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Are you honest with yourself?

January 23, 2018

As I write this, there is a large piece of political theatre on the TV talk shows, where Republicans are pushing a secret memo that one of their staff wrote as somehow evidence that will scandalize the FBI past and upturn Mueller’s investigation. It is getting the full-court press. And regardless of what is in it — and more importantly, regardless of what new it actually evinces, if anything — the political movement it targets will treat it as the proof and scandal they desire. As John Herrman notes, that kind of bad faith no longer carries a political price.

For a little breath of fresh air in this fetid time, read about a corner of reddit: change my view.


Spanish affairs

January 22, 2018

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy boasted that more tourists visited Spain in 2017 than the US, making Spain the most popular tourist nation second to France. Which does not cause all Spaniards to jump for joy.

Javier Cercas provides the case against Catalan independence, based on local politics and a pro-Europe viewpoint.

Photo shows Madrid trying to discourage tourists by making them eat on the sidewalk, with only Spanish tortilla and cafe con leche for sustenance. We weren’t much discouraged.

Go, Pt Aransas

January 19, 2018

Both Texas Monthly and a couple of volunteer whooping cranes are doing their bit to boost Pt. Aransas.

Winter air and winter ills

January 18, 2018

Cold air holds less moisture than warm air. That dry air may be why flus and colds are more easily spread. In temperate regions.

More that is deplorable

January 17, 2018

The ugly and cruel deportation of Jorge Garcia is just an example of what will be done hundreds of thousands of times more, once DACA is done. Those who think that closing up America is how this nation became great should read more history. There was a party that foreshadowed the Trumpistas, and that was the Know-Nothing Party, of which Lincoln wrote:

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.

Interestingly, the modern day Know-Nothings partner with the same nation, which helped their president win office.

DACA will end, for a simple reason. The GOP holds power and the GOP has never liked DACA. While the capitalist wing might allow it, because it is economically beneficial, it is the authoritarian wing that Trump rode to power. I don’t know whether Trump’s bad-faith dealing on immigration was just his natural propensity, or driven by the need to feed his base. My guess is that he will keep demanding the Democrats give him more and more in return for DACA, and when that fail, use that to blame them for what his base demands in any case. Democrats rightfully are leery of bargaining with the neo-fascists on the issues that inflame them.

There was a time when America had more immigration from Norway. Then, Norway was poor. And those who came here? “It turns out that the immigrants that Norway sent to the U.S. during that great migration wave of the 1870s were its poorest and least educated citizens.” That still made us all richer. Comparative advantage is a wonderful thing, perhaps even better than compound interest.

Birds of fire?

January 16, 2018

hawkhuntingnearfireIn Australia, Aboriginal folklore tells of hawks purposely snatching burning limbs from wildfires and campfires, and dropping them on likely grassy areas, with the intent of hunting rodents flushed by the new blaze. Mark Bonta, a geographer at Penn State and University of Texas alum, has worked with some other researchers to bring the truth of that to ground. They interviewed a wide variety of people who had seen this behavior, and wrote a paper (cite) about it.

Raptors hunt around active fires in places as diverse as West Africa, Papua New Guinea, Brazil, Florida and Texas, but Australia is the only location where the researchers found documentation of raptors actually spreading fire. Mark Bonta, a geographer at Pennsylvania State University-Altoona and lead on the paper, acknowledges that these findings are not without controversy. The key question is whether the birds are intentionally lighting new fires to hunt, or whether they’re grabbing branches by accident as they attempt to snatch prey.

Well, birders are a skeptical lot. An interesting question is why this is observed only in Australia? At least one of the raptors cited has broad range. And other species seem as capable. There are plenty of regions where this behavior would be useful. The paper is interesting and Bonta stands behind it:

There’s no point in chasing after the holy grail of the video. We need the field research.

Well, field research is fine. Still, witness testimony of this sort is notoriously fickle. Experience helps. But I’ve seen even Gene Blacklock correct himself while watching.

Until we have the video, I’m leaving the question mark.

The case for more migration

January 15, 2018

The libertarian case for open borders is quite straightforward. Telling people where they may live, work, or socialize does large damage to their personal liberty and their futures. There is nothing more authoritarian than a closed border.

Beyond the moral harm, fencing off the world does large economic harm. While Washington state is rich and urban and Idaho is relatively rural and poor, both states economically benefit from the free movement of people across their shared border. The economic estimates of the damage from restrictions on international migration are gigantic:

What is the greatest single class of distortions in the global economy? One contender for this title is the tightly binding constraints on emigration from poor countries. Vast numbers of people in low-income countries want to emigrate from those countries but cannot. How large are the economic losses caused by barriers to emigration? Research on this question has been distinguished by its rarity and obscurity, but the few estimates we have should make economists’ jaws hit their desks. The gains to eliminating migration barriers amount to large fractions of world GDP—one or two orders of magnitude larger than the gains from dropping all remaining restrictions on international flows of goods and capital. When it comes to policies that restrict emigration, there appear to be trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk.

That review paper is worth reading. It looks at such issues as human capital loss on nations people leave, and elasticity of labor at their destinations. Importantly, it notes that small liberalization on global movement still would have large economic benefit:

But migration need not be that large in order to bring vast gains. A conservative reading of the evidence .. suggests that the emigration of less than 5 percent of the population of poor regions would bring global gains exceeding the gains from total elimination of all policy barriers to merchandise and all barriers to capital flows. For comparison, currently about 200 million people — 3 percent of the world — live outside their countries of birth.

Comparative advantage is one of the most important and least understood principles of classical economics. It explains why trade — and why free movement — between two cities or states or nations is mutually beneficial, even when they are completely disparate in human and natural resources. The current wave of right-wing populism in the US and Europe is making the world more poor than it otherwise would be. Hugely so.

Prior to 1920s, immigration to the US largely was unrestricted, with the exception of the 10-year moratorium imposed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. There is a real sense in which immigration control became effective only as part of the 20th century’s move toward documenting people for other purposes, from driving to paying taxes. We tend to forget that a hundred years past, most people had no form of identification, and there were relatively few databases keeping track of people, those existing only on paper. New arrivals in town were who they said they were, for all anyone knew. People’s criminal histories did not follow them when they managed to create a new life. The poor man’s divorce was common. And if you had a strange accent, that didn’t mean you weren’t American. Many did.

There are legitimate arguments for controlling immigration. But the Trumpistas do not make them. They are driven by fear and myth. They want only the “good” immigrants. But we never had good immigrants and benefited from them regardless. A rich, happy, and well-governed nation like Norway attracts more Americans than we do Norwegians. Norway is relatively open to immigrants, and 17% of its population is non-native. In the US, that number is 14%.

The immigrant hysteria from the right has made it harder even for Canadians to immigrate to the US. Whenever you read stories like that, keep two things in mind. First, those practices hurt the economy. Second, they are not what made America great.

Update: Immigrants from the African nations Trump detests are a diverse lot and on whole surprisingly well educated.