The Fair Jilt Is Dead. Long Live The Fair Jilt.

The Fair Jilt v. 1.0 has been dormant for awhile, you may have noticed. I have decided to start over. All of the old posts have been moved to The Fair Jilt Archive and the new site will start fresh, beginning today. Amanda Grigg has agreed to stay on, but otherwise none of the previous Jilted will be involved in v. 2.0 (as of now).

Amanda and I are already working on a number of new initiatives, including theme posts, symposia, and much else. Details on all of that will come later. But if you are interested in becoming a guest blogger, occasional blogger, or have any other ideas for the site please contact us at thefairjilt at gmail dot com.

Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor?

This is a guest post by Dave HackersonA previous post in this series is can be found here.

The International Dateline is truly a fascinating thing. It’s like a magic wand of time that can both give and take, depending which way you head. Each time my family and I fly back to the Midwest, the space time continuum is seemingly suspended. Leave Tokyo at 4:00 pm, touch down in the Midwest at 2:00 pm, and then reach our final destination by 5:00 pm of the same day. Over 15 hours of travel that appears to have been compressed within the span of one single hour. I still can’t wrap my head around it at times.

This dateline has a way of slightly altering our perspective of historical events. Most Americans are familiar with the following quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “December 7th, a date that will live in infamy.” The date to which he refers is the day on which the Combined Fleet of the Japanese Imperial Navy under the command of Admiral Isoroku Yamamato attacked the elements of the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. However, this is the narrative from the American side of the International Dateline. The December 24th edition of Shashin Shuhou (Photographic Weekly), a morale boosting propaganda magazine published in Japan from the 1938 until mid-1945, carried the following headline for its graphic two-page artist’s depiction of the attack: “Shattering the dawn: Attack on Pearl Harbor, December 8th”. The Japanese government christened the 8th day of each month as Taisho Hotaibi (literally means “Day to Reverently Accept the Imperial Edict”) to commemorate the great victory over the United States at Pearl Harbor and the Imperial declaration of war on the US and its allies (the day also served to regularly renew nation’s fervor and commitment to the war effort). Was Pearl Harbor a great victory for the Japanese? The answer to this question depends on the context in which the attack is viewed. From a purely military engagement view, it is safe to say that it was a resounding success, but did this single engagement succeed in shaping the course of the upcoming conflict? This is the question that the Mainichi Shinbun explored in the third installment of its series “Numbers tell a tale—Looking at the Pacific War through data” (the original, in Japanese, is here). True to the narrative on this side of the Pacific, this article was released on December 8th last year. Just as with the other installments in the series, it presents a slew of data that helps to put historical events into context. (more…)

How Do We Know the US’ Cuba Policy Failed?

Dan Drezner has a good post on the US-Cuba détente and how it is consistent with Obama’s foreign policy pattern of seeking to alter undesirable status quo situations. I agree with all of it but the ending:

…it’s hard to deny that America’s Cuba policy had failed.

It’s worth asking what objective motivated America’s Cuba policy before concluding that it failed. Several possibilities:

1. Limiting the expansion of global communism into the Western Hemisphere (c. 1960-1990).

It’s easy to forget that this actually was a thing once upon a time. Castro’s early Cuban government was not only brutal on the island but also actively sought to export revolution elsewhere, and provided material support to rebels pursuing that end. Castro encouraged Khrushchev to deploy nuclear weapons during the Missile Crisis and, at least for a time, sought those weapons for himself. The embargo did limit Castro’s material influence during the Cold War, and thereby cut off one of the main potential routes of activity for the USSR in the West. It meant that Castro would no longer be able to credibly promise to assist those seeking to overthrow US-friendly governments. And, among other things, this ensured that on the occasions where the Cold War hotted up it would not be near the US’s territory.

2. Limiting the influence of left populists in the Western Hemisphere (c. 1990-2010).

The post-Cold War era was greeted triumphantly in many parts of the West, but not so much in Latin America. The devastating effects of the debt crises of the 1980s and 1990s, along with IMF-mandated structural reforms, reinforced anti-American sentiment in the region. There remained a pervasive idea that Latin America was stuck in a dependent relationship with the US that would forever forestall development. Faced with this and rapid development elsewhere in the world, new leaders like Chavez, Morales, and Correa looked to the Cuban regime as a model of resistance and pushed for solidarity in opposition to the US-led international order. Discrediting this idea — using both carrots and sticks — has been a key objective of the US in the years since, and as regional alternatives to the US stagnate or collapse that goal looks closer to being achieved than it possibly ever has.

3. Winning elections in Florida (c. 1990-present).

Who says the embargo was about primarily about foreign policy objectives in the recent past? Successive presidential elections more or less came down to several thousand votes in Florida (or were expected to do so), and until quite recently the Cuban expat community has vociferously opposed normalization with Castro’s regime. There’s a pretty simple electoral math here: keep the anti-Castro Cuban-Americans happy, or you could lose to the person who does.  

4. The end of the Castro regime.

Was this a true foreign policy goal of the US after the Kennedy Administration? Maybe they would have liked to see it happen, but Castro was very much contained and the US foreign policy apparatus has traditionally been comfortable containing regimes it doesn’t like. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that the US was pursuing regime change per se at any point since the 1960s, and it certainly isn’t doing so today. Regime change is risky, and the US has had no compunction about isolating, but otherwise tolerating, distasteful governments.

So did the US’ Cuba policy fail? The answer depends on what is meant by the question, but it seems to have achieved much of what it wanted to achieve at very little cost. I’d call that a limited win or, at the very worst, a slightly aggravating stalemate. Given that it had achieved limited success, and that the course of history rendered other objectives moot, the Obama administration was quite right to change the policy. But that does not constitute an admission of failure.


Would You Rather Be Rich in the Past or ‘Comfortable’ Today?

Scott Sumner:

In a recent post I suggested that one could argue that the entire increase in per capita income over the past 50 years was pure inflation (and hence that real GDP per capita didn’t rise at all.) But also that one could equally well argue that there has been no inflation over the past 50 years. The official government figures show real GDP/person rising slightly more than 150% since 1964, whereas the PCE deflator is up about 6-fold. …

Here’s one thought experiment. Get a department store catalog from today, and compare it to a catalog from 1964. (I recently saw Don Boudreaux do something similar at a conference.) Almost any millennial would rather shop out of the modern catalog, even with the same nominal amount of money to spend. Of course that’s just goods; there is also services, which have risen much faster in price. OK, so ask a millennial whether they’d rather live today on $100,000/year, or back in 1964 with the same nominal income. Recall the rotary phones and bulky cameras. The cars that rusted out frequently. Cars that you couldn’t count on to start on a cold morning. I recall getting cavities filled in 1964, without Novocaine. Not fun. No internet. Crappy TVs, where you have to constantly move the rabbit ears on top to get a decent picture. Lame black and white sitcoms, with 3 channels to choose from. Shorter life expectancy, even for the affluent. No Thai restaurants, sushi places or Starbucks. It’s steak and potatoes. Now against all that is the fact that someone making $100,000/year in 1964 was pretty rich, so your social standing was much higher than that income today. So it’s a close call, maybe living standards have risen for people making $100,000/year, maybe not. Zero inflation in the past 50 years may not be right, but it’s a reasonable estimate for a millennial, grounded in utility theory. In which period does $100,000 buy more happiness? We don’t know.

I think if we really don’t know the answer to this question then it’s only because happiness is subjective. To me it’s obvious that a $100,000/year salary is worth more today than it used to be. For one thing, in 1964 tax rates in basically every Western economy were absurdly high, so that that $100,000 would really be somewhere from $10,000-30,000. George Harrison wasn’t exaggerating; how would you like to live in a country where your best artists and creators were forced into (or simply chose) tax exile?

But let’s leave that aside for now. In 1964 a $100,000 salary would make you an elite, but your real income would actually be much smaller than that because of all of the 2014 goods you could not purchase at any price. Sumner runs many of them down, but the point is that $100,000 is still enough to live quite well in this country — even in the expensive cities — but the range of choice has exploded, and many of the modern choices now come at very low cost.

Let’s not forget that politics was quite different in 1964 as well: segregation persisted, the Cold War was raging, and even in the U.S. the “elite” were defined as much by their pedigree as income. We weren’t far removed from McCarthy, and were in the midst of a succession of assassinations of American political leaders and overt revolutionary threats in many Western societies. No birth control, no abortion, few rights for women and homosexuals in general. Being an elite in that world would likely feel very uncomfortable, and of course this blog (and essentially all media I consume) wouldn’t exist. So for me 2014 is the obvious choice.

Tyler Cowen has a more interesting question:

But here’s the catch: would you rather have net nominal 20k today or in 1964? I would opt for 1964, where you would be quite prosperous and could track the career of Miles Davis and hear the Horowitz comeback concert at Carnegie Hall. (To push along the scale a bit, $5 nominal in 1964 is clearly worth much more than $5 today nominal. Back then you might eat the world’s best piece of fish for that much.)

I’m still not sure. $20k/year back then wouldn’t be enough to make you very well off, and the marginal cost of culture consumption today has sunk almost to zero. Was Miles Davis really so much better than anyone working today? For everyone in the world who does not live in NYC, is it better to be able to watch his concerts on YouTube now, and on demand, than not to have seen them at all? Lenny Bruce was still active in 1964 but almost no one ever saw him (for both technological and political reasons). I might still take the $20k today, and I’ve lived on less than that for my entire adult life until last year, so this is an informed choice. But I agree that it’s a much more difficult decision.

It is an interesting question, mostly because it reveals what people value most. It’s a mutation of the “veil of ignorance”. So what would you choose?

Kamikaze Attacks by the Numbers: A Statistical Analysis of Japan’s Wartime Strategy



Note: This is a guest post by Dave Hackerson.

One of the defining symbols of the vicious struggle between the US and Japan in the Pacific War, this word always conjures up a conflicting mix of emotions inside me. The very word “kamikaze” has become a synonym for “suicide attack” in the English language. The way WW2 was taught in school (in America) pretty much left us with the impression that kamikaze attacks were part of the standard strategy of the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy throughout the entire war. However, it was only recently that I was surprised to learn that the first time the Japanese introduced this strategy was on October 25, 1944 during the second Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Mainichi Shinbun here in Japan put together a wonderful collection to commemorate the 70th anniversary of this strategy. It features data that has not only been debated and analyzed from a number of angles, but it also provides statistical evidence that underscores the utter failure of this strategy. The title of the article is “Did the divine wind really blow? ‘Special strikes’ claim lives of 4000,” and it is the second part of a three part series called “Numbers tell a tale—Looking at the Pacific War through data”. The first part was posted in mid-August, and the third and final part is due to be put online in December. The original Japanese version for this special can be accessed here. The slides I refer to numbers “1” to “5” listed at the very bottom of each page. The current slide is the one highlighted in blue.

In this post, I will provide an overview of the information on this site while occasionally inserting my own analysis and translations of select quotes. I hope it helps to paint a clearer picture of a truly flawed strategy that is still not properly understood by both sides. (more…)

Gordon Tullock, RIP

He was not my favorite economist, but there is no question that he had a strong mind that was consistently capable of locating puzzles which had escaped the attention of others. My favorite, perhaps, is his observation that given how much is at stake it is very surprising that there is so little money in politics. Spending even $1 billion on a presidential campaign is very little, when compared to the amount of influence over a $15 trillion economy that a president has. (The most up-to-date explanation for this is that spending on politics is mostly a consumption good, not rent-seeking.) On another occasion Tullock argued that if we really wanted to improve automobile safety we should replace all airbags with an 8 inch ice pick that would ram into drivers’ chests if they crashed. I know I’d drive more slowly and carefully under such conditions.

The fact that he died on Election Day is appropriate, or perhaps ironic. Tullock was an outspoken opponent of voting for instrumental reasons — voting incurs costs while the probability of impacting the outcome is minuscule, so the act of voting generates negative utility in expectation — and he extended the logic to revolutions. He had many interesting ideas, although whether they amount to a consistent philosophy or politics is debatable.