposuction and breast augmentation procedures have fallen since 1998.
  4. The average price increase between 1998 and 2016 for the 20 cosmetic procedures displayed above was 32%, which is less than the 47.2% increase in consumer prices in general. Of the 20 procedures above, 14 increased in price by less than overall inflation (and therefore decreased in real terms) and only six increased in price by more than inflation. And most importantly, none of the 20 cosmetic procedures in the table above have increased in price by anywhere close to the 100.5% increase in the price of medical care services or the 176.7% increase in hospital services since 1998. The largest cosmetic procedure price increase since 1998 was the nearly 70% increase for upper arm lift surgery, which is still far below the doubling of prices for medical services overall.
  5. As in previous years, there was a huge gender imbalance for cosmetic procedures last year – women accounted for 12.43 million procedures and more than 91% of the 13.65 million total cosmetic procedures performed last year.

MP: The competitive market for cosmetic procedures operates differently than the traditional market for health care in important and significant ways. Cosmetic procedures, unlike most medical services, are not usually covered by insurance. Patients paying 100% out-of-pocket for elective cosmetic procedures are cost-conscious, and have strong incentives to shop around and compare prices at the dozens of competing providers in any large city. Providers operate in a very competitive market with transparent pricing and therefore have incentives to provide cosmetic procedures at competitive prices. Those providers are also less burdened and encumbered by the bureaucratic paperwork that is typically involved with the provision of most standard medical care with third-party payments. Because of the price transparency and market competition that characterizes the market for cosmetic procedures, the prices of most cosmetic procedures have fallen in real terms since 1998, and some non-surgical procedures have even fallen in nominal dollars before adjusting for price changes. In all cases, cosmetic procedures have increased in price by far less than the 100.5% increase in the price of medical care services between 1998 and 2016 and the 176.6% increase in hospital services. In summary, the market for cosmetic surgery operates like other competitive markets with the same expected results: falling real prices over time for many cosmetic procedures.

Question: If cosmetic procedures were covered by third-party payers like insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid, what would have happened to their prices over time? Basic economics tell us that those prices would have most likely risen at about the same 100.5% increase in the prices of medical services in general between 1998 and 2016. The main economic lesson here is that the greater the degree of market competition, price transparency and out-of-pocket payments, the more contained prices are, in health care or any other sector of the economy. Another important economic lesson is that the greater the degree of government intervention, opaque prices and third-party payments, the less contained prices are, in health care or any other sector of the economy. Some important lessons to consider as we attempt to reform national health care…. once again.


15 Mar 11:36

Pigouvian Taxes and Bounties

by Timothy Taylor
The idea of a Pigouvian tax traces back to the classic 1920 book by Arthur C. Pigou, The Economics of Welfare. The concept is straightforward. There are certain situations, like those involving pollution, where the unregulated producer of a good does not need to take the social costs of pollution into account. As a result, the private costs of production are not equal to the social costs. In such a situation, one can make a case for the government to impose a tax--a "Pigouvian tax"--which forces the producer to pay for the social costs that it is imposing. 

In Part II, Chapter IX of the 1920 book, Pigou discusses "Divergences Between Marginal Social Net Product and Marginal Private Net Product."  He offers a clear statement of what modern economists mean by a Pigovian tax, but in the course of explaining the economic logic also provides some ammunition to those who fear that government may have quite a difficult time in applying such taxes. I quote here from the version of Pigou's book available at the always-useful Library of Economics and Liberty website.

Pigou starts the chapter by discussing situations in which social and private costs might not be aligned for reasons of lack of competition, like monopoly, or in situations like landlords and tenant-farmers where it may be difficult to negotiate who will pay for investing in improvements to productive capacity and who will get the benefits. He then moves to the arguments over what modern economists refer to as externalities and public goods. Pigou writes:
"Here the essence of the matter is that one person A, in the course of rendering some service, for which payment is made, to a second person B, incidentally also renders services or disservices to other persons (not producers of like services), of such a sort that payment cannot be exacted from the benefited parties or compensation enforced on behalf of the injured parties. ... 
"Among these examples we may set out first a number of instances in which marginal private net product falls short of marginal social net product, because incidental services are performed to third parties from whom it is technically difficult to exact payment. Thus, as Sidgwick observes, "it may easily happen that the benefits of a well-placed light-house must be largely enjoyed by ships on which no toll could be conveniently levied."Again, uncompensated services are rendered when resources are invested in private parks in cities; for these, even though the public is not admitted to them, improve the air of the neighbourhood. The same thing is true—though here allowance should be made for a detriment elsewhere—of resources invested in roads and tramways that increase the value of the adjoining land—except, indeed, where a special betterment rate, corresponding to the improvements they enjoy, is levied on the owners of this land. It is true, in like manner, of resources devoted to afforestation, since the beneficial effect on climate often extends beyond the borders of the estates owned by the person responsible for the forest. It is true also of resources invested in lamps erected at the doors of private houses, for these necessarily throw light also on the streets. It is true of resources devoted to the prevention of smoke from factory chimneys: for this smoke in large towns inflicts a heavy uncharged loss on the community, in injury to buildings and vegetables, expenses for washing clothes and cleaning rooms, expenses for the provision of extra artificial light, and in many other ways.Lastly and most important of all, it is true of resources devoted alike to the fundamental problems of scientific research, out of which, in unexpected ways, discoveries of high practical utility often grow, and also to the perfecting of inventions and improvements in industrial processes. These latter are often of such a nature that they can neither be patented nor kept secret, and, therefore, the whole of the extra reward, which they at first bring to their inventor, is very quickly transferred from him to the general public in the form of reduced prices. The patent laws aim, in effect, at bringing marginal private net product and marginal social net product more closely together. By offering the prospect of reward for certain types of invention they do not, indeed, appreciably stimulate inventive activity, which is, for the most part, spontaneous, but they do direct it into channels of general usefulness."
There's a lot of content packed into that paragraph. Pigou is pointing out that private and social costs are likely to be misaligned in various public goods (lighthouses, parks in cities, forests), as well as in the effects of pollution, and in the effects of scientific innovation. In these cases, economic theory suggests the possibility that by using taxes related to the social costs of certain actions (like pollution) or subsidies (he calls them "bounties" related to the social benefits of certain actions, like innovation. Pigou writes:
"It is, however, possible for the State, if it so chooses, to remove the divergence [between social and private costs] in any field by "extraordinary encouragements" or "extraordinary restraints" upon investments in that field. The most obvious forms which these encouragements and restraints may assume are, of course, those of bounties and taxes. Broad illustrations of the policy of intervention in both its negative and positive aspects are easily provided. ...
"The private net product of any unit of investment is unduly large relatively to the social net product in the businesses of producing and distributing alcoholic drinks. Consequently, in nearly all countries, special taxes are placed upon these businesses. Marshall was in favour of treating in the same way resources devoted to the erection of buildings in crowded areas. He suggested, to a witness before the Royal Commission on Labour, "that every person putting up a house in a district that has got as closely populated as is good should be compelled to contribute towards providing free playgrounds."The principle is susceptible of general application. It is employed, though in a very incomplete and partial manner, in the British levy of a petrol duty and a motor-car licence tax upon the users of motor cars, the proceeds of which are devoted to the service of the roads. It is employed again in an ingenious way in the National Insurance Act. When the sickness rate in any district is exceptionally high, provision is made for throwing the consequent abnormal expenses upon employers, local authorities or water companies, if the high rate can be shown to be due to neglect or carelessness on the part of any of these bodies."
In short, Pigou back in 1920 was offering an economic justification for taxes on alcohol and gasoline, as well as for property taxes used to support local parks and amenities. This all holds together as a matter of theory and logic. But as usual when moving from theory to policy, the devil is in the details. Here, I'll point to two sets of concerns that arise from reading Pigou. 

First, it's important to remember the decisions about which Pigovian taxes and bounties will be set up that the decisions are not made by the disinterested angels of our better nature, or even by economists, but rather by politicians. Later in the book, Part II, Chapter XX, is titled "Intervention by Public Authorities," and there Pigou offers this important distinction between the theoretical case for Pigouvian taxes and the practical reality: 
In any industry, where there is reason to believe that the free play of self-interest will cause an amount of resources to be invested different from the amount that is required in the best interest of the national dividend, there is a prima facie case for public intervention. The case, however, cannot become more than a prima facie one, until we have considered the qualifications, which governmental agencies may be expected to possess for intervening advantageously. It is not sufficient to contrast the imperfect adjustments of unfettered private enterprise with the best adjustment that economists in their studies can imagine. For we cannot expect that any public authority will attain, or will even whole-heartedly seek, that ideal. Such authorities are liable alike to ignorance, to sectional pressure and to personal corruption by private interest. A loud-voiced part of their constituents, if organised for votes, may easily outweigh the whole. This objection to public intervention in industry applies both to intervention through control of private companies and to intervention through direct public operation. On the one side, companies, particularly when there is continuing regulation, may employ corruption, not only in the getting of their franchise, but also in the execution of it. ...  On the other side, when public authorities themselves work enterprises, the possibilities of corruption are changed only in form. ... [Here Pigou quotes the US-based Report to the National Civic Federation on Municipal and Private Operation of Public Utilities.] "Every public official is a potential opportunity for some form of self-interest arrayed against the common interest."
A second concern is about the potential breadth of the Pigovian argument. Many modern economists would accept the theory of a Pigouvian tax applied in the case of pollution or a Pigouvian bounty applied to subsidizing scientific research, with some degree of hesitancy over the political economy concerns. But Pigou mentions a number of other cases in which social and private costs may diverge. For example:

When construction of factories imposes costs on neighborhoods
"... when the owner of a site in a residential quarter of a city builds a factory there and so destroys a great part of the amenities of the neighbouring sites; or, in a less degree, when he uses his site in such a way as to spoil the lighting of the houses opposite: or when he invests resources in erecting buildings in a crowded centre, which, by contracting the air space and the playing-room of the neighbourhood, tend to injure the health and efficiency of the families living there."

When women work in factories
"Perhaps, however, the crowning illustration of this order of excess of private over social net product is afforded by the work done by women in factories, particularly during the periods immediately preceding and succeeding confinement; for there can be no doubt that this work often carries with it, besides the earnings of the women themselves, grave injury to the health of their children. ... [P]rohibition of such work should be accompanied by relief to those families whom the prohibition renders necessitous." 
When those who buy new products make other people envious
"For, in some measure, people's affection for the best quality of anything is due simply to the fact that it is the best quality; and, when a new best, superior to the old best, is created, that element of value in the old best is destroyed. Thus, if an improved form of motor car is invented, an enthusiast who desires above all "the very latest thing" will, for the future, derive scarcely any satisfaction from a car, the possession of which, before this new invention, afforded him intense pleasure. In these circumstances the marginal social net product of resources invested in producing the improved type is somewhat smaller than the marginal private net product."
When certain industries like agriculture help to make people suitable for military training
"The private net product of any unit of investment is unduly small in industries, such as agriculture, which are supposed to yield the indirect service of developing citizens suitable for military training. Partly for this reason agriculture in Germany was accorded the indirect bounty of protection."
When a city plan makes it necessary to demolish some buildings
"Thus it is coming to be recognised as an axiom of government that, in every town, power must be held by some authority to limit the quantity of building permitted to a given area, to restrict the height to which houses may be carried,—for the erection of barrack dwellings may cause great overcrowding of area even though there is no overcrowding of rooms,—and generally to control the building activities of individuals. It is as idle to expect a well-planned town to result from the independent activities of isolated speculators as it would be to expect a satisfactory picture to result if each separate square inch were painted by an independent artist. No "invisible hand" can be relied on to produce a good arrangement of the whole from a combination of separate treatments of the parts. It is, therefore, necessary that an authority of wider reach should intervene and should tackle the collective problems of beauty, of air and of light, as those other collective problems of gas and water have been tackled. ... Furthermore, it may, if desired, be extended to include land on which buildings have already been put up, and may provide "for the demolition or alteration of any buildings thereon, so far as may be necessary for carrying the scheme into effect."" 
When advertising just cancels out the effect of other advertising
"[I]t may happen that the expenditures on advertisement made by competing monopolists will simply neutralise one another, and leave theindustrial position exactly as it would have been if neither had expended anything. For, clearly, if each of two rivals makes equal efforts to attract thefavour of the public away from the other, the total result is the same as it would have been if neither had made any effort at all."
As these examples (and Pigou offers others) suggest, the idea of Pigouvian taxes and bounties applies in any and every situation where someone can make an argument that someone else is affected by a market transaction--even if just makes someone feel bad when someone else buys a new product.  It seems to me that almost every public policy argument can be framed in terms of avoiding social costs or gaining social benefits.  Again, remember that these arguments are not being made among pure-hearted truth-seekers, but rather in a political setting.

Thus, a question arises of how one disciplines the process of deciding when the Pigouvian logic applies. For example, it's common on one side to hear arguments that there is a case for Pigouvian bounties to subsidize the research and development that leads to  new innovations and higher productivity. On the other side, it's common to hear arguments that there is a Pigouvian case for limiting robots or other new innovations so that they don't impose costs on existing workers. But a set of policies that simultaneously encourage and discourage innovation runs a real risk of expressing our ambivalent feelings about new technology in way that is close to incoherent.

A related problem in thinking about Pigovian taxes arises when choosing the tax rate. For example, in the case of alcohol there is some evidence that moderate consumption may have health benefits, through a reduction in blood pressure. However, inappropriate and excessive consumption of alcohol can also lead to drunken driving, violence, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other consequences. Thus, it seems as if the appropriate Pigouvian tax on alcohol should be to subsidize the light social drinker, but to impose a high tax on drinkers who impose high social costs. When the effects of an action on third parties are heterogenous in this way. choosing an appropriate Pigouvian tax becomes tricky, and society may well feel a need for use of alternative or complementary policy tools.

Like many economists, I favor certain taxes and subsidies on Pigouvian grounds. But it's worth remembering that the arguments in such cases are not just technocratic, but ultimately involve value judgments about political economy and social welfare.

15 Mar 11:24

Another American City Destroyed by the Democrats

by John Perazzo

“American politics is dominated by an enduring myth,” writes author Peter Collier—the myth “that Democrats are the party of the common man, the voiceless, the powerless, the poor. That if you care about what happens to the least among us, you will cast your vote in the Democratic column.”

But as Collier also points out, the vast majority of America's voiceless, powerless, and impoverished people are concentrated in cities that have been run exclusively by Democrats for decades—even generations—without interruption. These are cities where stratospheric rates of crime, poverty, unemployment, out-of-wedlock births, homes without fathers and failed school systems have become a way of life—along with oppressive and confiscatory taxes whose only discernible achievement is to keep the leaky ship of city government afloat for as long as possible before it is inevitably capsized by economic and social calamity.

Minneapolis, Minnesota is perhaps the least likely case in point.  Camouflaged by the state as a whole, a synonym for plainspoken stability, it is  just one of the many American cities that were once thriving centers of industry, prosperity and optimism—until Democrats took them over. Since 1978, Minneapolis has been governed exclusively by mayors from the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFLP)—the state affiliate of the Democratic Party.

Prior to this long era of Democratic dominance, Minneapolis' poverty rate was consistently lower than the national average. Throughout the 1980s, when the trickle down of the Reagan economic boom had a positive effect on cities nationwide, Minneapolis shared in these good times, adding some 3,000 new jobs to its downtown area each year from 1981-87. As of 1983, only 8% of the city's metropolitan-area population lived below the poverty level, as compared to approximately 15% of the national population.

But by 1988, then-mayor Donald Fraser—a member of the DFLP—had grown troubled by the stark contrast he saw between the majority of his city and  who were thriving economically, and a number of African-American neighborhoods where crime, teenage pregnancy, and welfare dependency were experiencing a growth spurt. Taking a page out of the same playbook other big city Democrat mayors were using, Fraser believed that the cure was redistribution of income. He decided to revamp the way in which social-welfare expenditures were allocated and believed, specifically, that federal and local agencies needed to focus more of their resources on the economic problems confronting unwed mothers (who were disproportionately black) and their children.

Fraser's successors as mayors of Minneapolis—Sharon Sayles Belton (1994-2001), R.T. Rybak (2002-2013), and Betsy Hodges (2014-present)—have shared this same core belief in the importance of massive public expenditures on social-welfare programs and wealth-redistribution initiatives.

The result has been disastrous. As of 2015, the poverty rate in Minneapolis was 25.3%, nearly twice the 14% statewide rate for Minnesota and the 14.3% rate for the United States as a whole. In 2010, a study of 142 metro areas in Minnesota found that only 15 bore a heavier property-tax burden than Minneapolis, and that was before the city raised its property taxes by 4.7% in 2011.

More recently, Minneapolis property taxes increased by 3.4% in 2016, and by a crippling 5.5% in 2017.

 Notwithstanding the growth in revenues generated by these taxes, the government of Minneapolis has been incapable of balancing its budget. In 2015, for example, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s budget included $84 million in federal subsidies and grants. In 2017, the Metropolitan Council—which describes itself as “the regional policy-making body, planning agency, and provider of essential services for the Twin Cities metropolitan region”—received $91 million in federal funding. That same year, the Minneapolis Public Schools operated with a budget deficit of nearly $17 million.

But massive deficits, coupled with ever-increasing dependency on federal assistance, have done nothing to persuade the political leaders of Minneapolis to question their zealous devotion to leftist political solutions, including an unwavering commitment to the “sanctuary” policies that prevent city employees from assisting federal immigration authorities.  When President Donald Trump in 2017 announced that he planned to cut off all federal funding for sanctuary cities, for instance, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges stated defiantly:  “As long as I stand as Mayor, he’s going to have to get through me.”

Just as Minneapolis residents face daunting economic challenges, so have they had to learn to live with the city's sizable crime problem. In the early 1990s, crime began trending downward in much of the U.S. for various reasons, including the decline of the crack cocaine epidemic, more aggressive policing strategies, and harsher punishments for criminal behavior. Minneapolis was slow to adopt the new law-enforcement and criminal-justice strategies and thus lagged behind the national trend for several years. Today, crime rates in the city remain far higher than statewide and national figures alike. In 2015 the violent crime rate in Minneapolis—encompassing homicide, rape, robbery, and assault—was about 3 times higher than the national average. All told, Minneapolis ranks among the most dangerous 5 percent of all cities in the United States.

Like so many other major American cities, Minneapolis offers melancholy testimony for the bankruptcy of Democratic Party urban policies. Under the guise of compassion, Democrats have exploited the residents of these cities as a means to ever-more-entrenched political power, using them as a captive electoral bloc every national election while allowing their life prospects to continue to erode.

Like so many other Democrat-run cities, Minneapolis is the urban equivalent of a captive nation, its residents watching their civic life decline while the cynics who control their prospects continue to make their city a mad laboratory for failed polices and stolen dreams.

13 Mar 07:51

Laws Preventing Business from Displaying the Costs of Regulation Are Unconstitutional

by John O. McGinnis

Minimum wage laws have forced restaurants to raise prices and lose business.  Many owners are not happy. One recourse is to tell customers about the effects of these laws on their pocketbook. Some restaurants are posting a minimum wage surcharge on their menus, so that diners recognize the reasons that establishments have jacked up their prices.

But in some jurisdictions this surcharge is illegal. For instance, in New York a statewide law bans the practice even if notice is prominently displayed. Such laws violate the First Amendment and block one of the best ways of getting the public to debate the costs of minimum wage laws.

Commercial speech gets somewhat less protection than political speech under current doctrine. But even if this surcharge and explanation were (wrongly) given only the protection afforded to commercial speech, such laws would still be unconstitutional. Commercial speech, like advertising, cannot be prohibited unless the restriction is “narrowly tailored to advance a significant government interest.” But it is hard to see any significant government interest advanced by these laws.

In any event, the speech at issue here is political speech, because it provides information about the effects of the minimum wage. If so, it can only be suppressed by a compelling government interest, like forestalling violence.  To be sure, the surcharge is motivated by commercial interests. But the political nature of speech should not be measured by its motivation but by its content.  Unions make endorsements at election time that are surely motivated by what they believe it is good for the livelihood of their officials and their members but they are nonetheless obviously political speech. Economics is a big part of politics.

Could the government constitutionally prevent businesses from breaking out sales taxes as a separate item on receipts? Clearly not, and the reason is that structure of this receipt conveys information about tax rates, an obviously political subject. If sales taxes were not displayed separately, sales taxes would be even higher than they are.  Customer reactions confirm that the restaurants’ surcharges also implicated political debate: some people were so offended by its implicit critique of the minimum wage that they refused to eat at restaurants with the surcharge.

New York’s law not only offends Supreme Court doctrine but  also undermines the core mission of the First Amendment. Information about politics is underproduced, because not only the speaker but democracy as a whole benefits from it. Yet the speaker cannot capture the benefits of others or force them to contribute to the costs of his speech, meaning that many people will speak on politics less than is optimal.   Government restrictions only exacerbate the problem of underproduction.

Moreover, most citizens pay little attention to  the effects of policies because their vote is not likely to affect the results of election that determine policies.  They are particularly likely not to consider the effects of legislation, like the minimum wage, that may have enormous total costs, but impose relatively small and hidden costs on individuals.  Getting voters to talk about the real costs of regulation over dinner advances democratic deliberation.

04 Mar 05:26

Today in History: James Madison Vetoes Infrastructure Bill as Unconstitutional

by Dave Benner

Exactly 200 years ago today, President James Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817 – a plan that called for the federal construction of various roads, bridges, and canals throughout the country.

In a letter to Congress, the president explained his rationale. Out of all historical writings on constitutional interpretation, I believe it stands today as one of the most important.

Madison’s reasoning was simple – although he personally favored the idea of infrastructure construction, writing that he was “not unaware of the great importance” of such things, he denied the policy’s constitutionality on a federal level.

Instead of upholding his own personal proclivities and allowing the Constitution to be undermined, he maintained that the Constitution was one of specific enumerated powers, and the document contained no expressed power for the federal government to do such a thing. “The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution,” he said, “and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers.”

According to Madison, using the Commerce Clause, General Welfare Clause, and Necessary and Proper Clause as justification for the law “would be contrary to the established and consistent rules of interpretation, as rendering the special and careful enumeration of powers which follow the clause nugatory and improper,” adding that an alternative view “would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them.”

Madison was well aware of this fact, as his original proposal for government in the Philadelphia Convention, a set of resolutions known as the “Virginia Plan,” called for a general legislative power rather than a limited array of enumerated powers. By the end of the convention, however, the delegations settled on specific list of powers instead of the plenary alternative.

Believing that the power to build the infrastructure the bill called for “can not be deduced from any part of it without an inadmissible latitude of construction and reliance on insufficient precedents,” Madison insisted that the federal construction infrastructure would necessitate the addition of a constitutional amendment that allowed for the authority. “I have no option but to withhold my signature from it” until such a time, he wrote.

In retrospect, this juncture demonstrates the extent to which the federal government has abandoned the Constitution, making it effectively dead. To come to the same position as Madison on the federal construction of roads in the contemporary would brand one a lunatic or an apostate. This is despite the fact that such an opinion would align exactly with the so-called “Father of the Constitution.”

Madison’s Veto Message, Mar. 3, 1817

To the House of Representatives of the United States:

Having considered the bill this day presented to me entitled “An act to set apart and pledge certain funds for internal improvements,” and which sets apart and pledges funds “for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of water courses, in order to facilitate, promote, and give security to internal commerce among the several States, and to render more easy and less expensive the means and provisions for the common defense,” I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States to return it with that objection to the House of Representatives, in which it originated.

The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers, or that it falls by any just interpretation with the power to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution those or other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States.

“The power to regulate commerce among the several States” can not include a power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of water courses in order to facilitate, promote, and secure such commerce without a latitude of construction departing from the ordinary import of the terms strengthened by the known inconveniences which doubtless led to the grant of this remedial power to Congress.

To refer the power in question to the clause “to provide for common defense and general welfare” would be contrary to the established and consistent rules of interpretation, as rendering the special and careful enumeration of powers which follow the clause nugatory and improper. Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms “common defense and general welfare” embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust. It would have the effect of subjecting both the Constitution and laws of the several States in all cases not specifically exempted to be superseded by laws of Congress, it being expressly declared “that the Constitution of the United States and laws made in pursuance thereof shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges of every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Such a view of the Constitution, finally, would have the effect of excluding the judicial authority of the United States from its participation in guarding the boundary between the legislative powers of the General and the State Governments, inasmuch as questions relating to the general welfare, being questions of policy and expediency, are unsusceptible of judicial cognizance and decision.

04 Mar 04:35

Lock Her Up

by tonyheller

Like almost all Democrats, Senator McCaskill is a treacherous liar and fraud, working against American interests.