What I’ve Been Listening To

Amerigo Gazaway - Yasiin Gaye1.  Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE.  Almost every track on this album is worth listening to at least once.  Easily deserves the praise it’s received.

2.  Timber Timbre, Creep On Creepin’ On.  Very creepy indeed.  Much better than Cedar Shakes (IMO).  I just started listening to Hot Dreams, and so far it’s even better.  Excellent.

3.  Tycho, Awake.  This collection of pretty beats is just that — a collection of pretty beats.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Great for reading or studying, not for much else.  The tracks are all good but have very little range.  The instruments don’t “sing” in the way that Ronald Jenkees’ do (for example); they’re all begging for a lead vocalist.  (Bono comes to mind.)  Nonetheless I’ve been listening to it on repeat for a while now.

4.  Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap.  Many more rappers fail at finding a unique voice than succeed —  and Chance has succeeded.  They call Acid Rap a mixtape, but it easily could have been be his debut album.  Chance isn’t the best rapper, but he’s better than he was the last time, and he’s good.  (And have I mentioned that he’s only 20?)

5.  Amerigo Gazaway, Yasiin Gaye: The Departure (Side One).  Amerigo Gazaway is a producer in Nashville who (among other things0 likes to combine two artists, usually from different but related eras, into one album.  Yasiin Gaye is a cross between Yasiin Bey (the rapper formerly known as Mos Def) and Marvin Gaye.  I thought the idea was great, but I’m even more impressed at how well it works out.  Gazaway has also done Fela Soul (Fela Kuti + De La Soul) and my personal favorite, Bizarre Tribe (Pharcyde + A Tribe Called Quest).  Also see Gazaway’s Freak the Funk, if you want something more diverse than two artists or if you just like his work.  And here is a short video about his process.

Florida Prosecutes Some Children as Adults For No Particular Reason

Some Floridian prosecutors wake up in the morning and decide to give sixteen-year-olds permanent criminal records; others don’t.  Why?  I have no idea, and neither does Human Rights Watch:

Surely a civilized society could come up with a better system for deciding whether to permanently damage a child’s future than this?

Addendum:  Here is HRW on young people in solitary confinement for weeks or months on end.  Yes, in the United States.  And here is HRW on the fact that black youths are sent to adult court at (much) higher rates than white youths who committed the same types of crimes.

Are most conservatives really liberals?

Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics.  Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics.  Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views.  The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.

That is from John Sides, and the data come from Ellis and Stimson’s Ideology in America.

PS — Take a look at which areas of federal spending Americans (don’t) want to cut, from 2011:


Amazingly, conservatives and liberals had virtually identical views on whether to cut spending on Medicare and Social Security, the two largest federal social spending programs — and this was at the height of the Tea Party movement.

For the talk (and evidence, I admit) about how polarized American politics are today, I still think that conservatives and liberals share one thing in common: they’re not (really) libertarians.

16% of Americans are Uninsured (But So What?)



I can think of at least four ways a pundit could spin this:

1.  One could emphasize the precipitous drop from 18% to 15.9% that’s occurred in the last 2 quarters.

2.  One could point out that the uninsured rate, as measured by Gallup, hasn’t been this low since 2008.

3.  One could point out that the uninsured rate is not substantially different today than it was at the height of the (official) recession, when unemployment was over 10%.

4.  One could point out that the uninsured rate was nearly identical in 2011, so what progress has really been made?

I don’t interpret this graph in any of those ways.  I only point this out because I think it illustrates a) why it’s important to look at the data yourself instead of swallowing the headlines hook line and sinker, and b) how tempting it can be to assert causal stories based on mere correlations, even though there is no causal information here about Obamacare, nor anything else, whatsoever.

It’s a good mental exercise to stare at this graph while resisting the urge to draw causal conclusions.  Link meditation for wonks.

What does it mean if development expenditures don’t correlate with success?

The correlation between spending and good outcomes actually tells you very little about cost-effectiveness or about whether spending “works” at achieving good outcomes.  I learned this from an older article by Abhijit Banerjee that I’m reading for class:

…one can easily imagine one country choosing one of these [aid programs], spending a lot, and getting the same results as another that spent very little.  If both projects were aid- financed, someone comparing them would conclude that spending does not correlate with success in development projects, which is what one finds when one compares aid and growth across countries.

The key is that if two countries are getting the same outcomes, but using different methods, with different costs, then both methods might very well be effective in improving outcomes, but because they cost different amounts there is no correlation between spending and good outcomes.

This is generalizable to all sorts of other spending, both public and private.  For example, I spend a lot more on food than some of my friends, yet we all eat pretty much the same amount of calories.  Does that mean money can’t buy calories?  Of course not; it just means that I eat out more than they do.  I would certainly not advise either of us to stop buying food altogether.

PS — There is a great idea for a paper-abstract-as-April-Fool-joke somewhere in here.  It will have to wait until 2015 I suppose.  Consider yourselves warned.

Violence in the Congo, Before and After Dodd-Frank, in Two Maps

Lauren_Harrison_Map1 Lauren+Harrison+Final+Map

These are from Lauren E. Harrison, by way of Laura Seay.  Both pieces are fascinating and easily worth reading in full.

It would seem that the story about how cell phones finance war rape is about 90% incorrect — 10% correct because it is in some sense true that rebel groups finance their crimes with mineral exports, 90% incorrect because the counterfactual does not involve reduced violence, like, at all.

For those interested in a more general discussion of the economic causes of civil conflict and their implications for policy, try Paul Collier’s 2006 paper “Economic Causes of Civil Conflict and Their Implications for Policy“.  Collier argues that reliance on mineral export, low incomes, and slow (or negative) growth are major causes of civil war in developing countries, and that this relationship is indeed causal — and in Congo, you have all three.  Regulating mineral exports from Congo doesn’t do much if anything to reduce dependence on said exports, but does make ordinary people poorer, so Collier (2006) would seem to predict that Dodd-Frank would if anything increase not decrease violence.  (Now take another look at those maps)

I’m not saying the above maps amount to proof, or even evidence, that Dodd-Frank has fueled rather than reduced violence in Congo.  But the absolute best you can say about the law so far is that there’s no evidence that it’s worked, and information consistent with the idea that it’s backfired.

Anyway, go read Harrison and Seay.

Assorted Links

1.  David Roodman reviews Bill Easterly’s *Tyrrany of Experts*.

2.  Dogs wearing suicide vests in WW2.  (video, no sound)

3.  Josh Oppenheimer on The Act of Killing.

4.  ACAsignups.net, purportedly the only place to find real-time (ish) data on ACA signups.

5.  “See where you fit in the political typology” …I took the quiz and they say I’m a libertarian, “along with 9% of the public,” but caveat emptor when it comes to quizzes like this — I’ve been called a good fit for the Green Party by another.

Econometric Fortune Cookie

Possibly the wisest fortune cookie ever:

Econometric Fortune Cookie

…and definitely clearer than “E[Yi | Di=1] - E[Yi | Di=0]  ≠  E[Y1i | D1i=1] - E[Y1i | D0i=1]” and related statements.

Assorted Links

1.  Interview with Branko Milanović.  “…global inequality is still extremely high by the standards of any single country.  It is, for example, significantly higher than inequality in South Africa, which is the most unequal country in the world.

2.  Great stories about immigration and more.

3.  Photos of people breaking the rules.  (H/T Walter Olsen.)

4.  Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf to finally be published.

5.  A think tank that actually tells you who its funders are (with 2 anonymous, probably-not-evil exceptions).