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Doesn’t a de facto version already exist? There are about 3.5 million fast food employees in the US, there are a million and a half American Walmart employees (so maybe a million clerks), there are over 6 million entertainment attendants (e.g. ticket takers, etc.), well over a million cashiers in the retail sector outside of these, and so on. The point is not that these are jobs anyone can have to get themselves rich, but the point is that these are jobs almost anyone could secure at any time with almost no or little training or “skill” to speak of. This observation covers many people who are variously not born lucky physically or mentally as well. My local McDonalds is always hiring, and they pay $10.25 an hour for entry level jobs. At full-time this is over $20,000 per year, and it includes benefits, training, career mobility and a community of people to interact with.

My point is not that it is easy for someone to transition to these jobs in the family labor supply sense – there are issues of child care, parent-care, transportation, and such, that make labor supply decisions more complicated (though a vast many people are able to navigate these challenges, especially if family structure is intact), the point is that it is certainly “easy” to find employment that pays considerably more than any level of UBI could ever promise to pay. If one reason to support a UBI is to enable people to take risks and to have peace of mind about their uncertain futures, then why is an annual $8,000-$10,000 cash grant via UBI much more attractive than a $20,000 per year job with upside? Or even if someone works part-time at McDonalds, that is $10,000 per year, plus all of the time to get additional education, take entrepreneurial risks, and so on?  One reason people support the UBI is something like, “people can live together and share it.” Well, if multiple adults all live together working at McDonalds, that is a good amount of income too, and all of that without burdening taxpayers or the potential negative incentives of cash grants – leaving a heck of a lot more resources available to fund basic research, maintain infrastructure, expand health-care access, and so on.

Just think about it. If things REALLY went into the crapper for my wife and I, we could each very easily secure a job at McDonalds or Walmart, earning a combined $40,000. We could easily rent a smaller place than we live in today and be comfortable, we could send our kids to the “free” public school, we would easily qualify for ACA subsidies, we could shop more intelligently, and we could keep our current cars for a little while longer. No, we wouldn’t be taking weeklong ski vacations or securing cottages in Maine, but we’d live pretty similarly to how we live today. Knowing that this option is always out there for us is a very fine insurance policy, and surely influences the way we are currently living.

I think it is high time to raise the status of “crappy low-wage” jobs.

Sit these two papers side by side and ponder them.

  1. Food prices and poverty
  2. China and trade

I’ve got so much to say that I’ll end this post here!

Friday Fun Fact

There are over TWICE as many realtors in the US as there are automobile workers at the Big Three auto firms.

Here is the latest “Big Push” to “fix” failing schools. It failed. That is utterly unsurprising. I do appreciate that this was tried, there should be vastly more experimentation in education, but I am afraid that this really isn’t the kind of experimentation that would lead to improvements. Of course this effort will be unilaterally ignored by the edu-stablishment, largely because “they” take any criticism as a personal indictment and not one of the “system” which inevitably is unsuited to actually educating children.

So, reusable shopping bags are becoming even costlier than I argued earlier:

Wegs

My local supermarket, which is nationally recognized as being both great at customer service and also great at appearing green to its customers, has finally recognized that customers who use reusable shopping bags impose costs on other people in line by making the lines move more slowly and on the checkout staff by making it harder and more time consuming to move items from conveyer belt to bag to cart.

So, in response, it turns out that the supermarket, when things are busy, such as they are on a winter Sunday morning, keeps a staff of extra checkout clerks, at the ready in order to do the bagging and packaging when customers bust out their reusable bags and to keep lines from getting long and keep them moving more quickly. I eyeballed 3 to 4 staff members roaming around the back of the crowded checkouts this morning. The store also did not appreciate me snapping the photo.

As a general rule, I do not even care how long a supermarket line is anymore, I only examine whether the customers in front of me happen to be using reusable bags, my estimate is that on average for every two customers using them, that is the equivalent of three customers who do not. Wegmans surely has the data on this, and it would be very interesting to see it – but in any case, the proof is in the pudding – the fact that they employ staff to help those lines move more quickly, when the trend in supermarkets for decades has been to eliminate the use of baggers, suggests that these are quite costly.

Finally, this is what “Make America Great Again” means, but imagine it writ large. Making trade with other countries more difficult, and workshipping at the altar of manufacturing jobs in America imposes costs. No doubt the MAGA crowd would point to the clerk in the picture as an example of everything that is right about their anti-progressive policies, those with an understanding of economics will rightly ask, “at what cost?” Instead of packaging those employees could be offering better service, prices could be lower, or we’d have employment expanding elsewhere. Would the folks who are ardent supporters of plastic bag bans and using reusable bags like to align themselves with Trumpist-economics? The great benefit of the current Administration existing is that it really does put economic ignorance on display and also challenges opponents of Trump to come up with reasons to hate Trump OTHER than the fact that his economics are bad. Why? Because there tends to be an economic illiteracy among holders of almost any policy positions, but there is no way “they” can get themselves to oppose a hated enemy on the grounds that his economic ideas are bad, because they too hold those same ideas (e.g. protectionism).

 

Economism-ism

This sort of article is either why I started blogging in the first place, or am on the verge of quitting. It’s extraordinarily disingenuous and frustrating. Here is one example:

With unions only a distant memory for many people, federal minimum-wage legislation has become the best hope for propping up wages for low-income workers. And again, the worldview of economism comes to the aid of employers by abstracting away from the reality of low-wage work to a pristine world ruled by the “law” of supply and demand.

Really. The BEST? Not figuring out ways to increase the demand for their services? Not figuring out ways to improve their productivity? Not wage subsidies or EITC or any other program like it? Nope, the BEST hope is the minimum wage.

And yes, all of us economists are in the employ of employers. Actually, we are, by University employers. But if one ends a big think article on the premise that a huge industry of economists exists to blow the party line of businesses, that should tell you something about the intellectual edifice the piece is built on. At least now my econ students have a nice long article they are going to have to go paragraph by paragraph through – to benefit the employers of course.

Should the likes of Donald Trump and his economic ilk ever choose to be intellectually consistent, particularly with their view that trading with human beings who happen to reside in other countries is bad for human beings who happen to reside within the borders of the United States, then surely they should ban the following:

skiboot

What is that? Well, it is the newest technology rolled out by Ski Boot manufacturers all over the world. These are heated ski boots! Skiers (especially kids!) will love these. But oh, think of how horrible this technology is, it is going to destroy so many jobs in this sector:

Image result for hand warmers

Should the incoming Jackbooters care to be consistent in their views, I wholly expect to see strongarming of the boot manufacturers to “roll back” their plans to roll out this cool new technologies. I’m looking forward to the press conference from both the new White House and the ski companies – an extra kudos to those of you who wish to send me some verbiage as to what that fiasco might sound like.

 

Merry Christmas

… from Pottersville I suppose.

Now, reporters don’t usually write their own headlines, but this is just out there:

huffpo

Here is the longer piece. The headline makes it appear that all 600,000 residents of Las Vegas are getting solar power. Of course, you have to read the fine print that tells us only all municipal facilities are using renewable energy. That’s a pretty significant difference.

But the real elfin magic being played here is this: even if the solar farms we are talking about produced enough gross electricity to match the electricity demands of the entire city, it is not at all the case that the city would be “powered entirely by green energy.”

How?

  1. Green energy itself may not be green. Lest I bore you with a long lecture on solar (my Eco 238 students got to sleep through it), production of solar panels requires toxic materials, uses energy, and so on. The sites for solar panels must be cleared, wildlife must be intruded upon and so on. The solar panels must be maintained, and in fact cleaned, which requires water, something that is not exactly in abundance out in the Vegas desert. And so on. And solar panels do not last forever. The replacement times are different for different materials, but it is not clear that they are on net much “greener” than what they may be replacing (more on that below).
  2. Solar panels provide intermittent power, and therefore require battery backup. Those batteries are not green.
  3. Does the author, or any analysis of “green” energy, EVER demonstrate how much fossil fuel generation was taken offline because of the expansion of the green power? We can do this dynamically of course and ask how much fossil fuel electricity would have had to be added were we to not add the new green power, but nonetheless, do we ever see, “X kilowatt-hours of fossil fuel electricity did not have to be generated because Y kilowatt-hours of green energy were created” and how much environmental improvement we get from that?
  4. How does much of Las Vegas get its current electricity? My guess is from the Hoover Dam hydro. Hydro, now that it is already built, has almost zero environmental impact (the building of it did) at the margin. So IF the author wishes to celebrate the expansion of solar power in Las Vegas and it has reduced the amount of hydro we rely upon, trading off solar for already-built hydro would be worse for the environment. Perhaps the author will demonstrate that this reduction in Las Vegas hydro will now allow more of the Hoover hydro to be sold elsewhere and that those places can reduce their reliance on coal and gas?
  5. Of course, any “green” intermittent technology requires dispatchable backup. It may even be the case that adding “green” energy production will actually increase production due to the amount of “ungreen” idling capacity that has to be around to meet peak demands.

It must get tiring to have to move that energy elf around every day. When will the kids be old enough to learn the truth of the magic?

See this gate? … Well, every night trucks stacked with bodies came back here and dumped them in a heap. They’d already been shot in the back of the head – you bleed less that way … They stacked the bodies in old wooden ammunition crates.

The workers stoked up the underground ovens – right in through the doors – to about twelve thousand degrees centigrade. To make things nice and official they even had professional witnesses who counter-signed the various documents.

When the bodies were burned they were reduced to ash and some chips of bone, maybe some teeth. They then buried the ashes in a pit … When the purges [of the 1930s] were at their peak … the furnaces worked all night and the domes of the churches were covered with ash. There was a fine dust of ash on the snow.

Richard Ebeling’s nauseating account of the horrors committed by the Soviet dictators in the name of building Socialism.  And the response I commonly see to this is either, “shrug,” or something worse, “well, uh, yeah, capitalism killed millions and millions over the 20th century.” Yes, those capitalist dictators sure are brutal. “They” claim that capitalism starves people. They claim that the slave trade is due to capitalism, wars that capitalists wage in order to steal resources are the “fault” of “capitalism”, and so on. Sure, dudes, whatever.

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