by Tyler Cowen
on March 17, 2014 at 12:31 pm
1. From Neal Stephensohn’s Reamde. It concerns aviation and other issues in recent current affairs.
2. New blog on robot economics.
3. Dubious but interesting claims about new ways of punishing prisoners.
4. Is there still communism in China? And the PRC according to Baidu autocomplete.
5. Are some of the traditional ladders out of poverty disappearing?
#5: The graphic with the article that purports to show that low wage workers are older, more educated, and more likely to be minorities appears to basically show the change of Americans in general. In other words, Americans today are older, more educated, and less white than they were in the 1970’s, and these changes are reflected proportionately in the number of Americans working at low wages.
In other words, if everyone had a college degree, the rate of poverty among the working poor would be just as dire, with a phd in nuclear physics no assurance of a decent middle class job.
This amazing post detailing the radar tracks of nearby flights makes the same conclusion as Stephenson…this whole scenario has screamed Reamde for days:
#3. More evidence that we don’t need a technocratic elite running the show. Evidently, the most important aspect of the fight against “crime”, the components of which involve shifting societal beliefs, is punishment, not compensation or rehabilitation. In the late 17th century, devout Protestants hung witches. So-called civilization has advanced from that dark era and now we incarcerate people that set plants on fire and inhale the smoke. We use the testimony of toddlers to ruin the lives of pre-school employees. We use perjured testimony to convict innocents and send them to prison. http://nailheadtom.blogspot.com/2014/02/perjurer-gets-2-months-for-putting.html
Apparently, that’s not enough. And what’s with the abhorrence of violence, anyway? Our hired thugs use violence as quickly as possible in a confrontation so it can’t be all bad. In fact, the prospect of violence is still an effective deterrent today. The problem is that an element of society that either is physically unable to defend itself with violence or is simply unwilling to do so, is calling the shots for everyone else. Why should it be the business of anyone else if I knock the snot out of somebody stealing Gloria Estefan CDs out of my car?
not like it’s a matter of choice
That CD thief is doing you a favor, dude.
And certainly needs rehabilitation.
lower marginal costs will also mean less need for work http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-anti-capitalism.html
stocks keep going up http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20140317-707029.html
STEM majors making amazing discoveries http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/smoking-gun-reveals-how-inflationary-big-bang-happened-n54686
Piketty is right http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/12/business/economy/a-relentless-rise-in-unequal-wealth.html Will the second gilded age end in another great depression? Don’t count on it.
Get your own blog.
#5: “A traditional way out of poverty” is not single parenthood. I’m sorry, but single mothers have always been poor. Always.
It is interesting that every single person they found to interview for this story has some social pathology at work: dropping out of school, divorce, etc.
The big ones besides divorce and single parenthood are criminal records and drug use.
The poor of today are completely different than the poor of the past. Poverty is no longer an economic phenomenon, it is a consequence of some other lifestyle behavior. Thus, there are no easy answers, and the easy answers make the problem worse (they allow the behavior to continue).
I don’t think that it is that deterministic. I do, however, find it strange that Tyler would use the word “traditional” in linking to the article. It does not seem to me that any traditional ways of escaping poverty is discussed in the article.
At the risk of usurping ummm’s role of usurping this blog, I am surprised that Tyler did not link to this: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/magazine/the-cold-hard-lessons-of-mobile-home-u.html?hpw&rref=magazine. It struck me as something he would have labelled as “interesting throughout.”
Good article. And there is one paragraph that pretty much explains all of the rest of it:
There are 8.6 million mobile homes in the United States, according to a 2013 U.S. Census Bureau report…That number is not likely to grow, we learned in Southern California, given restrictive zoning laws and the prohibitive cost of building a new park in the boonies, meaning supply is static even as demand for cheap places to live is high.
Paging Matt Yglesias…
I’m sorry, but I think that the idea that poverty today is “a consequence of some other lifestyle behavior” is really dumb. A lot of these social ills that you talk about (especially things like crime and drug abuse) are direct consequences of larger political-economic dynamics. For example, after the deindustrialization of the 70s and 80s, Detroit’s people were forced to rely on drug trade rather than traditional factory work. And I also think its dumb to talk about “single parenthood” without also talking about disparate access to sex education and contraceptives; its not a coincidence that teenage pregnancy rates are highest in the Bible Belt.
TL; DR Victim-blaming is stupid and irrational, and should be rejected.
What exactly are they victims of??
Their factory went out of business so they were “forced” into the drug trade?
Forced to rely on the drug trade? Forced how? By whom? Why did this blight only hit Detroit? There are plenty of other post-industrial cities in America. The rule seems to be that if they have a reasonably sized White population, they did not go the way of Detroit. If they did, they did.
Access to contraception and sex education is irrelevant. It is not as if anyone in America is unaware of how babies are made. The Bible Belt has more live births. It does not have more teenage pregnancy. The North just aborts more.
And again much of of this reflects populations. Blacks have about two and a half times the White rate of teen births. There are more of them in the South. It is not as if Detroit has low figures.
The US has been conducting an experiment in which single women are paid to have babies. Why are people surprised that larger numbers of single women choose to accept the subsidy?
“Access to contraception and sex education is irrelevant. It is not as if anyone in America is unaware of how babies are made. The Bible Belt has more live births. It does not have more teenage pregnancy. The North just aborts more.”
By that statement, would you at least agree then that access to abortion is helpful at reducing poverty?
Ok, let’s pick the conservative West where meth addiction and production is a major problem. Breaking Bad has too much truth behind it to be scifi. Meth is white people’s escape from poverty – not an end, but an escape, until the OD.
Moonshine was white people’s drug trade, and still is I’m sure.
The Times article definitely hits all the right notes. Even the college graduate they found was someone with a degree in social work. It is impressive to me that journalists who write pieces like this seem completely unfamiliar with the most common criticisms of such articles. Surely it would not be that hard to find a struggling two-income couple or underemployed math major to profile.
Incidentally, Chattanooga is often cited as conclusive proof that municipal broadband is the key to riches. To be fair, the city is actually doing a lot better than most medium-size cities that lost their traditional industrial bases in the 70s and 80s. Many Southern cities on the decline view Chattanooga as a model to emulate.
The best predictor for city failure is the relative size of the Black population. It is unpleasant to point it out but it is still true.
In 1980 Chattanooga was about two thirds White. Now it is about half.
I am willing to make a bet about the future of the city, no matter what it does with broadband.
Let’s see, being black was once the predictor for being a slave, then for being a sharecropper or servant without a vote, a predictor of being a vagrant throw in jail and sold to work off your jail term in a mine, then a predictor of being a trouble maker who was protesting the status quo, then a troublemaker moving in to destroy the value of your property, then a predictor YOUR job was going to a black man, then a predictor that the white neighbors all moved out, a predictor that the property values have cratered, a predictor the school funding has collapsed, a predictor that businesses serving whites abandoned the area,…
If only those black had had the good sense to be born white so the whites wouldn’t discriminate against them.
Whites did a lot to destroy black families long before the 60s.
… and apparently the answer is to send them through caseworkers to write checks for them.
#3: So, we’re going to invent a magic technology that allows someone to experience a thousand subjective years in eight hours. And the only thing we are going to use it for is to punish prisoners, in an implicitly humane and rehabilitative way?
Because if we use it for all the other purposes that we can come up with in even eight minutes of unaugmented thought, then while our imaginary prisoner is undergoing his punishment, er, rehabilitation, everyone else on the planet will have spent a thousand years engaged in virtual-reality social interaction, on-line education, politics, and every sort of productive intellectual activity imaginable. Odds are the prisoner won’t even be able to speak the language of the society in which he emerges; certainly his job skills will be hopelessly obsolete and his friends and family will have long since forgotten him.
So, the singularity arrives, but only for the incarcerated. Interesting hypothesis, but I don’t think it is the least bit credible. If it does happen, expect people to try and game the system by committing whatever crime it takes to get themselves a thousand-year intellectual head start on the rest of the human race.
Sounds like a great plot for the next sci-fi blockbuster: A convicted prisoner is sentenced to time-dilated 1000 years VR jail. Unbenownst to the outside world, he uses his 1000 years to accumulate vast knowledge. He is released and is now the smartest human ever to walk the planet, embarking on world-domination.
Certainly smarter than the guy who invented the technology and somehow neglected to use a long weekend to develop an even better plan for world domination, etc, long beforehand.
But then, you did say “sci-fi blockbuster”, so yeah, that’s about right for the genre. If you want to write it as a book, I think it works better if the protagonist to maybe go into prison with such a plan, only to find that the world was in fact conquered a few years/eons ago by technologically enhanced hypergeniuses who have kept this fact secret for their own inscrutable reasons.
I’m reasonably sure I’ve already read that story at least two times, once in Italian and once in English.
Remember, that any time that a mainstream media reports on a sci-fi story, it’s already twenty to forty years old in literature. You didn’t think Matrix was something new, did you?
There has already been a Star Trek DS9 episode on this.
What better place to do prison research than inside a prison?
If the police and FBI won’t arrest you for hacking my computer and sexually harassing me over the past several months, I will do it myself — in the next couple weeks before school starts again. Either way, one of us is going to prison.
I will entertain settlement offers at the email address provided.
Jonathan E Pendleton
Do not reveal yourself to mortals! Once they understand where you and I live, they will use their computers to hack our sexual hr’assments.
Why should they serve time at all? Just re-make their minds. It should take less than 20 subjective years.
Some, such as myself, believe that irregardless (love that word) of whether behaviour is or is not deterministic, there is no socially stable alternative to individual responsibility. To those who think otherwise, please include your home address in your posts.
Oh, and for a fictional take on this, read Iain Bank’s Surface Detail (not his best work). Not sure why this is “news”, nothing new about the idea. One “minor” issue Bank’s exposes is the immense power someone would hold, if s/he were “in charge” of this kind of virtual reality. No opportunity for abuse, right? (but, for the right price…)
A 1952 Hugo Winner story. Absolutely nothing new, sorry.
#3 Why wouldn’t we just kill them? Isn’t that more humane than creating a real life version of hell? People’s minds are twisted to think that that is more humane.
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