Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Friday, October 13, 2006

55 deaths per year (2 from violence) before the invasion. Among those households, 168 deaths per year (92 from violence) since the invasion.

The Lancet study of deaths in Iraq. 47 neighborhoods. 1849 households. Among those households, 55 deaths per year (2 from violence) before the invasion. Among those households, 168 deaths per year (92 from violence) since the invasion. Scale up those sampling results to a population of 5 million households, and you have your 600,000 direct and indirect civilian casualties of war number.

And the press coverage is... incompetent and unbelievable... Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?... For example:

Here we have William Arkin of the Washington Post trying to trash the Lancet study:

600,000 Iraqis Killed By War, Credible? - Early Warning: Johns Hopkins demographers... knew that they'd need their flak jackets.... Overall, the response has been largely predictable: Tons of press coverage, those who oppose the war or represent "human rights" interests embrace the numbers, lamenting the "human cost" of war; those who support the war effort... condemn the findings....

So is there a right answer here... can reasonable non-partisan people feel comfortable with the conclusion that Iraq has suffered some 15,000 violent deaths a month every month since the U.S. invasion, some 500 deaths a day?

I think not....

There are two numbers that need to be considered in coming to a conclusion about the Hopkins' study: The raw number of deaths, and the comparison to pre-war deaths, that is, what would have been expected were there not an invasion in 2003. In the ways of sampling sizes, standard errors, reliability, and validity, the John Hopkins team claims being 95 percent certain that their 600,000 number is right. The true number -- the margin of error -- ranges from 400,000 to 900,000 deaths overall.

"To put these numbers in context," one of the study's authors says, "deaths are occurring in Iraq now at a rate more than three times that from before the invasion of March 2003."

The Hopkins team calculated Iraq's mortality rate in the year before the invasion at 5.5 deaths per 1,000 people, comparing it with their post-invasion average of 13.3 deaths per 1,000 people per year. The difference between these two rates is the rate of "excess deaths;" the deaths occurring from violence is how they get to the 600,000 number.

The entire "context" then, hinges on the validity of the pre-war mortality rate. If you accept this number, then I'm told you accept that pre-war Iraq had a better mortality rate than any other country in the Middle East, even Israel...

So I wrote Mr. Arkin a note:

Dear Mr. Arkin:

Ummmm... I'm astonished. People tell me that you are (usually) very good. But this...

Open your CIA World Factbook and look for death rates. You will find--in addition to the 5.5 per thousand number for Iraq--numbers like these: Syria 5.0... Turkey 6.0... Egypt 5.2... West Bank 4.5... Iran 5.6... Middle Eastern countries, like all countries undergoing population explosions, have young populations and so thus (with modern public health in place) low peacetime death rates.

Who told you that the 5.5 per thousand death rate per thousand was suspicious? If they knew anything, why did they lie to you? If they did not know anything, why did you trust them?

I'd appreciate a call at 925-708-0467 to talk about this.

Sincerely yours,

J. Bradford DeLong
U.C. Berkeley

I could have gone on. Perhaps I should have noted the statistical illiteracy. The Johns Hopkins team does not claim that they are "95 percent certain that their 600,000 number is right." The Johns Hopkins team claims that--if nothing has gone wrong with their study--there is a 95% chance that the confidence interval (i.e., 400,000 to 900,000) O the true number of excess deaths. THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. This is first-semester statistics.

In a good world, the Washington Post would not employ writers who are ignorant of first semester statistics: there are lots of other people in the world who are not ignorant of first-semester statistics who could do their jobs better.

In a good world, the Washington Post would not employ writers who don't fact-check their columns.

In a good world, the Washington Post would employ writers who know that they are outside their range of competence, and take appropriate steps to inform themselves.

But let me turn the microphone over to Daniel Davies, who takes potential critics back to school:

Comment is free: The numbers do add up: The question that this study was set up to answer was: as a result of the invasion, have things got better or worse in Iraq? And if they have got worse, have they got a little bit worse or a lot worse.... The results speak for themselves. There was a sample of 12,801 individuals in 1,849 households, in 47 geographical locations. That is a big sample, not a small one. The opinion polls from Mori and such which measure political support use a sample size of about 2,000 individuals.... The Iraq Body Count website and the Iraqi government statistics are not better measures than the survey results, because one of the things we know about war zones is that casualties are under-reported....

And the results were shocking. In the 18 months before the invasion, the sample reported 82 deaths, two of them from violence. In the 39 months since the invasion, the sample households had seen 547 deaths, 300 of them from violence. The death rate expressed as deaths per 1,000 per year had gone up from 5.5 to 13.3....

[T]hings have got worse, and they have got a lot worse, not a little bit worse. Whatever detailed criticisms one might make of the methodology of the study (and I have searched assiduously for the last two years, with the assistance of a lot of partisans of the Iraq war who have tried to pick holes in the study, and not found any), the numbers are too big. If you go out and ask 12,000 people whether a family member has died and get reports of 300 deaths from violence, then that is not consistent with there being only 60,000 deaths from violence in a country of 26 million. It is not even nearly consistent.

This is the question to always keep at the front of your mind when arguments are being slung around (and it is the general question one should always be thinking of when people talk statistics). How Would One Get This Sample, If The Facts Were Not This Way? There is really only one answer - that the study was fraudulent.[1] It really could not have happened by chance.... Anyone who wants to dispute the important conclusion of the study has to be prepared to accuse the authors of fraud, and presumably to accept the legal consequences of doing so.

So what? This is always the other line from the people who want to ignore this study. Even if we accept that the invasion has been a disaster (in the strictest sense, the doubling of the civilian death-rate is usually taken to constitute a humanitarian crisis) for the Iraqi people, what should we do differently? The majority of the deaths by violence are a result of action by the insurgents, so we can't just pull the troops home. Isn't this kind of study just "picking over the rubble", to quote the Euston Manifesto and a distraction from the real debate about humanitarian intervention?

Well, there is something that we can do. We can ensure that the people responsible for this outrage suffer the consequences of their actions. A particularly disgusting theme of some right-wing American critics of the study as been to impugn it by talking about it being "conveniently" released before the November congressional elections. As if a war that doubled the death rate in Iraq was not the sort of thing that ought to be a political issue. Nobody is doing anything about this disaster, and nobody will do until people start suffering some kind of consequences for their actions (for example, no British politician, soldier or spy has lost his job over the handling of the Iraq war and no senior member of the Bush administration either)....

I would surely like to see the insurgents in the ICC on war crimes charges, but the Nuremberg convention was also correct to say that aggression was "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole". The people who started this war of aggression need to face up to the fact, and that is a political issue.

[1] In the context of the 2004 study, I was prepared to countenance another explanation: that the Iraqis were lying and systematically exaggerating the number of deaths. But in the 2006 study, death certificates were checked and found in 92% of cases.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Nobel-Like Prize-Winning Economist as Prose Stylist

Felix Salmon praises Milton Friedman's prose style:

RGE - Nobel Prizewinners in the WSJ: We saw on Friday what the 94-year-old Milton Friedman (Nobel Prize, 1976) is capable of when given space on the WSJ's op-ed pages: a model of simplicity and lucidity in 517 words....

Hong Kong Wrong - By MILTON FRIEDMAN: It had to happen. Hong Kong's policy of "positive noninterventionism" was too good to last. It went against all the instincts of government officials, paid to spend other people's money and meddle in other people's affairs. That's why it was sadly unsurprising to see Hong Kong's current leader, Donald Tsang, last month declare the death of the policy on which the territory's prosperity was built.

The really amazing phenomenon is that, for half a century, his predecessors resisted the temptation to tax and meddle. Though a colony of socialist Britain, Hong Kong followed a laissez-faire capitalist policy, thanks largely to a British civil servant, John Cowperthwaite. Assigned to handle Hong Kong's financial affairs in 1945, he rose through the ranks to become the territory's financial secretary from 1961-71. Cowperthwaite, who died on Jan. 21 this year, was so famously laissez-faire that he refused to collect economic statistics for fear this would only give government officials an excuse for more meddling. His successor, Sir Philip Haddon-Cave, coined the term "positive noninterventionism" to describe Cowperthwaite's approach.

The results of his policy were remarkable. At the end of World War II, Hong Kong was a dirt-poor island with a per-capita income about one-quarter that of Britain's. By 1997, when sovereignty was transferred to China, its per-capita income was roughly equal to that of the departing colonial power, even though Britain had experienced sizable growth over the same period. That was a striking demonstration of the productivity of freedom, of what people can do when they are left free to pursue their own interests.

The success of laissez-faire in Hong Kong was a major factor in encouraging China and other countries to move away from centralized control toward greater reliance on private enterprise and the free market. As a result, they too have benefited from rapid economic growth. The ultimate fate of China depends, I believe, on whether it continues to move in Hong Kong's direction faster than Hong Kong moves in China's.

Mr. Tsang insists that he only wants the government to act "when there are obvious imperfections in the operation of the market mechanism." That ignores the reality that if there are any "obvious imperfections," the market will eliminate them long before Mr. Tsang gets around to it. Much more important are the "imperfections" -- obvious and not so obvious -- that will be introduced by overactive government....

Whatever happens to Hong Kong in the future, the experience of this past 50 years will continue to instruct and encourage friends of economic freedom. And it provides a lasting model of good economic policy for others who wish to bring similar prosperity to their people.

Felix than laments that Ned Phelps's prose is not nearly as lucid. True. But Ned's thought is as deep and as worth paying attention to as Milton's.

Why Isn't the Lower Tail of the Future Priced?

Bob Rubin scares Felix Salmon:

RGE - Bob Rubin, Ultrabear: Robert Rubin had a long conversation with Citigroup economist Kim Schoenholtz on September 7, which has now been transcribed and released as a special report from Citi's Global Economic and Market Analysis group. Rubin's pretty downbeat about both the global economy and global markets, which he thinks are sticking their collective heads in the sand:

Most people seem to think that the problem is somewhere down the road. I think the markets are remarkably complacent.

Even economists, who are generally more bearish than markets, aren't necessarily bearish enough, says Rubin:

It's curious to me that economists, with an exception here or there, are as sanguine as they seem to be. They talk about a cooling off or a soft landing or whatever it may be, but generally seem to attach very low probabilities to really serious adverse developments. Most of the people I know in the national security world, and there are many seem deeply troubled about a variety of matters: nuclear proliferation, Islamic radicalism, the endgame in Iraq, instability in countries that mean a great deal to us in the Middle East, what's going to happen in Pakistan, and many other issues as well. And the markets do not reflect this.

He also doesn't think the IMF or anybody else will be able to prevent any kind of unstable global rebalancing:

I don't think there's a mechanism for international policy coordination. I really don't. It's a very good question actually that has come up in a lot of conversations. I may be wrong, but based on my experience, I would say that there's no mechanism for international policy coordination. There's a pretty good mechanism for telling a small poor developing country what to do. But there's no policy mechanism for bringing together the countries that really matter in the global economy.

To all of which there can only be one reaction: Sell! Sell now!

The lower tail--both in its economic and political aspects--is still ferocious and scary. But it is still the lower tail. And I can understand why finance professionals would rather not price it at all than price it into their forecasts and so run a high probability of lagging their peers' performance.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another Washington Post Edition)

Jonathan Schwartz writes:

A Tiny Revolution: Washington Post's Outstanding News Judgment Comes Through For Us Again!: The Washington Post today ran a story about the new Johns Hopkins study estimating excess deaths in Iraq since the U.S. invasion at 655,000. It was on page A12.

Now, whiny malcontents who don't understand the news business might wonder why this doesn't merit screaming headlines on the front page. But what these whiny malcontents don't get is that Page One real estate is precious. You can't run just any old story there. You have to give the highest priority to what really matters, what the policymakers and just regular citizens in Washington HAVE to know about.

For instance:

The Handwriting Is on the Wall: Researchers See a Downside as Keyboards Replace Pens in School

Story online here. I particularly appreciate the cursive headline. Let no one say there's a shortage of ingenuity at the Washington Post when it comes to presenting the critical news of the day!

I give them less than ten years. I cannot imagine why anybody who thinks about it pays for the Post today.

Econ 210a: Fall 2006: Guesses at Historical Human Populations

Guesses at historical human populations:

Econ 210a: Fall 2006: Post-Neolithic Pre-Industrial Economies: Recommended, Highly Optional, Readings

Recommended (but not required: only for those of you with great interest and copious amounts of spare time) readings for October 18:

Econ 210a: Fall 2006: Post-Neolithic Pre-Industrial Economies: Recommended, Highly Optional, Readings

Recommended (but not required: only for those of you with great interest and copious amounts of spare time) readings for October 18:

Housing and Transportation Costs

There is rarely such a thing as a free lunch:

Relocating to Cheaper Housing May Not Help Low-Wage Families - By JAMES R. HAGERTY> Moving to an area with lower housing costs often doesn't pay off for low-income Americans... transportation costs in places with cheaper housing are often so high that they wipe out the savings from lower rent or mortgage payments. Such places tend to be farther from employers or short on public transportation, which makes commuting costlier.

The study found that housing and transportation costs combined eat up an average of 57% of annual income for "working" families, which the study defines as those with incomes of $20,000 to $50,000 a year. The combined costs ranged from 54% of income in Pittsburgh to 63% in San Francisco; in 25 of the 28 metro areas, the combined total was within three percentage points of the 57% average.

The findings contradict the common notion that many people would be better off financially if they moved from areas with high housing costs, such as California, to states like Texas or Georgia, where housing is much cheaper. The median house price in San Diego, at $613,000, is four times that of Dallas. But the study found that working families in San Diego spend 59% of their income on housing and transportation, only slightly more than the 57% they spend in Dallas. Families in Dallas spent just 26% of their income on housing, compared with 31% in San Diego, but the Dallas families spent more on transport.

The study also found that moving to an inexpensive outer suburb, but continuing to work near a city center, often backfires. Typically, a move that adds more than about 12 miles to a one-way commute will result in a rise in transport costs that outweighs the savings on housing, the researchers found...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Bush Administration Clown Show

Yes, it is George W. Bush once again in the center ring with the funny nose and the big shoes:

President Bush Discusses the Economy and Budget: THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. Good afternoon. Thanks for coming to the White House. In 2004, I made a promise to the American people, we would cut the federal budget deficit in half over five years. Today I'm pleased to report that we have achieved this goal, and we've done it three years ahead of schedule.

This morning my administration released the budget numbers for fiscal 2006. These budget numbers are not just estimates; these are the actual results for the fiscal year that ended February the 30th.* [sic] These numbers show that the budget deficit has been reduced to $248 billion and is down to just 1.9 percent of the economy...

Should we say that the 2004 budget deficit was $412.7 billion, and that half of that would be $206.3 billion--not $248 billion? Should we say that the fiscal year ends in September, not February? Should we say that February never has 30 days? Should we say that February never had--not even before Julius Caesar--30 days?

Hedging the Lower Tail Risk

What I learned from Robert Waldmann: Almost no professional portfolio manager worries about the lower tail, because if you are in the lower tail the whole world has gone to hell in a handbasket and people have other, more important things to worry about than whether one's portfolio manager had appropriately hedged whatever risk is now roosting on the roof.

Felix Salmon disagrees:

RGE - Economonitor: Brad DeLong responds to my entry on Bob Rubin thusly:

The lower tail--both in its economic and political aspects--is still ferocious and scary. But it is still the lower tail. And I can understand why finance professionals would rather not price it at all than price it into their forecasts and so run a high probability of lagging their peers' performance.

He has a point: If there's a 90% probability of the market going up by 15% and a 10% probability of the market going down by 60%, how do you position yourself? You want to be long, even on the balance of probabilities. So in practice you simply do what you would have done if the lower tail didn't exist. But of course today's markets have more options than simply long/short.

Specifically, it's possible to hedge against a large downside risk by buying long-dated, far-out-of-the-money put options which cost almost nothing using Black-Scholes but which act as a very good hedge against lower-tail events. Such positions don't even need to be a dead loss if the lower-tail event doesn't happen, since even an increase in the perceived probability of such an event is likely to drive their price higher.

What's more, DeLong seems to be saying ("it is still the lower tail") that scary events like the ones Rubin was talking about ("nuclear proliferation, Islamic radicalism, the endgame in Iraq, instability in countries that mean a great deal to us in the Middle East, what's going to happen in Pakistan, and many other issues as well") are still low probability. Many geopolitical strategists might disagree, in which case it might make sense simply on the balance of probabilities to position oneself defensively.

It is the case that the cost of buying the long-dated out-of-the-money put options is a constant drag on one's performance in those high-probability states of the world in which you don't wind up in the lower tail. But Felix has a good point: in a world of derivatives, you buy puts if you think that the market will raise its estimate of the chance of a lower-tail event. And you do so even if you think the lower tail remains very unlikely.

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Clowns?

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now:

Think Progress: FBI agents still don't know Arabic. Five years after 9/11, "only 33 FBI agents have even a limited proficiency in Arabic, and none of them work in the sections of the bureau that coordinate investigations of international terrorism, according to new FBI statistics."

"Looking Tough" Is Not a Plan--Well, Not a Good Plan Anyway

Very odd. Jeff Herf is a smart man, but he thinks that NATO's decision to put intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe in the early 1980s was an important cause of the collapse of the Soviet Empire at the end of the 1980s:

Open University: The British historian Michael Howard's essay collection, The Causes of War presents a number of trenchant essays about "the forgotten dimensions of strategy" that applied this tradition to the cold war in Europe. In 1991 I published, War by Other Means: Soviet Power, West German Resistance and the Battle of the Euromissiles. It brought together the study of the political culture of West Germany with an examination of the balance of power between the Soviet Union and the Western alliance. Oddly, it remains one of the few, perhaps the only work that gives the battle of the euromissiles the historical significance it deserves as one precondition for Western victory in the cold war. One can still read recently published accounts of the cold war that barely mention it or even assume that it had nothing to do with the subsequent implosion of the Soviet Union and its empire and that the events of 1989 were overwhelmingly, and again, the result of events and trends internal to the Soviet Union. In writing and researching that book, it became clear to me that policy makers in West Germany and in Washington paid a far more attention to the impact of events within societies on the capacity of states to sustain "will" and generate power than historians focused on internal histories of societies assumed would be the case. Many of them also believed that the battle of the euromissiles, far more than a "star wars" system that was never built, was one of the turning points of the cold war. Historians of the cold war have yet to give those events the significance they deserve...

War by Other Means: Soviet Power, West German Resistance and the Battle of the Euromissiles is a very good book. But I cannot help but think that for "policy makers in West Germany and Washington" we should read "neoconservative nutboys" eager to justify the waste of money on intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

NATO's deployment of IRBM's did not strengthen but weakened the alliance's strategic position. The IRBM's were expensive--the money could have been been spent on something useful. The IRBMs created a new point of vulnerability--another weak point where some insane colonel could set in motion events that might kill us all. The IRBMs did not add to NATO's strategic options: they could do nothing that Trident missiles could not do at least as effectively.

Herf says that the deployment of the IRBMs was a "victory" for NATO because it demonstrated that the alliance governments had the "will" to, in the face of mass demonstrations, deploy an expensive and useless weapons system that increased the danger of nuclear catastrophe. And this triumph of the will is supposed--somehow, the links are not drawn (and I do not believe could be drawn)--to have "been an important cause of the collapse of the Soviet Empire." I, by contrast, say: thank God NATO did not have many more such "victories."

I suspect that Jeff Herf may have fallen victim to a common neoconservative disease: that it is a positive benefit to acting stupid because it makes you "look tough," and "looking tough" is good. But in reality what neoconservatives call "looking tough" is "being stupid."

"Cheney was with us. Then he went to AEI and they gave him the truth serum."

David Corn talks to James Baker:

David Corn: Baker on Cheney: AEI Gave Cheney the Kool-Aid: Another green room tale:

This past Sunday, former Secretary of State James Baker... I had the chance to chat... [about his] bipartisan commission investigating what to do in Iraq.... There are no "easy solutions," he said. He noted that the administration had "to admit that big mistakes were made." But he said his commission would... "start with the situation we have today."... Baker said that the group could end up with a report that says "here are the four things you should do."... [H]e said he wants the commission to produce a consensus set of recommendations.... He hardly seemed upbeat.... And he added, "if you can't pacify Baghdad, it's lost."...

He noted that he had raised reservations about the Iraq war the summer before the invasion.... [H]e, the first President Bush, and others in their administration had decided at the end of the first Persian Gulf War not to pursue Saddam Hussein's troops into Baghdad: it would have been a disaster.... And, Baker added, Dick Cheney agreed--at least back then. "Cheney was with us," Baker said. "Then he went to AEI and they gave him the truth serum." Or some other type of serum?

It will be interesting to see how the realists of the Baker-Hamilton commission interact with the non-reality-based, neoconnish war cheerleaders of the Bush administration. Might there end up being a fight for Bush's heart, brain or whatever.... As he was leaving the television studio, I said to Baker, "I truly wish you well and good luck." I never thought I'd say such kind words to the fellow who engineered Bush's manipulative win in Florida in 2000. But bad wars make for strange bedfellows.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Let Slip the Dogs of War

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now:

Iraqi Death Toll Exceeds 600,000, Study Estimates - By NEIL KING JR.: A new study asserts that roughly 600,000 Iraqis have died from violence since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, a figure many times higher than any previous estimate. The study, to be published Saturday in the British medical journal the Lancet, was conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health by sending teams of Iraqi doctors across Iraq from May through July....

The Johns Hopkins team conducted its study using a methodology known as "cluster sampling." That involved randomly picking 47 clusters of households for a total 1,849 households, scattered across Iraq. Team members interviewed each household about any deaths in the family during the 40 months since the invasion, as well as in the year before the invasion. The team says it reviewed death certificates for 92% of all deaths reported. Based on those figures, it tabulated national mortality rates for various periods before and after the start of the war. The mortality rate last year was nearly four times the preinvasion rate, the study found.

"Since March 2003, an additional 2.5% of Iraq's population has died above what would have occurred without conflict," the report said. The country's population is roughly 24 million people. Human Rights Watch has estimated Saddam Hussein's regime killed 250,000 to 290,000 people over 20 years.

The Lancet study, funded largely by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for International Studies, said while the percentage of deaths attributed to the U.S.-led coalition has decreased over the past year, coalition forces were involved in 31% of all violent deaths since March 2003. Most of the deaths in Iraq, particularly in the past two years, have been caused by insurgent, terrorist and sectarian violence....

Paul Bolton, a public-health researcher at Boston University who has reviewed the study, called the methodology "excellent" and said it was standard procedure in a wide range of studies he has worked on. "You can't be sure of the exact number, but you can be quite sure that you are in the right ballpark," he said.

A similar, smaller study by the same team in 2004 put the number of deaths at the time at 9,000 to 194,000...

Economics 210a: Introduction to Economic History

The weblog for this year's version of Barry Eichengreen's and my course:

Brad DeLong's Teaching: 210a: Course: Economics 210a is required of Ph.D. students in Economics, and is taken in the first year of the graduate program. Graduate students in other degree programs may enroll subject to the availability of space and with the instructors' approval. The course is designed to introduce a selection of themes from the contemporary economic history literature. While themes are presented chronologically, the purpose of the course is not to present a narrative account of world economic history. Instead, emphasis is placed on the uses of economic theory and quantitative methods in history and on the insights a knowledge of history can give to the practicing economist.

It is naturally required that you do the reading and attend class. Informed participation in the latter is encouraged. Class meetings will consist of a mixture of lecture and discussion. When the course goes well, it is primarily discussion; when the course goes badly, it is primarily lecture. Because discussion will focus on the issues raised, resolved, and left unanswered by the assigned readings, readings should be completed before class...

Introduction: Economics 210a: Fall 2006-Spring 2007

Department of Economics University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720

Economics 210a
Introduction to Economic History
Fall 2006

Barry Eichengreen: Evans 603 W 1-3
Brad DeLong: Evans 601 T 12-2

Course: Economics 210a is required of Ph.D. students in Economics, and is taken in the first year of the graduate program. Graduate students in other degree programs may enroll subject to the availability of space and with the instructors' approval. The course is designed to introduce a selection of themes from the contemporary economic history literature. While themes are presented chronologically, the purpose of the course is not to present a narrative account of world economic history. Instead, emphasis is placed on the uses of economic theory and quantitative methods in history and on the insights a knowledge of history can give to the practicing economist.

It is naturally required that you do the reading and attend class. Informed participation in the latter is encouraged. Class meetings will consist of a mixture of lecture and discussion. When the course goes well, it is primarily discussion; when the course goes badly, it is primarily lecture. Because discussion will focus on the issues raised, resolved, and left unanswered by the assigned readings, readings should be completed before class.

Readings: Readings are either available on the web or on reserve at Haas. Access to readings available through Jstor and other proprietary sources may require you to log on through a university-recognized computer and/or enter your Calnet ID. Note that there can be high demand for the readings at peak times, and the library can make available only limited numbers of copies. In past years, students have found it useful to purchase some of the books from which material is assigned through their favorite online book seller and to assemble the materials for reproduction at a local copy shop. (Students should note that about half the reading materials are new; readers produced for previous versions of this course will contain only a subset of the material.)

Grades: Your grade will be an equally-weighted average of two components: your weekly memos and the Economics 210a research paper.

Weekly memos: Each week your instructors will post an Economics 210a question on their websites. You will then write a memo of two pages (double-spaced, 12-pitch) on that question, which is due at the beginning of lecture the following Wednesday. Two page memos cannot be exhaustive, nor can they provide definitive answers on the basis of what may still be unfamiliar material. But they can explain why the question is important, summarize what the articles assigned for the upcoming lecture have to say about it, and provide a provisional assessment of their conclusions.

Research paper Your research paper is due on the Friday before spring vacation. We take the word research seriously: the paper should provide new information or evidence on a topic in economic history. It should not merely summarize an existing literature in the field. The writing and submission process requires that you meet an intermediate benchmark: submit approximately ten pages' worth of a literature review and a statement of your hypotheses by the last day of the fall semester.

Aim for roughly 20 pages for the final paper.

This paper should go beyond summarizing or synthesizing a literature: students should use the tools of economic theory and empirical analysis to pose and answer an historical question. Warning: the paper must have historical substance. This is not a requirement in applied economics or econometrics that can be satisfied by relabeling the variables in theoretical models taught elsewhere or by mechanically applying modern statistical techniques to old data.

Topic: The paper may cover almost any topic in economic history. You are certainly not limited to the material covered in 210a. You may, for example, work on time periods or countries of particular interest to you. The only requirement is that the topic must genuinely involve the past. Comparisons of past and current events are certainly fine, but studies of developments solely after 1973 are not.

Evidence: As the readings on the syllabus make clear, historical evidence comes in a wide range of form and styles. It is often empirical, but not always. Sometimes the key evidence is just a list of goods traded or what policymakers said they were trying to accomplish. With empirical evidence, tables and graphs of important variables are often enough to make a compelling argument.

Length: Good papers do come in a wide variety of sizes. However, for this assignment aim at a length of ten pages or so for the literature review, and more for the final paper. A final paper less than 15 pages tends to make your instructors suspicious, while a final paper more than 25 pages (unless it is very good indeed) tends to make your instructors cranky.

Successful Paper Topics from Previous Years Coming up with a promising paper topic is arguably the most useful part of this exercise. Your entire graduate career (indeed, for most of you, your entire career) will center around identifying interesting questions to be answered. For this reason we will not give you a list of topics (though we often toss them out in the course of class discussion). Instead, we will describe the type of topics that have been successful in the past and suggest ways of finding similarly successful topics.

  • A comment on an interesting paper: Perhaps the easiest type of paper to write is a comment on an existing paper. Such comments often turn out to be more important than the original work. Think about flaws in some paper that you read. Is there selection bias? Has the author left out a potentially crucial variable? One year a student noticed a footnote in a paper by on the reading list that said one observation had been left out of the figure because it was so large relative to the others. This same extreme observation was included in the empirical analysis. The student got the data and showed that his results depended crucially on this one observation.
  • A comparison of past events with present events: Few economic events have no historical antecedents. If there is a modern development you are interested in, you could look for its historical roots or counterparts. For example, so much has been written about the rise of the Internet and the revolution in communication in the 1990s. How do these developments compare to the rise of the telegraph and the telephone? The rise of TV and radio? Did investment and financial markets response in similar ways?
  • Analysis of an interesting source: While it is not a good idea to let data availability drive your topic, it is perfectly reasonable to let serendipity play a role. Have you come across an unusual source in the library or during your undergraduate years? Is there an interesting question that this source could be used to answer? One year a student came across the catalogs for the 1851 World's Fair. She had the idea that these descriptions of what each country exhibited could be used as a measure of innovation. She wrote a paper looking at the industrial composition of innovation across countries. Another student was looking through newspapers from San Francisco in the 1870s. He found many classified ads that read something like: "Wanted - man to work in store and loan store $1000." This student wondered why companies would tie employment and loans. He wrote a paper investigating whether ads such as these were a sign of credit market imperfections or a way of ensuring worker loyalty and honesty. (Both of these papers have since been published in high-profile outlets.)
  • A new test of an old debate: Take some interesting debate in economic history and come up with a clever, alternative way of testing it. Usually, such a test involves using a new type of data. For example, if everyone has been using quantities, think about a way to use prices. An example of this type of paper involves the debate over how business cycles have changed over time. One researcher suggested that instead of fighting over very imperfect estimates of real GDP, one could look at stock prices as an indicator of the volatility of the macroeconomy.
  • A natural experiment: Just as one should be on the lookout for interesting sources, one should also be thinking about interesting events. History is full of natural experiments--some weird tax is passed, a war is fought, a new regulation is imposed. Often such experiments can be used to answer crucial questions in economics--for example, what the changing speed with which liberty ships were built during World War II tells us about the size of learning-by-doing effects.


Oct. 11. Organizational Meeting (Short) [DeLong]

Oct. 18. The Malthusian Economy [DeLong]

Oct. 25. Trade and the Industrious Revolution [DeLong]

Nov. 1. Agriculture and Forced Labor in Early Modern Growth [DeLong]

Nov. 8. The Industrial Revolution in Britain [Eichengreen]

  • Joel Mokyr, "Technological Change, 1700-1830," in Roderick Floud and Donald McCloskey eds., The Economic History of Britain Since 1700, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, second edition, 1994, pp.12-43. On reserve at Haas.
  • N.F.R. Crafts, British Economic Growth During the Industrial Revolution, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986, pp.9-114 (read selectively). On reserve at Haas.
  • Maxine Berg and Pat Hudson, "Rehabilitating the Industrial Revolution," Economic History Review new ser. 45, pp.23-50. Available online:
  • Peter Temin, "Two Views of the British Industrial Revolution," Journal of Economic History 57, pp.63-82.
  • Jeffrey Williamson, "Why Was British Economic Growth So Slow During the Industrial Revolution?" Journal of Economic History 44, pp.687-712

Nov. 15. The Spread of Industrialization [DeLong]

Nov 29. American Exceptionalism [Eichengreen]

  • Paul David (1966), "The Mechanization of Reaping in the Ante-Bellum Midwest," in Henry Rosovsky (ed.), Industrialization in Two Systems, New York: Wiley, pp. 3-28, on reserve at Haas.
  • Peter Temin (1966), "Labor Scarcity and the Problem of American Industrial Efficiency in the 1850s," Journal of Economic History 26, pp. 277-298
  • Kenneth Sokoloff (1984), "Was the Transition from the Artisanal Shop to the Non-Mechanized Factory Associated with Gains in Efficiency?" Explorations in Economic History 21, pp.351-382.
  • Robert Fogel (1962), "A Quantitative Approach to the Study of Railroads in American Economic Growth," Journal of Economic History 22, pp. 163-197,
  • Alfred Chandler (1990), Scale and Scope, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, chapter 3, pp. 51-89, on reserve at Haas.

Dec 6. 19th Century Capital Markets [Eichengreen]

  • Alexander Gerschenkron (1964), Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, chapter 1, pp. 5-30, on reserve at Haas.
  • Naomi Lamoreaux (1986), "Banks, Kinship, and Economic Development: The New England Case," Journal of Economic History 46, pp.647-667,
  • Hugh Rockoff (1974), "The Free Banking Era: A Reexamination," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking 6, pp. 141-167,
  • Lance Davis (1965), "The Investment Market, 1870-1914: The Evolution of a National Market," Journal of Economic History 25, pp. 355-393,
  • Howard Bodenhorn and Hugh Rockoff (1992), "Regional Interest Rates in Antebellum America," chapter 5 in Claudia Goldin and Hugh Rockoff (eds), Strategic Factors in 19th Century American Economic History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 159-187, on reserve at Haas.

Jan 17. 19th Century Labor Markets [Eichengreen]

  • Sanford Jacoby (1984), "The Development of Internal Labor Markets in American Manufacturing Firms," in Paul Osterman (ed.), Internal Labor Markets, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, pp. 23-69, on reserve at Haas.
  • Susan Carter and Elizabeth Savoca (1988), "Labor Mobility and Lengthy Jobs in 19th Century America," Journal of Economic History 50, pp. 1-16, < >
  • John James (1990), "Job Tenure in the Gilded Age," in George Grantham and Mary McKinnon, eds., Labour Market Evolution, London: Routledge, pp.185-204, on reserve at Haas.
  • Joshua Rosenbloom (1990), "One Market or Many? Labor Market Integration in the Late Nineteenth Century United States," Journal of Economic History 50, pp. 85-107,
  • Joshua Rosenbloom (2002), "Employment Agencies and Labor Exchanges: The Impact of Intermediaries in the Market for Labor," in Looking for Work, Searching for Workers: American Labor Markets during Industrialization (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press), chapter 3, pp. 46-79, on reserve at Haas.

Jan. 24. The First Age of Globalization [Eichengreen]

  • Albert Fishlow (1985), (Lessons from the Past: Capital Markets During the 19th Century and the Interwar Period,( International Organization 39, pp. 383-439,
  • Douglas Irwin (1998), "Did Late Nineteen Century U.S. Tariffs Promote Infant Industries? Evidence from the Tinplate Industry," NBER Working paper no. 6835 (December),
  • Arthur Bloomfield (1959), Monetary Policy Under the International Gold Standard, New York: Federal Reserve Bank of New York, on reserve at Haas.
  • Hugh Rockoff (1983), "Some Evidence on the Real Price of Gold, Its Costs of Production, and Commodity Prices," in Michael Bordo and Anna Schwartz (eds), A Retrospective on the Classical Gold Standard, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 613-651, on reserve at Haas.

Jan. 31. The U.S. Depression [DeLong and Eichengreen]

Feb. 7. The World Depression [Eichengreen]

  • Barry Eichengreen (1992), Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression 1919-1939 (New York: Oxford University Press), chapter 1, pp. 3-28, on reserve at Haas.
  • Ben Bernanke and Harold James, "The Gold Standard, Deflation and Financial Crisis in the Great Depression: An International Comparison," in Glenn Hubbard (ed), Financial Markets and Financial Crises, University of Chicago Press (1991), pp.33-68. On reserve at Haas.
  • Margaret Weir and Theda Skocpol, "State Structures and Social Keynesianism: Responses to the Great Depression in Sweden and the United States," International Journal of Comparative Sociology 19, pp.4-29. [web link here]

Feb. 14. The Post-World War II Golden Age [Eichengreen]

  • Peter Temin (2002), "The Golden Age of European Growth Reconsidered," European Review of Economic History 6, pp. 33-22.
  • Mancur Olson (1996), "The Varieties of Eurosclerosis: The Rise and Decline of Nations Since 1982," in Nicholas Crafts and Gianni Toniolo (eds), Economic Growth in Europe Since 1945, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp.73-94.
  • Barry Eichengreen, "Institutions and Economic Growth: Europe Since 1945," in Nicholas Crafts and Gianni Toniolo (eds), Economic Growth in Europe Since 1945, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp.38-72.

Feb. 21. Combined and Uneven Development [DeLong]

Feb. 28. The Crisis of the Mixed Economy [DeLong]


Was it in fact the case-as UCLA's Jared Diamond maintains-that the invention of agriculture was the worst mistake in the history of the human race? Which side of this question do you come down on-yes or no-and why? Or, if you want to suspend judgment, what additional facts about the past and present would you need to know before you would come down on one side or the other?

You Negotiate with Your Enemies, Not Your Friends

Axis of stupidity:

Matthew Yglesias / proudly eponymous since 2002: The Root of Evil: With Iraq a shambles, North Korean testing a nuclear device, and Iran pursuing uranium enrichment, The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler and Peter Baker revisit the "axis of evil" speech. They underplay, however, the extent to which the speech isn't merely an ironic reminder of what a bad president Bush is, but was actually constitutive of Bushian badness. Usually, a speech is just a speech, but this was an exception. At the time, it was widely understood that the administration was contemplating a war to depose Saddam Hussein. Under the circumstances, lumping Iran and the DPRK in with Iraq as an "axis of evil" played as a weirdly diffuse and nonspecific threat to overthrow the governments in Teheran and Pyongyang. A threat that we had no capacity to carry out in the short term. This precipatated the recent round of nuclear crisis in North Korea and managed to undermine some then-ongoing cooperation with Iran on Taliban and al-Qaeda issues that stood some chance of leading to a broader rapprochment.

What's more, as "axis of evil" apologists like Michael Rubin make clear, plunging the world into crisis and closing off diplomatic options was part of the plan. "Clinton administration attempts to engage the Taliban and the North Korean regime were folly. Any attempt to do likewise with Iran would be equally inane. Certain regimes cannot be appeased." And, clearly, it's true that some men you just can't reach, but why should we think this phenomenon has suddenly become so widespread? And why not try? The Clinton administration's efforts to pursuade the Taliban to give up Osama bin Laden didn't work, but it was surely worth a shot, especially at a time when full-fledged war just wasn't on the table as an option.

If it comes to war in the end, then good-faith efforts to resolve outstanding issues without war are integral to giving the war legitimacy. In the North Korean case, Clinton's policy was working pretty damn well. It led to a non-ideal outcome, but things got much worse when we tried things Bush's way. Cooperating with Iran, similarly, was paying dividends until we stopped trying it. Similarly, we reached a perfectly reasonable negotiated settlement with Libya even under Bush. It's regime change as panacea that's worked really, really, really poorly. It'd be nice if this worked -- snap your fingers and get a better regime -- but it doesn't work, and not seeing that is just dumb.

The Fallibility of Memory--or Is It?

Rereading books that I read long ago:

C.J. Cherryh, The Morgaine Saga: Includes the novels Gate of Ivrel (Cherryh's first published book and winner of the John W. Campbell Award), Well of Shiuan, and Fires of Azeroth.

Nhi Vanye i Chya remains my favorite C.J. Cherryh hero--stubborn, impulsive, young, but smart, honorable, and loyal. Morgaine has been displaced as my favorite C.J. Cherryh... protagonist by Ari II. But--is this the fallibility of memory or is it something else--didn't Fires of Azeroth used to end with Morgaine offering to braid Nhi Vanye's hair?

Two Percent!

Wonkette claims that 2% of Americans (a) know that George Bush is president, and (b) think he isn't a liar:

America Will Rock On! - Wonkette: This poll is scary, because it finally draws the line between Americans who know the Bush Administration is lying and those who have no idea who’s president. According to the latest obviously liberal/Democrat/Communist/Satanist polling, “83% of respondents thought that Mr. Bush was either hiding something or mostly lying when he discussed how the war in Iraq was going.”

And 15% can’t identify the U.S. president.

The 2% “swing vote” could realy make the difference!

Yet Another Departmental Seminar on Wednesday I Will Miss...

Ray Fisman (Columbia) and Edward Miguel (Berkeley), "Cultures of Corruption: Evidence from Diplomatic Parking Tickets"

... we explore a natural experiment, the stationing of thousands of diplomats... in New York City...

They find that diplomats from countries that are (a) corrupt, or (b) hostile to the United States do not pay their parking tickets.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Judy Feder Is Running for Congress

Back in 1993, one reason I was initially optimistic about health care reform was that it had people like Judy Feder working on it:

Judy Feder For Congress: Judy Feder has lived in Northern Virginia for over thirty years with her husband, Stan, and their two sons. Professor and Dean of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, Judy is one of the nation’s leading experts on health policy, respected for her work as a scholar, public servant, and independent advocate for America’s families.

Judy began her three decades of public service researching ways to make health care more affordable. A widely published scholar, Judy worked at the Brookings Institution and Urban Institute before joining the faculty of Georgetown University in 1984.

Judy first served in government in 1988 as Staff Director of the congressional Pepper Commission (chaired by West Virginia’s Senator John D. Rockefeller, IV), and is widely credited with setting the stage for the health reform debate of the 1990s. In 1993, she was appointed to the Department of Health and Human Services, where she worked to expand health insurance coverage, effectively manage Medicare and Medicaid, and assure the safety of food and drugs.

Judy has served as Dean of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute for the last seven years, building it into one of the nation’s premier schools training the next generation of nonprofit, government, and military leaders. In addition to teaching, Judy oversees degree programs training students specializing in international development, education, health, environmental policy, and public and nonprofit management.

Judy has also pioneered programs to address the new security challenges following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Working with the Department of Defense, Judy helped create a program for soldiers returning from the battlefield for careers in military leadership. Many of her graduates have returned to Iraq and Afghanistan after serving in policy positions at the Pentagon. She also has established civilian certificate programs in Homeland Security and Bio-Defense...

The people of northern Virginia will be making a significant mistake if they don't elect her.

Ned Phelps Wins Today's Nobel-Like Prize in Economics

A good pick for the economics Nobel-like prize. Tyler Cowen comments:

Marginal Revolution: Today's Nobel Prize in economics: Edmund Phelps.... He was born in Chicago in 1933 and now teaches at Columbia.... His main contribution is a better understanding of the Phillips curve and the dynamics of short-run unemployment and the concept of the natural rate of unemployment. He gave the Phillips curve microfoundations and developed the "expectations-augmented Phillips curve." As the name suggests, the level of inflationary expectations matter for how money will influence output....

His most influential 1960s work suggested that economies possess a natural rate of unemployment, monetary policy can reduce unemployment only temporarily (NB: in his view this is a conclusion, and should not be an axiom in economic models), monetary policy can reduce unemployment temporarily, and Keynesian economics should not treat the rate of unemployment as arbitrarily at the whim of monetary and fiscal policy. He was also concerned with how the natural rate of employment can change over time.... The evolution of Phelps's thought on how money can matter is complex. His later work stresses monetary non-neutrality, mostly through non-rational expectations and non-synchronized wage and price setting. His work in the 1980s focused on what the concept of rational expectations means in such complex environments.

Do not assume that early Phelps and late Phelps are saying the same things or arguing against the same opponents. Sometimes it is argued that he redefined macroeconomics twice. After criticizing Keynesianism, he later turned against the "rational expectations" point of view. He is a complex thinker, although it can be hard to divine his "bottom line." He fails to fit inside the "macroeconomics boxes" that have developed since the early 1980s, namely real business cycle theory vs. neo-Keynesianism....

My take: It is hard to argue with this pick. It is a good selection. His 1960s macro work was true, important, and extremely influential. The capital theory work endures and provides a foundation for subsequent theory. The overall scope is impressive, and Phelps's concerns never strayed far from the real world....

What this Prize means: The big questions still matter. Unemployment, economic growth, labor markets, capital accumulation, fairness, discrimination, and justice across the generations are indeed worthy of economic attention. Phelps contributed to all of those areas. Normative questions matter. Relevance and breadth triumph over narrow technical skill.

What Do You Think Now of Our Rights in the Territories?

From Pat Lang's website:

The Constitution and the Civil War - Arbogast:

Breckenridgejc Riding south along the Valley Pike after his defeat at 3rd Winchester in the Summer of 1864, Jubal Early began to cackle while slapping his thigh with glee over a private joke. Riding next to him was MG John Breckenridge.' Breckenridge had been Buchanan's Vice President. He had been one of the four candidates for president of the US in 1860.... Breckenridge may be best remembered as the Confederate commander at New Market where he said of his decision to commit the VMI cadet battalion to the center of the line, "Put the boys in, and may God forgive me."

Breckenridge peered through the rain at Early and asked what was so funny.' Early grinned at him and asked "What do you think now of our rights in the western territories?" Early had opposed secession.


I asked Arbogast for his views on the US Constitution and the Civil War.


"The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishes slavery. It was proposed by the Thirty-Eighth Congress on January 31, 1865. It was ratified first on February 1st, 1865, by Illinois, which was not surprising, because the Amendment had been authored principally by Abraham Lincoln. The last state, of the states existing at that time, to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment was Mississippi in 1995.

Now, obviously, I could stop there. If Abraham Lincoln believed that the Constitution had to be amended to abolish slavery, then he must have believed that the Constitution without that amendment, at the very least, was sufficiently ambiguous on the subject as to require the amendment.

But the Constitution wasn't ambiguous. It acknowledged the existence of slavery in the United States and protected it in a variety of ways. Fugitive slaves were to be returned to their owners. Art. 4. Sec. 2:

"No person, held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

Slaves were to be counted as "three fifths" of a free person. Art. 1. Sec. 2:

"Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States, which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons."

And, finally, the slave trade was to be protected until 1808: Art. 1. Sec. 9:

"The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person."

Now, the mechanism by which the Constitution could be amended was spelled out in exact detail in the Constitution. Both houses of Congress had to approve the amendment by a two-thirds majority and then three-fourths of the state legislatures must approve the amendment, all this within a period of seven years. That's how you amend the Constitution. And there is one provision in the Constitution that *cannot* be amended: the right of each state to be equally represented in the Senate, a provision that increases the power of less heavily populated states. Rhode Island and California each have two Senators. Article V: " State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate."

So, you have a Constitution that protects slavery, envisions a nation based upon some measure of equality between the states, and which Abraham Lincoln believed had to be amended to abolish slavery.

Did the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison call the Constitution "a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell"? Did Patrick Henry "smell a rat" and refuse to attend the Constitutional Convention because he foresaw it would endorse slavery? Yes, and yes. But that doesn't change the fact that in 1860, less than two generations after the War of Independence, the Constitution of the United States contemplated and protected slavery.

I know that there may be some who are dying to say, "But States were not allowed to secede under the Constitution." In the first place, that is not true. In the second place, I do not believe that the authors of the Constitution would have approved a war costing the lives of 600,000 young men on the subject of slavery. In the third place, the entire country was founded on the principle of secession. No, when the Civil War began, the Constitution was clearly on the side of the South. The Union had to appeal to a higher law to prosecute the war, a war which I reiterate should never have been fought.


IIRC, Lincoln in 1860 had no intention of amending the Constitution, or of abolishing slavery through any other means. Lincoln wanted to appoint Supreme Court justices who would reverse Dred Scott, wanted to make sure that slavery saw no further extensions to territories or new states, and wanted to let the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 lapse into a dead letter. Then northern consciences could be confident that slavery was "on the course to ultimate extinction."

IIRC, the Constitution explicitly says how states ratify amendments that change the Constitution: "shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress..." The Constitution explicitly states how it itself is to be ratified: "The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same..." The Constitution does not say how states would secede.

The Press Corps Drives More People Shrill

Daniel Gross is driven into shrill unholy madness by yet more journamalism from the Wall Street Journal:

Daniel Gross: October 08, 2006 - October 14, 2006 Archives: MORE NOMINAL SILLINESS: From the Wall Street Journal's editorial today:

Getting out of the statistical weeds, the news here is that the U.S. has a very tight labor market -- which is now translating into significant wage gains. Over the past 12 months wages have climbed by 4%, which is the biggest gain since 2001 and which economist Brian Wesbury points out is higher than the 3.3% average annual wage growth of the last 25 years.

Once again, the absurdity of talking only of nominal wage gains in a period of elevated inflation should be evident to anybody purporting to write about economic issues for an educated audience. So, too, should the absurdity of comparing nominal wage gains in today's period of elevated inflation to nominal wage gains in a recent period of depressed inflation. Four percent growth in wages in 12 months is indeed somewhat impressive, but not when inflation is up 3.8 percent in those same 12 months. If we all were paid in nominal dollars but paid bills only in real dollars, we'd all be really rich by now.

Angry Bear finds a ray of light in Brooke Masters:

Angry Bear: Brooke Masters writes:

Even the Dow's record is not quite as impressive as it seems. If inflation is taken into account, the Dow has to rise another 2,150 points before it will set an all-time high.It does seem that certain rightwingers are high-fiving over the fact that the Dow has reached 85% of its January 2000 level in real terms.

And finds Dean Baker driven into shrill unholy madness for a different reason:

Dean Baker adds this perspective:

One infuriating feature of business reporting is the constant cheering for a higher stock market. I have nothing against a higher market, but I know of no general public interest in a high stock market. In principle, the stock market represents the discounted value of the future profits of corporate America. If the value rises because the economy can now be seen as growing more rapidly, then this is certainly good news. But, if future profits are projected to be higher because of lower wages or lower corporate taxes (e.g. a higher tax burden on workers or fewer public services), why should the mass of the population, who own little or no stock celebrate?...

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Idiots?

Michael Froomkin on what historians may say was the biggest of Bush's many foreign-policy mistakes: Axis of Error: Remember the "Axis of evil"? That was what this administration called Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Then it invaded one of them -- the one without atomic weapons. The other two, who while they may be crazed in other ways reacted quite rationally to the obvious implicit threat of invasion, put their nuclear programs into higher gear.

Now it seems as if the North Koreas have exploded a nuclear weapon. While this may lead to some strict sanctions, it seems fairly clear that possession of a nuclear weapon also reduces to nearly zero the chance of foreign invasion. The chance of that was already quite small in the case of the North Koreans, but one can understand why they may not have wished to risk being wrong about that.

The North Korean government is one of the less rational ones on earth, so one can't say with confidence that a sensible policy on the US side would have guaranteed success at keeping them from going nuclear. One can say, however, that the current administration's abandonment of the Clinton policy of multilateralism and engagement ensured this dire outcome.

Chalk up one more disaster for this administration's failures to focus on what matters, and its general incompetence.

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by This Incompetent Clown?

Andrew Samwick on the Bush White House:

Vox Baby: Republicans and Gas Taxes: The word "emerging" is in quotes, referencing a theme of the article, which is that it is much easier for people who have worked inside a Presidential administration to advocate for politically unpopular ideas when they are on the outside. That's true but only to a point. It's not that Greg Mankiw ever said anything other than what he now says about the gas tax while on the inside. It's that the President sets the framework for all policy outcomes--not the CEA--even on economic issues. CEA, like every other part of the administration, works to generate the best outcomes within that framework. And if the President is not interested in a gas tax, then it becomes a very short conversation...

The most interesting thing about this, I think, is that it was the exact opposite in the Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations. If Advisor X thought that policy Y was a very good idea, and if the President was not interested, then Advisor X looked forward not to a very short but to a very long conversation.

You see, a President who trusts, values, and respects his advisors doesn't cut them off when they tell him that he is wrong not be interested in policy Y. He listens.

Elect Presidents like Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton. Don't elect presidents like George W. Bush.

Answering Unanswered Questions About 911

An unanswered question about 911 answered:

Attytood: How John Ashcroft saved his own sorry rear end, and not the lives of 2,973 people who died on 9/11: Just over three years ago, when such things were not in vogue, we wrote an article about the 20 unanwered questions of 9/11. It's sad, but three years later, many of them are still unanswered -- but at least we are finally getting some info. Here's one of those questions we asked on Sept. 11, 2003:

  1. Why did Attorney General John Ashcroft and some Pentagon officials cancel commercial-airline trips before Sept. 11?

On July 26, 2001 - 47 days before the Sept. 11 attacks - CBS News reported that Ashcroft was flying expensive charters rather than commercial flights because of a "threat assessment" by the FBI. CBS said, "Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term." Newsweek later reported that on Sept. 10, 2001, "a group of top Pentagon officials suddenly canceled travel plans for the next morning, apparently because of security concerns."

Did either Ashcroft or the Pentagon have advance information about a 9/11-style attack and, if so, why wasn't this shared with the American public?

Tonight, it looks like we can answer the first half of this one.


As pointed out earlier today by Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake, Ashcroft was in on the July 2001 warnings of a pending attack by top CIA officials, the same one that was given to then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who then tried to lie and say the meeting never happened. Check out this report from the News Service Formerly Known as Knight Ridder...

The Bush-McCain Torture Bill


Thus Blogged Anderson.: Japanese war crime = American interrogation tactic: Walter Pincus writes about half of the story on waterboarding that we should've seen two or three weeks ago. Nice of the WaPo to get a little curious:

Twenty-one years earlier, in 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.

"Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told his colleagues last Thursday during the debate on military commissions legislation. "We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II," he said.

Yes, that bit was certainly all over the news when the bill was actually being debated, wasn't it? Or not.

The article could go into much, much more detail on how waterboarding was used by the Gestapo, the NKVD/KGB, the Khmer Rouge ... there is a bit on how it's better at getting people to "talk" than to provide reliable intel:

Inside the CIA, waterboarding is cited as the technique that got Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the prime plotter of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to begin to talk and provide information -- though "not all of it reliable," a former senior intelligence official said."Not all"? Could we have a fraction, maybe? Or is that classified?

Jack Balkin notes the article and wonders why, with retroactive immunity for our CIA torturers, the administration still won't say whether or not it's continuing to waterboard.

UPDATE: The Cunning Realist, whom I've bookmarked but don't read often enough, finds another 15% or so of the waterboarding story in a year-old ABC item:

The water board technique dates back to the 1500s during the Italian Inquisition. A prisoner, who is bound and gagged, has water poured over him to make him think he is about to drown. Current and former CIA officers tell ABC News that they were trained to handcuff the prisoner and cover his face with cellophane to enhance the distress.

"Torture is defined under the federal criminal code as the intentional infliction of severe mental pain or suffering," said John Sifton, an attorney and researcher with the organization Human Rights Watch. "That would include water boarding." On "Good Morning America" today, Goss told ABC News' Charles Gibson that the CIA does not inflict pain on prisoners.

Water boarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in Vietnam 40 years ago. A photograph that appeared in The Washington Post of a U.S. soldier involved in water boarding a North Vietnamese prisoner in 1968 led to that soldier's severe punishment. "The soldier who participated in water torture in January 1968 was court-martialed within one month after the photos appeared in The Washington Post, and he was drummed out of the Army," recounted Darius Rejali, a political science professor at Reed College....

Bit of a backslide from our previous Far Eastern counterinsurgency:

Earlier in 1901, the United States had taken a similar stand against water boarding during the Spanish-American War when an Army major was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for water boarding an insurgent in the Philippines...

Trade Diversion: Optimism from Alan Beattie

Trade Diversion sees some cause for optimism:>Trade Diversion: Optimism from Alan Beattie: Alan Beattie:

But, as has always been the case over the past few years, the encircling wraiths of protectionism have yet to be made flesh. In a series of interviews over the past week with current and former administration officials, senators, congressmen, lobbyists and think-tank trade experts, there remains a surprising degree of confidence that free trade can still prevail...

Susan Schwab, US trade representative (USTR), points out that despite all the threats from Congress about China and trade, Capitol Hill has continued to live up to its multilateral responsibilities, repealing cotton farming subsidies and corporate tax breaks found illegal by the WTO, and has backed USTR's position in multilateral talks. "In the same 12 months we haven't passed Schumer-Graham, the Congress has enacted pro-trade laws that eliminated WTO-inconsistent practices," she says...

It is hard at present to see how the mood in Washington will let any but a few bilateral trade deals advance at present. The WTO is, perhaps, about to see a test of the so-called "bicycle" -theory of trade negotiations - that the multilateral system will fall over unless it keeps moving forward with new deals struck and fresh market access gained. But though the bicycle has wavered at the signs of a rough road ahead, the rider has yet to lose balance.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Raise the Gasoline Tax?

Daniel Gross writes about suddenly-ungagged Republican economists and the gasoline tax:

Raise the Gasoline Tax? Funny, It Doesn't Sound Republican - New York Times: FOR nearly two decades, Alan Greenspan owned the biggest megaphone... dispensed advice on matters economic -- interest rates, budget and tax policies, entitlements, the stock market, the best kind of mortgage -- people listened. As a rule, Mr. Greenspan... adhered closely to Republican orthodoxy on taxes: the lower the better. Mr. Greenspan was hardly a proponent of raising taxes on energy to encourage conservation, a policy prescription generally associated with the politicians and economists of the left.

Until now. In late September... a question was posed as to whether he'D like to see an increase in the federal gasoline tax, which has stood at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993. "Yes, I would," Mr. Greenspan responded.... "That's the way to get consumption down. It's a national security issue."

Mr. Greenspan isn't the only Republican-aligned economist to have discovered, or rediscovered, a fondness for higher energy taxes since leaving government service. N. Gregory Mankiw... favored a higher gas tax before going to Washington, and has been banging the drum loudly for it since he left. On his blog, Mr. Mankiw has formed the Pigou Club, named for Arthur C. Pigou, the British economist.... The roster of what Mr. Mankiw calls "economists and pundits with the good sense to have publicly advocated higher Pigovian taxes, such as gasoline taxes or carbon taxes," includes... Paul Krugman... Al Gore... Gary S. Becker....

Andrew A. Samwick, [former] chief economist on the Council of Economic Advisers... is a member in good standing. So is Martin S. Feldstein.... The government, Mr. Feldstein said, should essentially ration gas by distributing tradable gas rights that entitle people to use gasoline....

What gives? Clearly, consensus among economists... that the nation would be better off, geopolitically and economically, if Americans used less gasoline. "Given the role that imported oil plays today, you can't continue to be a responsible economist and not talk about ways to reduce that dependence," Mr. Samwick said. "If you are concerned about the external consequences of imported oil, then you should raise the cost of it."... [A] growing unity among economists across the political spectrum on the deleterious effects of global warming. "The U.S. has reasonable arguments for not signing the Kyoto treaty, but we need to propose some other measure that will help reduce emissions," said Kenneth Rogoff....

But as much as Republican-leaning economists like Messrs. Greenspan, Mankiw and Samwick may think that it's a good idea, the Republican politicians who control the levers of power in Washington think that it's an awfully bad one.... The last increase in the federal gas tax was enacted as part of the so-called deficit reduction act of 1993, a package of spending cuts and tax hikes that didn't receive a single Republican vote in Congress. And because President Bush and his top political advisers are known to be adamantly opposed to any increase in the gas tax, economic advisers haven't pushed it much. "We didn't have policy discussions about raising the gas tax," Mr. Samwick recalls of his time in the White House.

THIS highlights a professional hazard faced by academic economists who serve in presidential administrations. They must act as team players who value the overall success of the administration -- even if they don't agree with all of its policies. As a result, economists must often stow some of their policy ideas in an intellectual coat check at the White House gates, where they can be reclaimed upon return to private life...

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and EPA head Christine Todd Whitman were for an increase in the gas tax back at the start of 2001, when they thought they were in charge of global warming policy. They could have used some backup then--and Bush could have used some reminding in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 that O'Neill and Todd Whitman were right. And I have never understood why George W. Bush and his Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana friends aren't in favor of a tax on imported oil, which is a huge money maker for their interests.

Biologists Weep for Joy

This inside-the-cell animation really does make biologists weep for joy:

Niches :: We Interrupt this Program: [I]t’s magnificent. It made me cry to watch it. My only regret is that it’s only 3 minutes long....

UPDATE: After some viewing I think that this isn’t just a series of pretty pictures. This is a real story. What we’re watching is the innards of helper T-cell activation. The lymphocyte crawling along the arteriole wall at the beginning has picked up a foreign signal, and has latched onto a macrophage through the T-cell receptors and major histocompatibility receptors. Then we dive into the cell, and the majority of the video shows the synthesis, sorting, and delivery of T-cell receptors, cytokines, and other proteins, and we finish with the now-alerted and activated lymphocyte slipping in-between the capillary wall cells on its way to trouble....

robin andrea: That’s a stunning animation. I understand the emotional response to watching all that amazing work going on inside every cell in our body. I still remember the first time I saw graphics of mitosis. I thought it was the most beautiful dance I’d ever seen, and anaphase just knocked me out. This animation is like that only a hundred times better! Great link, Wayne.

Wayne: Robin - it was about 12 years ago that I first made the acquaintance of kinesin, that burly fellow who’s stepping along the microtubule carrying this enormous mass. It enraptured me then to think of “motor proteins”, and the visualization is perfect. I sent the link to the biology professor who teaches about a thousand students every semester. I imagine she hasn’t seen it, but I suspect she’s going to weep like I did....