Where did our love go?

First, the Supreme Court’s decision in “Plessy versus Ferguson” was considered settled law from 1896 to 1954.  The Supreme Court’s decision in”Roe versus Wade” has been considered settled law since 1973.

Second, given the politicization of the judiciary since the Warren Court, should the Justices of the Supreme Court be elected officials serving for limited terms, as are the members of the Legislative and Executive branches of government?  The ideal of an impartial and disinterested group of experts regulating the passions of the people currently seems impossible to fulfill.  The spectacle of Court nominees appearing before the Seante’s Judiciary Committee only to evade questions and of potential presidential candidates buffing their profiles in courage could appear equally disgusting.

Advertisements

The Latest News.

I’m a never-Trump Republican.  I didn’t vote for him the last time and I’m not going to vote for him the next time.  I think, to steal a line from P.J. O’Rourke, that when the Donald Trump Monument is unveiled in Washington, DC, it will consist of a large pit with a donkey at the bottom.  That said, here are my thoughts on “The Latest News.”(Name of an anti-Bolshevik Russian refugee newspaper published in Paris).

  1. Paul Manafort is convicted of stuff from 2014 and before in Ukraine and Trump is supposed to be worried about what he may say about Russian collusion in 2016?  What if there was no collusion, as Trump has insisted?  So far, but we’re waiting for Robert Mueller’s final report or charges before we know.  We’re also waiting for the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report on the origins of the Russia investigation.  The last one excoriated James Comey in exactly the terms used by Rod Rosenstein to fire him back before Trump admitted that it was about Russia.  The IG also came down hard on Andrew McCabe.  So, he doesn’t look too marshmallow-like to me.  Let’ wait on the reports.  In the meantime, the suspicion might arise that Manafort would fabricate stuff to please Mueller.  Or, if Manafort says “I don’t know anything about what you want to know,” does he get the book thrown at him?
  2. Michael Cohen pleaded to a bunch of stuff he did independently of Trump + he helped pay hush money to a couple of women with whom Trump had had sex.    Similarly, HRC refused to release the text of her secret speech to Wall Street bankers for exactly the same reason as Trump tried to hide the revelations of “Stormy Daniels” and that other one.  People might think less of them during the run-up to an elections.  Did the lawyers and political operatives–if any–for HRC who counseled her on refusing to release the text of the secret speech also violate campaign finance laws?  After all, they got paid money to keep the truth hidden.   For that matter, how many of the Democrats who want to get Trump also said “OK” when Bill Clinton said “Well, we’ll just have to win it”?
  3. Turning to matters of substance, rather than froth and scum (see: Andie Tucher https://www.amazon.com/Froth-Scum-Beauty-Goodness-Americas/dp/0807844721 ),  Mexico is willing to make concessions on NAFTA and Canada will soon join in.  China has resumed talks with the US on tariffs and may yet open its markets to American goods.  The NATO allies are finally starting to meet their long-standing commitments.  North Korea has begun talks with South Korea and the US on nuclear disarmament.  It seems that the North Koreans suddenly figured out how to make (or buy) ICBM rocket engines and the computer technology to prevent US cyber-attacks on missile tests.  Could the CIA offer some insight on how this happened?  Then, huge numbers of ordinary Iranians, according to the New York Times, want their government to talk to the US, given the collapse of the Iranian economy.  The corporate tax is down to international norms.  OK, spending is wayup above international norms.  The unpredictable regulatory environment of the Obama administration has been reined-in.
  4. Yes, Trump identifies with “strong leaders.”  What do people want?  A continuation of the “Empire” as it operated under Clinton, Bush, and Obama?  Bunch of weak elites of both parties are nostalgic for the era of the USA telling everyone else what they had otta do, while getting bent-over on trade and other stuff.  Times up.
  5. Minor social stuff.  A.) Wait, Asia Argento had sex with  a 17 year-old boy and he was “traumatized”?  As opposed to grateful?  You ever see her in “La Reine Margot”?  Was he fighting to keep his virginity?  You know any 17 year old boys who are/were saving it for marriage?  Me neither.  America never was “Up With People.”  Then, how did the stuff come to the NYT?  And why were they in such a hurry to publish it?  To bust on an immigrant woman who may or may not be a little kinky?  Think about that one.  B.)  One little picture in the paper of the activists who pulled down the statue of “Silent Sam” at Chapel Hill.  (S’OK by me.  My great-great grandfather was killed at Nashville commanding the 35th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  Picture of him getting knocked backward off his horse by a minie-ball to the head appeared on the front page of Harpers.  Burn the whole place down.)  In that picture, all but one of the people is white.  In the story accompanying the picture, the black people who are interviewed are described as being at the back of the crowd.  Was the crowd truly multi-racial, diverse, and inclusive, or was it a bunch of white activists who appropriated the justifiable anger of African-Americans for their own purposes? I would really appreciate it if people could give me some information or advice here.

My Weekly Reader 23 July 2018.

“Globalization” means the trade in goods and services, the flow of capital, and the movement of workers across national boundaries with little or no national constraints.  This is an old story in human history, but it accelerated dramatically after 1945[1] and it has moved at astonishing speed since 1990.[2]  Globalization has spawned disruptive costs that accompany its immense benefits.  Much attention has focused on some of the costs more than on the benefits.

The political reaction against globalization commands the headlines.[3]  Examples include President Trump’s “America First” policies of tariffs and limits on migration; the British vote to leave the European Union (“Brexit”); and Angela Merkel’s suddenly precarious leadership of Germany.  The most persuasive interpretations see this reaction as rising from two sources.  One is the unequal distribution of both the benefits and costs of globalization.  The other is the resulting discrediting of the elites as leaders in the eyes of everyone else as followers.

One can point to many flaws in democratic governance.  However, part of the current problem is that democracy actually works.  Donald Trump won the 2016 election; a narrow, but real, majority of British voters chose “Brexit”; Italian voters supported the current coalition of anti-immigrant, anti-EU parties that governs the country.  Many of the reforms seem intended to blunt the responsiveness of politicians to the popular will.  These include giving the president of the United States more authority to commit the country to treaties that could not pass the Senate; extending the time between elections to buffer politicians from the public moods; raising the pay of politicians so that a better class of person will go into politics; and instituting civic literacy tests for voters.

Trends that have nothing to do with globalization, but which will rock a globalized world economy get lost in the shuffle.[4]  For example, in Western countries, robots look like a mechanical version of China: low-cost, high-productivity workers.  In developing countries, however, they are just as great a challenge.  Hundreds of millions of people in China, India, and elsewhere have been pulled out of abject poverty by industrialization.  Their jobs, too, are at risk.  Developed countries will have no incentive to off-shore production and developing countries will have to compete with their own robots.

Then soon–but possibly not soon enough–a demographic shift will occur from low birth-low death to low birth-high death.  The United States already depends upon immigration for its population growth (and the financial stability of Social Security).  Japan and many European countries (Germany and Italy for example) are in much worse shape in terms of their young workers-elder retirees ratios.  China will soon enter the ranks of countries this imbalance.  How will different societies pay for their aged, non-working populations?

[1] After the Second World War, the United States led the construction of an open “Free World” economy through institutions like the World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

[2] The collapse of the Soviet Union discredited centrally-planned, non-market economies in the eyes of previous true believers.  Russia, the former “captive nations” of the Soviet Empire, and the Peoples Republic of China all adopted capitalist market economies.  Many other leftist economies in the developing world (notably India) did the same thing.

[3] Dambisa Moyo, Edge of Chaos (2018).

[4] Ian Bremmer, Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism (2018).

Migrants 1.

Social scientists posit that people experiencing disturbing social change can seize on particularist identities like ethnicity or nationality.  Demographic change and economic change and shifting social values all can trigger such a response.  On the other hand, cultural and economic elites in Western countries celebrate the free flow of goods and labor.  They also have developed more cosmopolitan views than have many fellow citizens.[1]

Illegal immigration provides a good example of the particularist-cosmopolitan tension.  In recent times, illegal migration has become easier than ever before in history.  In both Europe and America bitter quarrels over immigration rack politics.[2]  These controversies arise not from heavy current immigration, but from heavy prior immigration.  More importantly, the general backlash against elites–who led us to war in Iraq and then into the financial crisis—has ensnared migrants.

Illegal migration to the United States dropped sharply during the Great Recession.  It hasn’t picked up immensely in the past year.  However, that still leaves 10-12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.  Human symbols of elite failure.  Liberals insisting on calling them “undocumented immigrants”—as if there is just some bureaucratic foul-up in Washington—adds fuel to the fire.  President Obama’s skirting of the law angered many people.  Illegal immigration in the European Union is more recent.  There the flood of migrants from various failed states mixes with refugees from war-torn Muslim states.

People leave their “shithole” countries for good reasons and not just on a whim.  Until conditions in those countries improve, there is not likely to be a significant drop in attempts at illegal immigration.  To complicate matters further, while many of the migrants are economic migrants, the law allows them to request asylum as victims of persecution.  This clogs the immigration system and delays repatriation.

In light of this reality, attention has turned to deterring them from reaching American or European soil in the first place.  Europeans have negotiated with pathway countries—Libya, Sudan, and Turkey—to stem the departures for Europe.  The implementation of those agreements involves a good deal of brutality that is much worse than anything suffered by Central American migrants to the United States.  Mexico is unwilling to play that sort of role for the United States.  The “zero tolerance” policy attempted by a Trump administration grown tired of waiting for Congressional approval of a border wall offers another form of deterrence.

Cosmopolitans sometimes phrase the choice in a misleading way: “What sort of society do they wish to be?  Do they wish to be immigrant nations with continual demographic and cultural change?”  First, both the European Union and the United States have long had substantial legal immigration.  Second, it is legitimate to debate what kinds of immigrants best serve the interests of the community.

[1] Benjamin Barber, Jihad and McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Shaping World Society (1996).  Barber’s analysis remains engaging, but it wasn’t new.  Late-Nineteenth Century sociologists had identified the problem of anomie.  For that matter, historians long ago diagnosed the rise of “mystery” religions as a response to the cosmopolitanism of the Hellenistic kingdoms.

[2] Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, “In U.S. and Europe, Conflict Over Migration Points to Political Problems,” NYT, 30 June 2018.

GPA+.

Ten years ago, 32 percent of graduating seniors received some form of “Latin honors” from the University of Southern California.[1]  This year, 44 percent received “Latin honors.”  Way to go Southern Cal!  Recruiting all those extra smart kids!  I bet the Ivy League schools will be taking their meals standing up after that spanking.  Oh, wait.  Turns out Harvard granted “Latin Honors” to more than half its graduating seniors.[2]

Granting “Latin honors” isn’t based on the subjective direct judgement of individual merit by the faculty members.  It’s based on the more objective quantifiable judgement of Grade Point Average.  So, Southern Cal and all the many other schools granting “Latin honors” to a growing share of graduates is just an artifact of long-term grade inflation.  According on one expert, a 3.7 GPA (on a scale of 4.0) “is just a run-of-the-mill student.”[3]

It starts in the schools.  In 1998, 39 percent of high-school seniors graduated with an “A” average.  In 2016, 47 percent graduated with an “A” average.  Over the same span, the SAT Critical Reading scores fell from an average of 505 to an average of 494; the Math scores fell from an average of 512 to 508.[4]  Students expect to continue their high-school experience in college.  Elite schools claim that they haven’t studied the trend, and don’t know how to explain it.[5]  The situation probably differs at tuition-driven, not-selective schools.  Too many schools pursuing too few students has led the recruiting effort look like feeding time at the shark tank: “Throw in another goat.”  After the admissions office has done what it can, the faculty face a heavy emphasis by their employers on retaining the students who have been admitted.

Grade inflation is like monetary inflation.

It is fueled by a weak authority in charge of controlling the volume of the unit of exchange.   In the case of the schools this could be parental pressure applied through the influence of a school’s reputation on housing prices.  In the case of colleges and universities, it is the desire to attract student dollars.  A strong authority might tell students that they aren’t particularly distinguished, or well-prepared, or hard-working.

It distorts incentives.  Thus, if you can get the same or more money for less work, then you’ll do less work.  If you can’t trust the money to have real value, then you’ll pursue other stores of value.  One form of this could be a flight to non-public schools with a reputation for greater rigor, or to home-schooling.

It favors people, better positioned to exploit the nominal value of a unit of exchange/measure and disfavors people poorly positioned to do so.  Employers, for example, lack any reliable means to evaluate the educational attainment of potential employees.  High GPAs fog over individual differences in both ability and work ethic.

The historical record shows that breaking an inflation is very painful and politically difficult.  People are willing to try this only after conditions have become intolerable.  We aren’t there yet.

[1] That is “cum laude,” magna cum laude,” and “summa cum laude.”

[2] Down from 91 percent in 2001.

[3] Melissa Korn, “You Graduated Cum Laude?  So Did Everyone Else,” WSJ, 3 July 2018.

[4] See: https://blog.prepscholar.com/average-sat-scores-over-time

[5] See “Captain Henri” in “Casablanca.”

The Old Way and the New Way.

Once upon a time, the United States briefly (1945-1965) stood unchallenged atop the world economy.  “What America makes, the world takes.”  A handful of giant companies dominated the American economy.  They were capital-intensive mass production and mass employment manufacturers.  They paid good wages and many offered generous defined-benefit pension plans.[1]  The companies had been created by ruthless, visionary entrepreneurs.  By the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties, they were owned by mere heirs and by a great many upper middle-class stockholders.  Salaried managers with B-School degrees actually ran the increasingly bureaucratized companies.  No one much objected to punitive taxation of the well-off.  This is today’s Democratic Party idea of a “normal” economy.  It has been in decline for 50 years.[2]

Then change happened.  Part of the change came from abroad.  Foreign countries became serious competitors with American industry.  Then the “oil shocks” of the Seventies set off an inflation that disordered many areas of the American economy.  Part of the change was domestic.  New generations of ruthless entrepreneurs pushing new products rose up.  These people weren’t heirs to someone else’s work.  They had built their own businesses and fortunes.  Many of these people got rich without getting stupendously rich.  Therefore, many of them rejected the existing social consensus on soaking the rich.[3]  Reaganism followed and continues to this day.[4]  These changes sent shock waves through America’s economy, society, and politics.

For example, dying old industries and growing new industries faced the same problem of employee compensation.  (For that matter, so did many states and cities that had fobbed off public employee unions by promising them generous benefits in what the Brits call the “Never-Never”).  Neither corporate profits nor the stock market could guarantee adequate returns to support the defined benefit promises.  First, beginning in 1978, the private sector began to shift from “defined benefit” to “defined contribution” retirement plans.  Second, employers shifted a large share of medical insurance costs to employees as a way of holding down labor costs.  Since 1999, inflation has raised prices by 47 percent, but average contributions by workers to individual health insurance premiums have risen 281 percent.

The future well-being of employees came to depend upon their wisdom in choosing suitable retirement plans and on their willingness to divert income into savings.  Other factors also shaped their behavior.  First, we’ve been living with low interest rates for quite a while now.  This both encouraged people to pick up “cheap debt” and—through the magic of compound interest—slowed the rise in value of what people did save.  Second, many people had never thought much about saving and investing because the company’s pension and Social Security allowed them to not learn about it.  People often opted out of savings plans or made poor investment decisions when they opted in.

The median personal income of people aged 55 to 69 leveled off from 2000 (before the Great Recession) to the present.  This did not stop people from spending more.  On average, people approaching retirement these days have heavy debts (some for college for their kids, but also for other stuff).[5]  They also have been mining their savings, rather than building them.  The Great Recession both reduced contributions to 401k plans and caused many people to withdraw from them to make ends meet.

The long-term results of this huge change in the social contract are just now beginning to be felt.[6]  More than 40 percent of households headed by people aged 55 to 70 will not have the resources to maintain the standard of living they enjoyed while working once they hit retirement.  Households with at least one worker aged 55 to 64 had a median savings of $135,000 in their 401k plans.   The median annual income from their 401K plans is $8,000.  This should yield a paltry $675 a month in income.

Worse still, the Social Security Trust Fund will have to reduce payments at some point in the future as it is depleted or exhausted.

Undoubtedly, the disaster that is emerging renders a severe judgement on many of the “Baby Boomers.”  Not all of the human-interest stories included in journalists’ stories arouse the same degree of sympathy.  Faced with the need to save for the future and to be self-reliant, many of them delayed saving, stinted saving in favor of consumption[7] until too late, and then did too little.

Still, as a matter of public policy, there are going to be powerful and compelling arguments made in favor of a government response.  If the government expands benefits to the worst off retirees, then either taxes or deficits will rise or benefits for the better-off will be decreased.  Perhaps all three will form the basis of a compromise.

[1] By the 1980s, almost half (46 percent) of workers belonged to an employer pension plan.

[2] Without Democrats being willing to notice the changes.  JMO.

[3] Warren Buffett is in no sense a representative figure among this group.

[4] To the Democratic slogan of “tax, spend, elect,” the Republican learned to reply “tax-cut, spend, elect.”  See: William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 1.

[5] The per capita student loan debt of people aged 60 to 69 rose from about $300 to about $1,800 between 2004 and 2017.  Per capita debt for cars for the same group of people rose from about $3,000 to about $4,000 between 2004 and 2017.  It looks like people chose not to choose between guns and butter.

[6] Heather Gillers, Anne Tergesen, and Leslie Scism, “Time Bomb Looms for Aging America,” WSJ, 23-24 June 2018.

[7] Sales of HD televisions soared during the Great Recession.  The graph is for global sales, but may offer an approximation of American behavior.  See: https://www.statista.com/statistics/461114/full-hd-tv-shipments-worldwide/

Halloween on the Border 2.

Entering the United States illegally is a crime, a misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony on any subsequent offense.[1]  The courts have held that people who enter the United States illegally are entitled to due process before they can be deported.[2]  The courts have also held that Congress may determine what constitutes due process.  In 1996 Congress passed the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.”  Among other provisions, this law allows illegal immigrants to be deported without any hearing, lawyer, or right of appeal.  This is called “expedited removal.”[3]

For their part, illegal immigrants can try to dodge expedited removal by claiming asylum.  To gain asylum, the immigrants must demonstrate a credible fear of persecution if they remain in their home country.  What constitutes “persecution” is itself contested.  Most of the people now showing up at the border are trying to escape endemic poverty, violent crime, and ineffective and corrupt government in Central American so-called countries.[4]  Liberals regard these conditions as legitimate grounds for claiming asylum; conservatives want to restrict asylum to the traditional definition of people fleeing political or religious persecution by national governments.

Different administrations have applied the law in different ways.  Although the 1996 law sets no geographic boundaries to where the law may be applied, the current policy has been to apply it to illegal immigrants found within 100 miles of the border and within two weeks after they entered the United States.[5]  Furthermore, the government can either treat illegal immigration as a civil matter or as a criminal matter.

The Obama administration largely treated illegal immigrants as a civil matter.  This allowed illegal immigrants to work through the process of the immigration courts, to be represented by a lawyer, to appeal decisions of immigration judges multiple times.  This could extend the time to deportation to a year or more.  While the civil procedures dragged on, the illegal immigrants were paroled, rather than detained in custody.

Recently, the Trump administration broke with the policy of the previous administration.  It adopted a policy of “zero tolerance” for illegal immigration and it chose to treat illegal immigration as a criminal, rather than civil, matter.  Thus, illegal immigrants, even when claiming asylum, were arrested.  The government is legally-obligated to separate children from arrested parents within 20 days of arrest, then to place them in a suitable child care facility or foster family.  During the Obama administration, all but one family detention facility were closed.  This had the unpleasant knock-on effect that has garnered so much attention.[6]

[1] “In the United States, the federal government generally considers a crime punishable with incarceration for one year or less to be a misdemeanor. All other crimes are considered felonies.”—Wikipedia.

[2] Katie Benner and Charlie Savage, “Migrants to the U.S. Are Entitled to Due Process, With Some Exceptions,” NYT, 26 June 2018.

[3] Which is like calling illegal immigrants “undocumented.”  See George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.”

[4] Ryan Duee, “Migrants Risk U.S. Crackdown to Flee Crime and Poverty,” WSJ, 26 June 2018.

[5] Obviously, there is some wiggle room here for the government.  It can be pretty difficult for migrants to prove when they entered the country.

[6] On the background to the “Flores Settlement” case, see: https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/flores-settlement-brief-history-and-next-steps