Monday, July 31, 2017

The Once and Future Electorate II

Pew has more on the changing of the generational guard2016 was the first election in which Millennials and Gen X'ers collectively outvoted Boomers and older generations. Their report notes that:
Millennials (those ages 18 to 35 in 2016) reported casting 34 million votes last November, a steep rise from the 18.4 million votes they cast in 2008. But, despite the larger size of the Millennial generation, the Millennial vote has yet to eclipse the Gen X vote, as 35.7 million Gen Xers (ages 36 to 51 in 2016) reported voting last year.
It is likely, though not certain, that the size of the Millennial vote will surpass the Gen X vote in the 2020 presidential election. 
This is of potentially large political significance since the Millennial generation is so heavily Democratic in its political leanings. Pew data indicate that 55 percent of Millennials identify with or lean towards the Democratic party compared to just 33 percent who identify with or lean towards the Republicans--a stunning 22 point party ID advantage for the Democrats.

Chew on that one for a bit. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The New Optimists

The Guardian just ran an excellent essay on the "New Optimists", which the essay introduces as follows:
[O]ne group of increasingly prominent commentators has seemed uniquely immune to [today's] gloom. In December, in an article headlined “Never forget that we live in the best of times”, the Times columnist Philip Collins provided an end-of-year summary of reasons to be cheerful: during 2016, he noted, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty had fallen below 10% for the first time; global carbon emissions from fossil fuels had failed to rise for the third year running; the death penalty had been ruled illegal in more than half of all countries – and giant pandas had been removed from the endangered species list.
In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof declared that by many measures, “2016 was the best year in the history of humanity”, with falling global inequality, child mortality roughly half what it had been as recently as 1990, and 300,000 more people gaining access to electricity each day. Throughout 2016 and into 2017, alongside Collins at the Times, the author and former Northern Rock chairman Matt Ridley – the title of whose book The Rational Optimist makes his inclinations plain – kept up his weekly output of ebullient columns celebrating the promise of artificial intelligence, free trade and fracking. By the time the professional contrarian Brendan O’Neill delivered his own version of the argument, in the Spectator (“Nothing better sums up the aloofness of the chattering class … than their blathering about 2016 being the worst year ever”) the viewpoint was becoming sufficiently well-entrenched that O’Neill seemed in danger of forfeiting his contrarianism.
The loose but growing collection of pundits, academics and thinktank operatives who endorse this stubbornly cheerful, handbasket-free account of our situation have occasionally been labelled “the New Optimists”, a name intended to evoke the rebellious scepticism of the New Atheists led by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. And from their perspective, our prevailing mood of despair is irrational, and frankly a bit self-indulgent. They argue that it says more about us than it does about how things really are – illustrating a certain tendency toward collective self-flagellation, and an unwillingness to believe in the power of human ingenuity. 
I find two things particularly interesting about the essay. The first is that, even though the article purports to be a bit of a critique, it doesn't really dispute any of the various New Optimist claims about how much the world has improved in the past, including the recent past. The critique, such as it is, amounts to: well, what if things stop getting better? What about that, huh? Maybe the last 200 years were the aberration and the normal state of humanity is stagnation, if not regression. This amounts to the claim that there is something very distinctly different about today's world compared to, say, 20, 40, 60, 80  or more years ago that would prevent further progress. Doubtful. And certainly the essay does not make a compelling case along theses lines, other than to note that the future is inherently uncertain. Fair enough.

The second thing is that most of these New Optimists are, with some exceptions (Kristof is a mild left), libertarians. As the essay notes, "At its heart, the New Optimism is an ideological argument: broadly speaking, its proponents are advocates for the power of free markets, and they intend their sunny picture of humanity’s recent past and imminent future to vindicate their politics." True enough, which I think is kind of tragic.

Why can't the left acknowledge and celebrate the tremendous progress humanity has been making? Why can't the left assert with confidence that progress can continue and that the left will play a central role in making this progress happen just as it has in the past? Why doesn't someone write a book about this? (Wait a minute: I did.)

Optimism about the future is too important to be left to the libertarians! As the British science journalist Leigh Phillips put it:
Once upon a time, the left….promised more innovation, faster progress, greater abundance. One of the reasons I believe that the historically fringe ideology of libertarianism is today so surprisingly popular in Silicon Valley and with tech-savvy young people more broadly…is that libertarianism is the only extant ideology that so substantially promises a significantly materially better future.
Just so.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: David Marusek

Great news! David Marusek, the best science fiction writer you've never heard of it, has just published a new novel, Upon This Rock--First Contact. Here's a blurb about the book:
An epic new science fiction series about family, faith, and alien invasion in the wilds of Alaska
When a shooting star plunges through the atmosphere and touches down in the Alaska wilderness, only two earthlings are around to witness the event. But they see two utterly different things. What park ranger Jace Kuliak sees is a UFO and the arrival of a dangerous alien species from beyond the solar system. What Poppy Prophecy sees is the star called Wormwood, as recorded in Scripture, and the arrival of a an archangel of the Apocalypse.

The thing is — they’re both sorta right.
All anyone seems to know about Marusek is he lives in a cabin in Fairbanks, Alaska and he doesn't write very much. But what he writes is very good indeed. His fantastic short story, "We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy" and even better novella "The Wedding Album" brought him to the attention of the SF field. He has published two previous novels, Counting Heads and Mind Over Ship, which were stunningly imaginative, set in the same future as the story "We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy". Here's a blurb about Counting Heads:
Counting Heads is David Marusek's extraordinary launch as an SF novelist: The year is 2134, and the Information Age has given rise to the Boutique Economy in which mass production and mass consumption are rendered obsolete. Life extension therapies have increased the human lifespan by centuries. Loyal mentars (artificial intelligences) and robots do most of society's work. The Boutique Economy has made redundant ninety-nine percent of the world's fifteen billion human inhabitants. The world would be a much better place if they all simply went away.
So check him out if you have any interest in serious, well-written, challenging science fiction. All his work is available in very reasonably priced Kindle editions, including the new novel.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The ACA Is the Beginning, Not the End

Back on April 17, I wrote in my Vox article, "7 Reasons Why Today's Left Should Be Optimistic":
Over time, the left has accomplished many things, from building out the social safety net to cleaning up the environment to protecting public health to securing equal rights for women, black people, and gay people. These and many other gains of the left have a very important thing in common: They are “sticky.” That’s a term borrowed from economics that means, simply, they will be hard to reverse. They provide benefits that people do not want to lose — and, what’s more, they shift norms of what is right and wrong.
Social Security and Medicare are great examples of policies that once seemed radical and now are simply a part of life. The Affordable Care Act’s core innovations may turn out that way, as well, despite the controversy that has dogged the program from its inception — and the declared intent of the current administration to eliminate it.
The ACA has provided benefits to millions who don’t want them taken away, and helped to establish the principle that every American has a right to health care, guaranteed by the government. That’s why the Republican attempt to radically downsize the program hit a buzzsaw. To be sure, Republicans will keep trying, and they’ll do some damage. But they will not be able to “repeal and replace” with a fundamentally less generous program.
Instead, it’s more likely that the ACA, either under that name or another, will get more generous over time. As conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer recently noted: “A broad national consensus is developing that health care is indeed a right. This is historically new. And it carries immense implications for the future. It suggests that we may be heading inexorably to a government-run, single-payer system.”
Krauthammer was despairing, but the left should be heartened by the observation. Indeed, at this point, Trump and the GOP have been reduced to hoping that if they neglect the ACA, it will collapse on its own — yet that doesn’t seem to be happening (knock wood). The very desperation of this “strategy” is a sign that Krauthammer may well be prescient about where American health care policy is headed. 
So it has turned out. Repealing the ACA turned out to be way, way, way harder than Trump and the GOP anticipated and ultimately it failed. Now is a good time to emphasize a basic characteristic of American public opinion that Trump and the GOP failed to understand and the left would do well to remember.

The dominant ideology in America combines what political scientists Christopher Ellis and James Stimson refer to as “symbolic conservatism” (honoring tradition, distrusting novelty, embracing the conservative label) with “operational liberalism” (wanting government to do more and spend more in a wide variety of areas). In their definitive book, Ideology in America, they characterize symbolic conservatism as:

            …fundamentally different from culturally conservative politics as defined by the religious right. It is respect for basic values: hard work, striving, caution, prudence, family, tradition, God, citizenship and the American flag….[I]t is the mainstream culture….It is woven into the fabric of how ordinary Americans live their lives.

And on operational liberalism they note:

            Social Security is…no exception. Most Americans like most government programs. Most of the time, on average, we want government to do more and spend more. It is no accident we have created the programs of the welfare state. They were created—and are sustained—by massive public support.

Thus, there was no insuperable ideological obstacle to the ACA and, indeed, there is no insuperable ideological obstacle to a substantially expanded role for government in health and other areas in the future. Indeed, such an expansion would be fully in accord with Americans’ durable commitment to operational liberalism.

Of course these expanded government programs will not happen all at once. Far from it. Like the programs of the past, they will be phased in gradually over time, in fits and starts, frequently in inefficient and suboptimal forms (like the ACA!). That’s the messy business of politics in a democracy. But happen they will and once enacted they will be hard to get rid of; instead, just as in the past, the programs will be modified, improved and even expanded. The reason is simple: people like programs that make their lives better and are far more likely to respond to program defects by demanding they be fixed than by demanding programs be eliminated.

Just like with the ACA.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Today's Data Tip: Our World in Data

I'm a big believer in having a long-run outlook on the world, informed by how the world's changed in the last decades and centuries. People are often curious where they can get such information without, say, reading a zillion books and articles. Well, look no farther! The place to go is Max Roser's fabulous site, Our World in Data

It's an absolutely stunning achievement in data synthesis, drawing from many, many sources to explain and display--primarily in clear, visually appealing charts and maps--how the material situation of humanity has changed over time. Areas covered include food, health, growth and inequality, population, energy, environment, war and peace, education and much more. And in each of these areas, there are typically a number of sub-topics, each with their own chain of charts, maps and tables. It's really just incredible.

I can't believe everyone doesn't know about this resource! But now you do. I defy you to spend a few hours rummaging through Our World in Data without concluding that, despite rampant pessimism, humanity today is far, far better off than it's ever been.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Once and Future Electorate

It's the changing of the generational guard. Ron Brownstein is out with a typically excellent analysis of this generational shift. Here's the basic story:
In 2018, the American electorate will cross a historic threshold that could reshape the political balance of power-or leave Democrats fuming in frustration at continued Republican dominance of Washington.
For the first time, millennials next year will pass baby boomers as the largest generation of Americans eligible to vote, according to the well-respected demographic forecasts from the States of Change project at the Center for American Progress [Note: I am co-director of this project, which also includes personnel from the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Brookings Institution.]…That transition will end a remarkable four decades of dominance for the baby boomers, who have been the largest generation of eligible voters since 1978, when they surpassed what's been popularly referred to as the Greatest Generation (or G.I. Generation) raised during the Depression…..
The long-term electoral shift from the baby boom and older generations toward millennials is unmistakable. The first millennials -- generally defined as the generation born from 1981 to 2000 -- entered the electorate in 2000. At that point, according to Census figures analyzed by States of Change, they represented just four percent of eligible voters; baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) constituted nearly 10 times as many eligible voters, at 39%. By 2016, the two generations had virtually converged, with Census figures showing that baby boomers represented just over 31 percent of eligible voters, and millennials just less than 31%. (In the process, millennials surged past Generation X, Americans born between 1965 and 1980, who comprised about one-fourth of eligible voters last year.)
The States of Change project, which studies the political and policy implications of demographic change, forecasts that will be the last time baby boomers outnumber millennials among eligible voters. In 2018, it anticipates, millennials (at just above 32% of eligible voters) will squeeze pass baby boomers (at slightly below 30%). The project expects that gap to widen to a nearly six-point advantage for millennials in 2020. Compounding the change, the first post-millennials -- young people born after 2000 -- will enter the electorate in the next few years.
In 2024 -- when it would not be unreasonable to expect the first millennial on a presidential ticket -- the States of Change project forecasts millennials and post-millennials will comprise nearly 45% of all eligible voters while baby boomers will shrink to just over one-fourth. (The forecast anticipates that Generation X will remain largely steady at about one-fourth of eligible voters over that period.)….
 Brownstein notes the political implications: 
Trump carried only a little more than one-third of voters under 30, no better than Romney's meager performance.
If anything, Trump appears to have lost ground among millennials since. Echoing other results, a mid-July ABC News/Washington Post poll put his job approval rating among them at just 27%, much lower than any older generation. Surveys by other media organizations have found that over two-thirds of millennials oppose the House-passed legislation to repeal the Affordable Care ActTrump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate treaty, and his proposal to build a border wall with MexicoAn early June Quinnipiac University survey found that, by nearly two-to-one, millennials prefer Democrats over Republicans to control the House.
Of course, nothing is automatic about political changes that may follow from this generational shift. But it is nevertheless of considerable significance and will shape our politics for many years to come. This will especially be the case as Millennials attain higher ages and therefore start to have higher turnout (currently low Millennial turnout is overwhelmingly due to the generation's relative youth, not some mysterious apathy or lack of engagement). The States of Change project forecasts that Millennials  will surpass Boomers as a share of actual voters by 2024.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

So, Do We Have a Plan?

Well, sort of....With the release of the Democrats' "A Better Deal" plan they do have an opening bid on an economic message for 2018. This is a step forward from running against the Many Bad Things about Donald Trump. 

But is it sufficient? I'm not so sure. As summarized in a useful Vox article, the plan basically has three components:

  • Break up consolidated corporate power through tougher merger standards and a new federal "trust-buster" agency.
  • Crack down on prescription drug pricing by using Medicare Part D to negotiate drug prices.
  • Job creation through infrastructure spending and tax credits.

This all seems laudable if not terribly exciting. And the tag line, A Better Deal, is not terrible but not great either. Who can remember all these "Deals"?

No doubt a lot of populist rhetoric will be deployed along with the various specific proposals. That's fine. But at its core it does sound a bit too much like the same old same old.

Better I think would have been some attention-grabbing signature proposal. For example, in the Center for American Progress’ Toward a Marshall Plan for America (full disclosure: I work at CAP and was a co-author of the paper), a domestic Marshall Plan for jobs and community investment is proposed that includes a jobs guarantee through "a large-scale, permanent program of public employment and infrastructure investment". The proposed infrastructure investment includes not just roads and bridges but also central community institutions like schools and child care centers. The overall intent is to revitalize communities where noncollege workers are falling farther behind the rest of America.

More generally, I don't see why Democrats don't put down a bigger bet on economic growth. The best answer to Trump's assertions that he will create 3 percent (or more!) economic growth is not to say that economic growth faster than 2 percent (the "new normal") is impossible but rather to argue that his terrible policies and handouts to the rich will do nothing to actually increase economic growth. But faster economic growth is possible--whether it is 3 or 2.5 percent--with the right policies including (fill in your investment, infrastructure and full employment agenda here).

The whole new normal thing is a classic example of "presentism" that the left should reject. As Neil Irwin noted in the New York Times' Upshot, the idea that productivity growth can't get any better than it is now is highly suspect. Rather than low productivity causing slow growth, it could be that slow growth is causing low productivity. Run a high pressure economy, with tight labor markets and rising wages--as Democrats should be advocating--and we may very well be surprised at the resulting productivity performance. 

This point is developed in detail in chapter three of my book.

Monday, July 24, 2017

What's Trump's Approval Rating in Your State?

Every once in a while Gallup puts out these state by state roundups of key indicators like partisanship, ideology and, today, Presidential approval. Gallup is able to do this because it conducts many interviews every month that include these indicators and is able to pool them over time to get reasonable sample sizes for every state. In this case, Gallup combined 81,000 interviews over the last five months.

Gallup pegs Trump's national approval rating at about 40 percent, a tick above 538's current estimate of 39 percent. But the really interesting thing here is the state by state variation of course. Unsurprisingly, his highest ratings are in Appalachian, southern, plains and mountain west states, topped by his 60 percent rating in West Virginia. The other side of the coin is very low ratings in New England, the mid-Atlantic, the west coast and some scattered midwest and southwest states.

Notably, his ratings in the rustbelt troika of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin (42-43 percent) are very close to his poor overall national rating of 40 percent.

Does this matter? Yes, it does. Countless political science studies show that the President's approval rating is highly relevant to outcomes in midterm elections. Along these lines, Harry Enten of 538 notes that Dems are now running a 10 point lead in their congressional ballot tracker, a very good margin for the Democrats. Further, recent Survey Monkey polls show Democrats beating Republicans by 75 points among those who disapprove of Trump's job performance, exactly the kind of margin they need to have success in 2018.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday

You're probably wondering: how can I easily keep up with what's going on in the science fiction field? Who are the hot new writers? Is it possible to find all of this in one place? 

Yes, you can! Look no farther than the annual collection of the year's best science fiction edited by the great Gardner Dozois. This year's edition is the 34th and it's jampacked with fantastic stories by a wide range of excellent authors. And it's all SF--no (ugh) fantasy.

Authors include some of my longtime favorites like Paul McAuley, Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Paulo Bacigalupi and Eleanor Arnason, as well as up-and-comers like Lavie Tidhar, Nina Allen, Aliette de Bodard and Rich Larson. 

The collection runs to 704 pages in the print edition--that's a lot of SF! And the Kindle edition is only $10.99, which is a great value.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Madmen in Authority

Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

                                                                                         ---JM Keynes

This is perhaps my favorite quote from Keynes. What I like about it is that it highlights the extremely powerful role of wrong ideas in screwing things up. It's not just that political actors have constrained choices or make mistakes--it's that they believe in wrong ideas, particularly wrong economic ideas, and systematically follow those ideas with predictably terrible results. 

One big theme of my book is that getting Western capitalism on a better growth path is not that mysterious. We more or less know how to do it. But so many politicians are "slaves of some defunct economist" (in this case Milton Friedman and allied economists of the 1970's market fundamentalist revolution) that it  makes it very difficult to avoid serial policy errors that fail to solve economic problems or even make them worse. 

Anatole Kaletsky has an excellent article on Project Syndicate that reminds of the awesome power of bad ideas. He begins:
Given the abundance of useful ideas, why have so few of the policies that might have ameliorated economic conditions and alleviated public resentment been implemented since the crisis?
The first obstacle has been the ideology of market fundamentalism. Since the early 1980s, politics has been dominated by the dogma that markets are always right and government economic intervention is almost always wrong. This doctrine took hold with the monetarist counter-revolution against Keynesian economics that resulted from the inflationary crises of the 1970s. It inspired the Thatcher-Reagan political revolution, which in turn helped to propel a 25-year economic boom from 1982 onward.
But market fundamentalism also inspired dangerous intellectual fallacies: that financial markets are always rational and efficient; that central banks must simply target inflation and not concern themselves with financial stability and unemployment; that the only legitimate role of fiscal policy is to balance budgets, not stabilize economic growth. Even as these fallacies blew up market-fundamentalist economics after 2007, market-fundamentalist politics survived, preventing an adequate policy response to the crisis.
He notes the inevitable political consequences of applying market fundamentalist logic to the post-2007 economic environment:
The dominant ideology of government non-intervention naturally intensifies resistance to change among the losers from globalization and technology, and creates overwhelming problems in sequencing economic reforms. To succeed, monetary, fiscal, and structural policies must be implemented together, in a logical and mutually reinforcing order. But if market fundamentalism blocks expansionary macroeconomic policies and prevents redistributive taxation or public spending, populist resistance to trade, labor-market deregulation, and pension reform is bound to intensify.....
 Suppose, on the other hand, that the “progressive” economics of full employment and redistribution could be combined with the “conservative” economics of free trade and labor-market liberalization. Both macroeconomic and structural policies would then be easier to justify politically – and much more likely to succeed.
Could this be about to happen in Europe? France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, based his election campaign on a synthesis of “right-wing” labor reforms and a “left-wing” easing of fiscal and monetary conditions – and his ideas are gaining support in Germany and among European Union policymakers. If “Macroneconomics” – the attempt to combine conservative structural policies with progressive macroeconomics – succeeds in replacing the market fundamentalism that failed in 2007, the lost decade of economic stagnation could soon be over – at least for Europe.
I am sympathetic to this approach and agree that much of what Macron says fits into this model. This is one reason why the intellectually lazy characterization of Macron as "neoliberal" is so useless. It tells us nothing about his actual program and simply serves as a sort of leftist shorthand for dismissing it.

But I am not so sure that Macron himself is strong enough to break away from elements of the political establishment who may indeed be the "slaves of defunct economists." Nor do I think he can really count on the Germans to play ball--and if they don't support expansionary macroeconomic policies, all his plans could easily go up in smoke.

Still, there are promising signs that the influence of market fundamentalism is waning. As Keynes' remark implies, there are few things more important than the decline of bad economic ideas. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition for moving forward.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Is Trump Vulnerable?

Some have argued that the emotional bond between Trump and his supporters is so strong that it’s nearly impossible to break.

I don’t believe this is true for a couple of reasons. First, Trump is attached to the GOP and the GOP is remarkably out of touch with the voters who supported Trump. This is a non-trivial problem, as Ron Brownstein explains in The Atlantic.

The Senate Republican health-care bill has been repeatedly crushed in a slow-motion collision between the party’s historic ideology and the interests of its modern electoral coalition. Yet congressional Republicans appear determined to plow right through the wreckage.

Even as the Senate’s latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act collapsed on Tuesday, the House Republican leadership released a 10-year federal-budget blueprint that points them toward a similar confrontation, between their dominant small-government dogma and the economic needs of their increasingly blue-collar and older white base.

The Urban Institute found that 80 percent of those who would lose coverage under the Senate repeal-and-replace bill were non-college educated, 70 percent worked full-time and 60 percent were white. Rural areas would be particularly hard hit by the Medicaid cuts and so on. Candidate Trump of course said he would do none of this stuff but that went out the window once he started dealing with Congressional Republicans and their libertarian proclivities.

This matters. Brownstein notes that Trump’s approval ratings among white noncollege women is now 19 points lower than his vote support among this group back in November. Will all of these voters abandon him? No, but if a serious chunk does it will hurt both him and the GOP.

But isn’t it true that Trump’s overall support has been rock-steady? On net, aren’t his voters sticking with him? This is a myth. It is certainly true that he retains most of this support. But that’s different from all. Brendan Nyhan points out in a New York Times Upshot column that the seeming stability in Trump’s approval rating among GOP partisans may be an illusion. This is because Republican identifiers who disapprove of Trump may cease identifying as Republicans, thereby propping up his numbers among that group. But he’s still losing support.

A new Ipsos poll finds that one in eight Trump supporters from last November now say they aren’t sure they’d do it again after the last six months. We don’t know of course whether these voters would actually follow through on their sentiments. But it is not a good sign, either for Trump or the GOP.

People are reluctant, understandably so, to believe in Trump’s vulnerability. People will not soon forget the night of November 8, 2016 when nothing turned out like it was supposed to. But if his supporters have a fear of falling downward economically, what happens if they conclude he can’t stop the fall, much less lift them up? He will be punished like all politicians. It is just a matter of when and how much.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Where Did Blue Virginia Come From?

Back in 2008, Bill Frey and I looked into what was happening in Virginia demographically and geographically. It was not too hard to see blue Virginia coming. 

Almost 10 years later, these changes have only intensified. An excellent piece from Crystal Ball's Geoffrey Skelley lays out some compelling data. Virginia can usefully be divided into four segments: the Northern Virginia metro area, the Hampton Roads metro area, the Richmond metro area and the rest of Virgina (about 30 percent of the population). Skelley shows that the partisan lean (that is, how Democratic or Republican these areas were relative to the nation as a whole) of these areas has changed dramatically over time. 

As the first chart above shows, while all three of Virginia's metros have become steadily more Democratic-leaning, especially the Northern Virginia area, the rest of Virginia has headed in exactly the opposite direction. But then, as the second chart shows, the share of the population in the rest of Virginia has been steadily declining since 1968 while the population share of the Northern Virginia area has steadily grown.

Put all this together and today's Virginia is what you get. 

At the end of the article, Skelley provides a useful summary of some of the underlying reasons why Virginia's metros are moving in the direction they are:
This article has presented voting data showing the significant shifts in Virginia’s voting behavior and its relative partisan lean over the 1968-2016 period. But it hasn’t exactly explained why this has happened. The answer to that question is partly reflective of the same forces that have changed politics throughout the country. For instance, as Northern Virginia grew rapidly, it attracted large numbers of highly-educated workers to serve in industries related to government, particularly federal contracting. College-educated voters have trended toward the Democratic Party overall, including white college grads. Based on the Census Bureau’s 2015 estimates, Virginia ranks sixth among the 50 states in its percentage of the population 25 years or older that has at least a bachelor’s degree.
Virginia has also become more diverse in many ways. It’s become more racially and ethnically varied since the 1970 census. Race and education are now the two strongest indicators of voting preference, so the fact that Virginia’s population has moved from being 19% nonwhite in 1970 to about 37% nonwhite today is surely a part of the story as well. The fastest-growing localities in the state, such as Loudoun and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia, have become dramatically more diverse since 1970. Loudoun was 13% nonwhite in 1970; today, it is 10 times bigger in overall population and is about 41% nonwhite. Prince William has seen even more dramatic changes: It was about 6% nonwhite in 1970; today, its population is roughly five times bigger (if you subtract Manassas and Manassas Park from its 1970 totals; they’re now independent cities) and the county is 54% nonwhite. The physical origins of Virginia’s population are now more diverse as well. In 1970, 63% of the state’s population had been born in the state; in 2010, that figure had fallen to just below 50%.
We should expect these trends to continue.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In Praise of the Long Run

On the left, the long run gets a bad rap. As in: we've got no time to think about the long run; it's just a distraction from the fights we need to win right here, right now. Besides, things are terrible right now--Trump and so on. It would be deceptive to focus on the long run. And in the long run, we're all dead. Etc.

But I think the virtues of a long run perspective are seriously underrated. Here are a few of the ways.

1. The fact of the matter is that very little changes in the short-term, especially the things the left tends to care about. Even for big things like progressive legislation, it takes years for their full effects to be felt. The near future tends to look a lot like the present, which frustrates many on the left.

Considered over the long run, things tend to look different and a lot better. Take Obamacare. There are lots of problems with Obamacare and left supporters of single-payer have noted all of them. But looked at in the long run, the program is an absolutely amazing step forward, getting the left much closer toward the goal of universal coverage it's been pushing for 100 years. Even if the right succeeds in some temporary pushback, it will be temporary (and the smart ones already know this). Over the long run, progress will continue and the left is highly likely to achieve its goal.

Similarly, it's easy to get upset with current levels of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment and so on. That's understandable. Looked over the long term, however, what is striking is how far public sentiment has shifted in the last 50 years--and all in a positive, more tolerant direction. That's an enormous gain for the values of the left.

2. What we do have in the short-term is winners and losers. Lots and lots of winners and losers. There are the winners of the day, the week, the month.And most of all there the big winners and losers: the winners and losers of the last election and the upcoming winners and losers of the next election. The latter expands to fill all available mental space the closer that next election becomes.

You can lose your head and your perspective keeping track of all these winners and losers and most do. The question of what is really changing in our society disappears from sight.

3. A long run perspective helps you keep your eye on the prize and have clear priorities. The left can't do everything at once nor should it try. The historical record suggests many things are moving in the right direction but the main thing that is not is the level and quality of economic growth. Over the long run, correcting the latter trend is almost certainly the key to maximum success for the left and its goals. Therefore, rather than rending its garments about short-term wins and losses, the left would be well-advised to concentrate on fixing what is most likely to matter over the long run.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Changing America: The Political Demographics of the 21st Century

Reid Wilson has an excellent ongoing series running in The Hill on 21st century political demography. He's now up to nine articles and counting. All of them may be found here; topics covered include the education divide, the Democrats' urban box, the coming millennial boom; and the takeover of the GOP by rural voters. A lot of careful research and great data. Highly recommended.

Oh and his latest piece is about the county that only gave Clinton five votes (and she was lucky to get five!). More generally it's about the rise of political self-sorting and the rise of landslide counties. Interesting patterns that are worth thinking about.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Are We Doomed by Global Warming? Not Really

David Wallace-Wells is out with a lengthy piece in New York magazine on global warming that has gotten around quite a bit. His message: no matter how scared you are of the future, it's not enough. Cheerfully titled The Uninhabitable Earth, with references in the subtitle to famine, economic collapse and a sun that cooks us, it is state of the art climate disaster-porn.

Here are the titles of the first eight sections of his article:

  • 'Doomsday'
  • Heat Death
  • The End of Food
  • Climate Plagues
  • Unbreathable Air
  • Perpetual War
  • Permanent Economic Collapse
  • Poisonous Oceans

Wallace-Wells believes the big enemy is complacency and actually blames the scientists for a lot of this.
[N]o matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough. Over the past decades, our culture has gone apocalyptic with zombie movies and Mad Max dystopias, perhaps the collective result of displaced climate anxiety, and yet when it comes to contemplating real-world warming dangers, we suffer from an incredible failure of imagination. The reasons for that are many: the timid language of scientific probabilities, which the climatologist James Hansen once called “scientific reticence” in a paper chastising scientists for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat really was....
So that's the idea. It's time to bypass those pesky scientists and tell people just how bad it could get!

The article has gotten a considerable amount of push-back. Climate scientist Michael Mann remarks:

I have to say that I am not a fan of this sort of doomist framing. It is important to be up front about the risks of unmitigated climate change, and I frequently criticize those who understate the risks. But there is also a danger in overstating the science in a way that presents the problem as unsolvable, and feeds a sense of doom, inevitability and hopelessness.
The article argues that climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The article fails to produce it. 
The article paints an overly bleak picture by overstating some of the science. It exaggerates for example, the near-term threat of climate "feedbacks" involving the release of frozen methane (the science on this is much more nuanced and doesn't support the notion of a game-changing, planet-melting methane bomb. It is unclear that much of this frozen methane can be readily mobilized by projected warming:…/2012/01/much-ado-about-methane/).

Journalist Andrew Freedman is similarly worried about Wallace-Wells' commitment to extreme gloom-and-doomism:

The [climate] science can be scary, but it shouldn't be paralyzing, and it certainly doesn't justify worrying about whether humans will even be able to survive on this planet by the end of this century.....
The magazine cover story, entitled, "The Uninhabitable Earth," takes the bleakest climate science projections and assumes the worst from there. It's one of the darkest portrayals of our climate future that's been written recently, at least from a nonfiction perspective.
In several places, the story either exaggerates the evidence or gets the science flat-out wrong. This is unfortunate, because it detracts from a well-written, attention-grabbing piece. It's still worth reading, but with a sharp critical eye. 
In recent years, scientific evidence has solidified around central findings, showing that sea level rise is likely to be far more severe during the rest of this century than initially anticipated, and that key temperature thresholds may be crossed that make life difficult for some kinds of plants and animals to survive in certain places.  
Such threshold crossings may even make it tough for humans to live and work in parts of the Middle East, Asia, and tropics.  
All of this is scary. However, climate scientists nearly universally say that there is still time to avert the worst consequences of global warming, and that this message needs to be driven home again and again in order to encourage leaders to act. Doom and gloom only leads to fear and paralysis, studies have shown.  
And he provides a quote from Texas A&M climate scientist Andrew Dessler that about sums up the Wallace-Wells approach:
"I think the picture painted by the author is probably a worst, worst, worst case scenario that combines the strongest response of the climate system to carbon dioxide, combined with zero effort by the world to reduce emissions,"
So there you have it: if we do absolutely nothing and assume the worst possible response of the planet to climate change in pretty much every could be very bad indeed. None of these things seem probable--in fact, quite improbable--but, hey, they could happen. 

Fair enough I suppose. But is this sort of thing really useful? I've got my doubts as you might expect from the author of The Optimistic Leftist. Terrifying people, by itself, accomplishes little unless people believe there is actually some reasonable possibility of succeeding--which Wallace-Wells is at pains to discount. Indeed, he rains contempt on technocrats and climate scientists who actually believe climate change problems can be solved.In his view, the very fact you think you can solve the problem is a problem.

In the end, I suspect Wallace-Wells will only succeed in "mobilizing" those who already believe we're in pretty deep do-do. People with a more middling position, who have some questions about the issue and think we're making at least some progress already will remain unmoved.

That's a shame because the road forward is actually pretty clear. Kevin Drum, in a piece that is actually fairly sympathetic to Wallace-Wells, confesses that he just can't see that this kind of doom-mongering is actually going to generate support for drastic environmental regulation. Instead, the obvious thing to do is make clean energy cheaper faster and support that with infrastructure buildout.--which of course would require some serious public investment (and as Drum notes would have many ancillary economic benefits). Oh but wait a minute, for that to happen, the public would have to believe the problem can actually be solved. Maybe the climate scientists and technocrats aren't so crazy after all. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Yanis Varoufakis Was Right, the EU and the Troika Were Wrong

Remember Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister who attempted to negotiate with the EU and get his country out of disastrous austerity and debt peonage? He was a wacky guy, right? He didn't wear a tie! He wasn't appropriately respectful to the Eurocrats! He actually tried to talk about economics at meetings and whether the EU prescriptions actually made any economic sense!

While all this was going on, there was endless tut-tuting in the press about how irresponsible Varoufakis was being. If only he played by the rules, Greece would get a much better deal.

Hah! If you believe that, I've got a most excellent bridge to sell you. As Martin Wolf puts it in his review of Varoufakis' new book, Adults in the Room: My Struggle with Europe's Deep Establishment
This is a superbly written account of the struggle to alleviate the austerity imposed upon the Greek people by the eurozone. Greece, argues Varoufakis, has been put in a debtors’ prison and robbed of autonomy and dignity for the indefinite future. Critics would argue that he failed as finance minister in 2015 because he was insufficiently politic. More plausibly, he could never have succeeded, such were the vested interests arrayed against him. This outcome was — and is — a tragedy, because he was — and is — right. The bulk of Greek debt should indeed be cancelled outright. Read and weep.
So he was right, they were wrong and no, if he had been "nicer" it wouldn't have made any difference.

I am now reading the book and it is excellent. Highly recommended if you're interested at all in the European mess. Only available in Europe though, so you'll have to order it from there.

Varoufakis also has an op-ed in the New York Times last Thursday laying out his case for an international New Deal to rectify the current crisis. This is also worth reading. An excerpt:
For too long, the political establishment in the West saw no threat on the horizon to its political monopoly. Just as with asset markets, in which price stability begets instability by encouraging excessive risk-taking, so, too, in Western politics the insiders took absurd risks, convinced that outsiders were never a real threat.
One example of the establishment’s recklessness was releasing the financial sector from the restrictions that the New Deal and the postwar Bretton Woods agreement had imposed upon financiers to prevent them from repeating the damage seen with the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. Another was building a system of world trade and credit that depended on the booming United States trade deficit to stabilize global aggregate demand. It is a measure of the sheer hubris of the Western establishment that it portrayed these steps as “riskless.”
When the ensuing financialization of Western economies led to the great financial crisis of 2007-8, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic showed no compunction about practicing welfare socialism for bankers. Meanwhile, more vulnerable citizens were abandoned to the mercy of unfettered markets, which saw them as too expensive to hire at a decent wage and too indebted to court otherwise.
When the insiders’ rescue schemes — including quantitative easing, the buying up of toxic assets, the eurozone’s bailouts and temporary nationalizations of banks — succeeded in refloating banks and asset prices, they also left whole regions in the United States, and whole countries on Europe’s periphery, stagnant. It was not rising inequality that provoked undying anger among these discarded people. It was the loss of dignity, of the dream of social mobility, as well as the experience of living in communities that were leveled down, so that a majority of people were increasingly equal but equally miserable.
As more and more voters became mad as hell, governing parties lost elections between 2008 and 2012 in the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece and elsewhere. The problem was that the incoming administrations were as much part of the establishment as the outgoing ones. And so they made bipartisan the very approach that had caused the wave of anger that carried them into office.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Take a Ride on the Census Time Machine!

New York Times has a very cool graphic out. Have you ever wondered whether your county represents the (demographic) past, present or future of America. And if it's the past or the future--what year?

This interactive has you covered, no matter which of our 3,143 counties you live in. I have a few questions about the methodology here, but it's great fun to play with and certainly gives you a ballpark-ish sense of whether you are living in America's past of future. 

I offer without comment the chart below which shows the Trump shift by county in 2016. Hmm...

Friday, July 7, 2017

Can We Please Not Blame the Upper Middle Class for This Mess?

Richard Reeves is out with a new book, Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do about It, that as the subtitle suggests, blames the upper middle class--the top 20 percent--for "opportunity hoarding" and protecting their position at the expense of the bottom 80 percent. This theme appeals to folks like David Brooks who want to spread the blame around pretty widely for today's absurd levels of inequality. 

It's fair to say the top 20 percent has been doing better than bottom 80 percent but the rest of the story seems suspect. As Stephen Pearlstein notes in his review of the book:
Reeves also is too ready to think of economic advancement is a zero-sum game. While it is true that, at any moment, there are a limited number of homes in the poshest communities and a limited number of freshmen admitted to the Ivy League, that doesn’t mean society can’t create more posh communities or create more high-quality universities. And while it is a mathematical certainty that for every person who rises into the ranks of the top 20 percent of households by income there must be another who falls back, it does not follow that there is a limit on the number of Americans who can enjoy an upper-middle-class existence.
That's the key. Solid economic growth and decent policy--which may not be unrelated--are quite capable of delivering more and more people into what we know think of as an upper middle class standard of living (the potential for a "mass upper middle class" is discussed in pages 183-186 of my book).

And as the chart above shows, it is really the top 1 percent that have been making out like bandits since 1980. That is what we should worrying about--that and the policies that have gotten us to this state and that 1 percenters want to keep in place.