Posts tagged ‘Ronald Reagan’

Gerrymandering, Proposals to Split California, And Why Odd and Even Matter

Over the last several years, there have been several proposals to split California into more than one state (I know what you are thinking:  Good God, more Californias?)  There was a proposal last year to split it into 6 states.  This election, there is a proposal on the ballot to split it into 3 states.  I am not sure what the entire process would be, but as a minimum either proposal would have to be approved by Congress.  For that latter to happen, the 3 state plan is probably more likely to get approved than the 6 state plan because it is an odd number.  Seriously.

For the rest of us, the main effect of a California split is that its current citizens would get more US Senators.  Each state gets 2 Senators so California would go from 2 to 6 Senators in a three-state proposal and 2 to 12 Senators in a 6-state proposal.  This also means that California would get some extra Electoral College votes, since a state's votes is the sum of its Representatives and Senators.

To some extent, this debate will be a flashback to the mid-19th Century when statehood decisions were made based on the north-south balance in the Senate.   This time around, it will be about shifting, or perhaps more accurately not shifting, the Republican-Democrat balance.  Right now CA is perceived by all to be +2 Senate seats for the Democrats for most of the foreseeable future.  The problem with even-number splits such as 2 or 4 or 6 states from CA is that they are almost guaranteed to shift the CA contribution away from +2D.  Take the two state solution.  If they were split north and south, you would likely get two blue states and the +2D from CA in the Senate would become +4D.  Republicans would barf.  If you split the state east-west, you might be able to create a red state and a blue state such that CA would shift from +2D to neutral, an effective gain for R's.  Democrats would hate this.  Neither party in Congress is going to agree on a solution here.  There is no way to gerrymander the thing without some party making a gain.  This is generally true for all even number state solutions.

Odd number state solutions could also be problematic, but they could also work depending on how the lines are drawn (making this probably the most watched gerrymander in US history).  A three state solution that creates two blue states and a red state would keep CA's total effect on the Senate as +2D.  I am not sure any split would clear Congress but this is probably the only possibility that might do so.   Two coastal states and one inland state would probably achieve this result, but I believe the current proposal is for three states split north to south, so a large heavily blue coastal city or two is in each state, which could push the thing into being +6D which the Senate would never buy short of a Democratic majority and elimination of the filibuster (which for a generation of +4 votes in the Senate they might consider).

All of this glosses over huge local problems in CA itself, like

  • How do you split up state debts, such as Calpers obligations and assets
  • Will current state officeholders (e.g. the governor and AG) who are incredibly powerful and have historically used these positions as springboards for national office (e.g. Kamala Harris, Jerry Brown, Ronald Reagan) accept a huge reduction in their power and budget
  • If there is a red state created, how will blue urban areas put into this red state react?  (the opposite issue already exists with red rural areas already used to living in a blue state).

Explaining the Flaw in Kevin Drum's (and Apparently Science Magazine's) Climate Chart

I won't repeat the analysis, you need to see it here.  Here is the chart in question:

My argument is that the smoothing and relatively low sampling intervals in the early data very likely mask variations similar to what we are seeing in the last 100 years -- ie they greatly exaggerate the smoothness of history and create a false impression that recent temperature changes are unprecedented (also the grey range bands are self-evidently garbage, but that is another story).

Drum's response was that "it was published in Science."  Apparently, this sort of appeal to authority is what passes for data analysis in the climate world.

Well, maybe I did not explain the issue well.  So I found a political analysis that may help Kevin Drum see the problem.  This is from an actual blog post by Dave Manuel (this seems to be such a common data analysis fallacy that I found an example on the first page of my first Google search).  It is an analysis of average GDP growth by President.  I don't know this Dave Manuel guy and can't comment on the data quality, but let's assume the data is correct for a moment.  Quoting from his post:

Here are the individual performances of each president since 1948:

1948-1952 (Harry S. Truman, Democrat), +4.82%

1953-1960 (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Republican), +3%

1961-1964 (John F. Kennedy / Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat), +4.65%

1965-1968 (Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat), +5.05%

1969-1972 (Richard Nixon, Republican), +3%

1973-1976 (Richard Nixon / Gerald Ford, Republican), +2.6%

1977-1980 (Jimmy Carter, Democrat), +3.25%

1981-1988 (Ronald Reagan, Republican), 3.4%

1989-1992 (George H. W. Bush, Republican), 2.17%

1993-2000 (Bill Clinton, Democrat), 3.88%

2001-2008 (George W. Bush, Republican), +2.09%

2009 (Barack Obama, Democrat), -2.6%

Let's put this data in a chart:


Look, a hockey stick , right?   Obama is the worst, right?

In fact there is a big problem with this analysis, even if the data is correct.  And I bet Kevin Drum can get it right away, even though it is the exact same problem as on his climate chart.

The problem is that a single year of Obama's is compared to four or eight years for other presidents.  These earlier presidents may well have had individual down economic years - in fact, Reagan's first year was almost certainly a down year for GDP.  But that kind of volatility is masked because the data points for the other presidents represent much more time, effectively smoothing variability.

Now, this chart has a difference in sampling frequency of 4-8x between the previous presidents and Obama.  This made a huge difference here, but it is a trivial difference compared to the 1 million times greater sampling frequency of modern temperature data vs. historical data obtained by looking at proxies (such as ice cores and tree rings).  And, unlike this chart, the method of sampling is very different across time with temperature - thermometers today are far more reliable and linear measurement devices than trees or ice.  In our GDP example, this problem roughly equates to trying to compare the GDP under Obama (with all the economic data we collate today) to, say, the economic growth rate under Henry the VIII.  Or perhaps under Ramses II.   If I showed that GDP growth in a single month under Obama was less than the average over 66 years under Ramses II, and tried to draw some conclusion from that, I think someone might challenge my analysis.  Unless of course it appears in Science, then it must be beyond question.

Entirely Predictable Unintended Consequences -- San Francisco Rental Market

There should be a word for "entirely predictable unintended consequences".  The Germans have come up with some good words for complex ideas, like schadenfreude, so maybe we can outsource the task to them.

Anyway, I just finished a book called Season of the Witch, about San Francisco in the 1960's and 1970's.   Churchill once said that “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume” and I am reminded of this quote when reading about San Francisco in these two decades.  Written by a Progressive sympathetic to San Francisco's bleeding leftist edge (the author cannot mention Ronald Reagan without also expressing his disdain), it is never-the-less pretty hard-hitting when things go off the rails (e.g. the enablement of Jim Jones by the entire leftist power structure).

Much of the narrative is about the great influx of lost youth and seekers of alternative lifestyles into the city; the attendant social, crime, and drug issues this created; and a quest for tolerance and social peace.   As such, it is not a book about political or economic policy per se, it's more about the people involved.  But we do get glimpses of the policies that key players like Harvey Milk, Dianne Feinstein, and Willie Brown were advocating.

What struck me most were the policies these folks on the Progressive Left had on housing.  They had three simultaneous policy goals:

  1. Limit San Francisco from building upward (taller).  San Francisco is a bit like Manhattan in that the really desirable part where everyone wants to live is pretty small.  There was (and I suppose still is) a desire by landowners to build taller buildings, to house more people on the same bit of  valuable land.  Progressives (along with many others across the political spectrum) were fighting to have the city prevent this increased density as a threat to San Francisco's "character".
  2. Reduce population density in existing buildings.  Progressive reformers were seeking to get rid of crazy-crowded rooming houses like those in Chinatown
  3. Control and cap rents.  This was the "next thing" that Harvey Milk, for example, was working on just before he was shot -- bringing rent controls to San Francisco.

My first thought was to wonder how a person could hold these three goals in mind without recognizing the inevitable consequences, but I guess it's that cognitive dissonance that keeps socialism alive.   But it should not be hard to figure out what the outcome should be of combining: a) some of the most desirable real estate in the country with b) an effective cap on density and thus capacity and c) caps on rents.  Rental housing is going to be shifted to privately owned units (coops and condos) and prices of those are going to skyrocket.  You are going to end up with real estate only the rich can afford to purchases and a shortage of rental properties at any price.  Those people with grandfathered controlled rents will be stuck there, without any mobility.

So I was reading this the other day.  It turns out there is a severe shortage of affordable rental properties in San Francisco, and lately there have been a record number of conversions of rental properties to private ownership.

With the area economy rebounding, San Francisco is in the midst of a housing crisis as many residents are evicted from their apartments. With rents strictly regulated, an increasing number of San Francisco owners are getting out of the rental business and cashing out their properties to turn them into co-ops. Steven Greenhut argues that rent control actually forces prices upward, especially over the long term, by diminishing the supply of available rental housing.

Update:  One recurring theme through the book is that progressive elements in SF saw their government and particularly their police force as "bullies".  They used this term a lot -- and they were right.  So it is interesting today to see all these progressives and how they act with power.  Turns out, they are all bullies too, just on different issues.

By the way, the Dirty Harry movies are way more interesting after reading this book.  Season of the Witch is what all this looked like to a progressive.  The Dirty Harry movies are what the same events looked like from a different perspective.

Highway Bait And Switch

Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein both complain that Congress is letting America's highways fall apart by not raising the gasoline tax.  They complain that current gas taxes are no longer high enough to cover costs, as the Federal highway trust fund is empty.  Apparently, Congress and the President were always blithely happy to raise the gas tax to whatever it needed to be to cover costs, and now this current Congress is departing from the historic norm:

We used to have a straightforward way to fund infrastructure in this country: the federal gas tax. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower raised the tax from 1.5 cents a gallon to 3 cents to help pay for the creation of the interstate highway system. In 1959, he increased it from 3 cents to 4 cents. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan raised the gas tax to 9 cents. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush raised it to 14 cents, with half of the increase going to reduce the deficit. In 1993, President Bill Clinton raised it to 18.4 cents.

In other words, from 1956 to 1993, there was a bipartisan consensus on the federal gasoline tax: Both parties agreed that it occasionally needed to be raised in order to help pay for the nation’s infrastructure. But since 2000, there has been a bipartisan consensus against raising the federal gasoline tax.

But here is what happened since 1993:  Roughly a third of highway taxes are diverted to local mass transit and other oddball non-highway projects.  Simply devoting all the highway trust fund to, you know, highways would add an effective 6-7 cents to the gas tax money without actually raising the tax.

Here is what is going on:  The Left loves mass transit projects, particularly urban rail.  Of all government transportation projects, these have by far the highest cost per passenger mile of anything we do, so diverting money to these projects reduces the bang for the buck but the Left loves these projects for social engineering reasons I will discuss in a post soon.

The Left knows that these transit projects will not stand up well in the appropriations process.  Kansas taxpayers are not going to be happy about paying for another couple miles of the LA subway system.  They will ask, rightly, why local urbanites can't pay for their own damn transit projects if these projects are so great.  But taxpayers generally support tax hikes for highways. So what does a politician on a transit mission do?  He sells the gas tax to the public on it being dedicated to highways.  Then he switches the money away from highways to transit.  This leaves highways falling apart.  So he can again go to taxpayers asking for money, ostensibly for highways, but of which a good portion will eventually be siphoned off to transit (and squirrel bridges and whatever).  Repeat.

In effect, calls for raising the gas tax are NOT to repair highways.  This is a bait and switch.  Gas taxes are sufficiently high enough to fully fund highway work if it was all applied to highway work.  Proposed increased in gas taxes are needed to pay for the continuing diversion of highway funds to egregiously expensive transit projects.  Congress is right to stop this shell game.

OK, I am Not the Only One Asking This Question

OK, the comment thread in my post on Romney evolved into a good discussion on health care, but I did not get a very good answer on how Romney supporters could possibly consider him the inheritor of the Reagan small-government legacy.  Apparently, I am not the only one confused on this, as both Michael Tanner and Jerry Taylor chime in with the same question.

What does it say about the Republican Party when the leading fusionist conservative in the field - Mitt Romney, darling of National Review and erstwhile heir to Ronald Reagan -
runs and wins a campaign arguing that the federal government is
responsible for all of the ills facing the U.S. auto industry, that the
taxpayer should pony up the corporate welfare checks going to Detroit
and increase them by a factor of five, that the federal
government can and should move heaven and earth to save "every job" at
risk in this economy, and that economic recovery is best achieved by a
sit-down involving auto industry CEOs, labor bosses, and government
agents armed with Harvard MBAs to produce a well-coordinated strategic
economic plan? That is, what explains the emergence of economic fascism
(in a non-pejorative sense) in the Grand Old Party at the expense of
free market capitalism?

Unfortunately, 1970-style Nixonian Republicans are back in force.  Can "Whip Inflation Now" buttons be far behind?

Update:  Apparently William F. Buckley is happily returning to the 70's as well.