Archive for July, 2011

How To Make Ends Meet

Posted: July 29, 2011 in analysis

As negotiations in Congress continue, it seems more and more likely that the government will not have the authority to borrow more money come August 2nd.  Last week, I linked to a little widget that allows you to play out different scenarios in that case; what gets paid for and what doesn’t.   As that possibility grows more and more likely, and as various people start talking about what they would pay for and what they wouldn’t, I thought I would return to that subject in a little more detail.  Michelle Bachmann, for example, says that we can pay for our debt servicing, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid without running out of money.  And she’s right.  But what else could we pay for at the same time?

So, pretend for a moment that it’s August 3rd, and the government has only 172.4 billion with which to pay 306.7 billion in expenses.  What do we do? (more…)


Political Sex Scandals, part II

Posted: July 26, 2011 in analysis

In part I, I discussed how to create a data set to describe the nature of political sex scandals among national politicians in the US.  Now, I will try to build a model from that data set that describes the outcome of the scandal by its basic properties.

Describing the model building process to a non-technical audience is difficult.  Basically, it involves looking at the options in the data, proposing a hypothesis on how they may relate, and testing it.  Depending on the results of the test, you either reject the hypothesis, try to refine it, or include it in the model.

When complete, the model is simply a mathematical formula that takes all of the inputs (those variables included in it) and manipulates them to produce an output.  In this case, I am using logistic regression, so the output is a value between 0 and 1, where 0 represents resigned, and 1 represents won re-election.

Because values lower than 0 and higher than 1 are nonsensical, the formula doesn’t operate on the probability directly, but rather on another value called a logit, which ranges from positive infinity to negative infinity.  Thus, unlike many linear models, this one doesn’t have easily interpretable coefficients; that is to say, you can’t say “For every year of seniority, a Senator is 10% less likely to resign,” since this could lead to Senators having less than a 0% chance of resignation. (more…)

Political Sex Scandals, part I

Posted: July 24, 2011 in analysis

Over the years, many nationally prominent politicians have faced sex scandals.  Some like Anthony Weiner, have resigned.  Others, like David Vitter, have remained in office.  Which stay and which do not seems random.  In this article, I will attempt to build a statistical model that uses the features of a sex scandal to predict whether or not it will cause the principal to leave their job.

Unlike my past analyses, this is not sparked by a specific statement or a quotation; the question was suggested by a family member and I am just interested in the phenomenon.

This is a work in progress, however.  I wasn’t originally ready to publish this, and some of the details may be subject to change, but the breaking news this weekend of a sex scandal involving David Wu made me want to get my model working in time to make a prediction about his fate. (more…)

Two Links

Posted: July 19, 2011 in links

I have some analyses brewing, but while you wait patiently for them, here are some nifty tools to do your own analysis of the current national budget situation.

First, a simple tool that lets you game out Treasury default scenarios in August.  When the government can’t take on more debt, what gets paid for and what doesn’t?  It is from Bloomberg Government, available here.

Second, a more complex tool called Budget Hero allowing you to make tax and spending policy decisions and see the implications over the next several decades.  This one is more interesting, but naturally can’t include every option.  As far as I can tell, using their options, there is no way to get government spending under 18% of GDP, no matter what you cut.  This one is from American Public Media, and is available here.

I find tools like this very useful, since they drive home that any spending or tax policy adds or removes money from the same big pool, and can’t be considered in isolation.

The Cost Of A Job

Posted: July 12, 2011 in analysis

Conservatives, in recent weeks, have been crowing over some statistics announced by the Council of Economic Advisers which show, they think, the economic stimulus package in a bad light.  An example from The Weekly Standard reads like

The council reports that, using “mainstream estimates of economic multipliers for the effects of fiscal stimulus” (which it describes as a “natural way to estimate the effects of” the legislation), the “stimulus” has added or saved just under 2.4 million jobs — whether private or public — at a cost (to date) of $666 billion. That’s a cost to taxpayers of $278,000 per job.

I won’t question the accuracy of the economics or math that led to this figure.  The question I am interested in looking at is, how efficient a system does this represent?  We instinctively believe that $278,000 is way too much to spend per new job, but is there actually a better way? (more…)

World History

Posted: July 8, 2011 in analysis

In a column about the validity of questioning Muslims seeking public employment, Joseph Farah of writes:

Given the fact that world history for the last 1,300 years can actually be defined primarily as a conflict between Islam and the West, would it not be reckless in the extreme to accept the politically correct view that there is really no difference between Islam, Christianity and Judaism?

Now, I’m not so very interested in his conclusion, but I am fascinated by his given.  1300 years of world history can be defined as a conflict between Islam and the West.  Really?  This is not a theory I have encountered before, and while I am not a trained historian, I have a solid liberal arts education and feel I have a general idea of what happened in world history.  Please, however, note that the following essay may suffer from more than my usual set of flaws, since I am outside of my field. (more…)

In part I of this series, we looked at how many people Newt Gingrich would gain in border security if he implemented his plan to use half of the Washington DHS bureaucracy to supplement the existing border guards.  In part II, I considered if that number (56,000 guards) would be enough to successfully protect the border, using the common wisdom “guard every 500 feet” plan.

We say that 56,000 guards isn’t enough to provide a guard every 500 feet, and I speculated that a guard every 500 feet isn’t enough.  So, what amount is enough?  Here is where I have to start entering the realm of vast speculation, because nobody can really know.  But, there is a model we can use to get an idea. (more…)