Librarian of the Internet. Collector of Stories.
2892 stories
·
38 followers

Which of our public policy institutions are working well right now?

2 Shares

Chad R. asks me:

Which of our public policy institutions are working well right now?

It seems there are plenty of takes about *why* our institutions are under extreme stress, but precious few about which are still working properly.

The Supreme Court comes to mind…

I say plenty of them are working well:

1. The CBO remains independent and effective, even though I think they are treating the health care mandate incorrectly and overestimating its impact.

2. As for the courts, they remain powerful and effective.  But note: while I strongly disagree with Trump’s travel ban, some of the lower courts overstepped their bounds by taking away too much power from the executive, relative to law.  It’s as if the courts have become too strong — perhaps optimally so — in a kind of overshooting model.

3. The Senate.  Even though one party controls all branches of government, a variety of bad health care bills have come to naught, and that is after many earlier votes to repeal Obamacare.  It is less clear to me how the House is working, but that’s why we have bicameralism.  I don’t care how stupid you might think the process is, so far it is generating acceptable results.  Yum, yum, yum, I just love that democracy!

4. The media as investigators have been excellent, though as summarizers of what is really going on I see their performance as much weaker, due to selective reporting.

5. Think tanks: the lack of Trump infrastructure at this level has raised my estimate of think tank importance.  That said, I am not sure how many think tanks are influencing policy right now, but if nothing else the inability to have or assemble a good think tank is indeed important.

6. The bureaucracy, for the most part, including the Fed.  Admittedly, some parts of the bureaucracy, such as the State Department, are being throttled by the Executive branch.

What’s not working well?

I say the executive branch and the White House.  Destroying or limiting the value of alliances is one of the easiest things for a blundering president to do.  I also see a significant opportunity cost from not having a legislation-oriented, detail-savvy White House.  Still, they are doing a good job on regulatory reform and an excellent Supreme Court appointment has been made.

Most of all, the appointments process is not working well, some of that being the fault of the Senate too.

The main lesson?  American government isn’t quite the train wreck you might think, and I haven’t even touched on the states, counties, and cities.

The post Which of our public policy institutions are working well right now? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Read the whole story
adamgurri
2 days ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete

Math and uncertainty

1 Share

A commenter writes,

if the math is done right, it should then say precisely that: there isn’t enough data to resolve the parameters you’re trying to impute with any reasonable degreee of confidence. The ‘anti-math’ people seem to forget that uncertainty is itself a quantifiable thing.

This does not address the problem that Richard Bookstaber and others call radical uncertainty. Consider what the CBO director wrote concerning the agency’s evaluation of the ARRA (the 2009 Stimulus bill).

The macroeconomic impacts of any economic stimulus program are very uncertain. Economic theories differ in their predictions about the effectiveness of stimulus. Furthermore, large fiscal stimulus is rarely attempted, so it is difficult to distinguish among alternative estimates of how large the macroeconomic effects would be. For those reasons, some economists remain skeptical that there will be any significant effects, while others expect very large ones.

Note that he did not attempt to quantify this uncertainty, nor could he have done so. Note also that what Congress and the public focused on were the apparently precise numerical estimates of the CBO model, rather than the uncertainty of those estimates.

The CBO uses a standard macro model, in which there is only one type of worker in the economy. I believe that workers in today’s economy are highly specialized, and that this accounts for the difficulty in creating new patterns of trade when old patterns become unprofitable. It is easier to use math to analyze a model with one type of worker than it is to apply math to my model. I think that is an argument against the tyranny of math in economics.

Read the whole story
adamgurri
3 days ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete

A Life in The Day

1 Comment
A Life in The Day Please consider becoming a patron. An Homage to Ingmar Bergman “Bertram?” the vicar peeked around the door, scanning each hospital bed for his quarry. “Bertram?” Three beds were empty; the fourth held a sleeping figure. Bertram was laid out on his back, angled by the cruelty of hospital beds, and […]





Download audio: http://johndaviddukejr.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/a-life-in-the-day.mp3
Read the whole story
adamgurri
4 days ago
reply
You should all subscribe to this podcast!
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete

Peter Turchin on mathematical modeling

1 Share

He writes,

Models clarify the logic of hypotheses, ensure that predictions indeed follow from the premises, open our eyes to counterintuitive possibilities, suggest how predictions could be tested, and enable accumulation of knowledge. The advantage of clarity that mathematical models offer scientists is nicely illustrated in the following quote from Economics Rules: “We still have endless debates today about what Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, or Joseph Schumpeter really meant. … By contrast, no ink has ever been spilled over what Paul Samuelson, Joe Stiglitz, or Ken Arrow had in mind when they developed the theories that won them their Nobel.” The difference? The first three formulated their theories largely in verbal form, while the latter three developed mathematical models.

Pointer from Mark Thoma.

Are you kidding me? The meaning of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem has been endlessly debated.

With mathematical models in economics, the question is whether the conclusions of the model apply in the real world. That is something that cannot be settled mathematically. It often cannot be settled empirically.

If I had chosen to write a review of Turchin’s latest book, Ages of Discord, I would have devoted most of the review to criticism of Turchin’s statistical methods. I am quite confident that if you formulated his project as “Come up with a set of indicators that represent the concepts here,” there would be no consensus, and that almost no one would come up with the indicators that he selected. The overall thesis of the book might turn out to be right. But in terms of methods, it could be held up as the poster child of what Paul Romer calls “mathiness.”

Read the whole story
adamgurri
9 days ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete

The importance of telling uncomfortable stories

1 Share

Before I married into a blue collar West Virginia family, I was a bit of a snob.

Chalk it up to growing up in the second richest county in the United States, perhaps. When I went to visit my new grandmother-in-law and she asked which Wal-Mart I got my designer purse from, I took it as an insult rather than, as I now realize, a genuine inquiry.

Now that John and I have been married for four years, these hiccups happen less and less. I no longer refuse to eat cheesy country cooking or think that living in a city means I’m somehow better off (my West Virginia relatives, who live on hundreds of acres of land they own, probably would think the opposite if they saw my tiny apartment). And I’ve come to discover that despite its problems with poverty and drugs, West Virginia can be a beautiful place.

Despite all this progress, something happened this weekend that made me very angry.

John and I were in town for a family reunion. (Despite the cultural divide, there are only about three hours separating us from rural West Virginia.) We went hiking and sightseeing at several natural and historic sites, one being the company town of Cass, West Virginiawhich currently has a population of 52 people.

Two wealthy lumber tycoons founded the town around 1900 to transport timber up and down a nearby mountain via coal-powered train (which tourists still ride today). It’s incredible how well the history of the white people who lived and worked there has been preserved.

Before our train ride, I checked out the free museum, which included a big map of the town. There were the big company-built homes, the doctor’s estate and Company Store, and below the river, there was a huge cluster of smaller homes labeled “Colored Bottom.” I looked all around the museum, which included tons of meticulously gathered information and preserved photos of white faces, but I couldn’t find another reference to this part of the town.

Finally, I asked the museum proprietors about it, an older man and woman who have both lived in Cass their whole lives. Turns out, even though the lumber company employed black people in the least desirable jobs, they did not provide housing for them, and historians did not think the black part of town, with its small, rickety houses, was worth preserving. Eventually that whole part of town, which was on the lowest elevation, washed away in a 1980s flood, and the entire black population, I was told, “moved away.”

Fortunately, the curators still had their memories, and told me some colorful racist anecdotes about Cass right after the town’s school integrated in the ‘50s (believe it or not, West Virginia was one of the first states to desegregate schools). But when I asked about why the black residents weren’t part of the historical exhibit, they explained that “Colored Bottom” had its own church, its own stores, and for a while, its own school, so it probably had its own photos, too. Unfortunately, I can’t find even a mention of this part of the town when I look online. This is a part of history that makes people uncomfortable, so it’ll probably just be forgotten.

This encounter left a sour taste in my mouth for the rest of the trip. Finally, I realized why I couldn’t stop thinking about it—every time I visit West Virginia, I am expected to leave my own values at the door and embrace people who are different from me. So when I saw an entire town not practicing that, it made me furious.

It was also a stark reminder for me as a journalist. It’s clear that the story of Cass is only the parts of the story people want to remember. I advocate subjectivity in storytelling, but this is its downside—the possibility that you’re telling only the half of the story you care about.

Going to places where I don’t feel at home and having discussions that make me uncomfortable—these are things that I must continue to do as a journalist. There’s a danger in only telling the story you’re comfortable with, and it’s that the stories of the few and disadvantaged will just be ignored and forgotten.

Journalism already has a class problem, and it’s up to us to not make it worse. It’s important for journalists to challenge themselves to tell stories they’re not already familiar with. We can’t be like the museum curator and say, “they probably have their own photos.” What made me upset about the use of “they” and “them” was that it’s not us and them—the same way I’ve had to slowly learn that me and my new family are not an “us” and a “them.” The curators and their ancestors lived and worked with black residents, so why aren’t these residents included in the historical exhibits for tourists?

It’s up to us to find and tell these stories, because otherwise, these stories might not be told at all.

Read the whole story
adamgurri
12 days ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete

The Primal Flower, Chapter 5 (Part A)

1 Share
In which our intrepid hero goes in search of supplies and finds, instead, a pub. As always, please consider becoming a patron.   “Lily,” the beer made me say, “is making things happen to me.” “Lily,” said her uncle, “Lily is a catalyst.” “A catalyst?” “A catalyst,” he said. “Your character is responding to her, […]





Download audio: http://johndaviddukejr.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/the-primal-flower-1-5a.mp3
Read the whole story
adamgurri
15 days ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories