Thanks to @PE_Mulroevia Twitter, here’s a story from the (Northwest Indiana) Post-Tribune that combines two of our favorite topics: elections and first names. It’s called “A Tale of Two Mike Browns in Lake County Politics”:
Did Mike Brown, the candidate for recorder, intentionally run on the name recognition earned by former recorder and Lake County Clerk Mike Brown?
The candidate says no. Incumbent Recorder Michelle Fajman and party boss Tom McDermott Jr. say yes. And the clerk with the same name? Well, as someone who backed Fajman in the election, he’s just sorry if anyone cast a ballot without knowing who was who.
Below are his responses about confirmation bias in religion, the “score” of our morals, the power of branding, how his research has made him a centrist, and how the search for truth is hampered by our own biases. Big thanks to him and all our readers for another great Q&A.
Freakonomics described the economics of a crack-selling gang — a tournament model where you don’t earn much unless you can get to the top of the pyramid. Columbia Business School professor Ray Fisman, who has shown up on this blog before, argues that politics isn’t all that different. In Slate, Fisman summarizes his new working paper, coauthored with Florian Schulz and Vikrant Vig, which uses disclosed finances of politicians in India in the last election cycle. The researchers found that being a politician doesn’t really pay off:
“Morality, by its very nature, makes it hard to study morality,” writes the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. “It binds people together into teams that seek victory, not truth. It closes hearts and minds to opponents even as it makes cooperation and decency possible within groups.”
A new paper by Aaron Shaw and Yochai Benkler looks the differences between left- and right-wing political blogs during the summer of 2008. From the abstract:
An examination of the top 155 political blogs reveals significant cross-ideological variations along several dimensions. Notably, the authors find evidence of an association between ideological affiliation and the technologies, institutions, and practices of participation. Blogs on the left adopt different, and more participatory, technical platforms, comprise significantly fewer sole-authored sites, include user blogs, maintain more fluid boundaries between secondary and primary content, include longer narrative and discussion posts, and (among the top half of the blogs in the sample) more often use blogs as platforms for mobilization.
It seems that the stereotype of the “thinking liberal” may have some truth. New research (summarized in the BPS Digest) finds that “low-effort” thinking about a given issue is more likely to result in a conservative stance. Here’s the abstract:
The authors test the hypothesis that low-effort thought promotes political conservatism. In Study 1, alcohol intoxication was measured among bar patrons; as blood alcohol level increased, so did political conservatism (controlling for sex, education, and political identification). In Study 2, participants under cognitive load reported more conservative attitudes than their no-load counterparts. In Study 3, time pressure increased participants’ endorsement of conservative terms. In Study 4, participants considering political terms in a cursory manner endorsed conservative terms more than those asked to cogitate; an indicator of effortful thought (recognition memory) partially mediated the relationship between processing effort and conservatism.
Foreign Policyexamines America’s role as a training ground for those who would plot coups around the world. For example, Yahya Jammeh, current president of the Gambia, reportedly attended a military police training course in the U.S. prior to his 1994 bloodless coup:
Jammeh promised that his would be a “coup with a difference” and that he would stand down “as soon as we have set things right.” Eighteen years later, he is still in power.
The Sacramento Kings will continue to exist. This week, the City Council approved a plan to finance a new home for the Kings in Sacramento. The price tag, though, is pretty steep. The arena will cost $391 million, and $255.5 million will be coming from the city of Sacramento.
Opponents of this plan – and there were just two on the nine-member Council – noted that sports arenas don’t provide much economic benefit. Furthermore, they questioned why public money should be given to a private business.
As Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy – who voted no – observed: “This city is on the verge of insolvency. As far as I know, we still technically qualify for bankruptcy under federal law.”
Proponents of this plan, though, argued that this plan will create jobs and economic benefits. And it was this argument that apparently persuaded the majority.
So we have two perspectives and one question: Do sports generate jobs and economic growth?
For years, I have argued that the best way to track what really matters through election season is to follow the political prediction markets. The one difficulty is that these markets aren’t really available to the general public. Sure, the University of Iowa runs a market, but because it’s for research purposes, the maximum bet is set at only $500. And while I track InTrade closely, they’re based in Ireland, and are frowned upon by American regulators. Likewise, Betfair won’t deal with American customers. But all that may be about to change.
Back in 2008, shortly after the Presidential election, we solicited reader questions for Congressman Ron Paul, who had run for President that year. He happens to be running again this year and, in light of his strong third-place showing in the Iowa caucuses last night, I thought it might be interesting to republish his replies. They are well-considered and interesting throughout, and it is especially interesting to read them four years later in light of how political circumstances have shifted (or haven’t).
Q.What was your first thought when you found out McCain chose Palin as his running mate?
A. At first, I thought it was a pretty savvy choice from a political perspective. I also knew that she had said some nice things about me in the past. At the same time, I knew that to be on the ticket, she would have to toe the line on foreign policy and the war, so that tempered a lot of my enthusiasm.
Q. Who in Congress would you consider to be your closest peer(s)?
A. There are a lot of members who I work with on a variety of different issues. Walter Jones is a good friend and works with me on foreign policy. Often on spending, if there is a 432-3 vote, the other two congressmen voting with me are Jeff Flake and Paul Broun. A lot of times, I work with Democrats on civil liberties issues. I guess my point is that people from all over the political spectrum can side with liberty and the Constitution. The goal is to get a majority to vote that way most of the time.
In a Time magazine Q&A, the actor gives a fascinating reply to the question “Are you disappointed in Obama”:
I get angry at people who don’t stand for him, actually. If this were a Republican president, Republicans would say, “We were losing 400,000 jobs a month. We stopped it. We saved the car industry.” You could go down the list. Democrats should talk to Hollywood about how to posture some of these things. Say you’re about to get into tax loopholes. Instead of “loopholes,” say “cheating.” And then on the floor of the Senate, get up and say, “We’re not going to raise your taxes, but we’re not for cheating. Are you?” I just think Democrats are bad at that.
A few points: I assume the “people” he gets angry at for not standing for Obama are Democrats? If not … well … hard to imagine someone like Clooney getting angry at Democrats who didn’t “stand for” Bush.
Great point re the job loss and car industry! Perhaps not nearly 100 percent accurate, but still, a great point re how those accomplishments haven’t been framed as successes.
So the First and Second Ladies (Michelle Obama and Jill Biden) were brought in as grand marshals for the NASCAR season finale at Homestead (won in spectacular fashion by the absurdly entertaining Tony Stewart), and there was enough booing from the crowd to turn the story into “Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden Draw Boos at NASCAR Event.” Video is here.
In our podcast “Boo…Who?”, we poked into political booing and sports booing, and how the two occasionally intersect. Bottom line: it’s often not pretty.
A couple twists worth noting in this case: these weren’t politicians getting booed but the wives of politicians (which would make the booing seem particularly hardcore); and they were there as part of a charitable campaign to help military personnel and veterans (which would make the booing seem to be a complaint about trying to score political points).
Now imagine for a moment that you were the person who handled this event from the White House side.
Is there any question that if Governor Rick Perry of Texas were a Democrat that all the left-leaning editorialists, economists, bloggers, etc., would be bending over backward to praise the Texas employment picture rather than bending over backward to belittle it?
What does it take for an idea to spread from one to many? For a minority opinion to become the majority belief? According to a new study by scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the answer is 10%. Once 10% of a population is committed to an idea, it’s inevitable that it will eventually become the prevailing opinion of the entire group. The key is to remain committed.
The research was done by scientists at RPI’s Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC), and published in the journal Physical Review E. Here’s the abstract:
We show how the prevailing majority opinion in a population can be rapidly reversed by a small fraction p of randomly distributed committed agents who consistently proselytize the opposing opinion and are immune to influence. Specifically, we show that when the committed fraction grows beyond a critical value pc=10%, there is a dramatic decrease in the time Tc taken for the entire population to adopt the committed opinion. In particular, for complete graphs we show that when p<pc, Tc~exp[a(p)N], whereas for p>pc, Tc~lnN. We conclude with simulation results for Erdos-Rényi random graphs and scale-free networks which show qualitatively similar behavior.
You don’t have to be all that sharp to see that there’s a lot of hacking going on lately. As I type, Rupert Murdoch and his allies are testifying before British Parliament over the mushrooming News of the World disaster. It seems like everyone on earth is getting hacked: consultants and cops, Sony and the Senate, the IMF and Citi, and firms ranging from Lockheed Martin (China suspected) to Google (ditto) to dowdy old PBS. But is there really more hacking than usual of late, or are we just more observant?
To answer this question, we put together a Freakonomics Quorum of cyber-security and I.T. experts (see past Quorums here) and asked them the following:
Why has there been such a spike in hacking recently? Or is it merely a function of us paying closer attention and of institutions being more open about reporting security breaches?
OK, so Newt Gingrich’s senior staff have quit. But Newt’s not the news. At least according to the political prediction markets. The real news is that Texas Governor Rick Perry is likely to enter the Republican nomination race. The connection, of course, is that many of the staffers who quit have close ties to Governor Perry.
The figure below tells the story. (Click inside for graph). Since yesterday’s announcement, you can see the markets have re-evaluated Perry’s chances of winning the nomination from around 5%, up to 11%. There’s a tip here for newsgatherers: Focus on the details, and you’ll notice that the Perry’s prediction market rally began just after 11am. But the story broke three hours later, just before 3pm.
It’s funny — when we ran a quorum recently asking what should be done about insider trading, no one mentioned cracking down on Congress. Maybe they should have?
A new working paper fromFeng Chi, an economics PhD. student at the University of Toronto, is called “Insider Trading on K-Street: Are Politicians Informed Traders?” Here’s the abstract:
I investigate whether politicians take advantage of their privileged information that comes with their positions in power. Analyzing the trading records of Congressional members, I find that informed trades beat the market by 8.2%. As these gains accrue over the short term, my findings are suggestive of informed trading based on time-sensitive information.
And a couple of choice paragraphs:
Despite the potential for exploitation, Congressional members are generally free to invest in companies they help oversee. In addition, existing insider-trading laws do not apply to lawmakers. Probably to no one’s surprise, proposed bills to eliminate insider trading among Congressional members garnered little support on Capitol Hill.
Sometime around 1991, the standard coup d’etat morphed into something else entirely, according to a new paper by Nikolay Marinov and Hein Goemans: “[W]hereas the vast majority of successful coups before 1991 installed the leader durably in power, after that the picture reverses, with the majority of coups leading to competitive elections.”
From the Economist: “To avoide the dynasties that have misruled many Latin American countries, Guatemala’s constitution forbids relatives of the incumbent president and vice-president from running for high office. This clause had seemed to scotch the chances of Sandra Torres, the country’s ambitious first lady, becoming its first presidenta. But on March 21st she and her husband, Álvaro Colom, announced a novel way to sidestep the rules: they filed for divorce.”
Readers of this blog may be surprised to learn that in 2005 I coauthored an article with Jonathan Macey which made explicit predictions about the future of democratization in Egypt. In 2005, Jonathan and I wrote: “We also posit that economic reform will bring increased pressure for democratization in countries such as Egypt and Syria. For this reason, economic reform of the kind we discuss in this Article (simplifying and reducing the costs of business formation) will be a good “leading indicator” of political leaders’ real interest in implementing meaningful democratic reforms that go beyond mere public relations gimmicks.”
Ruh-Roh. John Tierney in today’s Times: “… Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology … polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center [during the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology], starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.”
Is the Tea Party responsible for yesterday’s election results? Probably. But perhaps not in the way you were thinking.
Journalists have written thousands of pages describing the anger, fury or excitement of the Tea Party. But this isn’t how an economist would approach the question. Perhaps the single deepest idea in economics is the opportunity cost principle. And so it is worth asking: What is the opportunity cost of an active Tea Party movement? To figure this out, you need to ask, “or what?”
Happy Election Day, everyone! Please don’t read this before you vote.
And then don’t read this either. It’s a paper by Lauren Cohen and Christopher Malloy, both of Harvard Business School, and it’s called “Friends in High Places.”
This year’s midterm elections promise to be a bit more eventful than usual, with predictions of seismic change in Congress and in many statehouses, most of it in a blue-to-red direction. But predictions aren’t elections; and even if the predictions hold true, what happens next?
Over at FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver has a post attempting to debunk the idea that there is momentum in political campaigns. But I think he’s wrong. And his post provides a fun opportunity for a simple statistics lesson on the difficulty of discovering momentum.