Archive for September, 2008

Wall Street Journal Endorses Obama

September 19th, 2008 1 comment

Well not in so many words, but for all intents and purposes:

In a crisis, voters want steady, calm leadership, not easy, misleading
answers that will do nothing to help. Mr. McCain is sounding like a
candidate searching for a political foil rather than a genuine solution.


McCain Biographer Now Sez: “not a principled man.”

September 19th, 2008 Comments off

Elizabeth Drew, who penned a rather adulatory McCain biography just a few years ago (Citizen McCain,  2002), says:

… In retrospect, other once-hailed McCain efforts – his cultivation of the press (“my base”) and even his fight for campaign finance reform (launched in the wake of his embarrassment over the Keating Five scandal) now seem to have been simply maneuvers. …

McCain’s recent conduct of his campaign – his willingness to lie repeatedly (including in his acceptance speech) and to play Russian roulette with the vice-presidency, in order to fulfill his long-held ambition – has reinforced my earlier, and growing, sense that John McCain is not a principled man.

In fact, it’s not clear who he is.

Is there a single thinking person left who supports this man?

Or is it only those who hold up "character" as the sole criterion for the presidency—while frantically closing their eyes to his character, putting their hands firmly over their ears, and humming loudly?

John McCain Pledges to Eradicate Government

September 16th, 2008 3 comments

John McCain has promised to balance the federal budget by 2013.

He's also pledged to enact a tax plan that will deliver a budget deficit of $650 billion dollars in 2013.

Just to give these numbers a little perspective:

2013 Projected Outlays
Agriculture $120 billion
Commerce $9 billion
Education $86 billion
Energy $30 billion
HUD $66 billion
Interior $14 billion
DOJ $32 billion
Labor $14 billion
Transportation $87 billion
Treasury $84 billion
EPA $9 billion
TOTAL $551 billion

"Drown it in a bathtub," indeed.

The Republican Energy “Plan”?

September 15th, 2008 1 comment

Yeah, The Economy Rocks Under Dems. But It’s Not Their Fault.

September 13th, 2008 Comments off

Greg Mankiw pooh-poohs the data using one of his favorite tactics:

Fun with Statistics

Princeton economist Alan Blinder says Democratic Presidents are better for economic equality between rich and poor.

Chicago economist Casey Mulligan says Republican Presidents are better for economic equality between men and women.

My take: These articles are completely persuasive, as long as you buy into the axiom that correlation=causation. Otherwise, not so much.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc is the eternal comeback in macroeconomics, because we can’t replay the world a different way and see what “would have” happened.

It’s a very effective counter when you’re looking at brief periods (let’s call it micromacro) with no comparative or control element.


1. That comeback is much less convincing when comparing outcomes from two sets of policies

A. Over a long period
B. When those policies are consistently and systematically different

2. Data—especially long-term data—can quite effectively disprove a theory. (Mankiw stipulates to this in  “Growth of Nations.”)

i.e.: Growth in Europe and the US have been the same over decades, while tax rates have been massively different (40% versus 28% of GDP).

i.e. 2: Since WWII, growth under Democratic presidents has been far greater.

No post-hoc argument here: These facts quite effectively disprove the theory that Republican/supply-side/trickle-down policies cause greater/faster economic growth.

On the two “equality” studies that Mankiw pooh-poohs.

Dems deliver less rich/poor inequality: Blinder’s point is not that Dems deliver more equality. It’s that everyone is better off under Democratic policies. (Bartels demonstrates this in spades.) The equality is a wonderful (causally connected?) bonus.

Pubs deliver less male/female inequality: women appear to have done relatively better under ‘pubs because working-class men have done so poorly under same.

Update: Casey Mulligan—author of the Republicans-promote-gender-equality article—responds to Mankiw in his new blog.


September 12th, 2008 Comments off


H/T: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Not Blinking

September 12th, 2008 Comments off

Polling the Pollster Pollers: Obama Still Strong

September 10th, 2008 3 comments

Update: If you're looking for conservative polling, click here.

I've been meaning to put together a post for a while now on the metanalysis sites: the top-feeders one level above, realclearpolitics, electoral-vote and the like (who aggregate and average recent polls)—outfits that run statistical crunchers on the polls, and spit out what everyone wants to know:

What are Obama/McCain's odds of winning?

These three sites use similar methods, but as you can see—especially in these post-convention/Palin times—their conclusions diverge. Current odds of an Obama win: 52.1%. These guys actually try to project what will happen in November. (Not easy: the odds here a week ago were 70%.) Founder Nate Silver is also an excellent blogger.

Princeton Election Consortium. They seem to have been discombobulated by the convention/Palin bounces, so I'm not quite sure what their probability is today. (There's a post suggesting that the electoral-vote estimator is not their current prediction.) It was nearly 100% a week ago. ShHe's got the Obama odds at 85%, and includes some interesting conditional probabilities:

But if Obama loses …
… Colorado, Florida and Virginia 47.7%
… Florida, Ohio and Virginia 65.3%
… Colorado, Florida, and Ohio 54.0%
… Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Virginia 47.5

Less statistically sophisticated, but more graphically sophisticated, check out this cool chart that my friend Mike just put together. (This is a live link, so it will look different from what I'm looking at as I write this; IOW, it may make this post's headline ridiculous.)

It's based on the state-by-state poll numbers from Click for an expanded version on Mike's site.

What it says about today: Obama would win by just taking those states where he's currently polling ahead.

McCain would have to take all his strong, weak, and barely states, plus all the ties, plus all the states where Obama is leading by less than 5%.

This supports what I've been guessing, and what Nate Silver said today about the latest polls:

The theme here is simply traditionally red states coming home to John McCain in a big way

McCain's national polling numbers are up, but if it's just energized Republicans deciding to answer the phone—and that in states that McCain's already winning—it doesn't translate into many electoral votes.

Also, note how the number of "weak McCain" states has been growing over the last month, while the "weak Obama" states have been shrinking. (Until the last day or two.)

Everything Sez: “Obama Landslide.” What Gives?

September 10th, 2008 26 comments

Update: If you're looking for conservative polling, click here.

We all know that national polls tell us nothing about what's gonna happen in November. (See, for instance, this very funny post.)

But still. The national polls seem way out of synch with every other indicator. Obama and McCain have been nearly tied for months (with Obama generally up one to four percent), and some post-Palin polls show McCain with a big lead. (Obama's been leading handily in electoral votes—see—but even that's getting razor thin.)

What's with that? Everything else says otherwise (most recent that I could dig up quickly):

Party Preferences
Dems rule, 36% to 27%.

Policy Preferences
Even Republicans prefer Democratic policies. As an example, Only 38% of Republicans support Republican tax policies. (Unless you tell them it's a Republican policy.)

Voter Registration
Since 2006, Dem registrations are up by 2 million (in the 28 states that register by party). Pubs are down by 344,000.

As of July, Obama had 2 million donors. McCain had 600,000.

Donations from the Military (>$200)
Obama/McCain Donors: 859 to 558 (61% Obama). Dollars: $336K to $281K (55% Obama).

Donations from soldiers deployed abroad
Obama has a 6:1 dollar advantage and a 5:1 donor advantage. (Obama: 134 for $60K; McCain: 26 for $11K.)

Ground Game/Volunteers
Obama has at least a 3:1 advantage in field offices (338 to 101), and perhaps as much as a 35-to-1 advantage in voter contacts. (This last is the iffiest number reported here.)

56% of voters are "excited to be voting for" Obama, versus 34% for McCain. (Pre-Palin, McCain's enthusiasm number was 12.)

Feel free to list others.

What Gives?
Everything says that Democratic turnout will swamp the 'pubs, and Obama will win this thing walking away.

Except the national polls.

Especially perplexing are the polls that tally both registered and
likely voters, and show a bigger McCain lead in the LV tallies. Per the
above: doesn't everything suggest that a higher percentage of Obama
supporters will turn out? I don't get it.

I can think of two reasons for the big disparity:

Despite the Dem slant in party affiliations/preferences, 60% of American's consider themselves to be "conservative." (PDF) For "liberal," it's 36%.

Obama is Black
Only 84% of Americans say they would be "completely comfortable voting for a black presidential candidate." And you gotta figure that number overstates reality.

Other ideas?

Pro-Growth Republicans Revisited

September 9th, 2008 Comments off

In comments on my recent post—which discusses how the economy performs (much) better under Democratic presidents—my friend Steve uses a few different rather familiar arguments to undercut the import of the facts imparted therein.

He claims first that presidents don’t have any effect on taxes and such—that congress controls the purse strings. But he acknowledges at least:

Reagan had influence for sure

Even though Reagan had a Democratic congress. So, can we stipulate to the fact that presidents at least predominate on tax policies? That, for instance, Reagan and Bush II cut taxes, while Bush I and Clinton raised them?

That the Reagan revolution has had a profound effect on tax levels for the last twenty-eight years?

And proceed to look at how those actual economic actions have played out, empirically?

Back to my previous post: the empirical results are clear.


You can’t argue away deadweight losses using cherry-picked statistics.

1. I’m not arguing away deadweight losses (see below). That’s a straw-man argument.

2. These are not not cherry-picked results about this year or that year, this administration or that administration. They’re big-picture, long-term views, and as such they’re the best indicators we have from which to draw conclusions. Add to them the many multi-decade cross-country analyses detailed in my previous posts.

These are the best long-term, big-picture facts we have.

Dropping down from that big empirical picture to a particular aspect of theory: deadweight loss. It exists, or course, but not in isolation. Mankiw’s discussion in Chapter 8 of his textbook rather conveniently ignores (at least) two things.

1. The positive effects of government spending (which of course is dependent on taxes unless you’re a Republican)—particularly investment spending. As a big champion of “dynamic scoring,” it seems hypocritical for Mankiw to ignore an obviously huge effect, while clamoring to consider its opposite effect.

2. In his sidebar, The Deadweight Loss Debate, Mankiw takes an approach that’s common among right-wing economists. He details the mechanism of the substitution effect at length, but completely ignores the income effect (among others). This heavily tilts the rhetorical scales toward an elastic labor supply and a high deadweight estimate.

I say familiar because I had a lengthy email conversation with a Cato economist recently, and despite repeated queries, couldn’t get him to even acknowledge that the income effect exists.

This is like a climate scientist going on at length about increased humidity as a greenhouse increaser, but ignoring the reflective effect of clouds.

Likewise, right-wing economists enthuse about the invisible hand, but refuse to discuss the tragedy of the commons.

Centrist economists acknowledge and attempt to incorporate all these effects—income, substitution, government spending, deadweight loss, invisible hand, and tragedy of the commons (though of course they differ on their relative strengths and interactions).

Who is most likely to deliver an accurate model: the one who includes or ignores cloud reflectivity? Who’s the most judicious, centrist, and reasonable?

Who’s likely to deliver the best economic results? The one with a more complete, accurate model, or the one with a model ignoring major factors?

The empirical results are in.

Mankiw says that we should ignore all those messy empirics, and go with intuitively appealing theories—but only the intuitively appealing theories that support his a priori beliefs.

Everything we need to know, we learned in kindergarten—or Econ 10.

Clear-eyed economists have taken the field somewhat further—incorporating the full scope of economic theory, and giving credence to the actual “facts on the ground.”

Their conclusions are clear: progressive policies work better—for everyone (except the very rich).