Quick hits (part II)

1) As my twitter followers now, I’ve been harping on “close the bars” this week.  They are a perfect storm for Covid spread.  Nice to see a Kaiser Health News article addressing exactly this point.  Get drunk and overpay for alcohol all you want!  Just do it at home or properly-distanced outside.

2) Drum with an excellent point about our crime rate and how we approach the issue:

As we debate the defunding/reimagining/reforming of our police forces, it’s worth taking a look at what the world looks like today compared to the way it still seems to look to many police officers. Here are the trends in arrest rates among young offenders since the crime peak of 1992:

Among the highest crime age groups of 15-17 and 18-20, arrest rates are down by about two-thirds. Two-thirds! I wonder how many people have truly internalized this? Cops still seem to think of themselves as a thin blue line protecting a society under siege from threatening hordes of criminals. But this isn’t true. Young people today are simply not as dangerous as they used to be, thanks to a childhood mostly free of lead poisoning.

This is a permanent change and it’s true of everybody: men and women; Black, white, and Latino; urban and rural. We just flatly don’t live in a society that’s anywhere near as dangerous as it used to be. When will policing change to recognize this?

3) This NYT interactive feature is so cool.  Definitely worth your time to click the link.  “Watch This Protest Turn From Peaceful to Violent in 60 Seconds”  Just a great example of what not to do for policing a protest.

4) In a recent family Zoom call, I was unsurprised to learn that most family members had never heard of the Wilmington massacre (“race riot” as formerly inaptly named).  People should know about a real live coup in America against a popularly-elected Black government:

It was the morning of November 10, 1898, in Wilmington, North Carolina, and the fire was the beginning of an assault that took place seven blocks east of the Cape Fear River, about 10 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. By sundown, Manly’s newspaper had been torched, as many as 60 people had been murdered, and the local government that was elected two days prior had been overthrown and replaced by white supremacists.

For all the violent moments in United States history, the mob’s gruesome attack was unique: It was the only coup d’état ever to take place on American soil.

What happened that day was nearly lost to history. For decades, the perpetrators were cast as heroes in American history textbooks. The black victims were wrongly described as instigators. It took nearly a century for the truth of what had really happened to begin to creep back into public awareness. Today, the old site of The Daily Record is a nondescript church parking lot—an ordinary-looking square of matted grass on a tree-lined street in historic Wilmington. The Wilmington Journal, a successor of sorts to the old Daily Record, stands in a white clapboard house across the street. But there’s no evidence of what happened there in 1898.

5) One of the best pieces of news about the protests is that they did not seem to spread much Covid.  It’s almost like… being outside and masks work.  “What Minnesota’s Protests Are Revealing About Covid-19 Spread: After George Floyd’s killing, experts warned that demonstrations could set off new waves of infections. But early testing in Minneapolis tells another story.”

6) All these masks have brought attention to proper breathing— which really is important!  I found this Fresh Air episode on the matter particularly fascinating.  Make sure you are breathing through your nose!!

7) Jonathan Rauch and Peter Wehner, “We Can Find Common Ground on Gay Rights and Religious Liberty: It does not have to be all or nothing.”  They are right.  Of course, both sides would have to be willing to compromise, but damn if absolutists everywhere aren’t empowered these days:

Both sides, then, have unfinished agendas. L.G.B.T. advocates want broader civil rights protections than the Supreme Court’s relatively narrow decision provided. Religious-liberty advocates want some carve-outs for faith-based institutions. Both sides could — and indeed might — hope to win in the courts. But that strategy is unpredictable and risky, since the Supreme Court is closely divided and protective of both L.G.B.T. civil rights and religious liberty. In any case, waiting for the courts would take years, if not decades, during which friction would only grow.

There is an alternative. In December, the American Unity Fund and a consortium of mostly conservative religious groups unveiled the Fairness for All Act, an L.G.B.T. nondiscrimination bill that seeks to model a negotiated compromise. The bill would provide extensive nondiscrimination protections, but, unlike the Equality Act, it couples them with carefully defined carve-outs for religious charities and schools and for retailers with fewer than 15 employees.

The act was immediately denounced by activists and organizations on both the pro-L.G.B.T. left and the religious right, often in hyperventilating language. No House Democrat agreed to join the eight Republicans who co-sponsored it. Realistically, the Fairness for All Act is going nowhere in the House, just as the Equality Act is going nowhere in the Senate.

So why do we think it deserves a closer look now?

Start with what at first glance may seem to be a curious fact. According to polling conducted last year by the Public Religion Research Institute, 77 percent of Utahans support nondiscrimination protections for L.G.B.T. Americans, second only to 81 percent in New Hampshire.

Why the high enthusiasm for gay rights in conservative, heavily Mormon Utah? No mystery. In 2015, L.G.B.T. -rights advocates, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the state’s Republican leaders agreed on a new law combining L.G.B.T. protections with carefully tailored religious exemptions. The process of negotiating the deal and building trust forged a durable consensus. In fact, just a few months ago, Utah enacted a rule barring harmful “gay conversion” therapy for minors, with the support not only of L.G.B.T. advocates but also of the Mormon hierarchy.

In today’s Trumpified world, Americans tend to think that politics is a brutal Punch and Judy show, and that compromise is a surrender of principles. But when the politics of compromise is in good working order, it builds new alliances, develops new solutions, and turns conflict into cooperation. Utah provided one example. The Fairness for All Act holds out a similar opportunity at the federal level, with at least three substantial payoffs.

8) This was great from Planet Money.  It’s not about whether we officially reopen or not, it’s about whether people are legitimately afraid of the virus.

Brooklyn Heights sits across the East River from Lower Manhattan. It’s filled with multimillion-dollar brownstones and — usually — Range Rovers, Teslas and BMWs. These days it’s easy to find parking. The brownstones are mostly dark at night. The place is a ghost town. And the neighborhood’s sushi restaurants, Pilates studios, bistros and wine bars are either closed or mostly empty. It’s a microcosm for what has been the driver of the pandemic recession: Rich people have stopped going out, destroying millions of jobs.

That’s one of the key insights of a blockbuster study that was dropped late last week by a gang of economists led by Harvard University’s Raj Chetty…

As long as rich people are scared of the virus, they won’t go out and spend money, and workers in the service sector will continue to suffer. Low-income workers — especially those whose jobs focused on providing services in rich urban areas — are in for a period of turbulence. Many of these workers are getting a lifeline in the form of unemployment insurance, but some of these benefits will expire soon if the federal government doesn’t act.

Economists have learned from previous shocks like this one that the labor market doesn’t just easily adjust to them. Workers have a hard time moving and retraining. For example, after over a million manufacturing jobs evaporated in the Rust Belt with the explosion of Chinese imports in the early 2000s, people stayed in the places that lost jobs and failed to get new ones, and many of them, in despair, ended up turning to alcohol and opioids, with tragic results.

Chetty and his team conclude that the traditional tools of economic policy — tax cuts and spending increases to boost demand — won’t save the army of the unemployed. Instead, they say we need public health efforts to restore safety and convince consumers that it’s OK to start going out again. Until then, they argue, we need to extend unemployment benefits and provide assistance to help low-income workers who will continue to struggle in the pandemic economy.

9) Thomas Edsall visits with all the economists this week, “Why Do We Pay So Many People So Little Money?”

Not only has the majority of lost sources of income fallen on “middle- and low-income workers more than high-income workers,” but “some of the lost labor rents for the majority of workers may have been redistributed to high-earning executives, as well as capital owners,” according to Stansbury and Summers.

This upward redistribution of income, according to the authors’ “back-of-the-envelope” calculations, “could account for a large fraction of the increase in the income share of the top 1 percent over recent decades.”

What can be done to remedy this situation? Stansbury and Summers write:

If increases in the labor share are to be achieved, institutional changes that enhance workers’ countervailing power — such as strengthening labor unions or promoting corporate governance arrangements that increase worker power — may be necessary.

But, they pointedly note, these initiatives “would need to be carefully considered in light of the possible risks of increasing unemployment.” More elliptically, they warn that “doing more to preserve rent-sharing interferes with pure markets and may not enhance efficiency.”

There may, however, be other ways to improve the income of low-wage workers without raising the already high threat level of automation.

Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Michigan, argued in an email that raising and expanding eligibility for the Earned-income tax credit would be an effective way to immediately raise income of poorly paid workers.

The credit, a government subsidy paid through the redistribution of tax revenues, does not, in this view, create an incentive for employers to automate or off-shore since corporate wage costs do not increase:

“The Earned-income tax credit is a very effective way to increase both incomes and labor force participation. There has been bipartisan support for expanding the EITC to childless and noncustodial parents for years,” Stevenson wrote.

She cited studies showing that the tax credit paid to low-income families results in more work effort among beneficiaries and better school outcomes for their children.

10) From last year, but more relevant than ever, “The Apocalyptic Cult of Cancel Culture
Forgiveness and redemption are out. Condemnation and excommunication are in.”

Zack Beauchamp of Vox thinks the political left and right don’t see eye to eye on this incident [ed: Harvard student denied admission for racist comments when 16] because the view from the right is “sympathetic” while the view from the left is “critical.” What he sees as the “conservative view of racism” approaches racism as a “personal failing.” According to this view, he says, people can overcome their racism by “striving not to let race affect the way (they) speak and act,” and “the real threat isn’t the racist comments themselves,” because they can be overcome, “but the impulse to punish people for them.” From this “sympathetic” perspective, penalizing everyone for their past transgressions leaves them no room to grow, and even opens up the possibility of punishing the innocent.

While the “conservative” view focuses on individual growth and development, what Beauchamp defines as the “liberal and leftist” view sees racism as “a structural problem”—less of a personal failing to be overcome and more “unshakable,” leading “even people who firmly believe in ideals of equal treatment to act or speak in prejudiced ways.” According to this view, he says, “Kashuv looks less like a kid who made youthful mistakes and more like a young man who’s trying to escape responsibility for his actions.”

But what’s the right price to pay? While Kashuv’s comments are certainly abhorrent, it does not appear that he has engaged in such behavior since. (One would imagine that his anonymous schoolmates who so helpfully provided the Huffington Post with the record of his misdeeds would have produced more recent evidence had there been any.) If he has not continued to engage in similar behavior, does the punishment fit the crime?

Despite Beauchamp’s theory, it is not only people on the political right who find it difficult to support giving such harshly punitive consequences to a recent high school graduate who transgressed at age 16. Perhaps, then, this is not really a clash between liberal and conservative perspectives, but a difference between two paradigms: the apocalyptic and the prophetic.

A prophetic culture seeks deliverance through historical persons, but Cancel Culture seeks apocalyptic deliverance through ahistorical means; without the help of morally polluted historical figures and without any of history’s contaminated tools. Jennifer Senior of the New York Times described it best when she wrote, “purity tests are the tools of fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power.” In Cancel Culture, the powerful don’t give forgiveness, they take revenge. 

11) The go-to model for predicting the election right now?  Definitely G. Elliot Morris and the Economist.  Very thoughtfully done based on fundamentals plus polling (and a shifting balance as we approach the election).  Right now it’s at 90% Biden probability.

12) Great NYT piece on how, for a long time, experts missed the fact that Covid was spreading without symptoms (presymptomatic for sure, probably some truly asymptomatic, too) because, SARS, never spread without symptoms and it makes the world so much more complicated (as we’ve witnessed!) when a disease spreads without symptoms.

13) Good stuff from Yascha Mounk, “Stop Firing the Innocent: America needs a reckoning over racism. Punishing people who did not do anything wrong harms that important cause.”

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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