Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Early Census Report and Global Warming

Early reports from the 2010 census are showing a shift of population to the southern states, which is a trend that has already been going on for a couple of decades. Ohio, New York, and New Jersey are losing population, relatively speaking. Texas, Florida, and Arizona are gaining population.

What does this have to do with global warming? It has to do with the fact that the majority of people would rather have warmer weather than colder weather, which is why for 20 or 30 years the population in the US has been shifting to the southern states. If global warming was going to increase the temperature of the planet 100 degrees so that the whole planet became uninhabitable, that would be a problem. But if it makes the climates of some of the northern states (and countries in the rest of the world) a bit warmer in the winter, all that will do in the US is slow the decades-long migration of people moving southward.

This gets at what I think is one of the great unexamined assumptions of global warming, which is the assumption that climate change is bad. A warmer climate for northern states and countries means a longer growing season, which means more crops can be grown, and more varieties of crops can be grown. Since much of the world's land mass is currently in northern areas (especially Canada and Russia, but also much of Europe), those areas could become more agriculturally productive.

Much of the hysteria around global warming seems to be based on the unstated (and untrue) impression that the warming will occur quickly. But no one thinks it will occur quickly. Current estimates are that we can expect a temperature increase of 2-4 degrees over the next 100 years. If that increase occurred within a couple years, people might find their climates inhospitable. Even in primitive cultures in places like Africa, peoples will move over the course of decades to areas where they can tolerate the climate. This would be difficult if we were talking about rapidly occurring change, but no one is talking about that. We are talking about change that occurs gradually over decades.

In the increasingly mobile developed world, slow change that occurs over multiple will simply cause each new generation to locate itself in the location that has the climate it prefers. And as the latest U.S. census data shows, global warming may simply spare the majority of people from the trouble of having to relocate to someplace warmer.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Today's Lies and Deceptions from Paul Krugman

For a guy who won the Nobel prize in economics, Krugman is consistently one of the least reliable sources of information about economic issues. In Sunday's New York Times column, he's up to his usual tricks.

Runaway Banks Brought the Economy to its Knees
Krugman starts by throwing out an aphorism that is unquestioned by people on the left but still far from true: "runaway banks brought the economy to its knees." Yes, the banks had something to do it with it. They were lending the money for the mortgages that people couldn't afford. But why were they making those loans? The people who were taking out the loans had something to do with it (they're the ones who ultimately decided what they could afford). When an unqualified lendor takes out a "no doc" loan and later can't afford the payments, is that the bank's fault for trusting the borrower, or is it the borrower's fault? Is Krugman really saying the banks weren't paternalistic enough? (Actually, he is, but that's a separate discussion.)

Clinton and Bush on Tax Breaks and Job Creation
Krugman continues by saying this:
"After the experiences of the Clinton and Bush administrations — the first raised taxes and presided over spectacular job growth; the second cut taxes and presided over anemic growth even before the crisis."
This is typical of Krugman's half truths. Krugman forgets to consider capital gains. Capital gains were at 28% when Clinton took office, and they were at 20% when he left office. Clinton didn't raise that tax; he lowered it. Krugman's right that Bush lowered the capital gains rate further still.

He also employs some sleight of hand on regular tax rates. The top marginal tax rate when Clinton took office was 31%, which Clinton quickly raised to 39.6%, where it stayed until Bush took office. Bush lowered the top rate to 35%, which was still higher than it had been when Clinton took office.

How about Krugman's claim about job creation? The Clinton years 1993-1999 were good for jobs creation, with the highest job-creating years occurring after Clinton lowered the capital gains rate (but raised the personal income tax rate).

When Bush took office in 2001, the economy lost 1.76 million jobs, but that was due to follow-on from the Clinton years. Bush inherited the dot com bubble burst from Clinton and then was hit by September 11. 

2004-2007 under Bush were strong job-creating years. These were the years the "Bush tax cuts" were in effect. An average of about 2 million jobs per year were created "before the crisis." 2 million new jobs per year doesn't seem "anemic" (to use Krugman's word). It's higher than Clinton created during his last year in office, anyway.

The point isn't that Krugman is flat wrong. The point is that he glosses over important details to make the points he wants to make (e.g., ignoring Clinton's reduction of capital gains). Sometimes he picks the part of the argument that suits him and ignores the rest (the dot com burst and September 11). And sometimes he just plain makes up facts to suit his own purposes (see below).

Claim that Government Jobs Have Decreased Under Obama
Later in the article Krugman trots out his favorite misleading statistic,
"For the fact is that the Obama stimulus — which itself was almost 40 percent tax cuts — was far too cautious to turn the economy around. ... Put it this way: A policy under which government employment actually fell, under which government spending on goods and services grew more slowly than during the Bush years, hardly constitutes a test of Keynesian economics."
The "government employment" that fell is total government jobs including federal, state, county, and local government jobs. Contrary to Krugman's claim, federal employment (the employment Obama controls) increased, as everyone knows, except for Krugman.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Typical Income Inequality Argument

This article on growing income inequality makes all the usual points, including confusing income and wealth. Buried at slide 12 in the article is this informative and revealing chart:

The article's caption on the chart is "America's income spread is nearly twice the OECD average." This is a great example of people seeing what they want to see. Equally valid titles for this chart would be "America has the 2nd highest average income in the OECD" and "Median income in US is nearly 50% higher than OECD average." Those titles create quite different impressions, don't they?

The next slide says this:

The Income Gap is NOT Growing in Other Countries, like France

The title on the slide is literally true. France has a smaller income gap. But why does France have a smaller income gap? France has a smaller gap than the US because in France the top 90% of the population makes less than the top 90% in the U.S. The top 10% in France makes from $35K to $55K dollars. The top 10% in the US makes from $52K to $93K. The median in France is about $22K. The median in the US is about $29K, i.e., about 30% higher than France. Based on this, even with the income inequality would you rather take your chances in France or in the US? Personally, I like the odds of 90% of the people in the US being better off than their counterparts in France.

The whole article is example of "glass half empty" reasoning by people who want to feel bad about being Americans. I agree that the bottom decile on the chart is a cause for concern. But that's about the poor, not about the gap between the rich and the middle class. We should make sure the poor in America have every opportunity to improve their situation, and we should give them a hand up in doing that. But the middle class in America is doing better than almost any other country in the rest of the world. There's no reason to complain about the rich in America also doing better than their counterparts in other countries.