Monday, June 25, 2012

A revolutionary trial

At issue was the claim of 15 Occupy NH activists that the “right to revolution” expressed in the State Constitution gave them the right — and the obligation — to violate Manchester’s city curfew last October. With the legal leadership of Barbara Keshen, staff attorney for the NH Civil Liberties Union, they made a good case.
The facts of the case are not in dispute. After several days in which Occupy activists maintained an encampment in Manchester’s Victory Park they were told by police that the City would insist on enforcing its curfew ordinance, which calls for parks to be empty of human persons between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am. On October 19, they shifted their encampment to Veterans Park, a more visible location a few blocks away. At 11 pm, police warned the activists they would be cited for violating the curfew if they refused to leave. Most of the people in the park (including me) scurried to the outside of the fence on Merrimack Street. Most of those who remained were given a summons for the curfew violation and left the park on their own steam. The few who still refused to leave were placed under arrest, charged with trespass in addition to the curfew violation, and taken to the Manchester Police Station. (See my earlier posts for details.)
What is in dispute is whether Constitutional protections of speech and assembly trump the curfew. Also in dispute is whether Part One, Article Ten of the New Hampshire Constitution, titled “Right to Revolution,” has any bearing.
From InZane Times, Notes from an Occupy Trial; Could a Curfew Violation be Ruled a Constitutionally Protected Revolutionary Act? Hat tip to Seth Cohn.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A few links

Will soft drink restrictions in New York City reduce obesity? Aaron Carroll, from The Incidental Economist, says "no".

Paul Krugman is winning the macroeconomics debate. Really, he is.

Learn about health policy and the Affordable Care Act in a free class. Hat tip to Kevin Outterson at The Incidental Economist.

From The Guardian - Test policies in 'randomised controlled trials', nudge unit urges. Science? What's that?

What can you do with an economics degree? Well, for one, the video game company Valve is hiring:

(click to enlarge)

Friday, June 15, 2012

A new health insurance experiment

Does Medicaid help the poor, or do doctors turn away so many Medicaid patients that it actually hurts them? Katherine Baicker at Harvard discusses the results of a natural experiment in Ohio on yesterday's episode of Planet Money. I have not heard of such an interesting heath economics experiment since the RAND experiment in the '70s.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Winning the war on war

I have been reading Joshua Goldstein's fantastic book Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide, which summarizes the state of warfare today and suggests strategies for eliminating it.

The book begins by demonstrating that war has been declining by nearly every measure since World War II. The case is capably made with a cautious use of statistics, at times in grisly detail. Media coverage notwithstanding, no conflict has risen to the level of WWII in recent history. Since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., warfare has declined from the levels of the proxy wars between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, etc. There is no direct war between nations in the world today, and various civil wars are ending faster than they are starting. (In May, he updated the argument on his blog, noting that "Warfare is literally shrinking across the face of the earth.")

Goldstein focuses primarily on UN peacekeeping efforts as the force behind this decline. Peacekeeping forces — though often underfunded and disorganized — can act as impartial observers to help enforce peace agreements, or to oversee elections. In some cases, a conflict will continue even when both sides would gain from its end, simply because neither side can guarantee its safety if the other decides to renege on a peace agreement. UN forces can provide that guarantee and circumvent this frustrating impasse.

To buttress his arguments, Goldstein cites a study by political scientist Page Fortna:
[According to Fortna] The presence of peacekeepers reduced the risk of renewed war by somewhere between 55 and 85 percent. "The statistical evidence is overwhelming. In short, any way you slice the data, peacekeeping works." Quantitative studies by other researchers "have reached a consensus, and it is an optimistic one." Although these studies find that peacekeeping is less effective in reaching a cease-fire in the first place than in making it last once reached, the success of the latter "has emerged as a strongly robust result in the quantitative literature." Thus, the answer to whether peacekeeping works is "a resounding yes."

This research will create problems for libertarian critics of the UN. How does a person oppose state aggression while simultaneously denouncing an institution which has been remarkably successful at ending warfare— the most direct and brutal form of state aggression? Given the information in this book, libertarians should be much more supportive of UN peacekeeping. (But don't hold your breath.)

In the second half, Goldstein's history of American peace movements, and his analysis of their weaknesses, makes his book an indispensable resource for serious peace activists. He argues that, while it may be an institutional necessity, the tendency of organizations to focus on peace and justice (or freedom, etc.) undermines their activism. The two are inseparable, goes the peace-and-justice reasoning, and this allows groups to survive on justice issues when peace is less popular. In fact, research suggests that the two issues are largely unrelated, and peace organizations, to perpetuate the myth, must promote solutions that have little real-life impact.

Modern peace groups, for this and other reasons, fail to provide relevant information about UN efforts to American voters. If Winning the War on War can correct the oversight, it will do much to promote peace in the world.

WMUR on NH demographics

This is a complicated issue, so I will have to do some research before commenting in depth. Thanks to Julia for the heads-up.

More libertarian pseudo-economics

Economist Antony Davies argues that the government should stop subsidizing student loans, because it's creating a college bubble. But his argument is inexcusably uninformed.

For one, he says that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the housing bubble. At best, that statement is controversial.

Second, he says that student loan subsidies caused the large increase in college costs. Good God. It accounts for a little bit of the increase, but mostly it's due to a lot of other things.

He also argues that pure market outcomes would lead to efficient amounts of college loans. Totally false. Even a cursory glance at the relevant literature would reveal that this is not the case. The student loan market suffers from multiple market failures, leading the market to provide too few loans to students.

Fourth, the logic of bubbles doesn't even apply to this situation. The housing bubble was built on the presumption that housing prices would continue to rise indefinitely. There is no analogous assumption in student loans. You can't sell your degree after you get it, so it doesn't matter if the value of a degree rises or falls. There's no good reason to expect hordes of students to suddenly stop paying their student loans. Annie Lowrey explained this well at Slate last year.

Once again I find myself wondering: what led this person to write this? Why are people paying this man's salary? How did this guy get an economics degree?

Oh, for the days when libertarians respected Hayek. Today's libertarians seem to constantly dismiss the complexity of social problems, and suffer from the fatal conceit of uninformed central planning more than any other group I've seen.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Exploding Estonian cigars at Cato

I've watched a few videos of Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, explaining economic concepts. I found them underwhelming. But his recent blog post attacking Paul Krugman at Cato@Liberty really takes the cake, in terms of sheer confused incompetence.

Krugman started the discussion by noting that Estonia's economic recovery, touted by some as a poster child for austerity, has been so-so.

This simple statement, along with the graph, constitute the entirety of Krugman's post.

Mitchell's response is bizarre:
Krugman is very guilty of cherry-picking data. If you look at the chart that accompanies his post, Estonia’s economic performance isn’t very impressive, but that’s because he’s only showing us the data from 2007-present.

The numbers are accurate, but they’re designed to mislead rather than inform

Krugman's post, discussing Estonia's recovery from the 2008 recession, is misleading... because it only shows Estonia's recovery from the 2008 recession? What in the world? This statement is too bizarre, there must be some kind of explanation later in the article. ... But there's not.

And it gets worse:
But before exposing that bit of trickery, there’s another mistake worth noting. Krugman presumably wants us to think that the downturn coincided with spending cuts. But his own chart shows that the economy hit the skids in 2008 – a year in which  government spending in Estonia soared by nearly 18 percent according to EU fiscal data!

"Krugman presumably wants us to think that the downturn coincided with spending cuts." No, Krugman, like every sane person alive, "presumably" wants us to think that the downturn coincided with the worldwide recession of 2008. Has Dan Mitchell been living on Mars? Where is this incredible straw man coming from, the idea that Keynesians think the recession in 2008 was caused by cuts to government spending? This isn't even a technical economics mistake. Any person who has watched the news at some point during the last 4 years knows that the recession was caused by the housing bubble, etc.

I don't understand how someone like this manages to tie his shoes in the morning, much less get a degree in economics. Why does Cato employ this person? At best, he is a crank. At worst, psychotic.

Psychosis (from the Ancient Greek ψυχή "psyche", for mind/soul, and -ωσις "-osis", for abnormal condition or derangement) means abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality". (Wikipedia)