Thursday, September 12, 2019

Naming Originality

In my town, there is a major road called Baymeadows. In fact, there are SEVERAL major roads called Baymeadows.

Marked in red is Baymeadows Road, arguably the most major of the roads. After all, it can be reached from two different Interstate highways. But marked in blue are all the roads with the word "Baymeadows" in the name: Baymeadows Circle East, Baymeadows Circle West, Baymeadows Road East, Baymeadows Way, Baymeadows Way West, and Old Baymeadows Road. Even if we ignore the intersection of Baymeadows and Old Baymeadows, and the junction where Baymeadows becomes Baymeadows East, there are still FIVE intersections in town where a road called Baymeadows is intersecting with another road called Baymeadows. "I'm at the corner of Baymeadows and Baymeadows." "Yeah, aren't we all?"

Then, because there was too much clarity going on, they went through the rest of the business park and named the roads Baypine, Bayberry, and Baycenter. Sure, it helps you get to the right neighborhood, but good luck finding the place once you're nearby.

Because Floridians have never seen a stupid thing without thinking, "I can top that," I give you the Southpoint business park.

Southpoint Parkway intersects with Southpoint Boulevard, Southpoint Drive East, and Southpoint Drive North, with Southpoint Drive South nearby. ("What the hell?!" - Southpoint Drive West) Also, for confusion's sake, the roads wind around. Have fun trying to find your doctor, idiot.

Also, WHY did they decide to make an intersection of Salisbury Road and Salis Drive, thus virtually guaranteeing that people will pronounce "Salisbury" as four syllables instead of three?

Another favorite thing to do in this town is to name roads after people who aren't important. And, like, FULL ON name the road after them: first, middle, and last name. Perhaps you grew up in a part of the country where you had to do something important to get a road named after you. Well, all you have to do in Florida is be a relative of a land developer! Maybe someday I'll write a post with the long list of instances.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Circular Math

Last month, I was doodling in a notebook, and I wondered what the relationship was between the areas of quarter segments of progressively-larger circles as the radius increases by a unit. This first picture does a better job showing what I mean.

So the first circle has a radius of one, and the second circle has a radius of two, and I'm comparing a quarter of the first circle to the quarter of the difference between the first and second circles. Anyway, it turns out that you can solve for the area of any such segment with radius n using this sequence:

I thought that was interesting.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Old Talks, Current Problems

Yesterday, I had reason to look up some General Conference talks from April, 1986. (I don't want you to think I'm trying to claim that I always spend my Sunday afternoons reading 33-year-old conference talks; I spend them stone-cold napping and Facebook creeping on distant relatives in the name of "family history.") Anyway, I was blown away with how timely this bit was:

During the past few years a number of resources have been set in place in the Church to help us. New editions of the scriptures have been published--are we talking advantage of them? More temples are located closer to our people--are we going to the house of the Lord more frequently? The consolidated meeting schedule was set up--are we taking advantage of the increased time with our families? A special home evening manual was provided--are we using it? A new hymnal has just been published--are we singing more songs of the heart? And so the list goes on and on. We have received much help. We don't need changed programs now as much as we need changed people! [Ezra Taft Benson, "Cleansing the Inner Vessel," April 1986 General Conference]
And now, a third of a century later, we are almost in exactly the same position. New essays on gospel topics have been published, more temples are located closer, two-hour church was set up, the new "Come, Follow Me" manual was provided, and a new hymnal is about to be published. President Nelson could just as easily say, "We don't need changed programs now as much as we need changed people!"

Life Changes in the Summer of 2019

I went to Ohio at the end of April with the intention of finishing my dissertation over the following seven weeks. I did not do that. I did make progress, however, and I believe that the trip was worth it. I came home to Florida in late June with a solid picture of where I was and how I would get to where I needed to be.

After some time at Boy Scout camp, I was ready to move forward. That was when I decided I would write 1,000 words every day and post them here for feedback. As soon as I started that, though, I learned that my employment would not be renewed for the coming school year. And so that brought a sudden halt to other concerns, and I am now looking for work.

I am telling you this here because these changes have led to a dramatic reduction in blog output. First I ignored by blog to do dissertation work, then as soon as I decided to use my blog for dissertation work, I've had a bit of an emergency that demands my attention. But it's not my intention to wind down this blog, or even to allow it to peter out. I'm staying in blogging until I'm the last person in the world who still updates his blog, and I'm most of the way there, already; there's no way I stop now!

Regarding work, I currently live in the Jacksonville, Florida, area, and am looking for something here or else something I can do remotely from here. I have spent the last 10 years or so teaching college-level economics, and I have experience as a GIS analyst, a writer (technical, journalism, and creative), and a city planner. I have degrees in Economics (BS, MA, and PhD ABD), and I have basic skills in Mandarin Chinese (completed HSK-2, prepared for HSK-3) and German.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

POST FOR FEEDBACK - Jul. 24, 2019

Although harder to measure, wealth inequality has a greater impact on well-being. All other forms of inequality are really just wealth inequality; either because wealth has been exchanged for some item (like resources or education), or because the unequal item (like opportunity or talent) can be exchanged for wealth. In this sense, income inequality is similar to a nominal variable, while wealth inequality is similar to real inequality. Unequal incomes do not really have any meaning in themselves, because what matters is the ratio at which income is turned into welfare—that is, the price of items that bring welfare. When the welfare is derived FROM the unequalness of incomes, though, is a special case that I will address later, in Chapter 4.

Amartya Sen writes of the importance of capabilities, and argues that the type of inequality that matters most is unequal capabilities. Sen’s capabilities consider individual skill and the resources made available to the individual, which are combined to produce “functionings,” which can be described as outcomes generated. “Capability is, thus, a set of vectors of functionings, reflecting the person’s freedom to live one type of life or another.” Thus, those with more freedom to live desired types of life have higher levels of well-being, and achieving equality along some metric such as a particular resource might produce little change in the well-being of those being brought under this equality.

The prevailing focus on income inequality is reflective of two things: the relative ease with which income information is captured, and a lack of serious reflection on the source of welfare and the role of money in its procurement. In that sense, the general public suffers from a different type of “money illusion.” Instead of mistaking changes in nominal variables for changes in real variables, as is the case in the standard form of money illusion, this type mistakes changes in money for changes in welfare. If welfare comes from things, and things can be bought with money, then money is the means to welfare. However, as Sen’s work on capabilities shows, what matters is functionings, and “in so far as functionings are constructive of well-being, capability represents a person’s freedom to achieve well-being.”

If there is less coherence in talking about types of inequality, there is a plethora of sources advanced as the cause of inequality. At its simplest, inequality arises when primitive society begins to value aggression over community benefit, says Thorstein Veblen, which then produces a sort of contest to demonstrate a lack of beneficial effects from one’s behavior, which is the goal of the leisure class. For others, such as Karl Marx, it wasn’t until the rise of capitalism that harmful levels of inequality emerged. The ability of the capitalist to gather the benefits of production which had previously been dispersed across countless economic actors allows for accumulation of resources on a scale previously unavailable.

Some say that inequality comes from assortative mating, that like marries like, and we end up with economic power couples, where both partners have advanced degrees and high-wage jobs. It is said that the incidence of couples marrying outside their educational tier has declined dramatically. Also of interest is the rapid increase in the creation of couples online. Meeting through friends, work, family, and church is quickly becoming outdated, replaced by meeting online. This should be expected to exacerbate the problems of assortative mating through self-selecting online communities. We now tailor our social circles to create interactions with only the type of people we want to meet. Whereas before I might have fallen in love with someone from a very different educational or social background who I met randomly, I can now reduce the chances of this by only interacting with people online whose personae fit my desired type.

Another theory has it that inequality grows with time spent out of the labor force. Picture two workers in the same job when a recession leads to the firm laying off a portion of the workforce. One worker keeps her job, while the other is let go. Because money illusion fuels resistance to nominal wage decreases, the still-employed worker maintains her nominal salary, while the price level falls to clear the resource market. This creates a real-wage increase. Meanwhile, the out-of-work worker must accept lower wage offers to get back to work. This new, lower nominal wage maybe maintains his real purchasing power, but still lag behind the real-wage increase received by the worker who kept her job. What’s more, while out of work, the laid off worker’s skills are atrophying, and so the real value of his labor is declining. At the extreme, he is effectively disabled when his structural unemployment becomes insurmountable. But even if we returns to work, his stale skills might result in a real-wage decrease. If losing work in a recession were a random occurrence, it would not matter much; everyone would end up with an equal amount of time on the winning side. However, workers with gaps in their resumes are more likely to be let go in the next recession, repeating the process. Thus someone who keeps her job throughout succeeding recessions is moving up the economic ladder, but someone who loses his job in each recession is staying in place or falling slowly behind.

A final anthropogenic cause to mention is technological progress. Innovation continues and increases, as machine learning allows for automation of jobs that humans can’t quite figure out how to automate on their own. A recent example is the development of new engineering advancements by an algorithm that was fed a series of technological papers to analyze for connections. Tyler Cowen writes about “zero-marginal-product employees,” whose skillset has been entirely automated. Technology is either labor-enhancing or labor-replacing. Those whose jobs have labor-enhancing technology move forward economically, but those who have their labor replaced by technology then experience the problems of the unemployed outlined above. In the past, it was assumed that such workers would be retrained and return to the work force in a different role, but if the pace of automation exceeds the rate at which a worker can learn a new trade, or if the level of intelligence automated exceeds that of the worker, workers might never return to the labor force. Presidential candidate Andrew Yang is among those arguing that we might be rendering some workers permanently unemployable with our technological progress.

Technology is not necessarily inequality-inducing.

[Next: Visions of the robot future; no one is advocating marriage or lay-off lotteries or caps on new tech]

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

POST FOR FEEDBACK - Jul. 23, 2019

CHAPTER 2: TALKING PAST EACH OTHER

INTRODUCTION

Few economic issues capture the attention of the general public more than the debate over the presence of, and the appropriate response to, economic inequality. It is a rare topic in economics that can command space in regular media outlets, be it television news or mainstream publishing. Economic inequality can make minor celebrities of economists whose work is centered on the issue. In 2013, President Barack Obama called inequality “the defining challenge of our time,” and while we have moved into the later stages of the next business cycle after the Great Recession, the focus on economic inequality has remained with us. In fact, there is a worry that we now have a “two-track economy,” and that while one group has recovered from the recession and is continuing to reap the benefits of economic growth and technological progress, a separate group of economic actors is still mired in the conditions of the Great Recession, with marginal employment, stagnate wages, and decreasing economic outcomes.

While economic inequality has become the focus of much work in economics, it is not the case that a consensus has emerged. In fact, just as we talk of a “two-track economy,” it might be appropriate to talk of a “two-track scholarship” when it comes to economic inequality. While one group of economists is focused on the differences between groups and the limitations on the spread of the benefits of economic growth, another group is comparing the welfare of the lowest groups to the welfare of such groups in the past and determining that those in these lowest groups are also benefiting from economic advancement. French economist Thomas Piketty received worldwide attention with the publication of his book Le Capital au XXIe Siècle in 2013, with many English-speaking economists eagerly anticipating the publication of its English translation the following year, Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Since then, other major economists have written on the topic to widespread acclaim, including Jeffrey Sachs and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz. But for ever major economist who agrees with Piketty that “the distribution of wealth is one of today’s most widely discussed and controversial topics,” there is another economist who agrees with Deirdre McCloskey when she writes of economic inequality with her typical acerbic forthrightness, “So what?”

It was McCloskey’s self-described “cheeky but always relevant question” that opened my eyes to the breadth of the gulf separating the sides in this economic debate. While the tools of science are designed to test hypotheses and approach consensus, these sides seem to grow even farther apart with additional research. Not only in terms of proposed causes of economic inequality, but especially in terms of results and seriousness of the problem. Indeed, even disagreeing on whether the phenomenon is a problem at all. The result is two groups of economists who are talking past each other instead of communicating.

POORLY DEFINED TERMS

The first thing that becomes apparent to anyone undertaking an in-depth reading of scholarly work on economic inequality is that words seem to have no concrete meaning. Similar or even identical terms will be used by two different economists to refer to two very different phenomena. At its unfortunate extreme, it does not require two economists to get two conflicting uses of terminology. In fact, Piketty spends 700 pages making the case that inequality exists by referring to income data, and then finishes with 50 pages arguing for a wealth tax, seeming to lose sight of the difference between income (a flow variable) and wealth (a stock variable). When economists write about inequality, they are often imprecise in their terminology regarding the types of inequality, the causes of inequality, and the effects of inequality.

Types of inequality include income inequality, wealth inequality, inequality of opportunity, unequal access to resources, unequal access to (or quality of) education, housing inequality, employment inequality, unequal capabilities, and more. Each variety of inequality is deserving of its own research and scholarship, but the work is often jumbled together under the umbrella of “inequality research.”

Much research on economic inequality is centered on what should be clearly labeled as income inequality. This is for the same reason that most direct taxation is income taxation: income is much easier to observe, track, and report than is wealth. In developed economies, most workers receive wages in formalized contractual arrangements with their employers, and these formal arrangements are relatively easy to monitor. Conversely, wealth can be held in a variety of modes, and these modes are accumulated over a lifetime of transactions. While most Americans support a progressive tax code for the purposes of having “the rich” pay more, the fact that income is taxed rather than wealth makes it so those paying more are not necessarily the rich but are in fact the more productive. In keeping with the dictum that “anything you tax you get less of,” taxing income is a drag on productivity. Likewise, a focus on income inequality is based on an inequality in productive ability and the marketability of each worker’s idiosyncratic production capabilities. Richard Wagner has written about the fact that the labor market is in equilibrium as a reason to not be concerned with income inequality. When two workers receive different wages, the worker with the lower income would switch to the other occupation, and this reduction of labor supplied in the low-wage occupation would push the occupation’s wages higher, while the increase of labor supplied in the high-wage occupation would pull that occupation’s wages lower. If instead of such equilibrating labor movements, we see a stable wage differential, then we must conclude that the occupations have equilibrated in some other, non-wage variable. Wagner points out that some high-wage occupations, such as medicine and law, require often-expensive formal training. Urbanization increases living costs, and so jobs in urban areas will have to offer higher wages to keep the labor market in equilibrium.

[Next: The real inequality that matters is wealth inequality]

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Call to Action

Now is the time for all good blog readers to come to the aid of their blog writer.

So here's the deal: I want to get some feedback on some ideas. I'd like to be able to post material here and get ANY comments you want to include. Appropriate comments would be of the nature of...

  • No, that's not right because....
  • Here's something you haven't thought of....
  • Here's an example of what you're talking about....
  • I'd be interested in reading more about....
  • This part sucks, and here's why....

I know that most blog readers are using an RSS aggregator, so commenting involves the hassle of clicking over to my ACTUAL blog, but I'd really, really appreciate it. Please, leave any and all comments on the material I'll be posting for the next few weeks.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Röpke on Anthrotheism

In A Humane Economy by Wilhelm Röpke, he concludes by contrasting two types of social thought, which he labels "centrism" and "decentrism." Röpke contends that centrism is the "fatal disease" (p. 261) of our time, and that meaningful freedom of the individual requires decentrism, and at a larger scale than then (1957) enjoyed.

It was this bit of the conclusion that relates to anthrotheism:

The decentrist must in all circumstances be a convinced universalist; he must keep his eye on a larger community which is all the more genuine for being structured and articulated. His center is God, and this is why he refuses to accept human centers instead, that is, precisely that which consistent centrism, in the form of collectivism, intends to present him with. [p. 233; emphasis added]

Centrists are anthrotheists, in that they give the role of previously filled by God to aggregated human society. Theists believe that right and wrong are defined by God, but Jacobin anthrotheists look to public opinion for this, so all it takes to make your current behavior acceptable is to change public opinion.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Hotpad Mathematics

We have two of these hotpads at our house. I think my son got them as part of a Christmas or birthday present once.

I have no idea why they put the circle in a non-symmetrical position.

It's not because of its placement in relation to the edge; the change is negligible, but it's actually a bit farther from the edge.

With the current position of the hole, hanging the hotpad from the hole causes a rotation of 37 degrees, which is stupid.

Who goes to all the effort of creating a nice grid pattern AND centering the hole on one of the grid squares, and then decides to misplace the hole?

This is what the hotpad would look like with the hole properly placed, thanks to the magic of Photoshop Microsoft Paint. #deepfake

In that case, hanging the hotpad from the hole would cause it to rotate 45 degrees, which is proper.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Largest American Cities I Have Not Visited

These are the ten largest cities in the United States that I have not visited yet. They are ranked according to their 2010 Census populations.

  • 7. San Antonio, TX
  • 10. San Jose, CA
  • 14. Austin, TX
  • 22. Boston, MA
  • 23. Seattle, WA
  • 29. Portland, OR
  • 48. Minneapolis, MN
  • 52. New Orleans, LA
  • 53. Honolulu, HI
  • 60. Corpus Christi, TX

Interestingly, I've been to Santa Clara County, CA, but I've never been within the actual city limit of San Jose.

What Was I Doing in Ohio?

Around the beginning of March, I was thinking of what to do to complete my dissertation. The past few summers, even though I've been technically out of contract, my work hadn't noticed that, and had allowed me to keep coming to work, so I could use my office with no problems. This year, though, we have a new office administrator and she is on top of everything. She had me complete the separation process and empty my office and turn in my key. So I don't have an office this summer, but I have work to do.

Anyway, when I was driving to work one day, despairing over this problem, the thought came to me: "Your parents have a home that's going to be sitting empty." See, my father is recently retired, and my parents were planning to make a long trip. (They're back home now, which is why I can tell you about all this without worrying about pirates and whatnot.) But then I thought, "There's no way my wife is going to go along with that idea."

The next day, I said to my wife, "Hey, you want to hear a crazy idea that I had that there's no way we'd ever really do?" And when I got done telling her, she said, "Yeah, that could work." So, with that comparatively-ringing endorsement, I looked at a calendar. I had to work until April 26th, and then I had to be back in town to go to Boy Scout camp on June 16th. Between those dates, I was free.

And that was how I ended up spending seven weeks in Ohio.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Shakespeare on Mental Health

DOCTOR: Not so sick, my Lord,

As she is troubled with thick-coming fancies

That keep her from her rest.

MACBETH: Cure her of that.

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,

Raze out the written troubles of the brain,

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?

DOCTOR: Therein the patient

Must minister to himself.

Macbeth, Act V, Scene IV, lines 46-57