Democrats and taxes on rich people

Short version: after decades of being cowed we are finally having prominent Democrats unafraid to say America’s wealthiest need to pay more in taxes.  Given our ongoing deficits, there’s a very good argument that middle-class Americans need to pay more in taxes, too, certainly if we want to fund better health care and a more robust safety net, but, for now, not even many Democrats are willing to go there.  That said, I’ll take it as a good start the Democrats are finally pushing back forcefully on the tax debate and I think, therefore, gradually changing the political dynamics on taxes.

No, I don’t think we’ll get AOC’s 70% top marginal rate (nor do I believe that is necessarily the optimal top rate, though there’s definitely a good case for raising top marginal rates), nor do I think we’ll get Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax (as much sense as it makes).  Oh, and yeah, we should almost surely raise the capital gains tax rate.   But, here’s the thing, Democrats are talking about raising tax revenue in largely sensible ways, regardless of what Howard Schulz and other rich billionaires (and their massively disproportionate political influence think).

I really liked this take on AOC from Shadi Hamid in the Atlantic, “Ocasio-Cortez Understands Politics Better Than Her Critics: A 70 percent marginal tax rate might not be realistic—but that doesn’t matter.”

Most Americans—myself included—probably don’t have a well-thought-out position on whether a 70 percent marginal tax rate is a good idea. But it probably doesn’t matter whether it is, or whether it would “work.” To argue that “workability” is secondary might sound odd to many Democrats, particularly party leaders and experts who have long prided themselves on being a party of pragmatic problem-solvers. This, though, could be the most important contribution so far of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the new crop of progressive politicians—the realization that the technical merits of a particular policy aren’t the most relevant consideration. For these new Democrats, the purpose of politics (and elections) is quite different…

As I recently argued in American Affairs, even the better educated don’t primarily vote based on policy. In fact, higher levels of education can increase polarization. [emphases mine] (In other contexts, such as the Middle East, the advent of universal education and higher college attendance fueled ideological divides.) As the political scientist Lilliana Mason notes, “Political knowledge tends to increase the effects of identity as more knowledgeable people have more informational ammunition to counter argue any stories they don’t like.”

People’s politics tend to determine their policy preferences, and not the other way around. In one example from the 1960s, as Christopher Achens and Larry Bartels write in Democracy for Realists, even southerners who supported racial integration left the Democratic Party. Once they became Republican, they then adjusted their views on race and affirmative action to fit more comfortably with their new partisan identity. Put another way, if a person with no prior partisan attachments decides to become a Republican, he is likely to become pro-life. If that same person, with the same genetics and life experience, decides to become a Democrat, he is likely to become pro-choice.

Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives appear to understand instinctually what this growing body of research on voter preferences suggests. And its implications are potentially far-reaching. Once you accept that voters are rationally irrational, you can’t help but change how you understand political competition..

This focus on shifting the contours of the national debate is sometimes referred to as expanding the “Overton window.” It is altogether possible that Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t think that a 70 percent marginal tax rate is realistic in our lifetime—she might not even think it’s the best option from a narrow, technocratic perspective of economic performance—but it doesn’t need to be. As the Open Markets Institute’s Matt Stoller notes, “One thing that [Ocasio-Cortez] has shown is that political leadership matters. Just proposing a 70 percent marginal tax rate has restructured a debate over taxes. Obama’s presidency was defined by self-imposed limits.”..

Today, in a way that hasn’t been true for decades, more Americans are at least aware of something that might otherwise have been ignored as either overly wonky or, well, crazy. The 70 percent figure proposed by Ocasio-Cortez was a subject of debate—and derision—at Davos. But by joking about it, billionaires and aspiring billionaires, in effect, helped legitimate it. After all, if the richest people in the world are worried about it, it might just be a good idea…

I don’t feel strongly about a 70 percent marginal tax rate, but I don’t need to. I might even conclude that it simply “feels” too high. But that just means that if and when a Democratic candidate for president proposes a 50 percent tax rate on income that’s more than $10 million, I’ll be impressed with how “moderate,” reasonable, and sensible it sounds.

As you know, I’m a bit of a policy wonk and think it is really important that we get the details right.  And I think we would want to be very thoughtful about exactly how we would go about raising top marginal rates or implementing a wealth tax, etc.  But, without people like AOC pushing on this, regardless of the details, we’ll never even get a chance to worry about the details.  So, yeah, sure, 70% may well be too high.  But, overall, I love what AOC is doing.

Concentrated interests > science

This Adam Davidson piece on “Money, Power, and Deer Urine” (really!) is so good.  I’ve been meaning to do a post on it for a long time, but since I plan on discussing it some in my Public Policy class today, I’m putting off the post no longer.  As I explain to my class, intense, concentrated interests almost always win over more diffuse interests (e.g., beef producers have a lot of profit motive at stake in avoiding better inspections whereas not too many people find hard for a small percentage reduction in likelihood of food-borne illness spread across all meat eaters).  And, the power of those concentrated interests certainly has the power to outweigh what the science tells us (e.g., a more robust meat inspection system would reduce human suffering and occasional death).

Anyway, it’s pretty fascinating how this all plays out with the issue of prion diseases (i.e., similar to Mad Cow), hunting, and deer urine:

Walk into Walmart or Cabela’s and go to the back, near the rifles, and you’ll find a wall display of deer urine. It comes in small squirt bottles that hunters spray on the ground to hide their scent…

Lapp, along with the deer-farming industry as a whole, is facing a crisis in the form of chronic wasting disease, a plague that attacks white-tailed deer, elk, moose, reindeer, and other members of the cervid family. C.W.D., like mad-cow disease, is caused by a misshapen protein that forces healthy proteins to fold in on themselves, becoming defective. There is no cure—a sick animal wastes away and eventually dies—and the infectious proteins, called prions, can linger in dirt or on plants for years. (There have been no known cases of humans catching C.W.D., but a recent study in Canada found that some macaque monkeys who ate infected meat became ill.) The prions are found in huge quantities in an infected deer’s brain, lymph nodes, saliva, and meat; in smaller amounts in its blood and feces; and in nearly undetectable amounts in its urine…

But Krysten Schuler, a Cornell ecologist on the task force, told me that the most controversial part of the plan has been its complete ban on deer urine.

In a report released by the task force, the case against deer urine appears to be grounded in science. When I contacted some of the authors of the scientific papers cited, however, I learned that a deer would have to imbibe gallons of urine from a dying animal to fall ill; a few ounces sprayed around a hunting site doesn’t pose a risk…

The state will still allow hunters to bring butchered meat back from infected areas, even though hunters often field-dress the animals, exposing the meat—and their clothes, trucks, and other gear—to brain matter, blood, saliva, and feces. One gram of brain matter contains the same number of prions as thirty thousand gallons of urine. Why is the lowest-risk bodily fluid banned, while meat, which may pose an equal or higher risk, is permitted?

The reason is simple. The risk-mitigation plan, like all regulation, isn’t based purely on science; it also takes into account politics and economics. [emphasis mine] The report acknowledges that the New York deer-hunting industry, which is dominated by firearm hunters, brings in more than one and a half billion dollars a year, and is supported by retailers and a passionate population of hunters. The deer-urine industry, on the other hand, is most vocally supported by bow hunters, who are comparatively few, and is predominantly represented by people like Lapp, small farmers with few resources.

The plan’s disparate treatment of urine and meat is an example of what economists call regulatory capture: the process by which regulators, who are supposed to pursue solely the public interest, instead become solicitous of the very industries they regulate.

So, there’s some science going on here, but like so much of what we get as the end-result policy, it doesn’t actually make a lot of sense just looking at good policy, but does look sense when one looks at who are the powerful interests and their economic influence.  Unfortunate, but the definite reality of public policy.

Chart of the day

Making election day a national holiday would not be a turnout panacea, but it would undoubtedly raise turnout by making it easier for lots of people to vote.  Naturally, Mitch McConnell is opposed.

Here’s an interesting chart from Pew on the matter.  I’m actually kind of intrigued by the massive generation gap among Republicans.  In many ways (e.g., climate, LGBT rights), young Republicans are not nearly so bad as their elders.

Older Republicans much less favorable than younger Republicans toward same-day registration


Media centrism

Damn do I love this column from Margaret Sullivan on the media’s ridiculous, knee-jerk, “centrism.”  So good:

One of supposed golden rules of journalism goes like this: “If everybody’s mad at your coverage, you must be doing a good job.”

That’s ridiculous, of course, though it seems comforting. If everybody’s mad, it may just mean you’re getting everything wrong.

But it’s the kind of muddled thinking that feels right to media people who practice what I’ll call the middle-lane approach to journalism — the smarmy centrism that often benefits nobody, but promises that you won’t offend anyone.

Who is the media’s middle-lane approach actually good for?

Not the public, certainly, since readers and viewers would benefit from strong viewpoints across the full spectrum of political thought, not just minor variations of the same old stuff.

But it is great for politicians and pundits who bill themselves as centrists…

Even the cable news panels that purport to express opposing views are part of the damaging both-sides syndrome. A view from the left, a view from the right, and repeat. But take the average, and you’re right back in the comfortable, unilluminating middle.

Impartiality is still a value worth defending in mainstream news coverage. But you don’t get there by walking down the center line with a blindfold on.

Why do journalists and news organizations insist on doing this? I think the answer is pretty clear.

It’s because they want to appear fair without taking any chances.

They want not to offend. Maybe being a little “provocative” is okay on occasion, but let’s not go too far.

It’s a shame, because a lot of Americans actually seem to appreciate having their minds stretched by unfamiliar ideas, as freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist from New York, has shown in her discussions of hiking marginal tax rates on the super-rich to benefit ordinary Americans.

That her views draw tough criticism — prompting opposing arguments like that of Brian Riedl of the conservative Manhattan Institute in his Daily Beast piece,“The ‘Tax the Rich’ Delusion of the American Left” — is fine, too.

But this is rare. Mostly, we have the irresistible pull to the center: centripetal journalism.

It’s safe. It will never cause a consumer boycott. It feels fair without really being fair.

And it’s boringly predictable.

In the end, the media’s center-lane fixation puts us all to sleep. And that’s no way to drive a democracy.

National emergency = profiles in cowardice

Great piece from Dahlia Lithwick:

Now who even knows what’s really on the table, given that the president has variously insisted that he will “almost definitely” declare a national emergency to get his wall done, and then that he would not, and then, as he put it on Friday, “We’ll work with the Democrats and negotiate, and if we can’t do that, then we’ll do a—obviously we’ll do the emergency because that’s what it is. It’s a national emergency.” So. Things.

Given the amount of thinking lawyers have put into the question of presidential power to declare a national emergency at the border, it would be frankly somewhat amazing if Barr hasn’t given it any actual thought. If you are inclined to bone up, you should surely start here, (and then here, and also this, and this, and here, and many thousands of words suggesting that we are not presently in an emergency and also that the president cannot use eminent domainto toss people out of their ranches and churches and homes by simply saying there is one). Given the reality that many Americans are as opposed to a declaration of national emergencyas they were to the shutdown, it might behoove Republicans in the Senate to find out whether the new attorney general plans to greenlight whatever power grab the president plans to arrogate to himself.

Apparently, though, nope, they’re cool. If Republican senators really wanted to stop this national emergency declaration from happening, all they would have to do is promise to veto any attorney general nominee, such as Barr, who refuses to reject the possibility. That’s it. Instead, the current plan appears to be that Senate Republicans will let the emergency declaration go forward, try to blame House Democrats, and then allow the question to be tied up for months and years in the courts, with setbacks blamed on “liberal judges.” Is it brave? No! Is it a bold declaration against unchecked executive overreach that will set an awful precedent whatever the outcome? No! Is it consistent with conservative and libertarian views of property rights and limited government? Also, no! And should the president declare his emergency, does anyone think the Senate will at any time check him, as the law, on its face, demands? No to that too!

Senate Republicans have no good option here between allowing another shutdown to happen and allowing the president to declare a national emergency without consequence. Moving calmly and deliberately toward the latter choice only because it’s the one that hasn’t yet been tested isn’t just shortsighted and cowardly. It’s Congress choosing again to do nothing to stop the president, and then claiming falsely that there is nothing they can do to stop him.

Trump: worst poker player ever

I don’t even play poker, but this Nate Silver post on how Trump is basically a terrible poker player is so good:

In general, the strategic goal of poker is to put your opponent to tough decisions. If you see one of those hands on TV where one player is thinking for several minutes about whether to call or fold on the river, that usually means the other player has played his or her hand well, putting the opponent in a no-win position by leaving just the right amount of doubt about whether it’s a bluff or a real hand.

As a corollary, good players play in such a way as to avoid putting themselves to tough decisions. Bad players, conversely, tend to paint themselves into corners. They’ll curse their luck when they suddenly realize that a hand they’d assumed was a winner might be no good. But more often than not, it reflects a mistake they made earlier in the hand, such as playing a weak hand that they should have folded to begin with…

It’s been obvious the whole time that it was liable to end in political (if not also literal) disaster. Trump was an unpopular president using an unpopular technique to push for an unpopular policy, and he was doing it just after Republicans had lost 40 seats to Democrats in the midterm elections while Trump tried to scaremonger voters on immigration. I can certainly think of lapses in presidential judgment that were more consequential in hindsight than the shutdown, but not all that many that were so obvious in advance. [emphases mine]

And this isn’t the first time that Trump and Republicans have gotten themselves in trouble by picking a fight over an unpopular policy. GOP efforts to undo Obamacare were similar to the shutdown, since Republicans risked either passing a massively unpopular repeal bill or breaking a promise they’d made to voters in 2016. The dynamics over the Republican tax bill were also similar in several respects. Republicans ultimately passed their bill in that case, but they paid a price for it in the midterms in congressional districts with high state, local and property taxes, which can no longer be deducted beyond $10,000 under the new law. Confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after he was accused of committing sexual assault when he was in high school, when Republicans could have withdrawn his name and chosen a less controversial nominee, is another case in which Republicans had to choose from among several difficult options.

Part of this is just a way of saying that public opinion does have consequences: Sometimes it prevents you from passing unpopular policies, and sometimes you pass them but suffer electorally. And sometimes, it’s both: Republicans didn’t get their full Obamacare repeal, but health care was a huge issue in the midterm campaign nonetheless.

If Trump doesn’t believe the polls showing himself and his policies, such as the border wall, to be unpopular, then maybe that’s part of the problem. (There are a lot of ways to be bad at poker, but probably the most common one is to play too many hands because you overestimate your own abilities.) This being FiveThirtyEight, I feel obligated to point out that the notion that polls systematically underestimate Trump is on shaky ground. But if Trump thinks polls are fake news and if he hires advisers who encourage that perception, that could explain why he constantly puts himself in such politically untenable positions…

Trump, similarly, has gotten a long way on the basis of hustle and luck — he was lucky in several important respects to be elected president. There are some cases in which he has displayed solid (if unconventional) tactical instincts, from his negotiations with foreign leaders to his handling of the media to his belittling of his primary opponents. That’s not to say he always gets these decisions right or even does so anywhere near approaching a majority of the time. But he gets enough “wins” — he became president of the United States! — to sustain his ego and not prompt a lot of self-reflection.

But Trump has no sense for which battles to pick and seemingly little awareness of his own unpopularity and the consequences it has for the presidency. Moreover, although Trump sometimes seems to realize when he has gotten himself into a no-win position, he doesn’t recognize how often his own decisions are responsible for putting him there. The presidency is a long game, and a much harder one than being a real-estate developer or a reality television host. The scary possibility for Trump — and I do mean merely a possibility — isn’t that the chaos of the shutdown, coming on the heels of the midterms and as the Russia investigation still looms over him, is a new low for him. It’s that it’s the new normal.

Schultz 2020!

Good God Howard Schultz is an idiot.  First of all, I do think political science/journalist/liberal twitter is way over-freaking out.  I just don’t see this guy siphoning off enough Democratic votes to get Trump re-elected.  I know it is an exciting and fun story for a billionaire to be running for president (Perot certainly did make things more interesting in 1992), but people need to relax on the apocalyptic takes.

The part that really kills me, though, is the way that so many people are successful in one area and are convinced that they are a genius in everything.  Life does not work that way.  Donald Trump is a terrific marketer of the Trump brand.  He is a horrible president.  Daniel Snyder was great at making a telecom start-up; he’s an abysmal NFL owner.  For one, many of the skills involved in the original success don’t translate as well as well as the individuals are convinced that they do.  And, for another, if you have an amazing, outsized success, you almost assuredly benefited from a huge amount of luck, in addition to whatever skill, genius, and hard-work you might have brought.  Chances are, you are not going to have that same great luck in the new endeavor.

Chait with a really, really thorough and good take.  My favorite parts:

Billionaire coffee-shop mogul Howard Schultz is seriously thinking of running for president as an independent. Schultz appears to be one of those rich people who has confused his success in one field with a general expertise in every other field that interests him. His apparently sincere belief that he can be elected president is the product of a sincere civic-minded commitment to the public good and an almost comic failure to grasp how he might accomplish this. That confusion is probably being spread by his hired staffers, whose financial incentive, conscious or otherwise, is to encourage him to embark on a costly political fiasco…

The independent label is a myth. Schultz believes that the large cohort of Americans who identify as “independents” indicates a market for a centrist candidate positioned between the two parties. “What we know, factually, is that over 40 percent of the electorate is either a registered Independent or currently affiliates themselves as an Independent,” he says, “Because the American people are exhausted. Their trust has been broken. And they are looking for a better choice.”

That is not factual.

The center is not what Schultz thinks it is. “Republicans and Democrats alike — who no longer see themselves as part of the far extreme of the far right and the far left — are looking for a home,” he tells the New York Times. What would this center look like? In Schultz’s mind, it would combine his social liberalism with a desire to cut social insurance programs. “We can get the 4 percent growth,” he said last year, “we can go after entitlements, and we can do the right thing — if we have the right people in place.”

In reality, there is no constituency for cutting these programs in either party. A 2017 Pew survey found 15 percent of Republicans, and 5 percent of Democrats support cuts to Medicare, while 10 percent of Republicans and 3 percent of Democrats support cuts to Social Security.

survey of the 2016 electorate by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group
plotted voters by social and economic views. What it found is that many voters have socially conservative and fiscally liberal views — those are the voters who were attracted to Trump’s combination of nativism and promises to maintain social programs and provide universal health care. Vanishingly few voters have socially liberal and fiscally conservative beliefs…

And plenty more good stuff that shows Schultz is amazingly ignorant about how politics actually works.  And far to ignorant on such things to get anywhere near the presidency.

And Crooked’s Jon Lovett with an open letter to Schultz:

Let’s dive in. A year before the first votes are cast in Iowa, you are assuming that the outcome of that process will be unacceptable. You must believe that a) there are tens of millions of people in America who are clamoring for your politics but b) you couldn’t persuade them to vote for you in a Democratic primary. It’s a real pickle.

So what are your politics? In your 60 Minutes interview, Scott Pelley peppered you with policy questions, and on one after another you described a mainstream Democratic position. On immigration, on climate change, on tax policy, you stake out completely ordinary liberal critiques of Trump. Nothing special, nothing new. So what is this great divergence that suggests that you, a lifelong Democrat, have no choice but to run as an independent? That you need to take your ball and go home?

It’s that even though everyone deserves health care, Democratic proposals are too expensive—Medicare for All is a partisan fantasy, our version of Trump’s wall. It fits with what you’ve said previously—that neither party cares enough about fiscal responsibility. Earlier this year you told CNBC that “the greatest threat domestically to the country is this $21 trillion debt hanging over… future generations.” This is the substance of your centrism, the appeal you believe will draw the independents you view as your natural constituency—the socially liberal, fiscally conservative political homeless American voter.

But I have bad news: while there are many voters like this who nod their heads in Aspen and Davos, and who form the base of the Democratic donor class and the consultants who share their politics—cosmopolitan, tolerant, capitalist, constitutionally moderate and rarely touched by poverty and grinding inequality—those nodding heads do not represent a coalition. In fact, it’s the opposite. What we have learned in recent years—and why you see a move toward more left policies in Democratic circles —is that the politically homeless voter is opposite to what you describe: fiscally liberal and socially moderate

You want to help your country? Help us defeat the propaganda machine that enables Trump and the worst elements of the Republican Party. Help us push back against corporate interests arrayed against action on climate change. Fund local journalism. Fund scholarships. Fund voter registration and protection. And, if you believe in the case you’d make as an independent candidate, join the Democratic primary and make that case before the voters you’d need to win. Put some skin in the game. Put some time on the trail. Because unlike money, time and skin are as limited for you as they are for the rest of us.

I believe you love this country. I believe you believe in a noble conception of your motivations. So my hope is that the criticisms reach you, that you talk to smart people you do not pay, that you do not show the same kind of hubris and selfishness and ego that led Trump to believe he alone could fix it. [emphasis mine] In other words, I hope you show some patriotism and get your head out of your ass. That’s it from me, Howard. If you want to talk more, just send a note to the baristas at Sunset and Gower.

Anyway, if Schultz is remotely as smart as he thinks he is (and in 60 Minutes he talked about knowing when he’s not the smartest guy in the room and listening to others)… he’ll actually listen to the resounding criticism.  And, if not, he’s not remotely qualified to be president.  Whatever happens, I’m going to go on record with a (rare, for me) prediction: Howard Schultz will not prevent a Democrat from defeating Donald Trump.

How “both sides-ism” leads to the ridiculous amounts of horserace coverage

I warn my students about the absurd excesses of “horserace” coverage of political campaigns all the time.  I also tell them to be on the look out for facile, “both sides!” political coverage.  Thus, I love this Brian Beutler post that explains how these two deep pathologies of modern political coverage are ultimately inter-related.

First, building on the terrific media critic, Jay Rosen, what a better approach to coverage would look like:

Rosen has argued in the past for widespread adoption of a model called the “citizens agenda,” in which reporters, with all the horserace resources of their outlets behind them, survey voters with a single question: “What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes?”

This approach would place substance at the center of the campaign reporting project, but it is also the recipe for serving news consumers a dog’s breakfast of parochial concerns and competing priorities. A better question for journalists to explore—one that would bring to bear the standard reportorial toolkit of the Trump-country diner genre—is whether various candidate agendas are responsive to real, identifiable human problems. Why are the candidates running on the ideas they’re running on? Every presidential candidate develops a platform, and never once in the history of democracy has a candidate adopted a governing agenda entirely at random. Rather, candidates adopt their proposals in response to a variety of pressures, including from donors, constituents, and their own perceptions of what’s politically viable.

Why are most Democratic presidential candidates embracing a program of Medicare-based universal health care? Is it literally true that the current health-care system leaves tens of millions of people uninsured? Would those people lives be materially improved if America had a single-payer health-care system? Do those people hope a candidate who supports single payer wins the election? There are, of course, other stakeholders in the health-care debate, but they, too, are approachable humans, just like Trump supporters in rural diners. Do doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators want to insure the uninsured? What if it reduces their income-per-patient? Do the health care professionals in rural America think the Republican resistance to Medicaid expansion has been good for their communities? Where do the answers to those questions leave them, politically, with elections looming?

That’s just one issue, but the model can be applied across the whole range.

Indeed.  So, this all sounds good.  Why so reliant on the facile, both-sides, horse race approach then?

An approach that mapped candidate agendas on to the realities of American life would leave plenty of time and space for digging into candidate backgrounds, and vetting them for honesty, ethics, and other character issues. Its major drawback isn’t inherent to the reporting model but to the ways it would clash with the existing professional habits of political journalists.

As long as journalists feel compelled to appear balanced—to offset negative stories about one candidate with negative stories about the other, and report that views on the color of the sky differ—they will struggle to bring more substantive coverage to the campaign trail, or simply decide it’s not worth the trouble.

That wouldn’t necessarily be the case if the parties were actually symmetric, but the GOP is genuinely more ideologically rigid than the Democratic Party, which is why, as its agenda has grown unpopular, Republican candidates have grown increasingly comfortable lying about it, rather than embrace new ideas.

Trump brought new innovations to that trend, but it didn’t begin with him. For decades now, Republicans have insisted against all evidence that regressive tax cuts spur economic growth, and thus increase federal revenue. Before Trump came along, they claimed to have ideas about how to insure all Americans, while claiming the Affordable Care Act included a death panel. Neither claim was true. But under Trump’s leadership, Republicans have made ever more outrageous claims—that their bills and lawsuits aimed at gutting protections for people with pre-existing conditionswould actually strengthen protections for people with pre-existing conditions, that funneling billions of dollars out of health-care spending wouldn’t cause people to lose insurance.

In a world where media companies prized truth over contriving balance, this endemic dishonesty wouldn’t matter. In the world we inhabit, a campaign-reporting model based on talking to voters about real priorities will inevitably inflame hostilities between the mainstream press and Republicans. Once reporters have committed themselves to the goal of holding the candidates’ policies up against voters’ preferences and the realities of American life, they will find it hard to avoid reckoning with the merits of ideas—not whether they’re good or bad, necessarily, but whether they answer popular demands…

If some candidates propose more health care spending because they want to insure the uninsured, and it turns out voters support this goal, what happens when Republicans say they share that goal, but intend to achieve it by repealing Medicaid expansion and freeing insurance companies to discriminate against the sick? What happens when they say it’s “biased” to report that their approach will increase, not decrease, the uninsured population?

The answer should be damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. First, because there is no amount of blindness to the issues that will stop conservatives from accusing the mainstream press of liberal bias. Second, because the alternative approach is damaging journalism itself… [emphasis mine]

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again.  Given the practices and norms of modern journalism: the liars win.  Do Democrats lie sometimes?  Sure.  But, the empirical evidence that Republicans lie far more about policy is overwhelming (and that is the clear incentive from their unpopular policy agenda, as opposed to their popular rhetorical agenda).  And, until journalism changes… the liars win and democracy loses.

When long paid parental leave is too much of a good thing

Obviously, the overwhelming problem in the U.S. is not nearly enough paid parental leave.  And we should absolutely have a national policy providing for it (and it should be socialized out of taxes rather than placing additional burdens on particular businesses).  But it is interesting too learn that there can be too much of a good thing about about 6 months of paid leave is probably about optimal.  The Upshot:

As the United States has debated the issue of paid parental leave, a few employers have stood out by providing very generous terms. One has been the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which in 2015 began offering parents one year of fully paid leave to spend with their babies.

It turns out it was too long to be sustainable. Last week, the foundation told employees it was cutting paid parental leave by half, to six months, because yearlong leaves were impairing the work of the foundation. It will add a $20,000 stipend for new parents to spend on child care costs and family needs when they return to work.

The Gates Foundation’s experience highlights the challenges of devising effective family policies. The United States is the only industrialized country not to offer paid leave, though lawmakers in both parties now support some form of it, as do about 80 percent of Americans. Yet on top of questions about whether it should be mandatory and who should pay for it, there has been little agreement on the right length of time — and whether paid leave alone is enough to help working parents.

International evidence points to some answers. Around six months seems to be the magic number for families to achieve the benefits but to avoid the pitfalls of parental leave. And paid leave is not enough: Financial assistance for child care has a bigger effect on women’s ability to keep working.

Three months or less isn’t necessarily enough time for parents and babies to get the full benefits of physical recovery, bonding and breast-feeding, research has found. Babies often aren’t sleeping through the night by then, and infant child care is most expensive. But leaves of nine months or more can backfire. They’re harder on businesses, and women who take very long leaves are less likely to stay in the labor force, to earn as much or to achieve senior positions, research shows.

This is pretty interesting, but kind of sad that we cannot even get six weeks as a matter of policy right now.

Why didn’t Republicans fund the wall when they had the chance?!

That’s a big important questions that has been far too often ignored in mainstream media coverage.  It’s not like they didn’t have two years of unified control to get it done.  It is, of course, because Republicans themselves are far from unified on the issue.  Political Scientist David Hopkins has a great piece on this at the Post.  Short version: Republicans are all about selling broad slogans that are popular, but when you get down to the matter of actual policy, pretty much everything Republicans want to do is unpopular.  So, of course, they lie, lie, lie.  Hopkins:

If the border wall was as important to Trump as he says, why didn’t Republicans provide the funds while they ruled Capitol Hill?

The answer to this political mystery is that the wall has never been a top priority for most Republicans. And their stance reflects limited enthusiasm for its construction among conservative policy-makers and voters alike. An American public that has serious concerns about immigration in general nevertheless remains unconvinced that a wall would solve the problems it perceives. As a result, Republican politicians apparently calculated that they’d be better off if the electorate continued to express broad anxiety about the border than if lawmakers actually tried to impose an unpopular solution.

This dynamic reflects a larger, enduring attribute of American politics. For more than 50 years, scholars have noted that the public collectively leans to the right in its general predispositions even as it prefers left-of-center positions on most individual policies; voters are philosophically conservative and operationally liberal. For example, 53 percent of Americans agree that the federal government has “too much power,” according to a recent Gallup survey, compared with just 8 percent who believe that it has too little. But the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans opposed budget cuts in every one of 14 specific policy areas, including health care, education, environmental protection, and aid to the needy; on 12 of the items, the number of respondents who supported spending increases even outnumbered those who preferred reductions. As a rule, then, Republican politicians benefit strategically by sounding broad rhetorical themes rather than discussing the details of their favored policies…

So Republican leaders are on stronger ground invoking immigration as a symbolic cause that motivates their party base at election time — warning about crime committed by undocumented immigrants and accusing Democrats of supporting “open borders” and a “changing America” — than they are in forcing a legislative showdown over their specific policy aims…

The current standoff is often characterized as the product of this president’s distinctive characterological qualities: stubbornness, combativeness, a fear of backing down. But Trump has become caught in a very familiar bind for Republican politicians. He successfully won his party’s nomination in 2016 by taking an uncompromising position on an issue of great concern to conservative activists, attacking his opponents for being weak or feckless in comparison. Once in office, however, he has scrambled to fulfill the ambitious promises he made en route to gaining power, as public attention focuses on the unpopular specifics. Think of it as an echo of the struggle over repealing Obamacare — except that this time, a functioning government for the rest of us has become a casualty of the partisan warfare.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Good Atlantic article on the difficulty in actually achieving “potty parity” in building codes and public restroom design.  Of course, as long as they keep building restrooms with urinals right on top of each other with no or tiny dividers, I really question the judgement of the designers.

2) Seth Masket on what lessons the media should learn from 2016:

3) Really enjoyed Yglesias take/explanation of Elizabeth Warren’s pre-political book on family life and economics:

A glimpse of the electable Warren

Perhaps more than anyone else in the Democratic field, Warren’s prospects are haunted by worries about electability, whether framed in gendered terms around “likability” or in more data-driven terms that her 2018 reelection performance was a lot worse than you’d expect from a blue-state senator running in a Democratic wave year.

But while Two-Income Trap does not exactly reflect Warren’s current, much more ambitious, post–financial crisis policy agenda, it does outline a version of Warren that could be more broadly electorally appealing than her current national perception. The Warren of Two-Income Trap is fiercely progressive in championing the public interest over the bank lobby and her determination to clean up the political system, but is also attentive to the ways that poorly designed social programs can have perverse consequences.

And she’s very much not a dogmatic partisan or a member of any kind of establishment — sharply critical of the Republicans who pushed for the banks’ preferred bankruptcy law, but also savage in her attacks on prominent Democrats, including Biden and Hillary Clinton, who helped them do it.

Perhaps most importantly, Two-Income Trap Warren is offering a pitch for a progressive economic agenda that is squarely framed to appeal to people with moderate-to-conservative instincts on some social issues.

Democrats often seem to implicitly cast the “white working class” as composed exclusively of men who wear hard hats and work in factories while “women” are all ambitious professionals trying to balance family obligations with the drive to make partner or shatter glass ceilings in the C-suite. Two-Income Trap, by contrast, speaks to the questions recently raised by Tucker Carlson as to whether unfettered capitalism is undermining the traditional family.

Warren’s core argument in the book is that shifts in family life over the past couple of generations have not been all for the good, and that the explosion of economic inequality that’s accompanied them is part of the reason. Both the ideas she espouses in the book around bank regulation and the ideas she’s only later come to embrace fundamentally connect to this same theme that the kind of stable families conducive to child-rearing that conservatives idealize fundamentally require a different organization of the American economy.

It’s a framing of the relationship between the economy and family life that, while broadly compatible with the existing progressive policy agenda, is nonetheless pretty strikingly different. It has drawn praise from pundits who lean right on social issues but more to the center on economics. If Warren could translate that praise into actual electoral support from similarly inclined voters, it would give her a clear path to general election victory, which, in turn, seems to be the biggest doubt primary voters have about her.

4) Nobody watched the show “You” on Lifetime.  Then it began streaming on Netflix and became super popular.

5) Robin Givhan on the MAGA hat:

But the Make America Great Again hat is not a statement of policy. It’s a declaration of identity.

The MAGA hat. The acronym reads like a guttural cry. An angry roar. MAA-GAA! It calls out to a time — back in some sepia-tinged period — when America was greater than it is now, which for a lot of Americans means a time when this country still had a lot of work to do before it was even tolerant of — let alone welcoming to — them and their kind. Some see an era of single-income families, picket fences and unlocked doors. Others see little more than the heartbreak of redliningwalkers and beards, and the “problem that has no name.”

The past was not greater; it was simply the past. It’s only the soft-focus, judicious edit that looks so perfect and sweet.

In the beginning, the MAGA hat had multiple meanings and nuance. It could reasonably be argued that it was about foreign policy or tax cuts, social conservatism, the working class or a celebration of small-town life. But the definition has evolved. The rosy nostalgia has turned specious and rank. There’s nothing banal or benign about the hat, no matter its wearer’s intent. It was weaponized by the punch-throwing Trump rallygoers, the Charlottesville white supremacists, Trump’s nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Kanye West and proponents of the wall, the wall, the wall.

6) I’m probably not going to be reading Jon Haidt’s book because I feel like I’ve got a pretty good sense of it from his great interview with Ezra.  And this piece is a really nice summary (thanks, Nicole).  I do think he pushes some of his points too far (and most of academia is not elite liberal arts colleges), but I think he’s got some really important thoughts:

This is a book about three Great Untruths that seem to have spread widely in recent years:

  1. The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  3. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

While many propositions are untrue, in order to be classified as a Great Untruth, an idea must meet three criteria:

  1. It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
  2. It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being.
  3. It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

We will show how these three Great Untruths—and the policies and political movements that draw on them—are causing problems for young people, universities, and, more generally, liberal democracies. To name just a few of these problems: Teen anxiety, depression, and suicide rates have risen sharply in the last few years. The culture on many college campuses has become more ideologically uniform, compromising the ability of scholars to seek truth, and of students to learn from a broad range of thinkers. Extremists have proliferated on the far right and the far left, provoking one another to ever deeper levels of hatred. Social media has channeled partisan passions into the creation of a “callout culture”; anyone can be publicly shamed for saying something well-intentioned that someone else interprets uncharitably. New-media platforms and outlets allow citizens to retreat into self-confirmatory bubbles, where their worst fears about the evils of the other side can be confirmed and amplified by extremists and cyber trolls intent on sowing discord and division…

To repeat, we are not saying that the problems facing students, and young people more generally, are minor or “all in their heads.” We are saying that what people choose to do in their heads will determine how those real problems affect them. Our argument is ultimately pragmatic, not moralistic: Whatever your identity, background, or political ideology, you will be happier, healthier, stronger, and more likely to succeed in pursuing your own goals if you do the opposite of what Misoponos advised. That means seeking out challenges (rather than eliminating or avoiding everything that “feels unsafe”), freeing yourself from cognitive distortions(rather than always trusting your initial feelings), and taking a generous view of other people, and looking for nuance (rather than assuming the worst about people within a simplistic us-versus-them morality).

7) It’s just over a year old, but Scott Alexander on the very minimal placebo effect was really interesting.

8) Yeah, it is crazy that somehow we don’t have seamless on-line micropayments by now.  As a lover of good journalism, in particular, this is a real shame.

9) Interesting technical/empirical exploration to conclude that women are better at free throws than men.

10) Tim Herrera on why you should share your salary.  Seems like such a taboo, so, not here.  But, for the record, as a public employee, it is public record.

11) Pacific Standard on the research on home cooking of my friend and NCSU Sociology professor, Sarah Bowen.

12) Wired, “Pesticides are harming bees in literally every way possible.”

13) Okay, I know it’s bad, but this dramatically warmer winter in Raleigh by 2050 (and many other US cities) sounds kind of pleasant.

14) Chait on the total economic failure of Trump’s tax cuts:

Not only was the Republican assumption that zero revenue would be lost too optimistic, and not only was the more modest “dynamic” model that presumed just a trillion-dollar revenue loss too optimistic, but the “static” revenue model was also too optimistic. The tax cuts are losing more than forecasters predicted even when they assumed it would do nothing to encourage growth.

And as for that spike in corporate investment last year? Alexander Arnonsuggests the entire thing was caused by higher oil prices. As oil prices go up, energy firms invest more money in sucking it out of the ground. “The response to the rise in oil prices,” he writes, “explains the entire increase in the growth rate of investment in 2018.”

Obviously the Trump tax cuts have had an effect. They have bequeathed a gigantic windfall benefit to business owners (as well as the heirs to large fortunes, who will have to pay even lower taxes on the largest inheritances). The Trump tax cuts are of a piece with the endemic corruption that has tied the party’s political class to its buffoonish president. He has made his partners richer, at least temporarily. But by the public-facing standards set out for it, as opposed to the private venal reasons, the Trump tax cuts have failed as miserably as everything else.

15) Never thought the Large Hadron Collider would be a failure.  But that’s essentially the case argues a physicist:

I used to be a particle physicist. For my Ph.D. thesis, I did L.H.C. predictions, and while I have stopped working in the field, I still believe that slamming particles into one another is the most promising route to understanding what matter is made of and how it holds together. But $10 billion is a hefty price tag. And I’m not sure it’s worth it.

In 2012, experiments at the L.H.C. confirmed the discovery of the Higgs boson — a prediction that dates back to the 1960s — and it remains the only discovery made at the L.H.C. Particle physicists are quick to emphasize that they have learned other things: For example, they now have better knowledge about the structure of the proton, and they’ve seen new (albeit unstable) composite particles. But let’s be honest: It’s disappointing…

To date, particle physicists have no reliable prediction that there should be anything new to find until about 15 orders of magnitude above the currently accessible energies. And the only reliable prediction they had for the L.H.C. was that of the Higgs boson. Unfortunately, particle physicists have not been very forthcoming with this information. Last year, Nigel Lockyer, the director of Fermilab, told the BBC, “From a simple calculation of the Higgs’ mass, there has to be new science.” This “simple calculation” is what predicted that the L.H.C. should already have seen new science…

But big science experiments are investments in our future. Decisions about what to fund should be based on facts, not on shiny advertising. For this, we need to know when a prediction is just a guess. And if particle physicists have only guesses, maybe we should wait until they have better reasons for why a larger collider might find something new.

It is correct that some technological developments, like strong magnets, benefit from these particle colliders and that particle physics positively contributes to scientific education in general. These are worthy investments, but if that’s what you want to spend money on, you don’t also need to dig a tunnel.

The best dealmaker!!

I’m so glad the shutdown is over because I actually care about the very real human suffering that happens when nearly a million government workers are out of work (and all kinds of knock-on effects beyond their families).  It’s just so stupid and frustrating that Trump and Republican Senators (essentially is unnamed co-conspirators) created all this suffering all because Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh threw a tantrum back in December.  Lots of good takes, of course.  Some of my favorites:

David Graham:

In other words, Trump not only folded—sustaining all the political damage that he would have in December—but he did so only after a long, bruising shutdown that hurt his public approval and split off even some of his core supporters. This dubious strategy is in keeping with the president’s modus operandi. As I have written, Trump almost always folds. From tougher gun control to family separations at the border to negotiations with hostile actors (from Pyongyang to the Democratic caucus), the president talks a tough game and then generally gives in.

Trump’s desire for the wall is genuine. Hoping to make good on his central campaign promise, he has pursued the project with remarkable tenacity. Unfortunately for him, he has also pursued it with incompetence. After two years as president, Trump still evinces little understanding of how the government works. His vision of the presidency is entirely romantic and cinematic: The heroic chief executive uses the bully pulpit, and the rest of Washington gets in line. Trump is not the only president to underestimate the difficulty of getting things done, but it is surprising that after nearly two years in office he still doesn’t recognize that simply demanding things without any plan won’t work.


The mystery of Trump’s bad-but-not-bad-enough approval ratings has spooked liberals ever since his surprising election victory. The shutdown debacle provides some hint as to what might be in store for his public standing if the economic recovery he inherited comes to an end. He has been held up by polarization, a party-controlled media apparatus, and kept aloft by the peace and prosperity he was bequeathed.

In every other respect, Trump is absolutely horrible at politics. His policies are unpopular. He can’t make deals with Congress because he understands too little of the policy substance and can’t be bothered to learn. He surrounds himself with unqualified staffers and listens to the worst advice presented to him. The shutdown was a self-inflicted wound whose outcome was utterly predictable. [emphases mine]

Perry Bacon Jr with my theory for what happened:

We don’t know much about the private discussions between McConnell and the White House, but it’s possible that Trump folded in part because McConnell suggested Senate Republicans would likely move forward soon with legislation funding the government without paying for the wall — with or without the president’s support. Although Trump, in a Rose Garden speech on Friday, acted as if it were his decision to end the shutdown, the decision to fold may not truly have been Trump’s to make, and the speech may have been McConnell allowing the president to save face and concede before the Republicans in the Senate fully broke with him…

In short, it was another example that Trump is not immune to broader political dynamics, despite his surprising win in 2016. The health care policy legislation he was pushing for much of 2017 was deeply unpopular — and it failed. He had high disapproval ratings going into the 2018 midterms — and his party lost a ton of House seats. And now, he pushed a shutdown strategy that seemed doomed to fail — and it did.

Great twitter thread from Matt Glassman:

And, last, but not least, of course, Ezra:

Second, Pelosi correctly read Trump’s personality and had the steel to act on that read. For years now, members of Congress have divided on whether Trump is strong or weak, whether his political success shows an intuitive tactical genius that needs to be respected or a hollow showman who connects to conservatives but is easily flummoxed.

Pelosi has long held that Trump is weak, easily confused, and easily baited. That informed her strategy. Along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, she baited Trump into saying, while the cameras were rolling, “I will shut down the government. I am proud to shut down the government. I will take the mantle.” In interviews and meetings, she tweaked the president, calling the crisis “the Trump shutdown” to Trump’s face and suggesting the billionaire thought furloughed workers “could just ask their father for more money.” She was betting that Trump would overreact rather than turn her into the aggressor, and he did…

Trump’s decision to force this fight has both delivered him a loss and reset Washington’s expectations going forward. Pelosi is now the clear leader of the Democratic opposition, and she has shown herself more than Trump’s equal in a legislative showdown. She has enhanced her standing in her caucus, and he has diminished his standing inside his own. You don’t hear many House Democrats these days grumbling about Pelosi’s leadership. But you hear plenty of Republicans lamenting Trump’s.


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