Government Barriers to Upward Mobility

A new study out of George Mason University looks at government barriers to upward economic mobility. Economist Steve Horwitz investigates three main factors:

  • Occupational licensing
  • Zoning laws and other small business regulations
  • Regressive taxation
Steve Horwitz
Steve Horwitz

As he explains in the opening of the study,

A common assumption in public policy is that government regulation of the market generally works to protect the poor and disenfranchised. However, such regulations more often have the opposite effect: that is, they benefit the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor. The key to understanding this point is recognizing that the regulatory process is not, in general, a pristine attempt to instantiate the public interest. Instead, economic actors see in the political process a means of enhancing their profits at the expense of their competitors, but without meeting the wants of consumers in the process. Support for regulations that create barriers to entry in an industry or occupation may well be couched in terms of the need to protect public interest, but such regulations are often demanded by (a) incumbent producers who wish to acquire monopoly profits by making it harder for new producers to enter the marketplace and (b) consumers whose income enables them to afford higher prices, while the burden is shouldered by lower-income producers and consumers. Such regulations effectively become a regressive transfer of income from the poor to the relatively well-off.

When considering new regulations or eliminating existing ones, policymakers should pay more attention to the regressive effects of government, from the way in which it prevents upward mobility to the way in which some policies and programs burden the poor more than other groups.

Important observations. Give it a read.

New Behind-the-Scenes Photos of the 9/11 Response

CNN reports,Colette Neirouz Hanna, who works with the Kirk Documentary Group, told the Boston Globe, "From the first moments after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Vice President Cheney has been at the center of much of the government's response. Now, 14 years later, we finally have those photographs and the American people can see for themselves what took place in those first 24 hours."

The National Archives released more than 350 photos Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Since then they have captivated a nation still ensconced in the fallout from those attacks, including the rise of ISIS in the destabilized Middle East…”Those photographs are a good memory for what took place that day, and I want people to focus on what it means to be able to make sure that that day never happens again,” former Bush administration chief of staff Andy Card, who is in some of the photographs, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on “OutFront” Monday evening. “If the photographs do that, that’s great. If it’s just a trip for Andy Card down memory lane with the people who he respects and worked with and watched do a remarkable job, that’s great too.”

The stress, sadness, and uncertainty on the faces of the various members of the Bush administration stir a lot of memories and feelings from the past.


Black Lives Matter vs. Bernie Sanders

850 - Netroots Nation Protesters
Black Lives Matter protesters at Netroots Nationa. Photo fom Al Jazeera coverage:

About two weeks ago, Bernie Sanders (who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination) had a run in with protesters at Netroots Nation, and things got controversial.

If you’re not familiar with Netroots Nation (I wasn’t), it’s an annual political convention for progressive activists run by the Daily Kos. (Netroots Nation used to be called YearlyKos.) The hecklers came from Black Lives Matter, an activist group that was founded in the aftermath of George Zimmerman‘s acquittal (in 2013) for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin. So you might be a little confused that Black Lives Matter was protesting at a convention of their allies, and that confusion is exactly why the story garnered so much publicity. So, why did Black Lives Matter target Netroots Nation? I’ll leave that to BLM cofounder Patrisse Cullous, who said (in an interview posted at Daily Kos), that part of the reason was that “we wanted to stage an intervention in the progressive movement that’s largely led by white folks around the conversation of having a new racial justice agenda.”

The protest took place during a session which was scheduled to have a pair of interviews two Democratic presidential contenders: Martin O’Malley (former governor or Maryland) and Bernie Sanders. Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas was doing the interviewing. While O’Malley and Vargas (but not Sanders) were on stage, Black Lives Matter demonstrators streamed into the room and began taking over. As CNN covered it:

“What side are you on my people?” they sang in unison as they approached.

Tia Oso of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, who represented the demonstrators, climbed onto the stage, secured a microphone, and delivered a speech while O’Malley looked on.

“We are going to hold this space. We are going to acknowledge the names of black women who have died in police custody. And Governor O’Malley, we do have questions for you … As the leader of this nation, will you advance a racial justice agenda that will dismantle — not reform, not make progress — but will begin to dismantle structural racism in the United States?”

“Yes,” O’Malley replied, but before he could say more, the demonstrators in front of the stage shouted over him by reciting names of black women who have died in police custody. While they shouted, O’Malley stood in silence.

The event really showed the tension and strain in the coalition between white Democratic politicians and black Democratic activists. This comes across in lines like this one: “Conference organizers begged them to allow O’Malley to respond.” Then there was O’Malley’s attempt to align with the protesters, which they rejected out of hand:

“I think all of us as Americans have a responsibility to recognize the pain and the grief throughout our country from all of the lives that have been lost to violence, whether that’s violence at the hands at the police or whether that’s violence at the hands of civilians,” O’Malley said, before being interrupted again.

“Don’t generalize this s***!” one person shouted back.

O’Malley’s biggest mistake, however, was replying to the “Black lives matter” mantra by saying, “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” This was a big mistake, politically at least, and as CNN goes on to report:

O’Malley later apologized for the remarks, telling This Week in Blackness, a digital news site, that he “meant no disrespect” to the black community.

“That was a mistake on my part and I meant no disrespect,” O’Malley told the outlet. “I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue.”

Things didn’t go any better for Bernie Sanders when he took the stage, and his back-and-forth with the protesters was even more prickly. “Black lives, of course, matter. I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and for dignity,” said Sanders. “But if you don’t want me to be here, that’s OK. I don’t want to outscream people.”

There’s a lot going on here, and I don’t want to try and analyze every aspect in this one post. I have mixed feelings, and I’m still mulling things over. I have tremendous respect for the passion of those who stand up and scream “black lives matter” with obvious pain and commitment. I also think the fundamental critique of white Democrats as co-opting and/or ignoring black interests is valid. It’s very close to my own opinion of social justice ideology. I was struck, for example, by the protesters reviling notable figures like Al Sharpton and saying instead that, “My sisters got this.” Most conservative analysis of this protest has been superficial, as far as I’ve seen, never getting beyond schadenfreude in seeing progressive protesters interrupt progressive politicians.

On the other hand, the idea that you have to apologize for saying “black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter” is disconcerting even if it’s understandable, and a lot of the criticisms of Bernie Sanders (O’Malley doesn’t get criticized as much largely because he’s not as politically relevant, I think) are problematic. This article from The Week gets into why: What Black Lives Matter gets wrong about Bernie Sanders.

In the article, Ryan Cooper argues that focusing on race to the exclusion of class is a mistake. He concedes that “upwardly mobile or even wealthy blacks are still routinely victimized by the police,” but then digs deeper into the differences between race and class with some cold, hard numbers.

Consider the criminal justice system, a major focus of Black Lives Matter. One rough way to consider the bias of this set of institutions is by overall lifetime likelihood of imprisonment of men by educational attainment — reasonable proxies for the levels of oppression and income, respectively. A 2009 statistical comparison between two cohorts of men on this measure, one born from 1945-49, and another born from 1975-79, provides a window into how such rates changed, since the latter cohort came of age just as the incarceration rate was reaching its peak.

Over that time, the overall imprisonment risk for men with some college, either white or black, didn’t change much, increasing from 0.4 to 1.2 percent, and from 5.3 to 6.6 percent, respectively. That is a large disparity to be sure, but the numbers are nothing compared to the staggering rates among black high school dropouts, which increased from 14.7 to 68 percent. (White dropouts went from 3.8 to 28 percent.) As Berkeley sociologist Loïc Wacquant points out, this implies that the class gap within race groups is larger than the gap between them. In the 1975-79 cohort, blacks are five times more likely to be imprisoned than whites overall, but black high school dropouts are 10 times more likely than blacks that have completed some college.


Cooper goes on to say that while “there is much bald racial prejudice revealed here… poverty is an equal if not greater factor” and concludes that “Money, quite simply, is power.” He’s right. And, what’s more, the difference matters.

It matters for two reasons. First, because to the extent that we misdiagnose social inequality, we can’t propose policies to fix it. Policies proposed based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem are just as likely to make things worse as to make things better, and can’t possibly succeed other than through sheer, dumb luck. Second, misdiagnosing social problems can, in this case at least, make them worse. To the extent that racism rather than poverty is seen as exclusive or even primary driver of suffering, the understandable reaction is a lot of rage. Which in turn leads to lack of communication, lack of cooperation, and in the end becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of mutual racial alienation.

My point is not that racism doesn’t exist, isn’t a problem, or shouldn’t be addressed directly. Neither is Cooper’s. My point is that there’s a lot more going on than can be explained by racism (even by systemic racism) and that we are in grave danger if we do not acknowledge that fact.

Kaskade: Global Mormon Superstar

851 - Kaskade

Brandon Flowers, Neon Trees, Imagine Dragons, Lindsey Stirling, and now another Mormon superstar: Kaskade. Or, as the Daily Beat puts it, The Straight Edge Mormon DJ Taking Over the World. As the article’s lede puts it:

Kaskade has been DJing dance parties for 20 years, and last year was the No. 8 highest-paid DJ in the world, raking in $17 million. But he isn’t like other DJs.

Why is he not like other DJs? Well, because he doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, and is married with three kids. I’m not one of those who cares overly much about Mormon celebrities perfectly representing our faith (who can do that?), but I’m always happy to see someone willing to go public about their commitment to our basic ideals.

“I don’t party at all!” he says. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. I’m a bit of a freak that way because I’m completely different from what you would think. Look, you can’t put all electronic musicians or DJs or whatever you want to call us in one pot. A lot of these guys live in the night and party, but with me, I’m married and have three children. I have a life outside of this.”

Not that that’s all there is to him; the article goes into his years of struggle and honing his craft to build the career he has today:

I mention the booming business of EDM and what exactly the word “DJ” encompasses these days, since many of the so-called “world class DJs” of today are programmers who don’t actually know how to spin records.

“It’s a little insulting,” he says. “Right now, the landscape of what encompasses the word ‘DJ’ is so broad and vast now. You have guys like me who learned on vinyl, know the technique, and know what this really is. I witnessed the whole rise of it. I was friends with Frankie [Knuckles], and I was going to his weekly parties at Medusa’s when I was in high school in the mid-’80s.”

“It’s changed the landscape of what this is. The entry point used to be so much higher, and there was so much more respect for the art of DJing and what it was. We’ve lost some of that now.”

So, if you’re curious to check out some of his music, here’s the track that Buzzfeed featured in their article, “Let Me Disarm You.”

Antiracism as (Flawed) Religion

852 - Black Lives Matter

John McWhorter continues to really impress me with his political commentary. His most recent piece is Antiracism, Our Flawed New Religion. In it, McWhorter continues his attack on White Privilege theory, primarily for being (1) practically useless and (2) largely designed to appeal to comfortable white folk.

Antiracism as a religion, despite its good intentions, distracts us from activism in favor of a kind of charismatic passivism… Real people are having real problems, and educated white America has been taught that what we need from them is willfully incurious, self-flagellating piety, of a kind that has helped no group in human history.

Of course, it’s a little interesting–as a religious person–to see religion used as basically a pejorative, but I’m kind of desensitized to the stereotype of religion as pathological irrationality. One thing at a time. And, in this piece, McWhorter does a good job of explaining why antiracism fails to benefit poor black people, and who it really does benefit.

Four Lessons on Emotions from Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’

I’m a huge Pixar fan. Have been ever since 1995’s Toy Story. One of the best books I’ve read this year is Pixar founder Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. The studio’s film quality is highly consistent and their latest Inside Out is no exception. This film tackles the complicated subject of human emotions (in the form of a little girl named Riley) and does so extremely well. Their ability to handle the subject of emotions so delicately and accurately was likely aided by their scientific consultants, one of which is director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Because the film presents a healthy understanding of emotions, parents should seriously consider taking their children to see it and use it as a teaching tool. Here are four lessons kids (and adults) can learn from Inside Out:

1. Happiness is not just about joy

[B]y the end of the film, Joy [Amy Poehler]…learns that there is much, much more to being happy than boundless positivity. In fact, in the film’s final chapter, when Joy cedes control to some of her fellow emotions, particularly Sadness, Riley seems to achieve a deeper form of happiness.

This reflects the way that a lot of leading emotion researchers see happiness. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of the best-selling How of Happiness, defines happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” (emphasis added) So while positive emotions such as joy are definitely part of the recipe for happiness, they are not the whole shebang.

2. Don’t try to force happiness

Thank goodness emotion researcher June Gruber and her colleagues started looking at the nuances of happiness and its pursuit. Their findings challenge the “happy-all-the-time” imperative that was probably imposed upon many of us.

For example, their research suggests that making happiness an explicit goal in life can actually make us miserable. Gruber’s colleague Iris Mauss has discovered that the more people strive for happiness, the greater the chance that they’ll set very high standards of happiness for themselves and feel disappointed—and less happy—when they’re not able to meet those standards all the time.

…What’s a more effective route to happiness for Riley (and the rest of us)? Recent research points to the importance of “prioritizing positivity”—deliberately carving out ample time in life for experiences that we personally enjoy. For Riley, that’s ice hockey, spending time with friends, and goofing around with her parents.

3. Sadness is vital to our well-being

…Sadness connects deeply with people—a critical component of happiness—and helps Riley do the same…In one the film’s greatest revelations, Joy looks back on one of Riley’s “core memories”—when the girl missed a shot in an important hockey game—and realizes that the sadness Riley felt afterwards elicited compassion from her parents and friends, making her feel closer to them and transforming this potentially awful memory into one imbued with deep meaning and significance for her.

With great sensitivity, Inside Out shows how tough emotions like sadness, fear, and anger, can be extremely uncomfortable for people to experience—which is why many of us go to great lengths to avoid them…But in the film, as in real life, all of these emotions serve an important purpose by providing insight into our inner and outer environments in ways that can help us connect with others, avoid danger, or recover from loss.

4. Mindfully embrace–rather than suppress–tough emotions

At one point, Joy attempts to prevent Sadness from having any influence on Riley’s psyche by drawing a small “circle of Sadness” in chalk and instructing Sadness to stay within it. It’s a funny moment, but psychologists will recognize that Joy is engaging in a risky behavior called “emotional suppression”—an emotion-regulation strategy that has been found to lead to anxiety and depression, especially amongst teenagers whose grasp of their own emotions is still developing. Sure enough, trying to contain Sadness and deny her a role in the action ultimately backfires for Joy, and for Riley…Toward the end of the movie, Joy does what some researchers now consider to be the healthiest method for working with emotions: Instead of avoiding or denying Sadness, Joy accepts Sadness for who she is, realizing that she is an important part of Riley’s emotional life. 

Emotion experts call this “mindfully embracing” an emotion. What does that mean? Rather than getting caught up in the drama of an emotional reaction, a mindful person kindly observes the emotion without judging it as the right or wrong way to feel in a given situation, creating space to choose a healthy response. Indeed, a 2014 study found that depressed adolescents and young adults who took a mindful approach to life showed lower levels of depression, anxiety, and bad attitudes, as well as a greater quality of life.

Everyone should go see it.

New SPECTRE Trailer Released

Finally, the new trailer has been released for the upcoming James Bond film SPECTRE.

This apparent throwback to the old-school Bond films not only features Christoph Waltz in a Blofeldish Chinese collar, but the trailer also uses the theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the film in which Bond lost his bride at the hands of SPECTRE’s mastermind and his right-hand woman).

Needless to say, I’m stoked.

Should White Men Stop Writing?

863 - Blunt Instrument

That was the question a self-described “white, male poet—a white, male poet who is aware of his privilege and sensitive to inequalities facing women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals in and out of the writing community” asked at The Blunt Instrument (“a monthly advice column for writers”). Well, more specifically, he said:

It feels like a Catch-22. Write what you know and risk denying voices whose stories are more urgent; write to learn what you don’t know and risk colonizing someone else’s story. I genuinely am troubled by this. I want to listen but I also want to write—yet at times these impulses feel at odds with one another. How can I reconcile the two?

The response took a long, convoluted, and circuitous route to get where it was going, but the basic answer was simple: Yes, stop writing. Or, more specifically, you can go ahead and write all you like, but you should stop trying to get your works published.

Don’t be a problem submitter. When I edited a magazine, we got far more submissions from men, and men were far more likely to submit work that was sloppy and/or inappropriate for the magazine; they were also far more likely to submit more work immediately after being rejected. When you submit writing, you’re taking up other people’s time. Be respectful of that. I said in my last column that getting published takes a lot of work, which is true—but most of that work should take the form of writing, and revising, and engaging with people in the writing world, not just constantly sending out new work, which starts to look like boredom and entitlement.

Think of this as something like carbon offsets. You are not going to solve the greater problem this way, on your own, but you might mitigate the damage.

It’s vague enough for plausible deniability, but the logic is clear. The only way to “mitigate the damage” is to submit fewer works. Publish less.

This is the logic behind the social justice movement. It’s not always as clear cut as this, but it’s always there. For a fantastic article documenting just how long this mentality has been around, I recommend Privilege and the working class. I don’t agree with all of it (obviously, as it is printed in The Socialist Worker), but the analysis of nascent social justice warrior ideology (aka “privilege theory”) is spot on:

Third, white workers were blamed for systemic racism because their “privileges” came, purportedly, at the expense of Blacks: white workers got more because Blacks got less, and vice versa. This assumption bought into the liberal capitalist idea that the size of the share of the economic pie available to workers is fixed and highly limited, and that different sub-groups of workers must fight against each other to expand their shares. Privilege theory focused on workers battling each other for the same shares, rather than on their fighting together for a just division of the share appropriated by the bosses–that fight, in the form of shop floor and union struggles for class demands, was explicitly opposed.

The analysis of capitalism is tragically and catastrophically off-base, but the insight that the essentially divisive nature of SJW ideology is itself a statist (and therefore elitist) tool is entirely valid. Once you accept the premise that we are fundamentally divisible into racial, sexual, and other categories, the possibility for cooperation and synergy disappears and all that is left is fighting over scraps.