Saturday assorted links


#2 is cool. Some of the photos seem like thing that are obviously specialty one-offs, you're not going to find a stack of them in your local bakery, but the idea of pastries being architectural structures with modern aesthetics is excellent.

4. "The Terner Center cites modular housing as a way to lower construction costs, but Theriault and construction unions are critical of the practice, which typically shifts labor out of the city and sometimes out of the country. Developers have said modular housing, which involves assembling segments of a project off-site and shipping them in, results in a 20 percent savings, but Theriault wants to see more data proving those savings. The city is now seeking developers to operate a modular factory within San Francisco, something the local unions support."

So rent-seeking by unionized labor is a significant factor driving up costs, but capitulating to their demands will somehow reduce costs.

The unions are brazen in their rent seeking, as they often are. That doesn't mean this won't reduce costs.

If a developer can use it to avoid union labor, all the better for their bottom line. However, modular housing is appealing because it is genuinely more efficient than building in place, even if the unions end up with some of those efficiency gains.

You expect us to believe that operating a factory within San Francisco (considering the costs of land/rent, energy, etc.) using unionized labor will only eat up some of those efficiency gains?

Yes. The cost of land/rent/energy is going to be about the same whether you build in place or build modules at a factory. In San Francisco, there is no non-union labor option. Either you build in place with union labor or you build modules at a factory with union labor and then assemble them on site with union labor.

And drop the "us". You're one person.

"For example, one Bay Area manufacturer employed factory workers whose hourly wage rate was $20-$30 per hour...A modular factory outside of the Bay Area [Lathrop, CA and Boise, ID are mentioned] only pays its factory workers $15-$17 per hour including health care and other costs."

That's a 25%-40% labor cost difference on the manufacturing side. So we are supposed to be grateful that the unions haven't managed to block modular construction entirely and only have to endure those higher labor costs.

If you wanna get worked up about unions, go right ahead.

But the idea that there are returns to specialization, standardization, and mass production is not at all controversial. Modular construction is more efficient.

So yes, I want all of you to believe that operating a factory within San Francisco using unionized labor will only eat up some of the efficiency gains vs. building in place in San Francisco using unionized labor.

And yes, all of you are supposed to be grateful that unions haven't managed to block modular construction entirely and only have to endure those labor costs that are higher than a hypothetical right-to-work San Francisco.

Again, rage against unions all you want. They do indeed result in higher costs! But modular construction has nothing to do with that. All else equal (including unionization!), modular construction is going to result in more efficient construction, for the same reasons that Adam Smith documented with the example of a pin factory in Wealth of Nations, for the same reasons that Eli Whitney was able to revolutionize musket manufacturing, for the same reason that a shirt off the rack is cheaper than a tailor made shirt.

Division of labor, interchangeable parts, and factory production are really big deals. A nonunion workforce building on site might be cheaper than a union workforce doing modular construction; I don't know. But a union workforce building on site is definitely more expensive than a union workforce doing modular construction.

I don't like being the person always reminding you that San Francisco is small .. but it is really small, and there are loads of nearby cities with much more manufacturing for several reasons (though certainly an extremely left city government is one).

Sunnyvale, for instance, was never in San Francisco.

4. When I am at the airport, people watching as I often do, I'm struck by the variety of clothing of the travelers. Wouldn't it be more efficient if people wore the same or at least similar styles? Houses are like that: everyone is different. Why is that? It's very inefficient. Okay, I get the Howard Roark thing - you gotta go your own way - but he epitomized inefficiency in the construction industry, which seems odd, him being the libertarian hero and all. What was the last innovation in housing construction? The nail gun? The irony is that building codes are designed to make housing uniform, and thus construction of housing more efficient, yet my libertarian friends detest building codes. Gotta go your own way. Libertarians can promote going your own way but they can't simultaneously complain about inefficiency in the housing industry. Well, they can, but most of us see it for what it is: having it both ways.

building codes are designed to make housing uniform, and thus construction of housing more efficient, yet my libertarian friends detest building codes

Building codes are designed to make it so that local regulators control certain aspects of construction. In some places, that's primarily for safety, in worse places that includes a desired "look" for the area. What you won't hear is that building codes are for "efficiency", because they're not and they don't make things more efficient, nor cost less. Quite the opposite, because if someone comes up with a new construction technique to make something more efficient and less costly, the odds are their biggest obstacle is going to be building codes which assume all construction is done a particular way which doesn't include that technique.
Libertarians generally recognize that "going your own way" isn't a cause of inefficiency in the housing industry, so your dichotomy is false as well as a strawman. The primary cause of inefficiency in SF, for example, is government laws and regulations. That's the opposite of your contention. Libertarians by definition want individuals to be responsible for their making their own choices as well as the consequences for those choices. It turns out that they also believe that makes things better for everyone, including usually bringing efficiency and wealth to more people. You won't find libertarians arguing that the Soviet Union was great because it was so efficient to have the central planners ensure everything was uniform and there wasn't much choice for consumers. That's the position of their ideological opponents and it's a flat out lie to ascribe the position to them.

A particularly raywardy post, as he's piling layers of ignorance on top of each other

4. "The city's median home price, which hit a record $1.5 million last year, is also pushing construction workers to cheaper cities, making it harder to satisfy local hire goals."

"Housing is too scarce or expensive for construction workers to move here" is one heck of a market instability.

Why doesn't the market for construction workers work?

The market for construction workers does not and will not work because it akes too much time between the salary raise offered and finding a place to live where the wife won't be unhappy and the kids will have a decent school

Joan Robinson, back in the day, used to talk about that sort of thing from the point of view of capital investments: beautiful big factories, with industrial lighting and with fencing around the acres of now industrial land where once the woodland creatures used to delight in the shade of the moon, under the occasional oak and the more frequent walnut trees, with their friends the hazel and the birch and the poplar (along the lanes), with, down to the left near the stream (now running through a concrete tube that is cleaned once every five years, and otherwise resembles a very sad lonely tomb), the trees that are friends at the riverside - the willow, the alder, the ...

Well, it is too sad. I once lived in the town where the guys who built the Golden Gate Bridge were most likely to live, statistically speaking. Beautiful town: on the hills over Foothill Road on the edge of town the golden poppies, every spring, were spectacular, and somebody had planted a row of eucalyptus trees on the road to the fairground. You have no idea how nice that smelt, in March ...

My young friend, do you know how many construction workers can qualify for a mortgage in that town today? Not many, my young friend.

Far and few, far and few, are the lands where the Jumblies live (their somethings were something and their something else were something else) and they went to sea in a sieve.

They went to sea in a sieve, in spite of all their friends could say.

At the high school, at lunch, they served milkshakes that you had to eat with a spoon, they were so thick. My favorite streets were, besides the aforementioned Foothill Road, Camino Brazos, with dozens of similar houses with beautiful front yards and back yards with that Mediterranean trick of being the sort of place where everything - avocadoes, asparagus, jasmine, roses - grows well (a river in Texas, too), and of course Main Street, with the most pleasant hotel in all of California. Years after I left they put in a veteran's appreciation garden - I would like to visit one day, after all these years (I must have passed that block a dozen times but I was not a veteran then. We are talking halfway back to the summer of 1931. And I am not all that much of a veteran - but, technically, if it is a garden dedicated to veterans, it is dedicated, in part, to me. Mop 4, Mop 4, as we used to say, back in the day, laughingly putting on our chemical gear - we knew that we would not be gassed! - how much nicer every country would be if those of us devoted to peace were more successful!!!)

Re 4,, wonder when the Federal Government will use its power under the commerce clause to attack the land use restrictions that obviously burden interstate commerce. Also wonder if the recent changes in the tax laws will straighten some of this out as after tax income in places like SF and NYC decline & some of these luxuries like financing corrupt politicians and unions become less affordable. Note the NYT 12/28/17 article on the grossly inflated costs in expanding the NYC subway system -- a product of corruption and gross incompetence.

#5 No Dalit mecca of India where Dalits migrate to build wealth and political power? African Americans in Atlanta appear to have a much higher sense of agency than Dalits.

The category "Dalit" is more like "People of Color" in the American social classification -- a somewhat amorphous and politically adjustable term not a cultural identity. There are hundreds of different castes all over India which are "scheduled" according to Indian law and they do not share any common language, religious practices, or history. Even the levels of oppression vary from area to area. E.g. the article notes that even other Dalit subcastes (a tendentious term. Why not just castes?) practice ritual pollution against their inferiors. So they cannot act collectively in the way relatively homogeneous African-Americans do.

True. I have never understood the use of the term "subcaste" (or even caste) in English.

What exactly is a subcaste. You only have castes. There is no such thing as a sub-caste in Indian society.

I belong to the Iyengar community, within which there is a division between Thenkalais and Vadakalais. In English these two are referred to as sub-castes and Iyengars are referred to as a "caste". But both labels are wrong.

First of all calling Iyengars a caste is wrong as it is a religious sect not an ethnic or occupational group. And Thenkalais vs Vadakalais are two different sub-sects separated by theological differences. Not subcastes.

Yet terms like subcaste get used for these sects.

I don't see why it is wrong to refer to Iyengars (and other such groups) as castes. A 'religious sect' anyone can join (loosely speaking). One is, however, born an Iyengar, and (traditionally) an Iyengar will marry another Iyengar, seemingly the definition of a caste (i.e. an endogamous group). One loses that in referring to these as sects.

It is possible to "become" a Sri-vaishnava. There are procedures for the same. The Thenkalai sect is in fact open to admitting members from other sects into the Iyengar fold.

And in India religious sects are v particular about adherence to a certain lifestyle and values. And hence admission is not open to anyone and everyone, who puts an application.

Hinduism in that sense is an aloof religion and is always sceptical of new aspiring entrants. And this is true of every sect. The establishment doubts the sincerity of what people profess. These sects are more concerned with purity of adherence than with increasing their numbers. Hence the conservatism in letting in new people.

But the fact remains that these are sects. Not castes. There is no ethnic difference between say Iyers and Iyengars. The difference is purely religious.

Unless I have misunderstood, Hinduism is the least "aloof" of the well-known world religions.

For example: One walks down the street and sees a person perform a kind and powerful miracle. That person, one says to oneself (no matter how impressed one is), if born in our day, can never become a Jewish God, a Christian God, or a God in one of the post-Christian religions. Well, perhaps that person already is an enlightened avatar in the Buddhist belief system: but that is not because of the performance of the miracle. On the other hand, the Hindu worldview is open to saying: here, if this individual continues to perform kind and powerful miracles, we have a new god, based on the performance of the miracles.

Hence, while it might be less than simple to join a particular Hindu caste, there is nothing easier, once one gets in the habit of performing miracles, than becoming a Hindu god.

Perhaps I am mistaken in my description of the lack of aloofness in the Hindu religion.

Sure. Hinduism is more open to deifying "great" people around us. Though deification is different from turning them into "god". My comment is more around the attitude towards evangelism, and scepticism towards aspiring converts.

Thanks for the reply. One of the books which Nassim Taleb praises on his Amazon review feed (I am not necessarily a fan of books, or of Taleb (although there are not many reasons - some, but not many - not to be, in his case), or of the Amazon review feed) discusses the issue of theosis as viewed through the writings of theologians of the Eastern Orthodox tradition and, by useful contest, though the writings of the theologians of the church where the bishops of Rome claim apostolic succession from Peter. Maybe one day I will learn more about Hinduism than I already know (that being said, the first Hindu I ever met was born a very long time ago) (the mother of that particular individual's grandfather could easily have been a mere youth 200 years ago. He did a good imitation of his grandfather's mother's uncle, if I remember correctly. Time goes by slowly. Let's appreciate the knowledge, and sometimes the wisdom, we have to offer each other).

The origin of subcaste is in the varna-jati confusion we have discussed previously.

Another source of confusion particularly in magazine articles such as this one is that the word caste is used to carry three separate concepts: sociopolitical, cultural, and biological. You're doing the same thing btw by introducing the bogus distinction of sect. The Swaminarayans of Gujarat are Shrivaishnavas by ideology but an Iyengar living in e.g. Ahmedabad would absolutely not think of them as belonging to the same group as him theoretical openness notwithstanding.

"an Iyengar living in e.g. Ahmedabad would absolutely not think of them as belonging to the same group as him theoretical openness notwithstanding."

Exactly as a Greek Roman Catholic won't think of an Irish Roman catholic as belonging to the same group as him thought they share the same religion / theology.

Very few Greek Roman catholics would be wiling to marry Irish catholics as they are separated by language, culture and geography, notwithstanding the common religion. So does one call Greek Catholics as a caste unto themselves? No.

Iyengars are a sect. Not a caste. A more genuine example of a caste would be say the Reddys of AP. Now that's a group where the identity is one purely defined by endogamy over a period of time. It is a purely ethnic identity. Not a religious one. Nor an ideological one. I wouldn't mind calling Reddys as a caste group.

"The origin of subcaste is in the varna-jati confusion we have discussed previously"

No. It doesn't. Jati is caste. Varna is class albeit one that is more coherent over time. Subcaste has no equivalent in Indian lexicon.

"Very few Greek Roman catholics would be wiling to marry Irish catholics". True, but for a simpler reason: there are very few Greek Roman catholics, less than 10,000. But we understand your point nevertheless.

I think there are more than 10,000.

But you can replace Greek catholics with Spanish catholics in my comment.

I don’t see huge barriers between European people in marrying outside their religion or nationality. No-one would even think that was worthy of comment unless to ask how they met. I don’t think caste in India works the same way.

I think marriages between Tamilians and Gujaratis is more common than marriages between Irish and Greeks.

“"We have been training up apprentices at an unprecedented rate since the turnaround began," said Theriault. "But it takes three-to-five years for them to graduate to journey(man) level." Becoming fully skilled takes around a decade, he said.”

That’s a great one! How rich! Cui Bono?

I like that the ‘author’ simply takes these ‘facts’ as the way it had to be! Clearly this is a plot by the rich!

5. Stealthily promotes this simplistic view of Dalits as "traditional shit cleaners". Which is just plain wrong.

Dalits are close to 15% of the Indian population. And only a small minority among them were traditionally engaged in professions that were considered "unclean" or "polluting". A significant chunk of Dalits were agricultural workers, many of whom mingled quite freely with other castes and did not attract the same level of prejudice.

To club all these castes under one label called "Dalit" is, first of all, a gross injustice to the most destitute of the Dalit castes. And this clubbing is a recent development - a consequence of modern Indology and Ambedkarite politics.

I'd like to understand better the history of the term "Dalit".

When did this term originate as a group reference to all the so-called "untouchable" castes. To the best of my knowledge it is a 20th century categorization. But curious to know when and how it exactly happened.

Was there a nation-wide centralized list of "untouchable castes" in 1800? Pretty sure there wasn't.

This use of 'dalit' is from the 19th century, see Jyotirao Phule. As I understand it, he took an existing Marathi and re-purposed it to mean something quite like the British Raj "Depressed Classes".

See also, a little later, B. R. Ambedkar.

By the way Tyler - regarding that Economist piece headline I'd add -

"All Indians, regardless of caste, religion or gender, are better off than EVER before. But that's not saying much"


In other words, it is a dirt poor country. And the poorest people in this dirt poor country are bound to be more miserable than poor people elsewhere. Regardless of caste.

As XIXth century pastry chef Antonin Carême said: There are 5 fine arts....the least of which is architecture whose main branch is pastry"

1. The problem with India is socialism and the idiotic caste system.

I didn’t watch the lecture, life is too short, but let me guess 70 years on it is still the fault of the British?

4. The alliance between labor unions and politicians doesn't help. The higher the cost, the more the unions make.

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