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

Self-selection and Multigenerational Mobility of American Immigrants

Last year I wrote a post noting that the income of group of immigrants in the US is correlated with the income of the country from where those immigrants hailed. I noted that this correlation is especially strong for immigrants in the US for the longest.

I just stumbled on this paper from earlier this year by Joakim Ruist. Here’s the abstract:

This paper aims to explain the high intergenerational persistence of inequality between groups of different ancestries in the US. Initial inequality between immigrant groups is interpreted as largely due to differently strong self-selection on unobservable skill endowments. These endowments are in turn assumed to be more persistent than observable outcomes across generations. If skill endowments are responsible for a larger share of total inequality between immigrant groups than between individuals generally, the former inequality will be more persistent. This explanation implies the additional testable hypothesis that the correlation between home country characteristics that influence the self-selection pattern – in particular the distance to the US – and migrants’ or their descendants’ outcomes will increase with every new generation of descendants. This prediction receives strong empirical support: The migration distance of those who moved to the US around the turn of the 20th century has risen from explaining only 14% of inequality between ancestry groups in the immigrant generation itself, to a full 49% in the generation of their great-grandchildren today.

Here’s a paragraph from the conclusion:

The policy relevance of this result lies to a large extent in what it does not say. It is well known that inequality between ancestry groups in America is highly persistent, and also that some groups experience more mobility than others. Previous explanations for this to some extent indicate that something is “wrong”, in that certain groups’ upward mobility is hampered either by these groups’ own behavior, or American society’s behavior towards them. As such they also indicate a role for policy in improving the situation. In contrast, according to the results and interpretation reported here, ancestry groups’ low socioeconomic mobility is not an indication that something is wrong, but merely that the impact of migrants’ self-selection is longer-lasting than previously thought.

Here’s the last paragraph in the paper:

Finally these results say something important not only about migrants’ self-selection and intergenerational mobility, but also about America. In the 19th century, many millions of Europeans dreamed of a new life in America. But the journey was costly, and at least until the arrival of transatlantic steamships even dangerous, and only some actually made the leap. The results reported in this study not only support the view that those who actually did make the journey were equipped with qualities not equally possessed by all of those who did not. They also tell us that these qualities remained for several generations with their descendants, who made their native country the global hub of knowledge, innovation, entrepreneurship, and industry of the 20th century.

The modern era being what it is, I imagine that today, in some countries, it is easier to be a migrant than to stay put. Ruist’s paper would imply that immigrants from such countries might, on average, have multiple generations of descendants with particularly low SES scores.

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Crime and Punishment

I stumbled on a blog post by Jerry Ratcliffe, who is a Professor of Criminal Justice and Director of the Center for Security and Crime Science at Temple University, Philadelphia, and a former police officer with London’s Metropolitan Police (UK).

From one of this posts:

Graph no. 2 is another image from my Intelligence-Led Policing book. The crime funnel represents what happens to a random selection of 1,000 crimes that affect the public (top bar). It shows the loss of cases through the criminal justice system. These are British national data derived from public records, but the comparisons to the U.S. are very similar. If you take a random selection of 1,000 crimes actually suffered by the public (violence, robbery, vehicle theft, residential burglary, theft and criminal damage) you can see that they only report 530 to the police, who in turn record just 43 percent of the original total.

Click to embiggenize.

Of these 429 events, 99 are detected (solved or cleared in some way) and of these, 60 end up with a day in court. The majority of those are found guilty or plead the same, but in the end only four of the events from the original 1,000 end up in a custodial sentence for the offender. This is an incarceration rate of 0.4% based on crime suffered by the community.

The main point here is that impacting higher in the crime funnel will be more effective because it affects the numbers below and affects a larger number of actual cases. Improving the detection rate will have an impact on prosecutions, pleas and incarceration, but only to a minimal level. Being prevention focused and changing the higher numbers is much more impactful. Consider if you could have a 10% change on one level. Where would it be most effective?

I don’t know how accurate the figures above are, but I assume the numbers are about as reasonable as the law enforcement community can provide.  I’m not sure “an incarceration rate of 0.4% based on crime suffered by the community” is all that much of a deterrent, except insofar as crimes, apparently are just like potato chips – people who engage in crimes generally don’t stop at one.  Most delinquents commit multiple crimes and eventually get snagged for something.  But meanwhile, a whole of of people suffer a whole of outrage.

As to Ratcliffe’s question…  I suspect what Ratclife is getting at is what the current esteemed leadership in Baltimore considers heavy handed policing. And I bet his 0.4% figure is a whole lot lower for Baltimore these days too.

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Baltimore Trade-off

I’ve been following the situation in Baltimore since the death of Freddie Gray because my wife hails from that city. Here is what is happening now according to the Baltimore Sun:

Baltimore’s top law enforcement leaders say they are working closely together to fight crime — but the community should not expect a turnaround soon.

State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, in an exclusive joint interview with The Baltimore Sun, say they are overseeing crime-fighting in a different climate than six years ago, when the city experienced fewer than 200 homicides for the first time in decades. Both officials claimed those past gains were achieved using heavy-handed tactics that have been disavowed.

“There was a price to pay for” the drop below 200 homicides, a price “that manifested itself in April and May of 2015,” Davis said, referring to the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray. “I think the long view is that doing it the right way is doing it the hard way, and I think most Baltimoreans realize that the way forward is not always going to be easy.”

The article continues:

Baltimore is on track for more than 300 killings for the third consecutive year. Among the latest victims was a 15-year-old boy who was gunned down in the middle of the afternoon Tuesday, the third teenager killed this month. In addition to spiking crime, authorities have continued to grapple with scandals that have led to criminal charges against officers and the dropping of scores of court cases.

I’m not sure I understand what this means. Is there really a direct link between disavowing “heavy-handed tactics” and a more than 50% increase in the homicide rate? What exactly is the relationship here? Is everyone OK with the trade-off? In particular, are the families of the 100 marginal homicide victims copacetic? And what are those heavy-handed tactics anyway?

But let’s focus on the negatives:

Mosby cited zero-tolerance policing as a “failed strategy” that continued in Baltimore long after it was formally disavowed by the city’s leaders. “Those failed policies are what got us to the place we were at in the spring of 2015,” she said, referring to the unrest.

Davis noted that his agency is operating with about 500 fewer officers than a few years ago, when the city experienced several years of declines in gun violence. He said the police department at that time employed a strategy that won’t be duplicated.

“It was a geographic takeover strategy of neighborhoods, that cast nets over neighborhoods that happened to be overwhelmingly poor, overwhelmingly African-American, overwhelmingly impacted by all the failings of society. And they [celebrated] when they got to a certain artificial number of murders,” he said. “As if 200 murders is acceptable for a city of 600,000 people.”

I agree that 200 murders a year should not be seen as acceptable. But I would think that 300 murders a year should be viewed as quite a bit less acceptable.

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How Long Employees Stay at Tech Companies

This shows <a href = “”>how long employees stay at major tech companies</a>:

Not having worked for a tech company, I found these tenures to be pretty short.  I Googled retention at Google (I’m trying to stay on their good side) and found an article suggesting the median tenure at Google is 1.1 years. I imagine this sort of thing is hard to measure from the outside, but it does seem people don’t stay at the big tech firms long.

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Homicides Over Time, Plus a Question About Drugs

I was looking for information on drug related murders and inadvertently stumbled on this old Bureau of Justice of Statistics report. There’s a lot of interesting information in it. One fascinating table is this:

For context, here is the population breakdown over a period that includes the timespan in the table.

I’m not sure this gives enough information to say what would happen if drugs were legalized, but I am interested in your thoughts.

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Three (No, two, um, make that three again) Commentaries on 2017

Commentary 1.

I was bouncing around twitter and landed on the following tweet. It may be the best commentary on where we are that I have read.

(click to embiggen or to see the whole picture)


Obligatory comment: I know nothing about the individual who left the tweet. To the best of my knowledge I have never seen a tweet by that person before. I haven’t checked his (her? zir?) other tweets to know whether I should endorse or denounce him (her? zir?).  But I thought the tweet was clever.


Commentary 2.

From The Hill:

The Republican National Committee (RNC) expanded its massive fundraising lead over the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in July as the Democrats posted their worst July haul in a decade.

The DNC raised just $3.8 million in July, compared to the $10.2 million raised by the RNC in the same month. While the GOP has no debt, the DNC added slightly to its debt in July, which now sits at $3.4 million.

The Democrats haven’t raised that little money in a July since 2007, when the party raised $3.4 million.

The dynamics that have caused this are perfectly clear to me.


Commentary 3.

This weekend, for the third time in five weeks, I spent around four hours writing a post… and then I simply erased the final product. Each of the three posts dealt with the same topic: how to substantially reduce the homicide rate in the US, particularly in the most beleaguered communities. Each post was supported by a different analysis, which in turn was based on a different set of data. This is, after all, 2017 America.  I almost deleted this paragraph too.

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Evolution of the Trump Administration: An Op Ed

Donald Trump seems to be missing some sort of a regulator that prevents him from simply saying what temporarily happens to be on his mind. That made it inevitable that he would treat his audience to a regular stream of faux pas. However, I think both the degree and severity of the mess may be diminished going forward.

The reason has to do with how the Trump administration came into being. Simply put, unlike most candidates, he actually beat both major political parties in the US, not just the Democrats. He took the Republican nomination by beating the presumptive heir – Jeb Bush. Then he beat the back-ups who were viewed as acceptable to most establishment Republicans: Rubio and Cruz.

Now, when a new President takes office, he can usually stock his administration from think tanks and members of the political intelligentsia. Trump couldn’t. As the Republican nominee, he was never going to use left-leaning people. But he wasn’t about to bring in people from the Bush/Rubio/Cruz camps, nor were many of them willing to serve under him either. That pretty much ruled out the vast majority people with any experience in how Washington works.

So who was left? Well, there were disaffected members of the Republican establishment (those who had pissed off the neocons during the last Republican administration), some elements in the military, and people on the right who had been criticizing the Republican party for a long time. The latter group tend to be the most numerous. They also live on the fringes. And like most people on the fringes, they have no idea how the world works. Many are bombastic, like Trump himself.

So that was the well from which Trump could draw. A clown show was inevitable. And since many of the clowns were actually advising Trump himself, it was also predictable that Trump would be repeating some of their nonsense, sprinkled in with some that was homegrown.

But it seems that Trump can learn, after all. He may brag that he is the bestest Presidentiest President ever, but under it all, people he trusts remind him that he isn’t actually getting anything done. Somewhere along the way, it occurred to him to get rid of Priebus and replace him with Kelly. What Kelly himself believes – politically – isn’t entirely clear, but he is a four star general, and it seems clear he understands how organizations work. He quickly unloaded a couple of the more clown-ish actors, the Mooch and Steve Bannon, and perhaps his own predecessor.

Assuming Trump and Kelly remain in place, this should lead to something resembling professionalism in some of the corners of the administration that haven’t had such a thing in a while. That professionalism should even manifest itself in advice given to the President, reducing the amount of crazy-talk taking up valuable shelf-space in his head. That in turn might cut down on some of the more soap opera-ish activity coming from both Trump and the rest of the administration.

Is that a good thing? Well, there’s a yes and a no to that question. The yes piece is obvious, so I won’t elaborate. But as to the no… year to date, Trump was busy proposing ideas that had no support from anyone except the fringes and peddling them in ways that couldn’t possibly gain traction. As a result, those ideas went nowhere. But what happens if he starts running with garden-variety Republican tropes? Those tropes can gain the support they need to be enacted. They also didn’t generate positive outcomes the last few times we’ve seen them applied. Nor is there any real reason to expect that things will be turn out differently the next time the are tried.

I have to say, I was naive. I didn’t even think that Caligula might have an effective chief of staff.

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Symbols of Oppression Being Ignored

The Confederacy stood for the forcible subjugation of other people. If there is a benefit to honoring the concept of or symbols for the Confederacy I don’t see it. Taking these symbols out of the public sphere is a net positive, even if some people are able to simultaneously a) disassociate those symbols from the oppression they represent and b) venerate those symbols.

To be consistent, note that the radical Islamic ideology also calls for the forcible subjugation of other people. Furthermore, it seems clear that in the last few decades a heck of a lot more people have been killed or enslaved by those following a radical Islamist ideology than a Confederate (or similar fellow traveler) ideology.

So… are there symbols that matter to the radical Islamists that should get the Confederate statue treatment?

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