The Inclusive Economy

How to Bring Wealth to America's Poor

[Amazon Link]

I regret to say that this book (obtained via Interlibrary Loan by the University Near Here from Wesleyan University) goes in the "Wish I'd Liked It Better" category. I had high hopes, as it emanates from the Cato Institute. I've noticed the author, Michael D. Tanner, writing a lot of good stuff in the past. But…

That's not to say it's bad, it's merely "not awful", could have been better. Poverty is not a burning issue in America, causing pols to me more vocal about what they'll do for (or, more likely, to) you. Still, if you walk around with open eyes, it's hard not to be concerned.

What causes American poverty? Guess what? It's complicated. Tanner discusses (some of) the usual culprits: racism, sexism, changing social attitudes, economic dislocation, etc. And his proposed reforms are conveniently listed:

  1. Reform the criminal justice system, end the war on drugs.
  2. Reform education system and stop the slide of the U.S. in education outcomes.
  3. Bring down the cost of housing.
  4. Make it easier for the poor to bank, save, borrow and invest–and start businesses.
  5. Increase economic growth and make it more inclusive.

All worthy endeavours, and the sub-reforms (e.g., reform of regulations, occupational licensing, zoning, etc.) are congenial to liberty-minded folks who are also compassionate toward the less well-off.

So what was not so good about the book?

  • You'd think that Charles Murray would have made a more frequent appearance in a libertarian-oriented book about poverty. But as far as Tanner seems to be concerned, Murray's contribution started and ended with 1984's Losing Ground. But The Bell Curve (1994) described a significant correlation between intelligence and poverty. And Coming Apart (2012) went into more detail on "assortive mating"; to the extent that IQ is heritable, the haves and the have-nots tend to procreate with each other, and the correlation propagates into the likely future.

    But it's not just (specifically) Murray, the issue of intelligence is, as near as I can tell, entirely absent from Tanner's book. OK, so maybe Tanner thinks it's unimportant. But (still) we're owed at least a cursory dismissal of why he thinks it's unimportant.

  • Also largely absent is Thomas Sowell. His insight that statistical disparities between groups need not, and often are not the result of invidious discrimination goes unmentioned. And Tanner usually assumes the worst, especially in his discussion of criminal justice. (Yes, African-Americans are jailed out of proportion to their presence in the popultion. But they also commit more crime,)

  • Similarly, the issue of immigration is (as near as I can tell) MIA in Tanner's book. Specifically, low-skilled immigration. Tanner is eloquent on the damage that minimum wage laws do to the poor: they literally make it illegal to hire someone whose value to the employer might not make economic sense.

    So, what about an increased supply of low-skill labor? What does that do to the poor job-seeker?

    Again, Tanner might not find this important. But (again) not mentioning it at all is difficult to excuse.

  • Finally, a quibble: in a mostly-good discussion of the need to provide financial/banking services to the poor, Tanner includes this bit of evidence:

    For instance, according to the Federal Reserve, 46 percent of adults say they either could not cover an emergency expense costing $400, or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money.

    It's not that simple, and (guess what) I found a more nuanced discussion on the Cato blog (because this was also a talking point of presidential ex-candidate John Hickenlooper): Is it True that 40% of Americans Can't Handle a $400 Emergency Expense? Asked and answered by Alan Reynolds:

    The question was about how people would choose to pay a $400 “emergency expense” — not whether or not they could pay it out of savings (or checking) if they wanted to.  Respondents were also free to choose more than one way of paying the extra $400 (“please selects [sic] all that apply”), so the answers add up [to] 143% rather than 100%.  Even if 100% said they could pay an extra $400 with cash, there could still be more than 40% who would choose a different method.

    It turns out that 86% would pay cash or charge it and then pay off the bill at the next statement (many consumers autopay credit card bills from checking accounts). Some (11%) said they might borrow some or all of it from a friend or family member, but that probably means a spouse or parent in most cases (respondents included full-time students).

    I.e., Tanner either should have reported this more carefully, or left it out. This sloppiness says that there may be problems in some of those other footnotes and citations as well.

Bottom line: not awful. Could have, and should have, been much better.

Last Modified 2019-08-30 5:25 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2019-08-18 Update

[Amazon Link]

No changes in our phony lineup this week, but the Betfair wagerers continue to be disenchanted with Kamala, sending her back to pre-debate lows. But Liz's odds continue to improve, as she's now the favorite candidate among those not named Donald.

And it's been a relatively quiet week on the phony front, with our leaders, Trump and Bernie, shedding over 3 million phony hits. (Which, see below, were probably not there in the first place.) But in these times, "relatively quiet" means it's gone from "aircraft carrier deck" to "unlubricated chain saw".

Case in point, Ellie Bufkin of the Washington Examiner is seemingly tasked with amplifying every lie, gaffe, stumble, or stutter of the Democratic candidates, and the best she could do this week is: Kamala Harris marks Muslim holiday: ‘Finally got my pork chop!’. Kamala was at the Iowa State Fair.

Also at the fair was Cory Booker, vegan. He went for a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But fried in what, Ellie? Come on, do some reporting!

Candidate WinProb Change
Donald Trump 46.5% -1.3% 2,760,000 -2,070,000
Bernie Sanders 7.0% +0.3% 1,910,000 -1,010,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.7% unch 848,000 +1,000
Joe Biden 12.0% -0.7% 411,000 -149,000
Elizabeth Warren 15.2% +3.2% 219,000 -121,000
Kamala Harris 5.5% -1.1% 124,000 -190,000
Andrew Yang 2.9% +0.6% 30,300 -2,600

"WinProb" calculation described here. Google result counts are bogus.

  • So it's been kind of a tough week for candidate phoniness, but fortunately the New York Times is on the case, publishing an exposé by Kevin Roose on The Phony Patriots of Silicon Valley.

    Not long ago, many leading technologists considered themselves too lofty and idealistic to concern themselves with the petty affairs of government. John Perry Barlow, a lion of the early internet, addressed his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” to the “governments of the industrial world,” saying that for him and his fellow netizens, these creaky institutions had “no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.”

    But that was before privacy scandals, antitrust investigations, congressional hearings, Chinese tariffs, presidential tweets and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

    Targets of Roose's scorn: Peter Thiel, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple. Apparently they are… well, it's hard to pull a coherent thesis out of Roose's words. He's long on snarky descriptions of Big Tech government interactions, short on demonstrating that they exhibit even nominal patriotism, let alone the phoniness thereof.

    But: "Not long ago"? Barlow's famed declaration was initially published in 1996, 23 years ago.

  • The Fox News website describes a Fox News show segment ("Fox & Friends"): Dan Bongino on Bernie Sanders calling Trump 'an idiot': Biggest phony I've ever seen in politics. Among other things:

    Bongino argued Sanders and others on the left show hypocrisy on the issue of climate change by using private jets to travel.

    "He is the biggest fake I've ever seen in politics and I can't believe people are getting suckered by this guy every day," he added.

    In addition, Don called Sanders a "fraud". No wonder this was near the top of the Google results.

    Hey, why don't I get paid for going on cable TV and shouting insults and namecalling? Better, I could do it on either CNN, MSNBC, or Fox! Just tell me who to hate!

  • At National Review,  Alexandra DeSanctis profiles Pete Buttigieg: Christian Moralist of the Left.

    Pete Buttigieg isn’t always sure that he knows what it means to be a moral Christian. But he’s pretty certain you aren’t one.


    “The left is rightly committed to a separation of church and state,” he told USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers in an April interview, “but we need to not be afraid to invoke arguments that are convincing on why Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction.”

    Did you catch that? Underneath the McKinseyesque jargon, Buttigieg is asserting that being a good Christian means you must embrace progressive ideology. This is how he’s spoken about religion for the entirety of his campaign, wielding it like a cudgel against anyone who hesitates to champion his policy prescriptions.

    Mayor Pete is a strident moralist right up to… you guessed it, when the discussion turns to abortion.

  • The Washington Times reports: Bernie Sanders' 'Medicare for All' sputters as Kamala Harris, 2020 Democrats flee.

    When Sen. Bernard Sanders reintroduced his “Medicare for All” bill in the Senate in April, four of his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls signed on with him, thrilling liberal activists who believed the universal health care proposal was becoming unstoppable.

    Four months later, Mr. Sanders is looking more and more like a lonely holdout after watching his allies slink away as politics of the plan shift.

    I think the Washington Times overstates the back-off. Even though Kamala is a famous waffler on this sticky point, Elizabeth Warren is still on board. Good luck on getting a straight answer from anyone, though.

  • Finally, at National Review, Kevin D. Williamson on the eighth dwarf, Wheezy: Joe Biden, Designated White Guy. KDW is especially keen in his analysis of Barack Obama's pickle in finding himself the 2008 Democratic nominee:

    And so Obama’s balancing act: a Wilsonian-Johnsonian commitment to expanding the welfare state and regimenting critical sectors of the economy under Washington’s direction; all that dopey, content-free “hope and change” stuff that worked so well for Bill Clinton; and, in both international relations and sensitive domestic cultural affairs, a politics of respectability, which was often enough in practice a politics of condescension — and insincerity. Senator Obama, you’ll recall, was too much of a social conservative to stand a chance in today’s Democratic party — he opposed homosexual marriage and cited his religious beliefs in service of that position, meaning that 2008’s great progressive hope is 2019’s irredeemable hate monster. Not many people thought that he actually believed any of that, but they admired the calculation and the so-called realism of his self-conscious positioning. Democrats do not mind being lied to if they are skillfully lied to — Bill Clinton left the White House a hero.

    Barack Obama is famously unsentimental, including on racial questions, for instance in shaping his romantic life in a way that would comport better with his political ambitions. When it came time for him to choose a running mate, his short list consisted exclusively of white, moderate, establishment Democratic figures, mostly with Catholic backgrounds: a governor of Kansas, a governor and senator from Indiana, a governor of Virginia, and Joe Biden, an eternal Senate fixture who had chaired two committees important to the Obama campaign: Foreign Relations, which might help provide some heft on international relations that Obama’s own résumé wanted, and Judiciary, which would make the vice president a potential asset in high-court confirmation hearings. It was put out that Mrs. Clinton was under consideration, but Obama himself apparently never took that idea seriously.

    So Biden's "Obama likes me!" schtick sounds a lot better than "Obama made a cynical political calculation and picked me!"