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Senate Republicans block Freedom Act

November 20, 2014

The Freedom Act would put some safeguards on NSA spying. The House had passed it and Obama indicated he would sign it. Yesterday, Republicans in the Senate prevented cloture on it. As an interesting side story, the ACLU and NRA had jointly penned an editorial supporting the act. This editorial disappeared from the Washington Times, a right-wing outlet run by the Moonies. If only I had a time machine, I would go back to the 1970s, and tell college students then that one of the most risible campus cults of the time would become a mainstay of Republican politics in a couple of decades. And they would ask what I was smoking.

Penguins are cute and wholesome…

November 19, 2014

Fur seals are bad.

Very, very bad. I can’t imagine that the academic paper adds much to the video evidence. (Viewer discretion advised.)

Google car not so near?

November 17, 2014

The prototype Google cars do not demonstrate what is required for a true autonomous vehicle. They rely on detailed maps for the terrain they navigate, rather than interpreting the terrain’s features in real-time. That last seems to me essential. Though I disagree with the article that a fully autonomous vehicle must be able to deal with the bizarre — human drivers don’t do that well. But it has to be able to recognize stop lights without foreknowledge of where they are. Is it harder to recognize traffic signals than faces? Has Google hired AI experts for their next gen effort? Time will tell.

Breaking up with Jesus

November 16, 2014

Many Christians want to frame their religion as a personal relationship with Jesus. Neil Carter writes a good post on that.

Disappearing work

November 14, 2014

CBRE predicts that half of all occupations will disappear in fifteen years. There is a lot of uncertainty still about what jobs AI will demolish. Commercial drivers? Almost certainly. Alaska fishermen? I doubt it. Sex workers? David Levy thinks AI will move there fast.

Economically, that means more return to capital, and less need for workers. That divergence started three decades past. Josh Marshall argues that the Democratic Party fails by not having a solution to that. I think he is right. The GOP, on the other hand, isn’t yet ready to recognize the problem.

The 2008 financial crisis largely was the bursting of a derivatives bubble. Those bets were made on mortgages, all promises on middle class labor. One reason the quant models failed together is that they did not account how that new class of derivatives was driving the real estate market, rather than merely betting on it. An interesting question is whether they were also yoked, because they failed to reflect how the continued divergence of wages and productivity would affect real estate markets? (This 2011 article by Barry Ritholtz eviscerates some politically popular explanations of the crisis.)

Immigration and trade

November 11, 2014

Conservative economist Bryan Caplan makes the economic argument for open borders, beginning with this: it makes everyone richer. A University College of London study credits immigration for an additional £20 billion of GDP for the UK. It is virtually the same as the argument for international trade. Both are broadly supported by economists. There are some economic arguments against, but most concern second-order effects. Immigrants don’t cost more in social services than the benefit they provide. Nor do they cause job losses.

Opposition to trade agreements tends to come from the left, where opposition to immigration comes from the right. The classical liberal position favors liberal policies for both. Obama is one politician who takes that stand. We’ll soon see how many Republicans share it. Aside from a degree of opposing polarity on the political spectrum, there are some interesting parallels between these issues. First, almost no one suggests erecting trade or migration barriers within a nation. No one ever argues that Massachusetts shouldn’t trade with Louisiana because it is thereby shipping its pollution to a political regime that has little concern for the environment, or that Texas should close its borders to Californians to prevent Californians from stealing Texas jobs or their children from going to Texas schools. Second, one suspects that opponents aren’t much motivated by economics, even when resorting to economic arguments. Leftist opponents to trade may voice concern about working conditions abroad and dispute resolution issues, but one suspects they mostly dislike corporations that would be its first beneficiaries. The right wing is morally incensed that we provide social services to immigrants, and that indignation is not ameliorated by the fact that the economic benefit of immigration outweighs the cost.

There is a significant difference. Liberal policies on trade and immigration both make us richer. Immigration also is a personal liberty issue. People have better lives when they are freer to choose where to live and work. If you suspect someone is an authoritarian conservative masquerading as a libertarian because the latter is fashionable, ask him where he stands on immigration.

Back and forth

November 9, 2014

Matt Yglesias presents the case that the Democratic Party has optimized itself for presidential elections while the GOP has optimized itself for off-year elections. The GOP’s desire to reduce voter turnout and the Democratic Party’s effort to increase it stem directly from their opposite optimizations. The see-saw of the last few years might continue a while.

Like a cartoon, though one in which we’re living. Someone stuck cardboard images of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner on the side of Acme Foundry of Minneapolis.

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