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Kudos to Ross Douthat for his rebuttal to David Brooks on Piketty. Now, who will rebut Douthat about recent tax-policy history?

It turns out that Paul Krugman is not the only NYT columnist/blogger who reads Angry Bear. Ross Douthat does, too!

Okay, seriously: Douthat’s delicate-ballet filleting of Brooks’s take on Piketty is priceless.

Now, maybe someone can fillet Douthat’s take on tax-rate increases for “Americans making (or inheriting) in the $100,000-$500,000 range,” which, he says, “is a demographic, it should be noted, that’s proven much more successful at resisting tax increases in the age of Obama than have the true plutocrats above them.”

Hmm.  You’d almost think it was the Republicans rather than Obama and the congressional Democrats who tried to restore to Clinton-era levels the Bush-era tax cuts for people in the $250,000-$500,000 range, and estate taxes, and that Obama and the congressional Dems put a halt to it. Unless, that is, you have no familiarity with the psychology term “projection.”  Or you just have a short memory.

This did happen in the age of Obama, though, so I guess it’s fine to suggest falsely that it was Obama’s choice. Obama orchestrated Republican obstructionism. Who knew?

And that Republican threat last December to shut down the government again, before finally acceding to some part of Obama’s tax-rate increases?  Or am I confused, and it actually was the other way around?

Elsewhere in his post, Douthat says the Democrats won’t propose higher tax rates on people in that income bracket because, if they do, people in that bracket won’t vote for them.  I guess he’s surveyed the many millions of people in that bracket who voted for Obama in 2012 despite his tax-increase proposals, and learned that they’ve had a change of heart since the election.

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The Economics of History, Douthat-Style

I try not to pay attention—and not provide a direct link—to the NYT’s Stupidest Conservative. It’s one of the greatest advantages of having Susan of Texas around: you can go there and see anything I might write, done better, and (in this case) with cute graphics.

But when Brad DeLong falls down on the job—dealing well with the social, but not at all with the economic, aspect—it is time to go once (and, I hope, only once) into the breach.

Douthat, as quoted by DeLong:

Prior to 1973, 20 percent of births to white, unmarried women (and 9 percent of unwed births over all) led to an adoption. Today, just 1 percent of babies born to unwed mothers are adopted, and would-be adoptive parents face a waiting list that has lengthened beyond reason.

First thing to note: these are not necessarily comparable sets, for reasons detailed by Amanda Marcotte (op. cit. DeLong as well). Since the babies of today are conceived more voluntarily (in concept; my perpetual caveat about access certainly abides here), you would expect those eligible to be adopted to decline as well. That is, the 19% drop (or 95% drop in percentage terms) in white babies being adopted (or maybe it’s a 8% drop from 9% to 1%, which would be 89% in percentage terms) is the effect you would expect with fewer “unwanted” births. People don’t offer children for adoption unless they can’t raise them.

So Douthat’s statistics do, if anything, show that overall life is improved since 1973. We can agree that fewer unwanted babies is a good thing, no?

But if I’m reading Douthat’s prose correctly, there’s a far greater structural problem. Concentrating only on “white” babies— that is, conceding that Douthat is considering a bare majority, if that, of the country—we see that the system he fondly remembers produced a 20% surplus of children born out of wedlock for whom the state or its equivalents needed to care.

Even ignoring the conditions under which many of those births occurred, that basically means that for one in every five children born out of wedlock, no more than four were successfully adopted.

The odds are that the ratio is much higher: after all, “births to white, unmarried women” is a large set. Some of those were likely by choice. Some of those likely were followed soon thereafter by marriage. Some of them had “pre-arranged” adoption within the family (or de facto adoption by the woman’s extended family; see Palin, Bristol, for a contemporary example).

I don’t know the numbers, but if you told me that the above accounted for slightly more than half of the category, I wouldn’t be surprised.

But that leaves about 40% of those babies needing to be adopted. And by Douthat’s own data, only 20% of them were.

So the best-case scenario is that, for each one of us who was adopted, there was a minimum of 1/4 of a person who wasn’t—and probably closer to a 1:1 ratio.

In Douthat’s world, women are supposed to feel guilty ex post because they made a decision. Does that mean that adoptees in the U.S. are supposed to feel guilty because they were adopted and someone else wasn’t? Or that our parents should feel guilty because they chose us, and not someone else?

From an economic analysis, the pre-1973 situation was one of significant excess supply, and the current 1% adoption rate is beneficial to the chances of a potential adoptee being adopted, while the “would-be adoptive parents [who] face a waiting list” have both an abundant opportunity to provide a relatively better lifestyle for children born in developing economies and to take interim steps such as fostering to ensure that they really want to change their lifestyle enough to raise children.

No economist in his right mind would consider the pre-1973 environment romanced by Douthat to be more optimal than the current one, unless he really loves human suffering and wasting human capital.

UPDATE: Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice went out and found some numbers that—to no one’s surprise, I trust—don’t support Douthat’s Delusion either.

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Ross Douthat To the Rescue

by Beverly Mann
cross posted with The Annarborist

Ross Douthat To the Rescue

If you can’t base a gay-marriage ban in tradition or in a religious objection—because laws have to have a secular purpose—and you also can’t ground it in the claim that children raised by same-sex couples are worse off, because the research shows just the opposite, than what rational-basis argument can you make? The Proposition 8 proponents are taking heat for their crappy trial record. But what evidence could they have put on instead?

Emily Bazelon, in Slate

I was as dumbstruck by conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s piece in yesterdays’ Times as law professor and author Linda Hirshman makes clear in a Slate piece today that she is. But not only because Douthat uses pseudo anthropology to conclude that it is in society’s interest to promote heterosexual marriage. Or even Douthat’s concession that heterosexuals now have the culturally accepted options of serial monogamy and procreation outside of marriage.

Instead, what really knocked me over was his conclusion that precisely because heterosexuals in such large numbers now choose these options, and therefore threaten to vanquish—his word—the older marital ideal, and because the older marital ideal is still worth striving to preserve because it is the most likely to be a foundation for happiness, the government must preserve it as the ideal to strive for by denying the option of marriage to one, but only one, category of couples who cannot attain it: homosexuals.

The claim is a bald non sequitur. The ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve, he says. Therefore, preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit, he says. As if the latter concept logically follows the former. No need even to explain this. His next sentence: “But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea.”

In other words, we should continue to deny homosexuals the right to marry because we want the government to encourage straights to strive for the ideal of a single decades-long marriage in which husband and wife remain faithful throughout, because this is the most likely to bring them and their children happiness.

All the evidence that is necessary for the higher federal courts to reverse Judge Vauhan Walker’s already-iconic opinion, which held that California’s Proposition 8 prohibition of gay marriage violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses precisely, is that heterosexuals are en masse undermining the older ideal of marriage.

No evidence upon which to overturn Walker’s opinion? Of course there is! And Ross Douthat provides it.

Makes sense if you’re Ross Douthat, I guess. But not if you’re not.

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