Yeah, But…. Or, Economists do Postwar Metropolitan Segregation

Leah Boustan, an economist at UCLA and the National Bureau of Economic Research, published an Op-Ed in the New York Times last weekend that distilled the essence of her new book, Competition in the Promised Land: Black Migrants in Northern Cities and Labor Markets, described thusly by Princeton University Press:

Traditionally, the Great Black Migration has been lauded as a path to general black economic progress. Leah Boustan challenges this view, arguing instead that the migration produced winners and losers within the black community. Boustan shows that migrants themselves gained tremendously, more than doubling their earnings by moving North. But these new arrivals competed with existing black workers, limiting black–white wage convergence in Northern labor markets and slowing black economic growth. Furthermore, many white households responded to the black migration by relocating to the suburbs. White flight was motivated not only by neighborhood racial change but also by the desire on the part of white residents to avoid participating in the local public services and fiscal obligations of increasingly diverse cities.

I’m going to offer two caveats for my analysis right off the bat: First, the whole book is ambitious in scope, and proposes a provocative that migration was less clearly a Good Thing for the interests of Black advancement (reading the blurb, one might approach the book asking “compared to what?” but….). And second, it’s quite difficult to express complex research findings in short form. The book seems highly worth reading, among other reasons because of the kind of media traction it’s getting through, well, NYT Op-Eds.

That said, I found the article to be flawed in its basic assumptions about the definition and nature of racism in American urban areas, particularly as related to metropolitan real estate markets in the 20th century, and not very informed about the historiography of that phenomenon. Continue reading

Trumpism and the Suburbs

This is a very interesting article by Jesse Myerson, which addresses something that’s irritated me about the discussion of Trump’s “white, working class” base. Leaving aside the sloppy definition of “working class” by the proxy of lacking a college degree, the implicit thesis embedded in the terminology is that Trump’s support reflects the economic anxieties of people who have been left behind by the transforming post-industrial economy.  Continue reading

An Old Metropolitical Friend

As the race to succeed Tom Price in the 6th Georgia House district settles into a runoff contest between Jon Ossoff and former Fulton County Commission chair Karen Handel, Handel has raised an old rallying cry: If it’s hard to secure a majority of the votes, it’s because it’s too easy for your opponents to cast a ballot. This, of course, dates back to Handel’s days in Fulton County politics, where she led a faction of north Fulton Republicans who were continually frustrated by the way that the black Democratic majority of the commission represented their constituents. In Fulton County in the late 1990s, Handel supported the shrinking of county government through budget cutting and advocated the “municipalization” of north Fulton into incorporated, white majority cities that privatized services, cut taxes, and avoided the established County workforce. I wrote about that in a scholarly way here, and also touched on some of the ironies of “good government” justifications for incorporation here.

Handel won election as Georgia’s Secretary of State, where she made the implementation of a controversial voter ID law written by fellow Fulton County Republican Hans von Spakovsky a top priority. This bill disenfranchised tens of thousands of Georgians due to false-positive matches in a database of convicts and other ineligible voters, without, as Richard Doner, Jonathan Schneer, and Dan Amsterdam have noted, demonstrably preventing any fraudulent voting (link to .pdf). It might not surprise you to know that studies of these database services demonstrate that the frequency of common names among Asian, Latino/a, and African American citizens contributes to higher rates of false matches, and therefore more wrongful disenfranchisement and more vote suppression, for members of those groups.

I’ve argued that that was hardly accidental, and not distinct from Handel’s background in Fulton County metropolitics, where voter turnout was a crucial factor in governing a county that was racially, ideologically, and socioeconomically divided between its north and south ends. While we think of vote suppression as consequential to the recent Presidential contest (as Ari Berman’s great reporting stresses), but it has a great impact in metropolitan areas too, where gerrymandered districts, voting restrictions, and other tactics can create significant divergence between the people governed and their representatives in both local and state government.

More recently, Handel castigated the decision of Judge Timothy Batten (a G.W. Bush-appointed Republican) to overturn the state’s restrictive registration period for the congressional runoff election:

“Its [sic] clear Jon Ossoff’s campaign to deceive the voters of the 6th District is not working. When the Democrats can’t win Elections following the rules – rules they themselves authored and enforced for years – they file partisan lawsuits to change them,” she said in the statement. “This lawsuit should be seen for exactly what it is: A partisan attempt to change the rules in the middle of an election for a nakedly partisan outcome.”

Timothy Batten is no one’s idea of a staunch voting rights advocate. I criticized his decision in 2013 in Lowery v. Deal, which dealt with the dilution of minority voting power in Fulton County’s newly incorporated cities. And the judge had rejected a claim that new Secretary of State Brian Kemp intentionally purged Georgia’s voter rolls ahead of the 2016 election. His decision reflected a very clear reading of a statute that requires voters be able to register up until 30 days prior to an election, whether runoff or primary. But it shouldn’t be surprising that Handel views higher turnout as risky to her chances.

Cities and the Trump Budget

There are many ways to critique the budget plan outlined by Mick Mulvaney and the Trump administration last week. Priorities skew toward a bloated military and away from aid to poor people. Budget cuts seem aimed more at symbolic targets of longstanding conservative ire (PBS, the remaining non-abortion services Planned Parenthood can offer women on Medicaid, the respective National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities). But it’s also a budget that takes dead aim at cities and at local governments more generally. As Will Wilkinson writes in the Washington Post, this is partly an electoral ploy, as Trump does not see his support coming from big, diverse, coastal cities. However, not all cities are large, or diverse, or coastal, and the anti-urbanist rhetoric that Trump has favored on Twitter encourages many of Trump’s rust belt constituents to embrace a mental map of “urban” defined by large cities with significant minority, poor, and immigrant populations. Wilkinson notes aptly that Trump speaks of cities through

a fearsome caricature that bears little resemblance to the real urban landscape,

which perhaps makes it easier to imagine that cuts to social programs are aimed elsewhere (though, in reality, communities that went strongly for Trump in November stand to suffer greatly under his budget).

I wrote weeks ago about the nomination of Dr. Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Although Carson distinguished himself by appearing to discount the efficacy of HUD’s potential actions to alleviate poverty as a complex social problem, the bigger structural problem for the agency is that its very existence is politically imperiled. The budget plan proposes to knock $6 billion off the agency’s funding and eliminate Community Development Block Grants.

Mass transit funding support from the feds also faces severe cuts, at a time when mobility issues for people unable to drive cars constitute a major obstacle to economic security and mobility (both in metro and rural areas). But support for roads and highways will remain unchanged. Support for local law enforcement and anti-terrorism efforts figure to devolve to state and local governments too.

The administration offers a nominally principled defense of this action, stating

“State and local governments are better positioned to serve their communities based on local needs and priorities”[.]

However, this presumes a cooperative effort by states to work with urban governments to solve important problems. Very often, as Michael Wallace writes for the National League of Cities blog, cities have state governments holding one hand behind their back while federal cuts hold the other.

Taxing and revenue limits are part of the problem, but recent reports by the NLC also show an issue that I’ve devoted some attention to, preemption of local governments by state legislatures, is an increasing problem. The long and short of preemption is that at a time when local governments (representing large cities, small towns, and communities of all kinds in between) find themselves the only representative of people’s needs for housing, education, livelihood, and mobility, they’re alone in working to meet those needs.

I’m working up a longer essay on this urban moment, considering how cities fit ideologically and pragmatically in various forms of “resistance” to Trump’s brand of right-wing authoritarian populism and the Republican Party’s standard austerity. For now, I’d urge everyone to look closely at the NLC’s report “City Rights in an Era of Preemption” for a sense of how much state governments are working to restrict independent and flexible municipal policy in a host of areas, which may reflect special industry interests or broader culture war politics. To summarize, half of US states preempt local minimum wage laws, 19 preempt local paid leave laws, 17 prevent localities from establishing public broadband networks, and 42 limit local taxing and budget autonomy, a situation that NCL executive Brooks Rainwater argues

prevents cities from expanding rights, building stronger economies and promoting innovation can be counterproductive and even dangerous. When decision-making is divorced from the core wants and needs of community members, it creates a perilous environment.

If anything, the NLC report understates the problem, as it focuses on economic and social policy, exemplified by minimum wage and antidiscrimination ordinances, major areas of city-state conflict, although in many states local environmental protections have been preempted, which is increasingly important as the federal Environmental Protection Agency budget is slated for severe cuts and that agency’s head is a former state attorney general and fierce advocate of federalism (in practice, the voluntary compliance of industry with regulations the industries write) in environmental regulation. Without strong assistance from the Federal government, cities may be on their own against industry-friendly state houses in protecting air, soil, and drinking water. Preemption threatens what little individual cities may accomplish against problems of pollution that disregard local boundaries.

The NLC’s report also provides a concise summary of the legal and historical basis for restrictions on city autonomy. If that whets your appetite, you could read my award-winning article “Uniting Citizens after Citizens United” in American Studies, where I discuss the ways that recognizing the power of cities to act on behalf of their inhabitants may promote more inclusive, participatory, and democratic politics in an age where national and state politics are conducted through the exchange of money.

That Didn’t Take Long

Although I just published my thoughts on what Dr. Ben Carson’s confirmation hearings might tell us about his leadership of HUD, it’s become clear that what Carson himself might like to do will be of relatively little consequence.

Republican Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona introduced a bill with the Orwellian title “Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act.” As one might guess, the local zoning decisions being protected are not those about density, or mixed-use development, or lot setbacks. The decisions in question are those local zoning decisions that operate in an exclusionary manner to prevent poor or minority Americans from living in a particular local jurisdiction. These are common and often horrifyingly inventive, but were effectively challenged by a lawsuit against the state of Texas and a number of Texas cities that was upheld by a narrow (and cautiously argued) Supreme Court decision rendered when the court had nine members. The decision also coincided with the Obama administration’s invocation of the original language of legislation creating HUD to set agency rules requiring HUD and cooperating local jurisdictions to “Affirmatively Further Fair Housing.” When it is inevitably passed on party lines and signed into law by President Trump, that rule will be nullified.

Just in case the intent of the bill wasn’t clear, a separate section declares

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.

There’s no way of solving a problem quite like making it impossible to measure. As we all know, under the Big Data revolution, if something isn’t quantified, like racism, it doesn’t really exist. The only thing better than “alternative facts” are no facts at all.

UPDATE Watch out, American Community Survey.

 

On Dr. Carson’s Confirmation Hearings

Last Thursday’s hearing on Dr. Ben Carson’s nomination as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development was noteworthy for several reasons.

Perhaps foremost, the question of Dr. Carson’s qualifications to serve in that post were almost completely ignored. Although a letter delivered to the chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs included the signatures of a raft of prominent, and some eminent, urban studies scholars (historians, sociologists, political scientists, demographers, and anthropologists all strongly represented), and challenged Carson’s qualifications to oversee an agency of HUD’s scope without administrative experience or expertise in either housing or urban development, the issue was virtually ignored in the committee’s deliberations. Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) joked that if Carson could handle brain surgery, running HUD would logically be easy. Carson pledged a “listening tour” and to unleash the power of private enterprise to solve housing and development problems. This will be a neat trick in a housing market where, as Jason DeParle notes,

The big problem is that it costs more to build even modest housing than millions of households can pay, whether the builder is greedy or not. That’s partly because restrictive zoning and overzealous building codes drive up the price. But it’s mostly because of the inherent cost of the basics: land, interest, materials, utilities. As a rule of thumb nationwide, even an efficient nonprofit developer can’t build an apartment affordable to a household making less than about $32,000 a year. That leaves out nearly a third of American households.

Carson, true to form, offered few specifics about his policy goals, suggesting primarily that if people earned more money they would no longer need HUD support to afford housing. While such a statement is true by virtue of its tautological nature, Carson’s focus on increasing wages and earning is notable for contradicting most of Carson’s declared policy positions. He’s spoken against raising the minimum wage, declared that social welfare payments create “dependency,” and suggested that the free market will raise wages if millions of low-wage workers simply make themselves more valuable to capitalism. It’s also striking that Carson’s attention to contributing factors to poverty varied in inverse proportion to HUD’s mandate to act on them. Indeed, while Carson seemed to recognize the interconnections between housing policy and other social problems, as Kriston Capps argues at Citylab, he seemed to have no particular ideas about what HUD might do about them, particularly given his opposition to HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which is central to housing desegregation and helping low-income and minority Americans live in areas with greater social resources and educational opportunities, as I’ve written here before (and Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz demonstrate here).

Specific questions raised by Catherine Cortez Masto and Sherrod Brown about HUD’s role in preventing a new foreclosure crisis and in serving the one in four renters who pay more than half of their income for housing were brushed aside without concern proposed action.

Things got a bit more entertaining when Elizabeth Warren pressed Carson on his ability and inclination to regulate potential conflicts of interest between HUD policy and government officials in an administration flush with real estate developers. Such concerns would apply of course to the Trump Organization’s widespread, and largely undisclosed, real estate holdings, which will remain under the control of Trump’s sons in a conflict resolution scheme that strains credulity, and to the extensive investments (pending divestment) of Jared Kushner in low-income housing. It’s only fair to state that as yet there is no evidence of a direct conflict of interest. Yet Carson seemed to be wholly unaware of the potential for one.

Perhaps many people were shocked, given the attention to Trump’s potential self-dealing through the presidency, that Carson wouldn’t make this pledge. But I think that the exchange was revealing in ways that neither participant likely intended. First, Carson suggested that he would not block a program that would benefit the public if particular individuals would make “ten dollars.” Warren reminded Carson that the more likely order of magnitude of such gains would be in the tens of millions. Carson seemed to have no idea what’s at stake in the agency that he’s being tagged to run. However, Warren’s focus on Trump’s potential to engage in self-dealing through HUD, while politically salient to the legitimacy of a President-Elect who has given no indication of grasping a distinction between the national interest and his own, also reveals a troubling acceptance of a status quo at HUD where the agency’s nominal mission of ensuring adequate housing on a non-discriminatory basis has been subordinated to the distribution of financial benefits to highly capitalized and politically connected developers. Indeed, the problem of corruption is intimately connected to deep historical shifts in HUD’s mission and political status that Jake Blumgart describes in n+1.

There’s been a dialectical relationship between HUD’s emergent capture by development interests and corruption, which has had the consequence of crippling the agency’s capacity to provide housing. As Jason DeParle writes, the period 1970-1990 saw a one million unit surplus of affordable housing relative to poor families change to a five million unit deficit. As urban historian Thomas Sugrue writes, the political weakness of HUD’s housing provision and desegregation missions left plenty of space for graft:

In the early 1970s, its program to expand Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgages to underserved urban areas was hijacked by real estate speculators and politically connected developers, who sold shabby houses to desperate buyers at above-market prices, backed by inflated appraisals. When buyers defaulted on their mortgages (especially as interest rates spiked), taxpayers covered the loss. HUD was unwilling to come down hard on predatory lenders or to stiffen regulations.

Pierce was the perfect agent for Reagan’s mission to gut HUD. He oversaw dramatic cuts in the agency’s already meager budget. Federal support for low-income-housing subsidies plunged from $26 billion to $8 billion. More than that, Pierce undercut HUD’s civil rights mission: Housing was nearly as segregated at the end of the 1980s as it had been at the decade’s start. Urban housing conditions deteriorated, the construction of affordable housing slowed to a trickle, and urban poverty deepened.

HUD, however, still channeled money to private housing developers and contractors. And under Pierce, the vultures circled…. Pierce’s staff turned over with alarming frequency. Seven assistant secretaries for housing came and went, and the agency became a patronage mill for inexperienced Republican hacks.

In the current climate of austerity, where HUD, like other agencies, doesn’t spend funds so much as administer tax incentives in the hopes of encouraging someone to provide housing for lower-income households, the prior problem of graft has largely been replaced by the capital barriers of entry to the large-scale development game. In 2012, an industry journal for rental housing operators described how Jared Kushner was able to develop a multifamily rental housing empire by

stealthily target[ing] complex off-market mega-deals for properties that aren’t exactly jet-set destinations. The company aims for distress-ridden class-B apartment communities in second-tier cities such as Toledo and Baltimore…. That pair of strategic strikes has helped expand the diversified company’s rental housing portfolio by more than 11,000 units during the past year or so.

These deals often involve taking over and refinancing the debt of current landlords (not building more housing), and doing so before properties hit the open market. Although there is nothing to suggest that Kushner’s organization has behaved unethically or illegally in such deals, they are dependent upon a matrix of connection and access to credit:

old and new relationships with owners, investors, lenders, intermediaries and others help Kushner source off-market opportunities–and close quickly at favorable financing terms. Kushner is contractually prohibited from discussing details of the Baltimore portfolio investment, but confirms that this opportunity came to the team off-market via relationships.

Beyond operational and deal-sourcing capabilities, Kushner’s ties to deep-pocketed institutional capital managers help leverage its banking relationships.

That institutional backing and the financial “horsepower” it brings is critical in securing debt at the best rates and terms, observes Jordan Ray, managing director with Mission Capital Advisors, which arranges financing for investors and sells distressed debt on behalf of lenders. Hefty equity resources also allow these joint ventures to close value-add and opportunistic deals more quickly than lesser-heeled suitors–another key factor winning deals in today’s highly competitive environment, Ray adds.

The importance of business relationships, large-scale finance, and information to large-scale activity in the multifamily rental housing industry mean that HUD’s work must necessarily guard against conflicts of interest because being a player in that market requires companies to cultivate influence.

And it also means that HUD’s leadership will face potentially difficult conflicts between its mission of encouraging a sufficient supply of affordable housing and profit-oriented decisions by large investors as landlords. As Prashant Gopal recently wrote in Bloomberg,  private equity funds like Blackstone have moved aggressively to buy rental properties since the 2008 mortgage bust (to the tune of $25 billion and 150,000 single family houses), moving aggressively to the scene of the worst carnage of the foreclosure crisis.

Blackstone built its rental-home business with an advantage few if any other buyers could match: billions of dollars in credit from large banks. Its Invitation Homes subsidiary quickly became the largest single-family home landlord in the U.S., with 50,000 properties. Altogether, hedge funds, private-equity firms and real estate investment trusts have raised about $20 billion to purchase as many as 200,000 homes to rent. The buying — often by employees who brought stacks of certified checks to foreclosure auctions on courthouse steps — helped turned down-and-out markets such as Arizona, California, Florida and Georgia into booming ones as the firms outbid local investors and drained markets of foreclosures.

Blackstone also developed new securitization instruments for trading on the future of rental income:

Two years earlier, Blackstone had fueled its own vast purchases by pioneering a new kind of bond in which investors are paid out of rental streams — a variation on the mortgage-backed securities that made so much money for Wall Street before blowing up. Moody’s rated the biggest portion of Blackstone’s first bond AAA and the firm was able to borrow $479 million at 1.9 percent, less than half the typical 30-year mortgage rate.

When rental income is securitized, and when the collection of rents is moved from the family in the adjacent duplex unit to a Wall Street board room, the stakes change considerably. When Wall Street is America’s landlord, rents rise, and tenants who jeopardize revenue flows with delinquency swiftly find themselves on the streets, as Gopal writes in a different article:

On a chilly December afternoon in Atlanta, a judge told Reiton Allen that he had seven days to leave his house or the marshals would kick his belongings to the curb. In the packed courtroom, the truck driver, his beard flecked with gray, stood up, cast his eyes downward and clutched his black baseball cap.

The 44-year-old father of two had rented a single-family house from a company called HavenBrook Homes, which is controlled by one of the world’s biggest money managers, Pacific Investment Management Co. Here in Fulton County, Georgia, such large institutional investors are up to twice as likely to file eviction notices as smaller owners, according to a new Atlanta Federal Reserve study.

Among these investors?

Colony Starwood Homes initiated proceedings on a third of its properties, the most of any large real estate firm. Tom Barrack, chairman of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, and the company he founded, Colony Capital, are the largest shareholders of Colony Starwood, which declined to comment.

Indeed, it’s more the case than ever that the rental housing market that is so central to HUD’s core mission is constructed around the needs of investors rather than tenants. This connects to two theses of Harvard sociologist and MacArthur prize winner Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted (reviewed here by Jason DeParle): Evictions create dire impoverishment, and evictions happen because they are profitable.

In discussing his research, Desmond posed a framework for understanding housing as central to opportunity: to education, to earning potential, to family stability, to all of the factors Carson identified as more important contributors to poverty, as though to argue that HUD’s efforts to fight them would be futile. Per Desmond:

Do we believe housing is a right? Do we believe that access to decent, affordable housing is part of what it means to live in this country? I think we have to say yes. The reason is very simple: Without stable housing everything else falls apart. We’ve reaffirmed the right to basic education, access to food, and security in old age because we know that, without those things, it is impossible to live a full and flourishing life [ed.: wait a few months].

This concern was addressed in a 2014 letter to HUD from the National Consumer Law Center and other organizations, which warned that this pattern threatened to create a financial bubble while raising rents and crowding families out of a single-family home market increasingly dominated by highly capitalized rental property operators.

Senator Sherrod Brown pointedly recommended in his questioning that Carson and his staff read Evicted prior to taking office. Sherrod Brown nonetheless voted, as did Elizabeth Warren, to pass Carson’s nomination on the full senate. It’s a shame neither of them demanded a book report from Dr. Carson first.

 

UPDATE:  Since Dr. Carson’s committee hearings, the Trump administration released its preliminary budget proposal. Reports indicate the strong influence of the Heritage Foundation on the proposal, which strongly suggests that Carson will be taking over an agency with a substantially smaller overall budget, and a dramatically circumscribed sphere of action. HUD’s budget would be cut by $4.3 billion for 2017, from current levels of $38.8 billion, and nearly $293 billion over 10 years. The plan would end the Community Development Block Grant, devolve affordable housing programs to the states, reduce Federal expenditures for subsidized housing (which will be spent at the discretion of state governments anyway) by ten percent annually for ten years, and eliminate the Federal Housing Administration.

Affordable housing will be built or rehabbed to the extent that it’s profitable for large private developers or politically tenable in state legislatures.

The Trump budget outline also directs the Justice Department to reduce the use of disparate impact analysis, which would effectively end enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.

Buckle up.

FJM: Merrie Spaeth

A month ago I cashed in some airline miles that will never be sufficient to earn a flight on a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. So far as purchases made with otherwise valueless scrip, it’s been worthwhile. The news reporting, while filtered through the perspective of the .1%, is solid. The occasional interesting feature comes in on Saturday. And, every day, the editorial page offers a glimpse into the mindset of the American wingnut at the dawning of the age of Trump. The great educational value of reading the WSJ editorial pages is that they offer an object lesson in the fundamental fact that the barrel has no bottom to scrape where movement conservatism, reactionary populism, or revanchist oligarchy are concerned.

Today’s section offers a cheap attack on John Lewis’s congressional achievements from columnist Jason L.(the L is for “what’s John Lewis done for me LATELY?”) Riley, an editorial explaining that things will be better when industrial poultry farms dispose of their waste on the honor system, and Holman Jenkins, Jr.’s suggestion that the government ethics officials raising hue and cry about Donald Trump’s unresolved conflicts of interest are “aphids,” in which he makes a one-to-one comparison between the prospect of Trump’s children “parad[ing] around in semi-regal fashion, signing deals that wouldn’t otherwise come their way if their father wasn’t president?” and the marketing of Billy Beer.

This is a murderer’s row of cant, ideology, and willful ignorance, but these articles are tied for the silver medal behind Merrie Spaeth, who advises Republicans “How to Overcome the Tyranny of the Anecdote.” Although one might question how, exactly, anecdotes can exercise tyranny, and therefore disregard the article upon reading the headline, I, for some reason, read on. Since I did, you have to as well. So, without further ado, is an FJM.

While Republicans debate whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act outright or piecemeal, here are a few people they should meet: Paula, 52, a breast-cancer survivor; Namir, 35, with a rare tumor; Cameron, 44, who suffers from Parkinson’s; and Jason, 36, fighting a blood infection.

Wow, these people all have the kind of serious-and-expensive-but-unpredictable health conditions that constitute the very purpose of health insurance. Maybe their stories will support insight into the best policy decisions.

They all received lifesaving treatment through Obamacare; they, and others, will literally interpose their bodies in front of any attempt to reform or repeal it.

First off, that’s not what “literally” means, unless you are suggesting that Paula, Namir, Cameron, and Jason stage a sit-down strike in the halls of Congress to obstruct the coming reconciliation bill. Otherwise, they will “figuratively” or “symbolically” offer their bodily health as part of a rhetorical defense of the ACA. Second, I guess living is pretty important to these people! We’ll come back to that point in a bit.

It isn’t only health care. The cabinet nominees named by President-elect Trump have pledged to trim the thicket of regulations and executive actions that has accumulated during the past eight years. So get ready to meet a new cast of characters whose stories suggest that “making America great again” will result in dirty air, polluted water, starving children and general death and destruction–all the fault of heartless Republicans.

You forgot “fracking-related earthquakes.” And obviously the idea that people across America today suffer ill health and premature death from tainted drinking water is ridiculous. And no one is seeking to directly deprive poor households of funds to buy food. And, overriding clean air regulations couldn’t possibly harm people, who don’t need to breathe air constantly during every moment of their lives. These characters can really spin a yarn about environmental health and food, can’t they? What’s to be done? Consider the impacts of policy on human lives?

The Trump administration and the GOP have to be prepared for the communication strategy their opponents are already employing, with the media’s help: the bombardment of emotionally laden anecdotes.

People do have a strong emotional attachment to life and bodily health. I wonder why that’s such catnip to the media? It’s also truly unfortunate that only liberals and Democrats are successfully able to use this strategy of appeal to emotion through anecdote.

Already Republicans are making the same mistake they always do, which is to rest their case on impersonal facts and figures.

So, were these “Death Panel” astroturf town hall ambushes in 2009 “facts” or “figures“? And, oddly enough, the Congressional GOP has passed rules specifically excluding ACA repeal from requirements that the Congressional Budget Office analyze the 40-year spending impact of legislation. I guess they’re taking Merrie’s advice already and ditching those boring facts and figures. [Note: Politifact argues that the rules as adopted don’t bar the CBO from evaluating repeal, but, given that they require a 40-year horizon analysis for any legislation that might increase Federal spending by $5 billion at any time  during that period, the rule seems designed to bury spending bills in analysis while making the CBO too busy to do any non-required analysis on ACA].

Facts are the background noise of debate and analysis anecdotes are a message’s most powerful anchors. In the battle for public opinion, personal stories win. So what if Obamacare is woefully undersubscribed because it’s a bad deal for young, healthy people….

Oddly enough, Namir and Jason are both under 40 and before their respective tumor and blood infection, probably thought of themselves as healthy. One of the virtues of anecdotes is that they illustrate the way that actual human beings exist in society, and particularly the way that “young, healthy people” can become “young, sick people with very large medical expenses and urgent care needs” in short order.

or if millions have watched their deductibles skyrocket and choices narrow. Do you really want Paula, Namir, Cameron, and Jason to die?

Note: Spaeth is suggesting that you should prefer that these four people, and thousands like them, should die, to the prospect of higher insurance deductibles. I’d discuss the way that deductible increases are related to the ACA’s requirements that insurance companies actually pay claims and offer coverage, but perhaps that would be overly reliant on the old facts and figures. I’d also note that an uninsured person has a “deductible” of “infinity.”

A case study in the war between anecdotes and facts is the portrayal of black men shot by police officers.

Christ, these people can’t stop themselves, can they?

Individuals like Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald and Michael Brown have become icons, treated as if their stories are beyond debate.

When someone seeks to squelch controversy over police shootings, and selectively excludes cases like Walter Scott or Philando Castile, that’s a tell.

This is the emotion Hillary Clinton capitalized on when she accused police of “implicit bias,” a problem she claimed was “systemic.” President Obama used the international platform of a speech in Poland to note that blacks are arrested at twice the rate of whites.

If one wants to decry the use of anecdotes over “facts” then it’s an odd move to disregard a gigantic body of social science research–initiated at Harvard University no less–both qualitative and ethnographic and quantitative and experimental, suggesting that implicit bias is indeed systemic. Hell, take Nerdy Suge Knight’s word for it:

Now the facts:

Uh huh….

Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who has won a slew of honors for his research

Appeal to authority (Harvard social scientist version) is valid for some instances, but not others.

made news with a report, “An empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force.” He found that in Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, police were 23.8% less likely to shoot at blacks than at whites–a statistically insignificant [ed-I assume this is a typo where Spaeth meant “significant.” I’m charitable that way.] difference even Mr. Fryer called “surprising.”

Nitpicking here as a former academic: every researcher calls their findings “surprising” because that is academic code for “interesting” or “pay attention.” In Fryer’s case, it worked, because he instantly became the right wing’s favorite black social scientist as the likes of Rush Limbaugh reported “proof” that the cops aren’t racist.

Here’s the problem. Although Fryer has since been open about acknowledging the limits of his study and the gap between its most sensational coverage in the press and the policy conclusions that ought to be drawn from it, almost everyone, including Spaeth, is grossly misinterpreting the study, which, to be clear, was a working paper, rather than a peer-reviewed publication, and which has been criticized by other scholars, including those at Harvard.

The key is that the findings are based in a particular “universe” of individual incidents, in this case, Houston police encounters with racially identified persons. Although a higher proportion of encounters with white individuals escalated to shooting compared to encounters with black individuals, this tells us nothing about the likelihood of a random white or black Houstonian being contacted by police officers. A more reliable conclusion might be “black Houstonians are more likely to be pulled over for the slightest reason, while white Houstonians must need to be flagrantly breaking the law to make the acquaintance of a cop, which makes it more likely the encounter will escalate.” This is a problem with the universe of the data, that Fryer acknowledges. The Department of Justice’s report on Chicago’s police and the systematic abuse of civil rights by the CPD presents a decidedly different, and contextual, portrait of the relationship of race and police violence.

Honestly, I’ve had enough of Spaeth’s abuse of social science, so I’m going to skip ahead a bit.

The problem is that nobody cares about [statistics chosen selectively, almost like anecdotes] when you’ve got a tragic situation like that of Keith Lamont Scott, captured on cellphone video in Charlotte, North Carolina, while his wife yells that he suffers from a traumatic brain condition.

Watch the video if you have the stomach. Then ask yourself if you’re comforted by a statistical argument that police aren’t biased, and what about all the times police don’t shoot people?

What to do? Don’t assume these shootings are all justified, or that groups like Black Lives Matter should be dismissed for telling the stories. Some stories are true.

This feels like a head fake. Where’s the big “but?”

Instead of expressing regrets and retreating to statistics and studies,

Again, these being the noted redoubt of conservative politics. Carry on.

Republicans need to deploy anecdotes of their own. There were 762 homicides in Chicago last year, a 57% increase over 2015, and 3,550 shootings. Anecdotes put names and faces on these figures. Fifteen-year-old Javon Wilson, a grandson of Rep. Danny Davis, was fatally shot in an argument over a pair of shoes. Gang members allegedly shot and killed Nykea Aldridge, a 32 year-old cousin of basketball star Dwyane Wade, as she pushed a baby stroller.

Chicago. Javon. Nykea. Dwyane. Sneaker-related killings. Gang members. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention since Goldwater, this is using “anecdotes” to invoke “black on black crime” to “change the subject” on police violence. This is where I get off the train. I tried. There’s some stuff about job creators and how welfare reform really didn’t literally starve children. If you are a “facts” and “analysis” person you can read here for more. Or you can read an anecdote about welfare from Paul Ryan that’s both fabricated and plagiarized.

Oh, what’s this?

Ms. Spaeth, a Dallas communications consultant, was President Reagan’s director of media relations.

Hell, had they put the bio blurb at the beginning, we could have all saved some time. Reagan was never one to embroider an anecdote to influence public policy or exaggerate his role in historic events or pander to the insecurities of Americans for political gain.