Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Goats and Dogs, Eco-Fascism and Liberal Taboos

When remembered at all, Edward Abbey is mostly thought of as an environmentalist and anarchist but there is no gainsaying the racism and xenophobia on display in his 1983 essay, “Immigration and Liberal Taboos.” The opinion piece was originally solicited by the New York Times, which ultimately declined to publish it — or to pay him the customary kill fee. It was subsequently rejected by Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Mother Jones and Playboy before finally being published in the Phoenix New Times as “The Closing Door Policy.”

Various white nationalist blogs applaud what they view as Abbey’s foresightedness and forthrightness regarding immigration, presumably oblivious to how those views relate to his ideas about wealth inequality, industrial development and authoritarianism. Conversely, Abbey fans on the left who seek to insulate his nature writing from the taint of his anti-immigrant bigotry ignore the way in which, as Michael Potts put it, “a xenophobic and racist image of the immigrant as pollution… map[s] cultural and ethnic prejudices on to an idealised landscape.” (Dumping Grounds: Donald Trump, Edward Abbey and the Immigrant as Pollution) Abbey’s admirers on both the right and the left thus resort either to blinkers or lame apologetic to redeem him for their political preferences.

My interpretation is that Abbey was a curmudgeon and contrarian whose intended target was liberal hypocrisy. Immigrants were merely “collateral damage” of his colorful diatribes. In the pursuit of being provocative, though, he revealed more than he bargained for about his prejudices. It is precisely this flawed complexity, though, that makes Abbey’s writing a kind of Rosetta Stone for deciphering the dire social hieroglyphics of our time. Presumably, Abbey did not think of himself as racist. He was indignant when accused of racism. But the institutions of the society he grew up in transmit racism in their DNA.

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Recycling is Broken

Lloyd Alter at treehuggers: The only thing that really works for recycling is full producer responsibility. If a producer sells a product, the container is theirs and the contents belong to the customer. This is how it used to work with beer, pop, milk, water for the water cooler. It is what consumers and producers have to get back to achieve zero waste and a circular economy.

California has a long history of calling for deposits on both PET plastic, aluminum, and bottles under the California Redemption Value (CRV). At one time the recycler ePlanet had 600 facilities collecting drop off recyclables throughout California where people could get their deposits back.

On August 5, ePlanet closed down the remaining 284 recycling plants laying off 700 workers. In a statement:

With the continued reduction in state fees, decreased pricing of recycled aluminum and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic, and the rise in operating costs from minimum wage requirements, required health and workers compensation insurance; ePlanet has concluded the operation of these recycling centers and supporting operations is no longer sustainable.”

A three-month investigation by Consumer Watchdog found the reason for the failing California recycling system which left consumers fewer options each year on where to redeem their empties. It also found special interests such as grocery chains, beverage distributors, and trash haulers could get rich at the consumer’s expense.

Besides the closures limiting where to take recyclables, grocery and big box stores are not taking back empties either in spite of a law requiring them to do so. Accounting scams by retailers such as Walmart and also beverage distributors are prevalent. They undercount the paid deposits for each item they sell and by under reporting they keep the difference.

Over the last five years CalRecycle (state agency) which oversees California’s beverage container recycling program has not publicly imposed a fine on distributors scamming the system or retailers not taking recyclables back. CalRecycle has purposely accumulated an ~$300 million reserve as of 2018 rather than disburse the funds to recycle centers to help them survive.

The commercial fraud and state agency issues need to be resolved.

Also troubling the industry today is the availability of less costly virgin material. Virgin PET is cheaper than cost of cleaning and processing of recycled material which is due to the abundance of natural gas. There is also an abundance of recyclable aluminum in the market today which has driven prices down. Prices have dropped from “75 cents per pound last year to 55 cents, the lowest it has been since 2009.” Since the golden-haired child in the White House has imposed tariffs on China, the Chinese have imposed tariffs on US scrap imports which is part of the reason for the low prices created by a growing US glut. Lower price results in increased recycling costs for consumers today and especially in rural areas. Then too with the price drop I would think US manufacturers could use recyclable material more readily than virgin material. It is just a matter of making them do so.

The results of a failed recycling system scream for a solution and one which product and package manufacturers will not like. If product manufacturers want to use aluminum and plastic for packaging their products such as soda, water, etc. than they have to take it back and work with the packaging manufacturers to recycle it into more packaging or other uses. Today, the packaging does not go back to the user of the packaging, the product manufacturers, and is recycled outside of their responsibility. This enables them to side step the responsibility.

We have to go beyond a circular economy and get rid of single-use plastics entirely. It is clearer every day that passes the US never had a real recycling system. It was just a very long linear onegoing from the producer through our homes to China.

treehugger’s Lloyd Alter “Today’s recycling is BS.”

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House’s SECURE Act and the Senate’s RESA Act

Congress has been busily working on a much-needed way to improve Middle Class savings and growth over the span of their employment to boost their retirement.

Dueling bills to restructure IRAs and 401ks appear to be redundant. Better known as the “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Act” (SECURE Act) H.R.1994 and the Senate has a similar bill, the “Retirement Enhancements and Savings Act” S.792 (RESA). Both bills were passed with bipartisan support.

For the ultra rich? A major outcome of the Trump tax bill were tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. Besides much of the resulting income increases going to 1% of the household taxpayers, the same 1% were given the ability to shelter large amounts of income in gifts to their heirs. It is a great time to be rich in income and have the ability to shelter it by making gifts of it to your heirs’ tax free!

A little history on why Congress might take this up

From 1979 to 2017, the average annual income for the 1% of the household taxpayers has increased 156%, the top 1 hundredth of 1% income increased 343%, and the average American’s income did not increase at all. In spite of increased education from 1970 when half of Americans 25 years and older had a high school degree compared to today when the proportion of Americans having a college degree tripled, income has been stagnant for much of America. Even with the increased education, as Nick Hanauer in a recent Atlantic on this topic stated, the “Education is Not Enough” or was not enough to build, to build a vibrant middle class. Nick is also reiterating what Tom Hertz said in 2006 in his article; “Understanding Mobility in America.”

“The first aspect is the question of intergenerational mobility, or the degree to which the economic success of children is independent of the economic status of their parents. The second aspect is the short-term question of the amount by which family incomes change from year to year. One very clear conclusion is children from low-income families have only a 1 percent chance of reaching the top 5 percent of the income distribution versus children of the rich who have about a 22 percent chance.”

All the education in the world may not make a bit of difference in upward mobility as Nick and Tom Hertz concluded unless the income and the status is already there. A successful middle class with good income has to be present.

What Congress is doing.

The House passed the SECURE Act with an almost unanimous bipartisan 2nd vote. Prior to the first vote, Republican NC Representative Patrick McHenry made a motion for an affirmative vote (page H4147) stating they stand together against the anti-Semitic BDS movement. How this applies to the average citizen’s IRA is beyond me. It is a tagalong to the SECURE Act with the hope it would pass. It lost with 222 in opposition.

A few things about the House “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Act (SECURE).

• It lengthens the amount of time a person can contribute to an IRA beyond 70.5 years of age.
• Raised the required minimum distribution (RMD) age to 72 from 70 1/2 years old.
• Increased the Safe Harbor percent from 10 to 15%.
• Allowed long-term, part-time employees to contribute.
• Put in place an small employer tax credit for enrollment.
• Revised how benefits are paid out to a non spousal from 5 to 10 years (page H4234).
• Allowed automatic enrollment.
• Etc.

“The House SECURE Act would eliminate the current rules allowing non-spousal IRA beneficiaries to use (stretch IRA) minimum distributions (RMDs) from an inherited account over their own lifetime (and potentially allow the funds to grow for decades). With the SECURE Act, all funds from an inherited IRA would have to be distributed to non spousal beneficiaries within 10 years of the IRA owner’s death (The rule would apply to inherited funds in a 401(k) account or other defined contribution plan, too.).”

Other than the elimination of the Stretch IRA, these changes were needed and they will improve the amounts accumulated for retirement. As I mentioned earlier, much of America has not incurred the same income increases as the 1% or the 1 tenth of 1% of the household taxpayers. Pre-inflation YOY income growth for non supervisory Labor has been ~3%. Subtract out inflation of 2% and income has grown by 1% for much of America not leaving a lot to put into a 401k. I am waiting for the next shoe to drop of increasing the age of when people can take SS.

The Senate RESA bill is similar in content except for a provision buried in it taking aim at the Middle Class. The Senate’s RESA Act shortens the time period for non-spousal beneficiary withdrawal who have inherited an IRA with greater than $400,000 (IRA, Roth IRA or 401k). RESA exempts the first $400,000 inherited to a life time of RMD withdrawals and then it forces beneficiaries to cash out over a 5-year period any amount greater than $400,000. It could have tax implications if the amount over $400,000 was large or one’s income tax bracket was high.

As one reader pointed out, many people with 401Ks have less than $400,000 in their accounts when they retire. Then too with little growth in income occurring (mentioned earlier), one can see why people are not saving for retirement and why there is less in their 401ks.

Under today’s Stretch IRA rules, heirs of IRA owners were allowed to extend the taxable distributions of an inherited IRA over their lifetime, hence being called “stretch IRAs.” The proposed Senate bill labeled RESA—allows $400,000 of aggregated IRAs to stretch per beneficiary, but chops the cash-out period down to five years for the balance greater than $400,000.

What are the implications in the Senate bill? As I said it affects non spousal beneficiaries of the heads of families who have accumulated money greater than $400,000 over their lifetime to pass on as inheritance to their families. Non-spousal beneficiaries on inheriting sums of money greater than $400,000 could have a substance portion of the inheritance taxed by Uncle Sam and also end up in a higher tax bracket as a result. Ok, I said it enough times.

Similar would hold true for the House bill which eliminates the stretch IRA, does not have an exemption for 400,000 of inheritance, and forces a beneficiary to use up inheritance funds in 10 years rather than a lifetime or RESA’s 5 years. The proposed Acts do not impact spousal beneficiaries or minor children named as beneficiaries until pf a majority age, children with disabilities, etc.

The forced 5 year annual distribution of these savings and retirement plans by beneficiaries is the primary revenue vehicle (taxes) of RESA. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), who proposed the bill, said on the Senate floor recently that the RESA bill “is paid for” by this provision (as he takes his agricultural benefits resulting from tariffs).

No worries for the 1 percenters.

Back to the 1-percenters, Trump’s Tax Overhaul law doubles the estate-tax exemption to $22 million a couple and possibly avoiding taxes in dynasty trusts. The new law doubles the amount that can be passed to heirs without worrying about estate and gift taxes, to about $22 million for a married couple (redundant, I know). But the thresholds are in place only until 2025, and the ultra-rich are turning to a key tool — the dynasty trust — to secure the financial futures of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and beyond.

Assured wealth and income giving descendants a place on the ladder of mobility as being necessary to move upwards on that same ladder by Tom Hertz and Nick Hanaeur.

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Housing and Young People

We’ve lost the plot on the classic life arc of yesteryear. Places where real estate is cheap don’t have many good jobs. Places with lots of jobs, primarily coastal cities, have seen their real-estate markets go absolutely haywire. The most recent evidence of this remarkable change comes in a new report by the real-estate firm Unison. The company, which provides financing to homebuyers by “co-investing” with them, calculated how long it would take to save up a 20 percent down payment on the median home in a given city by squirreling away 5 percent of the city’s gross median income per year.

Nationally, the gap between income and home value has been rising. Using “Unison’s methodology“, it took nine years to save up a down payment in 1975. Now it takes 14.

• The typical Los Angeles resident will spend 43 years saving for a 20% down payment and can look forward to moving into a new home in 2061.
• In 2018, the monthly mortgage payment on a median home grew twice as fast as incomes.
• When adjusting for inflation, today’s average real wages have the same purchasing power as 40 years ago.
• Only half of today’s 30-year-olds earn more than their parents did.

Clearly, the old rules of buying a home don’t apply anymore.

This is the new rule: home co-investment.

Unison connects aspiring homebuyers and existing homeowners with institutional investors who offer debt-free access to cash for the chance to share in a home’s appreciation. Our HomeBuyer program provides cash to our partners – you – to supplement a down payment on a new home. Our HomeOwner program allows homeowners to unlock equity in their home to pay off debt, remodel or fund a major purchase.

This isn’t a loan, which means there are no monthly payments and no interest. If the home depreciates, then Unison shares in the loss.

The aggregate numbers make the decrease in access to the real-estate market seem gradual, albeit troubling, and underplay the spikiness of the country. In Los Angeles, it would take 43 years to save up for a down payment. In San Francisco, 40. In San Jose and San Diego, 31. In Seattle and Portland, 27 and 23, respectively. In the east, New York and Miami topped the list, requiring 36 years to save up that down payment. Only Detroit, at seven years, was under the national average from 1975.

Generationally, this has huge consequences. Imagine you’re a 30-year-old in Los Angeles with the median income. By Unison’s math, you can imagine buying a home at 73. For young people in high-opportunity metro areas, the route to home ownership is basically blocked without the help of a wealthy family member or some stock options. Meanwhile, older people who bought under much more favorable circumstances have seen their equity stakes grow and grow and grow.

Many of these policies served to restrict the number of affordable homes. So, now, decades later, in many cities with good economies that have drawn new residents, increased demand has not been met with commensurate supply. Young people of all races are experiencing the consequences of these policies, but given the compounding nature of wealth, the relative inaccessibility of home prices is an ongoing disaster for the racial wealth gap.

This is a well written C&P which can be found at The Atlantic, Technology “Why Housing Policy Feels Like Generational Warfare (To Millennials, at least), ” Alexis C. Madrigal

The excuse I have heard as a township planner for not building affordable housing is: “it is only cheap once!” In 2009 many of us saw our housing drop by up to 50% in value.

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Wage Growth

Based on my wage equation, last January I warned to expect a sharp acceleration in wage growth in 2018.  Now that wage growth has risen       from 2.4% in 2017 to 3.4% in 2018, the same economic variables imply that wage growth may be flattening out.  If wage growth remains near    current levels it will be one less factor pressurizing the Fed to tighten.

One of the key variables driving wages higher a year ago was inflation expectations.  Because there  are no good long run measures of inflation expectations  I use the three year trailing growth in the CPI as a proxy for  inflation expectations.  A year ago that measure was starting to     accelerate, but now it appears to be flattening out and should be an   important  factor limiting wage gains.

 

The first sign of slower wage growth was the 3 month growth rate of average hourly earnings slipping below the year over year change in this months employment report.

 

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A couple of nuggets of good economic news

A couple of nuggets of good economic news

Sometimes there is almost no economic news at all. This isn’t one of those times.

Because there have been increasingly ominous signs among the long leading indicators, that have been spilling over into the short leading indicators, suddenly there are a lot of signs and portents to look at. A lot less about jobs and wages that I keep exclusively here.

So, once again I got waylaid preparing a long piece for Seeking Alpha, on how the Fed may need to *cut* rates quickly in order to avoid a recession, that may not get posted until tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are a couple of graphs to give you something to chew on.

First, I’ve noted in the last few months how wages for ordinary workers have started to take off. A few people have pointed out that it may be less due to overall tightness in the labor market and more due to statutory minimum wage increases.

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MMT II

Don’t blame me. Blame Noah Smith who asked me to write more about MMT. I don’t know much about MMT, but I am going to write about it anyway.

First, there seems to be an extremely important disagreement between MMTers. There are definitely some that argue that MMT implies the US Federal Government can (and should) spend more without taxing more.

In contast Stephanie Kelton who seems to be a rather prominent MMTer clearly asserts that a major increase in Federal Government spending should be accompanied by increased taxes here
“MMT would set public spending always to the level required to achieve full employment, and then accept whatever deficit may result.”

Now she might consider 4% to be higher than the current US non accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, but I don’t think she thinks it is much higher. Basically, her position is that the current amount of spending is about right. Low unemployment and stable inflation. As far as I know, MMTer’s accept that as a sign of good macro policy. So they should consider a big increase in spending inconsistent with MMT.

I think I understand what is happening here. There was a decade of high unemployment. People advocated policy based (at least in part) on the need for stimulus. Now the US has low unemployment. Serious policy analysts change their proposals given changing conditions. Many other people stick to a proposal when it makes no sense. I don’t want to be rude but consider the W Bush tax cuts which were proposed because the economy was booming, there was a surplus, and then justified as an anti-recession measure. They claimed that the same policy was perfect to solve different problems. He started with a decision to cut taxes on the upper tail (his words) and then looked for justification. Spend till we reach full employment, no spend a lot more on say a green new deal now that we have reached full employment may be “leftist,” but it has nothing to do with any economic theory (because the two statements are contradictory).

I think it is very very slightly unfortunate that MMT has been equated with “deficits are never a problem”. MMTers might say this from time to time, but they definitely also say that deficits can be a problem (when inflation is accelerating).

Given what I wrote above, the implication of MMT I have noted so far is that one should not impose austerity during a recession. Sadly, policymakers disagree. But conventional new Keynesians and conventional Paleo Keynesians agree. There is no daylight between MMTers and conventional Keynesians on what fiscal policy should have been in the recent past and should be now (although there is a huge range of views among MMTers — I mean differering by hundreds of billions a year).

OK what else. MMTers seem to argue that monetary policy is ineffective even when the safe nominal interest rate is positive. I think this is nuts. I think the evidence that it matters is overwhelming. US data from January 1 1980 throught December 31 1982 are enough to prove them wrong.

One of them wrote that monetary policy works by making people borrow. Notice that it is just assumed that macro policy is stimulus. The possibility that an economy might overheat and the policy aim to reduce demand has not come to the mind of the person whom I am quoting (whose name doesn’t come to my mind). Assuming that macro policy must or should always aim to stimulate demand is an embarrassing mental slip.

MMTers note that deficits can be monetized. They note that this implies that countries which borrow in their own currency are not anywhere close to risking default. I agree (the anywhere close is because I think a US debt of $ 1 quintillion in the form of 1 day notes would cause default — I am very reluctant to use the word “impossible”). Here again the position is completely conventional. Not only Keynesians but also Austerians think this. It is just that to Austerians fiscal dominance of monetary policy is a nightmare. I don’t think any macroeconomist thinks it is impossible.

So far we have conventional views and claims about monetary policy which might be accepted by fresh water fanatics but which are inconsistent with the historical evidence.

What’s left.

I think there is a lot of insisting on using words and phrases with unusual definitions. To most macroeconomics “deficit spending” means bond financed deficit spending. Monetized deficits are described as bond financed deficit spending combined with open market operations. In MMT deficit spending means monetized deficit spending and bond financed deficit spending is described as monetized deficit spending combined with bond auctions.

This is a distinction without a difference. It is purely semantic dispute about the definition of deficit spending. The disagreement does not imply different forecasts about observables. I think the fact that MMTers consider this a vitally important distinction implies that they won’t be able to make a useful contribution to the discussion.

Also I read things about the purpose of a bond auction and the natural gravitational effect of deficit spending. I think these are not meaningful statements in social science. I think there is no way to test if they are true. I think there is no way to get testable hypotheses using this kind of reasoning (I use the term “reasoning” in the broad sense of something that someone seems to think has something to do with useful thought).

I guess there is also a discussion of what comes first the bond sales or the government spending. Here I think I recall the word “first” but I know it isn’t about which happened at an earlier time (bond sales happen every week, government spending every minute). It isn’t a statement about causation either. I don’t think it is a meaninful statement.

So I see conventional views, confusing jargon, and meaningless distinctions. Also extreme rudeness. I don’t think that this is (or should be) typical academic debate

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The Black Bill and the Green New Deal

“When we first came to Washington in 1933,” FDR Labor Secretary Francis Perkins wrote in her memoir, The Roosevelt I Knew, “the Black bill was already before the Congress. Introduced by Senator Hugo L. Black, it had received support from many parts of the country and from many representatives and senators.”

The Black Bill was the Senate version of the Black-Connery Thirty-Hour Bill. On April 6, 1933, the Senate approved the measure by a vote of 53 to 30. Perkins was scheduled to appear before the House committee holding hearings on the Connery Bill:

Roosevelt had a problem. He was in favor of limiting the hours of labor for humanitarian and possibly for economic reasons and therefore did not want to oppose the bill. At the same time, he did not feel that it was sound to support it vigorously. But the agitation for the bill was strong. Its proponent insisted that it was a vital step toward licking the depression. I said, “Mr. President, we have to take a position. I’ll take the position, but I want to be sure that it is in harmony with your principles and policy.”

Roosevelt had another problem. The National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce were adamantly opposed to the Thirty-Hour Bill. Perkins offered amendments to the Connery Bill, the American Federation of Labor offered other amendments and business representatives “proposed crippling amendments that would have destroyed the purpose of the measure.”

On May 1, the administration withdrew its support for the Connery Bill. Roosevelt had concluded that organized business would not support the recovery program if the Black-Connery Bill were to become law. In its place, the collective bargaining provisions of Section 7(a) and wage, hour and labor standard provisions were added to the National Industrial Recovery Act through, in Leon Keyserling’s account, “a series of haphazard accidents reflecting the desire to get rid of  the Black bill and to put something in to satisfy labor.”

The Supreme Court ruled the Recovery Act unconstitutional on May 27, 1935. In its place, the “Second New Deal” consisted of a variety of policies, including, most notably, the National Labor Relations Act, the Works Progress Administration and Social Security.

The moral to the story is that “the” New Deal was improvised, it evolved, was not unitary and its original impetus came from a fundamentally different policy proposal that was anathema to the business lobby. The Thirty-Hour Bill was conceived as a solution to a problem that is no longer polite in policy circles to consider as a problem — “over-production.”

I am sympathetic to the intentions and ambition of the Green New Deal resolution proposed by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. What I find especially compelling is the inclusion of social and economic justice and equality in the program goals. The vision isn’t just a proposal for “sustainable” business-as-usual, powered by wind and solar.

The day before Ocasio-Cortez and Markey announced their resolution, Kate Aronoff and co-authors presented a “Five Freedoms” statement of principles for a Green New Deal, modeled on Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.from 1941. My favorite, of course, is number two: Freedom From Toil:

We can’t escape work altogether, and there’s a lot of work we need to do, immediately and in the long term. But work doesn’t need to rule our lives.

The great nineteenth-century English socialist William Morris made a distinction between useful work and useless toil: we need the former but should free ourselves from the latter. We can escape the crushing toll of working long hours for low wages to make something that someone else owns.

At present, there’s a lot of work that’s worse than useless — it’s toil that’s harmful to the people doing it and to the world in which we live. But even useful work should be distributed more widely so that we can all do less of it — and spend more time enjoying its fruits.

I suppose there always has been work that is “worse than useless” — bullshit jobs and all that. But there is cruel irony in the fact that the ultimate solution to the 1930s problem of over-production was perpetual creation of useless toil through credit, fashion, advertising, and government stimulus and subsidies. The original proposal had been… shorter working time!

Which brings me back to the peregrinations of the FDR New Deal. The 12-year deadline posited by the I.P.C.C. for keeping within the 1.5 degree centigrade limit brings us to the 100th anniversary of Keynes’s “Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren.” Time has run out on his caveat:

But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.

We have been pretending long enough now for foul to become worse than useless and to convince ourselves that fair really would be foul. It is past time to stop pretending.

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Hey Rustbelt and beyond, Losing factories is not new

(There’s a movie at the end!)

For decades we have been hearing about the loss of industrial production through out what is called the “Rust Belt”.  It’s presented, even as recent as the prior presidential election as a relative regional problem that only began post Reagan.  What gets me though is that the reporting and ultimately the politics are as if the rust belt is/was unique in their experience with the west and east coast experiencing nothing of the sort.  The presentation is of the west coast Hollywood economy and now the “tech” economy, the east coast (namely New York/Boston) being the money economy.  The south east is not considered other than Disney and orange production.  The north west?  Microsoft and Starbucks.  Well I think it used to be lumber.

Wiki notes that the rust belt is not geographic but is a term that “pertains to a set of economic and social conditions“.     It includes the northeast which is proper in that industry started there but I have had the feeling for a few decades now that such history is forgotten and thus no longer considered when we look to understand what the hell happened to the middle class.

Let me start with this fun fact.  Rhode Island was the most industrialized state per capita in the nation at one point.  Wiki notes that:

…Aldrich, as US Senator, became known as the “General Manager of the United States,” for his ability to set high tariffs to protect Rhode Island — and American — goods from foreign competition.

We were where the super rich came to escape the heat and play.  And then it started to die.  Not just here though.  Neighboring Massachusetts was hit as was Connecticut.  If you ever get a chance, come visit the New Bedford  Whaling museum and read about the massive industry that was there.  Example, the worlds largest mill of weaving looms.  Some 4000+!  Whaling from that city in the later 1800’s generated some $71 million per year!  Not impressed? Well, using the GDP deflator it’s $1.480 billion per year!

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Newsy Stuff

2018 – The Year of the Complicated Suburb, Amanda Kolson Hurley, CityLab

In the past several years, a much more complex picture has emerged—one of Asian and Latino “ethnoburbs,” rising suburban poverty, and Baby Boomers stuck in their split-levels. 2018 really drove home the lesson of when Americans say they live in the suburbs (as most do), the suburbia they describe are vastly different kinds of places where people of every stripe live, work, pray, vote, and vie to control their communities’ future.

A century and a half after Frederick Law Olmsted laid out one of the first planned American suburbs in Riverside, Illinois, and seven decades after the builders Levitt & Sons broke ground on the ur-tract ’burb of Levittown, New York, we haven’t fully mapped the contours of modern suburbia—not just who lives there and why, but the role that suburbs play in politics and society.

“A continuum of densities” correlates closely to suburban politics. Rural-suburban areas are strongly Republican; urban-suburban places are overwhelmingly Democratic. But sparse and dense suburbs are more divided—and these were the battleground of the 2018 election. On November 6, Democrats picked up at least 22 seats in sparse- and dense-suburban districts. A suburbanite is now twice as likely to be represented in Congress by a Democrat as by a Republican.

Deciding who we throw away, Cassady Fendlay, Medium

“When millions of us showed up to march, there was a prevailing feeling among women of color, especially black women, that the white women who were showing up to march were not really ready to be allies in this fight. They brought signs with fiery quotes from black feminists and reminded us that the suffragettes didn’t want to march with Black women, didn’t care about their right to vote. The image of activist Angela Peeples, looking cynical with a lollipop and a sign about the 53% of white women who voted for Trump, went viral for its perfect encapsulation of this uneasy suspicion of the “well-meaning” white women.

This moment, with Alyssa Milano, is exactly the type of thing black women were expecting. Alyssa is acting in accordance with the tradition of white women who use the labor of women of color when it’s convenient for them, and then use their power to trash those women when it becomes more expedient. Without being invited to speak at all, Alyssa brought up a 7-month-old controversy in an attempt to force women of color to do exactly what she wants them to do. Yet these things weren’t a problem for her last month, when she was posting pictures of herself in D.C. protesting Kavanaugh at demonstrations organized in large part by Women’s March.”

The Year of the YIMBY, Kriston Capps, CityLab

A few weeks ago, Minneapolis made zoning history when its city council endorsed a comprehensive plan that would enable denser housing development across the city. Elements of the Minneapolis 2040 plan still need to be passed into law, so it falls short of an outright ban on single-family housing, as both supporters and critics have described it. But it’s still the most progressive legislative push by any city yet to face up to the affordable housing crisis, and it’s turning heads in Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, and other cities.

“Such an ambitious, large-scale overhaul of zoning rules is practically unheard of in U.S. cities, where single-family neighborhoods with their rows of houses set behind landscaped front yards have typically been off the table during discussions of citywide ‘Smart Growth’ and affordable housing,” reads the Los Angeles Times editorial board’s green-with-envy endorsement.

Differences Bernie Sanders versus Elizabeth Warren, David Dayen

I happen to like Elizabeth Warren more so than I do Bernie Sanders. So, if this comes off in a manner favoring Warren, I apologize. As Dayen notes, “Warren and Sanders are hardly identical progressives. They have different approaches to empowering the working class. In the simple terms, Warren wants to organize markets to benefit workers and consumers. Sanders wants to overhaul those markets and take the private sector out of it. This divide, and where Warren or Sanders’s putative rivals position themselves on it, will determine the future of the Democratic Party for the next decade or more.”

The differences I think you can pick up in the New Republic article I linked to so I will not try to detail them here. Again, as Dayen notes the two progressives are on a collision course and could conceivably split the Democratic vote. In Michigan alone during the 2016 election, it accounted for the state voting for a Repub candidate (first time since 1990), low voter turnout, and a historical high vote for Communist and Libertarian candidates. The same occurred in Wisconsin. Pennsylvania is another state which goes Dem in national elections even though pundits cast doubt upon how it will go.

Watch ‘House Hunters’ to Understand Segregation Natalie Y. Moore, CityLab

House Hunters is on in my home as it is a source of entertainment. Other than the Flip or Flop now divorced couple (she remarried [to keep you up to date]), you can expect to see this at night. I kid my wife about both as it is more like watching the soaps and the dialogues sounds too contrived. Who knew, you could redo a complete bathroom for $5,000 and it always takes 7-weeks to remodel the most ancient of homes? Then too the economics of these shows has given rise to a series of other taunting couples searching for homes or flipping houses just as quick as they can. I guess there is money in those shows.

As the author points out in one episode, “a couple, both in their 20s, paid $1 million for a home in a tony (stylish) North Shore suburb with no backyard . . . insane.) Naturally, we viewers are not privy to the Hunters’ bank statements or financial portfolios, although a few Twitter parody accounts take note.”

I guess if you are born halfway up the ladder, you have a much bigger head start in life than many others of which minorities make up a substantial part. The chances of you slipping backwards on the ladder lessen dependent upon where you are on it. The Center for American Progress in “Understanding Mobility in America” discusses the impact of intergenerational mobility and the degree to which the economic success of children is independent of the economic status of their parents. There is a vast racial wealth and income gap which finds that a U.S. family earning the median black household income of $39,466 would be able to afford fewer than half of all homes listed for sale last year in 17 of the country’s 50 largest markets. The show is a reminder of the impact of US policy towards minorities.

SCOTUS Takes up Electoral Map Disputes, Lawrence Hurley, US News

Partisan gerrymandering is becoming more extreme with the use of precision computer modeling to the point that it has begun to warp democracy in certain states by subverting the will of voters.

June 2018 and SCOTUS failed to issue definitive rulings in cases from Wisconsin and Maryland which election reformers hoped would prompt the high court to crack down on partisan gerrymandering.

In the case in North Carolina, Democratic voters accused the state’s Republican-led legislature of drawing U.S. House of Representatives districts in 2016 in a way that disadvantaged Democratic candidates in violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. A lower court sided with the Democratic voters.

In order to assure reasonable Congressional Districts to eliminate packing and the deliberate construing of boundaries to give one party an advantage over the other, the Congressional Districts will still have to be gerrymandered as they are too large.

Dollar Stores Tanvi Misra, CityLab

“While dollar stores sometimes fill a need in cash-strapped communities, growing evidence suggests these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress,” the authors of the brief write. “They’re a cause of it.”

Like Walmart before them, these retailers present themselves as creators of jobs and sources of low-cost goods and food in “left-behind “areas—both urban and rural. The 2008 recession bolstered their numbers, simultaneously restricting the resurgence of traditional grocery stores and swelling the potential customer base. Middle-class shoppers started frequenting these stores. In 2009, the New York Times picked up on the trend: “Those once-dowdy chains that lured shoppers by selling some or all of their merchandise for $1 are suddenly hot.”

Restaurants are Scrambling for Cheap Labor, Leslie Patton, Bloomberg

In 2019, it is expected fewer teens will be in the workforce reducing the number of job seekers for low-wage work. Due to the shortage they are helping raise the pay rates needed to woo those who are. Minimum wage increases for lower-skilled workers at companies such as Amazon.com, Walmart, and Target have made it more difficult for restaurants to compete for talent and forcing them to try everything from social media campaigns to quarterly bonuses to entice applicants. “The last 18 to 24 months, it’s been very competitive, no matter what time of year.”

Bjorn Erland, vice president for people and experience at Yum Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell chain. “I don’t think it’s going to ease up much just because the holidays are over.”

Why Not Hold Regular Union Representation Elections? , Andrew Strom, On Labor

Citing polls (NLRB) showing many non-union workers would like to have a union at their workplace, each year only a tiny fraction of workers get a chance to choose whether or not they want union representation.

When the Obama NLRB modernized the Board’s election rules and eliminated some unnecessary delays, employers characterized the result as “ambush elections.” The companies insisted they would no longer have enough time to wage their anti-union campaigns.

The NLRB found substantial evidence that employers are generally aware of union organizing drives long before an election petition is filed. A solution as Samuel Estreicher and Michael Oswalt have previously suggested and to give even more notice is to hold regularly schedule representation elections the same way we regularly schedule elections for political office. There is no magic number to how often the elections should take place, but every three years might be optimal. The elections would occur both at unionized and non-union facilities.

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