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  • Feb 17 / 2017
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Ads, Public Opinion, International, U.S. Foreign Policy

Polling Iran: What do Iranians think?

Official American rhetoric about Iran is often bellicose. It has been for years, ever since Iranian revolutionaries stormed the American embassy in Tehran in 1979. Then, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, George Bush named Iran in his infamous “axis of evil” speech. Relations improved slightly under Barack Obama, who oversaw a deal requiring Iran to scrap its nuclear program. Donald Trump has threatened to shred that agreement.

According to Gallup, a pollster, in recent years Americans have regularly ranked Iran as one of their “greatest enemies,” right alongside North Korea. Republicans tend to take a more negative view of Iran than Democrats, though a December 2016 poll by the University of Maryland found 64 percent of Americans oppose withdrawing from the nuclear deal.

What do Iranians think of America? It was, after all, American meddling in Iranian politics — starting with the CIA’s overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister in 1953 and then its support for the Shah’s brutal secret police — that set Iran on course for the Islamic revolution and its confrontation with Washington.

The answer, of course, is that it depends how you ask. But what might surprise American journalists is just how developed and educated Iran is and how eager Iranians are for better relations. Iran has been badly hurt by Western sanctions in recent years, but by some measures, it ranks high for the Middle East in development indicators such as education and life expectancy.

Polling in an autocracy

The Islamic Republic of Iran has an unusual political system, where the president is, nominally, elected by a popular vote (2009’s election was marred by significant fraud, say activists). Yet he is subordinate to the “supreme leader,” who is appointed by an opaque council. Ayatollah Khamenei, supreme leader since 1989, oversees the Revolutionary Guard Corps, a militia that has been implicated in extrajudicial arrests and executions in Iran.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that some Iranians feel uncomfortable sharing their opinions with strangers. A telephone poll of Iranian adults conducted shortly after a brutal 2009 crackdown following the contested election notes problems asking Iranians sensitive questions by phone: “a portion of respondents appeared uncomfortable with participating in the survey, and these respondents tended to express views sympathetic to the Iranian government and its interests. Those who felt most comfortable with the survey tended to express views sympathetic to U.S. interests. Had a larger portion of respondents felt comfortable with the survey, more of them might have expressed support for policies favorable to U.S. interests.”

One tactic smart pollsters use in sensitive situations is to ask not what an individual thinks, but what he or she believes other people think.

With those caveats, here are a few polls that may be useful starting points for writing about America’s fraught relationship with Iran. Alas, we could not find any quality time-series polls dating back to the revolution. If you know of any, please email me.

Iran Poll

The Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland (CISSM) works with IranPoll.com — a Toronto- and Tehran-based pollster that works in Iran’s multiple languages — to survey Iranian economic conditions and attitudes toward foreign countries.

In a December 2016 poll, CISSM found Iranian support for the nuclear deal had declined from 42.7 percent in August 2015, just after it was signed, to 21.3 percent. Over 72 percent said Iranians’ living conditions had not improved under the deal. Over half said, “Iran has not received most of the promised benefits.” Optimism was also declining and over 70 percent believed Trump, who was president-elect at the time, would “take measures against Iran that are at odds” with the agreement. Over 31 percent named unemployment as the single most important issue facing Iran. An explanation of the findings is here.

World Public Opinion

WorldPublicOpinion.org, also at the University of Maryland, collected Iranian political attitudes by telephone in September 2009. It found:

  • 63 percent of Iranians wished to restore diplomatic relations; 27 percent opposed.
  • 60 percent favored unconditional talks with the United States; 30 percent opposed.
  • 77 percent had an unfavorable view of the U.S. government, down from 85 percent the year before, at the end of George W. Bush’s administration.
  • 85 percent felt the U.S. government treats their country unfairly.
  • 27 percent said they were completely free to express their views; 44 percent said they were “somewhat free”; 23 percent said they were not free.
  • 68 percent said it was “definitely a U.S. goal” to “weaken and divide the Islamic world.”
  • 38 percent favored developing atomic weapons and nuclear power; 55 percent favored only developing nuclear power.

Parts of the report, which is available in hard copy in some libraries, are available here and here. Several other World Public Opinion surveys of the Iranian public are on its website.

World Values Survey

The World Values Survey, which is run out of Sweden by a global network of scholars, has polled Iran twice — in 2000 and then in 2005. The personal, face-to-face interviews measure topics like happiness, faith, how much time Iranians spend with their families, and their views on politics. The surveys, unfortunately, are not longitudinal — the questions are not identical in different years. A few examples:

  • In 2000, 18.7 percent of men and 12.6 percent of women reported “frequently” discussing politics with friends; respectively, 28.8 and 24.2 percent reported “never” doing so.
  • In 2000, protecting the environment was important to more respondents than economic growth. In 2005, the question was worded differently, but the economy was a greater concern.
  • In 2000, 69.4 percent agreed with the statement, “when jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women.” That number was statistically unchanged in 2005, at 69 percent.
  • In 2000, more Iranians expressed support for army rule (67.3 percent) than for a democratic political system (55.2 percent). But in 2005, 64.2 percent called army rule “fairly bad” or “very bad” and 91.2 percent called democracy a “very good” or “fairly good” system of government.


One of the most prominent Western pollsters operating in Iran is Gallup, which, like IranPoll.com, uses a mix of telephone and face-to-face interviews. Often the results are only available by subscription, which many libraries offer.

The Gallup World Poll dates back to 2006 and covers dozens of variables — from what Iranians think of the U.S. government, to economic confidence, perceptions of corruption and access to healthcare and the internet.

Some of the data are available for free online, while most require a subscription (available at many libraries). A few examples:

  • The percentage of Iranians who report smiling or laughing “a lot yesterday” has climbed steadily since 2006, from 53 to 73 percent in 2016.
  • The percentage of people who report that religion is important in their lives has climbed from 76 to 86 percent over the same period.
  • Iranians face a great deal of economic uncertainty. In 2016, only 7 percent reported being employed full time by a company (as opposed to self-employed), down from 14 percent in 2015. By comparison, in the U.S. the number is 44 percent. When this is indexed, Iran places 132 out of 142 countries; it ties with Somalia and Yemen.
  • In 2016, Iranians reported being the second-most stressed-out country in the world, after Greece. (The question was, “Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about stress?”)
  • As far as overall economic confidence, Iran is somewhere in the middle of the global pack (51 out of 141). But use this finding with extreme caution: Residents of Uzbekistan — one of the former Soviet Union’s most repressive dictatorships and backwards, kleptocratic economies, according to the U.S. government — have the greatest economic confidence in the world. Unemployment is so high in Uzbekistan that millions of people leave every year to take the most difficult and poorly paid jobs Russia has to offer.

Gallup Poll Briefing is another product available by subscription. Some examples:

  • In 2008, before the 2009 election crisis, Iranians were slightly more likely (50 percent) than Americans (47 percent) to express confidence in their electoral process.
  • In 2013, more Iranians disapproved (41 percent) than approved (34 percent) of their country developing “nuclear power capabilities for military use.”
  • “Iranians’ already low approval of U.S. leadership did not get worse after the U.S. toughened sanctions in late 2011. Eight percent of Iranians approved of U.S. leadership in late 2011 and early 2012 — one of the lowest ratings the U.S. receives worldwide. While nearly half of Iranians (46 percent) support cutting ties with countries that impose economic sanctions on Iran, nearly one in three (31 percent) do not, showing a sizable minority of Iranians still value relations.”
  • By early 2015 — a year after the West began easing sanctions during nuclear negotiations with Iran — fewer Iranians were reporting that sanctions were negatively affecting them.

Other polls

  • The Harvard Kennedy School library maintains this list of American and global opinion polls, while the Boston College library keeps this list of international polls.
  • A 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center found 69 percent of Americans held a negative view of Iran, as did 59 percent of adults in 39 disparate countries. Only 11 percent of adults in those countries felt that Iran’s government respects its citizens’ personal freedoms.
  • Between 2001 and 2006, the number of Americans viewing Iran as their country’s “greatest enemy” jumped from 8 percent to 31 percent, according to Gallup. George W. Bush gave his “axis of evil” speech in early 2002.
  • Polling Report collates prominent surveys of American opinion on Iran here.
  • The RAND Corporation — a think tank close to the U.S. defense establishment — conducted a poll shortly after the contested 2009 election as well as this one that uses social media to gauge public opinion.

Other resources

  • The Gulf2000 project at Columbia University is a useful entry point for scholarship on the Gulf states, including Iran.
  • Another academic resource is the Iran Data Portal at Syracuse University.
  • The University of Maryland has more on Iranian opinion throughout the nuclear negotiations.


Author’s note: Special thanks to Keely Wilczek, senior research and instruction librarian at Harvard Kennedy School, for her dogged help unearthing sources.

    • Feb 17 / 2017
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    Criminal Justice, Culture, Economics, Personal Finance

    Fathers see their kids less often if they owe child support

    Millions of U.S. fathers don’t live with their children. A new study suggests those who are behind in child support see their children less often, work fewer weeks per year and are more likely to have children with multiple partners.

    The issue: In fiscal year 2015, U.S. parents paid a total of $32.4 billion in child support through the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement to help pay for the care and raising of their children, according to a 2017 report to Congress. Parents who don’t live with their children often are required to make payments to the parents who do.

    When the parent sending child support falls behind on payments, there are consequences, including civil and criminal penalties. Depending on the state they live in, they also risk having their driver’s license, professional license or recreational license restricted, suspended or revoked. In late 2016, the Texas Attorney General’s Office began blocking delinquent parents from renewing their vehicle registrations.

    A parent’s failure to pay child support also has consequences for children, who rely on the money to cover the costs of such things as housing, food and clothing. Research has found that child support helps enhance children’s lives in other ways. For example, a 1999 study published in the journal Demography indicates that child support is linked to higher academic achievement.

    An academic study worth reading: “Indebted Relationships: Child Support Arrears and Nonresident Fathers’ Involvement with Children,” published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, February 2017.

    Study summary: Kimberly J. Turner, a research scientist at the non-profit organization Child Trends, and Maureen R. Waller, an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, teamed up to examine the link between child support debt and paternal involvement. The authors assert their study is among the first to use national data to investigate whether fathers who don’t live with their children are less likely to spend time with them and offer in-kind support.

    For the study, Turner and Waller used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal survey of 4,897 urban families with children born between 1998 and 2000. Mothers and fathers were interviewed at 75 hospitals in 20 cities shortly after their baby’s birth and then interviewed one, three, five and nine years later. The authors focus on data related to father involvement and child support at the time the children were 9 years old. Their study sample consists of 1,017 fathers who did not live with their children.

    Key takeaways:

    • More than 30 percent of fathers owed back child support in amounts that averaged $7,705.
    • Fathers who owed child support worked less often. They worked an average of five fewer weeks per year than fathers who were not behind. They also had lower levels of education and were more likely to have been incarcerated and to have children with multiple partners.
    • Fathers who were behind on their child support were less involved with their children. They saw their children three fewer days per month, on average. They also were less likely to be involved in daily activities such as helping with homework, reading books with their children and playing outside.
    • Fathers who were in arrears provided less in-kind support such as clothing, toys and medicine.
    • Three factors may help explain the link between child support arrears and lower paternal involvement: the quality of the father’s relationship with the mother, the number of weeks he works per year and his mental health.

    Other resources for journalists:

    • The National Conference of State Legislatures tracks state-level policies related to child support and child support enforcement.
    • The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement offers a variety of reports and data related to child support collection and debt.
    • A 2016 report from the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that custodial mothers received 67.5 percent of the child support that was due while custodial fathers received 74.9 percent of the child support owed to them.

    Related research:

      • Feb 15 / 2017
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      Economics, Inequality, Jobs, Workers

      Universal basic income: Money for nothing or efficient equalizer?

      Economists, philosophers and political thinkers have long pondered how to end poverty. Lately, an old idea has taken on new life. A universal basic income (UBI) is an unconditional, regular cash payment from the state to every citizen. Proponents see it as a safety net for anyone battered by the fast-changing, globalized economy. Some in Silicon Valley have taken a shining to the proposal, seeing it as a way to stymie inequality should robots take our jobs.

      The idea has been around a lot longer than robots, though. In 1516, in his political treatise Utopia, Sir Thomas More discussed a guaranteed income as a way to stop petty theft. In 1797, Thomas Paine, one of America’s Founding Fathers, proposed a one-time payment to every person at age 21, as well as annual payments to everyone after they turn 50.

      Unlike some social welfare programs, a UBI does not penalize people for working. While it is not envisioned as enough cash to live an extravagant lifestyle, the UBI — sometimes proposed as a negative income tax (more on that below) — helps ensure a basic standard of living. And any additional income the recipient earns does not reduce his or her UBI payment.

      Proponents on the left like the UBI’s redistributive qualities; on the right, that it is more efficient and requires less bureaucracy than the myriad welfare and social assistance programs available today. In India, for example, there are 950 anti-poverty programs, according to a count by The Economist. Milton Friedman – a hero of free-market capitalists – argued in 1968 that a negative income tax would empower welfare recipients, create incentives for them to work and reduce the size of government.

      The idea has gained momentum in recent years, especially in some of the West’s advanced economies. For example, in 2016, Finland, a number of cities in Holland, and Ontario were all preparing experiments similar to a guaranteed income. Utrecht, a Dutch city, is exploring a plan to give selected social assistance recipients about $1,000 per month with no strings attached. But because the cash transfers only target welfare recipients, the program is a far cry from a true UBI, for now. New Zealand is also debating a UBI.

      In the non-governmental realm, Give Directly, a charity, is piloting a cash transfer program for impoverished Kenyans.

      Meanwhile, in June 2016, 77 percent of Swiss voters rejected a proposed guaranteed income for all. If approved, it would have been the first nationwide UBI in the world, according to the BBC.

      NIT or UBI?

      Though they are often used interchangeably, there are differences between a negative income tax (NIT) and a guaranteed income (UBI). This 2009 paper in the Journal of Socio-Economics finds that though they have the same result, a negative income tax (whereby anyone earning below a baseline income does not pay tax and receives a cash benefit) fits better into libertarian models than a UBI, which appeals better to egalitarian ideas. Also, a negative income tax does not entail a cash transfer to wealthier individuals, so it costs the government less, according to this 2006 article in Basic Income Studies.

      Writing for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in 1987, economist Eric A. Hanushek argued that a negative income tax encourages young people to stay in school by offsetting the benefits of income, “by lessening the cost of not being in the labor force.”

      In either case, there is a net transfer to lower income individuals. Under a UBI, the richest person would still receive a payment from the government, but he or she would also pay the government more in taxes to help fund that transfer; the poorer person would not.


      There have been few real-world UBI experiments. One of the best-known occurred in Dauphin, Manitoba, between 1974 and 1979, though it was only studied more recently. Writing in 2011 for the journal Canadian Public Policy, Evelyn Forget, an economist at the University of Manitoba, found that the basic income moderately reduced poverty and improved residents’ health. Though Forget found some reduction in the number of hours people worked, much of that time was dedicated to education.

      Forget also discussed payment experiments in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, though most of these were not true guaranteed income programs, since they were targeted at people who would have otherwise received social benefits. (At the time, the idea had broad bipartisan support.)

      Another take on the American NIT experiments in the 1970s appeared in the Journal of Socio-Economics in 2005. Karl Widerquist of Oxford University found no evidence that an NIT causes a certain group of people to stop working, or that such a program would become financially unfeasible. Indeed, he found such a program “would have the side benefit of increasing wages, further reducing poverty and inequality.” At the same time, there is a small, but statistically significant “work disincentive effect,” that would increase the cost of the program.

      Widerquist warns that it is easy to spin the results: “To those who believe that low-wage workers need more power in the labor market, the NIT experiments demonstrated the feasibility of a desirable program. To those who believe all work-disincentives are bad, the experiments demonstrated the undesirability of a well-meaning program. These normative issues separate supporters from opponents of the basic income guarantee, and therefore, the NIT experiments, as long as they are discussed, will always mean different things to different people.”

      Since 1982, every resident of Alaska has received a monthly transfer known as the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, financed by production at the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field, the largest in North America. The amount varies depending on the current price of oil, from a few hundred dollars to over $3,000 in 2008. It functions in much the same way as a UBI by transferring cash to every individual and injecting liquidity into the economy. In a 2010 working paper for the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, Oliver Goldsmith explores some unintended consequences of the program: It may be encouraging people to move to Alaska, especially people of retirement age, may be pushing down wages, and appears to be creating a “consumption-frenzy” at local shops each year when the checks are distributed. Goldsmith also argues that Alaskans have become addicted to the dividends, which have engendered a constituency that will stop at nothing to ensure the payments continue even as oil output slows.


      Much of the scholarly literature on UBI is consigned to the editorial pages of academic journals. In late 2016 and early 2017, the British Medical Journal published arguments for UBI implementation (it would improve health) and against (it would cut funding for welfare, health and education programs).

      A 2016 debate between two New York Times business columnists weighs many of the arguments on both sides. One is a UBI skeptic; the other voices the views of those who think that most working-class jobs will be rendered obsolete by the high-tech industry within a generation. The skeptic concludes his argument with a nod to gridlock in American politics: “If the idea of robots taking over sounds like science fiction, the idea of the American government agreeing to tax capitalists enough to hand out checks to support the entire working class is in an entirely new category of fantasy.”

      Other resources


        • Feb 15 / 2017
        • 0
        Government, Inequality, Jobs, Municipal, Race

        The consequences of bilingual employment policies

        Bilingual employment policies might hurt African Americans and white people. A new study suggests the proportion of government employees who were black or white and spoke only English fell after a major California city adopted such a policy.

        The issue: As U.S. communities become increasingly diverse, local governments have begun printing their forms, brochures and other materials in multiple languages. Some governments have gone further, hiring bilingual employees to help residents with limited English skills access public services.

        Oakland, California was among the first American cities to adopt a bilingual employment policy for its administration. In 2001, the City Council adopted the Equal Access to Services ordinance, which requires key departments to provide the same level of service to individuals who speak one of the area’s dominant minority languages as they provide to English speakers.

        Nationally, a number of organizations, including U.S. English, a citizens’ action group, oppose government efforts to offer assistance in more than one language.  In 2009, the California NAACP spoke out against Oakland’s employment policy, contending that it pits ethnic groups against one another and reduces employment opportunities for individuals who only speak English.

        An academic study worth reading: “The (Unintended) Consequences of Bilingual Employment Policies: Ethnoraciality and Labor Market Segmentation in Alameda County, CA,” published in the Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 2017.

        Study summary: Abigail A. Sewell, an assistant professor of sociology at Emory University, looks at how Oakland’s bilingual employment policy impacted the labor market in the county where Oakland is located. Sewell analyzes data collected from several sources, including the U.S. Census and the 2005–2011 American Community Survey. Her study focuses on adults aged 18 to 59 who worked in targeted occupations in Alameda County between 2000 and 2011. She specifically examines changes in the racial and ethnic makeup of the county’s 69,277 government workers.

        Key takeaways:

        • After Oakland implemented its bilingual employment policy, fewer black and white people who only spoke English worked for government agencies in Alameda County. In 2000 – the year before the policy was adopted — 10.6 percent of government workers were black monolinguals. That proportion fell to an estimated 8 percent by 2011. The proportion of white monolinguals dropped from 47.5 percent in 2000 to an estimated 42.2 percent between 2005 and 2011.
        • The proportion of bilingual government employees who spoke Spanish and English or Chinese and English grew from a combined 17.9 percent to a combined 21.2 percent. The proportion of government workers in Alameda who were bilingual in other languages rose from 14.7 percent to 17.5 percent.
        • The proportion of government workers who were Latino and only spoke English increased slightly – from 5 percent to 5.2 percent — but the difference is not statistically significant.
        • The proportion of government employees who were Asian or Pacific Islander and only spoke English rose from 4.3 percent to 5.8 percent.
        • This study “suggests that language-based policies may have racialized effects on the employability of ethnoracial groups marginalized by monolingualism. For instance, this study clearly shows that Asian monolinguals benefited from multicultural policies focused on language, while Black monolinguals did not.”

        Other resources for journalists:

        • A 2015 report from the Pew Research Center suggests most English-speaking Hispanics in the U.S. are bilingual.
        • A 2015 report from the U.S. Census Bureau offers a detailed look at the languages people speak at home in the U.S. In the Houston metropolitan area, for example, 37 percent of the population aged 5 and older speaks a language other than English at home.
        • The National Center for Education Statistics offers a number of reports on public school students who are learning English as a second language. In 2013-14, 4.5 million public school students were learning to speak English, up from 4.2 million in 2003-04.

        Related research:

          • Feb 02 / 2017
          • 0
          Banks, Economics, Tip sheets

          Why the Fed changes interest rates: Explainer

          No matter the direction, up or down, when the Federal Reserve adjusts its headline interest rate, the global economy moves. Eight times a year, journalists, analysts and investors around the world carefully monitor the Fed’s arcane statements for hints of where the economy is heading.

          What’s the Fed?

          The Federal Reserve – widely known as “the Fed” – is the central bank of the United States. It is run by a seven-member Board of Governors appointed by the president and approved by the Senate to 14-year terms, which are staggered so that no president may appoint all members. In this way, it is nominally independent.

          The president also appoints the chair and vice chair of the board to four-year terms, which are often renewed once. Janet Yellen took over as chair after her Senate confirmation in February 2014.

          The Fed is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and supervises 12 district branches around the country, such as the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

          All seven governors serve on the 12-member Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) along with the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and four of the remaining 11 reserve bank presidents, who each serve one-year rotating terms.

          Setting monetary policy

          The FOMC meets eight times a year to set monetary policy – “to influence the availability and cost of money and credit to help promote national economic goals.” Basically, the FOMC manipulates the amount of money in circulation in order to keep unemployment low, inflation at around 2 percent and forestall recessions.

          To meet these goals, the Committee sets a “federal funds target rate.” It then influences the supply and demand for cash in circulation (a process it calls “open market operations”) by buying or selling government-backed securities — printing money, effectively, to lower the rate; or buying and hoarding money to raise it. The FOMC can also tweak the amount of cash that banks are required to hold outside of business hours. To meet these requirements, the banks borrow and lend to each other overnight at a rate very close to the Fed’s target. The weighted average rate for these transactions is the “effective federal funds rate.”

          The federal funds rate has wide implications. Private lenders adjust their rates accordingly. So, if you are borrowing money to buy a home or start a business, you will likely pay an amount your bank calculates based on this rate (but higher, because the bank expects a profit).

          Thus, the Fed has enormous influence over the business cycle. Lower rates stimulate growth by encouraging borrowing and investment; higher rates stifle spending, slowing growth and inflation. This all happens slowly, though, making fine tuning the economy a risky and constant work-in-progress.

          The federal funds rate also impacts the dollar. If the rate climbs, foreigners become attracted to the returns (they already like the security) of American banks, and money flows into the U.S. That strengthens the dollar against other currencies, making American exports more expensive to foreigners, but also making a Tahitian vacation or a hunk of Camembert cheaper for Americans who earn dollars. Consequently, foreign central banks adjust their own rates. If the federal fund rate goes down, foreigners take their money out of the U.S.; that reduces demand for dollars on international currency markets, pushing the value of the dollar down (Camembert gets more expensive).

          This is why business journalists get so excited by the FOMC’s post-meeting statements – and, three weeks later when it releases its minutes – scouring these documents for insights into officials’ thinking about the economy, and thus how they expect to move interest rates. Alone, a suggestion about a future rate change can move markets.

          Impact and inflation

          Since the Great Recession of the late 2000s, the Fed has kept the federal funds rate at historic lows to stimulate the economy. With interest rates around 0.25 percent, borrowing for most Americans is cheaper and easier. One side effect has been soaring house prices, which have grown much faster than inflation as more people have rushed to buy homes with this “cheap money.”

          Sometimes, to tame inflation, the Fed increases the rate. In 1981, the effective federal funds rate surpassed 19 percent. That made borrowing difficult for many people, which was the point: When people have less cash to spend, inflation falls.

          Nominal vs. real interest

          You may hear officials and analysts talk about “real interest rates.” That is the interest rate adjusted for inflation – a “real” figure is what money is worth after inflation has been subtracted. A “nominal” rate is the amount without considering inflation – the amount in name only.

          If a bank will loan you money to buy a house at 4 percent for 30 years, are you paying 4 percent? Right now, no. The Fed expects inflation over the next 10 years to hover around 2 percent. So, if you receive a 30-year loan at 4 percent interest, you are really paying about 2 percent (4-2=2) as long as inflation remains around 2 percent and your salary keeps up with inflation.

          Finding data:

          Each member bank within the Federal Reserve system publishes regional data. Some offer other specialized projects. For example, the St. Louis Fed hosts the vast database from which we drew the above graph. Here’s a list of the 12 banks’ homepages.

          Each morning, the New York Fed publishes the overnight rate, the target federal funds rate and the volume of overnight trading.

          We at Journalist’s Resource put together this tip sheet on how to find data on house prices.

          Other resources:

          • Loved by business students, Investopedia is a good dictionary of economics and finance terms.
          • The U.S. Department of the Treasury is the federal agency responsible for managing the government’s money, printing money, advising the president and implementing economic sanctions against foreign threats. The treasury secretary is appointed by the president and approved by the Senate.
          • Here is a list of foreign central bank websites.
            • Feb 02 / 2017
            • 0
            Education, Health Care, Public Health

            Middle school vaccine mandate cut whooping cough 53%

            A requirement that middle schoolers be vaccinated against pertussis seems to protect the wider community and encourage preteens to receive other types of inoculations.

            The issue: One of the benefits of vaccination regimes is herd immunity. Even if a few people abstain from inoculation, enough are shielded to stop an outbreak from spreading. Indeed, vaccines are often called one of the greatest medical breakthroughs in history; they have saved untold millions of lives from diseases that many people today have never even imagined.

            Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis are bacterial diseases that have been fought since the 1940s with a combined vaccine known as DTaP. Thanks to DTaP, tetanus and diphtheria are rare in the United States. But pertussis – a violent and highly contagious respiratory disease also known as whooping cough – remains endemic and extremely dangerous for infants (who cannot be vaccinated with DTaP until they are 2 months old). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children receive five doses of DTaP by the time they are six years old. But pertussis is persistent.

            In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new vaccine, Tdap, for 11 and 12yearolds as a booster — an extra dose to ensure the DTaP still offers protection. Since then, 46 states have mandated that adolescents receive Tdap before entering middle school.

            But ensuring everyone complies has become harder in recent years, as an anti-vaccination movement has moved into the political mainstream, challenging accepted science and rendering routine vaccinations controversial. The danger became obvious during a 2015 measles outbreak traced to Disneyland.

            A new paper investigates if school vaccination mandates work. In addition to the Tdap vaccine, the government-sponsored Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the CDC recommends 11- and 12-year-olds receive a MCV shot for meningococcal infections (such as meningitis); HPV vaccine for human papillomavirus, a common sexually transmitted disease that can cause cancer in the cervix, vagina, penis, anus, mouth and throat; and an annual vaccine for seasonal flu. But state governments require these three other vaccines less frequently.

            An academic study worth reading: “Direct and Spillover Effects of Middle School Vaccination Requirements,” a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, 2017.

            Study summary: Christopher Carpenter and Emily Lawler, economists at Vanderbilt University, look for a relationship between the Tdap middle school mandate and the rate of pertussis deaths across the wider population. They also look for two examples of what they call spillovers: first, if more adolescents are being vaccinated, is “herd immunity” protecting more younger and older people? And second, is there “cross-vaccine spillover” — do adolescents who are required to have Tdap get other recommended vaccines as well?

            The authors use data from the National Immunization Survey conducted by the CDC on teenagers between 2008 and 2013.

            Key takeaways:

            • Regulations that require adolescents to have the Tdap booster vaccination before entering middle school are “extremely effective” at increasing immunization and reducing pertussis in the wider population.
            • By 2013, 80 percent of incoming middle school students in the U.S. had received the Tdap vaccine.
            • Between 2008 and 2013, such mandates increased the likelihood that a child between the ages of 10 and 12 received the Tdap booster by 29 percent.
            • Between 2008 and 2013, the authors found a 53 percent decline in pertussis cases across the entire population. Rates of death from pertussis fell for all age groups as a result of this “herd immunity” effect.
            • In the 27 states where Tdap is required but MCV is not, the authors found a “cross-vaccination spillover.” Adolescents visiting the doctor for a Tdap shot appear 2.1 to 2.9 percent more likely to get the MCV while they are there.
            • Overall, the Tdap requirement increased the likelihood that adolescents would begin the HPV inoculation by 4.2 to 4.9 percent and complete it by 2.5 to 3.3 percent (HPV vaccination requires two shots spaced up to a year apart). “These spillover effects are larger for children from poorer households.”
            • The spillover effects for the HPV shot are highest for African-American youth and higher for Hispanic youth than white youth. Also, mothers with less education are more likely to see that their children receive the HPV vaccine compared to mothers with more education.
            • The authors found no evidence that Tdap mandates encourage adolescents to receive the flu vaccine. That is possibly because the annual flu vaccine is typically available each September, after school starts.

            (Carpenter and Lawler, 2017)

            Helpful resources:

            The CDC publishes schedules of immunization recommendations for infants, children, teens and adults. The CDC also publishes recommendations specifically for Tdap vaccines with information about the dangers of pertussis.

            The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has data on pertussis infections among teenagers.

            Other research:

            • To establish herd immunity, the percentage of people who need to receive a vaccine varies by ailment. For measles, according to this 2000 paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, the threshold is between 93 and 95 percent.
            • We profiled research about pediatricians refusing to see children who have not been vaccinated and measles outbreaks and public information.
            • This 2007 article discusses the legal foundations for mandating vaccinations.
            • A 2011 paper in the Journal of Health Economics estimates that a mandate to vaccinate children against chickenpox would save the economy over $23 million per year.
            • A 2015 paper in Health Affairs looks at how different states’ vaccination exemption laws impact immunization rates.
              • Jan 30 / 2017
              • 2
              Vintage calculator (Pixabay)
              Reporting, Research

              Data journalism lesson with crime stats: Parsing close-call numbers

              Was Oakland the nation’s most dangerous city in 2013? Or was it Oakland and Flint? What is a valid distinction, statistically speaking? We show the uses of a “confidence interval.”


              Journalists love rankings and lists, especially when they involve public data that show how certain states, cities, zip codes or neighborhoods compare against one another. But when journalists select angles, write leads and craft headlines, inevitably some amount of nuance — and potentially truth — gets left behind in the act of compression.

              When the weight of the data is overwhelmingly in one direction or another, the “story” can almost write itself, and accurately. For example, let’s say a researcher finds that 74 percent of U.S. transportation fatalities take place on highways, and of those, 10 percent are motorcycle riders. Here, writing a lead and headline are relatively direct, and likely to be reflective of what the data are saying.

              But what about cases where there’s less clarity in the data — how do we weigh significance and make close calls? Below is a simple example of data journalism with a few straightforward statistical techniques that can help reporters and editors make more accurate decisions when there is some ambiguity — and a borderline “call” — inherent in the numbers.

              The attached Excel spreadsheet contains 2013 crime data from 269 cities across the United States. This nicely cleaned-up table is courtesy of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), and comes from its Data Coursepack. As IRE notes, there are all sorts of fundamental issues with using this dataset:

              The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been collecting crime data from law enforcement agencies in the United States since the 1930s. The FBI discourages against ranking cities based on this data for many factors. First of all, reporting is voluntary and while the FBI provides guidelines on data collection they are not rules. Just a fraction of law-enforcement agencies report to the FBI and they may collect information differently or have different definitions for offenses. Additionally, cities such as Detroit and St. Louis often float to the top of rankings because the cities are their own counties and don’t include any suburban areas in the offense totals. While journalists need to be aware of these caveats, FBI crime data remain the best tool we have for analyzing this information across the country.

              With these caveats in mind, let’s look at the IRE’s dataset and try to use it to answer a classic question: Which city is the most dangerous? If you eyeball the list and the highest rates (see the Media/Analysis tab on this post for the formulas), you’ll see it’s a close call near the top:

              Screenshot crime data

              If you’re a reporter in Michigan, you’d note that both Flint and Detroit are in the top 10, so the story could be their ongoing troubles with public safety. But what if you’re writing a national story? Just by going from the numbers, the most dangerous city (based on this dataset), is Oakland, California, with 10.27 violent crimes per 1,000 residents. But is it fair to run a story that says, in effect, “Oakland Is Nation’s Most Dangerous City”? Oakland is definitely in the unenviable top position, but the margin between it and Flint, which has 10.21 instances of violent crime per 1,000 persons, seems pretty slender. And what about Detroit, at 9.69? How meaningful are the distinctions between these cities, and how should they be interpreted in order to focus the story?

              When you’re working on deadline, you don’t often have time to do a full statistical analysis, so rules of thumb can be helpful, keeping in mind that they’re only that. In this case, what’s the percentage difference between crime rates for Oakland and the cities lower on the list? Here’s how to calculate:

              • 1) In cell S3, type in the formula “=P3/$P$2” — here you’re dividing the crime rate in Flint by that in Oakland. (The dollar signs in the formula mean “keep this reference point fixed”; it’ll be important later on.) After the formula is in place, right-click on the cell, select “format cells,” choose “percentage,” set the number of decimal places to two, and press OK. You should see 99.42 percent. So, Flint’s violence rate is very close to Oakland’s, something you could see just from the raw numbers, but here it’s in percentage terms.
              • 2) To find out how much lower Flint’s violence rate is than Oakland’s, type the formula “=1-(P3/$P$2)” in cell R3. The result should be 0.58 percent. (You could have derived this with a calculator by subtracting 99.42 from 100, but it’s easier to let Excel do the work.)
              • 3) Copy the formula in cell R3 and paste it into R4 through R270. You’ll now get percentages expressing the difference between Oakland’s rate as compared to each other city.

              Just looking quickly, you can see that the rates for Oakland and Flint are very close, just 0.58 percent apart — not even 1 percent. Detroit’s is 5.66 percent lower than Oakland’s rate; Memphis is 19.77 percent lower; St. Louis is 26.11 percent lower, and so on, all the way down to Irvine, Calif. Its violent-crime rate is 0.27 per 1,000 — 97.36 percent lower than that for Oakland.

              So in the column of results that we have, when does the difference in the rate of violent crime become “significant,” statistically speaking? In the broadest possible terms, the figure of 5 percent can be a helpful guideline. A smaller difference is questionable, though there are a lot of potential subtleties — for example, how bunched up or spread out are the values? Hard to say, just looking at the data quickly. Consequently, we need to derive our answer in a more rigorous way, based on all the observations in the dataset. Only this will allow us to better understand the numbers and, based on this knowledge, write with more authority.

              All that’s required is a few more of the built-in formulas that Excel and other spreadsheet programs make available:

              • 1) At the bottom of your spreadsheet, in cell N272, type the word “Count.” In P272, type “=COUNT(P2:P270)”. This gives you the number of values that we have in this dataset. (Note that you could just type in 269 here, but using the COUNT function would allow you to, say, easily exclude some outlying data points to ask slightly different questions.)
              • 2) In cell N273, type the word “Mean” or “Average” — it’s just a label. Then in P273, type “=AVERAGE(P2:P270)”. Once the formula is in place, right-click on the cell and format it as a number with three decimal places. This gives you the average violent-crime rate per 1,000 people for our dataset: 2.686 per 1,000.
              • 3) In cell N274, type the label “Standard Dev.” and in P274, “=STDEV(P2:P270)”. This uses a built-in Excel formula to calculate the standard deviation, which tells us how much variation the dataset contains — are the numbers tightly bunched or spread out? The answer is 1.818.
              • 4) In cell N275, type “Standard Error” and in P275, “=(P274)/(SQRT(P272))”. Here we’re dividing the standard deviation in cell P274 by the square root of the number of data points. The more data points we have, the lower our standard error, the fewer data points, the greater the standard error. In this case, it’s 0.111.
              • 5) In cell N276, type “Confidence Int.” and in P276, “=CONFIDENCE(0.05,P274,P272)”. Another built-in function, with the level of significance we’re choosing (0.05, or 5 percent, in this case), the standard deviation we calculated in cell P274, and the number of data points shown in cell P272. The result is 0.217.

              What the confidence interval means is that for any one value in the list of violence rates, from Oakland to Irvine, those that are 0.217 greater or lower have a 95 percent probability of being statistically different. This being the case, let’s find out how far around the average of 2.686 the 95 percent confidence interval extends — what’s the range of “average” in our sample.

              1. In cell N278, type “Minimum” and in cell P278, “=P273-P276.” This is the average minus the confidence interval, and the result is 2.469.
              2. In cell N279, type “Maximum” and in cell P279, “=P273+P276.” This is the average plus the confidence interval, and the result is 2.903.

              So for our story, it turns out that the cities with rates of violent crime closest to the national average, 2.686, are Seattle, Washington (2.702), and Lowell, Massachusetts (2.681). Twenty-nine of our cities, from Manchester, New Hampshire (2.899) to Reno, Nevada (2.473), are within 95 percent confidence interval for our mean — their rates are statistically indistinguishable from the average crime rate, meaning they’re effectively the same, at least based on the available data. Given that we have 269 cities, they’re actually fairly tightly bunched: 10.78 percent are within the confidence interval for the mean.

              And back at the top of the scale, our more-involved calculations tell us that the rates for Oakland and Flint are effectively identical, and significant outliers. Only when do you get to Detroit, whose rate of 9.62 is 0.581 less than Oakland’s — more than the 95 percent confidence interval of 0.217 — does the difference become significant, statistically speaking.

              So then the question becomes, what is the story that the data is telling us? Here are possible headlines, all of them statistically accurate — and defensible:

              • “Oakland, California and Flint, Michigan lead nation in violent crime rates.” The rate for these two cities is more than five times the average for all cities examined.
              • “Philadelphia and Houston the most dangerous U.S. cities over 1 million; San Diego and Phoenix the safest.” To arrive at this, we sorted by population, then sorted just the cities over 1 million in population on their violent-crime rates.
              • “New York: Big city, but violent crimes close to U.S. average.” The city’s rate is 2.929, just beyond the 95 percent confidence limit of 2.903. But looking above New York in the list, there are a lot of cities thought of as “safe” whose violence rates are significantly higher than New York’s (meaning, at least 0.217 higher, our confidence interval), including West Palm Beach, Florida (3.163), Tucson, Arizona (3.178), Peoria, Illinois (3.227) and Spokane, Washington (3.398).

              The bottom line: Quick calculations are handy, and can help you in a deadline situation, but it’s always better to really dig into the numbers, even when you have a small amount of time. There are often a lot of great stories there, and far more worth telling than the simplistic read of a column of values.

              Related resources: Two other Journalist’s Resource tip sheets can provide more information on data analysis: “Statistical Terms Used in Research Studies; a Primer for Media” and “Regression Analysis: A Quick Primer for Media on a Fundamental Form of Data Crunching.”

                • Jan 27 / 2017
                • 0
                Inequality, Personal Finance, Taxes

                How contact with the poor affects actions of the wealthy

                A new study suggests Americans are less likely to support a tax on the wealthy after seeing a poor person in an affluent setting.

                The issue: Since the 1970s, U.S. income distribution has grown more concentrated, with more of the nation’s wealth going to the top 1 percent of earners, according to research from two prominent scholars at the University of California, Berkeley. Over the years, policymakers at the federal and state levels have introduced a range of proposals aimed at helping redistribute income. Many of those proposals focus on changes in taxation – primarily, raising taxes on the rich.

                An academic study worth reading: “Exposure to Inequality Affects Support for Redistribution,” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2017.

                Study summary: Melissa L. Sands of the Harvard University Department of Government looks at how coming into contact with poverty while in an affluent setting affects an individual’s political behavior. As a part of Sands’ experiment, individuals who were walking in an affluent area were asked to sign a petition after passing by a professional actor who was dressed as either an impoverished person or a rich person. To gauge whether the race of the actor affects behavior, Sands used one white and one black male actor.

                On each day of the experiment, an actor portrayed poverty or wealth at randomly scheduled times. The petitioner rotated between two petitions – one that asked individuals to support a higher tax on incomes of $1 million or more and one that, for comparison purposes, focused on a policy to reduce the use of plastic bags. A total of 1,335 pedestrians were asked to sign the millionaire’s tax petition, the majority of whom lived in high-income ZIP codes, according to the addresses they reported on the petition.

                Key takeaways:

                • Pedestrians were 4.4 percentage points less likely to support the tax policy in the presence of a poor person, regardless of the person’s race.
                • Individuals who were asked to support a policy on plastic bags did not appear to be affected much by the presence of a poor person.
                • White men were slightly more likely to support the tax while in proximity to a poor black person compared with a poor white person.
                • Sands asserts that the results of the study “suggest that the presence of poverty, particularly in a place of affluence, decreases support for policies aimed at alleviating those conditions, a worrisome conclusion given that the general population increasingly resides in urban environments where contact with low-income individuals is likely. Homelessness, the most visible manifestation of rising urban poverty, may perversely discourage citizens from favoring social safety nets.”

                Other resources:

                Related research:

                  • Jan 26 / 2017
                  • 0
                  Economics, Globalization, International, Tip sheets, Workers

                  Finding trade and tariff data: Tips for journalists

                  It is difficult to measure the impact free trade has on individuals. Opening borders to goods, services, money, people and ideas can cost jobs while benefiting consumers. There are winners and losers. With President Donald Trump promising to renegotiate trade agreements and introduce new import tariffs, journalists need to know where to find the data that tell the story of trade and today’s global economy.

                  Trade can be hard to assess in a globalized world because what makes an import and what makes an export is no longer straightforward. In “The Little Book of Economics,” the Wall Street Journal’s chief economic commentator Greg Ip explains:

                  “Apple’s iPod is assembled in China, but much of the finished product’s designs, components, marketing and value were added elsewhere. Indeed, according to a study by the Personal Computing Industry Center at the University of California, Irvine, just 2 percent of all the wages earned in the sale of an iPod are earned in China, while 70 percent are earned in the United States. When Apple sells an iPod in Germany, it shows up as an export from China, but most of the benefit flows back to the United States.”

                  The losers, in this case, are the American workers who might have once assembled an iPod — the workers who cannot compete with low-wage workers in China. The winners are anyone who can afford an iPod (and Apple’s shareholders).

                  A host of government agencies and multilateral organizations collate and distribute data on trade volumes, tariffs (import taxes), quotas and subsidies. They hold thousands of untold stories. Here are some places to start:

                  World Trade Organization

                  The World Trade Organization (WTO) was founded in 1955 to replace the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It is an intergovernmental arbiter that helps its 164 members settle trade disputes. To join, a country must theoretically give every other member “most-favored nation” status, meaning that if it grants one country a lower customs duty for a particular product, it must do so for all other WTO members.

                  Resources at the WTO:

                  • Key trade indicators for 195 economies. (Example: over 81 percent of Mexican exports are sent to the United States.)
                  • World Tariff Profiles is an annual report detailing the tariffs and customs duties (import taxes) each country applies on each product it imports.
                  • More detailed tariff data are available here.
                  • Details on the complaints countries file against each other.
                  • A number of other statistics are available here, including:
                    • Data on trade flows – For example, how much iron and steel Australia imported and exported in 2016 (or for each year in the 1990s).
                    • Trade profiles – Here you can see Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP, the size of its economy), its major exports and imports, its trading partners, and where it ranks relative to other exporters and importers.
                    • The most recent data on each region’s and country’s imports and exports.
                    • This interactive map allows you to visualize particular exports and imports. For example, where did Japan send fish and how much (in dollar terms) in 2015? How has that changed over time? (Note: the flows are not always available at that level of detail.)
                    • This map allows you to quickly view indicators like most-favored nation tariff rates, share of global merchandise exports and total imports/exports.
                    • These country profiles show how an economy adds value to exports, where the country sits in global value chains (think of the iPod example above), and how much the country trades in intermediate goods and services

                  United Nations Statistical Division Commodity Trade database 
                  Known as Comtrade, this is one of the most comprehensive sources of data on trade, containing, it claims, more than 1 billion records. These are trade figures from national statistics agencies around the world that have been standardized by the UN.

                  World Bank
                  Import and export data juxtaposed with macroeconomic figures, such as GDP.

                  U.S. Government
                  At least 27 U.S. government agencies and offices work on trade, according to a list put together by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).

                  The USTR works on behalf of the president to negotiate with other countries. The House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee manage trade policy and the Senate ratifies treaties. How does this work in practice, when almost 200 countries are trading with each other and individual legislators are complaining about far-flung nations hurting a factory in their district? Ip explains in his book:

                  “Complaints about imports usually fall into one of three categories: subsidies, dumping, or surges. A subsidy is a government grant or some other favorable treatment that lowers the cost of the import. Dumping occurs when a foreign company sells its products abroad for less than it costs to make them, or for less than it charges at home. A surge is a sudden increase in imports.

                  “Subsidy and dumping complaints are heard by the Import Administration [International Trade Administration], part of the Commerce Department. If the Import Administration agrees subsidies or dumping have occurred, as it does 95 percent of the time, it sends the complaint to the federal International Trade Commission (ITC), an independent, bipartisan panel, to determine if the subsidy or dumping actually hurt anyone in the United States. About 60 percent of the time it concludes that it did. In the case of subsidy it recommends a countervailing duty. In the case of dumping it recommends a countervailing duty. The president has little discretion here: if the ITC says injury has occurred, the Commerce Department generally has to impose the duty.”

                  The International Trade Commission publishes tariff schedules and other trade data here.

                  The Department of Commerce runs the Census Bureau, which includes import/export data for the U.S., rate provisions and other data. You can subscribe to tailored monthly email updates for economic indicators such as the trade deficit. Sign up here.

                  The International Trade Administration also publishes state and city export data.

                  Other resources:

                  • The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has a straightforward website offering many economic indicators and trade volume data. It is often easier to browse than the WTO’s site. UNCTAD also helps national statistics agencies build capacity.
                  • The UNCTAD Trade Analysis Information System (TRAINS), which is run by the World Bank, details trade control measures, including various types of tariffs.
                  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) hosts a database “comprising statistics of overall industrial growth, detailed data on business structure and statistics on major indicators of industrial performance by country” over time.
                  • The World Input-Output Database, run by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, is useful for anyone studying gross output and industrial value added during trade flows.
                  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – a club of rich countries – also has input-output tables.
                  • An overview of international organizations’ databases on trade, published by the UN Statistical Agency.

                  A bit of vocabulary:

                  • Exports – what one country sells abroad (both goods and services)
                    • These create jobs. From an American perspective, think Hollywood movies and frozen chickens (The U.S. exported $2.2 billion of frozen chicken parts in 2015, according to the Census Bureau).
                    • Exports of goods and services account for 6 percent of America’s GDP, according to the World Bank.
                  • Imports – what one country buys from abroad
                    • When these are cheap, they enrich consumers. iPods likely would be more expensive if they were made by American workers.
                    • Imports give consumers choice.
                  • Bilateral trade flows – the total, usually in a dollar figure, that two countries sell each other (exports plus imports).
                  • Balance of trade – This is either a deficit (you buy more abroad than you sell abroad) or a surplus (sell more than you buy). Theoretically, it could be perfectly balanced.
                  • Terms of trade (TOT) – To calculate this ratio, divide the value of exports by imports and multiply by 100. When less than 100 percent, more value is going out than is coming in. When the number is greater than 100 percent, the country is accruing more than it is spending abroad.
                  • Exchange rate — A currency in terms of another. If the dollar is worth fewer euros, American goods are cheaper to Europeans and so Europeans will buy more American-made stuff. At the same time, French cheese and German Porches get more expensive.
                  • Comparative advantage – A country can do something more efficiently (usually cheaper) than others. Google builds some of its data centers in northern countries where the temperature is often cold. For data centers, Finland has a comparable advantage because Google needs to pay for less cooling. Mexico has a comparative advantage in labor because its workers demand less pay than American workers.
                  • Outsourcing – When a firm hires workers in a foreign country because they are cheaper. Ford has moved much of its car production to Mexico because it can pay workers there less while still enjoying the ability to ship those cars to the United States duty free, thanks to NAFTA.

                  Other research:

                  • We’ve reviewed research on NAFTA and how international trade impacts American jobs.
                  • A 2016 study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office called the impact of trade agreements like NAFTA on the U.S. balance of trade “very small and highly uncertain.”
                    • Jan 26 / 2017
                    • 0
                    Conflicts, Human Rights, Security, Military, U.S. Foreign Policy

                    Does torture work? The research says, “No”

                    During the George W. Bush administration, the CIA employed what it called “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees around the world. This included waterboarding (simulated drowning), sleep deprivation to the point of hallucination, beatings, sexual humiliation, and threats to hurt a detainee’s children or rape a detainee’s mother. Barack Obama banned torture when he assumed office, though his tenure was dogged by allegations that abuse continued, if not in American prisons then in allied countries’ facilities. A 2014 Senate report declared these methods “not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.”

                    As the Donald Trump administration considers torturing suspected militants, the question of whether it helps elicit information or discourage insurgents is again important to policymakers, journalists, scholars and the public.

                    Below we highlight studies that look specifically at the effectiveness of torture and its consequences — for example, receiving potentially unreliable information, possibly losing international prestige, risking retaliation and the emotional toll on victims and torturers. We did not include discourses on morality or interpretations of international law.



                    “Ethically Investigating Torture Efficacy: A New Methodology to Test the Influence of Physical Pain on Decision-Making Processes in Experimental Interrogation Scenarios.”
                    Houck, Shannon C.; Conway, Lucian Gideon III. Journal of Applied Security Research, 2015. doi: 10.1080/19361610.2015.1069636.

                    Abstract: “Torture’s effectiveness is a frequently debated yet under-researched topic. This article describes a new experimental method to ethically investigate one component of torture: The influence of physical pain on people’s decisions to reveal secret or false information. In particular, participants played a game that was designed to be a proxy of an interrogation scenario. As part of the game, participants were instructed to keep specific information hidden from an opponent while their hand was submerged in varying temperatures of ice water (a cold pressor test that causes pain). Further, their opponent (actually a confederate) verbally pressured them to reveal the information. Participants could choose to give false information to their opponent, true information, or a combination of both. Results suggested the potential usefulness of this method to examine the effectiveness of using pain for information retrieval in a scenario similar to interrogation: Analyses revealed that participants were more likely to reveal false information when exposed to the cold pressor test, and this effect became more pronounced as manipulated water temperatures became colder (from 10 degrees to 5 degrees to 1 degree). This study offers a methodological advance on a challenging topic to research, and can inform our understanding of the efficacy of physical pain as an information retrieval tool.”


                    “Interrogational Torture: Or How Good Guys Get Bad Information with Ugly Methods.”
                     Schiemann, John W. Political Research Quarterly, 2012. doi: 10.1177/1065912911430670.

                    Abstract: Debate about the sources of intelligence leading to bin Laden’s location has revived the question as to whether interrogational torture is effective. Answering this question is a necessary—if not sufficient—condition for any justification of interrogational torture. Given the impossibility of approaching the question empirically, I address it theoretically, asking whether the use of torture to extract information satisfies reasonable expectations about reliability of information as well as normative constraints on the frequency and intensity of torture. I find that although information from interrogational torture is unreliable, it is likely to be used frequently and harshly.


                    “The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture as an Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate”
                    Costanzo, Mark A.; Gerrity, Ellen. Social Issues and Policy Review, 2009. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-2409.2009.01014.

                    Abstract: “Governments sometimes characterize torture as an indispensable interrogation tool for gathering strategic intelligence. In this article, we review the relevant social scientific research on the effectiveness, impact, and causes of torture. First, we summarize research on false confessions and examine the relevance of that research for torture-based interrogations. Next, we review research on the mental health consequences of torture for survivors and perpetrators. Finally, we explore the social-psychological conditions that promote acts of cruelty (such as those seen at Abu Ghraib) and examine the arguments typically offered to justify the use of torture. We argue that any hypothesized benefits from the use of torture must be weighed against the substantial proven costs of torture. These costs include the unreliable information extracted through interrogations using torture, the mental and emotional toll on victims and torturers, loss of international stature and credibility, and the risk of retaliation against soldiers and civilians.”


                    “Erroneous Assumptions: Popular Belief in the Effectiveness of Torture Interrogation”
                    Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie. Journal of Peace Psychology, 2007. doi: 10.1080/10781910701665766.

                    Abstract: “People generally believe that torture is effective despite strong counterclaims by experienced military interrogators and intelligence experts. This article challenges us to reexamine some of our basic assumptions about torture by presenting four psychological factors — primarily errors and biases in human judgment — that help account for this mistaken popular belief.”


                    “International Law, Constitutional Law, and Public Support for Torture”
                    Versteeg, Mila; Chilton, Adam S. Research and Politics, 2016.

                    Abstract: “The human rights movement has spent considerable energy developing and promoting the adoption of both international and domestic legal prohibitions against torture. Empirical scholarship testing the effectiveness of these prohibitions using observational data, however, has produced mixed results. In this paper, we explore one possible mechanism through which these prohibitions may be effective: dampening public support for torture. Specifically, we conducted a survey experiment to explore the impact of international and constitutional law on public support for torture. We found that a bare majority of respondents in our control group support the use of torture, and that presenting respondents with arguments that this practice violates international law or constitutional law did not produce a statistically significant decrease in support. These findings are consistent with prior research suggesting, even in democracies, that legal prohibitions on torture have been ineffective.”


                    “What Stops the Torture?”
                    Conrad, Courtenay Ryals; Moore, Will H. American Journal of Political Science, 2010. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2010.00441.x.

                    Abstract: “States whose agents engage in torture in a given year have a 93 percent chance of continuing to torture in the following year. What leads governments to stop the use of torture? We focus on the principal–agent relationship between the executive and the individuals responsible for supervising and interrogating state prisoners. We argue that some liberal democratic institutions change the probability that leaders support the creation of institutions that discourage jailers and interrogators from engaging in torture, thus increasing the probability of a state terminating its use of torture. These relationships are strongly conditioned by the presence of violent dissent; states rarely terminate the use of torture when they face a threat. Once campaigns of violent dissent stop, however, states with popular suffrage and a free press are considerably more likely to terminate their use of torture. Also given the end of violent dissent, the greater the number of veto points in government, the lower the likelihood that a state terminates its use of torture.”


                    “The (In)Effectiveness of Torture for Combating Insurgence”
                    Sullivan, Christopher Michael. Journal of Peace Research, 2014. doi: 10.1177/0022343313520023.

                    Abstract: “It is commonly believed that torture is an effective tool for combating an insurgent threat. Yet while torture is practiced in nearly all counterinsurgency campaigns, the evidence documenting torture’s effects remains severely limited. This study provides the first micro-level statistical analysis of torture’s relation to subsequent killings committed by insurgent and counterinsurgent forces. The theoretical arguments contend that torture is ineffective for reducing killings perpetrated by insurgents both because it fails to reduce insurgent capacities for violence and because it can increase the incentives for insurgents to commit future killings. The theory also links torture to other forms of state violence. Specifically, engaging in torture is expected to be associated with increased killings perpetrated by counterinsurgents. Monthly municipal-level data on political violence are used to analyze torture committed by counterinsurgents during the Guatemalan civil war (1977–94). Using a matched-sample, difference-in-difference identification strategy and data compiled from 22 different press and NGO sources as well as thousands of interviews, the study estimates how torture is related to short-term changes in killings perpetrated by both insurgents and counterinsurgents. Killings by counterinsurgents are shown to increase significantly following torture. However, torture appears to have no robust correlation with subsequent killings by insurgents. Based on this evidence the study concludes that torture is ineffective for reducing insurgent perpetrated killings.”


                    “The ‘Game’ of Torture”
                    Wantchekon, Leonard; Healy, Andrew. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1999.

                    Abstract: “The authors explain the prevalence of torture by modeling its institutional structure as a game of incomplete information involving the state, the torturer, and the victim. Once the state endorses torture as a mechanism for extracting information, its will is carried out with positive probability. This is because (a) even a ‘soft’ and ‘sensitive’ state agent might torture the victim to test his or her ability to resist and (b) a weak victim might hold out momentarily to find out whether the torturer is sensitive or ‘sadistic.’ When the state uses torture to intimidate political opposition, all types of torturers will behave sadistically. As a result, torture becomes more widespread and more cruel. The authors explain why a ‘culture’ of individual resistance is the only effective solution to torture.”


                    “The Failure of Constitutional Torture Prohibitions”
                    Versteeg, Mila; Chilton, Adam S. The Journal of Legal Studies, 2015. doi: 10.1086/684298.

                    Abstract: “The prohibition of torture is one of the most emblematic norms of the modern human rights movement, and its prevalence in national constitutions has increased steeply in the past three decades. Yet little is known about whether constitutional torture prohibitions actually reduce torture. In this article, we explore the relationship between constitutional torture prohibitions and torture practices by utilizing new data that correct for biases in previous measures of torture and a recently developed method that mitigates selection bias by incorporating information about countries’ constitutional commitments into our research design. Using these new data and this new method, as well as more conventional data sources and methods, we find no evidence that constitutional torture prohibitions have reduced rates of torture in a statistically significant or substantively meaningful way.”


                    “Behind This Mortal Bone: The (In)Effectiveness of Torture”
                    Bell, J. Indiana Law Journal, 2008.

                    Abstract: “This essay addresses the theoretical debate on torture in an empirical way. It urges that as part of our evaluation of the merits of torture, we take a shrewd look at the quality of information brutal interrogations produce. The essay identifies widespread belief in what the author identifies as the ‘torture myth’ — the idea that torture is the most effective interrogation practice. In reality, in addition to its oft-acknowledged moral and legal problems, the use of torture carries with it a host of practical problems which seriously blunt its effectiveness. This essay demonstrates that contrary to the myth, torture and the closely related practice, torture ‘lite’ do not always produce the desired information and, in the cases in which it does, these practices may not produce it in a timely fashion. In the end, the essay concludes, any marginal benefit the practice offers is low because traditional techniques of interrogation may be as good, and possibly even better at producing valuable intelligence.”


                    Other resources:

                    • Journalist Christopher Hitchens submitted himself to waterboarding in 2008. He describes the experience, which was captured on video, here.
                    • In early 2017, the Pew Research Center found the American public split over whether torture should be used to combat terrorism.