But They Make Me Feel So Young!

[Competing Fossils]

Mr. Ramirez notes:

As President Biden celebrates his 81st birthday, voters should consider both he and Trump will be older entering a new presidential term than Ronald Reagan was when he left office.

It's Sunday, and the New England Patriots (2-8) are going up against the New York Football Giants (3-8) later today. Amazingly, the Pats are favored by the betting public. But our task here is to look at the election betting odds, and it turns out the fossils still lead the mammals:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 38.5% +1.2%
Joe Biden 28.1% -0.9%
Gavin Newsom 9.9% -0.8%
Nikki Haley 7.4% +0.5%
Robert Kennedy Jr 3.7% unch
Michelle Obama 3.2% +0.5%
Ron DeSantis 2.3% -0.2%
Other 6.9% -0.3%

Wow. Trump. Really? That can't last, can it?

Also of note:

  • Didn't help him with the punters, though. Eric Boehm notes some pouncing in the GOP field: Ron DeSantis Rediscovers the First Amendment's Protections for Anonymous Speech.

    When former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pitched a terrible (and likely unconstitutional) idea to force social media companies to verify all users and effectively ban anonymous accounts, she drew a sharp rebuke from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

    "Haley's proposal to ban anonymous speech online—similar to what China recently did—is dangerous and unconstitutional," DeSantis posted on X (formerly Twitter). He pointed out that some of America's founders, including The Federalist Papers' authors Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison published their essays anonymously—part of a long tradition of anonymous speech in America.

    In the week since those initial remarks, Haley has backpedaled a bit. She now admits that Americans have a First Amendment right to anonymous speech online but continues to support a crackdown on foreigners who "create anonymous accounts to spread chaos and anti-American filth."

    Why the "rediscovers" in Boehm's headline?

    Meanwhile, a bill introduced in the Florida Legislature earlier this year and backed by DeSantis aimed to make several changes to how Florida law handles defamation cases filed against news organizations. Among the changes was a provision telling courts to regard as false any content from anonymous sources, unless it could be proven true.

    So DeSantis is iffy on the First.

  • They were both way too fond of corporate welfare. Brittany Bernstein looks at another bit of Haley/DeSantis sniping: Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley Play a Game of 'No You' on China while Trump Glides By.

    As the race for second place heats up, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis have begun to play a game of “Who was cozier with Chinese business while governor?”

    At least $18 million has been spent in the presidential race on TV ads mentioning China, according to AdImpact data, with Republicans accounting for 90 percent of that spending. Nearly $26 million has been spent on digital ads on the topic, though Republicans account for just 58 percent of that spending.

    The latest ammunition in the fight comes from a recent Miami Herald report that reveals that DeSantis and committees affiliated with him have received $340,000 from Xianbin Meng, the CEO of a Tampa refrigerant company with direct backing from China, companies associated with Meng, and the companies’ employees. Meng, the CEO of iGas USA, gave DeSantis more than $11,000 just three months ago.

    The charges and countercharges are pretty wild. Meanwhile:

    While DeSantis and Haley have trained their attacks on each other, front-runner Donald Trump’s record of making amiable comments about China and doing business in the country has largely escaped scrutiny.

    Trump, who owns 114 trademarks in China for possible business opportunities, according to financial filings released earlier this month, recently called Chinese president Xi Jinping a “very smart person” during a campaign rally in Iowa.

  • Hey, kids, what time is it? Christian Ferry says it's Time for Nikki Haley To Live Free or Die.

    Time and money are the two most limited resources in a political campaign. While a manager may be able to squeeze in one more fundraiser or send an additional solicitation, no campaign can ever get back misspent time. In presidential nomination contests, well-spent time and money translate to momentum, and enough momentum, such as the kind generated from winning early contests, is hard to stop. While Donald Trump continues to enjoy a large lead in the early states, his victory is not inevitable. If Republicans want to turn in a different direction from another Trump presidency, they need to coalesce around the one candidate who finds the right strategy to optimize the remaining time and money and generate maximum momentum from the early contests.

    Today, Nikki Haley has momentum propelling her. She is moving in the right direction in the Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina polls. But to pull off the upset of defeating the former president, Haley must decide if Iowa or New Hampshire is the state to make her stand. Ron DeSantis has clearly picked Iowa, and Chris Christie planted his flag in New Hampshire. However, Haley is still trying to play in both, which really means neither. It is time for her campaign to pick, and New Hampshire gives her the best shot to win.

    Fun Fact: Counting the 18 NH GOP primaries held since 1952, the winner has gone on to win the eventual GOP nomination 15 times. (Misses: Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. in 1964; Pat Buchanan in 1996; John McCain in 2000.) A pretty good record there.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-28 2:42 AM EDT

The Myth of American Inequality

How Government Biases Policy Debate

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

A better title is found on the book flap: "Everything you know about income inequality, poverty, and other measures of economic well-being in America is wrong." The authors (Phil Gramm, Robert Ekelund, and John Early) all have academic or professional backgrounds in economics, and Gramm, of course, was a US Congressman for six years, and a US Senator for nearly 18 years. (He is just a few months older than Joe Biden.) Their audacious thesis is presented convincingly (at least for this fan of free-market capitalism): the "official government statistics" that get reported periodically on inflation, incomes, and poverty are deeply flawed. Alternative measures exist, because serious people demand them. But they need to be dug out of more obscure sources, a task only suited for … well, diligent scholars, like these guys.

The book's style leaves something to be desired for the casual reader. There are graphs and dense tables aplenty. And many eye-glazing paragraphs filled with data: dollars, dates, percentiles, percentages, rates, etc. It's dry stuff. The key points—the stuff the authors really want you to know—are repeated over and over.

But if you can pay attention throughout, it's pretty damning. The government is kind of lying to you. Only "kind of", because it's open about its flawed methods, which may have worked OK in the past, but have persisted due to inertia and (I would guess) political cowardice.

And of course, some favor this inherent dishonesty: it creates winners and losers. It boosts some political narratives over others.

First: the Consumer Price Index (CPI), used to "adjust income eligibility levels for government assistance, federal tax brackets, federally mandated cost-of-living increases, private sector wage and salary increases, poverty measures, and consumer and commercial rent escalations". As a short-term month-to-month measure, it's not bad, but it has well-known biases that overstate inflation. So over years, that overstatement builds up. Good news for (say) Social Security recipients, at least until the trust fund is emptied.

The official US poverty rate has been "stuck" since around 1970 between 10-15%. But the calculation the government uses to determine poverty omits the value of many of its transfer payments to the needy. And the overstated CPI above also inflates the poverty rate. In fact, the authors claim, actual poverty has been in a long-term decline and is nearly zero. (I don't, frankly, know if that includes all those homeless folks in the big cities.)

Another source of bias occurs at the upper end of the income scale, and it's something I'm ashamed to admit that I'd been oblivious to. We citizens also make "transfer payments" to the government: these are called "taxes". These transfer payments are (nevertheless) counted as part of your income. This, despite the fact that in most cases, that money never even touches your bank account; subject to withholding, it just goes directly to Uncle Stupid's coffers. (And, in other cases: as people who pay estimated taxes know, the government gets pretty mean if you fail to pay them first.)

But, bottom line: your "official income" according to the government includes a big chunk of cash that you either can't, or probably shouldn't, spend as you desire on stuff you want.

Taken together, the government mismeasures drastically overstate measures of "inequality" like the Gini coefficient. The authors particularly criticize the scholarship of folks like Piketty, Saez, and Zucman, who use the flawed numbers to argue for (even) more punitive taxation of the rich.

The mismeasures also drastically understate the progress in economic well-being over the past few decades. As noted above, this feeds into a anti-capitalist narrative that's echoed in the mainstream press and in many political speeches. And the result is reflected in the nasty, resentful mood of the electorate. (Headline a couple days ago in the Wall Street Journal: Voters See American Dream Slipping Out of Reach, WSJ/NORC Poll Shows.

The authors wind up with some policy suggestions: first (obviously): reform the government's statistical calculations to use alternative, less-biased measures of economic statistics. But also: Embrace school choice. Reform occupational licensure and other barriers to earning a living. At the same time, remove the disincentives to work, as welfare reform did in the 1990s.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:49 PM EDT