Sibling personalities

Really interesting story from NPR about how siblings are really quite alike in most everything except personality (something most of us with siblings or children have probably noticed).  In fact, while the correlations between cognitive ability and physical traits are quite high among siblings, when it comes to personality, siblings are only slightly more likely to share personality traits than random strangers.  Certainly true of my sister and I.  We get along great, but our personalities are quite different.  As for my kids, David and Evan are both really creative and they’re both really shy.  Ironically, Alex, who has autism, is definitely the most outgoing (and flirtatious) of the bunch.   Unless Sarah is a little more outgoing, though, I’m going to assume that Kim has a dominant shyness gene she’s passing on to everybody.

The article covers three interesting theories on why these stark differences: divergence (siblings intentionally choose different paths); environment (e.g., David’s environment will be very different from Sarah’s since he is experiencing our family essentially 11 years sooner and is the oldest rather than youngest of four); and exaggeration (small difference get exaggerated into big ones due to the nature of family dynamics).

Best guess here is that it is very likely all three to a considerable degree.  I used to think birth order research was a bunch of bunk, but I’m certainly partial to that as part of the explanation.  I also think I’ve seen the divergence theory in action many times.  Anyway, really interesting topic to think about.

Government at a discount

Nice post from Kevin Drum– riffing off Bruce Bartlett– on the idiocy of the Republicans’ “Starve the Beast” Approach to economic policy.  Basic idea behind starve the beast– cut government revenue and the government will be forced to cut spending and government will shrink.  Reality?  The opposite.  Drum does a nice job spinning this out in simple economic terms:

If you raise taxes to pay for government programs, you’re essentially making them expensive. Conversely, if you cut taxes, you’re making government spending cheaper. So what does Econ 101 say happens when you reduce the price of something? Answer: demand for it goes up.

Cutting taxes makes government spending less expensive for taxpayers, which makes them want more of it. And politicians, obliging creatures that they are, are eager to give the people what they want. Result: lots of spending and lots of deficits.

If you want to reduce spending, the best way to do it is to raise taxes so that registered voters actually have to pay for the services they get. I don’t have a cute name for this theory, but it’s true nonetheless. Even for Republicans.

I think I probably got the idea of “government at a discount” from Chait, but I think it sums up Drum’s point quite nicely in a single phrase.  I’m also intrigued by ideas which really seem to make an impact on my students (especially those who have been mislead by the conservative noise machine for years).  When this idea of “government at a discount” gets through to them, they tend to look at our tax policy in a much more realistic manner.  If only more Americans understood this (again, that’s hard when you’ve got a major political party and its attendant media helpers lying to them on a regular basis).


1) I’m thankful more than three people read this blog.
2) I’m thankful that Sarah’s first night at home was a good one. We had one wakeful spell between 3-4, but I had Modern Family and a great 30 for 30 (Marcus Dupree: the Best that Never Was) on the DVR. Otherwise, my lack of breast milk as compared to Kim (or any lactating female for that matter), made things pretty easy.


Seems like there’s been a lot of stuff about the 2012 election lately.  I guess things are slow enough that people feel the need for mindless speculation.  Or its withdrawal from being election obsessed for the past few months.  Clearly, I’m not immune.   Kevin Drum has a nice post pointing to the most important speculation for 2012– the economy.  Quite simply, if the economy is good, Obama will be fine; it it’s bad enough, even Sarah Palin can beat him.  I actually suspect we’ll be in an interesting middle ground where if Republicans nominate the right candidate they win and the wrong one (i.e., Palin) they lose.  Here’s the image of Ray Fair’s economic growth forecast and how it affects presidential popular vote percentage:

Modest economic recovery and right around 50% sounds about right to me.  We’ll see, of course, but 2012 could be a very interesting election.

As far as looking at the Republican field that will be very important should we see just a modest recovery, Ed Kilgore has a really nice piece in TNR.

Here’s his closing summary– which strikes me as a little harsh on the quality of the GOP field– but basically right on it its analysis:

Among the dark-horse possibilities, Tim Pawlenty is abundantly available, but he’s vulnerable to an early exit if he fails to win in Iowa. (T-Paw is also not exactly a ball of fire.) The fundraising genius Haley Barbour is magic in Washington circles, and seems to want to run, but his background as a lobbyist’s lobbyist is ill-suited to a Tea Party-driven primary season; he would seem certain to follow the path of past GOP candidates John Connolly and Phil Gramm to ignominious defeat in a sea of wasted money. John Thune has reportedly decided against a run already. Mitch Daniels called for a truce in the culture wars, which is a deadly insult to Christian conservatives. Maybe he can flip a coin with fellow Hoosier Mike Pence to see who will try to become known outside Indiana in time for 2012.

How can Republicans save themselves? The best way would arguably be for the Republican establishment to coalesce behind a least-bad dark-horse candidate as early as possible in the process. It could be easier this time because 2012 will be the first presidential election after Citizens United, and it might be the first cycle in recent memory where big sacks of shadowy outside money have an impact on the primaries. Yet it’s still a long shot, and whether the ultimate nominee is a dark horse, an insider, or an inflammatory Tea Party favorite like Palin, the nominee will still be hobbled by the demands of the incredibly excited conservative base. Advantage: Barack Obama.

If its true that Thune is out, that strikes me as good news for Obama.  I don’t really know much about the guy, but what I do, scares me.  Talk about a presidential candidate from central casting.

Amazon and sales tax

Given that the integrated DVD player in one of my TV’s is broken (a disc seems to be permanantly stuck in there no matter what), I’m looking to by a new DVD player.  I’ll probably order one from Amazon.  Why, the prices are generally great– and when you figure in the lack of sales tax– really cannot be beat (I also do prefer the convenience and information of shopping on-line).  Truth is, of course, that this really is an unfair advantage for Amazon and similar retailers (for example, I almost never order from B&, which has to charge me sales tax because it has stores in NC).  As more and more business moves on-line, states are missing out on a significant chunk of revenue that they really need now more than ever.  Farhad Manjoo had a really interesting article about this in Slate.

The desire to have as few customers as possible pay sales tax has clearly driven Amazon’s business decisions and states are having a tough time fighting back.  Here in NC, the request you voluntary report your on-line purchases and pay tax in your state income tax return.  My highly ethical wife actually does this (though, I doubt they’re geting the full amount).

Ezra spins out the public policy implications as nobody like Ezra does:

When you have a tax, you want the base as broad as possible so that the rates can be as low as possible. The exception is when you’re using the tax to discourage something, rather than just raise revenue. But the point of the sales tax isn’t to kill off brick-and-mortar retailers and drive commerce online. It’s to fund state governments. And right now, state governments are losing more than$7 billion a year because online purchases don’t get taxed, and that number is going to keep growing as more and more purchases get done online, in part because they’re exempt from sales taxes.

And as they say on the infomercials, that’s not all! This is making an already regressive tax even more regressive. Sales taxes hit low-income residents hardest because they spend a higher percentage of their income. And online purchasing is more common among the affluent than among the cash-strapped. So you’ve got fewer affluent people paying sales taxes, which means more states with big holes in their budgets. And what do states do when they’ve got a big hole in their budget? raise the sales tax, of course. And who’s left paying that increased sales tax? Lower-income consumers, mainly.

I certainly like and benefit from this policy (as one of those affluent on-line shoppers).  While it may have made sense while internet commerce was in its infancy, now this is clearly just a bad policy (I’m still buying the DVD player at Amazon for now, though).

Chart of the Day

McClatchy has a nice, fair way of asking about health care reform and Yglesias has a nice pie chart of the results:

And I’ve got no time to comment, but I think it speaks for itself.

Baby is here

blogging may be a little slow for a while…

Sarah Marie Greene

Born 7:01pm on November 22, 2010

6 pounds,13 ounces; 20 inches


No, not a post on the AFL-CIO.  Just felt a need to blog from the labor and delivery room at WakeMed Cary.  Been here since 6:30am.  Hopefully, within another hour or two, this will wrap up nicely with a bouncing baby girl.  As I frequently comment on gender issues here, I might as well mention that never is the gender difference in a marriage (even a very modern one) more apparent than childbirth.  Here I sit happily taking advantage of the Wifi at the hospital, while my wife sits suffering and miserable.  Not much I can do to help.  (Though, I did just grab the nurse).  More later.

Tax cut incoherence

I don’t get why I haven’t seen anybody make this point before, but count on Chait.  Basically, to argue that you cannot raise taxes in a recession is an implicit acceptance of Keynesian economics.  Of course, Keynesian economics also says you should spend to get out of the recession, but Republicans won’t go for that:

Basically, if you believe that recessions are bad times to raise taxes, then you should also believe they’re a bad time to cut spending. Alternatively, if you reject the Keynesian model, then you might think raising taxes is bad, but there’s no particular reason to think raising taxes during a recession is especially problematic.

The conservative rhetoric about raising taxing during a recession amounts to an ideologically incoherent pastiche of mutually exclusive theories. It literally makes no sense at all.

Time and time again, the evidence shows that Republicans’ primary ideological driver is less taxes for rich people.  Full stop.  That’s it.  Everything else is just window dressing on this politically unpalatable idea.


Inequality and the real world

Via Dan Ariely (author of the terrific Predictably Irrational) and friend, there’s an interesting Op-Ed in the LA Times about their latest research.  Apparently, most Americans dramatically underestimate the amount of inequality in our society:

According to an analysis this year by Edward Wolff of New York University, the top 20% of wealthy individuals own about 85% of the wealth, while the bottom 40% own very near 0%. Many in that bottom 40% not only have no assets, they have negative net wealth….

We recently asked a representative sample of more than 5,000 Americans (young and old, men and women, rich and poor, liberal and conservative) to answer two questions. They first were asked to estimate the current level of wealth inequality in the United States, and then they were asked about what they saw as an ideal level of wealth inequality.

In our survey, Americans drastically underestimated the current gap between the very rich and the poor. The typical respondent believed that the top 20% of Americans owned 60% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% owned 10%. They knew, in other words, that wealth in the United States was not distributed equally, but were unaware of just how unequal that distribution was.

When we asked respondents to tell us what their ideal distribution of wealth was, things got even more interesting: Americans wanted the top 20% to own just over 30% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% to own about 25%. They still wanted the rich to be richer than the poor, but they wanted the disparity to be much less extreme.

Like so much of the dysfunctional nature of American politics, I think a key fact is not what Americans don’t know, but rather what they think they know (hello, cutting waste, fraud, abuse and foreign aid to save the budget), but is simply wrong.  Presumably, if Americans realized the incredibly disproportionate (and growing) nature of American inequality, they’d be more open to Democrat’s efforts at redistribution, aka, “socialism.”

Gender and praise

I attended a live recording of one of my favorite podcasts– Slate’s sports’ podcast, “Hang Up and Listen”— at NC State last week.  Being in the area, they included special guest Anson Dorrance, the coach of the incredibly successful UNC Women’s soccer team.  I had not known to fascinating facts about Dorrance… First, he actually was offered the coaching job while still a law student.  Second, he coached the women and the men for about 10 years.

Apparently, he has all sorts of insights into how women and men are different.  What I (and the folks at the Slate Political Gabfest) found most interesting was the idea that women and men (at least team athletes) respond dramatically differently to praise.  Men, love to be praised in front of their teammates.  Doesn’t everybody?  Apparently, Dorrance’s female players do not like to be singled out for praise as this actually leads to resentment from teammates– and thus the player herself.  Dorrance saves strong praise for his players for my private situations.  I’m sure there’s got to  be some psychology research on this somewhere, but regardless, I do find it quite intriguing.

GOP and smart young people

Worth a full blog post, but with the baby coming soon, I know I’m just not going to get around to it (and I’ve been holding onto this one for a while).   So, I’ll just mention that this is a really interesting post over at Frum Forum that analyzes why the Republicans aren’t just losing young people, they are especially losing smart young people.  Here’s a bit:

To simplify: Republicans have gone from having a clear advantage among top students in the decade following the Eisenhower administration, to being competitive under the Nixon and Ford administrations, and from being an energetic minority during Reagan and Bush Sr. to being almost eradicated today.

So if we accept that the trend is drastic, that it is real and applies to most of the top universities – and I think that is reasonable – the next question is: How did this come about?…

Let me advance another hypothesis. Today’s top students are motivated less by enthusiasm for Democrats and much more by revulsion from Republicans. It’s not the students who have changed so much. It’s the Republicans.

And here is where Applebaum’s point gains its force.

Under Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, Republicans championed science and knowledge. But over the past 30 years, national Republicans have formed an intensifying alliance with religious conservatives more skeptical of science and knowledge. I don’t know whether discarding evolution goes against common sense; but I’m pretty sure it goes against most Ivy League-educated senses.

Interesting food for thought.

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