Friday, September 12, 2014

Voting (or Not) and Rhetoric of Engagement

Eligible citizens in the United States don't vote. A majority of 18 to 25-year-old voters have little faith in government and no desire to serve in public office.

Personally, I don't blame them. I was engaged until about 2006. My disengagement is as much a statement as my direct participation was. Too often, though, partisans can't understand that not being engaged is a rhetorical choice.

What if a person truly believes that both major parties are horrible for the United States and the world? The notion of voting for the "lesser of two evils" still requires voting for evil.

A pacifist I know explained it this way: She cannot, for any reason, vote for any president or party that is likely to take any military action. This is a deep religious conviction. How would she express this conviction? Voting for a minor party doesn't change the outcome, and no major media outlets cover those candidates.

I deeply object to policies of the two major parties. I cannot endorse the lesser of two evils, either. It's just too dispiriting. And many third parties are not on the ballots in every state or congressional district.

For my friend and me, my engagement is limited to doing things in our communities and speaking about our ideals. But voting? Until "None of the Above" is on all ballots, that's a problem.

My theory is that many, many citizens are choosing not to vote, and that is a rhetorical argument against the major parties and our electoral system. Not voting sends a loud, clear message that people feel powerless.
Everyone Says Turnout is Key, Why Does it Keep Going Down?
Washington Post
Dan Balz, Chief correspondent
July 26, 2014

Taken together, just 15 percent of the voting-age population cast ballots — or 18.2 million people out of 122.8 million eligible. Turnout was 17 percentage points lower than the most recent high-water mark of 32 percent in 1966. Democrats were down 14.5 points from their 1970 high, or 20.9 percent of eligible citizens, and Republicans were down five points from their 1966 high of 13 percent.
Democrats have said that making voting easier and more convenient will lead to greater participation, but there's no data to support that claim. In fact, Oregon and California, two states with the easiest access to voting, have horrendously low voting rates. Oregon votes by mail, and California lets you vote by mail or at the polls.
Four of the 25 states that have held primaries so far allow same-day registration. All saw turnout decline between 2010 and 2014. Oregon, which uses mail ballots, saw record-low turnout. California, where two-thirds of voters mail in their ballots, saw the lowest turnout ever.

The results in states that allow in-person early voting or no-excuse absentee voting were no more encouraging. Eight states that have held primaries this year employ both procedures. Two saw turnout increase; six had record lows.
I have tried to be involved in local elections. I was in the past, but today I find it nearly impossible to learn much about local elections. I fear politicians want to make it difficult to be engaged outside the two parties. Our system rewards the partisans in the two major parties, but not people wanting to make a statement against the status quo.

A colleague asked me about state politics this week and was surprised to learn that I knew little about my new state. I had to admit, I didn't understand the political machinations of our previous state, county, or city, either.

My wife and I were born and raised in California. I understand the political structures of cities, school districts, counties, and states. I knew the system well, with several friends working in government and a few holding office. The system is actually rather simple, and recent changes make it even easier to grasp. I still know the names of current mayors, supervisors, and state office holders.

California has non-partisan, open primaries. And this new approach did nothing to reduce partisanship because regions are so purely red or blue in the state that even non-partisan redistricting can't make the cities or rural areas more competitive.

At least I understood California elections. I voted, even though there were seldom any competitive races. The city council and county board often had unopposed candidates, indicating that not only is there a lack of interest in voting… there's a lack of interest in running for office!

But the political complexities of other states leave me entirely disinterested in the politics. Parties remain entrenched, with regional and state conventions. Party loyalists rise to power, dragging along debts to other party supporters. I don't like the endless campaigns, either.

Our township is within a borough is within a county. The school district has minimal geographical coherence. There's a sanitation board, for a district that doesn't adhere to other boundaries, either. There should be cities and counties, period. There is no need for so many elected groups in a small region.

I don't want to belong to a party. I don't want to register my beliefs or ideals (or lie about them) to vote in primaries, either.

People say you have to vote to have a view. Excuse me? I couldn't find out anything about local candidates. I tried. I even went to the county seat to look for voting guides. There was nothing of value online or in print. Some spoke to party meetings, but you have to belong. Few local races feature debates.

I was told if I wanted to learn more, that the two parties had large rallies in the main county park. Yes, because rallies are good for learning. No, rallies remind me why I dislike parties and groups of like-minded people in large numbers.

At the state level, I haven't formed any strong opinions beyond disliking every political leader I have heard speak. Voting for people I find equally banal is depressing. A vote for anyone outside the two parties is a waste, while I loathe the parties equally. Their candidates are disgusting.

In my dream world, candidate would have profiles online, including how they might vote on major issues. I'd vote from home, in private, and be left alone. No commercials, no yard signs, no annoyances that lack substance. Address the issues, and let me vote.

How can we revise our system? If voting by mail isn't working, if week-long voting isn't working, then clearly the problem rests with the candidates and parties. Give people something to vote for instead of arguments about lesser evils.

A city political leader I know said I should support his party since I agree with them 40 percent of the time. His argument was that agreeing on a plurality of issues should be sufficient. No. If I disagree with your party's positions on 60 percent of major issues (to me) and 80 percent of positions of the other party… that's not giving me much of a reason to vote for anyone.

"We're less disgusting than those really horrible people in that other political party." Yeah, that's a selling point. No thank you.

Friday, August 22, 2014

If voter turnout is key, why is it so low? - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

No matter what states try, election participation is falling. This doesn't correspond to voter ID laws, narrow voting windows, or anything else. States with vote-by-mail (Oregon) and at-will absentee voting (California) also have abysmal voting rates.
If voter turnout is key, why is it so low? - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Taken together, just 15 percent of the voting-age population cast ballots -- or 18.2 million people out of 122.8 million eligible. Turnout was 17 percentage points lower than the most recent high-water mark of 32 percent in 1966. Democrats were down 14.5 points from their 1970 high, or 20.9 percent of eligible citizens, and Republicans were down 5 points from their 1966 high of 13 percent.
Why? Because most of us know… our votes don't really count. States and districts are increasingly polarized. States are not gerrymandered, so we can't blame redistricting for partisanship in the United States Senate. When did California last have a Republican senator? If I'm voting in California for any one other than a Democrat, at the state-wide level, I'm likely not having much influence. And if I'm voting for a third-party, I definitely have no influence.
California now uses what is known as a blanket primary. Candidates from all parties are on the same ballot and the top two finishers, regardless of party, move on to the general election. The main goal is to reward candidates who can appeal as much to the center of the electorate as to the wings. 
It's too soon to draw any firm conclusions from the California experiment as to whether it produces more moderate candidates, but there have been no dramatic changes so far, while turnout has been dismal.
I'd support a single, nation-wide, open primary, ideally the first Tuesday of June. It would make the election a national event. But, that's not likely to make voting any more meaningful to many of us living in highly partisan districts or states.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Where Do the Smartest People Move? - CityLab

Readers know that I find Richard Florida's insistence that cities are in almost all ways "better" than suburbs and rural regions simplistic at best. His analyses depend on his (and similar scholars') definitions of what is "best" for humans and what variables don't matter as much. What we weight as important in such analyses reflects biases. Florida seldom acknowledges that cities mask social problems (income inequality, mental stress, concentration of power) and drive away some hypersensitive, great minds. Cities are inhospitable to those who need reflective space.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when The Atlantic ran a story reflecting the experiences and observations of my wife and me. The smartest people we know leave cities for more relaxed lives in the country (or exurbs).
Where Do the Smartest People Move? - CityLab: The most interesting finding here (below, far right) is that once income was taken into account, people who moved from the city center to rural areas actually showed a slight jump in cognitive ability over those who stayed. 
For good measure, Jokela ran a second analysis that incorporated additional follow-up surveys and found very similar trends. 
It doesn't surprise me that cognitive ability improves as you leave the city. Or, are those with higher abilities compelled to leave the city? Either way, a slight but significant different in cognitive ability corresponds to leaving crowded urban cores.
So how do we explain these relationships? Well, the inward moves make intuitive sense, as smart young people often seek education and higher-paying jobs, both of which tend to be found in cities. The move outward from city to suburb is likely a result of many educated Americans leaving the city for the suburbs to raise a family—especially in the 1980s, at the height of the survey. 
Consider where colleges and universities are: cities (generally). My wife attended a rural campus for her undergraduate degrees, but I went to school in Los Angeles. We both completed graduate degrees in Minneapolis — and I couldn't wait to leave the city behind once we were done.

Many of our friends did the same. They pursued their educations and built careers in or near urban cores. But, once established, they moved outside the cities, even if the move required commuting into the urban core. We live a little more than an hour from where I teach, but I'd never want to live in the city. That's not happening, for any amount of money.
As for the intelligence shifts from cities to rural areas, found once socioeconomic status was factored in, Jokela has no good explanation. "I assume this is a very special group of people," he says—perhaps converted city residents returning to their country roots.
The problematic phrase "no good explanation" reveals how biased, how blinded by their urban identities, the authors and editors of The Atlantic must be. It's easy to understand why the country is better: it is more relaxing and more productive for some of us. Not every personality flourishes in the city, and that includes many gifted and talented individuals.

I can only visit the same museums so many times. I drive into the city for concerts, the conservatories, and other events. I work at a major university. There's nothing that the city offers that requires I be there every day, all day. How many people really, truly care about the culture of the city?  Sorry, but bars and restaurants alone aren't justification for calling cities "better" than suburbs, either. When I was younger, those things mattered, but I haven't been "clubbing" in decades and have no desire to try it again.

I'd suggest a great many people would be more productive if they weren't surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of cities. Others need the city, and that's fine, but at least recognize cities aren't for all people.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Red State, Blue City: How the Urban-Rural Divide Is Splitting America - The Atlantic

This is an older article in The Atlantic, but it goes to something I discuss in my courses when we explore demographic research. Looking at "red state-blue state" dichotomies ignores that the real divide is Rural vs. Urban and that this has little to do with how many scholars and reporters have argued about "liberal vs. conservative" and other political issues with maps.

Red State, Blue City: How the Urban-Rural Divide Is Splitting America - The Atlantic
The new political divide is a stark division between cities and what remains of the countryside. Not just some cities and some rural areas, either -- virtually every major city (100,000-plus population) in the United States of America has a different outlook from the less populous areas that are closest to it. The difference is no longer about where people live, it's about how people live: in spread-out, open, low-density privacy -- or amid rough-and-tumble, in-your-face population density and diverse communities that enforce a lower-common denominator of tolerance among inhabitants.
Consider the following claims often made on the Internet, especially via social media like Facebook or Twitter:

1. Red States have more poor counties, so "Red" policies must be to blame.
No, rural counties fit these descriptions, and they did 50 years ago, 100 years ago, and even back to the Civil War. It makes little difference what the political leadership of a state might be: rural counties lack economic diversity.

2. Red States are ignorant.
Yes, rural areas and the states they represent have lower median educational attainments. Again, that distorts the rural/urban divide more than it reveals any truth. More universities are in the oldest and largest urban centers. There are exceptions to this, thanks to the Land Grant universities, but most leading research institutions are in metropolitan areas.

The "City Lab" of The Atlantic recently noted a study that people with the highest IQ scores (yes, another debate) drift towards cities as young adults, and then retreat to the suburbs or exurbs. In other words, cities are where learning is most available.

This is a chicken-and-egg problem for states. How do you attract an intellectual class without cities and large universities? I'm not sure you can, no matter your political persuasion. Universities draw cutting-edge employers, which leads to families with higher incomes and higher educational attainment. Online education and other innovations won't change this.

3. Red States resent the government, while relying on it.
Look at a map of federally controlled lands. National parks, wilderness areas, military bases, and so on. What you find is that these lands aren't in the Northeast. The West is where we have such spaces, inherently lowering population densities in some regions.

Is it really "dependent" of Texas or Nevada to have military bases and personnel in large numbers? It is really "dependent" to have an Interstate pass through a state, used to transport goods nationally? These are complex debates, certainly, but states without control of massive sections of their land have already given something significant to their fellow citizens.

4. Blue States offer more opportunity for mobility.
Actually, the class divisions in New York or San Francisco exceed the inequality of most rural areas. If you look at median incomes, or averages, then cities look great. But, one in 25 New Yorkers is a millionaire, living in a city with extreme poverty and homelessness. Cities mask poverty, because they have wealthy enclaves.

Random Thoughts…
The gap is so stark that some of America's bluest cities are located in its reddest states. Every one of Texas' major cities -- Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio -- voted Democratic in 2012, the second consecutive presidential election in which they've done so. Other red-state cities that tipped blue include Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Tucson, Little Rock, and Charleston, S.C. -- ironically, the site of the first battle of the Civil War. In states like Nevada, the only blue districts are often also the only cities, like Reno and Las Vegas.
When we assume "Republican" or "Democratic" or "Libertarian" ideals have shaped the economies of states, counties, or cities, we're ignoring the fact that leadership changes, over and over again. Yet, the same cities and counties at the bottom of the United States in a variety of metrics today were at the bottom in 1950, 1900, 1850, and 1800. Mississippi was never "great" and probably never will be, no matter the political leadership. Likewise, New York might remain "great" thanks to the elites that live there and attract other elites.

Can a city or state change? Certainly. Look to Chicago or Detroit for cities that declined in a century or less. Or, Dallas and San Francisco reveal an opposite trend. But, generally regions seem to be locked into their geographies and histories.

I don't believe a "conservative" or "libertarian" could easily save most rural areas or cities in decline. Nor do I believe, by any stretch, that "liberal" or "progressive" policies would catapult Louisiana, Arkansas, or Mississippi into the top ten states by any major metric of quality of life: educational attainment, average salary (adjusted, off-course), innovation, productivity.

Why do we insist on Red and Blue maps at the state level, when the real maps are nothing more than population density? Rural vs. urban is the major divide between Americans.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Prepare for Opportunity

My wife and I are fortunate, and we are hard working.

Which of these traits should be first? I cannot answer with certainty.

We moved to our current home in 2011 for what seemed like a perfect job. It wasn't. Yet, I was "lucky" because we ended up in a region with several great universities, a wonderful performing arts community, and many other benefits. These institutions, however, require that you be prepared to take advantage of their existence.

I worked hard for my doctorate, and my wife worked hard for her master's degree. We prepared ourselves for opportunities, when they might appear.

Only a few years ago, we had nothing. We lost everything and I received the earned income tax credit (EITC), which I still believe was odd, since I didn't request it. I read a study that claimed in simulations, with everyone starting equal, the successful outside the simulation end up successful in the game. The theory is, that some people just rise to the top, even if they have to start from scratch.

Now, a dozen years after hitting bottom, I'm teaching at one of those elite universities and we're doing quite well. We are "successful" by every measure that matters, including the non-financial measures that should matter most in life. We have good friends — which mattered most when we had the least — and we have each other. But, that emotional safety net is also why we are financially stable.

When people tell me that can't get ahead in life, I ask some simple questions:

Did you…
Maximize the education that was freely provided?
Use public and private institutions to improve yourself?
Locate mentors and accept their guidance?
Nurture friendships and social connections?
Avoid giving up and developing bad habits when things were tough?
Keep your mind and body active?

No, life isn't fair, but you have to be ready for new opportunities. Plan ahead and make good personal choices. You can't sit around, be lazy, and then later be envious of the person who graduated high school with honors, went to a university to study science, and became a high-tech entrepreneur.

Get over the envy. Prepare and improve yourself for a better life.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The World isn't Like Us (or U.S.)

Putin, at 85 percent approval (or higher, depending on source), is the most popular leader in Europe among his voters. Though we know he controls the media and crushes opposition, he really doesn't care what the West does or doesn't do. He's even used the sanctions as proof that the West is out to destroy Russia.

It wouldn't matter who sat in the Oval Office. Putin's Russia is, as he says, "Trying to right a horrible wrong." Pride and honor are at stake, not international norms. And, in the end, Russian oil and gas are needed by many nations in the region -- at least for now -- and that gives Russia leverage.

The sad reality... there is not much Pres. Obama or anyone can do to change Putin's worldview. Sanctions, harsh words, none of those things will matter to Moscow. And China will be more than happy to support Putin's Russia.

When we try to understand the world through "American" or "Western" eyes, we miss that other economies, social structures, political traditions, and a myriad of other factors make comparing Country A to Country B a near-impossible task. That's true in economics because so many variables mask what seem to be easy comparisons.

Why can't the U.S. be more like... Finland? Norway? Germany? France? Answer: We are not Finland, Norway, Germany, or France. We have different traditions, values, experiences. Nations have personalities, a form of organizational psychology. As sociologists have discovered, if you raise a child in the Southern U.S., that child develops "Southern Chivalry" and the traditional honor code. If that happens within the U.S., of course it happens on an international scale.

Russia is not the United States. It is, for better or worse, a reflection of its czarist and Leninist past. Russia will evolve in its own way, on its own path. For now, it can seem like a nation stuck in the last century (or even the nineteenth century) and disconnected from the world. Russia (and China) straddle their pasts and the current Western-dominated global economic model, while trying to resist and influence global narratives into a story they can understand and control.

When I read economic or political science papers that assume we can simply apply "logic" (our view of what is "correct") to other nations, or the outcomes in other places to the United States, I find myself wanting to ask the authors a great many questions. Did they consider the historical reasons for X or Y? Did they look at the population's demographics? Did they study the traditions and norms of the culture?

Unlike many libertarians or conservatives, I do not blame Pres. Obama for the messes in the Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Georgia, Nigeria... and on and on and on. I also resist the easy excuse of blaming Western colonialism, Western market economics, or anything else. People in various places and regions hate each other. They have long-standing, centuries-old differences. We cannot apply "rational consumer" models and "neo-liberal" values to every group of people. It simply does not work.

I can only hope that the United States is wise enough to realize there are no good options in most of the world's conflicts. There are bad people and worse people and self-justifications aplenty. Everyone is claiming to be a victim of someone else, and everyone is certain that "justice" means striking back harder and harder. Escalation is the norm, not the exception, to international relations.

In too many of the world's conflicts and disagreements, the only real solution is time. We must hope that over time nations and groups within nations come to see the value of coexisting and sharing markets of ideas, services, and products peacefully. But, time passes slowly.

For now, I fear Russia continues to expand its power and its territorial influence. Pride and honor, as represented by Putin, matter more to Russian voters than what the West believes should matter.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The rich are different—they're "smarter"

The rich are not "smarter" as the following headline suggests — but they do attend elite universities and major in the more demanding academic fields.

When this article appeared in May, I was winding down my first year at an elite institution, in its business school. If many of my students are destined for wealth, is it because they are smarter, more gifted, harder working, born to the right families? What is it that takes someone from the middle-class (or nothing) to extreme wealth?

The rich are different—they're smarter, study says
—By CNBC's Robert Frank. | May 16, 2014 | 11:12 AM EDT

Economist Paul Krugman recently wrote that the multibillion-dollar salaries of top hedge fund managers proved that education plays little role in the growing wealth gap. The rich get rich, he said, because of the "runaway financial system" and investors making money from money.
"Modern inequality isn't about graduates," Krugman wrote. "It's about oligarchs."
But a new study offers a different view. Jonathan Wai, a research scientist at Duke University and part of the school's Talent Identification Program, looked at the world's billionaires and global elite. He found that billionaires are, as a group, very highly educated and have high cognitive abilities. About a third of the world's billionaires attended elite schools worldwide.

The study might explain how Wai determined "high cognitive abilities" but I do know that the R1 university where I teach does insist that admitted students achieve certain minimums on standardized tests. Even legacy admissions and faculty family members need to meet the standards, so one can't dismiss the test-taking abilities of those accepted into elite schools.

My students earned near-perfect (or perfect) scores on standardized tests. Many are extremely gifted, as we measure intelligence, and are in the top percentiles of test takers. If we use admissions into an elite institution as a metric for academic ability, that is a reasonable approximation.

Only a third of the billionaires attended such schools, but that does not mean those individuals would not have qualified for admission. The researchers know if the rich attended particular tier universities, but not why (or why not) a school was chosen.
Even among billionaires, the billionaires with higher wealth were more likely to have gone to a top college.
"The average net worth of those that attended an elite school was significantly higher than those who did not," the report said.
One problem with the idea that the super-wealthy correlate to institutions of higher education is that we cannot (easily) determine if the education or the social connections (or both) was the variable that led to wealth. But, the next paragraph does indicate education, not mere connections, matters.
An outsized number of billionaires and Davos attendees also majored in science, technology, engineering or math—also known as the STEM fields.
STEM degrees, I have admitted repeatedly, are much harder to earn than degrees in the humanities. I don't care how many times my colleagues in the arts and humanities argue otherwise, I know that passing an English or history class was much, much easier than earning a good grade in a physics or statistics course. Yes, "Math is hard!" and skills in math and science are worth more money.

Yet, there is the social aspect we must not deny:
Harvard, the study suggested, is the top billionaire-making machine. Among U.S. billionaires, more than 1 in 10 went to the school, and globally about 1 in 20 billionaires went there.
Harvard, for all its greatness, is unlikely to be that much better than Stanford, Cal Tech, MIT, or where I teach. In fact, ratings list the university where I teach higher in some STEM fields. There are social castes within the elites — and we cannot ignore that reality.
The report also said billionaires who inherited their fortunes were more likely to attend elite institutions than self-made billionaires—suggesting that privilege is often passed down by parents rather than earned through brainpower.
Legacy matters. But, wealth also grants access to the best secondary schools, the best tutors, and the best private test prep. If could be that wealthy parents who went to great schools see value in buying access to the best academic preparation for their children. I know that my wife and I would spare little expense to educate a child of ours. Many parents feel that way, I would hope.
Overall, Wai concluded that the wealth gap goes hand in hand with the education gap. The world's super rich, he said, are also "scary smart."
"I think we should deeply consider the implications when a select group of scary smart people also tend to hold a disproportionate share of global wealth and power," he said. "We depend on these people to make wise decisions for all of us. "
My students leave the university with job offers that place them, immediately, in the top half of income earners in the United States. Some will earn six-figures only a year or two out of college. And yet, few of these students were from wealthy families. These are young men and women who fled collapsing nations, corrupt governments, war zones, and situations I cannot imagine. Yet, these young people worked hard and earned their ways into a top-tier research university.

I've had two students graduate as millionaires. They had nothing but student loans (lots of those) and a work ethic that is unparalleled. They deserve to be successful.

Experience and observation suggest to me that many of the elites are smarter.

In a nation in which more than three quarters of the super-wealthy did not start life in the top income quintile, I still believe brains and grit do matter. A lot. No, life is not fair, but you also have to have the skills and passion to act when you do get opportunities.

Preparation means pushing yourself. That's what it takes to earn a STEM degree, certainly. If you followed a different path, don't resort to envy.

And as for Dr. Krugman. Didn't he earn his Ph.D. in a mathematically intense field? Now he earns more than $250,000 a year — and that's not a coincidence. Or does he imagine his success was all about luck?

Many of the wealthy were prepared when opportunities appeared.

Friday, July 11, 2014

New Play: A New Death World Premier

This is why I haven't been blogging a lot this summer. I've been working on several new plays… 


A World Premiere

By C.S. Wyatt

Directed By Kaitlin Kerr
Assistant Directed By Sarah McPartland

July 18 - July 26
The Grey Box Theatre
3595 Butler St, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15201



Andy Coleman 
Chelsea Faber
Hazel Carr Leroy
Eric Leslie 
Tonya Lynn 
Sarah McPartland
Jared King Rombold 
John Henry Steelman

Friday, June 27, 2014

Trends that Tell Nothing, But the Trend…

Richard Florida and his team are at it again, pointing to correlations and assuming causations. 

High-School Dropouts and College Grads Are Moving to Very Different Places

Cities like Washington and San Francisco are gaining the highly skilled but losing their less-educated workforce.
While I suppose I could live anywhere, my career somewhat demands that I be near either cities or at least college towns. It isn't that I love or even like cities — I don't — but I like being employed. I don't like the noise, light, or other pollution of cities. Employment: it beats the alternative. Don't imagine cities are "attractive" to every migrating household. No, they simply are where we must go, and we must demand higher and higher salaries to afford those very cities, pushing the inequality gap wider and wider. 

Want to live near the great university where I work? Expect to spend $700K or more on a little, old, problems-included, house. Invest another $100K or more in renovations. Gentrification? It means, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it." 

Add to this the trend of like-marries-like, and you get two college-educated people living together. That pushes us even more towards cities with sufficient jobs. 

Curiously, the biggest metros are losing people, something Florida glosses over. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are experiencing an exodus. Clearly, you cannot claim the "biggest" metros are growing, but that's what Florida claims:
Larger metros have the edge in attracting and retaining college grads. The size of the population was positively correlated to the net growth in the number of college grads (.30)
It would be more accurate to state that large metros, but not too large, seem attractive. I'm sorry, but there's a point at which a city is so big, it seems to fail. It might be geographically too large (Detroit) or the population is too large (New York) or some mix of both (Los Angeles).

Really, it is simple: I need a job. I go to where the job is, if I can afford to relocate. Young people, educated people, those with the means, can move. The poor cannot go chasing jobs easily, even though that might seem "reasonable" to some elites. Sorry, but moving from East L.A. to Charlotte isn't easy unless you have the financial means and no obligations to remain in L.A.

Florida is obsessed with his "Creative Class" and "liberal tolerance" theories. They might have merit, but he might also be overlooking basic economic sorting. If I can follow opportunities, I will. No matter where those might be.

Are Florida's team and their correlations accurate? Certainly, but models don't explain, they only can illustrate the data. The explanation is likely more complex than (paraphrasing) "Educated people seek out wonderful artistic cities with socially liberal views."

I sought a job. I doubt I'm alone.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Libertarians (small 'l') Need to Speak Up

We will always have articles accusing "libertarianism" of being everything from "fascist" (huh?) to "right-wring" to "juvenile." Those advocating for classical liberalism will be linked to racists, plutocrats, crony capitalists, and other perversions of limited government and negative rights. (I still hate the "negative" rights label, inherently a rhetorical device that insults various philosophical and political schools of thought.)

When I read "Somalia is a libertarian paradise," I know the comment poster is either ignorant or intentionally lying. The basics of classical liberalism include:

  • Rule of law, with an egalitarian legal system;
  • Enforced contracts, protecting parties in transactions;
  • Property rights beginning with the individual's ownership of self;
  • Limited, effective, and reliable government.

Now, for the sad reality that libertarians in the United States need to address: there are horrible people who will hide behind "freedom" to be the jerks they are.

A bigot doesn't want to be told, by legal dictate, that all customers must be served. A crony capitalist will favor lower taxes (not really a "libertarian" ideal, by the way) and oppose (some) regulations. A gun-rights advocate will ignore history, context, and talk about "Constitutionally limited government" and "freedom."

You can't advocate for smaller government, simple laws, and personal freedom without the loonies rushing to join you. Therefore, libertarians with some knowledge of economics, history, and philosophy must speak up and explain that libertarianism comes in both left and right variations (whatever that means) and represents a focus on the individual over the collective.

I am for small government. And I know that sometimes jerks will abuse the freedoms I support. That fact compels me to speak out against hatreds and intolerance, even if I don't support regulations mandating decency. Bigots wrapped in the Constitution dishonor liberty and freedom. The American Civil Liberties Unions used to know this, which is why they defended the rights of some horrible people (Skokie, Illinois, comes to mind).

Government shouldn't care who you marry, what you ingest, where you worship, or any other personal choice that doesn't directly affect others. I'm not a fan of any legislated bigotries nor any legislated tolerance.

We already have a Fourteenth Amendment. Section 1 states exactly what we need:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

There you are: "equal protection of the laws" seems to apply to all laws, and all people. I don't understand how that simple language doesn't make racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, et al, laws and treatment illegal. "Constitutionalists" out there, it's pretty clear that you cannot discriminate or restrict basic rights. Get over it and start reading the Constitution beyond the Tenth Amendment.

Neither the Republican nor the Libertarian Parties in the U.S. represent the "libertarianism" or "classical liberal" views I embrace. But, the Democratic Party with its faith in government-based solutions is, at least on many issues, also far from my views. Like many, I find myself without a political home, convinced our two major parties are more interested in slow evolution of the status quo, more often reacting to social changes after-the-fact instead of either party actively promoting individual liberty accompanied by responsibility.

The GOP leadership won't stand up to religious moralism, ahistorical gun-rights zealots, corporate interests, xenophobes, and so much more. It's why I cannot and will not support the Republican Party. If you read, from cover-to-cover, the works of Adam Smith and the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, you find something more nuanced that political voices promote. F. A. Hayek was not Ayn Rand, either.

In advocating for simple laws, meaning clear, equitable, and enforceable, I am not advocating for lawless anarchy. Nothing disgusts me more than the common strawman that somehow libertarianism is anarchism. It is not. A simple, tiered progressive tax system with no exemptions, no special treatments, is not anarchy. It's easy to enforce and doesn't let any individual game the tax laws.

You can support maintaining roads and bridges without being a wild-eyed socialist. Pragmatism alone suggests roads are a good thing. Someday, we might have electric cars, powered by solar energy, but we'll still have roads — they aren't going away. And asking people who use the roads to pay for them is simplistic.

A capital-L Libertarian I know complained about his taxes supporting bridges he doesn't use. That's an example of intentional ignorance. He might not use the bridges around where we live (unlikely, unless he never travels), but almost everything he needs to live a comfortable life is transported over those roads. The clumsy rhetoric of Elizabeth Warren aside, we do rely on shared infrastructure and it must be paid for. But, that does not mean we can or should build pointless, ineffective, inefficient, infrastructure simply to create busy work.

I do not support California's high speed rail system. Why? Because transit within metropolitan areas stinks and should be addressed first. If we must pay for transit, we should subsidize workers getting to their daily jobs. High-speed rail won't do that. Just try to get from one side of Los Angles to the other, especially East to West. The bus lines and light rail are a mess. Fixing that would help far, far more people earn livings, pay taxes, and rise economically than building high speed rail might do.

Being a "libertarian" doesn't mean you give up sanity in the name of some perceived rights and self-sufficiency that never was.

Gun rights? Didn't any members of the NRA listen to or watch "Gunsmoke" or maybe read some Western history? Guns were banned, yes banned, in many small cities in the West. You turned them in as you entered town and retrieved the gun as you left. It was understood that you needed a gun out in the country, where lawmen weren't within cellphone range. But, nobody assumed you had a right to carry a sidearm in town. Dodge, Tombstone, Wichita, and even Houston banned sidearms in town. It was assumed you could trust the lawmen of the Old West to protect you in a city, and that everyone was safer with only a few guns in town. Beyond the city, you might need the gun for wild animals, highwaymen, rustlers, and general scoundrels. Also, you could have a rifle at home in most cities of the West. I suppose that's because you didn't walk around with the rifle.

As I have stated, repeatedly, I don't support the Democratic Party, and have no home elsewhere. I believe in capitalism, limited government, and meritocracy. I don't support government solutions to most problems. I never trust any large organization to do what is best for individuals.

Being pragmatic and an (almost) classical liberal is frustrating. But, such is life.

Read the following (yes, I realize they are imperfect):