Cary Coglianese and Nancy Nord of the University of Pennsylvania Law School organized a panel called “The Cannabis Conundrum: An Experiment in Federalism or States’ Rights Run Amuck?” with Peter Conti-Brown of Wharton talking about banking regulation and Judge James Colins of the Commonwealth Court talking about a case brought against the Commonwealth by some unsuccessful applicants for growing and distribution licenses under Pennsylvania’s new medical-marijuana program. I’m on (from about 9:45 to about 26:45, aka “too long”) talking about how the states are screwing up legalization and only federal legalization can unscrew it.
Today I had the pleasure and honor of testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Canadian Senate. It really was a pleasure; the Senators asked precise and perceptive questions and avoided speechifying.
In my oral presentation, I stressed the idea that cannabis prohibition is no longer operationally feasible in the U.S. or Canada, and that we can get the drug under better control if we recognize that fact and create a well-designed system of legal availability, where by “well-designed” I mean a system crafted to provide convenient access to safe and properly labeled cannabis for moderate use by adults, without creating either a commercial industry or a revenue-hungry public enterprise. Any entity devoted to making money from cannabis sales will by its nature be devoted to the spread of cannabis use disorder, since temperate majority of cannabis users are of little commercial value compared to the minority of very heavy users, who account for more than 80% of sales.
Full text after the jump.
The consensus (except at Fox News and the White House) is that the Adam Schiff memo just released utterly destroys the Nunes Memo, which the Trumpites have been trumpeting for two weeks as proving that the FBI is corrupt. That’s certainly the way it reads to me: every single charge made by Nunes (based, please note, on documents he hadn’t seen) is clearly refuted. No, the Steele Dossier was not essential to obtaining the FISA warrant against Carter Page; the FBI was already on him. No, the source of that memo was not concealed from the FISA court; judges can read footnotes, and the DNC wasn’t specifically named because that would have been an unjustified bit of “unmasking” domestic players caught in intelligence dramas. No, those warrants (the original and three extensions) weren’t approved by some rogue Democratic judge, but by two GWB appointees, one GHWB appointee, and one Reagan appointee. And so on and so forth.
To my eyes, there’s a much bigger fact in the Schiff memo. It was already in the record, but I hadn’t noticed it before, and I can find only one published reference to it – from Joe Uchill at The Hill – and no published source draws what seems to me the two strong inferences: that the DNC/DCCC/Podesta hacks were carried out by or for Russian intelligence, and that the Trump campaign very likely knew that and helped cover it up.
One of the more disgusting aspects of contemporary political and media culture is the practice of forming on-line hit squads to go after innocent victims when they dare to complain in ways that discomfit right-wing politicians or discredit right-wing causes.
The latest example is the concerted attacks on the student survivors of the Parkland massacre who are organizing – with admirable skill and self-restraint – to demand more effective gun control laws. I’m on record as a skeptic about how much good politically practicable gun control can actually do under U.S. conditions, but there’s no doubt that making it harder for juveniles to access AR-15s and similar weapons could help moderate the carnage in schools. (That’s a small part of the total gun-violence problem, but still worth addressing.)
In any case, it does my heart good to see these young folks stepping in to the public arena with so much energy and such a sharp eye for political efficacy. You don’t have to entirely agree with them to unreservedly admire them. If it had been my friends who were killed, and if I’d spent hours hiding in a closet wondering whether I would survive, I doubt that I could master their self-possession.
There’s a tendency – obviously from Trump and his lickspittles, but also from usually sensible outlets such as VOX – to claim that today’s indictments are “good news for Trump” because, while they mention that some Americans, including some people on the Trump campaign, were unwitting purveyors of Russian fake news, they doesn’t charge any American with consciously collaborating with the Russian attempt to undermine our election.
This reflects in part an elementary failure of logic: obviously, “Some Americans were duped” does not imply “No American conspired.” And in fact the indictment recites that the three entities and thirteen individuals charged had “known and unknown co-conspirators.” Deputy AG Rosenstein chose his words carefully when he said, twice, that “there is no allegation in this indictment” aboutÂ collusion, rather than saying that the investigation hadn’t found collusion.
But Matt Yglesias makes a different and possibly more important point, which might be unpacked as follows:
* The indictment charges a series of crimes.
* Presumably Mueller has evidence of those crimes.
* Donald Trump, Devin Nunes, Chuck Grassley, and others have been denying that such crimes had been committed, and doing their utmost to interfere with attempts to investigate them: denouncing the investigation as a “witch hunt;” firing Comey; trying to discredit Mueller, his team, and the FBI agents working with him; demanding criminal prosecution of Christopher Steele for blowing the whistle.
* Mitch McConnell used threats to prevent Obama from exposing the crimes while they were being committed.
* Insofar as it can be shown that any of those folks were aware of the truth, and of the import of their actions, they can be charged with obstruction of justice, even if the actual criminals can’t be extradited and therefore never face trial.
We’re much closer to the beginning of this investigation than to its end. Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Iâ€™ve been puzzled why Richard Thalerâ€™s â€œnudgeâ€ idea attracts such hostility from some people to my political left (including very smart people such as Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi). The worst thing you can say about nudging as I understand it is that it’s not very powerful; other than that, nudging is like chicken soup: it can’t do any harm.
So Iâ€™m grateful to Tyler Cowen for clarifying matters for me. Either Cowen or I badly misunderstands Thalerâ€™s idea; if Cowen is right, you can add me to the list of anti-nudgers. But Iâ€™m pretty sure the Cowen is wrong about what Thaler says, and certain that his account confuses things that ought to be distinguished.
Nudging, as I understand it, involves changing â€œchoice architectureâ€ â€“ altering the way options are presented or the time choices are made, or changing the â€œdefault outcomeâ€ if no option is explicitly chosen â€“ in order to bring peopleâ€™s actual choices more closely in line with their true preferences, as measured by the choices they would make with full information after serious reflection. That is, nudging is simply the opposite of temptation.
One of the defining features of a nudge (understood this way) is that it doesnâ€™t narrow the range of outcomes available to the chooser. For example: presented with a menu of retirement-savings options, many employees will pick none of them, in part because of the psychological costs of decision-making and the fear of getting it wrong (“analysis paralysis”). This can be true even in the case when inaction is clearly the worst option (e.g., when the employer is picking up all of the cost). In that case, a nudge strategy would be to make enrollment in the plan that seems to experts most appropriate for the largest number of employees the default option: i.e., what happens if an employee just doesnâ€™t fill out the form.
Crucially to the definition of a nudge, an employee who doesnâ€™t want that option can costlessly (other than the effort of making the decision) switch to another, or none at all. As long as thereâ€™s no deception involved, and the people designing the choice architecture know what theyâ€™re doing and have the welfare of the people making the choices in mind, nudging seems to me almost entirely benign. A program that doesnâ€™t limit freedom of choice canâ€™t properly be said to reduce liberty, so replacing â€œopt-inâ€ with â€œopt-outâ€ should be thought of as facilitative rather than coercive. The same is true of, e.g., putting the salad bar first in the cafeteria line.
However, Cowenâ€™s understanding of nudgery has a much harder edge. He gives examples where a choice less preferred by the government (or whoever is setting up the system) is made materially less attractive or more expensive, such as legally complicated and expensive divorce procedures, or abortion restrictions that force women to travel inconvenient distances. Cowen even wants to call restrictive immigration laws â€œnudges,â€ because would-be immigrants who canâ€™t get visas can always forge documents or sneak across the border!
In my view, that sort of cost-imposing policy is radically distinct from â€œnudging;â€ Steve Teles calls it â€œshoving.â€ I donâ€™t doubt that some such â€œshovesâ€ are justified on paternalistic grounds: taxation to reduce cigarette consumption is an example. (Shoves are often justifiable on non-paternalistic grounds, such as taxes to reduce air pollution.) But such strategies arenâ€™t always benign; people who keep smoking in the face of heavy tobacco taxes wind up just as sick as they would have otherwise, and poorer. And of course for those with limited means making something expensive can amount to barring it entirely.
Now, I agree with Cowen that the â€œshovingâ€ for paternalistic reasons he wants to label as “nudging” is often preferable to more drastic means of protecting people from their own bad decisions: means that we might call â€œmanhandling.â€ A tax on cigarettes is more respectful of liberty, and less prone to generate bad side effects, than an outright prohibition would be. But â€“ in contrast to nudging â€“ shoving is like manhandling in making those who donâ€™t take the hint worse off. Changing incentives isnâ€™t the same thing as changing choice architecture, and requires much stronger justification.
Nudging is no panacea, because changing choice architecture can only go so far in changing choice. Some people will continue to fall into behavioral traps even if the traps are clearly marked. And when the intervention is on non-paternalistic grounds, a considerable amount of shoving, or even manhandling, may be both justified and required. But there is clearly some room for improving outcomes at low cost and without diminishing liberty from the use of pure nudges. Itâ€™s therefore worthwhile to distinguish clearly â€“ as it seems to me Cowen’s analysis does not â€“ between generically benign nudges and the less benign alternatives he wants to include under the same label.
In case you were wondering what it is that a policy analyst is supposed to know or know how to do, here’s the final exam from my introductory course at NYU. I’m pleased to say that most of a mixed class of graduate students (from several disciplines) and undergraduates aced it.
Identify briefly (5 points each):
1. Latent group
2. Agile trial
3. Hawthorne effect
4. Agency losses
6. Rational apathy
7. Collective efficacy
8. Strategic triangle
Answer in a sentence or two, or at most a short paragraphÂ (10 points each)
1. How does the Prisonerâ€™s Dilemma engage the idea of dominance? List five things that could get both parties to choose the cooperative option.
2. How does information asymmetry create the adverse selection problem in insurance markets?
3. What is the difference between a universal program and a means-tested program? How does a means test resemble an income tax?
4. How can income inequality create inefficiency? How can policy to make incomes more equal create inefficiency?
5. How does the use of a Randomized Controlled Trial prevent the distortion of results by sample selection bias?
6. Trace the line of reasoning that connects the capacity to budget rationally (i.e., prioritize among needs) to the case for public policies to make the distribution of income more equal.
7. In a world of uncertainty, everyone takes actions that, in retrospect, lead to regret. How is anticipated regret different?
8. What are the two meanings of â€œsocial capitalâ€? How can the structure of individual social capital help create and support collective social capital?
9. H = h x u
Explain the meaning of this equation, and it to analyze the choice between encouraging and discouraging non-combustion forms of nicotine use.
10. How do deficits in collective efficacy both create needs for public intervention and make successful public intervention less likely?
As town manager of a town with 10,000 residents, you have a choice between two programs; you must do one or the other, and cannot do both. Neither has any budget cost.
Program A has a 50% chance of preventing the sudden deaths 10 random residents. (The other 50% of the time it has no effect.) The avoided deaths would occur an average of five years from now.
Program B has benefits worth $10M per year for seven years, starting a year from now.
Describe the calculation you would need to do to choose between the programs, including specifying any data not specified you would need in order to work out the answer.
EXTRA CREDIT: Someone offers a test to predict whether Program A will deliver benefits or not. Describe the calculation you would need to do in order to decide whether to have the test done or not.
The Russian government intervened, overtly and covertly,Â in the 2016 U.S. elections to damage Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. Whether the primary goal of that activity was actually to elect Trump, or instead merely to weaken Clinton in the event of her expected victory, isn’t really an answerable question.
The obvious things to say about this are:
- That was a wicked thing for Putin & Co. to do.
- Encouraging that help, accepting it, exploiting it, and subsequently covering it up was and is a wicked thing for Trump & Co. to do. It should mark everyone who engages in it and defends it as profoundly disloyal, and make all of them political pariahs.
The defenders of Putin and Trump make four responses: Continue Reading…
If you’ll get over chortling about the fact thatÂ the Oklahoma state senator who just pleaded guilty to child sex trafficking was Donald Trump’s Oklahoma campaign chair last year, the case raises some serious questions about federal law and sentencing.
The facts appear to be simple: a 17-year-old boy met Sen. Shortey on line and asked him for help in earning money. Shortey offered him money for sex. The boy agreed, and they met in a motel room. The boy’s girlfriend, who had followed him to the motel, called his father, who phoned the police,Â who came and busted the pair in flagrante.
Shortey was first charged under Oklahoma law with “soliciting prostitution of a minor, prostitution within 1,000 feet of church, and transporting for the purpose of prostitution.” (I’d like a slow, careful explanation of why the crime was aggravated by the fact that there was a church within a 333-yard radius of the motel, but perhaps we can leave that for another time.)
The state charges were dropped after he was indicted federally for sex trafficking of a minor and two counts of child pornography: one for sharing videos for with two individuals and another for soliciting a minor for photos of himself. Shortey has just pleaded guilty to the sex trafficking charge, for which he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison (which, with good time, means about 8 1/2 years behind bars). The maximum is life.
Note the elision here. The federal law is designed to get people who run commercial juvenile prostitution enterprises, and in particular enterprises involving interstate or international movement of juvenile sex workers, often involving coercion or deception. That’s as horrible a crime as it’s possible to imagine – morally much more culpable than, for example, homicide done in the heat of passion – and fully justifies extremely harsh sentencing. But Sen. Shortey didn’t do any of that. He purchased sex from a 17-year-old, in a state where the age of consent is 16. (Oklahoma law distinguishes commercial from non-commercial sex, so that the boy’s being under 18 made the offense a more serious one.) Shortey didn’t use coercion or trickery, or in any obvious way abuse his public office. Continue Reading…
Leigh Corfman says that she was fourteen years old and waiting with her mother outside a courtroom before a custody hearing when Roy Moore, then thirty-two and an assistant district attorney, offered to stay with Corfman while her mother went into court. Corfman says Moore used that opportunity to get her phone number, and subsequently took her out on several dates. On one of those occasions, he took her to his home, undressed her down to her underwear, undressed himself to the same extent, fondled her through her bra and panties, and attempted to put her hand on his genitals.
If what Corfman says is true, Moore committed a felony under Alabama law (which hasnâ€™t changed in the meantime).Â Moore says that none of it happened: â€œI never knew this woman. I never met this woman.â€
Mooreâ€™s defenders say that he ought to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that a â€œmere accusationâ€ (as Donald Trump called it) shouldnâ€™t block Mooreâ€™s election to the U.S. Senate. â€œItâ€™s just he-said, she-saidâ€ is the favored phrase. (Moore and his friends also want to ignore the three other juvenile but barely legal girls who say he took them out and kissed them.)
As Mitt Romney among others has pointed out, this is absurdly confused; itâ€™s an attempt to apply courtroom standards outside their proper realm. No one thinks an ordinary political charge needs to be proven beyond reasonable doubt before voters take it into account, and thereâ€™s no reason why a charge that happens also to be felony should be any different. (Moore’s attempt, and that of his supporters, to blame the Washington PostÂ for concocting “fake news,” while it might be effective political rhetoric, lost all of its logical force when the Wall Street JournalÂ re-interviewed the Post‘s sources and found that all of them confirmed that the Post had accurately reported their statements.)
Even if this were a criminal trial, Moore might well be convicted. Leigh Corfman’s sworn testimony would be sufficient to establish a prima facie case. It would then be up to the jury to weigh the credibility of the accusation against the credibility of the denial and decide whether they were convinced, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Moore was guilty. Sometimes the jurors decide that they are so convinced, even if itâ€™s simply the bare word of the accuser against the bare word of the complainant: in a mugging, for example, there may be no other witness or physical evidence. If the victim has no apparent motive to lie â€“ while the accused has the strongest of motives, the desire to escape a felony conviction â€“ it may not be unreasonable for a jury to decide that the accusation is convincing enough to convict.
But Moore’s position is actually much worse than that of our hypothetical robbery suspect. Continue Reading…