On the confluence of political and economic division in America

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The idea that an increasing sense of material precariousness can lead to cultural retreat from liberalizing “self-expression” values can help us understand why low-density white America turned out to support a populist leader with disturbingly illiberal tendencies. But this idea can also help us understand why our larger national culture seems to be growing apart in a way that has made it seem harder and harder to communicate constructively across the gap.

pub. 02/2017

Okay, this one is a bit of a challenging read. It’s an interesting analysis, though, and from a libertarian rather than liberal source. And there’s fun with data visualization.

A quick explanation of how the budget works

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The spending we’ve discussed so far is “mandatory,” meaning the government has to pay it to fulfill its own rules. When somebody becomes eligible for social security payments, for example, the law says they start getting the money, so there it goes…

…What’s left is discretionary spending, meaning the amounts can more easily change from year to year, at Congress’s discretion.

pub. 05/2017

What happens in a showdown between the President and the Federal Reserve chair–and how that affects the rest of us

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Under President Trump, it is possible, for the first time in a generation, to imagine a concerted attack on the central bank. Conceivably, the United States could repeat the story of the mid-1960s and ’70s, when a 15-year period of central-bank independence was brought to an end by presidential bullying. Back then, Lyndon B. Johnson summoned the Fed chairman, William McChesney Martin Jr., to his Texas ranch and shoved him around the living room while proclaiming that low interest rates were imperative in a time of war. “Boys are dying in Vietnam and Bill Martin doesn’t care!” he yelled. Martin ultimately delivered the looser money that Johnson wanted. Richard Nixon followed up by publicly smearing Martin’s successor, Arthur F. Burns, until he, too, complied. Because Martin and Burns, unlike Greenspan, buckled, the U.S. went through the most extreme bout of inflation in its peacetime history.

pub. 06/2017

Labor in America: The blue past and red present of West Virginia

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Blair Mountain is the closest thing to Gettysburg that the American labor movement has. Its historic significance is immense. It also happens to sit in the poorest region of a state that is in desperate need of tourism dollars and economic development. Drive on Route 17 to the speck of a town called Blair, though, and all that you will find is a single historic marker for the battle, along with a trailer-sized post office, two churches, and a handful of houses. There is no museum. There is no trail. You cannot even wander up Blair Mountain yourself, because it is private property, owned by coal companies and patrolled by their private security. In fact, those coal companies have, since 2009, been waging a legal battle to prevent the Blair Mountain site from being added to the National Register of Historic Places, so that they can strip mine it instead of preserve it.

pub. 05/2017

Some of the top comments add other context not mentioned in the article, like talking about the deep racism in West Virginia and its effects on the election.

In Ethiopia, a test of the conventional wisdom

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Contrary to the expert predictions (and ours), quitting was a wise decision for most. The alternatives were not so bad after all: People who worked in agriculture or market selling earned about as much money as they could have at the factory, often with fewer hours and better conditions. We were amazed: By the end of a year only a third of the people who had landed an industrial job were still employed in the industrial sector at all.

pub. 04/2017