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Thursday, August 24, 2006

GOP Voter, Is Thy Name Petard?

Paul Kiel at TPMmuckraker has an excellent post about what's going on in TX-22. Briefly, Tom DeLay has decided that he'd rather Kash in on K Street than Kontinue to represent his former Konstituents. DeLay Kwit the 2006 election race after winning his district's primary, evidently using the primary Kampaign to juice up his Koffers (which Kan then be used to help pay any legal expenses related to the state money-laundering charges Kurrently pending against him). DeLay then Klaimed that he had moved to northern Virginia, and thus the local GOP should be allowed to replace him on the ballot. Unfortunately for the Hammer, the Kourts nailed him by refusing to overturn or ignore Texas law, which Kwite Klearly disallows replacing a Kandidate under such Konditions.

All of that was decided several weeks ago, and since then there's been a lot of amusing news about RepubliKan disarray in Delay's old district (TPMmuckraker has reported a bunch of it). After various disputes among potential write-in Kandidates, the local party settled on its choice: Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.

Kiel's post today details the difficulty that Sekula-Gibbs will have, since voters who want to Kast their votes for her will have to spell out her name. That might be bad enough. As Kiel writes:
But it gets trickier. Voters in Texas' 22nd District will use the eSlate electronic voting machine. I decided to take it for a test drive and experience the thrill of democracy myself -- which you can do on Hart Intercivic's website.



Uh oh! But not to worry - we were assured by Josh Allen of Harter Intercivic that the actual machines have 25 characters, not a mere 18 as in the demo above. So her name will come in just under the limit.

The eSlate machine does lack a keyboard, however -- users roll a trackwheel to choose letters on a screen. And unfortunately for Dr. S-G, there's no hyphen.

Kiel has done a nice job of reporting: he contacted a lawyer in the Texas Secretary of State's office, who explained that
Judgments as to spelling will be made by "the counting judge," according to Amy Mitchell, an attorney with the Texas Secretary of State's office; such judgments tend to be lenient -- basically, if it "looks like" the name, it's counted as the name. Serious write-in candidates often lead to recounts, she said. Misspellings may well be the hanging chad of this election season.

Ms. Mitchell didn't know that the eSlate machine lacked a hyphen, but did say that “If you had most of the name without the hyphen, I don’t think the counting judge would discount the vote just because you didn’t have a hyphen that wasn’t on the program.”
Now, CCM's reader surely remembers all the RepubliKan foul-crying during the SCOTUS-stopped recount of the 2000 Florida presidential election---we need objective standards, can't rely on subjective attempts to "divine the voter's intent", etc. All of these Komplaints were a little odd given that
  1. At the time of the election, Florida statutes stated that the standard for hand recounts was "the intent of the voter" -- no more detail than that, plain and simple.

  2. The SCOTUS per curiam decision in the first Bush v. Gore case made it quite clear that the Florida Supreme Court had to follow the text of Florida statutes exactly, since otherwise the Florida Supreme Court would in effect obviate Florida's ability to take advantage of a certain safe-harbor provision in federal law concerning the counting of electoral votes. The details are complicated, but it's quite clear that the Florida SC decision to provide no real detail about counting standards was due to the SCOTUS's initial unanimous slap.
Now, the basis of the equal protection part of the second Bush v. Gore decision---the one that elected George W. Bush president, 5-4---was essentially that different people in a state can't have their votes' validity evaluated using different standards.

Let's leave aside the fact that the SCOTUS decision constituted a Catch 22---can't change the law, can't follow it, and let's also leave aside the fact that no federal election in history conceivably can have been constitutional under this standard. Instead, we'll just point out that relying on counting judges to discern whether a voter's stated choice "looks like" the name "Shelley Sekula-Gibbs" entails subjectivity and, potentially---likely?---different standards for different ballots.

I can't help thinking that if Ms. Sekula-Gibbs were a Democrat, the RepubliKan solution to this problem would be something like "You Kan't Kount any ballots for her if they don't have her name spelled exactly Korrectly!" I can even imagine a well-dressed bunch of Kongressional staffers starting a riot over attempts to count the ballots.

One can't help but think RepubliKans will advocate much greater leniency this time around.

And I hope that Democrats don't make a point of challenging ballots that reasonably look like attempts to vote for Ms. Sekula-Gibbs. RepubliKan hypocrisy, dishonesty and vote-suppression efforts are infuriating and deserve nothing but scorn. But the proper response on this issue is to set a good example, not to sKrew voters facing a less than simple situation. Since 2000, Democrats have understandably argued for more protections and options for voters (see Senate, New Jersey, 2002, for example). I hope they will avoid the tantalizing opportunity to sully that record just to get back at the RepubliKans---in Tom DeLay's district, no less---this year.

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Join that Hezbollah dating service now!

Michael Noer of Forbes has apparently unleashed quite a feminist shitstorm in the blogosphere with his aren't-I-clever Web article on what social researchers have discovered about what being a "career woman" does to a dude's chances of a happy marriage. Noer makes his case here:

To be clear, we're not talking about a high-school dropout minding a cash register. For our purposes, a "career girl" has a university-level (or higher) education, works more than 35 hours a week outside the home and makes more than $30,000 a year.

If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research).


He goes on to talk about why researchers (particularly economists) think this is so: Because when both household adults work, the "non-market labor" -- traditionally done by stay-at-home women -- simply doesn't get done. Somebody has to keep the toilets clean, this thinking goes, and when women go to work, they stop cleaning toilets (or keep cleaning them, on top of their 10-hour days in the office). Presto: Instant grounds for cranky women, and, by extension, unhappy men.

In response to Noer's article, Slate's Jack Shafer points out here that most of the research being cited is, in fact, applicable to both men and women who meet the affluent, career-oriented criteria. Shafer (whose column is always interesting, if frequently needlessly provocative) makes the case that the article, leaving out the headline and a few minor points, isn't actually insulting to women -- its crime, he says, is in shamelessly using the don't-marry-a-career-girl premise as a way to hook readers, a la the infamous Newsweek story that told women they were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get married after age 40. Shafer invites women to "bore me with your fury" and tell him what we find irritating about the piece.

Well, Jack, here goes.

Noer's premise is insulting to all women because it implies that those toilets can (and should) be cleaned only by women -- and that, if a two-career couple is having trouble keeping up with all of those little chores and errands of everyday life, it's the woman's job to figure out how to restore the happiness equilibrium by either applying a little more elbow grease or cutting back on her hours. As Shafer points out, the research Noer cites doesn't support his bias towards blaming women. But he continues to do it. Instead of examining reasons why an increase in a woman's work hours might increase the peril to her marriage much more than an uptick in her husband's (and I can think of several anecdotal possibilities right off the top of my head), Noer simply advises men not to marry that ambitious MBA, no matter how interesting she might be now.

Whether Noer's motive was to intentionally mislead or simply to grab readers with a startling premise is irrelevant. Stories such as this one wind up in the lexicon of the culture-gender-class wars, trotted out every time some commentator suggests women should liven up their marriages by taking a pole-dancing aerobics class.

Better advice for Ms. MBA, in fact, might be to avoid getting involved with a man who thinks that mops are best used for Halloween costumes -- or, if she's going to make more money than her husband, to put that extra cash toward a good cleaning crew. Cancelling that Forbes subscription might also be in order.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bush: To Hell With the Facts on the Ground

At his press conference yesterday, President Bush heard the following question:
I'd like to go back to Iraq. You've continually cited the elections, the new government, its progress in Iraq, and yet the violence has gotten worse in certain areas. You've had to go to Baghdad again. Is it not time for a new strategy? Is it not time for a new strategy? And if not, why not?
Here's his answer (well, part of it -- he rambled in John Kerry fashion for quite a while):
THE PRESIDENT: The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society. That's the strategy. The tactics -- now, either you say, yes, its important we stay there and get it done, or we leave. We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President. [Emphasis added.]
This is a remarkable statement, and one that Democrats and the President's two other vocal critics in Washington (George Will and Chuck Hagel) should make a point of hanging around his neck, for three reasons.

First, the President said, point blank, that no matter what happens, we're staying in Iraq. Come civil war, come peace, come what may -- we are staying in Iraq. For all his talk about how he makes decisions based on the facts and the commanders on the ground, he finally told the truth yesterday: it doesn't matter what happens, We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President.

Second, the President and his lieutenants have repeatedly stated things like "We'll stand down when the Iraqi security forces are ready to stand up." Well, he just said that we aren't going to be standing down, so long as I'm the President. Elementary logic (the contrapositive form, I believe) tells you that either the stand-down policy no longer has effect or the President does not think that Iraqi security forces will be ready to stand up before January 20, 2009 (for what it's worth, all of World War II lasted only slightly longer than the period between Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq and January 20, 2009). Six years, and still, not enough standing up for us to leave. And this is the President's "forward strategy of freedom". [Update: An additional part of this point involves incentives. The President and his supporters have criticized proposals to set a date for leaving Iraq on the grounds that it would give insurgents the incentive to simply wait us out. Well, swearing that We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President entails its own incentive problem: it tells both the government and the various factions in Iraq that they don't need to get serious about dealing with their security problems themselves, since they can count on our military to address them. Unless, of course, our military's presence is making things worse by stoking the insurgency -- in which case we should leave for that reason alone.]

Third, the President's statement makes clear that his plan for dealing with the unmitigated mess he and his faithful deputies have caused is, quite literally, more of the same: We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President. The problem with this "plan", of course, is that We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President is not actually a plan. Rather it is the result of a plan -- or would be, anyway, if the President had one.

As Joe Lieberman has pointed out, he will be President for years more. It's a corollary that the Democrats fail to criticize the President for his planlessness at their peril. They should focus like a laser beam on yesterday's rare honest statement of policy. If I were running the DNC's advertising this year, I'd have ads up all in competitive areas over the country, showing Bush say We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President, over and over, the way Pat Buchanan did with the first Bush's no-new-taxes pap in New Hampshire back in 1992. Make sure people know just how lost the man is. Make sure they know what his Republican supporters in Congress are actually supporting.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Lieberman: Against Rumsfeld Before He Was For Him Before He Was Against Him

Joe Lieberman was on Face The Nation yesterday and did a relatively extended interview with Bob Schieffer and Jim Vandehei of the WaPo. He uttered a number of nonsequiturs and, in my view, unreasonable claims.

While I don't have time to annotate the full transcript, I was struck by his answer to Schieffer's final question:
SCHIEFFER: Tell us what you would do right now that is different than what the president is proposing.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Yeah. I think there's--three years ago in October on this show you asked me and I said that I believe that it was time for new leadership at the Pentagon. I think it's still time for new leadership at the Pentagon. With all respect to Don Rumsfeld, who has done a grueling job for six years, we would benefit from new leadership to work with our military in Iraq.
Interesting. Lieberman says he called for "new leadership at the Pentagon" in October 2003, and then he mentions Rumsfeld's name.

Interesting to note, then, that back on May 14, 2004 -- several months after Ol' Joe's claimed October 2003 criticism of Rummy on FTN -- that our man Joe wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that "Secretary Rumsfeld's removal would delight foreign and domestic opponents of America's presence in Iraq" (this op-ed was written at the height of the Abu Ghraib-generated pressure on Rumsfeld to resign -- but you know, it doesn't make sense to change horses midstream, even when the one you're on has a bad habit of getting swept away with the current).

And now he's back, flip-flopping again. Got to get rid of Rummy.

Against him. For him. Against him again.

Well, hey, it's not like he's John Kerry or something -- give the guy some latitude to make some flip-flops in his policy positions. Next thing you know those nutty liberals will criticize Lieberman for highlighting his disagreements with President Bush, just because he said
It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril
Come to think of it, maybe that was just some generous across-the-party-lines advice.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Greg Mankiw : Krugman's a Flip-Flopper! [sound of glass wall breaking]

I'm putting together some materials for general interest audience for a class on social insurance I'm teaching this fall. I've had an easy time finding stuff written by economists more inclined toward the government-can-help/inequality-is-rising-and-that's-a-problem views. Because I want to add some materials from the other side of the political spectrum, I went to Greg Mankiw's blog.

As I scrolled through some recent posts, I came up with
this one from about a month ago
. In it, Mankiw criticizes Paul Krugman for
  1. Allegedly being wrong in Krugman's claim that
    "There's a persistent myth, perpetuated by economists who should know better -- like Edward Lazear, the chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers -- that rising inequality in the United States is mainly a matter of a rising gap between those with a lot of education and those without."
  2. Supposedly writing the opposite in his textbook ... copyright 2005, no less!
Well, I couldn't help myself. Here's the text of my comment (number 61, I believe):

Jonah B. Gelbach said...

Professor Mankiw

You criticize Paul Krugman for writing in the NYT that returns to skill are not the most important source of rising inequality, given his apparently contradictory statement in his 2005 textbook:

I suppose that Paul has changed his mind since this book (copyright 2005) was written. It is a bit harsh, however, for Paul to be so hard on Eddie for believing what Paul believed not very long ago.

This criticism shows an considerable chutzpah.

I used the first edition of your textbook to teach my principles class and well remember your reference to the Arthur Laffer/George W. Bush/GOP Congressional leadership types (you know, the ones who claim that tax cuts pay for themselves) as "Charlatans and Cranks".

Anyone who has followed this story knows that you removed this reference in later editions (can't remember if it was in the 2nd or not, but it sure wasn't in the third!). Interesting to note that shortly thereafter you became head of the Bush CEA.

So please, spare us the lectures about consistency---glass houses and stones, they don't go together so well.

On the merits, there really isn't any contradiction between the Lemieux paper you cite and the point Krugman makes in the NYT. There are (at least) two reasons for this fact. First, as you should know, Professor Mankiw, the CPS has top-coded data. Thus top earnings values (from which wages have to be recovered for salary workers) have to be adjusted somehow. Lemieux addresses this problem, as is typical in this literature, by multiplying topcoded values by 1.4. That method is not very likely to help you characterize right-tail concentrations.

The second problem is probably worse: as you no doubt also know, the CPS is only a sample, with roughly 50,000-60,000 households in a given month (even using the ORG samples gets you only 3 times that sample size). One can hardly hope to get a sense of what's going in, say, the top 1% of the overall income distribution of 100+ million households from such a sample---there just aren't going to be enough observations *there*, even if they weren't top-coded. [See JG Update below]

None of this is to criticize Lemieux's paper -- it just doesn't address the rising inequality point to which Krugman's NYT statement refers (if memory serves, anyway).

Krugman's point is that income inequality is largely being driven by the extreme right tail of the income distribution, not by the increase in returns to a few more years of education.

Thus it is not impossible for returns to skill to explain a substantial amount of the increase in wage inequality in a dataset like the CPS even as ever greater concentration of income and wealth at the very top totally swamps this effect, which I believe that this is Krugman's NYT point, tho it's been a while since I read it or his textbook.

On the concentration point, go look at Figure B of Piketty and Saez's THE EVOLUTION OF TOP INCOMES: A HISTORICAL AND INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE (http://papers.nber.org/papers/w11955.pdf), and you will see that as an accounting matter, the growth in the top decile's share of income since about 1987 has been driven largely by a striking increase in the income of the top 1%. It's difficult to think of a story that (a) can explain this trend and (b) involves simple solutions like "get a BA" for low-to-moderate-income folks.

Jonah Gelbach

JG UPDATE: On reflection, I think this second point may not be so important, though its importance depends on the question being asked. 500 observations is often enough to estimate a mean with some precision, so if the data weren't top-coded it would probably be possible to estimate avg income in the top 1% reasonably well. On the other hand, the estimation of the top 1% cutoff point itself might still be challenging: it's known that the variance of the qth quantile of a distribution is q*(1-q)/(nf2), where n is the sample size and f is the density of the distribution at the qth quantile. in this case, f is likely very small, so one over its square is likely very big. Thus the precision of estimating the top 1% cutoff point from the CPS may well be quite low. Moreover, the earnings/income distribution above the top 1% cutoff is extremely right-skewed and has enormous variance. Thus it may be that very large sample sizes (i.e., much larger than usual Central Limit Theorem arguments suggest) would be needed to measure what's going on at the very top with any precision; this point is even more relevant when interest involves estimating trends from repeated independent cross-sections, in which case the variances essentially need to be summed across years. So my second point above might or might not be practically relevant if there were no topcoding (which there is, in any case).

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Judge StrikesDown NSA Warrantless Surveillance

In case you haven't heard, Federal District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of Detroit (which lies in the Sixth Circuit) found the Bush Administration's use of warrantless surveillance by the NSA to be unconstitutional as well as a violation of the President's statutory authority under the FISA law. Judge Taylor has permanently enjoined the use of the NSA program.

This decision (available here; HT: ThinkProgress) is both potentially momentous and certain to be appealed, all the way to the Supreme Court, by the government and possibly also the plaintiffs (as to a part of the decision that found the government's alleged data mining activities nonjusticiable under the state secrets privilege).

I'm no lawyer, but I'm reading the decision with great interest, while also checking
law blogs for reaction by various experts. (One moderately lengthy reaction, which I haven't yet had time to read in any detail, is by Yale law prof
Jack Balkin
.)

Without having finsihed the opinion, I'm a bit surprised that Judge Taylor found the program unconstitutional---reading various posts at law blogs has given me the clear sense that Fourth Amendment criticisms of the NSA program are pretty tenuous; this is the first time I can remember hearing anyone seriously raise the First Amendment, as Judge Taylor does in her opinion. By contrast, the program's essentially self-evident violation of FISA makes Judge Taylor's partial reliance on FISA seem obvious here. A bunch of people have written about the likely effect of the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision (which affirmed the logic of Justice Jackson's concurrence in the 1952 Youngstown case, a concurrence that as I understand it essentially says the President has no genearl authority to violate duly enacted statutes in national security matters) -- see Balkin's blog Balkinization for examples.

The most notable thing I've read so far is Judge Taylor's enumeration of various ways -- in public statements, press releases, the DOJ's publicly released white paper, and both classified and unclassified filings in the case in front of Judge Taylor -- in which the government has sought to defend the legality of the NSA program, followed by her conclusive statement that
the court finds Defendants' argument that they cannot defend this case without the use of classified information to be disingenuous and without merit.
Ouch. More to come.

Update: Jack Balkin's view of the decision is not very positive:
It is quite clear that the government will appeal this opinion, and because the court's opinion, quite frankly, has so many holes in it, it is also clear to me that the plaintiffs will have to relitigate the entire matter before the circuit court, and possibly the Supreme Court. The reasons that the court below has given are just not good enough. This is just the opening shot in what promises to be a long battle.
Balkin's post shows considerable skepticism about Judge Taylor's 4th amendment reasoning but credits (a bit) her 1st amendment argument (referring to it at one point as novel while also pointing out that a secret program like the NSA's by hypothesis could not involve the requisite chilling effect to violate the 1st).

He also expresses considerable disappointment in Judge Taylor's apparent failure to cite Hamdan or address the strongest interpretation of the government's arguments regarding the AUMF. Balkin's point is not that the government is right -- he's been quite clear over these last months about why it is wrong -- but rather that today's decision does a poor job of explaining why the government is, in fact, wrong.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Macaca-gate: the short-in-front and long-in-back of it

From the hotlineblog, regarding the ongoing dust-up involving a Virginia-born man with a video camera and Senator George Allen (R-CSA):

According to two Republicans who heard the word used, "macaca" was a mash-up of "Mohawk," referring to Sidarth's distinctive hair, and "caca," Spanish slang for excrement, or "shit."

Said one Republican close to the campaign: "In other words, he was a shit-head, an annoyance." Allen, according to Republicans, heard members of his traveling entourage and Virginia Republicans use the phrase and picked it up. It was the first word that came to his mind when he spied Sidarth at the weekend's event, according to Republicans who have been briefed on Allen's version of the event.

Opponents of Allen have said that Sidarth's hair was clearly styled as a mullet rather than as a Mohawk.
You know when the word mullet can be deployed against your guy with even a modicum of efficacy, your candidate is in deep caca. Maybe the Allen campaign should follow W's lead and just refuse to admit people to his campaign events unless they've been vetted.

"Good judgment is an essential part of good governance"

That's a phrase from Ned Lamont's op-ed in today's WSJ.

Folks impressed by Joe Lieberman's supposed reasonableness and afraid of Ned Lamont's supposed extremism, radicalism, or whatever else Ol' Joe and the RNC are saying, should go read that op-ed. You might be surprised by the basic pragmatism of the message.

(HT: TPM)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"They Don't Need Stata....They Have Word"

(See below for title explanation.)

Doug Besharov is Joseph J. and Violet Jacobs Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He is also nominally a colleague of mine at the University of Maryland (Doug has an appointment in the Public Policy School at UMd; see below for a related full disclosure moment) It's probably fair to say that he is the go-to guy for the MSM on welfare policy questions. This topic happens to be one on which I've done some academic research over the last few years.

Today Doug has an op-ed column in the NYT, titled End Welfare Lite as We Know It. While I don't usually blog about my research, I think it's probably worth making some comments here, because Doug does his usually brilliant job of
  • citing basic statistics and characterizing largely uncontested facts, and then
  • drawing the same old "cut-benefits, ratchet-up-the-pressure-on-the-poor" conclusion, regardless of the relationship - positive, negative, or zero - between the facts and the conclusion.

In today's article, Doug acknowledges that "it took more than welfare reform to end welfare as we knew it", with the remarkable boom of the late-1990s being the obvious candidate. This acknowledgment is welcome. On the other hand, his claim that the decrease in caseloads came amid "little sign of serious additional hardship" likely is the result of a focus on summary statistics (which cannot tell us what applied microeconomists call the "counterfactual", that is, what would have happened in the absence of either reform or the economy) as well as studies that focus on average treatment effects.

As one of my papers (coauthored with Marianne Bitler and Hilary Hoynes, who have nothing to do with this blog in general or this post in particular) shows, however, average effects can miss a lot. Basic economic theory suggests that reforms like those that preceded and were cemented by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) should increase earnings for some, reduce them for others, and have generally mixed or ambiguous effects on income. Our paper shows that average effects do a woeful job of characterizing the effects of reform. We do find some evidence of "additional hardship", and (for technical reasons) it is possible that the apparent additional hardship we do find is the tip of the iceberg. [Update: our paper involves only data from Connecticut's evaluation of its pre-PRWORA Jobs First program. Like other evaluations, this one involved random assignment of subjects to the new and old programs, which is an attractive feature for evaluating reform's effects (though such studies do have drawbacks). We chose this program because its features are both similar to those mandated by PRWORA and among the most substantial in terms of their difference from the pre-reform features. There is every reason (inlcuding preliminary analysis) to believe that results from other states' experiments would be similar. Since Jobs First is very similar to PRWORA, moreover, our results likely are generalizable to other states.]

None of this is to deny that income and earnings have gone up for some (perhaps even a lot) of women affected by welfare reform; in fact, our results show that these indicators must have improved for some women, and if the tip-of-the-iceberg effect mentioned above is real, then the gains for the winners would necessarily be even greater than is apparent in our paper. Doug writes that
the best estimates are that only about 40 percent to 50 percent of mothers who left welfare have steady, full-time jobs. Another 15 percent or so work part time. According to surveys in various states, these mothers are earning about $8 an hour. That’s about $16,000 a year for full-time employment. [JG note: I assume that these figures are averages, in which case they likely mask considerable heterogeneity of the same sort that motivated my paper, discussed above.]
Doug adds compassionately that
It is their story that the supporters of welfare reform celebrate, but $16,000 is not a lot of money, especially for a mother with two children.
That point is certainly true, but the fact is that no one in the welfare research world seriously thinks that these folks are going to do much better than $16,000 a year on average. The fact is that most women who have lengthy spells of welfare participation do not have the kind of skills that will translate into earnings much greater than this level (there's a reason they wind up on welfare in the first place). Barring a massive improvement in their human capital or a radical shift in the U.S. economy back toward career ladders based largely on experience, earnings just aren't going to be very high for these women.

Moreover, those folks - the ones who can get it together to find and hold a full-time job, if they are forced to - have never been the primary reason to worry about the stick-first, carrot-second style of reforms so dear to Doug and his comrades in arms. Rather, for me the biggest concern has always been the folks at the very bottom: those who will have very little chance of finding and keeping any job, even one that pays less than $8 (and almost surely has no benefits to speak of). Some critics of PRWORA suggested it would simply shift women from traditional cash assistance to other programs, with the disability and supplemental security insurance programs commonly mentioned.

Back when PRWORA was being debated in Congress and within the White House (a whole other but not uninteresting political story), PRWORA's supporters pooh-poohed these concerns. They pointed out that Medicaid would still be available, that states could exempt 20% of their welfare caseloads from work requirements and the 60-month lifetime limit on federal aid, and that states could supplement federal payments with their own dollars if they chose to. Thus, the claim was that the worst off folks would still have a safety net - we were just going to get serious with all those other folks who could make $16K per year working full-time.

In fact, there are some folks struggling to get off welfare even now. Doug writes today that
about a quarter of those who leave welfare return to the program, with many cycling in and out as they face temporary ups and downs.

In addition, when they’re off welfare, some of these families survive only because they still receive government assistance through food stamps (an average of more than $2,500), the Women, Infants and Children program (about $1,800 for infants and new mothers), Supplemental Security Income (an average of over $6,500), or housing aid (an average of $6,000). Their children also qualify for Medicaid. In reality, these families are still on welfare because they are still receiving benefits and not working -- call it "welfare lite."

So, yes, welfare reform reduced welfare dependency, but not as much as suggested by the political rhetoric, and a great deal of dependency is now diffused and hidden within larger social welfare programs.


Note that this set of results is precisely how PRWORA's proponents had suggested things should work: those who can't make it in the labor market would be exempted from new requirements and limits of the welfare system, allowing them to stay on (or perhaps cycle on and off) welfare as necessary, while their needs would be met using other government programs.

So what is Doug's response to this situation? You might think he would declare victory and say, "See, liberals? PRWORA's enactment hasn't left any women or children behind!". But Doug is no optimist about PRWORA when it comes to this particular topic. No. Apparently the appropriate response to full-time workers making an average of $16k per year and a bunch of folks who are at least partly insulated from the trilogy of their own bad luck, lack of skills and the welfare reforms of the 1990s is not the celebration so commonly entertained by PRWORA's cheerleaders.

Instead, Doug concludes (cue screeching eagle and rousing, Colbert Report-like music) thusly:
The tougher work and participation requirements added in this year’s reauthorization of the law could help states address the deeper needs of welfare families. But many states are already planning to avoid these new strictures with various administrative gimmicks, like placing the most troubled and disorganized families in state-financed programs where federal rules do not apply. This would only further obscure the high levels of continuing dependency.

For now, welfare reform deserves only two cheers. Not bad for a historic change in policy, but not good enough for us to be even close to satisfied.


Evidently we have met the enemy, and it's name is any provision of PRWORA -- or fiscal federalism, for that matter: how dare those states act like laboratories of democracy! -- that provides even the barest insulation for the would-be welfare population.

Let's review Doug's argument:
  1. For all the talk about welfare reform's successes, lots of people are still in bad shape -- cycling in and out of welfare and other programs, making little money (say, because they work full-time for just $8 an hour). Some of them are even being protected by those lousy states!

  2. Therefore we should crack down, increasing work requirements, eliminating exemptions, and (I guess) further restricting state flexibility.

Only someone committed to the "first know answer, then plug in possibly related but if necessary unrelated assertions of fact to justify answer" style of argument could come up with this combination. Regarding women who make $8/hour working full-time, it is just silly to say that increasing work requirements will somehow make them better off. Regarding women who continue to cycle through TANF or use other programs, I've said enough above.

This is the sort of article that reminds me why I unsubscribed from Doug's op-ed listserv (to which I'd never asked to be subscribed, incidentally).



Title explanation: Stata is a statistical software package that empirical researchers use (among other things) to assess the relationships between behavior and policies. Word is a wordprocessing package that (among other people) pundits use to claim things that suit their preferred policy outcomes. The title of this post is a comment made to me today by an economist friend who is no liberal and no stranger to Doug's writing after he read Doug's column from today's NYT.

Full disclosure moment--I provide this discussion to be clear that Doug is not my favorite guy for those of my two readers who may think I have an axe - as opposed to Doug's current shoddy argument - to grind: A few years ago (2002 if I remember correctly), one of my other papers---a revised version of which was recently published; see this link for an abstract---was the subject of a debate on the Tavis Smiley Show on NPR. One of my coauthors spent a few minutes discussing the earlier version of the paper with Tavis Smiley, after which there was a debate between Doug and some (non-economist, if I remember) person I'd never heard of and whose name I don't remember. The full story is a very long one, but the day before the show I spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with Doug and one of his AEI/UMd (both) associates answering questions they had about our paper. I did a nontrivial amount of additional statistical research to address concerns Doug expressed about our paper, the upshot of which was that they showed his concerns were almost certainly unfounded. None of this stopped Doug from going on the air and distorting my research, claiming we hadn't looked at things we had, and insinuating that the data we used were somehow inferior to his preferred source of analysis (which, as it happens, had been done on precisely the same dataset).

This stunt was pretty low in my book, not least because Doug was nominally a senior colleague of mine at Maryland (though the policy school and econ department are administratively separate). In his final email to me on this matter, Doug later claimed that the issue was my supposed "insistence that" my research "*must* be correct". The research itself has both strengths and weaknesses, as does all social science research; I'd have been delighted to acknowledge that point - indeed, I was willing to spend my own time investigating Doug's concerns precisely out of a commitment to healthy skepticism (if Doug were more committed to empirical research and less committed to the ensuing politics surrounding given empirical findings, he might have realized that fact). What made this interaction different was that Doug's particular criticisms were empirically unfounded, a fact upon which I certainly did insist, and his mode of pressing them was intellectually dishonest.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Foolish Consistency

"A foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but sometimes a principled one ought to be demanded ." Thus speaks Jonah, castigating Republicans for not encouraging Joe Schwarz to run as an independent. Because the ultimate story of Joe Lieberman is of course about the Republicans. It's not the fact that Joe Lieberman is the embarassing exception for those Democrats who want to impugn the motives of Republicans with regard to the war. It's a little tough when a nationally prominent Democrat continuing to stand behind the president. Remove the thorn in the side by defeating Lieberman in the primary, problem solved.

I would like to see Lieberman prevail, even over the Republican, because I don't want to see a Democrat run out of town on rails for taking what I view are reasonable positions. I plan to contribute to Lieberman's independent campaign for that purpose. If Jonah is so concerned about Joe Schwarz (maybe the reason that the consistency Jonah craves is lacking is that 99.9% of America has no idea who Joe Schwartz is, and whether he is a Congressman or plays third base for the Padres), I'm sure he'll cough up some money for any independent run he may make and would support him over his Democrat rival.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

spacegirl Blasts Off

I hope CCM's two co-contributors, one would-be contributor, and reader all will join me in welcoming our newest team member. Her handle is spacegirl, and she knows a thing or 2000 about US politics. As part of my deal with her, I can't say any more about her background, employment, height, turn-ons or turn-offs.

But I bet she'll give CCM some needed fuel, without causing us to lose any foam in the process.

Graber Calls out WaPo

Mark Graber nails the major problems with the laments of supposed moderates about Lieberman's defeat. Highlights:
On issues as diverse as Iraq, the environment, and federal judicial selection, Mr. Lieberman was consistently unable to form a coalition of the center against the wings, largely because Republican moderates preferred to ally with Frist....

bipartisanship requires senators of both parties to cooperate, not simply senators of one party to weaken their party's capacity to oppose the other. Those who want bipartisan centrism need to promote independent candidates from all parties and expose Republican moderates who too often cave to their extremist leadership. A good case can be made that in the present political environment, centrism is more likely to be promoted by a Democratic party that uses every parliamentary tool in the books to oppose Republican initiatives until they are moderated, then by Democrats who when pronouncing a plague on extremists in both parties, make no actual contribution to diffusing the extremist policies of the right.
Graber also points out that while the Washington Post editorial he criticizes laments both Lieberman's loss and that of Joe Schwarz (a reportedly moderate Republican House member from Michigan who was beaten after an extensive campaign by the antitax-faith-and-wealth-based Club for Growth), the WaPo editorial promotes an independent run only by Lieberman. This is a very good point. I have seen no one suggest that Schwarz should run an indy campaign against his right-wing primary vanquisher. And I'm unaware of any lament about Schwarz's loss from the same GOP voices so sad about Lieberman's loss (e.g., Karl Rove, Dick "Lamont encourages bin Laden" Cheney, Tony Snow, and
Bu$h Ate My Baby
). A foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but sometimes a principled one ought to be demanded .

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Al From Jumps the Shark

Just read his statement, as provided here. All I can say is that it shows that the DLC has made its way into parody. See Feingold's statement for the future of the Democratic party.

NYT Ed Board Gets it Right

Here's the text of today's NYT editorial about former Democrat Joe Lieberman. Unlike some people who confuse reasoned exasperation with extremism, the NYT folks get the story exactly right. Read it, and let Joe and his mourners weep.
Revenge of the Irate Moderates
Published: August 9, 2006

The defeat of Senator Joseph Lieberman at the hands of a little-known Connecticut businessman is bound to send a message to politicians of both parties that voters are angry and frustrated over the war in Iraq. The primary upset was not, however, a rebellion against the bipartisanship and centrism that Mr. Lieberman said he represented in the Senate. Instead, Connecticut Democrats were reacting to the way those concepts have been perverted by the Bush White House.

Ned Lamont, a relative political novice, said he ran against Mr. Lieberman because he was offended by the senator’s sunny descriptions of what was happening in Iraq and his denunciation of Democrats who criticized the administration’s handling of the war. Many other people in Connecticut may have felt that sense of frustration, but no one else had the money and moxie to do what Mr. Lamont did. Mr. Lieberman was stunned to find himself on the defensive, and it was only in the last few weeks that the 18-year veteran mounted a desperate campaign to reclaim his party’s support.

Senator Lieberman says he will run as an independent in November, taking on Mr. Lamont and the Republican, Alan Schlesinger. Mr. Schlesinger is a very weak candidate, but Mr. Lieberman should consider the risk of splitting his party if the Republicans are able to convince Mr. Schlesinger to drop out of the race in favor of a stronger nominee.

Mr. Lieberman’s supporters have tried to depict Mr. Lamont and his backers as wild-eyed radicals who want to punish the senator for working with Republicans and to force the Democratic Party into a disastrous turn toward extremism. It’s hard to imagine Connecticut, which likes to be called the Land of Steady Habits, as an encampment of left-wing isolationists, and it’s hard to imagine Mr. Lamont, who worked happily with the Republicans in Greenwich politics, leading that kind of revolution.

The rebellion against Mr. Lieberman was actually an uprising by that rare phenomenon, irate moderates. They are the voters who have been unnerved over the last few years as the country has seemed to be galloping in a deeply unmoderate direction. A war that began at the president’s choosing has degenerated into a desperate, bloody mess that has turned much of the world against the United States. The administration’s contempt for international agreements, Congressional prerogatives and the authority of the courts has undermined the rule of law abroad and at home.

Yet while all this has been happening, the political discussion in Washington has become a captive of the Bush agenda. Traditional beliefs like every person’s right to a day in court, or the conviction that America should not start wars it does not know how to win, wind up being portrayed as extreme. The middle becomes a place where senators struggle to get the president to volunteer to obey the law when the mood strikes him. Attempting to regain the real center becomes a radical alternative.

When Mr. Lieberman told The Washington Post, “I haven’t changed. Events around me have changed,” he actually put his finger on his political problem. His constituents felt that when the White House led the country into a disastrous international crisis and started subverting the nation’s basic traditions, Joe Lieberman should have changed enough to take a lead in fighting back.

A Blow for Truth, Justice and the American Way

Last night was a historic one, as Joe "Vichy" Lieberman can kiss his Senate seat goodbye. Instead of making googly eyes at BusHitler and writing him mash notes from the Senate floor, Ole Joe can spend his days pondering what makes the Democratic Party different from, and better than, the Rethuglicans -- things like not having been hijacked by extremists in the Party, like the ironically named Religious Right, and being beholden to ideological dogma from which one dare not stray, like tax cuts for the wealthiest .00001%. Because that type of approach will never let the Democrats retake control of the Congress in November. In fact, maybe he can join the Republicans, since he so obviously wants to be one of them, and maybe he can even run as their Vice Presidential candidate, so we can all vote against him, not just lucky Connecticut Democrats.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lieberman Compares Bush To Bin Laden

Hard to believe, eh?

But here's what MSNBC reports about Good Ol' Joe's Sunday night campaign event:
With former Sen. Max Cleland by his side to endorse him, Lieberman said Lamont’s treatment of him was “not unlike what the Republicans did to Max Cleland in his race for the Senate four years ago,” when the GOP used an ad of Cleland’s face morphing into Osama Bin Laden.
Presumably Lieberman is referring to this ad of Lamont's, in which video appears of George W. Bush with Lieberman's voice laid over it.

I guess Lamont's ad is "not unlike" the smear against Cleland, in much the same way as Joe Lieberman's rhetorical support of George W. Bush's presidency is "not unlike" Dick Cheney's. They have something in common, right?

But seriously: What a sad, self-pitying fool Lieberman has become.