The limited electoral impact of gerrymandering

Fans of Thomas Sowell might remember the first question he applies to “self-righteous nonsense that abounds on so many subjects”: Compared to what?

What he means is that people who complain about the negative impact of some practice or policy rarely describe what would happen in the absence of that practice or policy. They imply conditions would be better, but they rarely put that assertion to the test.

When they fail to offer a counterfactual, their interlocutors ought to reply: Compared to what?

That’s why it’s nice to read a recent academic journal article that attempts to show how gerrymandering actually affects representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. A common argument holds that Republicans control the U.S. House thanks to gerrymandering.

Jowei Chen of the University of Michigan and David Cottrell of Dartmouth College set out to test that notion. The results appear in a 2016 edition of the journal Electoral Studies.

Since we only observe Congressional elections where the districts have potentially been gerrymandered, we lack a non-gerrymandered counterfactual that would allow us to isolate its true effect. To overcome this challenge, we conduct computer simulations of the districting process to redraw the boundaries of Congressional districts without partisan intent. By estimating the outcomes of these non-gerrymandered districts, we are able to establish the non-gerrymandered counterfactual against which the actual outcomes can be compared. The analysis reveals that while Republican and Democratic gerrymandering affects the partisan outcomes of Congressional elections in some states, the net effect across the states is modest, creating no more than one new Republican seat in Congress. Therefore, the partisan composition of Congress can mostly be explained by non-partisan districting, suggesting that much of the electoral bias in Congressional elections is caused by factors other than partisan intent in the districting process.

That’s from the abstract. Deeper within the report, we find the following:

This suggests that if districts were drawn randomly with respect to partisanship and race, Republicans would only expect to lose a single seat in Congress to the Democrats. Therefore, although we identify the partisan gains from gerrymandering in a number of states, these gains tend to be small and generally cancel out in the aggregate.

Such a result is meaningful because it contradicts a common perception that major partisan gains in seat share are made in the House of Representatives through gerrymandering. Instead, the evidence suggests that the partisan makeup of the House would be almost no different if gerrymandering – both partisan and racial – were altogether eliminated. Although some state delegations would see significant change, the aggregate advantage received by a particular party in Congress would be almost zero.

So while redistricting reform is a good idea, no one should expect that the end of gerrymandering would mark the end of Republican control of Congress. Hmmm. That sounds familiar.

I’m glad I didn’t take their history classes

Cristiano Lima of Politico reports on historians’ assessment of our 44th president.

Historians have ranked Barack Obama the 12th best president of all time, the highest rated since President Ronald Reagan, in a new C-SPAN survey released Friday.

Less than a month after exiting the White House, Obama received high marks from presidential historians for his pursuit of “equal justice for all” and for his commanding “moral authority,” ranking third and seventh among all former presidents in each respective category. The 44th president also cracked a top 10 ranking for his “economic management” and public persuasion.

The former president’s tenure earned its lowest marks for the relationship between the presidency and Congress, with bitter partisanship often stagnating the effectiveness between the two and Obama seeing his Democratic majority slip in both the House of Representatives and the Senate during his eight years in office.

Historians, however, remained mixed on whether Obama’s standing so soon after leaving office was higher or lower than expected.

“Although 12th is a respectable overall ranking, one would have thought that former President Obama’s favorable rating when he left office would have translated into a higher ranking in this presidential survey,” said Edna Greene Medford, a Howard University professor and member of C-SPAN’s historical advisory board.

Others, though, felt the former president’s performance fresh out of office was remarkable.

“That Obama came in at number 12 his first time out is quite impressive,” Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University professor and C-SPAN adviser, said in a press release.

No. 12? The evidence suggests otherwise.


Blame it on the sun

Those who remember Nicola Scafetta‘s 2013 speech to the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society will not be surprised by the claims Dennis Avery makes in an American Thinker column.

Dr. John Bates, a former high level NOAA scientist, set off a furor by revealing that a recent NOAA paper, which claimed global warming hadn’t “paused” during the past 20 years, was fraudulent. The paper was timed to undergird Obama’s signing of the hugely expensive Paris climate agreement.

This is only a tiny fraction of the climate fraud.

Fortunately, high-tech research has finally sorted out the “mystery factor” in our recent climate changes—and it’s mostly not CO2. Even redoubling carbon dioxide, by itself, would raise earth’s temperature only 1.1 degree. That’s significant, but not dangerous.

CERN, the world’s top particle physics laboratory, just found that our big, abrupt climate changes are produced by variations in the sun’s activity. That’s the same sun the modelers had dismissed as “unchanging.” CERN says the sun’s variations interact with cosmic rays to create more or fewer of earth’s heat-shielding clouds. The IPCC had long admitted it couldn’t model clouds–and now the CERN experiment says the clouds are the earth’s thermostats! …

… Now, CERN has unraveled the earth’s cloud chemistry–and confirmed Svensmark’s theory–with their Large Hadron Collider producing the “cosmic rays.” CERN found that the climate modelers totally failed to understand the interaction of electrically charged cloud particles created by the cosmic rays, which produced one or two orders of magnitude more clouds. The ionized clouds also reflected more heat back into space—and lasted longer. CERN’s lead author, Ken Carslaw, said in the CERN Courier (December 2016) that all the projections of the climate models should thus be revised downward.

But what about the Ice Age predictions of the 1970s, and the “parboiled planet” forecast by James Hansen in 1988? And why the “pause” over the past 20 years? Those events were produced by another, shorter, natural cycle that’s embroidered over the thousand-year Dansgaard-Oeschger cycle. The Pacific Oscillation is only 60 years long, but it fooled us—and supposedly NOAA—into thinking each of those 30-year segments was a new permanent trend. Our media were supposed to give us a longer perspective, but didn’t.

CERN’s preliminary findings about the cloud/cosmic ray interaction were even published in the London Express in October of 2015. However, the rest of the world’s media ignored the story. They preferred scare headlines about polar bear extinction and New York City under water.

Dodd-Frank: Making the situation worse

Hester Peirce explains in a Mercatus Center report why the Dodd-Frank financial regulations have failed to meet their objective.

Drafted and enacted in response to the 2007–2009 financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) became law in 2010. Dodd-Frank’s drafters hoped the law would repair the flaws in the financial system that had so painfully manifested themselves during the financial crisis. Rather than addressing the regulatory failures that led to the crisis, Dodd-Frank’s core solution was to shift decision-making from the private sector to regulators—the same regulators whose lapses had contributed to the crisis. Dodd-Frank has been costly in the short term, as any major regulatory overhaul would be. The financial industry and regulators have poured countless hours and dollars into implementing the new law. Of greater concern than these short-term implementation costs are Dodd-Frank’s potential long-run costs. Rather than averting crises, Dodd-Frank’s rejiggering of the financial system has created the preconditions for a future crisis, while inhibiting economic growth and dynamism.

Barron’s ‘Economic Beat’ writer highlights small business owners’ reaction to Trump

Gene Epstein of Barron’s probes the small business sector’s early reaction to the Trump presidency.

Restored to life? The 325,000-member National Federation of Independent Business reported on Tuesday that its Index of Small Business Optimism jumped to 105.9 in the first quarter, an 11-point leap from 94.9 in the fourth quarter.

As the chart below shows, the NFIB’s quarterly Index of Small Business Optimism over its 43-year history has averaged 100 or higher through every sustained economic expansion but one. That one exception has been the expansion over the past 7½ years under President Barack Obama, and it may be no coincidence that this has been the slowest expansion on record. The sudden vaulting to 105.9 therefore signals a restoration of sorts, and a clear thumbs-up by small business to the unexpected rise of Donald Trump and to the Republican hold on Congress. Whether that thumbs-up will stay firmly in place remains to be seen. …

… ON THURSDAY, NFIB Director of Research Holly Wade delivered testimony before a committee of Congress on the “State of the Small Business Economy.” Wade spoke of “three main concerns of small business owners.”

One is taxes, both their burden and complexity. Another is regulation—the “second-most severe problem for small-business owners after the cost of health insurance.” A third is the rising cost of health insurance, which small-business owners “rank…as their most severe issue in operating their business out of 75 potential issues.” Unless the new administration makes tangible gains in addressing these concerns, the optimism index will probably slip below 100 again.


Barron’s editorial page editor explores California’s water woes

Thomas Donlan of Barron’s explains how California’s recurring water problems relate to the state government’s ill-considered policies.

As happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and as so often seems to happen when people try to control nature, public works turned into a public-relations disaster. There came a sudden realization that people faced an old, well-understood problem, magnified by neglect. The Oroville Dam spillway problem surfaced in 2005, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was considering relicensing the dam’s hydroelectric power station. Three environmental groups urged the commission to require a concrete structure for the earthen auxiliary spillway.

“You don’t have unarmored spillways unless you are really sure you aren’t going to use them,” said a policy advocate with Friends of the River in 2005. The dam had never needed support from the auxiliary spillway, not even in the worst rainfalls that had occurred since it was completed in 1968.

But the Oroville Dam had been designed with an incorrect assumption—that a second dam, upstream in Marysville, would collect water on a tributary of the Feather River. That would have reduced the amount that the Oroville Dam would have to hold in major floods. That dam was never built, but the assumption was never changed.

Nature and neglect leave California with a seemingly permanent water crisis: There’s always too much or too little, and never enough money to get ready for the future.

The Sierra Club opposes new water-storage projects and blames climate change for everything. “The days of predictable weather patterns are gone,” the organization declared recently, which is what the group also had said at the height of the drought.

Scientists were making the ridiculous assumption that there ever had been predictable weather patterns in most of California. It’s a certainty that there will be droughts, which will end with floods. But when? The pattern has always been wildly variable.

Even if climate change makes the weather worse, both in the direction of floods and the direction of droughts, California has been resisting all of the obvious solutions.

It could build more dams and reservoirs for flood control and water supplies. It could reinforce the need for conservation with permanently higher prices for the water they do have. Or, as Gov. Jerry Brown has suggested, the state could capture billions in new revenue by seceding from the U.S. For every dollar that Californians send to the feds in taxes, 79 cents is spent in the state.

New Carolina Journal Online features

Dan Way reports for Carolina Journal Online on a bill to turn open-meetings violations into crimes.

John Hood’s Daily Journal highlights the importance of fostering new businesses, a goal North Carolina could pursue by lowering its capital-gains tax.

Michael Novak, R.I.P.

Former John Locke Foundation Headliner Michael Novak has died at age 83. In 2010, Novak spoke about the connection between religion and the founding of the American government.

Novak shared with his thoughts on religious faith’s role in preserving the American constitutional republic.

Watch the full event below.