22 September 2016

Dew Drop Inn, The Good News Cafe - part the second

It's kind of quick for a part the second, but Nate Cohn has let another cat out of another bag.
Well, well, well. Look at that. A net five-point difference between the five measures, including our own, even though all are based on identical data. Remember: There are no sampling differences in this exercise. Everyone is coming up with a number based on the same interviews.

With regard to the Census/BLS earnings surveys, here's how to decline. More bad data. Yum. Ayn Rand would be proud to turn back the clock to 1800.

20 September 2016

Dew Drop Inn, The Good News Cafe

The regular reader may recall the admonition in these endeavors that macro analysis is fraught with danger: nearly all the data is from sample surveys, of varying quality and coverage. This reader, who hasn't been living under a rock or as "The Martian", is aware that 2015 income has been widely reported as having risen in the last year. For the first time in many years. The reporting, in some places, does admit that the 2015 level is still below 2007 levels; but who's counting?

Here's the public release:
The increases of 5.3 percent and 5.4 percent for family and nonfamily households were not statistically different.
In fact, if you read through the various sections, that sentence repeats and repeats and repeats...

A question about stat sig makes it all a bit worse:
The Census Bureau uses 90 percent confidence intervals and 0.10 levels of significance to determine statistical validity. Consult standard statistical textbooks for alternative criteria.
-- here

So, right off the bat, we've got squishing differences. By usually accepted stat sig, .05, it wouldn't be even close.

It gets better. There's a link to a spreadsheet with some underlying numbers. If you look at these numbers, the claim is that most are stat sig at .10!

If you follow the first quote link (page 6):
The effect of nonresponse cannot be measured directly, but one indication of its potential effect is the nonresponse rate. The basic CPS household-level nonresponse rate was 14.9 percent. The household-level CPS ASEC nonresponse rate was an additional 15.8 percent. These two nonresponse rates lead to a combined supplement nonresponse rate of 28.3 percent.

Following on, one finds the description of imputing missing responses:
Multiple imputation is a general approach to analyzing data with missing values. We can treat the traditional sample as if the responses were missing for income sources targeted by the redesign and use multiple imputation to generate plausible responses. We use a flexible semiparametric imputation technique to place individuals into strata along two dimensions: 1) their probability of income recipiency and 2) their expected income conditional on recipiency for each income source.
Much of that document is devoted to describing how this is done.

All surveys must deal with non-responses, so those in the business wouldn't find such a process out of band. For civilians, not so much. As I said, most likely believe that all these numbers are full measures, probably from IRS. Were that it were so. Without the raw data, it's not possible (well, for humble self) parse out whether the wonderful increase was an artifact of imputation. But, it could be.

So, should we guess that the Kenyan President ordered the minions at Census and BLS to put a heavy thumb on the scales? No. Having done data and stats for the government (not public facing, though), there's a good deal of resistance to the corner office dudes telling us what to do. Case in point: Farkas at FDA resigned rather than be party to the data fuck up that was eteplirsen. There's been a good deal of fiddling with the sampling underlying the surveys (yes, more than one for these data), and described at length in the background docs. Is all of this fiddling enough to turn nearly a decade of the 1% getting richer and the 99% having kids the other way 'round? Could be. Certainly a question those with the data to answer.

06 September 2016

Thought For The Day - 6 September 2016

Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and such dieters can be tweeked by simply telling them a bit of history. Among the dinosaurs, the herbivores were the big, slow, fat, dumb ones; while the carnivores were the fast, lean, smart ones.

03 September 2016

Thought For The Day - 3 September 2016

Recently, I saw a comment on one of the many message boards that said, more or less, that the profit motive is the key to innovation.

Bullshit on that. Smart people will do smart things, if so allowed, irregardless. It's what they do; just like the scorpion, the frog, and the river. Paying stupid people more money doesn't make them any smarter. Or capable of doing smart things.

Money can't buy you brains. Not to put inside your skull, at least.

Watch Where You're Going

Perhaps the most useful service provided by Apple Watch is to provide some of us (humble self very much included) the motivation to prick yet another rosy balloon. There persist in being folks who assert that the Watch is just a better battery away from being the awesome device worn by cartoon cop Dick Tracy. It's such silliness. Please read Gordon's book. Technological progress isn't a matter of human imagination, pulling rabbits out of our collective hat (brain) deus ex machina, but rather figuring out how Mother Nature has put the world together. The earth, and all the resources in it, is finite. There's a lot less of them than 1800. Get over it.

We've arrived at the lithium-ion battery, and that's as far as we're going to get. At least for a watch form factor. Lithium is the smallest atom capable of supplying electrons, without the potential of blowing up (mostly, lithium batteries don't :) ). Until a neo-Edison invents a new atom, that is. For those wishing for more authority, MIT has a new piece on the problem. It fails to make the point that the periodic table has been fully populated, modulo accelerator generated nanosecond monster atoms, and thus the wall has been hit. Lithium is it. The hydrogen fuel cell has been around for a bit, but de-scaling down to laptop/phone/watch size is fantasy. To answer those banking on yet smaller chip nodes to make Dick Tracy's wrist thingee reality, I'll offer the following (admitting I'm not EE): at some node, Xnm (my guess for X is 10), control of, and compensation for, leakage and capacitance will drain more power than the Xnm node will save over X+nm. You read it here first.

It's really fun living in a time, the 19th century for example, when you know that you've only scratched the surface of that big ball of reality that is Mother Nature. Anything imaginable looks possible. Not so much when the periodic table is all there to see, thermodynamics have been codified, the Bohr atom described, and so on. Now we have productive corporations, even Apple, segueing to "services" to make moolah, because they see the end of growth from novel widgets.

We live in a Rand New World, battling with a Christ New World. In the Old World, recently ended, economic growth was driven by population growth with each new kid becoming a consumer, if only the necessities. The expansion of white folks into land lived on by others for thousands of years was a manifestation of that. Since contemporary Western economies no longer deal in necessities, population growth can't drive economic growth. We imported folks to do the heavy lifting, starting with black folks, but also Chinese and lower level European ethnics (from the WASP point of view, of course) all in service to the betterment of the few. With the industrial revolution came the problem of consuming output. In the Dark Age, when production was sorta, kinda one man makes one widget (and the widget went to the manor's Lord), that problem didn't exist. But with automated production, i.e. non-linear increase in productivity, the problem became manifest. If you invent a new automated, capital intensive, way to make widgets, how do you find consumers to soak up the deluge of widgets? The manor's Lord, and even including his spawn, won't be enough. In the last few decades, it's been an all consuming problem. Yes, that's a pun with a healthy dose of irony.

So, we have to figure out how to grow an economy with a relatively (with respect to recent history and living memory) fixed technology. If you look at FRED data, you'll see that USofA "output" has been increasingly non-widgets, not stuff, but "services". Unless the path down the road of income and wealth concentration is reversed, we'll be in a permanent Dark Age. The key to avoiding that is to solve the 1%'s refusal to admit that their wealth is mostly luck, so they shouldn't be allowed to keep it all. In order for an economy to grow, aggregate demand has to grow. The "recovery" from the Great Recession is the poster child for faux recovery. It's been driven by monetary manipulation, not demand growth. That 4.9% unemployment rate just reported is mostly the result of the denominator (the size of the labor force) shrinking. Consider that for a moment. The data increasingly confirm that most folks are still worse off than they were before the Great Recession. Hyper capitalism only works if the 99% consume the output, rather than just the 1%. They will only buy so many Ferraris. The Donald tries to hammer on that exposed nerve of angry white folks, but nothing in his history indicates that he would actually do anything good (increase aggregate demand) for the 99%. Certainly, his tax proposals are pure 1% welfare.

So, in the end, the Quixotic Quest for the ultimate battery is fantasy, propelled by dreams of 19th century invention. "We did it back then when we didn't know anything, so it should be easy now when we know so much more." Dirty Harry famously said, "A man's got to know his limitations". So does a nation. So do all nations. There are only so many elements in the periodic table (and a fixed supply of them here on the Blue Marble, and, no, mining them on other planets won't happen with chemical rockets), and they can be assembled into only so many molecules (far more on the organic side, but still true). Thermodynamics proves that there's no such thing as a free lunch. And so on. The great discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries have brought us to the walls of this box we call reality, and the structure of our society and economy will either adapt to this very different reality, or we'll end up like the rats in the experiment. We can have continuing, robust, economic growth (with or without a battery an order of magnitude more potent than lithium-ion) without burgeoning population where just 1% skim off the production. We just need to spread the wealth around. It will be spent on fancy services that all can use happily. Ayn or Jesus? Take your pick.

30 August 2016

From Russia, With Love

While the right wing continues to bray about in-person voter fraud, which has never been documented above single digits anywhere, we get news that Russia (most likely) has been hacking away. Who would fund such an effort? Why, don't things go better with Koch? Of course they do. Security researchers have been warning us that the real threat of voter fraud lies in these automated systems, whose code is secret and security never independently vetted.

This is not new.
In January and February 2004, a whistleblower named Stephen Heller brought to light memos from Jones Day, Diebold's attorneys, informing Diebold that they were in breach of California law by continuing to use illegal and uncertified software in California voting machines.

This is Schneier's take
But while computer security experts like me have sounded the alarm for many years, states have largely ignored the threat, and the machine manufacturers have thrown up enough obfuscating babble that election officials are largely mollified.

As I said, things do go better with Koch.

29 August 2016

Thought For the Day - 29 August 2016

Yet more yakking from the Mainstream Pundit Class this morning that Yellen is about to "raise" interest rates. To be clear, the Fed has no absolute (fiat) control over any interest rate. Not even the Fed Funds rate, which is the one it's assumed to control directly. And that's the overnight inter-bank transfer rate. About as short term as one can get. It's "changed" by the Fed "suggestion" of some new higher/lower rate. Given the structure, banks comply.

Now, if the long term rate on corporate and Treasuries is determined by the internal rate of return on physical capital in the private sector, and it is albeit at some arm's length, then should the Fed/Yellen decide to push up Fed funds, one gets into a rate inversion. One caused by fiat, as it happens, not economic reality. The theory (almost entirely right wing, Greenspanian) is that raising Fed funds will filter out to Treasuries and corporate bonds. But how? The fact is, long term rates are in the crapper just because capitalists have run out of ideas. They're sitting on TRILLIONS of idle $$$, which they can't find useful ways to invest in their businesses. All these TRILLIONS have been chasing Treasuries for years, pushing down yields. The CxO class would rather get 10% (they hope, but so much moolah chasing Treasuries gets them 1/10th that) from Uncle Sugar fur shur, than build out new plant and equipment. Raising Fed funds rate isn't going to cause Gyro Gearloose light bulbs to start flashing over the heads of said CxO class members. They'll still be just as clueless as they are today. They still won't have any more idea how to generate 10% internal rate of return than they do today. All we'll get is an acceleration in wealth transfer from the many to the few.

So they demand that Uncle Sugar pay them 10% or so on Treasuries so that the CxO and hedge fund classes don't have to work for a living. Why should Uncle Sugar, i.e. the little people who pay taxes, agree to such a transfer of wealth from the 99% to the 1%? Where's the free market in all that?

Being a financial engineer in the next few years is an occupation which will keep the gastroenterolgists very, very busy. "Ulcers hab been berry, berry goo to me!!"