My problems with Kevin O’Leary

I bought a $15 Conservative Party of Canada membership, so that I can vote in its upcoming leadership race.

The candidates are generally bad: a squeaky-voiced xenophobe, a carbon-tax-crazy South Park cutout, a businessman with Hell’s Angels ties, an incompetent former Speaker of the House… and Kevin O’Leary.

I like many of O’Leary’s policy proposals. Pipelines are good. Lower taxes and fewer dumb regulations are good. He understands Trump’s logic in renegotiating NAFTA; that is, the Donald is seeking greater control over Keystone. O’Leary favours increasing military spending, in line with NATO targets. He is neutral towards Russia. Good, good, good!

My problem with him is twofold:

  1. He’s not fluent in French. Canada’s two official languages are French and English. The Prime Minister, as representative of all Canadians, should know both.
  2. He retains Irish citizenship. The Prime Minister of Canada, being privy to national security secrets, should not appear to have conflicting loyalties. He should renounce his Irish citizenship at once.

I do not know whom to vote for. Bernier is the second best choice, but his ex-girlfriend was connected to the Hell’s Angels (which is kind of badass, but not for a politician).

German car sales in Greece: memories of WWII?

I greatly admire Hans-Joachim Voth, who does some of the most creative and interesting economic history research.

Here’s his latest working paper, with Vicky Fouka. The abstract follows.

Limited attention and selective memory are important forms of cognitive bias. We investigate how present events trigger selective recall, thereby changing economic behavior. The 2010-14 sovereign debt crisis in Greece created massive political conflict between the German and Greek governments. During the same period, German car sales declined sharply. Effects differed according to the actions of German troops during the occupation of Greece, 1941-44. Declines in German market share were much larger in areas where the Germans carried out massacres. Current events can reactivate past memories selectively, even in the same country, having a large effect on purchasing behavior.

Paper on state capacity, norms, and violence in Rwanda

This is a great job market paper by Oxford’s Leander Heldring. Here’s the abstract:

This paper studies the effect of state formation on violence, civil society and local government. I show that Rwandan villages that were brought under centralized rule one century earlier experience a doubling of violence during the state-organized 1994 genocide. In surrounding years however, with longer state presence, violence is lower. Instrumental variable estimates exploiting proximity to Nyanza – an early capital – establish the causality of these results. Using data from several sources, including a labin-the-field experiment, I provide evidence for rule following as a causal channel. As the state expanded above the village level, Rwandans shifted their allegiance from their kin group to the impersonal state. In a lab setting today, individuals close to an abandoned border of the historical state are more likely to follow an unenforced rule than individuals just across the border. The state’s impact on individual rule following led to more violence when the Rwandan government mobilized for mass killing and, by contrast, to less violence when the government pursued peace and rebuilding. These results suggest that the interaction of public policy with deep-rooted aspects of civil society has the potential to reconcile long-run persistence with rapid economic change

Noahpinion’s scaremongering

I enjoy Noah Smith’s blog; he has particularly good and well-written insights on macroeconomics.

Yet his latest blog post, on the implications of a Donald Trump Presidency, is symptomatic of a wider phenomenon: otherwise intelligent people hurling reason to the wind when it comes to the President-elect.

In brief, Noah argues that the biggest threat Trump poses is that of World War III. Noah states his own view without citing any evidence. For example, he writes the following:

Strongmen are decisive and can get things done, but they’re also unpredictable. A strongman may be for peace one day and war the next. What’s more, strongmen tend to have big egos. Trump is friends with Putin today, but what happens if the two alpha males get into a pissing contest?

Notice that there is no data here – apparently ‘alpha male’ is synonymous with ‘manic depressive.’ This is the essence of his ludicrous argument.

(The few sources he does cite are provided without context. Yes, Russia has ‘rattled its saber’ in the Baltics, though this is unsurprising given Turkey’s stupid decision to shoot down a Russian fighter jet.)

In fact, the available evidence strongly suggests the opposite: that a Hillary Clinton Presidency would have been more belligerent and jingoistic.

I submit to you the following exhibits:

  1. Hillary wanted a no-fly zone in Syria, which is a tacit declaration of war against Russia.
  2. She ‘pressed the Obama administration to intervene militarily in Libya, with consequences that have gone far beyond the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.’
  3. Her diplomatic skills are terrible. How does likening Putin to Hitler encourage peace?
  4. Clinton’s link with hawkish neoconservatives like Robert Kagan is well-documented.
  5. She pushed for more military intervention in Syria, including sending weapons to dubious rebels.

Donald Trump may have some radical ideas, but even Jill Stein said that she finds his foreign policy less scary. I would have to agree.

I share Noah’s concerns about a bipolar or multipolar world, but arguments and debates should involve reasoned discussion, not speculative scaremongering.

Sexism and Trump voters?

We can reject the idea that Trump’s victory last week was due to racism, as the New York Times‘s Nate Cohn’s data show. Obama voters flipped in favour of The Donald.

Is Trump’s win due to sexism?

Responding to this question is tough: existing studies are poorly designed, sampling from only a handful of white men in a single state.

A better, yet still flawed, method of proceeding is to determine whether states that have female Representatives, Senators, or Governors were less likely to vote Trump.

I was bored, so I ran this regression at the state level, with ‘Trump’ as a dummy outcome variable, and ‘female politician’ as a dummy explanatory variable. The coefficient is -0.163, but the p-value is 0.339, meaning an insignificant result.

Removing ‘governors,’ and focusing only on Congresswomen (i.e. federal politicians) yields a coefficient of -0.159, with corresponding p-value of 0.313. Again, this is insignificant.

In other words, there’s zero difference.

Of course, this is bad methodology because female political representation is correlated with other relevant factors. Also, I do not cluster at the state level in the above regressions, though when I do so, this does not change either the effect size or significance by much.

What we really want is county-level data, and a conditional probability: the probability that Trump is elected, given that a county rejected a female politician who was at least as good as her male competitor.

This is difficult to do: what exactly constitutes a qualified politician?

And separating statistical, from authentic, prejudice is not easy.

A more direct approach would be to systematically use good polls, such as the CCES and Pew, correlating characteristics across individual voters, while controlling for demographic factors. This approach, of course, does not permit us to draw causal inferences.

A still better approach, but one that lacks external validity, would be to run psychological experiments with Trump vs. Hillary voters, to determine sexism. This would at least show causation, though it would require a lot of replication that probably is not worth it.

In summary, the answer is that nobody knows, because no one has satisfactorily attempted to falsify the hypothesis.