Supply side problems?

Girlfriend of Daunte Wright sues Kim Potter, Brooklyn Center

The girlfriend of Daunte Wright is suing former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter and the city, claiming she has suffered physical and psychological injuries as a result of the fatal incident.

According to the lawsuit filed Friday, Alayna Albrecht-Payton was sitting in the passenger seat the day Wright was shot and killed during a traffic stop.

Wright’s family previously won a lawsuit filed against the city and police department for $3.25 million, marking the largest settlement for a city outside of Minneapolis in Minnesota’s history.

MSN

Netflix Series Review: Capitani

My favorite part of watching foreign Netflix series is the change of scenery. I’ve never been to Luxembourg, and probably won’t go anytime soon as it is not very high on my must-see destinations. So taking in a show can temporarily put you en scene. Capitani is a police drama which is heavy on intrigue and light on violence. There is a nice balance of male and female characters. Everyone has a past. The youth can’t be trusted. All these factors keep the audience guessing.

The first season takes place in a rural setting. Capitani happens to be close by when a call comes over the radio to investigate the death of a fifteen-year-old girl. In season two the setting shifts back to a more typical urban underbelly. Whether Capitani is still a renegade police officer is something you will have to discover.


Book Review: American Spy

A new perspective on the spy novel can be found in Lauren Wilkeson’s 2019 novel American Spy. All the twists and turns and double-crossing agents can be found between the pages of this author’s first attempt at the espionage genre. But what makes it delightfully new is the perspective of a female African American. To be clear it is not a book on race or feminism. The story is true to the suspense thriller but her relationships, her family’s background, and her sense of identity when abroad feel fresh and authentic. It’s well worth the read.

Found at my favorite thrift store.

Syncing Incentives

Bangladesh has quite a story to tell. When I lived there as a child fifty years ago (give or take) it was an impoverished nation with few industries. At the time jute production was the most vital employer. And even today the total area under cultivation for the fiber in Bangladesh is 559,000 hectors.

Jute production circa 1970

Since then the country’s gross domestic product has surged from $4.27B in 1960 to $416.26B in 2022. This ratcheting up of financial success is all good. But ideally, a country with poor infrastructure, health, and environmental concerns would also like to make progress in public spheres.

Syncing the incentives between those with an abundance of social capital, like foreign investors, and local enterprises enjoying early success, is the puzzle destined to produce positive synergies. Who can provide what and when, and under what circumstances would they be willing to engage such resources is the type of knowledge that would be useful.

Australian woman rediscovers the advocacy of housewives

So I can only imagine their collective horror when a few years ago, in my 30s, I shacked up with a farmer schoolteacher (a male one), had two children in quick succession and sank into a quagmire of domestic drudgery in regional NSW.

There, I joined my local branch of the Country Women’s Association (CWA), arguably the nation’s most powerful and conservative women’s group.

I hesitated to mention my new membership to my staunchly feminist mother.

But it turns out that the CWA may have more in common with women’s lib than I’d imagined.

The whole article can be found here.

News clip about the Country Women’s Association celebrating its centennial.

Undoing monopolies

About 500 nurses at the Mayo Clinic’s hospital in Mankato, Minnesota, will no longer be represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association after voting 213-181 to decertify their labor union, according to a release.

Healthcaredive.com

Monopolies are helpful when there is an imbalance of power or when large infrastructure needs to be pushed through to completion. Ideally, a period of control is released after a time so that the actors can go back to making the best individual decisions to accomplish a blend of their private and public goals. After a 70-year stint, nurses at the Mayo Clinic will return to negotiating for themselves.

The decertification process was supervised by an outside agency.

The effort to dissolve the union was driven by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a “highly powered, well-funded outside national organization bent on undermining worker power and collective bargaining rights,” the MNA said in the release.

That Right to Work group says its goal is to provide “free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses,” according to its website.

Sustainability is in fashion

The use of the word sustainable has been popular for at least a decade now. It has the same understood meaning as green or eco-friendly. Although the dictionary definition states “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level”, Wikipedia captures how it is most often used:

Sustainability is a societal goal that broadly aims for humans to safely co-exist on planet Earth over a long time.  Specific definitions of sustainability are difficult to agree on and therefore vary in the literature and over time.[2][1] Sustainability is commonly described along the lines of three dimensions (also called pillars): environmental, economic and social.[1] This concept can be used to guide decisions at the global, national and at the individual level (e.g. sustainable living).[3] In everyday usage of the term, sustainability is often focused mainly on the environmental aspects. 

Crop rotation in agriculture is an example of a sustainable practice. By changing the demands on the soil each year, the nutrients are not diminished at the same rate and hence the land will be productive over longer periods of time. Recycling metals in lieu of further extraction through mining is a sustainable practice. Adding insulation to your attic and sealing out the gaping holes around your cannisters lighting is a sustainable effort to conserve energy.

What is interesting is that the word suggests that some of what we do is for the here and now and some of what we do is for future generations. In adapting practices where a little effort or resources are forgone in the short run, wAs this guy ith an anticipated gain in the long run, we acknowledge that there is a bimodal function to our action. There is what is chosen for oneself and what is chosen for a societal goal.

And this is a good thing as this is how we solve problems. As this guy suggests, we will always be able to feed the world.

Voice

We’ve been in an age of novel voices. You can tweet your opinion; you can mass message through email; you can tik toc your way into an endless loop of your voice. But other than the medium through which constituents communicate, what kinds of voices are there?

There are the ‘call it from the rooftop’ voices. In times of dire need, like during a pandemic, it seems necessary to advertise the benefits from vaccines, for instance, by broadcasting loudly across all channels.

Then there are times when a quiet voice is desired. If the point is to encourage a timid participant to step forward and share their stake in the issue at hand, perhaps starting the conversation in a quiet voice will bring them along.

And what about the aggressive voice? Is there a place for it in the mechanisms of our social life? It seems so. Although an extended visit is usually counterproductive.

Albert Hirshman described a dynamic to the entrance and exit of people in and out of groups of their choosing in Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. But a lot more could be said about the methods and manners in which this all occurs.

Moonlight, Summer Moonlight by Emily Brontë

’Tis moonlight, summer moonlight,
All soft and still and fair;
The solemn hour of midnight
Breathes sweet thoughts everywhere,

But most where trees are sending
Their breezy boughs on high,
Or stooping low are lending
A shelter from the sky.

And there in those wild bowers
A lovely form is laid;
Green grass and dew-steeped flowers
Wave gently round her head.

No worries about commodification

Perhaps one reason we have yet to enumerate the benefits of work done outside the job market, in the name of family or association, is that people fear the commodification of services meant to be done in loving care. A pecuniary take on the expense of raising a child or caring for an elderly parent or time devoted to helping a loved one fight an addiction, feels crass. An overt utilitarian calculation of every moment of every life sucks the soul out of good intentions.

Try to quell those fears with this thought. The impact of an individual is of no import in group dynamics. Value at an institutional level is the sum of the work over the whole group- hence there is no individual slicing and dicing of dollars to devotion.

Let me explain. If only one parental coupling in a school district tries to initiate a PTA there will be little value in it. These types of community investments only occur when a sizeable number of (individually motivated) decide to participate. So it really doesn’t matter if it is so-and-so’s mom or the Jones or the grandparent of Tommy, Johnny, or Sue. The institution of parental support within a school will be generated after a certain number of family members show up and give of their time and expertise.

Sometimes it does not matter who the individual is as no one can predict when the need for a community response will arise. The best way to deter crime is to stop it in the moment. Call the authorities, be a witness, and pull together a watch group. The act of doing any one of these things is not priced out individually, it only matters what the capacity of the group is to voluntarily respond, as needed, to crime prevention.

Watch Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino. He did not commodify himself. His contribution was calculated at the margin, and the return was significant.

Eye candy for book lovers

Magers & Quinn Booksellers rambles through an older brick building on Hennepin Ave in Minneapolis. The rows of shelving are weighted with a significant variety of material. There are dead-end aisles which serve as hideouts where time is suspended as readers thumb through their possible selections.

The display tables are sprinkled haphazardly throughout the store’s floorplan. Upward facing book covers are effectively eye catching. And the poetry display is adjacent to the mysteries- so convenient.

If you are a book lover, it’s worth a visit.

Who is keeping count?

The National Association of Counties is offering a matchmaking tool which helps link housing strategies to governments based on their situations.

This joint effort between the Brookings Institute and the Aspen Insitute Financial Program looks promising. But what I wanted to note here is the category of the cost that is attributed to housing in the core counties of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro. Both Hennepin and Ramsey counties are highlighted in green which is labeled as low-to-moderate cost. I agree with this representation.

Ten days ago the New York Times ran an article entitled The Housing Shortage Isn’t Just a Coastal Crisis Anymore. For this article the shortage of housing is scarlet hot red.

Since scarcity and prices are tied together, one of these two representations is inaccurate. The New York Times article relied on data from and organization UpforGrowth.org. I scoured the site for background on how they calculated their underproduction of housing but was unable to locate a reference to methods.

It just seems like there should be a reliable count of the number of dwellings in a city consisting of those in use, minus those being demolished plus those near completion. Otherwise, it seems that data generators are being hijacked for political reasons.

Emma at the Guthrie

We have a beautiful theater building in Minneapolis. The Gutherie was relocated to its present spot on the Mississippi in 2006. ” The design is the work of Jean Nouvel, along with the Minneapolis architectural firm Architectural Alliance and is a 285,000-square-foot (26,500 m2) facility that houses three theaters: (1) the theater’s signature thrust stage, seating 1,100, (2) a 700-seat proscenium stage, and (3) a black-box studio with flexible seating. It also has a 178-foot cantilevered bridge (called the “Endless Bridge”) to the Mississippi which is open to visitors during normal building hours.” (Wiki)

My daughter and I went to see the world premiere of Kate Hamill’s production of Emma last night. As the title suggests, it is adapted from the book by Jane Austen. The playwright uses the 19th century novel as a backdrop to narrate a more up-to-date version of a woman’s place in the world. Instead of a screechy demand for greater recognition of the abilities of educated women, the lead actress puts forth the idea (several times) that perhaps all her education is going to waste when all she has to occupy her time is matchmaking. At the same time, there is support for wage-earning women as well as a place for a maternal figure.

Hamill appears to be a feminist in the most well-rounded sense of the word.

The production was performed on the Wurtele Thrust stage, which holds the largest audience and is still very intimate. This facilitates an occasional conversation between Emma and the audience. At one point she looks out into the red upholstered seats and challenges with a wagging finger that perhaps we had been holding out on her. It’s hard to say if Hamill was trying to suggest that we need input from those around us when it comes to affairs of the heart.

Throughout the performance, there are a series of dance sets to the likes of the Supremes, Lizzo, Stevie Wonder, and Boyz II Men. Often there is a second act at the back of the stage, like the supporting actors slow-mo dancing, which is hilarious. It’s all very energetic and uptempo which syncs well with Amelia Pedlow’s interpretation of Emma.

As promised, it is a screwball comedy. There are a few heavy phrases tucked in including multiple suggestions of privilege and the lack of women’s rights. They seemed stilted and not necessary, but perhaps to others in the audience, the words do not bear a loaded meaning. There was much laughter, a few outbursts of applause, and a partial standing ovation at the finale. We were happy to have gone.

Cultivate creativity, take a walk

I like to walk. I’ve posted here about how Rousseau loved to walk, and here I suggest how to plan a walk; sometimes a walk is simply about the beauty of it, as seen here.

But this article by Steven Johnson will give you much more to chew on: The Thinking Path.

A few years after Charles Darwin moved into Down House, the three-story home in the suburbs of London where he lived with his family for the last forty years of his life, he leased an adjoining strip of land from a neighbor and constructed a gravel path that ran alongside its periphery. Over the years he planted gardens and trees to accompany the oak grove already on the property, which he came to call “Sandwalk Grove.” Almost every day, he walked multiple loops on the path, working through the grand theory of evolution that he developed over the decades at Down House. Today, visitors to the property can retrace Darwin’s steps on what is formally called “the sandwalk,” though Darwin himself gave it another name. He called it his “thinking path.”

Scenes from today’s walk at French Regional Park.

Are scents out of style?

It just doesn’t seem like you hear much about fragrance anymore. The TV ad with the latest must-have model glowering into the camera followed by an announcement-style proclamation of the brand is simply not around. Anywhere.

Understandably COVID took a whack out of the market. With everyone covering up their noses what is the sense of emitting a pleasant odor? Plus the closure of beauty shops and the work-from-home model encourages people to be more casual with their appearances.

But I’m not just referring to Eau de Toilet. It seems like writing also fails to reference the wafting of the linden trees when in bloom. Some say the “smell is bright and sunny with hints of honey” while this tree enthusiast says, ” The scent — a blend of honey and lemon peel — is far-reaching.” I found these references because I knew where to look. But if you think about the novel at your bedside table, are there references to scent contained between the covers?

And except for the weather man (or woman) who comments on the humidity, it is difficult to point to any writers out making daily commentary about bouquets or aromas. Noone even attempts to set a stage. No color or frangrance or lyrical language. Just straight jabs to the jaw.

Bring back the scents I say!

Trees, plants and things

This beautiful one hundred-year-old linden tree shades a large, grassy backyard in Edina.

What stays with a house sale and what goes isn’t always as transparent as one might think. Those lilies that were transplanted from your grandmother’s farm can’t just vanish in the days before you close on the sale of your home. The shrubs edging up the front windows and the beautiful trees in the back yard all are all part of the purchase agreement. If you want to take the hosta to line the flower bed at your next home, then you better write it in.

Trees can be costly. Not only to replace- which runs plenty especially if you are looking for mature trees- but having them trimmed runs more than a few hundred bucks. Large trees require equipment. If they can’t get the machinery into the backyard, then guys with chainsaws use ropes to shimmy up and down the trunks. A little cord tied to the back of my trousers wouldn’t reassure me, but these guys don’t seem to mind.

The key is to take account of the plantings on the lot before you make your purchase. Look for diseased trees. Take an assessment of any overgrown shrubs, especially if they are rubbing up next to the property. The whole package of structure and plot become yours to care for after closing.

Agitated buyers

Rising interest rates have put the brakes on the home buying market. Average listings are staying on the market for more than a day, and even the perfectly updated cream puffs are not commanding multiple offers which were so common since the summer of 2020. And it’s a good thing. The market is always moving which implies that either the buyers or sellers are favored. But long periods on one side of an unbalanced market is exhausting.

It was not uncommon for buyers to have submitted six or seven offers on homes before they secured a purchase. At each step, they learnt a little more about what is required of them to win the bid. Perhaps on the first house, they bumped up their offer price by a couple of thousands. As they relayed their experience to friends and co-workers they learnt that simply wasn’t enough of a bonus- one must bid more.

The next time around they found out that many people were offering non-refundable earnest money. In the event the transaction did not close, the earnest money would be automatically relinqueshed to the seller. Then some people forewent their inspection. This allowed the seller the peace of mind of knowing nothing more would be asked of them

Most purchases in the US are done without haggling. Price are offered through different vendors or shops and you have the option to pay or buy somewhere else. The process of bid and discovery, and bid again, and more information can agitate buyers to the point that they pull out of the market entirely.

Those are the folks we see come back in to buy now that the market has cooled. They no longer have to give it all away to be the winning bid. Paying a higher interest rate is a sacrifice, but they are getting something in return.

Rules, power and getting things done

Most people agree that some rules are necessary. People cannot coexist with a reliance on internal moral compasses and common sense. Conflict is bound to arise and rules shape how to proceed once this happens. Even in the case of simple standards, rules can facilitate living in close quarters. It may seem like trivial overreach to implement a maximum grass height. But in fact, it’s the benchmark that tells the neighbors when they can say enough! Hire someone to mow that hay field.

 

A certain number of ordinances enables standard responses, which ease the ability of society to get along. But as the rule setting continues, a weird thing happens. People who like power (and often who understand power) mandate regulations to feel powerful. They talk a good game about the issues at hand, but you’ll notice the conversation always revolves back to some coalition beating out another coalition. There’s an ever-present fascination with some sneaky move that one group played on another.

People who like power are needed on occasion. But often these people have left the issue and the objectives at hand. The resolution is just a bobble to fight for. They are not useful in the daily duties of getting the job done. And this appears to be taking a toll on the workforce.

The New York Times looked into Why City Workers in New York Are Quitting in Droves. Read it. It’s all about power plays. The jobs have not changed, nor the compensation, nor the fact that the private sector has always been more lucrative. So what’s left? The social position of jobs has diminished and it is no surprise that the “(R)esignations and retirements from the Police Department are the highest they have been in nearly two decades.”

Other jobs that have become undesirable are the enforcers of the rules. “A critical New York City inspection team, which responds to violations and complaints about lead paint, mold, heat and hot water, has been hampered by a severe staffing shortage, with 140 positions waiting to be filled.” Call it pandemic enforcement fatigue. There is no status in it anymore.

And as tired as everyone is with discharging mandates, workers want a little freedom too.

Many also cited Mayor Eric Adams’s campaign to compel city workers to return to the office full time, a stance that was reinforced in late May. “While hybrid schedules have become more common in the private sector, the mayor firmly believes that the city needs its workers to report to work every day in person,”

All I’m saying is that rule makers have fallen out of fashion, let’s hurry up and take advantage of the loss of status. Repeal the dumb rules and regulations. There are plenty out there.

More long sentences

But as for my grandmother, in all weathers, even in a downpour when Françoise had rushed the precious wicker armchairs indoors so that they would not get wet, we would see her in the empty, rain-lashed garden, pushing back her disordered gray locks so that her forehead could more freely drink in the salubriousness of the wind and rain. She would say: “At last, one can breathe!” and would roam the soaked paths-too symmetrically aligned for her liking by the new gardener, who lacked all feeling for nature and whom my father had been asking since morning if the weather would clear-with her jerky, enthusiastic little step, regulated by the various emotions excited in her soul by the intoxication of the storm, the power of good health, the stupidity of my up bringing, and the symmetry of the gardens, rather than by the desire, quite unknown to her, to spare her plum-colored skirt the spots of mud under which it would disappear up to a height that was always, for her maid, a source of despair and a problem.

Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust

Is there a natural market size for club goods?

When people gather and cooperate in the provision of a public good that is available only to their group, it is called a club good. Compared to private goods it is more difficult to track the output of these types of goods. The former can be counted up and traded, which translates into a neat and tidy quantity-vs-price graph. Public goods, like education for example, are made available to everyone. Hence the measure of success depends on the entire team.

Although a group is made up of individuals, for the purposes of tracking achievement, the outcome is a reflection upon everyone. As my son’s baseball coach would say, there is no ‘i’ in team. Or as dictionary.com explains, some nouns are mass nouns like sunshine or water. Even though we have such a strong tendenancy to try to extract the individual as the unit of analysis, we really must account for the group when dealing in club goods.

This leads us to wonder how big the marketplace should be in the collective efforts to, in this case, educate our children. This came to mind today as I was listening to Russ Roberts interview Nassim Nicholas Taleb on a new episode posted at Econ Lib. It sounded like the author of The Black Swan likes to process his ideas for new books by talking them through with Russ on the podcast. The topic today was the optimum size of the State. Here he makes the case for smaller groups.

But, let me make a comment here, why size is central to what we’re discussing. Because people keep using names–state, nation–the size is central.

You do a lot better, I think, meeting a person a thousand times than meeting a thousand persons once. In other words, you’re in a big city like New York City, you walk out, you’re going to see everyday different people. Whereas in a village you’re going to probably encounter the same number of people, assuming you encounter them, it would be the same people. It’s like knowing it’s a friend is a person that you see a thousand times. You see one person a thousand times rather than a thousand strangers once. You see? Things don’t scale properly. There are things that work differently at a lower scale. And, what I’ve discovered while working on volatility models show that why an elephant, for example, is not a large mouse. An elephant is vastly more fragile–

Taleb

The specific details about who runs into whom are less important than the gist of what he is saying with respect to gauging size. It might be a thousand people or all of Manhattan. What I think is being framed here is a way to identify the size of a community suited to accomplish their goals. And the suggestion is that it must be small enough to allow people with common interests to bump into each other and trade the resources necessary to edge toward an outcome.

As long as all the people interested in educating the kids can come across each other, then they can combine their enthusiasm and skills to foster learning. As long as enough of the folks who depend on transportation networks can give feedback and encourage the appropriate repairs and expansions, then roads and bridges infrastucture will stay up to date. As long as all the people best able to monitor the streets for safety are able to provide feedback to law enforcement, then the compact to protect all citizens will raise to expectations. And on through the list it goes.

As long as the size of the community allows for people to easily do the work of community, then the institutions in place to provide public goods will be backstopped with the resources needed to flourish. At this point, as I understand it, you have found the right size for the school district or the precinct, or the State.

The Hunter with Steve McQueen- Movie Review

Rotten Tomatoes only gives this 1980 action-adventure film a 5.2 out of 10, but I really enjoyed it. It is Steve McQueen’s (1930-1980) last feature film and he plays up the role of a bounty hunter who isn’t as spry as he once was. He is also an hysterically poor driver. I find it fitting that the mega star with a garage full of a hundred classic cars leaves the stage playing a parady of himself.

I was not aware of how rough a childhood Steve McQueen had endured. Raised by a handful of relatives, and beaten repeatedly by his mother’s new husbands, he found himself on the streets several times getting by with petty theft. He entered the Marines before he was eighteen and used the GI bill to pursue acting once he served his tour. In 1959 Frank Sinatra saw something in him and made sure the camera frequently found his close up in the movie Never So Few. By 1974 McQueen was Hollywood’s best paid actor.

If you lived through the 70s, and like cars, you will appreciate the array of vehicles throughout the film. The car chases are not edgy but they are fun. And there are plenty of stunts. The story takes you into some rough urban areas. When you see old footage of people living in buildings that are more or less slums, it is a good reminded of how far housing standards have come in most cities in America.

Lastly, you can’t help but notice the musical score. A full orchestra builds the auditory suspense and it is refreshingly original. Michel Legrad wrote the music; he wrote over 200 movie scores the most notable to me is “The Windmills of Your Mind” from the Thomas Crowne Affair (1968).

Why aren’t people studying capacity?

The last two years have seen two events where the actions of citizens have drawn worldwide attention. At the end of May two years ago the killing of George Floyd ignited protests in Minneapolis which lasted for three days. Before the National Guard was engaged to end the violence, three miles of businesses were vandalized and burned, and spotty destruction occurred elsewhere in the metro area. Everyday people who typically abide by the rules were looting and pillaging while others stepped to the side, let it happen, and even cheered it on.

What led people to normalize violent behavior in a city which has enjoyed a low crime rate?

More recently the west has been energized by the Ukrainian people’s passionate self-defense in their David and Goliath story. When the Russian military advanced on their territory experts assumed the government would fold and the people submit to a new rule. Yet the heroism of the people continues still today as they have successfully stalled the super power from further territorial gains.

In both cases, the citizens were underestimated. In one scenario the norm to preserve order and support the enforcement of rules or laws was subverted. In the other, a people found reserves of courage, commitment, and where with all to engage in military operations. Despite worldwide attention, I have seen little analysis as to how the capacity to fail to act or to act was stockpiled.

More has been written about the history of the conflict in Ukraine. Since 2014 when Russia invaded and successfully secured Crimea, the Ukrainians have had eight years to regroup. But since none of the foreign policy experts expected the strength of their patriotism, there must have been more happening on the ground to store away a united ambition to fight.

Similarly, in the years leading up to a teenage girl filming the death of a man under the knee of a police officer, it’s hard not to wonder what dynamics were put into play to allow law-abiding people to support and empathize with the subsequent action of thugs burning and looting businesses. Although the aspirations couldn’t be more different between patriotic fighting and protestors gone wild, the lack of outward signs of the build-up of such reserves is similar.

So how is it done? It seems like important information to know.

Stale

I bet I’m not the only one who feels like the use of the word systemic is a tad tired. Its appearance is a sure sign there is no systemic solution being offered in the article.

Metal Market

I was trying to get rid of a propane tank. It was taking up room in the garage and the fittings were obsolete so it was no longer something we could use. The county site referred me to Express Metals but the guy who answered the phone said they weren’t interested. Metals, he said, that’s what we take.

So I dug around some more and found five old metal open house tent signs. They are dangerous things. When you lift them in and out of your trunk there’s a fair chance you’ll slip and nick your bumper, or worse yet chip the paint. Open house signs have been made of plastic for several decades. This was my opportunity to get the ancient ones off their hanger on the garage wall and find out exactly where all the junkers drop off their aluminum cans.

The warehouse space was centrally located on one of those back streets lined with one-level commercial spaces. The sign was barely visible at the entrance alongside the chain-linked double gate that I assumed was closed and locked at night. You drive on past a row of dumpsters and a concrete building until the signage above an office door identifies where to bring your drop off.

As you enter, the first thing you see is this display of accepted items. I thought the headings were appropriately categorical.

One of the workers pointed back out toward the parking lot to a line of trolleys. I took the non-verbal communication and rolled my meek pile of metal onto the floor scale wondering about its value. A middle aged woman at the adjacent window was strong arming a large carton box of brass fittings. I had a feeling they were worth more. My ticket came up.

A hand extended into a pointed finger directing me to the scanner at the counter to the left of the metals display. The bar code instructed the cash dispenser to spit out my buck. Now you might think that’s not much. But given we had just paid a transfer station $120 to dispose of some construction debris- this at least was a benefit instead of a cost.

Tug of War

Over the weekend we had a guest puppy at our place. She and our pup figured out how to play tug of war. One grunted, the other rolled on a growl. It was all in fun- all part of the game. When one would drop their hold on the rope-wrapped toy the other would dangle it back so the tugging could continue. They were entertained for hours.

Not sure why people don’t want to have fun.

Stories from when I was young

Swallows and Amazons

They pulled off stone after stone, and with each stone that was removed the marvels of the box grew greater. It was entirely covered with labels. There were labels showing “P and O. First Cabin”. There were labels of the Bibby Line, of the Dollar Line, of the Nippon Yusen Kaisha. There was a label with palm trees and camels and a river from some hotel in Upper Egypt. There were labels showing the blue bays and white houses of Mediterranean seaports. There was a label saying, “Wanted on the Voyage”. There were labels with queer writing on them, and no English writing at all except the word Peking. There was a label of the Chinese Eastern Railway. There were labels of hotels in San Francisco, Buenos Ayres, London,Rangoon, Colombo, Melbourne, Hong-Kong, New York, Moscow and Khartoum. Some of them were pasted over others. Some were scratched and torn. But each one delighted the able-seaman and the boy. In the middle of the lid were two letters, “J.T.” Stone after stone was pulled away. The box had been put under the tree, in the hollow where the roots had been, and then covered with big loose stones, of which there were plenty on all sides. Some of the stones were so big that Titty and Roger both pulling together could hardly move them. As for shifting the box, it was like trying to move a house. They could not stir it a quarter of an inch.

“Let’s get it open,” said Roger.

by Arthur Ransome

Let Freedom do its Thing

Today the US celebrates the birth of its constitution and its independence from British rule. It’s a family day filled with picnics and parades. There is a lot of flag waving and fireworks traditionally close the show after nightfall. By far the most patriotic of holidays, it remains a cherished long weekend despite nagging challenges to the varieties of freedom present in American lives.

In the ‘ol days, freedom was simpler. As long as your kin and kith were not ruled by outside forces then you were free. Freedom from domination by force was the primary concern until modern history, and freedom to worship if you lived in the west. Since then the demand for freedom has expanded in all directions: free to love, free to choose, free from oppression, free to marry, free to express, free to join, and free to separate. But it seems that as the quest for greater freedom picked up speed, new forms of restrictions sprouted up like dandelions in early spring.

It’s like everyone is all for freedom, as long as it coincides with their ideas, their thoughts on the way life should be. Business-oriented people cringe at the freedom of a pool boy to work through the summer and coast through the winter. But we are not optimizing productivity! Women who thrive as corporate powerhouses find housewives inconvenient. Parsimonious types can’t fathom that artists wielding away their time and resources on churning out pottery or graffitti or embellishments. And thus the debates about details, a haggling over resources, produce battles for control. Progress trickles past all the damming.

There’s a stumbling into a new power structure and a new paradigm of how networks of people with shared interests engage to produce. The model is bubbling with interconnected trading spaces. But it requires participants to allow others the freedom to navigate their choices. It requires a release of assumed dominance over the choices people make. This appears to require an unnerving amount of trust. The domain is vast.

The figuring out of this new balance within our old system is underway. People are distracted by the details. Instead of looking to the overarching structure they choose to bicker about their small corners. But the desire for maximum freedom never diminishes. And thus becomes a human project which touches us all. Happy Fourth of July!

Interceptor- Movie Review

This movie could be a comedy to the right audience. Every identity is represented: immigrant, nerd, red neck, white male psychopath, victimized woman, and on it goes. A whole collection of cliche phrases clunk out of a beaten up tool box.

The takes on capitalism driving people only to care about money, money, money! Whereas the heroine is been coached by her white haired father to remember its always about the fight (or the struggle to some.)

There’s entertainment value, I guess, in keeping a scorecard for subtle and not-so-subtle messaging. And the physical fight prowess of the lead actress is impressive. If these don’t trip your trigger though- don’t invest the time.

Better ways to leverage

Mike Makowsky wrote an interesting post at Economist Writing Every Day. Given his knowledge of the sports labor market, he is able to provide details about the paths young atheletes take on their journey from high school star to mega-buck-NBA-earners. It’s easy to accept his point that kids with sports parents have greater chances of success. Just like kids with acedemic parents leverage their family life to enter acedemia. But it is the subtleties he flushes out, such as tacit knowledge and the various plateaus of success and affiliates careers, which are interesting.

If I’m following him, there are various components that contribute to securing a lucrative NBA job. Simply having a superstar parent doesn’t mean you will be bestowed with benefits. In fact, it could be detrimental- think of the parent that is so self-absorbed that their kids go unheeded. In Mike’s story, the parent not only has connections but activates them. This is component #1. The work a parent is willing to devote to the child.

There are undoubtedly gains from great genetics, but a little tacit knowledge can also go a long way. Dell Curry realized his son would need added a particular shooting strategy to make up for his lack of height. “This lead him to entirely reinvent his son’s shooting form in a manner that rendered him unable to shoot from any distance at all for months, entirely based on his understanding as a former NBA player that his son’s lack of genetic predisposition to play in the NBA required a motion that would catapult shots over much taller players.”  Engaging insights and experience is component #2: Human capital.

The third advantage an experienced parent brings to the child is an understanding of the landscape. In high-profile sports, the funnel is steep, and only a few secure the lofty salaries. High school superstars with no other affiliation to pro sports may never make it.

The irony being that losing first is better than than getting the silver medal. Losing first means rebooting your life early and building up your human capital in something else (hopefully in something more forgiving of merely being very, very good). The silver medalist is, in fact, the biggest loser. The opportunity cost of time and energy they will never get back and never be rewarded for. I don’t worry about players that don’t get NCAA scholarships or drafted for the NBA. I worry about the guys hanging around in the G league until they’re 34 only to get released from their contract over a text message.

As an outsider, I can understand the structure of these components. Yet I have no background or experience to be able to connect a child to those who could help, or develop a winning shooting strategy and most of all understand the benchmarks between making it big and wasting years sitting on the bench for a minimal wage. As an outsider, it would be very difficult for me to know where to allocate work or resources to advance a youth athlete.

Yet this is what public policy experts do all the time. They slice off categories of disadvantaged kids by the income of the parents and throw cash at them and hope for the best. Some of these low-income families may still have very competent and even educated parents. They may not need human capital, they may need connections. Some of these kids may have the smarts but not the emotional and structural support to get them out of the neighborhood. And understanding the neighborhood landscape is most probably best understood from the inside, not the out.

Loosening of ties

This image of the G7 leaders in tieless attire is making the rounds on Twitter. There’s an observance that times are changing and the buttoned up look against the backdrop of some symbol of the halls of power is slipping away. Now the leaders are casual in their suits, almost sloppy if you look too closely at Boris Johnson. Perhaps old formalities are dropping to the wayside.

It used to be that public goods described activity in the public sector. Only economic activity administered by governments, such as the ones represented, were thought to fall inthis category. About ten or fifteen years ago people spoke up and noted that NGO’s also provided services when governments were failing. Instead of the funding coming from taxation, the money flowed from philanthropy.

The definition of a public good has expanded some more. Here is a peice from one version written by Tyler Cowen on Econlib, after the core concept has been flushed out.

Partially public goods also can be tied to purchases of private goods, thereby making the entire package more like a private good. Shopping malls, for instance, provide shoppers with a variety of services that are traditionally considered public goods: lighting, protection services, benches, and restrooms are examples. Charging directly for each of these services would be impractical. Therefore, the shopping mall finances the services through receipts from the sale of private goods in the mall. The public and private goods are “tied” together.

Here is the insight that private endeavors also envolve the provision of community goods.

If you’ve spent time on this site then you know that we feel that any good can be made public or private to a group. What is public to those inside the group is most likely private to those outside. All the households appliances are free to use by anyone from within the home but are considered private to those looking at the house from the street. The lines which encircle groups are many, some formal, some informal. But in order to calculate wealth held within communities, or their capacity to provide goods, for instances, it must be understood that all goods can be club goods.

Words and Phrases

I love learning about words. They are so interesting; how they are used, where they come from. I’ve tried to collect new ones that I like.

Allegiances. When political economist Carlos Eduardo Suprinyka talks about pluralism he describes groups as being delineated by allegiances instead of interests. Instead of sharing a common interest in a family, community, workplace, or church- people have loyalty or commitment of a subordinate to a superior.

Price Discovery. The distinction of coming at price from a process rather than a calculation never really occured to me. Price discovery is very prominent in real estate. Most buyers and sellers dip their toes into a market several times before coming to terms with another party.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This term describes a foreign entity owning a company on foreign soil. It implies a distinction and assumed benefit of purchasing the complete structure with local labor. Otherwise they would simply be a portfolio investor.

Natural Capital. The world’s stock of natural resources, which includes geology, soils, air, water, and all living organisms. It’s a much better word than ecosystem.

Underpin. Whenever I read this word a warning goes off that the author doesn’t know how the two issues interact- so the relationship is delegated to an ‘underpinning.’

Theoretical Construct. A descriptive word describing the space in which the abstraction exists. (Or that’s what I think it is.)

Mental Model. Is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about their own acts and their consequences. Mental models can help shape behaviour and set an approach to solving problems.

Cost vs. Value- Home improvement edition

It is fun to check and see the projected payback on a home improvement project. This is one of many charts or graphs available simply by googling cost versus value. Exterior work garners the greatest return. This is most likely due to its impact on first impressions. Windows most likely gain traction from improved energy efficiency. And coming in third on the cost versus value ordering is kitchen and bath remodels.

Some readers will question some of the projected costs (can it really be that much?!). And they may be different for your area. When we see compilations such as this, the final number is not actually ‘the’ bid. People realize there is a range of possibilities for the costs involved, depending on a bunch of factors. But these prices are not calculated through a mathematical model. They are reflective of what consumers are experiencing in their marketplaces.

Some may argue about whether the past is indicative of the future. But it seems that there is detailed information to derive from past transactions.

Van Gogh in Minneapolis

Five of Vincent van Gogh’s olive tree paintings are on loan to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. They make up a small exhibit along with several etchings. The viewing space is intimate with lighting picking up the texture of the paint strokes on canvas. Only a handful of people are present at any one time which encourages an inclination to linger rather than to leave.

Everyone knows van Gogh as the genius with mental illness. The man whose brush techniques and color combinations made his work vibrate with energy. I did not realize he started his artistic endeavors late in life nor that he was so prolific.

Largely on the basis of the works of the last three years of his life, van Gogh is generally considered one of the greatest Dutch painters of all time. His work exerted a powerful influence on the development of much modern painting, in particular on the works of the Fauve painters, Chaim Soutine, and the German Expressionists. Yet of the more than 800 oil paintings and 700 drawings that constitute his life’s work, he sold only one in his lifetime. Always desperately poor, he was sustained by his faith in the urgency of what he had to communicate and by the generosity of Theo, who believed in him implicitly. 

Britannica

Insight into his state of mind can be gleaned from the many letters he wrote to his brother Theo. His brother gave him the freedom to pursue his calling. It’s hard to say how a brother can be so devoted to his sibling. Vincent tried to support himself as an art dealer, a language teacher, a bookseller, and a lay preacher. As he stumbled along, fighting with mental illness, his brother chose to support him unequivocally.

Perhaps Theo did this entirely out of family obligation. We all have duties to our blood ties. It sounds more likely that he had some sense about his brother’s brilliance. Fortunately, he lived in a time when he had the freedom and capacity to provide support. In a short run accounting, van Gogh would have been a liability- taking the long view, as perhaps Theo did, Vincent was a rainmaker.

Freedom trumps utility as the latter isn’t always readily apparent. Each couple or group or society must decide where to place their backing. Those on the outside are inadequate at doing the math or evaluating either short-term or long-term returns.

Waiting

Raymond Carver

Left off the highway and 
down the hill. At the
bottom, hang another left.
Keep bearing left. The road
will make a Y. Left again.
There's a creek on the left.
Keep going. Just before
the road ends, there'll be another road. Take it
and no other. Otherwise,
your life will be ruined
forever. There's a log house
with a shake roof, on the left. It's not that house. It's
the next house, just over
a rise. The house
where trees are laden with
fruit. Where phlox, forsythia, and marigold grow. It's
the house where the woman
stands in the doorway
wearing sun in her hair. The one who's been waiting
all this time.
The woman who loves you.
The one who can say,
"What's kept you?"

What’s it called when a bystander stops a guy with a gun?

When police stop an active shooter they are doing their job. They are paid a salary to respond and resolve the conflict at hand.

We don’t really have a name for what it is called when a bystander interferes with the gunman (or woman). Perhaps they are doing their civic duty. But this word implies an obligation to react. I don’t think must people *expect* bystanders to put themselves in harms way.

Furthermore the bystander receives no monetary compensation. It’s not like there’s a standing bounty for anyone to grab if they stop a crime. When ordinary citizens give their time, skills and efforts to reduce public safety, what do they get?

Because whether a bystander or the police stop an active shooter the benefit to the nearby neighbors is the same. So you’d think we’d have a name for something so valuable.

Effects of the digital age- real estate sales edition

Yesterday, I was at a round table breakout session at a lovely golf course across town. The objective was to get real estate agents together and to hear what is working. Out of ten tables, only two presenters talked primarily about social media applications. This is quite a turn about from ten years ago. A decade ago everyone was still trying to get their heads around how platforms would impact the real estate transaction. Everything tied to social media was worth talking about.

As is often the case, the early predictions were wrong. Internet platforms did not change how homes are bought and sold, and certainly did not put Realtors out of work. The nature of the service is a bit (understatement) more involved than booking airline tickets. If anything the number of for sale by owner transactions has decreased, not increased.

Here’s how the digital age has affected real estate sales:

  1. Information that took a little work to obtain is now available at a click. For instance, public tax information has always been public, it just required some digging. Now most counties have mapping software that allows one to navigate a geography and click straight through to useful information.
  2. The software and interconnections available for workflow processing are a mixed blessing. Overall it is convenient to load the data and be able to access it through any portal. The form-filling applications are sophisticated. But all the systems do not match up perfectly causing redundancies and the necessity to clean up files. This issue of incompatible systems in an work flow seems to be ever present.
  3. The preferred means of communication with a client is set by them. Call, text, email, messenger- they are all in play. Zoom calls are beneficial on a limited basis. I’ve talked more on the phone lately as people have circled back to the realization that it is pleasant and efficient to talk through logistics. Technology’s ability to link a tremendous amount of information is extremely useful. But when it comes to navigating a decision tree with implications at each juncture, a telephone call is better.

Although advertising on social media still has an impact, it no longer holds the fascination it once did. The early years yielded great benefits to marketers as the audience did not realize they were putting their motivations on display. Once people understood their data was not private, they found, and continue to find, ways to withdraw and opt out of unsolicited offers. At the same time, a social norm has emerged which says it is unattractive to pound out one self-serving ad after the next.

Realtors are here to stay. So find the one who knows how to access the information most vital to your choices, who can communicate with you via the means you most prefer, and who will stay in touch using an agreeable method.

Have you left the building?

Sometimes when one is trying to converse about very large questions, a response is given which makes one wonder how they could have so misunderstood your vantage point. It’s as if you’ve been charged with redecorating a vast estate and they are working in the upstairs sleeping chambers while you are down in the study. One has a view over the valley and afar, and the other looks out onto the garden. One is meant for peaceful rest and the other for industrious outcomes. Bickering ensues over all sorts of details. But you want to scream that despite different points of view and purposes the topic is still under the same roof.

Roundabouts

Roundabouts are becoming popular in the Twin Cities. The city of Minneapolis has a list of seventeen mini ones on the docket. But it is not only in the center cities- they are popping up everywhere. The Ridgedale Mall area in suburban Minnetonka has feathered in two full-fledged traffic circles on the south side of the shopping area.

I remember the first time one slowed me down in Woodbury, located on the eastern edge of the metro. We had spent the afternoon at a large athletic playfield complex and were trying to get home for dinner and rest. The sun was low in the sky to add to the irritation that the car in front had come to a complete stop. Unprepared for this new fangled road feature, the late middle-aged driver had to assess her choices. In proper Minnesota fashion, we sat in passive aggressive limbo while she sorted out her confusion.

As people have become familiar with the concept it is less likely to stop entirely. Although drivers are hesitant, the setup works as intended with a continuous flow of traffic. In the area shown above, the quieting will most probably discourage hot-rodding and get-away cars. Thus there is safety to be gained from several areas of social activity.

Taken from *The Street* by Ann Petry

‘Money?’ she said suspiciously.


‘Sure. Pick out the bottles and the pieces of metal. I’ll pay you for them. It won’t be much. But I can cover more ground if somebody helps me.’

Thus, Mrs. Hedges and Junto started out in business together. It was she who suggested that he branch out, get other pushcarts and other men to work for him. When he bought his first piece of real estate, he gave her the job of janitor and collector of rents.

It was a frame building five stories high, filled with roomers. Not many people knew that Junto owned it. They thought he came around to buy junk scrap iron and old newspapers and rags. When he obtained a second building, he urged her to move, but she refused. Instead, she suggested that he divide the rooms in this building in half and thus he could get a larger income from it. And of course she made more money, too, because she got a commission on the rent she collected. She was careful to spend very little because she had convinced herself that if she had enough money she could pick out a man for her self and he would be glad to have her.

It’s surprising to me that Ann Petry’s The Street is not better recognized. I’ve never seen it referenced. Yet it is full of interesting interactions which show how the protagonist in particular, but others as well, get along in their lives. The prose is stronger than many of her peers. It was her first book and seems to have been well regarded when it was written in the mid-40s.

Petry’s first and most popular novel, The Street, was published in 1946 and won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship with book sales exceeding one million copies.[3] She was featured in a brief All-American News film segment covering her winning the award.[18]

Wikipedia

Joyful Blooms

Perhaps, if you are not a gardener, it is hard to understand the level of satisfaction to be gained when your plants come into full bloom. But it is real. After the tulips and rhododendrons and lilacs steal the early show, there is a flurry of new activity come June.

The fushia peony and the yellow false indigo didn’t always stand shoulder to shoulder. A lot of work is done to get the right plant in the right spot- the degree of sunlight and water are the most significant determinants, but other factors influence the plants’ well-being as well.

And there are critters. They feel you have simply made their meals a little easier. My two tea roses went into their spot about fifteen years ago. For the first few summers, they barely grew making me look ridiculous for having allocated them so much space in my front border garden. Then early one morning I spotted the problem. The bunnies would nibble the fresh shoots down to the stems. Once the bushes are large they lose interest- perhaps because of the thorns.

There are old plants like the yellow iris which came from my grandmother’s garden in Iowa. And new experiments like the Sweet Kate Spiderwort which only shows its periwinkle blooms before noon. The purple balloon flower had to be moved from a shadier spot but is now quite happy in the full afternoon sun next to the catmint. And the Siberian iris blooms only last a short while but sure are elegant on their sharp slender stems.

There is a bit of work involved in maintaining a garden- but the blooms make it more than worth the effort.

It’s silly to rob Peter to pay Paul

Kenneth Ahrens recently wrote a paper, Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, The Redistribution of Wealth Caused by Rent Control. He was kind enough to join the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors in a zoom call to present the material. It’s of particular interest in our market as he uses the effects of a recent ballot measure in the city of St. Paul. The paper is written in clear plain language and starts with a nice historical review of rent control in the US. It’s well worth the read. Here is the abstract.

Abstract

We use the price effects caused by the passage of rent control in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2021, to study the transfer of wealth across income groups. First, we find that rent control caused property values to fall by 6-7%, for an aggregate loss of $1.6 billion. Both owner-occupied and rental properties lost value, but the losses were larger for rental properties, and in neighborhoods with a higher concentration of rentals. Second, leveraging administrative parcel-level data, we find that the tenants who gained the most from rent control had higher incomes and were more likely to be white, while the owners who lost the most had lower incomes and were more likely to be minorities. For properties with high-income owners and low-income tenants, the transfer of wealth was close to zero. Thus, to the extent that rent control is intended to transfer wealth from high-income to low-income households, the realized impact of the law was the opposite of its intention.

Ahrens mentioned that his peers were wondering why he was working on demonstrating the problems with a policy that has been shown to have greater negative impacts than positive ones. Experiments with rent control in the 50s and the 70s are long forgotten. A new generation of problem solvers and activists are reviving old ideas despite their flaws. The focus seems to be on preserving a renter’s ability to stay in their apartment by capping rent increases. This in turn transfers wealth from the landlord to the tenant.

Although the intent might be to have a one-for-one transfer from the pocket of the property owner to the renter, Ahrens points out that it is not that straightforward. “Basic economic theory predicts that rent control causes both transfers of wealth and deadweight losses (DWL) for property owners. These losses can be divided into a direct capitalization loss and an indirect negative externality loss.” A deadweight loss might derive from postponement of maintenance and repairs due to lack of income. “The sum of these effects is observable as a decline in the market value of real estate, as the property can no longer generate a market rate flow of income and fewer repairs to the property mean a lesser quality building.”

Furthermore, the transfers benefit the wealthy and hurt the less wealthy. In their findings, the lower income owners realize the greatest decline in home values- 8.52%- than any other transfer.

Excerpt from Table VII

There have already been meetings in St. Paul to adjust the stringent rent control measures passed last November. But there is no talk of reversal. Constituents seem to feel that renters in some way are not getting a fair shake.

Maybe I can take a run at the reasoning. Renters play a role in the community as do property owners. They are not as vested as they are more mobile, yet they too can be good citizens. Perhaps they go to city hall to petition for a road safety concern, a new playground, or more observance of a problem property. Perhaps they are the bus stop mom or the football coach. Perhaps they help maintain a safe light rail system or advocate for better bike lanes. For all that personal time spent on city infrastructure, they enjoy an improved environment. Yet the homeowners enjoy greater home values. And renters face the possibility of being priced out.

Of course, homeowners do not always enjoy greater home values. I remember a period of three years following the great recession where most sellers brought a check to closing to buy out their remaining mortgage balance. Sellers also feel a pinch in their bottom line when cosmetic updates have not been done, or repairs deferred. Renters find it far less costly simply to move to a newer updated unit. Such are the differences between ownership and rentals.

Maybe there is a new framework to consider. One that takes into consideration the economic issues of civic participation yet still tallies the risks of ownership. What’s clear to me is that if economists do not come up with analytical tools that better express the motivations and incentives constituents are expressing in their political decisions, then we will continue to suffer through cascading unintended consequences of bad policy.

Economists as Coordination Consultants

In her latest book, Cogs and Monsters, Diane Coyle takes a long hard look at the discipline of economics. She offers substantial proof that many things we care about are left out of the accounting in a traditional analysis. It’s a topic she is familiar with as she wrote another book about GDP which relays a history of the measure and suggests there are some missing pieces to the analysis.

Her peers are not to be persuaded. Frustration ensues when novel ways to approach issues are shuffled under a pile of papers and surreptitiously ignored. Here is the story of the shopkeepers versus energy waste through open doors.

As you walk down a high street in the winter, you will find many stores with their doors wide open blasting out heat in the entrance. This is not a desirable state of affairs either in environmental terms or in terms of the stores’ energy bills. So why do they continue to do it? Their fear of discouraging ambling shoppers from entering their store, when every competitor’s door is open, outweighs their desire to cut the electricity bill, or reduce emissions. No shop can shut the door unless the others do so. It is a classic co-ordination
problem, and the campaign aims to co-ordinate actions, but cannot succeed until a critical mass of door closers has been reached on every high street. A regulation banning open doors would achieve the same, and more effectively because individual shops could not backslide.

In today’s parlance, there is a tension between the ability of small business owners to make a profit and an edict from the state to preserve energy. It’s Mainstreet versus the government (or the activists, or the greens). The positioning is that people in business just care about making money and don’t do enough to contribute to social problems. The counter arguement is that businesses are suppose to look after the bottom line- that is the how the system works. Due to this dichotomy, a proposal to regulate shop doors is considered authoritarian. We the lofty intellectuals have made a calculation that- you- the lowly shop keepers must sacrifice for the greater good and close your doors!

If you read Coyle’s book closely, however, she has more to say. From what I understand, the mandate to shut the shop doors is meant to ignite the coordination of a beneficial activity. Clearly, shopkeepers care about more than their businesses, just as everyone does. They may choose to make concessions for all sorts of socially beneficial reasons. Perhaps their brother-in-law is a supplier, but not the cheapest supplier. Perhaps they close on Sunday for religious reasons. At every turn, business choices are made in unison with other interests. And there is a very good chance many care about the wasted heat slipping out their front doors.

The policy to regulate the shutting of doors isn’t a heavy-handed state mandate. What it does is give the group a chance to start a new norm, one which they would be open to if they had assurances that everyone would follow through, Once underway, the theory is that shutting of the door becomes a voluntary social norm with compliance and enforcement.

To see it in that light, it is necessary to put it on display in the public goods market. The fear is that one shopkeeper closing their door bears an external expense for her commitment to a social interest. Unless there is a good chance that the majority of the group are so environmentally inclined, the efforts will inevitably be circumvented and the efforts will fail.

So here is the important part. Coyle is making a judgment in a marketplace of energy-conservation interests that not 1-out-of-10, not 5-out-of-10, but 9-out-of-10 of the Mainstreet businesses will find this a favorable action with assurances. The question should be, how is she evaluating that market? Where does she see the numbers that say this group will go along with this policy, or that group will not?

Consumers of resources are regularly making calls about how much they are willing to sacrifice for their children, their environment, their commutes, and their churches… These are all done in shades of grey and not in thumbs up or thumbs down moral decisions. To implement successful coordination policies we need to be able to read the market so that the initial assurance of participation is followed by the development of a new voluntary institution.

Taken from *H is for Hawk* by Helen Macdonald

But I didn’t have to learn how to do this. I was already an expert. It was a trick I’d learned early in my life; a small slightly fearful girl, obsessed with birds, who loved to disappear. Like Jumbo in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I was a watcher. I had always been a watcher. When I was a child I’d climb the hill behind my house and crawl into my favourite den under a rhododendron bush, wriggling down on my tummy under overhanging leaves like a tiny sniper. And in this secret foxhole, nose an inch from the ground, breathing crushed bracken and acid soil, I’d look down on the world below, basking in the fierce calm that comes from being invisible but seeing everything. Watching, not doing. Seeking safety in not being seen. It’s a habit you can fall into, willing yourself into invisibility. And it doesn’t serve you well in life. Believe me it doesn’t. Not with people and loves and hearts and homes and work. But for the first few days with a new hawk, making yourself disappear is the greatest skill in the world.

Speaking of Agnes Callard…

I happened upon a podcast Callard did with Ezra Klein. Of course, I was looking for another podcast in his suite of options at the Ezra Klein Show, but when I saw her name, I clicked on play and had my attention diverted for the next hour and twenty minutes. Serendipity.

The bonus of jumping into the flow of internet information is that you may discover the most wonderful things. In this episode, Agnes, in her causal yet laser-focused manner, explains the motivations behind what I call public sphere transactions. Here’s a link to the podcast. I think you have to be a NYT subscriber, so for those who aren’t I’ll excerpt some bits.

The conversation starts around the topic of status, which Callard defines as ‘how much value other people accord you.’ After some explanation of the games people play and how they are played to assess value, the topic transitions to meritocracy.

EZRA KLEIN: And so, in a way, that’s in contrast to what we have or think we have or talk about having, which is a meritocracy, which is the idea that where you get is a reflection of your virtue, of your work ethic, of your talents, and how you’ve used them. And you’ve done a lot of writing about this. And there’s been, particularly on the left, in recent years, a real questioning of meritocracy.

The thought that if you work hard and live a good life, you will advance into good things, is the explanation of how to achieve based on merit. It works really well in explaining how things work in the private goods market. You go to a job and make more or better widgets than the next guy. You gain in proportion to your output. Goods I consider prime for private production and consumption are all those things that are easy to count and trade without long term obligations.

But things that dwell in the more complex territory of lasting relationships appear to need an adjustment to the meritocracy model. It’s great when people succeed, yet when they fail, your duty as a supporter in their network, is to cushion the blow.

AGNES CALLARD: Yeah, so one thing I’ve argued for is that, at least, ideally, what would be nice is a non-punitive meritocracy, right? So you could think that the rewards that people get are the products of their efforts without thinking that the people who don’t get the rewards are culpable or blameworthy.

And this is actually how we interact with people. People find this weird to think about it this way politically, but it’s exactly how we interact with our friends, right? So when our friends have some achievement, we don’t say, oh, well, you started off lucky. Of course, all our friends have various forms of luck, but we don’t emphasize those when they achieve something. We say things like, well earned, you deserved it. This went to a great person. I say this all the time on Twitter when I see people getting things, and I’m happy for them. And I think it’s great, right?

On the other hand, when I have a friend get a paper rejected from a journal or — it happens to me all the time — we have various failures, and we might try to give them suggestions about how to improve for next time. But we don’t say, well, this is your fault. 

The example of helping an academic friend is non-controversial. But we use this same reasoning for helping those who are down on their luck. If a person loses their job, their employer has no further obligation to them. The relationship is severed. But the greater society evaluates this in a non-punitive meritocratic manner. Everyone can suceed to their ability, but if you fail, unemployement insurance is in place to cushion the blow. The same motivation support victims of natural disasters, or support for those who have suffered under oppressive circumstances.

Callard and Klein delve much deeper into interesting aspects of human inclinations in this direction (very much worth the listen). What I’m just trying to point out here is that out there in the marketplace of resource allocation, there are two environments, or categorizations, or (my preferred word) spheres. The private sphere swims in meritocracy and competition whereas the public sphere is cushioned by altruism and network entanglements. They coexist and are both alive and well.

Because Callard likes color

Agnes Callard- Philosopher for the People

This University of Chicago philosophy professor takes her passion for philosophy to a greater stage. On Twitter today she created a helpful guide by simply asking a question:

Read the replies!

Now can she ask the question, “How to craft a fruitful question when managing an expansive topic”? Because, careful questioning leads to productive conversation.

Altruism- San Fransisco Style

Should fulfilling social goals tend more toward the push system or the pull system? Half a century ago less advantaged people were often ashamed of their poverty and were reluctant to ask for help. In a small town community, there was a shuffling of donations so that they would appear discretely at the home of those in need. This momentum of first demonstrating a need and then delivering some supplies to the designated beneficiary was done on the pull system.

Complete definition[edit]

There are several definitions on the distinction between push and pull strategies. Liberopoulos (2013)[5] identifies three such definitions:

1. A pull system initiates production as a reaction to present demand, while a push system initiates production in anticipation of future demand.

2. In a pull system, production is triggered by actual demands for finished products, while in a push system, production is initiated independently of demands.

3. A pull system is one that explicitly limits the amount of WIP that can be in the system, while a push system has no explicit limit on the amount of WIP that can be in the system

Wiki

In today’s world, it is common to hear those who work with the poor deny the necessity for those who come to a food shelf, say, to demonstrate a need. It is thought to be disrespectful. The intermediary agencies, whether the county, the food shelf, or the Department of Ed (school lunch) are responsible for determining demand. This is a bureaucratic push system.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The pull system is more efficient, but some families may refuse to come forward and others feel shame. The push system is bound to attract theft. If a push system becomes elaborate over a long periode of time, then it may become its own little economy (we could call it a platter).

Nellie Bowles has an article in the Atlantic, How San Fransisco Became a Failed City, which illustrates such an economy in her hometown of San Fransisco.

On a cold, sunny day not too long ago, I went to see the city’s new Tenderloin Center for drug addicts on Market Street. It’s downtown, an open-air chain-link enclosure in what used to be a public plaza. On the sidewalks all around it, people are lying on the ground, twitching. There’s a free mobile shower, laundry, and bathroom station emblazoned with the words dignity on wheels. A young man is lying next to it, stoned, his shirt riding up, his face puffy and sunburned. Inside the enclosure, services are doled out: food, medical care, clean syringes, referrals for housing. It’s basically a safe space to shoot up. 

Not only are material services provided in abundance to any addict who shows up in this iconic American city- but advice is also spun out free of charge.

She recognized him (a homeless man) as someone who regularly slept outside in the neighborhood, and called 911. Paramedics and police arrived and began treating him, but members of a homeless advocacy group noticed and intervened. They told the man that he didn’t have to get into the ambulance, that he had the right to refuse treatment. So that’s what he did. The paramedics left; the activists left. The man sat on the sidewalk alone, still bleeding. A few months later, he died about a block away.

A whole bouquet of social service agencies has sprung into action. In some sort of warp incentive system, the services attract addicts, which in turn attract services.

Here is a list of some of the organizations that work with the city to fight overdoses and to generally make life more pleasant for the people on the street: Street Crisis Response Team,  EMS-6, Street Overdose Response Team, San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team, Street Medicine and Shelter Health, DPH Mobile Crisis Team, Street Wellness Response Team, and Compassionate Alternative Response Team. The city also funds thousands of shelter beds and many walk-in clinics.

In the 90s there were stories of social workers in Chicago giving the needy bus tickets to Minneapolis as they knew there were services available upon arrival. If there is migration of those in need to an area simply due to the known availability of welfare, then the push is pushing too hard.

Netflix Series Review: Pieces of Her

Overall I rate this series a seven out of ten. Toni Collette carries the show but many of the secondary actors are also quite good. There is an interesting mix of social strata and ethnicity amongst the characters which helps keep the secrets that hold the audience’s attention in the first half of the series.

The story takes us to Belle Isle Georgia, an area of the US that is overlooked, to say the least. There is heightened intrigue when odd things happen in the most average of places. And the guessing of who has done what to whom continues well into the middle of the series. The end is a bit drawn out. Perhaps shortening the series to six or seven episodes would have kept the story crisper.

The relationship between a mother and her daughter explores some proven themes about mutual understanding across time. Not to the depth of a great literary novel, but as a reminder that few are perfect in their family roles. After all, this is an entertaining thriller, not a psychological inquiry.

Food

What’s for dinner is a daily decision- and thus a daily task to pull ingredients out of the refrigerator and magically present an edible dinner to your family. By far the most time-consuming project in running a family household is the production of three meals a day. How it all comes together, the planning, the shopping, the prep work, the cooking, the meal itself, and then the clean up, is a process.

Perhaps there are reports and papers written on such things but they are not widely circulated. Which is perplexing as a proper diet is instrumental in health outcomes. It also greatly effects the mood within the household- at least ours. Hangry is not to be underestimated.

There are lots of sites and TV shows about making food. Rachel Ray will delight you with all sorts of Italian cooking. The pioneer woman takes you down to the Lone Star State to see what they cook up. If you Google Marry Me Chicken a smattering of choices will populate a collage at the top of the page for you to browse to your satisfaction. (Worth checking out.) But what I lacked for years, until it became second nature, is the business of running the food through the pantry.

Martha Stewart’s magazine Real Simple (it appears to be owned by another organization now) had practical household tips. But a one-off suggestion only goes so far. The whole system of what foods keep in the fridge (cauliflower) needs to be used up quickly (green beans). Knowing meals are basically the products of leftovers (soups). And the timing of everything! No one wants cold french fries or burnt burgers. Knowing some of this translates to savings at the grocery store as you run less for last-minute purchases and store up on things that will keep.

It does seem like many more men are in charge of the food at home now than when I was young. This is a win. The more diversity in people that can share tricks of the trade, the more likely they will be passed more broadly amongst the greater group.

Lilacs

Miss Kim loves the sunshine. How you prune the spent blooms greatly influences the bud production for the following season.

Did you know lilac history is rooted in Greek Mythology?

For the ancient Greeks, lilacs were an integral part of the story of Pan, the god of forests and fields. It was said that Pan was in love with a nymph named Syringa. As he was chasing her through the forest one day, she turned herself into a lilac shrub to disguise herself because she was afraid of him. Pan found the shrub and used part of it to create the first panpipe. Syringa’s name comes from the Greek word for pipe, “syrinks”—and that’s where the lilac’s scientific name, Syringa, came from.

https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/lilac-facts/

For more information on lilacs worldwide- check out the International Lilac Society.

Voilà- transformers

Here at Home-Economic, we want to be rid of the traditional economic analysis where a good or service is only allowed to be public or private. We want you to entertain the idea that goods and services are continuously changing their loyalties. Lighthouses are not only for the common good, and pop cans for instances don’t have to serve just the individual. Let me give you a few examples.

Even though there was political unrest in Ethiopia in the 70s we still were able to travel around the country. Once on a hot afternoon of hiking, I was surprised to hear my dad tell my brother it was OK to toss his empty pop can out the window. Back in the US the Give and Hoot and Don’t Pollute campaign was in full swing. Cranking down the window and throwing sandwich wrappers and whatnot out onto the freeway was not permitted. Littering on the dry open savannah seemed equally gauche.

Awash is a 3–4-hour drive to the east of Addis Ababa

But my dad explained that what was garbage to us was a useful tool for someone on the arid plains of the Awash Valley. Sure enough, as our car sped down the road and the can bound off the asphalt and into the red-tinted ditch, a young boy appeared. He chased down the empty can and took it with him. The can which was a consumer receptacle for my brother was transformed into a club good used to bring water to a family. An action that was a negative externality in the US created a spillover effect in Ethiopia.

Here are some other examples of easy-to-see transformations of goods and services from very private applications to public ones.

  1. An attorney is paid as such during his day job- private gain to him. He also uses his skills to save his homeowners association in a legal matter- club gain to his neighbors.
  2. Bell Labs paid their employees a salary and gained privately for their work. The extent of the technological advances spilled over and created advancements in many industries for a public win.
  3. Platforms use the internet to connect communities so they may engage in commerce for private gain, ex Uber, and AirB&B. The platform also acts as a regulator determining the acceptable forms of behavior, serving as a club good for all those who venture onto their platform.

In traditional economic analysis goods and services are stagnant. The problems assume an isolated environment where the players interact just within the realm of the examples. The relationship and nature of the products identify only in the context described. There is a depth and richness to be found if- Voilà- you see how things are transformed.

Embedded is not the right word

I think it was Karl Polanyi who coined the term embedded. In The Great Transformation, the philosopher mulls over the notion that not all worthwhile interactions are adequately represented in a transparent market setting. he drew people’s attention to the influences of family relations, obligations to a tribe, and so on. He did not deny that the allocation of resources through a market process was beneficial. He claimed that all activity is embedded in the social circumstance of the actors and in that way influenced the outcome no matter how remotely

The definition of embedded is:

  1. (of an object) fixed firmly and deeply in a surrounding mass; implanted: “a gold ring with nine embedded stones”

It’s like society and its institutions form a big glob of clay and the market trading apparatus is a shiny gold nugget glittering against the thick, slow, clay substance. The muddy substance can shift and nudge the glittery mass but embeddedness promotes the idea that each substance is separate. You’re either a part of the bling or the mud. Each exists in a realm that cannot be interconnect. Society can influence, rock, tug and tip but not breach the market.

Fast forward four score or so and people are talking differently about interactions between private market transactions and duties to the public. There are many personal stories in the newly released book Speed & Scale by John Doerr. They provide specific examples. Tensie Whelan is a journalist who was covering sustainable development issues when she made a discovery.

One big flashpoint at the time was McDonald’s practice of sourcing beef from Costa Rica. It kept U.S. hamburger prices down, but the added grazing also led to deforestation. Environmental boycotts led McDonald’s and others to stop sourcing beef from there, but that did not stop the deforestation. People turned to slash-and-burn agriculture to put food on the table. That got me interested in how we could help people pursue sustainable
livelihoods. The Rainforest Alliance was founded by Daniel Katz. He was moved
to act after reading that fifty acres of rainforests are destroyed every minute, and two dozen species become extinct each day.

Tensie Whelan- Speed & Scale

The environmentalist had successfully dissuaded McDonald’s from importing beef from Costa Rica, which, it is implied led to higher prices of US Beef. The expense of the attempt at stopping deforestation was realized in the market. Yet deforestation still occurred because the owners of the forest still needed to eat and thus put the land to that use. As a group, their action, rightly or not, created a negative externality to the world as they internalized the benefit of a harvest. Tensie Whelan’s firsthand accounting of the tradeoffs helped her understand the situation as she pursued other strategies of collaboration with the local people.

The 1990s saw considerable progress on deforestation, but it wasn’t fast enough for Tensie. It was a long, hard slog to go through the developing world farm by farm to collaborate with local growers and Indigenous peoples. Tense promised money for people to protect the rainforests instead of destroying them. She won farmers’ trust, and sign-ups rose each year. By mandating safe working conditions and fair pay, the program also caught on among farmworkers.

This time instead of forcing a corporate player to pull out of a market, the strategy was to buy out the benefit of farming the deforested areas. In effect, the rain forest is being maintained as a world club good through a buyout. The locals are made whole by internalizing the cash.

The next story comes from Laurene Powell Jobs. In this case the movement between the nugget of gold and the clay is between Silicon Valley’s semiconductor market and the health and environment of a neighboring town. The glitter of tech commerce doesn’t sit nicely atop an institutional environment, it penetrates the lives of East Palo citizens and throws cost on them in the form of their health expenses.

Thirty years ago, when I was getting my MBA at Stanford Business School, I found out that just a few miles away the city of East Palo Alto was a disposal center for Silicon Valley. A lot of semiconductor debris was dumped there, along with biomedical waste. The
city was paid for this disposal, but it was not done properly. This happens across low-income areas all over the world. There were all sorts of toxicity in the water table, with high levels of arsenic and radon. It gets transmitted into the food that’s grown there, it’s in the gardens, it’s in the drinking water. Since we fund local education through property taxes, the schools in East Palo Alto were far inferior to the ones in West Palo Alto. They don’t have a robust tax base. They couldn’t afford good roads and sewage systems. They didn’t have a grocery store. They didn’t have a bank. They didn’t have the kind of infrastructure that would yield a healthy community. In 2004, I started the Emerson Collective on the belief that all the issues we work on, all the systems that touch our lives on the planet, are interlocking.

Laurene Powell Jobs- Speed & Scale

Embedding implies a lot of nudging and cradling and massaging. But the spheres of economic activity between the private sector and public groups (or clubs) is very porous. As Whelan points out, the impulse for action is not taken away when the large corporate entity withdraws. The action is running on its own group incentives. When pollution is externalized onto a neighborhood the medical expenses can be accounted for. When companies improve standards to reduce or eliminate the pollution, they internalize the cost to cease the externality. The price of their product now includes the reduction of pollution to the nearby community.

These are dynamic interactions between two spheres of economic activity. They can be identified, accounted for and evaluated. There’s nothing embedded here.

Depp brings home a win against defamation

The court case between Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) and his costar in The Rum Diaries, Amanda Heard, has been rolling out over all sorts of screens in the past six weeks. But in case you’ve missed it, here’s a quick summary:

The What’s Eating Gilbert Grape star later sued Amber in 2018 for $50 million in a defamation lawsuit after his ex-wife published an essay for the Washington Post, labeling herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” She then countersued her ex-husband for $100 million. The article did not mention Johnny by name, but his lawyers argued that it aimed to depict him as an abuser and ruined his reputation in the film business. 

Today a jury found mostly in favor of Depp awarding him $15 million in damages. Heard received $2 million for her countersuit. Commentators presenting the news today pointed out that this result signifies a major pivot in what’s been a considerable bias in favor of women claiming sexual misconduct. In January of 2018, Al Franken, a well-liked senator from Minnesota, resigned when one woman in particular and then several others made claims of inappropriate conduct in his presence. There was no investigation or formal inquiry. He resigned due to pressure from his within his political party.

But I’m not interested in these details. I want to draw attention to how many un-paid hours went into this very public, and hence impactful, feedback loop. First, consider the hours contributed by the accused. He could have let it go and bet that in a few years (or less) no one would even remember Amanda Heard. A lot of people turn away from a fight because they realize their personal investment will be considerable. And after dedicating time, energy, and emotion to the cause, things may not go well.

The suit was initiated in 2018- so for the past four years, Johnny Depp has wrangled with lawyers, the media and his employers in support of his defense. He by far has the most unpaid work invested in changing the norm which has favored the female claimant.

The jury consisted of seven Virginians who showed up over the six weeks to perform their civic duty. Some may have been paid by their employers during this stint but undoubtedly some were not. Either way, it comes to a little better than eleven percent of the work year. As they decide the outcome, their unpaid contribution to a norm change is significant.

Some peripheral people also stepped up to make all this work. There are domestic chores that need to be done, and transportation issues to be worked out. Changes in a daily routine don’t just happen. It takes effort on someone’s behalf to supplement work when someone close to you is pulled off for other duties.

Fortunately, we live in a country that has enough surplus labor to oil the wheels that turn the justice system, one of our valued institutions. Some cases will absorb more hours than others. Norms change and morph as the result of work done by ordinary people.

Price of Lumber Plummets

Market Insider

The price of lumber is dropping precipitously as the housing market cools off in response to higher mortgage interest rates. During the first peak in 2020 and on through 2021 the cause of the price increases was attributed to supply chain issues and trade with Canada. But the second peak in late 2021 was said to be driven by the producers. Maybe they’ll regret it. I can think of a handful of people who have moved to alternative plans (than building or building projects) as a result of the high prices. Once the wave of properties under construction leaves the pipeline, the builders might find themselves short of work.

In Memory

Memorial Day is a holiday for reflection. Officially it is a time when a nation recognizes the soldiers who died while fighting to preserve a country’s most pressing values: liberty, fraternity, and the pursuit of happiness. This isn’t just done in the nation’s capital but all over the 1.9 billion acres that constitute the continental United States. If anything, there is greater attention paid to the monuments placed in honor of fallen soldiers from small communities than in large metropolitan centers.

The process of remembering brings history to a family’s doorstep. People review why their uncle was drafted, and how the events unfolded. Perhaps the pain of the ultimate sacrifice still aches a bit. The recall of the story and the memory of the tradeoffs is a beneficial exercise. It is hard to see how things balance out if not told within the context of the moment.

Today, many people will feel an impulse to spend a few silent moments at their relative’s gravestones. After all, we are a product of what our grandmothers and grandfathers did with their lives, in both productive and unproductive terms. Our parents’ reaction to their upbringings in turn influences how in time and effort they contributed to our own. Some of this we may find lovely and some of this may be unpleasant. But there is no separating the unrolling of events.

To take a peaceful moment or an hour and reflect upon the circumstances of their situations, to give credit for their accomplishments within the constraints of their lives and be an impartial observer of all they had to work with is fruitful. At different stages of our own lives, we are perhaps even more appreciative of what was done or not done, and how it all played out. It’s difficult if not impossible to evaluate people’s choices as if in their shoes.

It’s more difficult to know where you are going if you don’t know where you came from.

Lawn games vs. the Government

It’s the Memorial Day long weekend here in the US, a time when people get together with family and friends to visit and recreate. French Park, a regional park on the north side of Medicine Lake was full of folks today. Most were gathered in clusters around a set of picnic tables, grills cooking, and people chatting. The beach had some activity, as did the volleyball pit. Forty years ago, you may have seen people throwing lawn darts- metal darts with a pointed tip and aerodynamic fins. But they’ve long been banned in the US (Still legal in Europe).

Bag toss is a very popular activity at picknicks in the lakes area.

In April 1987, seven-year-old Michelle Snow was killed by a lawn dart thrown by one of her brothers’ playmates in the backyard of their home in Riverside, California, when the dart penetrated her skull and caused massive brain trauma.[9] The darts had been purchased as part of a set of several different lawn games and were stored in the garage, never having been played before the incident occurred.[9] Snow’s father David began to advocate for a ban on lawn darts, claiming that there was no way to keep children from accessing lawn darts short of a full ban,[9][10] and, partly as a result of Snow’s lobbying, on December 19, 1988, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission introduced an outright ban on lawn darts in the U.S.[11] In the previous eight years, 6,100 Americans had visited hospital emergency rooms as the result of lawn-dart accidents. Of that total, 81% were 15 or younger, and half were 10 or younger. During the week when the commission voted to ban the product, an 11-year-old girl in Tennessee was hit by a lawn dart and fell into a coma.[9]

Wiki

Not to diminish the tragedy of a child’s death but forever labeling an artifact a weapon following one incidence of loss of life is surely government overreach. And then to add this numerical representation of 6100 hospital visits over 8 years without any reference points is so weak. According to the CDC, there were 130 million emergency room visits in 2018. So– 6100 divided by 8 taken as a fraction of 130,000,000— or basically an extremely trivial amount.

The lack of bracketing of relative impact on health and safety issues is mind-boggling. It takes one tragedy and a loud voice to create a law which forever bans an object. Meanwhile, knives kill people, hammers go bang upon the head, and if Hart to Hart is to be trusted as a reliable source, a marble paperweight or carved bookend can do just fine as well.

Sometimes it feels like people need answers- Why did the parents not give proper instruction to the children? How could the friends have been so careless? Why do innocent children sometimes die expectantly? People want to take action so as to make these questions go away. They demand something be done.

Common sense says that sometimes these are not questions for government and legislators. These are questions to be discuss within the religious community of your choice.

Auctions for fun

Mackenzie Scott was in the local news last week after donating six million dollars to the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters. That might be a drop in the bucket for the ex-spouse of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. “The donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities is one of a number of no-strings-attached gifts Scott has made to charities and racial-equity causes. In all, Scott has donated more than $12 billion to more than 1,250 nonprofits since 2020.” But it is equal to the annual budget of this worthy non-profit.

My son’s frat, SigEp, supports the organization as well. That’s how I ended up with my family at a fundraiser on behalf of Big Brothers last fall. I used to avoid galas because I didn’t find them fun at all. After a few turns on the dance floor, I’ve learned how to enjoy fundraising auctions.

My family at a SigEp organized fundraiser for Big Brother Big Sister

First, give yourself enough time to review the offerings. As in any purchase situation, it’s good to have options. I try to find things I enjoy but often don’t purchase as other more practical uses for money always seem to take precedence. At this event, my interest was piqued by four tickets to a Wolves game at the Target Center.

The whole idea of the event is to raise money. And there is an expectation that parents will participate in the fundraising (not obligatory, of course, but expected). So, there is a demand to make some sort of expenditure. You can always buy those certificates for eateries at face value, but that’s not very fun.

Most auctions are played out through an app. Once you start bidding you gauge the number of buyers for the item based on the response time on a counter bid. If two parties (or more) are bidding up the price without your participation, it might be a good choice to look for another auction item. If only one bidder is countering your bid, stick with it. Let them hold the high bid.

At this event of about three hundred people, the cutoff for bidding on live auction items was fifteen minutes into the presentation. This made it easier. In the last minute of open bidding, the high bidder was listening to the emcee while I placed the winning bid. It was exciting! First, because I had bought something I normally would put off purchasing. Second, I could feel good about playing my role as a parent. And lastly, it was nice to support the work of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

It was a three-for-one transaction!

UBI and collectively provided goods

In a recent broadcast of Econ Talk with Russ Roberts, economist Diane Coyle (Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be) expresses dissatisfaction with universal basic income, or UBI, as a policy solution. She reasons that the $10-$15K a year could not be used to purchase collective goods:

But what you can’t do with an Universal Basic Income is buy collective goods. And, to the extent you care about communities and improving the chances of those who are the least well off, then it’s often those collectively-provided goods that matter a good deal–the transport network, the quality of the public schools, the quality of the healthcare that you can access.

So, a lot of these classic public goods or traditionally collectively-provided goods are very important; and you can’t, with your individual $10,000 or $15,000 dollars, go and purchase those.

Econ Talk

I too feel that UBI is an unsatisfactory policy intervention.

When I was a few years past out of college, one of my classmates had used some family money to purchase a vehicle most would say was beyond her income level. I don’t remember if it was an Audi or a mid-range convertible. She admitted straight out she enjoyed how she was treated differently when she pulled up in a luxury vehicle versus a second-hand compact. She claimed she received better service. In other words, she felt a disproportionate outlay of her monthly income on a vehicle bought her into a higher level of service network.

Indeed, you can’t buy your way into, say, a network of moms who trade-off watching each other’s kids. Similarly, one of the moms can’t just decide to sell all the reciprocal arrangements she has stored away through her mom friendships. Money is mostly used for unfettered transactions, whereas chits of return favors are the currency of collective goods. But money can buy you the Lulu Lemon leggings that all the moms wear, or a membership to the gym where they work out and spend time by the pool in the summer months. Money helps get to the networks even if you can’t use it to buy your way all the way in.

My reason for disliking UBI is slightly different, yet similar. I too think that people who are not wealthy could benefit more from social structures than cash. UBI is just half a transaction. Giving people a monthly stipend does nothing to teach them how the social side of the economy works: exchanges, reciprocity, feedback, and the like. Simply transferring money to people, without having them think through and evaluate a selection of options, without experiencing the pros and cons of various relationships and outcomes, robs them of the experience of the market.

If you really want people to become wealthy, you would take the time to show them how.

Biden supports mobile homes

As part of his efforts to ease housing costs, President Biden is proposing to facilitate financing of mobile homes:

Supporting production and availability of manufactured housing. The majority of people buying new manufactured homes rely on personal property financing (chattel lending) rather than conventional mortgages. This type of financing typically costs more than traditional mortgage financing due to higher interest rates and shorter loan terms. Freddie Mac has announced that it will complete a feasibility assessment for the requirements and processes necessary to support loan purchases of personal property manufactured housing loans. If FHFA approval is obtained, Freddie Mac will purchase these kinds of loans to assist with product design and support future loan purchase capabilities. Beyond personal property financing, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises), in their Duty to Serve Plans, also released revised purchase targets for manufactured housing loans, which will have the effect of fostering greater liquidity for manufactured housing and increasing delivery of manufactured homes. Finally, recognizing the cost and development time savings provided by manufactured housing, HUD is making it easier to finance new units and helping manufacturers update their designs to meet changing consumer demands. This includes working to increase the usability of FHA’s Title I loan program for Manufactured Housing, supporting greater securitization of Title I loans through Ginnie Mae’s platform, updating the HUD Code to allow manufacturers to modernize and expand their production lines, and helping manufacturers respond to supply chain issues.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/05/16/president-biden-announces-new-actions-to-ease-the-burden-of-housing-costs/?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

Mobile homes are a valid housing option. And opportunities for financing are more limited than a brick and motor structure so to speak. But the other big obstacle in this form of shelter is the ownership and operation of the park- or the land upon which the homes are parked. As metro areas grow the pressure to vacate the land and use it for other purposes increases. You never see new mobile home parks enter a city, so once they are gone, that’s it for that type of property.

It seems like it would be more acceptable to neighbors to allow small scale mobile home parks, perhaps a site with half a dozen homes. I suppose the management of the site, on such a small scale, would not be profitable. This is where a city would need to confer with its non-profits to see if there’s an interest in covering what can’t be successfully achieved in the market.

TS Elliot- from East Coker

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.

Claims about Trees

To be sure, I’m a big supporter of trees. Still- I wonder about these claims:

According to research conducted by MPRB, each city taxpayer saves around $100 a year from trees being on public property. Trees process about 200 million gallons of water each year, saving up to $6 million in stormwater management costs.

https://bringmethenews.com/minnesota-lifestyle/minneapolis-wants-to-use-1m-in-federal-cash-to-plant-200000-more-trees

The population of Minneapolis is around 420,000. Of course, some of these are children who rely on their parents to pay taxes. Let’s say persons under 18 are around 20% of the city’s population, that leaves 336,000 taxpayers. At $100 savings per taxpayer, that comes to 33.6 million– not 6 million. Or if you go the other way and divide the 6 million by 336,000 taxpayers, the savings are $18 per person.

No link to the research to see the numbers.

Seventies Cinema- Movie Reviews

It was a great weekend to take in two thrillers from the seventies. My husband was away and since he is not a big fan of vintage films, I took advantage of having full control of the TV. Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Marathon Man (1976) are both thrillers whose suspense relies on dishonest civil servants (thanks to Nixon I suppose). Both are better written than what usually presents itself on the screen. Both run quite a bit of interesting and creative footage of Manhattan. If you’ve been to New York lately you might enjoy comparing the then and the now.

The seventies are in full glory in both films. Who can wear a pair of jeans, aviation glasses, and a tweed jacket better than Redford? Cars are burly beasty things, there’s more garbage on the streets than we now expect, and business suits are more common than business casual. The runners who share the trail around the reservoir with Hoffman wear short shorts which have yet to have a fashion revival.

Both protagonists are intellectuals, not tough guys (although their tight abs both make a taught appearance). They are dupped or naive to the mechanics of greed and deception until shocked by the loss of life around them. Provoked, they put their smarts into solving for the villains. Alas, as per custom, there is only one female per film- gorgeous and seductive- in place to shine a brighter light on the lead character while making themselves available to aid and support the male lead as is required of them.

The ending of Three Days of the Condor was a little off for me (and ironic now some forty years later). Marathon Man is more gruesome but overall richer in the story and social context. I enjoyed them both but if only could pick one would recommend Marathon Man.

Trading Laundry

Perhaps thirty years ago, I was a loan officer at a large local bank. In those days we sat behind oversized mahogany desks in the open lobby of branch buildings located all over the metro. Clients would wander in, pull up the guest chair, and have a chat about whatever type of financing they had in mind. If they were organized, they would have brought in all their tax forms and bank statements, and we would apply pen to paper and go through an application together.

I was working at a site located on an old-fashioned main street in a town that had been swallowed up by urban growth. A late middle-aged woman with an unassuming presentation sat down across from my desk with all her papers ruffling out of a manila folder. She owned the dry cleaner a few storefronts down the street. New environmental regulations were going into place addressing issues around the chemicals used in the cleaning process. She had some colorful words regarding the changes, stating that they were simply meant to put small business owners out of business.

When I did the write up for her loan (we manually underwrote loans as algorithms were still fifteen years off) I was taken aback by her barebones income. I rarely saw advertising for the brick fronted building that housed her operation. It turns out she had inherited the business from her parents and was simply hanging on, doing what had always been done before. I remember wondering at age twenty something how it could be worth being a small business owner if you weren’t in it for the money.

As it turns out, social situations are a large part of business.

I have no way of judging whether this woman enjoyed running her parents dry cleaning business. If so, then how she spent her workday was a good match despite the low income. If not, what could have been done to loosen the emotional ties which fettered her to a life of dealing with chemical solvents? Selling a small business is a little tricky as it is hard to know what they are worth. Better information and connections with other people in the business might have led to a trade. Perhaps she never investigated other business ventures or careers.

The point is, that whether it is to attain a higher level of satisfaction from one’s own life, or whether the motivation is to put a business to a higher and better use, facilitating and coordinating transactions is part of the equation.

Post Covid

I was driving past a full parking lot the other day, distantly thinking that it was odd. Pulling the thought to the forefront of another narrative running through my head, I realized it was because the lot is used by those who take our suburban commuter bus downtown. People are returning to work. After Target announced it would no longer be requiring employees to report to their downtown head office, I thought other employers would follow suit. Apparently not.

My late afternoon errand was uncomfortably delayed by the first traffic jam I’ve been boxed into in two years. Dreadful. Stuck between long lines of vehicles crawling along a freeway. No- I didn’t check the mapping app to see if there was a better route. I haven’t had to for so long that it didn’t even occur to me. Rush hour is back, and it is ugly.

As the few masks I’ve kept handy in my purse are pulverized at the bottom of my Kate Spade handbag I realize that I haven’t worn one in ages. And I’m thankful.

Dealing with power players

I wish there was a discipline that focused solely on power. Political science only covers one slice of the use of power. The mechanics of government and the people employed to push and pull all the levers are well covered in academia. I’d like people to cover the power plays at a more local level, how they hold people back from living their best lives, and what can be done about it.

Fathers and Sons. August Wilson wrote one of his recognized plays, Fences while living in St. Paul Minnesota in 1985. A pivotal action in the narrative occurs when the father interrupts his son’s chance at a football scholarship by pulling his son from the high school team. The elder claims he is protecting his son from the racism he endured. The son feels otherwise. No matter the motivation, a parent has the power to restrain their child’s success. In this story, the son finds opportunity in the armed forces and his ambitions are rewarded with a secure career.

Physical Leverage. A well-known form of intimidation via physical force resides in domestic relationships. There are already social service support systems in place to help women (in particular) escape from an abusive partner. Yet they don’t. Perhaps, if they had understood the power structure earlier, it would make a difference. Fear of physical abuse is also used by neighborhood bullies to deter being ratted out. From the outside the answer in both cases might seem clear: turn the bums in. Yet these power players are part of their families, their networks, their lives. The solution is to level the field through an understanding of how to neutralize their power.

Socialites. The term socialites may feel as dated as old lace, but there are people skilled at managing who gets invited (or not) to social events. Many valuable benefits evolved from connections made during social gatherings. Those who control who’s in, and who’s not, wield a particular type of power.

The machinations of elected officials have far less impact on people’s lives than those closely connected to them. By understanding power, and how it’s used, or abused, people could navigate that line of staying with their pack while living fuller lives.

Land for sale?

With war being out of fashion and colonialism a relic of a bygone era- how is a country is to acquire more land?

Even on a small scale, purchasing property that is owned by multiple independent parties is a messy business. In the middle of this satellite photo, you will notice fifteen five-acre homesites which were surrounded by open land twenty years ago. Developers in the home building business can spend years negotiating with neighbors to sell in unison.

These homes also happen to be fairly substantial. This just means that their values as stand-alone parcels are strong which pushes the buyout price higher than say a dilapidated tear-down property. Over time, however, if an owner thinks it is inevitable that their home will be torn down, they refrain from improving the property. It feels like a waste of their money. When the exterior starts to look run down, the neighboring properties are also affected. And slowly, the owners succumb to the pressures of an expanding metro, get used to the idea of living elsewhere and sell out to a builder.

This story is a way of suggesting a scenario where land could be sold between countries.

  1. If the land is being used in an obsolete manner, owners over time could be persuaded to convert to a higher use.
  2. If the buyer country had more infrastructure to offer, the owners’ material situation improves with the sale. It has become fashionable to take shots at British colonialism, but no one seems to complain that the occupied countries received British passports and the privileges it bestows.
  3. Plan on the process taking time, as in generational time.
  4. As long as the land is low value and underutilized, there is most like a buyout price (speculative, of course!)

Why do people prefer the suburbs?

Like dueling twin cities, there is an ongoing feud between those who love the city versus those who prefer a suburb. Here are a few reasons why people move out to the burbs. I present these in no particular order other than how they come to mind.

  1. Many buyers desire privacy. They want their own space and don’t really want to feel obliged to interact with their neighbors. It’s not to say that they don’t greet the resident across the street with a cheery hello- it’s just that they want to be able to retreat behind their four walls if they so desire. There is a little more elbow room on a .25-.31 of an acre lot which is standard in the burbs, than on a city lot which runs about half the size.
  2. Less drama. That’s how an acquaintance explained it long ago. When you pull back your front shades and see a guy sleeping in his car in a pile of refuge, you wonder if you should go investigate. It’s not that he is causing you any harm, but you feel like you should go check on him. This happens far less out in the burbs.
  3. Many suburbs offer reliable transit access to a central city around business hours. It is a myth that dwellers in the urban core do not require a vehicle whereas suburbanites do. I make this claim through observation, but I’d love to see statistics that prove me wrong.
  4. The core cities indeed have many more restaurants. But the burbs have a greater selection of grocery and big box type of shopping all with easy access. Any store that needs space, Ikea, car dealers, REI, and Best Buy, will find space in less dense areas.
  5. In Minnesota both the burbs and the city value parks and trails. But there are more lots in the outer areas which have views onto nature areas, marsh lands, and waterways. Since people find happiness in nature, this also edges the suburban options up a nudge from the city.

There’s a lot to love in all areas of a metro area. Luckily everyone likes a slightly different combination. It is a bit silly to poke fun at one area over the other when it’s clear that there are plusses and minuses to all options.

U.S. Marshals- Movie Review

Tommy Lee Jones is awesome in this 1998 thriller. It was produced at a time when it was still OK to portray law enforcement as macho. But I bet you didn’t know this about the weathered faced, gun totting enforcer of the law:

He (Tommy Lee Jones) attended Harvard College on need-based aid; his roommate was future Vice PresidentAl Gore.[7] As an upperclassman, he stayed in Dunster House[7] with roommates Gore and Bob Somerby, who later became editor of the media criticism site The Daily Howler. Jones graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1969; his senior thesis was on “the mechanics of Catholicism” in the works of Flannery O’Connor.[

Wiki

Wesley Snipes also performs well above average as the ever-resourceful, escape artist fugitive. As Jones and his crew of U.S. Marshals pursue Snipes from Chicago to the swamps of Kentucky and then onto New York, the evidence against Snipes starts to smell overcooked. The State Department security gets involved and I love how they are portrayed: dark suits, sunglasses, non-distinct features.

The special effects are also splendid. An airplane crash gets five stars for creativity. I loved the swamp scenes. The views of downtown Chicago from the U.S. Marshal’s office make you want to visit the windy city. Even the car chase scenes in New York are fresh.

Don’t let the vintage of the movie dissuade you. It’s fun to see mobile phones the size of a small shoe, Robert Downey Jr looks fresh out of college and the police are not on the defensive. One drawback is the two weak female roles– but it’s a reminder that most movies today have more substantial parts for women. This film is worth your time.

15$/hr will do?

Proponents of a 15$/hour minimum wage claim this wage will provide a worker with a livable wage. This is a little hard to swallow this as an across-the-board benchmark as standards of living change across the country. Even within Minnesota, the wage may be considered a decent amount in the outstate areas to just above starting wage in the cities. Price setting or creating artificial bounds in economic systems inevitably creates more problems than they solve.

Setting a floor based on a threshold of a plucked-from-the-air minimum standard of living assumes that each worker is supporting themselves on this one job. High school kids would receive the wage and they are supported by parents. The stay-at-home spouse of a family unit might pick up a job for a while for extra cash, not for the core flow of funds to pay the bills. These workers may not want to work to the level of getting paid a higher wage, or as teenagers, not be qualified for a higher wage. So, let’s set these two groups aside.

For the workers who need to support themselves on one job, a minimum wage could provide them with a bit more money. But there would be a loss too. Pricing is a source of information. If a full-time worker cannot command a sufficient wage in the market to meet their basic expenditures, people should be asking why– not topping off their salary and sending them out in the world. What would they need to obtain the job at a better wage, and what would it take to get it: education? a connection? flexible hours?

Say there was a pattern of a whole set of workers who were unable to secure sufficient work. And it became clear that the reason was geography, transportation, or language skills. Would it make more sense to supplement their wage with a stipend until the restricting constraint was lifted? Would it make more sense to overcome the reason for below-par wage offers so that they may be confident of higher wages in the future?

Don’t mess with the pricing system. It’s valuable information. It provides all the insights necessary to help people progress towards self-sufficiency.

Changing forms, changing agency

Steinbeck is known for writing from the vantage point of those who struggle on the edges of society. In The Grapes of Wrath, the reader travels along with a convoy of Americans fleeing the dust bowl-ridden southern states for better opportunities in California. The estimated three hundred thousand people who traveled across the country were of little means. They would simply pull over to the side of the road at the end of a day of driving and camp for the night.

In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream. And it might be that a sick child threw despair into the hearts of twenty families, of a hundred people; that a birth there in a tent kept a hundred people quiet and awestruck through the night and filled a hundred people with the birth-joy in the morning. A family which the night before had been lost and fearful might search its goods to find a present for a new baby. In the evening, sitting about the fires, the twenty were one. They grew to be units of the camps, units of the evenings and the nights.

The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck

This passage effortlessly describes a transformation that occurs when people share the same mission and experiences. While in route the families keep their possession to themselves and head west. Once they gather for the evening, the individuals meld into a group. This impacts how resources are shared.

The families learned what rights must be observed–the right of privacy in the tent; the right to keep the past black hidden in the heart; the right to talk and to listen; the right to refuse help or to accept, to offer help or to decline it; the right of son to court and daughter to be courted, the right of the hungry to be fed; the rights of the pregnant and the sick
to transcend all other rights.

The use of the word ‘rights’ probably has some of you cringing as it parallels the language of today’s activists. Others are about to be dismissive of this depiction as it is one of a simple commune. After all, experimentation with communal living in the 60s and 70s proved repeatedly to be a failure. But transformation into a group of one is only a temporary situation. And at times groups with similar interests are better to ban together and share resources under provisional rules.

The agency of the group becomes more important than the agency of the individual, at least while they are on the road. Every morning each family unit gathers up their few possessions and straps them onto their truck. And in the evening, they rejoin the other travelers. In this morphing of individuals, small groups, and mass immigration of the recently destitute there is a non-pecuniary tumbling of resources in order to pull everyone forward.

Consider another example of resource distribution. It is notable in its discord with traditional economic thinking and is used by clergy to offer another avenue of economic reasoning. The parable in the bible describes how a landowner chooses to compensate his workers.

Matthew 20:1-16
New International Version
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like(A) a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.(B) 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8 “When evening came,(C) the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble(D) against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat(E) of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend.(F) Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’(G)

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”(H)

A current vision of the workplace challenges this story as compensation does not correspond to hours worked. Each worker is an individual and each hour worked is a unit to peg on a tally sheet. And this is often the most productive way to accomplish workplace projects.

But I think here, the message is that the landowner has a different goal in mind. He challenges those that say it isn’t fair as he lived up to the bargain he struck with them at the beginning of the day. The motivation behind the landowner continuing to hire workers until the last hour cannot be judged from their perspective. I feel the story asks you to consider the workers as a set, where each one is offered the daily wage.

Forms and agency of a communal nature have always, and will always, be a part of our economic landscape. They play an integral part in the progress made toward goals such as pollution reduction, safety, and thousands of social and cultural objectives at play in our lives. The goal is to understand their shape and impact on the process.

New Construction News

#Dallas builder: “Interest lists are shrinking or buyers are truly pausing.”

#Houston builder: “Many first-time buyers simply no longer qualify with the increase in interest rates, as their debt-to-income ratio gets out of whack.”

#SanAntonio builder: “Traffic has been cut in half since the hike in rates.”

#Raleigh builder: “Investor activity has slowed dramatically.”

#Provo builder: “Investors are evaluating the investment more critically than in the past.”

#WashingtonDC builder: “Traffic half what it was in March. Worried about first time buyers. Many fewer REAL buyers than number of people collected on interest list last 6 months. Certainly more attempts [from buyers] to negotiate.”

#Seattle builder: “Pause by a large population of buyers. To achieve our desired [sales] pace, we had to make price adjustments. Rates starting to knock people out of qualification.”

#RiversideSanBernardino builder: “Cancellations are starting to creep up due to loan declines and job losses. Waiting lists are certainly smaller. Saw an immediate change in buyer behavior when rates climbed over 5%.”

#LosAngeles builder: “Buyers who are stretching to purchase have become more cautious.”

#SanDiego builder: “Buyers are definitely a bit more edgy.”

#Denver builder: “Sales are slowing due to higher prices and rates. Backlog of buyers have remained but we are seeing new prospects priced out with interest rates and anticipated payments. Conforming loans quoting over 6%.”

#Boise builder: “Rising interest rates may have pulled some buyers forward, and we expect to see a slowing of sales in the coming months as a result.”

#SaltLakeCity builder: “In our lower priced segments, buyers are compromising and reducing options.”

#Bend builder: “Our market has slowed and prices are starting to drop.”

#Atlanta builder: “Seen a decrease in the number of potential buyers who are participating in best and final offers on homes/homesites.”

#Knoxville builder: “Detached 2,000-3,000 square foot product still selling, just not with 3 buyers for every home like a few months ago.”

#Allentown builder: “Double hit of higher home prices and higher mortgage interest rates clearly has reduced the number of qualified buyers. Our waiting list is almost zero as of April 30th.”

#Philadelphia builder: “Between higher interest rates and higher sales prices, along with high gas prices and a volatile stock market, we’re seeing a pullback in our sales.”

#Tampa builder: “We’ve seen a significant shift in buyer behavior in the last 30 days. Florida was on fire and pricing has really come to a high point, and people are not willing to pay the prices anymore.”

#Indianapolis builder: “Traffic has significantly declined and people have paused on moving forward with purchases.”

#KansasCity builder: “Our lower end product has paused or slowed dramatically.”

#Columbus builder: “Higher rates are definitely tempering buyer enthusiasm and traffic.”

#Baltimore builder: “Buyers aren't putting in as many options as they did last year.”

#Reno builder: “Cancellation rate last month more than doubled from 6% to 16%. We attribute this to buyers that did not lock interest rates early in purchase process. Also seeing many buyers put buying decision on hold.”

#Fresno builder: “Finding an increase in cancellations due to the rate increase. The majority of cancellations are resulting from fear vs non-qualification.”

#Cleveland builder: “Once we reach home closings, about 5% of our current customers on the books will be forced to bust out as they originally qualified at a 3.25% rate and won't be able to stretch beyond this.”

#Sacramento builder: “Seeing trouble qualifying for entry-level buyers as they are priced out by rates.”

#SanJose builder: “Quality traffic has significantly decreased.” THE END

Originally tweeted by Rick Palacios Jr. (@RickPalaciosJr) on May 9, 2022.

Being fair to your kids

There’s a lot of talk in policy discussions about fairness and how it is evaluated. One angle of the conversation that can’t be underestimated is the accounting or measure for the item at hand. There’s a propensity to measure everything in dollars. But the nature of public goods resists such restraints. Here’s an example.

Say one of your children was destined to be an engineer, and the most prestigious engineering school in your area was part of the big ten local university. The child is accepted and successfully completes a degree. Now say the second child’s career will be optimized by obtaining a liberal arts education. The top school in this regard is a private college which costs thirty percent more than the public university. The second child succeeds, as well, at completing their degree and both children are hired into their desired professions.

Does the parent owe the first child the 30% differential in tuition for the four years of private college? An argument for fairness might include an accounting of dollars spent on each child. Then child number one could make a claim for the additional funds. Some might find this manner of divvying up resources as fair.

On the other hand, both children attained the goal of a secondary education which allowed them to maximize their professional lives. In this manner, they both received the intended objective of their secondary education. In this case the fairness moves away from the money spent versus the achievement of the goal.

Note that in this story there are some assumptions made about the overarching available choices. Both chose from the surrounding area and did not compete to enter institutions farther afield at greater expense. There’s a reasonableness that the children are staying within the same zone of options. To switch to another layer of economic choices could alter the fairness consensus. Which is why this issue gets so sticky so quickly.

Hospitality in Rawalpindi

I was recently reminded of the travel writer Dervla Murphy. Her book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle lingered on the shelves of my childhood home. It is a journal entry account of a solo bicycle trip across Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, (West) Pakistan and India. The journey starts in the winter of 1963. Her travel log is far from a dull diary style as her entries are picturesque and informative.

The landscape, as throughout Swat, was very green and we passed through many pinewoods where the aroma of resin mingled in the hot air with the scents of a multitude of flowering wild shrubs and herbs. Weeping willows lined some stretches of the road, granting a brief escape from the sun, ‘Irish’ bramble hedges and ditches induced homesickness, and on the slopes of the grey, round-topped mountains little green bushes like juniper grew thickly.

There were few travel resources when we ventured across Pakistan some five years later. Mostly plans were made based on firsthand accounts from other embassy personnel. Car travel was easy. The roads were uncongested in the countryside, and although city driving was haphazard, it was a slow-as-you-go type of driving. I can’t imagine depending entirely on a bicycle. Although there is the benefit of the pace allowing for lingering views of your surroundings, such as this approach to Murree.

The hour from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m. was unforgettable, with sun set colours tinting the snowy ridges of the Himalayan foothills, and long shadows stretching across the valley’s steep slopes, which were terraced and irrigated in orderly patterns and dotted by tiny mud houses. Then the cool radiance of moon light succeeded the brief dusk as I dragged myself up the last and steepest two miles to the P.W.D. rest-house where I’m now half asleep as I write.

This hill station lies to the northeast of Rawalpindi. The photo below of the head post office is at its town center.

I left Murree at 7.30, having called on the Irish Presentation nuns at the somewhat startling hour of 6.45 a.m. and got a terrific reception. They’re always so pathetically pleased to see someone fresh from Ireland that it’s worth the effort of answering all the usual questions for the umpteenth time. On the way out of Murree a carload of tourists stopped to ask was I the Irish woman? When I said ‘yes’ they asked if I was going to Madras, and I said ‘perhaps’, whereupon they gave me their address and told me I must stop with them.

Every time I’ve read one of Dervla’s accounts I’ve been taken back by her bravery. She shows a steadfast trust in the general good nature of human beings. And although she had a few run-ins over her travels, her adventures confirm that there are more people who are hospitable than not.

Lack of logic- rent control edition

This thread is from a month ago or so, but the data is still valid. There has been a precipitous drop in new construction permits in St. Paul since last fall’s election put rent control in place.

This thoughtful article on rents in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area confirms that rents have only been easing up until 2020. The author believes rents have been on the decline since then.

The actual advertised median rents for one- and two-bedroom apartments are lower — in actual dollars — in 2022 than they were in late 2018. Three-bedroom rents went up 2 percent over the four years, while inflation went up 11 percent over the same time. These shifts started more than a year before the pandemic. “Post” pandemic increases look big due to the atypical and extremely low rents during summer 2020. But trends show that Minneapolis rents have simply returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

This data is in high contrast to the inflammatory, high-rent-evil-landlord hype that was circulating prior to the elections. And despite this lengthy and analytical exposition of a responsive system, there is a parroting of the party line:

We also need more tenant protections, like just-cause eviction and rent stabilization. We need to ensure that every person has the income to afford a home whether from increased wages, making housing subsidy an entitlement or social housing. Minneapolis minimum wage hasn’t yet reached $15 per hour, and $15 is a long way from the NLIHC-calculated $17.27 housing wage needed to afford just a studio apartment in the Twin Cities.

Unfortunately, there is an audience for such questionable logic.

Missing Narratives?

I’m not a fan of the abortion debate. It’s painful on many levels, from both sides. But I do wonder why there are so few (none that I know of) who have written a reflective narrative about their experience. People gush at length about so many personal and controversial experiences. Many revel in being at the center of such things. But on this issue it’s crickets.

The silence is telling.

James Buchanan, the lighthouse and club goods

Hence, the theory of clubs is, in one sense, a theory of optimal exclusion, as well as one of inclusion. Consider the classic lighthouse case. Variations in property rights, broadly conceived, could prohibit boat operators without ” light licenses ” from approaching the channel guarded by the light. Physical exclusion is possible, given sufficient flexibility in property law, in almost all imaginable cases, including those in which the interdependence lies in the act of consuming itself. Take the single person who gets an inoculation, providing immunization against a communicable disease. In so far as this action exerts external benefits on his fellows, the person taking the action could be authorized to collect charges from all beneficiaries under sanction of the collectivity.

An Economic Theory of Clubs (1965)

Storytelling then and now

You know how all the marketing people like to say- let the ad tell your story? The whole story method seems to crop up on LinkedIn or on how-to advice to promote businesses on social media. One simply must come up with an interesting backdrop.

Storytelling now doesn’t hold a candle to storytelling back in Bach’s day. In the 1700’s the account of the death and resurrection of Christ was sung out on Good Friday over a three plus hour service. Have a listen to the Netherlands Bach Society interpretation of the piece.

Personally, I prefer the time when a story was spun into something beautiful instead of a soft shoe move to peak the interest of a commercial audience.

Differences between culture, institutions, and platters

When people talk about the culture it seems like they are referring to a product. It is something you can point to and see its shape. For instance, the term popular culture conjures up images of the latest doo-wop band or a well-viewed film series or the latest forms of dance. It is the culmination of artistic products consumed by the masses.

High culture on the other hand tips a hat to a cappella choir singing St. Mathew’s Passion accompanied by a local chamber orchestra. Or to well-dressed patrons sipping white wine at an art gallery opening. The idea of culture summons up what there is to be consumed in a city dedicated to the arts. It is the experiential outcome.

Institutions also reside in the societal space. But the term emphasizes the commitment rather than the outcome. Political institutions are those dedicated to the appropriate functioning of a political system. The institution of the family refers to the rules and norms which enhance rather than detract from family relations. There are institutions which support the armed forces, or the justice system, or k-12 education.

Since institutions are defined by their objective, they are often qualified in terms of being strong or weak. This qualification refers to how well the society in question is meeting its objectives. Whereas culture is the end product– a work culture, a drug culture– institutions are the social goals people are willing to organize around and enforce at a high level. Yet both of these terms are used in the broadest sense. There is a vagueness of how it all works beyond naming the task at hand.

The one thing we can say about both cultural goods and institutional goods is that they are both public goods, in the modern sense. If a neighborhood has a drug culture, it may roam through all its streets. If a business has a paternalistic culture, all its employees will benefit from matching pension plans or flexible family leave. We are not talking about individual agents; we are talking about individuals who are just one in a group of many.

What both terms fail to include is any type of tie-in to resource limitations. And that is where platters come in. For the purposes of analysis, one must narrow down the view. One must pick a passion and a people and account for what they have to contribute to such endeavors. And once you do this it is easier to see how the competing interests in people’s lives only allow for so much dedication to cultural activity or institutional enforcement. The platter is a slice of communal activity to be placed under a microscope and analyzed.

Activism in lieu of Church

A few weeks ago, John McWhorter appeared on a talk hosted by St. Olaf’s Institute for Freedom and Community. It was entitled Antiracism as a Religion. He’s not the only public intellectual drawing lines between the needs of the woke and the services of religious communities. But he did write a book about it, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.

Edmund Santurri, the moderator, a philosophy professor at the college on the hill, seemed genuinely offended that McWhorter aligned a practice imbued with a holy sacrament with secular activism. And I see his point. Although the faith aspect of religious identity is only a portion of a relationship to a church. Many people attend worship in congregations where they do not agree with the entire catechism. The church going families I know participate in the church for the wide breath of community interactions both between congregants and with the greater public.

In a recent Bloomberg column, Tyler Cowen theorizes that this natural desire to be part of shared interests is what drives many tech workers to the Woke.

Wokeism does. In fact, this semi-religious function of woke ideology may help explain what many people perceive as the preachy or religious undertones to woke discourse.

You might wonder why this shared culture is left-wing rather than right-wing. Well, given educational polarization in the U.S., and that major tech companies are usually located in blue states, it is much easier for a left-leaning common culture to evolve. But the need for common cultural norms reinforces and strengthens what may have initially been a mildly left-leaning set of impulses.

Developing such a common culture is especially important in tech companies, which rely heavily on cooperation. The profitability of a major tech company typically is based not on ownership of unique physical assets, but on the ability of its workers to turn ideas into products. So internal culture will have to be fairly strong — and may tend to strengthen forces that intensify modest ideological proclivities into more extreme belief systems…

Marginal Revolution

All of this goes to support the theory behind this site. In the same way there is a human tendency for greed, there is also a tendency for compassion.

When people are isolated in their daily lives from those who could benefit from their good works– such as in the scenario of a company full of affluent highly educated workers– they are left with services that have no destination. It is plausible to say there can even develop a sense of unease about how much has come their way when well aware of the plight of many others. When denied that weekly outlet of giving that a church could provide, the wealthy workers may seize up with guilt.

And of course, it is all good and well that people should get involved with many of the non-religious associational affiliations like professional associations and company sponsored non-profits. It is recommended! Unfortunately, these can seem mundane. So when activists come along with promises of REAL CHANGE at revolutionary tempos, it’s all very appealing.

Hold Tight- Netflix Series Review

I’m three or four episodes in on this thriller-drama and am enjoying the intrigue. It’s one of those stories that introduces the audience to a variety of characters, only loosely linked at first. And then like a wide fishing net thrown over the water, it is drawn in tight until all the characters’ stories are touching. In the meantime, you are left wondering who means what to whom.

I was also attracted to the locality as the story takes place in Warsaw. Recently there’s been a photo cycling through Twitter feeds of Warsaw’s downtown skyline. It made me realize how little I knew about this city.

The characters are convincing. There’s some blood and gore but not too much. But most of all it’s fun as because it leaves you guessing.

Words for Wordle

There’s a fun little game to play when you need a fifteen-minute break from whatever has been eating away at your attention. It’s Wordle. The NY Times purchased the guessing game that went viral earlier this year. The player gets five guesses to solve for the word of the day. Clues are revealed by the tiles turning yellow (letter in the word yet not in right place) or green (correct letter in correct placement).

I like to go for as many correct letters as I can get in the first two attempts. Once you have three of four letters and perhaps the correct placement of at least one of them, my chance of a correct guess increases.

Some computer types with extra time on their hands tackled solving the puzzle in the least number of guesses. It turns out that the key is to pick a strong starting word. Here are some choices that should set you up for a three-try success: SLATE, SAUCE, SLICE, SHALE, TRIED, CRANE, and LEANT.

What’s your favorite Wordle strategy?

Institutional marketplaces

When you think of institutions, you don’t think of the definition of the word as much as examples: marriage, the family, the justice system, or the education system. These are commonly recognized as they exist across all societies. Even criminals have their own justice system. Institutions are loosely defined as the formal and informal rules that organize social, political, and economic relations. But if one wanted to use institutions as a defining element of economic activity, it is worth teasing out a few of their components.

If there are rules, it is implied that there is a group of people who both agree to the rules and maintain them. It is also logical that the rules are put in place to maintain or protect a shared value, a common interest. So, in talking about institutions, it only makes sense to state which group is attached to the rules and what exactly is their objective. Furthermore, if the group must take action to support or defend the rules, then we will call this work.

Consider the institution of marriage. The joining of two people by a vow of devotion to one another varies considerably across society. The impact of this variance can help delineate subgroups of institutional marriage groups. For instance, the swingers who find the swapping of partners at a poolside party are probably not spending a lot of time with couples at Good Shepard Lutheran Church in many a midwestern town. Which is a way of saying that the institution-M for the party people, sub-S, has a different social contract and obligation for W work, then the M sub-C who sing hymns on Sunday morning.

I don’t think anyone would challenge the claim that these two groups live and work on their marriage in different realms. But what can we call these special places where rules are created and enforced, where groups of people meet to work in the effort of securing a value for their social commitments? The word institution has too broad a reach and leaves out the notion of an ongoing exchange.

I like the visual of a platter. All the swingers are out there tipping on a platter, mixing with new members of their loosely held marital vows. While the church people recognize marriage time and again at weddings and baptisms and anniversary potlucks in the church basement. If there is a loss of life, people deliver casseroles. If there are signs of discord, the kids get invited out so the parents can work on the issues of discontent. The contract isn’t only to one another but in support of the institution.

These eco-socio-platters are the marketplaces for institutions. Failing to define them can lead to uncomfortable misunderstandings. According to my new book club book, Are Economists Basically Immoral? (Heyne) Laurence Summers got himself into a bruhaha by mixing platters.

Lawrence Summers, the chief economist of the World Bank, got him. self in serious trouble last December when he sent a memo to some bank colleagues arguing that polluting activities ought to be shifted from developed to less developed countries. He argued that the demand for a clean environment has a very high-income elasticity: which means that people become keener on it as their incomes rise. He said that wealthier people are ordinarily willing to sacrifice more for aesthetically pleasing environments than are poor people. Moreover–and I suspect this is what really got him into trouble- he claimed that the health effects of pollution are less in a poor country than in a rich country because the forgone earnings of people whose health is adversely affected by pollution are so much lower in poor countries, because of both lower incomes and shorter life expectancies. Someone leaked that memorandum to an environmental group and a hail of criticism descended on the World Bank and Lawrence Summers. Summers protested that his statements were designed as a sardonic counterpoint, an effort to sharpen the analysis.”

Making comparisons across vastly different eco-socio-platters will more likely make you look bad than good. By taking a stark look at the economic circumstances of poor people and propping their platter up next to where the rich people live, the audience could only feel outraged. Not because the observations were wrong but because they are empathetic to the plight of the poor more than the truth. Being so bluntly presented with the fact that people of meager circumstances have different life outcomes invokes a sense that all is not right in the world. In the public or institutional realm, this is the fuel that ignites action.

It’s not helpful, however, to have false comparison made which instigate action. And that is the fundamental reason why we need to define our platter. Swingers and Lutherans don’t mix.

Men playing boules

Somewhere on the island of Malta

When you think about a game (basketball, tennis, boules), how much of the game is about the rules and how much is about social entanglements? The idea is to play to win based on a set of predetermined rules. But in the process of doing so can there be interruptions? Who settles disputes? Is the audience able to comment and come to a player’s aide? Is there handicapping based on size or age of the players?

So, what say you? 90-75-50 percent of the process is the game, and the rest is social?

Dewey on Method

But while associated behavior is, as we have already noted, a universal law, the fact of association does not of itself make a society. This demands, as we have also seen, perception of the consequences of a joint activity and of the distinctive share of each element in producing it. Such perception creates a common interest; that is concern on the part of each in the joint action and in the contribution of each of its members to it. Then there exists something truly social and not merely associative. But it is absurd to suppose that a society does away with the traits of its own constituents so that it can be set over against them. It can only be set over against the traits which they and their like present in some other combination.

Getting More Properties to Market

As the new listings plunge to pandemic-year levels, an obvious question is how do we get more properties to market. Where are they, and why isn’t the regular turn over in ownership providing opportunities for new buyers to acquire property?

I’d be curious to see a study about the effects of the capital gains tax on people who own less than four properties. Say an individual held onto a condo or townhome after they got married. It was fairly easy to rent, and the years roll by as one gets busy with family and life. Before you know it there is a couple hundred thousand dollars of equity tied up in the rental. Now if the owner were to sell, they would have to recapture depreciation and pay capital gains. And this is substantial.

If this tax is holding back sellers from releasing their property to market which in turn disallows wealth growth by a younger generation- perhaps it is more of a societal detriment than a source of income.

Insights

When I was just joining the workforce, a reputable mentor leaned in and confided that people would really enjoy my insights. That has not been my experience. Not at all.

A couple facts of human nature must be acknowledged. First off, we don’t want to be shown up. For example, some observations of the workplace, even by a lowly employee, may lead one to conclude that the man in charge is dropping the ball. Hence the man in charge does not appreciate insights. A great way to slow down a career is thus by providing them. Lesson one in workplace politics- make others shine and hope they bring you with them.

Many humans are susceptible to jealousy problems. Being insightful and recognized as such, can arouse feelings of envy. This results in two outcomes. Peers downplay the value of the perspicacity. Secondly, the keen observer will be left out of the next social gathering for the arrogance of making others feel diminished. Outrage.

We all like to hide things from ourselves. We can’t help it. And the motivation behind being unsupportive of a stronger peer is one of those things. It’s not convenient for the ego. So that’s the quandary. How to hide talent until it finds its perfect support structure to flourish and become unstoppable.

How many triggers are in this post?

It won’t take much googling to find out about the recent dust-up around Ilhan Omar’s illusion of quasi-universal American racism against Muslims. Instead of being distracted by the inflammatory nature of the post and reposting by a competitor for her seat for office, think about the mechanism she is using and how, in the past, it worked to her advantage.

First, you’ll need to know a little background information about the place where she grew up. As MPR reports, “Minnesota is home to the nation’s largest Somali population, numbering 74,000 with 46,000, or about 62 percent, estimated to be born outside the country.” But it wasn’t always that way. Omar arrived with her family in the mid-’90s. By 1999 only 3% of the state’s population was of African American heritage and 8% of minority background. In the latest census, over 20 percent of Minnesotans are considered non-white.

The average Minneapolitan is politically blue- but many people have supported immigrants from the start. Church groups sponsored and supported families coming from Asia as well as Africa. But an increase in such a great number is bound to upset some taken-for-granted norms and expectations. The remedy for this is to advocate tolerance for that which you do not know. But how can you know what you do not know?

This is where the trick comes in. If you don’t know how people on an airplane will react to Muslims praying in an airplane, then you can be led to believe the worst in people by the expert local politician. Furthermore, a Minnesotan with little exposure to being abroad may feel obliged to go along with the outrage and turn on themselves (mysteriously the same people who nurtured the immigration process to start). This I’m-going-to-tell-you-how-horrible-you-are strategy has worked in a naive crowd who could in fact find a few horrible people to point to.

Things have changed. People are remembering that there are a lot of good people out there- in fact, most people are kind and decent. Ilhan seems to have lost her touch with reading the room. It will no longer be enough to be the beautiful rebel, sword in hand a la Jean d’Arc, on a quest against any evil human monster she chooses to pursue.

Tax Day USA

Today is the day you must file your taxes in the US. Expats are also required to file no matter where they live abroad. We pay federal taxes, as well as state taxes, which are established independently. Here’s an economist’s estimate on taxes ranked by the amount paid:

If I had an opportunity to influence tax policy, I would pursue two objectives. Create a process that a high school graduate can accomplish independently of any professional services. Create a process where taxpayers experience, in some way, the cause and effect of payment and services.

Structural memories

Have you ever viewed the listing of a home that you lived in long ago? The visual impact of the images stirs up the memories nestled in the folds of gray matter. We lived at 510 St. Olaf Ave over fifty years ago. My father had been assigned to Vietnam and my mother, two brothers and I stayed stateside near my grandparents. This property was only forty years old back then, but it was already considered a vintage home- not a cookie-cutter suburban home.

There are video loops from our time here that my mind has kept ready at hand. The winter had been a snowy one and the sidewalk to the street has banked high with the white stuff. My grandpa stopped over one weekend day and tossed me gently into the cool crystals. The snow was as soft as a mattress and my Opa’s joy enfolded me as I sunk in the snow. My brother loved to climb up into the limbs of the massive old pine right outside the back door. One afternoon he took a tumble and mom said she had warned him.

I remember the inside as well. We had cats and they carelessly wandered all over the kitchen counters. My mom’s sisters would come over and bake bread and there were the felines, pressing their paws onto the cotton towels covering the rising dough. I’ve never cared for cats.

My bedroom faced the street. It was the smallest- my brothers always got the largest room as they had to share. My twin bed pushed up to the window which was adorned by a Swiss Dot curtain. The headboard was a nursery rhyme stitched onto a cloth, like a sampler but two feet by three feet. I remember thinking that everything must already have been invented, every famous line said. It was the sixties and there was a sense of accomplishing great things in the air.

It was a different time then. A man’s salary was enough to raise a family of five in a decent house on a tree-lined street. People weren’t shy about wanting to live near extended family to visit on the weekends and see the kids. But I was completely wrong about the finale of future accomplishments. It’s just that a few decades of social destruction put progress on hold. The dismantling and reformulating of the family power structure may just now be finding a balance. And that with that, creators and builders and innovators can count on a social base to support them.

Bertrand Russell remembers Joseph Conrad

I have a slim book called Portraits from Memory and Other Essays, by Bertrand Russell. Here’s what the famous mathematician-philosopher recalls about the author of Heart of Darkness.

He spoke English with a very strong foreign accent, and nothing in his demeanor in any way suggested the sea. He was an aristocratic Polish gentleman to his finger tips. His feeling for the sea, and for England, was one of romantic love–love from a certain distance, sufficient to leave the romance untarnished. His love for the sea began at a very early age. When he told his parents that he wished for a career as a sailor, they urged him to go into the Austrian navy, but he wanted adventure and tropical seas and strange rivers surrounded by dark forests; and the Austrian navy offered him no scope for these desires. His family were horrified at his seeking a career in the English merchant marine, but his determination was inflexible.

The two became close friends. Each identified in the other a shared esprit.

In all this I found myself closely in agreement with him. At our very first meeting, we talked with continually increasing intimacy. We seemed to sink through layer after layer of what was superficial, till gradually both reached the central fire. It was an experience unlike any other that I have known. We looked into each other’s eyes, half appalled and half intoxicated to find ourselves together in such a region. The emotion was as intense as passionate love, and at the same time all-embracing. I came away bewildered, and hardly able to find my way among ordinary affairs.

A rebirth in rural MN?

Empty houses are depressing. I know everyone has been concentrating on the shortage of housing, but it wasn’t so long ago that vacancies were blight problems. There’s rural abandonment and urban board-ups- but they both cause neighboring properties to suffer.

For decades younger people left small-town communities as soon as they could, looking for adventure and employment in major metropolitan areas. Quaint brick main streets became ghost-like and there was a lot of gnashing of teeth that only the elderly would remain on all the Oak, Elm, and Division streets of small-town America. This trend has changed. Although the statistics show that young adults (between 25 and 29 years of age) relocated to urban centers, the trend is reversed for 30-to 34-year-olds.

The migration of couples back to rural areas in their young family years must include the availability of adequate housing at more affordable prices. At some point, people started to realize that small towns were stitched together by sidewalks tunneled by the foliage of old-growth trees. And that they could afford the beautiful craftsman with an arched front door and amazing built-ins.

With the expansion of working from home arrangements, I’m sure the trend back to rural communities will continue. Even though the schools are often not as high test as metro schools, and the availability of specialty stores and restaurants is lacking, families live an easier life further away from the hustle of urban commotion.

Trends are always in flux. I imagine that keeping track of housing stock and whether it is in use would feature in policy conversations. In the days of Anthony Downs, the concern was around the age of housing. This seems secondary to its occupancy.

The money doesn’t make it to its destination

I doubt it is a surprise to anyone that Black Lives Matters cannot account for $60 million of the $90 million they received in donations following the death of George Floyd. A recent purchase of a 6500 square foot mansion with pool, studio and many other flashy features drew attention to the organization’s finances.

The report has further fueled questions about BLM’s finances barely a year after it released the first look into its finances. The foundation said it collected over $90 million in 2020 alone and committed $21.7 million in funding to various BLM chapters and grassroots organizations. With its operating budget set at $8.4 million, more than $60 million was unaccounted for.

Black Lives Matter purchases $6 million property with donation money

The group didn’t always attract large sums of money. It started as a hashtag #Blacklivesmatters in 2013. The call to arms took hold and grew into the rally call for protests following detrimental treatment of black Americans by the police and justice system. For many years the work involved organizing protests following the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner.

If the social product is to reset conduct toward a minority group in and around criminal activity, BLM is the marketing arm of the industry.

In 2020 social media drew world-wide attention when a teenage girl filmed the death of a black man while a police officer held a knee to his neck. The dramatic unfurling of anger, protests, outside influence, sabotage, precinct burning, national guard intervention were all branded by the Black Lives Matter hashtag. When people (consumers) wanted to respond to unfair treatment to fellow human being, as the natural human response leads them to do, they sent their resources to BLM. But this is the same as sending money to the advertisers who create TV ads (sorry I’m old!) instead of paying the company in question directly and receiving a good in return.

BLM is an activist organization, a group that wants to shed light on an issue. The $90 million went to the advertisers not to actors within the system which needs correcting. And since they are not in a position to really change anything within the police/justice schematic, the money is too easily grifted.

When markets shift, who wins? Who loses?

Rates are on the rise making mortgage money a chunk more expensive. For example, a few months ago, the principal and interest payment on a $350K loan was $1452/mo at a rate of 2.875%. But today’s rates are hovering around 5.25% which pulls in a p&i of $1933/mo. This $481/mo shift will come as quite a surprise to consumers who have long gotten used to low, stable interest rates.

The rate increases are the result of efforts by the Federal Reserve to slow down inflation. As seen below, CPI has increased sharply in the last year and shows no signs of moderation.

Real estate makes up a portion of the index and traditionally an increase in the monthly cost of a mortgage will tamper demand. Although homes in top condition or in prime areas are still selling in multiple offers in our area, there is a sense that the hold-no-barred rush for housing is subsiding.

This makes buyers who are not knocked out of the market by the more ample payment one of the winners in the shift. Even if they pay about the same amount of money for a home, they are less like to give up other concessions such as a home inspection or a preferred closing date. Buyers who can no longer afford to buy are, for the time being, out of luck. New buyers, just getting approved, are held neutral by the rate shift. They have no relative comparison to other options; the new rates are simply what it costs to buy.

Sellers with mainstream acceptable homes are also held neutral in the shift. Plenty of buyers will still materialize for their homes, and although the escalating prices are falling away, the sellers will still secure a sale at today’s higher price point. Sellers of homes with a significant drawback- and these vary depending on the market- but things like shared driveways or proximity to freeways, these properties will struggle to attract a buyer. So, sellers of properties with more condition issues or physical drawbacks will lose in a quickly escalating rate environment.

Lenders are losers too. The past couple of years has been flush with refinancing. Higher rates dry that market up. Homeowners in need of cash with a mortgage at two and a half percent are going to look to other options rather than a refinance. Second mortgages have served this demand in the past. It’s the folks that must refinance to pay off an ex-spouse or consolidate higher-interest consumer debt who will lose out financially on higher rates.

First-time buyers who bought a few years ago should feel pretty good about their situation in hindsight. Since they bought, they have gained some nice equity and now they realize the benefit of a fixed payment at a low rate. While their friends in rentals experience periodic rent increases, the new homeowners have stabilized their monthly obligation. These are the examples that need to be talked up to give renters (who qualify) the confidence to become homeowners.

As a realtor, I look forward to a balanced market. Some consumers can act quickly and compete for properties. But many people need more time to think things through. A bit of a slow-down will bring a new set of buyers into the marketplace. And this is a good thing.

Words about value from David Hume

“There is no quality in human nature, which causes more fatal errors in our conduct, than that which leads us to prefer whatever is present to the distant and remote, and makes us desire objects more according to their situation than their intrinsic value.”

A Treatise of Human Nature, 3.2.7.8

Minneapolis Fed Series

 

The Minneapolis Federal Reserve has started a regular zoom offering. Today’s event was part one in a rent stabilization series. Libby Starling from the Fed was the moderator. Edward Goetz, of the UMN and author of Clearing the Way, is known for favoring rent control. The two other panelists, Sophie House (NYU) and Jenny Schuetz (Brookings) offered new perspectives on the issue.

One objection stems from an efficiency issue. Creating an across-the-board rent control rule means that those who do not need a subsidy receive it anyway. Instead of targeted benefits to people in need of assistance, all renters benefit from an increased restriction. In fact, it is noted that all the rent-controlled apartments remaining in Manhattan are occupied by wealthy New Yorkers.

I like the image that a community has only so many dollars to devote to the financial support for people who can’t afford their housing. Worrying about the efficient allocation of this bundle of cash will keep the system tight and free(er) from fraud. Blanket rules mess with the market for rental housing. Targeting benefits while maintaining the natural flows in the shelter business will distribute resources based on priorities in an entire system.

Conjuring up a bag of cash marketed as subsidy housing money is one new framing. Another is to group types of consumers. The story of rental restrictions is always told as the battle between the poor and the horrible greedy landlord. These conversations seem more about taking money away from the investors (determining a *fair* appreciation) than trying to get people into the best housing situation. Mainstream buyers are not thinking about their seller’s finances when the make an offer on their home; they are thinking about the great kitchen and the short commute and the great schools for the kids.

When we’re trying to house the least advantaged, public dollars should be leveraged to put people in close proximity to the public services they need most. If they have kids, offer a subsidy to keep them in the same school district for the remainder of their children’s K-12 education. If they are a lower wage worker, see if the companies will participate in a subsidy which keeps the workers close-by. If the recipient of the subsidy is in need of regular medical care, have their stipend be tied to buildings close to significant medical facilities. Match the group of people the lowest rung of income to the neighborhoods which are best suited to notching them up and out of this social stratosphere.

There are some rotten landlords out there. And they need to be pursued for a higher level of service for any of the tenants who live in their buildings. But don’t tie up the bag of subsidy cash with buildings. This wastes social dollars and doesn’t get the intended recipients into the best match of housing supply.

GoldenEye- Movie Review

Rewatching GoldenEye was a lot of fun. It takes the audience back to the West versus the Russians with all sorts of flair. My favorite visuals are the numerous arial scenes which are very well done. They don’t feel gimmicky or dated. Just about every other form of transportation is fit into a chase or explosion scene of some sort- including James driving down the villains in a tank. Q sets 007 up with a fabulous BMW convertible.

The supporting women have some depth to them. This is Judy Dench’s first Bond movie, and she is looking sharp in 1995. She blends beautifully the strength of the position with a parental caring for her prize agent. Femme fatal, Famke Janssen, pulls off the psycho-sexy armed and dangerous woman. She’s a soldier who enjoys her job a little too much. The glamorous nerd who wins James’ heart is played by Isabella Scorupco. Sure- she’s beautiful too, but her real skill to save the world is, wait for it, coding.

There’s quite a bit of humor throughout the movie. Most of it centers around poking fun at the philandering, cocktail drinking Bond. Laugh off the old to usher in a newer 007, I suppose. If you know the franchise, you will laugh along. The computers will also make you smile. They are deep desktop boxes the size of a small black and white TV.

Pierce Brosnan isn’t my overall favorite Bond, but he does a good job in the film. It is a classic blend of dramatic scenes, chases, international destinations, and stunts. I thought it was well worth a couple hours of my time.

More from Downs

Anthony Downs wrote Neighborhoods and Urban Development in 1981, yet this quote is as applicable today as it must have been then.

Each city’s strategy must balance two sometimes conflicting objectives. The first is encouraging renovation, since it upgrades residents environments and benefits the city government fiscally. The second is minimizing harm to low-income renters. In loose housing markets, city policies can encourage maximum revitalization, since displaced households can find alternative accommodations without suffering much harm. But tight housing markets pose a cruel policy dilemma, because revitalization may then cause severe hardship for poor displaced households. They probably cannot easily find alternative accommodations without paying much more for them–if then.

A tension exists between two groups of housing consumers, each interested in the same option: the bargain-priced property. What isn’t discussed in time. If transitions are in sync with the natural timing of residents giving up their homes, then it is a win for the city to benefit from stronger housing stock, and the poor who has moved to better circumstance.

My concern is that there is a little public commentary about helping the disadvantaged to match with neighborhoods best suited to meet their public goods needs. The conversation always seems to be about keeping people put, …in dilapidated housing.

Let’s go for the double win. We have the capacity.

Old Fashioned Theft vs Social

Most people have a pretty good grasp on theft. An object belongs to one person and someone else takes it. There’s an ownership issue and a transference of the item or cash to another without knowledge or permission. For instance, a few weeks ago the news carried a story of an employee at Yale stealing electronic equipment. She ordered equipment over and above what was needed, sold the surplus, and pocketed upwards of $40Million. That’s a lot of cash.

One can only assume that she was able to get away with the scam for that long because she was in a position of trust. The status of employees was beyond reproach and hence normal protocols of employees taking at minimum a week’s vacation were waved away. This last part is social theft. It’s distinct from material theft.

Let’s take another example. Bernie Madoff plead guilty in 2009 to running the largest Ponzi scheme in the world and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Taking people’s money and not giving it back to them is old-fashioned theft. The social component of Madoff’s scheme was to rely on his community ties to feed his graft. Wikipedia calls it affinity fraud.

Madoff targeted wealthy American Jewish communities, using his in-group status to obtain investments from Jewish individuals and institutions. Affected Jewish charitable organizations considered victims of this affinity fraud include Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, the Elie Wiesel Foundation and Steven Spielberg‘s Wunderkinder Foundation. Jewish federations and hospitals lost millions of dollars, forcing some organizations to close. The Lappin Foundation, for instance, was forced to close temporarily because it had invested its funds with Madoff.[109]

When an actor internalizes a benefit received by being a member of a public group and then steals, the deceit is double.

Spring will be blooming soon

Northern Lights Azaleas

It snowed here today. Which has me thinking all the harder about the early spring blooms which will be appearing shortly in my garden. I love them- all of them. The one featured above is a dwarf bush rising only about a foot from my landscape rock. But the blooms are so luminescent that the shimmer of the petals will catch your eye from below.

Diversity Education

As for many professions, Minnesota Realtors are required to complete fifteen hours of continuing education per annum to maintain their license. This coursework may cover a variety of issues, and some of it can be unexpectedly helpful. The required modules are often redundant or heavy on regulatory dates and descriptors. This year it revolves around discriminatory covenants written on deeds from the 1920s-to 1940s. These are reprehensible in their blatant racism toward non-Caucasians.

I think revisiting this history is important. We should be reminded that nice people, perhaps even relatives of local realtors, don’t always do nice things. That said, I think it is important to tell the story accurately. A portion, perhaps 20-25% of the lots, had exclusionary covenants. The portion of non-white residents in Minnesota at that time was less than 1% of the population.

I guess what I’m trying to point out is that just because a portion of a population can be criticized for what always should have been unlawful behavior, doesn’t mean that everyone behaved poorly. You don’t need an entire population to be in your home court to lead a happy and productive life. And to set that expectation will only lead to disappointment.

The glory of long sentences- Steinbeck

Chapter 3 – Grapes of Wrath

THE CONCRETE HIGHWAY was edged with a mat of tangled, broken, dry grass, and the grass heads were heavy with oat beards to catch on a dog’s coat, and foxtails to tangle in a horse’s fetlocks, and clover burrs to fasten in sheep’s wool; sleeping life waiting to be spread and dispersed, every seed armed with an appliance of dispersal, twisting darts and parachutes for the wind, little spears and balls of tiny thorns, and all waiting for animals and for the wind, for a man’s trouser cuff or the hem of a woman’s skirt, all passive but armed with appliances of activity, still, but each possessed of the anlage of movement.

What is public, Sidewalk clearing edition

When I started writing more extensively about the economics of neighborhoods, I thought a good place to start was by dislodging the concept of public and private from the old school delineation. This version says that certain goods are public by nature, as in the notorious lighthouse whose beams bring all boats to shore safely. And it is right for the government to administer public goods which make up the public sector.

My view is that societies determine what they (they can be the citizens in a democracy or a dictator or an elite group in an autocracy) want to be public and what they desire to remain private. I wrote about it in a little lengthier piece, Our Problem is a Problem of Design.

How people come up with what is private and what is public is interesting from a resource distribution standpoint. But it isn’t money that is usually the driver for what is public. It is personal safety. The Hennepin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis started out as a private endeavor allowing for crossings across the mighty Mississippi in the early years of the grain mill district. But repairs and safety concerns, in the end, pushed the overpass to transition to the city. Transport, in general, seems to fair better in government hands.

Let me bring you back to the snow removal story. One would think it parallels a consumption model of, say, water delivery. The household uses so much water and is billed for it. This isn’t accurate as there are no other means of obtaining water. The city acts a monopoly supplier of the good. And it is fairly straightforward and uncontriversial to bill by consumption.

Presently many residents do clear the sidewalks fronting the road to their homes. Let’s spitball it at 75%. This is labor provided at no cost to the public out of civic mindedness. If the city chose to take on the removal of snow as a public good, they are walking away from .75 x $20mil (the cost of the program) or $15mil. Plus, it seems with a little leadership, and city council support instead of neglect, there would be a capacity for folks to voluntarily pitch-in and clear more walks.

The thing about public goods is that they must be provided to all. Once a good is publicized, then the cost for the entire community is borne out by the public. In this case, the analysis points to further civic engagement rather than adding to the already full plate of demands on the city’s budget.

The story of the snow on sidewalks

When it comes to neighborliness it’s hard to get concrete numbers. There is a general sense that pitching in and helping out is a good thing. But does it count as economic activity? Here’s a story about snow falling on sidewalks that helps demonstrate the cold hard cash of being a good neighbor.

Sidewalks are common features of residential areas allowing the public to walk along the road. People stroll for exercise; they walk their dogs; they catch a bus at the bus stop. Residents are sometimes surprised when the concrete needs to be replaced that they are responsible for (the relatively costly) expense. The long-established norm is that the owner of the building behind the walk is the caretaker of the public walk. In a winter climate, the household also must clear the sidewalk of snow. Failure to do so can be hazardous as melt and refreeze makes for icy walkways.

The city of Minneapolis has been suffering from a lack of interest by residents to tackle to forty feet runs. A March 23rd editorial opinion in the Start Tribune calls a spade a spade, “let’s acknowledge that Minneapolis has an unacceptably large population of residents who feel no particular obligation to keep their walks clear.” It was written in response to a proposal that is making its way through city hall for the city to embrace the chore. The instigating motivation is people’s safety– “An unshoveled walk gets in the way not only of walking, but also of sightless navigating, of wheelchair maneuvering and other modes of travel that most of us need not master. When walks are covered in snow, a blind woman using a white cane cannot tell the difference between a residential street and an open field. A man in a wheelchair cannot negotiate the snow and ice, and might choose to risk traveling in the street instead.”

Please be aware that there are already serious repercussions in place for the n’er-do-wells who find it difficult to put their hands on a shovel. Here’s a violation letter:

I spoke with the crew who was clearing snow one morning. The gal said they can co up to thirty front walks in a day. Let’s see, 30 x $229= $6870. Paying six employees for eight hours of work only comes to $1680. It seems like a good money maker! But maybe they have to wait until someone complains to justify going out and shoveling.

This isn’t the first time shoveling has been a news feature. In 2018 the president of the Minneapolis City Council, Lisa Bender, was sited. Two of her constituents got creative and made an instructional video.

Another factor in shovel-gate might be the proportion of renters to owners in the city which runs about 53-47%. Owners receive the violation letter, but renters are in many cases responsible for snow removal in single-family homes, duplexes, and tri-plexes. Perhaps the process would be more effective if the $229 fee was directed at the residents of a dwelling.

Some argue that folks are disabled and for that reason cannot clear their walks. The US Census reports that 8.8% of city residents fall in that category. One would think that there is a capacity amongst city residents to lend a hand and help the few who can’t fend for themselves. But instead of pursuing a culture change, the city is looking into publicizing (my word, nationalizing at the city level). As one can imagine transferring a job to a bureaucracy is a little pricey. They are anticipating $20 million in this case.

Just to review the dynamics here. Most cities count on the goodwill of neighbors to clear walkways for the public. This is unpaid labor. For cultural reasons the residents of Minneapolis resist this norm. Instead of working on converting the mindset and showing people that it can be rewarding to lend a hand to someone in need, the city is pricing out the service. This process of making public something that was handled privately is called publicizing (the opposite of privatizing). The process will not only be more expensive, but it will also forgo the capacity of citizens to participate in their community. Publicizing is a change of structure not just a form of payment. It eliminates the possibility of citizens to see how simple gestures go a long way in communal endeavors.

And the price of neighborliness- for all you economists- is $20 million.