(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Walt Disney

“The basic underlying problem does not entail misbehavior or incompetence but rather stems from the nature of the provision of labor-intensive services”*…

Agatha Christie with her daughter Rosalind in 1924 [source]

Why is it that stuff– clothing, electronics, toys– keep getting cheaper, while services– healthcare, education, child care– continue to rise on price?

Agatha Christie’s autobiography, published posthumously in 1977, provides a fascinating window into the economic life of middle-class Britons a century ago. The year was 1919, the Great War had just ended, and Christie’s husband Archie had just been demobilized as an officer in the British military.

The couple’s annual income was around around £700 ($50,000 in today’s dollars)—£500 ($36,000) from his salary and another £200 ($14,000) in passive income.

hey rented a fourth-floor walk-up apartment in London with four bedrooms, two sitting rooms, and a “nice outlook on green.” The rent was £90 for a year ($530 per month in today’s dollars). To keep it tidy, they hired a live-in maid for £36 ($2,600) per year, which Christie described as “an enormous sum in those days.”

The couple was expecting their first child, a girl, and they hired a nurse to look after her. Still, Christie didn’t consider herself wealthy.

“Looking back, it seems to me extraordinary that we should have contemplated having both a nurse and a servant,” Christie wrote. “But they were considered essentials of life in those days, and were the last things we would have thought of dispensing with. To have committed the extravagance of a car, for instance, would never have entered our minds. Only the rich had cars.”…

By modern standards, these numbers seem totally out of whack. An American family today with a household income of $50,000 might have one or even two cars. But they definitely wouldn’t have a live-in maid or nanny. Even if it were legal today to offer someone a job that paid $2,600 per year, nobody would take it.

The price shifts Christie observed during her lifetime continued to widen after her death…

As you can see, cars aren’t the only things that get cheaper over time. In the last 30 years, clothing, children’s toys, and televisions have all gotten steadily cheaper as well—as have lots of other products not on the chart.

It’s one of the most important economic mysteries of the modern world. While the material things in life are cheaper than ever, labor-intensive services are getting more and more expensive. Middle-class Americans today have little trouble affording a car, but they struggle to afford a spot in day care. Only the rich have nannies.

Who is to blame? Some paint the government as the villain, blaming excessive regulations and poorly targeted subsidies. They aren’t entirely wrong. But the main cause is something more fundamental—and not actually sinister at all.

Back in the 1960s, the economist William Baumol observed that it took exactly as much labor to play a string quartet in 1965 as it did in 1865—in economics jargon, violinists hadn’t gotten any more productive. Yet the wages of a professional violinist in 1965 were a lot higher than in 1865.

The basic reason for this is that workers in other industries were getting more productive, and that gave musicians bargaining power. If an orchestra didn’t pay musicians in line with economy-wide norms, it would constantly lose talent as its musicians decided to become plumbers or accountants instead. So over time, the incomes of professional musicians have risen.

Today economists call this phenomenon “Baumol’s cost disease,” and they see it as one of the most important forces driving the price trends in my chart above. I think it’s unfortunate that this bit of economics jargon is framed in negative terms. From my perspective as a parent, it might be a bummer that child care costs are rising. But my daughter’s nanny probably doesn’t see it that way—the Baumol effect means her income goes up…

A thoughtful consideration of a counterintuitive phenomenon: “Why Agatha Christie could afford a maid and a nanny but not a car,” from Timothy B. Lee (@binarybits) in Full Stack Economics (@fullstackecon).

From Baumol himself…

Briefly, the book’s central arguments are these:

1. Rapid productivity growth in the modern economy has led to cost trends that divide its output into two sectors, which I call “the stagnant sector” and “the progressive sector.” In this book, productivity growth is defined as a labor-saving change in a production process so that the output supplied by an hour of labor increases, presumably significantly (Chapter 2).

2. Over time, the goods and services supplied by the stagnant sector will grow increasingly unaffordable relative to those supplied by the progressive sector. The rapidly increasing cost of a hospital stay and rising college tuition fees are prime examples of persistently rising costs in two key stagnant-sector services, health care and education (Chapters 2 and 3).

3. Despite their ever increasing costs, stagnant-sector services will never become unaffordable to society. This is because the economy’s constantly growing productivity simultaneously increases the community’s overall purchasing power and makes for ever improving overall living standards (Chapter 4).

4. The other side of the coin is the increasing affordability and the declining relative costs of the products of the progressive sector, including some products we may wish were less affordable and therefore less prevalent, such as weapons of all kinds, automobiles, and other mass-manufactured products that contribute to environmental pollution (Chapter 5).

5. The declining affordability of stagnant-sector products makes them politically contentious and a source of disquiet for average citizens. But paradoxically, it is the developments in the progressive sector that pose the greater threat to the general welfare by stimulating such threatening problems as terrorism and climate change. This book will argue that some of the gravest threats to humanity’s future stem from the falling costs of these products, rather than from the rising costs of services like health care and education (Chapter 5).

The central purpose of this book is to explain why the costs of some labor-intensive services—notably health care and education—increase at persistently above-average rates. As long as productivity continues to increase, these cost increases will persist. But even more important, as the economist Joan Robinson rightly pointed out so many years ago, as productivity grows, so too will our ability to pay for all of these ever more expensive services.

William J. Baumol, from the Introduction to The Cost Disease: Why Computers Get Cheaper and Health Care Doesn’t

* William J. Baumol

###

As we interrogate inflation, we might recall that it was in this date in 1933 that United Artists released the animated short “Three Little Pigs,” part of the Silly Symphonies series produced by Walt Disney (though some film historians give the date as May 25). A hit, it won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. In 1994 a poll of 1,000 animators voted it #11 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time.

Its song, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” written by Frank Churchill, was a huge hit and was often used as an anthem during the Great Depression.

“Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower”*…

Humor is said to be the quintessential humor capacity, last thing that AI could– will?– conquer…

New Yorker cartoons are inextricably woven into the fabric of American visual culture. With an instantly recognizable formula — usually, a black-and-white drawing of an imagined scenario followed by a quippy caption in sleek Caslon Pro Italic — the daily gags are delightful satires of our shared human experience, riffing on everything from cats and produce shopping to climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Yorker‘s famous Cartoon Caption Contest, which asks readers to submit their wittiest one-liners, gets an average 5,732 entries each week, and the magazine receives thousands of drawings every month from hopeful artists.

What if a computer tried its hand at the iconic comics?

Playing on their ubiquity and familiarity, comics artist Ilan Manouach and AI engineer Ioannis [or Yiannis] Siglidis developed the Neural Yorker, an artificial intelligence (AI) engine that posts computer-generated cartoons on Twitter. The project consists of image-and-caption combinations produced by a generative adversarial network (GAN), a deep-learning-based model. The network is trained using a database of punchlines and images of cartoons found online and then “learns” to create new gags in the New Yorker‘s iconic style, with hilarious (and sometimes unsettling) results…

Comics artist Ilan Manouach (@IlanManouach) and AI engineer Yiannis Siglidis created The Neural Yorker: “Computer-Generated New Yorker Cartoons Are Delightfully Weird.”

For comparison’s sake, see “142 Of The Funniest New Yorker Cartoons Ever.”

Alan Kay

###

As we go for the guffaw, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that the first chapter in Walt Disney’s career as an animator came to a close when he released the 7th and next-to-last “Laugh-O-Gram” cartoon adaption of a fairy tale, “Jack the Giant Killer.”

Disney’s first animated films began in 1920 as after-work projects when Disney was a commercial artist for an advertising company in Kansas City. He made these cartoons by himself and with the help of a few friends.

He started by persuading Frank Newman, Kansas City’s leading exhibitor, to include short snippets of animation in the series of weekly newsreels Newman produced for his chain of three theaters. Tactfully called “Newman Laugh-O-grams,” Disney’s footage was meant to mix advertising with topical humor…

The Laugh-O-grams were a hit, leading to commissions for animated intermission fillers and coming attractions slides for Newman’s theaters. Spurred by his success, the 19-year-old Disney decided to try something more ambitious: animated fairy tales. Influenced by New York animator Paul Terry’s spoofs of Aesop’s Fables, which had premiered in June 1920, Disney decided not only to parody fairy-tale classics but also to modernize them by having them playing off recent events. With the help of high school student Rudy Ising, who later co-founded the Warner Brothers and MGM cartoon studios, and other local would-be cartoonists, Disney [made 7 animated shorts, of which “Jack, the Giant Killer” was the penultimate].

Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-grams

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”*…

Ducklings everywhere: the names of Donald Duck’s three nephews across Europe, from Mapologies (where one will also find the other names of Donald himself and of the Flintstones).

* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

###

As we dunk on Uncle Donald, we might recall that it was on thus date in 1921 that Newman Laugh-O-Gram studio released it’s first (more or less) four animated films as a kind of demo reel. The first three were live shots of young director Walt Disney drawing a single fame; the fourth, “Kansas City’s Spring Clean-up,” was actually animated.

Laugh-O-Gram only lasted two years, but it was long enough for Disney to recruit several pioneers of animation: Ub IwerksHugh HarmanFriz Freleng, and Carman Maxwell— and, with Iwerks, to create Mickey Mouse.

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 20, 2021 at 1:01 am

“The magician and the politician have much in common: they both have to draw our attention away from what they are really doing”*…

magic

Across his work as a designer and the publisher of CentreCentre books, London-based Patrick Fry is always looking for a stone unturned. This fascination with niche nuggets of cultural history has led to a unique selection of books, from a deep dive into Great British Rubbish, or forgotten postcards from South Yorkshire. His most recent venture, however, is into a subject a little more familiar – magic!

A long-time fan of traditional magic posters for their “lavish illustrations with magicians performing the impossible and their outrageous names written in fancy lettering,” surprisingly publishing a book on magic ephemera was something Patrick had never considered. This was largely due to it being “a world that has been recorded plenty” and against the criteria he would usually look for in a book, until he came across the vast magic collection of Philip David Treece.

Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 5.13.39 PM

Found during a scroll through Twitter, Patrick came across Philip’s magic history blog, Collecting Magic, where he writes about his collection of ephemera and apparatus spanning the past 25 years. Thankfully for Patrick too, “Philip isn’t primarily concerned with the monetary value of the pieces, and as such has amassed a fascinating array that speaks more of the social history surrounding everyday working magicians.” Presented with a huge collection of gems “away from the large-scale stage magicians… it quickly became clear that the less famous and smaller-run design pieces would create a brilliant book.”…

Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 5.15.02 PM

For fans of conjuring or design or (like your correspondent) both: “Magic Papers dives deep into the flamboyant design of magic ephemera.”

* Ben Okri

###

As we say “abracadabra,” we might recall that it was on this date that Universal released “Trolley Trouble” from Walt Disney Studios.  The first Disney cartoon to spawn a series, it featured Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (the creation of Walt’s long-time collaborator Ub Iwerks).  Oswald featured in 27 successful animated shorts– but Disney lost the rights to Universal.  So, he and Iwerks created a new featured character, Mickey Mouse.

On this date three years later, Pluto made his debut (with Mickey) in the short, “The Chain Gang.”

“There’s no business like show business”*…

 

entertainers

I’m on my first-ever cruise because I wanted to see how the entertainment world’s 99 percent, as Bernie Sanders might say, work for a living. The comedians who don’t film HBO specials; the magicians who aren’t David Blaine; the variety acts who don’t just disappear after their fifteen seconds on America’s Got Talent. These entertainers are struggling to compete with everything from YouTube phenoms to Netflix and Spotify. In Vegas and Times Square, small clubs and homegrown acts are getting squeezed out by arenas, superstars, and global brands, like mom-and-pop shops bulldozed by Walmarts.

But maybe smaller acts aren’t dying. Maybe they’ve just gone on vacation, since cruises need entertainers now more than ever. The $38 billion cruise industry has boomed with Boomers, growing from 17.8 million passengers in 2010 to 25.8 million passengers in 2017. The Regal Princess is one of more than four hundred fifty active cruise ships, and each is a floating entertainment district. It typically employs a six-piece party band; a seven-piece house band; a jazz quintet; a DJ; a piano-bar lounge singer; and seventeen singer-dancers who rotate through stage shows, including two created exclusively for Princess by Wicked’s Stephen Schwartz. (Other lines feature partnerships with outfits like Cirque du Soleil, Second City, and Blue Note Records.) Last year, Kaler and his team booked four hundred sixty-eight different headliners, from “a cappella” to “xylophonist.”…

Welcome to the new vaudeville circuit, where live entertainment hasn’t died—it’s just gone to sea: “Inside the delightfully quirky, absolutely fabulous, and utterly exhausting world of cruise performers.”

* Irving Berlin

###

As we enjoy the show, we might recall that it was on this date that Universal released “Trolley Trouble” from Walt Disney Studios.  The first Disney cartoon to spawn a series, it featured Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (the creation of Walt’s long-time collaborator Ub Iwerks).  Oswald featured in 27 successful animated shorts– but Disney lost the rights to Universal.  So, he and Iwerks created a new featured character, Mickey Mouse.

 

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: