Friday, April 30, 2004

More Great Dispersal

Americans (and others) have been getting older, richer and more technologically enhanced -- all of these more rapidly than ever -- for some years now. Social scientists have more and better data, more powerful hardware, fancier software, and occasionally, better theory. But can we keep up? Natural scientists also have better tools but their subject matter (with notable biological exceptions) does not change. Certainly not as rapidly.

Much of what is interesting occurs in cities -- and is shaped by them as it, in turn, shapes them -- but even the "city" label is quaint. People are settling in ways and places that require new labels. The National Household Travel Survey copes with the Great Dispersal by placing all of us in either "urban", "second city", "suburban", "town: or "rural" places.

Comparing the 2001 NHTS with its predecessor (1995) NPTS, we see that trip times have been increasing, across the board (all places, all trip purposes). This is news because similar increases had not been apparent in comparisons over previous survey years. How have people coped? Predictably, they traveled less, across the board. Elasticities range from -0.7 to just less than -1.0. This is not a ceteris paribus comparison and we must be careful.

Is this a bad news or a good news story? A good news take suggests that cheaper communications help many of us avoid more expensive travel. But, are we better off? Social science is hard work.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Great Dispersal (contd.)

More and more professional sports teams in the U.S. now take on the names of their home state rather that their home town. I believe that the California Angels were the first, although they are now the Anaheim Angels, as that place has achieved some name recognition. Nevertheless, the Arizona Cardinals and the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins and many others are located in places that are suburban/exurban enough that a state identification makes sense -- part of the Great Dispersal.

David Brooks' appellation supersedes Joel Garreau's Edge Cities because there is now dispersal away from these, with smaller new sub-centers emerging in essentially unpredictable patterns.

Great Dispersal evidence is all around, including the demise of the idea of one old downtown "Chinatown". Rather, "For Asians in U.S., Mini-Chinatowns Sprout in Suburbia" as discussed in today's WSJ. The story notes, "Rice-loving shoppers from the suburbs are driving to about 70 stand-alone Asian shopping centers on the coasts -- not only in NY and LA, but Seattle, Baltimore and Miami -- and about 50 in such mid-American cities as Denver, Minneapolis and Phoenix."

Evolving lifestyle trends have overwhelmed planners' plodding discussions about how to contain and manage all of this. And they call their task "Smart Growth".

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Homeownership and Immigration

U.S. homeownership rates are higher than ever. Interest rates are low and the economy is not as "bad" as the CBS Evening News and other media like to stress.

Moreover, homeownership rates are highest among naturalized immigrants. "Blacks, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics who immigrate to the U.S. and become citizens are more likely to own homes than members of the same ethnic group born in this country ...," reports the State Dept.

The "immigration debate" has been complicated by all sorts of domestic and international politics. Yet, a simple barometer of what naturalized immigrants do for the U.S. -- and what the U.S. does for them -- is very clear. And yet much too rarely cited.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Evolving Variances

Asking, "Can Drug-Free Baseball Stars Smash Records?", Stephen Metcalf evokes Stephen J. Gould's "Why No One Hits .400 Anymore." Again, it takes good questions to provoke good discussions. Gould paid attention to changes in variances and came up with a good story. Not only are offensive and defensive abilities, on average, both improving but there are reasons to think that variances are getting smaller and fewer outliers are to be expected.

In most social science and related discussions, it is natural to focus on trends in mean values. Much less investigation is focused on whether variances have evolved in interesting ways.

Anomalous prices have shorter life spans in the global economy. But, this means there are more and better reasons to avoid price competition and product differentiate if at all possible. But quality advantages will be more easily emulated.

Evolving means are the staple of any and all statistical absracts. In a better world, we would also be looking at data on evolving variances. These data exist but are seldom published.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Tax Everyone Else

Monty Python used to suggest taxing all foreigners living abroad. Great parody.

The LA Times comes close with this Sunday's headline story "Most in State Expect Some Tax Increases". They report: "The poll found that the public strongly favors increasing taxes in at least several areas. Nearly four out of five Californians back higher taxes on cigarettes and by the same ratio, alcoholic beverages. An overwhelming 69% support raising income taxes on the wealthy."

The wonderfully open-ended question on the last item asked respondents if they would support, "Raising the state income tax rates for the highest-income residents."

Great unintended self-parody.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Internet Shopping

Traditional shopping at stores is down and internet shopping is up, just as we would expect despite all of the tut-tutting by "bubble" schadenfreude enthusiasts. It is only the beginning because people comfortable with electronics are replacing older people with little or no experience with them -- and this is happening worldwide. So, keep buying those internet stocks. Even better, figure out which the next eBay will be.

Virginia Postrel's NY Times discussion of recent MIT research makes the point that it is the huge increase in choice, not just more price competition, that is the real draw. Just looking at some of Amazon's sales, the researchers found that shoppers' consumer surplus (the difference between the maximum that people would have paid rather than do without and what they actually paid) was augmented by variety as well as lower prices. But, it was mostly variety. Postrel noted that Amazon's tag line is "world's biggest bookstore", not world's lowest prices.

No one is predicting the end of traditional shopping. Traditional bookstores are still a good place to browse, have coffee, and feel civilized and social. Many bookstores have wisely added a coffee bar and will evolve in other ways to stay in the game.

It is a near certainty that almost everyone on the planet gets it and wants to live in a market economy. Many are not given the option because they are oppressed by kleptocrats and worse. Others are blinded by ideologies (and hatreds) that wrongly stress that it's a zero-sum world.

Friday, April 23, 2004

The Price of Peace

The Economist alludes again to the Copenhagen Consensus project, the joint enterprise between it and Denmark's Environmental Assessment Institute. The effort appears to be an uninhibited application of cost-benefit analysis to the world's biggest problems. Among these are the horrific civil wars in some of the world's poorest places, averaging losses (all things considered, including the dollar value of lives lost) of $128 billion per year.

What to do? By a wide margin, the study's authors conclude, the most efficient policy is "military intervention by a foreign power."

Economic analysis, by definition, leaves out many considerations. And in the year of Iraq and elections, the infeasibility of the prescribed policy may be underscored.

Yet, in hindsight, reasonable people seem to agree that the Rwanda genocide was preventable and should have been prevented. In a better world, this discussion would take place first, way ahead of the ones that otherwise preoccupy most of us.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Cost-Effective Rail Transit?

Large-rail U.S. cities, notably New York City, have more transit riders than the others. People using transit also tend to own fewer autos and have lower out-of-pocket commuting costs. This is a large part of the argument made in Todd Littman's Comprehensive Evaluation of Rail Transit Benefits.

Yet, most people around the world overwhelmingly prefer personal transportation. This is why autos are a big hit everywhere. This is also why transit's share of U.S. commuting in the U.S. fell from 12% in 1960 to less than 5% in 2000 -- in spite of hundreds of billions of dollars of public subsidies over these same years. (Wendell Cox has assembled the relevant evidence and made it easily accessible.)

People (unlike some researchers) understand the trade-offs. They gladly spend more cash in return for the time savings -- and all of the satisfactions of personal transport.

This is all perfectly obvious. It is when "rail investments" are presented as cost-effective that the litany bears repeating.

By all means, tax auto use for any and all external costs. This is now easy to implement. Yet, unimaginative politicians in the U.S. cannot make the leap and expect (hope) that more rail transit will "get people out of their cars."

Studies like Littman's are available to rationalize this continuing public policy failure.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

"The Great Dispersal"

David Brooks may have given the current suburbanization-exurbanization the label that sticks. Many of us have been documenting suburbanization-exurbanization for some years. It is the continuation, indeed acceleration, of longstanding and entirely plausible economic, demographic and social trends.

Ken Orski notes, "Nor is the exurban dispersal likely to lose strength anytime soon. The biggest factor influencing future population movements is the projected addition of some 64 million people by 2020. It is hard to conceive that this population bulge could be accommodated in existing built-up areas where neighborhood opposition to increased density through infill developments is already fierce. Future historians are likely to view the 'smart growth' movement as yet another example of a planning ideology that has foundered for lack of a realistic understanding of the power of demographic pressure, market forces and consumer preferences."

When ideologies are confronted with stark facts (in this case a ton of them), the ideologues work overtime to protect their human capital. Watch for "smart growth" to be taught and advocated for many more years.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Real Monopoly

Economics textbooks, even many of the newer ones, still have the circa 1930s chapter about monopolies and anti-trust. Very few of them include concerns about politicizing the size-distribution of firms and/or losing the one that markets generate. Even fewer go so far as to suggest that the real source of monopoly power is the law -- and politics. In other chapters, these same texts extol regulation as a source of consumer safety.

Market critics add the occasional complaint about the lack of choice. (Too few low-mileage SUVs; too little low-income housing with an ocean view, etc.)

In Entrepreneurship Gets Slaughtered, Jonathan Turley offers an account that belongs in the textbooks:

"Creekstone Farms is a little slaughterhouse in Kansas with an idea that would have had Adam Smith's mouth watering. Faced with consumers who remain skittish over mad cow disease -- especially in Japan -- Creekstone decided that all its beef would be tested for mad cow, a radical departure from the random testing done by other companies. It was a case study in free-market meatpacking entrepreneurship. That is until the Bush Administration's Department of Agriculture blocked the enterprise at the behest of Creekstone's competitors ... Creekstone invested $500,000 to build the first mad cow testing lab in a U.S. slaughterhouse and hired chemists and biologists to staff the operation. The only thing needed was testing kits. That's where the company ran into trouble. By law, the Department of Agriculture controls sale of the kits, and refused to sell Creekstone enough to test all its cows. The USDA said that allowing even a small meatpacking company like Creekstone to test every cow it slaughtered would undermine the agency's official position that random testing was scientifically adequate to assure safety. ... The rest of the meatpacking industry was adamantly opposed to such testing, which is expensive, and had no desire to compete with Creekstone's fully certified beef."

Makes perfect sense -- in Washington DC.

Read on and it gets worse. This is not the Upton Sinclair meatpacking morality tale that has made it into American folklore.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Second Homes

More Americans than ever are buying or considering buying second homes. Increasing wealth and an aging population will do that. Recent estimates put the number of second homes in the U.S. at 7 million -- over 5 percent of the U.S. housing stock. Precise definitions do not yet exist; some people like the label "vacation homes" and it is unclear what occupancy characteristics define a second home.

Investors may want to consider the most likely locations of the next wave of second home development. The mountain states are a good bet, providing open spaces and recreational opportunities. Access to remote places will also improve as the airline industry continues to grow specialized niche carriers and services. Expanded broadband access will also make a difference.

Two or more cars per household in the U.S. were a luxury half a century ago and are common now. Two homes per household as a household staple is not far off.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Nanny State(s)

Thinking about relocating to another state? The internet is your friend. Go to to see what job prospects are like. There is even a link to help arrivals get licensed in order to practice in various professions.

It is possible to search by state or by occupation. I only looked at California's long list which includes barbers, manicurists, matchmakers -- and matchmakers' assistants. Each state of the union showcases its own peculiar nuttiness.

Licensing is often defended as a way for consumers to cut search costs. Or, elites like to remind us, most people are not equipped to make good choices.

These arguments are trumped by the actual lists of occupations with barriers. There is a demand for licensing but it comes from those eager to limit the competition -- and their political enablers.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Starpower in Government

The BBC's online market on celebrity (fame) futures does not (yet) include trades involving California's governor.

Arnold's recent successes in Sacramento should convince the remaining skeptics that traditional politicians are easily outclassed by cross-overs with starpower. And once trading in Arnold's popularity (at the BBC site or wherever) gets serious, old-fashioned political punditry will also take a hit.

Just when we thought that clumsy term-limits were the only way to curb the powers of incumbency, there is new hope. Old fashioned Sacramento politicos are no match for our Governator. To those who rue the demise of the professional political class, the best available answers used to involve references to the historical example of part-time pro bono political service. But that's all past. The new argument is that the oldies will not hold their own against celebrity cross-overs. Its no longer a discussion because it's now inevitable.

Will celebrity-politicians also become entrenched? Hard to say. The good news is that they generally hate to be seen in public once they age -- Reagan notwithstanding.

Friday, April 16, 2004

The Democratization of Taste

Today's WSJ includes a column about IKEA, sometimes blocked by NIMBYs, but increasingly a staple of Bobo (apologies to David Brooks) life.

Much has been made of the "democratization of luxury", the fact that middle class Americans now live better than the wealthiest did not so long ago (think medical science if there is any doubt). It seems that the democratization of taste is not far beyond; IKEA (and many others) have emerged to help the newly affluent to adapt to (and make the best of) their new status.

More, perhaps, than even the most optimistic market enthusiasts had ever dreamed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

World Poverty

The discussion of the degree of progress against world poverty in The Economist continues. For those who do not specialize in this field, the presentations have been enlightening. In this week's issue, the World Bank's Martin Ravallion replies to the coverage that the magazine ran on March 13. The two "sides" of the discussion, using different measures, do not disagree that world poverty is falling. They do highlight different methods of measuring and the degree of improvement. Ravallion points out that most of the world's progress is due to improvements in China.

This is no small thing. There could not be a more auspicious demonstration effect. India's progress is probably on China's heels and will only enlarge the demonstration effect. For all of the bad news about the world, this is great stuff.

The news will one day reach the overpopulation pessimists. If so, they may have to go the next step and realize that poverty comes from poor policies. The point about the power of receding statism could not be made more spectacularly than via the example of the world's two most populous countries.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Niches and Freedom

Tyler Cowan, recently writing in Forbes about high and low culture, evokes the idea of plenitude. High vs. low is irrelevant when contrasted with the large range of choices now available so widely to so many.

The most auspicious questions of this season revolve around the international role and actions of the U.S. They are described as promoting democracy, liberty and freedom. While there is an interesting discussion going on among scholars about how and why political freedom and economic freedom can or should be coincident, it is safe to say that powerful evidence for the integrity of individuals being recognized and respected is the plenitude of material choices that free markets offer them.

It is profound but not acknowledged in polite (political) company.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Not Bowling Alone

Assessing our stock of social capital, Robert Putnam famously concluded that we are essentially Bowling Alone. He was especially tough on "urban sprawl", blaming it for longer commutes and, therefore greater isolation as more people spend more time alone on the road in their single-occupant vehicles.

Recent research suggests that Putnam was wrong about the sprawl-commuting connection. So many jobs also relocate to the suburbs that many suburbanites actually have jobs nearby.

What about the rest of our interactions? Casual observation reveals that most of us are connected via cel phones and other wireless communications, much more than ever. Look at the recent performance of wireless stock funds if there is any doubt.

But, what about real person-to-person interactions? Are electronic links complements or substitutes for the real thing? The Federal Highway Administration's travel surveys (NPTS and NHTS) for 1995 and 2001 provide some of the answers. Trip rates per person per day (all trip purposes) are up. They are up most significantly for higher-income people -- but there were more of these in 1995 than in 2001 as more people moved into higher brackets.

Of all the categories of trip-making, the non-work trip types were shopping (down very slightly, across the board), "other family and personal" (down some, also across the board), "school and church" (mostly up), "doctor and dentist visits" (mostly up for a mostly older and richer population), vacations (up for most income brackets), "visits to friends and relatives" (down for the low-income groups; up for others). This leaves all "other social and recreational" which were up the most -- for most income groups.

It seems that there is more good news than bad. We may be tethered to our electronics but we also get out more --and do stuff, often with others. It takes all those cel calls to set up all those play dates.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Well Offness

Is social science an oxymoron? History will tell. To date, it is hard to make the call. Can the well-offness of the population be calibrated with any precision? GDP and national income accounts have taken their lumps but, at least, they use endogenous and plausible weights (market prices; it is still unclear what Soviet GDP stats were -- nor how serious people could take them seriously).

We now have all sorts of new indices of human welfare. The newest, reported in this morning's NY Times Magazine by Ann Hulbert, is the Brookings Child Well-Being Index (C.W.I). Hulbert questions how in the world all of the C.W.I. components (more obesity, less teenage pregnancy, etc.) can be weighted equally?

Equal weights are a sign of maximum uncertainty. How about this as an interim rule: If one is ever prompted to create a new index, forget about it if equal weights are all that are available.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Voting With Feet

Arguably the most important contribution to urban economics was by Charles Tiebout in 1956. Challenging the idea that "public goods" are a source of "market failure", Tiebout pointed out that there are, in fact, markets for local public goods. People shop for the packages they like best when selecting a place to live. This amounts to a "quasi-market", imparting demand signals to local governments.

The theory has been elaborated in recent years by economists Bill Fischel, Fred Foldvary and Robert Nelson, among others. We now know that demands for public goods show up in land value differences. Local school quality is one such auspicious market. Moreover, if it is a private community, developers benefit from market signals (and returns) when planning the best land use arrangements.

Whether a private community or a small city, leaders are most responsive to the wishes of homeowners who look to them to create the rules that protect home value, most people's biggest tangible asset.

So far, so good. What happens when big-city leaders try to fill the same role? Shades of Inglewood: San Francisco politicians now want to keep chain stores with eleven or more stores from setting up shop in any of selected SF neighborhoods. They argue that they are doing what they can to protect the cities prized neighborhoods.

What is wrong with this picture? Why not let the neighborhoods decide? Let them secede and hammer out their own rules. Top-down one-size-fits-all has never quite worked. Besides big-city politics is less likely to cater for local tastes and more likely to be hijacked in the name of various agendas that have little bearing on neighborhood life.

Thursday, April 08, 2004


Appending the prefixes "under" or "over" to nouns and adjectives is mostly a rhetorical device that regularly appears in political discourse. The current example is political and journalistic analysis of the economy. First, the state of the economy is fretted over; then when recovery sets in, it is a "jobless recovery"; and now, when there are better jobs reports, these are not "good jobs" and many who are working are actually "underemployed".

Keynsian analysis or labor market search models can explain underemployment as well as they can explain unemployment. Yet, this is not what the political discussion is all about. Rather, it conjures vague and nefarious schemes.

Time to go back to Occam's Razor and Father Guido Sarducci who reminded those who may have forgetten that, "there's a supply and there's a demand". It even works in labor markets. The "good jobs" have a way of finding trained people. Those who are less productive can complain about the market wage that prevails in their own highest and best use but that does little good.

What makes the demogogery so unpalatable is the fact that so many young people are so poorly trained these days -- and that this sad state need not be addressed if enough people believe that one can catch "underemployment" mysteriously, somewhat like catching the flu.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The Demand for Dumb Policies

Many U.S. cities have Redevelopment Authorities that funnel large amounts other people's money to pet causes but which have very little positive effect. The politicization of development is a patently bad idea. As these cities slide further, they simply politicize more activities and the vicious cycle proceeds.

Politicized schools do not teach, their grads cannot produce and stay poor -- thereby creating a demand for umpteen new policies, etc. Things can quickly get out of hand and they often do.

Politicized land markets in most U.S. cities mean a costly "approvals process" that hobbles investment and development of the real sort. Poor places stay poor.

When Wal-Mart wanted to locate a new super-store on a white elephant parking lot in Inglewood, CA, they were quickly enmeshed in all sorts of local politics. The sorry ending was a ballot measure (initiated by the company) designed to short-circuit all of the hearings. This lost at the polls last night.

There will be fewer jobs in Inglewood, retail prices and variety will stay stuck where they have been for years and an empty eyesore parking lot will stay empty for a while longer. Oh yes, there will be more work for the City's Redevelopment Authority. Those unproductive jobs are safe.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Incoherence All Over Again

Coinciding with the morning of Pulitzer Prize press self-congratulation, Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren take many of the nation's top reporters to task for being astonishingly ignorant of basic economics. The two write about the "Gas Panic" and so many journalists' inability to differentiate between nominal, real, and relative price changes.

Beyond ignorance, there is incoherence. If prices are things to have opinions on, then high gas prices are "bad" because (among other things) they hurt "the poor"; yet, prices are never quite high enough because more people ride SUVs than public transit. So, if progressives' fondest dreams suddenly came true and they could actually fix prices, what would they do?

The only way out of that brain cramp is to consider their real agenda. Controlling prices are poor second to controlling people's choices directly. "Get people out of their cars," may soon be among the oldest of fools' errands. Or, treat Hummers like cigarettes; outright bans and/or full-blown campaigns, including half-truths, etc.

That approach, however, creates black markets (new ones for cigarettes all the time as politicians put the screws on smokes) and damages government's credibility, giving rise to increased cynicism, apathy, etc.

Bad policy choices typically create "crises" and the demand for fixes and more policies. Incoherence will do that.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Voting With Their Feet

David Brooks stands out because he is, both, insightful and fun to read. His Bobos in Paradise as well as Patio Man and the Sprawl People examined modern American lifestyles and, essentially, celebrated them. He does more of that in today's NY Times Magazine ("Our Sprawling Supersize Utopia"). Intellectuals have been sneering at suburbanization and associated lifestyles for many years. Many environmentalists have joined the chorus in recent years. Yet, not only are the new communities the result of free choices but they are also auspicious, once examined rather than dismissed.

Brooks sees the (mostly privately) planned communities cropping up in the exurbs as the modern realization of the American Dream and representative of a boldness of imagination missing in many other cultures, including the Province of Intelligensia. Yes, these places are even diverse.

"Suburban America is a bourgeois place, but unlike some other bourgeois places, it is also a transcendent place infused with every day utopianism. That is why you meet so many boring-looking people who see themselves on some technological frontier, dreaming of this innovation or that management technique that will elevate the world -- and half the time their enthusiasms, crazes and fads seem ludicrous to others and even to them, in retrospect."

Under the radar and/or dismissed by people whose vision is squarely focused on the pedestrian past (and the European cities that they have toured since high school art history), the new exurban/suburban places that Brooks describes so well are currently the destination of one of the biggest and most significant migrations of our time.

This is where new modes of living and socializing -- as well as new ways of land use planning and governing are being pioneered and tested.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

HOT Lanes

Dan Klein and Gordon Fielding came up with the HOT-lane idea more than ten years ago. Introduce much needed time-of-day pricing on U.S. highways by converting underused HOV lanes; make access available to anyone willing to trade cash for time; make it a variable toll sensitive to regular changes in demand; even raise highway money this way. Bob Poole, Ken Orski and many others have been working hard to promote the HOT-lane idea since then. There are even a few in existence in the U.S. Southern California has two, a segment of the SR-91 in Orange county and another segment of the I-15 in San Diego county.

Yet, progress has been slow. The current federal transportation reauthorization bill is full of political pork favorites (3000 election-year hand-outs according to the WSJ). Politicians prefer to build rather than manage capacity because that is where the money is. They love rail transit, even though hugely wasteful (30 years of documentation notwithstanding), because, unlike highways, this is where they get points from builders AND from from Greens.

Why, then, be optimistic about pricing? Because good ideas do have a slow inevitability. The few U.S. HOT-lane demos and now London's pricing success have slowly moved the idea into the mainstream. Perhaps the biggest push has come from London where it has been promoted by the City's Mayor, "Red Ken" Livingston. Just as it takes a Nixon to go to China, a Rabin to shake hands with Arafat (not a great idea but a show of great courage), it takes a card-carrying Socialist to give us a serious road-pricing clinic.

City-center pricing as in London is not useful in the U.S. where few go to the traditional centers. Rather, HOT-lanes are the way to go. The next logical step is to have them over an entire metro area's highway system, not simply on an isolated link here and there. The results would be dramatic and eye-opening, just as in London.

Friday, April 02, 2004

The Pollies

It turns out that some folks actually track and rank campus silliness, in this case campus PC. The Polly Awards (Pollies) are given to the nuttiest campus PC episodes. The Collegiate Network gives first price to Yale for its "Sex Week". No kidding. Actually, just part of First Place (it's a tie) goes to Yale's Sex Week (see the site for the co-recipient).

My own favorite is Duke University and its Chairman of the Philosophy Dept who defends the school's 17-1 left leaning political line-up of faculty by claiming that Duke will not hire dummies -- and conservatives tend to be stupid (not a direct quote; see the web site).

How about an Unintended Self-Parody Award, the USPA. Well, perhaps Pollies sounds better.

A recent discussion in the NY Times Book Review about an author who had not been heard from in years, mentioned that he was working on an academic spoof. One of the commentators noted that this is always a sure sign that the poor author had run out of material.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Tall Tale

Prospects for personal freedom and economic opportunity have attracted immigrants to the U.S. for hundreds of years. Yet, the class warfare view requires that the mobility story is overlooked and the focus is on the widening gap between rich and poor. Statistical evidence that most people do not spend a lifetime in any one income stratum is treated as if it were not there. This is intellectually dishonest; comparing income distribution snapshots taken at different times makes no sense. It does not compare the progress made by real people. Yet, what is one to do if one's world view is at stake?

Just when you thought that the link between urban sprawl and obesity (claimed by CDC researchers, among others) is silly, have a look at the current New Yorker and discover that redistribution explains stature (The Height Gap). Americans used to be taller than Europeans because they were richer, ate better and were likely to be healthier. Yet, data now show that Europeans have surpassed Americans. How and why? We keep too many people poor (and short) because we do not redistribute the wealth as effectively as the Dutch, the writer speculates. Never mind that he does cite the fact that Mexicans in the U.S. are, on average, taller than the ones in Mexico.

When one's worldview is at stake, a few leaps are seemingly OK among the smart set.