Friday, March 16, 2018

What a Footnote

In his article "The One Percent across Two Centuries," economist Richard Sutch includes the following footnote:

The political ideologies on the Republican and Democratic parties switched in the mid-twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, Republicans championed civil rights, social safety nets (pensions), and the primacy of the federal government. The Democrats were the conservative party favoring states' rights and segregation of the races.
Does Sutch mean to imply that the modern Republican party favors segregation of the races?

I'm also interested in knowing when exactly this switch occurred. Lots of things happened mid-century, like when Republican Earl Warren led the Supreme Court to a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, or when Republican Dwight Eisenhower used the National Guard to integrate Little Rock Central High School over the objection of Democrat governor Orval Faubus in 1957, or when the Republican party supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 more strongly than did the Democrats. The extent to which the Republican party supported racial segregation was a result of transplant Democrats switching parties.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dissertation Writing

I have to focus pretty much exclusively on my dissertation for the next six weeks, so I guess I'll post parts of what I'm writing here. I'm embarrassed to do that because it sucks, but if it's not good enough to put on an anonymous blog, it's probably not good enough for my committee. Anyway, be prepared to read about the philosophical underpinnings of the ways economists address economic inequality.

Yeah, I know. It got hot in here for me, too!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Theory of Increasing Tyranny

It appears that this week Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the attempted murder of a former spy now living in England. The combination of Russian state activity within England (some countries still have a problem with that sort of thing) and the use of a banned nerve agent has rankled British sentiment. Prime Minister Theresa May gave Russia a deadline of Tuesday night to explain their behavior.

It appears Russia responded by killing another Putin enemy in England.

I woke up this morning thinking about the time Putin brought his dog to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. I wondered if there was a connection between Putin's intimidation and the fact that both of the other leaders are women. It seems plausible that when you're a "man's man" as Putin sees himself being, the only thing worse for you than being shown up is being shown up by a woman.

If this is the case, then what will be the result of continued liberalization in Western nations? An increased tendency by democracies to elect female leaders will cause an increased tendency by the world's dictators to flaunt their disrespect. I'm not implying we should hesitate to elect female leaders, but if this a true idea then we should acknowledge it to be something we have to address when we do have female leaders.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"P.S.: Forgive the Lateness of My Reply"

Like Ringo Starr, I believe it's important to answer mail, even if it's late.

Five and a half years ago, Angela asked:

Since you were kind enough to answer my last question I have another for you. I read an article that said roughly that there is no correlation between cutting taxes for the rich and improved GDP and economic growth. My friend who sent me the link said that economists have been saying this for years. As my resident guru in all things smarty pants what is your take?

If we are going to exchange some government spending for some private spending, then it depends on how growth-inducing each type of spending would be. If the government spending was particularly productive, like an investment in some worthwhile aim, and the replacement private spending is particularly unproductive, like a birthday party for a dog, then I would expect the economy to grow less after the change. Now, my personal opinion is that a random bit of private spending is more productive than a random bit of government spending, but I guess that could be tested empirically.

If we're going to keep the same amount of government spending and just raise the amount of government borrowing to cover the new shortfall in government revenue, then it is less likely to be helpful, because the government is competing in the loanable funds market and bidding away money that would have gone to an investment project instead. Then we'd have to compare the economic growth induced by the government spending to the economic growth lost when the private business borrows less money. Again, I believe government spending is not as productive as business investment, and I think that one is less controversial of a statement than my claim about private spending. If government spending was more productive than private investment, private firms would shut down, but they don't, and usually government investment plans are notorious boondoggles.

Old-timey British economist David Ricardo said that logical people who receive a tax cut with no corresponding decrease in government spending would realize that this will have to be reversed in the future, and the future taxes will have to cover the interest paid on the borrowing the government did. So the prudent would invest the tax rebate because they know they are going to get a future tax bill. "What if the tax bill doesn't come until the next generation?" Well, Ricardo assumes the people care about the well-being of their heirs, so they will bequeath them investments sufficient to cover the future bill.

I'll pause here for any Baby Boomers reading to get their laughter under control.

Some people see this "Ricardian equivalence" as a problem of tax cuts, but I'm not sure why. Maybe households save their tax rebates instead of making new purchases; so what? As long as they're not saving by hoarding, the money is productive (Keynes's "paradox of thrift" isn't real). Also, investment is probably more productive than consumption in terms of growing the capital stock and increasing the potential output in the next period. So we're probably better off if I save some extra money instead of spending it on a trip to Disney World.

Of course, in the immediate term, an economy that is based on consumption spending will have some significant pangs if we all decided to stop buying stuff we cannot afford. So that is why many people worry about keeping consumption spending going. But ultimately, we'd all trade in our jobs at the mall for new jobs at the factory, and we'd have more productivity in the future.

So the answer comes down to a series of other questions: How do you feel about government spending? How do you feel about government-directed business investment? And how do you feel about restructuring our economy towards or away from consumption spending?

P.S.: forgive the lateness of my reply.

Monday, March 12, 2018

"Apple Products Are So Intuitive!"

I hate Apple products. I hate the arrogance of assuming "we know everything you could possibly want to do from this screen and it's available to you with one button and no menu." The good news: I've never actually owned an Apple product. (My Chinese employer lent me an iPad while I worked for them, so that's how I've had frustrating experiences without being an owner.) The bad news: Apple is STILL able to screw up my life.

A few months ago, my phone died. I needed to be accessible (primarily for church calling purposes), so I moved my SIM card to my son's phone. It is my mother's old iPhone. After a while, I got a new phone and transferred my telephone number to the new phone. I've had this new phone for about two weeks now.

I texted the bishop about something for church and never heard back from him. I talked to him about the item the next time I saw him and he said, "I thought I texted you back."

I texted my mother last week when I was very sick, and she never responded. I thought, "Jeez, Mom, thanks for caring how I'm doing!"

I texted a woman from church yesterday about her calling and she didn't respond. I thought, "That's weird because this wasn't the type of conversation you just passively absorb."

Last night we were Skyping with my parents and it came up that my mother DID reply to my text but I didn't answer. So while we Skyped, we tested things out. I could text her, but I was not receiving her replies. The same thing with my father. But it wasn't all text messages that I was missing, because my wife and daughter could text me just fine.

After some investigation, here's what we figured out: people with iPhones were sending iMessages that were going to my son's phone, instead of text messages that would go to my phone. We removed the old SIM card from my son's phone, and that didn't solve it. I went to bed and my wife worked on it a lot more. It's unclear if it's resolved, but it looks like the only way I'm going to be able to be 100% certain that I get all my messages is to delete my Apple account.

Talk about invasive! Because I used an Apple product ONCE, Apple retains the right to hijack all messages that its other users attempt to send to my phone number? This is ridiculous.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Too Authentic

Last Friday night, my wife and I went to an Indian restaurant. There's basically an Indian neighborhood in town, with a collection of restaurants and markets, but this one is closer to our house, so I've wanted to check it out for a while now.

It's a few tables on the side of a grocery store in a strip mall, so that was promising, and the three other tables all had South Asians speaking foreign languages, so that was promising. But the place ultimately suffered from being too authentic. For instance, the waitress didn't write down our order, so she made my food mild and my wife's food spicy (the opposite of what we'd asked for), she didn't understand our entire order, so we didn't get things we thought we had requested, and she didn't bring all of my wife's meal until we had to ask for it. These were all regular experiences for us when we lived in Asia, but being back in America for a few years now had made it so we were out of practice expecting them. The cubes of chicken in my biryani were diced on the bone, just like the Hmong cooking I experienced as a missionary. And finally, to top off the authentic Asian experience, there was billing uncertainty, as the manager gave us two free waters to compensate for the delay with my wife's naan, but the waitress wasn't in on that, so she added them to the bill.

I had high hopes of this place being our go-to Indian place in the future, but I don't think we'll be returning.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

NIMBYs Gave Us Trump

A week or so ago, I read this article summarizing the economic problems younger generations are facing. I thought the article did a great job until it got to the conclusion, when the author decided to blame Republicans and...more Republicans. As if the anti-growth policies of the most-expensive metro areas have anything to do with the preferences of "Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell." This list of the ten most-expensive urban areas in the country ALL voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (even Orange County, which hadn't voted for a Democrat in 80 years). Local land use law isn't determined at the national level, pal. Meanwhile, the list of fastest-growing metro areas went primarily for Trump. So if there's a nexus between national political views and local growth views, it's not the one the author thinks.

My point isn't to say that Donald Trump is a champion of economic growth, because his statements this week about how easy it is to win a trade war, his mistaken view that trade deficits impoverish the country, and his anti-growth protectionist policies show that he doesn't really understand economic growth at all. My point is that the wide appeal of Trumpism is a direct result of a generation of NIMBYism.

I realized this today while reading Elements of Justice by David Schmidtz, where he writes:

people who see the world in zero-sum terms tend to despise immigrants. They see immigrants as taking jobs rather than as making products, as bidding up rents rather than as stimulating new construction, and so on. [p. 155]
But if there's no such thing in the American housing market as "stimulating new construction" anymore, then immigrants are bidding up rents. Arnold Kling writes, "Housing starts have been in the toilet for a decade." If we want to undermine the reasoning behind Trumpism's electoral appeal, we have to start by undermining NIMBYism. I have to not see an immigrant as housing and employment competition if you want me to welcome him.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Life Comes at You Fast in the Big City

We moved to the seventh-best swamp city in northeastern Florida in August 2016. At the time, there was a bus bench advertising the fact that Kate Beckinsale would be at a comic book convention in Tampa in July. I assumed that the ad was for July 2016, and that it would soon be replaced now that the convention had passed.

As the summer of 2017 approached, I began to wonder if maybe it was advertising an upcoming convention, and the promoters were just real go-getters. But once the calendar turned to 2018, I then started to have the opposite concern: that the convention was actually several years past, not just from 2016, and maybe it was several years older than I first suspected.

I have had a plan to take a picture of this bench and blog about it for over a year, but I only see it when I'm driving to church and I never remember to be ready to do something about it until I'm driving past. But last week I got a new phone with enough actual storage space to take photos and crap, so I set a plan to blog about this quickly-becoming-historical bus bench.

I drove by the bench last night and it now says "YOUR AD HERE!" with a phone number to call. I'm thinking of calling and seeing how much it would cost me to place a Kate Beckinsale ad on the bench.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Two Pictures from My Life

There's this urinal I use at work. It puzzles me for two different reasons.

First of all, I want to know how other people's brains connect the drain holes. As an arrow pointing away? As an arrow point backwards? As a chicken foot?

Second of all, what's with the light source that illuminates the middle drain hole? It's not a reflection of overhead light, because when the user blocks out the light, that middle drain hole is still illuminated. I'm slightly worried there's a light source in there, which could mean there's a camera in there, which could mean someone is accumulating hours of footage of me peeing. *cough* Donald Trump *cough*.

Next, I have to go into a different building about 10 times each semester, and when I do, I pass this art installation.

I feel like the artist is trying to convey the feeling that the viewer has just interrupted some manatee coitus. The back manatee is looking right at you, as if to say, "Dude, do you mind?" In my mind, I call it "the sweet manatee loving picture."

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Buon Giorno!

My blog receives its popularity (using that term incredibly loosely) in the United States, Russia, and China. The US because that's where I'm from, Russia because of pornbots, and China because I write about China sometimes from when I used to live there. But this week, for some reason my blog has become very popular in Italy.

Again, recognize the scale we're dealing with: a couple dozen Americans are reading my blog in a week. But now a couple score Italians are!

What can explain my sudden popularity in Italy? Um, nothing, I guess? The only thing I know about Italy is that it's where Annamaria comes from in the movie Summer School. But I'm willing to learn. Italians, give me all you've got.