20.9.16

TAIL TRACK.

Barring signal troubles, links to any posts of substance ought to work.

MORE ON THOSE SLOW PROFESSORS.

George Leef is less than impressed with the recent book.  "The Slow Professor is a tedious, self-absorbed, word-salad of a book. Still, it prompts this thought: Why have colleges and universities become so “corporate”?" His hypothesis: it's all that public money, pushing first for greater access (invoke the Reynolds Law) followed by a push for greater completion rates.  There are several economists participating in the bull session.  (The economists are often the contrarians in higher education, whether it's about politics or about holding the line on standards.)

My view: there's enough free agency among academicians, particularly those still holding tenured posts, that academic work life is a bundle of self-made purgatories.

JUST IN TIME FOR BLACK FRIDAY.

The engine terminal at Brunswick, Maine, is now in place (some locals are still not happy about it) and a shopping excursion to L. L. Bean of Freeport, Maine will offer additional rail options.  Restoration of additional passing tracks promise even more trains by sometime in 2018.  We're still a long way from the frequencies and the long-distance service of the mid-1950s, and the summer service to Rockland is gone.  And yet, frequency, connectivity, and food service bring passengers.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, RECRUITING SERGEANT.

The White House and the anointed doddering successor to Our President continue to suggest that tough talk from Donald Trump only encourages the Sillies.  "'Donald Trump is being used as a recruiting sergeant for ISIS,' Clinton said on Monday morning. 'The kind of language and rhetoric Trump has used is giving aid and comfort to our adversaries.'"  Yeah, those are the intellectual heirs of the people who got the vapors when Ronald Reagan correctly described Yuri Andropov's USSR as an evil empire.

I wonder if any critics of That Man in the White House seized on this effort, from Japan.


That's in a collection at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.  Here's the reason President Roosevelt was a recruiting sergeant.


As I noted at the time, "The display includes the obligatory obeisance to contemporary sensibilities, otherwise understood as the reflection of people, upon having won a war, asking, 'did we really do that?'  But there can be no hope of victory in a future war until people are willing to countenance official scorn for their enemies."  Unofficial scorn, undermining the bad guys with mockery, is also useful, particularly building morale on the home front.

Unfortunately, Our President's attempt at mockery (Just because the jayvee puts on Lakers jerseys ...) didn't work.  Perhaps as the aptly named spinner Josh Earnest has it, this is a tougher conflict to define than a global war.
"When it comes to ISIL, we are in a fight, a narrative fight, with them, a narrative battle," said Earnest "And what ISIL wants to do is they want to project that they are an organization that is representing Islam in a fight, in a war against the West, in a war against the United States. That is a bankrupt, false narrative. It's a mythology. And we have made progress in debunking that mythology."
Sean Davis of The Federalist is having none of it.
Earnest’s comments come after a weekend of narrative violence across the U.S. A pipe narrative exploded in a garbage can near a Marine Corps race in New Jersey. In New York City, a separate narrative blast injured 29 people on Saturday. Law enforcement authorities believe the same wicked wordsmith was responsible for both narrative explosions. On Saturday evening, another vicious narrative stabbed nine people at a mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota. That word terrorist was finally stopped by an NRA-certified concealed carry instructor’s sick burns and also multiple rounds from the instructor’s personal sentence pistol.
Make of yourself what it says about Life in Obama's America that several of the bombs were discovered or broken by dumpster-divers.

Because the Sillies are simultaneously waging war on secular and Christian populations and on Moslems who adhere to the Wrong Kind of Islam, we're not dealing with the standard war of nation states against nation states.  But standing up for American Values has not been a strong suit for the current crop of tranzis running the war effort.  And Donald Trump, at some level, may be grasping this.  "[T]here has to be a traditional conservative message that expands the base of support for law enforcement and against the pernicious cult of authenticity that enables the crazies as somehow deserving of celebration."  Mr Trump is no traditional conservative, and the pernicious cult of authenticity also enables his reality-show life.  In his own way, he's doing his bit to keep the home front angry.

The contemporary analogues to the Navy starving the enemy of resources, the Air Force destroying the industrial capacity and depriving the civilian work forces of house, and a Manhattan Project concentrating the minds of the true believers remain to emerge.

But final victory looks like this.


USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Unattributed photograph retrieved from Ace of Spades.

We are nowhere near the beginning of the emergence of the resolution of the conflict.

I REPEAT, BECAUSE REPEAT I MUST.

Stephen Moore's "No Thank You, Obama" notes that fifteen years of bipartisan failure oughtn't be cause for celebration.  Plus:  "As the great Reagan economist Arthur Laffer has put it so aptly, we keep punishing success through taxes and rewarding failure through welfare, and then we wonder why we are getting nothing but failure."

19.9.16

AMENITIES DESPITE AUTHORITIES.

Public subsidies for Commuter Rail tend to focus on providing utilitarian transportation for as many passengers as can be crammed onto the cars with little regard for comfort.  Thus the bar car is often threatened, even in the land of the three-martini lunch and the eighty-six-proof-anaesthetic-crutches.  Stop the presses!  Metro-North will be restoring bar cars on rush hour trains out of Grand Central.  "Good news for thousands of commuters, although I must say they don’t look as homey as the originals." Trains and Travel's Jim Loomis goes on to observe, "I’m not sure this qualifies as the first indication that a return to the Golden Age is imminent, but it’s a damn good start!"  The restoration of a state of good repair (Make the New Haven Great Again?) might be accomplished more easily on the rails than in the popular culture.  Chicagoans, however, will continue to have to bring their own (except on those weekend departures when the container ban is in effect.)

THE PROTOTYPES WERE LAID DOWN FOR A DIFFERENT JOB DESCRIPTION.

The contemporary successor to the motor torpedo boat has been under development for at least ten years as a class of littoral combat ships.  They're being built at a shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin -- presumably safely removed from Iranian PT boats and Russian submarines.  The seventh of the series, LCS 13 Wichita, was launched over the weekend.  They're not steaming properly out of the harbor.
All three littoral combat ships delivered to the Navy from Marinette have suffered setbacks since leaving Wisconsin. Last December, the USS Milwaukee suffered an engineering casualty during its journey to California.  In January, the USS Fort Worth’s engine was damaged while out in Singapore. In mid-July, the USS Freedom sustained damage to its diesel propulsion systems during Navy exercises when seawater got into an engine system.

The engine failures and problems caused by crew members have placed a spotlight on the entire LCS program.

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisconsin) says the problems with the LCS program aren’t so much the ships themselves, but with all the new technology, there’s a gap in training.
Perhaps accompanied by a lack of urgency, there's nothing on the threat board comparable to putting a bomb-damaged Yorktown into drydock at Pearl Harbor to do enough patching in three days to have her ready to sortie to Point Luck and add her weight to the carriers defending Midway.  (The Japanese thought their four carriers would be sufficient, and Shokaku and Zuikaku went back to Japan for a more leisurely refit.  Oops.)

RUNNING EXTRA.  A Littoral Combat Ship is a powered frigate designed by a committee.
The U.S. Navy effort to abandon the frigate and reinvent it with the quite different and very innovative LCS design was risky, and it largely failed to achieve its objectives. The innovative design did not work out as expected. What many sailors really wanted was a replacement for the 4,100 ton Perrys, which were very popular with their users.
Recent developments in induction-motor and laser-based weapons are likely to render the ships obsolete reasonably soon.

WHAT STANDING ON PRINCIPLE LOOKS LIKE.

Democratic Review quotes, at length, a statement by the Harvard Republican Club that makes as cogent a case as I have seen for #NeverTrump #NeverHillary.
This fall, we will instead focus our efforts on reclaiming the Republican Party from those who have done it considerable harm, campaigning for candidates who will uphold the conservative principles that have defined the Republican Party for generations. We will work to ensure both chambers of Congress remain in Republican hands, continuing to protect against executive overreach regardless of who wins the election this November.

We call on our party’s elected leaders to renounce their support of Donald Trump, and urge our fellow College Republicans to join us in condemning and withholding their endorsement from this dangerous man. The conservative movement in America should not and will not go quietly into the night.

A longtime student of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

De Tocqueville believed in the United States. Americans are a decent people. We work hard, protect our own, and look out for one another in times of need, regardless of the color of our skin, the God we worship, or our party registration. Donald Trump may not believe in that America, but we do. And that America will never cease to be great.
It's not clear, for reasons that I've remarked on previously, and for saecular reasons that require further elaboration, what "conservative movement" refers to.  And yet, respecting the separation of powers as spelled out in Article I of the Constitution is clearly conservative, in the sense of respecting established institutions.

16.9.16

A REPUBLIC, IF YOU CAN KEEP IT.

The Milwaukee area Oktoberfest takes place at the Bavarian Inn, which used to be called Old Heidelberg Park, and it has long had a soccer field.  (The field might also have been a drill field for the German-American Bund, but that was a long time ago.)  And during the day of Oktoberfest, there was a game going on.


There's that deep bench in U. S. women's soccer developing (as well as what appears to be a properly organized goal rush.  But as is often the case when you ruin a good run in the grass with the necessity of kicking the ball at the net, no score.)

In the Milwaukee area, the soccer collectives tended to have ethnic names, such as Bavaria using the Old Heidelberg Park field.  Here are three young ladies wearing the Bavaria colours conducting a 50-50 raffle.  (Not bad prizes if you win.)


No longer are the soccer collectives made up of their European tribes.  There were also several young ladies in the red and white colours of Polonia getting in on the Gem├╝tlichkeit.  The soccer moms were quaffing beer, the kids not so much.  Let's be grateful that the Serbia collective and the Croatia collective no longer re-litigate Tito's insurrection.

The raffle didn't sit too well with some of the people attending the festival.  (At weekends, wedding parties visit German outdoor cafes selling small bottles of schnapps for good luck, the raffle might be a Midwestern version of the same thing.  On the other hand, roast potatoes rather than potato salad, and cole slaw along with sauerkraut??)

But give these kids an America to buy into, and an America that buys into these kids, and we'll be OK.

RATES OF RETURN FUNCTION TO ALLOCATE CAPITAL.

After I posted about the recent developments in steel economics research and the mills that closed, I did some digging to find out what happened after the legacy steel companies quit.  (Mostly there's some cheap real estate to be had.)  I also turned up this December 1981 essay by Staughton Lynd, explaining why, in the depths of the shakeout of the steel industry, United States Steel was spending money buying Marathon Oil.
Steel is a very capital-intensive business, and, for this reason, investment in steel is not as profitable as investment in downtown real estate, or chemicals, or, apparently, oil. Therefore, American steel companies have been reducing their steelmaking capacity and investing elsewhere. For American society, which needs a steel industry to retain its economic independence, this raises the question of whether the profit motive can be relied on to reindustrialize steel.
The profit motive can be relied upon.  Mr Lynd, in common with many observers of the time, was looking for the investment in the wrong places.
Today, it is generally recognized that the American steel industry is sick because it has failed to modernize. Imported steel is a symptom - not the disease. The competition of European steel companies may be ''unfair,'' in the sense that there are heavy government subsidies, but this is not true of Japan. Japanese steelmakers can undersell American steelmakers in the American market because they have installed modern equipment that dramatically reduces the cost of making a ton of steel.
That was the received wisdom, back in the day, but all of that scrap metal in the form of abandoned factories and redundant railroads was a feedstock, provided someone could figure out how to get good product out of it.  (That every third world country was exporting steel, and a lot of that steel was Distressed Material, simply contributed more feedstock.)
Every mill closed in Youngstown made steel in antiquated open hearths. An open-hearth furnace takes hours to make a ''heat,'' or batch of steel, that a basic oxygen-process shop, which is standard in Japan, can make in 45 minutes. And not one of the mills closed in Youngstown had a continuous caster to semi-finish the raw steel as it came from the furnace.
Yes, and every mill closed in Youngstown had an annual capacity of two to three million tons of raw steel, located far from a deepwater port, subjecting them to the double disadvantage of unexploited scale economies and high inbound transportation costs.  There was another shakeout in progress, the abandonment of inefficiently small basic oxygen shops.
The most intriguing implication of this research is that the "lethargic" steel producers who postponed the replacement of their open-hearth furnaces or only recently replaced them with large electric furnaces made an optimal choice. Early adoption of a (too small) basic oxygen converter may have been a mistake.
I still revisit those research notes from time to time. But building a model open hearth shop with working smokestacks strikes me as more fun.  But Mr Lynd didn't see the revolution coming.
It remains to be seen whether tax breaks and other subsidies, granted on condition that the money provided be reinvested in steel, would induce U.S. Steel and other steel companies to rebuild aging mills in places like Pittsburgh, Gary, Ind., and Lackawanna, N.Y. If not, the people of the United States will have to consider doing the job themselves. In the 1930's, the Governmen created the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide electric power to areas that private utilities could not profitably serve. A Pittsburgh steelworker has suggested formation of a ''Monongahela Valley Authority'' that could use the power of eminent domain to acquire and operate steel mills that the industry did not wish to modernize.
As I asked a few years ago, "Anybody seen Bethlehem Steel lately?"  Raw steel production in North America is as cost-efficient as anyone's, and the modernization came from outside.  That authority would have kept in place precisely the inefficient capacity that has been wrung out, and it likely would have precluded a lot of the creativity that makes recycling scrap into automotive-grade sheet and heavy structural shapes standard practice.

DETROIT IS WHAT DEMOCRATS DO.

Here's a clip in which Chris Matthews along with McKay Coppins and Katty Kay discuss a leaked Colin Powell electronic mail in which the retired general and secretary of state is less than impressed, shall we say, with the major parties' presidential offerings.  There's the usual Chris Matthews foaming at the mouth about the Cheenies.



Toward the end, Mr Coppins gets into Mr Powell's reservations about "nation building" (rightfully so: the fatal conceit is the fatal conceit and it's harder to translate institutions across cultures.)  But Mr Matthews's followup is instructive.  "We're still trying to figure out Newark and Detroit."  Make of that what you will.

15.9.16

ENFRANCHISE ONLY THE DEGREED?

The Litany of Abuses accompanying the Framing of the Constitution surely includes the limitation of the franchise to men with property and the codification of conditions under which the property became proxy votes.  The Framing, however, has been overtaken by the Fatal Conceit of Governance by Wise Experts.  It's not for the good, argues William Voegeli.
Progressives introduced a new determination to organize and improve modern life by applying, vigorously and if need be forcibly, the insights being uncovered by a clerisy of social scientists. Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, believed that the emergency posed by World War II called for government experts to rationalize every aspect of national life. Three months after Pearl Harbor, she contended that “all of us — men in the services, and men and women at home — should be drafted and told what is the job we are to do.” Only through such regimentation could each of us confidently gain the satisfaction that comes from knowing he was “complying with the wishes and doing the things which those in authority thought should be done.”

The -ism of progressivism is the belief that movement toward a better future is a goal, a right, and the highest imperative. “Progress,” in its most direct, literal sense, simply means getting closer to some objective, one both comprehensible and manifestly superior to the current state of affairs. The early progressives believed that ascertaining and mastering the processes that shaped society and history would move mankind to a better future, just as understanding the natural laws of the physical universe had improved the human condition through steam engines, telegraphs, anesthetics, and other modern marvels.

Liberalism, however, came to regard its faith in progress as untenable. The rejection was, in part, a reaction to historical developments. Complying with the wishes of those in authority lost much of its appeal when the authorities turned out to be men such as Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy, smart fools who provided detailed charts and graphs to justify each augmentation of America’s catastrophic misadventure in Vietnam. At home, liberals came to detest the progressivism of Robert Moses and other power brokers, experts whose idea of urban renewal was to bulldoze any city block that had the temerity to evince charm or social cohesion in ways not part of a government agency’s master plan.
The "liberalism" to which Mr Voegeli refers is the radical chic version, which sometimes these days flies under the rubric of "progressivism" new style, in which the regimentation is tempered by lip service to "diversity" or "inclusion."  But it's still about the Wise Experts.  Robert Moses, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Jonathan Gruber, policy failure is policy failure.

And perhaps that Governance by Wise Experts is not enough, as the People have too much freedom to choose who appoints the Wise Experts.  Thus Georgetown political philosopher Jason Brennan makes a modest proposal.
The trick is to find a political system that both 1) spreads power out enough to prevent people from using power selfishly and 2) weeds out or at least reduces the power of incompetent decision-makers.

In some sense, republican democracy, with checks and balances, was meant to do just that. And to a significant degree it succeeds. But perhaps a new system, epistocracy, could do even better.

In an epistocracy, political power is to some degree apportioned according to knowledge. An epistocracy might retain the major institutions we see in republican democracy, such as parties, mass elections, constitutional review, and the like. But in an epistocracy, not everyone has equal basic political power. An epistocracy might grant some people additional voting power, or might restrict the right to vote only to those that could pass a very basic test of political knowledge. Any such system will be subject to abuse, and will suffer from significant government failures. But that’s true of democracy too. The interesting question is whether epistocracy, warts and all, would perform better than democracy, warts and all.

All across the West, we’re seeing the rise of angry, resentful, nationalist, xenophobic and racist movements, movements made up mostly of low-information voters. Perhaps it’s time to put aside the childish and magical theory that democracy is intrinsically just, and start asking the serious question of whether there are better alternatives. The stakes are high.
Let's leave aside the echoes of #BasketofDeplorables and take the proposal seriously, as Rod Dreher has. (Property qualifications? Literacy tests? Weren't we there earlier?)
Brennan is not wrong to criticize the flaws in democracy. Giving people the vote is no guarantee that they will use it wisely. But restricting the vote to the cognitive elite is no solution. I would rather be ruled by the first thousand people through the gates at the Daytona 500 than the people in that room Friday night with Hillary Clinton and Barbra Streisand. Guess who holds more power already in our society? That’s right: the cognitive elite. That’s how it works in a meritocracy. Prof. Brennan’s epistocracy would only give them more — for our own good.
Never mind that single-use zoning is for our own good, as is uneven regulation of controlled substances and Common Core.  That the epistocracy can be as subject to preference cascades and group think ought be reason enough to limit their powers.
I am no fan of racism, sexism, and the litany of deplorable thoughtcrimes that Mrs. Clinton mentioned on Friday. But I am genuinely frightened of powerful people like those gathered in that room who get to define what constitutes racism and all the rest, and use that as a way to destroy heretics who deviate from their puritanical gospel.
"Heretics" is about right. But by their fruits, whether parking craters or health insurance collapses, shall we know them.

TIME TO PUNCH BACK.

Paul Rahe, in Ricochet, sees in Unhealthy #CrookedHillary's #BasketofDeplorables remark a rallying opportunity.
Hillary Clinton let the mask slip on Friday. She said out loud what she and a majority of her fellow liberals think about the rest of us, and a great many liberal opinion leaders chimed in to indicate their agreement. Every Republican candidate should seize on this, and they should all challenge their Democratic opponents to repudiate the Democratic candidate’s vilification of their fellow Americans.

There are moments when the truth slips out. We cannot rely on Pravda-on-the-Hudson, on Pravda-on-the-Potomac, and on Pravda-on-the-Airways to do anything but deep-six Mrs. Clinton’s remarks. They will be burned into the memories of the American people if and only if the Trump campaign and the Republicans running for office unite in hammering away at this theme. When this electoral season is over, Mrs. Clinton’s remarks should be the one thing that everyone remembers. For her remarks have one great virtue: they crystallize what everyone fears about her and about today’s Democratic Party.
Heck, anyone who has ever been hung up in strip-mall stroad traffic, because the geniuses who zoned all the land for commercial use, and failed to synchronize the traffic lights controlling ingress to and egress from the mandatory parking craters, ought to recognize that a government which fails at a relatively simple task ought not be entrusted with health care or urban renewal or any of the Hero Projects, and ought only be authorized war powers under the most difficult of circumstances.

Mr Trump is using #CrookedHillary's remarks to motivate voters.
Hillary Clinton made these comments at one of her high-dollar fundraisers in Wall Street.

She and her wealthy donors all had a good laugh. They were laughing at the very people who pave the roads she drives on, paint the buildings she speaks in, and keep the lights on in her auditorium.

Hillary Clinton is an insider, supported by powerful insiders, attacking Americans who have no political power.

Hillary Clinton spoke with hatred and derision for the people who make this country run.

She spoke with contempt for the people who thanklessly follow the rules, pay their taxes, and scratch out a living for their families.

While Hillary Clinton lives a sequestered life behind gates and walls and guards, she mocks and demeans hardworking Americans who only want their own families to enjoy a fraction of the security enjoyed by our politicians.

After months of hiding from the press, Hillary Clinton has revealed her true thoughts.

She revealed herself to be a person who looks down on the proud citizens of our country as subjects for her to rule over.
That's the nature of the gentry.  By all means, read the entire speech.

EXPERT FAILURE.

America's Ugly Strip Malls Were Caused By Government Regulation, argues Scott Beyer in Forbes.  The culprits?  Start with single-use zoning, which might be necessary to allow a relatively simple computer program like the original Sim City to run on a Commodore 64, but which gets in the way of emergence.
Let’s assume, just for the sake of conversation, that nobody finds a corporate fast-food establishment particularly attractive. The visual impact of these places is nonetheless minimal and sporadic in mixed-use, urban settings, where they bump up against different building types, or sit at ground level within buildings. But along many American strip malls, fast-food chains—and other low-budget retail—are clustered side by side, extending into infinity with their loud signage, cookie-cutter design, drive-thru windows and parking lots.

We can thank single-use zoning for this. Most cities’ comprehensive zoning maps separate residential, commercial and industrial uses. They usually allow commercial retail on just a handful of key roads that run from downtown to the suburbs. So that’s where most of the retail ends up. It’s as if the government has taken uses that are fundamentally ugly, and crammed them together, causing the ugliness to spread. People still shop on these strips because they have no other choice, but don’t celebrate the areas themselves, often finding them distasteful and congested.
I wonder if the argument generalizes to New Zealand.


Paraparaumu, North Island, 7 January 2000, as observed from the Wellington to Auckland day train.

The very rules that seek to encourage expansive use of land also encourage cost-cutting.  "Because government regulations are limiting the value that developers can accrue from their land, they throw up something hasty and cheap to get a quick return."  The best thing for government to do might be to go away, notes Rachel Quednau of Strong Towns.  "Until we change the government regulations that induce strip mall development (or until every strip mall fails completely), we're stuck with these low-returning investments in our towns and cities."  Strip mall failure?  Perhaps, in Vancouver, comes the first signs.
At a recent job fair, 3,000 jobs were available but only 500 potential applicants showed up. The minimum wage jobs and poor transit connections will hinder hiring. The lack of a good separated sidewalk and protected bike lane from Tsawwassen to the mall will also thwart local residents who are active transportation users.
Yes, and sometimes the mall developers deliberately keep the bus stops away, so as to make access by deplorables less easy.

GET OUT FROM THOSE BURDENS.

Isn't it Time to De-Escalate the Arms Race?, asks George Leef.  No, it's neither a reprise of the Cold War, or the latest marketing effort for Truck Month.  Rather, it's his suggestion that university administrators stop lusting after Football Glory.
[University of Houston president Renu] Khator isn’t satisfied and wants to get Houston into the Big-12, declaring that “we have no choice but to keep becoming better so we could get into the Big Five.” And if not, she added, it would be “difficult for Houston to sustain” its athletics program.

That’s where we get the “arms race,” since many other universities are similarly trying to improve so they can outshine all the rest and get into a power conference. Huge sums are diverted away from academic programs and into stratospheric salaries for coaches, state-of-the-art facilities for the athletes, bigger and better stadiums, and so on.

But it would be a mistake to think that this only affects a small number of big schools that are at the top of the athletics food chain.
Of course not. The logic of rent-seeking is that each rent-seeker is prepared to spend up to the expected value of the rents in quest of the rents.  Thus, when two new memberships in a power conference open up (just watch, we will see four major conferences of sixteen teams each before this is done), there might be multiple aspirants to those rents.  "After all, with 17 programs in the running to join the Big 12 this time around, at least 15 institutions are guaranteed not to receive an invitation."

But large student fees to support sports the students don't watch (sometimes because they're juggling jobs and making use of on-campus food pantries) have changed some minds in higher education about staying in the athletic positional arms race.

EVIDENCE OF CREATIVE DESTRUCTION.

The productivity gains in North American steel came with massive shakeouts of suboptimal capacity and today's steel business employs about a quarter of the workers it did as recently as the late 1970s.

Here's a #ThrowbackThursday visit to some of the plants that closed.


The gate of the closed Youngstown Sheet and Tube Campbell Works, in Youngstown, Ohio, with the open hearth shop across the footbridge behind.  The still-manicured lawn goes with an office building of Youngstown Sheet.  Sign on the open hearth shop gives speed limits for plant trucks: 30 mph, but not exceeding 10 mph on bridges and ramps.  Memorial Day, 1983.

Along the Mahoning River that weekend, the old Youngstown Sheet Brier Hill Works was partially in operation under the ownership of a minimill company, Campbell Works was closed, the Republic plant to its south was closed, and the United States Steel facilities were gone.

A subsequent trip took me to Homestead, Pennsylvania.


The open hearth plant of United States Steel's Homestead Works was still active.  I asked permission at the guardhouse to take this picture from a public sidewalk on the Monongahela River bridge.  Scrap and alloying ores arrive on the upper tracks, hot metal below.  The slag cars and ingot buggies arrive and leave on the other side of the furnaces, which are in the center of the picture.

Detroit, during the second World War, might have claimed to be the arsenal of democracy, but Homestead had a legitimate claim to be the forges of democracy.


A mill building belonging to Mesta Machinery.  The external stacks suggest an open hearth plant, but they're spaced too closely (compare the Campbell Works picture) and the building does not include the supply tracks on multiple levels characteristic of an open hearth shop.

Blue diesel locomotives are U. S. Steel intraplant power.  Homestead pictures taken 5 August 1983.

14.9.16

WHEN THE VANGUARD LOSES ITS BEARINGS.

John Harris asks, Does the Left Have a Future?  This is a think-piece in The Guardian, thus not to be confused with someone at Reason or National Review spiking the football.
The western left faces three grave challenges, which strike at the heart of its historic sense of what it is and who it speaks for. First, traditional work – and the left’s sacred notion of “the worker” – is fading, as people struggle through a new era of temporary jobs and rising self-employment, which may soon be succeeded by a drastic new age of automation. Second, there is a new wave of opposition to globalisation, led by forces on the right, which emphasise place and belonging, and a mistrust of outsiders. And all the time, politics rapidly fragments, which leaves the idea that one single party or ideology can represent a majority of people looking like a relic. The 20th century, in other words, really is over. Whether the left can return to meaningful power in the 21st is a question currently surrounded by a profound sense of doubt.
Complex adaptive systems tend to do what they darn well please, and when a new social order is emerging, a Vanguard to Lead the Way has the same problems as everyone else, namely, Where Are We, and What's The Most Promising Way to Go?
Meanwhile, as deindustrialisation ripped through 20th-century economies, the instability and fragmentation embodied by the financial and service sectors was taken to its logical conclusion by new digital businesses. In turn, the latter have spawned what some now call “platform capitalism”: a model whereby goods, services and labour can be rapidly exchanged between people, companies and multinational corporations – think of Uber, eBay, Airbnb or TaskRabbit, which link up freelance workers with people who need help with such tasks as cleaning, deliveries or moving home – with little need for any intermediate organisations. This has not only marginalised retailers and wholesalers. It calls into question the traditional role of trade unions, and further reduces the power of the state, which is now locked into a pattern where innovations take rapid flight and it cannot keep up.

In retrospect, the left’s halcyon era was based on a straightforward project. When the archetypal factory gates swung open, out came thousands of men – and by and large, they were men – united by an unchanging daily experience, and ready to support a political force that would use the unions, the state, and the fabled “mass party” to create a new, much fairer world in their monolithic image.

Now, an atomising, quicksilver economy bypasses those structures, and has fragmented people and places so thoroughly that assembling meaningful political coalitions has begun to appear almost impossible.
The new institutions will emerge. But if people who think of themselves as "progressive" reflect on how often their form of progress destroyed the old mediating institutions, perhaps they'll be less destructive in future.
People on the left should be thinking about extending maternity and paternity leave and allowing its reprise when children are older; reviving adult education (often for its own sake, not just in terms of “reskilling”); assisting people in the creation of neighbourhood support networks that might belatedly answer the decline of the extended family; and, most obviously, enabling people to shorten their working week – think about a three-day weekend, and you begin to get a flavour of the left politics of the future.

The deep changes wrought by our ageing society will anyway begin to increase the numbers of people beyond working age, and accelerate the shift away from paid work towards caring. But the most radical shift will be caused by automationand its effects on employment. If the Bank of England now reckons that as many as 15m British jobs are under threat from technology, and if a third of jobs in the retail sector are predicted to disappear by 2025, does the myopic, often macho rhetoric of work and the worker really articulate any meaningful vision?
I expect we'll be revisiting these ideas.

SHAKING OUT THE SUBOPTIMAL CAPACITY.

Some years ago, I estimated the minimum efficient scale of a fully integrated steel plant as about six million tons of raw steel per year.  The turmoil that was going on along the rivers of Ohio and Pennsylvania I interpreted as a shakeout of suboptimally small capacity at locations with relatively high inbound transportation costs.  My subsequent research suggested that, Rust Belt lamentations notwithstanding, steel was a lively corpse.  That was the message of The Renaissance of American Steel, reviewed here.

The creative destruction goes on.
The US steel industry really stands out: over the period 1972-2002, it witnessed impressive productivity growth – 28% compared with the median of 3% – and this while the sector contracted by 35%. The starkest difference was the drop in employment of 80% compared with a decline of 5% for the average sector. This left the industry with only 100,000 workers in 2002 compared with about 500,000 in 1972.
That wasn't the effect of Chinese dumping, either.
The increase in productivity in the US steel industry can be directly linked to the introduction of a new production technology: the ‘minimill’. We find that minimill plants were significantly more productive than traditional steel plants, and that this productivity premium initiated a reallocation process whereby minimills displaced the older technology. Minimill plants were significantly more productive than traditional steel plants, and that this productivity premium initiated a reallocation process whereby minimills displaced the older technology known as vertically integrated production. The reallocation of output was responsible for about a third of the increase in the industry’s total factor productivity. In addition, the productivity of minimills steadily increased.
Plus the ability of the minimills to recycle scrap into ever-better products improved.  (Tramp elements in reinforcing bar are less of a problem than those same elements in sheet intended for automobile fenders.)
We see the exit of vertically integrated producers in precisely the product segments where they competed head-to-head with minimills. The entry and expansion of minimills was thus responsible for the reallocation process among incumbents.

When we evaluate the impact of a drastic technological change on aggregate productivity growth, we control for other potential drivers of productivity growth, including international competition, geography, and firm-level factors such as organization and management. We also show that mark-ups in this industry fell by 50% over the last 40 years, which is not surprising if we look at the output and input price changes in the industry. The joint increase in productivity and reduction in mark-ups led to an increase in consumer surplus of $9-11 billion per year.
Sometimes, the big steel firms had to be mugged by reality.  And -- as is the case with Marshallian improvements, steel consumers gained, but some communities and many steel workers, lost.  Social scientists will never lack for work.

ALL IN ON THE CONRAIL OPTION.

Never mind the ways in which the so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act went wrong, it's not enough government intervention.
The latest U.S. Census Bureau data clearly illustrates that the need for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health program has never been more urgent, the advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) said Tuesday.

The census found that 29 million people went uninsured last year, including 3.7 million children, and that deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs have continued to rise well after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into law in 2010.
The state is that grand fiction by which everyone attempts to live at the expense of everyone else.  And the only response to government failure is ... more actions by the national government.
[Pediatrician and association president Robert] Zarr added, the bureau neglected to mention that the quality of healthcare in the U.S. has also decreased, with rising copay and deductible costs and narrow provider networks—an effect known as "hollowing out."

"That tens of millions of people will remain uninsured under our current arrangements is perhaps the most compelling argument for why our nation needs to swiftly adopt a single-payer system, where everyone, without exception, would be covered and get first-dollar coverage for all medically necessary care," he said.

"Too many people have skimpy policies that deter them from seeking care when they should get treatment, and that leave them unprotected against financial hardship when illness or injury strikes. And their number is growing."

Meanwhile, the recent announcement by health insurance giant Aetna that it would pull out of ACA exchanges in 11 states—and similar actions by United Health Group and other private insurers—shows the corporations cannot be trusted to protect their patients' financial security, Zarr added.

"Our patients and our economy can't wait any longer for an effective remedy to our healthcare woes," he said. "The stakes are too high. We need to swiftly move beyond the ACA to a single-payer national health insurance program."
Yes, that Medicare reimbursement rate is doing a lot to make sure that participants in the part of the health industry that is run along single payer lines get that first-dollar coverage.  The best fix is to make sure that everyone's physician is subject to monopsonistic buying practices?  I'm not having it.  Neither is Reason's Shikha Dalmia.  "Obamacare has become such a quagmire that the proposed 'fixes' may create an even bigger mess." What are those fixes?  Mandatory purchase of insurance, with a stiffer penalty for not buying.  A Government Issue policy.  "Obamacare tried to remake a sector that constitutes one-eighth of the economy from the ground up. But it made a mess that it just doesn't know how to fix. That will be President Obama's legacy. He should be worried. Very worried."

But we're likely to see the public option, or the nationalization, followed by the inevitable crash.  There's still time to move toward medical savings accounts and interstate competition among insurers and greater commercial freedom for providers of medical care, particularly that involving machinery and prescriptions as opposed to examinations and surgery.

12.9.16

LOGIC FROM THE BASKET OF DEPLORABLES.

Play the clip of Hillary Clinton trashing the basket of deplorables and listen (if you can stand it) to the usual litany of dog-whistles.  And yes, argues Neo-Neocon, they are dog whistles.  "Clinton also listed a string of types of bigotry she alleges that these Trump supporters exhibit, not just the white supremacy aspect: 'Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.'"  Go read both posts.  She explains why it's an error to refer to sensible fears as phobias.

Rod Dreher takes the response in a different direction.
I do firmly believe that in her basket of deplorables she puts traditional Christians, thinking us “homophobic.” In fact, I would love to hear her talk about what, exactly, are the factors she considers in whether or not someone is a “homophobe,” a “xenophobe,” an “Islamophobe,” a “racist,” or a “sexist.”

For example, is it possible to hold any traditional Christian beliefs about human sexuality and not be considered homophobic by Hillary Clinton? Is there any position on immigration to the right of her own that people can hold without being judged mentally ill or morally deficient by her? How about on Islam? Let’s hear it.

Because what I hear when I listen to her words is that Hillary Clinton thinks anybody who disagrees with her on race, women’s issues, LGBT issues, and the rest, is wicked.
Plus a True Summation of Hillary of the Deplorable Health's mindset.
[The clip] plays directly into the stereotype of Hillary Clinton as an arrogant, bossypants liberal elitist. And it confirms another stereotype: that the Left doesn’t simply consider its opponents wrong, but also terrified and hate-filled, and therefore irrational and evil. You can’t reason with people like that, you know; you just have to use the power of the state to roll over them.
Indeed.

THOSE PARALLELS TO THE TRANSPORTATION CARTEL.

The point of turning rail transportation into a cartel was to limit what the punditry used to refer to as "wasteful and duplicative competition" by issuing operating authority first to railroads and then to trucks.  There was a separate cartel for air carriers that worked equally badly.  That Depression-era experiment ended 35 years ago.  But medicine is still on that course.
What does it take to open a new hospital or health facility? Certainly a building, equipment, supplies, and a staff of trained medical professionals. But in most states, this is not enough. Health care providers must also obtain a “certificate of need” from a state board certifying that there is an “economic necessity” for their services.
The controversy plays out among hospitals precisely the same way it played out in transportation.
Some economic theorists argue that when costs are fixed, free markets will lead to excess entry, making regulatory restrictions on entry desirable (Mankiw and Whinston 1986). But we should not conclude that because markets are imperfect, regulation can necessarily improve upon them—this is a logical leap which must always be taken carefully.

There are good reasons to be especially suspicious in this case. Top theorists of industrial organization, including some who published one of the first proofs of excess entry, have warned of the dangers of regulatory capture leading to too little competition (Laffont and Tirole 1993, Suzumura 2012). More ominously, theoretical work shows how even a well-meaning and well-informed regulator charged with limiting entry to the socially optimal level can be tricked by incumbents into permitting too few new entrants (Kim 1997).

CON restrictions are an example of how such entry barriers fail in practice. Certainly we see abuses and regulatory capture. Yet the real problem is not the abuse, but the thing itself. Reducing the supply of an inelastically demanded good such as health care simply isn’t a recipe for lower spending. It is a recipe for high prices and high spending, which is what we see in practice.

By repealing CON laws and allowing more health care providers and competition, states have the opportunity to attract new investment and innovation while reducing spending and keeping care affordable.
Indeed.  But regulation in the public interest generates juicy rents.

THE CASE FOR LATE-NIGHT TRAINS.

Amtrak's Saturday evening Hiawatha service will continue until further notice.  "The Saturday late evening trains have shown higher ridership during a trial period than the early morning trains they replaced."  This is a positive development.  We don't refer to Milwaukee as the Beer City for nothing.

There might be other days of the week, starting with Friday, for which a late evening train proves useful.  Perhaps the day will come when the Chicago Wolves hockey team refer to their series with the Milwaukee Admirals as the Amtrak series for reasons other than naming rights.

IT'S THE TOXIC POPULAR CULTURE.

Laura McKenna has to protect her sons from it.
He, like all the teens in town, are “friends” with hundreds of other kids. Kids he doesn’t even really know. These “friends” post pictures and videos of their parties gleefully recording every shotgun, every pong game, every blurry eyed drunk face. Idiots. And it’s not just the skateboarding, shop class kid. It’s the AP honors kid, the going to Harvard kid, the marching band kid.

And then a friend who has two teenage daughters warned me that I needed to watch out for the girls now that Jonah got so cute over the summer. She said that I would have to be careful, because girls would start launching themselves in his direction. So, we had lots of talks about all this over the weekend, but would I be a terrible feminist, if I asked the parents of girls to talk with their daughters about this, too? Perhaps teenage girls shouldn’t give themselves nicknames on their finsta-accounts that call themselves “hoes.”

Another parent in town was so dismayed by his kid’s behavior and the general culture of the town that he made his kid drop out of school and join the military. That seems a bit extreme. The parents who put their kids in fancy Catholic schools in the area say that the same problems exist there, too. In fact, the private kids are even worse, because their parents go away to Thailand for two weeks and leave the kids alone in their McMansions with an unlocked liquor cabinet.

As much as we would like, we can’t wrap our kids in cotton and lock them in their room until 25. How do you parent properly, when other parents aren’t? When other parents buy the booze for the kids? How does a kid make good choices, when he lives in a world where everybody else is making bad choices?
I should probably lodge a protest about the perpetuation of the canard that shop class is for burnouts.

But is anybody surprised, when the aspirational Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best give way to reality TV and the tabloid culture, and bad behavior in some circles is transgressiveness or authenticity to be celebrated in other circles, that bad choices become the default?

DENOUNCING DEPLORABLE HILLARY.

Her "basket of deplorables" crack did not sit well with Judge Jeanine.  It's unlikely that the judge is going to change any minds, but she's hot when she's hot.



The other half of the Trump voters, as perceived by Mrs Clinton and the rich freakazoids, exist as people to be condescended to.  Here's how the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal see it.
She said Mr. Trump’s other supporters are “people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

So she thinks half of Mr. Trump’s voters are loathsome bigots and the other half are losers and dupes who deserve Democratic pity. It’s no accident that Mrs. Clinton said this at a fundraiser headlined by Barbra Streisand, the friendliest of crowds, because this really is what today’s elite progressives believe about America’s great unwashed.
But Hillary of the deplorable health, the deplorable state of what used to be mainstream America is the predictable consequence of the deplorable last seven years of Hope and Change.