All Of This Has Happened Before . . .
December 13th, 2012

I’m not quite sure why Ross Douthat is engaging Matt Yglesias on questions of demographics. Yglesias often seems to know next to nothing about the topics he writes about. But I don’t really read him, so maybe Yglesias has spent the last five years deep-diving in demographic research and has a solid understanding of the field and its history. Yeah, let’s go with that.

Anyway, here’s Douthat:

This is why the moral aspect of the case for, well, familialism — the hackles-raising argument I’ve been making that a society that isn’t replacing itself isn’t fulfilling a basic intergenerational obligation— cannot just be set aside in favor of less charged and more technocratic arguments about economic self-interest and social cohesion and public health and the sustainability of public pensions and so forth. These arguments matter, obviously, and may matter immensely as we enter our ever-grayer future. But even allowing for all of the practical problems associated with demographic decline, it is still possible to imagine a world of declining birthrates and more attenuated relationships being more comfortable, in strictly material terms, than the present or the past. Matt Yglesias has been making roughly this case, for instance, painting a portrait of a future where the surplus from technology and automation under-writes leisure pursuits (mostly virtual, I would expect) and social-service support for the many singletons left underemployed and unemployable, and everyone else finds work in the booming, ever-expanding elder-caregiver industry.

There’s a precedent, of course, for seeing technology as socio-economic liberation, as Philip Longman explains in his essential (and awesome) book on demographics, The Empty Cradle (page 114):

In the go-go year of 1966, the National Commission on Technology, Automation and Economic Progress issued a report warning of a “glut of productivity.” Juanita Kreps, who would late become Jimmy Carter’s secretary of commerce, coauthored part of the study which made bold predictions about what life in the United States would be like in the mid-1980s. Productivity was growing so rapidly, the study concluded, that by 1985 the economy would provide Americans with any one of the following three choices:

A universal twenty-hour workweek

A twenty-two week standard vacation

A standard retirement age of 38

Kreps was in good company in making these predictions. Policy intellectuals at the time were infatuated with the idea that America had become an “affluent society” and that the problems of economic scarcity has essentially been solved. In 1966, Time magazine surveyed leading futurists and reported their consensus view: “By 2000, the machines will be producing so much that everyone in the U.S. will, in effect, be independently wealthy.” So bountiful would the economy become by 2000 that only 10 percent of Americans would be needed in the labor force, and the rest, Time reported, would “have to be paid to be idle” with inflation-adjusted government benefits of up to $40,000 a year.

Longman goes into detail about the policy consequences of this worldview. Spoiler Alert: They didn’t turn out to be useful.


Deep Thoughts, by the Juicebox Mafia
May 11th, 2012

And here I thought yesterday’s entry had set a record that would stand for weeks. It’s going to be awesome in 15 years when these two guys are running the Washington Post and the New York Times.


George F’in Will
May 3rd, 2012

Like watching Mantle in his prime:

Jon was born just 19 years after James Watson and Francis Crick published their discoveries concerning the structure of DNA, discoveries that would enhance understanding of the structure of Jon, whose every cell is imprinted with Down syndrome. Jon was born just as prenatal genetic testing, which can detect Down syndrome, was becoming common. And Jon was born eight months before Roe v. Wadeinaugurated this era of the casual destruction of pre-born babies.

This era has coincided, not just coincidentally, with the full, garish flowering of the baby boomers’ vast sense of entitlement, which encompasses an entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps, and to a perfect baby. So today science enables what the ethos ratifies, the choice of killing children with Down syndrome before birth. That is what happens to 90 percent of those whose parents receive a Down syndrome diagnosis through prenatal testing.

And then:

This year Jon will spend his birthday where every year he spends 81 spring, summer and autumn days and evenings, at Nationals Park, in his seat behind the home team’s dugout. The Phillies will be in town, and Jon will be wishing them ruination, just another man, beer in hand, among equals in the republic of baseball.

It amazes me that George Will is still capable of writing like this, after thirty-plus years of filing two columns a week. I think it’s pretty clear that he’s the best columnist of his generation–this isn’t even a close call, to my mind. But I wonder where he ranks on the all-time list. It has to be very, very high.

Update: Galley Friend M.W. passes along something I don’t think I’ve ever seen: SNL’s “George F. Will: Sports Machine.” Don’t drink anything while watching. Being. And becoming.



Hipster Economists for $300
February 7th, 2012

Here’s Matthew Yglesias with a quick history of American news media:

The Grand Old Days of American journalism were characterized first and foremost by severely curtailed competition. There were three television networks, and outside of New York each city had basically one newspaper.

At first I thought this couldn’t be serious. I understand that the days when there were only three broadcast networks are before Yglesias’s time–but it isn’t exactly ancient history. There are lots of people who were around then. Some of them even work at Slate. You would think that, if he couldn’t be bothered to research the period, Yglesias might have queried one of them.

For instance, when I was a kid growing up outside Philadelphia, we had: the Philadelphia Inquirer,  the Daily News, the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and the Philadelphia Journal. That is, in addition to the two local dailies, the Gloucester County Times and the Courier-Post.

Without thinking too hard, Boston had the Herald and the Globe (that’s off the top of my head, they may have had more); Seattle had the Seattle Times, the News-Tribune, and the Post Intelligencer; St. Louis had the Globe-Democrat and the Post-Dispatch.

You get the idea. Back in the Grand Old Days most cities had at least two newspapers. (And that’s just counting the major papers–there were tons of smaller ethnic and alternative papers.) I know it’s hard to believe, but once upon a time the major American cities actually had morning and afternoon newspapers. And many of these cities had papers competing even within those time slots!

I know. It sounds crazy. And really, who can be expected to know about stuff that happened way back in the age of rotary dials. I don’t blame Yglesias. It would have taken him 30, maybe even 45 minutes of research to find this out because since most of these papers disappeared before the digital age it’s hard to find them mentioned on the internet.

And really, you can’t blame a journalist for not knowing something if it isn’t in Wikipedia or on Google’s first three results pages. I mean what–do you want journalists to have to read books just so they understand stupid details about what the world was like before iPhones and Twitter?

And I’m sure that from here on out Yglesias will be more careful when spouting off on topics about which he knows very little.

Oh. Wait.

Update: In the comments, Galley Reader JSG asks an interesting question: Is Yglesias’ contention that most cities once had only a single newspaper true for any major American city? Maybe someone with a Twitter account can ask him to provide an example.


The Wisdom of Juice-Boxers
October 31st, 2011

I don’t read Matt Yglesias often enough to tell if this post, saying that there should be no age requirement for voting in America, is serious or not. You decide for yourself; here it is, in its entirety:

Via Jonathan Bernstein,Sally Kohn writes about a campaign in Lowell, Massachusetts to let seventeen year-olds vote in local elections. More power to them, but I say let any American citizen vote in any American election he or she wants to.

Objections to this usually take the form of imagining a highly disciplined party of seven year-olds reliably delivering bloc votes to whichever candidate credibly promises endless kindergarten. If you think for five minutes about the practical problems of political organizing, and then for five minutes more about the practical problems of getting kids to do anything I think you’ll see quickly that this is a misguided worry. Realistically, voter turnout in the United States is not particularly high to begin with. Older teens and twentysomethings are already disproportionately unlikely to vote. If we extended the vote to more children, my guess is that relatively few of them would exercise it. But those who did would come from an unusually dedicated and informed sub-set of American teenagers. Meanwhile, if seven year-olds somehow do manage to organize themselves into an effective political lobby, I say more power to them. R

Sic, obvs. On the one hand, he can’t possibly be serious. On the other hand.

What’s particularly instructive about this outré idea is that, of course, it’s not new. Among people who think about demographic seriously (as opposed to just popping off on a blog), the concept has been kicking around since the mid-’80s. It’s called Demeny Voting. Contra Yglesias, the goal of Demeny voting is to amplify the power of parents, since low-fertility countries often find themselves in a vicious cycle where the young are increasingly taxed to provide benefits for the growing proportion of aged, creating disincentives to have children, which makes the pension system even more unsustainable. But Demeny and the other grown-ups who’ve toyed with the idea realized that you can’t just hand the vote to 3-year-olds (they cannot read; they cannot get to the polls; etc.). So he proposed handing proxy votes to parents–an extra vote for fathers for every son, and for mothers for every daughter.

No country has tried it yet, but in the last year Hungary actually flirted with it in a semi-serious way. Which is the type of thing that, if you were going to publicly advocate for such a system, you should probably know.



Nate Silver on Herman Cain
October 27th, 2011

Silver makes a point that I really, really wish political analysts would take under advisement:

But I do know what an analyst should not do: he should not use terms like “never” and “no chance” when applied to Mr. Cain’s chances of winning the nomination, as many analysts have.

There is simply no precedent for a candidate like Mr. Cain, one with such strong polling but such weak fundamentals. We do have some basic sense that both categories are important. This evidence is probably persuasive enough to say that Mr. Cain’s chances are much less than implied by his polling alone. They may, in fact, be fairly slim.

But slim (say, positing Mr. Cain’s odds at 50-to-1 against) is much different thannone (infinity-to-1 against). We don’t know enough about the way these factors interact, and we can’t be sure enough that the way they’ve interacted in the past will continue on into the future, to say that Mr. Cain has no chance or effectively no chance.

Frankly, I think it is quite arrogant to say that the man leading in the polls two months before Iowa has no chance, especially given that there is a long history in politics and other fields of experts being overconfident when they make predictions.

One reason that experts make overconfident predictions is because they often aren’t held accountable when they are wrong.

I don’t mean this point specifically about Cain, but about political analysis in general.


Who Needs to Know Stuff?
October 7th, 2011

The opening of Kevin Drum’s piece on Mac vs. PC is priceless because it adds one more data point in the ledger of how little our young commentariat knows and how unimportant that deficiency is to their writings and careers. I’ll give you the lede here, but it’s worth clicking through to read the rest of the piece:

In my post this morning about why Apple lost the personal computing battle, I noted that a big part of the reason was the much lower cost of PCs vs. Macs. Matt Yglesias tweets back:

Actually, they did in a way. The original version of Windows was designed to work with the first CGA color adapter, and in order to keep costs down that adapter only supported 16 colors. Later adapters supported more colors, but Windows retained a considerable amount of backward compatibility with old hardware for a very long time. Thus, even as late as the early-90s, versions of Windows were still using logos that rendered properly on ancient hardware.


Juicebox Mafia, TNR
March 28th, 2011

The New York Times has a big piece on Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Dave Weigel, et al. It’s everything you hoped it might be.

Meanwhile, I put together a short complaint about a stray line in Ed Kilgore’s otherwise interesting TNR analysis of Tim Pawlenty’s prospects. For whatever it’s worth, the New Republic is, happily, undergoing a real resurgence in recent months, since Richard Just took over. I think it’s not an accident that the really good stuff at TNR is coming from Ed Kilgore, John Judis, and William Galston–who are basically the antithesis of the Juicebox crowd.

(Richard Just gets no mention in the NYT piece; I guess he’s not part of the posse.)


AZ: Searching for the REAL killer(s)!
January 12th, 2011

So President Obama seems to have honed in on how the executive branch is supposed to respond to local crises–which is great! His answer: Dispatch FBI Director Robert Mueller to Arizona and force him to stand around as a prop and then . . . wait for it . . . have the FBI set up a dedicated task force on the case involving “hundreds of FBI agents.”

That’s right–we need to tie down “hundreds of FBI agents” in an investigation where the bad guy is already caught, he almost certainly worked alone, was part of no network or larger conspiracy, and is, if not legally guilty, then certainly responsible for having committed the crimes.

For a little perspective, the FBI–which is charged with being America’s main counter-terrorism force–has just 13,000 agents. So if only 200 agents are fanned out across Arizona trying to figure out what in the world happened, then 1.5 percent of our counter-terrorism capability is being tied down by a single spree crime.

Guess we don’t have to worry about jihadis anymore!

Look, the killing spree in Arizona is really, really terrible. At least as terrible as the Omar Thornton spree murders last August and the Nidal Hassan spree killing in 2009. Each case was terrible in its own way. (Though only Hassan’s had actual ideological causes.) But the world is often a cruel and dangerous place. Prince George’s County–a suburb of DC–has had 11 murders so far in 2011. We’re not sending the feds to canvas PG County to determine exactly what’s going on.


Hipster Amateur Economists Know What’s Good for You
November 30th, 2010

Megan McArdle and Matthew Yglesias have (intentionally?) hilarious posts arguing that urban neighborhoods which have odious  restrictions on liquor licenses are really hurting themselves because it would be better for everyone if there were lots of super cool bars to go to at night. Here’s Yglesias summing up the argument:

Basically the East Village really “wants” to be full of nightlife establishments just like Qiaotou, China wants button factories. Restricting the creation of new button factories in Qiatou will help incumbent button makers (and alleviate neighborhood concerns about factory smoot) but it’s hard to call a bar scene into existence that way. Similarly, making it hard to open a new bar in the East Village isn’t going to create a button factory. It’s going to create an underutilized space. That means somewhat more unemployment in the city, somewhat less tax revenue in the city, and thus at the margin higher tax rates and fewer social services for everyone.

It’s hard to take any of this seriously–it’s as if neither of them has ever heard of “opportunity cost.” But just for giggles, let’s poke a few holes.

* How many salaried positions do bars create? For starters, a bar requires relatively few employees, and for another, they tend not to be salaried positions. How much income tax revenue do bars really generate?

* If the loss of tax revenue incurred by not having bars leads in fewer marginal social services, how many more social services do bars consume relative to other uses of the space? More police work, more sanitation, more billable hours on the public side of the criminal justice system. Surely bars consume more state resources than residential or retail units.

* How do bars impact property values? If the presence of bars lowers surrounding property values, which seems at least possible, this creates a property tax shortfall.

And so on and so on. The heart of this, of course, is that hipster amateur economists really just want to manufacture an economic rationale for a good which they personally prefer. There’s no consideration that other people in the neighborhood might prefer competing goods–like quiet, stable property values, family-friendly space, etc– and that those goods also have value.

But hey, that’s cool, because grown-up, professional economists do this all the time.

1 comment

April 27th, 2010

Matt Yglesias calls Ydiot “witless” and “obtuse.” Sounds good to me! Someone should get the Ydiot guy this Kaus for Senate shirt.


Kaus For Senate!
April 20th, 2010

Frequent G.S. commenter TubbyLover69 sent an email over the weekend alerting me to his very excellent store peddling Kaus for Senate gear. I can’t recommend it highly enough. He’s put an ad over there to the right with one of the styles of t-shirt, but I prefer this bit of awesomeness:

No matter who your least favorite blogger is, TubbyLover69 has you covered: there are styles taking shots at Sullivan, Yglesias, Bob Wright, Ezra Klein. He’s got it all! (That Shep Fairey-stizz [–ed.] really is an instant classic.) You might as well buy two. 
And don’t forget to donate to the real Kaus for Senate. All the right people hate him.
PS: One quibble for Tubby–Why nothing for people who hate on the JournoList? Or a “Secrets of Cafe Milano”?