Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

National Personalities & Genetic Traits at the BBC… Plus Something More on the BBC

So the notoriously alt-right fringe fake news organization, the BBC, had an article entitled Different Nationalities Really Have Different Personalities. It begins:

When psychologists have given the same personality test to hundreds or thousands of people from different nations, they have indeed found that the average scores tend to come out differently across cultures. In other words, the average personality in one country often really is different from the average personality in another.

From my perspective, as someone who spent around 30% of his life abroad, if the paragraph above wasn’t true, there’d be little point in traveling. Why the heck go through the hassle and expense of getting yourself to Malaysia, Mexico or Morocco if you’re just going to meet the same people you’ll find on your block?

Now, the Beeb does assure us that many of the perceptions that people do hold about the personalities of different countries are wrong. But that isn’t as comforting as you might think. To make that statement, of course, requires knowing what the personalities of the countries are, which is covered here:

Several large international studies have now documented cross-cultural differences in average personality. One of the most extensive was published in 2005 by Robert McCrae and 79 collaborators around the world, who profiled more than 12,000 college students from 51 cultures. Based on averaging these personality profiles, the researchers were able to present an “aggregate” trait score for each of the cultures.

The highest scoring cultural groups for Extraversion on average were Brazilians, French Swiss and the Maltese, while the lowest scoring were Nigerians, Moroccans and Indonesians. The highest scoring for Openness to Experience were German-speaking Swiss, Danes and Germans, while the lowest scoring on average were Hong Kong Chinese, Northern Irish and Kuwaitis. The study also uncovered variation between countries in the three other main personality traits of Neuroticism, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness.

Of course, it’s important to remember that these are averages and there is a lot of overlap between countries; there are undoubtedly a lot of people in Indonesia who are more extraverted than some from Brazil.

Of course, that result is so 2005. More recent polling seems to indicate that post-experience Danes are less open to more experience in the future, at least when that experience involves immigration from some regions of the world.

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Noah Smith: “Why the 101 model doesn’t work for labor markets”

by Sandwichman

Noah Smith: “Why the 101 model doesn’t work for labor markets”

At Noahpinion:

A lot of people have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that the basic “Econ 101″ model – the undifferentiated, single-market supply-and-demand model – doesn’t work for labor markets. To some people involved in debates over labor policy, the theory is almost axiomatic – the labor market must be describable in terms of a “labor supply curve” and a “labor demand curve”. If you tell them it can’t, it just sort of breaks their brain. How could there not be a labor demand curve? How could there not be a relationship between the price of something and how much of it people want to buy?

Funny thing is this is pretty similar to what Sandwichman is saying in Boundless Thirst for Surplus-Labor. The “lump of labor” is a partial equilibrium model and rebuttals to the “fallacy” also invariably rely on partial equilibrium models. They are both wrong.

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Italy And The Future Of The European Union

by Barkley Rosser   (Barkley Rosser is now a contributor to Angry Bear)

Italy And The Future Of The European Union

Given that Trumpfreak may guarantee relatively pro-EU politicians winning in France and Germany in the near term (France less certain than Germany), many are now looking at Italian elections next year as the next time when there may be a serious threat in a major EU nation of a leader being elected who may want to pull the nation out, following the UK example.  The most likely candidate for pulling off this feat would be Chiara Appendino, the current apparently fairly competent mayor of Turin, and the new rising star of the Fiver Star Party, with Rome’s Five Star mayor having gotten bogged down in corruption scandals, and long time party leader, Beppe Grillo, more likely to stay in the background.  Why might this come about, quite aside from the fact that the Five Star Party is now dead even with the ruling Democratic Party in polls after rising?

The obvious main explanation is that the Italian economy has simply been dead flat since around 2000, in contrast to the other large EU nations: Germany, France, UK, Poland, and Spain.  The latter certainly has had some worse experiences in the last decade and a half, notably a much higher unemployment rate.  But that has been coming down in more recent years as Spain has gotten it together and finally gotten growing, despite crises and debt issues.  Italy never had it as bad as Spain, and certainly never as bad as still declining Greece.  But its stagnation has begun to really sour, and those who claimed to fix it have fallen on their faces, with the EU itself increasingly putting unpleasant pressures on Italy that are drawing forth resentment.  The Five Star Movement may be semi-incoherent and contradictory in its populism, but it seems to be rising as the ruling PD (Partita Democratia) has increasingly floundered, and it has a strongly anti-EU position.

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The Boundless Thirst for Surplus-Labor

September 22, 1956

November 7, 1960

QUESTION. This is from Mr. White, Warren, Mich.

What is your stand on the 32-hour workweek?

Vice President NIXON: Well, the 32-hour workweek just isn’t a possibility at the present time. I made a speech back in the 1956 campaign when I indicated that as we went into the period of automation, that it was inevitable that the workweek was going to be reduced, that we could look forward to the time in America when we might have a 4-day week, but we can’t have it now. We can’t have it now for the reason that we find, that as far as automation is concerned, both because of the practices of business and labor, we do not have the efficiency yet developed to the point that reducing the workweek would not result in a reduction of production. The workweek can only be reduced at a time when reduction of the workweek will not reduce efficiency and will not reduce production.

It’s inevitable… but we can’t have it.

Dick Nixon’s turnaround on the issue of the four-day workweek was epic. His original prediction of  a four-day week “in the not too distant future” came in a prepared speech, not in some unguarded moment of overheated campaign hyperbole. He even disclaimed that his “projections” were not “dreams or idle boasts” but were based on the continuation of President Eisenhower’s economic policies.

Following up on Nixon’s 1956 prediction, United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther responded with a telegram calling on the administration to outline a legislative program to achieve the shorter workweek. Nixon sent a telegram in reply and President Eisenhower endorsed Nixon’s reply in a press conference on September 28.

Nixon’s reply was that “mere artificial legislation” would not accomplish a four-day workweek. What was necessary was “dedicated joint efforts of labor, management, government and research.” For his part, Eisenhower “saw nothing wrong with” Nixon’s answer, which he thought also represented his own view that it would be “wonderful” to have more leisure time, but that “no man can say it is going to come about because I say so.” A month after his first comment, Nixon reaffirmed his expectation of a shorter workweek, based on partnership between government, business and labor.

The adamant wording of Nixon’s 1960 dismissal of the idea takes on added resonance in the context of Eisenhower’s earlier caveat that “no man can say it is going to come about because I say so.” Four years later, it “just isn’t a possibility… we can’t have it now. We can’t have it now… [because I say so].”

This wouldn’t be the first time that self-contradiction has appeared in the rhetoric of opposition to shorter work time. The Sandwichman has amassed the world’s largest collection of lame excuses offered by opponents. I assembled 21 of them and sorted them into eight categories having to do with productivity, new consumer wants, unsatisfied needs, labor costs, government policy, self-adjusting markets, history and inevitability, and the devious motives of proponents.

To be kind, the rationales are opportunistic. Mostly, they are jejune partial equilibrium statements invoked as if they were eternal verities. More bluntly, they are mendacious. Every single reason given for not shortening the hours of work is complemented by a contradictory reason for not shortening the hours of work. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

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To me the common assertion about health care reform reform and tax reform makes no sense

Various people have argued that Republicans decided to repeal and (very partially) replace Obamacare before moving on to tax reform, because Obamacare repeal (aka the American Health Care Act aka AHCA) would make it easier to permanently cut tax rates. To me this makes less than zero sense. The argument is that, since AHCA includes tax cuts, tax reform would start from a lower base, so it would be easier to write a tax reform bill which doesn’t add to the deficit after 10 years. It is, in fact, necessary that bills not add to the deficit after 10 years for them to be passed using the budget reconciliation process which makes them invulnerable to filibusters.

However, I don’t see how preceding tax cuts make new tax cuts budget neutral. No one has explained how the exact same tax reform bill could be passed using reconciliation if it followed passage of the AHCA but not if it preceded passage of the AHCA. I know of no one who has argued that the CBO score of the effects of tax reform would be markedly different, or even argued that the sign of the change in the score would be favorable.

Rather the argument seems to be that with the AHCA tax cuts and the tax reform tax cuts, rich people will pay lower taxes than with the tax reform tax cuts alone. This is obviously true and has nothing to do with the order in which the bills are signed into law.

Jonathan Chait has been a prominent proponent of the view which makes no sense to me at all.

The next source of money is repealing Obamacare. The connection between the two issues might seem obscure, but it matters technically. The Republican plan to repeal Obamacare would eliminate all the taxes that were raised to help pay for the benefits — about $1.2 trillion over the next decade. This would lower the baseline of tax revenue, meaning that Republicans would need to design a tax code that raises $1.2 trillion less in revenue in order to be “revenue-neutral.” That makes it crucial for them to repeal Obamacare before they cut taxes.

I can cut and paste his argument. I can read it. But I can find no sense in it at all. Yes if taxes have been cut by $1.2 trillion, then a revenue neutral tax reform needs to raise 1.2 trillion less. But nothing whatsoever justifies Chait’s use of the word “before”. I can’t refute his argument, because I can’t detect it.

This matters, because it now turns out that Donald Trump is one of the people who have been convinced (presumably by Paul Ryan not Jon Chait).

“We haven’t failed — we’re negotiating, and we continue to negotiate, and we will save perhaps $900 billion … we have to do health care first to pick up additional money so that we get great tax reform.”

This argument too makes no sense (very much less surprising in the case of Trump than of Chait). For the reconciliation process, money can’t be picked up with one bill and spent on another. Each bill taken alone must not increase the deficit after 10 years. Now reactionaries consider the AHCA to include great tax reform, since it includes reductions in taxes on high incomes. But this doesn’t make further reductions easier. The order in which the bills are passed doesn’t matter.

In fact, the AHCA makes tax reform more difficult. The reason is that the AHCA benefit cuts are even larger than the tax cuts. So the maximum allowed fiscal 2027 deficit would be smaller if the AHCA were law. A bill which combined health care reform reform and tax reform could include even larger tax cuts than simple repeal of the ACA tax increases and be passed using reconciliation.

I honestly don’t get it. I’m sure I’m missing something. I am also sure, 100% sure, that, even if passage of the AHCA were to make it easier for the GOP to pass a tax reform bill, this wouldn’t be because the AHCA includes tax cuts or deficit reduction.

update: minds think alike.

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Which Is More Important, China Or Syria?

by Barkley Rosser {originally published at Econospeak)

Which Is More Important, China Or Syria?

For the world as a whole and the US in particular, when it is put like that it is pretty obvious: China.  It has the world’s largest population, largest economy in PPP terms, a rising military, expanding interests around the world, including making territorial demands on several neighbors, not to mention being a nuclear superpower as well as cyberpower, and more.  Syria has a population of 22 million and an economy half the size of Puerto Rico’s.  It is not a major oil exporter.

However, last week it certainly looked like Syria was more important.  President Trump meets with President Xi at Mar-a-Lago, and almost nothing is reported about the meeting other than some vague remarks.  Important matters such as trade policy (the US has initiated an  anti-dumping suit against China in steel), South China Sea issues, North Korea nuclear testing issues (US has just sent a major naval group towards the place), issues over currency management (with Trump long charging China with currency manipulation, even though it is now widely accepted that while they did it in the past the Chinese are not doing so now), climate change (where China is becoming world leader on the international policy stage while Trump claims that global warming is a “Chinese hoax”).  They barely had a press conference, and what really went on in the meeting remains largely mysterious.

So, wow, much better to have the headlines and the commentaries taken up with the apparently one-shot firing of 59 Tomahawk missiles at a base in Syria, after apparently warning both the Russians and the Syrians we were going to do it, in response to a chemical attack in Syria that killed about 80 civilians, including some children.  This was certainly a bad attack, but it remains unclear if it was the Syrian military or some rebel groups, although probably it was the government, and if it was the government, it is unclear if it was done by some local commander on his own or with the explicit orders of President Assad, and if the latter, was it done with the foreknowledge of their allies, the Russians, and most especially President Putin.  The Russians and Iranians are claiming that the rebels did the chem weapons attacke and are denouncing the US attack.  But who really knows?  I sure as heck do not, and I  am not sure anybody in the US government knows either, especially given the 25 reasons that have since been given for this by various administration officials.

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Prime working age employment up, participation up (finally) – now how about wages?

by New Deal democrat

Prime working age employment up, participation up (finally) – now how about wages?

The March jobs report finishes the first quarter, which make it easier to update some labor participation trends, which, along with wages, has really lagged in this nearly 8 year old expansion.

In order to eliminate the issue of the huge Baby Boom generation retiring, and to a lesser extent college and graduate students, we have some good data on the prime age 25-54 demographic.

Historically, labor participation continues to decline after a recession ends, and picks up after the employment to population ratio does.  Put another way, people come off the sidelines and enter the workforces once the unemployment rate declines significantly.  Here’s the long term trend, comparing the YoY% change in each:

Now let’s zoom in on this expansion:

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Only So Much To Go ‘Round

The Sandwichman commented the other day on The Economist article, “Britain’s Green Party proposes a three-day weekend.” Regrettably, though, I didn’t pay much attention to their “rebuttal” to the alleged assumption of a fixed amount of work:

In fact, if people worked fewer hours, demand would drop, and so fewer working hours would be on offer.

I have seen stupid explanations before of why there is not a fixed amount of work. Layard, Nickell and Jackman argued that if work time reduction and redistribution succeeded in reducing unemployment, it would be inflationary and that would probably cause the central bank to intervene to re-establish the “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment.” That’s pretty stupid but not nearly as stupid as what The Economist article claimed as “fact.” Pardon me for repeating the whole dreadful argument:

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