Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A brief note on the demographic prospects of Cuba

Over at my blog this evening, I posted an article reflecting on the evidence for substantial economic decline in Cuba under Castro, not only decline relative to its peers (southern and central Europe, high-income Latin America) but even, at times, of absolute decline. A country that had severe problems of inequality went on to acquire worse problems. Of all the economies in the world to be transformed into autarkic socialist states, Cuba’s highly-export dependent economy may have been among the least suited. Blogger and economist Noel Maurer has pointed to one study suggesting that Cuba's potential GDP per capita may well have been halved.

On my RSS feed this weekend, I came across Tyler Cowen's pessimistic forecast for post-Castro Cuba's economic future.

One way to approach Cuba’s economic fate is to consider the Caribbean region as a whole. For the most part, it has seen mediocre results since the financial crisis of 2008. Economic problems have plagued Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti and Barbados, with only Jamaica seeing a real turnaround.

The core problems of the region include high debt, weak commodity prices, lack of economies of scale and an inability to upgrade tourist facilities to compete with the U.S., Mexico and further-flung locales. Cuba cannot service its foreign debt, and losing most of its support from Venezuela has been a massive fiscal problem.

Perhaps the country most like Cuba in the Caribbean, in terms of history, heritage and ethnic composition, is the Dominican Republic. Currently, it has a nominal gross domestic product of somewhat over $6,000 per capita, depending which source you prefer. That’s far from the bottom tier of developing economies, but it’s hardly a shining star. And Cuba will take a long time to attract a comparable level of multinational investment, or to develop its tourist facilities to a comparable level of sophistication. Well-functioning electricity and air conditioning cannot be taken for granted in Cuba, especially after the major decline in energy supplies from Venezuela.

[. . .]

If you are wondering, the World Bank measures Cuban GDP at over $6,000 per capita, but that is based on a planned economy and an unrealistic exchange rate. In reality, Cuba probably is richer than Nicaragua, where GDP per capital is approximately $2,000, but we don’t know by how much. Cuba does have relatively high levels of health care and education, but we’ve learned from post-Soviet reform experiences that it is easy for a nation to lose those advantages. There are already shortages of many basic health care items, including medical technology and antibiotics.

Cuba's demographic issues, including sustained sub-replacement fertility and substantial emigration, will not aid in the economic transformation of the country. If anything, they may make things more difficult, as Cubans who can leave for destinations where they think they can prosper. Might the Donald Trump presidency inadvertently aid Cuba, I wonder, by making Cuban immigration to the United States more difficult? Or would even that be enough to make things less difficult for Cuba? In a time where skilled labour is increasingly at a premium, Cubans may have their pick of destinations? For more, see this blog's past posts about Cuba's particular issues. I have to say that our pessimistic arguments seem to have good ones.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

What demographic issues do you think matter right now?

Are there particular trends you are interested in? Are there particular regions you would like to read about? Would analyses of the present here, try to predict the future, aim for a better understanding of the past? Would you like to be the one doing the analyzing? Discuss, please.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A brief observation on the 2016 US presidential election

I've been following the aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections in the United States over at my blog with no small amount of concern. I acknowledge, in the interest of openness, that I would have personally preferred an election victory by Clinton over Trump, rooted in my belief that she would be better equipped to handle issues--including demographic ones--better than Trump. Still, it is quite noteworthy that, as I noted last week, statistical projections were wrong in predicting the outcome of the vote. William H. Frey did a good job of outlining just what happened.

Among votes counted at this time, exit poll show Republican Trump bested Democrat Clinton by a net of 6,414,252 votes among voters over age 45. As for voters under age 45, Clinton received a net of 6,679,191 votes more than Trump.

Although this national young/old split is fairly even, older voters made deciding numeric differences in Trump’s favor for consequential swing states, especially in the Rust Belt. This differs from the two previous presidential elections when the younger voters gave Barack Obama his wins.

The Democratic leaning young adult vote is now driven by racial minorities who made up 37 percent of voters under age 30 in the 2016 election. In contrast, whites constituted 78 percent of the voters over age 45 and 87 percent of those over age 65. On Nov. 8, whites in these age groups showed the strongest support for Donald Trump in almost every swing state that he won.

The educational profile of these older whites is notable—65 percent are not college graduates. These so called “non college whites” were the major engine for Trump’s surge with high turnout and strong voting preferences. Non college whites comprised 37 percent of all voters and favored Trump over Clinton by more than 2 to 1.

Whites, especially older whites, were responsible for reversing past Democratic expansion in the Sun Belt states of Florida and North Carolina, as well as for capturing previously Democratic leaning northern states: Iowa, Michigan Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

I very much recommend an article by Harry Enten at Five Thirty Eight, "‘Demographics Aren’t Destiny’ And Four Other Things This Election Taught Me". Demographics, as you would expect from the article's title, are clearly not everything.

The country is getting more diverse. That’s indisputable. But some analysts had argued that increasing racial and ethnic diversity meant that Democrats would have a durable, structural advantage in presidential elections. That was never true, and the results in 2016 show why. Trump was able to win, in large part, because he won over a lot of northern white voters without a college degree — in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, for example. Many of these voters had cast ballots for Obama twice. Trump’s more populist message likely helped him outperform recent GOP nominees with these voters.

Political parties, in other words, are dynamic — their coalitions change. Some people, including me, were surprised that it was Trump who was able to attract these voters to the GOP. But no one should have been surprised that the country’s growing diversity didn’t guarantee Democratic victory. Only two years ago, in the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans were able to win big nationally among an electorate that was just as diverse as it was in 2008, when Democrats scored a blowout victory. A lot of Democrats dismissed that win as merely a product of a whiter, older midterm electorate. They shouldn’t have.

And, no, Democrats won’t be safe even as the electorate becomes more diverse. Republicans could do even better with white voters. In some Southern states, for instance, GOP candidates win close to 90 percent of white voters. Who’s to say that won’t happen in the Midwest? Alternatively, Republicans could improve their standing with nonwhite voters. In heavily Latino Texas, for instance, Republicans have long done better with Latino voters than Republicans have done nationally.

For the reasons Enten gives, Ruy Teixeira's argument in Vox that this is a last gasp of the white majority is unconvincing. As CNN exit polls show, Hillary Clinton was strongest in demographics--the young, and African-Americans and Latinos--which have had relatively poor turnout. (I won't get into issues of voter suppression, not that these help, at all.) Francis Wilkinson's Bloomberg View article "Demography Slays the Democrats", is perfectly correct in noting that simply waiting for demographic change to create a permanent Democratic Party majority is not enough. It will have to do politics better.

For better and worse, Democrats are stuck with the core they nurtured: nonwhites and liberal, college-educated whites. It's not clear how they build on that base at the moment; instead they will have to rally it.

Fear is already coursing through those constituencies. Racial minorities and liberal women are terrified of Trump and the ugly culture he has unleashed. Gays and lesbians fear his running mate. They all fear the Supreme Court that Republicans have held in reserve for Trump, like a corner table at a favorite restaurant.

Demographics turned out to be an insufficient offense. Democrats will have to do better than wait for the hands of the clock to reward them with millions of new voters. They will have to embrace direct democracy; representative democracy appears to be a closed door.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"Trump's Win Isn't the Death of Data--It Was Flawed All Along"

I'm going to react at greater length and in greater detail to the surprise outcome of the American presidential election. In the meantime, I'd like to point readers to Cade Metz's Wired article "Trump's Win Isn't the Death of Data--It Was Flawed All Along". It raises a lot of interesting questions about statistics collection generally, not just political polling.

The lesson of Trump’s victory is not that data is dead. The lesson is that data is flawed. It has always been flawed—and always will be.

Before Donald Trump won the presidency on Tuesday night, everyone from Nate Silver to The New York Times to CNN predicted a Trump loss—and by sizable margins. “The tools that we would normally use to help us assess what happened failed,” Trump campaign reporter Maggie Haberman said in the Times. As Haberman explained, this happened on both sides of the political divide.

Appearing on MSNBC, Republican strategist Mike Murphy told America that his crystal ball had shattered. “Tonight, data died,” he said.

But this wasn’t so much a failure of the data as it was a failure of the people using the data. It’s a failure of the willingness to believe too blindly in data, not to see it for how flawed it really is. “This is a case study in limits of data science and statistics,” says Anthony Goldbloom, a data scientist who once worked for Australia’s Department of Treasury and now runs a Kaggle, a company dedicated to grooming data scientists. “Statistics and data science gets more credit than it deserves when it’s correct—and more blame than it deserves when it’s incorrect.”

With presidential elections, these limits are myriad. The biggest problem is that so little data exists. The United States only elects a president once every four years, and that’s enough time for the world to change significantly. In the process, data models can easily lose their way. In the months before the election, pollsters can ask people about their intentions, but this is harder than it ever was as Americans move away from old-fashioned landline phones towards cell phones, where laws limit such calls. “We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we have a lot of data,” says Dan Zigmond, who helps oversee data science at Facebook and previously handled data science for YouTube and Google Maps. “But the truth is that there’s just not a lot to build on. There are very small sample sizes, and in some ways, each of these elections is unique.”