Daily Archives: 30 May 2014

Thomas Piketty Devours Chris Giles

Thomas Piketty - LionYou may remember a week ago, I wrote, Capital in the 21st Century Not Refuted. It was in regard to an article by Chris Giles at the Financial Times, Data problems with Capital in the 21st Century. My article was mostly about what the political consequences of this would be. Regardless of what Giles found or how Piketty would respond, conservatives would use the initial Giles article to dismiss income inequality. As I concluded: “I imagine watching This Week in two years. Paul Krugman will be on it and say, ‘Thomas Piketty showed that income inequality is getting worse.’ And Peggy Noonan will scoff, ‘Oh, the Financial Times proved that was rubbish years ago!’ And George Stephanopoulos will just shrug. ‘Who can say?'”

We will see if this comes to pass, because Piketty was pretty quick with his response—a 10 page paper, Technical appendix of the book Capital in the twenty-first century Appendix to chapter 10. Inequality of Capital Ownership; Addendum: Response to FT (pdf). If you are technically minded, it is quite a fun read. It starts off with Piketty gushing about how grateful he is that the Financial Times is checking his work and that this is exactly why he made all of the data in the book available on spreadsheet. It comes off very much like a lion talking to a lamb about how happy he is that he decided to join him for dinner.

Chris Giles - LambPiketty then goes on to talk about the data on wealth inequality: it is far worse than the data on income inequality. Implied: you did read the book, didn’t you? But they can agree on that, and Piketty talks about how these data will be getting better in the future in part because of his own and his colleagues’ work. At this point, the lion has not touched the lamb; it is smiling with just a hint of disapproval.

But Piketty continues to take it slow. He then goes in and discusses each of the four countries that he studied: Sweden, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. He deals with each thusly:

Sweden
I see we agree on the overall numbers. Excellent! But you note some minor errors in the years? Yes, I explained this all in the book and even more in the appendix, but I should have been more clear. You see, you can’t treat wealth estimates on a yearly basis because there aren’t enough data and the data are too variable to deal with year by year. But thank you so much for pointing out this issue that I clearly didn’t highlight enough in the book. (The lion smiles broadly.)
France
I see we agree on the overall numbers. Excellent! But you make much about a single data point regarding how I correct for mortality. This is all clearly explained in the spreadsheets and the papers I put online for you to use. “This looks a little bit like criticism for the sake of criticism.” (The lion squints at the lamb and looks disapprovingly.)
United States
I see we agree on the overall numbers except in the most recent period. Yes, this is sad. The data from the United States is not as good as it is for France. This was well documented in the book. I made the best estimates that I could based upon the data. You have made different estimates. But it is interesting that the most recent and reliable estimates by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman agree more with my initial uncertain estimates. Their estimates actually find a larger rise in wealth than I did. This is now the state of the art and we should use this new data, but it does make your estimates look even more pathetic than they did based simply on my own careful work. (The lion licks its lips.)
United Kingdom
Ah, here we really do see a very big difference! You see wealth inequality actually decreasing in the recent decades. I cannot say that my methodology is correct. But you have broken up the data and used what I consider the more accurate (and higher) estate tax data in the early years and then shift to survey data that are known to under report total wealth. And those data are from a single year: 2010. Why would you do that other than to simply misrepresent the data? (The lion opens wide.)

That’s basically it. In one sentence: Chris Giles manipulated the US and UK data in such a way to prove what he wanted to prove and his methodology is worse than unwarranted—it is disingenuous. Piketty scored a knockout. Or if you prefer: the lion swallowed the lamb whole.

In fact, the case against Giles and the Financial Times and their over-hyping of the errors they found make me think that this may not give conservatives the cover they so desperately desire. One can hope.

Update (30 May 2014 8:23 pm)

I can’t seem to get enough of this. I’m reading what everyone else is writing about it. I was particularly struck with what RA at The Economist had to say, “One suspects that Mr Giles will not be satisfied by the response, and the discussion is likely to continue.” If this is true, it means that Giles is simply an ideologue who is totally resistant to argument and data. The best he can reasonably do is move the argument to minor points. Because his major point was totally destroyed. As Piketty noted:

What is troubling about the FT methodological choices is that they use the estimates based upon estate tax statistics for the older decades (until the 1980s), and then they shift to the survey based estimates for the more recent period. This is problematic because we know that in every country wealth surveys tend to underestimate top wealth shares as compared to estimates based upon administrative fiscal data. Therefore such a methodological choice is bound to bias the results in the direction of declining inequality… Also note that a 44% wealth share for the top 10% (and a 12.5% wealth share for the top 1%, according to the FT) would mean that Britain is currently one the most egalitarian countries in history in terms of wealth distribution; in particular this would mean that Britain is a lot more equal that Sweden, and in fact a lot more equal than what Sweden as ever been (including in the 1980s). This does not look particularly plausible.

If Giles continues this debate, he will lose all credibility. I fully expect Giles to lose all credibility.

Megyn Kelly Pulls in Youth at Fox News

Megyn KellyThis is the quote of the week, and not surprisingly, it comes from Jonathan Chait, “Guess the Median Age of Megyn Kelly’s Audience. Her viewers are so young they can do circles around O’Reilly’s viewers in their wheelchairs.”

You’re a Frankly Curious reader, so I know you want numbers. The average age of Bill O’Reilly’s audience is a shocking 72.1 years old. Well, Megyn Kelly (perhaps because of that hip “y” in her first name) has brought that figure all the way down to 71.7 years old. That’s a decrease of 0.4 years—almost 5 months younger! At this rate, they should make it to that prime 25-54 demographic some time in the year 2525. (If man is still alive!)

I know: you don’t want anymore math. But this is really interesting so let me have another paragraph. The mode of an age distribution is what single age the most people have. Because the distribution of Fox News viewers is screwed heavily to the right (mathematically as well as ideologically), it is not normal. In a normal distribution, the average and the mode (and the median) are the same. But for the Fox News viewers, the mode (and median) is actually even higher. So the best representation of a Fox News viewer is an 80-year-old.

What’s impressive about these new numbers is that Megyn Kelly was specifically put in place of Sean Hannity because she was thought to appeal more to a younger and more feminine audience. And I’ll admit, I don’t hate Kelly the way I hate Hannity. She comes off pretty well in An Atheist in the Foxhole, and I find her pretty and intelligent. She’s also not the pure-partisan that Hannity is. But let’s face it, are young people going to tune into her given that they are just going to be fed the same stream of lies, distortions, and evasions? Anyway, they can watch Rachel Maddow, who is also pretty and intelligent and funny in a very silly, but endearing, way.

Chait ends his brief article in typical snarky fashion, “Her audience agrees with her that Jesus was white because they knew him when he was still alive.” It is in reference to Kelly’s assurance to the kids (who weren’t watching her show) that Santa Claus and Jesus were just white, “That’s just a verifiable fact.” A writer at Slate, Aisha Harris suggested we change Santa into a penguin. I loved the idea. But the point is that what Megyn Kelly is saying in that segment is exactly what Bill O’Reilly would have said. People who at least wanted to try to appeal to a younger audience would have played with the idea of the Santa Penguin. Even if you don’t like it, it’s a fun idea. And you certainly wouldn’t be proclaiming that Santa was a white man (not true) and Jesus was a white man (also not true). Here is Cenk Uygur having far too much fun at Megyn Kelly’s expense:

But at this rate of a 0.4 year decrease in the age of the average Fox News viewer for each new host, they will only need 81 more hosts in the 9:00 pm time slot to reach the middle of that demographic sweet-spot: the 39.5 year old. If they all stay in that slot for 17 years like Hannity did, that will be the year 3407. Keep trying Fox News. You’ll get there eventually.

If man is still alive…

Richard Clarke Is Right About War Crimes

Richard ClarkeDid President Bush the Younger commit war crimes? Richard Clarke thinks so. And Democracy Now! got him to admit this in the following interview. He said, “I think things that they authorized probably fall within the area of war crimes. Whether that would be productive or not, I think, is a discussion we could all have. But we have established procedures now with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where people who take actions as serving presidents or prime ministers of countries have been indicted and have been tried. So the precedent is there to do that sort of thing. And I think we need to ask ourselves whether or not it would be useful to do that in the case of members of the Bush administration. It’s clear that things that the Bush administration did—in my mind, at least, it’s clear that some of the things they did were war crimes.”

But let’s not be naive here. Many of the things he mentions like the International Criminal Court in The Hague are things that conservatives have been against from the beginning. The reason is simple. They think that “American Exceptionalism” means that we are above the law. It is like the international version of droit du seigneur. “It is all right for us to kill people, and maybe we will even punish those responsible. But it will be us and not the world. This is because we are better than the rest of the world!” This is a repugnant philosophy that is mostly shared with the Democrats.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bush and many other people in his administration committed war crimes. But I don’t think we necessarily need a trial. What I’ve always been for is a truth and reconciliation commission. People claim they were scared after 9/11. Fine. But let’s at least admit to what was done. Instead, we’ve just swept it all under the carpet. And as far as I’m concerned, the war crimes continue. So it isn’t surprising that Obama wouldn’t want to look back on war crimes, when he was busy looking forward to his own war crimes, like the drone killings.

Regardless, no one is going to listen to Richard Clarke except for people like me who already agree with him. Even though (Or perhaps especially because!) he is a Republican from way back, he has no credibility with the modern Republican Party. “How dare he even suggest that any American ever be held accountable by people outside America!” It reminds me of that foolish commenter VINCENTON who seems to think that everything America does is by definition good.

So nothing will change. We will continue on our path of becoming more belligerent and authoritarian and unaccountable. And the reason why is clear enough. Regardless how peace-focused a candidate is, once in the presidency, all the belligerent parts of the government converge on him and tell him how the whole nation will be conquered and there will be 9/11s eight days a week if he doesn’t bomb bomb bomb and spy spy spy. And they all know that. And so you won’t be hearing Clinton, much less Obama calling for US governmental official to be held accountable to international justice.

Yes, we are doomed.

Reps Support Troops When Convenient

Support Our Troops: When It Is Convenient!

Why is there civil war in Syria? How about drought! You see, there were all these farmers. And the drought caused an exodus of them to the cities, looking for work. But there was no work so they sat around in the streets are started focusing their anger on the government. And before you can say “Bashar al-Assad,” you got yourself a war.

Look: I get it. To Republicans, war is about bad people doing bad things. But war is almost always about resources and their distribution. This is one reason I think that a guaranteed minimum income is a good idea. Even if it reduced economic progress a little, it would reduce war a whole lot. But that doesn’t much matter, the fact is that the Syrian civil war is the result of drought. Is it from climate change? We can’t say. But we can say this: there will be more droughts and this will make the possibility of war more likely going forward.

The United States military understands this. And this isn’t just something that might happen “over there.” Here in my home state of California, water rights are a big deal. There is great tension over the issue and when there is a drought (as there is now), it becomes worse. If this continues on for ten years, there will be violence. Count on it. So the military is rightly concerned about global warming.

But you know Republicans: they always yield to the troops on the ground. Whatever the military says, they follow it. They aren’t a bunch of bureaucrats who are sitting around telling the generals what to do. Or at least they aren’t as long as the generals are doing exactly what the Republicans want them to do. Then, it’s a different matter. Remember when Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki told the Bush administration it would need “something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” to occupy Iraq? He was right, but they didn’t listen to him because the depth of commitment Republicans have for the military is equal to the thickness of their “Support Our Troops!” bumper stickers on the backs of their SUVs.

Ryan Koronowski reported last week, House Votes to Deny Climate Science and Ties Pentagon’s Hands on Climate Change. He explained:

With a mostly party-line vote on Thursday, the House of Representatives passed an amendment sponsored by Rep David McKinley (R-WV) that seeks to prevent the Department of Defense from using funding to address the national security impacts of climate change.

“You can’t change facts by ignoring them,” said Mike Breen, Executive Director of the Truman National Security Project, and leader of the clean energy campaign, Operation Free. “This is like trying to lose 20 pounds by smashing your bathroom scale.”

The full text of McKinley’s amendment reads:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the US Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.

When I was doing my preliminary research for my master’s thesis, I read a lot about all the work that the military had done on building structures in arctic regions. My main interest was permafrost, which turns out to be rather easy. Land that freezes and thaws is a much bigger problem, and this will become a bigger problem in the future as most permafrost regions begin cyclically thawing. But the point is that from its very earliest days, militaries have had to deal with climate and the problems that it brings. So our military of course should be thinking about global warming.

The military is by its nature a conservative (in a non-political sense) group. It is conservative the way I am: careful. We are planners. And from the military’s perspective, this isn’t a question of whether global warming is happening or not, it is simply that they have to be prepared for it if it is. (BTW: it is.) They don’t set up a military campaign and say, “I don’t think they’ll attack us on our right flank, so we’ll just forget about protecting it.”

But this is just what the Republicans in the House of Representatives want the military to do. (Note: four Democrats voted for it and three Republicans voted against it.) Why don’t they come up with some other bright ideas? There is great difference of opinion about whether nuclear war will ever happen. Why don’t we just get rid of all our nuclear weapons? Great sea battles in the future are unlikely. Why not dissolve the Navy? Drones seem to be doing a good job. Let’s get rid of all our pilots!

This is the worst kind of micromanagement. And it is all about politics. It isn’t about differences of opinion about how our military ought to be used. This is just yet another statement by the Republicans that global warming is a great big hoax. They read about the Climatic Research Unit email controversy in National Review back in 2009 and they know it. The fact that it was only about tree ring data and that eight different commissions have looked into it and found no fraud means nothing. Remember: five years ago, they read about it in National Review, and once a talking point is developed that supports what you want to believe, it can never be questioned! Global warming isn’t happening because they say it isn’t happening. And they will continue to say that until their homes burst into flames.

But conservatives love the military. Just look at their bumper stickers!

What’s Up, Mel Blanc?

Mel BlancOn this day in 1908, the great voice actor Mel Blanc was born. He is best known for his voice characterizations for the Warner Bros’ cartoon shorts for characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, and Speedy Gonzales—all of which he created. He did not, however, create perhaps the most iconic Warner Bros’ cartoon character: Porky Pig, whose voice was created by voice actor and real-life stutterer Joe Dougherty.

I love Blanc, but to this day I bristle when the cartoons start and it says, “Voice Characterization: MEL BLANC.” There are two issues. First, in the early days of films, actors were not given screen credit at all. It was Florence Lawrence who was finally given the first screen credit in 1910, which is pretty late. Before that, she was known as “The Biograph Girl.” It is often said that the actors didn’t want their names listed in the films, because it might hurt them working in the theater. The problem is that there wasn’t that much crossover in the early days. Lawrence, for example, never worked on the stage. And getting her name in the credits was a hard negotiation. It wasn’t the producers saying, “Oh, you want your name on the film? Fine!” The same thing went on with Blanc. Warner Bros didn’t want to put any voice actors’ names in the credits. But he was so big a part of their studio that they provided him with the credit.

The other thing is that no one else got screen credit. This greatly added to Blanc’s fame because the implication is that he was doing everyone. And sometimes, that was even true. But in general, there were other actors. I wouldn’t mind so much if the credit were more accurate: “lead voice characterizations” or “head voice actor” or something similar. But I still don’t see why they couldn’t just list all the actors. There weren’t that many in most of the shorts.

I’ve been very interested recently to notice that voice actors can be generally divided into two characters. There are those who are really great like Mel Blanc and most of the people who work on Futurama (most especially Billy West). And then there are those who really aren’t that good. I see this a lot on Bob’s Burgers. Don’t get me wrong: I love that show. But the voices are mostly done by a bunch of comedians who don’t have great control of their voices. When they do other voices, it is generally obvious. They need a larger cast. I would never have known that Bugs Bunny was voiced by the guy who did Daffy Duck.

This is a nice compilation of Blanc’s work, but I’m pretty sure that last Porky Pig is not Mel Blanc. (See what I mean?)

Happy birthday Mel Blanc!