The Best Thing I’ve Read

The best economic policy advice I’ve read in some time is from this piece by Carolyn Zelikow at Market Urbanism critiquing the “Creative Class” notion popularized by Richard Florida:

There are economic growth strategies that work for low- and middle-skill workers. And there are many American cities that are doing just fine without a preponderance of Creative Class representation: Houston, Atlanta, Oklahoma City all come to mind. Florida never even addresses these places. James Fallows writes about a trio of counties in Mississippi that banded together to successfully train their workforce to attract high-end manufacturing plants. Joel Kotkin writes about growth corridors in the Midwest and South. This is the kind of unsexy economic development that our brightest minds really need to be focusing on – not solely creating better amenities for the young whites who populate coworking spaces and bike shares, much though I love them. These are luxury goods, and the affluent can access them without public assistance.

I think the “Creative Class” foolishness is what’s motivating Rahm Emanuel’s policies here in Chicago and it’s fatally flawed. More than half of the people will always fall below that standard. The upper limit on the percentage of people who would benefit from higher education has always been below 50%.

We’ve had three consecutive administrations in Washington that have used a higher education policy as their national economic policy. It’s high time we started following policies that focused on the majority of the people rather than the few.

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The Retort

At Slate Jamelle Bouie responds to Emmett Rensin’s post to which I linked last week:

This is blinkered. And the result is an essay that doesn’t criticize “liberalism” so much as it positions Rensin against other members of his cultural cohort. It’s what you might write if you’ve mistaken the consumption habits and shibboleths of your tribe for a politics that drives one of two major political parties in a democracy of over 300 million people, if you’re convinced of your own centrality to the currents in American history.

It’s a thought-provoking post but I have reservations about it. Among the reservations are that I think that Mr. Bouie is too quick to dismiss the vanguardism to which I referred in my post and he conflates “liberals” with the Democratic Party. Those aren’t scare quotes—it’s the term he uses. Today’s progressives are not liberals and they constitute less than half of the Democratic Party.

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Okay, I’ll Bite


The graph above, sampled from Leonid Bershidsky’s post at Bloomberg titled “To Defeat Islamic State, Treat Muslims Better”, caught my eye. For an interactive (and more informative) version go to the linked post.

Here’s a snippet of the accompanying text:

Thomas Piketty, probably the most fashionable economist since the 2008 financial crisis, has linked the phenomenon to the high income inequality in Middle Eastern nations, which he argued the West had helped foster by letting oil sheiks get rich and share little of their wealth.

Okay, I’ll bite. How might we have accomplished that?

First, I wonder who he means by “we”? Mostly “we” didn’t do anything other than buy oil from the legitimate, internationally recognized governments of Middle Eastern countries. And most of the “we” in that case were European countries.

We (meaning Americans) bought significantly more oil from Canada and Mexico than we did from any countries in the Middle East. Maybe it’s escaped my recollection but I don’t recall terrorist groups starting in Albert or the state of Campeche.

Should we have invaded the countries and overthrown their governments to ensure a better distribution of oil wealth? That would have gone over well.

I also should point out that “recruits per million population” is a meaningless statistic.

However, this makes sense:

Benmelech and Klor suggested a different explanation for recruitment success: It’s positively correlated with homogeneity in a society. The less ethnically diverse a society is, the more likely outsiders such as immigrants or second- or third generation Muslims are likely to turn to terror. The economists wrote of the Western European nations that supply a relatively high number of fighters:

“The more homogenous the host country is the greater difficulty immigrants such as Muslims from the Middle East experience in assimilating. As other research has shown, isolation induces some of them to become radicalized.”

and it’s what I’ve been saying for some time about Europe’s ethnic states.

But I’m not particularly comfortable with blaming the host countries, either. Have Muslims been treated so horribly in Sweden? Or are they merely a minority?

That’s the one thing which eludes a minority. They’re not a majority. When you’re accustomed to being in the majority and suddenly find yourselves very much in the minority, feeling out of place wouldn’t be particularly surprising. There’s a simple solution for that: go home.

The graph at the bottom of the page in the linked post is much better and tells a somewhat different story. However, it does raise an interesting question. Why does Finland produce so many terrorists compared to France?

Let me offer a very different explanation than the author does. It’s an artifact of Finland being such a small country and the recentness of its Muslim population. And the language. I’d be willing to bet that not one in a thousand of its Muslim immigrants speaks Finnish when they arrive. It’s a fairly tough language, more different from Arabic than English or French is, and practically useless outside of Finland.


Changing Diapers Is a Survival Skill

When you’re the oldest kid in the family and you’re eight years old when younger siblings are still in diapers, you will be drafted into diaper-changing detail. At least you will when your youngest siblings are twins.

And that was in the cloth diaper and safety pin days. It served me well she I was a teenager. I was the only boy I knew with the skills to babysit for infants and their older brothers. I could feed and change the babies, give the older kids judo lessons, and prepare their dinners. No home microwaves in those day, either.

Cooking, martial arts, changing diapers. All survival skills right up there with swimming, ironing, and sewing on a button. Everyone should be able to do them.


Do Not

One of the things that may not be apparent to readers who haven’t maintained a blog of their own is that there’s a certain amount of overhead associated with it. Every day I spend at least a little time doing housekeeping.

By far the least agreeable housekeeping is moderating comments. Many are quite obnoxious. I have one operating principle: do not feed the trolls.

Something else that may not be apparent: you’ve got to grow a tougher skin.


John Fromm Is Alive and Well

It takes Melissa Boteach quite a while to get around to her prescriptions for reducing poverty in her post at RealClearPolicy. Here they are:

Instead, we should build off of the momentum in states and localities that are alleviating poverty and investing in families, which, not coincidentally, can also significantly reduce the chronic stress associated with a wide variety of illness affecting life expectancy. As noted by the Washington Post in its coverage of the Chetty study, “Among the 100 largest commuting zones ranked by the researchers, six of the top eight for low-income life expectancies are in California” — a state that has pursued many policies that mitigate the stresses associated with poverty, such as paid parental leave, a higher minimum wage, and investments in early care and education.

A serious agenda to cut poverty and promote economic opportunity would include these policies and more, investing in job creation, expanding access to high-quality childcare, and increasing opportunities for post-secondary education and training. It would help families manage work and caregiving through paid family leave and fair, flexible, and predictable work schedules; it would protect and strengthen the safety net, which is currently reducing poverty by nearly half. Finally, it would invest in high-poverty neighborhoods, as well as remove barriers to opportunity for Americans with criminal records.

or, in other words, she’s promoting the same cargo cult, post hoc propter hoc reasoning that is all too common nowadays. More jobs that truly require post-secondary degrees will do more to reduce poverty than throwing money down the rat hole of subsidizing higher education.

Most of the rest of her prescriptions are just different ways of saying that the compensation paid for jobs should be higher. I agree. It would be in a tighter labor market.


President Asterisk

At Huffington Post H. A. Goodman argues that there will be an asterisk next to Hillary Clinton’s name until the FBI investigation of her private email server has been completed one way or the other:

At the end of the day, Americans everywhere will realize that the rule of law applies to Hillary Clinton, and that honesty and integrity will propel Bernie Sanders to the presidency. The FBI’s reputation is at stake, both globally and at home, and I explain why in this YouTube segment. James Comey and the agents who’ve devoted endless hours to Clinton’s email investigation will soon disclose their findings to the American people; to think nothing will result from this year-long probe is naive. Remember, the FBI doesn’t give parking tickets.

There will indeed be political repercussions for Clinton, especially if the FBI recommends indictment, and Democrats will need Bernie Sanders. The DNC will need Bernie Sanders. The country will need Bernie Sanders.

We haven’t veered that far away from our former value system as nation, when possible criminal conduct meant the end of presidential campaigns, for the DNC to continue to back Hillary Clinton, even after the FBI recommends indictments.

Think I’m nuts?

Basically, I think that horse has already gotten out of the barn. What will be will be.

I wish the FBI had seen fit to accelerate its investigation so that whatever happens happened before we were so deeply into primary season but, alas, that was not to be. If you think the legitimacy complaints that followed the 2000 election were bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. It was a simpler, gentler time.


The Merry Minuet

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch.
And we don’t like anybody very much.

The crowning glory of the post at FiveThirtyEight on the intolerance of Trump supporters is the graph above and this summation:

The nearly unequivocal story is that Trump supporters are no different from others, including Clinton and Sanders supporters.2 The one clear exception is supporters of John Kasich (~7 percent of the sample), who are demonstrably more tolerant than Trump’s. Kasich’s supporters are distinctive because 30 percent of them in this poll are self-identified Democrats, but also because the majority of them (54 percent) will not vote for Trump if he is the nominee – just over a quarter will peel off and vote for Clinton and the other quarter claim they will not vote. Kasich support appears effectively to be a protest against Trump by people who wish a restoration of good democratic order.

The main difference among us is less whether we hate than whom we hate. As you may have noticed just about everything reminds me of a quote, frequently a quote from a movie. I wish I could remember the source of this one: finding someone to hate is just as important as finding someone to love.


The Missing Link

There’s an image that goes through my mind frequently these days. At the end of the fabulous Powell-Pressburger movie, The Red Shoes, despite the suicide of the prima ballerina, the ballet goes on. A dancer carries the ballerina’s red shoes around the stage in her place.

The suicide rate in the U. S. has gone up. The Wall Street Journal attempts to explain the possible causes:

There are at least two possible explanations, Dr. Crosby said. One is the economic downturn: Suicide rates have risen historically during difficult economic times, when job prospects diminish. The CDC tied increases in suicides to foreclosures on homes and evictions several years ago, he said.

Secondly, abuse of prescription painkillers, heroin and other lethal drugs has risen over the past decade and a half, he said. The rate of overdose deaths from opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, tripled between 2000 and 2014, according to the CDC. Those deaths include suicides.

Other possible factors: Many people don’t seek or have easy access to mental-health services, including some people who have attempted suicide before, Dr. Caine said. Domestic violence, social dislocation, and chronic medical problems also sometimes play a role, he said.

Some researchers say the vexing rise in suicides among the middle-aged may be the result of a baby-boom generation known for suicides in its youth reacting in a familiar way to new troubles in its older years. “As that population has been aging and become middle-aged, there’s probably a cohort effect,” said Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which funds suicide research.

Something else reported: the increase is particularly notable among middle-aged white women. Unless you think that for some reason the explanations proffered fell particularly heavily on middle-aged white women, that sounds inadequate to me.

As with the dancer carrying the red shoes around the stage, there’s something missing.


Prince Rogers Nelson, 1958-2016

Prince has died:

CHANHASSEN, Minn. — Prince, one of the most inventive and influential musicians of modern times with hits including “Little Red Corvette,” ”Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry,” was found dead at his home on Thursday in suburban Minneapolis. He was 57.

His publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure, told The Associated Press that the superstar “died at his home this morning at Paisley Park.” The local sheriff said deputies found Prince unresponsive in an elevator late Thursday morning after being summoned to his home, but that first responders couldn’t revive him.

I don’t follow popular music much but, since so many people are repeating their stories about Prince in reaction to his untimely death, I may as well repeat mine.

Actually, it’s my mom’s. A number of years ago, back when people actually met air travelers at the gate, my mom flew from St. Louis to Minneapolis to visit one of my siblings. When she got off the plane she was accompanied by a slight young man. My in-law, who does follow popular music, greeted my mom excitedly: “Do you know who that was?”, referring to the individual she got off the plane with. My mom replied, “Oh, yes. That was the young man in the seat next to me on the plane. We had a lovely conversation. So considerate and polite!”

“It was Prince!” exclaimed my in-law, explaining to my mom who he was since she’d never heard of him.

I wonder what they talked about. Probably not what they had in common which might have been interesting to both of them.