Race as a bundle and its implications

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been given the topic of race increased thought recently.

One of the recent developments in political science has been thinking of race not as a dichotomous variable, but as a bundle of related but distinct characteristics. Race is not simply phenotype, but a mixture of such things as one’s dialect, diet, and socioeconomic status among other things.


The idea to me seems obvious, which makes me inclined to believe it. The thing is, if we take this broader approach to what race is, what are the implications for prior work not only in regards to race but the effect of demographic characteristics generally.

Race is already difficult to conduct research in because it is assigned at birth which makes it difficult to manipulate and which influences other characteristics we would ordinarily ‘control’ for in statistical analysis. To my knowledge there isn’t a ‘race ray’ that we can use to randomly assign being ‘black’ in an experiment. Tracing causality is possible, but difficult enough even in ideal situations.

Take for example the gender wage gap argument. When you control for education, presence of children, and other characteristics the gap in wages between males and females vanishes. However many of these characteristics are impacted by one’s gender. While females are not discriminated against ceteris paribus, being female does increase one’s likelihood of having to be the primary care taker for children and has historically decreased educational outcomes. In this broader sense there is a gender wage gap.

What can be done about it though? Men can try to share more of the house duties with their wives, but my general observation in life has been that children prefer being cared for by their mothers over their fathers. Should we try to do something about it? Are there advantages to one member of the household specializing in housework?

Or, if you prefer to think of the question purely in regards to race let us consider crime rates by race. I am not convinced that blacks have any higher propensity to crime than whites. However blacks are more likely to grow up in poverty and have lower educational outcomes than other races, which in turn leads to higher crime rates statistically speaking. Where should the arrow of causality be pointed towards: race, education, socioeconomic status?

Race is a difficult concept to think about. However it is precisely the difficulty with discussing it which begs that it be thought about more. I believe we liberals have a particular duty to think about race more because if we don’t then our ideological rivals will continue to dominate the conversation.

See here for an un-gated draft of the relevant paper: Sen, Maya, and Omar Wasow. “Race as a Bundle of Sticks: Designs that Estimate Effects of Seemingly Immutable Characteristics.” Annual Review of Political Science 19 (2016): 499-522.

On Liberalism & Race

Race has occupied my thoughts for the past few months. I have traditionally been against giving too much thought to race. Progressives, I think, abuse claims of racism to shut down discussions and pass questionable public policies; e.g. “We need state provided health care because the current system is racist against people of color.”. Conservatives likewise use racism (nativism really) to justify restrictive migration policies. My default position has been that liberals should seek to reduce the role of race of society. I am no longer convinced that this is a viable goal.

My earlier position was based on my childhood experience growing up in 1990s Los Angeles. I grew up in the city’s Koreatown district. The corner grocery store was owned by an Indian. We had a mosque in the block that catered to the neighborhood’s Bengali population. This being Los Angeles there was of course a mixture of Hispanics from Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, and other nations. With so many groups clustered together in a small place you would expect frequent violence – but there wasn’t. Property crimes (petty theft mostly) were common given the general poverty in the area, but inter-group violence wasn’t common. The reason for peace was because the United States’ market oriented institutions discouraged such violence. All the groups were too busy trying to make money to have time to escalate inter-group conflict beyond making fun of one another in private. I grew up hearing plenty of jokes at the expense of Salvadoreans and Asians, but I never saw any actual violence against them. I figured that this was evidence that a liberal society would in the long run be able to make race irrelevant by making it too costly to be racist.

The events of the past few months have made me skeptical of this. Liberal society certainly makes racism costly and reduces inter-group conflict. However liberal society does not eliminate all inter-group conflict or remove the underlying differences across races.

Given that liberalism cannot eliminate racism, what should the liberal position on race be? I have no solid answer. Thoughts?

Public Support for OReGO: Preliminary Results

tldr version;

Road pricing can be a useful means of addressing infrastructure fiscal issues, reducing congestion, and improving environmental quality and it has a chance of being implemented if advocates focus on mobilizing urban voters.

Thanks to all respondents.

This post is a quick detour from the NoL Foreign Policy Survey posts.

Among other projects I am working on, I am tinkering with a public opinion project aimed at the OReGO project. The OReGO is a pilot program operated by the State of Oregon to experiment with an alternative to the existing gasoline tax. Currently Oregonians pay 30 cents per gallon of gasoline, on top of the federal 18.4 cent per gallon tax. Volunteer participants of OReGO instead pay a charge of 1.5 cents per mile driven on state roads.


The primary goal of the program is to find a better way to fund the state’s infrastructure. The current system is inadequate because automobiles are becoming increasingly more fuel efficient and so, on a per mile basis, pay less for road use. Despite paying less these automobiles still rack up costs in road damage.

Advocates of OReGO, and other road pricing schemes, also hope that the program will serve as a means of combating congestion by making drivers more conscious of the marginal cost of their driving and encouraging them to avoid excess driving. The gasoline tax does this already, but very crudely in comparison.

Some advocates also hope to use road pricing as a means of improving local environmental quality and addressing climate change. Automobiles are a significant source of pollution and so reducing their use would yield environmental benefits. Even if the program kept the same number of cars on the road it could reap benefits if it reduced stop and go traffic; automobiles pollute more in stop and go traffic than free flow.

There is quite a bit of research from economists and urban planners on the issue, but public opinion research on it is relatively rare. What research exists tends to focus on either toll roads or in foreign regions. The reason for the gap in the literature is simple enough to explain – no jurisdiction in the United States has adopted road pricing. There have been a few small scale experiments, but they were largely engineering tests and surveyed only the opinion of participants. I hope to fill this gap in the literature by (eventually) conducting a large scale public opinion study of Oregonians.

The below pilot study had 220 respondents recruited through various Oregon sub-reddits (e.g. Portland, Eugene, and Salem). Respondents were obviously not representative of Oregon at large. The sample size was also small for an academic study of Oregon and there is a lot of noise. Most of the results presented are statistically insignificant. As a convenience sample though this survey was nonetheless useful. My goal in this survey was more about testing the survey before fielding it more broadly.

I thank all respondents to the survey – you’ve all helped the progress of science.

Survey Experiment Results:

The survey had a survey experiment. The purpose of survey experiments is to see how changes in phrasing, or other survey elements, influences response.

The experiment was in how OReGO was presented. Respondents were split into three sub-groups and received slightly different explanations of the program. In the base scenario they were told the program was simply a funding mechanism. In the congestion scenario they were also told about its possible congestion benefits. In the final they were additionally told about its possible environmental benefits.

OReGo is a pilot program currently being operated by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Participating drivers are being given the opportunity to pay 1.5 cents per mile they drive on public roads instead of the current 30 cent per gallon tax that the state of Oregon currently charges.

Advocates of OReGO, and similar road pricing schemes, argue that the program serves as a more dependable means of funding infrastructure than the current gasoline tax. They point out that as vehicles become more fuel efficient the amount that drivers pay per mile is decreasing, but costs associated due to road damage are not similarly decreasing. This means that in the long term the current gasoline tax will be unable to cover infrastructure costs. (/End of Base Scenario)

Advocates of OReGO also point out that the program can help reduce congestion by discouraging excessive driving and encourage the use of alternative means of transportation such as bicycling, walking, or transit. Although drivers currently pay for their automobile use in the form of the gasoline tax, many view it as a fixed payment. OReGO, which is charged on a per mile basis, may serve to make drivers more conscious of the marginal cost of their driving. (/End of Congestion Scenario)

OReGO could lead not only to reduced congestion, but could also serve to improve local air quality. One of the major sources of air pollution is automobiles, especially in stop and go traffic. (/End of Environmental Scenario)

Looking at support for adopting OReGO within five years the different treatments are little different from one another. The congestion treatment received a decline in support, but it is pushed back up in the environmental treatment.

I regret not adding a fourth group where respondents are told about the base option and the environmental benefits, but congestion is not added. As it is, it is hard to tell if the decline in support for OReGO in the congestion treatment is because people don’t care about ways to address congestion, or they dislike attempts at social engineering.


When we look at treatment effects among only those who identified living in an urban area the effects get more interesting. Urban voters were very responsive to the idea of environmental benefits and increased support for OReGO by over 10 percentage points.




What seems to be driving the difference in support for OReGO is inter-regional differences in perceived local air quality. Those who perceive local air quality to be ‘very good’ are least likely to support OReGO. This finding is exaggerated when looking at only urban respondents.

I played around to see if this was a statistical artifact from the above treatment; i.e. it is possible those who lived in ‘very good’ air quality regions received the ‘environmental treatment’  and I am picking up the latter effect. This was not the case.



Is this a simple case of those living in high quality areas having no interest in improving the region? A “I have mines” attitude. No. When I look at support for OReGO by how respondents judged local air quality had changed in the past five years, those who thought their local air quality was improving also had the highest support for OReGO.

There is a definite relationship here between support for OReGO and perception of one’s local air quality. I can’t put my finger on it just yet.


Bonus result: daily bicyclists are those most supportive of OReGO.


Libertarians on Climate Change

This post is part of the preliminary results of the NoL Foreign Policy Survey 2017 Pilot. I will be posting results throughout the week as I play around with the data. As always, I strongly emphasize that this is a pilot survey and these are just preliminary results

Are libertarians climate change deniers? No. The majority agree that it is occurring, caused by human activity, and that it is harmful. They do not however support unilateral action by the United States government. At least not the average libertarian respondent.


Note that the last question, asking about supporting unilateral action, is on a different scale from the other three.


When you drill down by type of libertarian though you start to see stark differences. Left-libertarians agree much more strongly that climate change is occurring, caused by human activity, and harmful. They are also much more in support of unilateral action to prevent climate change.



What is driving the differences between type of libertarian? Part of the story seems to be that those who think climate change is harmful are more willing to act to address it, but I suspect a large part of the story is also that some libertarians, particularly market anarchists, simply do not trust the government. Market anarchists are less likely to believe climate change is harmful or caused by humans compared to libertarians at large, but the big difference in opinion is whether the government should act on it.

Thoughts? Tomorrow I will be posting the demographics of those who took the survey.


Update: Updated graphs; minor coding error.

NoL Foreign Policy Results: Preliminary

tldr version; Libertarians are not isolationists in their foreign policy. Left-libertarians in particular are more supportive of things like NATO. Left-libertarians are also more supportive of acting on migration and climate change issues.

These are the preliminary results of the NoL Foreign Policy Survey 2017 Pilot. I will release the raw data and more results in the coming days. I am still in the process of cleaning things up.

The survey targeted self-identified libertarians through online libertarians communities (e.g. the Ron Paul Forums, reddit subreddits, facebook groups, etc.). The survey aimed to better understand the foreign policy views of self-identified libertarians based in the United States. The survey was conducted between December 23rd 2016 and January 1st 2017 and received over 600 replies.

Warning: This survey was a pilot and I discourage trying to generalize its results to the wider libertarian movement with any high degree of certainty.


The survey uses a survey experiment where respondents were placed into one of four alternative scenarios. Each scenario received similar questions, but had slight wording differences in two questions:

(1) whether the respondent supported providing military aid to a US ally and
(2) whether the respondent supported allowing in refugees from that country

The four scenarios were:

(1) A US ally being attacked by a neighbor – the base scenario
(2) The Baltic republics being attacked by Russia
(3) Afghanistan being attacked by Russia
(4) Taiwan ROC being attacked by China PRC

The survey can divided roughly into four parts:

(1) Military policy
(2) Migration policy
(3) Climate change policy and
(4) Trade policy


In the base scenario libertarians we find that the majority of libertarians favor providing military aid to a generic US ally. However that support goes down substantially when details are provided. If Afghanistan, a non-NATO major ally, were attacked it would receive support from less than 10 percent of respondents.


Likewise support for allowing refugees in from the attacked country is high in the base scenario, but drops for Afghanistan. Support for allowing refugees from Taiwan or the Baltic republics is not statistically different from the base scenario.


In the above graphs we see respondents’ support for unilateral action in free trade (“remove all trade barriers”), open borders, and addressing climate change. Support for unilateral action is almost twice as high for free trade than either support for open borders or climate change.


When I dig further into type of libertarian we see that left-libertarians are more willing to act on open borders and climate change than their counterparts. Almost 100 percent of market anarchists are in favor of abolishing all trade barriers.


Respondents are split on support for international groups like NAFTA or NATO. If we look at sub-groups within the libertarian movement (i.e. libertarians, left-libertarians, and market anarchists) we see that left-libertarians are more supportive and market anarchists are less supportive of international action.


Foreign Policy Survey

A project I’ve been playing around with for a while has been better understanding the policy views of libertarians. In a few policy areas one should expect near-unanimous agreement on what constitutes the libertarian position. I would, for example, find it hard to believe someone was a libertarian if they supported minimum wage laws. In other areas though it isn’t clear what the libertarian position is.

Foreign policy is one such area. As has been discussed on NoL, it isn’t clear that a singular libertarian foreign policy can exist. Contemporary libertarianism is heavily tied to the US, which further complicates matters. A US based libertarian might oppose NATO on grounds that it over extends the power of the government. A libertarian based in Poland on the other hand might support NATO as a necessary countermeasure to the threat of attack from Russia.

To answer these questions I’m playing around with a pilot study.  The survey can be accessed here. It should take 10-15 minutes and I would appreciate if you could all take it. The survey is aimed for US libertarians, but feel free to take if you’re elsewhere.

Emphasis on the ‘pilot’. I am still playing around with wording and such. I am debating which demographic questions can be removed to reduce possibility of identification – I know many libertarians are skeptical about taking these surveys out of privacy concerns. If you have any comments/suggestions feel free to do so in the comments.

New Year Research Resolutions – or – What are you working on?

Hi everyone. I am your co-blogger. Seeing as the end of the year is approaching I thought it would be nice to know what everyone is working on research wise. So if you have the time post the three (or less) research projects you hope to finish in the upcoming year in the comments below and in a short sentence describe each one.

I’ll start off:

(1) Social Remittances:

I am exploring how social remittances, the transmission of political capital through emigrants, affected the 2000 Mexican elections by increasing demand for improved institutions. Based on an earlier NoL post here.

(2) Libertarian Public Opinion Project:

I’m working on this with Brandon; the plan is to field a survey of the libertarian movement to answer questions such as ‘Is there a uniform libertarian foreign policy?’. Reddit apparently has done a straw poll of market anarchists: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013

(2) Rodney King Riots 25 Years Later:

Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the Rodney King Riots and I plan to combine new survey data with older regional surveys to see if race relations have improved in Los Angeles since then.