How policy remains stupid, stupid, stupid

Republicans.  No, sorry, more than that.  A hell of a lot of status quo bias as well.  And powerful, intense interests with narrow, but substantial benefits.  Loved this Planet Money episode on how incredibly stupid our tax filing system.  In the rest of the modern world, tax returns are simply not a big deal.  Most voters have straightforward taxes and the government already has the key information on file.  You get a pre-filled tax return and you can check through it to make sure everything is in order, and that’s that.  Not so, as you well know in America.  Instead, here we waste millions and millions of hours– not to mention the frustration– and spend lots and lots of money (to the benefit of HR Block, Turbo Tax, etc.) to so something that is a cheap, straightforward function of the government.  Yeah, America!

The Planet Money story is about a tax law professor who tried to change this in California.  They actually got a pilot program going for California state taxes.  As you might imagine, taxpayers, loved it.  It’s just smart, sensible policy.  So, what happened?  HR Block, Turbo Tax, etc., lobbied like hell against it.

And you know who else?  Grover Norquist “no new tax” pledge Republicans.  Thought the convoluted logic that seems to always guide Norquist, he claimed that people would not carefully check their forms and thus the government would get more money out of them thus new taxes.  The real reason, though.  Norquist and his allies want paying taxes to be unpleasant.  They want people to waste time and money and suffer frustration and blame the government for it.  Of course, in California at least, the government could do better, if Norquist types weren’t blocking it.

So, there you go?  A way inferior policy that we are stuck with because narrow interests benefit like hell and narrow-minded ideologues don’t mind inflicting suffering and waste to make a point.  Welcome to public policy in America.

Quick hits (part I)

1) The headline for this WP essay just kills me, “I gave up TV, then qualified for Olympic marathon trials and got my PhD.”  Oh, please, plenty of people manage to accomplish similar goals while enjoying TV.  I got a PhD, tenure, full professor and co-wrote a book while watching lots of TV!

2) Scott Pelley is pulling no punches on Trump.  I hadn’t realized– good for him.

3) Radley Balko on the foolhardiness of putting immigration enforcement above criminal law enforcement.

4) Fun take on how TV Opening Titles have gotten so good.  I totally agree, but, please, no reason to diss Magnum PI!

5) Vox interview with Pippa Norris on the entho-nationalist basis of Trump’s appeal.

I want to return to what you said earlier about the cultural roots of modern populism. In one of your recent papers, you tell a familiar but troubling story: Since at least the 1970s, Western societies have emphasized what you call “post-materialist” and “self-expression” values among the young educated strata of society. This has produced movements toward greater gender and racial equality, equal rights for LGBTQ people, more acceptance of diverse lifestyles and cultures, etc. It’s also resulted in less focus on redistributionist economics.

You argue that we’ve reached something of a tipping point culturally as less educated and older citizens, particularly white men, are now increasingly resentful of a society that no longer privileges them or their values.

Pippa Norris

The idea that values are being changed has long roots going back to the 1970s, but it has new traction, if you like. The argument is that you adopt the values at the time that you grew up and it’s part of your societal conditioning. Look, for example, at the actual groups who were growing up in Europe when there was a welfare state from cradle to grave. The arguments were about meeting basic material needs — full employment, free education, free health care, etc.

In many of these countries, values changed from a focus on material needs — jobs, economic growth, and the things people who lived through the Great Recession and the period of war cared about — to a different set of values, which was environmental, gender equality, participation, democracy and a whole range of other post-material values. This is a long-term change which my co-author, Ron Inglehart, has predicted for many decades.

What we think happened is that there’s been a tipping point in terms of where majority values have become the new minority. So it’s really about population change more than anything else. If a generation grows up with certain values, those values gradually take over that culture. We can see the manifestation in many policies.

Think, for example, of gay marriage and the way in which marriage rights were something that was not even discussed 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. They weren’t mainstream in the political agenda. And now many, many countries have equalized gay marriage, although affluent countries are still going through that process. Similarly, tolerance of homosexuality, ideas that women should have equal values, secular values as well, the idea that religion is no longer central to people’s lives. So those are values which are shifting.

Those people that are benefiting from these shifts take them for granted as they grow in their status and their power, but there’s been a tipping point when those groups and the values around them are no longer being reflected and, what’s more, they can’t even talk about them.

6) A scientifically-validated app that you can use to train your brain so that you won’t need reading glasses.  Cool!  One of the few benefits of my extreme nearsightedness (-10!) is that it delays onset of the need for reading glasses.  But once that small print starts becoming a problem, I am so doing this.  I’d like my wife to be the family guines pig as she’s definitely getting close.

7) No, we cannot blame fancy new dorms for the increasing cost of college.  And, yes, administrative costs are up.  But, mostly, its the cutbacks from state governments.

8) Nate Cohn concludes that poor Democratic turnout was not the driver of HRC’s defeat.  It’s that damn wwc:

If turnout played only a modest role in Mr. Trump’s victory, then the big driver of his gains was persuasion: He flipped millions of white working-class Obama supporters to his side.

The voter file data makes it impossible to avoid this conclusion. It’s not just that the electorate looks far too Democratic. In many cases, turnout cannot explain Mrs. Clinton’s losses.

9) Hobbyhorse riding is big in Finland ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  Mika?

10) Oh man is the NFL evil and greedy.  And damn do they abuse the suckers who pay for their stadiums to support their greed.  The Las Vegas case is particularly egregious:

In the N.F.L.’s world, displays of principle and common economic sense are for chumps. Las Vegas and Nevada adopted the league’s preferred stance: They rolled belly up. Politicians raised taxes to provide a historic $750 million public subsidy.

This led to unremarked-upon cognitive dissonance in Las Vegas. Even as politicians increased taxes for stadiums, Clark County school officials voted last spring to increase public class sizes and to close a school for at-risk students. There was simply no money. “This is the last thing we ever want to do,” Linda Young, president of the school board, said at that time.

It’s a shame the school board did not build a football stadium, perhaps with a public school annex.

One team owner, Stephen M. Ross of the Miami Dolphins, voted against the relocation. “We as owners and as a league owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in communities that have supported us,” he said in a statement.

That was so sweet of him; I hope he has put a few food tasters on his staff.

The N.F.L. makes two demands of its owners: Build ever-grander stadiums with as many public dollars as you can find; and never, ever feel shame.

11) Cost of HB2 to the NC Economy? Just a measly $3.8 billion.

12) Good Conor Friedersdorf on how the egregious, scare-mongering lies of right-wing media set repeal and replace up for failure.

13) Damn, Texas is anxious to execute the mentally disabled.  Fortunately, five members of the Supreme Court believe otherwise.  Among other things, totally asinine to think that if an IQ test comes out 69 execution is off the table but at 74 it is okay.  This puts way too much faith in both the validity and reliability of IQ tests.  Love this key quote:

Texas cannot satisfactorily explain why it applies current medical standards for diagnosing intellectual disability in other contexts, yet clings to superseded standards when an individual’s life is at stake,” Justice Ginsburg wrote. She was joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

 14) Among the lessons of the AHCA failure– policy expertise and seriousness matter.  As I’ve often mentioned, there’s only one party in America that takes public policy seriously and we’re all the worse for it.

15) Alabama’s prisons are truly, horribly, shameful.  There is literally no excuse for this in a modern nation.  We really need judges to step in if the people of Alabama and their representatives are not going to.

16) I’m sure the law and order types hate the idea of college classes in maximum security prison.

17) There are bipartisan steps we can take to actually make the ACA work better.  Alas, there’s really little evidence many Republicans have any interest in ACA working better.

18) Terrific episode of Hidden Brain on Bandwidth Poverty.  If you are not familiar with the concept, you should be.  And this is a great listen.

19) Nice mini tweetstorm from Christopher Frederico on the just released 2016 ANES data.  Short version: confirming Brian Schaffner’s analysis from earlier data, it’s all about the racial resentment.

20) Why professors should not shame their students, even anonymously.

21) Good take from Vox’s Brian Resnick on the crazy/scary new poll showing that 74% of Republicans believe Trump Tower was wiretapped.

22) Ross Douthat wrote a column about how Obamacare doesn’t actually save lies.  Nice rebuttal from Drum:

folks has never been likely to have much effect on death rates.1 Below age 55, it’s even less likely: the death rate is so minuscule that it would take a miracle to invent any kind of health-related practice that had a measurable effect on life expectancy. If the crude death rate is already below 0.5 percent, there’s just no way to reduce it much more.

And yet, people like health care anyway. They like it so much that we’re collectively willing to spend vast amounts of money on it. As you’ve probably heard many dozens of times, health care is one-sixth of the economy. On average, that means we all pay about one-sixth of our income to provide health care for ourselves.

Why? At the risk of repeating the obvious, most medical care isn’t about lifespan. Before age 65, almost none of it is about lifespan. It’s about feeling better.

23) This is cool– evolution is slower and faster than you think.

24) This will be my last quick hits ever.

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