Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Doesn't fit the narrative

Justin Trudeau on pot: "right away" when asked when an elected Liberal government would legalize marijuana. There goes any chance of the Liberals winning Peel Region.

2016 watch (Clinton edition)
Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of, dissects Lena Dunham's interview with Hillary Clinton, and concludes:
Ultimately, what comes across is the rather unexpected and unarticulated revelation that America is in fact a much better place than it was 40 or 50 years ago when it comes to treating people as individuals.
Oddly, though, that also undercuts one of Clinton's easiest appeals to voters: We can make history by electing our first woman president. Instead, the focus will be on her record, her policies, and her ideas for the future. That's exactly as it should be, even if it helps explain why Clinton is dazzling fewer and fewer people even in her own party.

Hidden agenda
A few days ago William Watson wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that the real hidden agenda of 2015 is how would either a Liberal or NDP regime govern after it enacts the platform upon which it is running. Good question. Here's my answer: there will be few business or right-wing Liberals in caucus if they win, so it'll probably follow the progressive-dream agenda Trudeau is laying out which is far to the left where the NDP are campaigning. Tom Mulcair, however, will have to contend with a nutty left-wing caucus whose demands for radical programs will be hard for him to resist.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015
What I'm reading
1. Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception by George Akerlof. I was hoping it wouldn't be so Galbraithian. My hope wouldn't be realized.
2. Ed Broadbent by Judy Steed. I decided to read this book from 1988 after reading Tom Mulcair's autobiographical Strength of Conviction last month. The NDP has changed.
3. Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces And Careers One Truth At A Time by Jeffrey Pfeffer. I avoid books about leadership because they are bullshit. A book about the bullshit of leadership seems like something I should read.
4. The Next Urban Renaissance: How Public-Policy Innovation and Evaluation Can Improve Life in America's Cities by Ingrid Gould Ellen, Edward L. Glaeser, Eric A. Hanushek, Matthew E. Kahn, Aaron M. Renn. Public policy surrounding municipalities is too often neglected by those on the Right, and yet it might be the most relevant to the everyday lives of citizens.
5. The "Reviving Economic Growth: A Cato Online Forum" featuring 51 experts including Ryan Avent (The Economist), Tyler Cowen (George Mason University), Brad DeLong (Berkeley), Eli Dourado (Mercatus Center), Richard Florida (University of Toronto), William Galston (Brookings Institution), Edward Glaeser (Harvard), Robin Hanson (GMU), Philip K. Howard (Common Good), Derek Khanna (X-Lab), Megan McArdle (Bloomberg View), and Scott Winship (Manhattan Institute).

Pay no attention to criminal charges regarding the Sudbury by-election
The Toronto Star reports, "Ontario premier mum on scandal involving Liberal organizer Gerry Lougheed, saying case is now before the courts." But ...

Guys. And girls.
Tyler Cowen comments on Tucker Max and Geoffrey Miller's new book Mate: Become the Man Women Want. Cowen says, "Hard to argue with that, right?" Unless what women want is stupid or unrealistic. There seems to be good advice for men, at least according to what Cowen has highlighted: "Focus on the women who seem interested in you." And this is good advice for everyone, not just people looking for (soul)mates: "Hang out with Intelligent People." Cowen questions this: "Most guys have sexually repulsive feet, and women notice." Me: feet are generally gross.
Robin Hanson also writes about Mate:
[S]tern older men giving harsh but needed instructions to younger men. They don’t mind using some crude language, and they don’t argue much for their claims, expecting readers to accept what they say on authority. Fortunately, most of what they say seems to be pretty well-grounded in the literature.
Both Cowen and Hanson find that mating is mostly signalling. Hanson says:
At several points Max & Miller warn their readers that women never evolved general ways to see and appreciate things like wealth and intelligence; women instead evolved to appreciate more specific signals like nice clothes and wit. So don’t go trying to show off your IQ score or bank balance.
They don’t advise women to fix this oversight, but instead advise men to fix how they show off.
Navneet Alang writes in the Toronto Star today that it is time for people to stop flirting and start talking, saying that her "flirtation blindness" impeded her ability to understand subtle signals:
It’s the uncertainty that is the curse of signals. It leaves too much unsaid, which leads to confusion on all sides. The obvious response is to remind oneself that other people are just that: people, with whom one can communicate.

Monday, September 28, 2015
Challenging the narrative with facts
Some libertarians and progressives claim that America incarcerates too many people because of tough anti-drug laws that are punitive against those who commit a supposedly victimless crime. Tyler Cowen points to Slate interview with John Pfaff, a Fordham Law School professor, from February:
But just letting people out of prison—decarcerating drug offenders—will not reduce the prison population by as much as people think. If you released every person in prison on a drug charge today, our state prison population would drop from about 1.5 million to 1.2 million. So we’d still be the world’s largest incarcerating country; we’d still have an enormous prison population.
This is not to say that the war on drugs is not problematic from a criminal law point of view and that there aren't still 300,000 too many inmates in prison for drug-related charges. It is to say, as Pfaff does, that there are no easy solutions because it is politically implausible to argue the case for not incarcerating violent criminals, which make the bulk of inmates.
The standard libertarian/progressive narrative is that there is too much incarceration in America. Perhaps that's because America has more violence than other developed countries.

Harper's foreign policy
The papers this weekend had numerous articles and commentaries on Canada's foreign policy under Prime Minister Stephen Harper (ahead of Monday's foreign policy debate). Many of these stories -- and the foreign policy experts who serve as their sources -- lament that Canada has abandoned its peace-keeping tradition and working with multilateral organizations such as the United Nations. They chastise the Harper doctrine of defending Israel and challenging aggressive autocrats like Putin's Russia and Iran. They claim that Harper's foreign policy is more about electoral politics (supporting Israel is popular with evangelical voters) than national interest. A near lone dissent from this criticism is Derek Burney, former ambassador to the United States, who is quoted in the long Globe and Mail article on Harper's foreign policy:
But Mr. Burney, the former chief of staff to Mr. Mulroney, says many of those nostalgic for Canada’s former role in the world over-romanticize the part Canada once played, and overstate the impact it could have on the world stage now.
He said Canadians should be debating their role in a world where the influence of the United States is declining, while China’s power grows. Those bilateral relationships are now far more important to Canadian interests than what went on at the UN, which Mr. Burney called a “hurting” institution.
“I’m always troubled by these the-world-needs-more-Canada analyses,” said Mr. Burney, a former ambassador to South Korea and the United States. He said the next government should spend less time fretting about foreign aid than about foreign trade.

Stop the war on Uber
Andrew Vila and Kevin Gardner, respectively the Florida and Michigan state directors for Generation Opportunity, write in the Wall Street Journal about municipal wars on Uber (and other ride-sharing programs), touting riding-sharing's benefits:
As ride-sharing grows in popularity, it deserves the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. Uber alone has facilitated more than five million rides in Florida and two million in Michigan since launching in our states. More than half of millennials report having used ride-sharing, and older generations aren’t far behind. Research from the American Action Forum indicates that ride-sharing generated $519 million in economic activity between 2009 and 2013.
It has also put thousands of people to work. Uber had more than 150,000 active drivers in December of last year. These workers set their own hours and earn income when they need it. Ride-sharing’s growth has been especially good news for millennials, considering high youth unemployment. At Uber, internal data shows nearly 20% of drivers are under 30.
Politicians may fret about public safety, but a Cato Institute analysis concluded that ride-share companies have safeguards “stricter than the screening requirements for many American taxi drivers.” A Temple University study even found that the introduction of low-cost ride-sharing services to California meaningfully lowered deaths from intoxicated driving by up to 5.6%.
Providing both employment and valuable customer service should be welcomed by city and state governments. Instead cities and now some states find the need to regulate or ban Uber and Lyft, often to protect the heavily regulated taxi monopolies under the guise of public safety.

Sunday, September 27, 2015
Homeschooling outside the home
Bryan Caplan has asked his colleagues at George Mason University to provide some lessons to his twin sons, who are homeschooled. Tyler Cowen has two observations:
First, introducing your children to additional role models and sources of inspiration — your friends and co-workers, or so one should hope — is one of the best things you can do for them. Most wealthy, famous, and well-educated parents under-invest in this activity. The bottom line is that after some margin you stop influencing them, but they don’t stop looking around for sources of influence.
Second, if you are well-known, or have lots of well-known and/or talented friends, or maybe even if not, you should consider homeschooling your children for a while in this manner, if only for a month or two over the summer. Your friends will be willing to give some form of instruction to your children, and they will be way, way better than normal teachers.

Will is half right on Trump
George Will on Donald Trump: "Trump, however, has made something novel discussible: He proposes turning America into a police state in order to facilitate ethnic cleansing." The measures that Trump proposes, including destroying mail, telephone, and email privacy, are the tactics of the police state. Comparing deporting illegal aliens to ethnic cleansing is over-the-top.

Justin Trudeau was right about small business as tax shelters ... depending on how you define 'large percentage'
Recently Justin Trudeau claimed that a "large percentage" of small businesses were actually people trying avoid paying high taxes. (If memory serves me correctly, he said most, which means a majority.) Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair criticized the Liberal leader for attacking small business owners as tax cheats. The Hill Times reports that according to a Forum Research poll, 12% of Canadian small business owners say they use their small business status as a tax shelter, but because another 12% did not answer the question, Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff speculates that nearly a quarter of small businesses are used as tax shelter. Either way, 12% or 24% is certainly not "most" and probably wouldn't be a "large percentage." And what the fuck is Bozinoff doing speculating what the 12% mean when they don't answer.
Of course, it's a Forum Research poll, so these numbers are probably way off.

Jonathan Kay annotates Kevin Page's Unaccountable
Former Parliamentary Budget Office chief Kevin Page's new book Unaccountable: Truth and Lies on Parliament Hill is comprehensively awful. Walrus editor Jonathan Kay shows one reason why, annotating an excerpt that appears in the Toronto Star.

Novel solution for Syrian refugees
A new independent state or creation of an autonomous city (or more likely, cities). Musing on the proposals of American real estate mogul Jason Buzi and Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, George Mason University's Mark Lutter says that the laws governing such entities is vitally important:
The key here is institutional autonomy, the ability to have a set of laws different from the country from which the land is bought. Whether it is the creation of a new nation, as Buzi wants, or merely a new system in an existing country, such as Hong Kong, is less important. What matters is for the refugees to have an opportunity to create wealth and improve their well-being, rather than being dependent on aid.
Autonomy is the trickiest part of the negotiation, as Sawaris notes, and he is only considering passports and entry visas. Countries sometimes view establishing autonomous regions as giving up sovereignty. However, the number of special economic zones has skyrocketed, and a refugee city would simply be a special application of a special economic zone, and an especially worthy one at that.

Saturday, September 26, 2015
Not often they are both correct
According to David Suzuki in an interview with disgraced journalist Evan Solomon, Justin Trudeau called his environmental position "sanctimonious crap" and Suzuki replied by calling the Liberal leader a twerp. However, you must consider the source. These are probably not direct quotes, but could be an accuratet characterization of a conversation that didn't go well when The Dauphin called Suzuki for an endorsement.

Sometimes government can pick winners
Chris Blattman points to an effective Nigerian program -- not a scam! -- that funded new small businesses. Blattman explains:
In 2011 the Nigerian government handed out 60 million dollars to about 1200 entrepreneurs, and three years later there are hundreds more new companies, generating tons of profit, and employing about 7000 new people.
David McKenzie did the incredible study.
24,000 Nigerians applied, the government selected about 6,000 to get some training and advice to develop their plan, the plans were scored, and about 1,200 were funded. They got an average of $50,000 each ...
The results are amazing. Looking just at the people who had no firm to begin with, 54% of the control group have a firm after three years, compared to 93% of those who got the grant. And these firms are bigger. Just 11% of the control group have a firm with at least 10 employees, compared to 34% of those who got the grant. They’re more profitable too.
The competition aspect, as opposed to rewarding politically connected or important voting constituencies, is probably what makes the program a winner. Scoring the contestants rather than rewarding friends or voters is makes government capable of picking winners.
Blattman wonders "Is this the most effective development program in history?" and concludes it is a contender.
I highly recommend reading McKenzie's study if you are interested in development economics or promoting entrepreneurship.

What humanity needs to know
BuzzFeed: "12 Scientists: What Is The One Fact Humanity Needs To Know?" By the way, I recommend Lewis Dartnell's The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch, which has plenty of useful advice.

Curbing emergency room visits for non-emergencies
Paul S. Auerbach, professor of emergency medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. writes in the Wall Street Journal that many patients use emergency room visits for non-emergencies because they lack adequate primary care alternatives. Note that this does not mean that they do not have primary care doctors, but that the system is inefficient in terms of delivering care in a timely manner. Emergency room visits might be more expensive, but they also eliminate (in many cases) multiple appointments for the patient. Auerback concludes his column:
The most urgent needs are to build primary-care and specialist capacity that will effectively and appropriately assist patients who otherwise must rely on the emergency department, develop telephone and video-assisted care, promote wellness, harness the power of digital health, and finally, educate and convince patients that the system will serve them. Until these problems are addressed, the emergency room will continue to be the main event, not a safety net.
I'm not endorsing his conclusion, about which I am agnostic. But many on the right who think that curbing expensive non-emergency use of hospital emergency rooms with co-pays or other disincentives are probably fooling themselves that such policies are enough disincentive considering the state of too many individual's primary care.

Friday, September 25, 2015
Americans think country is headed in the wrong direction
A Bloomberg Politics National Poll conducted by Selzer and Company will get plenty of attention because, as the Washington Examiner headline says, "Trump, Carson, Bush, Fiorina break from the pack in poll." But the more important number is that fully two-thirds of respondents say America is on the wrong track with just 24% saying it is headed in the right direction. That is the fewest who've said the country is going in the right direction during the Obama administration and the highest saying it's on the wrong track since September 2013. That said, 60% of respondents said the country was on the wrong track in September 2012, two months before President Barack Obama was re-elected, so maybe these numbers aren't correct or the question is not significant.

Punditry is not easy
Fred Barnes has an essay in The Weekly Standard with the wonderful headline, "Everyone Gets Everything Wrong." It's an examination of 2016 and it begins:
Nearly everything that was expected to happen in the 2016 presidential race hasn’t, and many things that weren’t expected have. The rise of Donald Trump—even that he would run—was not predicted. Nor was the fall of Scott Walker or the weakness of Jeb Bush’s candidacy. Polls have proved to be unreliable indicators of where the Republican and Democratic campaigns are headed. Hillary Clinton’s coronation as Democratic nominee, we were told, was a sure thing. Now she’s sliding toward underdog status.
As Barnes says, "One problem with political reporting and prognosticating is they’re often backward looking. It’s assumed what happened in the past will happen again." Politics is never a straight line because voters are fickle and even the best strategists are prone to be fighting the last campaign. In sports they say "it's why you play the games" and don't grant the Super Bowl or World Series to the preseason favourites. It is a cliche but it is true (or true-ish) that the only poll that matters in politics is election day. But the unexpected poll results between now and the primaries can affect what happens between now and on those election days, which will affect subsequent election days. And that's why for some sick people, politics is the ultimate spectator sport.

Drones vs. driverless cars
Market Watch has a good article on the different ways that industry and government have handled regulating autonomous vehicles and drones. Ryan Calo, a robotics professor at the University of Washington, says that the solution is to remove regulation of drones from the Federal Aviation Administration to an agency dedicated to robots; drones are not necessarily going to serve the function of aircraft because as one industry expert says: "They’re cellphone tower inspections, construction site mapping, roof inspections ... You’re not necessarily changing aviation. You’re not replacing an aircraft. You’re replacing a ladder." But Adam Thierer of George Mason University says existing laws are sufficient to deal with privacy, liability, and safety issues and that new bureaucracies are not necessary. There is also an argument for not treating drones and driverless cars similarly.

Cowen on Volkswagen
Tyler Cowen has some thoughts on revelations that Volkswagen exercised some fraud on its emissions. Two are worth noting:
5. The German automobile sector exported about $225 billion in 2014. That’s almost as big as Greek gdp.
6. Manipulated data will be one of the big, big stories of the next twenty years, or longer.

Most unlikely field goal
That's using his head. Watch the replays.

You can get past a wall through the door we call border crossings
The Bloomberg News' presumably tongue-in-cheek story on 41% of Americans supporting the idea of erecting a wall between Canada and the U.S. misses the mark because it ignores a fundamental point: a wall, which will never be built, is not designed to keep all Canadians out of the United States forever. There will be places to cross the border, so it is plain silly to suggest that Canadian hockey players, Quebec maple syrup, and snowbirds that used to travel to Florida, will no longer have access to the U.S.; as silly as is the idea to build a wall in the first place.

Thursday, September 24, 2015
Is this real?
GIF of Elizabeth May giving sassy peace sign at the French-language Quebec debate. Really? So high-schoolish.

I don't share your values

'Poll ordered by Harper found strong support for niqab ban at citizenship ceremonies'
The CBC reports that government-sponsored polling by Leger Marketing found that a niqab ban at citizenship ceremonies has widespread popular support: 82% across Canada and 93% in Quebec. Or what I've been saying for the past six months.

Birth dearth and economic growth
Ruchir Sharma, head of emerging markets and global macro at Morgan Stanley Investment Management and the author of Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles writes about declining birth rates and long-term economic growth in the Wall Street Journal:
Falling fertility rates typically affect the economy after a lag of 15 years, as babies grow into working-age adults. But oddly, anti-immigrant sentiment has erupted precisely as the economic fallout of the birthrate implosion has become clearly visible. This year, for the first time in the postwar era, China’s working-age population is expected to decline—and it is likely to continue falling in coming years. The emerging world is going to have many fewer people to export than the anti-immigrant populists in the developed world imagine.
The negative economic effect of falling birthrates is magnified by another trend: Since 1960 the average lifespan world-wide has climbed to 69 from 50. The overall global population is still rising, slowly, but a greater share of it is people over 50. As previous generations retire they will impose a larger burden, in health care and pensions, on working-age sons and daughters.
I'm not a fan of making utilitarian arguments for the worth of human beings, but our free market system (and government programs like pensions) requires consumers (and taxpayers).

Tories gain in polls as niqab becomes issue. Coincidence?
Several polls show that the Conservatives are moving ahead nationally and/or in Ontario, with some suggesting it might be majority territory. And as the National Post headline on the paper's cover says, "Niqab becomes election issue." (There is a different headline on the web version.) Frank Graves of Ekos told the Toronto Star that niqab politics might be related to the recent Tory bump in the polls (among other issues).
People vote a combination of broad values and pocket book, and in a three-party system, the Liberals are radically out of step on immigration and multiculturalism with a plurality of Canadians. And Tom Mulcair's NDP is at odds with a large number of Quebec voters he needs. (I wouldn't be surprised to see the Tories pick up 2-5 Quebec seats and the BQ to win a few seats in the province.) And if there was a chance for the Liberals to make inroads with immigrants -- whether it be with non-Muslims immigrants from China and India over the past two decades or Italians and Portuguese from five decades ago who left the party since Paul Martin was prime minister -- they lost it being too Muslim-friendly.

Showgirls is 20 years old
Tyler Coates at The Decider:
Originally intended to as boundary-pushing as possible, Paul Verhoeven‘s exploitation flick was quickly slapped with an NC-17 rating — but it’s over-the-top nature (and, perhaps, the creative team’s secret self-awareness about the finished product) made it a shockingly effective commercial property. While it’s the only film with an NC-17 rating to receive a wide-release (I personally remember my “cool” aunt and uncle cheekily admitting to seeing it in theaters, much to my 12-year-old’s excitement; it was probably the mid-’90s equivalent of Deep Throat, a honest-to-goodness dirty movie that became a much-talked-about piece of the zeitgeist), its horrendous reviews and, well, adult rating saw it tank at the box office. But no one expected what should have been obvious: everyone was just waiting for it to come to video — it quadrupled its $20 million box office receipts in rentals alone.
Coates asks: "Is it art? It is trash? Is it somehow both?" Could be neither, something between. But, it's more trash.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Obamacare legacy
Tyler Cowen on a new study on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) mandates:
I’ve read so many blog posts taking victory laps on Obamacare, but surely something is wrong when our most scientific study of the question rather effortlessly coughs up phrases such as “but most uninsured will lose” and also “Average welfare for the uninsured population would be estimated to decline after the ACA if all members of that population obtained coverage.” The simple point is that people still have to pay some part of the cost for this health insurance and a) they were getting some health care to begin with, and b) the value of the policy to them is often worth less than its subsidized price ...
It has become clearer what has happened: members of various upper classes have achieved some notion of “universal [near universal] coverage,” while insulating their own medical care from most of the costs of this advance. Those costs largely have been placed on the welfare of…the other members of the previously uninsured. So we’ve moved from being a country which doesn’t care so much about its uninsured to being ... a country which doesn’t care so much about its (previously) uninsured. I guess countries just don’t change that rapidly, do they?
Because most people do not realize this, Obamacare is a policy failure but political success. That said, Cowen reports the authors of the new study suggest people are acting economically rational in whether or not they sign up for Obamacare.

Desmond Cole chastises Justin Trudeau for 'subtle racism'
Justin Trudeau was talking about "certain" musical genres and particular ethnic communities (or his comments on violence against women and fatherless kids make no sense), and Canada's Al Sharpton-wannabe Desmond Cole accuses the Liberal leader of "subtle racism." Cole apparently prefers to stick his head in the sand than tackle difficult issues. Trudeau can't name the music or people he's talking about. Does the Left have an honesty problem? Does the lack of forthrightness come from cowardice? I found Trudeau's comments an excruciatingly politically correct attempt to talk about serious issues rather than some suggestion of racism, but I'm not the type that looks to be offended all the time.
I'm day late to this, but I was only minimally monitoring the news for the past 24 hours.

No to deficits
William Robson, president of the C.D. Howe Institute, says in a column in the National Post that simple math shows why a return to deficit spending is a bad idea. Granting that an economy is more complex than simple math, some basic numbers suggest that $7 billion more in government spending (reversing this year's modest budget surplus to the previous year's deficit) would represent less than 0.4% of the total economy and that there is no efficient way to goose the economy with such a piddling amount of new spending. The Liberal favourite of "infrastructure," Robson says, isn't even possible as it would represent roughly a doubling of current infrastructure spending. Worse, says Robson, is that because a budget surplus is a form of discipline, the risk is temporary "modest" deficits, as Justin Trudeau promises, will turn into chronic deficits.

It's on!
The 2018 Toronto mayoral race will feature Rob Ford vs. John Tory (and probably some left-wing city councilor or bureaucrat, too): The Toronto Sun reports:
The ex-mayor blasted Tory on Tuesday after the public works committee voted to defer a report on contracting out trash collection east of Yonge St. until late 2016.
"I have to wait a few more years and I'm going to give that gentleman in that room a drumming like he's never had because I'm sick and tired of the broken promises constantly," Ford told reporters in an impromptu press conference outside the mayor's office.
Asked to confirm that he is actually running for mayor again in 2018, Ford laughed.
"It's pretty obvious," he said.
I know who I'm voting for.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015
2016 watch (Smart political analysis edition)
David Frum has a good, longish essay at The Atlantic on the 2016 American political landscape. There are two main points. The first is that rising crime could help Republicans (it usually has) not because the GOP can ramp up fear over violent- and property-crime but because it forces the Democrats to choose between its constituent parts (black voters dislike the police and anti-crime policies). The second is that Barack Obama's base in 2008 has already begun to fracture (in 2012) and seems likely to continue doing so. Related to the second point, Frum notes that while blacks came out more in 2012 for Obama than 2008 (compared to every other demographic that decreased its support), the last seven years hasn't been all that great for black America and they might reconsider their Democratic allegiance; Frum offers no support for this "ought-to" argument.
Remember after the 2012 election when pundits and even some GOP strategists were saying the Republicans had to radically change or face permanent defeat because of demographic shifts. Ends up young white voters (under 30) are voting Republican, and the Democrat stranglehold on various visible minorities is not as solid as previously thought. Frum says: "But the easy assumption of 15 years ago that Democrats could sit back and wait for the immutable process of demography to deliver the White House to them forever -- that assumptions looks ever more doubtful. In a country of 310 million people, any attempt to cram all politically relevant constituencies into just two parties must be inherently unstable." Electorates are like Heraclitus's river.
That said, Frum also reports that the "Democratic Party still has a potentially bigger voting base than the GOP" because of high non-marriage rates, declining religious affiliation among voters, and a growing number of majority-minority counties.
Frum's point is that 2016 could be more competitive than was assumed by pundits over-reacting in 2012.

Follow the science on daycare
The Montreal Gazette reports:
Newly released research on Quebec’s low-cost child-care system suggests children who go through it may do well academically, but have worse outcomes when it comes to health, life satisfaction and crime rates.
In a paper released Monday, a group of university researchers say that children exposed to the province’s child-care system were more likely to have higher crime rates, worse health and lower levels of life satisfaction as they have aged than their counterparts in other provinces who didn’t have access to the same type of system.
The rhetoric of progressives suggests they believe that science should dictate policy. They seem to think that science and social science are the same thing, thus social science research and not ideology or values is the only thing that can justify policy. So will the Liberals and NDP will drop their support of state-run daycare schemes? The NDP is running on a national scheme working with provinces to eventually deliver $15-a-day child care for families; the Liberal Party's 2014 policy convention endorsed a universal system but Justin Trudeau is not running on it.
Two of the researchers, Kevin Milligan (University of British Columbia and Justin Trudeau adviser) and Jonathan Gruber (M.I.T and Obamacare architect) are not what you would consider conservative economists, so the Left shouldn't be able to easily dismiss their findings.
Of course, the Left could point to research that indicates a different conclusion, which is the problem of having (social) science-based policy.

Obama foreign policy legacy in < 140 characters

Trudeau is a tax-and-spend Liberal
The Rebel's Brian Lilley says that Justin Trudeau's interview with CTV's Steve Murphy shows he is a tax-and-spend Liberal. That's my argument in the chapters on economics in my book The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau. Trudeau presents himself as a new type of politician, a moderate that supports markets and a measure of social justice. But he is a believer in Big Government, and he'll either raise taxes or plunge the federal government back into deficit spending to pay for it.

'What can the world do to stop ISIS from its destruction of ancient art and architecture in Syria and Iraq?'
That's the question asked by James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, in the Wall Street Journal. That might be the wrong question. Here's a better one: "'What can the world do to stop ISIS from its destruction of human beings in Syria and Iraq?"

Monday, September 21, 2015
2016 watch (Scott Walker II edition)
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced he was dropping out of the Republican presidential contest and urged other candidates to follow his lead. In his short press conference today he said:
I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive conservative alternative to the current frontrunner. This is fundamentally important to the future of the party and – ultimately – to the future of our country.
That's an endorsement of Senator Marco Rubio, the happy warrior, who duly thanks Walker.
Walker would make a great vice presidential candidate for almost any current contender (some more so than others).

2016 watch (Scott Walker edition)
Reason's Peter Suderman (for the second time this month) has critiqued Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's disappointing campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. To some extent, he's hurt by Donald Trump sucking all the oxygen out of the room, but he has suffered self-inflicted wounds, too:
Scott Walker the candidate has not in any meaningful way lived up to the promise of Scott Walker the governor. Walker first rose to national prominence after his successful showdown with Wisconsin’s public sector unions, and his subsequent victory in a recall election and then a second-term reelection campaign in a state that went for Barack Obama twice. The Iowa speech in January that launched his candidacy into the top tier was built around that showdown; its essential pitch was that a Walker presidency would bring the same mix of political strength and big-ticket policy wins.
But the Walker campaign approached both politics and policy awkwardly, in ways that didn't live up to that initial promise. Walker gave a good speech, but he didn't vary it much, and he had trouble going off script or answering questions on a variety of national issues. He struggled to stand out in debates for similar reasons.
On the policy front, Walker got tripped up by news-cycle shiny objects—immigration and birthright citizenship, the Iran deal, ethanol mandates, abortion, and gay marriage—that had little or no connection to the governing record he was supposedly running on, and that other candidates were better suited to tackle. At the same time, he was slow to roll out the sort of big-ticket domestic policy reforms that should have been the core of his campaign, and that his initial rise seemed to portend, and he didn't promote them effectively when he did. It wasn’t until last week, for example, that he put forth a plan to reform federal public sector unions—plans he barely mentioned at the debate.
Walker was the perfect candidate: track record of policy success, track record of fighting (and winning), correct on hot-button issues, but focused on policy that matters to the lives of people struggling to get by. Alas, he forgot that last part; not sure that is what has him mired in the bottom tier, but his policy void isn't helping, either.

Assigned reading for innovation & tech policy
At Tech Liberation Adam Thierer has a list of the five books that "best frame the nature of debates over innovation and technology policy": Virginia Postrel's The Future and Its Enemies (1998), Joel Garreau's Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies — and What It Means to Be Human (2005), Joel Mokyr's Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress (1990), Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010), and Larry Downes' The Laws of Disruption: Harnessing the New Forces That Govern Life and Business in the Digital Age (2009). Thierer provides a one-sentence explanation about each book's significance.

2016 watch (Betting markets edition)
Eli Dourado has estimates on who will win the Republican and Democrat presidential nominations based on betting markets (outside the United States, which will skew the results). Note that the only Republicans expected to win the presidency if they win the nomination are Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, and Chris Christie, although there is not a lot of equity on Romney. Every "major" Democrat (which includes Martin O'Malley and Al Gore) is expected to win the presidency if they win the nomination except Bernie Sanders, but even he is slightly favoured over Jeb Bush as a conditional bet (winning the nomination).

Nicholls on the elites and Canadian politics
Gerry Nicholls has a column in the Toronto Sun on how Canada's elites hate Stephen Harper and love Justin Trudeau. Nicholls writes:
This is why Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick could write in a British newspaper “Stephen Harper, a strange man with an awkward gait, an absence of social skills, and the dress sense of that guy at the back of the hardware store who sorts nails for a living.”
That’s just another way of saying, “Harper is not one of us.”
That's pretty damn condescending.
Nor are the elite fans of Tom Mulcair's NDP: "they really can’t imagine themselves sipping champagne with Mulcair’s blue collar supporters at wine and cheese parties or at poetry readings."
That leaves one option:
True, the Liberal leader might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, true, he might not have the skills to manage a lemonade stand, let alone a national economy, but he does have important assets which elites cherish in their leaders: a sparkling family pedigree, inherited wealth and impeccable breeding.
One quibble with Nicholls: not sure if Michael Harris qualifies as part of the elite or even a voice for them.
From the Creative Class (who prefer the Liberals) to old stock Canadians (who would like a Red Tory or Blue Liberal in charge), there is little love for Canada's current Prime Minister among Canada's cultural and business elite.

2016 watch (Outsider edition)
The latest CNN poll has Donald Trump leading the field with 24%, followed by Carly Fiorina (15%) and Ben Carson (14%). That means that more than half (53%)of Republican and independent voters are supporting someone who has not held political office before. That may be significant.
The poll also suggests there are four-tiers (five if you include those who have no chance) in this race. Trump is by himself over 20%, followed by Carson and Fiorina in the mid-teens, followed by former Florida governor Jeb Bush (9%) and current Senator Marco Rubio (11%) around 10% each. It is unlikely that all five of them remain strong through the first three or four primaries, and time will whittle this down to contenders and pretenders. Then there is the tier of hangers-on with Senator Ted Cruz and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee at 6%, Senator Rand Paul (4%) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (3%). One or two might drop out before the primaries or very early in the process. Then there are the absolutely no-hopes of Ohio Governor John Kasich (2%) and former senator Rick Santorum (1%), followed by candidates whose support rounds down to zero or who had literally no respondent support them (Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal). Several of these candidates will drop out before the Iowa caucus, and Huckabee and Christie won't be able to continue beyond New Hampshire primary without a finish above 10%, and Cruz won't survive beyond South Carolina without a win there (less than 5% chance of that happening). Rand Paul is running an issues-campaign so he will stay in longer and Rubio isn't running for senator so he might stick around for a while even if he doesn't take off, but if he's angling for the vice presidency, his timing will be important.
Fiorina's post-debate bump in the polls screams flavour-of-the-week following not just her supposed win in the CNN/Reagan Library debate, but the increasing coverage she has received since Labour Day. It is highly unlikely that Trump, Carson, and Fiorina will all be in the top three after the New Hampshire primary with either Bush/Christie and Rubio firming establishing themselves in the top four. Eventually this campaign will feature an outsider vs. Establishment dynamic, and the Establishment usually wins; the funny thing with this Republican contest is that a strong conservative like Cruz (or maybe Walker if his freefall is reversed or illusory) can become the Establishment choice if Trump stays strong and none of the others take off. But it also possible that the Republican Establishment can rally behind Fiorina if necessary to stop a Trump or (less likely) Carson from becoming the GOP presidential nominee.
There is still about four months until the first caucus, so there probably will be numerous shifts in public opinion, especially for the mid-tier candidates. Recall that Rudy Giuliani led most polls in the summer of 2007 and that John McCain's numbers tanked so badly in the fall that there was pundit-talk that he would drop out of the race as he had some trouble raising money. Giuliani didn't win one caucus or primary in 2008 and McCain won the nomination.

Hasn't this story been done to death
Canadian Press headline at NationalNewsWatch: "Tough crowd: Conservatives face electoral shutout in Newfoundland and Labrador." By my count, it is at least the sixth story on this topic since July in a national media outlet.
Maybe we could also use more stories about the importance of British Columbia to the NDP or polls suggesting this election is still a three-way race.
In other not-news, NDP MP Pat Martin is apologizing for boorish behaviour, although this is actually a new offense.

UN has declared September 21 Peace Day
Are you partaking in some meaningless gesture?

Diversity and segregation at the urban level
Last night, FiveThirtyEight tweeted out a May 1, 2015 article by Nate Silver: "The Most Diverse Cities Are Often The Most Segregated." Silver says:
Cities with substantial black populations tend to be highly segregated. Of the top 100 U.S. cities by population, 35 are at least one-quarter black, and only 6 of those cities have positive integration scores.
Is anyone surprised by this?
Of course, there is diversity beyond black (Asian, natives, Hispanics, whites).
Silver says of highly segregated cities like Chicago, Baltimore and St. Louis: they have average-to-good citywide diversity, but poor neighborhood diversity.

Sunday, September 20, 2015
Except back then, the commentariat condemned Reagan's extremism, especially his Evil Empire rhetoric
Remember, there was no Golden Age and progressive voices who now point to Ronald Reagan as an example of what conservatives should be, hated him in his day.

Writes its own joke

It's tough starting 0-2 in the NFL
After this weekend (including the Monday night contest), each team has played one-eighth of their schedule. As of 5:15 pm, the New York Giants have just a 16% chance to make the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight, and the New Orleans Saints have just a 14% chance. New York's odds of making the post-season will increase after the late afternoon games are in the books when either the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles lose. If Philly wins, the Giants will be 0-2 behind three teams tied at 1-1.

The reliability of polls
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby says:
Today, according to federal data, more than 45 percent of American homes use only cellphones; another 15 percent, though owning landlines, get almost all their calls on cellphones. Thus any pollster who relies on landline phones to survey public opinion bypasses close to 60 percent of US households right off the bat.
Alas, polling firms can’t simply adjust to changing habits. Federal law prohibits the use of automatic dialers to reach cellphones, so pollsters must pay for cell numbers to be called manually — a more costly proposition. Plus, Americans nowadays are rarely willing to take a pollster’s call. Over the course of his career, Zukin writes, telephone response rates have plunged from 80 percent to 8 percent.
Cliff Zukin is a past president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. That 80% response rate seems high and the numbers are tailor made for a sound-bite. But he's pointing to a phenomenon important and real for the polling industry. The response rate is more of a problem than whether a polling firm calls cell phones or not (although that's a problem, too). A few years ago the Pew Research Center said response rates have fallen from 35% in the 1970s to about 9% today. Some forms of polling have just a 1%-3% response rate. We could be confident that 80% or even 35% could produce a relatively representative sample of the general population. But what about when only one in ten people will agree to talk to a pollster, or one in 20 on one in 50? Surely at some point the sort of person who will talk to a pollster is not representative of the general population, whether or not it's a land line or cellphone.
And despite the fact that polls should be considered less reliable, they seem to be ubiquitous driving election narratives. But that's another story about how journalists prefer the horse-race and strategy over policy. And that's true in Canada and the United States.

You can listen to the Robert Hanks London Review Podcast "On Putting Things Off" or read it, or you can wait until tomorrow. Hanks begins:
Procrastination is the main way I express anxiety and depression, if I can use these medicalised, dignifying terms. It’s franker to say that I put things off because much of the time I’m frightened and sad (too frightened and sad for procrastination to be enough of an outlet ...
He concludes: "Reading as a way of putting off thinking; thinking as a way of putting off feeling." I often warn young people who want to write that reading is essential to their calling but that research is often a form of procrastination.
I'm an advocate of putting off until tomorrow any project that takes more than a few minutes.

George Will on Pope Francis
I hate this George Will column, although I'm unsure that it is because he wrote it or that Will had to write it, not because he's wrong.

Too meta
Jennifer Keesmaat tweets Steve Paikin tweeting.

Ratings agency competition
The Wall Street Journal has an editorial this weekend, "Ending the Ratings Racket":
For decades before the crisis, SEC staff had recognized a small group of private credit-rating agencies—including Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch—as official judges of risk. Federal regulators referred to these favored companies in their rules and even forced financial institutions to invest in paper rated highly by this anointed cartel.
When the members of the cartel turned out to be wrong about the risks in mortgage-backed securities, the result was catastrophic because the government had forced so many other firms to follow their advice ...
This week’s reform leaves one SEC rule that still carries an endorsement of the ratings cartel—so-called Regulation M for securities offerings. SEC Chair Mary Jo White should now get her agency all the way out of the business of deciding whose opinions about credit risk ought to be followed. Let markets decide whose opinions have value. It will make financial crises less likely.
There’s also need for reform outside Washington. Too many state pension systems still show too much deference to the cartel. A rating expresses a point of view, not a guarantee.

Catalonia independence
The people of Catalonia vote on independence on September 27. As a general rule I favour separatist movements because 1) smaller countries imply smaller states (although more governments) and 2) the enduring importance of race (ethnicity) in politics more easily accommodated in more homogeneous cultures. I also have a preference chaos to challenge the stultifying and corrupt political status quo, almost everywhere in the West. I am not heavily invested in Catalan, Scottish, Quebec, or Californian separation, but I would not be disappointed if any of these jurisdictions left their existing countries.
Tyler Cowen has a different take:
[T]he current notion of “what it means to be Catalan” seems to be as much defined by the union with Spain as it would be realized without such a union. Voting to leave is like voting to become a very new people, although it is rarely framed that way and more commonly framed as a kind of self-preservation or cultural preservation.
He also thinks that Catalan independence would be an economic mistake.

J.J. McCullough on 'old stock Canadians'
J.J. McCullough on the most noteworthy feature of federal leaders debate on Thursday night:
[I]t seems the most lasting legacy of Thursday night’s all-leaders debate on the future of the Canadian economy will be the fact that Prime Minister Harper, in a barely audible, haltingly ad-libbed throwaway comment about all the different demographics that love him mumbled the phrase “old stock Canadians.” ...
“Old stock Canadians” obviously refers to white people, who comprised around 95% of the country’s population as recently as 1981, but whose merest acknowledgment is apparently now the sort of thing that has to be prefaced with a trigger warning. “Old stock” is not a remotely value-laden turn of phrase — indeed, if anything it’s slightly haughty and dismissive. They just opened a big Nordstrom in downtown Vancouver. I doubt many will be clamoring to see the “old stock.”
McCullough notes that on the issue of immigration: the parties largely agree; despite the political consensus there is no public consensus but if anything public opinion goes against the political consensus; Stephen Harper is very pro-immigration and most immigrants are from non-white countries; Canada is rapidly becoming less white (a fact about which the Prime Minister does not seem opposed). McCullough says if Harper is racist, as his critics charge, he is a shockingly incompetent one.

Saturday, September 19, 2015
Thomas Sowell ignores likely counter-arguments
I love Thomas Sowell. The world needs more Thomas Sowell. I agree with the larger point of his column on equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome (although the political Right should understand that we don't have equality of opportunity, either). But I think he ignores potential explanations here:
Even if all the doors of opportunity are wide open, children raised with great amounts of parental care and attention are far more likely to be able to walk through those doors than children who have received much less attention. Why else do conscientious parents invest so much time and effort in raising their children? This is so obvious that you would have to be an intellectual to able to misconstrue it.
There are plenty of other explanations, such as parents acting unwisely or egotistically. Let me briefly explain. What we end up as human beings is a combination of nurture, nature, and free will. Many parents congratulate themselves for being good parents when the best thing they did was pass on their genes. Parents probably waste a lot of time on/with their children because they over-emphasize nurture. Parents want to be able to pat themselves on their own back when their children succeed or otherwise make them proud. Don't read this as "parents don't matter," because they do -- nurture is part of the equation -- but that this influence is almost surely exaggerated. I'm over-stating the case, for sure, just as Sowell has in his column.

Why Conservatives are not concerned about not having Jim Flaherty, John Baird, and James Moore around any more
They have Jason Kenney, "minister of everything," according to the CBC.

The case for a man to be an island
Intellectually and philosophically I do not disagree with Bryan Caplan:
Well, there are roughly 400,000 murders on Earth per year. That averages out to more than 1000 per day. To me, that leaves two attitudinal choices: Either be endlessly miserable until the carnage ends, or consciously refuse to let 1000 daily murders ruin your day. Social Desirability Bias notwithstanding, I choose the latter course.
I often say the key to happiness is not giving a shit. It's harder in practice.

Thank God for studies
Conservatives, liberals different:
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) studied tweets sent between 15 and 30 June 2014 by followers of either Republican (conservatives) or Democrat (liberals) party Twitter accounts, and found that you can tell a lot about someone’s political leanings just from the words they use.
While liberals are more likely to swear, with several common swear words in their top ten most used words (after the most commonly used English words are removed), the researchers believe this is associated with their use of more emotionally expressive language – they are also more likely than conservatives to express positive emotions, and to use language associated with anxiety and feelings. Conservatives are more likely to discuss religion, with ‘god’ and ‘psalm’ being popular words.

2016 watch (Ben Carson edition)
The Week's James Poulos said that Ben Carson is pretty mellow, and that's okay:
Being soft spoken and kind are features of his candidacy, not bugs. He doesn't have donors to appease or an ego to feed. He doesn't have a pre-packaged base, so he doesn't need to pander to it. He's not just an alternative politician, as so many insurgents ultimately turn out to be. He's created a reality so independent of the anxieties of power that he's virtually an alternative to politics. Machiavelli would gasp.
There is an argument that passion works, but passion can also scare people off. Boring can work, witness Stephen Harper winning three elections in Canada (albeit against Paul Martin, Stephane Dion, and Michael Ignatieff).
The New Republic considers Carson's soft-spoken approach more of a liability:
While Carson has benefitted from voters tired of Trump’s bluster—with his support rising especially from white evangelicals after a similarly low-key, almost sleepy performance in the first debate—it’s unclear whether Carson will simply be a rest stop on the way to a feistier candidate.

Friday, September 18, 2015
I don't even care about context

Federal leaders debate
David Akin said last night's debate: "worse than dull. It was unwatcheable!" I don't agree at all. I planned to watch the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, but found myself switching back-and-forth more than I intended. The debate started before the 8:30 game start-time and I was hooked. Not because the debate was compelling -- it wasn't -- but because it was a shitshow. The moderator sucked. Thomas Mulcair did his unconvincing best to hide his (or, more accurately, his party's) base left-wing instincts. Stephen Harper robotically stuck to his message except for those times he showed impatience with questions that he has answered dozens of times by refuting/denying their premises. And Justin Trudeau illustrated why many of us call him Junior. Akin described the state of the "debate":
There were a couple of catch-phrases here and there but there was nothing you could call debate. Not by a long shot.
What we had — after four Globe journalists spent 20 minutes trying to show off how smart they were — was 90 minutes of one leader or another getting off 30-second sound bites. If that leader was not named Justin Trudeau, then the leader named Justin Trudeau could be heard off-camera yelling variations of “No!” or “Not True” or “Look at me, I’m over here!” Well, maybe I misheard that last one.
As a committed Justin Trudeau hater, this was fantastic television. It confirmed everything his critics think about him as not ready for prime time. He is the male version of Elizabeth May, somehow even exceeding her capacity for annoyingness last night. I didn't want to turn the channel back to the Broncs-Chiefs game and follow the tortured narrative of Peyton Manning's decline (until he joined the Denver defense in engineering a comeback). I had to watch Trudeau show his political immaturity and sense of entitlement. He had to talk over his opponents. He had to show the audience how much he knew, even if he was going to interrupt others to do so. Most importantly, however, Trudeau wasn't going to debate his opponents, he questioned their motives by charging that his fellow politicians were playing politics. It was ugly to watch. It was not edifying. But it was not boring; it was eminently watchable.
I don't watch politics expecting to be inspired or educated. To me there is no difference between an NFL contest and a leaders debate or election: these are events to be analyzed and understood but also events by which to be entertained -- if these are things that interest you. And the debate was entertaining. More entertaining that the Broncos and Chiefs, at least.
So here's the analysis on last night's debate: my guess is that 80%-90% of people who watch debates are committed voters who are interested in politics but with voter turnout around 60%, most people who are interested in politics already have strong opinions about ideology and party so they aren't going to be swayed (this is mostly the "base" of each party). Some of those people are deciding on their non-Harper alternative. Thomas Mulcair was slightly better than Justin Trudeau because he wasn't as actively off-putting. Stephen Harper did nothing to upset his base. Among the 10%-20% who haven't made up their mind (but are likely leaning toward one choice if they were perfectly honest), Trudeau didn't win over converts and maybe drove away some potential voters, while Mulcair held steady, and Harper did enough to raise the doubt-level on the opposition. Those 10%-20% who are undecided/open-minded probably didn't watch the whole thing and the debate did worsen as the night went on and Globe and Mail editor-in-chief/debate moderator David Walmsley increasingly lost control. It's in Harper's interest that many of these people stay at home on October 19 and Mulcair and Trudeau gave them every reason to do so; that isn't voter suppression, but a rational distaste for what's on offer.

CEOs running for president
Tyler Cowen on Wednesday evening's Republican presidential wannabe debate:
Two related facts struck me:
1. I know this is hard to believe, but not every participant did remarkably well from a marketing point of view. Put aside whether or not you agreed with them, more than one candidate was disappointing in terms of voter appeal. Yet these were, for the most part, professional politicians.
2. The two participants who have done the best relating to voters, through the media, are the two former CEOs, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina. Overall that is true even if you think Trump had a subpar performance this debate.
A priori, you would think that being a professional politician selects exactly for people who can do well in a televised national debate. Yet, from this limited number of data points, it is the CEOs who have the relevant skills.
Cowen goes on to explore the relative filters for CEOs and politicians. Of course, the comments are worth reading, too.
I hold two seemingly contradictory views related to CEOs in high-level politics. First, that politics is corrupt because it has the wrong incentives and develops the wrong skill-sets. Second, the presidency is not an entry-level position and that non-politicians lack the skills to succeed at that level. This should lead me to support non-politicians, especially CEOs, seeking and winning high office in order to (perhaps) shake up the political establishment, or at least to try to do politics differently. I don't hold that position, however, because I doubt the ability of a single person to (seriously) challenge let alone change the system. Entrenched interests will seek out to defeat, destroy, or at least neuter, legitimate challenges to their power and status.

2016 watch (Lindsey Graham edition)
The Wall Street Journal on the second-tier debate: "Lindsey Graham: Low in Polls, Leading in Debate Quips." Too bad for the South Carolina senator that quip:poll-support ratio doesn't translate into ... anything.

Thursday, September 17, 2015
A Rick McGinnis two-fer
In 1990 Rick McGinnis took photographs of Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins, who had just met earlier that day. I have a lot of time for Leonard, who is probably the late 20th century author whose work I've read the most. Of course, these pictures and short essays by McGinnis are always about more than their ostensible topics, and Rick observes:
Except for rare exceptions, not a lot of people speak in complete sentences or coherent paragraphs, and most everyday speech is full of wasted syllables and verbal tics that don't conform to meter or indicate much beyond unformed thoughts fighting to take shape.
Which is why dialogue written by "masters" like Leonard or Higgins is really as composed as a sonnet, where the little details that seem realistic are more like a wall painted to look distressed or a trompe l'oeil crack.

Why markets are moral
Or at least more moral than statism.
Donald Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek:
Markets are deeply moral, for they, compared to all feasible alternatives –
are driven by voluntary choices rather than by diktats;
concentrate the costs and the benefits of each choice as closely as possible on the individual who makes that choice;
allow for great diversity of choices and life-styles;
create mass flourishing; they raise the living standards of the poor far more than they raise the living standards of the rich;
transform the manifestations of economic hardship from literal starvation to much-less severe financial distress; (losing a job or a home, however agonizing, is far better than losing your and your children’s lives);
‘churn’ over time the rich and poor; dynastic wealth, while not unknown in markets, is less common than unthinking and historically uninformed people suppose, and such wealth is always exposed to the forces of creative destruction;
bring together literally hundreds of millions of strangers from around the globe and from many different cultures and religious faiths into a peaceful and cooperative productive effort.
To me "market" is another name for "cooperation." Boudreaux points out that pencils, toasters, and chicken sandwiches are all more efficiently made through markets than alone. Thomas Thwaites showed that it takes an individual nine months to make a toaster but can afford to buy one after less than an hour of work; Bruce Berlin took six months and spent $1500 to build a mediocre-tasting chicken sandwich from scratch. Markets bring people together to increase our happiness and well-being. That is a moral enterprise.

Home alone
Lenore Skenazy looks at the case of a wonderful British Columbia mother who refused to cooperate with children's service to create a "safety plan" for her eight-year-old child that was often home alone after school. As Skenazy says:
She refused to make a safety plan because she raised the safety plan. Her son is clearly capable of being on his own for a few hours—as are almost all 8-year-olds—because that's how he was raised.
The social worker was not satisfied and came up with a list of potential dangers (fire, poisoning, etc). Skenazy says:
This is classic "worst-first thinking”—thinking up the very worst case scenario and proceeding as if it's likely to happen. Our culture's problem is that we have been trained to automatically fantasize about disaster anytime we hear of a child alone, as if simply being unsupervised = death.
Generally sane people often accept the worst-first thinking, like any worst-case scenario is likely to happen. In this case, the judge ruled against the mother. But as Skenazy points out, social workers are incentivized to think worst-first:
Social workers have every incentive to overreact to even the most remote chance of danger, because there are no negative consequences to going wildly overboard. In fact, such paranoia keeps them in business.
But this leads to warped thinking:
So social workers are doing their very best, but parents are slackers who couldn't care less what happens to their own children. Only the state cares enough.

2016 watch (The Donald edition)
Alexander Panetta's report on the GOP presidential wannabe debate's largest attraction/distraction: "260 sentences, 19 boasts, 10 insults, 4 ideas: anatomy of a Donald Trump debate." Two of his four ideas: linking autism to vaccinations and raising taxes on the wealthy.

GOP debate does not address needs of real people
James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute writes:
[W]hatever else the debates are for the GOP, they are an opportunity to present to millions of voters a modern vision about growth, opportunity and shared prosperity in a changing US economy. And talk about a news hook. The Census Bureau yesterday released new figures — whatever their flaws— showing continued middle-class income stagnation.
Yet the “middle” class was mentioned just four times vs. 10 times for the “Middle East.”
“Parent” — as in “single parents,” for instance — was mentioned just three times vs. 23 times for Planned Parenthood.
Creating economic “growth” was mentioned just five times vs. seven times for building an anti-immigrant “wall.”
No mentions of “health” in the context of replacing Obamacare. No talk about “college” affordability.
The debate wordle is depressing.
A friend who did polling for Republicans in the 2008 and 2012 presidential election cycles noted that when self-identified conservative Republicans talk about "the economy" they meant debt, taxes, and government spending, but self-identified moderate Republicans and conservative and moderate independents meant jobs, housing affordability, and health care affordability.
I think that debt, taxes, and government spending are more important, but talking about those ideas (in a meaningless, bullshitty way) ensures the Republican Party is irrelevant to most voters. In the 2011 Canadian election, Jack Layton talked about gas prices; he didn't say he'd do anything about them, but he demonstrated that he cared about the things regular folks cared about. The priorities of the Republican presidential candidates speaking to the relatively small conservative base of the Republican Party ensures they will not be talking about how to improve the lives of most people and are thus completely irrelevant to normal people. Maybe that's what Republican strategists and politicians want: an excitable base that donates money to keep them employed. But it cedes elections to the Democrats.
None of this means that these other issues are unimportant. Many are. They should be addressed. Hot-button issues are not merely cynically employed by politicians and their careerist flacks. But they are not relevant to many voters who really just want life to be affordable and comfortable and safe. And the hot-button issues crowd out bottom-line concerns. It isn't an either/or proposition, but Republican leaders need to start talking about issues that affect the everyday lives of Americans.

My sexbot post
1. It has been updated, so scroll down and read the additions and clarifications.
2. Should increase my traffic.

Day 1 on the job in the White House
J.P. Freire tweets: "Just once I want to hear someone say 'On Day 1 of my Presidency, I will learn where the bathrooms are, figure out the printer, and hang art'."

Sexbots. Or, do we need women?
The CBC reports that a company will soon be selling "Roxxxy Doll -- a humanoid robot that can be used for sex." Kathleen Richardson, a "robot ethicist" at de Montfort University in Leicester has launched a campaign to ban robots for the purpose of being used for sex. The CBC reports:
Richardson tells As It Happens host Carol Off that sex robots objectify women and children, and perpetuate what she sees as "abusive forms of relationships."
"The ideas that went into sex robots were the same ideas that justified prostitution and the sex industry," Richardson says. "The robots are a continuation of that experience of being able to have your needs met, without considering another party." ...
"I guess the way that people think about it, they think that technology is not human. But the very fact that we know that when technology is produced, people don't leave issues of gender, race and class behind -- they take them with them. And they actually import those ideas into the machines that they create."
I get the theory that sexbots reinforce negative stereotypes about women and (making assumptions about Richardson and her ilk's worldview) male "privilege" and all that. But it is also possible that these attitudes sexualizing women can be transferred to robots.
The more important question is whether women are necessary in a world with sexbots and artificial wombs. For years some feminists have fantasized about a world without men as assisted reproduction technologies suggested men were superfluous. But technological advances have made the inverse true, too.
I need to clarify or add three points.
First, I'm not endorsing a womanless world in favour of sexbots and artificial wombs.
Second, and relatedly, I won't address issues about why men are seeking the "companionship" of sexbots but it probably says something about modern women. For hints of what I'm getting at read Helen Smith's Men on Strike.
Lastly, I forgot to make clear that Richardson is plain silly for suggesting that we are either dehumanizing the robots or further dehumanizing women by the way some people are treating an inanimate object (the sexbot).

Countries sized according to their stock markets
Neat map: Canada is smaller, Africa almost doesn't exist, and Switzerland is as large as France.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Left-wing think tank finds Charter schools outperform public schools
The Washington Examiner reports on a new Progressive Policy Institute study on charter schools in Washington DC:
Charter schools help students gain additional days of learning every year in reading, compared to traditional public school students. In math, charter students gain more than half an academic year on their counterparts.
More charter schools than traditional public schools have higher than expected levels of proficiency in math and reading. That measure of expected proficiency took into account students' income and race.
In the poorest sections of Washington, charter schools dramatically outperform traditional public schools, the report says.

Scorpions are the new bears
As William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection says, sometimes it is best left unsaid. I don't share Ted Cruz's hawkishness, but he has a clever and effective ad. It should be reassuring to the GOP base that the Texas senator not only pays homage to Ronald Reagan but is able to adapt him to 2015. Too many conservatives think all that Republicans need to do is be Reagan; they should be like Reagan (in many ways, not all), but they can't simply reheat three-decade old policy.

2016 watch (Jeb Bush edition)
Ed Driscoll notes that Jeb Bush is eager to face Hillary Clinton in the general election, but adds: "If only Jeb didn’t seem even more eager to run against the GOP base first, he might be better positioned for his wish to be granted."

The Donald and Ronald
Donald Trump says he was a supporter of President Ronald Reagan. The Wall Street Journal reports that he donated to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale and records from the Ronald Reagan Library show that Donald and Ronald had the sort of relationship typical of the wealthy and those in power in which they flattered each other with obligatory invitations to events. The claim of Trump being a Reagan supporter is highly suspect:
One Trump supporter, Roger Stone, a former Reagan administration official who worked for Mr. Trump’s campaign this year, said Mr. Trump was a longtime Reagan supporter. Mr. Stone also noted that Mr. Trump and his father served on Mr. Reagan’s 1979-80 presidential finance committee and attended his launch announcement.
One month after Mr. Reagan announced his candidacy on Nov. 13, 1979, Mr. Trump, his parents, sister and brother each made the maximum federal campaign contribution allowed—but not to Mr. Reagan. The Trumps all gave to the re-election campaign of Democratic President Jimmy Carter, according to Federal Election Commission records.
FEC records show no donation from Mr. Trump to Mr. Reagan for four more years. In fact, 10 months after Mr. Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, Mr. Trump made an early contribution to the political-action committee for the presidential bid of former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Democrat.

Investors and Sunday's Greek elections
Market Watch says that investors don't need to worry about this week's Greek elections as much as they did the election in January. But what does that mean?
Polls suggest a tight election. But who knows about the polls. This tidbit from Bloomberg was entertaining:
Pollsters are “worried that voters are not taking their participation in polls seriously, adding an additional layer of uncertainty into their reliability,” said Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst at Eurasia Group.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan in the Washington Examiner:
Jeremy Corbyn is happy to talk to Irish Republican Army men, avowed anti-Semites and Hezbollah militants; but he refuses “out of principle” to talk to the Sun newspaper, a right-wing tabloid.

Oral sex is a life-saver for male Darwin bark spiders of Madagascar. New Scientist reports:
“Males nibble on female external genitals using their fangs, and then we observed that there was a liquid coming out of the fangs. We do not know what this liquid is, but it looks like digestive juices, which they usually secrete when eating,” says Kralj-Fiser, who presented the study at the Ethological Society’s “Causes and consequences of social behaviour” conference in Hamburg, Germany, last week.
Kralj-Fiser suggests the oral lubrication relaxes adult females so they are less likely to engage in sexual cannibalism – which would explain why the males don’t make such an effort with the younger females that are unable to eat them.
Eat or be eaten.