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:: Tuesday, December 18 2018 ::

Links from the month of December that I either shared, or wanted to but decided I had already shared too much that day on social media.
Emergency room bills: what I learned from reading 1,182 ER bills - Vox
Jered Threatin - A conversation with a false rock god - BBC News
Human rights body calls on US school to ban electric shocks on children | US news | The Guardian - This one simply confused me - was someone still using electroshock? Turns out, yes.
The White House Is Committed to Its War on Immigrant Children | GQ
The Liberal Arts May Not Survive the 21st Century - The Atlantic
How Iowa Flattened Literature
Q: A Single Term That Includes All Sexual Minorities - The Atlantic
Donald Trump Moves to Deport Vietnam War Refugees - The Atlantic - This one also confused me - I assumed there was a typo - surely they didn't mean Vietnam?
10 Small Habits That Have A Huge Return On Life - Darius Foroux - Pocket
Revealed: Google's 'two-tier' workforce training document | Technology | The Guardian
AI thinks like a corporation—and that’s worrying - Open Voices
MP causes uproar in parliament by grabbing mace in Brexit protest | Politics | The Guardian
Kent 'facing gridlocked and rubbish-strewn streets under no-deal Brexit' | Politics | The Guardian
Arkansas poverty rate 8th highest, median household income 3rd lowest - Talk Business & Politics
Vape manufacturers are copying Big Tobacco’s playbook - The Verge
Let’s be honest about what’s really driving Brexit: bigotry | Matthew d’Ancona | Opinion | The Guardian
Mexico's great gamble: 'Trump plays poker, but Lopez Obrador plays chess'
Los estudiantes marxistas, los nuevos enemigos del Gobierno chino | Internacional | EL PAÍS

:: David (21:15 in Arkansas, 4:15 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, December 7 2018 ::

Spanish class: done. In writing my final papers, I thought a lot about the way language forces us into certain boxes. As it's also the holiday season, this means it's also time to argue about whether "Baby, it's cold outside" is a terrible song, and the question hinges in part on language. One argument making the rounds from a couple years back centers on contextualizing the language used in the song

See, this woman is staying late, unchaperoned, at a dude’s house. In the 1940’s, that’s the kind of thing Good Girls aren’t supposed to do — and she wants people to think she’s a good girl… But she’s having a really good time, and she wants to stay, and so she is excusing her uncharacteristically bold behavior (either to the guy or to herself) by blaming it on the drink — unaware that the drink is actually really weak, maybe not even alcoholic at all.

But, of course, language is a living thing. Certain phrases might have a different meaning at different times, but they acquire new ones all the time.

The class I was taking was on liberation theology, and I was struck by how often I used phrases that, when unpacked, contained ideas that were expressly counter to the ones I was trying to say.

One thing I have found very interesting to do is to try to express ideas in a way that google translate can't screw up. It reveals a lot of assumptions I make about how my words will be received. Having worked as an ESL teacher, I knew there were a lot of phrases I used that didn't translate well, but trying to express philosophy in a second language really turned up the dial on what I would detect as questionable.

There's no conclusion here - I can't tell you if we should ban the song or not. But I do think it's an interesting window into how language changes, as well as historical context.

:: David (17:39 in Arkansas, 0:39 in Paris) - Comment

:: Sunday, November 18 2018 ::

Since the election, I've been doing two things - catching up on housework, and writing Spanish papers for the class I've been taking. I suppose it is more accurate to say 'three things', as I've also started searching for jobs. Our yard and garden took a particular hit over the past few months as I virtually ignored them completely - my hops went brown on the vine, and our azelia bushes got fairly out of control. Fortunately the grass was kept in check mostly by the fact that I like to mow when I need to think, so even during the campaign it didn't get completely away from us (I'm sure the city would have let us know if it had!) Rachel also moved into her own apartment, so we can start cleaning the house from top to bottom and rebuilding the guest room. The office was a dumping ground for campaign notes, documents, etc. so there's still a good amount of work to do to get it in order, but hopefully time will present itself for that.

I'm also, obviously, trying to move into blogging a bit more, and social media a bit less. I might even do a few items of upkeep on the website, which is at this point several years (decades) out of date. Decades. Wow. I learned what the internet was about 25 years ago, and of all the things I packrat, my digital life is the one I'm happiest I stashed away since forever. I think I'm lucky to have been aware from day one, basically, that digital stuff is stupidly fragile, and so I've kept backups of my backups since forever.

:: David (22:24 in Arkansas, 5:24 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, November 9 2018 ::

One of the things that happened in the recent election here in Arkansas was a ballot issue which increased the minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $9.25 on Jan. 1, 2019; $10 on Jan. 1, 2020; and $11 on Jan. 1, 2021. This has led to everyone and their cousin weighing in on the effect this will have on the state (it's quite strange, as the reactions I'm seeing among the general populace are negative, and yet the measure was approved 70/30).

Although I have for the most part not engaged, I was curious if the literature had progressed to offering any clarity. I headed over to NBER, a place where many working papers are published, to see what came up. Here's a sampling of recent findings:

"Using American Community Survey data from 2011-2016, we find robust evidence that state-level minimum wage changes decreased the likelihood that individuals report having employer-sponsored health insurance. Effects are largest among workers in very low-paying occupations, for whom coverage declines offset 9 percent of the wage gains associated with minimum wage hikes."

"We examine the impact of the state minimum wage on infant health. Using data on the universe of births in the US over 24 years, we find that an increase in the minimum wage is associated with an increase in birth weight driven by increased gestational length and fetal growth rate. The effect size is meaningful and plausible. We also find an increase in prenatal care use and a decline in smoking during pregnancy, which are some channels through which minimum wage can affect infant health."

"We find that the average minimum wage increase of $0.50 reduces the probability that men and women return to prison within 1 year by 2.8%. This implies that on average the effect of higher wages, drawing at least some released prisoners into the legal labor market, dominates any reduced employment in this population due to the minimum wage. These reductions in returns to incarcerations are observed for the potentially revenue generating crime categories of property and drug crimes; prison reentry for violent crimes are unchanged, supporting our framing that minimum wages affect crime that serves as a source of income."

"On net, the minimum wage increase from $9.47 to as much as $13 per hour raised earnings by an average of $8-$12 per week. The entirety of these gains accrued to workers with above-median experience at baseline; less-experienced workers saw no significant change to weekly pay. Approximately one-quarter of the earnings gains can be attributed to experienced workers making up for lost hours in Seattle with work outside the city limits. We associate the minimum wage ordinance with an 8% reduction in job turnover rates as well as a significant reduction in the rate of new entries into the workforce."

"With some specifications and samples, the evidence suggests that higher minimum wages lead to longer-run declines in poverty and the share of families on public assistance, whereas higher welfare benefits have adverse longer-run effects. However, the evidence on minimum wages and welfare benefits is not robust – and the estimated effects of minimum wages are sometimes in the opposite direction, including when we restrict the analysis to more recent data that is likely of more interest to policymakers."

I then headed over to Google Scholar to see what else I could find:

"we find that the overall number of low-wage jobs remained essentially unchanged. At the same time, the direct effect of the minimum wage on average earnings was amplified by modest wage spillovers at the bottom of the wage distribution. "

"We document two new findings about the industry‐level response to minimum wage hikes. First, restaurant exit and entry both rise following a hike. Second, there is no change in employment among continuing restaurants."

I should explain that last one - it looks like after a rise in the minimum wage, there's an increase in the number of restaurants that close, but also in the number that open.

In this next one, 'award wages' refers, more or less, to the minimum wage.

"I  find  no  evidence  that  these  small,  incremental increases in award wages have an adverse effect on hours worked or the job destruction rate."

Finally, some have suggested that food prices will rise, and rise more for processed food (since you have to pay people to process it). This paper suggests otherwise: "Supermarket food prices do not appear to be differentially impacted by Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance by level of the food’s processing. These results suggest that the early implementation of a city-level minimum wage policy does not alter supermarket food prices by level of food processing."

On net, the results are for the most part what I expected - maybe some employment effects, maybe not, maybe some other positive effects, maybe some other negative effects.

Disclaimer: I literally just grabbed some stuff from each abstract - I didn't really examine too closely methodology, etc. though I did try to avoid things that seemed like the method or data might be weird. For example:

"This paper develops a new model with heterogeneous firms under perfect competition in a Heckscher-Ohlin setting to show that a binding minimum wage raises product prices, encourages substitution away from labor, and creates unemployment. It reduces output and exports of the labor intensive good, despite higher prices and, less obviously, selection in the labor (capital) intensive sector becomes stricter (weaker). Exploiting rich regional variation in minimum wages across Chinese prefectures and using Chinese Customs data matched with firm level production data, we find robust evidence in support of causal effects of minimum wage consistent with our theoretical predictions."

I just wasn't sure I trusted their model or their data.

:: David (21:01 in Arkansas, 4:01 in Paris) - Comment

It has been an unbelievable amount of time since I last posted. I'm not surprised. I ran for office this year, and decided that I wouldn't post on the blog while I was doing it. It was an amazing experience, one I'm still processing, and I'm glad I did it. Unfortunately I did not win, which was hard. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into the campaign, and it's a weird feeling when the numbers come it all at once to say 'the thing you were trying to win? You didn't'. But I'm recovering.

Part of running a modern election, of course, is doing lots of social media, and I'm considering taking a break from that now that the election has run. It's a bit too much. So I may be here more, posting publicly, and in long form.

:: David (19:00 in Arkansas, 2:00 in Paris) - Comment