Monday, October 16, 2017

Today's Useful Data: Economic Insecurity and Populism

Four European scholars have released an important study of populist politics in Western democracies. Their conclusion: yep, economic insecurity is central  to, as they put it, both the demand for, and supply of, populism in western countries in recent years. Here are the key bits from a summary of their work that was published on VoxEU:
We argue that economic reasons are the most important causes of the current wave of populism.
In western countries in the last decade a global crisis that has affected both markets and sovereign states simultaneously, leaving many people without a safety net. This had not been the case in the past: the crises of the 1970s were mainly market crises, while in the 1990s there were government crises while markets were thriving. Over the past ten years, neither markets nor governments have had the inability to guarantee economic security. This has shaken the confidence in traditional political parties and institutions. As a result, there has been an increase in fear, aggravated by other threats such as mass migration.
The rare combination of markets’ and governments’ inability to guarantee economic security has shaken the confidence in traditional political parties and institutions, leading to an increase in fear that has been aggravated by other threats such as mass migration. In a recent paper, we show how this global dual crisis affects the demand and supply of populism systematically, and argue that a key for understanding both demand and supply of populism is the effect of economic insecurity on voter turnout.
But what about cultural factors? Don't these populist voters just hate immigrants and people of color and that's all there is to it? Here's what the authors have to say about cultural factors:
Voting, and voting for a populist party, are affected also by two cultural variables:
·   Trust in political parties: People with greater confidence in political parties are more likely to participate in elections, and to vote for a non-populist party. We measured trust on a scale between 0 and 10. A drop of 5 points on this scale would increases the probability of voting for a populist party by 7.7% of the sample mean. Trust in political parties affects participation: a decline in trust of 5 percentage points lowers the chance of participation in elections by 8.8 percentage points, almost 11% of the unconditional mean electoral turnout.

·   Adverse attitudes towards immigrants: Those with more adverse attitudes towards immigrants are less likely to participate in elections, and more likely to vote for a populist party if they participated. These variables are themselves driven by economic insecurity. Using (pseudo) panel data, we can show that people who experienced an increase in economic insecurity lose faith in political parties and develop more adverse attitudes towards immigrants (Figure 1). Hence economic insecurity drives turnout and voting decisions, both directly and indirectly, because it leads people to change their beliefs and attitudes. 
So, there is a cultural channel causing people to vote, and vote for populism but not a cultural cause. The cause is still economic insecurity. Trust and attitudes towards immigrants are proximate causes of the populist vote, not deep drivers. 
Important work. I commend it to you.  

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: Peter Watts

Peter Watts is a Canadian science fiction writer, trained in marine biology, who writes some of the wildest--and best--science fiction currently out there. His most recent novel, Echopraxia, is quite a ride: 
It's the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it's all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.
Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat's-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he's turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out.
Now he's trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn't yet found the man she's sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call "The Angels of the Asteroids."
Their pilgrimage brings Dan Bruks, the fossil man, face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.
If this book doesn't blow your mind, you're just not paying attention! All his other books are excellent and almost equally mind-blowing. In addition, you can get free pdfs of a lot of his back catalog, completely approved by the author. And he has a very funky blog, with a very funky name, No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons, which I recommend. Time you made this gentleman's acquaintance!

Today's Useful Data: Democrats Have the Big Mo!

Yep, things are looking up for the Democrats in terms of taking back the House in 2018. Not a done deal of course but the direction of change is good. David Wasserman of Cook Political Report explains their latest ratings of House races (including IA-01, pictured above):
President Trump and GOP control of Congress have sparked a 2018 Democratic candidate bonanza. Don't call it "recruitment:" for the most part, these aspirants decided to take the plunge on their own. Many are political newcomers; others have waited years for the right moment to run. And in light of national polling, it was only a matter of time before more GOP-held House seats joined the ranks of the vulnerable…..
Based on recent developments in races and conversations with candidates and operatives on both sides of the aisle, many races have the potential to become more competitive. This week, we're changing our ratings in 12 districts:

Friday, October 13, 2017

Obscure Music Friday: Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine was a psychedelic folk group from the late sixties who released some truly spectacular work. Their first two albums, One Nation Underground and Balaclava are particularly good but the fourth album, The Use of  Ashes, is very fine as well (it includes the cut "Rocket Man" which is absolutely gorgeous and was the inspiration for Elton John's hit song). 

The group was led by Tom Rapp, who was the driving force behind the ethereal music and beautiful lyrics. He has been hailed by some as an unappreciated genius and that may not be far off the mark. Certainly the music he made was very special indeed. Special, but not lucrative. He gave up music, went to law school and became a civil rights attorney (this profile gives the full story). But he was discovered and re-discovered by various bands and he did eventually release another album in 1999, A Journal of the Plague Year, which is actually quite good. 

Here are the lyrics to the song this post links to, Drop Out!, which was on the first album. Lovely song and if these lyrics don't bring out the inner hippie in you, nothing will!

Drop out with me, just live your life behind your eyes
Your own skies, your own tomorrows
Don't you worry now, don't you worry
Whole world's in too big a hurry

Just be yourself, no one can step inside your mind
From behind, if you just walk and
Don't you worry, girl, don't you worry
Whole world's in too big a hurry

They made the rules and they laid it on us all
Don't you fall 'cause then they'll own you
Don't you worry, girl, don't you worry
Whole world's in too big a hurry

They're using you to kill all the echoes still around
From the sound of calendars crumbling
Don't you worry, girl, don't you worry
Whole world's in too big a hurry

They made the bomb, would they drop it on us all?
Great and small, but must we follow?
Don't you worry, girl, don't you worry
Whole world's in too big a hurry

Drop out with me, just live your life behind your eye
Your own skies, your own tomorrows
Don't you worry girl, don't you worry
Whole world's in too big a hurry

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Today's Useful Data: We ❤ Immigrants

Despite all the publicity anti-immigrant rhetoric and politicians get, it's pretty amazing how positive the trend lines are on what actually-existing Americans think about immigrants. In a recent Pew study, mostly devoted to showing how partisan views of various issues have diverged in recent years, it's worth noting that now almost two in three Americans think immigrants "strengthen the US with their hard work and talents" (highest ever! more than double the number back in 1994!) compared to little more than one in four who think immigrants "burden the country by taking jobs, housing and health care". And sure there is indeed a big divide between the parties on this issue but in recent years that's because both Republican and Democratic partisans have become liberal in their views, but Democrats are getting more liberal faster. This does not sound like a country about to cave in to a wave of anti-immigrant hysteria.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Today's Useful Data: Rustbelt Voters Bail Out on Trump

As Trump's approval ratings continue to fall everywhere, his tenuous hold on the key Rustbelt states that handed him the Presidency is slipping away. Here's the key paragraph from a new Morning Consult analysis of data from 472,000 (!) interviews conducted since Trump's inauguration:
A majority of voters in 25 states and the District of Columbia said they disapproved of the president’s job performance in September, including those residing in Upper Midwest states with large Electoral College hauls that were critical to Trump’s victory over 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — and some of which are home to some of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats of the 2018 election cycle. Fifty-five percent of respondents in Michigan said they disapproved of Trump, as did 53 percent in Wisconsin and Iowa and 51 percent in Pennsylvania.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Today's Useful Data: Rural Voters Conclude Maybe Trump's Not So Great After All

Eh tu, rural voters? Seems like they're getting ornery out in the sticks with how Trump's handling pretty much everything and his approval ratings are sinking like a stone. Perhaps the rural redoubt for Trump isn't quite as secure as he thought and most pundits assume. Check out the trendlines above from the Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll and read this article on the poll's findings.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: Ace Double Novels

What were the Ace science fiction double novels? Andrew Liptak explains:
From the start, Ace began an innovative approach to their novels by printing them TĂȘte-bĂȘche style. Each volume contained two short novels, with a book on each side, flipped 180 degrees from the other. A reader would pick up one book, read through it, and flip the book to read the other…..
In October 1953, Ace introduced its first science-fiction novel, pairing up two novels from A.E. van Vogt: The World of Null-A and The Universe Maker. Every other month, a new book would appear on the book rack. Van Vogt’s book was followed in December 1953 by Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Conqueror and Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon. In between, the company published a single novel. Due to their popularity, Ace bumped the production schedule up to a science-fiction double a month in 1958. 
At the price of $0.35 a book (the price would eventually increase to $0.95 per volume in the 21 years that the doubles would be published), [Donald] Wollheim [editor of Ace Books] was able to introduce an incredible range of talent. In the time in which the double novels were published, Ace would publish authors such as Brian Aldiss, Poul Anderson, Isaac AsimovPhilip K. Dick, Gordon R. Dickson, James E. Gunn, Andre Norton, Margaret St. Clair, Robert Silverberg, Jack Vance and hundreds of other authors. Often, a well-known author would be paired up with a newcomer, such as Philip K. Dick, with his first novel The Solar Lottery, who was paired up with Leigh Brackett and her novel The Big Jump
So these books were all over the place, beckoning to the young science fiction addict. In drug store paperback racks, everywhere. And at book sales, where I discovered a stash of them at my local elementary school book sale. What a happy day that was! One of the ones I grabbed is the double novel pictured above. I must have had at least 8 or 10 other ones. Anyway, these double novels were a very important part of the American science fiction landscape in the fifties and sixties and can still provide much retro delight if one chooses carefully. Plus they're just a lot of fun to look at (quite collectible too, I understand).

Some reviews of Ace double novels can be found here and here. Wikipedia also has a complete chronological list of all titles in the series. So fire up that Wayback machine and enjoy.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Obscure Music Friday: Jackie Wilson

Jackie Wilson--"Mr. Excitement"--was a truly amazing singer. What pipes! Yet far too few people know about this incredible, pioneering talent. I'm not saying throw away your Otis Redding and Sam Cooke CDs, but give this dude a listen on the classic song, "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher)". 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

California Is the Future

Will the future look more like Trumpian populism and dysfunction or more like what we're seeing in California today? My co-author, Peter Leyden, and I contend in our new piece on Medium that California does indeed foreshadow the future of the country as a whole. We argue:
America is stuck between two historical eras. That’s the best way to understand the strange, unprecedented politics of Trump, the political polarization and paralysis of government, the deep dissatisfaction of public opinion, the lack of trust in all institutions — all of it.
The post-Industrial era that blossomed in the second half of the 20th century is over. That world of secure manufacturing jobs, generally homogenous societies and respected traditional institutions is done. And while it’s over from a dispassionate historical perspective, it’s markedly not done in the minds of many. This is half the problem: Too many people are hanging onto a worldview and way of life that is fast slipping away. The other half of the problem is that almost no one knows what will replace it.
To that we say:
California is the future. That’s the best way to understand the way forward for America, and ultimately the world. California is roughly 15 years ahead of the rest of America in confronting the very different realities of the 21st century.A world of transformative new technologies with capabilities that we are only just beginning to fully comprehend and harness. A polyglot world of diverse mixes of races and ethnicities that are both super-creative and periodically combustible. A world that increasingly is shaped by climate change and the immense challenges it poses for all of us.
California not only has faced up to the 21st-century challenges, but it’s begun to seriously adapt to them. Californians saw waves of new technologies early, then got a jump on leveraging and accommodating them, and occasionally constraining them. They began integrating a massive influx of Latino and Asian immigrants, coping with diversity in schools and work, and coming to terms with whites being the minority. Californians took a beating in climate-related catastrophes like the recent drought, and have aggressively moved forward with some of the most ambitious clean energy and sustainability measures in the world.
California is the future of American politics as well. The once Red and now deep Blue state has largely figured out a new political way forward for itself and by extension for America — as well as for other democracies — that’s up to the new realities and immense challenges of the 21st century. This is the most important insight for this historical juncture, this time of despair. It’s also the most difficult point for Americans on the east coast and the heartland to accept. But there is a compelling case to be made, based on data and an understanding of history, that what’s happening right now in California is going to come to the rest of America much sooner than almost anyone thinks.
I urge you to read the entire article. We will follow up this introductory piece with five articles detailing key parts of our argument. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Don't Knock the Upper Middle Class! Grow It Instead.

It's become a bit fashionable to knock the upper middle class lately. Supposedly, they're "hoarding opportunities", thereby keeping less affluent people down. Bloomberg's excellent economics columnist, Noah Smith, has some stern words for those who point the finger of blame at the upper middle class. 
The real problem isn’t that people are hoarding their spots in the upper-middle class; it’s that there aren’t enough spots to begin with. Instead of focusing on who gets into Harvard, the U.S. should make it cheaper and easier for poor and working-class kids to go to the big public universities that are the real drivers of upward mobility. Instead of moving heaven and earth to ensure that the competition for plum jobs is fairer, the U.S. should focus on increasing the number of plum jobs.
The American Dream may be out of reach for many, but not because it’s being hoarded. The dream doesn’t come in a fixed lump to be parceled out among winners and losers. The goal should be to rebuild the middle class by moving more people into the ranks of the well-off, not to knock down the few who have managed to get there early.
I completely agree with this. Indeed, I'd go farther and argue that the growth of the upper middle class should be celebrated as an indicator of the high living standards that advanced market economies are capable of delivering.

What do we mean by an upper middle class standard of living? To begin with, since families and households vary considerably by size, the same income can mean very different living standards when that income supports a single person or an entire family of four or five. Thus, to clarify this question, it is useful to look at a standard household size and adjust households’ income to fit that standard size. Using a three person household as the standard, economist Stephen Rose has shown that the median adult in the US today enjoys a standard of living equivalent to $65,000 for a family of three.

Using the same standard, Rose defines the upper middle class as those adults whose household incomes are the equivalent of $100,000 a year for a family of three, but less than $350,000. By this measure, over a quarter (29 percent) of US adults are in the upper middle class today. Interestingly, this analysis indicates that the biggest change since 1979 in class positions defined by these standardized income levels has been a dramatic rise in the size of the upper middle size, more than doubling from 13 to 29 percent of adults. The rich ($350,000+) have, as popular perception suggests, also increased, but they are still a very small group, only 1.8 percent of adults.

Also consistent with popular perception, the middle middle class ($50,000-$100,000 in adjusted income) has declined over this time period (down 7 points to 32 percent of adults). But it is also the case that the lower middle class ($30,000-$50,000 in income has declined (down 7 points to 17 percent), as has the poor/near poor (less than $30,000, down 4 points to 20 percent). Thus, the rise of the upper middle class deserves a place of greater significance in the left’s calculations going forward since this group appears to be absorbing the much-publicized declines in middling income groups.

Applying some standard per capita income growth rates to these data, the median adult by midcentury would have an adjusted income of $98, 000 at 1.2 percent growth, $108,000 at 1.5 percent growth and $124,000 at 1.9 percent growth. That means that around half or more of the country by that time would enjoy the living standards of today’s upper middle class (or even better).

Thus, a reasonable aspiration for the left should be to make upper middle class affluence (by today’s standards) a majority lifestyle in coming decades and to raise the rest of population in advanced countries as close to that level as possible. In short, we should be calling for a mass upper middle class not trying to get rid of it.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Today's Useful Data: Who Are the New Immigrants?

Donald Trump's views on immigration are clearly shaped by a vision of Mexican and Central American immigrants surging across the US-Mexico border. Perhaps it is not a surprise that he appears to be out of touch with where today's immigrants are actually coming from.

Demographer William Frey has the facts if he's interested (though I'm sure he's not):
[N]ewly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey (ACS) show that…[i]mmigrant growth, thus far this decade, is occurring at a slower pace than the previous two, and is dominated by immigrants from Asia and those with college degrees. Moreover, new Asian and college-educated immigrants are especially prevalent in states that voted for Trump in the 2016 election…..
Clearly, the Trump stereotype of low-skilled, rapidly growing immigrant waves from Mexico does not characterize recent foreign-born gains to the U.S. The new census ACS numbers showing large Asian and college graduate immigrant growth is evident in the majority of states, especially low immigrant states. Many of those states, which backed the president in 2016, contain communities that are aging, losing domestic migrants, and are already benefitting from the infusion of new immigrants.
Ironic, no? 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Today's Useful Data: Using Virginia's House of :Delegates Races to Foretell the Democrats' Future

What can the 2017 elections tell us about 2018? To be sure one must be cautious here, but David Wasserman of Cook Political Report proposes an interesting metric to keep track of: who Democrats do in the elections to the Virginia House of Delegates, all of whom are up for election in 2017. Here you have 100 races in a purple state where turnout should be reasonably high due to the governor's race. This avoids the the confounding factor of very low turnout that we've seen in a number of legislative special elections where the Democrats have done well. Wasserman notes:
Democrats aren't likely to pick up the chamber: they currently hold just 34 seats and would need to gain 17 to win control. Hillary Clinton did carry 17 seats held by Republicans last fall, but many of those are located in transient outer suburbs where Democratic-leaning minorities and young voters tend not to vote in off years. Moreover, Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam isn't blowing out Gillespie, so down-ballot Democrats may not be riding long coattails.
Still, if Democrats managed to pick off 10 or more GOP-held seats, it would send a signal that voters are in the mood to punish President Trump and Republicans - a mirror image of the GOP legislative gains in 2009 that foreshadowed Republicans taking back the House in 2010.
More specifically, Wasserman proposes the following metric for the VA House of Delegates results:

  • < 5 seat Democratic gain--GOP rest easy
  • 5-10 seat Democratic gain--Democrats are at least in contention for taking back the House
  • 10-15 seat Democratic gain--Democrats look on track to regain the House majority
  • 15+ seat Democratic gain--wave election time!
Wasserman provides a handy scorecard of the possible pickups to help you keep track on election night. To be honest, I don't really have a clear sense of how predictive these results will actually be in the end, but I certainly think it's worth paying attention to. And probably more so than all the heavy breathing we'll see about the AL Senate and VA governor results.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Today's Useful Data: Gerrymandering 101

Since Gerrymandering Tuesday is coming up (when the Supreme Court will hear the Wisconsin case), it's time to get clear on what gerrymandering is and how it can conceivably be fixed. I recommend two articles, "Slaying the Partisan Gerrymander" by Sam Wang and Brian Remlinger and "The New Front in the Gerrymandering Wars: Democracy vs. Math" by Emily Bazelon which together make a good, basic primer on gerrymandering and anti-gerrymandering methodologies. Don't know what the "partisan symmetry test" is? You should know about this and also the "efficiency gap" and other relevant measures. These articles will get you up to speed.

Sam Wang's group, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, also has a very nice site where you can look at particular states and run tests yourself to see the level of gerrymandering under different metrics.

How bad is the problem? Opinions vary, but here's an assessment from the Wang and Remlinger article:
Some analysts claim that Democrats have been at a disadvantage not because of redistricting but because their voters are more clustered geographically. But that geographic pattern does not fully explain Democrats’ recent electoral disadvantage. On the basis of clustering alone, Democrats need to win the national popular vote for the House of Representatives by two percentage points to have an even chance of winning a majority of the seats. But since 2012, gerrymandering has increased the necessary national margin for Democrats to about eight percentage points. In individual gerrymandered states such as North Carolina or Pennsylvania, Democrats need to win by 15 percentage points or more to have a shot at taking a majority.
This is, to say the least, quite unfair and fundamentally anti-democratic. Let's hope the Supremes (we're looking at you, Justice Kennedy) decide to start pushing things back toward a more level playing field. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: Dan Simmons' Hyperion Quartet

Dan Simmons' Hyperion Quartet has become an acknowledged classic of contemporary science fiction. A stunning galaxy-spanning space opera with literary debts to Chaucer and Boccacchio, the story is set in motion in the first volume, Hyperion:
In the 27th century, humanity has spread across the galaxy, first aboard "Hawking drive" ships and then through "farcasters", which permit nearly instantaneous travel regardless of distance. However, many planets are of little economic interest and disconnected from the farcasters. These planets can only be reached by spaceship, resulting in time dilation effects which cause "time debt" accruals.
The farcaster network (the "WorldWeb") is the infrastructural and economical basis of the Hegemony of Man and thus determines the whole culture and society. Also flowing across these portals are the structures of the datasphere (a network reminiscent of the Internet in design, but far more advanced). Inseparable from mankind's technologies is the powerful, knowledgeable, and utterly inscrutable TechnoCore, the vast agglomeration of millions of AIs who run almost every piece of high technology of mankind. The unthinking hubris of man resulted in the death of the home-world (Earth)—which was consumed by an artificial black hole running out of control—and this arrogant philosophy was carried forth to the stars, for centuries.
The Hegemony itself is a largely decadent society, relying on its military to incorporate into the WorldWeb the colony planets, even unwillingly, and to defend the Hegemony from attacks by the Ousters, "interstellar barbarians" who dwell free of and beyond the bounds of the Hegemony and shun all the works of the TechnoCore (especially farcasters). Ostensibly a direct democracy governed through the "All Thing" forum, the Hegemony is also managed by a chief executive officer advised by the TechnoCore advisory council and the Hegemony Senate.
All the 'Core's advice and predictions are confounded by mysterious structures on the remote colony world Hyperion (named after the moon of Saturn) that are commonly regarded as the Time Tombs. The tombs are encased in an anti-entropic field that is theorised to be carrying them backwards in time (suggesting that the tombs were built in the distant future for some unknown purpose) and are said to be guarded by a legendary time travelling creature known as the Shrike. The Shrike is the subject of a cult, the Church of the Final Atonement, commonly known as the Shrike Church. Occasionally the church sends a prime number of pilgrims to the Time Tombs; there is a legend that all but one are slaughtered and the remaining pilgrim is granted a wish.
The Ousters have been long obsessed with Hyperion, and on the eve of their invasion and a probable war, a final pilgrimage has been organised. Seven pilgrims have been carefully selected by unseen elements of the TechnoCore to make the journey to the Time Tombs and the Shrike, with the objective of aiding the Hegemony in the imminent war. Aboard a treeship the pilgrims finally meet after being revived out of their cryogenic storage state; and, collectively overwhelmed by the mystery and magnitude of their situation, they decide that they will each tell their tale to enliven the long trip to the Tombs, to get to know each other, and to make sense of their situation. Simmons uses this device to unfold the panorama of this universe, its history and conflicts, and each story gives a greater context to the others. The story opens in medias res with the Consul recalled to the WorldWeb and the seven pilgrims (the infant Rachel does not count) drawing lots to see who will tell their tale first in the hopes of revealing a reason they were chosen and how to survive.
The story continues, with many a fabulous adventure and exotic locale, in the uniformly excellent follow-ups, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion. And the whole saga is beautifully written! Try this one, you won't regret it.  

Today's Useful Data: As a Matter of Fact, Economics Does Have a Lot To Do with the Rise of Populism

It has become fashionable in certain quarters to deny any connection between the effects of the economic crisis on voters' communities and the rise of populist political parties. Political scientists Chase Foster and Jeff Frieden are out with a paper, summarized in The Monkey Cage blog, that puts paid to this ridiculous notion.  Foster and Frieden explain in their blog piece:
Could the rise in populism and loss of faith in institutions be the result of increasingly nationalist and extremist views?
In short, the answer is no. Neither changing views of national identity and nationalism, nor a rise in political extremism among the population, can explain the acute decline in civic confidence. In fact….there has been no significant change in ideological or nationalistic sentiment over the last decade according to some measures, despite the collapse in citizen confidence in national and regional political institutions.
During the past decade, Europeans have voted for populist parties in record numbers. But that’s not because of an underlying increase in extremist or nationalist sentiment, which….has remained stable for roughly 15 years, and has even gone down by some measures. What’s changed has been citizens’ willingness to vote for more extreme and more nationalistic parties.
[T]he proportion of Europeans identifying exclusively in national terms has gone down in many countries since 2010, while the share of the population with ideologically extreme views has been roughly stable.
So who’s voting for populist parties? Citizens who say they have lost faith in their political institutions and leaders.
Our analysis shows that this loss of faith comes from the dismal economic conditions of the past 10 years. The more dismal the conditions, whether at the national or individual level, the greater the loss of faith.
I can't believe we actually have to argue about this. But the urge to write off vast swathes of the electorate as culturally hopeless is apparently irresistible to some.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Obscure Music Friday: Big Star

Big Star was a power pop band out of Memphis, TN that, in its first incarnation, put out two albums, #1 Record and Radio City, that are true classics and influenced a zillion bands that you're more likely to have heard of. Formed by Alex Chilton (of Box Tops/The Letter fame), Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel, that incarnation didn't last long, but boy were they great. Absolutely essential listening.

I also strongly recommend the documentary, "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me". Beautiful.

Today's Useful Data: Democratic Wave Building?

Special elections provide important clues on political momentum. One under-analyzed area of special elections is state legislative seats. There are many more of these than there are of the heavily-publicized Congressional specials. Brian Stryker and Zac McCrary of ALG Research provide a detailed analysis of the legislative specials and detect very considerable Democratic momentum. Bottom line: the patterns are so strong that if they continue they could be enough to shift dominance of state legislature from Republicans to Democrats in 2018. That would be huge. 

Caveats apply of course and Stryker/McCrary provide some at the end of their article. And Republican advantages from incumbency are considerable. Still, their results are rather striking and in an area where Democrats pay far too little attention.

Note this also about where Democrats should compete:
Additionally, many Beltway pundits continue to debate whether Democrats should target so-called blue-collar Obama-Trump type districts or more white-collar, suburban Romney-Clinton districts. The answer so far on the legislative level, is “Yes”; Democrats need not acquiesce to that false choice. Just like FiveThirtyEight, we find that Obama’s 2012 performance and Clinton’s 2016 performance in a district are equally predictive of 2017 results….
Because both 2012 and 2016 have been equally important predictors, a lean Obama district that swung heavily to Trump is just as ripe an opportunity as a strongly Romney district that shifted to Clinton. Republican legislators who hold either of those types of districts — as well as a much broader swath of GOP districts — should be very worried by what has occurred at the legislative level over the past several months. Likewise, Democrats do not necessarily need to choose between targeting state houses in places like Iowa where Trump did well in 2016 or states like Arizona or Virginia, where Trump is generally weaker than other recent Republicans.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Today's Useful Data: Read My Lips--No New Tax (Cuts for the Rich)

The new GOP tax plan is heavily tilted toward the wealthy. No surprise. But it's worth noting just how extraordinary unpopular this stuff is as policy. Vanessa Williamson of Brookings has an excellent piece out today that goes over the key data. She notes:
If you ask Americans what bothers them about taxes, the most common answer is “the feeling that some corporations don’t pay their fair share.” The next most common? “The feeling that some wealthy people don’t pay their fair share.” Not even ten percent of Americans say that the amount they pay is what bothers them most. And even Republicans are more likely to say they are bothered by corporate tax avoidance than by their own tax responsibilities. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Today's Useful Data: A Massive Decline in Teen Births

I hate to be the bearer of good news but the decline in teen births is absolutely staggering. New CDC data show teen births declining by 9 percent in just the last year and by 51 percent in the last decade. See, not everything is going to hell in a handbasket!

Today's Useful Analysis: The Decline of Dutch Social Democracy

Continuing the theme of the Crisis of European Social Democracy™, there are parties from that family that have done worse than the German Social Democrats' awful performance in last Sunday's election. One such party is the Dutch Labor Party, usually abbreviated as PvdA. In last March's election, they polled an amazingly low 6 percent of the vote and lost 29 of their 38 seats in the Dutch parliament. Their parliamentary representation is now just barely above that of the mighty Party for the Animals. 

So what explains the crash of the historically very powerful PdvA? I recommend this lengthy interview with Rene Cuperus of the PdvA's think tank, the Wiardi Beckman Foundation. I know Cuperus from various European conferences and have always found him a very astute observer and analyst of the left. In the interview, he discusses the historical evolution of the PdvA, the rise of populism, the fragmentation of the left and the urgent need for new approaches and coalitions across the left. Much food for thought for anyone who is interested in the fate of progressive parties in Europe.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Today's Useful Data and Analyses: The German Election

The Crisis of European Social Democracy™ continues as the German Social Democrats crash to a post-World War II low of a mere 20 percent of the vote. Pathetic. The Alternative for Germany, the far-right populist party, makes it into parliament for the first time on 13 percent of the vote (third most support of any party). Merkel will be chancellor again, though her party, at 33 percent, had its worst showing since 1949. What on earth is going on?

The place place to start of course is with the data.. And the best place for that is that a set of charts and maps in the Financial Times. A nice feature of German exit poll/election analyses is that they always calculate where gains and losses of each party came from among previous nonvoters, first-time voters and previous supporters of other parties. Also, great maps. 

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the FT article is where they show how the SPD hemorrhaged votes in economically depressed parts of western Germany and the Left party gained votes among youth and professionals while losing support in manufacturing areas. Interesting and similar to the evolution of left oppositions in other Western countries.

For context, I strongly recommend this interview in Jacobin with University of Basel sociologist Oliver Nachtwey. Actually published pre-election, it is very good on the "radical centrism" of Merkel and the challenges faced by the various constituent parts of the left. 

Finally, John Judis points correctly to the unpleasant implications of the probable "Jamaica" coalition Merkel may form that includes both the Greens and the Free Democrats. The difficulties this will present to French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas for EU/Eurozone reform are considerable, since the Free Democrats are total hard-liners on not giving an inch on reform to other European states that they view as profligate. 

In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Today's Useful Data: The Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood

What's going on with today's young adults? How does the situation of Millennials compare with that experienced by earlier generations? The Census is out with a very detailed report on all this which is chock full of amazing and useful (if perhaps not so uplifting) facts. Here's just one: 
In 2005, the majority of young adults lived independently in their own household, which was the predominant living arrangement in 35 states. A decade later, by 2015, the number of states where the majority of young people lived independently fell to just six. Of the top five states where the most young adults lived independently in 2015, all were in Midwest and Plains states.

Science Fiction Saturday: Vernor Vinge

Vernor Vinge is not terribly prolific but the science fiction he produces is among the best in the genre. The novel pictured above, A Fire Upon the Deep, is easily one of the best SF novels I've ever read. Here's the basic set-up of the novel:
An expedition from Straumli Realm, an ambitious young human civilization in the high Beyond, investigates a five-billion-year-old data archive in the low Transcend that offers the possibility of unimaginable riches. The expedition's facility, High Lab, is gradually compromised by a dormant superintelligence within the archive later known as the Blight. However, shortly before the Blight's final "flowering", two self-aware entities created similarly to the Blight plot to aid the humans before the Blight can escape.
Recognizing the danger of what they have awakened, the researchers at High Lab attempt to flee in two ships, one carrying all the adults and the second carrying all the children in "coldsleep boxes". Suspicious, the Blight discovers that the first ship contains a data storage device in its cargo manifest; assuming it contains information that could harm it, the Blight destroys the ship. The second ship escapes. The Blight assumes that it is no threat, but later realizes that it is actually carrying away a "countermeasure" against it.
The ship lands on a distant planet with a medieval-level civilization of dog-like creatures, dubbed "Tines", who live in packs as group minds. Upon landing, however, the two surviving adults are ambushed and killed by Tine fanatics known as Flenserists, in whose realm they have landed. The Flenserists capture a young boy named Jefri Olsndot and his wounded sister, Johanna. While Jefri is taken deeper into Flenserist territory, Johanna is rescued by Tine pilgrims who witnessed the ambush and deliver her to a neighboring kingdom ruled by a Tine named Woodcarver. The Flenserists tell Jefri that Johanna had been killed by Woodcarver and exploit him in order to develop advanced technology (such as cannon and radio communication), while Johanna and the knowledge stored in her "dataset" device help Woodcarver rapidly develop in turn.
And at that point, the plot's just getting started! The Tines--where each "person" comprises a group mind of 4–8 members, connected by ultrasonic waves, and each "soul" can survive and evolve by adding members to replace those who die--are one of the most fascinating and truly alien races I've encountered in an SF novel. Very, very highly recommended.

"Fire" is the first of three novels in Vinge's "Zones of Thought" series. The prequel, also an outstanding novel in its own right, is A Deepness in the Sky. The direct sequel, The Children of the Sky, is weaker but still interesting. 

Another outstanding Vinge novel is Rainbow's End. I don't think I've read a more convincing social and technological extrapolation to the near future of existing computer technologies (Vinge is a computer science professor, now retired). Finally, Vinge's early short fiction is generally credited with being the first to come up with the concept of "cyberspace". His excellent short fiction has now been collected into a very fine anthology

If you haven't read Vinge yet, you're in for a real treat. Go for it!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Today's Useful Data: The Supporters Trump Is Losing

Ron Brownstein provides an in-depth analysis across a number of polls and various support indicators to highlight which groups of Trump supporters are becoming less so. In brief, Trump is hemorrhaging support among Republican-leaning Americans who are under 50 and/or college-educated. That's a lot of people. 

Obscure Music Friday: Screaming Lord Sutch

Who was Screaming Lord Sutch you ask? Here are the basics from Wikipedia:
David Edward Sutch (10 November 1940 – 16 June 1999), also known as 3rd Earl of Harrow, or simply Screaming Lord Sutch, was an English musician. He was the founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party and served as its leader from 1983 to 1999, during which time he stood in numerous parliamentary elections. He holds the record for losing more than 40 elections in which he stood from 1963 to 1997. As a singer he variously worked with Keith MoonJeff BeckJimmy PageRitchie BlackmoreCharlie Watts and Nicky Hopkins.
During the 1960s, Screaming Lord Sutch was known for his horror-themed stage show, dressing as Jack the Ripper, pre-dating the shock rock antics of Alice Cooper. Accompanied by his band, the Savages, he started by coming out of a black coffin (once being trapped inside of it, an incident parodied in the film Slade in Flame). Other props included knives and daggers, skulls and "bodies". Sutch booked themed tours, such as 'Sutch and the Roman Empire', where Sutch and the band members would be dressed up as Roman soldiers.
But all that really doesn't do him justice. You gotta watch the video to get the full flavor. So turn up the sound real loud and enjoy. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Democratic Bounce-Back

It is not generally appreciated how good the special elections have been for the Democrat this year, probably because people have not concentrated on the swings in these elections relative to Democratic performance in 2016. It is these swings, rather than the absolute outcomes, which tells us the most about how the political climate is shifting. Daniel Donner over at the excellent Daily Kos elections--a treasure trove of useful electoral data--has analyzed these swings and reports the following:
There has been considerable consternation and many pixels spilled about the regions of the country where the Democratic margin in the 2016 presidential election fell sharply compared to 2012, including the entire states of Iowa and Ohio. Was this the beginning of a permanent realignment? Was it a new baseline? Or would Democrats be able to recover?
We now have some answers, illustrated in the chart at the top of this post. There have been 10 special elections in districts where the presidential margin shifted 10 points or more toward Donald Trump compared to the 2012 margin. And in all 10 of those, the margin has shifted back toward Democrats in the special election. What’s more, in eight of the them, it has shifted past the 2012 presidential margin, and Democrats have outright won six of them (those where the dark green dot is to the right of the vertical axis).
With just 10 elections in this category, we have to be a little careful, but we can say one thing with certainty: Democrats are not stuck at 2016’s presidential numbers.
The times they are a-changin'. And, as these data indicate, for the better.