Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What Amazon Said, What Amazon Meant

In September 2017, Amazon announced that it was planning to set up a second headquarters. It published a "Request for Proposal" that began:
Amazon invites you to submit a response to this Request for Proposal (“RFP”) in conjunction with and on behalf of your metropolitan statistical area (MSA), state/province, county, city and the relevant localities therein. Amazon is performing a competitive site selection process and is considering metro regions in North America for its second corporate headquarters.
The RFP suggested that within broad parameters, the search was wide-open. It is full of comments like " All options are under consideration" and "We encourage testimonials from other large companies" and "Tell us what is unique about your community." The quick overview of its requirements looked like this:
In choosing the location for HQ2, Amazon has a preference for:
  • Metropolitan areas with more than one million people
  • A stable and business-friendly environment
  • Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent
  • Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options
HQ2 could be, but does not have to be:
  • An urban or downtown campus
  • A similar layout to Amazon’s Seattle campus
  • development-prepped site. We want to encourage states/provinces and communities to think creatively for viable real estate options, while not negatively affecting our preferred timeline
Several hundred cities heard what Amazon said, and sent in proposals. Many of those were no-hopers, of course. Still, now Amazon has announced its choices: New York (technicallly Long Island City) and DC (technically Arlington, Virginia). Wow, some really radical open-minded out-of-the-box thinking there! It seems as if a more accurate list of criteria for Amazon's Request for proposal might have had three elements.

1) Should be an easy commute from one of the homes of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Scott Galloway offers a useful info-graphic here:



2) Should either be near the nation's major center of government or near the nation's major center of the financial industry. Or maybe we'll just do both.

3) Should be one of the top two cities for total number of people already employed in computer and mathematical jobs. Alan Berube at Brookings offers this useful table.
Table 1: Tech workers by metro area

There's nothing wrong with these actual criteria. Having a corporate headquarters near the residence of the CEO, especially when the CEO is as closely identified with the company as Bezos is with Amazon, is a long-standing practice. There are obvious advantages to being in New York and DC.

But I do wonder if the folks at Amazon have any clue about how annoyingly cozy this looks to the several hundred other cities that took the time to put in bids. Sure, places like Columbus, Ohio, or Indianapolis, Indiana can get a pat on the head for being on the "short list."  The day before the decision was announced, the major of Jersey City tweeted: "Of course #jerseycity would benefit if it’s in NY but I still feel this entire Amazon process was a big joke just to end up exactly where everyone guessed at the start. No real social impact on a city, no real transformation, no inspiring young residents that never had this" The next time Amazon starts talking with cities about locating a facility anywhere, this process will be remembered.

In the RFP, Amazon talked a good game about the importance of a " local government structure and elected officials eager and willing to work with the company." It talked about a fast permit process for building, and about the importance of smoothly functioning transportation infrastructure. It Amazon becomes mired in the local politics, regulatory disputes, and traffic jams of New York and DC, it shouldn't expect much sympathy from hundreds of other places across the country.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Some Economics of World War I

What we now call World War I was known at the time, and for several decades afterward, simply as the "Great War." It wasn't until the arrival of World War II that World War I was re-christened. The Great War ended 100 years ago on November 11, 1918.

Stephen Broadberry and Mark Harrison have edited a collection of 20 essays called The Economics of the Great War: A Centennial Perspective (November 2018, free registration needed). It's a VoxEU.org Book published by CEPR Press, The useful approach of these books is to focus on short and readable essays, often 6-10 pages in length, in which the authors bring out some of the key points from their previous or ongoing  research. Thus, the books offer a gentle introduction to a broader swath of the literature. I'll list the full table of content below. Here, I'll offer a few tidbits. 

As the editors point out, many of the modern discussion so the Great War focus on changes  that happened in the aftermath of the war, many of which are hot topics again a century later. Examples of such topics with echoes for the present day include:  

The Great War marked the end of a period that had shown a strong rise in economic inequality. Walter Scheidel writes: "In the years leading up to World War I, economic inequality in many industrial nations was higher than it had ever been before. In the early 1910s, the highest-earning 1% of adults in France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US received
approximately one-fifth of all personal income. Income inequality then was much greater than it is now, except in the US, where the level of the 1910s has returned. ... Personal wealth was even more concentrated. The UK, where the richest 1% owned almost 70% of all wealth, led the pack. Today’s figure is closer to 20%. The corresponding French, Dutch, and Swedish shares of close to 60% were the highest ever recorded for these countries and between two and three times as large as they are now. Uncharacteristically, the US was lagging behind, even though its wealth concentration was also – if only moderately – greater than it is today ... "

The Great War brought the first great deglobalization of the world economy. David Jacks writes: "I document the evolution of world trade up to the precipice of World War I and the implosion of world trade in the initial years of the war, along with important changes in the composition of trade. Chief among these was the dramatic erosion in the share of Europe in world exports in general, and in the share of Germany in European exports in particular. Turning an eye to more long-run developments, World War I emerges as a clear inflection point in the evolution of the global economy. The diplomatic misunderstandings, economic headwinds, and political changes introduced in its wake can be discerned in the data as late as the 1970s."

The Great War showed how to address a Depression, but the lesson wasn't learned. Hugh Rockoff explains: "Policymakers might have drawn the conclusion from World War I that deficit spending combined with an expansionary monetary policy had propelled the economy toward full employment – a lesson that would have been enormously valuable in the Depression. ... Although lessons about the effectiveness of monetary and fiscal policy could have been drawn from the war, economic theory was not ready. ... The methods used for dealing with shortages during the war, whatever their success in wartime, were simply inappropriate for dealing with the Depression. Although the Roosevelt administration wrestled mightily with the Depression, and produced important pieces of social legislation such as Social Security and the minimum wage, many of its programmes were aimed simply at reallocating resources from one interest group to another, rather than creating the additional demand that would have done the most to ameliorate the Depression."

The Great War marked the end of unrestricted mass migration. Drew Keeling points out: "The war declarations of August 1914 spelled far-reaching alterations to the fundamental character of modern long-distance international mass migration. For most of the preceding century, in the majority of big economies, international human relocation had been largely peaceful, voluntary, and motivated by market incentives. Since then, politically determined quotas and legal restrictions, and flight from war, oppression or similarly fearsome dangers and disasters, have been more salient ..."

The Great War brought an international refugee crisis. Peter Gatrell writes: "Amidst all the current talk of an international ‘refugee crisis’, it is worth pointing out that World War I yielded a harvest of mass population displacement that caught contemporaries by surprise and is only now attracting scholarly attention. It uprooted upwards of 14 million civilians whose suffering generated widespread sympathy and encouraged often impressive programmes of humanitarian aid as well as self-help. In Western Europe wartime displacement did not leave a lasting legacy, because refugees were able to return to their homes. But in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the situation was complicated by revolution, civil war, the collapse of three continental empires, and a series of population exchanges."

The volume also looks in more detail at the history of the war itself. As an example, Mark Harrison contributes an opening essay, "Four Myths about the Great War." Here's a summary, with citations omitted for readability. 

Myth 1: "How the war began: An inadvertent conflict?"
"There was no inadvertent conflict. The decisions that began the Great War show: • agency, • calculation, • foresight, and • backward induction. Agency is shown by the fact that, in each country, the decision was made by a handful of people. These governing circles included waverers, but at the critical moment the advocates of war, civilian as well as military, were able to dominate. Agency was not weakened by alliance commitments or mobilisation timetables. ... What ruled the leaders’ calculation in every country was the idea of the national interest ... While the ignorant many hoped for a short war, the informed few rationally feared a longer, wider conflict. They planned for this, acknowledging that final victory was far from certain. ... The European powers understood deterrence. No one started a war in 1909 or 1912 because at that time they were deterred. War came in 1914 because in that moment deterrence failed."
Myth 2: "How the war was won: Needless slaughter?"
"Another myth characterises fighting in the Great War as a needless wasteful of life. In fact, there was no other way to defeat the enemy. Attrition was not a result of trench warfare. Attrition became a calculated strategy on both sides. From the Allied standpoint, the rationality of attrition is not immediately clear. The French and British generally lost troops at a faster rate than the Germans. Based on that alone, the Allies could have expected to lose the war. The forgotten margin that explains Allied victory was economic. This was a war of firepower, as well as manpower. ...  When America joined the war and Russia left it, the Allied advantage declined in population but rose in production. On the basis of their advantage, ... the Allies produced far more munitions, including the offensive weaponry that finally broke the stalemate on the Western front."
Myth 3: "How the war was lost: The food weapon?"
"Hunger was decisive in the collapse of the German home front in 1918. Was Germany starved out of the war by Allied use of the food weapon? In Germany, this myth became prevalent and assumed historic significance in Hitler’s words ... It is true that Germany imported 20‐25% of calories for human consumption before the war. Wartime imports were limited by an Allied blockade at sea and (via pressure on neutrals) on land. At the same time, German civilians suffered greatly – hunger-related mortality is estimated at around 750,000. But decisions made in Berlin, not London, did the main damage to German food supplies. ... [T]the effects of the loss of trade were outweighed by Germany’s war mobilisation. Mobilisation policies damaged food production in several ways. On the side of resources, mobilisation diverted young men, horses, and chemical fertilisers from agricultural use to the front line. Farmers’ incentives to sell food were weakened when German industry was converted to war production and ceased to supply the countryside with manufactures. Government initiatives to hold down food prices for the consumer did further damage. Because trade supplied at most one quarter of German calories, and German farmers the other three quarters, it is implausible to see the loss of trade as the primary factor. Germany’s own war effort probably did more to undermine food supplies."
Myth 4: "How the peace was made: Folly at Versailles?"
"Since Keynes (1920), many serious consequences have been ascribed to the treaty of Versailles. ...  Germany actually paid less than one fifth of the 50 billion gold marks that were due. From 1924, there was no net drain from the Germany economy because repayments were covered by American loans. Eventually, Hitler defaulted on both loans and reparations. German governments could have covered most of it [the reparations] by accepting the treaty limits on military spending. Instead, they evaded it by means of a ‘war of attrition’ against foreign creditors. The Allied pursuit of reparations was unwise and unnecessarily complicated Europe’s postwar readjustment, but it is wrong to conclude that it radicalised German politics. The political extremism arising from the treaty was short-lived. In successive elections from 1920 through 1928, a growing majority of German votes went to moderate parties that supported constitutional government. In fact, Weimar democracy’s bad name is undeserved. It was the Great Depression that reawakened German nationalism and put Hitler in power."
____________________

Here's the full Table of Contents





Monday, November 12, 2018

Global Population Pyramids

The Lancet has just published a recent set of papers from the Global Burden of Disease Study. As it notes: "The Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) is the most comprehensive worldwide observational epidemiological study to date. It describes mortality and morbidity from major diseases, injuries and risk factors to health at global, national and regional levels. Examining trends from 1990 to the present and making comparisons across populations enables understanding of the changing health challenges facing people across the world in the 21st century."

Interested readers will find lots to chew on in these papers. Here, I'll stick to a figure showing "global population pyramids" from the article "Population and fertility by age and sex for 195 countries andterritories, 1950–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017," authored by the GBD 2017 Population and Fertility Collaborators (Lancet, published November 10, 2018; 392: 10159, pp. 1995–2051).



The four panels show four years: 1950, 1975, 2000, and 2017. The red bars show size of female population at different age groups, from younger ages at the bottom to older ages at the top; the yellow bars do the same for men. Horizontal lines show the average and median age for men and women in each year.

A few thoughts:

1) These population pyramids are especially useful for looking at the evolution of the age distribution. "In 1950, the global mean  age of a person was 26·6 years, decreasing to 26·0 years in 1975, then increasing to 29·0 years in 2000 and 32·1 years in 2017.

2) The bulge in the working age population in 2000 and 2017, as opposed to the earlier years, is apparent. " Demographic change has economic consequences, and the proportion of the population that is of working age (15–64 years) decreased from 59·9% in 1950 to 57·1% in 1975, then increased to 62·9% in 2000 and 65·3% in 2017."

3) Over time, the population pyramids has become relatively broader at the bottom; that is, they do not taper as quickly as one moves to older aged. That pattern tells you that the elderly are a rising share of the population. It also suggests that as today's younger generations age, and their number rise up through the global population pyramid, the share of the elderly in the world population will rise substantially.

4) The increasing area of the pyramids shows the rise in global population since 1950. Less clear to the naked eye is that the rate of growth in the world  population has shifted from being exponential to being linear. 
"From 1950 to 1980, the global population increased exponentially at an annualised rate of 1·9% ... . From 1981 to 2017, however, the pace of the global population increase has been largely linear, increasing by  83·6 million people per year. ... Growth of the global population increased in the 1950s and reached 2·0% per year in 1964, then slowly decreased to 1·1% in 2017." 
5) Although geographic breakdowns aren't shown in this figure, the regional patterns of population growth have also differed substantially. 
"In 1950, the high-income, central Europe, eastern Europe, and central Asia GBD super-regions accounted for 35·2% of the global population but, in 2017, the populations of these countries accounted for 19·5% of the global population. Large increases occurred in the proportion of the world’s population living in south Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and north Africa and the Middle East. ...  Growth of the population in north Africa and the Middle East increased until the 1970s, and it has remained quite high, at 1·7% in 2017. Population growth rates in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 1950 to 1985, decreased during 1985–1993, increased again until 1997, and then plateaued; at 2·7% in 2017, population growth rates were almost the highest rates ever recorded in this region. The most substantial changes to population growth rates were in the southeast Asia, east Asia, and Oceania super-region, where the population growth rate decreased from 2·5% in 1963 to 0·7% in 2017. ... In central Europe, eastern Europe, and central Asia, the population growth rate dropped rapidly after 1987 and was negative from 1993 to 2008. Growth rates in the high-income super-region have changed the least, starting at 1·2% in 1950 and reaching 0·4% in 2017."

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, One Year Later

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law by President Trump less than a little less than year ago, on December 22, 2017. What are the likely benefits and costs associated with the legislation? The Fall 2018 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives (where I work as Managing Editor) includes a two-paper symposium on the subject. Joel Slemrod provides an overview of the main elements of the legislation and its effects in " "Is This Tax Reform, or Just Confusion?" (32:4, pp. 73-96). Alan J. Auerbach focuses on one primary aspect of the law, its shifts in the US corporate income tax, in "Measuring the Effects of Corporate Tax Cuts," (32:4, pp. 97-120).

Here's a flavor of Slemrod's argument:
"The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is not tax reform, at least not in the traditional sense of broadening the tax base and using the revenue so obtained to lower the rates applied to the new base. Nor, based on its unofficial title, did it aspire to this approach as a main objective. It does, though, contain several base-broadening features long favored by tax reform advocates. 
"or is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act just confusion. There are coherent arguments buttressing the centerpiece cut in the corporation tax rate. To the extent that the new legislation reduces the cost of capital (which is not obvious), business investment will be higher than otherwise. 
"Its serious downsides are the contribution to deficits and to inequality. The former is less of a concern to the extent that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act turns out to stimulate growth; the latter is less of an issue the more its centerpiece cuts in business taxation will be shifted to the benefit of workers, especially low-income workers. In both cases, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act represents a huge gamble on the magnitude of these effects, about which the evidence is not at all clear. My own view is that the stimulus to growth will be modest, far short of many supporters’ claims, and so the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will increase federal deficits by nearly $2 trillion over the next decade, a nontrivial stride in the wrong direction that promises to shift the tax burden to future generations. How it will affect the within-generation distribution of welfare is the most controversial question of all. Although according to conventional wisdom, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act delivers the bulk of the tax cuts to the richest Americans, whose relative well-being has been rising continuously in recent decades, other plausible models of the economy, supported by some new empirical evidence, raise the possibility that the gains will be more widely shared. This is the most important question about which we know too little."
Auerbach digs into the tricky issues involved in thinking about who really ends up paying corporate taxes, how they affect investment, and how the answers to these questions may change in a world of multinational corporations operating across borders.

For example, until a few years ago the traditional view had been that corporate taxes reduced the return on investment. Thus, even if the corporate income tax was formally collected from companies, the Congressional Budget Office and others assumed that it was actually paid by those who receive income from capital investment. However, in an economy where corporate investment flows easily across international borders, this assumption may not hold up. A higher domestic tax on corporations could chase capital to other countries and reduce investment, which in turn would reduce productivity and wages of domestic workers over time. Auerbach reports that in "the five decades between 1966 and 2016, the share of the income of US resident corporations that was accounted for by foreign operations rose from 6.3 to 31.1 percent." Thus, since 2012, the CBO now assumes that 75% of the US corporate tax is paid by lower returns on capital income, but the other 25% is paid by lower wages for workers.

But these estimates about how corporate taxes affect domestic investment and thus ultimately productivity and wages are rough, and there is room substantial disagreement.  As Auerbach writes:
"One may trace the controversy over distributional effects of the 2017 tax cut (or other potential tax corporate cuts) to differences over the effectiveness of such tax cuts at promoting capital deepening, differences over the extent to which any such capital deepening would generate increases in wages, and differences over whether a corporate tax cut might increase wages through other significant channels. ...
In summary, the rise of the multinational corporation, with cross-border ownership and operations, and the growing importance of intellectual property in production have broadened the set of relevant behavioral responses to corporate taxation and led governments to participate in a multidimensional tax competition game. In this game, each country chooses not only its statutory corporate tax rate, but also asset-specific provisions applying to domestic investment and rules applying to cross-border investments. Changes in any one instrument may affect firms on several decision margins, and policy changes might influence US investment through several direct and indirect channels. While one may expect a reduction in the US corporate tax rate to encourage US-based investment and production, the effects of other policy changes may be more complex."
And of course, the effects of US corporate tax changes will also be affected by how other countries respond to changes in US corporate taxes, and by what further changes are made to tax law in the future. All that said, there does seem to be some rough commonality in the findings of a number of studies that the 2017 legislation will increase incentives for domestic US investment, and in that way lead to additional growth over a 10-year time horizon. Here's Auerbach:
"The Joint Committee on Taxation (2017b) “projects an increase in investment in the United States, both as a result of the proposals directly affecting taxation of foreign source income of US multinational corporations, and from the reduction in the after-tax cost of capital in the United States.” The average increase in the capital stock over the 10-year budget window is 0.9 percent and the average increase in GDP is 0.7 percent, although the increases are smaller at the end of the period because of the changes in provisions noted above. Congressional Budget Office (2018) projects an average increase in GDP of 0.7 percent over the 10-year budget period. A relatively similar private-sector assessment by Macroeconomic Advisers (2018) finds that potential GDP rises by 0.6 percent by the end of the budget period, “mainly by encouraging an expansion of the domestic capital stock.” The Penn Wharton Budget Model (2017) estimates a 10-year growth in GDP of between 0.6 and 1.1 percent, depending on assumptions about the composition of returns to capital. Barro and Furman (forthcoming, Table 11) estimate that GDP would be higher as a result of an increased capital-labor ratio, by 0.4 percent after 10 years under the law as written, and 1.2 percent if initial provisions were made permanent, with the effects being smaller if deficitinduced crowding out is taken into account."  


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Why Quantitative Easing Will Return

Traditional monetary policy, as practiced in the decades up to 2007, faces a problem looking ahead. The shared areas in this figure show recessions.  During a typical recession, the Federal Reserve cut its policy target interest rates--the so-called federal funds rate--by about 5 percentage points.
But it looks as if the step-by-step rise in this policy interest rate that the Federal Reserve has been following in the last few years is going to top out with the federal funds rate at about 3% or maybe a little higher. Thus, when (not if) the next recession hits, it will be impossible to cut that policy interest rate by the traditional 5 percentage points. (Yes, some countries have experimented with very slightly negative policy interest rates, applied mainly to banks holding reserves, but having a central bank impose substantially below-zero interest rates would be an untried experiment.)

There are underlying reasons why these policy interest rates have trended down over time, not only in the US but all over the world: a combination of continuing low inflation and also a combination of supply-and-demand forces in global markets like the "global savings glut" of high savings in China and other Asian countries.

But whatever the reasons why  policy interest rates or lower, the problem remains: When the next recession hits, reducing the the policy interest rate by the traditional 4-5 percentage points will be impossible. The same issue applies to major central banks all around the world: the European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan, and so on.

So the Federal Reserve and other central banks are likely to turn to the same set of policy tools they used in the previous recession: specifically, to the "quantitative easing" tool in which a central bank expands the money supply by direct purchases of financial assets. For the Federal Reserve, this has meant purchases of US Treasury securities and some mortgage-backed financial securities. In other countries, it has sometimes included purchases of other private sector financial securities, too.

For an overview of how these tools of unconventional monetary policy work, I recommend the two-paper symposium in the Fall 2018 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives (full disclosure, I'm the Managing Editor of the journal). Kenneth Kuttner focuses on US experience and Federal Reserve decisions in "Outside the Box: Unconventional Monetary Policy in the Great Recession and Beyond" (32:4, pp. 121-46).  Giovanni Dell'Ariccia, Pau Rabanal, and Damiano Sandri focus on three other major central banks in "Unconventional Monetary Policies in the Euro Area, Japan, and the United Kingdom" (32:4, pp. 147-72).

For those who prefer to absorb this content by watching video, the authors presented their papers at at conference held at the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at Brookings on October 17. Video of the presentations is available here. Slides are available hereKuttner's 15-minute presentation of his paper on the Fed may work especially well for US economics classrooms.

For a flavor, here are some of Kuttner's conclusions:
"A preponderance of evidence nonetheless suggests that forward guidance and quantitative easing succeeded in lowering long-term interest rates. Studies using micro data have documented tangible effects of quantitative easing on firms and financial intermediaries. Macro models suggest that the interest rate reductions are likely to have had a meaningful impact. The adverse side effects appear to have been mild, and are dwarfed by the costs of the more protracted recession in the United States that likely would have occurred in the absence of the unconventional policies. The benefits of unconventional policy therefore probably outweighed the costs.

"Some questions are not entirely settled. First, the persistence of the effects on interest rates remains unclear. Second, disentangling the effects of quantitative easing from those of forward guidance is difficult. Third, the effects of these policies may have been in part a function of turbulent financial conditions, or may have diminished over time as the novelty wore off."
Finally, for another nice recent over view of quantitative easing, how it works, and what is likely to happen next time, interested readers might turn to "QE: A User’sGuide," written by Joseph E. Gagnon and Brian Sack (Peterson Institute for International Economics, Policy Brief 18-19, October 2018).

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Where Voting is Mandatory

A trivia question for this US election day. What do the following 21 countries have in common?

Argentina
Australia
Belgium
Bolivia
Brazil
Costa Rica
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dominican Republic
Ecuador
Egypt
Greece
Honduras
North Korea
Luxembourg
Mexico
Nauru
Paraguay
Peru
Singapore
Thailand
Uruguay

According to the CIA World Factbook 2017, these are the countries of the world that have compulsory voting.

I'm not in favor of compulsory voting, but for elections held in nonpresidential years, when decisions are made and directions are set for national government with relatively low levels of turnout, the option does come to mind. 

Clifford Geertz and Radical Objectivity

My current office sits near the anthropologists, who have posted this comment from Clifford Geertz on the departmental bulletin board. It appears near the end of the "Introduction" to his 1983 collection of essays, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretative Anthropology. Geertz wrote:
To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening. To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is the merest decency. But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind, without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham, comes.
Geertz is writing about people viewing themselves within the context of a variety of cultures: in passing, he mentions "American ethnographers, Moroccan judges, Javanese metaphysicians, or Balinese dancers." But near what feels like an especially divisive election day, it seems worth posing his insights as a challenge for all of our partisan beliefs.

While I am not a member of the Religious Society of Friends, I attended a college with Quaker roots and married a 22nd-generation Quaker. The Quakers have a term called a "query," which refers to a question--sometimes a challenging or pointed question-- that is meant to be used as a basis for additional reflection. So here is Geertz, reformulated as queries to myself.
  • What effort do you make to see yourself as those from the other sides of the partisan divides see you? 
  • Do you have the "merest decency" to see those with other political beliefs as sharing a nature with you? 
  • Do you see yourself and your political beliefs "as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases"?
  • To what extent is your objectivity a matter of self-congratulation?
  • To what extent is your tolerance a sham?