You don’t have to be smart to be in Congress

Yet more evidence from the “moderate”  Democratic “Blue Dogs” in the House.  Via Kevin Drum:

Are the Blue Dogs congenital morons? Wait. Don’t answer that…

It’s not just that the Blue Dogs are in favor of extending tax cuts for the rich, which is an unpopular policy. They’re also in favor of cutting programs over the next two years to pay for it. This is not only a dumb idea economically, but would almost certainly make the tax cuts even more unpopular. What’s going to be their next idea? Tax cuts for the rich, funded by spending cuts for everyone else, and while we’re at it let’s outlaw barbecuing on the 4th of July.

Of course, they could be more like Republicans and just borrow money to pay for tax cuts for the rich.  Either way… I’ll quote Forest Gump on this: stupid is as stupid does.

Chart of the Day

Via Austin Frakt at the Incidental Economist:

Yikes!  The chart is just a little worse than reality, as it is based on CBO projections from before health care reform.  But still, look at that projected revenue line vs. the Medicare and Medicaid line.  Obviously, somethings got to change.  Of course, the recent Pledge to America pledged basically not do anything to the Medicare/Medicaid line and to shrink the revenue line.  Also, once again shows that for people serious about the long-term fiscal health of our country, the key is health care, not social security.  Here’s Frakt’s take:

When I read that the House leadership of one party has no plan for the future of spending by public health programs and the other party has done its best and can only find a way to a 6% adjustment [the projected savings from Affordable Care Act], I want to laugh, I probably should cry, but all I can do is shake my head. Too bad two or more wrongs don’t make a right. Really, they just make a costly mess.

Is the graph above really so hard to understand?

Facebook friends and politics

Realizing that not all my facebook friends share my politics, I have created a facebook friend list entitled, “no political updates” with which I make sure certain persons are excluded from seeing it whenever I post political material.   There’s plenty of facebook friends I know I politically disagree with and that’s all well and good, but there’s a few others, most notably in-laws, that I think it best we just keep politics out of our relationship.  I bring this up in light of a recent study that says most people falsely assume their facebook friends agree with them more than they actually do.  Not all that surprising, we kind of believe that all the time about everybody.  Anyway, via Miller-McCune:

The latest evidence: Newly published research finds a lot of people make inaccurate assumptions about their Facebook friends.

“Friends disagree more than they think they do,” a Yahoo! Research team led by Sharad Goel reports in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “In particular, friends are typically unaware of their disagreement, even when they say they discuss the topic.”

Facebook users tend to infer the opinions of their online chums, “in part by relying on stereotypes of their friends, and in part by projecting their own views,” the researchers write. While this assumption-based thinking works most of the time, it also means people are often clueless about the true opinions of others.

A couple comments.  First, I’m sure I’m likewise guilty of this mistake, but I suspect less so than others, as I spend my life talking about politics with people and am always trying to gauge, often implicitly and surreptitiously, where people stand on politics.  Second, I think that it is really cook that research using facebook is now making it into JPSP– the most prestigious journal for social psychology research.  If I was in Sociology or social-psychology, I guarantee you I’d be all over facebook for my research.  It’s a goldmine.

Taxes and the rich

Really nice column by Richart Thaler in the Times debunking pretty much all of the right’s talking points on why the really rich really need their tax cuts (note to reader: they don’t).  My favorite parts:

They [the Republican leadership] offer three arguments to support their view.

The first is that it is folly to raise taxes in a weak economy. There is some merit to this argument, of course, but economic policy is always about trade-offs.

Tax cuts are one of many ways to stimulate the economy. Building infrastructure, for example, is another. We have to choose. And if the primary goal is stimulating the economy, tax breaks to the rich are simply not cost-effective. Numerous studies have shown that the poor spend nearly all of their income, while the rich save a significant amount of theirs…

Which brings us to the third argument. Conservatives say that to do anything other than extending tax cuts to everyone would amount to “class warfare.”

The best response to that notion comes from Warren E. Buffett: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, two academic economists, provide data to back up Mr. Buffett’s view. They show that the proportion of income earned by the top 1 percent of American families was about 10 percent of the national total from 1945 to 1979. Since 1980, that share has doubled, reaching about 20 percent in 2008 — or more, if capital gains are included.

I’ll also mention here, the Thaler is the co-author (with Cass Sunstein) of an excellent book, Nudge. (Which I now realize, I somehow forgot to review on my webpage). Anyway, Nudge takes the insights and findings from behavioral economics and applies them to actual policy debates.  It’s no Predictably Irrational (a wonderfully engaging book on behavioral economics), but given the more serious tone and intentions, it’s quite readable and quite good.

Are bartenders overpaid?

Seems to me, that a lot of tip-based professions end up earning way more money than they should.  Sure there’s talent, skill, and training in bartending, but should two bartenders be able to afford a $300,000 house?  I say no.  This is actually from an interesting story about the increase in short sales in the real estate market (getting the bank’s permission to sell the house for less than you owe):

The original owner bought the home for $400,714 in 2006; Harris and her husband, both bartenders, paid what seemed to be a bargain price, $289,000, in 2008. But they have fallen behind on their mortgage payments, in part because her husband was out of work. Now they have a $246,000 offer for the home, and the balance on their mortgage is more than that. They want to accept the offer. All they need is their bank’s okay.

That kind of deal is called a short sale, and it’s sweeping the country. In these deals, a lender allows a troubled borrower to sell a home for less than what’s owed on the mortgage.

What I always find most ridiculously lucrative is situations such as my 20th reunion where there was an open bar, and it seems to be an expectation to tip a dollar for every drink prepared.  Damn, that adds up.  Doormen do pretty good, too.  Does this make me an elitist?

Quote of the day


The first set of regulations in the Affordable Care Act is now in effect. Big government has now capriciously taken away the right of average Americans to start an insurance company, sell other people insurance, and then arbitrarily cancel the policy when that person contracts a horrible illness.

Generation X rules social media

Great friend (and loyal blog commenter) Jeff P posted this link about the ages of various social media users on facebook.  I found it really cool.  Of course, I’m so tragically un-hip, I haven’t even heard of most of the social media websites mentioned.  Nonetheless, here’s the key chart:

Age distribution on social network sites

I have no idea what Bebo is, but obviously I’m too old for it.  Age-wise, I’m actually the perfectly typical facebook user:

Estimated average age on social network sitesT

That’s right– the average facebook user is 38, just like me.  I think its quite interesting that despite starting as a site exclusively for college students, the bulk of users are now between 35-54.   In fact, the 35-54 age group tops the list for 11of the 19 sites studied (including Twitter).  I got to thinking, don’t we have another name for 35-44?  Generation X.

Defending the bailout

Great column from Fareed Zakaria on the bank bailout this week.   As friend and loyal reader, John F. says, “Zakaria’s last article in Newsweek was fantastic.  No doubt he’s brilliant but while his observations are usually dead on there’s something typically lacking in his conclusions.  This one is spot on.”  Here you go:

In the month after the fall [of Lehman Brothers], the U.S. government made a series of massive moves to restore stability to the financial system. And it’s clear that those actions saved the American—and thus the global—economy from total collapse…

The contraction in global trade in late 2008 and early 2009 was worse than in 1929 and 1930. In other words, we were surely headed for something that looked like a Great Depression.

The U.S. government’s actions stopped the fall. Between the passage of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the massive quantitative easing of the Federal Reserve, markets realized that the government was backstopping the financial system, that credit was beginning to flow again, and that if no one else was going to inject capital into the system, the U.S. government would do so. Part substance, part symbolism, the effect was to restore confidence and stability to the system. In fact, the financial system bounced back so fast that the government will likely recover almost 90 percent of the funds it committed during those months, making this one of the cheapest financial bailouts in history.

Here’s the insight I really like:

The best evidence that TARP worked is that now, most people think it was unnecessary. In fact, about 60 percent of the country thinks it was a bad idea…

Bank bailouts have always been unpopular. People hate to pay the bills for other people’s improvidence, and they detest having to do so for rich people. Viewed in moral terms, TARP is unconscionable. Financial institutions created the mess, and yet they were the ones being bailed out. But governance is sometimes about practical realities. Had the financial system gone under, the American economy would have come to a standstill. It very nearly did. We had to save the banks to save the economy.

And the nice “spot-on” conclusion:

The American system had a heart attack and we responded fast and well. Unfortunately, the problems we face in the future are less like heart attacks and more like cancer—problems that if unattended will grow and metastasize. In the long run, though, they’ll have the same effect on the patient.

I’ll simply add that what people have to say about the bailout is yet another way to judge whether they are serious and knowledgeable about politics and recent American political history; or rather just political hacks depending upon the ignorance of most Americans to score political points.

How to lie with statistics

Ezra Klein’s post yesterday on how Republicans have some incredibly misleading charts in their “Pledge to America” reminded me of my very favorite statistics book: How to Lie with Statistics.  (bet you didn’t know I had a favorite statistics book)  The example Ezra cites is absolutely classic, and would be worthy of inclusion in a new edition.  First, the GOP graph:


Notice the Y-axis. Makes it look like Obama doubled the size of government, rather than an increase from about 20 to 23%.  Now, here’s the original correction:


Defensible, but actually not all that “honest” as it clearly downplays things.  Here’s the final “fair” compromise:


Just goes to show that you can take the same data and show pretty much whatever you want.  Caveat lector.

Pop vs. Soda vs. Methodology

This map which shows what term people in different parts of the country use to refer to soft drinks is really cool:

That said, while I think it gets at some basic truths in regional variation, e.g., Midwesterners really do mostly use “pop” and Southerners are the ones most like to use “coke” it does not entirely jibe with my experience.  Here’s the methodology:

The primary source of data for this study will be submissions from readers of this web page. Obviously, this may not be a completely random sampling, but since the primary objective of the study is to map the regional distribution and not the population distribution per response, this sample should suffice. Also, since a large percentage of internet users are college students who may use dialects not local to their current place of residence, this survey asks for the respondent’s “home town” and the beverage term used by most of the population there.

Given my experiences, I suspect the survey respondents played up their regional differences.  Whereas people in Wake county, NC or Lubbock county, TX are certainly more likely to use “coke” than the “pop” drinkers of Franklin county, OH, there’s no way it is the majority term as the map indicates.  You can also click through to the data and see that there’s a small N problem for most counties.  Anyway, it’s still cool.

Too hot for Sesame Street

Via Jon Chait, I learn that Sesame Street has deemed the following video too racy for Sesame Street:

To which I have to say…

1) Oh, please.  So some pre-schoolers see a bit of cleavage.  This seems pretty tame to me.  And, heck, I didn’t even realize until my students pointed out to me (yes, that’s what I do with class time) that she’s actually got a figure-skateresque skin-colored sheer on above the cleavage.

2) I already knew this, but damn is that one catchy song.

3) Chait points out that Sesame Street is quite hypocritical about this whole thing.

A little more on “The Pledge”

Yglesias’ post was even better than Ezra Klein’s.  My favorite parts:

what I can glean this morning it does in fact reflect the core elements of today’s conservative agenda—whining about the deficit, deficit-increasing tax cuts, additional whining about the deficit, and deficit-increasing promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act…

Perhaps the most telling thing about where the modern conservative movement is now, however, is their pledge on spending which says that “with common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels.” Of course once you except Social Security, Medicare, and defense from cuts you’re talking about not touching the government’s three largest programs. So notwithstanding all the rhetorical flourishes throughout the document about small government, liberty, etc. that try to paint a portrait of broadly conflicting philosophical visions about the size and scope of the federal government you actually see a rather narrower difference of priorities. Are they pledging to cut spending while leaving intact programs that support the poorest Americans? No. Are they pledging to cut spending while leaving intact the most effective programs? No.

Instead it’s a plan that says we’ll cut spending on children, the poor, and the next generation’s infrastructure in order to ensure that taxes can be cut on the rich while protecting our own base constituencies—old people, defense contractors, veterans

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