Friday, December 22, 2017

Is public opinion part of a complex system? [feedly]

Is public opinion part of a complex system?

The worrisome likelihood that Russians and other malevolent actors are tinkering with public opinion in Western Europe and the United States through social media creates various kinds of anxiety. Are our democratic values so fragile that a few thousand Facebook or Twitter memes could put us on a different plane about important questions like anti-Muslim bigotry, racism, intolerance, or fanaticism about guns? Can a butterfly in Minsk create a thunderstorm of racism in Cincinnati? Have white supremacy and British ultra-nationalism gone viral?

There is an interesting analogy here with the weather. The weather next Wednesday is the net consequence of a number of processes and variables, none of which are enormously difficult to analyze. But in their complex interactions they create outcomes that are all but impossible to forecast over a period of more than three days. And this suggests the interesting idea that perhaps public opinion is itself the result of complex and chaotic processes that give rise to striking forms of non-linear change over time.

Can we do a better job of understanding the dynamics of public opinion by making use of the tools of complexity theory? Here is a summary description of complex systems provided by John Holland in Complexity: A Very Short Introduction:
Complexity, once an ordinary noun describing objects with many interconnected parts, now designates a scientific field with many branches. A tropical rainforest provides a prime example of a complex system. The rainforest contains an almost endless variety of species—one can walk a hundred paces without seeing the same species of tree twice, and a single tree may host over a thousand distinct species of insects. The interactions between these species range from extreme generalists (' army' ants will consume most anything living in their path) to extreme specialists (Darwin's 'comet orchid', with a foot-long nectar tube, can only be pollinated by a particular moth with a foot-long proboscis—neither would survive without the other). Adaptation in rainforests is an ongoing, relatively rapid process, continually yielding new interactions and new species (orchids, closely studied by Darwin, are the world's most rapidly evolving plant form). This lush, persistent variety is almost paradoxical because tropical rainforests develop on the poorest of soils—the rains quickly leach all nutrients into the nearest creek. What makes such variety possible? (1)
Let's consider briefly how public opinion might fit into the framework of complexity theory. On the positive side, public opinion has some of the dynamic characteristics of systems that are often treated as being complex: non-linearity, inflection points, critical mass. Like a disease, a feature of public opinion can suddenly "go viral" -- reproduce many times more rapidly than in previous periods. And the collective phenomenon of public opinion has a feature of "self-causation" that finds parallels in other kinds of systems -- a sudden increase in the currency of a certain attitude or belief can itself accelerate the proliferation of the belief more broadly.

On the negative side, the causal inputs to public opinion dynamics do not appear to be particularly "complex" -- word-of-mouth, traditional media, local influencers, and the new factor of social media networks like Twitter, Weibo, or Facebook. We might conceptualize a given individual's opinion formation as the net result of information and influence received through these different kinds of inputs, along with some kind of internal cognitive processing. And the population's "opinions" are no more than the sum of the opinions of the various individuals.

Most fundamentally -- what are the "system" characteristics that are relevant to the dynamics of public opinion in a modern society? How does public opinion derive from a system of individuals and communication pathways?

This isn't a particularly esoteric question. We can define public opinion at the statistical aggregate of the distribution of beliefs and attitudes throughout a population -- recognizing that there is a distribution of opinion around every topic. For example, at present public opinion in the United States on the topic of President Trump is fairly negative, with a record low 35% approval rating. And the Pew Research Center finds that US public opinion sees racism as an increasingly important problem (link):

Complexity theorists like Scott Page and John Holland focus much attention on a particular subset of complex systems, complex adaptive systems (CAS). These are systems in which the agents are themselves subject to change. And significantly, public opinion in a population of human agents is precisely such a system. The agents change their opinions and attitudes as a result of interaction with other agents through the kinds of mechanisms mentioned here. If we were to model public opinion as a "pandemonium" process, then the possibility of abrupt non-linearities in a population becomes apparent. Assume a belief-transmission process in which individuals transmit beliefs to others with a volume proportional to their own adherence to the belief and the volume and number of other agents from whom they have heard the belief, and individuals adopt a belief in proportion to the number and volume of voices they hear that are espousing the belief. Contagion is no longer a linear relationship (exposure to an infected individual results in X probability of infection), but rather a non-linear process in which the previous cycle's increase leads to amplified infection rate in the next round.

Here is a good review article of the idea of a complex system and complexity science by Ladyman, Lambert and Wiesner (linklink). Here is a careful study of the diffusion of "fake news" by bots on Twitter (linklink). (The graphic at the top is taken from this article.) And here is a Ph.D. dissertation on modeling public opinion by Emily Cody (link).

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

How Doug Jones Won and the Takeaway for Democrats [feedly]

How Doug Jones Won and the Takeaway for Democrats

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Senator-elect Doug Jones is greeted by a supporter before speaking during an election-night watch party in Birmingham

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Doug Jones made sure to wish his Jewish supporters a "Happy Hanukkah." His stunning victory over Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate seat from Alabama coincided with the first night of what Jews call the Festival of Lights. The holiday celebrates the Jews' triumph over a tyrant king and the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem. As the story goes, they only had enough oil to light the temple's lamp for one day, but the oil lasted a full eight days. During the holiday, Jews play with a four-sided spinning top called a dreidel, whose Hebrew letters represent the saying, "A great miracle happened there."

Many voters and pundits think that a great miracle happened in Alabama on Tuesday. Who can blame them? Jones is the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race in Alabama in 25 years. Even a month ago, a Jones victory seemed like an incredible long shot. Clearly President Trump's political advisors believed that Jones couldn't win, or else they wouldn't have persuaded the president, who hates associating himself with "losers," not only to endorse but also to enthusiastically campaign and Tweet on Moore's behalf.

Once part of the Democratic "solid South," a bastion of Jim Crow segregation, Alabama began shifting toward the Republican Party in the wake of the civil rights movement and became a Republican stronghold. Alabama's current senior senator, Richard Shelby, was initially elected in 1986 as a Democrat, but in 1994, two years into his second term, he switched parties.

The last time Alabamans elected a Democratic governor was in 1998, when Donald Siegelman won the post and served for four years, losing his re-election bid to Republican Bob Riley in 2002. In 2010, Republicans gained control of both chambers of the state legislature for the first time since 1874. The Republicans currently have a 26-to-seven majority in the state Senate and a 70-to-33 majority in the state House of Representatives. 

Republicans hold six of the state's seven congressional seats, a triumph of gerrymandering as well as voter preferences. In 2014, Jeff Sessions won re-election to his U.S. Senate seat with 97 percent of the vote. The Democrats didn't even bother to field a candidate. (Jones won the seat that Sessions vacated after Trump appointed him attorney general.) Last November, Trump won 62 percent of the Alabama vote, while Shelby garnered 64 percent in his Senate re-election contest.

So it is understandable that the idea of a pro-choice Democrat like Jones winning a statewide election might be viewed as miraculous. The former U.S. Attorney is best known for prosecuting the remaining Ku Klux Klan members who bombed Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 that killed four African American girls. He also secured an indictment of Eric Rudolph for bombing a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998 that killed an off-duty police officer.

Of course, it helped Jones to have a controversial opponent who was accused of child molesting and sexually exploiting teenage girls. But Jones ran an exemplary campaign. The key factors in his victory include the following:

  • African American turnout: According to The Washington Post's exit polls, an unprecedented turnout among black voters helped catapult Jones to victory. Blacks comprise 26 percent of Alabama's eligible voters but made up 28 percent of voters in Tuesday's election. Turnout was particularly robust in the counties with the largest black populations. 

The high turnout helped Jones: 96 percent of black voters supported the Democratic candidate, slightly higher than the 95 percent who embraced President Obama in 2012. The cities of Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham, as well as rural Lowndes County—each key bastions of the civil rights movement—gave Jones large majorities. Alabama's racist voting laws have often suppressed the black vote, but one lesson of Jones's campaign is that Democrats can overcome those obstacles if they invest the time, staff, and money in registering and mobilizing African American voters. 

The NAACP, black churches, and historically black colleges were the core of the mobilization effort, but the Democratic Party put organizers on the ground to support the effort of local black organizations. They registered people with past felonies, people without proper identification cards to get the necessary documents so they could vote, and turned the election into a moral and civil rights crusade.

During the last week of the campaign, Democratic stalwarts Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and basketball legend Charles Barkley, who attended Alabama's Auburn University, hit the campaign trail for Jones, while Obama taped a robocall directed at black voters.

  • The write-in vote: Jones's margin over Moore was 20,715 votes (671,151 to 650,436). There were 22,819 write-in votes. Most of them were Republicans and independents who couldn't bring themselves to vote for Moore. One percent of Republicans and 5 percent of independents wrote in a name other than Moore or Jones, according to TheWashington Post exit polls.

The write-in idea got a huge boost from Senator Shelby on Sunday when he urged voters follow his example and write in the name of another Republican other than Moore. "I wouldn't vote for Roy Moore," Shelby said. "I think the Republican Party can do better." The large number of Republicans and independents who abandoned Moore in favor of write-in candidates boosted Jones's chances of victory.

  • Women: The national upsurge of outrage about sexual assault, which has only escalated since the exposure a month ago of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein's behavior, clearly had ripple effects in Alabama. Like Weinstein, Moore became a symbol of predatory practices, including the most damning of accusations, pedophilia.

On Tuesday, women supported Jones by a whopping 57-to-42 percent margin, while men gave Moore a 57-to-40 percent edge. (Even among black voters, women were more enthusiastic than men about Jones; 98 percent of black women and 93 percent of black men embraced the Democrat).

College educated white women, who accounted for 14 percent of the total vote, gave Jones 45 percent of their votes and another 3 percent wrote-in other candidates, depriving Moore of their votes. (Only 25 percent of white women who did not graduate from college, who accounted for 17 percent of the vote, supported Moore.)

  • Young voters and college graduates: Jones did particularly well among young voters and voters with college degrees. Overall, 54 percent of college graduates backed Jones, including 40 percent of white voters with college degrees. (Jones garnered 30 percent of the total white vote, twice the 15 percent who voted for Obama). 

White suburban areas, where college-educated voters are more likely to live, shifted dramatically toward Jones compared with their support for Trump last November, a trend that was foreshadowed by the significant number of white suburban women who voted in June for Democrat Jon Ossoff, turning a traditionally Republican House district in the Atlanta suburbs into in battleground.  

Alabama's college towns are hardly bastions of liberalism like Austin and Ann Arbor, but voters in the areas around the University of Alabama (in Tuscaloosa), the University of South Alabama (in Mobile), Auburn University (in Auburn), and the University of Alabama campus in Huntsville (also the home of NASA's Space Flight Center) went heavily for Jones.

In the 18 to 44 year old cohort, 61 percent (35 percent of the total turnout) cast their ballots for Jones, according to CNN polls. No one would describe Alabama as a liberal state. In 2016, only 17 percent of Alabama adults identified themselves as liberals, according to the Gallup poll. But in Tuesday's election, 23 percent of the voters did so. Either the number of liberals is increasing or they are simply more likely to vote. Either way, they helped Jones win in such a close contest.

  • Independent Voters: Many political pundits expected turnout among Republicans, especially in rural areas, to decline because Moore was such a toxic candidate. But apparently the Republican enthusiasm gap didn't occur. On Tuesday, Republicans accounted for 43 percent of the voters, compared with 37 percent of Democrats.

This figure is comparable to the Republican share of turnout in recent presidential years. Despite, or perhaps because of, his controversial career, including his stands on abortion, gun control, gay rights, religion, the rights of Muslims, and other issues, Moore still had a solid base of support. He garnered 81 percent of white evangelical voters, the same margin that Trump got nationwide last November, despite his own controversial morals. White born-again Christians accounted for 44 percent of all Alabama voters on Tuesday.

Many evangelical leaders endorsed Moore, who laced all of his campaign speeches with Biblical quotes to defend his noxious views. The big difference is that Moore lost the confidence of Alabama's independent voters, who comprised 21 percent of Tuesday's turnout. They gave Moore only 43 percent of their votes, compared with 51 percent for Jones and 5 percent for write-in candidates.     

  • Money: Jones raised more than twice as much money as his rival, garnering $11.5 million to Moore's $5.2 million as of November 22, according to the nonpartisan and nonprofit Center for Responsible Politics. That financial advantage allowed him to flood the state with television and radio ads as well as to hire organizers to register voters and turn them out on Election Day.

He even did much better at attracting money from Alabama residents—$3.9 million to $771,202. Moreover, many more Alabamans contributed to Jones (about 5,000) than to Moore (about 1,000), an indication that the Democratic candidate ran a more robust grassroots campaign. In an interview Tuesday night on MSNBC, former New York TimesExecutive Editor Howell Raines, an Alabama native, observed that even the state's business establishment shunned Moore, concerned that his election would tarnish the state's reputation, hurt tourism, and undermine growing investment by both U.S. and foreign companies.

Both candidates raised the majority of their funds from out-of-state donors, but while Jones raised $7.6 million from outside the state, Moore attracted only $4.4 million. Jones raised $1.6 million from Californians and $1.5 million from New Yorkers. Moore attracted just $289,842 from the blue Golden State, but got only $401,251 from donors in deep red Texas.

Major national GOP donors were ambivalent about Moore's candidacy as more and more Republican politicians distanced themselves from the controversial former judge. After Trump fully embraced Moore a week before the election, some Republican bigwigs, along with the national party, began to write checks, but it was too little, too late. Meanwhile, the national Democratic Party and liberal and progressive groups like MoveOn, Indivisible, and Planned Parenthood Votes (the group's political arm) made Jones's campaign a top priority. 


DEMOCRATS NOW HOPE that they can build on Jones's victory—and Trump's embarrassing defeat—to take back the House of Representatives next November. (His victory gives the Democrats 49 seats in the Senate, but the odds of winning a majority in that chamber next year are slimmer). To secure a majority in the House, the Democrats have to gain 24 seats. Six months ago, that seemed impossible. But the number of "swing" House districts now held by Republicans has grown dramatically in that period to more than 50 seats. 

The reasons aren't mysterious: Trump's declining approval ratings, the escalating resistance movement, and the rise of groups like Indivisible has emboldened Democrats and liberals. The Democrats' surprising victories in Virginia last month, winning the governor's race and making unprecedented gains in the state legislature, suggest that Jones's triumph isn't a fluke.

Few Republican candidates will be as toxic as Moore. But the Democrats now believe that the wind is at their backs. Whether they can avoid the infighting that has plagued the party remains to be seen. Democrats need to unite behind a positive message, target battleground races, raise money, nominate compelling candidates, deploy veteran campaign organizers, mobilize volunteers, and excite traditional Democrats as well as independents.

Jones's triumph, along with recent statewide Democratic victories in Virginia and New Jersey, also remind us that although Trump is president, he hasn't taken over the nation's soul. The vast majority of Americans support liberal policy ideas. We are a more decent country than the madman who occupies the White House.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Weekend Reading: Sidney Blumenthal on the Finances of Stephen "The Little Giant" Douglas [feedly]

Interesting episode for historical materialists....

Weekend Reading: Sidney Blumenthal on the Finances of Stephen "The Little Giant" Douglas

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

The Economics Debate, again and again [feedly]

The Economics Debate, again and again

The debate on the economics profession – its alleged ills and failings -- abates at times, but never ends. A recent piece in The Guardian taking the profession to task for its lack of reform has prompted a response from a group of economists. I thought it was time to re-up my own views on this debate, in the form of two sets of ten commandments. The first set is directed at economists, and the second to non-economists.   

Ten commandments for economists

1.      Economics is a collection of models; cherish their diversity.

2.      It's a model, not the model.

3.      Make your model simple enough to isolate specific causes and how they work, but not so simple that it leaves out key interactions among causes.

4.      Unrealistic assumptions are OK; unrealistic critical assumptions are not OK.

5.      The world is (almost) always second-best.

6.      To map a model to the real world you need explicit empirical diagnostics, which is more craft than science.

7.      Do not confuse agreement among economists for certainty about how the world works.

8.      It's OK to say "I don't know" when asked about the economy or policy.

9.      Efficiency is not everything.

10.  Substituting your values for the public's is an abuse of your expertise.

Ten commandments for non-economists

1.      Economics is a collection of models with no predetermined conclusions; reject any arguments otherwise.

2.      Do not criticize an economist's model because of its assumptions; ask how the results would change if certain problematic assumptions were more realistic.

3.      Analysis requires simplicity; beware of incoherence that passes itself off as complexity.

4.      Do not let math scare you; economists use math not because they are smart, but because they are not smart enough.

5.      When an economist makes a recommendation, ask what makes him/her sure the underlying model applies to the case at hand.

6.      When an economist uses the term "economic welfare," ask what s/he means by it.

7.      Beware that an economist may speak differently in public than in the seminar room.

8.      Economists don't (all) worship markets, but they know better how they work than you do.

9.      If you think all economists think alike, attend one of their seminars.

10.  If you think economists are especially rude to non-economists, attend one of their seminars.

I have spent enough time around non-economists to know that their criticism often misses the mark. In particular, many non-economists tend not to understand the value of parsimonious modeling (especially of the mathematical kind). Their typical riposte is: "but it is more complicated than that." It is of course. But without abstraction from detail, there cannot be any useful analysis.

Economists, on the other hand, are very good at modeling but not so good at navigating among their models. In particular, they often confuse a model, for the model. A big part of the problem is that the implicit scientific method to which they subscribe is one in which they are constantly striving to achieve the "best" model.

Macroeconomists are particularly bad at this, which accounts in part for their dismal performance. In macroeconomics, there is too much of "is the right model the classical or the Keynesian one" (and their variants), and too little of "how do we know whether it is the Keynesian or the classical model that is the most relevant and applicable at this point in time in this particular context."  

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Wait…now the Trump admin is coming for waitpersons’ tips??!! [feedly]

Wait…now the Trump admin is coming for waitpersons' tips??!!

Heidi Shierholz is an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, but before that, she was the chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor during the Obama administration. When I read some of Heidi's jaw-dropping work on this rule change on tips the Trump administration was making, I thought even — especially — in the midst of all this attention to the GOP's lousy tax plan, readers needed to learn about this latest effort to whack the working class. Below is my interview with Heidi.

JB: What is this new rule about tips and why is the Department of Labor proposing it?

Heidi Shierholz (Courtesy of Heidi Shierholz)

HS: The Department of Labor's proposed rule is about employers taking control of workers' tips. It rescinds portions of long-standing Department of Labor regulations that prohibit employers from taking tips. Under the administration's proposed rule, as long as the tipped workers earn the minimum wage, the employer can legally pocket their tips.

JB: They make it sound like the point of this is to share the tips with workers "in the back of the shop," like dishwashers and cooks. But I thought that was pretty common already? Do we really need a new administrative rule for that?

HS: Right now, employers cannot require tipped workers to share their tips with "back of the house" workers like dishwashers and cooks, though voluntary tip-sharing arrangements are common. To sell this proposed rule to the public, the Trump administration is talking about it as if it is about tip-pooling, because employers could give some of the tips they take from tipped workers to back-of-the-house workers. They're basically taking money from one group of low-income workers and trying to hide it by suggesting that some of that money could go to other low-wage workers. But in fact, the administration is giving a windfall to restaurant owners out of the pockets of tipped workers.

JB: You've suggested that employers could and would pocket the waitpersons' tips themselves under this rule. What makes you say that?

HS: Evidence shows that even now, when it is illegal for employers to pocket tips, many still do.  Research on workers in three large U.S. cities (Chicago, Los Angeles and New York) found that 12 percent of tipped workers had tips stolen by their employers or supervisors. With that much illegal tip theft taking place, it's clear that when employers can legally pocket the tips, many will. Further, basic economics tells us that back-of-the-house workers are very unlikely to get more pay overall.  The fact that workers are in those jobs means employers are alreadypaying them what they need to pay them to get them in the current environment. If employers do share some tips with them, it will likely be offset by a reduction in their base pay. Here's the bottom line on the economics of this rule: (1) tipped workers will lose out, (2) the take-home pay of back-of-the-house workers will be largely unchanged, and (3) employers will be enriched.

JB: Do you have any sense of the amount in play here?

HS: We estimate that under this rule, employers would pocket $5.8 billion in tips earned by tipped workers each year. This is 16 percent of the estimated $36.4 billion in tips earned by tipped workers annually — roughly $1,000 per tipped worker on average each year.  I should add that this is a conservative estimate. We were careful not to overstate the amount of workers' tips that will be pocketed by employers.

JB: What does the Department of Labor say about this possibility?

HS: DOL acknowledges that employers could legally pocket tips under their proposed rule, stating that the rule "rescinds those portions of the 2011 regulations that restrict employer use of customer tips [emphasis added] when the employer pays at least the full Federal minimum wage." In a deeply unusual move, DOL did not provide an estimate of the amount of tips that will be transferred from workers to employers (which is one reason we did so). This is unusual because agencies are required by law as a part of the rulemaking process to assess all quantifiable costs and benefits to the fullest extent possible. DOL could have produced an estimate; at EPI, we produced an estimate in less than two weeks using routine procedures and taking a methodological approach that is in exactly the same spirit of estimates the Department of Labor produces all the time [Note: Shierholz was formerly chief economist for the DOL]. Why didn't DOL produce an estimate?  To ask the question is to answer it; any good-faith estimate would have shown this rule will result in a substantial shift of tips from workers to employers and the DOL under President Trump — and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta — is trying to hide that fact.

JB: What happens next? Can people voice their concerns about this rule change?

HS: This is a proposed rule.  Anyone can submit a comment about the rule, and the Department of Labor is required to read them before they decide what the final rule will look like. The rule is open for public comment until Feb. 5.

Further, states can move to increase the protections in their state. Our estimate of the amount of tips that would be pocketed by employers as a result of this rule would have been significantly higher if it weren't for the fact that many states have laws on the books that prohibit employers from pocketing workers' tips. Those laws will not be preempted or superseded by the Trump rule, so tipped workers in those states are protected from this rule. Other states can and should follow suit.

JB: You have been tracking these sorts of behind-the-scenes attacks of labor standards. This tip rule is part of a larger pattern, no?

HS: When Trump was running for office, he made big claims about how he was going to fight for workers.  But since in office, he has consistently moved against the interest of workers in favor of corporate interests — by rolling back important worker protections, advancing nominees to key posts with records of enabling the exploitation of working people, pushing for the dismantling of Obamacare, fighting for a tax bill that overwhelmingly favors the wealthy, etc.  In the case of the tip rule, Trump has delivered a huge gift to the owners of big chain restaurants, for whom getting their hands on workers' tips has been a holy grail for a very long time.  In Donald Trump, they finally found a president who will do their bidding.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Enlighten Radio:Station Break Over the Holidays

John Case has sent you a link to a blog:

Blog: Enlighten Radio
Post: Station Break Over the Holidays

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#SaveTPS: A Working-Class Struggle [feedly]

#SaveTPS: A Working-Class Struggle

Jessica's TPS work permit cards

By the time the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced in 2014, I had already benefited from another immigration relief program: Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In January and February 2001, my birth country of El Salvador experienced two earthquakes – a month apart from each other – that utterly devastated every aspect of life in Salvadoran Society. In order to help El Salvador reconstruct and get back on its feet, the United States extended TPS status to undocumented Salvadorans immigrants already in the U.S. I was one of them.  Created by Congress in the Immigration Act of 1990, TPS was meant for people from countries going through environmental disaster and other extraordinary and temporary conditions or confronting armed conflict. Currently, the program is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In the past two months, TPS has come under attack from the Trump Administration. In November 2017, DHS terminated the program for Haiti, and four months later it extended that terrible decision to TPS-protected immigrants from Nicaragua and Honduras. Starting January 2019, an estimated 50,000 Haitians, 57,000 Hondurans, and 2,550 Nicaraguans with TPS status will become undocumented. They will be expected to leave the U.S. Furthermore, TPS was allowed to expire for three black-majority countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone earlier this year. None of them were granted a renewal period as the DHS had done in previous years.

From a working-class perspective, terminating TPS would be catastrophic for workers and families. The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) has estimated that 81 to 88 percent of TPS-protected immigrants just from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti participate in the labor market – well above the rate for the total US population at 63 percent. Indeed, many TPS workers have been in the US for so long that they're now homeowners and entrepreneurs, and so they are very invested in their local economies. For example, Salvadorans with TPS must have continuously resided in the U.S. since the designation date of March 9, 2001 – that's more than a decade of working legally and paying taxes in the U.S. Furthermore, the Center for American Progress (CAP) calculates that the loss of TPS workers would cost employers $967 million in turnover and reduce America's GDP by $164 billion over a decade. Of course, working people represent more than just economic contributions, but you'd think that reports like these would influence rational policymakers. But this administration operates with little regard to facts, policy briefs by experts, or peer-reviewed research. Instead, it responds to the worst instincts in our politics, even excusing and allying with white supremacy. This is not rational. It is shamelessly racist.

Rally to Defend Dream Act and TPS on December 6, 2017 in Washington, D.C.. Image from DMV Sanctuary Network

TPS is a racial and environmental justice issue. The program's primary beneficiaries are Black, LatinX, Asian, and Middle Eastern. We come from Haiti, Syria, Nepal, Honduras, Yemen, Sierra Leone, El Salvador, Somalia, Guinea, South Sudan, Nicaragua, Liberia, and Sudan. All of these nations have historically been at the mercy of imperialist policies – by the U.S. and other countries — that pillage natural resources and do little to promote the well-being of residents, most of whom are people of color. For these countries, TPS was granted on account of either civil strife (usually the reason for Middle Eastern and African countries) and natural disasters (usually the reason for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean) thereby helping these countries rebuild what US Imperialism has destroyed. Thus, TPS is a form of humanitarian relief for civil war refugees and natural disaster victims that is also a form of reparations to formerly colonized working people of the world.

Similar to DACA, TPS beneficiaries like me receive provisional protection against deportation and permission to work in the United States for a limited period of time –no less than 6 months and no more than 18. In order to be eligible, immigrants from TPS-designated countries must be physically present in the U.S. on the date on which the program is designated for their nationality and must continue to reside in the U.S. In addition, the program does not grant permanent legal status in the United States, nor are TPS beneficiaries eligible to apply for permanent residence or for U.S. citizenship. In other words, working-class immigrants can be workers, but not residents let alone citizens.

My TPS work permit has provided me with many opportunities to pursue the American Dream by making it possible for me to join the workforce. It also allowed for me to file taxes – something that I've been doing since I was 17 years old. Since attaining full-time employment, I have been saving to purchase a home in Virginia for my mother. This is my greatest dream – the chance to honor my mother's sacrifice by providing her with a home that she can call her own. Throughout my time living in the United States, I had never thought I'd be faced with the possibility of giving up this dream. Yet all of this changed on November 9, 2016. The morning after, I felt a fear unlike any I had felt before. The right side of my chest hurt, my stomach felt strange. I was hungry, but couldn't bring myself to eat. I could just think of one thing: if Donald Trump's DHS Secretary does not approve our renewals, then we'd potentially be forced to return El Salvador. As of today, I have 81 days left on my TPS work permit if the designation isn't renewed by DHS.

Since the beginning of December, a number of actions have taken place in Capitol Hill to urge members of Congress to save TPS and pass a Clean Dream Act. The deadline for Congress to act is December 22 – the date Congress adjourns for the holidays. The urgency has escalated even more after Congress failed to include protections for immigrant youth in their spending bill fix. If Congress doesn't act soon, then a number of Dreamers and TPS beneficiaries await deportation and an inhumane removal experience from US society.

As we have seen in recent years, more and more of our working-class brothers and sisters from the global south have had to flee civil war, genocide, economic exploitation, and the environmental effects of climate change – and that will almost certainly continue. Efforts have already begun to eliminate other venues for legal immigration, and the gradual termination of TPS is unlikely to be the end of the assault on immigrants under this Administration. If naturalized and documented allies do not step up to demand a comprehensive immigration reform that makes it easier for all workers, political asylees, climate change refugees, and persecuted people to pursue new beginnings in the United States, then we will forsake our responsibility to whose labor provided the capital to build the economies of developed nations.

Jessica F. Chilin-Hernández

Jessica F. Chilin-Hernández serves as Assistant Director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. She is originally from San Salvador, El Salvador.

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

How Might Restricting Immigration Affect Social Security's Finances? [feedly]

How Might Restricting Immigration Affect Social Security's Finances?

Immigration helps finance Social Security by expanding the labor force and increasing payroll tax revenue, which largely funds the program. A recently introduced congressional bill would reduce lawful permanent immigration by about 50 percent. This brief shows that this bill, if enacted, would worsen the already strained finances of the Social Security trust funds. Program revenues would fall faster than expenditures, raising the present value of Social Security's unfunded future obligations by $1.5 trillion, or 13 percent, over the next 75 years. Restricting immigration would require additional Social Security benefit cuts or tax increases to balance the system.

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Stiglitz: The Global Economy’s Risky Recovery [feedly]

The Global Economy's Risky Recovery


As the advanced economies' post-2008 recession fades into the distant past, global prospects for 2018 look a little better than in 2017. The shift from fiscal austerity to a more stimulative stance will reduce the need for extreme monetary policies, which almost surely have had adverse effects not just on financial markets but also on the real economy.

NEW YORK – A year ago, I predicted that the most distinctive aspect of 2017 would be uncertainty, fueled by, among other things, Donald Trump's election as president in the United States and the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union. The only certainty, it seemed, was uncertainty – and that the future could become a very messy place. 

Throughout 2017, Trump proved every bit as bombastic and erratic as expected. Anyone who paid attention only to his incessant tweets might think the US was teetering between a trade war and a nuclear war. Trump would insult Sweden one day, Australia the next, and then the EU – and then support neo-Nazis at home. And the members of his plutocratic cabinet rival one another in terms of conflicts of interest, incompetence, and sheer nastiness.

There have been some worrisome regulatory rollbacks, especially concerning environmental protection, not to mention the many hate-driven acts that Trump's bigotry may have encouraged. But, so far, the combination of America's institutions and the Trump administration's incompetence has meant that there is (fortunately) a yawning gap between the president's ugly campaign rhetoric and what he has actually accomplished.

Most important for the global economy, there has been no trade war. Using the exchange rate between Mexico and the US as a barometer, fears for the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement have largely subsided, even as trade negotiations have stalled. Yet the Trump roller-coaster never ends: 2018 may be the year that the hand grenade Trump has thrown into the global economic order finally explodes.

Some point to the US stock market's record highs as evidence of some Trumpian economic miracle. I take it partly as evidence that the decade-long recovery from the Great Recession is finally taking hold. Every downturn – even the deepest – eventually comes to an end; and Trump was lucky to be in the White House to benefit from the work of his predecessor in setting the scene.

But I also take it as evidence of market participants' short-sightedness, owing to their exuberance at potential tax cuts and the money that might once again flow to Wall Street, if only the world of 2007 could be restored. They ignore what followed in 2008 – the worst downturn in three quarters of a century – and the deficits and growing inequality that previous tax cuts for the super rich have brought. 

They give short shrift to the deglobalization risks posed by Trump's protectionism. And they don't see that if Trump's debt-financed tax cuts are enacted, the Fed will raise interest rates, possibly setting off a market correction.

In other words, the market is once again showing its proclivity for short-term thinking and pure greed. None of this bodes well for America's long-term economic performance; and it suggests that while 2018 is likely to be a better year than 2017, there are large risks on the horizon.

It's a similar picture in Europe. The UK's decision to leave the EU didn't have the jolting economic effect that those who opposed it anticipated, largely because of the pound's depreciation. But it has become increasingly clear that Prime Minister Theresa May's government has no clear view about how to manage the UK's withdrawal, or about the country's post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

There are two further potential hazards for Europe. One risk is that heavily indebted countries, such as Italy, will find it difficult to avoid crisis once interest rates return to more normal levels, as they likely will. After all, is it really possible for the eurozone to maintain record-low rates for the foreseeable future, even as US rates increase?

Hungary and Poland represent a more existential threat to Europe. The EU is more than just an economic arrangement of convenience. It represents a union of countries with a commitment to basic democratic values – the very values that the Hungarian and Polish governments now disparage.

The EU is being tested, and there are well-founded fears that it will be found wanting. The effects of these political tests on next year's economic performance may be small, but the long-term risks are clear and daunting.

On the other side of the world, Chinese President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative is changing Eurasia's economic geography, putting China at the center, and providing an important stimulus for region-wide growth. But China must confront many challenges as it undergoes a complicated transition from export-led growth to growth driven by domestic demand, from a manufacturing economy to a service-based economy, and from a rural to an urban society. The population is aging rapidly. Economic growth has slowed markedly. Inequality is by some accounts almost as severe as in the US. And environmental degradation poses a growing threat to human health and welfare.

China's unprecedented economic success over the past four decades has been partly based on a system whereby broad consultation and consensus-building within the Communist Party and the Chinese state underpinned each set of reforms. Will Xi's concentration of power work well in an economy that has grown in size and complexity? A system of centralized command and control is incompatible with a financial market as large and complex as China's; at the same time, we know where insufficiently regulated financial markets can lead an economy.

But these are all essentially long-term risks. For 2018, the safe bet is that China will manage its way, albeit with slightly slower growth.

In short, as the advanced economies' post-2008 recession fades into the distant past, global prospects for 2018 look a little better than in 2017. The shift from fiscal austerity to a more stimulative stance in both Europe and the US will reduce the need for extreme monetary policies, which almost surely have had distortionary effects not just on financial markets but also on the real economy.

But the concentration of power in China, the eurozone's failure (thus far) to reform its flawed structure, and, most important, Trump's contempt for the international rule of law, his rejection of US global leadership, and the damage he has caused to democracy's standing all pose deeper risks. Indeed, they threaten not just to hurt the global economy, but also to slow what, until recently, had seemed to be an inevitable march toward greater democracy worldwide. We should not let short-run success lull us into complacency.

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