Vote Amplification Math and the Logic of "Anti-Terror" Spending

Some time ago, I wrote a little note about vote amplification caused by electoral politics and unequal representation in the Congress. Accepting some of the rational and political arguments for such vote amplification, I still concluded that a vote in Wyoming is amplified in its effectiveness by a factor of 3.9 to 4.8 when compared to a vote in California. (For the derivation of the 4.8, see the footnote to my original post.)

We can correlate this factor quite well to the per-capita "anti-terror" spending in Wyoming compared to that in California, as reported in this amazingly well-written article in Financial Times today by Edward Alden and Andrew Ward: "US tries to staunch wasteful flow of anti-terror funds" (FT, 11 May 2005):

In New York City, which suffered by far the worst damage from the attacks, the federal government has allocated an average of $25 (€19.5, £13.3) a person in homeland security funds, while the largely rural state of Wyoming has received $61 per person. California, which is high on most lists of likely terrorist targets, has received just $14 per capita, according to figures compiled by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Now, divide 61 by 14 to get spending ratio of 4.35.

That's precisely in between my two estimates for vote amplification ratio between Wyoming and California: 3.9 and 4.8!

One pluasible hypothesis to explain this congruence can be that the "anti-terror" spending serves, primarily, the purpose of distributive economic assistance through waste-and-quick spending—spending which turns and speeds the economic cycle out of its trough more than it battles real terror.

The "beauty" of the waste-and-quick spending is that it provides a delta function correction to economic cycles. The time-scale of its effect (in the short run) is desirable and suites the characteristic time the policy makers deal with. (See my note on the characteristic time scales of dynamical systems and macro-economic events.) It is a quick and dirty fix, and its macroeconomic amplification growth factor is immediate and in short term. The problem is that while waste-and-quick is quick, it is also a waste, and in the long run, a total waste.

Macro economy, like all phenomena affected by forces of varying qualities, evolves along multiple time-scales in its eigen diemensions.

Take education, for example. I don't know about you but I spent 17 years in graduate school (earning several degrees, 11 years of it while working mostly at the same universities and 7 of it while working in various corporations), 4 in undergraduate and 11 in elementary and high-school. I am not saying this is typical and I am hoping my children won't be as foolish but the point I'm trying to make is that learning and education moves in larger time-scales than time scales of the common economic cycle. It used to be the case that some economists considered universities and colleges as "delayed employment" buckets. University education (4 to 7 years) has an eerily close time scale to economic cycles, enabling them with a sort of employment capacitance/damper function. Nevertheless, less cynically and more seriously, every one tends to agree that learning, training and education of a country's population determines the quality of human resources available for general prosperity. Their neglect in favor of short-term corrections (through war and security spending, for example) could have negative long-term consequences. Over the past, the U.S. has been able to correct these long-term deficiencies through the institution of throttled immigration. When there's a need for consumerist drive and human resources which may be difficult to find here, the gates are opened to the "experts" and "qualified" from abroad. While this may sound globally egaliterian, it is far from a perfect policy device. As it has been carried out, it can have destablizing social consequences even as it may have a corrective influence on economic ills.

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Masood, Would you please explain the comment: "I don't know about you but I spent 17 years in graduate school,..." This is a very long time to be a grad student. Either your advisor wouldn't let you go, or you just love to learn and earned multiple Ph.D's. Ralph

Posted by Ralph on May 12, 2005 at 10:46 AM PDT #

Ralph, My advisers were all great. I will try to explain this by adding something in a parenthesis above. I earned 1.75 Ph.D.'s, if one can earn that, plus an M.S., an M.J., and an M.B.A. during those years. Also, during those 17 years, I was a teaching assistant for 2, a research assistant for 5, a graduate student instructor for 4 and a Silicon Valley worker for 6, when I gradually left and then returned to get an M.B.A. So, strictly speaking throughout those years I was also working.

Posted by M. Mortazavi on May 12, 2005 at 05:25 PM PDT #

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Posted by Kristine on May 13, 2005 at 12:41 AM PDT #

Masood, I'm still impressed with your 17 years of effort. However, you wrote, "plus an M.S., an M.J., and an M.B.A. during those years." I've been trying to figure out what "M.J." stands for. Ralph

Posted by Ralph Hannon on May 16, 2005 at 03:30 AM PDT #

Ralph, M.J. stands for a masters in journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley. This was all a mouthful so I didn't put it in the text. M.

Posted by M. Mortazavi on May 16, 2005 at 03:50 AM PDT #

"M.J. stands for a masters in journalism ..." Of course -- I've been living too long in the Chicago area. I wondered if it stood for Michael Jordan! Ralph

Posted by Ralph's Birthday on May 16, 2005 at 04:22 AM PDT #

I know . . . I feel funny using that abbreviation but that's the whole point . . .

Posted by M. Mortazavi on May 16, 2005 at 05:08 AM PDT #

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