Monday, February 20, 2017

Manufacturing Jobs Aren't Inherently Better Than Service Jobs

I wish economists would make that point more often and more loudly.  DeLong kind of gets the low skilled manufacturing part in his post criticizing the consensus around globalization hurting wages.  There's a lot of talk about how bargaining (read: unions) has been actively killed by Republicans the past 30 years or so, and a mention that low-skilled blue collar jobs aren't really great jobs, but since he's criticizing Larry Summers omissions I'm feel I should criticize his: there is no mention of service industry jobs.

This is a glaring omission for a couple reasons. One goes to the whole globalization issue: outsourcing service industry jobs is harder than manufacturing.  Yes, you can locate a call center in India, but you can't really staff a grocery store for St. Louis residents by hiring people in Tanzania, or move goods within the US with truck drivers in China or go to get a physical from a doctor in Cuba.  Those jobs don't globalize the way manufacturing can.  They may also be harder to mechanize due to our preference for human contact/interactions.

The other reason it is an omission has to do with the reduction of bargaining power.  The reason that manufacturing jobs are perceived as better is because they have, historically, paid better, and the reason for that is unions and bargaining.  Low-skilled service jobs (operating a cash register, or stocking shelves) often do not have unions to support the wages and benefits.  If Wal-Mart had ended up unionized when it was started I think the jobs in this country would be very different today.  Now I don't think that the big box stores would be nearly as prevalent were that the case, and that's an alternate reality with far reaching consequences, but we perceive manufacturing as better than service, not because it is, but because it is associated with unions.

Science Advocacy

Ah for the shared science perspectives in the decades before I was old enough to vote.  There is certainly a lot of noise around scientists becoming increasingly "concerned" with the way science is viewed and treated [by politics/politicians] in this country.  Deciding what to do isn't easy for reasons pointed out as part of this post a few weeks back.

Basically science and scientists, while knowing full well, that science is inherently political (funding from government, initiatives and tax exemptions for R&D...) it has not, historically, been partisan.  Sure Reagan liked his science explodey, but everything else got funded along with it.  Things started changing in the 90's.  Initially this was part of the GOP's strategy to court evangelical voters (creationism good, evolution bad!) but that embrace of some anti-science views made it easier for anti-science ideas and points of view more generally to gain traction among Republicans (politicians and voters).

Yes, there are plenty of anti-science, and unscientific views that get associated with liberals (anti-GMO and anti-nuclear energy are the big two...anti-vaccination is historically party independent, though after being thoroughly discredited they are gaining ground again thanks to the current administration), but the Democratic party does not broadly embrace those views--at least not yet.

But despite the obvious situation that Democrats are better for science than Republicans, science organizations and scientists have been reluctant to push that, and for a simple reason: if scientists start endorsing Democrats over Republicans, then the GOP will see just one more reason to not support science.  So what's the fix?

Today, if you are a scientist or science fan, or just someone who thinks science is a good thing, then there is no real question that voting for Democrats is better for science.  Still, that isn't really how most people--not even necessarily most scientists--vote.  Social programs, taxation, foreign affairs, and the place of government in regulating industry/finance/trade are all things that tend to be higher on most people's mind when selecting for whom to vote.  Maybe because most people thought that it didn't really matter much for science, but it looks like scientists, at least, seem to be becoming more aware that it does--or at least more active about it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sure, But Only If You Disagree With Them

I get the point Atrios is making here, but leaks really do exist in a grey area.  Leaks that are vindictive, or that are trying to discredit someone based on irrelevant information are mostly bad, while those from whistle blowers are mostly not bad (not necessarily good, per se but not bad).

It's not easy to determine good from bad.  Leaking about a politician having an affair is largely irrelevant, but if that politician is having an affair with someone who is the same [gender] while fighting against legislation that protects LGBTQ people, well, it kinda becomes relevant in that case.  Leaks that endanger US operatives in foreign nations are bad, but what if those operatives are torturing and raping people in those locations?  Even more, leaks that show the US doing bad things in general do endanger other Americans that are not doing that by association.  This is why we have a court system.

It's not perfect, and there are some serious potential issues with the courts going forward, but it's the system we have.  If someone does something nominally illegal (leaking classified docs) but there are extenuating circumstances (the docs are covering up war crimes) then a judge/jury can say whether breaking the law was ok.  Or something.

Until you get to a court case all we have in the meantime is speculation which is very likely to be clouded by political priors.  Maybe that means everyone is full of shit, or maybe (more likely) it means that distinguishing between full of shit and not is a fools errand, in which case it may as well be that everyone is full of shit.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Good Interview

I should probably read Hillbilly Elegy, but not sure I can spare the depression.  I think this is a very good interview with the author (J.D. Vance), and mostly I was nodding my head throughout.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Now That's an Idea

When Republicans do something they have a nice simple phrase they can tell everyone, and make sure people know that it was Republicans that did it.  When Democrats do something it gets hidden, and is so complicated that it's not always easy to know what it is or whether/why it is good.  The ACA (Obamacare) definitely has this problem, and it is much easier to attack than defend (you actually have to understand it somewhat to appreciate it--even if you still don't really like it--and most people don't but on the other hand: "website BAD" "premiums going up!" "mandate and tax"), so I think the article at democracy journal should be required reading for Democratic politicians.

Monday, January 23, 2017

No, It Shouldn't Matter

Worse than I'd expected.  And Atrios is kind of right that this shit shouldn't matter, but because the dumbass we've got for a president now thinks it does it really does matter.  They are lying about the size of the crowd, when anyone with a pair of eyeballs can see that it was much smaller.  Crowd size shouldn't matter (any reasonably popular Democrat is likely to get a bigger crowd in DC than a comparably popular Republican because it's DC), but that makes the Trump administration reaction that much worse, and that they are lying about this does, in fact matter.

They can't tell the truth about something this blindingly obvious.  That matters.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Just Sayin'

Or, really, showin':

Considering Trump's personality I think lots of news stories focusing on how small and insignificant his inauguration/concert/hands are compared with Obama's would be a good thing.  Waiting now for his twitter rant about how cameras are biased against him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Can't We All Just Get Along?


Joking aside, it seems like the past couple decades we have been moving somewhat backwards [globally] with regards to how we see and treat people that are different than us.  Some of this is fairly obvious racism like the Trump campaign and many of the hard right parties in Europe (mostly anti-Muslim, particularly Muslims from the Middle East).  But it's more than that, there seems to be less and less willingness for people to perceive others as human and worthy of respect (yes, this often includes me).  In the US there is also a lot of "Ideaism" in that people who don't agree with my position are not just of a different opinion or even not just wrong but are also bad people.

While I will still maintain that a vote for Trump in the last election can only be explained by racism or stupidity (no, there are no other reasonable explanations, if you are trying to find one, you're most likely to get back to stupid).  But, and this is somewhat counterintuitive considering my personal feelings about education, stupid doesn't mean bad.  In fact I think that most people in most things are stupid.  We do stupid things all the time, and just because someone happened to vote in a manner that I would say is not stupid, doesn't mean that their reason for the vote wasn't stupid.

I actually do understand how good people could for Trump--they vote in a stupid fashion for stupid reasons.  That doesn't make them bad people inherently any more than someone who tells you that 7*7 = 42 is a bad person.  I'll admit that I think that the fraction of Trump voters that are good but stupid is pretty small (the fraction that is stupid is high, but I think a lot of those people have more hate than not).

All this said, there are positions that are objectively harmful to others and, therefore, not just wrong but bad, and so you do still run into issues of how to treat people as human who don't reciprocate.  I'm really not sure how to.  Tyler Cowen put up a quick note in support of Black Lives Matter.  The comments are overwhelmingly racist (including one calling him a race traitor, lots of comments about black people being inherently criminal and inherently less intelligent, and arguing that segregation was good for black people--yes, people actually said and defended all of those things in the comments).  Cowen's post and position really shouldn't be controversial.  But how do we react and respond to the very racist response seen in the comments to that post?

Calling them all racists (which is true) doesn't help, and for people outside the debate it seems like name calling which is problematic, as name calling is perceived as an indicator of a weak position.  On the other hand, trying to use more conventional argument (citing statistics, and studies, and explaining why they are racist without necessarily explicitly calling them racist) makes the arguments seem to be on level ground--this is a big problem that occurs when scientists "debate" creationists, creationism is emphatically not science.  Ignoring it also problematic as it means that the dominant side heard is the racist one.

So how should a decent, intelligent person respond to positions (or individuals) that really are horrible?  I'd like to think that pointing out facts and saying that racist positions are racist would do it, but we know that it doesn't, in part because it is remarkably easy to get people to strongly believe things that are demonstrably not true.  So should it be ignoring and letting the noise pervade?  Or name calling and making it seem there isn't a rock solid counter argument?  Or countering legitimately and making people believe that factually challenged and racist opinions are on near-equal footing?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Programs to Help "The Poor"

I really do understand why Atrios (and his commentators) is bagging on the piece linked in his posts (one post here, the other linked in that post, and the piece referenced also linked in both).  I agree, the best aid for poor people is to just give them money.  Attaching strings and playing games about their goals and making them jump through hoops is all counterproductive, and both makes the program more complicated (and expensive, and bureaucratic) while also meaning fewer people get (as much of) the aid they need.

But the catch is that the programs are for "The Poor," and therein lies a problem.  If you have a program that is expressly for poor people the first thing you have to do is verify that they are, in fact, poor, and not just someone with low income that is sitting on piles of [cash, property, gold], and at some point you can't actually figure that out.  If someone scrimps and saves and keeps all their money in cash in garbage bags but never opens a bank account to deposit it and doesn't buy easy to track things like property, they could well have plenty of money and just lie about it and it may be impossible to find out otherwise.  I know that is a rare case, but it is one that no one (neither rich, nor poor) wants to have happen.  Making it more difficult to get access to the benefits is one way to keep people who don't really need the aid from even trying (not a good one and I don't endorse it).

I recognize that that the best real solution to that problem is: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  So a few undeserving people get a bit of extra cash.  It isn't the end of the world, and it's not common enough to be a problem that we should make it insanely difficult for deserving people to get that money.

In the real world, however, people get more pissed off by people getting something they don't deserve than they do about the inverse, and while we can't (mostly because politicians won't) do anything about bankster bonuses and corporate vultures, we can make sure that someone with $10k in savings doesn't get food stamps, or that, if they do, they have to buy beans and rice, because if they were really hungry they wouldn't be wasting their money on shrimp (note: beef is acceptable because cattle ranchers told congress so)!

The solution is actually pretty simple: make the cash giveaway program for everyone (yes, this is secretly a universal basic income post).  If everyone (18 and over who files a tax return) gets $15k/year from the government then you don't have to worry about whether or not anyone deserves it.  Yes, you need to increase taxes to do this (quite a bit, that's a nearly $5T plan).

We're not going to do that, though, so we're stuck with a situation where our poverty amelioration programs are all directed at "The Poor" and that means every one of them is going to have some extra, stupid crap associated with it to make sure that the recipients are "legitimately" poor.

Self Driving Cars

Atrios's new bugaboo it seems.  He's right that we won't get there so long as there isn't something that forces us to.  That is, that last 1% (or 0.1%...) can probably only come from mandated full implementation of autonomous vehicles.  The issues/problems he describes are due to human drivers.  If all cars are autonomous and speak to each other (via street grid) then all of those things either go away or can be dealt with.

Of course, that type of mandate won't happen until a critical mass of vehicles out there are "Autonomous-ready" and that isn't likely to happen in my lifetime.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Must Have a Pickup to be a Real 'Murican

The trend in pickup trucks is both fascinating and idiotic to me.  A pickup is traditionally half a car, with a bed that is useful for hauling stuff.  Everyone needs to have a friend/neighbor with a pickup, but almost no one should have a pickup themselves.

30 years back, pickups were cheaper than cars because they were less useful (to most people) than cars.  Today, however, they are some of the most expensive.  The cheapest base model F150 Ford offers (just under $27k) is more expensive than the base model of every car they offer except the Taurus (just over $27k).  Chevy is a bit better because they have the lower tier Colorado (Ford no longer offers a Ranger) but that is still starts out more expensive than 3 of their 5 cars.

The other thing is that more and more of these trucks are less and less useful.  You have to go out of your way to get a bed that will hold a standard sheet of plywood flat with the tailgate up.  Now, you may not see any reason to have that, but then, why the hell are you considering a truck?  Also, many of the bigger trucks you see, e.g. on the road in Huston, are jacked up to the point that accessing the bed is nearly impossible, and certainly not useful for hauling since you'll need an elevator or installed lift gate to get things in and out.

If your truck is a fashion accessory, fine I guess, I just think it's stupid (as I think most fashion related things are stupid).

Friday, December 16, 2016

My Big Idea

Any non-unionized employee paid less than 3x minimum wage is considered a contract employee and has a minimum wage of ~2x federal minimum wage.  (possibly an addition about % contract employees allowed)
The first part deals with professionals and other higher paid workers who are less likely to need union protection.  The other part does a few things.  On the surface it discourages union membership by putting a higher salary floor for non-union workers, but it also makes them "contract" employees which changes lots of the other benefit structuring around.  It's actually still a pretty good deal for younger workers who aren't working as a career yet (college students) but for older workers, those with families, and those who see this job as a start point for their career, that higher pay isn't as good a deal as lower pay with benefits, more job security and union negotiating that will likely mean better pay down the road.

For employers, the ability to hire at a lower salary will help make unions more palatable, and the ability to pick up contract workers for seasonal jobs will allow for flexibility.

So basically employeers have 3 options: pay employees at least 3x minimum wage, encourage unions and hire union workers, or hire "contract employees".

This idea comes from this string of thoughts: wages have stagnated, but the minimum wage is a clunky tool to fix it (hurts smaller employers in less costly parts of the country, maybe doesn't do enough in NYC, San Fran...).  Additionally unions have shrunk to almost nothing and, most notably, as the employment profile of this country has shifted from manufacturing to service, it is service workers that are, broadly, not unionized.  There's no good reason for this, entry level manufacturing jobs 50 years ago were in fact not skilled positions, and the qualifications for those jobs was no more than the qualifications to work at a mall store, fast food restaurant and maybe lower qualifications required than some service positions (home care, university lecturer...).  Unionization would be a far more versatile way to address working wages and conditions.

The problem is that currently, the push is strongly against unions, and so we need a way to push back against that.  It needs to be structured in such a way that employers are less likely to fight against the formation and expansion of unions.  Making it possible to pay entry level union workers less sounds problematic for unions, but if those are the jobs avialable (and if you can be easily canned from a contractor position if someone does come in with the union) then they may not really seem to be the worse option.  Also, if yo have to pay full social security & medicare from your paycheck and aren't getting any paid time off and don't get to set your own hours and don't get any raises, then you may see that lower starting paycheck as not too bad a thing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Meadowlands Development

The project at the Meadowlands in NJ (formerly Xanadu, now American Dream) is one of Atrios's bugaboos and is fun to read whatever he digs up.

I'm a mall skeptic in the era of Amazon, but not a shopping and entertainment complex skeptic.  The particulars of this project do seem really bad.  The question should be how do people get around and how do they get there?  Mall of America in MN is surrounded by people who drive to get everywhere, and is in a fairly modestly populated area so driving to get everywhere works.

The Meadowlands is just outside of NYC in northern NJ in one of the most densely populated parts of our country.  Yea, some people drive, but more than half of NYC residents don't even own a car, and it's the only city in the US with >50% of people who commute via transit (if you just say "not by car" that number goes up quite a bit).  In addition, while there is more driving in Jersey and upstate NY, there is still far more train and bus riding that in the midwest.  In fact of the 6 cities to crack 20% transit ridership, Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia join NYC as northeast transit cities (Chicago and San Francisco are the remaining 2) with Baltimore just missing the 20% cut.  In the rest of the US, only Seattle, Portland and LA manage to top 10%.

If they want that place to work, they're going to need a dedicated train stop that is just outside the doors, not across a street and 1000 ft. of parking lot.  I'm not sure if that's going to happen, but even if it does, it's still a huge question mark because of the rest of the northeast.  There are mountains and an ocean, there are several major cities including NYC and DC.  There are plenty of amusement parks, and there is already a lot of shopping around (including plenty of high end).  Is a shopper really going to see that mall as better than NYC or even the existing malls around (including King of Prussia and multiple outlet malls)?  Is someone interested in the amusement park aspect going to find that a better option than any of the amusement/water parks in the area (including indoor options)?

The only way it works is that people who don't have easy access to various cities, parks, beaches, et cetera, can get here and the only way that happens is with good, easy transit access.  Even ignoring the "parking lots are a blight" aspect, if this place relies on drivers, its doomed.

Wind Farming

I'm glad to see the US finally has an offshore wind farm up and running. Yes, the hurdles to doing pretty much anything like this in the United States are (counter-intuitively) bigger than those in Europe, but there is one thing that didn't get mentioned: hurricanes.

I'm not a weather expert, but the US eastern seaboard gets hurricanes starting in the mid-late summer through fall, and then nor'easters can pop up through the winter.  I know that the north sea (and probably baltic) can get some winter storms but are they of similar magnitude?

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Check Bag Fees

I am still of the opinion that checked bags should be free (at least the first) but people should have to pay for a large carryon (basically all the roller bags, but not briefcases, shoulderbags, small backpacks, purses...anything that can fit under the seat is free, if it needs to go in overhead or you have 2, you have to pay).

Still there is a bit of an odd info in this story.  It seems that there is evidence that the checked bag fees actually improve on-time departure by limiting baggage handling.  That sounds like something that could make sense, but it is also definitely true that the larger number of carry on bags makes boarding slower, in fact, in most flights now, there are at least a few people who must gate check, and that seems like it would be slowing things down worse than having a few extra checked bags to begin with.  So my question is: did the checked bag fees really improve on-time departure, or is the on-time departure related to other changes that happened in parallel (mostly fewer flights, but also better scheduling and increased time built in)?

The answer to the question in the lead should be obvious: airlines charge because they can.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Lead is My Concern

This Dara Lind post at Vox starts out with my real concern for the next 4 years: "It is entirely plausible that Donald Trump will succeed on his own terms, and will flourish politically for it."

I'm not so sure that I see it unfolding the same way--I think it is more likely that the economy is getting better and will largely continue to do so for at least the next 3 years despite any horrible things Donald does, and that the voting population doesn't care how or why but better means the person in charge stays.  The part that got me thinking, however, was a little lower down.  She states:
...arguments about how the Democratic Party can build a winning coalition again. They tend to bear a suspiciously strong resemblance to whatever the speaker himself thinks is most important.
I have a pretty strong feeling regarding climate change and science research being most important (the latter is very important for combating the former) but I don't think that has anything to do with building a winning coalition.  The only way science in general and climate change specifically get to be a winning coalition is if/when half of Florida finds itself underwater (literally).  Even then I'm not so sure.

I agree that economic populism is far more liberal than Democratic policy in general (and it can't even see Republican policy), but the general perception doesn't go that way.  If you ask people if rich should be taxed the same, more or less, most people say more, but far fewer people vote that way.  Similar issues arise with other economic issues, as well as with many other aspects that we talk about, like identity politics (people say racism is bad but lots of them voted for Trump).

I'm not sure how to win without pandering, or lying or disaffecting [millions] of Americans.  Those are all things that Donald did constantly, and it was pointed out by everyone, and he still won (yes, I know, he actually lost the popular vote by a fair amount, but even still).

The real difference between the parties' campaigning is that Democrats treat the voting public as intelligent, while Republicans treat them like rubes.  There isn't, therefore, anything that Democrats can do to change things short of having a better show.  So long as a sizable fraction of our electorate are, in fact, gullible rubes, it is very difficult to win them over without some form of pandering, lying, and/or showmanship.  The fact that an unqualified racist demagogue can win the presidency is proof positive that the show is of greater import than the message.  Looking back it's pretty easy to see that as a factor to Obama's victories.  It can also be easy to see it as a share of why Reagan, [Bill] Clinton and Dubbya won as well.  Their shows were better.

There is certainly a lot to blame to throw at the media for this (that is where and how the show plays out afterall) but it doesn't change the fact that looking back to recent history, the better showman wins the election.

My opionon since the start of this mess a year ago was that Hillary Clinton could be a very good president--possibly one of our best--but she was a horrible candidate.  No matter how well someone can do the job she has to win first.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

And Cheers to Google Doodle

Jagadish Chandra Bose was an awesome scientist.

I Still Like Pelosi

There are leadership issues with the Democratic party, but I think they're more DNC, DCCC, DSCC related than the top posts (not a huge fan of our incoming senate minority leader, but it seems he'll at least have to pretend to be better with Warren and Sanders owning the Dem base). So, yea, there are problems, but I'm still with Nancy Pelosi.  I think she's done a hell of a job overall.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Yes, Yes, A Million Times Yes!

Every time Republicans win something everyone (Republicans, sure, but also media and Democrats) acts like they actually won in the sense that we think of it, i.e., as though they got the most votes, but Republicans haven't won the most votes in a national election in quite a while including 2016.  This election more people voted for Democrats for: president, senate and house, and the only reason Republicans control all those things is the messed up system of electoral nonsense that exists in this country.

More people in this country wanted Clinton as president (or at least not Donald).  More people in this country want Democrats to control the Senate and House.  Democrats who are in those bodies need to act like they have the mandate of the people BECAUSE THEY FUCKING DO!

Republicans are good at winning election because they have learned and are willing to game the system (voter suppression, ballot initiatives, gerrymandering, appeal to lower population small states that hold disproportionate voting clout).  Democrats, however, are--and have been for a while--the party that the majority of people in this country actually wants in power.

It would be really nice if the media would also do that but the media, despite perpetual noise about "liberal media bias" actually it actually gives far more credence/deference/respect to things Republican than to things Democratic.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Self Control Ain't What It Is

Diet, exercise, spending, and saving are all considered demonstration of self-control or a lack thereof, but that is probably not the right way to think about it according to a study discussed in this article. It's apparently just that people with better habits aren't tempted as much.  Possibly because they have better habits.  

I also think there is something to be said about the relative ease of different activities.  If you have to spend half an hour getting ready to get exercise then you aren't going to do it very often, even if you like it.  If healthy eating requires lots of prep work and lots of cleanup then that becomes less likely too.  This is why mostly automated saving in 401k's is better than someone personally moving money into a savings/investment/retirement account and why the fully automated social security program is even better.