Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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27 December 2008

Has Our Productivity Gone up in Smoke?

One of my obsessions lately (besides the PofAfromA) has been the decreased rate our economy has been growing since the 60's (see here, here, here,here, and here). There are no doubt many factors that explain the rate of economic growth, such as the quality of human capital (immigration has been pushing ours down), government interference (while the size of government hasn't grown, there are many more regulations - particularly the environmental and safety variety - faced by manufacturers today than 40 years ago), and stability and security.

But how about cigarette smoking? I'm sure it's not a dramatic factor, but I wouldn't discount entirely the notion there's been no effect. People used to smoke more. Looking at the GSS, it would appear that the more productive members of our society have dramatically reduced their rate of smoking. The GSS only asked about cigarette smoking from 1977 thru 1994, but we see a dramatic reduction among white-male college graduates.

Gallup polls also show dramatic reductions in smoking over the last few decades, just as our economic growth has slowed. Nicotine, like caffeine, is an awesome little drug with only minor negative side-effects (in and of itself). It increase mental performance (i.e., productivity). It stands to reason that a society that has substantially cut down on a drug that increases alertness and memory will lose some productive capacity. Not to mention, as Black Sea notes in the comments below, people actually smoked freely at their desks for added inspiration. Plus, nicotine's ideal delivery system, smoking, has severe negative effects that typically don't manifest themselves until its purveyors have reached the twilight of their careers. A mad scientist could hardly have done better than to have designed a drug that is addictive, makes people more productive, then cuts them down just as their wealth creation capacity has waned and their pure consumption life stage has begun. But after a relentless, 40-year USG campaign about its ill-health effects and shifting social attitudes, smoking is now quite rare, particularly among the higher SES groups, and so now we muddle along less energetically in our jobs while lingering on more voraciously in our retirement.

24 December 2008

The Nativity

Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost.

And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.

Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee. A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. John was in the desert baptizing, and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins....And he preached, saying: There cometh after me one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I have baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. And it came to pass, in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And forthwith coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit as a dove descending, and remaining on him. And there came a voice from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled...And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.

And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people:

For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

19 December 2008

Another Housing Bubble Pump

Home purchases are typically financed by 30-year mortgages - a financing option seldom - if ever - available for any other kind of investment. Plus, mortgage interest - alone among all types of consumer interest payments - is a tax deduction. As if these incentives for home ownership weren't enough, capital gains on home sales are also exempt from taxation. Then, on top of all these incentives, the government - the Bush Whitehouse in particular - was pushing no-downpayment loans. In retrospect, how much more obvious could the housing bubble have been?

18 December 2008

Another Cochran Classic

Commenting on this Gene Expression discussion of Caroline Kennedy's desire to be appointed Senator where Julius and Octavian Caesar are mentioned, he notes:
When you think about it, the Kennedys are a lot like the Julio-Claudians: only dumber and more accident-prone.

17 December 2008

You Can't Buy Publicity Like This

The love affair between the mainstream media and the Messiah-elect continues unabated. Well, it's more a one-way affair - at least the Obama team seems to be holding its needy lover on a very short leash so far. Both coastal arms of the MSM sent little love letters to his holiness the last couple days.

On the east coast, the old grey lady melted over his education policies, particularly the devotion of $10b to early childhood education.
It was the morning after the presidential election, and Matthew Melmed, executive director of Zero to Three, a national organization devoted to early childhood education, could barely contain his exultation.Mr. Melmed fired off an e-mail message to his board and staff, reminding them of President-elect Barack Obama’s interest in the care and education of the very young and congratulating Mr. Obama for campaigning on a “comprehensive platform for early childhood.” Mr. Melmed was not alone in his excitement. After years of what they call backhanded treatment by the Bush administration, whose focus has been on the testing of older children, many advocates are atremble with anticipation over Mr. Obama’s espousal of early childhood education.
And the adulation just goes on from there, with nary a cynical voice to be heard. At one point, we are given a little teaser, that perhaps some negativity might be uttered. But no fear - it was a false alarm.
Debates cut many ways. Some advocates want the nation to start by expanding services to all 4-year-olds. Others say improving care for infants and toddlers cannot wait. Some insist that middle-class and wealthy children must have access to public preschool. Others say the priority should remain with the poor.
Our correspondent quickly jumps in to suggest what the anointed path will be.Mr.
Obama’s platform, which Mr. Duncan helped write, emphasizes extending care to infants and toddlers as well, and it makes helping poor children a priority. It would also provide new federal financing for states rolling out programs to serve young children of all incomes.
Towards the article's end it discusses the boundless dividends such "investments" will pay. It cited the Perry Pre-school study which claimed enormous dollar gains to society of lavish pre-school programs. The reporter did note that some doctrinaire sticklers have criticized the study's small size, but otherwise suggested near unanimity of support for this notion (here's a rather thorough debunking (PDF - see page 19) of these claims that obviously would have killed the reporter to spend two minutes locating). And it gave Obama the last word.
Mr. Obama’s platform accepts the broad logic of the Ypsilanti study. “For every one dollar invested in high-quality, comprehensive programs supporting children and families from birth,” the platform says, “there is a $7-$10 return to society in decreased need for special education services, higher graduation and employment rates, less crime, less use of the public welfare system and better health.”
A 7-10 fold return on your dollar? Such a claim could only be explained by some combination of dishonesty, stupidity, and insanity. Yet here we have a New York Times reporter, a president-elect and apparently the entire education establishment all trumpeting this absurdity. And we wonder how Madoff got away with it?

On the west coast, the LA Times had a nearly identical article, this one regarding Obama's environment team entitled "Environmental groups, scientists cheer Obama appointments." It is a breathless, start-to-finish tongue bathing of Obama and his flawless team. Not a single voice can be heard mentioning that we have here a team of individuals who have, outside of Steven Chu's work at Bell Labs over 20 years ago, never spent a day performing any real work in real market conditions. Aside from Chu, a nobelist, the rest of the team is the embodiment of mediocrity. The much vaunted Carol Browner is an undistinguished lawyer who has made a career of being an environmental scold, while the other two, EPA head-designate Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley, are clearly only their because of their color.

You would certainly never gather from the hagiographical reporting what a nightmare the Obama administration is turning out to be. His Treasury secretary is a Wall Street whore. His foreign policy team is a den of incompetents, and his domestic policy team a pathetic assortment of cronies, leeches, race-hustlers and kleptocrats. God help us, everyone.

16 December 2008

Why Do Brothers and Sisters Make You Stupid?

That people in larger families have lower IQ's on average has been well known for quite awhile. But the GSS really shows this effect quite clearly. I looked at average WORDSUM (a 10 question vocabulary test) scores by number of siblings for whites. The number of reported siblings in the GSS astonishingly goes as high as 31, so I cut it off at 13 somewhat arbitrarily based on that being the last age whose WORDSUM average has a 95% confidence interval less than 1. Here's what we get along with the least-squares trend line:

To put things in perspective, the IQ difference between being an only child and being one of six is about 7 points and having 13 siblings 15 points. The most obvious reason for this is the Idiocracy effect - duller people have more children. We can look at that as well and compare the two - intelligence by number of children vs. number of siblings. For parents, I figured that some dumb parents with only a couple children might still be working on their brood, so I used ages 45 and up figuring that group would be pretty much done having all their kids.

They're not perfect matches - after all, they are measuring two entirely different sets of people, but they do track pretty close. There is that odd bump with parents where those with 2 children are smarter than those with 1, but otherwise it's a pretty steady descent towards dimness the bigger the family.

The odd thing with that bump though is that it's always there - if you only look at this decade, or only the 70's, or the late 80's or if you use blacks instead of whites - there's always a bump up in the parents' scores with one child to those with 2. Sometimes the bump lasts until the 4th child, but there's always that bump. But you never see it with the kids - only children always score better than others in these surveys, no matter how you slice it.

Anyway, I'm not claiming to have discovered anything new here, but the results were so stark I was rather amazed, plus even thinking about the new Obama administration is so unrelentingly depressing this stuff is a nice distraction.

12 December 2008

Think of Our Children and Grandchildren

Yesterday morning I was listening to BBC Newshour on the radio where they were discussing how important it is to continue to fight climate change despite the worldwide economic crisis. One interviewee was very firm in this for the sake of "our children and grandchildren." That's a common refrain in climate-change advocacy circles, as a simple Google search can tell you. Hmmmm. That is certainly a valid and worthy concern - I think of my progeny's future often in the context of unabated immigration. But is that really what's going on here with global-warming alarms?

So I decided to turn to - what else - the GSS for help. Alas, there are some questions in the survey that touch on global warming, but nothing very direct. There is a question on the environment generally, though, and whether we are spending enough, too little, or too much. For general environmental concerns (and the whole climate-change issue is really the grand enchilada of environmental worries), the "for the sake of our children and grandchildren" mantra should actually indicate that people are indeed influenced by how many children they have.

Global warming really burst on the scene with a vengeance after the steamy-hot, super-el Nino year of 1998. So I looked at answers to the "NATENVIR" question (text below) from the 2000 and later surveys by number of children the respondent has (N=5,462).

Well that's a bit opposite of the trend we would have predicted - we see here that those with no children are the most likely to believe we spend too little protecting the environment and the likelihood of thinking that way actually tends to decrease the more children you have. Here's the question:
We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I'm going to name some of these problems, and for each one I'd like you to tell me whether you think we're spending too much money on it, too little money, or about the right amount. b. improving and protecting the environment.
Now support for the proposition that we spend "too little" is very strong overall in this result, but clearly that support is not driven by concerns for children and grandchildren, else the trend would be reversed. So next time you here that phrase from a global warming alarmist, your B.S. detector should at least start buzzing. As a proof of concept, let's look at another similar question in the GSS, but this one about crime rather than the environment. Crime, like the environment, is a concern for everyone, but how does having children affect people's attitudes on crime? I ran the same GSS query as above, but using NATCRIME instead of NATENVIR.

So here we have increasing concern that we're doing too little the more children you have. That's the kind of result I'd expect if the true motivating factor were indeed the well being of one's descendants.

10 December 2008

Effect on Families of a Slowing Economy

I've been writing recently on the slower rate of growth we've experienced in the U.S. since the 60's compared to the post-war period, and in particular the 60's themselves. For example, here I pointed out that had we grown our economy at a pace equal to what we managed in the 60's, we'd be 67% richer today - so a person earning $100k today would have the purchasing power of a $167k salary. Even with a modest 3.5% growth rate it would be equivalent to $122k. Instead, since 1970 we've had average annual growth of less than 3%. All this data is available on the website.

Yet achieving even that modest growth has exacted a substantial social price. Our workforce has swelled since then from 57% of the adult population to 64%, obviously from more women working today than 40 years ago. But what has been the effect on the family? i decided to take a look at the General Social Survey to see if we can answer that question (and to answer Razib's challenge to bloggers to use the GSS to "take 10 minutes out of their day to double-check their intuitions").

Unfortunately, this exercise took me a helluva lot longer than 10 minutes, but more on that later. What I wanted to find out was whether moms are working a lot more than they used to. Seems obvious that they are, but are there facts to back it up? I decided to look at married women between the ages 25 and 45 with 1-3 children over time. Here's what I found:

As you can see, in 1972 (the first year of the GSS), 65% of moms were of the stay-at-home variety, and barely over 20% of them worked full time. These figures would dramatically reverse over the next 15 years. Since 1987, full-time working moms seem to have peaked at around 50% while homemakers have bottomed in the 20-30% range. There's an odd sudden change in direction in the 2006 survey which could be just an aberration - we'll have to wait for the latest survey to find out what that is.

Again, what is striking is that our economy's growth is actually slower despite this injection of more workers into the production stream. Looking at the graphs, it's almost a straight line from 1972 to 1987, implying that these could have continued to more extreme levels back to the 60's. The least squares estimate for 1966 has 12% of mothers working full time and 78% staying home - although it could also have leveled off at the 1972 level - we can't really tell. So it would be one thing if young mothers are working so that we can all be richer, but instead we're taking mothers away from their children and seeing little for it (except presumably even worse economic performance).

But what about the other view that these women are being liberated from a suffocating home life to pursue an independent career? This issue came up in Peter Schiff's now notorious 2006 evisceration of Art Laffer on CNBC where he points out that women are now forced to work while years ago they could stay home with the kids. Both he female moderator and Laffer chided him claiming "many women like to work" to which Schiff responded "I'm sure you enjoy your job" (about 6:35 in).

To address this I tried to find data that would suggest women are indeed being forced by circumstance to work. What I did was look at workforce participation for this same cohort (married, 1-3 kids, age 25-45) by husband's income, just for 2006 (because the GSS income variables don't seem to compare well across multiple periods), the idea being that if women are working involuntarily there should be a fall-off in employment the more money hubby brings home. I grouped the incomes into three groupings to get N's per income cohort close to 100 (total respondents in this group was 292). Here's what I found:

So, based on this data, Peter Schiff may be right (as he was with just about everything else in that exchange) - there is a tendency for women not to work when her husband is making enough money to support the family, and thus the high level of working moms may be largely involuntary.

GSS Notes. The GSS respondent could be male or female, so I ran two different queries: one getting spouse's working status where respondent is male, and the other getting respondent's working status when respondent is female. I then combined the data externally in a spreadsheet. I wanted to get ages 25-45 only for the wife, but there's no spouse age(!) - at least not that I could find, so I had to settle for husband ages when respondent = male. But there didn't seem to be substantially different results for male vs. female respondents. Variables used: Filters - SEX(1 or 2), MARITAL(1), AGE(25-45),CHILDS(1-3); columns: SPWRKSTA (when SEX(1)), WRKSTAT (when SEX(2); Row: YEAR.

For the income chart, GSS also does not have spouse's income, so I used only those cases where respondent was the husband. Also, there's a 2006 income variable (RINCOM06) but nothing for 2004 or 2002. The generic income variable is way to restrictive, so I was kind of forced to use a small set of responses. I also couldn't figure out a way to group the income brackets together within the GSS app, so again I got back the data in a table and worked on it in Open Office Calc. Variables used: SEX(1), MARITAL(1), AGE(25-45),CHILDS(1-3), YEAR(2006); column: SPWRKSTA; Row: RINCOM06.

I had a number of false starts and iterations to get the results back that I had intended, plus some playing around. Just the raw time spent working with GSS was probably close to an hour, plus the time writing this post - about 3 hours wall time. I hope it makes sense.

09 December 2008

Reverse Heroism

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Barely 50 feet separated life from death for two families when a Marine fighter jet plunged into their University City neighborhood just before noon yesterday. A mother, her young child and the child's grandmother died at 4416 Cather Ave. when the disabled F/A-18D Hornet crashed into the house in a fiery explosion, authorities said. A second child was missing and presumed dead...The jet pilot had ejected safely and was in good condition at San Diego Naval Medical Center as of 9 p.m., said a hospital spokeswoman.
Now it's easy for me to say, but isn't it the duty of these pilots to stay with the plane until he's sure that civilians on the ground are safe? A look at Google Maps shows there's plenty of room around not too far from this house where the plane could have been ditched with no one being hurt, rather than obliterating a grandmother, a mother and her two children.

The pilot apparently made some effort to reach these uninhabited areas.
"He was making motions with his hand, like he was trying to throttle up, and he said there was no power," said Matthew Gorsuch, a former helicopter door gunner in the Navy who lives near the crash site. "He said he was trying to find a clearing, but he ran out of time." Through it all, Gorsuch said, the pilot had just one concern. "The only thing he cared about was where his plane had landed. That was the only thing he asked about. That was all he had on his mind."
A little late now.

06 December 2008

Mozart, RIP

I missed the anniversary of W.A. Mozart's death yesterday - 217 years ago, December 5, 1791, in Vienna. He was less than 2 months shy of his 36th birthday. Mozart always struggled financially, but this is most likely due to his having a difficult personality in an aristocratic age when being a major-league suck up was critical to success. He left us an astonishing body of work, and it's painful to think of what we never got to hear. While his death may not have been unusually early for the time, it's early for a major composer since few have accomplished so much at this age.

While the mind probably reaches its creative peak in the mid/late twenties, serious composers usually take a little longer to reach theirs. Lennon and McCartney, for example, peaked in their mid-twenties. Beethoven only began to compose seriously in his mid-twenties. He completed his "breakout" work, the Eroica, when he was 32. Brahms didn't begin to hit his stride until his 30's. He completed his magnificent 4th Symphony when he was 52. Notable exceptions are Schubert, who died at age 31, and Rossini, who produced the bulk of his operas between the ages 18 and 28, and retired from composing in his 30's.

So were Mozart'z creative powers in a state of decline at his death or likely to have continued to blossom? Had he died a year or two earlier it might have appeared that way, but his final year was one of his most productive. I've tabulated the number of works he produced at each age of his life, according to this Kochel listing. Since his birthday is in January, I've simply taken each year of composition less 1756 as his age. I made some effort to divide works evenly among years where a range of years is given. It's not a perfect accounting - his majestic B flat Piano Concerto in counted in his 35th year, though actually published in early January and so obviously written a prior year - but overall it's accurate enough to see a trend. Here's how is output looks over time:

While he did indeed have a couple off years when he was 33/34, the general trend was clearly one of increasing output as he aged. The sheer number of compositions hardly tells the whole story. In 1791, he wrote the operas La Clemenza di Tito and the Magic Flute along with the Clarinet Concerto in A as well as much of his Requiem. As for some of his other major works:

Piano Concerto in D minor - age 29
Marriage of Figaro - age 30
Don Giovanni - age 31
Symphonies 39, 40, 41 - age 32
Cosi fan Tutti - age 33
Piano Concerto in B flat - age 34

So there's no evidence that Mozart was past his peak, and it certainly seems likely more astonishing music was in his (our) future. Talk about the day the music died.

A Cure for the Housing Crisis or The End Game Commences

From Drudge I learn that the Chinese are now organizing trips to California to hunt down real estate bargains.
SouFun, the biggest real estate website in China, is organising a trip next month to look at properties in California and possibly Nevada. Liu Jian, the company’s chief operating officer, said about 300 people had expressed interest in the idea in the three days since it was advertised, though the company would take only a small group on the first trip. “Given the problems in the Chinese market now, many people have been asking us about taking a look at overseas markets, especially the US,” he said.
And why not? The Chinese have over the last 10 years been hoarding lots and lots of little coupons that entitle them to acquire U.S. assets (we call them "dollars").

The only stumbling block would be obtaining visas. Let's see if there are renewed calls for expanding H1-B visas or even more expansive visas even in the face of rising unemployment because, well, these good, down-on-their-luck Americans just don't have exactly the rights skills we need in our high-tech economy to bring about the kind of recovery we need.

05 December 2008

Auster Grinches the Grinch!

You gotta love Larry Auster.

Seriously, these childrens' shows have been brain-washing our populace like they've been reading from the Leon Trotsky playbook. Think Mary Poppins. It's theme was the neglectfulness of a father too interested in his career, ending with a message that it was a far better use of two pence to feed it to birds than invest it in a bank! And what have our bankers raised on this lesson done with our hard earned savings? Thrown them away providing mortgages to people who couldn't possibly afford them. Ok, I'm stretching it a bit, but from the multi-culturalism of Sesame Street to the extended-family arrangement in Full House, anti-capitalist, anti-traditional-family and generally anti-Western themes run through much of the entertainment aimed at children over the last 50 years. One grand exception was conservative Charles Schulz's Charlie Brown Christmas which triumphed over the crass commercialism of Christmas with a deeply spiritual statement (as opposed to feel-good humanism) unheard of in popular culture of the time.

How Important is Trade?

Tyler Cowen and Dani Rodrik are in a bit of a tussle over economic stimulus and trade. The liberal Rodrik claims that the effect of a financial stimulus can be maximized by raising the Keynesian multiplier with a high import tariff. Tyler thinks this is madness. Now all this multiplier crap is b.s., but surely Rodrik has a point: if you're going to have any hope of being able to increase growth by throwing money around, you can't have people using the money to buy imported goods - like the joke about this year's tax rebates being used to buy flat-screen TV's made in China.

But both economists are pretty convinced that restricting trade is a bad thing in normal times. But why do we think the current level of trade can't possibly be reduced? Over the last 60 years, our total trade level (imports + exports) has generally grown, while the multi-year rate of growth has declined.There is in fact a modest (-0.17) inverse correlation between trade and growth. So Rodrik's proposal, even ignoring the Keynesian mumbo-jumbo, doesn't seem like a particularly bad idea.

A reader has pointed out the importance of the trade deficit and its likely effect on our current troubles. I've updated the graph to include the trade deficit. This picture is indeed rather damning.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Housing Bubbles - Forever!

Ready to take advantage of the new 4.5% mortgage giveaway? Yes - if you have $99 and job, you can buy a home! Steve exposes the insanity.

The alleged concern being addressed is that the housing "correction" will overshoot and "undervalue" housing. But there's no natural price of housing. The value of a home is permanently distorted in two very simple ways. First, alone among consumer debt, mortgage interest is deductible, so right there it sucks up money that otherwise would be going elsewhere. Second, the 30-year mortgage is an unnatural financial instrument that would never exist in its ubiquitous state without government guarantees. The correction can't "overshoot." There are no artificial forces suppressing housing prices. If people aren't buying houses at their already inflated (by tax breaks and guarantees) levels, inflating them more can only add fuel to the fire.

03 December 2008

Palin Was Pregnant, Dammit

Back when anyone cared there was a big rumor that Sarah Palin's Down's Syndrome baby was really her daughter's. Well, if we didn't care then, why should we care now? The provocative and generally fact-driven blogger Half Sigma has been giving this rumor credence, and today gave it one more go. The big issue is that she didn't look all that pregnant until the very end (when she presumably stuffed a pillow up her blouse).

Just to help clear things up, here's a rather un-primped, very casual and un-posed picture of Sarah Palin when she was definitively not pregnant, palling around with some U.S. GI's in Kuwait:
Damn. Now, here she is from her Vogue photo-shoot in front of the first-dude's Piper. This was in mid-December, so she would have been about 4 1/2 months pregnant - not enough to "show", but pregnant enough to have experienced some physical changes. Note her hand resting on her ever-so-slightly bulging tummy (which ever-so-slightly-bulging tummy is not even remotely in evidence in the above picture):
In fact, her upper hand, which is against her chest, is clearly behind (i.e., further from the camera than) her lower hand, which is resting against her belly. A quick look at the Kuwait picture above should confirm that in her non-pregnant state such an arrangement would have been impossible. Case dismissed.

Punitive Damages Are Unconstitutional

Punitive damages are unconstitutional. There. What was so hard about that?

I assume punitive damages are tolerated because they pre-date the constitution in English jurisprudence, but they're not recognized beyond the Anglo-sphere. Here is where Scalia and Thomas's originalism fails conservative principles, since punitive damages are chiefly used as a weapon against the free market and in support of a socialist agenda.

Punitive damages constitute a punishment not supported by a finding of reasonable doubt based on criminal-justice procedure. A mere "preponderance of evidence" is sufficient to cause the defendant irreparable harm. Granted, the constitution only requires that life, liberty and property be forfeited under due process of law - which presumably a civil court trial constitutes. Yet imprisonment could never be imposed by a civil court (nor obviously execution). So why is property exempt from this protection.

So in this latest case, an $80million award against Philip-Morris, CJ Roberts wondered aloud how big a punitive damage award has to be to violate due process? The answer, CJR, is zero = all punitive damages violate due process. If Philip-Morris is guilty of fraud, then indict them for fraud and bring them to criminal trial. Otherwise, pay to the plaintiffs whatever damages a jury finds, and that's it. How hard is this to comprehend?

Secretary of State - an Easy Job

Is Secretary of State an easy job? I'm just asking because Hillary Clinton seems to be the most unqualified nominee for that position Ever. Wikipedia helpfully has a list of Secretaries of State. With the exception of Madeleine Albright and Condoleeza Rice, all of them have very long resumes either running various departments of State or Defense or running major institutions (like, say, the Armed Forces or a major corporation). Rice and Albright had experience in their administration - Rice as NSA and Albright as U.N. Ambassador - but prior to that had only positions in Academia. Is it coincidence that those same two would be on anyone's short list of the Worst Secretaries of State? So now, it appears, we will soon add a third. Is this Obama's strategy - embarrass HRC into oblivion? I'm afraid it won't work - a wooden stake and a silver bullet couldn't kill that one's political career.

01 December 2008

What Could Have Been

From 1947 through the 60's, the U.S. economy grew at a nearly 4% annual rate. The annual growth rate for the sixties was over 4.3%. Had our economy continued to grow at the '47 - '69 rate, Americans would be 43% richer today. Had we grown at our 60's pace, we'd be 67% richer. Even if we had only grown at a modest 3.5% pace, we'd still be 22% better off. Instead, our economy has only grown at a bit less than 3% since 1970. Astonishingly, our economy's growth has slowed down despite the labor force participation rate rising to 64% in the last decade from 57% in the late-sixties. Put another way, GDP per worker (in 2000 $$) was $47.1k in 1966 vs. 79.6k in 2007. This represents a measly annual productivity growth per worker of 1.3%, in comparison to 1950 - 1966, during which per worker output increase at a 2.6% annual rate*. Our productivity growth has slowed, and so has the pace of technological progress.

Labor -

* 7:30am I had originally posted a much higher figure for this last night but woke up this morning with "Shit - there's no way that number's right" and fixed my error and reposted the correct figure. I apologize to anyone who might have read that wrong number overnight.