Archives for politics



It’s the Weather, Stupid

We’ve written in the past about how weather can have a surprisingly strong effect on things like civil war and riots. (Short story: rioters don’t like getting rained on and droughts can start a war.)

The political scientist Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard has a new paper on the topic in Public Choice (abstract; PDF) called “It’s the Weather, Stupid! Individual Participation in Collective May Day Demonstrations.” The bolding is mine:

“We investigate the possible explanations for variations in aggregate levels of participation in large-scale political demonstrations. A simple public choice inspired model is applied to data derived from the annual May Day demonstrations of the Danish labor movement and socialist parties taking place in Copenhagen in the period 1980–2011. The most important explanatory variables are variations in the weather conditions and consumer confidence, while political and socio-economic conditions exhibit no robust effects. As such accidental or non-political factors may be much more important for collective political action than usually acknowledged and possibly make changes in aggregate levels of political support seem erratic and unpredictable.”



Equal Opportunity Greed

One of the President’s budget proposals treats tax deductions as if a person’s marginal tax rate were 28 percent, rather than the actual possibly 39.6 percent.  This would bring in substantial extra tax revenue, yet it wouldn’t violate the Republicans’ strong distaste for higher marginal tax rates on the grounds that they allegedly stifle incentives of the rich.  Despite that, they are complaining loudly.

The President is finally proposing indexing Social Security benefits by the chained CPI, a more correct measure of price inflation than the current measure.  Using it would reduce benefit growth and make indexation fairer to taxpayers and recipients.  Yet I have already been deluged by liberal groups’ email petitions objecting to this change.

The only good thing about this sorry spectacle is that it is nice to know there is no shame on any side.



The Tax Man Nudgeth: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “The Tax Man Nudgeth.”  (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.)

The U.S. tax code is almost universally seen as onerous and overly complicated. There is always talk in Washington about serious reform — Michigan Reps. Dave Camp (R.) and Sander Levin (D.) are currently working on it — but, Washington being Washington, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath.

So in this podcast we decided to take a look at the tax code we’re stuck with for now and see if there are some improvements, however marginal, that are worth thinking about. We start by discussing the “tax gap,” the huge portion of taxes that simply go uncollected for a variety of reasons. We once wrote about a clever man who helped close the gap a bit. In this episode, former White House economist Austan Goolsbee tells us why the government doesn’t try too hard to collect tax on all the cash that sloshes around the economy.

You’ll also hear from Dan Ariely, who has an idea for turning the act of paying taxes into a somewhat more satisfying civic duty. Read More »



How Gerrymandering Works

Writing for Bloomberg, Chris Christoff and Greg Giroux explore the math behind gerrymandering in Michigan with some fascinating examples and graphics.  The 14th congressional district, for example, looks pretty weird from high up:

Michigan’s 14th congressional district looks like a jagged letter ’S’ lying on its side.

From Detroit, one of the nation’s most Democratic cities, it meanders to the west, north and east, scooping up the black-majority cities of Southfield and Pontiac while bending sharply to avoid Bloomfield Hills, the affluent suburb where 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was raised.

(HT: The Big Picture)



Sure, I Remember That: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Sure, I Remember That.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player in the post, or read the transcript below.) It’s about false memory, particularly in the political realm, and how we are more capable of “remembering” an event that never happened if the event happens to synch up with our political ideology. Read More »



A Look at Today’s Israeli Election Ballot

For Americans who rarely get a look at a multi-party (make that multi-multi-party?) election.

Here is one preview of the outcome. This was the first I’ve heard of a Pirate Party, but it is hardly unique to Israel: Wikipedia tells us that more than 40 countries have a version, including the U.S.



Petitioning the President

The Atlantic has a roundup of the 12 goofiest petitions submitted so far to the White House’s We the People initiative.  Our two favorites: “Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016″ and “authorize the production of a recurring television program featuring Vice President Joe Biden.”  

A petition to “Direct the United States Mint to make a single platinum trillion-dollar coin” has so far garnered only 5,149 signatures (as compared to the Death Star’s 33,836 signatures), even though Paul Krugman recently endorsed of the idea. Stephen Colbert has also weighed in on the #Mintthecoin movement.



How Political Are Judges?

Cass Sunstein, writing on Bloomberg View, reviews the research on judicial voting patterns to determine whether judges are really as “political” as people seem to think.  The good news: federal judges aren’t nearly as bad as politicians.  “Judges are far from mere politicians; we don’t see anything like the kind of polarization found in Congress,” writes Sunstein. “At the same time, judicial predispositions matter, and they help explain why judges are divided on some of the great issues of the day.”  

The research also indicates that even judges are subject to a phenomenon called “group polarization.”  “[J]udicial voting becomes a lot more ideological when judges sit on panels with two others appointed by presidents of the same political party,” Sunstein explains. “For example, Republican appointees side with plaintiffs complaining of disability discrimination about 29 percent of the time — but that number drops to 17 percent when they are sitting with two fellow Republican appointees.”

As for the Supreme Court, Sunstein highlights research from a new book on the political leanings of Supreme Court justices since 1937:

Strikingly, they find that of the six most conservative justices in their entire sample, no fewer than three are currently on the court (Clarence ThomasAntonin Scalia and Samuel Alito). A fourth makes the top 10 (John Roberts). By contrast, none of the current justices ranks among the most liberal six, and only one makes the liberal top 10 (Ruth Bader Ginsburg).