Friday, September 30, 2022

What happens when the government believes its own propaganda?

This is Joseph.

Tax cuts cause dynamic growth is a common talking point that fails most of the tests of being a clear and universal principle. There are high tax nations (Germany, 48%) that have strong and robust economies (US$ 45.7K per capita). There are low tax nations that struggle (Greece, 35%) with US $17.6K GDP per capita. 

This is especially true with the idea that it is tax cuts on the wealthy that drive growth. The United States had it's highest income taxes on high earners in the 1950's -- hardly a period of sustained slow growth. Now this is not to say that taxes have no effect, but that it is a complex relationship with feedback that is not really subject to simplistic analysis. But there are simple examples which should make you question the unthinking conclusions of "taxes always lower growth" but it is also the case that the contrary isn't true. It is my suspicion that it is all about how the taxes are spent and the efficiency of government that is driving these factors. 

As we mentioned a few days ago, the UK did a serious of massive tax cuts. The consequence appeared to be the markets thinking that the government had lost its mind and a sudden massive increase in borrowing costs, requiring the central bank to intervene. Pension schemes faced serious risks of insolvency as they suddenly watched the value of their bond holdings plummet. Home sales are collapsing as banks pull back mortgages that are suddenly unprofitable. One internet pundit annotated the following chart to show just how destructive this is:

Even after a GBP 65 billion intervention, borrowing costs increases alone are as large as the budget for housing. The net deficit is >10% of the 2022 budget and exceeds education, and is about 2/3 of health care costs. It's just crazy. 

Now just listen to the Prime Minister's radio tour to try and defend these policies. It is true that there are some external shocks, mostly due to the war in Ukraine, but the tax cuts are an unforced error that has increased interest rates and dropped the value of the Great British Pound. Nor does it help when the Prime Minister won't answer a question on whether people's pensions are safe and tries to shift responsibility to the Bank of England. That isn't going to increase economic uncertainty at all, is it?  

I suspect that this type of action is the result of "noble lies" told to benefit the well off being repeated so often that the people in charge no longer realize that they were lies and have begun to believe the propaganda and I fear that rarely ends well. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

High ground and the lack thereof

Another thread we've been hammering for a awhile. 

A common, perhaps even the standard framing of rising sea levels is that it's a existential threat for all coastal cities, and while I understand the desire not to downplay the crisis, this isn't true. For cities with relatively high elevations like Los Angeles (a few low-lying neighborhoods, but most of it hundreds and some of it thousands of feet above sea-level) or cities with at least moderate elevations and little danger from tropical cyclones (like almost all major cites on the West Coast), we are talking about a problem but not a catastrophe (The remnants of hurricanes we do see in California are generally more good news than bad. Kay broke our recent heat wave and gave some relief to firefighters). Some beaches will be lost and a few people will have to relocate, but compared to drought and triple-digit temperatures, that's a fairly manageable situation. 

 Of course, the real tragedy of this framing is not that it overstates the threat to the West Coast, but that it dangerously understates the immediate and genuinely existential threat to many cities on the East and Gulf Coasts. 

 From CNN:

• Storm surge: Some 12 to 18 feet of seawater pushed onto land is forecast Wednesday for the coastal Fort Myers area, from Englewood to Bonita Beach, forecasters said. Only slightly less is forecast for a stretch from Bonita Beach down to near the Everglades (8 to 12 feet), and from near Bradenton to Englewood (6 to 10 feet), forecasters said.

Lower – but still life-threatening – surge is possible elsewhere, including north of Tampa and along Florida’s northeast coast near Jacksonville.

 What's happening in in Fort Meyers is horrifying...

But imagine what an eighteen foot storm surge would do to the slightly higher but far more populous Jacksonville.

From Wikipedia:

Fort Meyers
    10 ft (3 m)
Population (2020)
 • Total    86,395

    16 ft (5 m)
Population (2020)
 • Total    949,611

And while we're at it...


    6 ft (1.8 m)
Population (2020)
 • Total    442,241 

These storms are going to get stronger and the seas will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. Look up the elevation for cities that are likely to be hit by hurricanes. Anything less than twenty-five or thirty feet is basically playing Russian Roulette.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Academic hiring

This is Joseph.

Just the public part of this Substack post by Ilya Shapiro is amazing. Like how disconnected do you need to be from academic hiring to make this complaint:

The idea that the diversity piece might have been what sank his application ignores his CV. Honorary fellow at the University of Mississippi and adjunct teacher at George Washington University Law School from 2005 to 2007. Now he has published books ad done a lot of think tank work so it might not be silly to have had his name in the pool. But he was approached by a faculty member on on the search committee and had limited academic experience. That lack of institutional academic experience was far more likely than the diversity statement of the competing candidates to have been decisive. 

That said, that he was never given a rejection letter is just rude. Sadly, not sending rejection letters is common in academia but also clearly something that we should do a lot better about. 

That said, we are not talking about a person who has been driven into destitution by these decisions. For example, the Georgetown position he declined ended up getting him a national speaking tour about free speech, so I'd say he ended up doing ok. Even if it is a bit too easy to point out the contradiction between "I have been silenced" and "I am on a national speaking tour":

I mean it is fine for Ilya to complain about how things have worked out for him professionally. I think all of us have had our professional disappointments and we have all had job that ended up not being good fits for us that we had wanted in the abstract (before the bad stuff became clear). But I also think that we need to be clear that he ended up with a prominent and important job that is probably more desirable than law school Dean. Or, if not, it is hardly a major step down from it. 

And that brings me to my final thought here. There is an odd reaction in modern right-wing circles to being able to "dish it out but not take it". See Radley Balko (hardly a left-wing flower):

Now it is perfectly fine to have emotion-based opinions on different nominees for the supreme court; it is an important institution and strong feelings over life-time appointments are sensible. But freedom to speak does not mean freedom from criticism and a person with strong and polarizing opinions shouldn't be surprised when they elicit strong reactions from others. 

So, to summarize, the failure to be hired on one's first try as a law school Dean is not an exceptional or unexpected outcome. I have failed many, many job searches in my academic life and that is as a person focused on that pathway. Dozens and dozens of hours have led to form letters and or silence from a prospective employer, even when there were people at the institution would would have liked to hire me. We can be glad that Ilya Shapiro ended up with a job he appears to enjoy and that lets him continue to advance his views, even if I find them quite disagreeable myself. But in no way does this make him a martyr to the culture wars. Instead, it is just the sad state of academic hiring. 

Just look at people like Ashley Ruba who do a ton of outreach on AltAc (alternative to academia) jobs for highly educated professionals and you can see many stories of people with impressive skills choosing to do an non-academic career, just because academia is a challenging place to have a career right now. Rather than the story of an exceptional, it is just a normal tale of people finding alternative careers outside of the academy. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Tuesday Tweets -- Headless Horses and other Absurdities

This is Twitter at its best. Smart people having interesting converstions.

Exceptional bit of propaganda from Ukraine (better with the sound up).

And he's not even one of Thiel's candidates.

Katie Porter (who is good at this) already has an ad about the national abortion ban running in the LA-Orange TV market.

All four of these states (particularly Arizona and Florida) were net pro-choice before Dobbs, and the data we've seen since have suggested that Roe has grown more popular.

State Mostly Legal Mostly Illegal Net support
Louisiana 36.00% 59.00% -23
Arkansas 38.00% 57.00% -19
Mississippi 39.00% 55.00% -16
West Virginia 40.00% 55.00% -15
Alabama 40.00% 55.00% -15
Tennessee 40.00% 53.00% -13
Kentucky 41.00% 53.00% -12
Utah 43.00% 53.00% -10
Idaho 43.00% 50.00% -6
South Dakota 47.00% 50.00% -4
North Dakota 47.00% 50.00% -3
Texas 46.00% 48.00% -2
South Carolina 45.00% 47.00% -2
Indiana 46.00% 48.00% -2
Nebraska 46.00% 47.00% -2
Wyoming 48.00% 49.00% -1
Missouri 47.00% 47.00% <+1
Kansas 48.00% 47.00% 1
Georgia 49.00% 46.00% 2
North Carolina 49.00% 44.00% 5
Oklahoma 49.00% 45.00% 5
Iowa 52.00% 45.00% 7
Ohio 52.00% 43.00% 10
New Mexico 52.00% 42.00% 10
Montana 52.00% 42.00% 10
Virginia 53.00% 42.00% 11
Wisconsin 54.00% 41.00% 13
Pennsylvania 53.00% 41.00% 13
Arizona 54.00% 41.00% 13
Minnesota 54.00% 40.00% 14
Illinois 56.00% 40.00% 15
Michigan 55.00% 39.00% 16
Florida 56.00% 38.00% 18
California 57.00% 38.00% 20
Colorado 57.00% 37.00% 20
Delaware 58.00% 37.00% 21
Alaska 60.00% 35.00% 25
Washington 61.00% 34.00% 26
Oregon 62.00% 35.00% 27
Maine 62.00% 34.00% 28
New Jersey 62.00% 33.00% 29
Maryland 63.00% 32.00% 31
New York 63.00% 32.00% 31
Nevada 63.00% 32.00% 32
Rhode Island 64.00% 30.00% 33
New Hampshire 65.00% 30.00% 35
Connecticut 65.00% 29.00% 36
Hawaii 66.00% 29.00% 37
D.C. 70.00% 26.00% 44
Massachusetts 70.00% 25.00% 45
Vermont 70.00% 24.00% 46

In black swan season, you should try to have viable candidates in even long shot elections. Case in point.

Our last comment on the royal family.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Trickling down?

This is Joseph.

There is a idea in economics that giving money to the wealthy will result in faster rates of economic growth than giving money to the poor and middle class. To be fair, it is not completely daft to ask whether there is a specific way that taxes could be adjusted to simultaneously increase revenue and economic growth. While that seems ambitious for even a good policy, it is to be remembered that a bad policy might manage to hurt both revenue and growth at once. 

You can easily see cases where targeting benefits at the wealthy might not work so well. The idle rich are unlikely to be active investors creating new capital. The rich have the options to invest elsewhere and might use their increased revenues to drive economic growth in other places. The recent British tax cuts seem to have created a lack of confidence, for example:


Massive tax cuts when there is a problem with inflation suggests that there are about to be some exciting moves in interest rates. Which, going back to the first tweet, is a great opportunity to shift into investing overseas where growth will be a lot easier than the place that is trashing its economy.

In general, I have always wondered about the wisdom of investing in the wealthy. It's been a common historical strategy and it seems to weaken states and not strengthen them. In particular, concentrating power in a small group seems to have the unpleasant effect of making it easier for them to co-opt the normal machinery of the state. We do not see an aristocracy or a strong elite class as a sign of freedom, and that includes elites like the Roman Senate that outsiders could (at least in theory) join.  

As a more general critique, there has been an increasingly odd movement to believe in the opposite of what the data shows. Brexit seemed to posit that putting trade restrictions in place would increase prosperity. Giving more money to the rich is the opposite of helping the poor. Even in housing you have this odd belief that restrictions on development are not behind higher prices. I get that these are complicated systems and that there can be some odd outcomes and incomplete explanations, but in the normal course of life one would assume that the direct effect would be the most likely to dominate. 

Similarly, taxes have a distributional impact. Selectively cutting taxes on the wealthy in the midst of a cost of living crisis is not going to have immediate and helpful effects on poverty. The UK has around 10% inflation and is about to have an energy price crisis -- this is a fairly heroic view of how fast one expects the economic growth to happen to help out the working poor. 

PostScript: This story in the Guardian reported here with this excerpt:

Really puts the cost of living crisis in perspective. Remember, the idea here is that the government will give massive tax relief to those with high incomes.  Look at the list of cuts:
  • Cancellation of a planned rise in corporation tax to 25%, keeping it at 19%, the lowest rate in the G-20.
  • A reversal in the recent 1.25% rise in National Insurance contributions — a tax on income.
  • A reduction in the basic rate of income tax from 20 pence to 19 pence.
  • Scrapping of the 45% tax paid on incomes over £150,000 ($166,770), taking the top rate to 40%.
  • Significant cuts to stamp duty, a tax paid on home purchases.
  • A network of “investment zones” around the U.K. where businesses will be offered tax cuts, liberalized planning rules and a reduction in regulatory obstacles.
  • A claim-back scheme for sales taxes paid by tourists.
  • Scrapping of an increase in tax rates on various alcohols.
  • Scrapping of a cap on bankers’ bonuses.
Some of these will help the parents of starving children but there are big cuts focused on those making large incomes (people making $165,000 per year are not short of money for basic foodstuff). 

Friday, September 23, 2022

If you need another Columbo fix...

...or just need to get away from the news for an hour and a half this weekend, here's is one of the rare cases where YouTube's algorithm came up with something I actually wanted to watch. [Following up last month's post.]

Murder by Natural Causes is prime Levinson and Link with a first rate cast and a plot where you may see the broad strokes coming but the the details will probably catch you off guard. 

Good, mean-spirited fun.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Five years ago at the blog -- No special relevance here. I just like talking about this stuff.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Thoughts on a Ouija board

As previously (and frequently) mentioned, I've been chipping away at a couple of essays about 21st century attitudes toward technology. The incredible spike in innovation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries plays a big role. Unfortunately, the more I dig in, the more I find new aspects to the subject.

I came across yet another when watching this Bob Chipman movie review of Ouija [Now apparently off line -- MP]. My general rule for movie reviews and criticism (Chipman falls more in the latter but is also pretty good at the former) is to only check out writing on movies that I either have seen, or care so little about that they can't really be spoiled. This one fell in the second category.

Chipman is exceptionally good with historical and cultural context. He started this review with a brief historical overview of the popular board game, suggesting that the filmmakers could have gotten a more interesting and original film had they mined the actual history of the Ouija board rather than opting for something standard and derivative. What caught my ear was the fact that the Ouija board was first marketed in 1891 as an attempt to cash in on the spiritualism craze of the era.

Here's Linda Rodriguez McRobbie writing for the Smithsonian:

As spiritualism had grown in American culture, so too did frustration with how long it took to get any meaningful message out of the spirits, says Brandon Hodge, Spiritualism historian. Calling out the alphabet and waiting for a knock at the right letter, for example, was deeply boring. After all, rapid communication with breathing humans at far distances was a possibility—the telegraph had been around for decades—why shouldn’t spirits be as easy to reach? People were desperate for methods of communication that would be quicker—and while several entrepreneurs realized that, it was the Kennard Novelty Company that really nailed it.

The facts weren't exactly new to me, but somehow I had never thought about the peak of the spiritualism movement coinciding with the explosive scientific and technological advances of the era. I'd always tended to think of that form of spiritualism as quaint and old-fashioned, particularly when compared with the sci-fi infused New Age mysticism of today. Now I'm wondering if I got that exactly backwards.

Particularly in America, the period from around 1880 to 1910 was one of unprecedented technological change, reordering every aspect of society to a degree that hadn't been seen before and hasn't been seen since. It was also, not surprisingly, and era of wild speculation and fantasy. Most of HG Wells' best known scientific romances came from the 1890s. The idea that Mars harbored not only intelligent life but great civilizations had started gaining popularity a decade earlier.

Perhaps living in a time of impossible things makes people credulous, it might even be a form of adaptation. People not only excepted the incredible, they craved more. This gave rise to and army of metaphysical conmen exposed by the  Seybert Commission in the 1880s. While it is always dangerous to generalize from outliers, it is certainly interesting that the greatest age of progress was also remarkable for producing dreamers and suckers.


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

American agency

This is Joseph

This tweet needed to be seen to be believed:

I find that World War 2 is a fertile ground for this theory that everything bad comes from the United States. When I was younger there was a huge debate about whether the US knew about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in advance and that this somehow reduced Japanese culpability. Now, pre-knowledge of the attack might have had implications for the leadership being indifferent to casualties instead of setting an ambush, but it is common for intelligence to go astray. Look at the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union:
Stalin also ignored his own spies, who, from such locations as Germany, Japan, Romania and Switzerland, reported with increasing frequency that the Nazis were about to strike. In early 1941, for example, an undercover source in Berlin asserted that “war with Russia has definitely been decided on for this year,” whereas in Bucharest a German commander was quoted describing the upcoming clash as “something that goes without saying.” Border guards heard much the same from captured enemy saboteurs, and railroad workers observed huge numbers of Nazi soldiers moving east. Though not every report proved reliable, Soviet intelligence purportedly named the exact, or almost exact, date of the invasion no fewer than 47 times in the 10 days before “Operation Barbarossa” went into effect.

Now, to be clear, Japan attacked the United States and then Germany declared war on the United States. It is implausible in the extreme that this process was driven by the United States in any meaningful sense of the term and Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda goes back to far earlier eras, like the book Mein Kampf. 

Now World War 2 was atypical in that there was a pretty clear event that started the war and the other side uniformly declared war on the United States. Further, it was pretty clear that the Axis countries were conducting atrocities on defenseless conquered populations. It is rare that the lines are so clear as with the US involvement. I think this is uniformly true of the Allies, in general, but I think it is clearest with the US which was not central to the pre-war diplomacy as the UK, USSR, or France. 

This strange brand of anti-Americanism continues to the modern era, with people still needing to debunk that the defensive NATO alliance was the cause of the 2022 war. To be clear, some US interventions are questionable -- I think serious people can ask hard questions about the wisdom of the Vietnam war or the invasion of Iraq. There are many US foreign policy decisions that are questionable.

But saying the US is always a bad actor is as naïve and silly as calling the US as always being a good actor. Nation-states are famous for making all sorts of unfortunate decisions in the name of national interest and the US is no exception. But it is ridiculous to try and make the record worse than it actually is. To be honest, on a historical scale, the US has tended to be an atypically ethical and restrained great power. 

Reflexive anti-Americanism is very  unhelpful in generating a useful pathway to improving US foreign policy and these sorts of silly arguments drag oxygen away from actually working to make the US more ethical and more restrained as a great power. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Tuesday (Themed) Tweets -- Getting increasingly difficult to avoid the obvious comparisons

Presented without comment.


Monday, September 19, 2022


This is Joseph.

Do royal ascensions bring out bad takes? Here is one that I think is worth talking about: Should Charles abdicate at 75 years of age?  

There are two ways to answer this question. One is to ask if it ever makes sense to have a hereditary monarchy, even a constitutional one? Because if your concern is a gerontocracy, then this is an institution that is likely to make this a common concern. Nor can one king abdicating bind any future king -- it'd need to be a constitutional change. 

Two, is to note that this confuses group and individual incentives. King Charles waited 73 years (almost 74) to ascend to the throne. Given that his birthday is in November, he would resigning after something like 15 months on the throne should be abdicate at 75 years of age. Now, his mother could have resigned at 75, with a half century on the throne, and that might have made sense in terms of setting a precent. But, in this case, we are correcting the excesses of the previous group by asking the succeeding group to make a sacrifice and that has some issues in terms of natural justice. 

About 30 years ago, the mandatory faculty age for retirement in Canada was overturned. Current faculty are benefiting from the lack of a retirement age which often delayed the careers of the succeeding generation. If we then dropped it back to the original 65, the group that would be penalized are not the current faculty who benefited from the change in rules, but their successors who had a delay to the start of their careers.

But there is no way that I would expect the person who waited 73 years for the throne (his entire working life) to quickly give it up because of a concern about gerontocracy in the context of a monarchy!  

Friday, September 16, 2022

There is no such thing as a poll of likely voters

[Starting a sometimes meta thread on the current state of polling.]

There are polls of the general population and polls of registered voters, but there has never been a poll of likely voters. What we do have do have is polls of registered voters that have been weighted to favor the respondents whom the pollsters think are likely to turn out on election day.

The polls and the models used to determine how likely different people are to vote are entirely different creatures, supported by different assumption, prone to fail in entirely different ways for entirely different reasons. If we are going to pay attention to electoral polling (and I have very mixed feeling about whether we should), we need to be aware of these things.

If you have a candidate like Trump or an issue like Dobbs bringing in large numbers of people who otherwise probably wouldn't have voted, inevitably you will screw over likely voter models. This is doubly true if the model puts heavy weight on past voting history. Dobbs is particularly interesting in this respect since it seems to be causing a surge not just in registrations, but in registrations of young people. If a likely voter model looked at voting history and age these are the last people it would flag as likely.

Of course, outside of a handful of special elections which don't really tell us much, we don't know how many of those young people who registered will actually vote. We won't know until November and from the standpoint of prediction, that will be too late.

Here's my take. At this point, I would not put any weight whatsoever on likely voter models. Not this year and not in 2024. Every warning light relevant to predictive models is flashing proceed with caution and we are so far out of the range of observed data that it is no longer visible on the horizon.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

This is definitely an interesting take

This is Joseph.

Parody, has gone here to die:

Paywalled but you can read it here:
When the yacht was commissioned in the 1950s, Her Majesty turned down the initial design as too lavish. She wanted simplicity and would disembark for picnics with the Tupperware on remote beaches in the Western Isles.


 Her dresser, Angela Kelly, explained that once an outfit had become familiar to the public, the Queen would recycle it to wear at Sandringham fêtes.

Her shoes and handbags dated back to the 1950s. She didn’t mind anyone seeing the £30 electric heaters in the Audience Room at Windsor or knowing of her preference for shallow baths — seven inches at 22C, adopted by her father George VI at Buckingham Palace during the war.

So you have a person who has a yacht, even a modest one, an audience room, and a dresser. It might be that she is projecting a helpful attitude but actual poor people lack the luxury of these things. Actual poor people don't have pets to spoil or Land Rovers as vehicles:

The Queen didn’t have to fake her naturally parsimonious nature. She championed the Land Rover for its durability and the fact that she could mend the engine herself. Not for her, her grandchildren’s new Range Rover SUVs. Only the corgis were spoilt: the story of Prince Andrew being made to retrace his steps after returning from a long walk as a child without their leads, while the dogs remained to eat slivers of freshly cooked rabbit, became a family legend. 

It is very different to be frugal by choice, when you have money. Just like it is easy to decide to diet as opposed to lacking enough food. This family is in a very different economic position than the Queen in terms of cost of living. It is one thing to have a style driven by frugality, it is quite another to be forced into it by circumstance, especially when actual deprivation is a policy.

It is like people who worry about climate change so they open windows instead of using AC but drive SUVs, fly to climate conferences, and think nothing of a large house. In the end, the Queen simply did not live in the same environment as any but the most affluent of her subjects. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Ten years ago at the blog -- We were into self-selection before self-selection was cool

Non-response has become a hot topic among political writers and data. I'm not entirely happy with some of the analyses we've been seeing, so I need to get serious about the thread on electoral forecast I've been putting for years. 

In the meantime, here was our first foray into the topic.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Life on 49-49

[Following up on this post, here are some more (barely) pre-election thoughts on how polls gang aft agley. I believe Jonathan Chait made some similar points. Some of Nate Silver's critics also wandered into some neighboring territory (with the important distinction that Chait understood the underlying concepts)]

Assume that there's an alternate world called Earth 49-49. This world is identical to ours in all but one respect: for almost all of the presidential campaign, 49% of the voters support Obama and 49% support Romney. There has been virtually no shift in who plans to vote for whom.

Despite this, all of the people on 49-49 believe that they're on our world, where large segments of the voters are shifting their support from Romney to Obama then from Obama to Romney. They weren't misled to this belief through fraud -- all of the polls were administered fairly and answered honestly -- nor was it a case of stupidity or bad analysis -- the political scientists on 49-49 are highly intelligent and conscientious -- rather it had to do with the nature of polling.

Pollsters had long tracked campaigns by calling random samples of potential voters. As campaign became more drawn out and journalistic focus shifted to the horse race aspects of election, these phone polls proliferated. At the same time, though, the response rates dropped sharply, going from more than one in three to less than one in ten.

A big drop in response rates always raises questions about selection bias since the change may not affect all segments of the population proportionally (more on that -- and this report -- later). It also increases the potential magnitude of these effects.

Consider these three scenarios. What would happen if you could do the following (in the first two cases, assume no polling bias):

A. Convince one percent of undecideds to support you. Your support goes to 50 while your opponent stays at 49 -- one percent poll advantage

B. Convince one percent of opponent's supporters to support you. Your support goes to 50 while your opponent drops to 48 -- two percent poll advantage

C. Convince an additional one percent of your supporters to answer the phone when a pollster calls. You go to over 51% while your opponent drops to under 47%-- around a five percent poll advantage.

Of course, no one was secretly plotting to game the polls, but poll responses are basically just people agreeing to talk to you about politics, and lots of things can affect people's willingness to talk about their candidate, including things that would almost never affect their actual votes (at least not directly but more on that later).

In 49-49, the Romney campaign hit a stretch of embarrassing news coverage while Obama was having, in general, a very good run. With a couple of exceptions, the stories were trivial, certainly not the sort of thing that would cause someone to jump the substantial ideological divide between the two candidates so, none of Romney's supporters shifted to Obama or to undecided. Many did, however, feel less and less like talking to pollsters. So Romney's numbers started to go down which only made his supporters more depressed and reluctant to talk about their choice.

This reluctance was already just starting to fade when the first debate came along. As Josh Marshall has explained eloquently and at great length since early in the primaries, the idea of Obama, faced with a strong attack and deprived of his teleprompter, collapsing in a debate was tremendously important and resonant to the GOP base. That belief was a major driver of the support for Gingrich, despite all his baggage; no one ever accused Newt of being reluctant to go for the throat.

It's not surprising that, after weeks of bad news and declining polls, the effect on the Republican base of getting what looked very much like the debate they'd hoped for was cathartic. Romney supporters who had been avoiding pollsters suddenly couldn't wait to take the calls. By the same token. Obama supporters who got their news from Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews really didn't want to talk right now.

The polls shifted in Romney's favor even though, had the election been held the week after the debate, the result would have been the same as it would have been had the election been held two weeks before -- 49% to 49%. All of the changes in the polls had come from core voters on both sides. The voters who might have been persuaded weren't that interested in the emotional aspect of the conventions and the debates and were already familiar with the substantive issues both events raised.

So response bias was amplified by these factors:

1. the effect was positively correlated with the intensity of support

2. it was accompanied by matching but opposite effects on the other side

3. there were feedback loops -- supporters of candidates moving up in the polls were happier and more likely to respond while supporters of candidates moving down had the opposite reaction.

You might wonder how the pollsters and political scientists of this world missed this. The answer that they didn't. They were concerned about selection effects and falling response rates, but the problems with the data were difficult to catch definitively thanks to some serious obscuring factors:

1. Researchers have to base their conclusions off of the historical record when the effect was not nearly so big.

2. Things are correlated in a way that's difficult to untangle. The things you would expect to make supporters less enthusiastic about talking about their candidate are often the same things you'd expect to lower support for that candidate

3. As mentioned before, there are compensatory effects. Since response rates for the two parties are inversely related, the aggregate is fairly stable.

4. The effect of embarrassment and elation tend to fade over time so that most are gone by the actual election.

5. There's a tendency to converge as the election approaches. Mainly because likely voter screens become more accurate.

6. Poll predictions can be partially self-fulfilling. If the polls indicate a sufficiently low chance of winning, supporters can become discouraged, allies can desert you and money can dry up. The result is, again, convergence.

For the record, I don't think we live on 49-49. I do, however, think that at least some of the variability we've seen in the polls can be traced back to selection effects similar to those described here and I have to believe it's likely to get worse.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Tuesday Twitter -- Dispatches

If you've been trying to stay up to date on the war in Ukraine while not having to scroll past endless articles on Queen Elizabeth, Josh Marshall is here to help.

In any case, I would recommend to you again two Twitter lists I’ve curated with experts from whom we can learn more. This one is about the Ukraine war generally and this focuses more narrowly on the military dimensions of the conflict

Lots of smart, informed conversations and useful links like this excellent overview of the recent counter-offensive.

Remember Ted Cruz insisting our military was too "woke" to be effective fighters?

One of the recurring themes is just how bad a rout this was.

Part of the speed of the collapse might be explained by this.

With notable exceptions, the reaction of Russia and its allies has been anger, bluster, blame,,,

And denial.


 And to make the cold war vibe complete, we even have SMERSH (3:34).

Monday, September 12, 2022

"Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern and Lethal"

2022 has been, so far, a remarkably bad year for expert opinion. We've been dabbling in press criticism now for more than a dozen years and I can't think of a time when the anointed experts of the mainstream media been more wrong on more important questions than they have been over the past 9 months. The  conventional wisdom has been comically off on the reaction to Dobbs and the January 6 hearings, the viability of prominent candidates, the GOP "moving on" from Trump, the importance of Social Security and Medicare as an electoral issue, and, of course, the war in Ukraine.

If recent trends continue (always a big if), we can expect to see a lot of revisionism from major pundits and publications. They will shove as much as they can down the memory hole. Where that fails, they will either dredge up some ass-covering quote from paragraph twenty-three and pretend that was the main thrust of their position or they will claim that "It wasn't just us. Everybody got it wrong."

 That last bit of retconning distorts what really happened in two ways. It ignores both the people who actually did get it right and the distinction between slightly wrong and totally wrong. If you two forecasts, one predicting warm and sunny with 0% chance of precipitation and the other warning of moderate to heavy rain, and you get a torrential downpour, both were wrong, but the warm-and-sunny guy doesn't get to use that as a defense.

 The post-2016 revisionist push, "everybody got it wrong" became the go-to line, probably because the screw-up was too big to downplay or deny. Michael Moore doesn't figure into the conversation and Nate Silver's 30% chance of a Trump is grouped with all the single digit predictions.

Here are two takes on the Russian military written during the build-up to the war. The first is from the NYT, as always, the official spokesman for conventional wisdom.

From Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern and Lethal

 By Anton Troianovski, Michael Schwirtz and Andrew E. Kramer

Jan. 27, 2022

Two decades later, it is a far different fighting force that has massed near the border with Ukraine. Under Mr. Putin’s leadership, it has been overhauled into a modern sophisticated army, able to deploy quickly and with lethal effect in conventional conflicts, military analysts said. It features precision-guided weaponry, a newly streamlined command structure and well-fed and professional soldiers. And they still have the nuclear weapons.

The modernized military has emerged as a key tool of Mr. Putin’s foreign policy: capturing Crimea, intervening in Syria, keeping the peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and, just this month, propping up a Russia-friendly leader in Kazakhstan. Now it is in the middle of its most ambitious — and most ominous — operation yet: using threats and potentially, many fear, force, to bring Ukraine back into Moscow’s sphere of influence.

“The mobility of the military, its preparedness and its equipment are what allow Russia to pressure Ukraine and to pressure the West,” said Pavel Luzin, a Russian security analyst. “Nuclear weapons are not enough.”

Without firing a shot, Mr. Putin has forced the Biden administration to shelve other foreign policy priorities and contend with Kremlin grievances the White House has long dismissed — in particular reversing Ukraine’s Westward lean in the post-Soviet period.


What is new is not just Russia’s upgraded equipment, but the evolving theory of how the Kremlin uses it. The military has honed an approach that Dmitry Adamsky, a scholar of international security at Reichman University in Israel, calls “cross-domain coercion” — blending the real or threatened use of force with diplomacy, cyberattacks and propaganda to achieve political aims.

That blended strategy is playing out in the current crisis around Ukraine. Russia is pushing for immediate wide-ranging concessions from the West. Russian troop movements into allied Belarus put a potential invasion force within 100 miles of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Russian state media is warning that Ukrainian forces are the ones preparing acts of aggression.

Compared to this from 

Assessing the Military Strength of Russia and Ukraine
Russia may not the hold the military advantage media reports indicate.
Giselle Donnelly
Feb 7

There has also been a profusion of articles summarizing Russian military modernization and reforms since the end of the Cold War and highlighting Russian successes in Syria and elsewhere, including Ukraine in 2014. “Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern and Lethal,” headlines the New York Times. Under “Putin’s leadership,” the paper reports, the Russian military “has been overhauled into a modern sophisticated army, able to deploy quickly and with lethal effect in conventional conflicts. … It features precision-guided weaponry, a newly streamlined command structure and well-fed and professional soldiers.”

This is true, but isn’t the whole story. 


But just as in the United States, the logic of defense reductions is inescapable; the priority on “strategic” systems has crowded out investments in other elements of military modernization. Thus, while some elements of Russia’s conventional forces are indeed, as the New York Times puts it, “modern and lethal,” it is far from clear how far and wide the Russian general-purpose force modernization and organizational reforms has progressed. A review of post-Cold War performance reveals a mixed record.


In sum, the famed Russian willingness to suffer, perhaps Moscow’s greatest asset in World War II, has become a grave strategic liability. This, in conjunction with a need to preserve the limited quantity of his well-trained and well-armed conventional forces, has profoundly shaped Putin’s military moves for the past two decades. It also explains why “gray-zone” warfare—the use of unconventional tactics from cyber attacks to local proxies and influence operations—figures prominently in Russian strategy. Putin may be a wily card player, but he has some weak cards.

He has played these pretty close to the vest in Georgia in 2008, in Crimea and the Donbass in 2014 and since, in Syria the following year, in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 and lately in Belarus and Kazakhstan. Further, this is a substantial and growing list of conflicts—all of them limited but none of them decisively resolved or allowing for the easy shifting of forces and resources. And none of them is remotely of the same scale as the full-blown invasion of Ukraine he now threatens. For all of Putin’s provocations, he has acted like a man unsure of his own strength, more concerned with maintaining a potential “threat-in-being” than in showing off an undoubted ability to “shock and awe,” Desert Storm-style.


You can argue that no one realized how "creaky" the Russian military actually had become, it's important to distinguish between analysts who at least asked some of the right questions and those who simply followed the standard narrative.