Author: Joseph

History of terrible ideas

This is Joseph.

This amazing tweet has been commented on by both Dmitry Grozoubinski and Eschaton. Here is the tweet, which, to be honest is worse than the article (written by different people to be fair-- Arias and Granoff -- who are generally interested in fewer nuclear weapons): 

The article suggests removing the last 150 American nuclear weapons from Europe. Steven Pinker appears to be expanding that to all of NATO. One option is pointless symbolism. The other is really daft. 

France has 280 deployed warheads and the UK has 120 deployed warheads. Removing 150 warheads is not a small change but is hardly an end to the NATO nuclear force. The United states still has 14 submarines that deploy weapons, with 20 weapons per submarine. Like if this caused a very robust settlement with the Ukraine maybe the symbolism would be worth it, but isn't the actual negotiations supposed to be between belligerents? How well has it worked historically to have a different alliance negotiate on behalf of one side of a conflict? Note that Ukraine has nuclear weapons and decided to get rid of them and may have opinions on the wisdom of this decision. 

Now, getting rid of all of the NATO nukes WITHOUT getting rid of the Russian weapons would mean the only nuclear power in Europe was Russia. It's also a bit unclear how you introduce this idea to France. You know, the country with the famously rocky relationship with NATO. Does England (Read more...)

Am I an idiot?

This is Joseph.

Mark had a polite comment on one of the positions that I held:
Conventional pundit wisdom was that Trump's statements about defending Social Security and Medicare had inoculated the GOP against that line of attack. Pundits can be idiots

While I hope I avoid the full "idiot" level, I thought it was worth reflecting why my analysis was wrong. After all, numbers like this need to be explained if you think that people just assume social security and Medicare are safe from Republican meddling:


That is a 15 point drop on the generic ballot in two months among the 65+ crowd. 

I think it is important that we be accountable when we are wrong. So what did I miss?

Pondering it for a while, I think I overlooked the real impact of the Supreme Court, in general, and Dobbs, in particular. The quest to overturn Roe versus Wade goes back to the 1980's and Ronald Reagan. But after 50 years this could be dismissed as posturing, after all the ruling had survived two generations of judges who were heavily Republican appointed. But then, one day, it happened.

This seems to me to have had two immediate implications.

  1. Older voters do not like radical change and all of the sudden the Supreme Court was delivering a series of radical rulings, Thermostatic politics kicked in, as well as the general distrust of radical change among those with less time to adapt to it
  2. Suddenly these threats (Read more...)

Please stop talking about Biden retiring

This is Joseph.

This post by Robert Reich is very good. Worth reading in full. He makes good points about the health issues that arise with age:

It’s not death that’s the worrying thing about a second Biden term. It’s the dwindling capacities that go with aging. "Bodily decrepitude," said Yeats, "is wisdom." I have accumulated somewhat more of the former than the latter, but our president seems fairly spry (why do I feel I have to add “for someone his age?”). I still have my teeth, in contrast to my grandfather whom I vividly recall storing his choppers in a glass next to his bed, and have so far steered clear of heart attack or stroke (I pray I’m not tempting fate by my stating this fact). But I’ve lived through several kidney stones and a few unexplained fits of epilepsy in my late thirties. I’ve had both hips replaced. And my hearing is crap. Even with hearing aids, I have a hard time understanding someone talking to me in a noisy restaurant. You’d think that the sheer market power of 60 million boomers losing their hearing would be enough to generate at least one chain of quiet restaurants

But this is absolutely the wrong time to be having this conversation. 

Why would the Democrats projects weakness ahead of the 2022 congressional races?

With a 50-50 senate there are currently five toss-up races (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). Losing the senate is obviously terrible. Even more aggressively, (Read more...)

Are we running out of people?

This is Joseph. 

I noticed that this tweet from Elon Musk:
Showed up just after this story:
I also see this pinned tweet:
It seems to me that this whole sorry saga misses several important points. Let us consider them. 

One, the key to raising children is not being the sperm donor, which while a necessary step is far from a sufficient one. The real effort is the bearing of the children and taking the time to properly do tasks like childminding and educating children. One rich person having children with many women (Musk has 10 children by 3 different mothers) is not really doing much to address the fertility crisis. 

Two, Earth reached a population of one billion people around 1804 CE. That is 218 years ago. Recorded history goes back to at least 3200 BCE. That means we had 5,000 years of successful human civilization with less than a billion humans. I think we can start getting worried about underpopulation when we hit one billion going the other way. Until then, I think concerns about whether there are enough people seem odd. 

Finally, having children with a subordinate at work seems like a suboptimal decision. It is hard to ensure that there was a proper balance of power in the relationship. While the person in question, Shivon Zilis, seems to have a lot of agency in their career, it is always a concern in these cases. 

So I would say that this strategy was not the (Read more...)

Money rules for the rich

This is Joseph

One of the things that often makes me crazy is personal finance advice. Don't get me wrong, there is good personal finance advice out there. But it can often fall into one of several genres that end up not really being helpful to the median reader. One example is the "buy fewer lattes", which does get at a good point (small expenses can add up) but doesn't move the needle much for large financial challenges. 

The other is the advice that is very useful if and only if you already have a lot of money. This article was a good example of this genre. Was the advice good? You bet. Was any of it usable at my income level and life stage. No, not really. 

For example, consider these items of advice:
3. Strive to own your home, not rent — and try to buy in cash. This is particularly the case if you’re a moderate to high earner. Having more of your money packed in your home is a way to shelter it from federal and state asset-income taxation.

4. Mortgages are tax and financial losers. Pay them off ASAP. Think about it: If you have $100,000 that you can invest right now in a bond earning 1.5%, you’d have $1,500 in interest income over the course of a year. But if you had a $100,000 debt at a 3.2% interest that you could pay off right now, you’d save $3,200 over the course of the (Read more...)

Bitcoin and transaction costs

This is Joseph.

Mark has noted that he called the cryptocurrency bubble in advance [which makes me sound a bit dickish when you just come out and say it -- MP]. We are all aware that Bitcoin is volatile, which is a bad property as a store of value. But other stores of value are also volatile (like gold). But one feature of bitcoin seems under-reported. We know that miner rewards drop with time and that about 20% of bitcoin is "lost". The lost feature is terrible because it means the supply shrinks with time to become less and less -- in other words the currency is naturally deflationary. Deflationary is bad because it encourages holding on to money instead of spending money, which is not a good economic feature. Again, all well know issues. 

We also know about the slow transaction speed (visa does 1,700 transactions per second, Bitcoin does 4.6) which creates concern about scalability and ability to settle small transactions quickly. 

But what about transaction fees. Here is Square's transaction fees in Canada:
Square has competitive, transparent pricing so you know exactly how much you’re paying to process credit and debit cards. It’s just 2.65% per tap, dip or swipe for Visa, Mastercard, American Express and international credit cards, 3.4% + 15 cents for each card not present transaction (like Virtual Terminal), and 2.9% + 30 cents for other transactions (like invoices paid online). For debit transaction, it’s just a 10 cent flat fee for (Read more...)

Journal Club: when the headline and findings diverge

This is Joseph.

This study has been making the rounds:

Now I want to be very careful here. What was the actual category (listed as #2 in the article:
The datasets are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Now look at what happens:

In summary, of 1792 e-mails sent, we did not receive any response for 1538 articles because messages were not delivered (N=77; 4.3%) or the author did not reply (N=1461; 81%). Responses were received from 254 (14%) contacted authors 

So, first of all, I am not sure that we should consider the 4% who did not have a message delivered considered to be "non-compliant". That is important as the headline number of  93% did not respond includes those who were not actually successfully contacted. Of those responding, about 1/2 (122 vs 132) shared their data. 

Then we have the most common reasons:

  1. The authors asked for more information about our study, but after our detailed response and clarification, we did not receive further response from them 
  2. Their informed patient consent did not include sharing data with other researchers, or the ethical committee prohibited external data sharing and use 
  3. They cannot access the data, either because they are no longer in the institution that conducted the research, or they are no longer active on the project 
  4. They do not want to share the data or in any way participate in our study without a specific explanation
Some of these are declining to be in the study and (Read more...)

Simple political analysis

This is Joseph.

As a fun palate cleanser after Mark's extremely important post, I thought that discussing this tweet would be fun. But seriously, watch the video first. 

Changing a sitting president is challenging, even if the incumbent is willing to step aside. Just for the record, there is no hint that Joe Biden is interested in stepping aside. That said, if he did, these seem to be his political weak points:
  1. Age (he will be 83 when he starts a second term). I actually think this might be his biggest vulnerability if the Republicans run somebody younger (e.g., not Trump)
  2. Inflation is always politically painful
  3. Other branches of government (primarily the judiciary but also things like the filibuster threshold in the senate).
Bernie helps with none of these. He is a year older then Biden and Biden would be starting a second term and not a first. At the end of two terms, Bernie would be over 90. Biden is well aware inflation is bad and that constrains populist plans (with inflation and interest rates rising, you need to make more serious tradeoffs which makes it hard to get a major spending program going). 

What about the courts? The Trump speed run on the judiciary is real but it isn't like Biden isn't addressing it. Despite a very narrow senate majority, he even confirmed a very competent supreme court justice with a history as a public defender. The senate is a concern as it has a skew (Read more...)

Arguments not in evidence

This is Joseph.

Mark had a pretty strong reaction to my last piece. It has been a while since we had a debate and I think this is a good place for one. Let me state, before anything else, that Mark made good points. 

But here is the thing, even though the reasons that he brings up are absolutely correct, they are not actually part of the core arguments being made by either side. I see the issue is administrative processes dragging on for very long periods of time, I think that whole new reasons becoming clear, as the megafire issue because more obvious, is actually a good example of this phenomenon. 

The environmental impact report does mention the wildland fire risk as follows:

Wildland Fires

The Project site is located in a mostly urbanized area, and is surrounded by a variety of residential and commercial/office land uses. While the majority of the surrounding area is currently developed with residential and commercial uses, uphill to the north of the Project site is an additional a roughly 4.6 acres of undeveloped privately-owned parcel land, itself surrounded by development. This relatively small and isolated wild area would not be considered a high risk for wildfires and is not in an identified high fire hazard zone, as listed in Section 5.3.1 of the General Plan. In addition, it the Project is subject to approval of the Fire Marshal as it relates to brush and vegetation removal to the north. As such, the (Read more...)

NIMBY and California

This is Joseph.

The recent New York Times article on the twilight of the NIMBY was interesting just for the low level of actual good ideas for why new housing is bad. The idea was to build 20 condos on a hill in a neighborhood of detached houses. 

There ensued a decade of meetings, lots of legal back and forth, and a sign that said “Save Kite Hill.” The city also got a lot of letters. They said the project was an “insane” idea that would create “unimaginable density” and lead Mill Valley toward an “LA like destruction.”

Most of the letters raised questions about parking and traffic. Others voiced a more esoteric set of concerns, like “confusion for the post office.” One writer averred that anyone who lived in the new condos would be accepting a higher cancer risk, since their homes would be downwind from the wood-fired oven at a nearby restaurant.

Obviously, the people who currently live near the restaurant are innately immune to cancer? The post office is that understaffed that they can't add addresses? I think the real reason remains this:

“From my backyard I see the hillside,” Ms. Kirsch wrote from her Hotmail account. “Explain how my property value is not deflated if open space is replace(d) with view-blocking, dense, unsightly buildings.” 

Letting house get so expensive has been a terrible idea. It creates inequality (people who own homes gain massive profit from appreciation) and drives up housing costs in general considerably. The other (Read more...)