Month: July 2013

Legal guardianship for individuals with disabilities

On the basis of what I can glean from this article, I vote for Jenny:

The details of Jenny Hatch’s life have come under scrutiny in a complicated guardianship case that is pitting her wishes against those of her parents and testing the rights of adults with disabilities to choose how they live. The 29-year-old wants to move in with friends and continue the life she had, working at a thrift shop and riding her bike everywhere. Her parents want her to remain in a group home, supervised and protected.

This is a much-neglected issue, and not just for Down Syndrome individuals.  At a time when Edward Snowden, drones, and Gitmo are leading many people to reexamine many civil liberties issues, this one ought to be put on the table as well.  It needs its Radley Balko.  Ask yourself a simple question: if you don’t require guardianship, and yet have been placed under the legal guardianship of another, practically speaking how strong are your rights?  What chances of amendment or redress do you really have and in the meantime how can you represent yourself?

By the way, the article presents this anecdote:

“Given the chance to change anything about her life, ‘[Jenny] stated, ‘America, I would lower taxes,’ ” reads a psychological evaluation filed with the court.

And her media interview?:

The conversation was brief and, for the most part, Hatch’s voice remained steady and soft. She smiled frequently. Then Martinis asked what, if anything, she wanted people to know about her.

“I make my own decisions,” she said in a stern voice. “Not you.”

The article is interesting throughout.

Further assorted links

Larry Summers vs. Janet Yellen

Read Paul Krugman, Scott Sumner, Ezra Klein, and others on this.  My thinking is simple.  Public choice considerations constrain a looser monetary policy with either candidate.  Otherwise, it is easier for me to imagine Summers having credibility with a Republican administration, and having a real voice, relative to Yellen.  He simply has more right-wing street cred, keeping in mind that Yellen is a former Professor from Berkeley who has never really taken heat from the left, unlike Summers.  I think that overall the voice of the Fed within government is a clear positive.  The chance of a Republican administration, come the next election, is probably at least forty percent.  Thus I would prefer Summers.

Where is income mobility high and low?

Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data shows, with the odds notably low in Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus. By contrast, some of the highest rates occur in the Northeast, Great Plains and West, including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota.

Check out the map at the NYT link.  Based on eyeballing, western North Dakota seems to do best and northwestern Mississippi seems to do worst.

This is based on work by Raj Chetty, Patrick Kline, and Emmanuel Saez, and the other results are quite interesting:

The researchers concluded that larger tax credits for the poor and higher taxes on the affluent seemed to improve income mobility only slightly. The economists also found only modest or no correlation between mobility and the number of local colleges and their tuition rates or between mobility and the amount of extreme wealth in a region.

But the researchers identified four broad factors that appeared to affect income mobility, including the size and dispersion of the local middle class. All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods.

Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups.

Regions with larger black populations had lower upward-mobility rates. But the researchers’ analysis suggested that this was not primarily because of their race. Both white and black residents of Atlanta have low upward mobility, for instance.

Of course that is all correlation and not causation per se.  The Google link to the original research ought to be here, but right now the available links are down, perhaps soon they will come back up again.

Assorted links

1. Air Genius Gary Leff on the Colbert Report.

2. Dubai diet markets in everything: “In an effort to fight increasing obesity rates, the tiny Emirate has once again outdone the world in flashy extravagance by tantalizing dieters with a one-time offer: a gram of gold for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) lost over the course of a one-month challenge.”

3. Grannies in the classroom.

4. A long, sick story, involving Disney falsifiers who did even worse things too.

5. World’s fastest lawnmower.

6. Markets in everything redux, can you pick out the useful ones?  You should ponder “The Japanese Shouting Vase Holds your Anger.”  Some of the others are from Japan too.

7. South Korean fake funerals.

Incentive compatibility of food and drink

Authorities in the eastern Indian state of Bihar have ordered headteachers to taste all school lunches before they are served after 23 schoolchildren died eating a lunch contaminated with pesticide.

Amarjeet Sinha, the top official in the local education department, told reporters that cooking oil used at the school in Chapra District, 40 miles from the Bihar state capital of Patna, had been stored in or near a container previous filled with pesticide.

Sinha said notices published on Thursday morning in local newspapers ordering headteachers to taste food and to ensure safe storage of ingredients would “dispel any fear in [children’s] minds that the foods are unsafe.”

Children across Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, have been refusing to eat free school lunches since the incident on Tuesday.

It remains to be seen if this will in any way prove effective.  The rest of the story is here, via Joss Delage.  I am pleased, by the way, to have arrived in Bangalore.

Wealth taxes: a future battleground

That is my latest New York Times column, and it starts with this:

IF you’d like to know where American political debates are headed, the data suggest a simple answer. The next major struggle — in economic terms at least — will be over whether taxes on personal wealth should rise — and by how much.

The mathematical reality is that wealth is becoming more important, relative to income. In a new paper, “Capital Is Back: Wealth-Income Ratios in Rich Countries 1700-2010,” Professors Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman of the Paris School of Economics have performed the heroic task of measuring wealth for eight leading economies: the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Australia.

Their estimates reveal some striking trends. For instance, wealth accumulation in these eight countries has risen relative to yearly production. Wealth-to-income ratios in these nations climbed from a range of 200 to 300 percent in 1970 to a range of 400 to 600 percent in 2010. Behind the changing ratios is some bad news, namely that slow productivity growth and slow population growth have depressed income growth, but also some good news — that relative peace and capital gains have preserved wealth.

I would say that we have much become much more efficient in preserving old wealth than in creating new wealth, and this is overall a worrying trend.

I argue that debt to wealth ratios are usually manageable, even in the case of Japan.  The real issue is that politics can make it very difficult to tax wealth and in that sense fiscal problems remain real and are fundamentally tied to governance, not debt to gdp ratios.

Overall I favor consumption taxes myself, for the traditional reasons.  But with rising wealth to income ratios, governments are sure to look where the money is.  I expect this to be a major battle, as it already is in Italy with the recent debate over the IMU property taxes.

There is much more in the column, you can read the whole thing here.

*The Great Tamasha*

The author is James Astill and the subtitle is Cricket, Corruption, and the Spectacular Rise of Modern India.  This is an excellent book on India even if you, like I, have no real understanding of cricket.  Here are a few bits:

According to an analysis by Richard Cashman of the 143 Indians who played Test cricket up to 1979, half had a college degree, compared to 1 or 2 per cent of Indians as a whole.

And:

Cricket is now ubiquitous on Indian television.  It is shown constantly on 16 sports channels and relentlessly discussed on over 100 news channels.

And quoting Ashis Nandy:

“Cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English.”

Recommended.

Mumbai slums are getting expensive

Life in the Maximum City is changing:

A shanty in Dharavi is fetching a price of over Rs 1 crore, and real estate prices in Asia’s second-largest slum cluster are beating those in posh central Mumbai areas like Lower Parel.

Sample this: an 80-sq ft house in Dharavi costs upwards of Rs 25 lakh today, which is over 31,000 per sq ft, while Lodha had recently launched a new project in Lower Parel at Rs 23,000-25,000 per sq ft. In a market where sales of apartments have slowed down significantly, especially in south and central Mumbai, property sales in this slum cluster in central Mumbai have gone well and prices have doubled in the last couple of years.

Take the example of Amrish Devaliya who listed his 450-sq ft Mumbai home on a popular property portal last month. His asking price was 1 crore, but now he’s hoping to get much more. Devaliya’s property isn’t located in one of Mumbai’s many middle-class hubs, but a shanty inside Dharavi, where property prices have been on the rise over the past few years.

While the rest of the city battles falling home sales which are down 50% from the peak of June 2009 and a huge inventory pile-up of 40 months (139.33 million sq ft as of March 31, 2013, according to property research firm Liases Foras), this 427-acre slum, home to lakhs of labour that serves the Maximum City, has stood out, thanks to continuing high demand for comparatively ‘cheaper’ homes by an immigrant labour force which caters to the city as domestic help, plumbers, daily wagers, other office workers or those who run micro businesses. A healthy market usually maintains an inventory of around eight months.

Could it even be a bubble?

Prices of houses, which have tin or wooden roofs, or sometimes slightly better with brick structures, but no attached bathrooms, have more than doubled in the last two years. Typically, deals for these homes are struck by the roadside. If you are on the lookout for a house here, you could be accosted by a so-called real estate agent at the corner of a street. These agents scour the streets, looking for buyers and sellers and most of them don’t even have a registered office: they get 2% of the deal size as commission in return for their services.

Here is more, and I thank a Harsh Ketkar, a loyal MR reader, for the pointer.

Here is an excellent piece on building in Mumbai, it ties together infrastructure, civil society, Jane Jacobs-like ideas, and other points, all in a very short space.

Gephyrophobia Maryland markets in everything

For $25, a driver hops behind the wheel of your car to take you across the Bay Bridge.

You will note this is a kind of privatization:

The Maryland Transportation Authority used to drive people across the Bay Bridge who were afraid to drive themselves but it no longer provides that service.

The Bay Bridge, sometimes called the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, is very long — 6.9 km — and it is considered one of the scariest bridges in the world, for many at least.  For me it was fun.

The article is here, and for the pointer I thank Fred Smalkin.

Addendum (also from Fred): Sometimes there is a very strong case for using the markets which have been placed before you.

What I’ve been reading

I’ve hit on three winners in a row:

1. Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism.  Way, way better than that dog in the nighttime stuff.  Update: The correct link is here.

2. Amy Sackville, Orkney.  Not every honeymoon works out the way you planned.

3. Rana Mitter, China’s War With Japan 1937-1945, the US edition has the sillier title Forgotten Ally.  Let’s hope there won’t be a rerun of this show, in any case the return to knowing some background on this conflict is rising.  I count this as by far my favorite history book of the year, splendid content and writing both.

How to frame your food decisions

According to research published this spring, people make healthier menu choices when calories are listed beside each item – but they make even better choices when they’re told how far they’d have to walk to burn off the calories consumed. This makes sense: for most of us, a calorie is a nebulous, hard-to-visualise thing, while a listing such as “burger: 2.6 miles” brings things sharply into focus. Somebody, it occurs to me, ought to design an app along these lines, for eating out: it would ask me what kind of food I’d like, then direct me only to those restaurants sufficiently far away that I’d neutralise the effect of the meal by walking there. In the mood for salad? There’s a place on the corner. Hungry for sausages, cheesy chips and a large slice of cake? Time to dig out the hiking boots.

Here is more, by Oliver Burkeman, via Claire Morgan.

The Cambodian political business cycle, in reverse

Usually a political business cycle means a greater distribution of the largesse, leading up to the election.  But in Cambodia it means a greater insecurity of property rights and thus a contraction of economic activity:

The frenzied lead-up to national elections may have shaken consumer confidence as business owners and spenders worry over the heightening contest between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

With a comparably less violent pre-election period, however, the declines have not been as bad as in previous years.

Seng Limkunthea, the 35-year-old owner of Seng Sok Heng construction and machinery materials near Chroy Changvar Bridge, said she has observed a 50 per cent decline in business over the past few weeks.

“People want to hold on to money during the period, because they think that if something happens, they won’t have money in their hands,” Limkunthea said.

“Some buyers just delay their buying, because they are afraid,” she said, adding that she was surprised to see the drop, given the level of stability now.

“I believe that the situation will return to normal after the election, in about one month,” she said, adding, “what are we afraid of?”

Here is more, or try this version of the link, and for the pointer I thank Yoon Ah Ohx.