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Posts Tagged ‘economics

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”*…

 

As income and wealth inequality has grown in the developed world, so have the ranks of security guards—for gated communities, upscale residential buildings, corporate offices, exclusive events, and more. That trend– more inequality, more guards– seems especially apparent here in the U.S.  We now employ as many private security guards as high school teachers — over one million of them, or nearly double their number in 1980.  And that’s just a small fraction of what we call “guard labor.”  In addition to private security guards, that includes police officers, members of the armed forces, prison and court officials, civilian employees of the military, and those producing weapons: a total of 5.2 million workers in 2011– a far larger number than we have of teachers at all levels.

Samuel Bowles, a professor at the Santa Fe Institute, and Arjun Jayadev, of the University of Massachusetts- Boston, explore these findings in their Opinionator piece “One Nation Under Guard.”

In America, growing inequality has been accompanied by a boom in gated communities and armies of doormen controlling access to upscale apartment buildings. We did not count the doormen, or those producing the gates, locks and security equipment. One could quibble about the numbers; we have elsewhere adopted a broader definition, including prisoners, work supervisors with disciplinary functions, and others.

But however one totes up guard labor in the United States, there is a lot of it, and it seems to go along with economic inequality. States with high levels of income inequality — New York and Louisiana — employ twice as many security workers (as a fraction of their labor force) as less unequal states like Idaho and New Hampshire.

When we look across advanced industrialized countries, we see the same pattern: the more inequality, the more guard labor. As the graph shows, the United States leads in both…

Bowles and Javadev conclude by quoting an august Utilitarian…

“It is lamentable to think,” wrote the philosopher John Stuart Mill, in 1848, “how a great proportion of all efforts and talents in the world are employed in merely neutralizing one another.” He went on to conclude, “It is the proper end of government to reduce this wretched waste to the smallest possible amount, by taking such measures as shall cause the energies now spent by mankind in injuring one another, or in protecting themselves from injury, to be turned to the legitimate employment of the human faculties.”

This venerable call to beat swords into plowshares resonates still in America and beyond. Addressing unjust inequality would help make this possible.

Read the whole piece here.  [TotH to The Society Pages]

*”Who will watch the watchmen” (or literally, “who will guard the guards themselves?”)  Juvenal, Satires (VI, lines 347–8)

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As we shore up our defenses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967, at the close of a show in Astoria (Finsbury Park, North London) that Jimi Hendrix first set fire to his guitar.  Hendrix was treated for minor burns later that night (but apparently got the technique down quickly, as subsequent “lightings” didn’t require medical follow-up).  The slightly scorched 1965 Fender Stratocaster was sold at auction in 2012 for £250,000 (about $400,00).

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Written by LW

March 31, 2014 at 1:01 am

Hi, Ho! Hi, Ho!…

 

*The data come from the government’s non-farm payroll report — which, as the name suggests, does not include farm jobs. Update: The report also excludes military personnel, government intelligence employees and some self-employed workers.

Over the past several years, the job market has (obviously) been pretty grim. The recession ended four and a half years ago, in June 2009. But there are still 1.3 million fewer U.S. jobs than there were in December 2007, when the recession began.

Still, when you look more closely, the picture is more nuanced. Since the recession started in December 2007:

  • Health care has added 1.5 million jobs.
  • Restaurants and bars have added roughly 700,000 jobs.
  • The number of construction jobs has fallen by 1.6 million.
  • The number of manufacturing jobs has fallen by 1.7 million.
  • The number of government jobs has fallen by about 500,000.

For more on jobs lost and gained since the recession — and on average wages in different sectors — see Where The Jobs Are (And Aren’t).

Read the full story– and find a larger version of the chart– at Planet Money.

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As we remind ourselves that “career” is both a noun and a verb, we might recall that it was on this date in 1981 that millions of Polish workers boycott their jobs in support of a demand by Solidarity for a 5-day work week.  Formed the prior year, Solidariyy was the first non–communist party-controlled trade union in a Warsaw Pact country; by 1981, it’s membership was roughly 10 million– about one third of the total working age population of Poland.  It became a broader-based anti-bureaucratic social movement as the decade progressed, surviving authoritarian attempts to quash it, and by 1989 forced negotiations with the government, resulting in semi-free elections.  A Solidarity-led coalition government was formed; and in December 1990, Solidarity’s leader, Lech Wałęsa, was elected President of Poland.  Solidarity remains an active labor union.

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Written by LW

January 24, 2014 at 1:01 am

America’s most popular export…

 

It’s all about the Benjamins…  The story of the $100 bill is the story of U.S. money itself, and that story is opening a new chapter:

The hundred is the ultimate icon of American monetary strength. “It’s the closest thing to a global currency,” Chris Jones writes, “with about 60 percent of them somewhere other than here, making the Benjamin the most legal and threatened of tenders.” It’s getting a makeover…

Read a feature-by-feature rundown of the upgrade at “The New Hundy: A Study Guide.”

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As we button our wallet pockets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that then-President Richard Nixon declared that the official U.S. price of gold would be raised from $35 to $38 per ounce, devaluing the dollar, and effectively ending the Bretton Woods system of international financial exchange.  Earlier, in August of that year, Nixon had suspended the convertibility of the dollar into gold; still, the dollar was pegged at the $35 value stipulated by Bretton Woods.  In changing that value, Nixon ushered in the era of freely-floating currencies that remains to this day.

What has become known as “the Nixon shock” was a response to an overvalued dollar (a result of national debt incurred in the Vietnam War and the Great Society programs), and a subsequent move by nations (first West Germany, then Switzerland and France) to redeem their dollars for gold.  U.S. gold reserves fell by half from their level a decade earlier, to $10 Billion, and the U.S. feared a “run” on that remainder.  The suspension of convertibility addressed that danger, and (along with the price freeze, minimum wage guarantee, and import tariffs that accompanied it) helped both to stabilize the U.S. economy (temporarily- the period of “stagflation” was relatively soon to follow) and to bring the other developed economies to the negotiating table.  The results of that parlay, The Smithsonian Agreement, raised the “value” of the gold to $38 per ounce, eliminated convertibility as feature of the international currency regime, appreciated other currencies against the dollar, and focused efforts to balance the world financial system on special drawing rights alone.

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Written by LW

December 18, 2013 at 1:01 am

Leaning In?…

Barbie, who celebrated her 54th birthday last month, has had more than 130 careers.  Some, of course, command higher wages than others. But what is perhaps surprising is that the price of a doll varies by profession.  Most in the “Barbie I can be…” collection cost $13.99; but some, like “computer engineer” or “snowboarder” can cost two or three times more.  It can’t be the (cheap) accessories that come with each— why should a miniature plastic laptop be valued so much more highly than a chef’s tiny cupcakes?

The Economist‘s “Graphic Detail” explains…

Matthew Notowidigdo, an economist at the University of Chicago, calls it the “Barbie Paradox,” an idea popularised by his colleague Emily Oster in an article last year in Slate. They conclude that price discrimination is probably at work: sellers exploit parental hopes that a girl playing palaeontologist may grow up to be the real thing, so charge more. And the white-collar professions certainly assuage criticisms from the early 1990s when Mattel released talking Barbies that groused “Math class is tough” (which inspired The Economist to publish an in-depth analysis of the pint-sized princess in 2002). Interestingly, there is only a modest correlation between Barbie’s occupations and real-world salaries. Inexpensive pilot dolls are paid quite a lot in life, and despite babysitter Barbie’s moderately high price, she would take home a pittance as a childcare worker.

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As we put away our childish things, we might send darkly humorous birthday greetings to Samuel Barclay Beckett; he was born on this date in 1906.  A novelist, poet, and theatrical director, Beckett is best remembered as the playwright who created (with Eugéne Ionesco) what Martin Esslin dubbed “The Theater of the Absurd.”  His Modernist masterpieces– Krapp’s Last Tape and Waiting for Godot, for instance had a profound influence on writers like Václav Havel, John Banville, Tom Stoppard, and Harold Pinter.  Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

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Written by LW

April 13, 2013 at 1:01 am

A thought for your penny…

From Randall Monroe’s exquisite What If?, The Cost of Pennies.

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As we search for a larger change jar, we might recall that this was the date, in 1919, on which the world did not end.  American meteorologist Albert Porta had made a widely-publicized prediction that a conjunction of six planets on that date would cause a “magnetic current” to “pierce the sun”, causing an explosion of flaming gas which would engulf the Earth.  The hysteria that followed incited mob violence and some suicides… before, as the world did not end, it subsided.

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Written by LW

December 17, 2012 at 1:01 am

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