Is it just me, or has the holiday week and the attendant decompressing of the media pressure-cooker had the result in decreasing the level of fevered campaign speculation even as Iowa Draws Near? I’m not sure I fully appreciated exactly how sick I was of the primary season until I had the opportunity to take a brief time out from primary related arguments — it’s like the lifting of an enormous annoying burden. But the reprieve’s over, I suppose, as there’s now just one week left before the votes are cast and the press chooses an arbitrary post-Iowa narrative on which to seize (my guess is that however many votes/delegates/whatever John McCain gets will be deemed above expectations, thus feeding the looming surge in New Hampshire).
So I was checking my web stats in preparation for my annual report, and what day do you think saw the most number of visits (5012) to this website in the past 4 months?
Hint: It was this month.
Second hint: It had nothing to do with what I posted that day — since I didn’t actually post anything that day!
Yes, Christmas Day.
Not sure what that means — I did think I might get some readers, so I put up a couple of interesting posts on the 24th.
Thoughts/interpretations/snarky comments are, as always, welcome.
(I will try to post something interesting on New Year’s Day for readers taking it easy after a hard-partying night.)
Corn ethanol has many flaws and is, at best, not a substantial climate solution, as we’ve seen. Now Science magazine has published a letter from William F. Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute casting yet more doubt on our corn ethanol strategy. I reprint it here in its entirety, with references and notes:
The United States is the world’s leading producer of soy. However, many U.S. farmers are shifting from soy to corn (maize) in order to qualify for generous government subsidies intended to promote biofuel production (1); since 2006, U.S. corn production has risen 19% while soy production has fallen by 15% (2). This in turn is helping to drive a major increase in global soy prices (3), which have nearly doubled in the past 14 months.
The rising price for soy has important consequences for Amazonian forests and savanna-woodlands (4). In Brazil, the world’s second-leading soy producer, deforestation rates (5) and especially fire incidence (6) have increased sharply in recent months in the main soy- and beef-producing states in Amazonia (and not in states with little soy production). Although dry weather is a contributing factor, these increases are widely attributed to rising soy and beef prices (5, 7), and studies suggest a strong link between Amazonian deforestation and soy demand (8, 9).
I’m broadly in agreement with what Megan has to say about the quest worker question. As Megan says, for those of us who would like to see a more liberal immigration regime, it’s really not clear what problem this is supposed to solve. Politically, the imperative at this point is clearly reducing the number of illegal immigrants. The question, then, is whether this can be done in a humane and pragmatic way that involves a path to citizenship for some of the people already here, or whether it’s going to be a purely punitive issue.
However that shakes out, if we can get to a point where the government’s doing a reasonably good job of keeping the number of people who actually come to the US to something in the vicinity of the number of people who are allowed to come then, maybe, the conditions will be set to increase the volume of legal immigration. Having some or all of that increase come in the form of a guest worker program only seems to create additional practical and ideological challenges with little upside.
One hears from a lot of secular people worries that the country is plunging over the edge into theocracy. At the same time, the press often seems to feel that the country is experiencing a massive religious revival that it needs to cover by hiring new “religion” correspondents. The truth, as shown in the above chart based on National Election Survey data, is more like the reverse — more people than ever say “other” or “none” when asked about their religious beliefs.
It’s this, rather than an intensification in fervor, that’s made it possible to mobilize conservative Christianity for political purposes. Back in 1960 there were so few avowedly irreligious people out there that trying to rally opposition to the perils of secularism was a non-starter.
My ten favorite albums of 2007, again in no particular order:
- Neon Bible, Arcade Fire
- The Reminder, Feist
- Heroes and Sheroes, The Eames Era
- In Our Bedroom After the War, Stars
- Challengers, The New Pornographers
- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon
- Boxer, The National
- †, Justice.
- Kala, M.I.A.
- Night Falls Over Kortedala, Jens Lekman.
For next year, I resolve to listen to more actual hip-hop albums instead of just downloading the odd single.
Florida contains several of the parts of the country that are worst-hit by the housing bubble, so Peter Goodman’s New York Times article on Cape Coral shouldn’t be taken as typical. What it is, as Jared Bernstein says, is illustrative of the broader situation. The extreme locations highlight the general sorts of things that go wrong in affected areas. It isn’t this bad in most place, but it shows the direction of change. And since there’s a good chance things will get worse, more places will wind up like Cape Coral in the months to come.
Incidentally, the Jan/Feb issue of The Atlantic will have a brief piece by yours truly looking at some of these foreclosure issues, though my Florida exemplar was a suburb of Miami.
Via Steve Benen, it looks like the major Democratic presidential candidates are moving to start paying consultants in a rational manner rather than using a dumb percentage system that’s frought with bad incentives and conflicts of interest. Of course, from the point of view of a citizen, this is really the least-bad aspect of the consultant racket on the Democratic side since on some level if politicians want to waste their money that’s on them. But it highlights the extraordinary level of power that an entrenched and not-especially-successful circle of campaign consultants has inside the Democratic Party and if the money situation’s turning around that may mean that out-of-control consultant power as a broader phenomenon is on the way out.
In a little-noticed Senate floor speech on December 18, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the ranking Republican on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, revealed that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “is approaching $15 billion a month.” Stevens made his comments while arguing for adding $70 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan to an omnibus spending bill for 2008. President Bush signed the budget bill yesterday. Watch it:
Instead of the $70 billion that Congress passed before the holiday break, the Bush administration originally requested $189.3 billion for the wars. Based on that request, the Congressional Research Service reported earlier this month that Bush’s war spending requests have increased significantly over the past two years:
the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported this month that the Bush administration’s request for the 2008 fiscal year of $189.3 billion for Defense Department operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and worldwide counterterrorism activities was 20 percent higher than for fiscal 2007 and 60 percent higher than for fiscal 2006.
In November, congressional Democrats released a study estimating that the “hidden costs” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “so far total approximately $1.5 trillion,” costing “the average U.S. family of four more than $20,000.”
As former Office of Management and Budget official Gordon Adams told the Washington Post upon hearing Steven’s numbers, “Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terror are not getting cheaper.” In October, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said she was “not worried” about the cost of the wars.
Via Tyler Cowen, what looks to be some pretty important new research — “Prejudice and the Economics of Discrimination” by Kerwin Kofi Charles and Jonathan Guryan of the University of Chicago. Here‘s the abstract:
This paper tests the predictions about the relationship between racial prejudice and racial wage gaps from Becker’s (1957) seminal work on employer discrimination – something which has not previously been done in the large economics discrimination literature. Using rich data on racial prejudice from the General Social Survey, we find strong support for all of the key predictions from Becker about the relationship between prejudice and racial wage gaps. In particular, we show that, relative to white wages, black wages: (a) vary negatively with a measure of the prejudice of the “marginal” white in a state; (b) vary negatively with the prejudice in the lower tail of the prejudice distribution, but are unaffected by the prejudice of the most prejudiced persons in a state; and (c) vary negatively with the fraction of a state that is black. We show that these results are robust to a variety of extensions, including directly controlling for racial skill quality differences and instrumental variables estimates. We present some initial evidence to show that racial wage gaps are larger the more racially integrated is a state’s workforce, also as Becker’s model predicts. The paper also briefly discusses familiar criticisms and extensions of the standard Becker model, including an argument of our own which, like some recent work, shows that the model’s main predictions can be shown theoretically to survive the effects of long run competition.
On the other hand, seven of America’s leading phrenologists assure me that wage gaps are due to inherent genetic inferiority and anyone who says otherwise is a creationist.