From the monthly archives:

September 2012

47 per cent true

by John Quiggin on September 20, 2012

As Chris says in comments here, Romney’s main hope of getting away with his claim that 47 per cent of the US population are non-taxpaying moochers is the expectation that very few people will actually regard themselves as part of that 47 per cent. The same calculation is made by those who have pushed this talking point for years such as well-known plagiarist Ben Domenech and general lowlife Erick Erickson. It’s unsurprising that they should think this. After all, they’ve been making this claim, in one form or another for years, going back to the WSJ’s attack on “lucky duckies” in 2002. The claim has been refuted time and again with the points that most of the 47 per cent are workers subject to payroll tax, or retired people, but this refutation hasn’t reached the Fox News audience, many of whom don’t realise they are the moochers being attacked here.

But I don’t think this will help Romney, and the reasons why reflect some important developments in relation to post-truth political discourse in the US.

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New Charges Against Aaron Swartz

by Henry on September 19, 2012

Detailed here at [Wired](

>Federal prosectors added nine new felony counts against well-known coder and activist Aaron Swartz, who was charged last year for allegedly breaching hacking laws by downloading millions of academic articles from a subscription database via an open connection at MIT. … Like last year’s original grand jury indictment on four felony counts, (.pdf) the superseding indictment (.pdf) unveiled Thursday accuses Swartz of evading MIT’s attempts to kick his laptop off the network while downloading millions of documents from JSTOR, a not-for-profit company that provides searchable, digitized copies of academic journals that are normally inaccessible to the public. n essence, many of the charges stem from Swartz allegedly breaching the terms of service agreement for those using the research service.

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Louis Theroux visits families with autism

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 19, 2012

I’ve always been a great fan of the documentaries made by Louis Theroux. I think he’s an incredible filmmaker – almost a genius how he is able to portrait people and make documentaries that stick to the mind. Most recently, Theroux has made a series called Extreme Love, in which he visits families who are affected by severe autism and by dementia. The first one, on autism, was screened on Dutch TV last Friday, and can be seen on your computer screen for the next 60 hours on this website (Original with Dutch subtitles).

The children with autism featured in this episode are all situated on the severe end of the spectrum. I haven’t done any literature review on this, but my hypothesis is that it is very difficult to truly understand for people who do not have a disability, have never had a disability, or who never cared for people with disabilities, how it is to be disabled or live with someone disabled. We need narratives in order to understand, and preferably narratives not merely composed of words, but also of sounds, images, pictures — things that are able to convey not just factual knowledge but also meanings and emotions. Work like the one produced by Louis Theroux and his team offers us a unique opportunity to get a little closer to a world we may never enter. I may be incredibly naive, but I believe that if more people would regularly watch documentaries such as this one, the world would be a better place. If that’s true, then that would be another reason to watch this – apart from witnessing a genius at work.

Stephen King as Public Intellectual

by Henry on September 18, 2012

Attention Conservation Notice: A few hundred words in the key of Someone Not On the Internet[^deceased] Is Wrong
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Freeloaders are made of taxpayers!

by John Holbo on September 18, 2012

So I click over to the Corner to see how they are spinning Romney’s fresh troubles. I like John O’Sullivan’s moxie. Basically, Romney should say 1) he’s not backing off; 2) in saying 47% of Americans pay no income tax, thereby implying they are freeloaders, i.e. pay no taxes, he was just forgetting that up is up, not down. Could happen to anyone. “We pay so many taxes that we sometimes forget how many and how much, as I briefly did.” 3) – 8) are some suggestions about how to finesse 2). We need to lower taxes on these freeloaders! Freeloaders are made of taxpayers!

But I think the really important step is probably 9). I can’t imagine why O’Sullivan didn’t give this step its own number. So far as I can tell, it’s absolutely crucial to the whole scheme not coming down around Romney’s ears. “Romney should then leave without taking questions.”

It almost seems unnecessary, but Freeloadergate opens the way for attack ads suggesting Romney is gearing up to expand the War On Women into a three-front war against Women, Children and the Elderly. (It’s like the Romney campaign is turning into one big parody inversion of the protocols for abandoning ship.) Just do a montage of pictures of smiling children – at play, in school, with their families – and nice retirees – in their homes, pictures of their younger, working selves around them – with a brutal ‘FREELOADER’ stamped across each face. And the audio of Romney over it all.

The wages of talking such nonsense really ought to be getting blasted with ads that take the nonsense at face value. Let Romney clean up the mess.

Independence day

by Michael Bérubé on September 16, 2012

Last summer, Jamie, Janet and I were hanging out in this New York apartment we’ve managed to split with a few friends. We got a call from Jamie’s cousin Trevor, who lives on the Upper West Side, at 102nd Street and West End Avenue; Trevor proposed to visit us and hang out with Jamie for the day. And he told us that he’d take the subway by himself and walk from 59th and Lexington (we were on 62nd Street and 1st Avenue). When Jamie heard that, he turned to me in astonishment, saying “Trevor will take the subway by himself–and he has disability!”

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Move over, 100 most dangerous professors in America

by John Quiggin on September 16, 2012

I have been officially named the Dark Lord of Queensland politcs. At least according to Shadow Treasurer, Curtis Pitt, who observes, of Queensland Treasurer, Tim Nicholls:

there is one name the Treasurer won’t dare speak—the Treasurer’s own Lord Voldemort Professor John Quiggin. He does not want to draw attention to the analysis by the Federation Fellow, because it is a truly independent analysis—one which puts a sword to the Costello audit.

Seriously, I do seem to have this effect on Treasurers. Nicholls’ predecessor, Andrew Fraser was equally unwilling to speak my name or face me in debate. And Peter Costello, admittedly an ex-Treasurer, but one who held the position for twelve years, declined to respond to my critique.[1]

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I must make a Public Statement about Women Who Breastfeed While Teaching. Because I am a woman who used to teach, and I breastfed, and though I never breastfed my kid during class I did on occasion bring him while I was teaching. And I think I may have breastfed him during at least one faculty meeting.

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Holbo in Austin, Talking

by John Holbo on September 13, 2012

When I walked in the door, a nice lady, walking out, smiled brightly and said ‘Howdy!’ So it seems I’m in Texas – Austin, to be specific.

I’m giving a talk tomorrow, if anyone cares to come and listen. Talk title is: “Liberal, Conservative, Utopian: Political Philosophy and its Missed Contents”. Talk is based on longer manuscript stuff slated to be published eventually – one always hopes. I’ll see about posting that stuff, a bit later, in draft form. For the talk I just turned my unmanageably large ms. into a series of sub-New Yorker gag cartoons, because it wouldn’t fit otherwise. It’s a surefire strategy for talk success! (It’s not like you can refute a cartoon, after all.)

Economists are Hobbesians

by Henry on September 12, 2012

Brad DeLong has a “post”: defending his claim that the actually existing microfoundations of economics are based around Lockean theories of exchange. A detailed point-by-point response below the fold [also: “Cosma Shalizi”: ].

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Elections in the Netherlands

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 12, 2012

Today general elections (for parliament) are held in the Netherlands. These are politically exciting/nervous times, since the electorate has polarized quite significantly. Until a few weeks back, the polls showed two main contenders to win the elections – the SP (socialists — some believe that one could also describe them as oldfashioned social-democrats) and the VVD (nominally a liberal party, but it’s more accurate to describe it as a right-wing conservative party). Yet the SP has lost drastically in the polls in the last weeks, to the advantage of the PVDA, the social-democratic party. This is probably due to the strong performance of Diederik Samson, leader of the PVDA, and the rather weak impression made by Emile Roemer, leader of the SP. The center-liberal party D66 is doing fine, but the Christian-democrats (CDA) and the greens (Groen-Links) are expected to suffer major losses. PVV, the populist-rightwing party of Geert Wilders will keep its significant size. (For a bar chart of a recent poll, go here)

The elections are not just important for the Netherlands itself, but also for Europe and beyond — and not only because there are 12.500 people with voting rights in Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius. Until now the outgoing cabinet has been an ally of Germany in their response to the Euro-crisis; but with a changing coalition in power, this may change too. SP is strongly against Europe, as is the PVV (Wilders has shifted his focus from anti-islam to anti-Europe).

It’ll be interesting to see what will happen to Dutch political landscape once the election results are known. The local media are reporting that many voters are really at a loss in deciding for whom to vote (swing/floating voters). I know several people who have always voted either for the Greens or D66 who are now voting PVDA, since they care more about not having a coalition led by the VVD rather than the (ideological, practical and strategic) disagreements between their favorite party and the main non-conservative party (being PVDA). To be continued.

The white working class

by John Quiggin on September 10, 2012

For quite a while now (pre-dating Obama, but more frequently since he was elected), I’ve been reading about the Democrats’ troubles with “the white working class”. In some ways, this is unsurprising. In every country with which I’m familiar, a substantial proportion of the working class votes for the more conservative/rightwing party. And, even compared to the most wishy-washy of social democratic and labor parties elsewhere, the Dems aren’t exactly fervent champions of the worker. Still, the Repubs are even worse, so it seemed surprising to read that they regard the white working class as their base. Other things I read (sorry can’t find links now) made things even more puzzling. On the one hand, in the US as elsewhere, higher incomes are correlated with voting for the conservative/rightwing party, which seems to cut against the thesis. On the other hand, I’ve read that the average income of the US working class is the same as that of the population as a whole, which goes against the whole idea of “working class” as I understand it.

All became clear(or, at least, clearer) when I discovered that US political discussion uses two very different (though correlated) concepts of “working class”. The first is the more or less standard one – people who depend on wage labor (normally in manual or low-status service occupations) for their income. The second, specific to the US, and standard in most political polling, is “people without a 4-year college degree”, a class which includes such horny-handed sons and daughters of toil as Bill Gates and Paris Hilton. More prosaically, it includes lots of small business owners, and (since college graduation rates were rising until relative recently), over-represents the old.

Data on US voting patterns is surprisingly scarce, but Andrew Gelman has a big data set confirming the point that Republican voting rises with income. Andrew kindly sent me the data, which classifies voters by education (5 levels), income (5 categories) and race/ethnicity(4), for a total of 100 categories, and gives, for each group the proportion voting Republican. I’ve used this to look at an income-based definition of working class, encompassing everyone with an income less than $40 000. I’m not sure of the exact definition of this variable, but it seems pretty clear that people with income at this level are unlikely to be living on income from capital or a high-status job. To focus on the claim about the white working class, I’ve divided the 100 categories into four roughly equal-sized groups: working class whites (income less than 40K), middle/high income whites with and without college degrees, and all non-whites. Then I’ve looked at how many votes the Republicans got from each group in 2008.

As the pie chart below illustrates, the biggest group in the Republican voting base, and the group with which they do best is that of middle/high income whites without college degrees (the percentage after the group name gives the Republican share of the vote for that group). There’s nothing surprising in this, since all three variables are correlated with Republican voting. It’s the practice of calling this group “working class” that causes the confusion.

Disaggregating, the extreme case is that of high-school educated whites with incomes over $150K, 81.7 per cent of whom supported the Republicans in 2008. They’re a small group of course, but not negligible at about 1 per cent of the sample (155 out of 19170).

The two remaining groups of white voters are split pretty evenly between Reps and Dems, while, as is well known, non-white voters strongly favor the Dems.

The Republican voting base
(percentages after each group give proportion of that group voting R).

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Master Werenfrid’s Challenge

by Henry on September 7, 2012

I don’t have much to say about the politics of the “new ECB proposal”: that I haven’t said at “greater length”: already. Matt Yglesias is “right”: to see this as a power shift, but it’s one that’s been in the making for quite a while. The policy of ‘comply with our demands for austerity or we’ll pull the plug’ was executed through “confidential”: “letters”: rather than public announcements up to recently, but it was still the same policy. And I’m not sure that it’s a power _grab_ as such – I don’t think the ECB has planned this, so much as been pulled into a vacuum created by the corrosive cross-national politics of conditionality and implicit or explicit transfers.

Which brings us to the Bundesbank’s public opposition to the deal – it describes the purchases as “tantamount to financing governments by printing banknotes.” There’s a relevant quote in Harold James’ excellent forthcoming history of European Monetary Union, which I don’t want to talk too much about, since I’ll be reviewing it elsewhere. One of the very interesting discoveries he has made is a non-public speech that Helmut Schmidt, then the German Chancellor, made to the Bundesbank at a somewhat similar juncture in the 1970s. Germany was being pushed to support the then-European Monetary System (a complicated class of a dirty float that was supposed to lead, somehow, someday, to proper monetary union), but the Bundesbank wanted a stipulation that Germany could opt out of unlimited intervention, if this threatened domestic price stability. Schmidt secretly agreed (the precondition was discovered later), albeit with some hesitation. From the speech (which James quotes in extenso – there is plenty more juicy stuff that I’m leaving out):

bq. What interests me here is a part of the third point of your letter. I must say to you openly that I have quite severe misgivings about a written specification of this sort, a written specification of the possibility of an at least temporary release from the intervention. Let us first of all assume that it appeared tomorrow in a French or Italian newspaper. What accusations would the newspapers then make in editorials against their own Government who got them mixed up with such a dodgy promise with the Germans … In the matter itself I agree with you, gentlemen, but I deem it out of the question to write that down … there has been a beautiful saying in the world for two thousand years: ultra posse nemo obligatur. And where the ultra posse lies one decides for oneself. My suspicion is that, if it came to a real crisis, … the debtor countries clear out first and not the creditor countries. But it could perfectly well be the case that the creditor Federal Republic might one day have to clear out; it is all thinkable, only one cannot write such a thing down.

The Bundesbank’s ostentatious dissent from the ECB program is plausibly both a genuine statement of disagreement, and an implied statement that there are stark limits to what Germany will bear – that if the program does turn into unlimited support for weaker states, Germany will exercise its _ultra posse_ and pull out of its obligations. This threat doesn’t have to be explicit to be understood. This in turn highlights the complexity of the expectations that the EU has to manage at the moment. On the one hand, the EU wants to convince financial markets that this is all going to work – that the ECB will do whatever is needed to keep EU going, in the hope that this calms down expectations, so that it doesn’t actually have to use the big bazooka. On the other, the EU (and in particular Germany) wants to convince countries such as Spain that ECB support is conditional on politically ruinous austerity measures. The Bundesbank’s public disavowal of ECB policy arguably makes the latter argument a little more credible, by signalling that this is the best deal that Spain is likely to get. However, by hinting at the limits of German support, it also suggests that the ECB’s ‘unlimited support’ may in practice be more limited than it sounds, generating the risk of market uncertainty.

Gene Wolfe writes in the _Book of the New Sun_ of an executioner:

bq. a certain Master Werenfrid of our guild who in olden times, being in grave need, accepted remuneration from the enemies of the condemned and from his friends as well; and who by stationing one party on the right of the block and the other on the left, by his great skill made it appear to each that the result was entirely satisfactory.

The EU will have to do its damnedest to emulate Master Werenfrid if it wants to pull this off.

SASE Mini-Conferences

by Henry on September 7, 2012

SASE, the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (the academic association for economic sociology), is hosting its annual conference in Milan next year, and calling for proposals for mini-conferences as part of the main event.

bq. Up to eight mini-conference themes will be selected for inclusion in the Call for Papers by the program committee, which may also propose themes of its own. Preference will be given to proposals linked to the overarching conference theme, “States in Crisis,” but mini-conferences on other SASE-related themes will also be considered. Proposals for mini-conference themes must be submitted electronically to the members of the program committee by October 1, 2012. All mini-conference proposals should include the name(s) and email addresses of the organizer(s), together with a brief description. As in previous years, each mini-conference will consist of 2 to 6 panels, which will be featured as a separate stream in the program. Each panel will have a discussant, meaning that selected participants must submit a completed paper in advance, by June 1, 2013.

I have a vested interest here – I’m a member of SASE’s executive board – but it is a pretty good way of getting serious discussion going on a topic or linked set of topics that are too big to deal with in a single panel.

New Books in SF and Fantasy

by Henry on September 6, 2012

My Georgetown colleague and friend, Dan Nexon, has started doing interviews with sf/f authors for the New Science Fiction and Fantasy channel of the New Books Network. The first one up is Ken MacLeod, talking about _The Night Sessions_; Alastair Reynolds will be up soon, as will others. This is probably also a good moment for me to announce that we hope to do a Crooked Timber seminar on Ken’s work sometime around the middle of next year. We hope to have a good bunch of respondents – feel free to suggest others (especially women, given our consistent problems with gender ratio) in comments.