Quick hits (part II)

1) Interesting new research, “Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t”

It has become common wisdom that too much time spent on smartphones and social media is responsible for a recent spike in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, especially among teenagers.

But a growing number of academic researchers have produced studies that suggest the common wisdom is wrong.

The latest research, published on Friday by two psychology professors, combs through about 40 studies that have examined the link between social media use and both depression and anxiety among adolescents. That link, according to the professors, is small and inconsistent.

2) Hell, yeah, there’s a good case for sticking with bail reform.  Especially because the opponents are pretty much just fearmongering:

Judges can also still set bail on almost all violent felony offenses, any case involving sexual abuse or misconduct, all felony and some misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, and witness intimidation and tampering cases. The most common charges for which release must now be allowed are drug possession, theft and unlicensed driving.

The best evidence for the success of bail reform comes from Brooklyn. Prosecutors there stopped demanding bail for almost all misdemeanors in April 2017. Over the next year, the number of people held on bail in Brooklyn declined by 43 percent, and Brooklyn has also experienced a decline in crime, with fewer shootings and the lowest number of murders in the borough’s history in 2019, according to the district attorney’s office.

3) Philip Bump actually goes to the trouble to assess six key points of Trump’s impeachment defense.  Of course, the whole defense is based on well-established historical and legal principles.  Kidding!

4) Meanwhile, in a great example of “NYT commenters are smarter than the Op-Ed writer” a law professor argues that Trump did nothing wrong, because of course politicians consider personal political benefit in their public policy actions.  I will leave you to puncture his arguments yourself if you are so inclined.

5) Of course, for people paying attention, it’s been pretty damn clear that Trump is not responsible for a good economy (and, of course, we give all presidents too much credit and blame for the economy).  Nice column from Joseph Stiglitz:

Again, the low employment rate is not a surprise, not least because unhealthy people can’t work. Moreover, those on disability benefits, in prison – the US incarceration rate has increased more than sixfold since 1970, with some two million people currently behind bars – or so discouraged that they are not actively seeking jobs are not counted as “unemployed.” But, of course, they are not employed. Nor is it a surprise that a country that doesn’t provide affordable childcare or guarantee family leave would have lower female employment – adjusted for population, more than ten percentage points lower – than other developed countries.

Even judging by GDP, the Trump economy falls short. Last quarter’s growth was just 2.1%, far less than the 4%, 5%, or even 6% Trump promised to deliver, and even less than the 2.4% average of Obama’s second term. That is a remarkably poor performance considering the stimulus provided by the $1 trillion deficit and ultra-low interest rates. This is not an accident, or just a matter of bad luck: Trump’s brand is uncertainty, volatility, and prevarication, whereas trust, stability, and confidence are essential for growth. So is equality, according to the International Monetary Fund.

So, Trump deserves failing grades not just on essential tasks like upholding democracy and preserving our planet. He should not get a pass on the economy, either.

6) So, I was intrigued by this headline in the NYT Opinion section, “In Defense of Donald Trump: Legal experts examine the strongest and weakest points of his case.”  But, unsurprisingly, it’s not much of a defense, as even the strongest points are pretty weak.

7) I definitely know some people who apologize too much.  And they are invariably women.  But if somebody says “I’m sorry” in the generic sense of “I’m sorry that that happened to you” and a person says “oh, it’s not your fault” that latter person has a serious lack of social skills.  Like many words, sorry means many different things depending on context.

By definition, an apology is an acknowledgment of offense or failure, but words don’t always mean their dictionary definition: Context matters, Dr. Tannen said. Words are defined in how they’re used and an apology is used in many different ways, so it serves many different functions. Some apologies are meant to repair a relationship, like when you forget to pick up your friend at the airport. Some apologies show respect, like when you submit a report to your boss and it’s a day or two late. And some apologies are simply meant to smooth out a conversation, Dr. Tannen added. Gender and culture influence the way we use apologies, and sometimes what we say gets lost in translation.

“A typical thing for women is that people think they’re being overly accommodating when they apologize, even if they’re not using the apology that way,” Dr. Tannen said. Sounds like that’s what the woman in the wet jacket was thinking.

8) Snake anti-venom is complicated to make and expensive and saves lives.  But to make it happen you have to milk a real live snake for venom.  But with cool technology, maybe not for too much longer.

9) Ruy Teixera sums up the latest political science on 2016 that’s all the rage.  According to this, it was not racial resentment that was key to Trump’s election.  Longish summary:

No, “Racial Resentment” Didn’t Elect Donald Trump

I don’t suppose I’ve succeeded in getting many of you to actually read the Grimmer and Marble paper I linked to the other day. That’s too bad because it really is a very important paper. The paper is basically an accounting exercise–and I love accounting exercises!–which establishes very cleanly and clearly, using straightforward mathematics that is not really arguable, that “racial resentment” (itself a vexed term–see the famous Ryan Enos/Riley Carney paper) and similar attitudes simply cannot explain where Trump got the votes to be elected. And if that theory–to this day, the dominant theory in political science and general discourse–cannot explain where Trump got the votes, then what good is it since it doesn’t, you know, explain anything.

But if I can’t get you to read the Grimmer and Marble paper, admittedly a bit of an academic political science slog, perhaps I can get you to read Policy Tensor’s crisp summary and explanation of the findings. And, yes, I do think the findings have political implications–important ones.

“An extraordinary new paper by Justin Grimmer and William Marble at Stanford has totally and irretrievably debunked the racial resentment thesis that traced the catastrophe of 2016 to white racial prejudice. But the paper, “Who Put Trump in the White House? Explaining the Contribution of Voting Blocs to Trump’s Victory,” does much more than that. It explains why the vast bulk of the literature that has emerged got it so very wrong. And it does so by mathematically demonstrating the limitations and biases of previous analyses in a straightforward manner that is a model of simplicity and elegance. This is easily the most significant work to appear on the question. In many ways, it is as much a theoretical intervention as an argument over 2016; one that has all the hallmarks of a seminal work — that creates a before and after. And it has the potential to irrevocably change the conversation in both academic political science and sophisticated political consulting. So what have Grimmer and Marble shown?

They begin by noting that, in order to understand 2016, or any other election, it is not enough to show that voters with such and such attribute (denoted by x, eg racial resentment) voted for this candidate at higher rates. This is so because the effect may be swamped by compositional effects (ie, the share of people with that attitude in the population may have fallen) and turnout rates (ie, the people with that attitude may have turned out at lower rates). In order to understand how a candidate won, we must pay careful attention to all three factors at once: composition, turnout, and vote choice.

The number of votes that Trump received from voting bloc (ie, whatever attribute) x is given by the product of (1) the share of the electorate in voting bloc x, (2) the turnout rate conditional on voting bloc x, and (3) the rate at which they voted for Trump conditional on turnout and bloc. This a mathematical fact, there is no arguing with it:

The problem with the vast bulk of the literature is that it pays no attention to these confounding effects and pays near-exclusive attention to the vote choice of various blocs (“authoritarians” &c). In a survey of 83 papers analyzing 2016, they found a mere 5 that had paid attention to all three. The vast majority of reported results, 94 percent, are suspect because they fail to take into account these mathematical facts. This includes the entirety of the vast literature supporting the racial resentment thesis.

Once you start adding up the correct way, the racial resentment thesis turns out to be flat out wrong.”

Read the Policy Tensor piece for charts from the paper and clear explanations of what they mean.

https://williammarble.co/docs/vb.pdf

https://scholar.harvard.edu/f…/rkcarney/files/carneyenos.pdf

https://policytensor.com/2020/01/20/how-did-trump-win/

10) Nice review/summary of the Very Stable Genius book.  Also a good Fresh Air interview.

11) Good policy is important.  But so is how policy interacts with culture.  Atlantic, “Why Icelandic Dads Take Parental Leave and Japanese Dads Don’t: A generous policy is of little use when work culture heavily discourages men from taking time off.”

The hype around Koizumi’s minimal leave reflects the disconnect between his country’s official parental-leave allowances and how things work in practice: Japan offers one of the most generous paternity-leave packages in the world (a full year), yet the rate at which eligible fathers working in the private sector take leave is quite low (about 6 percent).For a host of reasons, Japan’s government would like that rate to be much higher. Research indicates that dads who take leave are more involved as their kids grow up, which improves both the kids’ and the dads’ physical and mental health (and moms’ too, no doubt). And in Japan in particular, where low birth rates have led to a scarcity of workers, if more fathers took parental leave and picked up more child-care responsibilities, mothers might have an easier time entering, or staying in, the workforce (and, in the longer run, Japanese families might be encouraged to have more children.

What’s more, a 2017 Japanese government-commissioned study found that just over a third of new fathers wanted to take paternity leave, but didn’t. What’s stopping Japanese dads from taking time off?Policy and cultural norms each play a role when it comes to who takes parental leave and how much, and in Japan, culture has been the more powerful force. According to Machiko Osawa, the director of the Research Institute for Women and Careers at Japan Women’s University, the country’s work culture strongly discourages dads from taking time away from the office. “Taking paternity leave is more likely to reduce promotion possibilities in the future, since this is a signal that a man values his private life,” she wrote to me in an email. “In Japan, those who put work as a priority and work long hours receive high evaluations and are more likely to be promoted.”

Also, I’m glad I don’t live in Japan.

12) Did I ever do a post on this great David Leonhardt column, “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You”?  I really should have.

13) Yeah, yeah, I’m good with not stigmatizing people for being overweight and for recognizing just how complicated this is.  Just don’t go around telling me that we cannot even say that some foods are healthier than others:

A central aim of the antidiet project is to divest the language of bodies and food of all its moral content. That’s why the critics focus so hard on language. Harrison just won’t let the words “healthy” or “unhealthy” (or for that matter “wellness,” “overweight,” or “clean eating”) slip the bonds of her pointed quotation marks. And to hear her take her rapier punctuation to the truisms around food, bodies, and exertion is to feel the wires loosen in your head. Quote-unquote overeat. How could these slippy-slidey phonemes about diet culture and the body ever have had any moral sway over me?

Sorry, that handful of raspberries and an apple I had this afternoon definitely healthier than the part of the 100 Grand Bar I had after dinner.

14) I missed this from 2017, but you know I always love reading about the rise of quality board games.

15) Law professor Julian Davis Mortensen argues that we’ve been way over-interpreting “executive power” in the Constitution.  I think he’s quite likely right:

After years of research into an enormous array of colonial, revolutionary, and founding-era sources, I’m here to tell you that—as a historical matter—this president-as-king claim is utterly and totally wrong. I’ve reviewed more than a thousand publications from the 17th and 18th centuries for each instance of the word root exec-, and have read most of those texts from cover to cover with the topic of presidential power squarely in mind. I’ve read every discussion of executive power and presidential authority that appears in the gigantic compilation of archival materials known as the Documentary History of the Ratification of the United States Constitution. And with the help of a team of research assistants, I’m most of the way through flyspecking the full records of the Continental Congress—including committee reports, floor debates, and delegate correspondence—with the same question in mind.

All this work has left me with both the confidence to share this conclusion and the sense of obligation to do so as bluntly as possible. It’s just not a close call: The historical record categorically refutes the idea that the American revolutionaries gave their new president an unspecified array of royal prerogatives. To the contrary, the presidency that leaps off the pages of the Founders’ debates, diaries, speeches, letters, poems, and essays was an instrument of the law of the land, subject to the law of the land, and both morally and legally obliged to obey the law of the land.

If you had the same third-grade history class I did, you might think this all goes without saying. But in the realm of constitutional law, these findings represent a tectonic shift.

For more than two centuries, jurists and statesmen have intoned that “ours is a government of limited powers.” That proposition is the foundational principle of federal power. The Constitution did not grant Congress open-ended authority to regulate in the public interest. Instead, the Founders wrote a laundry list of highly specific legislative authorities. This enumeration strategy, the Supreme Court has explained, is why courts must carefully consider the national government’s legislative limits: “If no enumerated power authorizes Congress to pass a certain law, that law may not be enacted.” From this starting point comes the endless constitutional sparring over the scope of the powers to regulate commerce, to tax, to spend, and to enter into treaties—just to name a few. Almost everyone agrees that unless legislators can point to an affirmative grant of constitutional authority, Congress simply can’t act.

A funny thing happens, though, when it comes to the presidency. Suddenly you see hand-waving that would be laughed out of the room just about anywhere else…

The constitutional text doesn’t actually authorize the president to do very much. It enumerates the veto, appointments, and pardon powers. It grants the president “the executive power” and the office of commander in chief. It authorizes the president to receive foreign ambassadors, demand reports from his subordinates, and deliver a State of the Union address. But aside from a few miscellaneous process authorities, that’s just about it.

The way president-as-king theorists see it, this fact is more than just inconvenient; it’s downright dangerous.

What’s particularly noteworthy is that so many of the idolaters of the Constitution pretty much ignore all this and go all-in on extreme executive power.  At least when the executive is a Republican.

16)There’s been some interesting recent controversy over whether it was the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs, or widespread volcanic activity.  Latest research– pretty sure it’s the meteor.

17) This is cool– some wolf pups will play fetch.

18) Is rationality overrated?  Maybe.  At least if aim to be reasonable instead of rational:

New research says there’s another way to look at it. What if people often choose to be irrational in cases where doing the rational thing would violate something they value more — like socially conscious behavior? And if that’s the case, should we actually embrace some instances of irrationality rather than discounting it as an embarrassing nuisance?

That’s one of the possibilities raised in an interesting psychology study published last week in Science Advances. Researchers based at the University of Waterloo in Canada wanted to understand what prompts people to use rationality — or deviate from it — in their decision-making. To get at this, they first analyzed reams of text to see what people generally take rationality to mean. Then they conducted 12 experiments, recruiting people from Amazon Mechanical Turk to play classic economic games like the Dictator Game online and answer questions about their behavior.

The study starts by distinguishing between two terms: there’s rationality, where you focus on maximizing the chance of getting what you want, and there’s reasonableness, where you strike a balance between what you want and social norms.

Although we might sometimes use rational and reasonable interchangeably, the study shows that people generally associate the former with the cold hard logic of self-interest and the latter with socially conscious traits like kindness or cooperativeness. A computerized analysis of billions of words — drawn from soap operas, Supreme Court opinions, and Google Books — showed that these associations hold true across several countries…

Let’s get clear on something: Nobody is arguing that rationality is a bad thing. It’s more that our understanding of rationality has, over the past few decades, become impoverished.

“What philosophers since the Enlightenment meant by rationality is much more complex than what economists talk about now,” Grossmann told me. “If you look at Immanuel Kant or Adam Smith, their notion of rationality is much more nuanced and it does include social norms. Yet behavioral economists have this very narrow notion of rationality: abstract, formal, self-interested, and not at all about social norms.”

In other words, rationality used to be this capacious concept that included reasonableness. By ripping reasonableness out of it, we ended up with a standard of judgment that the average person won’t see fit to apply in all situations — and then we assumed that indicates there’s something wrong with them.

According to Grossman, we’ve lost the more useful notion of rationality, but “the reasonableness standard can help to recover it.”

 

 

 

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