31.3.13

I WILL CLING TO THE OLD FLAMING CROSS.

North Carolina was one of the more reluctant participants in the Confederacy, and residents thought of themselves as socially inclusive compared to their less-reconstructed neighbors as the civil rights movement took hold.  And yet a strong unreconstructed presence in the state led sociologist David Cunningham to investigate Klanville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil-Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan, the object of this year's Book Review No. 7.

The work is an academic study, extensively endnoted, and fortunately free of the barbarism of numbered endnotes accompanied by footnotes within the body of the text and identified by asterisks or other timetable symbols.  The distinction among Klans of various eras is clarified (the trappings are similar, the policy goals differ, the social prestige of being a member varies).  Professor Cunningham suggests that the influence of Klan attitudes remains, despite the organization itself being in eclipse, and the more egregious manifestations of white supremacy scattered among a variety of smaller groups.  His working hypothesis is that competition for resources based on ethnicity provides an organizing principle for Klans (as well as for associations among people suppressed by the existing order?)  Left uninvestigated, though, is the appeal of racialist organizations among the least well-off members of the dominant society as a way of keeping others in an even worse condition (the explicit or implicit logic of Klan opposition to integration.)  Poverty among the poorer members of a community does not of itself make the richer members of a community better off.  That's an anomaly for future research.

(Cross-posted to Fifty Book Challenge.)

RETHINKING THOSE DEMSETZ AUCTIONS.

Last fall, a kerfuffle over Passenger Rail operating rights broke out when Britain's Department for Transport awarded the franchise to operate the fast trains on the West Coast Main Line to First Group, stripping longtime operator Virgin Trains of what may have been its signature service, those pale shadows of the New Haven Comet called Voyagers notwithstanding.  A tussle of prodigious intensity erupted, during which franchise bidding for Passenger Rail franchises was suspended.

Railway reports franchise bidding will resume.
The Government has restarted its rail franchising programme by inviting bids for the East Coast franchise and other franchises in a timetable spanning the next eight years.

The Government has restarted its rail franchising programme by inviting bids for the East Coast franchise and other franchises in a timetable spanning the next eight years.

In addition, the DfT and Virgin Trains have concluded negotiations over the temporary 23 month extension to the West Coast franchise until late 2014 following the cancelled competition at the end of last year. The new agreement means Virgin will continue to operate the West Coast route until April 2017. It will mean that if the franchise runs to term, Virgin will have had a 20-year tenure on the line.
The article expresses a hope that the resulting extended durations for franchises will "bring more stability and also franchisees to make a greater investment."  So much for using franchise bids to introduce a form of contestability into what might be properly viewed as quasi-monopolistic or naturally monopolistic markets.  The more entrenched a Virgin Trains or a Grand Central is as a train operator, the more sunk its investment becomes, and the more difficult might be (the economic theory on this point is not settled) the ability of a competing bidder, whether it is First Group or The Milwaukee Road, to put together a successful competing bid.

THE CORPORATE DEAD POOL.

As a way of provoking students, I sometimes offer odds on a large corporation going out of business sometime in the next ten to twenty years.  To be really provocative, I sometimes roll out supposedly solid companies including Apple or Microsoft or Wal-Mart.

My task is sometimes made easier when one of the corporations evinces an intent to self-destruct.
Walmart is starting to look like a Soviet-era retailer. The prices are still low, but shelves are going empty for months while products sit unwrapped in storage, lines are interminable, and no one is around to help.

Bloomberg reports that in-store service problems for the world’s third-largest corporation are so bad that people are willing to pony up the extra cash to shop at stores like Target and Walgreens.
Via Media cites an analyst who suggests current labor market policies are making it harder for corporations to hire cheap labor.  There are at least two other hypotheses that come to mind: first, doing more with less, which appears to be de rigueur in business these days, is a formula for doing what you do badly (see the first paragraph supra); second, low wages are a signal of low productivity (see the second paragraph supra.)  Sic transit gloria Walmartia.

AT THE MARGIN, OVERTIME IS CHEAP?

Voluntary Xchange asks, "If the Labor Market Is So Poor, Why Are Overtime Hours So Strong?"  Reported work-weeks are as long now, as they were in the second quarter 1944 run-up to D-Day.  One possibility might be that employers are unable to find additional people with the ability to hold the jobs.  Another possibility might be the fixed costs of adding a new worker are prohibitive.
Compensation of employees is near historical norms. If compensation is normal, and wages are down, then the difference — benefits — must have gone up.
That gap is likely to increase under the provisions of the Affordable Care (c.q.) Act.  It doesn't surprise me that employers might simultaneously be scheduling additional overtime and laying off workers.

RENTS WILL BE DISSIPATED.

Professor Munger has produced an instructive video explaining that there is no such thing as the government giving money away.  With links to case studies consistent with the proposition.

WHY THERE ARE STATE COUNCILS FOR ECONOMIC EDUCATION.

The dean at Pioneer Valley Community spends time at at a conference, comes away with a potential project for higher education.  Money management, apparently, is not in the skill sets of the young.
I’ve been told by an economics professor on campus that her students recoil in horror when she goes through the details of how credit cards make their money; they simply didn’t know.  (I can only imagine how they’d react to learning the details about payday lenders.)  Young adults who’ve never dealt with insurance may not have any sense of what a “deductible” is -- the word always struck me as misleading -- or why it matters.

If anything, I’m wondering if financial literacy might make a good substantive focus for a freshman seminar.  Yes, it could cover student loans, but it should go well beyond that.  As a subject, the relevance should be obvious.  Better, it would allow students to exercise the various general education outcomes that most colleges profess: communication skills, critical thinking, and quantitative reasoning all leap to mind.  The actual math involved may be relatively simple, but the way of looking at the world is both powerful and complex.
The conversation in his comments section includes several observers suggesting that the proper place to equip the young with money management skills might be in high school.  Or earlier.

Perhaps there's a parallel with drug awareness programs.  Although schools like to announce their drug-free-zone status, and controlled substances are controlled substance, the fact that "sale of a controlled substance" is a crime tells you everything you might want to know.  Credit cards are also a controlled substance, of a different kind, and universities are, if not credit-card-free zones, they are credit-card-limited-promotion zones.

There's also plenty of classroom-tested, educationist-tweaked material for the elementary and high school curriculum.  One such program, which I hereby affix my imprimatur as co-director of a Center for Economic Education to, is the Financial Fitness for Life curriculum.  There are other approaches provided by the Council for Economic Education that a classroom teacher might consider.

There's also the possibility that tomorrow's successful collegians are already getting some of this preparation.  During our spring break, I had the opportunity to observe recognition ceremonies at two Naperville schools where students took seven of the top eight places in the Invest Write national essay competition.

Two of those students attend Spring Brook Elementary School.


Five more, including the national winner in the fall essay competition, attend Fry Elementary School.


The young lady signing her picture recommended Honda as an investment.  Earlier that day, she found out on national television that she was the national winner.

It's not the first time I've had occasion to help recognize Invest Write winners from Naperville.

Something our colleagues, whether at university or in K-12, ought understand is this.  Naperville schools are under the same constraints as everyone else when it comes to testing, and to government mandates.  The district is a well-off district (the standard plan for a new neighborhood school has to be a plan that blends in well in a subdivision of largish pricey houses) and the youngsters probably get a lot of support at home.  I cannot rule out the possibility, though, that including personal finance skills in the curriculum augments whatever advantages growing up in a well-off neighborhood confers.


24.3.13

F*** ROBERT MUGABE. THIS IS DETROIT.

Thus did Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, a man capable of ruining a city, keep waiting a man at the time regarded as a freedom fighter, and now recognized as capable of ruining a country.  It's one of the many events recorded in Charlie LeDuff's Detroit: An American Autopsy.  Mr LeDuff is a native of Southeastern Michigan, an itinerant returned home, and Book Review No. 6 suggests his book be viewed both as his own voyage of personal discovery as well as his attempt to make sense of what went wrong with what used to be the Motor City.

Mr LeDuff's personal story is that of the internal migration of ethnically ambiguous people from South to North.  That internal migration, in quest of fur pelts or factory jobs, is more colorful and less easily valorized than the internal migration of Puritans and similarly motivated, or obsessive, people, from Coast to Inland.  Thus, southeast Michigan becomes a place where regional cultures collide.  It's a place where the collapse of formerly quasi-monopolistic industries that hired people for their muscle and neglected their brains has gone on for the longest.

And thus an autopsy, for a polity, and sometimes for the people living there.  But not always.  A dime novel with dames and hard-boiled cops that spoke or carried on in the manner of people Mr LeDuff encountered would not be believable.  The stories might not be believable to people who have never spent any time in Detroit.  But as a warning about what might happen in parts of Chicago or Milwaukee or Kansas City or Cleveland (to name a few other jurisdictions with school closings and industrial decay and political malfeasance) the American Autopsy of the title is apposite.  I offer a few passages from pages 144-145.
It was as sad as it was appalling: a black city in which the most prominent leader [convicted former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick] plundered, pillaged, and lied, all the while presenting himself as the guardian angel against the White Devil.

Kilpatrick, who walked into that jailhouse as a quivering-lipped pretender, walked out as the creature he always claimed to be, the preening Hip Hop Mayor. ...

He probably would have benefited from a few hours spent working in a factory.  Factory work tends to give you perspective on the importance of things.  Of course in the hip-hop world, work was for suckers.

Not that the automobile executives were much better at running things.  Turns out our masters of the universe couldn't manage a grocery store.
With Detroit going from a place that had plenty of money to a place with no money.  The malfeasance, and misappropriation of public money, and failure to spend money on routine maintenance of firehouses, has been going on for years.  This is the same Detroit, by the way, that had staff in the tax collector's office going through all the income tax returns, changing all roundings to even dollars back to dollars and cents, in order to trim a few pennies off of tax refund checks.  If you don't work you die.

What's sobering about Detroit, though, is that it's the Perfect Storm of safe congressional districts and protected markets and political corruption and education that doesn't educate and business managers that have no idea how the companies they manage actually make things.

Put bluntly, the stuff I've been posting about for years, in the hopes that people won't let it happen to them.

Ignorans quaeris epistolis meis sequi, circumspice.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

REINVENTING THE ZEPHYR?

Let's hope it's not more political patronage.
Locomotives capable of exceeding the 110-mph speed limit on the passenger rail corridor between Chicago and St. Louis will be bought for Illinois and four other states under a process the Illinois Department of Transportation will lead, officials said Thursday.
I'm sure there are safety appliances to consider, and having one prime mover rather than two offers some advantages. But the officials could do worse than this.


Apparently, some members of the public thought as much.  First and Fastest published a report on last September's Nebraska Zephyr excursion.  Amtrak, Metra, and the Illinois Railway Museum worked together to make the experience authentic.  Amtrak assigned Track 12, a track normally used only for Metra dinkies, in order to load under the original remaining trainshed.  Metra assembled inbound dinky 1302 of cars (other than the cab car) lettered or relettered B U R L I N G T O N (yes, in the proper Z E P H Y R typeface) to flip as the outbound 8.40 departure, and brought it in on adjacent Track 10.  First and Fastest reports that some arriving passengers on that dinky took mobile phone pictures of the unusual move, with a few of them wondering if they were seeing the new higher-speed Michigan and St. Louis trains (!)  I'm told that 9911 has 90 mph gearing now, not the 117 it was built to achieve.

Amtrak and Illinois Department of Transportation, you could do worse.

AN ECONOMIST IN MADISON.

The new chancellor of the University of Wisconsin is Becky Blank, with an undergraduate degree from Minnesota and a Ph.D. from MIT.
From 1999 to 2008, she was dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, where she also worked as a professor of public policy and of economics. During her eight-year tenure as dean, the public policy school began a bachelor's degree program in public policy and moved into a new $35 million building.

"We really - literally - built the Ford School," Blank told The Michigan Daily in 2007, when she announced she was leaving. "We were responsible for raising the money, constructing the building, getting the right students and faculty and putting the undergraduate program together."

In addition to her work at Northwestern University, Blank taught economics and public affairs at Princeton University and was a visiting professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Journal-Sentinel can't resist some editorializing in the announcement.
She has advised presidents from both political parties, serving as a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers first for George H.W. Bush and later for Bill Clinton.

Blank's husband, Hanns Kuttner, is a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, working with the Institute's Future of Innovation Initiative. He also served in the George H.W. Bush administration as a domestic policy staffer for health and social service programs.
There's something jarring in the juxtaposition of "conservative" and "innovation initiative", but I digress.

A Progressive column takes the opportunity of Professor Blank's appointment to distance its progressivism from that of Our President.
Gone are the days when research, teaching, and outreach at UW-Madison were oriented toward improving the health, quality of life, the environment and agriculture for all citizens of the state. Now economic growth and commercialization in the service of “job creators” take pride of place as the institution’s guiding principles, and Blank is well positioned to promote them.

Blank has a strong record of developing and promoting neoliberal economic policies that put so-called free markets and the profits of large corporations ahead of the needs of people, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership for the Obama administration, and GATT and NAFTA as a member of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors during the late 1990s.

News of her appointment was met with bipartisan praise from her current boss, President Barack Obama, and her future one, Governor Scott Walker. Said Obama, “A tireless advocate for American businesses, Becky has helped to increase our competitiveness, support our innovators and entrepreneurs, and bring good-paying jobs back to our shores.” Walker praised her “keen knowledge of economic issues that can help the UW promote great prosperity in the state.”

Agreement between Obama and Walker on her appointment is not surprising. On many education and workforce development issues, the two are in complete agreement. They both promote policies based on the assumption that the primary function of public education is to prepare students for the workforce. They also both use the fictitious “skills gap” – a purported misalignment between the skills required for vacant jobs and the skills possessed by people looking for work – as a justification for an inordinate amount of corporate influence in public policy.
Higher education's political masters are likely to take an instrumental, workforce-development attitude toward the universities. Some of the responsibility, though, rests with higher education, either for making promises of human capital development, or for gutting the liberal arts.  One economist in Bascom Hall, more or less, will not be enough to reverse forty or fifty years of that institutional rot.

THE VIEW OUT MY BACK WINDOW.

An early spring, my eye.


Those are snow flurries, and in the distance, those are ice fishing tents.  I have to wonder about the fishers' judgement though.  That's open water on the far side of the pond.

22.3.13

WATCH THIS SPACE.

I've been working on the railroad.  Here are two examples of big power on the temporary test track.


That's a brand new Baldwin Double Ender and a repowered Lionel body shell that's been on hand for years.

RENTS WILL BE SOUGHT. RENTS WILL BE GENERATED. RENTS WILL BE DISSIPATED.

Mahablog offers a distinction between makers and takers based on an instructive Michael Lind essay.
If we look at some of the major economic battles taking place, they are over patents, how the risks and rewards of large, systemically important public-utility style financial institutions are distributed and who gets to control the residual over the delegated ends of the government with the mad rush for the privatization of government resources and responsibilities. These are all, in some way, about rents. And the battle over these will determine a lot about who gains in the future of the economy.
Mr Lind refers extensively to a reading of Karl Marx that attempts, to use contemporary language, to distinguish the entrepreneurial urge from the rent-seeking urge.  Perhaps, though, some of those scholars and policy wonks will discover the good in public choice theory, and consider the possibility that limiting the powers of government limits the ability of government to create rents.  It might also behoove some adherents to the contemporary Tea Party to understand the role of rent-seeking in creating the East India monopoly that led to the event that inspired the name.

THE VALUE OF RESEARCH.

Some years ago, a colleague from History developed a simulation called Vatican: Unlock the Secrets of How Men Become Pope.  The game appears now to be out of print (does my autographed copy thus have collectible value?)  Although it's a board game, a simulation, and allegorical, and thus not worthy of the Nihil Obstat, there's evidence of research in creating the game.  I give you one of the "origins" cards drawn by players to establish their base support as Pontifex Maximus.



Habemus Papam!

18.3.13

BREAK UP THOSE SAFE DISTRICTS.

That's been a recent Cold Spring Shops hobbyhorse, and your Superintendent was pleased to hear commentators on a point-counterpoint radio show agreeing that the creation of safe districts likely attenuated any hope of genuine bipartisan compromise (as distinct from an agreement by the political class to fleece everyone else.)

A Via Media essay argues, from a different perspective, that safe districts are nothing new, and continue to impede the progress of the constituents therein.
Democrats are shocked, shocked by the news that there is gambling going on in America’s blue cities. They do their best to avert their eyes from the close political ties between corrupt urban political machines and exploitative Wall Street banks. In the lame progressive mindset that characterizes these decadent times, Wall Street is bad, and urban politicians are good. There can’t possibly be some sort of symbiotic relationship between them. How could something so good, so honest, so dedicated to serving the poor as the Detroit Democratic machine be engaged in a vicious conspiracy with Wall Street to bleed the poor and suck the city dry?

Some Democrats don’t like this kind of talk because they are cynical and others don’t like it because they are naive. The cynics are either in the game themselves or knowingly agree to look the other way because they value the support of political allies and don’t care how much those allies bleed the poor. The naive ones, and there are lots of starry eyed intellectuals in this country who don’t know a hawk from a handsaw, think that because many of these urban thugs are African-American, and because they advocate for more government programs to help the poor, they must obviously be sincere and be part of a general wave of good progressive people fighting to make this world a better place. Surely nobody is so cynical as to lobby for government programs because they plan to cream off the money?

Others have an uneasy sense that something is amiss, but a combination of historical ignorance and race sensitivity strikes them dumb. They look around America and see a number of urban areas with predominantly African-American populations. They see that many (not all) of these cities are run by incompetent, race-baiting hacks and criminals who use identity politics to bond themselves to the voters they exploit.

Because they don’t understand that corruption and identity politics have been the hallmark of American municipal government since the 1830s and 184os, they think the ghastly spectacle of demagogic corruption ruining our cities today is somehow a racial phenomenon. The racists among us see that picture and want to draw racist conclusions about African-American capacity for self governance; most of the rest of us are made so uncomfortable by the whole topic that we let the subject slide.

But thieves like the despicable Kwame Kilpatrick in Detroit are anything but a racial phenomenon. There were Irish, Jewish, Italian, Polish and Greek Kilpatricks in their day. We can confidently expect a wave of Latino Kilpatricks as Latino voting power pushes African-American machines aside in more urban areas.
That's a long excerpt from a long essay. Let me give you just a little more.
If our so-called ‘progressives’ today weren’t so intellectually decadent and, well, historically challenged, they would be leading the charge to clean up American cities. Instead they are mostly silent — and sometimes even defend the machines.

It’s a terrible shame because reformers and progressives really can fight the rot and help the poor — if they can get past their messed up ‘political correctness’ illusions long enough to recognize the basic facts of the case.
That's a more challenging project. Probably worth the thought.

TWO SYSTEMS OF BELIEF.

The schools that serve poor people are bad because the ruling circles want it that way, Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian argues.
[Former Washington, D.C. school superintendent Michelle] Rhee went on to write in her Seattle Times op-ed, “Astronomically high dropout rates and subpar math and reading-proficiency levels in lower-income, inner-city schools ought to jolt us as especially immoral."

When Rhee refers to “inner-city” schools, she’s attempting to discuss Black students and other students of color. Yet she is scared to use the word “racism” because that would open up a conversation about the relationships between race, poverty and school performance. Rhee laments the educational outcomes of students living in poverty without ever questioning the causes of poverty. Perhaps that’s because her sponsors are the corporations and super-rich who profit from under-paying the poor for their labor, and whose policies perpetuate poverty. She is right about one thing--it’s appalling that low-income students have the worst outcomes in our schools.  You won’t hear her say anything, however, about how corporate profits should be taxed to reinvest in our schools, or the fact that our nation prioritized finding trillions of dollars to recapitalize the same banks that sabotaged the global economy.

Moreover, Rhee has no understanding of the history of standardized testing or its contribution to the reproduction of inequality.  As University of Washington education professor Wayne Au has written, “Looking back to its origins in the Eugenics moment, standardized testing provided…ideological cover for the social, economic and education inequalities the test themselves help maintain.”  The stability of testing outcomes along racial lines, from the days of Eugenics until today, demonstrates standardized testing has always been a better measure of a student’s zip code than of aptitude. Wealthier and whiter districts score better on tests. These children have books in the home, parents with time to read to them, private tutoring, access to test-prep agencies, healthy food, health insurance, and similar advantages.
There's more than a ruling class conspiracy causing poverty, according to Glenn "Insta Pundit" Reynolds.
What we're seeing here, and elsewhere, is a breakdown in the great Progressive project of the late 19th and early 20th centuries of elevating the lower classes into the middle class. That project involved changes in society and in social mores that encouraged behaviors giving children more stable home environments and better prospects for social improvement. All of that is fading now.
His focus is on differences in marriage behavior, although the argument might apply to changes in the focus of the schools.

TIME TO COME CLEAN?

The presidential search committee at Northern Illinois University has not yet requested that stoves and smoke cartridges be installed in the Altgeld auditorium.  They have, however, gone into conclave.
“This search is formatted a little differently than in the past,” said Paul Palian, director of media and public relations. “We’re using a closed, hybrid approach with stakeholders, including faculty, staff, alumni and foundation board members, who have a confidential agreement not to speak [on the matter].”

Those stakeholders will interview each candidate and provide feedback to the Board of Trustees, Palian said.

“It’s becoming quite common for universities to have a closed search,” Palian said. “I know that ISU’s president is retiring, and I don’t believe students are going to be involved in their process either.”

Alan Rosenbaum, PSAC co-chair and executive secretary of University Council, said the closed approach is becoming typical for presidential searches.

“The Board of Trustees decided on how the search would be conducted, with the advice from the Parker Executive search firm taken into consideration,” Rosenbaum said.

During the last presidential search in 2000, the candidates’ names were not confidential, according to a March 3, 2000, Northern Star article.

“The sole purpose of the search is to find the best candidate,” said Student Association Speaker James Zanayad. “The fact that it’s confidential attracts more candidates, rather than an open one where the candidate’s employers will know.”
Somewhere, there is an argument by which the ad populum fallacy becomes a best practice. There's probably also a research paper existing, or to be written, on the formalities of executive searches.  A few years ago, governing boards voted pay raises to senior administrators, whether earned or not, so as to keep administrative salaries in line with the market.  I wonder if the same if-you-can-get-a-better-job-perhaps-we'll-match-it approach to providing merit raises to faculty is now affecting compensation of higher administrators.  The article reports that Illinois State's students will have the opportunity to meet with their presidential finalists.


The confession booth was part of an exhibit of works of art depicting virtue and vice.  There may still be use for it.  The editorial board of the Northern Star have not yet called for nails and a cathedral door.  They have issued a call for reform.
The Editorial Board wants NIU to get rid of the corrupt; they’re holding the university back. A number of employees have already been fired or placed on leave because of their connections to scandals. If NIU wants to truly create a clean slate and shed its tarnished image from this year, more will need to be done.
Let the reformation begin in the executive suite.
NIU needs a president who will watch the university’s administrators and fire the people who need to be fired. He or she needs to address scandals as they happen, then be vocal in putting forth solutions so similar ethical breaches do not reoccur.
The editorial board would like to watch the presidential search.
This is to avoid conflict with their current employers. This is understandable to a degree, but unacceptable at such a late stage in the search process. NIU is a public university that each student is paying to attend. The confidentiality of the final candidates’ identities should not override the student body’s voice on this matter.

This is a crucial moment for NIU students to start caring about who will be the university’s next president. It would be one thing if NIU was running itself smoothly, but its integrity is starting to decline from the continued negative national media attention.

We need more transparency with NIU’s inner workings and president to prevent future scandals, and that means NIU’s students need to know who the presidential candidates are and need to be able to ask them questions.
There will be additional material forthcoming, as the editorial board will be reacting to the search for a new athletic director, as well as to the upcoming mayoral election.

13.3.13

LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE.

University Diaries proposes to keep track of the shaming of the sanctimonious.

Sometimes, the better response is to laugh the sanctimonious to scorn.
It was clear that both the professor’s detractors and supporters were, overwhelmingly, nuts. And [Ottawa English professor Janice] Fiamengo herself, was, standing at that podium, a buoy of relative reason in a sea of everything but. “Any movement can attract hysterical detraction and unsavoury allies,” she would tell me over the phone the next morning. “That is the risk one runs.” She’s right. Take this little Facebook diatribe from an active member of A Voice for Men, one of the men’s rights groups who support her.

There has never been a great female composer. Throughout history there has been plenty of privileged woman, who have had access to pianos, and violins, yet somehow we are expected to believe that men have somehow stopped them for being composers?  Woman have the big lovely eyes, big tits, but mean [I think he meant “men”] are far more beautiful, they are more beautiful where it counts. In their wonderful creative souls.

Unfortunately, though, the other side is no more intelligent. They just use bigger words.

Almost every pro-women’s studies person who approached the mic last night, spoke another language, a jargon you might misconstrue as scientific–only the words they used weren’t shortcuts meant to simplify or summarize complex concepts, they were used to make simple concepts sound complex: Hegemonic, racialized, problematic, intersectionality. It was pure obfuscation, 1984 with tattoos and septum piercings. Some of the students couldn’t even string together a single lucid sentence. All they had were these meaningless, monolithic words. I felt like I was on a game show, the exercise being how many times can you say patriarchal, phallocentric hegemony in 45 seconds or less. It was frankly, for a feminist, depressing.

Slogans don’t make scholarship and being self-righteous does not make you right.
The generalization of the argument to the rest of the academy, and to the polity, is left to the reader as an exercise.

INITIATIVE FATIGUE.

The dean at Pioneer Valley Community identifies the fatal flaw of higher education.
Anyone who has worked in administration for very long knows the drill: every year or two a new project with a new acronym comes along, and most of the usual suspects address the same questions they addressed last year.  Over time, the various projects overlap, deadlines start to crash into each other, people start to forget what got said where, and after a few years, people start to adopt a “been there, done that” attitude.

[One community college] took a crack at breaking initiative fatigue by setting up a coordinating committee with a master chart of outcomes.  The idea was to map who was doing what, so redundancies could be identified and undue duplication avoided.  (Presumably, it could also help identify the areas of minimal coverage, where future projects would be welcome, and areas of ample coverage, where the horse is well and truly dead.)  Yes, it’s almost a parody of administration to suggest a “committee on committees,” but in practice it can make a lot of sense.
What's missing, though, is the presence of an Officer of the Status Quo, whose sole responsibility is to remind the more adventurous innovative spirits that much of what is best practice in higher education requires little more than a log to sit on, or a shade tree. A commenter gets it.
Maybe we observe that every fall there's some hullabaloo over some Next Big Thing that administrators are all excited about, and we're supposed to pay lip service to it on top of all of our teaching and research and mentoring and advising (you know, the actual core functions of what an institution of higher learning is all about) and then next fall it's a different Next Big Thing. Instead of figuring out how to get us excited, perhaps you could consider the possibility that the real problem is the Big Initiatives?
Quite.

THE SOLUTION TO A MANAGEMENT FAILURE.

Never mind the widespread malfeasance among senior administrators at Northern Illinois University.  Headquarters responds by ... adding another layer of management.
NIU’s Acting Executive Vice President of Finance & Facilities and Chief of Operations Steve Cunningham and Vice President and General Counsel Jerry D. Blakemore today announced the implementation of a planned restructuring of the university’s Office of Compliance Administration that will leverage existing personnel while adding critical specialized personnel to further enhance the university’s compliance oversight function.
I think "leverage" is the latest business euphemism for "ask each of the existing people to take on additional responsibilities", which is precisely the leverage headquarters has been giving to the faculty for the past twenty years.
“Public universities operate in a heavily regulated and increasingly complex environment. I endorsed this initiative several months ago because the compliance function must be an integral aspect of standard business practices and university operations, and increasing coordination with the Office of the General Counsel will fully establish this function as part of our central mission,” NIU President John G. Peters said.

“This reorganization allows us to structure Compliance Administration to take advantage of resources and combine expertise from across departments into one unit responsible for compliance oversight across the campus,” Cunningham said. “Adding additional personnel and resources to the existing core will be among the next steps in the process.”

Under the new organizational structure, Compliance Administration will jointly report to the vice president and general counsel and acting executive vice president of Finance & Facilities/chief of operations. The restructured Compliance Administration department will also assume responsibility for data security investigations and compliance of all electronic and print forms, including compliance with acceptable use and information security policies, breach notifications, and related e-records discovery, record preservation, and information requests. It does not include system security access and control aspects, which are integrated within the Information Technology Services (ITS) operation.
Whatever. There's unified reporting. There's also unified opportunity for covering up malfeasance.

DIDN'T MARTIN LUTHER ACHIEVE THE NECESSARY REFORM?

The white smoke has come up from the Sistine Chapel, and the longest-standing organisation in contemporary experience has a new leader.  The Roman Catholic Church has long had competitors within the Christian tradition, but apparently the presence of substitutes isn't enough for some people.
Demonstrations took place across the United States and internationally to protest the male-only conclave to elect the next pope.

Members of a church in Sarasota sent up their own smoke signals Tuesday -- not black or white, but pink.

They gathered at the St. Andrews UCC Church in Sarasota. The vigil was one of many held on Tuesday around the globe. Not all were so peaceful though: a melee ensued outside the Vatican Tuesday when two female activists who went topless were dragged away from St. Peter's Square.

The Sarasota group, though, gathered in a circle to pray, and they say their hope is for a more progressive pope.
The church in question -- itself a spin-off of the Congregationalists who spun off from the Puritans who spun off from the Anglicans -- bills itself as "open and affirming", whatever that code word means in Protestant-speak these days. Apparently there are limitations on what gets affirmed, including the right of the Roman Catholic Church to manage its affairs in the way it sees fit.  There are also limitations on their logic: presumably a pope with leanings less to the protesters' liking would serve as a recruiter for the Congregationalists.

10.3.13

UPWARD, NOT NORTHWARD, GENERALIZED.

It's always model railroad season.  Baseball season approaches.  We honor those traditions with a Fifty Book Challenge doubleheader.  Leading off, Ian Stewart's Flatterland: like flatland, only more so.  It's written in such a way as to be funny, and some of the puns are groan-inducing.  Put those reservations aside and read the book, particularly if you're curious about the higher mathematics, or perhaps about cosmology. In the years since A. Square got into trouble with Flatland's authorities, Flatland's schools have adopted the concept of "cube" as the space-time representation of a square.  I suspect some kind of obelisk might make more sense (showing the infancy, puberty, and adulthood of the square), and there are still lots of unanswered questions about the way a space-time representation is truncated at death, but I digress.

There are descendants of A. Square, including one rebellious girl, who is able to communicate with the higher dimensions, and off she goes on a tour of assorted non-flat, non-Euclidean spaces, in which the properties one takes for granted on the plane derail your train of thought off the plane.  Some of the excursions explicitly refer to deeper cosmological possibilities, others are suggestive.  Consider residents of a hyperbolic-geometry platter who perceive their local surface as flat, and who must deal with a wind that shrinks objects as those objects approach what an external observer would call the edge of the platter.  The analogy to the singularity of a black hole ought to occur to the reader.

Cleaning up is Brian Greene's The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, which frequently suggests taking a Flatland or Flatterland view of the reality we perceive and the realities we don't see.  In some places, Hidden Reality is intuitive, in others recondite.  It's useful, for example to know the symbols in common use in quantum physics before contemplating some of the equations.  That's frustrating for an economist catching up on some recreational reading on a plane ride.  On the other hand, it's encouraging for an economist to discover that duality in physics is also about the choice of variables with which one chooses to work a problem.  At page 309, "the perturbative vice becomes a calculational virtue."  There's a lot of analysis supporting the claim, but ultimately it's about describing a challenging empirical phenomenon in a straightforward way that can then be used to retrieve something that seems difficult to retrieve in another way.

More sobering, though, are those parts of Hidden Reality that conceive of universes being sucked into one black hole to provide material for new universes .  Should parallel universes not be parallel according to some geometry ...

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

THE PRICE OF AMBITION.

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg is the latest high achiever to step in the muddle that is work-life balance.
The strategies women need to embrace to solve the decades-old dilemma of the glass ceiling sound an awful lot like the ones men have used forever to get ahead—be ambitious at work and find a supportive spouse to help with the kids—and certainly they are much more retrograde than feminists might have imagined. For a movement in desperate need of a jump start, it’s a startling rallying cry.
It's all about the trade-offs in economics, and Penelope Trunk summarizes them.
Sandberg wants to be a role model for women who want big, exciting careers. But here's the problem: women don’t want to be Sandberg. It's no coincidence that the number-one woman on the list of self-made millionaires is Oprah. She has no kids and no husband. She's fascinating, nice, and smart. But few of us would really enjoy her life.

Sandberg and Oprah represent extreme choices in life. The things they give up are not things that most women would want to give up in exchange for the wild career success they could have.

Sandberg's right when she says that the thing holding women back is women's ambition. But I don't see that changing any time soon. Even after the Facebook IPO. I'm afraid that what the Facebook IPO means for women is nothing. Sandberg is not a role model. She's an aberration.

You can’t have small kids and a startup if you want to see your kids.
The men in the tech business are also asking, "where's my work-life balance?"

A related news item (via Newmark's Door) suggests that it's not just information technology that's consuming people.
Of the 266 married women who have been nominated for the Best Actress award from the beginning of the modern Oscars in 1936 to the present, 159 of them got divorced, or 60 per cent.

Winners of the gong are 1.68 times more likely to head to the divorce court than losers.
The article suggests it's status anxiety on the part of the leading men, although the simpler explanation might be the usual ambition leading to the substitution effect swamping the income effect.

GET 'EM ON AND GET 'EM OUT OF TOWN.

Changes in Federal legislation require Illinois to appropriate more money to keep the passenger trains rolling.  The Legislature has to find the money.
Gov. Pat Quinn is seeking to increase spending on Amtrak service in the state by $12 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph reported that the 46 percent increase would bring total spending to $38 million for routes from Chicago to St. Louis, Carbondale and Galesburg.

But the increase doesn’t mean Illinois will be getting extra train service. A 2008 federal law requires states to start picking up a larger part of the cost for rail service on routes shorter than 750 miles.

Other states, including New York, Michigan and California, also are facing higher tabs.

Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey said the numbers are not final and the amount the state owes could be lower.

“We are in the midst of serious negotiations with Amtrak on what these increases will be, and thus have no final numbers yet,” Claffey said.

Amtrak ridership in Illinois has increased about 85 percent since 2006.
The trains are running faster on the Alton Route. We anticipate faster running times along the Way of the Zephyrs and the Main Line of Mid-America before too long.

Amtrak has borrowed one good idea from the airlines, letting frequent travelers board the Hiawathas first.
About a quarter of the trips were made by passengers using multi-ride tickets. Amtrak operates seven Hiawatha Service round trips Monday-Saturday, and six round-trips on Sundays.

Amtrak and Wisconsin Department of Transportation representatives rode last month with a group of regular Hiawatha Service passengers who requested priority boarding, among other suggestions. Amtrak operates the service under contracts with WisDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation. WisDOT hopes to add priority boarding at the Milwaukee Station in the future.

“These are some of our best passengers and they usually need the least assistance because they ride so frequently,” said Ray Lang, Chief, State Government Relations, one of the Amtrak officials who met with an informal group of regular passengers. “In giving priority to the monthly and ten-ride passengers, our customer service representatives and conductors can give more assistance to those less-frequent customers who often need more help.”
I wonder if those "other suggestions" included a lunch-lounge car, or a Super Dome with a lounge downstairs, or a Skytop Lounge parlor car.

8.3.13

YOUR ENERGY POLICY PRIMER.

Book Review No. 3 for 2013 is Daniel Yergin's The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.  He begins with the opening of Desert Storm and ends with global economic development and climate change.  In between, though, are references to all sorts of developments in oil exploration, nuclear physics, the global warming hypothesis, and all manner of other stuff that is likely to appeal to energy policy wonks of various stripes.  There are distractingly many typographical errors, and the serious reader ought refer to the sources, and cross-reference the citations, favorable and unfavorable, to those sources in the academic and policy journals.  But as a way of getting started on the deeper learning, there are worse ways to start than with this book.

(Cross-posted to Fifty Book Challenge.)

DILUTION IS THE SOLUTION TO POLLUTION.

Two Nation correspondents suggest that breaking up concentrations of poverty may break up the incidence of poverty.
In her rigorous study of Montgomery County, Maryland, schools, low-income students whose subsidized housing assignments enabled them to attend very low-poverty schools closed more of the achievement gap with their high-income peers than did low-income students in higher-poverty schools who received an additional $2,000—monies which were devoted to extended learning time, smaller classes, and specialized professional development.

Effective policies exist to de-concentrate poverty and desegregate schools. Montgomery County showcases one of the smartest: laws that require developers to set aside a proportion of new housing units for subsidized housing, so that rather than creating ghettos of all-poor families (and resource-poor schools to go with them), lower-income families are able to reside in higher-income areas, and their children attend higher-income schools. Counties and cities across the country are exploring and adopting less restrictive zoning laws, since minimum-acreage lot requirements inherently lead to income segregation and force the concentration of poverty in less-restricted regions. The Century Foundation’s recent book, The Future of School Integration, advocates school “choice” focused on integrating students through voluntary inter-district transfer, and magnet schools that draw students of different ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds without busing, by making the case to today’s parents that a twenty-first-century education requires no less.

As the United States increasingly regresses toward a Gilded Age of haves and have-nots—in terms of income, education, and opportunity—taking on concentrated poverty is critical. Indeed, Richard Rothstein and Mark Santow assert in their recent paper that, until we do so, education reform efforts are all but doomed. Continuing to consign so many children and families to communities devoid of pathways out of poverty is tantamount to throwing away our greatest resource for the twenty-first century: human potential.
The passage suggests the importance of exposing young people from less fortunate backgrounds to the life management skills of young people from more fortunate backgrounds, particularly to those life management skills that perpetuate the fortune or provide the way out of poverty.  Implicit in the passage is the presence of successful people to seek advice from, as well as sufficient support to untether from your class.  Left unstated, though, is the requirement that deconcentration of poverty must mean serious deconcentration of poverty, lest the bad habits of the chronically disadvantaged diffuse to new neighborhoods.
[University of Memphis criminologist Richard] Janikowski began working with the police department in 1997, the same year that Barnes saw the car with the bullet holes. He initially consulted on a program to reduce sexual assaults citywide and quickly made himself useful. He mapped all the incidents and noticed a pattern: many assaults happened outside convenience stores, to women using pay phones that were hidden from view. The police asked store owners to move the phones inside, and the number of assaults fell significantly.

About five years ago, Janikowski embarked on a more ambitious project. He’d built up enough trust with the police to get them to send him daily crime and arrest reports, including addresses and types of crime. He began mapping all violent and property crimes, block by block, across the city. “These cops on the streets were saying that crime patterns are changing,” he said, so he wanted to look into it.

When his map was complete, a clear if strangely shaped pattern emerged: Wait a minute, he recalled thinking. I see this bunny rabbit coming up. People are going to accuse me of being on shrooms! The inner city, where crime used to be concentrated, was now clean. But everywhere else looked much worse: arrests had skyrocketed along two corridors north and west of the central city (the bunny rabbit’s ears) and along one in the southeast (the tail). Hot spots had proliferated since the mid-1990s, and little islands of crime had sprung up where none had existed before, dotting the map all around the city.

Janikowski might not have managed to pinpoint the cause of this pattern if he hadn’t been married to Phyllis Betts, a housing expert at the University of Memphis. Betts and Janikowski have two dogs, three cats, and no kids; they both tend to bring their work home with them. Betts had been evaluating the impact of one of the city government’s most ambitious initiatives: the demolition of the city’s public-housing projects, as part of a nationwide experiment to free the poor from the destructive effects of concentrated poverty. Memphis demolished its first project in 1997. The city gave former residents federal “Section 8” rent-subsidy vouchers and encouraged them to move out to new neighborhoods. Two more waves of demolition followed over the next nine years, dispersing tens of thousands of poor people into the wider metro community.

If police departments are usually stingy with their information, housing departments are even more so. Getting addresses of Section 8 holders is difficult, because the departments want to protect the residents’ privacy. Betts, however, helps the city track where the former residents of public housing have moved. Over time, she and Janikowski realized that they were doing their fieldwork in the same neighborhoods.

About six months ago, they decided to put a hunch to the test. Janikowski merged his computer map of crime patterns with Betts’s map of Section8 rentals. Where Janikowski saw a bunny rabbit, Betts saw a sideways horseshoe (“He has a better imagination,” she said). Otherwise, the match was near-perfect. On the merged map, dense violent-crime areas are shaded dark blue, and Section8 addresses are represented by little red dots. All of the dark-blue areas are covered in little red dots, like bursts of gunfire. The rest of the city has almost no dots.

Betts remembers her discomfort as she looked at the map. The couple had been musing about the connection for months, but they were amazed—and deflated—to see how perfectly the two data sets fit together. She knew right away that this would be a “hard thing to say or write.” Nobody in the antipoverty community and nobody in city leadership was going to welcome the news that the noble experiment that they’d been engaged in for the past decade had been bringing the city down, in ways they’d never expected. But the connection was too obvious to ignore, and Betts and Janikowski figured that the same thing must be happening all around the country. Eventually, they thought, they’d find other researchers who connected the dots the way they had, and then maybe they could get city leaders, and even national leaders, to listen.
The Section 8 exports crime argument has a long pedigree, and it is often invoked locally, particularly when the police have a busy weekend on the northwest side of town.  It's also contested.  Shortly after the Atlantic article that provides the long extract was published, this site asked a number of good questions about the quality of the evidence.  A University of Minnesota study offered a qualified "it depends" to the argument that deconcentrating poverty reduces future poverty.
The potential of mixed income developments to deconcentrate poverty depends on the ability of these projects to attract middle income people to developments that are partially subsidized. This requires design features and amenities to attract moderate income and market-rate renters to neighborhoods they may not typically consider. Studies have shown that though this is difficult, it is quite possible to achieve.
There's material for further study here.

In the past few weeks, though, we've been looking at the creation of safe Congressional districts.  One wonders what a successful policy of de-concentrating poverty and inculcating bourgeois habits among the young would do to the re-election chances of Gwen or Maxine or Bobby or John.

SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL?

Wednesday's work was disrupted by the clean-up after snow, and by the presence of FBI agents searching the university police headquarters.
It is unknown what the search was related to, but NIU has faced investigations throughout the year.

In August, allegations surfaced that university employees had been selling NIU-owned scrap metal and depositing the funds into a “coffee fund.” One former and eight current NIU employees were charged with various felonies and misdemeanors in relation to the fund in October. Donald Grady, former NIU Police chief, requested FBI assistance with the coffee fund investigations, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In September, claims surfaced against John Gordon, former Convocation Center director, and Robert Albanese, former associate vice president for finance and facilities. Allegedly, Gordon had a Convocation Center custodian clean his home and Albanese used NIU property for his own purposes at his home. Gordon resigned and Albanese retired effected July 31.

In November, Clay Campbell, former county state’s attorney, formally requested that the ISP investigate the NIU Police Department and Grady, then the chief. Campbell wanted the ISP to focus on the mishandling of evidence in the case of former NIU police officer Andrew Rifkin. Judge Robbin Stuckert said the NIU police withheld information in the case. In response, NIU President John Peters requested the ISP review how the NIU police department handled the case. The charges against Rifkin were dropped, but he has since been re-indicted for criminal sexual assault. Grady was terminated in February.
A statement by retiring university president John Peters expresses surprise.
I am sure all of you were as surprised as I was to receive the news that the FBI and the State Police arrived, along with two other federal agencies, at the NIU police department Wednesday morning to serve a search warrant and remove a large number of paper and electronic police department files dating back to January 2005.

That these issues are causing the campus community distress is understandable. However, NIU must always be able to sustain external and independent review and investigation of any aspect of our operation. It is now clear that once the university comes through this trial, our university and, more specifically, our police department will be stronger, more transparent and more effective.
It's not solely about the police department.  We've been following the coffee fund investigation for some time.  Several people have been arrested.  A number of people have been placed on leave, with the local newspaper speculating that Someone Higher Up knew.


Between the start of the new semester and the immoderate weather, there has not been time to report on the firing of university police chief Donald Grady, for reasons involving the conduct of his department, and unrelated to the sale of scrap metal.  The chief is challenging his dismissal, and the editors of the local newspaper suggesting that he may have a claim in equity for being dismissed while other officials, who have been charged with crimes, remain on leave.

The most recent coverage of the FBI investigation suggests that Someone Higher Up might also be involved, in ways that are not yet clear.
“Separate from his university duties, [Vice President for Finance and Facilities Eddie] Williams has developed affordable housing resources in the DeKalb community.  Eden’s Gardens, a privately funded, two-phase project, is not affiliated in any way with Northern Illinois University, and it does not provide student housing.  Its sole purpose is to meet the housing needs of those in the community with limited financial resources.  Prospective Eden’s Gardens resident screening has been conducted for more than five years by Screening Reports Inc., a national provider of background screening service to the multi-family housing industry.

“Dr. Williams is cooperating fully with the authorities and Eden’s Gardens has provided all materials requested, but Dr. Williams has no idea why he or the project is the subject of any government interest.”
The university announced today that Mr Williams, whose branch of the organization chart includes property control, policing, and the convocation center, has also been placed on administrative leave.

President Peters likes to charge the graduating students to a life of service and social justice.  It appears, though, that the closing remarks to his tenure will be something else.
While this is a particularly uncertain time for our NIU community and one in which we must endure this external scrutiny, we will get through this and become an even better university. Trials bring strength, personal and institutional introspection and the opportunity for rebuilding.
Those trials might also offer ample opportunity for recriminations and squabbling. The FBI investigates, and the heating equipment in the Zulauf-Watson complex is broken.

7.3.13

THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT.

"Redistricting didn't win Republicans the House," offers a suitably wonky post on Wonkblog.
If we assume that nothing else affects House election outcomes but the partisanship of the districts—in other words, if we allow redistricting to have its maximum possible effect—we find that the 2011 redistricting cost Democrats 7 seats in 2012. This is not nothing, but it’s far less than what the Democrats needed to take back the House and about half what [election analyst Sam] Wang estimated.

The effect is even smaller if we incorporate other important factors. Incumbency is the most important of these: lots of Republicans who were running as challengers or in open seats in 2010—and then won—ran as incumbents for the first time in 2012. We know that incumbency is a powerful factor in House elections, bringing candidates greater visibility, adding to their campaign coffers, and deterring quality challengers from running. On average, an incumbent in 2012 ran five percentage points ahead of a non-incumbent candidate from the same party in a similar seat. Sixty-one seats were were decided by less than this margin.

More important, once we took incumbency into account, the apparent effect of gerrymandering vanished. That is, the ability of Republicans to retain the House majority may have been due to incumbency advantage, not new and more favorable districts.

We went a step further and subtracted out our estimate of the incumbency advantage to simulate what 2012 would have looked like if this advantage had not existed. In this simulation, the Democrats won 219 seats—virtually eliminating the discrepancy between votes and seats in this election.

To be sure, separating out the effects of new districts and the effects of incumbency is not easy. The new district boundaries could also have factored into incumbency advantage—deterring potential opponents by making some districts more hostile territory in ways not captured by the district’s presidential vote. So we cannot conclude from this analysis that gerrymandering had no effect whatsoever.
Read further, though, and a passage suggests that the presence of the constraint in the voting rights law that requires some fraction of the Congressional districts indeed is binding.
Democrats never quite get a consistent advantage from the 1960s through the 1980s, as the symmetry measure suggests. There has been a Republican advantage since the mid-1990s, and the change in 2011, though favoring Republicans, was modest by historical standards.

Why do Democrats have a somewhat chronic disadvantage in these graphs, especially in the last 20 years? Part of the reason is that Democratic votes are increasingly concentrated in urban areas where they are more likely to waste votes with large majorities. Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden have simulated thousands of redistricting plans in a handful of states and found Democrats generally do worse when districts are constrained to be compact (that is, as close to simple shapes like circles and squares as possible).
Yes, the current "partisan division" was present in the data years ago. Districts constrained to simple shapes are likely to violate the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and Democrat politicians have prospered by appealing to constituencies allegedly protected by those provisions.

The editorial board of the Chicago Tribune erroneously blames gerrymandering but recognizes why safe districts for Members of Congress, specifically the younger Jesse Jackson, are not necessarily safe districts for constituents.
The Jacksons bought a cozy lifestyle with surplus money that, although supposedly isolated in campaign accounts, in fact was burning a hole in the congressman's pocket. The long-running and diabolical nature of their scheme suggests they felt entitled to do whatever they pleased with money that was all but unnecessary for Jackson's minimalist 2nd Congressional District campaigns.

No, gerrymandering didn't drive the ex-congressman to a life of crime. Gerrymandering did, though, enable it. With no viable opposition, he had little need to buy expensive TV time — and, to be frank, he had fewer pesky journalists going line by line through his campaign finance reports. More scrutiny might have detected questionable spending patterns.

The corrupt if legal packing of congressional (and state legislative) districts to make them safe for either major party is an Illinois problem and a national problem. The political research website Ballotpedia reports that only 14.5 percent of all U.S. House races, or 63 of 435, were decided by 10 percentage points or less in 2012: The average Democratic victory margin was 35.7 percent; the Republican average was 28.6 percent.

Think about those huge margins of insulation. Think too about how voters in only one of every seven districts got to choose their U.S. representatives in genuinely competitive races. Why? Because pols in Illinois and many other states rigged the majority of races to all but guarantee victory to one party or the other. Often the candidates don't even matter, just the D or R after their names.

And on goes the protection game. Voters in the new district drawn to insulate Jackson are less than a week from learning who likely will replace him. Whichever Democrat emerges from the Tuesday special primary is a heavy favorite to win the April 9 general election.

That Democratic victor may never have to face serious competition again — at least until the next redistricting after the 2020 federal census. He or she will live out this decade with a tremendous advantage: a district drawn by one party, to benefit one party.

Not that an incumbent blessed by gerrymandering can't find ways to squander a nearly sure thing.
There's no incentive for such an incumbent to behave differently. Without the legions of desperate constituents to hold up as continued evidence of institutionalized oppression, such incumbents have a tougher time getting re-elected. The political integration of Congressional districts might be a necessary step toward the economic integration of communities. With spring break at hand, look for more on this point.

MILLIONS FOR ADMINISTRATORS, NOT ONE CENT FOR FACULTY.

A new memo hit my paper mailbox earlier this week.
Applications are being accepted for the anticipated position of associate vice provost for academic outcomes assessment.  This position reports to the vice provost for academic planning and development.
Probably important to have such lines filled.  You can't get good interim help these days.
[Moorhead State spokesman David] Wahlberg said the university started sending out fall of 2013 acceptance letters in the fall of 2012. But the mistake wasn’t caught until last week, when the new interim admissions director and interim vice president for enrollment management were familiarizing themselves with MSUM’s policies.

“They looked at the files and it didn’t seem to make sense to them how that happened,” he said. “They looked at it further and realized that a mistake had been made.”

Wahlberg said university officials are still taking steps to correct those mistakes, and to figure out just what happened. But he said the problem boils down to the school not being uniform in applying its acceptance standards to these applicants.
But administrative expense-preference behavior can lead to  institutional dry rot.
Only 42 percent of the campus agreed that “the climate at [Appalachian State] supports and promotes academic freedom.”

Also alarming to the university is that 30 percent of tenure-track faculty revealed they are currently seeking employment at other institutions.

“Every institution would expect some movement by faculty, especially Assistant Professors, as they find the right mix of conditions to develop their careers. However, such a large number suggests widespread discontent with the institution on a broader level,” the report stated. “With 52 percent of the assistant professors in Arts and Sciences and 42 percent in the College of Education seeking other employment the ability of departments and programs to develop a stable curriculum is diminished. Such large numbers raise concerns about ASU’s future.”

Fifty-nine percent of respondents stated they did not find the resources available for supporting faculty research adequate and 60 percent of respondents expressed concern of financial support for faculty development not being adequate.

The financial concerns expand far beyond just faculty development too. Over three-quarters — 76 percent — of tenure-line respondents stated they did not feel that the salary and benefits at ASU are sufficient to attract and retain high quality employees.

“Over many years I have worked long and hard for essentially no financial reward beyond keeping my job. The University has escalated salaries and benefits for new hires so much more rapidly than it has for us old hands. Regardless of the fiscal realities of the system, none of us can continue to regard ourselves and our contributions to ASU as truly valuable if there is never any ‘reward’ for our work,” wrote one of the respondents in the open-ended questions portion of the survey.
But headquarters disregards what the hired help is saying. I'll bet the pay-raise policy is "look for a better job, we might match it."
Concern was also raised over the administration’s respect of faculty governance with 62 percent of full professors saying they did not feel the provost respects faculty governance. Fourty-four percent stated they did not feel the chancellor respected faculty governance.

“The present administration runs roughshod over faculty governance. The fact that the chancellor rules against the faculty in every single grievance proceeding tells you all you need to know,” wrote one respondent.

“To put it simply, the issues that interfere with the realization of the measures of job satisfaction tend to show up in the survey as negative influences on morale. This survey has highlighted some of those negative influences on morale in the hope that recognition is the first step toward rehabilitation,” the report stated in its conclusion. “The institution clearly has some areas where it needs to improve.”
It's a hope, but what's the over-under on Appalachian State filling an anticipated position for an associate vice provost for administrative expense preference first?

6.3.13

SNOW DAY.

The winter that began with very little snow, and the first serious snow of late January giving way to warmer temperatures in DeKalb than in Silicon Valley on at least one day.  Late February and early March brought what the weather forecasters refer to as an "active pattern."  There's plenty of drought relief piled up, and two partial snow days for the collegians.  The commuters were not pleased with headquarters deciding to call Tuesday classes off from 12.30 on.  The residential students used Facebook to organize a snowball fight.


Northern Star photo by Gavin Weaver.


NO BETTER WAY AVAILABLE.

A current CNN Money article suggests that the current sequester might become the current continuing resolution, for lack of a mutually beneficial compromise, at least until the current debt ceiling matters.
At that point, the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, will be almost over, and the overriding priority will be to avoid default.

So it may be that only political pressure would force a compromise on replacing the sequester, said budget expert Charles Konigsberg.

The public pitching a fit might work. So, too, might terrible economic numbers.
Meanwhile, the Washington Monument remains closed, Vice President Biden is back on the Acela Express, and Wall Street is bubbling up.  Today's CNN Money article doesn't suggest a connection between a temporary end to government expansion and animal spirits, relying on more conventional formulae.  The disciples of Leon Trotsky also rely on convention.
The latest surge in the stock market—which has soared almost without a hitch since the start of the year—is bound up with the fact that those in the know had been assured the White House and Congress would push through the sequester cuts. As a leading Bank of America executive told the New York Times this week, “The market wants more austerity.”

More broadly, since day one of the crisis the government has provided the banks with unlimited funds.
What happens if the private economy continues to recover, despite the slowed rate of increase in federal spending?

RENDERED UNEMPLOYABLE BY THE MINIMUM WAGE?

John Cochrane suggests that viewing the minimum wage as some kind of family wage is a fantasy.
What caught my eye is the "family with two kids,"  "...millions of working families." It paints a grim picture: mom, dad, two kids, trying to survive one wage earner's full-time minimum-wage job.

My thought: What planet do the president's advisers live on? Come take a look, say, at the south side of Chicago, where I grew up and live, and where President Obama spent many formative years as a community organizer and so knows it even better. Is the first-order problem of these neighborhoods that its residents live in intact families with two kids, one full-time wage earner, trying to live on the wages from a full-time minimum wage job, but  having a tough time making ends meet? Is there anyone like this?

The tragedy of the neighborhoods around where I live, and President Obama used to live, is the vast number of people with no job at all.  How does raising the minimum wage for the few who have a minimum-wage job help the vast majority who have no job at all?

Minimum wages are about teenagers and young adults, most still living at home. It's about the "dating" phase of work-force attachment, where people learn the skills and habits, and make connections by which they can move up to better jobs when they are ready to have families. 
To put the problem in the language of The Book Of Rules, "To obtain promotion, ability must be shown for greater responsibility." But how show the ability without the entry-level job?

That's an argument that higher minimum wages foreclose entry-level jobs.  That's not an argument against raising the minimum wage, as Gary Becker explains.
Even if one accepts the conclusion, as I do, that higher minimum wages lowers employment significantly of vulnerable groups like teenagers, this conclusion does not imply that minimum wages are an ineffective way to fight poverty. Higher minimum wages might still increase the overall earnings of the poor because the higher earnings of those who manage to keep their jobs dominates the negative effects on the earnings of workers who lose their jobs.

That conclusion too is not justified because minimum wages are ill suited to raise the incomes of the poor, partly because it targets individual earnings rather than family incomes. Posner gives several reasons why low earnings of individuals and low family incomes are only loosely connected.
No end to the tradeoffs, or to the bad political speeches.

4.3.13

INSUFFICIENT MARKETS?

Time's Steven Brill writes a lengthy article attempting to make sense of the high prices that accompany medical care.  A Paul Buchheit reaction to the article opens with an instructive error.
Economists have told us that the profit motive of privatization comes with an "invisible hand" that automatically corrects inequities in the market. It hasn't worked that way for health care.
No, the invisible hand corrects inefficiencies. The horror stories that Mr. Buchheit presents often bundle inequity with inefficiency. To correct the one, however, is not possible without understanding the other.

Start with another reaction to Mr Brill's article, this one from Holman Jenkins in The Wall Street Journal.
"What is so different about the medical ecosystem that causes technology advances to drive bills up instead of down?" Mr. Brill asks. But his question is rhetorical since he doesn't exhibit much urge to understand why the system behaves as it does, treating its nature as a given.

In fact, what he describes—big institutions dictating care and assigning prices in ways that make no sense to an outsider—is exactly what you get in a system that insulates consumers from the cost of their health care.

Your time might be better spent reading Duke University's Clark Havighurst in a brilliant 2002 article that describes the regulatory, legal and tax subsidies that deprive consumers of both the incentive and opportunity to demand value from medical providers. Americans end up with a "Hobson's choice: either coverage for 'Cadillac' care or no health coverage at all."

"The market failure most responsible for economic inefficiency in the health-care sector is not consumers' ignorance about the quality of care," Mr. Havighurst writes, "but rather their ignorance of the cost of care, which ensures that neither the choices they make in the marketplace nor the opinions they express in the political process reveal their true preferences."

You might turn next to an equally fabulous 2001 article by Berkeley economist James C. Robinson, who shows how the "pernicious" doctrine that health care is different—that consumers must shut up, do as they're told and be prepared to write a blank check—is used to "justify every inefficiency, idiosyncrasy, and interest-serving institution in the health care industry."

Hospitals, insurers and other institutions involved in health care may battle over available dollars, but they also share an interest in increasing the nation's resources being diverted into health care—which is exactly what happens when costs are hidden from those who pay them.
It matters not whether a government insurance agency acting as a monopsonist toward physicians, surgeons, and pharmacists, or whether the secretary of Health and Human Services seats a board of Wise Experts. Rents will exist. Rent-seekers will seek rents. Rents will be dissipated. The taxpayers will not necessarily be better served.