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Fun with polls

I designed a quick and easy game for the election that focuses on the battleground states. I don’t particularly follow the polls, but since I have to participate in my own game, I wanted a quick and easy method for making predictions I can at least pretend are more than WAG (wild ass guesses).

Battleground states (5): Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania
Close states (5): North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, Montana, Nevada
Popular Vote (1)

For each state, you must pick the winner and the margin of victory. I decided to simply rely on the average polling data, with one minor adjustment. Thanks to RealClearPolitics, I was able to quickly grab the last polling data from 2004 for each state as well as the eventual results. I then compared the polling forecast with the results, and looked to see if the polling data erred for/against Bush/Kerry.

The polling data for Colorado, Ohio, and Montana was virtually the same as the eventual voting outcomes. So I let Obama (CO, OH) and McCain (MT) keep their forecasted victories.

The 2004 Pennsylvania and Nevada forecasts, meanwhile, underestimated Kerry’s eventual wins, so that secured Obama’s W’s in those states.

Bush outperformed his forecasted margins of victory in North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, Virginia, and Florida. This solidified NC, MO, and IN as McCain victories in my book. In VA, Obama is +3.8, and Bush only outperformed his expected margin by +2, so I’m calling it for the gentleman from Illinois.

The toughest nut to crack is Florida. Obama is up big (+4.2), but Bush was only up +0.6 and ended up +5. It’s a tossup according to my unscientific method, but I am going to go Obama with a slim margin.

For the popular vote, Bush outperformed his forecasted margin by a bit, so I am just taking a bit of shine off Obama (currently, +6.3) and leaving him +5.5

According to these predictions, Obama will bring home the victory with 338 votes: 311 if he comes up short in Florida.

VA: Obama +2
CO: Obama +6
OH: Obama +4
FL: Obama +0.5
PA: Obama +7
NC: McCain +2
MO: McCain +2
IN: McCain +3
MT: McCain +3
NV: Obama +6
Popular: Obama +5.5

After the election, I’ll recap how everyone did in the prediction game. If you haven’t entered yet, Click Here to take survey.

Filed under: Misc

step back to step forward

I’ve enjoyed blogging on current events and policy issues as new happenings and writings trigger responses that end up being blog posts, but I’ve found it a bit frustrating. The idea of spinning my wheels, repeating myself on the same issues bores even me. I would like to make a point, record that point and the supporting evidence, and move on — drawing on that point when useful in further discussions.

That’s a bit problematic. The blog medium has become (needlessly) something of a disposable art. Written, sometimes read, and forgotten; it’s no surprise that bloggers repeat their main points in slightly altered forms, like a late night TV host who provides the same slightly off-kilter angle on daily events.

I’ve neither the time nor the interest in disposable reporting. I would like to isolate some of the larger issues of the day and explore the validity of potential solutions. This means updating the blog with any new arguments or developments in the issue area, expressing my perspective, and isolating and exploring disagreement.

To this end, I’ve signed up for delicious.com, a social bookmarking website that allows you to “tag” webpages with titles, descriptions, and labels (e.g., immigration). I am in the midst of converting my posts and the articles I’ve shared through Google Reader into labeled delicious entries. It’s quite a process, but I think worth it. It will allow me to systematically accumulate knowledge and understanding of particular issues, and hopefully allow this site to serve as a medium for acknowledging the valid points on both sides of the argument, and debating the points of contention.

Furthermore, I hope some will find it useful for finding interesting points of view on the topics found on this blog — from cognition to immigration to trade to health care.

Filed under: Misc

publius recommendations on the ‘net

Yelp.com
Terrific resource for finding great restaurants, bars, etc. in your neighborhood or any place you might be visiting.

RememberTheMilk.com
Post-it notes are useful to keep track of “to-do’s” — RememberTheMilk is even more useful in managing your tasks, both personal and professional. You can integrate your list into your iGoogle homepage, Gmail, download an application on to your computer, or just use their homepage. I use it for work and personal tasks.

Google Reader
It’s hard to overstate the degree to which Google Reader has changed the way I used the internet. Before I would add some of my favorite websites’ RSS feeds (lists that automatically update with the newest articles or posts on the website) to my iGoogle homepage, or add them to my bookmarks, and spend all my time hopping from one blog to another website, etc.

Now I just open up the Google Reader page, which automatically updates with the new posts on everything from the Economist to Soccer by Ives. And, of course, you can more easily track Publius’ Shared Items.

Google text message search
Text GOOGLE or 466453 from your cell phone for quick and easy searches. Check out the link above for how to get the information you need on the run with only a quick text message — no need for a high-price data plan

Gmail phone app
Yet another shortcut provided by Google — once you download this application to your cellphone, you can check your email from your phone without data charges.

Buxfer.com
This is a new addition to my harem of internet stops. Buxfer is a powerful financial management tool that allows you to centralize the records of your credit cards, checking, savings, etc. accounts. Not only can you see your balances, but it automatically tags your purchases (if you’d like) with labels like “food and drinks” for restaurants, etc. What’s more, you can create your own labels and automatic labels so that everytime “JJ Foley’s Bar and Grill” pops up on your credit card charges, it gets labeled “alcohol” (…or food?) An excellent way to take control of your financial future.

Am I missing anything?

Filed under: Misc

grand new party on the horizon

Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s new book, “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream,” has built itself some politico buzz thanks to opportune timing and a novel perspective on how to revive an ailing Republican party. A few people forwarded me David Brook’s review of the book, which is certainly worth a read.

Brooks’ review is about more than this specific book, but about the greater movement of “young and unpredictable rightward-leaning writers.

“These writers came of age as official conservatism slipped into decrepitude. Most of them were dismayed by what the Republican Party had become under Tom DeLay and seemed put off by the shock-jock rhetorical style of Ann Coulter. As a result, most have the conviction — which was rare in earlier generations — that something is fundamentally wrong with the right, and it needs to be fixed.”

Brooks points specifically to Megan McArdle and Will Wilkinson – two of my favorite bloggers – as examples of the “new” Republican archetype.

Brooks believes that these writers will fill the conservative “intellectual vacuum” that currently hampers the Republicans:

Liberals have a way to address these inequalities — the creation of a Denmark-style welfare state. Conservatives have offered almost nothing. The G.O.P. has lost contact with its own working-class base. This is the intellectual vacuum that “Grand New Party” seeks to fill.

What will the basis of the the Grand New Party? Douthat and Salam write, “It’s hard-work conservatism, which uses government to increase the odds that self-discipline and effort will pay off.

Sounds excellent to me, and I think this would be a good thing for Democrats as well (though elections would be harder to win…) Will it happen? I doubt we’ll say a Republican revolution, but perhaps we’ll see a change of face and leadership more in tune with this Grand New Party.

Filed under: Misc

good tv: fareed zakaria’s GPS

Fareed Zakaria doesn’t seem well-suited for the role of television show host. He’s stiff as a board, and he lacks the Jon Stewart wit so effective in livening up otherwise dry issues. Yet Zakaria has managed to create the best news show on TV in Global Public Square (or GPS). How?

First, Zakaria chooses great guests, carefully chosen for their unique takes on otherwise tired issues (e.g., Bjorn Lomborg); these aren’t the standard news circuit hacks. Second, Zakaria avoids the standard pitfalls of tv hosts when questioning his guests. Nobody gets a free pass, but the questions are not designed to embarass or “nail” the guest, but rather force them to respond to the best counterarguments to their position. For example, he presses Condi Rice on why the US doesn’t treat Iran the same way it treats North Korea. And when a guest, such as Ms. Rice provides a vague response, such as her explanation of the political situation in Iraq as a well-functioning Iraqi democratic government, Zakaria points out that the Sunnis are still largely excluded from the regime.

The show airs at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, and as long as you can stomach the Lou Dobbs advertisements during breaks, I would highly suggest it.

No, Zakaria isn’t a TV host at heart, but if you’re looking for “good tv,” GPS is a great place to start. Enjoy Stewart’s light-hearted take after a hard day’s work, and turn to Zakaria for your critical analysis of the world’s most pressing issues.

Filed under: Misc

obama v mccain: round one

Good ol’ election season/year/century/millenia. It’s been awhile since I’ve had any election-related material, because there really hasn’t been much to say. We are now starting to see a bit more on the policy end from McCain and Obama (and Barr?)

Most recently, both candidates managed to whip up some economic blog buzz — response has been mixed. Barry Obama has demonstrated he has no problem spending money, promising $15 billion a year for 10 years on energy technology, $60 billion for high-speed railways and improved energy grids, increased spending on basic research, subsidized high-speed internet infrastructure, and $4,000 a year in tuition for students who later enter public services.

A lot of that makes sense in the abstract (except the last part; why, praytell, am I subsidizing a future DMV employee over someone who will be working harder in a more productive job that is almost definitely more useful to society?)

Then again, so did the Big Dig. The question is never simply about the proposed end (better transit, SURE!), but also about the means. To Barry’s benefit, he does seem to understand that these programs need to work with Joe Market rather than slit his throat and steal his life.

He compares his energy investment program to venture capital, designed to support the “middle stage” between innovation and commercialization. “You have this point in time when things haven’t quite taken off yet and still entail huge risks.”

Megan McArdle isn’t quite as impressed with Obama’s “infrastructure plan which will undoubtedly do approximately nothing to increase the rate of economic growth (though it probably won’t much harm it, either).” She does add that his economic plan includes “a cause near and dear to my heart: simplifying and lowering the corporate income tax.”

So Dani Rodrik is in heaven, and McArdle thinks Obama “has the right sort of left-wing ideas; he wants to model America on Denmark, not Germany or Italy.”

McArdle’s probably not far off; Sweden’s Prime Minister himself said that Obama’s economic and tax policies were in step with his homeland.

Meanwhile, the Economist’s heart is a patter after Obama said: “There are some who believe that we must try to turn back the clock on this new world; that the only chance to maintain our living standards is to build a fortress around America; to stop trading with other countries, shut down immigration, and rely on old industries. I disagree. Not only is it impossible to turn back the tide of globalization, but efforts to do so can make us worse off.”

Why so much Obama and so little McCain in this economic discussion? Well, the Economist recalls McCain doing his best Hillary impression: “I trust the people and not the so-called economists to give the American people a little relief.”

Yikes.

All that said, let us not deify Barry yet. Obama’s decision to forgo public campaign funding makes sense given his war chest, but it also unequivocally violates the commitment he made to go the public funding path last year with McCain. Ain’t no real way to sell this as anything more than political opportunism. Obamaniacs will surely shrug this off (“Everyone does it”), but, of course, Barry has built his fervent following by making an obscene amount of people believe that he will never sell out his values like the “Washington establishment.”

In this case, Obama fought the Washington Establishment by making a pledge a year in advance to show to voters that he would defend the only hope for elections to stave off corruption and improper influence… and then got a glimpse of the promise land and grabbed the cash and ran.

Perhaps it’s an exception — certainly, not reason enough to not vote for him — but reason enough to put an end to these ridiculous conceptions of Barry. Seeing very smart people giggling and swooning like 12-year old girls at an NSYNC concert is a bit troubling.

Filed under: Misc

to blink or think is not the question

Malcom Gladwell wrote the book Blink to celebrate the mind’s ability to make very adept judgments in the blink of an eye. These judgments are based on our intuition (the “gut” or “heart”) and allow the human mind to make millions of calculations and decisions very quickly.

Gladwell is critical of those who ‘overthink’ things and don’t respect the value of the ‘blink’ decision simply because we don’t know how to articulate what makes the hairs on our neck stand up. Gladwell’s first example sees an art gallery acquire an ancient statue despite many experts believing the statue was fake based just on their visceral first impression (it was indeed fake.) Gladwell hammers home that the experts didn’t know how they knew the statue was fake, they_just_did.

The author of The Tipping Point does admit later in his book that there are some problems with the ‘blink’ judgment. It’s highly sensitive to a person’s experiences. Gladwell mentions a race experiment, which measured his ‘blink’ reactions to questions of race and achievement, and he learned that his ‘blink’ judgments discriminated much more than he did when making conscious, deliberate decisions.

Since Gladwell is black, it appears safe to say that his ‘blink’ associations are unequivocally bad (and/or damaging, etc.) in this case, while his deliberate associations are significantly better (if not ‘good’). Furthermore, Gladwell explained that the race experiment results could be easily manipulated by showing the respondent negative or positive images of black people beforehand. 1 point for thinking, 0 for blinking, in this case.

This example underscores a tangential point made by Gladwell that I think is VERY important: our “unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values.”

I think Gladwell is correct that ‘blink’ reactions are not necessarily wrong simply because we can’t articulate the reasoning behind them. I do think that even framing a discussion of the matter with the title “Blink” is giving deliberate decision-making short-shrift, and I don’t think the world really needed another anti-contemplation lobbyist.

Blink decisions are decision-making shortcuts that are undoubtedly necessary (who wants to carefully weigh the pros and cons of every decision with which they are presented?), but the focus should be on overcoming the cognitive failings that sabotage our stated conscious values both subconsciously and consciously.

The question isn’t blink or think, but how can we ensure our blinking and thinking isn’t sabotaged by “unconscious attitudes … utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values.”

Filed under: Misc

political utility of the nation-state

This post has taken me awhile, but I think it’s worthwhile. Inherent in any discussion of a nation-state’s policies, from societal safety nets to immigration, is an understanding of the nation-state and its proper role. This post argues that the “value-added” by the nation-state is declining, and in turn, the values of local governance and international institutions are growing. I argue that the historical experience of the nation-state has effectively “nationalized” popular understandings of fairness and self-interest, and that these understandings are increasingly inappropriate.

To begin, it’s important to understand that the United States, like most nation-states, was created to respond to an external oppressor. The colonies integrated their governance only so far as absolutely necessary for defeating the British. The nation-state is built for this zero-sum militaristic competition. This zer- competition rewarded size, and the more resources that could be brought under the leadership of a singular decision-making body, the better the nation-state would do in the competition.

Zero-sum competition not only led to societies growing in size to the point of becoming the modern nation-state, but also brought about the creation of the market economy. As Robert Reich put it, the king wanted more silver to prosecute his wars, and allowed for greater economic freedom in a mercantilist trade system, which eventually created independent pillars of wealth and power, forcing the king to eventually allow greater political freedom, which, in turn, begat the free market system.

Mercantilism fit neatly within the zero-sum militaristic competition model, as trade was perceived as a weapon to accumulate a larger slice of the fixed economic pie that made up the world. But clearly, mercantilism has fallen out of fashion. It’s come to be understood that trade can, and usually does, benefit all parties (to varying degrees), and that economic prosperity is not a zero-sum game; quite the contrary, trade is a non-zero-sum game, where each nation-state benefits from the economic success of other nation-states.

The market economy erodes the value of the nation-state because the market economy thrives on cooperation both internally and externally, i.e., trading with a guy from Ontario or Detroit depending on who is giving you the better deal. Meanwhile, the value of the nation-state depends on high internal cooperation, and low external cooperation. If you don’t differentiate between dealing in Ontario or Detroit, then what’s the purpose of having a different nation-state for each location?

The nation-state has historically convinced its citizens of its value by taking on an external enemy, such as the British, the Nazis, Soviet Union, etc. Within the perspective of zero-sum militaristic competition, the ideas of national interests and national fairness maintain a certain logical consistency. In a game of nation-state survival, your interests extend only so far as your borders, or at the most, the borders of your allies. Furthermore, fairness applies only to the citizens of the nation-state.

While that zero-sum competition still exists to some degree, I argue that it’s been diluted by the increase of non-zero-sum cooperation, wherein those national notions of self-interest and fairness are NOT logically consistent. Outside of zero-sum nation-state competition, the foreigner is not an adversary for the citizen anymore than any of his fellow citizens — the national border no longer divides the citizen’s interests and sense of fairness.

Does this all mean that I think the nation-state has outlived its use? Not entirely. While the nation-state inhibits exchange across borders, it has facilitated exchange within the nation-state. Europe is just now catching up to the United States in picking apart the economic barriers, brick-by-brick, constructed in between the tiny nation-states. The nation-state has value in lowering transaction costs and promoting exchange (and, of course, providing for the common defense of the member states). I am calling into question the role of the nation-state as the de facto level for policy action to advance one’s interest or sense of fairness.

Whereas the powerful nation-state best serves the interests of the citizen in the day of zero-sum competition, a dynamic federalism best serves the citizen in our world today. In addition, I have mentioned ‘fairness’ along with interests in this post for a purpose. Many of our policy debates, from welfare to healthcare to immigration to free trade, end with one side claiming that it is only fair to “fix” the economic system to provide jobs or services for relatively poor Americans, even if it comes at the expense of much poorer foreigners. This mindset is a remnant of historical zero-sum competition that has no place in a discussion of trade with poor and well-meaning foreigners. Justice should know no borders.

I’ll end with an analogy. Let’s say you’re in charge of a business. The nation-state mindset would lead you to hire your family and friends, while the market mindset would prompt you to throw open your doors to the world, and higher whoever seemed like they would be most productive. Even though you share a kinship with your family and friends, you appreciate that it is not “fair” to pass over a hard-working, smart employee for your less talented, lazy cousin. Favoring your kin is neither fair nor in your self-interest, because your interests and sense of fairness are not “kin-based,” nor tribal, nor ethnic, nor national.

In a post in the (hopefully) near future, I will spell out the implications of this non-zero-sum mindset with regards to policy. Specific attention will be paid to how policies can be crafted to advance citizens’ self-interest without offending their sense of justice. I should also consider the alternative view of the nation-state put forth by Robert Reich and state where I believe he gets it wrong.

For a sneak peek, I agree wholeheartedly with Will Wilkinson’s theory:

“For my part, I have a fairly radical ideal theory of a cosmopolitan liberal global order of trade, migration, and peace. I think the “nation state-as-primary-moral-community” assumption at bottom of most modern liberal arguments for the welfare state (and in many libertarianism-in-one-country arguments, for that matter) is morally backward.”

Filed under: Misc

amazon buying binge

It’s rare that I buy more than one or two books at once, but once in a while I’ve accumulated such a long list of books that I want to read at that very moment that I end up buying a boatload. In case you were interested, here’s what I’ll be reading over the next while — you’ll likely some of these names on this site again…

  • “Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life” Nick Lane; Paperback; $12.21
  • “Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization” David Singh Grewal; Hardcover; $19.80
  • “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” Richard H. Thaler; Hardcover; $17.16
  • “Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others” Marco Iacoboni; Hardcover; $16.50
  • “A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation” Noah Lukeman; Paperback; $11.16
  • “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom” Jonathan Haidt; Paperback; $10.85
  • “Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond” Deepak Malhotra; Hardcover; $17.16
  • “Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind” Gary Marcus; Hardcover; $14.40

I’d be happy to provide info on why I chose a particular book if you have a request…

Filed under: Misc

gentrification, sprawl and city failure

How about those for buzz words?

Gentrification is an object of hatred on the left because it is viewed as a source of added suffering for those already poorly off. While I agree that the byproducts of gentrification are certainly unfortunate, I think the gentrification opponents are wrong in identifying gentrification as a source, rather than a symptom, of a deeper problem.

(Related Jane Jacobs posts: the poverty trap, borders)

Gentrification, like city overcrowdedness in general, is a symptom of “the demand for lively and diversified city areas [being] too great for the supply.” The problem isn’t too much gentrification, it’s too little city. I’ll join Jacobs in stating, “The sheer supply of diversified, lively, economically viable city locations must be increased.”

The immediate response to this proposition would rightly be skepticism — why hasn’t city supply grown with demand?

Hypothesis: well-intentioned (giving the benefit of the doubt…) government intervention has stunted city growth over the past fifty-odd years, creating a large “city deficit.”

It’s economically advantageous to live in large concentrations, which is why cities evolved in the first place. Yet the wealthy left… Why?

One of the myths is that the wealthy turn and ran of cities because of a fear of black people, or something similar; this is mistaking cause and effect, the wealthy left because a large carrot was dangled in the suburbs, housing prices were then depressed, and in move poorer folks, including a large population of minorities. Just look at two of the signals the government sent post 1950:

  • Brand new interstate system: Made it cheaper to live further away from economic cores
  • Juicy government-guaranteed home mortgages: Rent in New York or own at a bargain price in a suburb? (I think this is the key…)

It would be incorrect to say that government-subsidized sprawl is a 20th century innovation. The West was settled because the government provided incentives (“you stand on it, you own it”) to leave the big cities.

The product of this sprawl has been a great deal of economically-depressed dead space. I won’t complain about how the earlier government subsidies played out — California, for all it’s crazies, has been a huge economic advantage and while it took a questionable Mexican War to obtain continental integrity, we likely spared a couple more wars by preempting the possibility of a European/Asian presence on the left coast.

But the 20th century subsidies are much more questionable. Beyond the city crunch, the reason we drive cars so much is because we have to, because everything is so spread out in the US. Don’t blame GM, blame the national sprawl.

Correcting deficits is never painless, and the dislocations brought on abrupt gentrification of city areas (UWS of Manhattan) and total city cleanup (is Newark a good example?) are the products of the market looking to correct what the government screwed up.

As Paul Krugman notes here, the fuel crunch is making our sprawl even more economically painful.

To conclude, greater concentrations of people are more productive than sparsely populated areas. Rather than help our cities grow, government planners have systematically driven individuals away from our economic hubs, lowering economic productivity, and greatly increasing the difficulty of managing overcrowded cities. Finally, I’ll add that before reading Jane Jacobs’ book, I agreed with the “widespread belief that Americans hate cities” — the dirtiness, poorly functioning transportation, etc. all bother me — but I’ve come to agree I, like most Americans, really only “hate city failure.” Presently, the city is like a company’s first store, which is filled with customers who want to use the store, but can’t even fit through the door. The problem isn’t the store, it’s that there isn’t enough store.

Filed under: Misc