Category Archives: Politics

The persistent effect of affirmative action

Conrad Miller from MIT finds in his job market paper that US affirmative action regulation introduced from 1979 onwards had substantial effect on the black share of employees, also after deregulation. The exogenous variation comes from “changes in employers’ status as a federal contractor” and the fact that it was only federal contractors who were subject to these regulations. To get at the full dynamic effect of the regulation, Miller does not stop at comparing employers when they switch contractor status, but exploits also variation in when the firms are contractors for the first or the last time. In this way he can estimate whether there is a (persistent) causal effect also after a firm has lost his status as a federal contractor (has become “deregulated”). 

The event study results are striking: Miller2014Persistenteffectsofaffermativeactionfigure2eventstudies

Figure 2 Event studies, from Miller 2014 The persistent effect of temporary affirmative action

The effect is quite small – becoming a contractor on average increases an establishment’s black share of around 0.15 percentage points per year – but the key point is that it persists, even when the firm is no longer is a contractor. There is much more in the paper, including a proposed explanation in terms of employers being induced to improve their screening procedures for potential employees.

Enhanced by Zemanta

How the decentralization of technology work against a “surveillance state dystopia”

The coming of a sureveillance state dystopia has been predicted for some time. Ramez Naam writes a guest post at Charles Stross’ blog, and claims that the decentralization of technology has been responsible for the postponement. E.g., getting away with photoshopping images is a lot harder today than in Stalin’s time.

Naam spells out three technological trends that will help the little man even further: 1. Cheap cameras for self-protection. “[Camera] technology, when expensive benefits the big players. The technology getting cheaper becomes distributed, benefiting the citizenry.” “2. Crypto and Anonymity Blunt Surveillance Tools.” If someone is not looking for you in particular, anonomity tools are quite effective. 3. Information is becoming easier to spread. Naam ends by emphasizing that these trends will be no panacea, we will still need the law and proper oversight.

Cybersecurity

Confused about debates about cybersecurity? A series of posts by Henry Farrell at the Monkey Cage blog seems a good place to start. First out, the importance of recognising that the two main sides have different points of view on what “security” means:

[C]ybersecurity is riven by disagreements over what security is in the first place. Is it a technical problem (which could be solved by computer system administrators, working alone or quietly coordinating with each other)? Or is it a national security problem (which requires a large scale collective effort, organized by the U.S. government, to defend against existential threats to the homeland)?

Welfare helps the children of the poor and unemployed

That may sound obvious, but debates about welfare too often focus on the worthiness of the recipients, i.e. the adults. 

Matt Yglesias summarises a recent academic study of a cash transfer scheme that took place during the Great Depression in the US. Kids of mothers who received cash transfers went on to earn more, live longer, have better health and obtain more schooling. These were really long-term – lifetime – outcomes. 

Review: The Victory Lab by Sasha Issenberg

Attending a seminar about turnout of young voters in Norway at the Institute for Social Research, I am reminded of Sasha Issenberg’s excellent book The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns from last year. Here is a mini-review:

Great story of the work of political campaigns and political participation generally. Someone interested in applying the methods in another context, such as another country, must keep in mind how much they rely on the public voting files that give information of whether someone voted. Without these, the micro-targeting made possible by matching the voter records with consumer databases and census information would not be feasible, and it would make experimentation much more difficult. Recommended, but there is one thing that bothers me: The actual politics is often lost sight of. It would be great if these advances also could contribute to improving policy.

Below is a really long summary:

Introduction
-renewed interest in small improvements after narrow Bush election, etc.
-”crucial divide” … between “new empiricists and the old guard”
-Political consultant Mark Grebner contacted Gerber and Green. Sent people copy of their and their neighbour’s (public) voting histories before election, and said they would inform also about whether voted after election. Increased turnout by 20 %. Problem: Looked dirty/like blackmail. Solution through testing and trial and error: Use a more gentle tone. Also have it look more like information than advertising.
-The problematic story of data in Al Franken’s 2008 Minnesota Senate race. Because of a close initial margin (favoring Republican Coleman), a mandatory recount had to take place. Importantly, there were many votes that were wrongly rejected the first time. These, absentee (challenged), votes were now to be included, and Franken’s team identified those who were most likely to favor him, like those “challenged for change-of-address discrepancies (p 10),” got more of those opened, and carried the race. I do not understand why they did not draw a random sample of those challenged.
-Ch 1. How the field of political science failed to take the road of randomized field experiments.
-beginning of 20th century, political science emerged, and as direct primaries and elections became more common, a study began also of the voters, not only of institutions and parties, as previously. A key man was Gosnell, who in the 1920’s in Chicago experimented with different types of reminders to voters of a coming election. “Gosnell’s conclusions were obvious – mobilization efforts can have the biggest impact in places where little else is pushing voters to the polls – but no one had ever before quantified them (p. 26).” But although his method received a positive reception, the field of randomized field experiments did not take off. Instead the field of polling was developed to great sophistication, with especially the data gathered in what later became “American National Election Studies”.
-Ch 2. Increased focus on who to target – in particular getting out one’s own voters and convincing undecided. Vince Barabba merged socioeconomic information from the 1960 Census with political information to identify precincts where there might be swing voters. Sending letters to potential donors. Malchow arranged a large poll with few questions for Wyden’s campaign to get more disaggregated data. Argued for including controls groups, but met resistance, because the campaigns wanted everyone to be included. One of his workers, Anil Mammen: ““Convincing people to ignore people they would otherwise mail or contact people they would otherwise ignore is a major hurdle. You’re making an argument that’s counterintuitive and your evidence is something they haven’t seen before.”(p. 67)”
-Ch 3. Experiments of Green and Gerber. Shallow critique of rational choice models. Brief history of field experiments. From medicine. Tests of social programs under Lyndon B. Johnson, most famously the effect of a negative income tax: Randomization of bonus payments to low-income groups to look at labor supply effects-found … But not in elections and voting, a field GG went on and made their own. In the 1998 (uncompetitive) New Haven election, they randomized postcards, scripted calls and door knocks to 30 000 New Haven voters, each form of contact additionally containing different appeals. After the election they checked the public(?) individual voter histories and found that the scripted calls had no effect, postcards had almost none, whereas the individual visits had a huge impact, increasing average turnout by 8.7 %. A clear theoretical contribution was hard to formulate, but the practical implications for campaigners were clear.
-Ch 4. The Democrats developed field operations well in the 80’s and 90’s. Paul Tully lead the work in gathering data relevant for turnout, including precinct data from the Census. Taken up by the Republicans in the 00’s.
-Ch 5. The rise of polling, and then of large corporate databases. The Republican Gage in 2001 bought a large file with data on consumers, polled 5 000 of these with about 20 questions on political issues, then looked for connections between the personal and political variables and used what he found to microtarget messages. Developed further for Bush’s 2004 campaign, often targeted the voter with a message about the only issue that the voter agreed with the Republican party with. Also approached scientifically how to elicit anger with questions on that issue. Is is not really clear how the matching between the registries occurred? By name?
-Ch 6. How the geeks took over from the gurus. After 2000, some Democrats realized they were lagging behind. In the 2004 elections, a sample of 20 000 people formed a basis for experimentation with messages when combined with repeated polling and regular mailings. Showed whether people looked at the messages, what worked, and what worked with whom. Credit scores as a model. Emergence of the Analyst Group.
-Ch 7. The power of the social element and psychology. Todd Rogers drawing on Cialdini’s research, like “what he described as injunctive norms (“ you should not litter”) were far less effective at changing behavior than descriptive norms (“ few people litter”) (p. 186),” and towels in hotel rooms. Wanted to test this in the Democratic presidential campaign (for Wesley Clark), but it was decided that the candidate could not afford to leave out a control group of untreated. Later he got the chance in the gubernatorial elections in 2005, and learned that, contrary to the gurus’ opinion, warning about low turnout not effective, whereas emphasizing that others vote is. Grebner collaborated with Gerber and Green to send letters with information of subjects’ vote histories, cloaked in various terms, all of which created effects of 30+%.
-Ch 8. Republican consultant Dave Carney tinkers in various ways. One ex is different anti-Clinton mails, which was effective but not widely implemented in the 2006 presidential election because of fears of a clashback. Teamed up with Perry. Implemented win bonuses for those working for them. Later initiated a collaboration with G&G and two other academics, Daron Shaw and James Gimpel for the 2006 Texas gubernatorial race. They tested: TV ads at different amounts after matching similar media markets-found that had immediate effect that decayed; candidate visits-TV coverage had effect, personal visits had lasting effects. Conclude that tv advertising not very effective, contrary to conventional wisdom, as seen in the money allocated to it.
-Ch 9. The increasing sophistication of microtargeting. Young consultant Dan Wagner hired by Obama 2008 campaign. Database with more or less every American voter. Ken Strasma had been an early proponent of extrapolating political information about known populations to those with otherwise similar characteristics. Special challenges related to the caucuses. Matching people using several hundred consumer variables. Sophistication of Obamas’s primary campaign. Gathering of more and more data, implementation of competition between phone vendors and checking whether they did their job. People less honest when answering a volunteer than a paid call. Tracking of opinion shifts identifying “shifters” giving a more nuanced view of the undecided.
-Ch 10. Sophistication of Obama presidential campaign. Importance of good data from the field. Creation of canvassability, callability and answerability scores to help with this. Randomization of web page features and money requests- “A/B tests”. Demonstration of superiority of online ads and street teams over television for reaching young voters. Ability of the question ““Do you think your neighbors would be willing to vote for an African-American for president? (p. 296)” to pick out those for race was important.
-Epilogue. The social element of voting. Rogers’ experiment with mailing vote histories to people inspiring a follow-up by Malchow: First a phone call asking whether intended to vote, then those that said yes received a letter and then a robocall close to the election reminding them of the pledge – very effective, created new votes at 18 dollars each. Costas Panagopoulos’ experiments: Mailing people message that would publicize those who voted vs those who did not – the latter more effective; thanking those who voted in a previous election had effect; “honor roll” of people never having missed an election or thank you note – both effective. Gerber, intrigued by finding that many believed that the vote was not necessarily secret, found that mail with explanation of how it was kept secret increased turnout dramatically for registered voters that had not voted before. Malchow experimenting on ways to register new voters.

Why do we study?

Now that the world is obsessing about the PISA scores of 2012 is a good time to think a little of the trade-offs involved. South Korea is one of the best performers in international student achievement tests, such as PISA. However it is also “the world’s top producer of unhappy schoolchildren” (h/t MR). Lant Pritchett made a related comment in his Econtalk interview:

I think the parents in Bedford got out of their school system exactly what they wanted out of it. And they wanted football teams. And my wife teachers choir, and they wanted choir. And they wanted the school to put on a musical; and they wanted the school to provide their children with a range of athletic and artistic experiences. And engagement in a variety of other activities; and that’s what the school system delivered. Because it was quite carefully and closely controlled, both formally and informally by the parents. And that produces kind of not world-beating math scores. I don’t think that’s what the parents of Bedford thought was the totality of their educational system. So, I’m a very big fan of the local control by parents of educational systems. And if that doesn’t produce scores of 600, I am actually pretty happy with that. Because I’ve seen what it takes in Korea to produce scores of 600, and no American parent is willing to put their kid through that. Nor should they be, in my opinion.

To put in something more classic as well, here is US president John Adams:

I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

(Letter to Abigail Adams, 1780)

Scott misses the point of Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday

Does James Scott have something personal against Jared Diamond? That is unfortunately the question one is left with after reading Scott’s review of Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday. Scott acknowledges that the question of whether there is something to be learnt from traditional societies is reasonable, however he resents Diamond’s answers.

First, he thinks the lessons to be learnt are unexciting:

But what a disappointment it is, after nearly five hundred pages of anecdotes, assertions, snippets of scientific studies, observations, detours into the evolution of religion, reports of near-death experiences – Diamond can be a gripping storyteller – to hear the lessons he has distilled for us. We should learn more languages; we should practise more intimate and permissive child-rearing; we should spend more time socialising and talking face to face; we should utilise the wisdom and knowledge of our elders; we should learn to assess the dangers in our environment more realistically.

But what what kind of magic bullets was Scott expecting?

Second, he mischaracterizes Diamond as maintaining

the indefensible premise that contemporary hunter-gatherer societies are survivals, museum exhibits of the way life was lived for the entirety of human history ‘until yesterday’ – preserved in amber for our examination.

Of course Diamond believes no such thing, but in the absence of much hard evidence, contemporary traditional societies is what we have. Maybe Diamond exaggerates what can be learnt, but Scott does not make this nuanced criticism. And even if he had, that would partly have been missing Diamond’s purpose, which specifically is to see the world of traditional peoples as being full of small experiments that we might learn from, not to show exactly how people lived hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Scott tops it by ending the review with asking Diamond to “shut up”. All this is unfortunate, since what is valuable in his review disappears. I too thinks it strange that Diamond does not discuss large-scale wars or other dangers of modern states. There are problematic aspects of the development of states. Scott claims that slave-holding was also an essential part of early states.

To conclude, Diamond’s point, which Scott apparently does not see, is to see what we can learn from traditional societies. His sample size is limited, but he does a great job with what he has.