Economic mobility and government activism

Michael Gerson wrote today about “the rhetoric of mobility” — in other words, the way liberals and conservatives talk about the issue of economic mobility. He finds the rhetoric of both sides, as the well views behind it, wanting.

Gerson’s piece is thoughtful, as usual. But it should be of concern to conservatives who worry that “reform conservatism,” a movement with which Gerson is associated, may to some extent represent a misguided threat to traditional, limited government conservatism.

Two passages stand out. First, Gerson writes:

The parties have backed into America’s most urgent domestic priority: resisting the development of a class-based society in which birth equals destiny. This division runs like an ugly, concrete wall across the American ideal.

On one side are the wealthy and educated, living in communities characterized by greater family stability, economic opportunity and neighborhood cohesion. On the other side is the working class, living in communities featuring economic stagnation, family instability and neighborhood breakdown.

The best advice for success? Be born on the right side of the wall. That is not a very American-sounding answer.

(Emphasis added)

I submit that it’s not very American-sounding, and certainly not conservative-sounding, to assume that the “best advice for success” is to “be born on the right side of the wall.

Why isn’t the best advice for success to behave the way those on the right side of the wall tend to? In other words, take education seriously; don’t have children when you are still a child; don’t commit crimes; don’t abuse hard drugs; get married before having children; and once married, try hard to stay married.

What is the evidence that those on born on the wrong side of the wall but follow this advice are unlikely to succeed? What is the evidence that those born on the right side of the wall but ignore the advice are likely to?

Gerson doesn’t point to any. His fatalism is unpersuasive.

In the next paragraph, Gerson says this:

The entry-level commitment for Republicans in this debate is a recognition that equality of opportunity is not a natural state; it is a social and political achievement. Economic growth is important — but its benefits are shared only if people have the knowledge and human capital to succeed in a modern economy. This preparation requires active, effective, reform-oriented government at every level — and forbids an ideological appeal that is merely anti-government.

(Emphasis added)

Republicans (and conservatives) should indeed recognize the importance of people possessing the knowledge and human capital needed to succeed in a modern economy. Moreover, there are things the government can and should do to promote the supply of such knowledge and human capital. Foremost among them is improving education by encouraging, or at least not thwarting, school choice.

But it sounds like Gerson envisages a much more active role for government, including the feds. Keep in mind that much of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program was built on the idea of the federal government as supplier of knowledge and human capital. Head Start and the Job Corps are two examples, and not the worst. Government job training programs in general have been a staple of the liberal agenda for at least half a century.

Is an expansion of this agenda the kind of active, effective, reform-oriented government involvement what Gerson has in mind? I don’t know.

Regardless, I fear that if reform conservatism embraces the notion of government activism to promote the supply of human capital — and forbids appeals that are anti-government in the sense of expressing great skepticism about government’s ability to succeed in this endeavor — it will be unable to resist the pull towards a Great Society style agenda.

The Economy Disappoints Again. What Could Be the Problem?

As you probably have already seen, the Commerce Department announced today that GDP contracted by an annual rate of 0.7% in the first quarter of 2015, a downward revision from the previously estimated 0.2% growth. This continues a pattern that many observers find puzzling and disappointing. This graphic shows quarterly GDP growth from the first quarter of 2009 to the present; the last bar would need to be changed to -.7%. Click to enlarge:

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 11.07.02 AM

The pattern isn’t hard to spot. The recession ostensibly ended after the second quarter of 2009, but ever since, whenever the economy starts to grow, it falls back. The Wall Street Journal notes:

The economy has now contracted in three separate quarters since the recession ended in mid-2009, a series of disappointments unmatched since the expansions of the 1950s.

The administration always offers excuses for the economy’s inadequate performance on its watch–most recently, cold weather–but the common denominator is an anti-business, anti-growth administration that spends too much, wastes too much, incurs too much debt, and imposes too many costly regulations. Michael Ramirez has the right idea; click to enlarge:


Sanders the Socialist Crooner

Sanders Album copyI decided to take a pass on the story that Bernie Sanders misfired with some kind of rape fantasy essay way back in his college years (though since it was fair game to jump on Mitt Romney for giving some kid an atomic wedgie 50 years ago in prep school was fair game, then Sanders deserves the full proctology treatment), but his attempt at a folk song ambum is truly unforgivable. (What is it about leftist and folk songs, anyway?)

Scroll down and try the two sound links at this Seven Days site—one for “This Land Is Your Land,” and “We Shall Overcome,” though your ears may never overcome this.

ACLU: Minneapolis Police Are Racist, Should Do Less Policing

The Minneapolis Star Tribune cites a report by the American Civil Liberties Union on race and law enforcement in Minneapolis:

People of color are more likely to be arrested for low-level crimes in Minneapolis compared to their white counterparts, according to a detailed study released Thursday of thousands of arrests made by city police. …

Picking up the Pieces: Policing in America, a Minneapolis Case Study shows that blacks were 8.7 times more likely than white people to be arrested for minor offenses, which are violations that are punished by fines of $3,000 or less and/or a year or less in jail. Native Americans were 8.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested. Among young people ages 17 and under, black youth were 5.8 times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than white youth; for Native Americans, this figure was 7.7.

Low-level offenses include dozens of crimes such as driving an uninsured vehicle, possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle, panhandling, consuming alcohol in public, public urination, and many more. The ACLU report is here. This chart sets out the basic data:


Observers of the urban scene probably won’t be shocked by these numbers. But one thing may already have jumped out at you: while the ACLU report goes on and on about “people of color” being victimized by the police, not all people of color are, apparently, created equal. Note that the disparity between population and arrests is greater for Asians than for African-Americans and Indians, only in the opposite direction. Asians account for 6% of the population of Minneapolis, but only 1% of the low-level arrests.

Why might that be? Astonishingly, neither the ACLU report nor the Star Tribune story on it ever mentions the Asian “disparity,” even though the ACLU casually assumes that “[t]he numbers show a startling disparity in the way police enforce low-level offenses.” Would the ACLU have us believe that the Minneapolis police are conspiring to cover up low-level crimes by Asians? Presumably not: it is obvious that Asians are “under-represented” among such arrests because they rarely commit such crimes.

But if that is true, the whole racism hypothesis falls apart. How do we know that blacks and Indians are not “over-represented” in low-level arrests because they commit a disproportionate number of such crimes? In fact, it is a well-known and easily documented fact that these demographic groups are over-represented in the criminal population. The ACLU report never mentions this uncomfortable fact.

The report makes just one effort to show that the relatively large number of low-level arrests of African-Americans is due to racism:

One of the more interesting disparities the ACLU’s analysis of low-level arrests by the Minneapolis Police Department uncovered was the greater likelihood of Black drivers being arrested for what we call “active driving violations” during summer daylight hours than at night. The category includes offenses like careless driving, failure to use a turn signal, speeding, and unlawful acceleration.

The Black/white racial disparities for active driving violation arrests in June, July, and August were worse during daylight hours and lower at night through the early morning. At 2 p.m., when officers are more likely able to identify the race of drivers before pulling them over, a Black person was over 9 times more likely to be arrested for an active driving violation than a white person.

By contrast, at 3 a.m., when visibility is limited and officers are less likely to be able to identify the race of drivers before pulling them over, the Black/white racial disparity is far lower, with Black drivers twice as likely to be arrested. This suggests racial profiling by law enforcement.


Actually, this chart suggests the opposite of the ACLU’s interpretation. I don’t know why the “disparity” in active driving arrests is four times as great at 2 p.m. as at 8 a.m., but it isn’t because the police officer can see the race of the driver. Eight o’clock in the morning, in Minnesota in the summer, is broad daylight. A police officer can see the driver as well at 8:00 as at 2:00. So whatever the explanation might be, that isn’t it.

The report also includes data strongly suggesting that the racism hypothesis is wrong. A low-level arrest can end in one of two ways: the offender can be booked and processed through jail, or he can be cited and released. If one assumes that Minneapolis officers are wrongly arresting African-Americans out of racial animus, then we should also find that African-Americans are treated worse post-arrest. But the report admits that this is not the case:

[A]lthough Black people were arrested for low-level offenses at far higher rates than white people, of those who were arrested, there was not a significant difference in how frequently police officers booked Black arrestees and white arrestees. It’s one data point where the police treatment of white and Black people in Minneapolis was relatively the same.


The ACLU’s conclusion: “to be a person of color in the city is to be over-policed.” So how does the ACLU propose to remedy Minneapolis’s disparity in low-level arrests? In large part, through less policing.

The ACLU’s recommended reforms include:

* Ensuring that MPD officers are evaluated in a way that does not reward them based on the number of stops and low-level arrests they make; and that they face discipline for unnecessary uses of force;

* Making information public about what methods are used to determine when and if an officer will face punishment;

* Improving MPD’s current policy that explicitly bans racial profiling and other discriminatory behaviors;

* Prohibiting officers from asking people if they can search them if they have no legal reason;

* Keeping data, and making it publicly available on a regular basis, in a format that makes it more accessible and includes information from all interactions with the police including ones that do not result in an arrest, but were merely suspicious person stops, frisks, or searches;

* Ensuring that raw data is analyzed by an independent party on a regular basis to identify disparities that negatively affect communities of color or other marginalized communities;

* Establishing an empowered civilian review body that has authority to discipline officers when necessary…

You get the drift: ease off on offenders and crack down on the police, the approach that has worked so well in Baltimore. This is foolishness, but foolishness that perhaps follows inevitably if you assume that every disparity (or rather, every convenient disparity) is per se evidence of race discrimination.

Clinton’s Benghazi emails confirm her lack of post-intervention plan for Libya

As John has explained, Hillary Clinton doesn’t just have a Benghazi problem; she has a Libya problem. More than anyone else, Hillary Clinton pushed for, and helped effectuate, the overthrow of Moammar Qaddafi. As a result of his overthrow, Libya became a playground for terrorists, a haven for ISIS, and a failed state.

Clinton’s recently released Benghazi emails confirm her leading role in creating the Libya fiasco. They confirm that, in the words of her deputy chief of staff, Hillary was “instrumental in securing the authorization [to intervene in Libya], building the coalition [that intervened], and tightening the noose around Qadhafi and his regime.”

The emails also confirm that Hillary had no real plan preventing the chaos that ensued in Libya following the overthrow of Qaddafi. She had ample warning that chaos stemming from the rise of Islamist militias and terrorists was a distinct possibility. Sidney Blumenthal’s reports from the ground, which she read and distributed, discuss this potential problem.

What, then, was the State Department’s plan for coping with it? The recently released emails, especially ones written by Clinton aide and confidant Huma Abedin, show that the plan was to encourage the emerging Libyan government to be “inclusive” in order (as Abedin puts it) to “nurture its legitimacy.”

To make sure that the government didn’t let Abedin and Clinton down, it would sign a pledge.

Apparently, then, Hillary Clinton’s plan was this: tell the new government to be nice and secure its pledge to do so. A college dean would be embarrassed to have come up with something this naive and jargon-ridden for dealing with, say, fraternity misconduct.

Is there more to Clinton’s approach than comes through in the emails? Conceivably. But her book, Hard Choices, suggests not. Her chapter on Libya ends with this:

I was worried that the challenges ahead would prove overwhelming for even the most well-meaning transitional leaders. If the new government could consolidate its authority, provide security, use oil revenues to rebuild, disarm the militias, and keep extremists out, then Libya would have a fighting chance at building a stable democracy.

If not, then the country would face very difficult challenges translating the hopes of a revolution into a free, secure, and prosperous future. And, as we soon learned, not only Libyans would suffer if they failed.

Worrying isn’t a strategy and neither is “if.” Will Clinton be permitted to walk away so casually from the “suffering” — not only by Libyans, but by four Americans including an ambassador — her policy produced?

She will, I fear, if the mainstream media has its way. It grills Republican presidential candidates about the decision to go to invade Iraq in 2003, even though none of the major ones had anything to do with it (but Hillary did). It seems far less interested in Clinton’s central role in the Libyan intervention.

It will be up to the Republican presidential candidate to drive home the connection between the Clinton inspired intervention, the absence of a serious plan in its aftermath, the Benghazi attacks, and the rise of ISIS in Libya

Coming Soon: A Live YouTube Event for VIP Members

On Wednesday June 3, at 5 Pacific, 7 Central, 8 Eastern, all Power Line VIP members are invited to participate in a live YouTube event featuring the PL crew. We will email a private link to all VIP members, and you can follow the link to watch the live discussion on YouTube, as well as submit questions or comments to which we will respond–all live!

At least that’s what we think will happen; Joe assures us that all systems are go. So, if you are a VIP member, please save the date and participate in our first live VIP event. Assuming it works as planned, there will be more. If you are not yet a VIP member, you can join, for the shockingly low price of $4 per month, by going to the VIP box in the upper right hand corner of the site.

JOE adds: This event is going to be pretty crazily fun. (If it works.) Here’s a sneak peak of how it will look:


You know you’ve always wanted to see Steve pilot a drone in live 720p resolution. You can watch the special PL broadcast from anywhere in the world, on desktop, on a mobile phone, or even on your Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV.

Become a VIP today for an invitation to join in the live broadcast.

JOHN adds: That’s a really terrible picture of Scott!


Behind Science Fraud, Chapter 6

Chocoloate copyDid any readers take note of the recent stories appearing in the news media that eating chocolate is actually good for weight loss, such as the June issue of Shape magazine which ran an article entitled “Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily”?

Yesterday on the science website, German molecular biologist Johannes Bohannon explained how he pulled it off with a statistically weak study that several science journals accepted with minimal or perfunctory review:

“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. . .

The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.”

I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

Bohannon goes on to explain how he pulled it off, how several journals accepted the study for publication with little or no review at all, and why he expected journalists to spot a weak or phony story a mile away, but of course didn’t. Clearly he underestimated the credulity of reporters. He did reach the realization that “The key is to exploit journalists’ incredible laziness.”

His explanation of how basic statistical methodology is frequently abused is useful:

Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a “statistically significant” result. . . Whenever you hear that phrase, it means that some result has a small p value. The letter p seems to have totemic power, but it’s just a way to gauge the signal-to-noise ratio in the data. The conventional cutoff for being “significant” is 0.05, which means that there is just a 5 percent chance that your result is a random fluctuation. The more lottery tickets, the better your chances of getting a false positive. So how many tickets do you need to buy?

P(winning) = 1 – (1 – p)n

With our 18 measurements, we had a 60% chance of getting some “significant” result with p < 0.05. (The measurements weren’t independent, so it could be even higher.) The game was stacked in our favor.

It’s called p-hacking—fiddling with your experimental design and data to push p under 0.05—and it’s a big problem. Most scientists are honest and do it unconsciously. They get negative results, convince themselves they goofed, and repeat the experiment until it “works”. Or they drop “outlier” data points.

Gee—if only there was some kind of quality control mechanism for science publishing and journalism, like qualified peer reviewers and knowledgeable editors.  Oh, wait. . .

This seems like a good time to re-post my three-minute interview with science journalist Ron Bailey from three years ago about science fraud:

Oh what the heck:

Science Says copy