Economic Growth Begins in the Home

Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox and economist Joseph Price have an important chapter in a recent Cambridge-published book on the link between family structure and economic growth. They write,

A stable marriage matters in part because it allows couples to make decisions over time that maximize the economic prosperity of their family unit. Stably married persons have incentives to invest in their marriage and benefit from specialization and economies of scale; their households also tend to earn and save more than their peers who are unmarried or divorced (Stevenson and Wolfers 2007; Lerman and Wilcox 2014). Marriage also has a transformative effect on individuals, especially men. It seems to increase men’s productivity at and attachment toward work, and reduces men’s willingness to engage in risky behaviors, including criminal activity (Akerlof 1998; Nock 1998; Sampson, Laub, and Wimer 2006). What is more, it looks like married parenthood may be especially influential in encouraging men’s engagement in the labor force (Killewald 2012). In the aggregate, then, higher levels of marriage, and probably two-parent families, should boost men’s labor force participation and reduce criminal violence, both to the benefit of national economies. At the same time, insofar as motherhood tends to reduce women’s participation in the labor force (Budig and England 2001), we also explore the possibility that higher rates of marriage and two-parent families reduce growth. Finally, higher rates of intact marriage foster stable two-parent families, which are more likely than single parents to supply children with the human capital they need to thrive first in school and later in the labor force (Lerman and Wilcox 2014; McLanahan and Sandefur 1994). Accordingly, the more children are born and raised in stable, two-parent families, the more a society should experience economic growth (pg. 179-180).

Wilcox and Price continue to lay out the evidence that married, two-parents households:

  1. Have more income and savings.
  2. Lower crime rates.
  3. Higher educational achievements for children.

They conclude,

[W]e find that a significant association between family structure and
economic growth. Every 13 percentage point increase in the proportion of adults who are married is associated with an 8 percent increase in per capita GDP, net of controls for a range of sociodemographic factors. Likewise, every 13 percentage point increase in the proportion of children living in two-parent families is associated with a 16 percent increase in per capita GDP, controlling for education, urbanization, age, population size, and other factors. There is clearly a link between family structure and economic growth. 

…[W]e also note that the cross-national relationship between family structure, household savings, and crime are generally consistent with
our expectations about how marriage and two-parent families foster a social environment more conducive to economic growth in countries around the world. It is striking that more two-parent families are linked to less crime and more savings. If nothing else, the patterns documented in this paper suggest that stronger families, higher household savings rates, less crime, and higher economic growth may cluster together in mutually reinforcing ways.

...In conclusion, this chapter indicates that strong and stable families are
linked to higher levels of economic growth in nations across the globe, despite the fact that marriage and two-parent families are in decline across much of the globe. Given the potential economic importance of marriage and family stability to a nation’s economic life, policymakers, business leaders, and civic leaders should pursue a range of public and private policies to encourage and strengthen marriage and stable families. That is because what happens in the family may not affect only the welfare of private families but also the wealth of nations (pg. 194-195).

Economic institutions at the macro-level matter. But so do the ones at the micro-level. Probably more so. 

Alcohol Kills More Than Opioids

From Newsweek:

Alcohol is killing more adults in the U.S. than the opioid epidemic according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The opioid epidemic kills an average of 72,000 people per year, while alcohol kills 88,000. In those 88,000 deaths are 2.5 million years of potential life lost, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The surge of alcohol related deaths is new. In ten years, the number of deaths by alcohol have increased 35 percent according the new report shared by USA Today on Friday. The statistics are based on findings from 2007 to 2017.

Most affected by the rising alcohol epidemic are young women. Among women, deaths rose 67 percent, while for men, the percentage rose only 27 percent.

The article concludes with a quotation from psychologist Benjamin Miller: “Culturally, we’ve made it acceptable to drink but not to go out and shoot up heroin. A lot of people will read this and say ‘What’s the problem?’”

I wonder when we’ll start caring about the mounting evidence.

November 6: The Day You Did Absolutely Nothing

As the elections were coming up, I noticed that many wanted to inflate their single vote with undeserved moral capital. I wasn’t having any of it, especially if they were doing so in order to smugly lecture others. 

So, what do the numbers say regarding your single vote? Georgetown’s Jason Brennan explains,

There is some debate among economists and political scientists over the precise way to calculate the probability that a vote will be decisive. Nevertheless, they generally agree that the probability that the modal individual voter in a typical election will break a tie is small, so small that the expected benefit (i.e., p[V(D)−V(R)]p[V(D)−V(R)]) of the modal vote for a good candidate is worth far less than a millionth of a penny (G. Brennan and Lomasky 1993: 56–7, 119). The most optimistic estimate in the literature claims that in a presidential election, an American voter could have as high as a 1 in 10 million chance of breaking a tie, but only if that voter lives in one of three or four “swing states,” and only if she votes for a major-party candidate (Edlin, Gelman, and Kaplan 2007). Thus, on both of these popular models, for most voters in most elections, voting for the purpose of trying to change the outcome is irrational. The expected costs exceed the expected benefits by many orders of magnitude.

While a 1-in-10 million chance is the most optimistic estimate, the average estimate is 1-in-60 million. Economist Steve Landsburg put it this way: “I have a better chance of winning the Powerball jackpot 7,400 times in a row than of affecting the election’s outcome. Which makes it pretty hard to see why I should vote.” 

So maybe the presidential election is a long shot when it comes to making a difference as an individual voter. Surely the midterm elections are different, right? They certainly are, but it’s not something to get excited about. As economist Casey Mulligan explains,

An election of a United States senator, or a governor, has never in the history of the United States been decided by one vote. Charles Hunter, who earned a doctorate at the University of Chicago, and I studied almost 100 years of elections of members of Congress – almost 20,000 of them in which an aggregate two billion votes were cast – and only one election was determined by a single vote of the 40,000 cast (that was in the New York’s 36th Congressional District in 1910). And that election had a recount that determined the election was decided by a margin of six votes, rather than one.

Thus, when it comes to elections to federal office, history suggests that the chances that your vote…will change the winner of the election is less than one in 100,000; more people die in an election year in car crashes than cast a pivotal vote in a federal election.

Dr. Hunter and I also studied 21 years of elections to state legislatures in the 50 states. Our data included more than 50,000 elections with an aggregate of about a billion votes cast. Those elections were markedly smaller than the federal elections and therefore more likely to come down to one vote.

Still, only nine of these came down to one vote (before recounts), and included a grand total of less than 40,000 pivotal votes. So the probability of a pivotal vote in these elections was less than one in 25,000. (The odds are somewhat higher – one in 15,000 for the state elections and one in 89,000 for Congressional elections – if the election actually has more than one candidate; a number of elections do not, such as this year’s election in Florida’s 21st Congressional District).

Let’s check those stats again:

  • Presidential elections: 1-in-60 million on average; 1-in-10 million at best.
  • Federal elections: 1-in-100,000; 1-in-89,000 for Congressional elections.
  • State legislators elections: 1-in-25,000; 1-in-15,000 at best.

As one friend put it, if you’re trying to get into the Good Place, voting likely earns you 10 points total. That’s a blip on the moral scale.

However, these 10 points are probably cancelled out by:

  • The smugness that accompanies your “I Voted” sticker.
  • The terrible way you treat flesh-and-blood people who disagree with your politics.
  • The likelihood that your Facebook status about the importance of voting is nothing more than moral grandstanding.

But that’s still working off the assumption that voting is an inherent good. No one seems to care that voting imposes costs on others by means of legalized violence (government). Now, those costs and the accompanying legalized violence may be justified. But if you’re going to force something on to others, you’d better be damned sure it is in fact just and worth the cost. If you’re not sure (and the social science suggests you probably aren’t), stay away from the polls

Also, voters typically want to transmit all the goodness of their political picks to themselves, while ignoring the evil. For example, many Obama supporters probably see themselves as champions of the uninsured; crusaders for healthcare justice. However, they likely do not want his drone strikes or deportations on their conscience. “Turns out I’m really good at killing people” isn’t exactly the moral motto most voters want to trumpet.

Finally, you may be risking more harm than good by simply driving to the polls on election day:

[S]uppose my favored candidate (who is worth $33 billion more to the common good) enjoys a slight lead in the polls. She has a very small anticipated proportional majority. The probability that any random voter will vote for her is 50.5 percent. This is an election we would describe as “too close to call.” Suppose also that the number of voters will be the same as in the 2004 U.S. presidential election: 122,293,332. I vote for my favored candidate. In this case, the expected value (for the common good) of my vote for the better candidate is $4.77 x 10^-2650 , that is, approximately zero. Even if the candidate were worth $33 billion to me personally, the expected value for me of my vote would be, again, a mere $4.77 x 10^-2650 . That is 2,648 orders of magnitude less than a penny. In comparison, the nucleus of an atom, in meters, is about 15 orders of magnitude shorter than I am. In meters, I am about 26 orders of magnitude shorter than the diameter of the visible universe. In pounds, I am about 28 orders of magnitude less heavy than the sun. Even if the value of my favored candidate to me were dramatically higher, say ten thousand million trillion dollars, the expected value of my vote in our example—for a close election—remains thousands of orders of magnitude below a penny. For an election in which the candidate has a sizable lead, the expected utility of an individual vote for a good candidate drops to almost zero.

The Beneficence Argument appeals to the public utility of individual acts of voting. However, suppose all you care about is maximizing your contribution to the common good. If so, voting would not merely fail to be worthwhile— it would be counterproductive. It turns out that the expected disutility of driving to the polling station (in terms of the harm a driver might cause to others) is higher than the expected utility of a good vote. This is not hyperbole.

Aaron Edlin and Pinar Karaca-Mandic have estimated the expected accident externalities per driver per year in the United States—that is, the amount of damage the average driver imposes on others from accidents and reckless driving. The expected accident externalities range from as little as $10 in low-traffic-density North Dakota to more than $1,725 in high-traffic-density California. Suppose a North Dakotan takes five minutes to drive to the polling station. The average expected accident externality of a five-minute drive in North Dakota is $9.5 x 10^-5 , much larger than the expected benefit of a good vote in the previous example. So the voter imposes greater expected harm on her way to the polls than she could compensate for by a good vote

To review:

  • Mathematically speaking, your individual vote has probably never mattered and likely never will matter. It literally has no consequence on the planet.
  • Whatever goodness your single vote represents is likely cancelled out by a number of negative factors that are the byproduct of political participation.
  • In actuality, voting is a means of wielding legalized violence on others.
  • If you’re going to congratulate yourself on the good your chosen politician does, you have to condemn yourself for the bad as well.
  • The risk of harming others on election day is higher than the potential benefit.

Now, this isn’t an anti-voting post. I’m not saying you should refrain from voting. What I am saying is that before you start patting yourself on the back for supposedly righting the wrongs of the world through voting, you ought to realize that you probably did absolutely nothing.

So cool your jets. 

The Rich Aren’t Necessarily Jerks

Image result for i'm rich gif

It’s a common assertion by some people that the rich are obviously awful people. Some psychology research (especially that of Paul Piff) seems to confirm that wealth makes us worse people. However, a new study casts doubt on some of these findings, demonstrating that the field of psychology is still having replication problems. “In contrast [to Piff’s work],” write the authors,

a recent large-scale study indicated positive associations between social ranking and prosocial behaviour (Korndörfer, Egloff, & Schmukle, 2015), and further research has supported that individuals from higher SES are more generous than individuals from lower SES (Smeets, Bauer, & Gneezy, 2015). Other studies have detected a more nuanced link, where general relations between class and ethical behaviour are not evident without the presence of moderators, such as level of social inequality in the community and the social class of the target (Côté, House, & Willer, 2015; Trautmann, van de Kuilen, & Zeckhauser, 2013; Van Doesum, Tybur, & Van Lange, 2017). Finally, other research has found no relation between social class and ethical behaviour (Van Doesum, Tybur, & Van Lange, 2017).

The authors “attempted to directly replicate Piff et al.’s Study 5 (2012),” which tested individuals’ willingness to lie in a negotiation task.

In an effort to increase experimental power, the present studies sought to increase sample size from 108 to 270 (i.e., 2.5 times larger), which is considered the current standard for replication protocols (Simonsohn, 2015). We collected two independent samples in an effort to provide more opportunity to replicate the original results (e.g., larger number of participants across samples helps mitigate issues associated with sampling error).

Their results?

Some of our findings were consistent with those of Piff et al., such as the significant relations between attitudes toward greed and unethical behaviour (i.e., dishonesty) as well as between social class and greed (in sample 2 only), but we did not obtain any evidence of a positive association between social class and unethical behaviour in either sample. Further, we found inconclusive evidence for the mediation model proposed by Piff et al. across the two samples.

Perhaps the crucifixion of the rich isn’t the most empirically-based idea.

The Latest in Development Economics

Image result for development economics

There’s a post over at the World Bank’s blog providing brief summaries of the papers presented at the North East Universities Development Consortium last weekend. If you want to see some of the latest research in development economics, check it out. Here are a few that peaked my interest:

  • How does a massive refugee influx affect the receiving economy’s agricultural productivity? In Tanzania, receiving refugees from Burundi and Rwanda in the 1990s resulted in some pluses, some minuses, but ultimately an insignificant change. (Tsuda)
  • In South Africa, income affects psychological well-being AND psychological well-being affects income. The former effect is particularly strong among the poor. (Alloush)
  • Psychology and economics affect each other! An intervention to increase women’s beliefs in their own ability to attain their goals “produces large and persistent increases in employment” in India. And “women who received a job offer have significantly higher [beliefs in their own ability] several months later.” (McKelway)
  • Ukrainian firms from counties with fewer ethnic Russians experienced a deeper decline in trade with Russia because of increased inter-ethnic tensions and a differential rise in negative attitudes toward Russia. (Makarin and Korovkin)
  • Poorly managed schools have poorer teacher practices and poor student outcomes. (Lemos, Muralidharan, & Scur)
  • School disruptions caused by teacher strikes leads to adverse labor market outcomes in Argentina: unemployment is higher, skill levels of the occupations are lower and earnings drop by 3.2 for men and 1.9 percent for women. “This amounts to an aggregate annual earnings loss of $2.34 billion, equivalent to the cost of raising the employment income of all Argentinian primary school teachers by 62.4 percent”. (Jaume and Willén)
  • Getting married one year later in India results in “a significant decline in physical violence, although it has no impact on sexual or emotional violence.” (Dhamija & Roychowdhury)
  • Cash transfers in Kenya reduced physical violence against wives regardless of whether the husband or wife received them, but they reduced sexual violence against wives only when the wives received them. (Haushofer et al.)
  • A multi-year intervention that “engaged adolescents in classroom discussions about gender equality” improved gender attitudes and reported gender-equitable behavior (e.g., “boys report helping out more with household chores”). (Dhar, Jain, & Jayachandran) #RCT
  • A soda tax in Mexico increased gastrointestinal disease because of low-quality drinking water. (Gutierrez & Rubli)
  • Games in Kenya show that spouses don’t totally trust each other. Letting them communicate increase trust a bit. (Castilla, Masuda, & Zhang) #LabInField
  • Christian missionaries settled in healthier, safer and more developed locations in 43 sub-Saharan African countries (early 20th century) and in Ghana (18th-20th century) – this endogeneity led to an overly optimistic account of the importance of colonial missions for long-term development. (Jedwab, Meier zu Selhausen, and Moradi) #RDD
  • A novel index of ethnic segregation – taking into account both ethnic and spatial distances between individuals and computed for 159 countries – reveals that countries where ethnically diverse individuals lived far apart, have higher-quality government, higher incomes and higher levels of trust. (Hodler, Valsecchi, and Vesperoni)
  • An alcohol ban led to an increase in crime in the Indian State of Bihar. Since state capacity and supply of police is fixed, diverting law enforcement resources towards implementing the alcohol ban effectively reduces capacity to prevent crimes. (Dar and Sahay)
  • Workers will privately accept jobs at a wage below the prevailing norm in India, but not when other workers can observe them making the choice. “Workers give up 38% of average weekly earnings in order to avoid being seen as breaking the social norm.” (Breza, Kaur, & Krishnaswamy)
  • Fear of sexual assault reduces women’s labor market participation in India: a one standard deviation increase in sexual assault reports within one’s own district reduced women’s employment probability by 0.36 percentage points, especially among highly educated married urban women. There is no effect of lagged physical assault reports on employment outside home. (Siddique)
  • Cash transfers in Indonesia decreased suicides by 18%. (Christian, Hensel, & Roth)
  • In Brazil, trade with China reduced unemployment for areas exporting stuff and increased unemployment for areas importing stuff. (Brummond & Connolly)

Women Asked to Fast from Social Media by The Restored Church of Jesus Christ

Because internet outrage has an attention span of approximately 3.14159 seconds, and there were some submission and response delays, this story is no longer being discussed. However, since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will probably forever be accused of being anti-woman, we’re still going to publish it here at DR.

This was originally written about 2 weeks ago, in the full swing of the Latter-day Saint Woman Social Media Blackout, when George Takei finally shocked his fans with information about this LDS scheme to control women. When it got to this point, I couldn’t help but respond.

I hope whether you participated or not, and whether you liked the idea or not, that you can get something out of this…


On October 6 of this year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a historic meeting of the women of the Church. Twice a year, in April and October, regular Church services are suspended and 8 hours (yes 8!) of services are broadcast across the world from Salt Lake City in what is known as general conference. The 8 hours are done in 2 hour increments over Saturday and Sunday.

Prior to this October’s general conference, an extra Saturday evening session was held for the men of the Church (the general priesthood session), while women met a week before on Saturday evening (the general women’s session). However, this was the first meeting for women held during general conference weekend, as the men’s session and women’s session will alternate during the April and October sessions. Not the most exciting change (depending on your prospective), but a change nonetheless.

The women’s session is for all females ages 8 and up, and the men’s is for all males ages 8 and up. During this fall’s women’s session, President Nelson, the president and prophet of the Church, made four invitations for the women of the Church: 1. a 10-day social media fast, 2. read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year, 3. attend or learn about the temple, and 4. participate in Relief Society (the last was directed to adult women as it is the women’s organization of the Church for those 18 and older).

Before we get all frothy at the mouth about De Oppression of De Womenz by De Menz (TM), let’s take a moment to think through the largest complaints about the social media invitation and also think of ways to make this request work for a variety of women in a variety of circumstances. Most of the following is directed to members of the Church, but many outside the Church may find it informative. Full disclosure: I am a female member of this Church, and I have not yet participated in the social media fast.

Addressing the Major Complaints

Complaint 1: Right before elections.

I had seen this complaint many times, and eventually I decided to look at the numbers. The invitation was made October 6, and elections are November 6. That’s 31 days. Even if you started the fast on October 7, you still have 3 weeks to get informed on the election, if you’re not already. Plus, there are plenty of news sites that provide better election commentary and information than social media. Please don’t get all of your election information from social media (can mouth-frothers become a thing? because I think that’s what social media produces). Read a variety of reputable national and local news sites, and watch the news on TV, if you still have it. QED, you are informed ladies.

Complaint 2: Women use social media to work.

Keep going to work, y’all. I don’t think there’s any reason to stop working to continue this fast. Just like we don’t stop taking medicine when we fast from food, and some professions have to work on Sundays, we don’t need to kill our livelihood for this request. President Nelson himself said “Pray to know which influences to remove during your fast.” It may also be a great time to set up a business page/account if all of your work is through your personal page/account.

Complaint 3: Only the Women.

I’ve seen this combined more sinisterly with Complaint #1. Keep all the women uninformed before the election! However, the meeting included all females ages 8 and up and was worldwide, for a Church that has more members outside the United States than inside. So the idea that this was supposed to keep women in the USA specifically uninformed before the election is quite silly and really ignoring the reality of the Church.

Could this request have been made to everyone during the general attendance meetings? Of course. Why wasn’t it? I don’t know, I think that’s for every member of the Church to determine for themselves, and hopefully in a way that attempts to be generous to our leaders.

The fact of the matter is, men get requests from the Church’s leadership and sometimes women don’t get those same requests, or don’t get them as often. I’ve never heard anyone complain about that. Are the optics iffy when a male-led (if you only think of priesthood leaders) Church asks women to do something, but not the men? Yes. Does it mean it’s automatically sinister? No. And, let’s be honest, maybe some of us are placing social media on too high of a pedestal when thinking about this invitation.

Ideas to Make the Fast Work for You

When thinking about these complaints, I thought of several ways that women could follow the fast in a way that works for them. We have commandments where the leaders of the Church have said it’s up to you to prayerfully determine how to follow this commandment. And those are commandments, not requests (or invitations, even less of a requirement). So, determine how this can work for you, I’m sure there are lots of other ways than those below. I’ll again refer to President Nelson’s specific words, “Pray to know which influences to remove during your fast.”

Idea 1: Ask your family to join you, yes even the men and boys. Honestly, if my kids were old enough to be on social media (some of their friends are but it’s a while off for mine), this is definitely the direction I would go. Plus, in the same session, President Eyring made it very clear that women are supposed to be the guiding force of spiritual education in the home. USE YOUR POWER LADIES.

Idea 2: Do the fast on Sundays, or another day of the week. Fast every Sunday. Fast every fast Sunday. If you’re already doing this, add an extra day somewhere. Yes, it may provide more of a shock to the system to do it all at once, but maybe family contact or working is not something you can just give up for 10 days straight.

Idea 3: Fast from personal social media, but not business social media. Plenty of women make money by advertising or running their business on social media. See Complaint #2 if you need more convincing.

Idea 4: Do it with a friend and keep each other entertained via text message. I think a social media fast can help us connect with our families more, but it can also help us connect with our friends. Send each other pictures, send each other funny thoughts. If you’re already doing this, start including other people you’d like to have more contact with. If social media is one of the few places you get to communicate with other adults (I’m looking at you new/young moms), don’t lose contact! You need it!

Idea 5: Fast from the worst parts of social media. I’ve already spent a lot of time “unfollowing” many a person and blocking many a group on Facebook so my news feed isn’t full of stuff that stresses me out. But, when thinking about the fast, I’ve realized there is probably a lot more cleaning house I can do. Take the time to filter your feed (and continue to do so as with Facebook more new stuff will start to appear). Or fast from particular social media sites that seem to make you feel the worst after visiting them.

I hope everyone is feeling a little more calm and a little more empowered about this request. You’re awesome ladies, keep doing your thing, and always do what’s best for you and your family. I’ll give you an example of how I am responding to one of the invitations. I had already planned to finish the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. I’m in Alma. I am NOT starting over. And, in fact, I’ve been reading scriptures in a different way recently: for the most part, I listen to the scriptures on the Church’s Library app. I’ve found a lot more enjoyment with this approach, so I’ll continue to “read” the scriptures this way when I can.

PS: I had this thought when reading some media portrayals of the social media fast. If the only sites you are reading about this request are still calling the Church “the Mormon Church,” then it should already viewed as suspect. Either this is not a real journalist, or it is a journalist who is purposefully ignoring the Church’s new style guide (even in just the headline – the editor should follow the style guide). It doesn’t mean everything they have to say is inaccurate or from a particular agenda, but their objectiveness may be in question.

PPS: Since originally writing this, I have finished Alma! #hollah

Violence Is Bad For Business

From my paper in Economic Affairs:

The…act of seeking out mutually beneficial exchanges with others expands what Michael Shermer (2015) calls the ‘moral sphere’. As this sphere diversifies, our attitudes regarding the vulnerable and disenfranchised tend to alter for the better. This moral expansion is likely why economic globalisation has been linked to fewer governmental violations of human rights, namely torture, extrajudicial killings, political imprisonment, and disappearances (De Soysa and Vadlammanati 2011). An analysis of 117 countries between 1981 and 2006 also found ‘positive effects of market-economic policy reforms on government respect for human rights’ (De Soysa and Vadlammanati 2013, p. 180) as defined above. While these studies seem to imply the market’s influence on human rights, there is also evidence that human rights boost market liberalisation. Utilising the CIRI Human Rights Data Project (which reports on extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, political imprisonment, freedom of speech and government censorship, freedom of religion, freedom of movement and migration, freedom of assembly and association, free and fair elections, workers’ rights, and women’s rights), a 2010 study finds that human rights abuses ‘actually reduce the pace of economic liberalization’ (Carden and Lawson 2010, p. 12). These studies seem to confirm that morals and markets create a positive feedback loop regarding human rights.

…[T]rade and business openness largely reduces the incentives of war and brutalisation. People become more valuable alive and able as potential partners, lenders, investors, and customers…After analysing data spanning from 1970 to 2005, De Soysa and Fjelde (2010) find that higher economic freedom lowers the risk of civil war, more so even than democracy and good governance. This remains true after variables such as income per capita, growth rates, total population, ethnic fractionalisation, and oil exportation are controlled for. Yet these results likely underestimate the total impact of economic freedom on civil war. ‘In reality’, write De Soysa and Fjelde (2010, p. 293), ‘the effect of economic freedom on peace is likely to be larger if we also take into account the indirect effect of economic freedom through its impact on income growth’. These findings correspond with a later study by De Soysa and Flaten (2012), which controls for the same variables and finds that higher levels of globalisation (particularly economic globalisation) reduce the risk of civil war as well as state violations of human rights. Other research finds that free-market conditions and economic liberalisation are associated with lower levels of various societal insecurities, including open armed conflict, violent crime, murder, societal militarisation and political instability (Stringham and Levendis 2010; De Soysa 2011, 2016; Bjornskov 2015). Various organisations from the World Economic Forum (2016) to the UN Global Compact (2014) are recognising the power commerce has to decrease conflict and establish peace (pg. 426-429).

A brand new study looks at the relationship between violence and business by examining Columbia’s reduction in violence between 1995 and 2010. 

The author explains,

To precisely measure the effects of violent crime on firm behaviour, I use the large reductions in violence caused by increased security expenditures of the Democratic Security programme under Uribe’s administration. According to the Uribe’splan published in 2003, the Democratic Security programme aimed at restoring police presence in all municipalities; dismantling terrorist organisations; reducing kidnappings, extortion, and homicides; preventing forced displacement; and fighting the illegal drug trade (Ministerio de Defensa 2003). Uribe’s government intended to achieve these goals by increasing spending on military infrastructure, personnel, and intelligence. High spending on security led to decreased violence in municipalities that voted for Uribe in the presidential elections of 2002 (when he was elected for the first time) as he was looking for re-election in 2006 (he was re-elected).

…I combine unique plant-level and rich consumer pricing data with homicide rates and electoral results in Colombia. Using these data, I compare the prices and market size of Colombian municipalities that showed higher and lower support for Alvaro Uribe in the presidential election of 2002. These correlations were subsequently reflected in larger or lower changes in homicide rates.

I find large effects due to changes in violent crime: 

– When violence decreases by 1%, firm aggregate production increases by approximately 0.4%. This is partly explained by higher production per firm but also explained by the entrance of new firms into the market.  

– Real income increases in areas with less violence. These changes are explained by higher nominal wages, which are larger in size than the documented increases in the general price levels. 

– Consequently, areas with lower violent crime have higher incomes. This condition may further reduce social unrest and violence.  

In conclusion, a “48% decline in homicide rates between 1995 and 2010 in Colombia increased aggregate production by 19.6%. My estimates, however, are a lower bound of the total social costs of violent crime, as they are do not include the costs of mortality or the long-run impacts of violent crime reductions. The benefits of reducing violence, consequently, are even higher. Investments in security improvements are thus an effective way to boost economic development.”

Violence, it seems, is antithetical to business. As I note in my paper, “findings that ‘merely’ demonstrate positive correlations [between markets and morality] should be interpreted in light of the feedback loops: even if moral behaviours are foundational and give rise to market systems (instead of vice versa), market systems in turn reinforce these virtues by imbuing them with value” (pg. 423).

Fisking Slate’s Non-Review of Gosnell

When Walker saw Slate’s non-review of Gosnell, his response was admirably succinct:

Oh, is Slate Slating again?

Me being me, I went on a smidge longer, and Monica asked me to turn my comments into a post. So, here they are.

Ruth Graham’s hit piece is so by-the-numbers that it serves as a great template for how to dodge an accusation that you really, really don’t want to address head-on. For that reason, even though fisking is usually not my thing, I couldn’t resist in this case. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Be vaguely dismissive

That’s even more impressive considering what the movie is: a gory legal thriller about abortion.

Most readers aren’t going to get past the first paragraph (if they even get past the headline), so you’ve got to lead with something that will effectively change the subject. Characterizing the film as a “gory…thriller” is a masterstroke. It fictionalizes the very real horror of Gosnell’s crimes, putting the film in the genre with the Saw franchise instead of real-crime, where it belongs.

Step 2: Seize the moral high ground

It’s true that many media outlets ignored the Gosnell story for too long. And it’s also true that some of the obstacles Gosnell has faced are plausibly evidence of institutional discomfort with the film’s subject matter.

For the rare readers that make it this far, it’s time to switch to defense in depth. That requires occupying the high ground by giving the appearance of a reasonable concession. The appearance alone is enough to make you seem fair-minded and reasonable, but you don’t want to actually concede anything. This means you can either pick a few innocuous, specific aspects of the accusation or some benign generalities and then make a show of conceding them.

Then, having planted your flag on Mount Moral Superiority, you can then proceed with the rest of the piece as though nothing had happened. You can keep this up even if some of your subsequent points contradict–or at least directly relate to–the faux concession that you led with.

Step 3. FUD as far as the eye can see

In August, he said, executive producer John Sullivan inquired about purchasing a sponsorship spot on Fresh Air. An NPR representative told him he would have to edit the ad copy to call Gosnell simply a “doctor,” rather than an “abortionist” or an “abortion doctor.” But NPR’s own reporters had used the phrase abortion doctor in straight news stories, including stories about Gosnell. Gosnell’s producers ended up pulling the ad. (NPR told the Daily Beast, which reported the claim in September, that “Sponsor credits that run on NPR are required to be value neutral to comply with FCC requirements and to avoid suggesting bias in NPR’s journalism.”)

The more valid the accusation, the harder it is to rebut specifically. So don’t try. Just fall back on good, old-fashioned FUD: fear, uncertainty, and denial. FUD isn’t a rebuttal, which is a based on providing contradictory information, but rather a “disinformation strategy…to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information.”

In other words, don’t contradict the accusation directly. Just throw up a bunch of stuff that kind-of, sort-of seems to contradict the accusation but really just trail off into suggestive innuendo.

Did NPR request changes to the copy that would have contradicted their own journalistic standards? That’s the important question, and we’re left with the impression that it was addressed… but it wasn’t.

When they struggled to find a distributor, they called it a “media coverup.”

Well… was it? This is what I mean about the fake concession. Graham stated right at the outset that “many media outlets ignored the Gosnell story for too long” and that there is “evidence of institutional discomfort”. Yet here were are, at the very heart of the issue, and those earlier statements have disappeared down the memory hole. Now we’re putting “media coverup” in scare-quotes as though it were some wild-eyed conspiracy theory.

When some theaters dropped the film in its second weekend—not an unusual occurrence—they suggested it was ideologically driven “suppression.”

Is it an unusual occurrence for films that have cracked the top 10 box office to get dropped? Did “some” theaters drop Gosnell, or was it more widespread? All the quantitative information–information that movie reviewer should have at hand–is conspicuously absent here and what we’re left with is one of the most dishonest sections in the entire article.

Step 4. Attack the accuser

This is what we’ve been building up to. In an honest article–one where you actually tackle the accusations head-on–this is just an afterthought. Maybe you get around to supplying an alternative theory and maybe you don’t. It doesn’t really matter, because you’ve already dealth with the accusaion itself. Going after the accuser is optional.

But in a dishonest article like this one, you haven’t really dealt with the accusation at all. And so attacking the accuser isn’t optional, it’s mandatory. In fact, it’s the whole point. Everything else–the moral high ground, the FUD–just lays the groundwork for the real payoff: an ad hominem response.

In 2015, he staged a drama in Los Angeles based on grand jury testimony from the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, that suggested the shooting was justified. When some actors in the show requested changes, and others quit, McAleer claimed censorship and requested more donations on his crowdfunding page. When your audience thrives on stories of its own oppression, it’s easy to turn stumbling blocks into stairs.

See? The Gosnell film and all the controversy around it are just a plot to milk an unwarranted martyr-complex for fun and profit. Also: racism. This is an article about conservatives in Slate, after all. We had to get that in there somehow. It’s in their journalistic policies handbook.

Let me wrap up by getting more specific about the “accusation” that pro-choice folks, like Ruth Graham, want to make go away.

You see, the entire Kermit Gosnell situation is basically a worst-case scenario for pro-choice Americans, because it exposes and then explodes basically all of the myths that the American abortion industry is built on top of.

For starters, there’s the humanity of unborn human beings. The pro-choice lobby likes to focus on the early stages of conception because the issues seems ambiguous and they can get away with “clump of cells”-style rhetoric. Gosnell’s penchant for performing “abortions” by delivering live, late-term fetuses and then severing their spinal cords with scissors makes it just how obvious how arbitrary and capricious the whole born/not-born distinction is while simultaneously underscoring the basic humanity of all human beings, even the unborn.

Then there’s the uncomfortable fact of late-term, elective abortions happening in the United States. Folks like Ruth Graham–liberal journalists who have never had to leave the comfort of their warm, cozy liberal womb echo-chamber–like to look to Europe as a breacon of sane, common-sensen social liberalism. And yet, America’s abortion laws are dramatically out of step with Europe’s. As an example, consider abortion in France:

Abortion in France is legal on demand up to 12 weeks after conception… Abortions at later stages of pregnancy are allowed if two physicians certify that the abortion will be done to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; a risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or that the child will suffer from a particularly severe illness recognized as incurable.

A law like this, one that is typical for “liberal” Europe could never be enacted in the United States. Not without overturning Roe v. Wade. The fact that Gosnell could routinely perform late-term, elective “abortions” without running afoul of American laws underscores how extreme the American abortion regime really is. Only a handful of countries in the world have laws that allow abortion as broadly as ours do. Protecting Roe v. Wade isn’t about protecting common-sense, basic feminism. It’s about protecting a radical policy that is wholly out-of-step with the rest of the developed world.

Then there’s the fact that Gosnell operated a filthy shop of horrors while pocketing millions of dollars from his (often poor, desperate) “patients” underscores another major pro-life argument: legal, elective abortions aren’t a way of empowering women; they are a means of victimizing and subjugating them. Pro-choice activists will tell you that legal abortions are safe abortions, but the fact is that Gosnell operated entirely without any competent medical oversight whatosever because any scrutiny could be seen as violating the pro-choice ethos of protecting abortion at all costs, including costs to women’s lives.

For all the talk about abortion empowering women, it is in fact a part of a systematic transfer of all the burden and costs of casual sex onto the shoulders of women without even the compensation of having those frightful costs acknowledged. In the US, we expect women to be sexually available for men no matter what it costs them, and the same people who prop up this misogynistic exploitation want to lecture us about “rape culture.” Rape culture didn’t aid and abett Kermit Gosnell, pro-choice culture did.

And look, if that seems a little too extreme for you, the final fact that Gosnell killed some of his patients (the adult ones) makes it really hard to perpetuate the myth that legal abortions are safe abortions.

These are the accusations that the Kermit Gosnell episode raise. And these are the reasons that pro-choice Americans desperately, fervently want the entire thing to go away. They emphatically don’t want to talk about a major, successful, independent film that draws heavily from transcripts of the court case to bring these issues front and center. So, this is what you do instead. You write a dissembling, dishonest non-review following this playbook and somewhere along the way you manage to change the topic from, “These guys accuse us of bias for sweeping this under the rug” to “These guys are racist profiteers.” Does that answer any of the questions raised by Gosnell or the secondary questions raised by the refusal of the media to cover Gosnell? No, it does not.

It was never supposed to.

Keys to Ending Global Poverty: Growth and Migration

Harvard’s Lant Pritchett has an incredible new paper out that looks at the best course for eliminating global poverty:

So think of two ways to help the global poor. One is for rich people (in a global sense) to give a dollar and get roughly a dollar’s worth of benefits for the poor. The other people is for rich people to allow people who would like to work at the prevailing wage of their country to do so and not deploy active coercion to prevent this—which reflects the person’s contribution to product and hence is (or can be made to be) zero net cost to the host country. Of course, a dollar for a poor person could produce vastly more human well-being than had the richer person spent the money as the marginal utility was much, much higher for the poor person, but this redistribution effect is the same for both options. This means, at least in current conditions, the least you can do—just increasing the freedom of people who want to work and people who want those people to work to carry out that mutually beneficially transaction across national borders—is better than the best you can do of trying to directly help people in poverty but without allowing them to move to opportunity (pg. 1-2).

Pritchett looks at the Ultra Poor Graduation program, whose stated claim is “to graduate ultra poor households out of extreme poverty to a more stable state. This 24-month program provides beneficiaries with a holistic set of services including: livelihood trainings, productive asset transfers, consumption support, savings plans, and healthcare” (pg. 9). Pritchett finds that this program led to an average income gain of $344 dollars by the third year for targeted households. “The five country average NPV of costs per household of the 24 month program was $4,545” (pg. 9).

While Pritchett recognizes that redistribution can indeed benefit the poor, its impact is quite small. He concludes,

A large part of the explanation of differences in labor productivity across countries is differences in “A”—total factor productivity. Transmitting A from country to country has proven difficult. This implies that labor with the exact same intrinsic productivity will have much higher productivity (and hence justify a higher wage) in a high A than in a low A country. But, by and large, rich countries have passed extraordinarily strict regulations on the movement of unskilled labor. A relaxation of these restrictions could produce the largest single gains in global poverty of any available policy, program or project action. And since these gains to movers are (mostly) due to higher A which (at the margin) is a “public good” (it is non-rival and non-excludable) in the host country these gains are essentially free to the host country (or could be free to the host country under some technical design conditions).

Comparing the annual gains of the Ultra Poor Graduation program ($344 per household for a cost of $4,545) to those of a low-skill worker simply moving to and working in the United States ($17,115), Pritchett finds that the Ultra Poor Graduation program would have to invest $226,000 per person in order to match the gains of migration. Furthermore,

sustained rapid economic growth in developing countries—that is sustained by improvements in A—can also produce cumulatively enormous gains. And avoiding growth collapses/stagnation can prevent enormous losses. So, even though traditional measures of the country to country transfers of resources via “foreign aid” do not, in and of themselves, appear to be responsible for producing most of the observed differences in economic growth, investments that could bring that about more sustained growth (both more sustained accelerations and fewer sharp and extended decelerations) could also have astronomical returns. 

As Bryan Caplan sums it up, “Virtually all poverty reduction comes from economic growth and migration – not redistribution or philanthropy.”

What Does Economic Mobility in the U.S. Actually Look Like?

Economist Russ Roberts gives us some insights:

Studies that use panel data — data that is generated from following the same people over time — consistently find that the largest gains over time accrue to the poorest workers and that the richest workers get very little of the gains. This is true in survey data. It is true in data gathered from tax returns. 

Here are some of the studies that find a very different picture of the impact of the American economy on the economic well-being of the poor, middle, and the rich.

This first study, from the Pew Charitable Trusts, conducted by Leonard Lopoo and Thomas DeLeire uses the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and compares the family incomes of children to the income of their parents. Parents income is taken from a series of years in the 1960s. Children’s income is taken from a series of years in the early 2000s. As shown in Figure 1, 84% earned more than their parents, corrected for inflation. But 93% of the children in the poorest households, the bottom 20% surpassed their parents. Only 70% of those raised in the top quintile exceeded their parent’s income.

Chetty et al find a similar pattern. In an otherwise gloomy assessment of American progress, they find that 70% of children born in 1980 into the bottom decile exceed their parents’ income in 2014. For those born in the top 10%, only 33% exceed their parents’ income.

The poor may find it easier to do better than their parents. But how much better off do they end up? Julia Isaacs’s study for the Pew Charitable Trusts finds that children raised in the poorest families made the largest gains as adults relative to children born into richer families.

In short, “the children from the poorest families added more to their income than children from the richest families. That reality isn’t consistent with the standard pessimistic story that only the richest Americans have benefited from economic growth over the last 30–40 years.” Another “study looks at people who were 35–40 in 1987 and then looks at how they were doing 20 years later, when they are 55–60. The median income of the people in the top 20% in 1987 ended up 5% lower twenty years later. The people in the middle 20% ended up with median income that was 27% higher. And if you started in the bottom 20%, your income doubled. If you were in the top 1% in 1987, 20 years later, median income was 29% lower.” A recent study found that when you follow quintiles, “[o]nly the people at the top gain much of anything between 1980 and 2014.” However, when you follow people, the same study finds that “the biggest gains go to the poorest people. The richest people in 1980 actually ended up poorer, on average, in 2014. Like the top 20%, the top 1% in 1980 were also poorer on average 34 years later in 2014. The gloomiest picture of the American economy is not accurate. The rich don’t get all the gains. The poor and middle class are not stagnating.”

Roberts concludes,

There’s a lot more to study and understand. But what the studies above show is that the economic growth of the last 30–40 years has been shared much more widely than is generally found in the cross-section studies that compare snapshots at two different times, following quintiles rather than people. No one of these studies is decisive. They each make different assumptions about income…which people to include, how to handle inflation. Together they suggest the glass isn’t as empty as we’ve been led to believe. It’s at least half-full.