Assorted links

by on September 5, 2011 at 8:07 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. On-line museum of Russian and Soviet anthems, via Ken Regan.

2. The state of Kansas has stopped funding the arts, and Seattle closes its iconic public library for a week.

3. The local-global flip, by Jaron Lanier.

4. Rental markets in everything, caveat emptor.

iamreddave September 5, 2011 at 8:40 am

#2 Is Lanier right that Walmart has made America poorer. Do the cheaper groceries compensate for the lower wages and the offshored manufacturing?

“There is an Aristotle quote about how when the looms can operates themselves, all men will be free. ” Can anyone find this quote?

dan1111 September 5, 2011 at 9:53 am

Yes, and there are many other things in this that deserve to be checked–if they make sense in the first place.

Google is destructive to the middle class…how? Here is what he says: “Google has done something that might even be more destructive of the middle class, which is they’ve said, ‘Well, since Moore’s law makes computation really cheap, let’s just give away the computation, but keep the data.’ And that’s a disaster.” I am a software engineer, but I simply have no idea what this means. What data are they “keeping”? I use many free Google services on a daily basis; if only I had known that Google is actually destroying my life.

I also like this bit: “once you are a customer of Google’s ad network, the moment that you stop bidding for your keyword, you’re guaranteeing that your closest competitor will get it.” Who knew that Google had invented the concept of competition!

I would like to hear someone who has a more positive interpretation of Lanier, but I honestly don’t see any of this as reality-based.

iamreddave September 5, 2011 at 10:19 am

#3 apologies

The quote of Aristotle seems to be
“f, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.” http://econ161.berkeley.edu/teaching_folder/Econ_210a_f99/Readings/Aristotle_Politics_brief.html

David Mershon September 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm

What Lanier is missing here is that even if Walmart made some lower income Americans worse off, it enriched millions of Chinese workers who were poorer than the poorest Americans to begin with. I was really buying a lot of this argument until I thought about the last decade on a global scale, and in that case you see the most spectacular gain in wealth, possibly in human history.

Sigivald September 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm

And of course there’s the problem of the millions of Americans who benefit from cheaper goods (even without Chinese manufacture, Walmart’s inventory and transport economies, and economies of scale, let them outcompete the ludicrously inefficient “Mom and Pop” stores that nostalgists eulogize).

American manufacturing output is consistently up over time, not down, also – it just takes far fewer people to make things, since the process is more efficient. And American labor costs also mean that low-margin goods are not profitable to make in the US; the corollary to that is naturally that you can’t pay people very much to do that labor either.

E. Barandiaran September 5, 2011 at 8:44 am

# 2. I’d like to know if some economists have studied in detail the public finances of Kansas and Seattle in the past 10-25 years and been surprised that the state and local governments had been forced to cut some expenditures. Journalists may write trillions of reports about how bad it is that some particular expenditures have been cut, but the reports are misleading to the extent that fail to inform on the choices that state and local governments have to make because of their limited access to debt financing and the high marginal cost of additional debt.

In all countries and at all levels of government, the huge increases in transfer payments have implied lower expenditures on government supply of goods and services. This is one of the many failures of macroeconomics –it ignores how much the role of government has changed in the past 65 years and the significant economic consequences of these changes. As I said several times in the past three years, macroeconomists should study the experience of Argentina in the past 60 years to learn about the causes and consequences of the changing roles of governments.

Andrew' September 5, 2011 at 11:31 am

The liberals have met their enemy and they are them?

John Personna September 5, 2011 at 9:26 am

#3 – As globalization and technology remove “work” we increasingly live on “wealth.” We see that with a cohort of involuntary retirees, but it seems like it should spread, with the driver-less cars and 3-d printers. Given that this trend is probably unstoppable, it would be nice if we could make it work. Does that imply a robot-welfare state?

Ted Craig September 5, 2011 at 9:38 am

2. Or to put it another way, Kansas no longer subsidizes the interests of the rich.

dan1111 September 5, 2011 at 9:59 am

Ha ha, nicely done.

Srsly? September 5, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I forgot that poor people don’t like, need, or benefit from art. And let’s pivot on Ted’s brilliant logical parry by pointing out that, since rich people send their children to expensive private schools, we should stop subsidizing public education, because the poor should not benefit from something that the rich pay out-of-pocket for. So frivolous!

James C September 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm

uh, thats a terrible analogy. first off, the poor pay TOO MUCH for public education. its been repeatedly and consistently proven that public education is more costly and of lower quality than private education. and secondly, the poor are forced to pay for public education through property taxes, whether they own homes or rent (in which case their landlord pays property taxes). the US is one of the largest spenders on public education in the world, on average paying $11,000 per student per year. go ask any parent whether they think thats money well-spent, or whether they would gladly take HALF that money and send their kids to private schools. and thats just the average cost on a national basis. Washington D.C. spends over $25,000 per student per year, despite having one of the worst public school systems in the entire country.

the US would be better off just privatizing education once and for all. the costs are staggering and the results are pathetic. it would also settle all the debates about dress codes, prayer in schools, evolution/intelligent design in science classes, etc.
but as long as people buy into the nonsense that teachers’ unions constantly perpetuate that schools are “underfunded”, i find this avenue of conflict resolution to be closed off.

Srsly? September 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm

What ought to come first, an analogy or sarcasm?

James C: I like your anarchist approach to this issue. It cuts out all the distracting nuances.

I was under the impression that the poor pay “TOO MUCH” for, well… everything… as a proportion of their income, because they are poor. If, in your example, the poor currently pay for education via rent to their landlords, will that portion of rent be automatically offset once all education is made private? You are conveniently ignoring the other side of the equal sign.

The quality of public education in the USA may be low, while it may be very high in countries like Finland (and here I will use your device of saying that “its been repeatedly and consistently proven” so in Finland, without citing any references).

Therefore, if we just taught the Finnish language in our private schools, we could settle all debates about prayer and evolution. Oops, there I go with my silly analogies.

Ron Potato September 5, 2011 at 3:50 pm

The art that comes out of government-funded programs is not visited or used by the poor. The government funds this art so the political class can feel like they are cultured. Also, the art is crap, and the funding unnecessary. Paint supplies, or pen and paper, are not very expensive, especially in the context of an artist fulfilling his dreams. The funding is pork barrel, political satisfaction, and approved Kultur.

Srsly? September 6, 2011 at 10:39 am

Wow, Ron, more power to you for surveying all of the art that comes out of government-funded programs! Your results sound very comprehensive, and I’d like to see them. From your description, I’m under the impression that there are programs in the US where the art is 100% funded by the government. Are you referring to public art on bus stops? Or paintings in museums? Because there’s no difference, is there? I can tell that you are an artist yourself, or have cultivated a great appreciation of culture, because you understand that art is simply “an artist fulfilling his dreams” in a solipsistic revery, and that it can never be a collective and ongoing expression of culture over centuries, that evolves and resonates with time.

Sigivald September 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I’m noticing that Srlsy is good at sarcasm. Sadly, ability to do more than that is so far un-demonstrated.

(Calling your opponent or his approach “anarchist” because he wants education to be not provided by the state does not follow, for instance – anarchists want no state, not lack of state provision of some service you prefer be state provided.

I think you might find, however, that in a magic pony fairyland where taxes were reduced because of lower teacher’s union bloat, rents would actually decrease! Because, it turns out, landlords compete for tenants. The idea that cost passing only works one way as a ratchet is an amusing conceit, but does it have any empirical basis?

A quick internet search suggests that cost savings also get passed on to renters, in the real world, exactly as basic economic theory suggests it should.)

I’ve certainly not seen a large number of the poor “enjoying the arts” here in Portland – and lots and lots of middle and upper-middle-class people doing so.

Why, it’s almost like demand for “the arts” qua “the arts” is somehow related to class at the general level, whether it’s because of actual direct demand or as signaling behavior.

(Yes! There are poor people who are deeply interested in The Arts, and upper-middle-class people who don’t care about them, especially publicly-funded them.

But by all evidence, the general demand for The Arts is strongly correlated with class, making the exceptions generally irrelevant.)

In fact, that brackets the entire question – why should the State ever fund any “arts” in general, apart from decoration for publicly owned property?

Shouldn’t the Arts want to be independent of the State’s demands? Problem is, the only way to be independent of the State’s demands is to not take its money.

Cliff September 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm

You are right, poor people neither like nor need more art. Poor people do need schooling.

Srsly? September 5, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Especially schooling in art.

Andrew' September 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Not really. I was discussing our education strategy with the better half and almost convinced her how useless most of public education is. I spent 3 years learning a foreign language I never use, and if I had ever used it was only to send me places I didn’t want to go for my previous employer. (They didn’t offer Mandarin, btw).

English lit was the real eye opener to me. By 11th grade, it had already jumped the shark whereas maxing out on the offered math and sciences essentially required remedial classes in Freshman college. English was played out before the end of high school whereas the hard sciences had not even begun.

Ron Potato September 5, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Do you believe that decades of government schools have produced more and better artists in the general population?

sam September 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Regarding the Seattle Public Library closing, to all those who want to balance the budget when unemployment looks to jump back to 10 percent, including the likes of Tyler Cowen, there’s more to come. More teachers laid off (don’t care for administrators, they can live in their BMWs), more public library closings, tuition rates going up, etc. To all you conservative eggheads, you reap what you sow. Be prepared for the day YOU lose YOUR job, and don’t complain when the government cuts back on unemployment benefits.

Tracy W September 6, 2011 at 11:44 am

The problem is that if governments keep spending and keep borrowing to fund it, eventually lenders are going to stop lending.
At which point the government of the day has to do even more to balance the budget, and do so even more abruptly. Of course it would have been far better for governments to have run a surplus and paid down debt when times were good. If you invent a time machine, do let us know.

sam September 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm

You do realize this country just had a credit downgrade and long-term interest rates went DOWN! Exactly where are these bond vigilantes you people speak of!

Douglas2 September 6, 2011 at 8:52 am

I’d link to the annual report of the Seattle Library system, but they have closed their website as well.

Andy September 6, 2011 at 9:52 am

#2 The new Performing Arts Center in Kansas City, MO that was mentioned in the article was privately funded…all $326 million dollars of it. Interesting place to have a discussion about public funding for the arts.

Srsly? September 6, 2011 at 10:32 am

It would be interesting. I would hope that the discussion would include the possibility of both public and private funding, as has long been the norm, and which I would never discount (whereas many commentators here seem to think this is an either/or issue).

KC September 6, 2011 at 11:34 am

That Performing Arts Center benefits from adjacency to public-financed shopping and is itself a beneficiary of a Tax Increment Financing Plan (that is, they can freeload by not paying taxes for x years, keeping the sales tax for themselves and forcing the public to pay for their tax burden). You can see for yourself: edckc.com/agencies-partners/tax-increment-financing-commission/tif-plans-amendments/performing-arts-district/

Andy September 7, 2011 at 10:28 am

I’m not arguing public v. private funding for the arts here, just putting an interesting fact out there. But all sorts of buildings gets TIFs and tax breaks. The city loves to do that for private businesses (it create jobs), new residential buildings (brings more people to live in the city), and entertainment buildings (the Power & Light District brings lots of sales tax dollars). I would be shocked if the Performing Arts Center DIDN’T get a TIF. My point was merely that the entire project was privately funded and that fact should be included in the discussion of public v. private funding, esp if you’re standing on the front door step….

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