Kevin Lampe on the Democratic Race

As I wrote earlier, yesterday I attended a discussion with Kevin Lampe. Mr Lampe is a Democratic Party man, and was an important figure in the Obama campaigns for the State Senate of Illinois and for the U.S. Senate. He was also behind the scenes during Obama’s all important speech at the 2004 Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia.

Unsurprisingly he was optimistic, and felt fairly sure that Obama would win not only the nomination, but also the presidency. Some of his arguments, that McCain is too old and hot tempered, were not very convincing, while others were better. Overall, if his optimism is widely spread in the Democratic Party, that might spell trouble for them. The election will be close, and anyone assuming it will be a walk in the park is bound to lose.

He also talked a bit about the organisation of the campaign, and why Obama has been able to get a lot of people enthusiatic and willing to volunteer. It’s all about giving them something to do, even if it’s something simple. It is also about email. More than a decade after most people realised that emails were pretty convenient, the Democratic Party has figured out that it’s easier to send out a hundred emails than a hundred letters, asking for donations. The Republicans, apparently, haven’t gotten there yet. Indeed, with all these mass emails, the Obama people seem to have turned their campaign machine into a massive spammer.

In Lampe’s view the strong and enthusiastic organisation that they’ve built, will make the Democrats the majority party again for a long time. While I’m not convinced about that outcome, I do think there is something to that argument. Having a lot of people, especially young and more tech savvy ones, consistently willing to put in a lot of hours when there is an election to be won, is a huge advantage. The Republicans do need to improve in this area.

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Various things

I am back home after a few interesting discussions at the Public Relations bureau Prime. We talked about the Swedish labour market model and its future in a European context, and after that Kevin Lampe, who has worked for Senator Obama, talked about the Democratic primaries and Obama’s campaign. I will report at length tomorrow.

In the meantime I recommend this entertaining piece by Russ Roberts.

HIV and Economic Incentives

Looking at the incentives people face is a simple, and unfortunately underrated, way of figuring out why things are the way they are. An interesting example was provided by Emily Oster of the University of Chicago, when she spoke at TED. She studied the spread of HIV in Africa — a depressing subject indeed — and the effectiveness of the efforts to combat it. She found that our common conceptions about poverty and sub-par health care as root causes are wrong, and that our efforts have not been as effective as we would like to think. Looking at the incentives, she found a correlation between risky behaviour and life expectancy. That is, in countries where life is short anyway, people are more willing to risk getting infected by HIV, since it won’t shorten their lives much anyway. One insight then, might be that fighting malaria is a good way of fighting HIV, and we do know how to fight malaria.

The Financial Times wrote about another example last Friday. The World Bank has taken the idea of economic incentives to heart, and are backing a rather direct approach: they will pay people for not having unsafe sex.

From the article:

The $1.8m trial – to be launched this year – will counsel 3,000 men and women aged 15-30 in southern rural Tanzania over three years, paying them on condition that periodic laboratory test results prove they have not contracted sexually transmitted infections.

The proposed payments of $45 equate to a quarter of annual income for some participants

People usually respond to incentives, and it will be interesting to see what the results of this will be. Finding effective ways to help people is important, and ideological blindness has crippled an uncountable number of aid projects in the past. Hopefully, data will be collected and presented in an honest way, in order for the project to be properly evaluated. I must say, I am somewhat optimistic.

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HT: Marginal Revolution
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Offentlighetsprincipen

Det pågår en intressant diskussion i bloggvärlden för tillfället, om regeringens utnämningar. Alliansen gick ju, bland mycket annat, till val på att öppna upp förfarandet, och efter att ha sett några av den nya regeringens utnämningar är det enkelt att konstatera att så knappast skett. För detta har man också fått en del kritik.

Socialdemokraten Jonas Morian skriver såhär, på sin blogg:

Problemet för regeringen är offentlighetsprincipen. Utannonsering av tjänster som till exempel generaldirektör, universitetskansler eller offentlig ombudsman innebär en högre grad av öppenhet än man tänkt sig. I och med att ansökningshandlingarna till sådana utannonserade jobb är offentliga kan vem som helst be att få se vilka som sökt dessa jobb. Detta sägs få vissa kvalificerade kandidater att avstå.

Det ansvariga statsrådet Mats Odells tjänstemän sägs nu sitta och skriva utredningsdirektiv för att se över om offentligheten kan minskas kring ansökningshandlingar. Och redan tidigare så har regeringen anlitat rekryteringskonsulter vars kontrakt säger att de kandidater de tar fram skyddas av sekretess. Så mycket var utfästelserna om ökad öppenhet värda.

Analysen i det första stycket är korrekt, och pekar på ett verkligt problem. Att Odell försöker göra något åt det är inte så konstigt. Johan Ingerö har svarat på Morians bloggartikel.

Därför låter det vettigt att, som Mats Odell, överväga möjligheten att låta just dessa intressenter kunna höra av sig utan att omfattas av den annars så heliga Offentlighetsprincipen. Förhören bör ju, liksom i USA, hållas med den som regeringen nominerar. Inte med hela listan över tänkbara kandidater. Det är granskningen av den som nomineras som är av offentligt intresse. Inte skvaller om vilka politiker och höga tjäntemän som är sugna på ett nytt jobb.

Frågan kring utnämningar är bara en av de områden där offentlighetsprincipen tycks motverka sitt syfte. Tanken bakom den är god. Att medborgare (och journalister) ska ha insyn i regeringens arbete är självklart i en demokrati, och det är ju till detta offentlighetsprincipen syftar. Problemet är att det alltid finns en rad saker som de styrande vill kunna hemlighålla, särskilt medan det är politiskt hett. Eftersom offentlighetsprincipen förhindrar det (vilket är meningen), så finner man något sätt att gå runt den. Det kan handla om att fatta beslut “i korridorerna” istället för på möten med protokoll, eller som i fallet med utnämningarna, att man inte utlyser den tjänst som ska tillsättas.

I det här specifika fallet tror jag att Ingerös lösning är den rätta. Tillåt ansökningarna att vara hemliga, men låt den som nomineras grillas inför ett riksdagsutskott — helst i direktsänd tv. (När vi ändå har SVT är ju det här ett bra exempel på public service.) Hur det bäst löses juridiskt får kunnigare människor än jag klura på.

Hur de problem offentlighetsprincipen för med sig ska lösas i allmänhet är en mycket svårare fråga, som tåls att tänka på. Klart är att det är en stor förlust om många av dagens viktiga beslut aldrig blir dokumenterade. Samtidigt är det ju orimligt att ge upp ambitionen att regeringsarbetet ska vara någorlunda genomskinligt — även om den ambitionen nog inte är helt realistisk.

Öppningsavsnittet Open Government ur den fantastiska satirserien Yes Minister rekommenderas för den som vill studera ämnet noggrannare.

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Trade with China is helping the poor

The standard view in the U.S. debate is that Chinese imports are hurting the poor, already plagued by rising inequality. I never thought that this view seemed very likely to be true, but I didn’t think of the angle presented in this research paper by Chicago economists Christian Broda and John Romalis. What they find is that goods produced in China (and other poorer countries) are mostly consumed by lower income families, thereby reducing their inflation compared to that faced by higher income families. And the effect is rather large.

The abstract of the paper:

Over the past three decades there has been a spectacular rise in income inequality as measured by official statistics. In this paper we revisit the distributional consequences of increased imports from China by looking at the compositional differences in the basket of goods consumed by the poor and the rich in America. Using household data on non-durable consumption between 1994 and 2005 we document that much of the rise of income inequality has been offset by a relative decline in the price index of the poor. By relaxing the standard assumptions underlying the representative agent framework we find that inflation for households in the lowest tenth percentile of income has been 6 percentage points smaller than inflation for the upper tenth percentile over this period. The lower inflation at low income levels can be explained by three factors: 1) The poor consume a higher share of non-durable goods —whose prices have fallen relative to services over this period; 2) the prices of the set of non-durable goods consumed by the poor has fallen relative to that of the rich; and 3) a higher proportion of the new goods are purchased by the poor. We examine the role played by Chinese exports in explaining the lower inflation of the poor. Since Chinese exports are concentrated in low-quality non-durable products that are heavily purchased by poorer Americans, we find that about one third of the relative price drops faced by the poor are associated with rising Chinese imports.

When reading this it is worth remembering that the lower prices of Chinese imports are beneficial just because they are lower as well, ignoring these effects on inflation. By importing cheaper goods low income families can afford to buy more goods and services, including better health care and other essential things. One should not forget that the protectionists essentially are protecting special interests against the interests of the many (including the poor).

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HT: Marginal Revolution
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Polling and confusion

I often say that one shouldn’t pay too much attention to polls, since they are highly uncertain, often measure the wrong things, and even when they don’t people change their minds fairly often. Still, it can be interesting to see what they say, at least when not much else is going on.

The results from The Economist’s YouGov poll (pdf) for the 21st and 22nd of April makes one wonder what is behind them. Asked who they would vote for if the choices were Hillary Clinton and John McCain, the respondents’ answers provide a very close result. 43% say Clinton, and 44% McCain. (13% answer not sure.) With Obama instead of Clinton the results are 42% – 45% in McCain’s favour. A small difference — I am not sure that it is significant — but if anything people appear to very slightly prefer Clinton. When instead asked who they think will win the election, between Clinton and McCain, 25% say Clinton, 38% McCain, and 29% that it will be very close. With Obama instead of Clinton the numbers change to 36% for Obama and 33% for McCain.

In other words, while people slightly prefer Clinton to Obama themselves, they think that other people hold the opposite preference. That is a little curious, and I wonder what lies behind it. It is worth pointing out that the poll was conducted after Obama’s latest problems with elitism. Personally, I don’t really have any idea. It would be interesting to know what the Democratic super delegates make of it, and what their own numbers show.

Perhaps it’s just the inaccuracy of polling.

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Clinton wins, now what?

Before yesterday’s Pennsylvania primary it was often said that Clinton needed to win by at least 10 percentage points to remain in the race. According to the Washington Post that’s exactly what she did, beating Obama 55-45.

It seems to me that this leaves us where we were. Obama can’t finish her off, and given his troubles of late, the super delegates will have a tough decision to make. Obama will have more delegates and votes, but he will probably also be the riskier option (not that Clinton is uniformly popular…). Prediction markets favour Obama, giving him an 81.4% chance of winning the nomination — a surprisingly big number, I have to say.

If McCain v Obama is what we’ll have, it will be a very close race. The Democrats have lost much of their advantage, and if Obama fails to rid himself of the elitist charge he will have problems winning enough votes. As always, the future will tell.

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Rasist, nazist och andra modetermer i sandlådan

Ni kanske har noterat att några SSU:are i sandlådan bestämt sig för att Federley nog måste vara nazist, eftersom han är israelvän. Det tramsiga är så klart uppenbart, och på något sätt känns det typiskt för mycket av debattklimatet i det här landet. Saker är antingen helt triviala, eller — när det handlar om allvarligare saker som detta — så förs debatten på en så låg och fånigt korkad nivå att det inte är lönt att ta del av den.

Sanna Rayman säger väl det som behöver sägas, i Svenska Dagbladets ledarblogg, dels appropå just denna pseudodebatt, men även om motståndet mot Dilsa Demirbag-Sten och nomineringen av henne till Röda Korsets styrelse, samt påståendena om att invandrare som gifter sig med svenskar i någon mening är rasister.

Vänstern är hetlevrad i debatten. Det är bra, men eftertanke och konsekvens råder det brist på.

Det är inte nazism att vilja fira en demokrati, som dessutom inte har utplåningen av staten bredvid som sin uttalade topprioritet.

Det är inte islamofobi att hålla yttrandefriheten högre än enstaka individers religiösa känslor.

Det är inte rasism att vara liberal, helt oaktat vem man är gift med.

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