Month: March 2016

Will more than 1 million refugees and migrants arrive in Europe by sea in 2016? (update)

@Harry-Wijnberg writes in response to my last post of this topic:

Following your shift to Sicily:  (West) Africans use to take the Italian way, whereas people from the Middle East and Asia use to come by Turkey-Greece seaborder.

If an average Syrian is willing/ able to pay higher prices as (west) Africans for the Italian route it might be more advantageous for smugglers to change smuggling Syrians in stead of Africans. Lets say that an average Syrian can pay 50% more per place as an average (West) Africans (might be much more), then with the increase of Syrian and Afghan sea arrivals in Italy the numbers of arrivals from Africans will drop severely. We might have to take that in account to get over 1 MM in 2016

Wow! Harry-Wijnberg makes a very good point. I hadn’t given any thought to the possibility that Syrian refugees/migrants, etc., might crowd out[a] African refugees/migrants. In the long run, I suspect (without any real evidence) that the number of smugglers is pretty flexible, and more suppliers will enter the market if the price becomes high enough. But in the short run, barriers to entry might mean the price goes up without much change in the number of refugees/migrants.

One source claims that the number of landings in Italy has already spiked:

The number of refugees arriving in Italy is rising sharply amid fears that a controversial deal struck with Turkey could force asylum seekers to take longer and more dangerous routes to Europe. The Italian interior ministry has documented 16,075 migrants crossing to its shores so far this year, compared to just over 10,000 during the same period in 2015. Most were rescued from smugglers’ boats off the Libyan coast and brought ashore in Sicily by the coast guard.[b] (see also [c] and [d]).

To make matters even more confusing, some sources are claiming that the number of refugees/migrants entering Greece is now going up again:

Arrivals of refugees and migrants to Greece from Turkey rose sharply on Wednesday, just over a week since the European Union and Turkey struck a deal intended to cut off the flow.[e]

The drop might have been due to a large degree to recent bad weather. I remain in let’s-just-wait-and-see mode and calling it an even-money operation. This question isn’t scheduled to close for another 9 months!

[a] http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/1013/economics/crowding-out/

[b] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/refugee-crisis-arrivals-rocket-in-italy-amid-warnings-turkey-deal-could-force-migrants-on-more-a6959491.html

[c] http://nation.com.pk/international/30-Mar-2016/italy-rescues-over-1-500-migrants-in-strait-of-sicily

[d] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3514736/Now-thousands-enter-EU-different-route-crackdown-Turkey-migrants-make-trip-Libya-Italy.html

[e] http://www.ekathimerini.com/207459/article/ekathimerini/news/refugee-migrant-arrivals-to-greece-rise-sharply-despite-eu-turkey-deal

Will more than 1 million refugees and migrants arrive in Europe by sea in 2016? (update)

Europe has already received more than 160,000 refugees this year, about 90.8% of which made landfall in Greece[a]. But, we’re told, the migrant flow in Greece has recently fallen from about 1,000/day to about 100/day:

Where thousands arrived in a day, now hundreds — and some days far fewer — splash onto the Greek shores from Turkey, a possible sign that the largest mass migration of the 21st century is slowing or that refugees are changing course as Europe scrambles to erect new barriers.[b]

Let’s assume that the fall in the number of arrivals is really a result of political changes and not just changes in the weather or in other conditions that would cause a sharp but temporary lessening of the flow of refugees and migrants. How should we extrapolate this change over the rest of 2016?

One answer is that we should expect current conditions to continue more-or-less as they are. So by December 31, the total number of refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe will be 160,000 (i.e., the number who are already there) + 27,700 (100 refugees per day for the next 277 days arriving in Greece) + 48,000 (the remaining 9.2% of refugees who arrive by sea elsewhere than in Greece and who – I think – won’t be deterred by the EU’s deal with Turkey). So the answer is that we should expect about 235,700 by the end of 2016.

But what are the assumptions behind this model, and how reasonable are they? Well, the number of refugees in 2015 varied greatly by month, and October saw more than 40 times as many refugees and migrants as January. So perhaps it’s more reasonable to project a 90% reduction in refugees and migrants over the year, rather than a constant flow of 100/day. Using last year as a baseline, that would mean 90,000 more refugees and migrants in Greece, not 27,700. But that’s still a lot less than 1,000,000.

In fact, if we leave aside (for the moment) the question of refugees and migrants arriving elsewhere than in Greece, the EU would only have to impose a 25-or-so% reduction on 2015 on the flow of refugees and migrants in order to keep the total number under 1 million. That seems achievable, though that fact has to be counterbalanced with the fact that the flow of refugees and migrants is 7 times higher during the first 3 months of 2016 than it was during the same months in 2015.

Perhaps this way of thinking of it helps: The demand curve for refugee/migrant status in the EU has been moving sharply out and to the right when compared to 2014 and even 2015 (though its has been slowing steadily since November). Up to this point, the supply curve for refugee/migrant status in the EU has been pretty flat. The result is just what you’d expect: the quantity of refugees/migrants in the EU has gone up dramatically when compared to previous years. But the EU is now trying to cut the quantity supplied by indirectly raising the price of admission. (Obviously, the EU can’t directly raise the price, though it is a monopolist of sorts, because the price is paid, not to the EU, but to people who facilitate their travel[c].)

So while the demand curve is moving out and to the right, the supply curve is shifting on its axis to be less horizontal and more vertical, i.e., it is experiencing greater price inelasticity of supply [d]. Under these conditions, one can’t say what will happen to the equilibrium quantity of refugees/migrants in the EU, unless one knows more about the relative shapes, positions, and movements of both the supply and demand curves. And I doubt anyone has anything more than a crude guess about any of that. Well, I sure don’t.

But when the demand curve moves out and to the right while the supply curve become for inelastic, you can be damn sure that the price will go up. How much are people willing and able to pay to get the European shores (that is, what’s the price inelasticity of demand, as opposed to supply)? That’s really the big question, as I see it. If demand is highly inelastic, then, in the long run, refugees and migrants who are trying to get to the EU will just consume other, more expensive, ways of getting there (other than, e.g., the fairly cheap trip from western Turkey to one of the nearby Greek islands, like Lesvos).

Are refugees and migrants willing and able to pay enough to land in Italy including Sicily (please forgive me, my Sicilian friends) as they already have this year to the tune of almost 5,000/month? The trip from Libya to Italy runs $500-$2,000[e]. That’s half as much as people were paying for the land voyage to the EU last year[f], and I’m not even sure that’s a real option anymore. If we see a sharp rise in the amount of money that refugees and migrants are willing and able to pay during the next, say, five weeks, then I’d expect the chances of getting to 1,000,000 by the end of 2016 are still pretty high. If not, then not. How to find out whether such a sharp rise occurs? I’m working on that….

But for now, I’m going straight down the middle and setting the odds at 50/50.

 

[a] http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php

[b] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/eu-deal-to-stop-migrants-puts-fear-in-those-waiting-in-turkey/2016/03/26/77c2cc3e-f114-11e5-a2a3-d4e9697917d1_story.html

[c] http://www.ibtimes.com/syrian-refugees-heading-europe-are-big-business-lebanons-travel-agents-2126557

[d] http://www.economicsonline.co.uk/Competitive_markets/Price_elasticity_of_supply.html

[e] http://www.altaiconsulting.com/mixedmigrationlibya/Altai_Consulting-UNHCR-Mixed_Migration_Libya.pdf

[f] http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/refugee-smuggling-a-big-business-in-the-balkans-a-1051461.html

[g] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/17/world/europe/turkey-greece-mediterranean-kos-bodrum-migrants-refugees.html?_r=0

 

Will Montenegro become a NATO member in 2016?

Well, here’s another crumb that’s fallen from the table: The Montenegrin “Ambassador [to the United States Srđan] Darmanović stressed the importance of Montenegro’s accession to NATO in the year marking the tenth anniversary of restoration of the country’s independence”[a]. This sentence is tantalizingly ambiguous. The year of Montenegro’s independence was, of course, 2006[b]. But it’s not perfectly clear whether the prepositional phrase “in the year marking the tenth anniversary” modifies the possessive phrase “Montenegro’s accession to NATO” or the verb “stressed.” If it’s the former (as I think it is), then Darmanović is talking about joining NATO during the 10-year anniversary of Montenegro’s independence, i.e., 2016.

By the way, Darmanović is a human rights advocate[c] and a kick-ass chess player[d]. You can even connect with him on LinkedIn[e]. Seriously. Maybe he’ll tell us what Montenegro’s up to.

[a] http://www.gov.me/en/News/159368/reception-to-mark-the-beginning-of-the-process-of-Montenegro-s-accession-to-NATO.html

[b] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17667132

[c] http://www.cedem.me/me/?jezik=eng

[d] http://www.allgov.com/news/appointments-and-resignations/ambassador-from-montenegro-who-is-srdjan-darmanovic?news=842976

[e] https://www.linkedin.com/in/srdjan-darmanovic-214715a4

Will a majority of voters in Britain’s upcoming referendum elect to remain in the European Union? (update)

Sure, the terror attacks in Brussels are likely to make a difference to current public opinion regarding the Brexit vote[a][b][c][d]. But will they make much difference come June 23? There is some evidence that suffering a terrorist attack can have long-term affects on voters[e]. Terrorism may increase voter turnout levels[f], and there’s some evidence that it causes voters to skew right a bit[g]. Moreover, the 2004 attack in Madrid seems to have had an impact on the election there, helping to cause Spain to disentangle itself from commitments that made it more vulnerable to terrorism[h]. However, that attack took place a mere three days before voters went to the polls.

But I doubt that Brussels is a game changer for Brexit. All of these studies focus on cases in which the polity has been a direct victim of terrorism, and an attack on Brussels is not an attack on London, at least as far as the average British voter is concerned. Moreover, the terrorist attacks in Brussels didn’t teach anyone anything fundamentally new. Without much evidence, I suspect that British voters already had a pretty good idea of what they might be in store for after November 13.

I’ll keep an open mind, but right now I can’t see the recent events in Brussels having much of an affect on the Brexit vote: 61% Britain remains in the EU.

[a] http://www.politico.eu/article/brussels-attacks-change-brexit-climate-nigel-farage-leave-stay/

[b] http://time.com/4270362/how-brussels-will-affect-brexit/

[c]http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2016/03/brussels_brexit_and_the_future_of_the_european_union.html

[d] http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/22/brussels-attacks-may-sway-brexit-vote-strategists.html

[e] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3876262/

[f]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235654523_Voters_versus_Terrorists_Analyzing_the_Effect_of_Terrorist_Events_on_Voter_Turnout

[g]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271898807_Terrorism_and_Voting_The_Effect_of_Rocket_Threat_on_Voting_in_Israeli_Elections
[h] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38817-2004Oct16.html

Will Montenegro become a NATO member in 2016? (update)

Does this matter?

A number of political and public figures of Montenegro signed a declaration against integration of the country into NATO. They are Metropolitan Amfilohie, Bishop Ioanichie and professor Nikola Kusovac and others. The document strongly criticizes Milo Djukanovic’s decision to join NATO.[a]

Probably not. It can’t be a surprise that at least some “political and public figures of Montenegro” are not in favor of joining NATO. Is there any major U.S. policy that isn’t strongly resisted by at least some political and public figures here? Ah, the course of true NATO membership never did run smooth. Moreover, Russian sources (like this one) tend to skew anti-NATO, so whatever value this news item should be discounted.

More important, perhaps, is the continued silence about Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic’s comments on joining NATO is mid-2017[b]. Maybe Djukanovic is trying to calm down the Russians, though I’m not sure this would do the trick. Maybe Djukanovic is trying to give his domestic opponents the sense that there is more time on the shot clock than there actually is. Or maybe Djukanovic just foresees Montenegro joining NATO in mid-2017.

@Counterintelligence is quite right to put out that there has been a recent history of completing the process of joining NATO in less than a year. Sure, the sample size is small, but I take it that what’s salient here is the fact that it can be done in less than 13 months. Montenegro is a tiny, itty-bitty speck of a nation-state. (The population of Montenegro is roughly equal to the population of Memphis, TN.) Off-hand, that suggests that questions of military and political integration might be far easier to resolve than in the case of larger nation-states like Albania (whose population is roughly equal to that of Chicago, IL – so, still pretty tiny).

Corruption levels are crazy high in Montenegro[c][d]. But not as high as in Albania[e], and Croatia’s not that much better[f], if we want to focus on a couple of recent NATO joiners. Come to think of it, corruption levels in Montenegro are about the same as those in Italy[g]! So I don’t see any special reason that corruption is likely to gum up the works.

And what’s all this about Russia then[h]? I suspect – without the slightest bit of actual evidence, mind you – that Russia is pressing NATO leadership for some quid pro quo. Russia can’t, of course, veto Montenegro membership, but it can create a lot of headaches that NATO leadership doesn’t want to deal with. Negotiations with Putin et al. might slow down Montenegro’s membership, but we’re unlikely to be privy to any of that (unless we’re fluent in neo-kremlinology[i], and I’m not).

So I’m sitting tight for now and waiting to see what comes next: 0.25 probability.

[a] http://peacekeeper.ru/en/?module=news&action=view&id=29155

[b] http://www.b92.net/eng/news/region.php?yyyy=2016&mm=03&dd=17&nav_id=97404

[c] http://www.business-anti-corruption.com/media/4000093/EU_montenegro_2013.pdf

[d] https://www.transparency.org/country/#MNE

[e] https://www.transparency.org/country/#ALB

[f] https://www.transparency.org/country/#HRV

[g] https://www.transparency.org/country/#ITA

[h] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/yugoslavia-montenegro/2015-12-24/new-thorn-russias-side

[i] http://foreignpolicy.com/2008/03/17/a-little-neo-kremlinology/

Which party will control the US Senate after the November 2016 election?

Since this is my initial forecast, I’ll just try to develop a reasonable prior. Here’s what I think; why I think it follows:

  • Republican retain control of Congress with 51+ Congressional seats: 0.42
  • Democrats seize control of Congress with 51+ Congressional seats: 0.24
  • Republicans and Democrats each have 50 Congressional seats: 0.34

Here are the basic facts (which you can skip if you’re already in-the-know): There are 34 seats are up for re-election. 24 are currently held by Republicans, and 10 are held by Democrats. Since there are 54 Republicans in the Senate now, that means that the Republicans can count on a bare minimum of 30 seats after the election, and the Democrats can count on a bare minimum of 36 seats. (I’m counting the 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats as Democrats for now, but I’ll revisit this point later.)  17 of the seats up for election are functionally out of play. 10 of these are held by Republicans, so they can really count on 40 seats after the election. The other 7 are held by Democrats, so their floor is really 43 seats. Of the 17 seats that are competitive to one degree or another, 14 of these competitive seats are currently held by Republicans and 3 are held by Democrats.

So much for the basic facts. It would be nice to have some sense of how likely it is that a Democrat or a Republican will win each of these 17 competitive elections.  And Wikipedia (of all places!) provides some raw useful information to this end[a]:

United_States_Senate_elections__2016_-_Wikipedia__the_free_encyclopedia

The final four columns of this table list estimates of how likely each of these Senatorial seats is to go to either a Republican or a Democrat. The estimates come from the Cook Report, the University of Virginia Center for Politics, Roll Call, and the Daily Kos. Since these are qualitative assessments, and we need quantitative assessments, I (somewhat arbitrarily) came up with the following cypher:

  • Safe D = 0.90 probability of D victory
  • Likely D = 0.75 probability of D victory
  • Lean D/Tilt D = 0.60 probability of D victory
  • Tossup = just what it sounds like, 0.50 probability of D victory

 

 

 

And, of course, I did the same for Republicans. I’m certainly open to better translation of the qualitative assessments into quantitative assessments, but this seems like a reasonable place to start.

My next step was to average the four quantitative assessments. While I didn’t weight any of the sources of these assessments, I was tempted to give the Cook Report added weight because of its reputation for accuracy[b]. Again, I’m open to better approaches. Next, I determined the mean, median, and standard deviation of the average assessments. Here’s what that looks like:

Screenshot_3_24_16__12_31_PM

Hence, for any given competitive Senate seat, the expected value to the Republicans is 0.61, and the expected value to the Democrats is 0.39. And the most likely outcome is that Republican end up with 50.5 Senate seats, while Democrats get 49.5. Of course, there’s a small problem here – namely, that actual Senate seats come in discrete quantities along the lines of the positive integers. No one is going to end up with 0.583774 of a Senate seat any time soon!

But the magic of numbers[c] comes to the rescue again. We know that in order to retain their majority in the Senate, Republicans will need to win 11 of the 17 seats up for grabs in these competitive races, since they have a floor of 40 seats. And 11/17 = 0.65, rounding up a bit. Furthermore, we know that the standard deviation for the data series I mentioned is 0.20[d], which you can take my word for if you don’t want to do your own calculation. Given this data, there’s a 0.4207 (call it 0.42) probability that the Republicans will retain 51 or more Senate seats in this election cycle. Contrariwise, Democrats need 8 of the 17 Senate seats, since they have a floor of 43 seats. And 8/17 is about 0.47. Given all of the data we have, we can estimate a 0.242 probability of that happening. 

But here’s the thing. Eagle-eyed readers will surely have noted that 0.4207 (the probability of Republicans retaining control of the Senate) + 0.242 (the probability of the Democrats seizing control of the Senate) does not equal 1. That’s because there’s a rather remarkable 0.3373 probability that we’ll see 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats in the Senate, according to the (admittedly overly) simple model I’ve pieced together! That’s a big surprise to me.

Here are 2 take aways from this fact: To start with, GJ needs to step up and tell us how they mean to score this event if there’s a 50/50 split in the Senate. For practical purposes, of course, control will rest in the hands of the party that has the tie-breaking vote, and that will be whichever party wins the presidential election. If that’s what GJ has in mind, I hope they’ll say so soon (and I apologize if they’ve already done so, but I’ve missed it). Furthermore, if the importance of the presidential election didn’t seem clear enough to me before, it certainly does now. The outcome of the presidential election has a more than 1-in-3 chance of determining which party has control of the Senate. That’s huge. The upshot for the time being: I’m going to assign each party half of the value of 0.3373, but that’s just a temporary fix.

Four more points need to be made: First, the two independents in the Senate are Angus King (ME) and Bernie Sanders (VT). Both Sen. King and Sen. Sanders caucus as Democrats. Hell, Sen. Sanders is running to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. So it’s pretty safe to think of them as Democrats, though it would be very nice to have confirmation from the GJ judges on this point. By the way, neither Sen. King nor Sen. Sanders is up for reelection this year, as they are both Class 1 Senators.

Second, I haven’t tried to use any historical data to help guide my forecasting, and that worries me. I believe that there’s a rough-and-ready tendency for the party who has a two-term president completing his time in office to lose Senate seats[e]. But I need to do more homework on this before I try to upgrade my little toy of a model.

Third, I’ve treated the Senate elections as if they were independent variables. That’s something of a fiction. Senate elections are likely to be deeply influenced by the presidential election, and there’s long been speculation that a Trump candidacy could be a disaster for Republicans in Congress[f]. But this election cycle has been pretty damn hard to predict. (The good news: It’s not boring. The bad news: It’s not boring.) So I’m going to put a pin in this until there’s enough solid empirical data to use. (And, for Pete’s sake, please tell me if there is, and I’m not in the loop.)

Fourth and finally, all of this bean counting gets scrambled if a Senator dies or has to leave office. “The U.S. Constitution grants the state legislatures the power to determine how U.S. Senators are to be replaced, including empowering the chief executive (the governor) do make these appointments”[g]. Since Republican governors outnumber Democratic governors more than 3-to-2[h], and Republicans control a little more than twice as many State legislatures as Democrats[i]. So Republicans have a huge advantage – an advantage I don’t yet have a way of incorporating into my forecast.

 

[a] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Senate_elections,_2016

[b] http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jcampbel/documents/CookAccuracySummary.pdf

[c] http://jwilson.coe.uga.edu/EMAT6680Fa06/Hobgood/Pythagoras.html

[d] Our old friend Andrey Kolmogorov reminds us that all probability values fall between 0 and 1, inclusive[c]. So we need to be a bit careful about using the standard deviation here. If we has a perfectly normal distribution, then 0.025 of the data would sit north of 1.0, while about 0.0011 would be south of 0. I’ll just fix that on the fly.

[e] http://www.senate.gov/history/partydiv.htm

[f] For example, http://www.rollcall.com/news/how-donald-trump-could-swing-the-senate-opinion/

[g] http://uspolitics.about.com/od/thecongress/a/senate_vacancy.htm

[h] http://www.politico.com/story/2015/11/republican-governors-association-winning-streak-216000

[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/03/04/the-remarkable-republican-takeover-of-state-legislatures-in-1-chart/

When will Ted Cruz drop out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination?

Why might Senator Cruz stay in the race until the convention begins? First, Sen. Cruz does have a chance of winning the nomination outright, though it can’t be much higher than 0.02 at the moment[a]. Second, he’s got 425 delegates, almost 2/3 as many as Mr. Trump[b]. And Sen. Cruz will pick up more along the way[c]. He might even win enough delegates in California[d] to deny Mr. Trump the ability to win 1,237 delegates before the Republican convention. Third, even if Sen. Cruz does not manage either to win the nomination before the end of the primaries or to deny Mr. Trump a majority of the delegates, it makes sense for him to be seen as in play for as long as possible. For he would be the most obvious beneficiary if Mr. Trump were forced to withdraw. And Mr. Trump will be 70 before the convention; no matter how good his health is supposed to be[e], that ain’t young. Moreover, as @Anneinak points out, Cruz might yet receive a gift from the Republican Rules Committee[f]. 

So why might Sen. Cruz leave the race before the convention? One possibility is some sort of debilitating scandal arises. Another is ill health, either his own or that of one of his family members. Without much evidence, I think that these are very low probability events. Yet another possibility is an utterly humiliating loss, a la Marco Rubio in Florida. But Sen. Cruz has already won his home state (handily), and a bad loss (in, say, Utah) would sting but would probably be forgotten in the next news cycle. The only serious obstacle I can see in the possibility of running out of money, and that doesn’t seem likely. Cruz has $13.6 million on hand[g]. That’s almost as much as Bernie, and nearly an order of magnitude more than Governor John Kasich.

So I think Sen. Cruz is in it to the end, bitter or not.

  • 1% Before the New York primary
  • 1% After the New York primary but before the Nebraska primary
  • 1% After the Nebraska primary but before the California primary
  • 2% After the California primary but before the Republican National Convention begins
  • 95% Not before the Republican National Convention
[b]http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/republican_delegate_count.html
[f] https://www.gjopen.com/comments/comments/184659
[g] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html