Feed on

This article from the Wonkblog (the Vox folks’ old stomping grounds) argues that America has a growing food inequality problem.

Let’s not dispute that claim. With growing income inequality it would not at all be surprising to see consumption inequality follow-suit, even if you expect it to be less dramatic.

But awkwardly, the article vaguely references food prices.  They claim that healthful foods have always cost more than unhealthful foods. But that does not in any way make their point. If they have always cost more than unhealthful foods, then why is inequality increasing? Are they getting relatively MORE expensive today? Certainly for all foods this is not true even in an absolute sense. The question for the author and our dear TUW readers: what has actually happened to real food prices over the last XX years? Here’s a hint: they’ve fallen. Sharply.

A further question comes from a rather startling admission in the piece,

“But it’s likely knowledge-driven, too. People from lower socioeconomic tiers may have limited opportunity to learn about the effects of unhealthy foods and the consequences resultant from unhealthy diets. The study found a strong correlation between education level and performance in the health index. “

I find this to be entirely unbelievable. I’d like any of you to go out in the street and ask anyone, regardless of their apparent SES, what they understand about what they eat and how they eat. Furthermore, don’t we have compulsory schooling up to about age 16 in “free” government schools, most with reduced price or free lunch service and certainly every one of them offering all kids of education on healthy living. To be honest, I think the sentiment in the quote above is rather demeaning,

And here, I don’t understand the point that is trying to be made:

America’s growing food inequality isn’t merely affecting the poor. Diet-driven diseases like obesity and diabetes now cost the country hundred of billions of dollars every year.

Does this mean that food inequality makes those at the upper end fat? Maybe, I don’t know. I’d like to see data on the distribution of BMI by education and income group – my hunch is that there is no relationship, or certainly not one that would confirm the point above. And the piece closes with another statement that quite frankly I don’t understand and certainly see no evidence provided for:

No matter the cause, the gap is marginalizing a significant portion of the population. “In America, food has become the premier marker of social distinctions, that is to say—social class. It used to be clothing and fashion, but no longer, now that ‘luxury’ has become affordable and available to all

How is it marginalizing? After all, aren’t people in different classes now living farther and farther apart from one another? Would such inequality even be recognizable? And of course, while I am sure the real price of clothing and apparel has fallen, does it follow that status and luxury clothing is more accessible than food, even high quality food, over this time period?

Today is our first day of classes. I used to be excited about it, and now it is just a giant pit in my stomach.

For the record, just so it doesn’t have to be imagined anymore in other classrooms and by people who have never so much as said hello to me:

  • I support the exploitation of workers by “corporations” and “capitalists. I especially like it when such exploited workers are women and underrepresented minorities.
  • I support the exploitation of the environment.
  • I support the pursuit and accrual of short-term profits at the expense of long term profits and sustainable business.
  • I support everything the Koch Brothers, Exxon, McDonalds, Big Pharma, etc. have ever done, anywhere, and under any circumstance. I supported it before they started paying me. Now I REALLY support it.
  • I know everything there is to know.
  • Economists have a monopoly on viewing the world. All other disciplines have nothing to contribute.
  • I discriminate against everyone, even when I am not consciously doing so.
  • .. fill in whatever you like, that’s par for the course.

This research paper hit my desk this morning:

Positive Long Run Capital Taxation: Chamley-Judd Revisited
by Ludwig Straub, Ivan Werning  -  #20441 (EFG PE)


According to the Chamley-Judd result, capital should not be taxed in
the long run.  In this paper, we overturn this conclusion, showing
that it does not follow from the very models used to derive them.
For the model in Judd (1985), we prove that the long run tax on
capital is positive and significant, whenever the intertemporal
elasticity of substitution is below one.  For higher elasticities,
the tax converges to zero but may do so at a slow rate, after
centuries of high capital taxation.  The model in Chamley (1986)
imposes an upper bound on capital taxation and we prove that the tax
rate may end up at this bound indefinitely.  When, instead, the
bounds do not bind forever, the long run tax is indeed zero; however,
when preferences are recursive but non-additive across time, the
zero-capital-tax limit comes accompanied by zero private wealth (zero
tax base) or by zero labor taxes (first best).  Finally, we explain
why the equivalence of a positive capital tax with ever rising
consumption taxes does not provide a firm rationale against capital


Was walking in front of a shop the other day when I saw a pretty tacky piece of memorabilia for sale. Even my own initial response was, “anything for a buck!”

So what?

I think I should have changed my sentence to, “someone somewhere thought a customer might be willing to give me more of what I want in exchange for this piece of memorabilia.” That’s true after all, isn’t it?

And think of how our thinking is different if we remove money from the language and instead talk about why we actually acquire money – to secure the goods and services that we want and need.

“Anything to be able to get the things she needs!”

Doesn’t sound quite the same, does it? But use the term “buck” and our impression changes.

  1. If you read the popular progressive literature, you would come to believe that only progressives actually care about other people. It’s a startling observation, no? There’s no reason to try to rebut this aside from its obvious absurdity.
  2. Do most people actually care about other people in the first place? Regarding the progressives, a group with which I used to have much sympathy and continue to be fascinated by, if you examine the disgust and vituperation steaming off of their web pages for anyone who is NOT a progressive, it sure seems hard to believe they care about anyone other than their small group of wonks. Lord forbid anyone utter the word “conservative” or “libertarian” in their presence – the spears and arrows soon come out. And let’s not talk about “the rich?” If a group of folks wanted to champion itself as actually giving a hoot about humanity, it sure is odd to see them treat some portions of humanity as subhuman – if I were into analogies now would be a perfect time, but it would be lost on folks and likely misinterpreted. Let’s just say such treatment is reminiscent of how certain groups of people are claimed to be treated by none other than the progressives. What is particularly odd about the progressives is that their worldview seems to rule out the possibility that there are actually some poor conservatives and libertarians out there, that there are actually some underrepresented conservatives and libertarians out there, and that when blanket statements like, “Conservatives believe …!” (they KNOW this because a ridiculously put together poll says so) they therefore are calling every single conservative and libertarian similar, and not worthy of individual consideration. Strange for a group that supposedly champions the opposite.
    NOTE: this is not a particularly generous assessment and commits the very “group” association of all “progressives” as being the same that I quite abhor. I think grammatically we need to come up with a way to talk about “a prominent theme that is encountered by public representatives of a group of people who like to fancy themselves by a particular name …” but that’s a little cumbersome.
  3. What, exactly, does “working class” mean? I have a funny feeling that I am not included among this group. I wonder if my more progressive colleagues would be honored with the label?
  4. I’d like to start a new movement. It’s the “what, exactly, do you want?” movement. When I hear someone railing against some condition or some supposedly ignorant thought that a group of people hold or propose some policy, I want to see people say exactly what it is that they want. I want to see, for example, what kind of pay distribution they think is OK. I want to see what people are permitted into what occupations and at what levels, and I want to see it in fine detail. I want to see people say exactly who should pay more in taxes, who exactly should be more regulated, on a very detailed basis. So, if you think “the rich” should nonetheless do more, I want you to say how much more, I want you to investigate my current income, my current assets and spending habits and tell me what ought to go. I want to see folks apply every bit of the logic that they apply to broadly defined and fuzzily observed groups down to themselves, and if their ideas are not applied consistently to themselves I’d like to see why they are exempt from it. After all, in the context of the global poor and global inequality, even the most moderate apportioned of Americans is disgustingly rich and part of the “global 1%.” When I hear arguments that the minimum wage should be increased, I want people to go into the small stores and shops that have workers, identify who is underpaid and why they are underpaid, and tell the shop owners that they must pay all of their workers more, and to tell them why this is so, and tell them why as entrepreneurs that they have an extra responsibility to pay people more while the wonks and really serious people get to tap away at their keyboards demanding it all the while not hiring a single person themselves. And more. It will never happen of course.
  5. I am very much in favor of a generous welfare state. I’d change it of course, but I am myself skeptical that the changes I prefer would actually be an improvement on what we have now. I’ve been wrong about a few things in the past too. I would wish, on this labor day, for people to admit they might not know how to do things, and that they have been wrong in the past. I’d like them to mean it. It will never happen of course.
  6. I am very much in favor of a generous welfare state. Among the changes I’d like to see are cultural ones. I would start by inculcating in all people that sure you may be entitled to “help” by some moral philosophy, but that there are conditions upon which your entitlement should be granted, including among them gratitude and a requirement that you actually ASK for the help that you will be getting, and that this is not a one-shot deal. Of course, this will never happen.
  7. Labor Day is every day.

Say the really serious people.

And they continue, “the point is to change it.”

How’s that for reporting the news? Read the piece. Don’t you think they’d get bored parroting the same “points” time and again?

Here’s a shocker – maybe:

1) People don’t care nearly as much about “inequality” as the wonks do

2) Policy preferred by the world changers actually is counterproductive?

3) Policy preferred by the world changers is relatively impotent?

4) Here’s a real cynical take – maybe politically the world changers do better when there is more inequality?

But I’m not nearly as confident in any of that as are the world changers.

Stuff It

In 2005 Dr. Francine Palma-Long pleaded for the establishment of new government regulations that would limit portion sizes in restaurants by 50% to 67%.

Let’s not at all argue with this sentiment. Americans are getting fat and we need to do something about it – so goes the argument. The argument continues that food corporations are infamous for increasing portion sizes and giving customers more than they need.


But then I just finished listening, actually overhearing a couple of 18-year olds, argue that corporations routinely underpay workers and rip people off (for example notice how a half gallon container of ice cream is now closer to 1.5 quarts).

So … do corporations cause problems by giving folks too much? Or by giving folks too little?

At an unnamed small-research university located in the Great Lakes area:

photo 3

photo 1

photo 2

Not that I would have any direct knowledge, but I am told that this happens at least every two weeks over the course of the year. Good luck solving global warming, world poverty, infrastructure planning, etc.

Just finished reading Mark Goldman’s history of Buffalo called City on the EdgeIt is certainly recommended if you are a history or architecture buff and love Western, NY. The book goes through the glorious and agonizing history of the city, neighborhood by neighborhood. While it doesn’t beat you over the head with the theme, it is evident, as in many writings that involved the evolution of American urban areas, that “white flight” is something that takes some blame for the decline of inner cities.

For the record, my family did not “flee” until well after we all left the nest, here is the home we grew up in (sans bars), and we did not leave until the early 2000s (our youngest was born in 1975).

Every time I hear the narrative about “white flight” leaving and therefore damaging/gutting the inner city, something seems not quite right. Ask yourself, what does such a narrative actually imply? Ever since I became involved in higher education I have been taught that I, being white and male by accident of birth, am among the oppressive class, even if I grew up lower income and comparatively disadvantaged. And as a member of the oppressor class, I contribute to the oppression of all folks who are not like me. Let’s accept that, fine. But what then does this imply about the state of the inner city since the oppressors and exploiters have fled? You would think that intellectuals and the public at large would not bemoan white flight but rather they ought to celebrate it. Wouldn’t it be a fantastic thing to have the folks that are oppressing you just pick up and leave? Or does the narrative surrounding white flight imply that it is easier to exploit and oppress from afar than it is from nearby? Who knows?

There is quite another implication of this narrative, and I am not the first person to make this point. Isn’t the view that “middle-class whites fleeing” is a problem really, really, really paternalistic at best and insulting and demeaning at worst? What this thought is implying is that the Wintercow family is doing great right now, but if a few of my neighbors decide to pick up and leave, and are replaced by a different set of individuals, then my family will fall apart. No need for further commentary on that point.

These points don’t have to be political, I think they merely result from being able to think through the logic of one’s thoughts and ideas. It might even be the case that white flight has indeed ruined the inner city, but if that is the case then I think the narratives about such a thing might have to be adjusted and the causal mechanisms that lead from flight to urban decay ought to be made a bit more clear.

Information Overload

There is no doubt in my mind that Universities are doing themselves and their students a disservice with the amount of information that they slam them with to start their college careers. Many schools. ours included, have nearly an entire week of new student Orientation that is packed from morning to evening with activities and information sessions. Amidst this they are sent survey after survey after survey and asked to take small training after training after training such as an alcohol awareness program and more. It’s not that this stuff is not useful, for the most part it is, but in an age particularly when young people are accustomed to obtaining information in fast and bite-sized chunks, I am convinced nearly all of the orientation effort is going to be completely unnoticed even as students are immersed in it for a week.

Just think of how you scroll through quickly on some of my longer posts. Just think of how little you absorb from very long e-mails. Maybe you bookmark or save these things for later. Similarly, while knowing where the language lab is, or whether the library is, or what hours the counseling center is open, or what happens on homecoming weekend and such are important, it seems to me that this is all stuff that can be learned on the students’ own. In fact, it is pretty shocking that for college, which used to be  rite of passage into independence, responsibility and real adulthood, that universities treat new students like enfeebled, incapable, waffling children. Their hands are held through almost everything, including the “intimidating” open curriculum we have (more on that under a different pen name somewhere else … ha ha). What I found from getting to know many of these students is that they don’t NEED their hands held, even for those who have been spoonfed for most of their young lives. They are all quite enterprising, energetic and resourceful people – that’s what makes them really fun (and sometimes frustrating) to be around.

I know full well why we do all of this – some of it legal and some of it doctrinal – so I am not even suggesting that any of this could change. However, what needs to be recognized is that universities get one chance to make a first impression on young people., and this seems to be a shockingly enfeebling, boring, and anti-academic impression to be making. Maybe I am wrong – maybe by showing students where the bathrooms are and making them play duck-duck-goose with their fellow hallmates, they get REALLY jazzed up for the schooling that is to begin next week? But man oh man, precious little time is spent on academics during this introduction, precious little effort is spent getting kids excited for their intellectual journeys outside of a few platitudinous speeches, and we let an entire week of students being together on campus go by where they cannot actually discover the culture of the university for themselves – they are carted from meeting to speech to contrived social gathering to a “mandatory” service day and so on. Again, I am not sure I know exactly what to do with 1,300 new students, but if I were running my own university I know it would be different.

I get my new freshmen tomorrow – each gets to meet with me for 15 minutes. Then they have jam packed schedules right until and through registration on Friday. Classes start a week from today.In a world of information overload, Id go simple. I’d spend the entire first week on one or two academic and cultural aspects of the college life and that’s it. I’d leave some websites, brochures and resource packets for each student in their dorms, and I’d make sure all of the upperclassmen were around to provide mentorship and guidance. I’d have academic programming planned to the hilt, with serious and big time lectures and seminars and some other creative exercises planned, but that’s it. The kids are resourceful. They’d figure out what they need and where to go and when things open and close. After all, many of them have and will travel to foreign countries on their own, taken road trips on their own or with friends, and so on, and they managed not only to get by, but to make the experiences awesome. They’re bright adults, let them be that way when they get to college. Yes, yes, yes, I understand all of the legal implications and all of the CYA reasons for the stuff, but I bet that could be trickled to kids slowly throughout their first term, and also legally could be covered through other means. So, just as people are extremely enamored and frustrated that people in the world can starve while people less than 100 miles away are not only well-fed but over-fed, I too am enamored by the fact that we have this awesome chance to set an awesome intellectual and academic tone for our new students, and we fritter it away on Tea and Scones and the Silly Olympics. This is not to say that all of the events are not good, or fun, or put together by really bright and well-meaning people, not at all. In fact I quite love the week of programming. But rather I’m making a meta-point, and many such meta-points could be made.

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