What are the Chances?: American Deaths via Foreign Terrorists

Image result for skittles trumpWith skittles and terrorists in the news, it might be worth assessing the risks that immigrants pose to U.S. natives. How likely are Americans to be killed by a terrorist attack committed by a foreigner? A new policy analysis from the Cato Institute finds that the chances are vanishingly small:

Including those murdered in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the chance of an American perishing in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that was committed by a foreigner over the 41-year period studied here is 1 in 3.6 million per year. The hazard posed by foreigners who entered on different visa categories varies considerably. For instance, the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is 1 in 3.9 million per year. Any government response to terrorism must take account of the wide range of hazards posed by foreign-born terrorists who entered under various visa categories.

Given that Americans are as likely to be killed by falling furniture as a terrorist attack, maybe we should ban all new purchases of televisions and couches. Add this to the evidence that immigrants are less criminal than native-born Americans and we end up with nothing more than a fear-mongering blowhard.

Media Fragmentation and Political Polarization

I’ve written about political polarization beforeRecent research suggests that media fragmentation is the culprit behind growing political polarization. A new study finds that

  • The growing plurality of news sources as well as the increasing access to cable television made the greatest contribution to political polarization. Two phenomena, or a combination of the two, are responsible: Individuals seek out “self-reinforcing viewpoints rather than be exposed to a common ‘nightly news’ broadcast” — this is sometimes called siloing. Also, individuals are jettisoning news programming for entertainment, “thereby reducing incidental or by-product learning about politics.”
  • The decreasing exposure to alternative views and the increasing buttressing of one’s own views has combined to create less sympathy for others’ views and less of an ability to understand others’ views. “This may be reinforced by a tendency for political differences to be decreasingly addressed through genuine debate and increasingly replaced with media coverage of political vilification or grandstanding.”
  • Inequality — the divide between rich and poor — may have contributed to political polarization, but less than media fragmentation.
  • Duca and Saving test for a number of trends but find no statistically significant associations with generational attitudes, voter partisanship, economic conditions or campaign contributions. But they do find associations with income inequality and media fragmentation.
  • There is some evidence that Congress is more polarized at the beginning of a president’s second term.

Despite these findings, there may be room for caution. According to a new paper by Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina, the average American has not followed the political class to the fringes. Reason‘s write-up draws five lessons from Fiorina’s work:

  1. The political class is becoming more polarized: “If you limit its scope to elected officials and professional activists, the polarization thesis has some truth to it. Since the early ’70s, the parties have gone through a sorting process, to the point where the most left-wing Republican in either house of Congress is now more conservative than the most right-wing congressional Democrat.”
  2. The general public has not followed suit: “Over the last four decades, there has been little change in how Americans describe themselves ideologically—the most popular category in such surveys is still “moderate,” without a big exodus to the liberal and conservative poles. Opinions have shifted on some specific topics, but not always in the same direction: Americans have gotten more liberal on certain issues, such as health insurance, and more conservative on others, such as aid to minorities.”
  3. The more politically active you are, the less well-informed you are about these trends in grassroots opinion: “Both normal Americans and the political class tend to exaggerate the extent that the general public is polarized. But the politicos do much more of this, projecting their divisions onto the electorate at large. “Ironically,” Fiorina writes, “the great majority of Americans whose lives do not revolve around politics are more accurate in their political perceptions than their more politically involved compatriots.””
  4. The stronger your partisan affiliations, the more likely you are to misconstrue what life is like at the other end of spectrum: For example, “Democrats think that 44 percent of Republicans make more than $250,000 per year, when the actual percentage is 2, and that 44 percent of Republicans are senior citizens, when the actual percentage is 21. For their part, Republicans think that 36 percent of Democrats are atheists or agnostics, when the actual percentage is about 9, and that 38 percent of Democrats are LGBT, when the true percentage is about 6. Once again, the more politically involved the respondent, the greater the misperception.”
  5. We’re not retreating into smaller bubbles: “A paper on Twitter users…found that “Twitter networks tend to be fairly heterogeneous politically, in part because many of those in them are connected by only ‘weak ties.’ Contrary to the fears expressed by those worried about ideological segregation, social media actually may lessen people’s tendency to live in echo chambers.””

All of this reinforces something Georgetown professor Peter Jaworski said: “Partisan politics corrupts your character. Instead of trying to get votes for your favoured tribe, try to make money instead. Engaging in markets makes mean people nicer, makes you more trustworthy, more charitable, and more beneficent.”

The Stock and Flow of Drug Offenders

Last month, Nathaniel penned a critique of criminal justice scholar Barry Latzer’s WSJ piece on the supposed “myth” of mass incarceration. The impact of the war on drugs tends to be minimized by counting the amount of drug offenders vs. violent criminals in the prison population (hint: there are more of the latter). In his critique, Nathaniel wrote, “Drug sentences are generally shorter than violent crime sentences, and so taking a headcount of prisoners artificially increases the appearance of violent incarceration simply because those criminals spent more time in jail.” This, of course, was noted by Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow. But what do the data say? According to Brooking’s Jonathan Rothwell,

There is no disputing that incarceration for property and violent crimes is of huge importance to America’s prison population, but the standard analysis—including Alexander’s critics—fails to distinguish between the stock and flow of drug crime-related incarceration. In fact, there are two ways of looking at the prison population as it relates to drug crimes:

  1. How many people experience incarceration as a result of a drug-related crime over a certain time period?
  2. What proportion of the prison population at a particular moment in time was imprisoned for a drug-related crime?

The answers will differ because the length of sentences varies by the kind of crime committed. As of 2009, the median incarceration time at state facilities for drug offenses was 14 months, exactly half the time for violent crimes. Those convicted of murder served terms of roughly 10 times greater length.  

The picture is clear: Drug crimes have been the predominant reason for new admissions into state and federal prisons in recent decades. In every year from 1993 to 2009, more people were admitted for drug crimes than violent crimes. In the 2000s, the flow of incarceration for drug crimes exceeded admissions for property crimes each year. Nearly one-third of total prison admissions over this period were for drug crimes:

Rothwell 1125001

In short, Alexander was right when she saw drug prosecution as “a big part of the mass incarceration story.” It turns out “drug crimes account for more of the total number of admissions in recent years—almost one third (31 percent), while violent crimes account for one quarter:”

Rothwell 1125002

As Nathaniel concluded,

First, you don’t have to go to jail at all to get a felony conviction on your record. Second, that felony conviction is going to stay on your record long after you have “served your debt to society.” If the criminal justice system is unfair, it’s not just about incarceration. It’s about losing the right to vote. It’s about losing access to government programs like student loans or food stamps. It’s about the government banning your friends and family from supporting you (if they live in public housing) when you get out. And–most egregiously of all–it’s about a scarlet-F that will follow you to every job interview and ensure that long after you are outside the prison walls you are still practically barred from building a new life for yourself.

There’s  lot at stake here, folks, and it’s not just about violent crime.

The Economics of Immigration: A Cato Lecture by Benjamin Powell

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

Image result for the economics of immigrationImmigration has been getting quite a bit of attention in the news and here at Difficult Run lately. With political debates shifting from the typical Right/Left to Open/Close, tackling the economic literature on immigration became a priority to me. Hence, my recent completion of the Oxford-published The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy. And what does the research say?:

  • Eliminating policy barriers to international labor mobility would increase global wealth by between 50-150% of world GDP (pg. 13). “For all its radicalism, open borders’ main effects are fairly well understood. Open borders would dramatically increase global production. It would drastically reduce global poverty and global inequality. At the same time, open borders would make the remaining poverty and inequality much more visible for current residents of the First World” (pg. 185).
  • Immigration has little to no effect on native wages and employment. What effects there are tend to be negative, but small and temporary (pg. 30). In fact, it is mainly those without high-school degrees who lose out in the short run, yet see their wages increase in the long run (pg. 19).
  • Immigration generates an annual efficiency gain for Americans of between $5 and $10 billion (pg. 21).
  • Immigrants boost the demand side of the economy (pg. 42-43).
  • Immigration has little to no impact on the government budget (pg. 63). A typical immigrant may impose a $3,000 net fiscal cost herself, but her descendants have a positive net fiscal contribution of $83,000, producing an $80,000 surplus  (pg. 61).
  • Immigrants today tend to assimilate more than they did a century ago (pg. 90).
  • New research finds “that greater immigration was associated with small improvements in economic institutions or had no effect at all” (pg. 211). In other words, immigrants don’t import negative institutions.

And much more. You can see a Cato Institute lecture on the book below by editor and Texas Tech economist Benjamin Powell.


Marriage and Children Outcomes


The above graph comes from yet another post at the Brookings Institution, which finds that marriage leads to better outcomes for children. However, this study breaks it down into two main reasons:

  • More money: the income effect

  • More engaged parenting: the parenting effect

However, the authors come to an interesting conclusion:

If the benefits of marriage for children can be explained by other observable characteristics of the family, and especially money or parenting behavior, then policy may be more successful if focused on those pathways. It would be convenient to find the magic bullet – the one family input that really matters – but of course the truth is messier. Children’s life chances will be influenced by a complicated, shifting mesh of family characteristics (and many other factors outside the family).

Marriage is a powerful means by which incomes can be raised and parenting can be improved. But marriage itself seems immune to the ministrations of policymakers. In which case, policies to increase the incomes of unmarried parents, especially single parents, and to help parents to improve their parenting skills, should be where policy energy is now expended.

Yet, W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project points out that

marriage itself fosters higher income and better parenting among today’s parents. For instance, men who get and stay married work longer hours and make more money than their unmarried peers. And fathers and mothers who are in an intact marriage tend to engage in more involved, affectionate, and consistent parenting than their peers in single- or step-families.

The bigger point is this: you cannot easily strip marriage of its constituent parts, such as more money and a supportive parenting environment, give those parts to parents apart from marriage, and expect that children will do as well, apart from marriage.

Before “I Do”

This is the title of a brand new study out from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found that having a child before marriage, beginning a relationship by “hooking up,” having multiple sexual partners before marriage, and serial cohabitation can lead to lower marital quality in the future. The data indicate that making intentional decisions rather than simply sliding through relationship transitions increases marital quality. What was especially interesting to me was that formal weddings can actually increase marital quality. Furthermore, the number of wedding attendees can also impact marital quality.

Definitely worth a look.

Family Instability and Wages

Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz has an interesting piece in The New York Times on rising family instability. Commenting on male and female wages, she states,

Today, job prospects for young men are far less favorable. Real wages for men under age 35 have fallen almost continuously since the late 1970s, and those with only a high school diploma have experienced the sharpest losses. Between 1979 and 2007, young male high school graduates saw a 29 percent decline in real annual earnings — an even steeper decline than the 18 percent drop for men with no high school diploma…Women’s wages, by contrast, have risen significantly since the 1970s, except for those on the very bottom…Meanwhile, women’s expectation of fairness and reciprocity in marriage has been rising even as men’s ability to compensate for deficits in their behavior by being “good providers” has been falling. Low-income women consistently tell researchers that the main reason they hesitate to marry — even if they are in love, even if they have moved in with a man to share expenses, and even if they have a child — is that they see a bad marriage or divorce as a greater threat to their well-being than being single.

She concludes,

If women lowered their expectations to match men’s lower economic prospects, perhaps marriage would be more common in low-income communities. But it would most likely be even less stable, and certainly less fair. Turning back the inequality revolution may be difficult. But that would certainly help more families — at almost all income levels — than turning back the gender revolution.

This piece goes nicely with a recent review in The Wall Street Journal by sociologist and National Marriage Project director W. Bradford Wilcox, in which he points out,

Although the authors put too much stress on economic explanations-their approach cannot explain, for instance, why the economic dislocation of the Depression did not result in high levels of family breakdown in the 1930s-the story told by “Marriage Markets” is worth heeding, whatever one’s political affiliations. Conservatives need to take note of the growing family divide in part because fragile families require more public aid, from Medicaid to food stamps: As marriage goes, so goes the tradition of limited government. Progressives, for their part, might well worry that the family divide begets not only economic disparity but also gender inequality. After all, communities where fathers are largely absent from their children’s day-to-day lives do not come close to approximating the egalitarian ideal championed by today’s left-of-center thinkers and activists.

…What, then, is to be done? Ms. Carbone and Ms. Cahn offer a number of good suggestions, such as job-relocation grants for laid-off workers (to help them move away from high-unemployment regions to those with jobs) and portable health plans that allow workers to seek out the best job opportunities instead of clinging to bad, low-paying jobs for the sake of their benefits.

But the authors also think that the way forward requires strategies designed to “enhanc[e] women’s power”-such as “improved access to contraception.” …Perhaps. But a stronger case could be made that the bigger challenge facing working-class and poor families is not a lack of female empowerment but rather that contemporary masculinity has been decoupled from work, fatherhood and marriage-and for reasons that are not entirely economic.

Good stuff. Check them out.


CDC Reports: Children’s Health and Family Structure

A couple new government reports have focused on the well-being of children in the United States. The first one focused on adverse family experiences and discovered that those “children living with neither of their parents are 2.7 times as likely as those living with both biological parents, and more than twice as likely as children living with one biological parent, to have had at least one adverse experience such as those shown in the figure below.”

What’s worse is that children “living with one parent are fifteen times as likely to have had four or more adverse experiences as those living with two biological parents, and for children in nonparental care that number rises to thirty.” It is important to point out that “researchers did not control for household income or other demographic factors, and that the reported adverse experiences, apart from financial deprivation, include those that occurred at any time in the child’s life. That means, for instance, that the many adverse experiences of children in foster care may have preceded (and led to) their being placed in foster care, or that the violence or drug use of one biological parent could have led to the child living exclusively with the other biological parent…Nevertheless, the figures are a striking illustration of how children in the care of both biological parents are most likely to escape adverse experiences.”

The second report provides a snapshot of children’s health in the United States and its relation to family structure. Overall, those in nuclear families (i.e. children “living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all children in the family”) fared better than those in other family structures. Children in nuclear families were least likely to be in “good,” “fair,” or “poor” health as opposed to “very good” or “excellent” health.

Percentages of Children in Good, Fair, or Poor Health by Family Structure
Percentages of Children in Good, Fair, or Poor Health by Family Structure

Data on chronic conditions and behavioral issues produced similar findings. “Although some confounding factors were controlled for…the researchers emphasize that since they simply measured family structure and child outcomes at a single point in time, their findings still cannot be used to make conclusions about causality. Prior research, they note, suggests that the arrow may go both ways…And obviously, family structure is one among many factors that matter for children’s health. In the CDC data, lower socioeconomic status (conditions of poverty or near-poverty, or parental educational attainment of no more than a high school diploma) was associated with worse health outcomes for children in every type of family, and sometimes it essentially drowned out the association between family structure and health. On the other hand, family structure and stability are associated with children’s health in many parts of the developing world, where access to health care is limited and where single-parent families are actually less likely than nuclear families to be socioeconomically disadvantaged. Teasing out all the determinants of children’s health will take more research than is currently available, but at this stage, family background seems in many cases to be one significant factor.”

Check out the full reports.