A good government shout-out to ProPublica seems in order this morning
Department of "Huh!?"

Things to Read on the Morning of December 17, 2013


  1. Richard Leon: This Is The Most Important Paragraph In The Court Decision Against The NSA: "he question in this case can more properly be styled as follows: When do present-day circumstances--the evolutions in the Government’s surveillance capabilities, citizens’ phone habits, and the relationship between the NSA and telecom companies--become so thoroughly unlike those considered by the Supreme Court thirty-four years ago that a precedent like Smith simply does not apply? The answer, unfortunately for the Government, is now."

  2. Anil Dash: What Medium Is: "MEDIUM IS BLOGGING IN FORM, BUT NOT IN STRUCTURE: Ev explicitly evokes blogfather Dave Winer’s definition of blogging as the 'unedited voice of a person'.... I think that’s an adequate description of the content of blogging, but that the reverse-chronological structure that’s defined blogging and its descendants such as Twitter’s timeline and Facebook’s news feed is just as essential.... Medium eschews reverse chronology, organizing instead by 'collections' (which seem to be an aspect of the platform that is in significant, if largely behind-the-scenes, evolution).... The abandonment of reverse chronology has the effect of undoing a core tenet of blogging: The social contract... an implicit promise from the blogger that more content will appear in the future, and the expectation changes the nature of reading what’s written. The promise of updates to a blog has positive impacts... but it’s also been the biggest cause of stress for bloggers: Having to keep updating is seen as an overwhelming obligation by many, and the requirement of newest-on-top has frustrated countless bloggers who want to assign some semblance of editorial judgment (or simply want to inflict their authorial authority) on behalf of readers. Trying to fight reverse chronology has been the impetus behind most of Gawker’s never-ending parade of reader-enraging redesigns.... Despite the good reasons for Williams, Winer, Denton and many others to resist the tyranny of reverse chronology has triumphed.... So what does Medium resemble more, with its organization-by-collection, diminished prominence of the creator’s identity, and easy flow between related pieces of content? It’s simple: YouTube.... Medium is evolving to be the same; We get sent an article that someone wants us to read.... Medium is much closer to 'YouTube for Longform' than it is 'Blogger Revisited'...

  3. Jesse Rothstein: Teacher Quality Policy When Supply Matters: "Recent proposals would strengthen the dependence of teacher pay and retention on demonstrated performance. One intended effect is to attract those who will be effective teachers and repel those who will not. I model the teacher labor market, incorporating ability heterogeneity, dynamic self-selection, noisy performance measurement, and Bayesian learning. Simulations with plausible parameter values indicate that labor market interactions are important to the evaluation of alternative teacher contracts. Reasonable bonus policies create only modest incentives and thus have very small effects on selection. Tenure and firing policies can have larger effects, but must be accompanied by substantial salary increases. Both bonus and tenure policies pass cost benefit tests, though the magnitudes of the benefits are quite sensitive to parameters about which little is known."


  1. Economist: The journey of an Indian onion: Lords of the rings: "NITIN JAIN is the big man in Lasalgaon, a dusty town a day’s drive from Mumbai that boasts it has Asia’s biggest onion market. With a trim moustache and a smartphone stuck to his ear he struts past a thousand-odd tractors and trucks laden with red onions. Farmers hurl armfuls at his feet to prove their quality. A gaggle of auctioneers, rival traders and scribes follow him, squabbling and yanking each other’s hair. Asked why onion prices have risen so much, Mr Jain relays the question to the market. 'Why?' he bellows. His entourage laughs. He says that the price of India’s favourite vegetable is a mystery that no calculation can explain.... Wholesale onion prices soared by 278% in the year to October and the retail price of all vegetables shot up by 46%.... Just how bad is India’s food supply chain? To find out The Economist followed the journey of an onion from a field in the heart of onion country, in western India, to a shopping bag in Mumbai.... Farms are tiny with no economies of scale. The supply chain involves up to five middlemen. The onion is loaded, sorted or repacked at least four times. Wastage rates, either from damage or weight loss as onions dry out, are a third or more. Because India has no modern food-processing industry, low-quality onions that could be turned into paste or sauces are thrown away.... The system is volatile as well as inefficient."

  2. Paul Krugman: The Big Money Bets on Obamacare: "One group has a strong incentive to be objective... a much better perspective on what’s really going on.... Namely, the insurance industry. So the shoe we’ve all been waiting to see drop--or not--was the surge of advertising urging people buying insurance through the exchanges to buy from me, me, me. That shoe has just dropped, with $500 million of advertising spending now in the pipeline. Insurers think this is going to work."

  3. Paul Krugman: The Dead Hand Versus the Invisible Hand, Urban Edition: "Sometimes you read an economics paper that just makes you start grinning in pleasure. Michaels and Rauch on path dependence of urban locations.... Economic geography models stress the importance of various kinds of agglomeration economies.... They identify a great natural experiment: the fall of the Roman Empire. As they note, this fall was much worse in Britain than in France; in France urban life became a shadow of its former self, but in Britain it completely disappeared. Did this difference leave its mark on geography? Their answer is yes: when urban life revived in the medieval period, French towns tended to be near old Roman centers, while British towns didn’t. And the British had the better of this deal, because optimal town locations in the Roman era--with good roads--weren’t the same as in the Middle Ages, when roads remained terrible but the technology of water transport had improved. Lovely stuff."

  4. Kevin Drum: The Fight Against Income Inequality Has Already Been Half Won: "For many years, it's been conservative conventional wisdom that inequality is necessary for growth. In fact, the more the better, since the bigger the incentives we offer to successful businesses and entrepreneurs, the more success we'll have. Today, this argument is all but dead. Think about that. It's remarkable that we're even asking 'Does high inequality hurt growth?' Hurt it! This shift in our default assumption represents huge progress. After all, if the answer is yes, it's one more reason to favor policies that reduce inequality. But even if the answer is no, all it means is that growth is independent of inequality. There are really no arguments left that are actively on the side of high inequality aside from simpleminded libertarian fantasies that economic capitalism is neutral by definition, and therefore everyone automatically gets what they deserve."


Should Be Aware of:

  1. Lexington: The marriage gap: Think again, men: "There are 53m unmarried women of voting age in America... spectacularly loyal to Democrats.... Their votes went decisively to Barack Obama, by 36 percentage points.... The key to the puzzle appears to involve attitudes to government safety nets, and a shared sense among unmarried women that they are trying to survive without any back-up in a harsh, increasingly insecure economy (unmarried women are disproportionately likely to work in jobs which do not offer health cover, for instance). Put another way, the conservative battle-cry of 'Leave me the Hell alone' sounds different when you are literally on your own.... Celinda Lake... survey[ed]... married couples, asking whether both spouses always voted the same way. Oh yeah, said 73% of married men.... The wives' response? Just 49% said yes."

  2. Mark Kleiman: Megyn Kelly and the arc of history: "Yes, we all know that Megyn Kelly is dreaming of a white Christmas, with a white Santa and a white Jesus. And yes, she’s collecting the mockery she deserves. But look on the bright side. Kelly’s puzzlement is based on her unthinking assumption that Jews are white people. That seems uncontroversial today, but the Megyn Kellys of a century ago regarded Jews as a racially different group, along with Italians and Slavs, in arguing for the immigration laws the Megyn Kellys of today still defend, though the targets of ethnic exclusion have shifted. And two generations earlier than that, the Know-Nothings would have raised serious questions about Kelly’s own whiteness. So be cheerful. The arc of history does indeed bend toward justice; it’s just that on Fox News it has a larger radius of curvature."


Jared Bernstein: Hey! Paul Ryan! You Shouldn’t Outta Get Something Special for Just Doing Your Job! | Rhonda Brown: States Refusal To Expand Medicaid Closes Hospital Doors | Larry Mishel: On That Income Inequality and Income Growth Thing Out There | Ed Luce: With John Podesta, the lights may soon turn on again in the White House | Olivier Blanchard et al.: International Policy Coordination: The Loch Ness Monster | William Chen: Mapping the Impact of Letting Emergency Jobless Benefits Expire | Bryce Covert: Jobs That Pay Less Than $15 An Hour Are Replacing Higher Wage Work | Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz: Labor Market Will Lose 310,000 Jobs in 2014 if Unemployment Insurance Extensions Expire | Ashok Rao: Does Wealth Inequality Matter? |