August 01, 2012

Shocking (NOT!)

By Dave Anderson

This is so not shocking, from the Post-Gazette on Allegheny County voters who the state wants to run through ten hoops to allow their votes to count this fall.  

Women are nearly twice as likely to be without ID in Allegheny County. Voters in their 20s -- an important subset for Democrats -- are the second-most impacted age group, after those 80 and older. Democrats dominate the list, accounting for 66 percent of all voters suspected to lack ID. (Democrats make up 61 percent of all registered voters in the county.)

And the entire process offends me as a data geek because they are doing name mismatches against voter rolls and PennDot license/registration rolls.  Name mismatches are amazingly unreliable as D. Anderson, D.M. Anderson and David Anderson could all be the same person but will flag as a mismatch.  The law is designed to fail, and the methodology is designed to insure failure.  

June 22, 2012

Institutional Locks on policy

By Dave Anderson:

Ezra Klein on democratic accountability and incentives for economic growth versus depression:

Voters do not tend to like parties that aren’t able to deliver anything more than a ringing endorsement of crushing poverty at the hands of more powerful countries.

Charlie Cook (via Outside the Beltway) on institutional insulation against policy preference changes:

Using The Cook Political Report‘s Partisan Voter Index as a measuring stick, our preliminary analysis indicates that the number of strongly Democratic districts—those with a score of D+5 or greater at the presidential level—decreased from 144 before redistricting to 136 afterward. The number of strongly Republican districts—those with a score of R+5 or greater—increased from 175 to 183. When one party starts out with 47 more very strong districts than the other, the numbers suggest that the fix is in for any election featuring a fairly neutral environment.

Oh, I was supposed to be talking about Greece where the institutional feature of a bonus 50 seats in Parliament performs the same function to lock in crap policy....

June 14, 2012

Avoiding Insanity

By Dave Anderson:

Via Calculated Risk:

Unemployment hit a record high in the first quarter of 2012, data showed on Thursday ... The jobless rate hit 22.6 percent in the first three months of the year - double the euro zone average ... The statistics service said the number officially unemployed reached 1.12 million in the first quarter, up 57.3 percent year-on-year

Kevin O'Rourke:

The first is that the extremes are gaining in Europe because centrist parties are offering voters no meaningful choices. Pasok and ND are an egregious example, but the same is true in all the other programme countries, and to a lesser extent in other countries as well. So if you want to vote against the status quo policies, you have no alternative but to vote for Syriza, or whomever.

Second, right now in Europe, support for international institutions means, de facto, support for the current policy mix, 

More of the same, as Spain is in the process of showing is insane.  

June 07, 2012

Life or death incentives

By Dave Anderson:

Bernard Finel raises a very good point concerning the pragmatic consequences of the victory or death incentives towards repressive regimes:

there is now a pretty clear pattern in play. If you are a dictator and you either lose power or leave power under pressure, you can expect to either be killed or end up in jail. This is not a good precedent if you are hoping to encourage peaceful change.

What happened to all these men, these often-brutal dictators, certainly qualifies as “justice” in a sense. And it unquestionably reinforces norms about legitimate state conduct. But by the same token, while the certainty of punishment may deter future brutality, it also means that existing despots, particularly those with blood on their hands are going to be less likely to go without a fight.

Victory or death produces a lot of deaths especially when the alternative is to allow dictators who are leaving under pressure to go into exile with a couple billion dollars worth of loot, their families, and the families of their inner selectorate.  Sure, that solution space does not have the visceral rightness of victory or death, but it can often minimize deaths during the dying phases of a regime.

Property value heterogeneity and taxation

By Dave Anderson:

For every problem, there exists a simple and elegant solution which is absolutely wrong.

One of the big and stupid political food fights locally is the re-assessment of property values in Allegheny County.  These assessments were ordered by the local courts because the Pennsylvania state constitution mandates "uniform" taxation.  The judge ruled that the divergent value change rates between properties in the communities that make up Allegheny County since the last assessment led to de facto non-uniform tax rates.  Communities and home owners whose property values either lost market value or gained market value at a lower rate than county average gain rates are paying a de facto much higher tax rate on their property than individuals whose property has gained value at a faster than average rate.  Frequent reassessment minimizes the differential between de jure tax rates and actual fair market value tax rates. 

The County hired a firm to do the reassessments and the reassessment  has been a political football as it threatens to raise taxes on politically influential constituencies while lowering taxes on poor(er) communities and individuals.  The reassessment has cost the county $11 million dollars to develop the model and to get the baseline data. 

More and more people in the peanut gallery think that they have a simple, elegant and far cheaper solution.  That "solution" would be to have temps look at the recent sales prices of homes in a given community, take the price and divide the price by square footage. Do that for all recent sales, and voila, that is the average price per square foot in a borough.  Apply that number to each housing unit in the town, and all of a sudden, there is no need for a complicated forumala, expensive data collection, complex models or anything else complicated. 

The solution is simple, easy and elegant. It also makes the original injury that led to the lawsuit which has resulted in the court ordered re-assessment look like a minor flesh wound. 

Let's look at a real world situation.  The neighborhood of Garfield is in the city's East End.  It is also one of the poorest and most rapidly depopulating neighborhoods in the state.  The housing stock ranges from mediocre pre-war rowhouses, to should be condemened shells, and then Hope-6 public housing.  One can buy a small rowhouse for $10,000 (no, I am not missing a zero) in Garfield. 

At the same time, staying in the city, and just going a mile south, that same row house in the same condition will cost a buyer $175,000 in Shadyside off Ellsworth Street. The Shadyside purchaser is paying for proximity and neighborhood externalities. 

Taking an average between these two neighborhoods will lead to the Shadyside owner being assessed at slightly more than half fair market value, while the Garfield owner would see his assessment be 9 times his fair market value. 

This is an extreme example, but it shows that communities have high local variability in property values and simple solutions are not good solutions.  Complex and expensive approaches are sometimes the only way to actually make a problem tractable. 


May 29, 2012

Names suck as matching references

By Dave Anderson:

This has made me retch as a professional data geek:

The state  [Florida] has been responsible for helping screen voters since 2006 when it launched a statewide voter registration database. The state database is supposed to check the names of registered voters against other databases, including ones that contain the names of people who have died and people who have been sent to prison.

Read more here:

I'm a data geek.  One of my occassional tasks is to integrate my company's data set and lists that outside parties provide to us.  A priori, I know that a very large proportion of the individuals should be on both lists.  I've blocked out most of tomorrow for this task as we just got a medium size list that needs to be crosswalked into our data set.  I'll be working with the data geek intern (yay, I have a .25 FTE minion) to show the intern the ropes on how to work this process.  We talked about the project for twenty minutes this afternoon and the intern was shocked that this is not an easy process as it is just a matter of comparing names, and names are easy.

Ahhh, to be understandably incompetent in the ways of data.  Names suck as unique identifiers, here are some common problems. 

  • Junior versus Jr. versus JR versus II
  • Dave versus David
  • David M Anderson versus DM Anderson versus David Anderson versus D Anderson
  • Family groupings don't neccessarily follow any coherent naming structure
  • Mary Louise Jones versus Mary Louise Smith Jones versus Mary Smith-Jones versus Mary L Smith Jones etc.

My name in particular is a pain in the ass because for my age cohort, it has a top-10 male name and a very common last name.  Googling "David Anderson" and restricting it to Pittsburgh produces numerous other individuals before you come find anything that is non-Newshoggers related to me.  My wife is a bit easier for the data geek as she has an uncommon first name.  But the point is that names are a hideous identifier. 

Names combined with other information can be better as unique identifiers.  However, there are strong limitations on using address data such as postal address as there again are significant naming convention problems, as well as the lack of actual zip code boundaries that are not imputed.  ZIP codes can commonly cross multiple municipalities and counties.  Furthermore, center cities are often used as mailing addresses for multiple inner ring suburbs, for instance, I live outside of the Pittsburgh city limits, but my zip code means my mailing address is "Pittsburgh, PA".  Birthday data is a bit better, assuming accurate data entry, but again, there are numerous David Anderson's born on my birthday and they live in multiple states and have jacked up my credit report more than once. 

The intern's eyes were glazing over when I got to the point about propensity scoring (ie a match on first name, last name, DOB, and zip code but mismatch on middle initial and suffix is probably a valid match), wild ass guesses that need to be sent back to the outside vendor for confirmation, and unique identifiers such as Social Security number or UPIN or NPI or anything else. A match on EIN or TIN or SSN is a solid match. 

The intern's ignorance is understandable as this is his first exposure to intermediate data geekery.  However, Florida's decision to use name matching for anything other than a PSA mailing to remind people to brush their teeth is not defensible as understandable ignorance.  It is intentional and willful incompetence by someone, either the hiring entity or the contractor and if it is the contracter, the state is guilty of neglect.

But that happens to be the entire point of this exercise, intentional neglect is useful to the Florida governing elite. 

May 14, 2012

Go Fuck Yourself is a legitimate policy position

By Dave Anderson:

The talk of Greek default and subsequent Euro exit suddenly went from crazy dirty fucking hippie talk to serious discussion of when instead of if and if instead of laughter.

The BBC:

The Greek president has called the four main parties, including the centre-right New Democracy and the Socialist Pasok, to try to form an emergency government to avoid new elections.

But Syriza said it would not attend because it could not back any coalition which supported austerity....

Elena Panaritis, an economist and MP for Pasok...Greece now having "conversations we should have had two and a half years ago," she said.

Go Fuck Yourself is a legitimate policy option and as the MP for PASOK notes, it is an option that should have been on the table thirty months ago:

Newshoggers in May 2010:

Which politician wants to tell their constituents that they need to take a 30% to 50% reduction in their standard of living to pay-off a bunch of damn foreigners at near par and maintain allegiance to a monetary system that increases their pain?  The current set may be willing to make that argument, but the next election will promote politicians who promise to take away some of the pain and screw the foreigners instead of their own people.  

A single European currency without massive cross-border transfers and a central bank that is scared shiftless of the threat of transitory inflation has led to massive amounts of needless pain.  The Greeks should have defaulted two years ago and walked away from the Euro when they still had some control over their long term internal assets instead of wasting two years of continued pain before walking away.  

The Greeks, and the rest of the peripheral Euro-zone nations should consider that telling the Germans and the tight money Bundsbank that Go Fuck Yourself is a legitimate policy position and one that they are seriously considering embracing unless policy changes to both the ECB and the entire European economic integration project changes to allow for easier resets of relative prices between countries in the Euro-zone.  




May 05, 2012

Overvaluing big ideas

By Dave Anderson:

Big ideas are sexy to activists and political junkies. Big ideas are often policy ideas that promise rewards to certain groups and from the redistribution of the political-economic-cultural pie goodies, activists are motivated to engage.  And activists are important to a candidate, a party and a movement.

However, big ideas don't create immediate winning coalitions.  They at best create future coalitions that can win.  And sometimes big ideas don't have to be new ideas.  I write this in response to a comment over at Balloon Juice regarding the British Labour Party regaining its footing:

And although Labour has done well in the most recent elections, their leadership is devoid of workable ideas, and are doing well mainly because Cameron is intent on totally crashing the economy with his austerity program.

Sometimes not intentionally crashing an economy when there are viable options for growth given zero-bounds is a big, election winning idea.  Electorates respond well to opposition parties that have credibly opposed needless pain, and have a plan to alleviate the pain.  Old ideas can be big ideas. 

April 25, 2012

The cost of douchebaggery

By Dave Anderson:

I am not a big fan of Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA-4/12). My archives here are clear about that. His voting record probably is a decent match for his district, although I think there is probably a little bit more wiggle room there than his votes indicated. My biggest problem with Altmire is that he has been a political weasel and that weaselling and chiselling has cost him his allies. 2011 saw several generally Democratically aligned outside interest groups start taking shots at Altmire:

Altmire is a douchebag, there is minimal dispute there. If there is a barely contentious issue that polarizes on partisan lines, expect him to vote with 98% of the Republicans. It is what he has always done....

Knocking out a theoretically partisan friend who has consistently voted against your desired policy outcomes induces fear and increases compliance with a policy agenda, and thus a $350K drop by nominally Democratic leaning group against a Democratic incumbent makes a good deal of sense.
Altmire lost the Democratic primary for the new PA-12 seat last night to Representative Critz (D-Cambria County). Critz's voting record is not that much better from my perspective than Altmire. However, Critz had allies and friends that are well to the left of him helping him in the primary. Altmire had managed to douchebag, dissemble and hippy punch all of his door knockers away from his campaign. The unions backed Critz heavily because they had not been betrayed by Critz on EFCA or other high priorities. Altmire had promised unions that he would vote for EFCA and then ran away from that position as soon as there was any Chamber of Commerce opposition or fundraising opportunities.

Maybe it is becuase I am not a politician, but this behavioral pattern does not make a ton of sense to me. Needlessly pissing off allies in pursuit of votes/cash from people who really don't like you gains neither votes nor friends. John Cole asks this same question about Joe Manchin's wisdom or lack thereof in seeing politics as an individual sport:

I’m basically just stumped as to where Manchin is on the stupid/evil axis. Considering he doesn’t think politics is a team sport (I hope his campaign staff and volunteers don’t hear that) and he’s sponsored several bills he clearly doesn’t understand, there is ample evidence for the stupid side

I don't get it because at any level above school board elections, once we assume reasonably competent candidates, individual policy positioning only does so much, and party/partisan trends tend to swamp individual candidate quality. Being a reasonably decent team member to gain the benefits of cooperation seems to me to be a much stronger self-serving interest than being a douchebag.

April 19, 2012

Stay or go (to work): middle class trade-offs

By Dave Anderson:

A single kid is expensive. Two kids can get really expensive fast. The biggest expense is day care. And unless both parents are working at jobs where they are making more than the average weekly wage at each job, having the lower paid parent staying home is probably a break even proposition at worse over the short run. Ann Kim wisely, raises this basic point at 10 Miles Squared:

But treating women’s work as an issue for culture and values misses the boat in a big way. Not only is it elitist, it denies the underlying economic realities of many women’s lives....

For many women, however, the “choice” to work at home or at an office is not one that’s dictated by values but by brutal economics.

Many women can’t afford to stay at home, given the realities of today’s middle-class expectations. But many women also can’t afford to go to work, given the high costs of child care and other factors.

The only problem I have with the excerpted segment is I would like to replace women with "parent(s)" as child-raising is becoming more of a shared gender role although women still contribute more time and energy on average to child rearing then men.

My wife and I have a three year old daughter, Elise.

She is amazing and makes me laugh every day as she tries to figure out the world around her by applying a bewildering array of tacit and formal rules to new situations such as deciding to sing "Happy Birthday" when she saw her Easter basket. The Easter basket had presents and candy. Birthdays are the days that she gets both presents and candy. Birthdays require singing, loudly and enthusiastically, therefore, singing "Happy Birthday" was, in her mind, an appropriate response to her environment.  

She is also in daycare full time as both of us work full time. Our day care is a middle-priced one for Pittsburgh, and it costs us slightly less than one of our four paychecks per month to keep her in daycare full time. 

We are also expecting a son this summer.

The combined day care bill will be slightly less than two of the four pay checks per month that we earn until Elise makes it to kindergarten. We can swing it as we have been preparing for that day for the past two years by rapidly paying down a lot of debt and smoothing out cash flow cycles, but it is going to be tough. We have also considered whether or not it makes sense for me to stay home for a couple of years as I earn slightly less than my wife but have better opportunities for part-time, casual, and temporary contract work. The break-even point is within a couple hundred dollars per month over the short run but the strongest argument for a dual-income, dual daycare family is the long run. I have been out of work before and I know the gaps in my employment history have already taken a whack to current and future wage potential. Another two year gap plateaus my career at a low level for a very long time.

Kids are expensive and often the work/stay at home decision is overwhelmingly an economic decision not a personal lifestyle choice.  And this is the decision matrix for a dual income, overly educated professional household.  If we made close to median income, the decisions that are currently tough but present long term acceptable outcomes are off the table with two kids.  Either one parent is working full time and the other stays home with some part time outside work at the cost of significantly impairing their long term earnings prospect OR the post-daycare income is near poverty level.  At that point, there are no good choices.  




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