Monday, September 30, 2013

Obama on undocumented immigration: can't or won't?

Image: Latino protesters against President Obama's immigration policy..."LATINOS ? OBAMA" (source)

Recently, President Obama caused a stir by insisting that he legally doesn't have the power to stop deportations of undocumented immigrants. I'm not a lawyer, so I can't weigh in on whether or not that's actually true. Rather, it's important to note that the weight of the evidence argues persuasively that Obama has no interest in helping undocumented immigrants, regardless of whether or not he actually can.

This is building off a previous post I wrote about how President Obama doesn't care about the plight of illegal immigrants. It's textbook liberal Democrat myth. To summarize that post:
  • Advocating for immigration reform does not make you a liberal. President Reagan signed into law that eventually gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants. John McCain proposed an immigration reform bill that would have provided amnesty to undocumented immigrants in 2008, shortly before winning the Republican nomination to run for President. In 2007, President George W. Bush tried (and failed) to push another bill that would have granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants. Senator Obama helped to kill that bill.
  • When, as President, Obama released an immigration reform bill in early 2013, he did so only grudgingly. United States law requires green card holders to wait 5 years before becoming a citizen; the amnesty bill Reagan signed into law required undocumented immigrants to wait an additional 18 months. Obama's plan required undocumented immigrants to wait an additional eight years! Obviously, Obama has to expect his proposal to be the left-most point of the debate; any compromise with Republicans will thus be further to the right than his original proposal. Obama is a smart man; he knows this to be true. That is precisely what he wants to happen. Either Obama and his entire team of advisors are so stupid that they can't game out politics further than an armchair blogger--or he wants a very right-wing immigration reform plan. Remember, he's already in his second term and doesn't need to worry about reelection.
  • Others have pointed out that Obama claimed throughout his first term that he could not legally order ICE to defer deportation action against undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally by their parents as children (the so-called "DREAMers"). Then, while running for reelection in 2012, he suddenly ordered ICE to do exactly that, with no legal challenges or consequences whatsoever. As I pointed out, there is no doubt that he did so to help win reelection.
  • Even Republicans have a modicum of understanding for the situation of people whose parents brought them across the border as young children--and who thus know no other country as "home." It's very difficult to attack a decision to protect this small fraction of undocumented immigrants. His decision to create a loophole for just DREAMers took very little courage.
Read the full post for more details.

All right then, let's take a look at what immigration enforcement has looked like under the Obama administration. Reminder: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a branch of the Department of Homeland Security; obviously, Obama appoints the head of DHS and is thus directly responsible for the general direction of ICE efforts, even if he isn't responsible for specific initiatives. Under Obama's leadership, ICE will have deported 2 million people by 2014--in just six years, Obama will have deported more people than were deported from the years 1892 and 1996--combined. In the eight years he was president, George W. Bush deported 2 million undocumented immigrants; Obama will have managed to deport that number of undocumented immigrants in just five years(!). And, the US spends more on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement categories combined, and illegal border re-entry is the most prosecuted federal crime. This isn't a symptom of increased undocumented immigration; undocumented immigration has been on a steady decline since 2008, shortly before Obama was inaugurated. It doesn't have to be this way.

It's worth pausing to note that Congress controls budgeting, and Obama doesn't necessarily have a say in all of this. Nevertheless, if this isn't the outcome Obama wanted, why did he appoint an immigration enforcement hawk to head up DHS? Does anyone really think Obama was surprised when he learned ICE was setting deportation quotas? Indeed, Obama controls Department of Justice priorities; if he can order federal prosecutors to disobey (an extremely unjust) federal law in order to keep low-level drug offenders out of prison, he can at least order federal prosecutors to shift resources away from prosecuting undocumented immigration. Clearly, Obama has no qualms about bending the rules to prevent a perceived injustice; it's just that he doesn't see immigration law as being as unjust as mandatory minimums (except, as outlined in my previous post, when it's electorally necessary). In sum, Obama isn't an immigration dictator, but he isn't powerless, either.

Friday, September 27, 2013

U6 Watch bonus: Can there be any doubt that the point of student loans is to maximize inequality?

While preparing this month's U6 Watch, I kept coming across evidence that student loans are strangling American innovation. First, the in the Wall Street Journal:
Having the student-loan debt “is preventing me from being able to take a lot of chances or risks that are usually necessary when starting a business,” Ms. Carney says…
Some academic experts say leftover loans are the biggest impediment to upstart entrepreneurship by those who recently received college or graduate degrees. “I mentor students all the time,” says Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford University Law School. “The single largest inhibitor to entrepreneurship is the student loans.”
Recent graduates and college dropouts account for a disproportionate share of the founders of technology startups that have transformed the economy over the past decade, says Shikhar Ghosh, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School. Many freshly-minted M.B.A.s “are willing to sleep on a couch for a year or two, but they can’t do it with the burden of student loans,” he adds.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

U6 Watch: August 2013

U6 Watch is a monthly feature monitoring the poverty-sustaining compromise of Democrats and Republicans to use the U3 measure of unemployment to obscure the reality of the labor market. Read the first U6 Watch for more background. U6 Watch also highlights other "recovery" and labor market news. All U6 Watches can be found using the U6 Watch tag.

I started U6 Watch back in July in response to the June BLS jobs report. In that jobs report, the most widely-reported measure of unemployment--the U3--fell--while the more accurate U6 unemployment rate increased. Since the U6 is a far more accurate measure of workforce underutilization than the U3, the positive press surrounding the "drop" in unemployment was smoke and mirrors; the situation had actually gotten worse, not better. Since the U3 was misleading while the U6 was not, I named the feature U6 Watch. However, had I started this month, I might have called it something different--for, this month, U3 and U6 are both misleading.

U3 unemployment fell from 7.4% in July to 7.3% in August; U6 unemployment rate fell 14.0% to 13.7%. This certainly sounds encouraging.

Unfortunately, the number of employed persons decreased from 144,285,000 to 144,270,000 (because it's a survey, BLS rounds to the nearest 1,000). The number of people working as a percentage of population fell from 58.7% to 58.6%. The labor force participation rate fell from 63.4% to 63.2%.

Once again, the numerator of the U3 and the U6 only count someone as unemployed if they are actively looking for work. If people stop looking for work (because they give up their job search or retire), the unemployment rate will fall, even if the employment situation hasn't changed. That is exactly what happened this month. Both U3 and U6 are used to report that the situation is getting better--that fewer people are unemployed. In fact, both measures fell only because people left the labor force. People didn't find jobs--fewer people are working this month than they were last month.

It's true that jobs reports are almost always inaccurate, and this one will almost certainly be revised--perhaps reversing these conclusions. Nevertheless, any attempt to make these numbers tell a positive story is an outright lie--and that's the key point. A essential feature of poverty sustainment (policies designed to keep people poor) is obscuring the reality of the situation. This is clearly what both U3 and U6 unemployment rates have done this month--they paint a rosy picture when things are--at best--not getting worse.

Now, BLS statistics suggest that the fall in the labor force participation rate was mainly due to people retiring. While that's better than the alternative--people giving up on their job search--this is no consolation whatsoever to the unemployed, since the data argue that we are losing jobs, not creating them.

On to other labor market news.

I forgot to put this in the July U6 watch: per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings increased in June, but hiring fell. Sure, there's a lot of job postings up, but that doesn't mean employers are actually hiring. Remember that before you poke an unemployed person.

U6 Watch is about to go from bad to worse:

Monday, September 23, 2013

The 1% Consensus

Image: Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader of Iran (source)

So--there's this proposal in Iran that's not very controversial. 71% of the general public support it, with wide agreement among different age and racial groups. There are two political parties. Supporters of one political party favor the policy 91% -9%, and supporters of the other political party are split down the middle (50% in favor, 48% opposed). Since the Iranian government refuses to implement this policy, would you call Iran a democracy?

This doesn't describe Iran, of course; it describes the United States and the incredible, widespread public support for increasing the minimum wage. If a rational person would argue that Iran is not a democracy if it disregarded popular opinion so blithely, why should that not be true of America? How would you not conclude that the American government does not serve its people, but rather its corporate overlords? Remember, the Democrats--whose supporters favor a minimum wage hike 91% to 9%--controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress from 2009 to 2011 and had a fillibuster-proof majority for most of 2009. Granted, there were other important legislative priorities, like health care reform (though that, too, was a shameless corporate sellout), but when the Democrats were one vote shy of 60 in the Senate, how could they not find one single moderate Senator in a party where 50% of voters support increasing the minimum wage? It's almost like they weren't even trying. And, it's interesting that a minimum wage hike would require breaking a Senate filibuster but the Wall Street bailout didn't.

(for the record, here is my post arguing against the minimum wage)

I started writing this blog when I realized I was having the wrong debates. I thought there was some uncertainty over the best way to fight poverty without sacrificing economic growth or job creation; there isn't. The reason we don't fight poverty is not because we don't know how, but because our political system doesn't want to. The bifurcation of the middle class into the sort-of-wealthy and working poor doesn't have to happen either; there's no controversy over how to prevent that from happening, either.

However, there is significant controversy over our policy goals. This controversy is usually unspoken; not even Republican Ayn Rand disciples would have the nerve to say that they want people to remain poor, even though that is exactly what they want. Our government usually gets the policy outcome it desires, even if that policy goal is unspoken. Poverty remains high because our government does not desire poverty reduction.

Our political system only values the interests of the rich, often at the expense of everyone else. Political science data bear this out:

Gilens has been collecting the results of nearly 2,000 survey questions reaching back to the 1980s, looking for evidence that when opinions change, so too does policy. And he found it--but only for the rich. "Most policy changes with majority support didn’t become law," Hacker and Pierson write. The exception was "when they were supported by those at the top. When the opinions of the poor diverged from those of the well-off, the opinions of the poor ceased to have any apparent influence: If 90 percent of poor Americans supported a policy change, it was no more likely to happen than if 10 percent did. By contrast, when more of the well-off supported a change, it was substantially more likely to happen.
Unfortunately, Gilens' data only allowed him to divide Americans by decile; he was not able to resolve the top 10% to see the opinions of just the top 1%.  More data, about Congressional representatives:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Message from the left

I'm rewriting this page so that it fits in better with this project. I'll post a link to the rewrite here once it's done.

Gini coefficients / inequality in social democracies in the 2000's

I wrote here about a paper examining the success of social democracies compared to other types of welfare states from the 1960's to 1990's. Unfortunately, the paper was published in 2001, and I haven't found a similar effort that is more up to date. To fill in some blanks, here are three graphs from a different post that compare income inequality of social democracies, Christian democracies, and liberal countries in the 2000's. Let's all give Wikipedia a hand for sensibly organizing the OECD's amazingly disorganized data. As you can see, the pattern still holds: social democracies (left group) limit inequality better than Christian democracies (center group), which do better than liberal countries (right group):

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lesson for Teach for America in statistical versus practical significance

Image: Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp (source)

A recent study has many touting the benefits of TFA. The most overheated has been Dylan Matthews (Teach for America is a deeply divisive program. It also works.), but Matthew Yglesias is similarly condescending (Since empirical evidence doesn't change anyone's mind about this issue...), though Yglesias is at least more reasoned in his assessment (see below). No, the study didn't show that TFA works. It showed that it works for one subject in economically disadvantaged schools versus inexperienced teachers, provided you assume that TFA volunteers weren't teaching to the test. And, just because something's statistically significant doesn't mean it has any real world value. I'll let Dana Goldstein take it from here:
TFA math teachers outperformed non-TFA math teachers in their schools by .06 standard deviations in middle school and .13 standard deviations in high school. The talking point will be that this is the equivalent of an additional 2.6 months of learning per schoolyear. But it's important to realize this represents a relatively modest improvement in student achievement. For the average child in this study, who scored in just the 27th percentile in math compared to her peers across the country, having a TFA teacher will help her move up to the 30th percentile--still a long way off from grade-level math proficiency.
Right. TFA "works," in that it can improve student performance in one subject from well below grade level to...still well below grade level. Also worth noting:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Scott Walker taught me everything I know about politics: Equality

Video: An injury to one is an injury to all--Wisconsin firefighters arrive in dress uniform to protest Scott Walker's union-busting Budget Repair Bill.

Equality is the fundamental tenet of social democracy. For America's social democratic programs--Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance--everyone is treated the same. Every citizen has the same right to these programs as everyone else.  There are no exceptions. No one gets left out; no one gets special treatment.  Everyone has the same rights. Rich or poor, male or female, racial majority or minority--none of this matters. All citizens are entitled to the same benefits as everyone else. Equality above all else. Equality is valued for equality's sake.

But even if you don't believe in equality for the sake of equality, there are other reasons to fight for equality. There are other reasons to fight for the rights of others--to fight battles that have nothing to do with you.  Let Scott Walker be your teacher.  You must defend everyone's rights, because your silence ensures that someone like Walker will come for you next.