Monday, October 26, 2015

Russ Roberts predicts my policy positions


Earlier this year, there was an interesting debate between Russ Roberts of EconTalk and Adam Ozimek of Forbes about ideology and economics. Basically, Roberts (mostly on Twitter) took the cynical position that ideology governs much of people's stances on policy positions, that this is inevitable, and that we should just accept it. Ozimek said no, economists aren't as ideological as Roberts thinks, even commentators in the public sphere. He also said that if you find that your own positions are driven by ideology, it's a sign that maybe you should rethink how you form your positions.

More recently, the argument flared up again. Roberts declared the following:


I then challenged Russ to predict my positions on various policies. Initially I suggested that I would tell him three of my positions, and then name three other issues and ask him to predict the second three. He counter-suggested that he would merely pick a bunch of issues and predict my positions on all of them. I agreed, despite the fact that this was not as good a test of Russ' thesis.

Anyway, though, Russ did come through with the promised predictions, and posted them on Twitter. Here they are (sorry for the weird embedding of reply-tweets):









OK, here is a scorecard. Russ named 13 policy issues and predicted my positions on all of them. I will give 1 point for a correct prediction, 0 points for an incorrect one, and 0.5 points if I don't really have a position or am not really sure. I will also include brief explanations of why I hold the various positions - not because I love hearing myself dispense opinions, but so I can prove that I'm being honest about what I think. Here goes:

1. ACA (Obamacare): I'm not sure. I don't really know much about health care policy. My instinct says that the most important health care problem in America is high excess cost of care, not the number of the uninsured. Obamacare does do some things to try to address the cost problem, and costs do seem to have decelerated somewhat in the last few years, but I just don't know how big of a factor Obamacare has been, or whether the cost slowdown is a permanent thing.

Score: 0.5 pts.

2. Minimum Wage Increase: I favor local experiments with $12 or $15 minimum wages but not a national minimum wage hike - at least, not until the results of the experiments have come in, which will take years. Even then, national minimum wages are generally not great because they don't take local cost differences into account. Also I think EITC dominates minimum wage in most respects, and if paid as a wage subsidy instead of a tax credit would dominate in all respects.

Score: 0 pts.

3. 2009 Stimulus: Yes, probably a good idea. The temporary tax credits didn't do a whole lot, but support for state spending probably did do substantial good. And the stimulus included a substantial amount of money to shore up our badly underfunded infrastructure. Moreover, the deficit (and spending as a percent of GDP) has since come down to normal levels, quieting people's worries that the stimulus was a cover for permanent increases in spending and/or deficits.

Score: 1 pt.

4. Bernanke: Yes, Bernanke did a good job. Monetary policy was probably a factor in averting a Second Great Depression.

Score: 1 pt.

5. Bailouts: Probably something like that was necessary. But I think bailouts were handled badly in the heat of the moment; should have been much harder on management of big banks, to avoid future moral hazard. Still, long-term net costs to the government of most of the bailouts (with the exceptions of AIG and GM) were zero. So I'll give Russ the point.

Score: 1 pt.

6. Higher Taxes on the Rich: I don't have a moral problem with raising taxes on the rich, and I doubt the efficiency cost would be that high (rich people aren't really working to consume). However, I am very pessimistic about our chances of actually getting the money from the rich people, who are very good at avoiding taxes. Taxes on the rich used to be much higher, but the share of tax revenue as a percent of GDP was about the same. I do, however, think a higher inheritance tax would be a great idea. Not only would it tax unproductive "trust fund babies", but it would also probably raise the happiness of many rich people themselves in the long run. I think most rich people - or at least, most "self-made" rich people - don't realize how much their kids will be spoiled by large inheritances. So inheritance taxes can help save rich people from their own mistakes!

Score: 0.5 pts.

7. CFPB: Seems like it has been doing good so far, though too early to tell whether it will remain effective in the long run.

Score: 1 pt.

8. Unemployment Insurance Extension: No. We're way past the recession. Unemployment insurance is an automatic stabilizer, but it does discourage work. And the more work gets discouraged, the more people's skills and resumes and work ethic decays, and the more danger they are in of falling into the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Score: 0 pts.

9. School Vouchers: My God, what a terrible idea. Privatized education just fails, fails, fails whenever it's tried. History is clear: It does not work. Vouchers are also a form of faux-privatization, where the government pays the bills but doesn't administer the service. That is a clear and unequivocal recipe for ineptitude, waste, fraud, corruption, and inefficiency. Russ is totally right about my position on this one.

Score: 1 pt.

10. More Govt. Funding of Education: Not sure. Don't know how effective this is. It would probably depend crucially on how the money was spent, though I don't know enough to know what the "good" way is.

Score: 0.5 pts.

11. Fannie & Freddie: Bad. These agencies seem like yet another example of faux-privatization. Government provides the funding (in this case, in the form of a guarantee), but doesn't do the administration, leading to bad incentives. Also, I think we incentivize homeownership way too much in this country.

Score: 0 pts.

12. Stricter Gun Control: Probably not. I grew up in small(ish)-town Texas, where tons of people had guns and there weren't any shootings that I ever heard of (though probably some accidents). Canada has relatively high gun ownership and very little crime, including few mass shootings. Brazil has a small fraction of the gun ownership we have, and much higher crime. Meanwhile, we've had a huge drop in crime in the last two decades with no real increase in gun control. Let's try to replicate that success before we start disarming the populace. I will admit that my stance on this has wavered recently, in light of the rash of mass shootings, but I still don't think gun control is likely to have a huge effect. A much, much more important policy for reducing gun death would be to end the War on Drugs.

Score: 0 pts.

13. Trade and Immigration: Russ is right. I'm basically pro-trade and immigration, but not for open borders. I'm definitely more skeptical of free trade than the average economist - I think industrial policy can be useful for developing countries, and I think that trade with countries that manipulate their currencies can sometimes be self-defeating. I also think that international capital flows can be destabilizing and can reduce productivity in some countries. But I will still give Russ the full point.

Score: 1 pt.


Total score: 7.5 out of 13


That is slightly better than random chance. But remember, Russ follows me on Twitter, which gives him an advantage. Also, he was able to choose the issues, which gives him a number of additional advantages - he can choose positions on which a substantial majority of Americans agree, he can select several issues correlated to those on which he is most sure about my position, etc. Given this, I don't think Russ was able to predict my positions that well.

The only obvious cluster of predictive success was on policies relating to the financial crisis. Russ correctly predicted my positions on Bernanke, the bailouts, and the CFPB.

I think this exercise shows a number of different "failure modes" of attempting to model people's policy positions based on an assessment of their ideology. For example:

1. You may fail to assess people's ideology correctly. Russ probably didn't expect that I'd intrinsically value the personal liberty of owning guns. He also probably thought I would be more eager to tax the rich simply in order to reduce inequality (regardless of its efficacy).

2. Your model of ideologies may have errors. Russ probably assumed I'd have ideological reasons to support Fannie and Freddie, because he thinks I'm a liberal, and liberals support Fannie and Freddie. But I'm not sure this is true - I've never seen liberals defend those agencies. Maybe some have, but it doesn't seem to be a pillar of liberal ideology.

3. No model of ideology is perfect. "Liberal" is a name given to a cluster of ideas, but few people precisely fit that cluster. Most people have at least one or two positions that don't toe the ideological or party line. Each individual's ideology is complex, and the standard clusters, like "liberal" and "libertarian", are only approximate models. Russ probably didn't guess that my values would be "liberal" on the CFPB, "libertarian" on gun control, etc. Even I don't know what to call myself, ideologically.

4. People disagree on the facts, not just on values. In general, people with heterogeneous priors about the state of the world will fail to reach agreement even after seeing all of the same evidence. And when people form their policy positions, they consider efficacy of policies, not just whether the intended effect would be a good thing. Russ probably didn't bet that I would be pessimistic about the efficacy of taxing the rich, the usefulness of the ACA's tax credits, or the effectiveness of gun control. He also probably underestimated my uncertainty about the effect of Obamacare on health costs, the usefulness of education spending, and the employment effects of minimum wage hikes.

So anyway, this was a fun exercise, and thanks to Russ for taking the time to do it. I'm not sure how it really relates to the original Roberts-Ozimek debate, but it was interesting nonetheless.


Updates

A few people have suggested I was too hard on Russ in my scoring. I gave him 0 points on minimum wage, despite the fact that I like the idea of conducting natural experiments with local minimum wages. And I gave him only 0.5 points on taxing the rich, despite the fact that I favor a higher inheritance tax.

Well, maybe; it's hard to score precisely. Some things are closer to 0.7 or 0.3 than 0.5. I did the best I could. On minimum wages, my opposition to a national minimum wage, and my belief that EITC is just better, made me give it 0 instead of 0.5. In reality it's more like 0.2, rounded down. On taxes-on-the-rich, I gave 0.5, because it really depends on what we use the revenue for. If it's for inefficient subsidies or boondoggles like the F-35, I say *cut* overall taxes on the rich, while shifting from income to inheritance taxes. I don't want to raise taxes on the rich just to "soak the rich" and stamp out inequality, as many do. So I don't think this deserves more than a 0.5. 0.6 at most.

Then there were a couple where I rounded *toward* Russ' prediction. For example, on bailouts, I gave him 1 point, even though I think the bailouts were not executed well and created moral hazard. So that's really more like 0.8, rounded up. And on the stimulus, I think about half of it went to utterly useless (but not particularly harmful) tax credits. So that's more like 0.8 or 0.9, rounded up. My skepticism about the pro-trade consensus probably makes that a 0.9 as well, rounded up.

So overall I think I was fair, and my inevitable roundings came out a wash. Plus, this isn't a scientific test, so changing to 7/13 or 8/13 wouldn't change the basic message, which is about how "ideology cluster" models can fail.

82 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:33 AM

    Russ Roberts is driven by his ideology, and projects that tendency onto other people. He claims he is "skeptical" of evidence, which means he doesn't reconsider his ideology when the evidence doesn't fit it.

    Noah Smith is much more empirical, as amply illustrated by his responses.

    I predict that Roberts would do much better with economists of his generation because they lived a similar history of politics and evidence.

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    1. Joe T.11:29 AM

      Perfectly said.

      (Perfectly said, that is, if you remove the last paragraph, which says everyone of a certain age uses and accepts Robert's use of logical fallacies to project their ideologies, yet people of another age don't.)

      Proof is listening to his EconTalk interviews of
      - Matt Ridley (climate change skeptic), where Roberts doesn't call him on anything (like arguing mainly about the lower probabilities of high temperature predictions--what about talking about the danger of slightly lower rises? The majority of the interview was about those two being like other outsiders who were laughed at and later proved correct). Just a garbage-laden ideological "interview".
      - Thomas Piketty, when he argues against everything Piketty says, making me wonder whether he is unfamiliar with any one single downside to inequality.

      I've only listened to about five of his interviews, and usually hear several incidents of slanted illogic, and ask myself how Stanford keeps him employed.

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  2. I found your gun control position rather odd. The vast majority of gun deaths in the USA come from:

    1. Suicides.
    2. Accidents.
    3. Escalated fights between people who know each other.

    In all three cases, it is the ready availability of the firearm that results in the death. Gun control would really help stop the majority of these deaths. The NRA wants to frame the issue in terms of crime and self defense, but such cases are unusual.

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    1. Well, yeah, I know.

      As for suicides, I am ambivalent about taking away people's means to commit suicide. As horrible as suicide is (one of my good friends recently did it), the thought of restructuring society to make suicide physically impossible kind of scares me.

      As for accidents, we allow people access to all kinds of crazy tech that can kill them. For example, cars! If we have good safety regulations and training courses, I say it's wrong to deprive people of dangerous tech purely out of concern for their own safety.

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    2. Physically impossible is not the goal. Most suicides are not carefully planned out. They are sudden spur of the moment decisions. If a gun is available, it is successful 90% of the time. If it isn't, suicide is unlikely to be attempted and is successful less than 15% of the time. Why should we want suicide to be the default option?

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    3. But we license drivers and vehicles. Guns have no such requirements. And it isn't the owners' safety we worry about. The accidents kill innocent bystanders.

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    4. Why not require some sort of safety training for gun owners? What about registration of guns?

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    5. I don't believe in using the government to restrict possible suicide implements.

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    6. @Ben - those would be fairly common liberal positions on gun control. The NRA opposes both of them as an "infrigement".

      Personally, I'm at the point where I say FUCK the Second Amendment. I DO want to take away everyone's guns. Including hunters, because no one actually hunts for survival these days, it's just a blood sport. No one should have guns except for military units on active duty. Not even the cops. Perhaps *especially* not the cops.

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    7. Gun Control is a dog whistle. The government, Obama, is coming to take my guns and make us all Muslims.
      I propose that as a start, we treat guns as we treat cars. License, Register, Insurance and a every 4 year gun test to get your gun drivers license. Also when carrying a gun one must wear the license clipped to your clothes the same as is required when fishing.
      I haven't heard much in the way of objections to the way we deal with cars. Do we need a NCOA?? The NRA has the experience and mailing lists to start one.

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    8. Anonymous9:57 AM

      Ben, the licensing of drivers does nothing to make sure they car or will actually drive safely so don't see how that has any actual bearing here. I would also suggest that while the NRA may well be engaged in various forms of lobbying and agenda setting in the larger debate they do support people have the proper training if they are going to own a weapon so they know how to use and keep it safely -- I don't think one can paint the NRA with a single color of paint.

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    9. Anonymous2:24 PM

      The car analogy is a really bad one. Cars have a major purpose other than killing or injuring people. Sure, in the process sometimes people die, but we do everything to prevent that! Heck we even force people to wear seatbelts!

      This is not the case with guns. Guns are buit to kill or injure. Also requirements to own and use guns in the US are ridiculous.

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    10. Anonymous3:58 PM

      I disagree-the NRA has become mainly a lobbying group and a political action committee connected to the reactionary culture war conservatives.
      I was really struck by this when I found some old issues of NRA magazines from the 1960s that really emphasized hunter training programs, gun safety training, and responsible ownership. Today it seems to be just another predatory lobbying group that markets fear and terror to extract dollars and build their power base.

      If Obama is coming to get my gun, he started late. In the meantime, toddlers and hunting dogs are slaughtering people.

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  3. You say that his predictions are "slightly better than random". But actually you don't know this. The level of accuracy of his answers depend on the chance of each of them being right for a random individual. For example, let's hypothetically assume that everyone thinks Bernanke did a good job. Then making that guess would not depend on any specific insight about your opinions.

    Of course you may easily also be a self-selected outlier in diversity of opinion.

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    1. Ahh, but see how your second point calls your first into question! ;-)

      If he suspects I issued my challenge knowing that I was an outlier in terms of diversity, Russ can always just flip a coin to make each prediction, thus bringing the odds back to 50% no matter what I do. In fact, I am pretty sure this is a Nash equilibrium for most setups of this guessing game.

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    2. You are assuming that for each question the chance of you having a specific opinion is 50% (if there was no correlation between your opinions). This assumption is not true. Some of the opinions will be held by more than 50% of the population and some by less.

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    3. Well you're right, but in fact it means I'm being generous to Russ (since he got to pick the issues). If I were less generous, he still couldn't do worse in expectation than 50%.

      Suppose the % support for every position is common knowledge, and that I am able to find an issue with any support %. Now Russ and I play a sequential game. Knowing my own stance on every issue, I get to pick one issue and ask Russ to predict my opinion. Then he picks, and after that I have to reveal my stance. What's the Nash equilibrium of that game?

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    5. Where you are trying to minimize his score, and he is trying to maximize it? I'm not sure; game theory gets complicated fast.

      If we think of the question about how good his guesses are / how much it appears that he is right that the answers of economists are highly correlated, then I believe it could be evaluated like this:

      Get the answers from a number of people. From those, generate a list of all combinations of answers to each individual questions. (Allowing for duplicates.) Then see how large a proportion of those had more correct answers than Russ Roberts had. This is the p-value of the hypothesis that he can predict better than random. (Which admittedly is a weak hypothesis.)

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    6. Where you are trying to minimize his score, and he is trying to maximize it?

      In real life I'm not trying to minimize it, but he's trying to maximize it.

      In the worst-case hypothetical, I'm trying to minimize it...but he could still keep his odds at 50% even in his worst-case scenario.

      And you're right, if we could do this with a large # of people it would be more definitive.

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  4. I would be very interested in an expansion of the school vouchers death blow - maybe a full essay?
    Is it really that bad?

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    1. I'll write something one of these days! I really believe it is that bad.

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    2. I hope you'll put some effort into this. Public schools, outside of the top 15-20% of affluent/middle class suburbs, really are that bad so you'll have to convince me that vouchers are not only bad in and of themselves but worse than the alternative.

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    3. Heavy Grenadier8:28 AM

      I do hope that you write something. I think you're overly critical of school vouchers, especially since most of the school voucher data actually weakly supports school vouchers and that the data is more natural experiment instead of carefully crafted ones.

      That Ray Fisman article was pretty bad. Here's a good response by an American economist in Sweden.

      http://www.nationalreview.com/agenda/383304/sweden-has-education-crisis-it-wasnt-caused-school-choice-tino-sanandaji

      I don't read the Natioanl Review but if I remember correctly, it is generally biased. That being said, the author isn't "free market fixes everything" in his critique.

      Public schools in Sweden do slightly worse than voucher schools, which is an important point when evaluating the effects of the Swedish voucher program.

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  5. Noah,

    "Taxes on the rich used to be much higher, but the share of tax revenue as a percent of GDP was about the same."

    This doesn't really support your argument that the rich will evade away higher taxes because the rich used to have a smaller percentage of national income. Unless of course you believe that the historically low percentage of national income going to the rich in the middle of the 20th century was because of massive tax evasion, but that doesn't seem to be born out in the evidence nor is it something experts on national income would agree with.

    It would be interesting to see cross country analysis on tax rates and evasion.

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  6. Noah,

    "Taxes on the rich used to be much higher, but the share of tax revenue as a percent of GDP was about the same."

    This doesn't really support your argument that the rich will evade away higher taxes because the rich used to have a smaller percentage of national income. Unless of course you believe that the historically low percentage of national income going to the rich in the middle of the 20th century was because of massive tax evasion, but that doesn't seem to be born out in the evidence nor is it something experts on national income would agree with.

    It would be interesting to see cross country analysis on tax rates and evasion.

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  7. Anonymous3:27 PM

    Seems like a truly fair grading would need to be done by a third party.

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    1. True. But it would take a while, as I'd have to A) explain even more nuance than in this post, and B) contact a panel of judges and vet their neutrality.

      I think this gets the point across pretty well. It's not like it's a scientific test of Russ' assertion in the first place - just a quick first pass to demonstrate some ways in which ideological cluster-modeling can break down.

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  8. I think you could now predict Russ' opinion on these with 100% accuracy, and probably even his reasons. Our opinions of others are reflections of our own.

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    1. Conceivably, but a test like this is a bit of an ideological turing test, so some people might actually be pretty decent at putting some of the stuff together.

      I imagine noah would be one of those since he seems to understand some of the issues from a gut level as well as intellectual.

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    2. People are never as good at the turing test as they believe themselves to be and the better they think they are, the worse they are because they have only a small range of sets to choose from.

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  10. I think that you should have given him 1 on minimum wage seeing you are or raising it in some part of the country. At least give him 1/2 a point.

    On guns and suicide a problem is that you need to restrict allot much to affect suicide much. You do not need an assault rifle to commit suicide, a hand gun or shotgun will do and some people (farmers) in the USA get great utility per cost from rifles.

    I agree more with Bryan Caplan than Russ Roberts. Bryan contends that people exposed to economics are far more libertarian that the average citizen. IMHO Paul Krugman is on the left side of median of the group of economists and way to the libertarian side of median for the group of all citizens.

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    1. Well, on minimum wage, I did say that national minimum wages aren't good and that EITC dominates minimum wage...

      And also I was generous on some of the other points, like bailouts and the stimulus...

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  11. Do voucher save money? Which IMHO is the most important thing. And are parents more pleased with voucher schools? Second most important thing.

    Never the less I think that much better than vouchers would be charging parents a means tested amount to send their children to Government schools. With the median income parents paying the full cost, they pay that through taxes now. When you look at consumption of goods and services rather than at money you realize it is really difficult to subsidize the median earner what with dead weight loss and differing values and all. You have to have a sizable impact on the consumption of the rich and that means very high taxes on the very rich.

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  12. Anonymous4:15 PM

    In fairness, I think you should assign Russ a point for the minimum wage question, or at least half of a point. You did at least admit to favoring local experimentation.

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    1. I think he meant national minimum wage.

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  13. You say that privatized eduation fails whenever it has been tried. In fact, you say that the history is clear on this fact. And yet, it seems to me that the emperical evidence is not very clear on this fact. When the IGM Economic Experts Panel was asked about this issue, a majority of the respondents stated that the availability of vouchers to cover the cost of private or public schools of their choice would make most students better off (http://www.igmchicago.org/igm-economic-experts-panel/poll-results?SurveyID=SV_8IKI1pT3ZYKvzOA).

    In addition, while the emperical evidence does not appear to be conclusive, there does appear to be at least some emperical work that find some benefits to school vouchers. Here is a list of papers I found that report some positive impacts after a short search:

    https://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/app.6.1.133&fnd=s
    http://www.nber.org/papers/w21523
    http://www.nber.org/papers/w10713
    http://www.nber.org/chapters/c10087.pdf

    In addition, none of these papers examine the imact of charter schools, which can be run by for-profit organizations. Adam Ozimek did a post on his blog talking about some of the positive results that have been found with regards to charter schools here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/modeledbehavior/2015/01/11/charter-success/.

    It seems to me that making such a bold statement that "history is clear" is a bit hard to justify.

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  14. Jack P4:33 PM

    Hmm, (2.) should be 0.5 and (6.) should be 1, thus RR scores 8.5 out of 13*. But your conclusion mostly holds. Your views are not cookie cutter left-econ. Good for you! RR should be happy there are people like you out there, quirky and open-minded thinkers.
    * You favor local experiments in MW up to $15 and eventually possibly national too. This is at least 0.5
    * You favor raising inheritance taxes on wealthy without reducing their income taxes (and you're OK with increasing the latter, just not optimistic), that seems like a clear yes. -->1.

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    1. On minimum wage, I did say that EITC dominated it. And as for "taxes on the rich", I didn't say I wanted to hold income taxes constant, just that inheritance taxes are better. The overall level of tax depends on whether we have anything good to do with the money. It might even come down.

      Also, "bailouts" and "stimulus" could just as easily have been 0.5. So I think I was actually being generous to Russ. But I think 7.5/13 is the most accurate scoring.

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    2. Anonymous11:50 AM

      And at what level of wealth would you increase the inheritance tax? And would you adjust this number for inflation?
      I am not a 1% wage or wealth holder and retired and oppose the inheritance tax.

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    3. I'm with Russ - given your explanation of (6), I was taken aback that you gave it 0.5 points. I also agree that (2) should be 0.5. But I see what you mean about bailouts. I'll offer a score of 8/13. ;-)

      This is a fun public experiment, made better by your open explanations, which enable total strangers to disagree about the content of your opinions.

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  15. 9. School Vouchers: My God, what a terrible idea. Privatized education just fails, fails, fails whenever it's tried. History is clear: It does not work. Vouchers are also a form of faux-privatization, where the government pays the bills but doesn't administer the service.

    Let me see if I understand this argument:

    1) School privatisation is a really bad idea.
    2) School vouchers are not really school privatisation.
    3) School vouchers are therefore a really, really bad idea.

    I'm not sure that 1) and 2) reliably lead to 3).

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    1. I believe the first two points. I agree that they do not lead to the third. I think school privatization would be bad. I also think that school faux-privatization would be bad.

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    2. You suggested that history tells us that privates schools are a bad idea - I would like to here more on that.

      I think that history tells us that education is significantly net positive - regardless of whether it is provided publicly or privately.
      And that tends to be true of alot of issues - history shows strong positive improvement over long periods of time.
      We can not conclude that because something was both rare and private in the past and common and public currently, and has improved in the interval that it is the shift to public that has caused the improvement - rather than the normal improvement that has come with time.
      And in many instances we have instances where in some places something has become commonplace while remaining private and had radical - sometimes more improvement than the more common transition to public.



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  16. Noah, Swedish public schools declined in test scores just as badly as private ones. And private education isn't necessarily a bad thing -look at Latin America and Africa. There was a Marginal Revolution post on this recently.

    And, from a broad perspective, the students matter far more than the schools in determining test outcomes.

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  17. Your line of logic on the suicide stuff sounds a lot like the reducto sort of stuff you hear lolbertarians say about taxes, safety regulations etc.

    Of course no supports banning anything that can be used to kill yourself. Most people here would probably support tightly regulating things that happen to be both a) extremely common tools for suicide and b) not really necessary for all sorts of prosaic uses (eg bridges, ropes).

    Eg If it's easy to kill yourself big a pharmaceutical that's a big reason for doctors to make it prescription only!

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  18. There's an interesting addendum at the end of one of the articles you linked as support for the failure of private schools. The article links the fall in Sweden's PISA score with the privatization of their education system. Apparently it falsely claimed that Sweden had the largest percentage of students enrolled in private schools and posts this correction:

    "*Correction, July 22, 2014: The article originally stated that more Swedish students go to privately run (and mostly for-profit) schools than in any other developed country on earth. In fact, other countries, like South Korea and the Netherlands, send a higher fraction of students to privately run schools. (Return.)"

    Considering that S. Korea and the Netherlands are consistent leaders in PISA scores it could be the case that private schools are massively successful by this metric. When it comes to privatized education I think the experimentation has been conservative, as it should be, and the evidence simply isn't clear.

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  19. Anonymous9:25 PM

    you say on school voucherization that privatization of education is bad. doesn't that imply that education should be funded by govt? if so, why does russ get only 0.5 on the issue of more govt funding for education? he should get the full 1 point.

    ganesh

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    1. Because "more" means "more than now".

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  20. Why is it acceptable to allow people the right to kill themselves even where that might not be in the common good, and yet on numerous other issues you are prepared to sacrifice individual liberty for some hoped for common good ?

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    1. Well, several reasons. One is that I don't have only one single value, which I uphold to the exclusion of all others. Second, I think moral principles are not primitives from which we derive our ideologies, but merely backfitted explanations to try to explain our moral intuitions (to see this, try asking people a bunch of trolley problems). Third, my conception of what constitutes "personal liberty" is quite different from that of the typical Austrian School type, and also somewhat different from that of the typical libertarian; there is some overlap, but not complete overlap.

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  21. Just to be clear while I likely agree with many of Russ's positions,
    and I think that libertarians are far better at the philosophical turing test than other ideologies, I am far less convinced than Russ that ideology is set in stone.
    Most of us trend conservative with age. Many of us go through a variety of positions over time. Nor is ideological purity inherently the sign of a closed mind.

    I would prefer my views were more "normal". They used to be. But the views I held kept butting up against the facts - and over time the facts won.










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  22. Noah, the voucher stuff you cited was a pretty poor basis for your position. Especially given the voluminous number of papers written on the subject. Here is a recent survey of the effects of school vouchers http://www.nber.org/papers/w21523

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    1. Yeah, I know that one.

      The evidence mostly shows "no effect". But the evidence doesn't take into account the long-term supply response. Shitty schools will be created in response to the availability of vouchers (just as shitty for-profit universities were created in response to govt-subsidized student loans). It will just take some time.

      Eat that.

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    2. Anonymous11:40 PM

      Noah, you have written repeatedly on this website that you think that school voucher programs are a bad idea. Yet, you have not provided a single source of well identified estimates that back up your position. In contrast, there is a vast amount of experimental and quasi-experimental evidence that school voucher programs have either no or positive effects. I think your position is purely ideological.

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  23. I would say that the differences in PISA scores among the developed countries are indeterminate of anything that we care about.
    Also I have a philosophical question:
    If a parent wants to send his child to lax private school which will result in lower test scores but a more enjoyable childhood and maybe has hours that are more to the liking of the parent and students prefers the school, is the state justified in in forcing the child into a more rigorous public school that will result in higher test scores?

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  24. Fred Fnord11:26 AM

    It's funny: you're happy having no opinion on some things you know literally nothing about, but you're happy having strong opinions on gun ownership, which you obviously also know nothing about.

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  25. Well, this explains why I see so much invective directed against you over at economistsview, from people who appear to mostly agree with you. Although the majority of your positions are left of center (left of the current center, anyway), you make no effort to be a member of the liberal "club".

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    1. Yeah, people really do love enforcing ideological purity. Make one feel like part of something bigger than oneself...the arm of justice. Or something.

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  26. Anonymous1:07 PM

    So "ideology clusters" are like the "representative agents"?

    I actually like your post, and find your point about ideology clusters persuasive, but question whether that was the point of Roberts. He seemed to be saying that if he knew a few of your positions, he can identify your ideology fairly accurately. Even within the same ideology cluster, responses on individual questions vary. So individual responses have high in cluster variance, but perhaps there are correlations? If so, this might not be the right way to test that.

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  27. All considering, I think Russ did a good job. Noah will probably disagree, but I think he's an outlier in this case. I think most people are more like Krugman - they hold a pretty easily predictable set of standard party beliefs.

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    1. With so many people having KDS, Krugman Derrangement Syndrome, and always accusing him of things he never says, even if someone is predictable, it doesn't mean most other people will be able to predict them. I would guess those close to them have a much better grasp than someone that doesn't. If you don't grok someone, you probably can't explain them, only lump them in pools.

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    2. I think I am an outlier in an important sense, which is that I don't take disagreements personally at all, and I am really hard to offend. I think there's this dynamic that pushes people in the public sphere to glom onto an existing ideology. I think it goes like this:

      New Pundit: "According to these papers I've read, it would increase total GDP if we raised taxes and spent the money on road construction."

      Conservative commenters: "LIBERAL SHITLORD, GO BACK TO SOVIET RUSSIA!!"

      Liberal commenters: "WOOHOO, YOU'RE ONE OF US!!"

      New Pundit: Hmm, these conservative commenters seem like a bunch of idiots, and these liberal commenters seem like reasonable, good people. Perhaps I should investigate what other things the conservatives are wrong about and the liberals are right about... *googles*

      I think this dynamic keeps reinforcing itself until most pundits are part of one of the ideologies.

      But since academic economists are mostly insulated from this dynamic (no comments sections!), most of them continue to hold an eclectic array of opinions.

      I'm a weird pundit, in the sense that you can call me a shitlord or an idiot or whatever you want and I'll still just listen to what you say. Maybe I have Asperger's or something, who knows!

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  28. The thesis seems to be that if positions on many issues are predictable based on one's position on a single issue then the positions are ideological. I don't think that thesis can be defended.

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  29. If you're a moderate (in your case moderate leftist), it's harder to predict policy positions than if you're a hard-liner on either side - and Russ still did a pretty good job :-)

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    1. Well, remember that Russ could have gotten 50% in expectation simply by flipping coins! ;-)

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  30. You say vouchers have failed wherever they are tried.

    The official evaluation of the DC voucher program (final report) showed that it increase graduation rates by 12 percentage points (intent-to-treat estimate) and 21 percentage points for treatment-on-treated. Hardly any program has that large of an effect in education.
    http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20104018/pdf/20104018.pdf

    A NYC RCT showed that vouchers increase the college attendance rate of black students by 25% (from 36% to 45%). http://educationnext.org/the-impact-of-school-vouchers-on-college-enrollment/

    And since you bring up international evidence, evidence from randomized lotteries on a Colombian voucher program (Josh Angrist was the lead author, if you know him) found that after 3 years, "winners were about 10 percentage points more likely to have Žfinished 8th grade, primarily because they were less likely to repeat grades, and scored 0.2 standard deviations higher on achievement tests." http://economics.mit.edu/files/24

    So while you are still free to point to evidence that vouchers are not as successful as claimed, it is indisputably false to claim that they have always failed.

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    1. I see a number of problems with the Colombia study.

      1. The study restricts it's data to winners and losers in the application process. In reality, there are 4-5 groups to study - not 2. Winners, losers, non-applicants who went to private secondary school, non-applicants who went to public secondary school, and possibly non-applicants who did not attend secondary school at all.

      2. Voucher success is not as simple as comparing winner achievement to loser achievement. We need the right counterfactual - how would student X have done if left in the original system compared to how they did in the voucher system. Did losers do poorly because a good chunk of the most motivated students in their class were moved to a private school? Did winners do better because they were placed in schools that had the option to reject the trouble makers?

      3. Winners and losers were chosen at random, but applicants were not. This creates a huge sample selection bias. The applicants are much more likely to be students who benefit from enrollment in the private schools. Non-applicants may have chosen not to apply because they were too poor to afford even half the tuition or because parents had no time to fill out the application.

      4. Colombian private schools are highly regulated - much more than in the US. To call your institution a school in Colombia you must teach the nationally mandated curriculum. You cannot graduate a student unless he/she has completed the state mandated curriculum. As such, they have a good deal of controls in place to prevent things like what Corinthian Colleges did here. I think Noah is talking about vouchers as discussed here in the USA - where the winner gets to take the voucher to any "school" no matter what the fees/curriculum.

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  31. My take from this is the incredible hubris of economists. Being rather clever people they tend to vastly overrate their cleverness. Wouldn't both the profession and the public be better served if the economist would limit himself/herself to explaining the anticipated consequences (both intended and unintended) of a policy or issue, instead of being an advocate for a position?

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    1. I think so, yeah. But then all these people are like "You'll never be value-neutral so stop pretending, just embrace the ideology!" Russ is one of those, but a lot of the people saying that are actually lefty types.

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  32. A quick check suggests that Canada's per capita gun ownership rate is similar to European rates. About 30 per 100 people. France is a little higher while Germany is a little lower. The US, in 2012, had 112 per 100 people.

    Vox has an article on the stats. In as much as we have evidence on the question it indicates that reducing the number of guns in the population is likely to reduce the number of gun crimes and gun deaths. The article also points out that it is unlikely any changes will be made in the near future.

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  33. Noah, just wondering, are you opposed to Pell Grants as well? If not, what is the substantial difference with that an vouchers?

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  34. "My instinct says that the most important health care problem in America is high excess cost of care, not the number of the uninsured."

    Uninsured patients pay far more for health care than insured patients. All medical billing includes a charge amount for each service. This charge is largely a fiction, because insurers negotiate their own rates with providers in secret. The prices in the resulting fee schedule depend on how much negotiating power the parties have. A large insurer can negotiate lower prices. A nationwide hospital system can negotiate higher prices. One thing that providers do to make sure they don't leave money on the table is set that initial charge really high. They want to have the charge be higher than any fee schedule that could possibly be negotiated. The next time you get a medical bill, take a look at your insurer's Explanation of Benefits. You should see the charges and a discount next to them. This discount is the difference between the charge and the fee schedule allowed amount.

    Now guess who doesn't get a discount? That would be the uninsured or patients who went out of network. Individual patients have zero negotiating power. It is only by pooling patients into a large insurance group that a good deal can be negotiated.

    Next consider the kinds of "insurance" you could buy pre-ACA. Some of them offered very low rates, but such narrow networks and excluded so many procedures that the patient was effectively uninsured/out of network for anything substantial. The adverse selection problems meant pre-existing conditions clauses resulted in canceled policies as soon as a substantial claim was made.

    The high costs of health care had to drop as a result of the ACA, just because fewer patients were stuck with exorbitant charges, but on top of that ACA-compliant policies front load the costs of preventative care and annual check-ups into the premiums. This means a lot more conditions will be caught when treatment is cheap, so long term costs should drop, too.

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  35. Just as a point of reference. I'm a liberal and I'm pretty much surrounded by liberals (although I'm inclined to label many of them progressives). I can assure you I've never heard anyone defend Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

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  36. Anonymous5:53 PM

    This was a good post. I think people are sometimes very surprised at some of my positions given my online interactions. A part of that is because it is very difficult to hold conversations with people if you constantly interject your disagreements, which is also a result of the fact that a lot of people tend to spout off for too long past potential points of disagreement, or in the opposite they tweet brief attitudes that never envelope the technical aspects of their views.

    I can look at prominent economists' views and I see very few who are predictable. I do think those on the right are more predictable than those considered more to the left, and Libertarians are often very unpredictable.

    It is easy to see where the differences on most issues come to play. They are generally based upon empirically ambivalent evidence. In these cases personal experiences tend to dominate the data.

    In these impiracally ambivalent cases where there are tradeoffs that effect different groups of people differently, class differences become more obvious. The wealthy are more in tune with things that effect the wealthy and the less wealthy tend to be more in tune with less wealthy people.

    I think there's a basic problem that can occur when economists talk politics and policy, and that is that they assume normal people don't understand the issue, and so they reject populist ideas over more empirically-motivated ideas. I think this is a mistaken bias.

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  37. Anonymous6:53 PM

    That Fannie and Freddie thing made me wonder a bit. I don't like Wall Street shenanigans and I get a bit upset when politicians try to divert blame onto F&F for the mortgage meltdown. So correcting others who repeat these talking points might look like I'm in favor of F&F when all I'm saying is that they were relatively well-behaved compared to many other banks. The actual point is to swivel the spotlight back on the deserving targets, not to argue that F&F is super great.

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    1. Anonymous8:37 PM

      This is a perfect example.

      I can state my position on this: I don't like Fannie and Freddie in their current form. I agree with Noah on this.

      But due to the history of political thought and political outlets (newspapers), we each feel a need to direct the conversation because we take our example from what came before.

      Can any of us do that properly? As in individual, can I direct the conversation in the proper direction given my biases? Probably not.

      Existing sociological and political analysis doesn't account for the internet and its potential for free exchange.

      Given the right tools, the habits we need to overcome are those of sociological and political manipulation. Rather, we need to provide our insights and let others discuss them at will.

      This is going to be excruciatingly difficult for a lot of people of existing power structures, but I think the results will be fantastic if we can do it right.

      So this is my vision. Few share it, but if anyone out there shares it, I'd like to hear from them.

      Mr. Parker?

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