Monthly Archives: April 2016

Housing Recovery

I have not attempted to verify this data, but if true, this chart is shocking.  It shows new home sales under $200,000 at 52,000 in 2005, and sinking below 10,000 and never coming back.  Still.  I recognize that this chart probably is in nominal terms, and that’s an average to below average new home price, but it’s not like he’s tracking new homes under $50,000.  From David Stockman:




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The Prison Industrial Complex

The state budget for Pennsylvania that was just enacted, 9 months late, includes $2.4 billion for corrections (over 8% of the total).  The budget of Erie County, PA, is dominated by law enforcement, with 27% of the budget for corrections and another 20% for courts.

Then The Atlantic reports this:

Most of the 12 million jail bookings in the United States each year are for low-level, nonviolent charges. Yet far too many of these defendants remain in jail while awaiting their day in court because they cannot afford money bail. More than 60 percent of people locked up in America’s jails have not yet been to trial, and as many as nine in 10 of those people are stuck in jail because they can’t afford to post bond.

What?  As a taxpayer, this is beyond ridiculous.  I don’t want to pay for this.  As a citizen, I don’t want people who should be working, supporting themselves and their families, and paying taxes to be kept from doing all of that.  Apparently, this is not a groundbreaking thought:

Many jurisdictions already know how to replace outdated pretrial justice policies like cash bail with risk-based systems that are safer, fairer, and more effective. The District of Columbia instituted reforms in the 1990s that effectively replaced cash bail with a pretrial risk assessment program that evaluates which defendants are too risky to be released. The highly effective program doesn’t demand cash bail; instead defendants are assessed for their likelihood to appear for their trial and potential impact on public safety. Most defendants are released on their own recognizance or under minimal supervision, and only about 15 percent of defendants are held in jail. D.C.’s model has an 89 percent court appearance rate, which is comparable to what is seen elsewhere under cash bail.

Let’s implement this everywhere, immediately.

I can think of 2 big reasons this doesn’t happen.  The first is the title of this post, and the political corruption that goes along with it.  The second is the punishment mindset.  The same way of thinking that makes people think torture is OK.  It’s all about retribution, regardless of actual guilt.  It takes leadership to remind people that we aren’t supposed to do that in America.

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You see a lot out there about the 1%, but not so much about the real enemies of the middle class, the 0.1%.  The American Prospect has detailed issues regarding taxes, and has labeled these top 115,000 individuals in the USA as “the plutocrats.”

The top 0.1 percent consists of 115,000 individuals and families with an average income of $9.44 million. 40.8 percent of the top 0.1 percent are executives, managers, or supervisors of non-finance firms, and 18.4 percent are in the financial professions

This article confounds the separate issues of individual tax avoidance and tax fraud with corporate tax evasion strategies, but the overall point is the same either way:

The IRS estimates that only about 1 percent of wages reported by employers to the government are underreported, but underreporting could be as high as 56 percent where there is no outside reporting of income to the IRS. That describes most of the income of the very rich, which comes from capital income and very complex financial plays designed to maximize profits and minimize taxes. The plutocrats’ wealth grew from 7 percent of all U.S. wealth in 1978 to 22 percent in 2012. Failure to enforce tax collection was not the primary reason, but it intensified the trend. Far more important were the tax expenditures (subsidies) that only benefited the very rich, enacted by Congress at the behest of the plutocrats’ lobbyists.

People think that a simpler tax code is desirable so that they can spend less time doing their own taxes, or avoid paying someone to help them.  That’s not it at all.  A simpler tax code is desirable so that the plutocrats lose all their tax loopholes.

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Filed under Government, Politics

Autism and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Apparently your brain can be changed by magnetic stimulation.  This article from nymag discusses how an autistic man had his life changed using this process.

TMS modified my emotional response to what you might call ordinary situations. I often put it this way: You might be crossing the street and you fall and you skin your knee. I’d say, “Come on, get up!” The very best advice I could give is come on, get going, this car could run you over. People would see my practical response as cold and emotionless. After TMS, I’d look at you and wince at your skinned knee. I never did that before. And I now realize that wincing at your skinned knee is the response most people have. I still have the autistic response, but I’m also aware of what you might now call the “empathetic response from personal experience.”

I wonder how much energy is required to make changes to the brain, compared to, say, cell phone use?  Or other electromagnetic fields that exist all around us every day?  And does this energy add up in our bodies, or is it more environmental, like the air temperature around us?


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Global Drought Map

Well, this is just really cool.

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Labor Force Mobility

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution posted this chart 3/19/16:


The thesis here is that instead of moving to find new jobs when a geographic area was decimated (which you can see did happen in the late 70’s,) people opted to drop out of the workforce entirely during the most recent recession (often by retiring early or going on disability).

The comments section has a lot more speculation as well, involving the “global workforce,” illegal immigration, women in the workforce, the extension of unemployment insurance, the housing market collapse, demographics, and even occupational licensing.

I think it’s a lot more complicated than that, but includes all of it.   It’s interesting how the rate of migration slows dramatically when the recession hits, then jumps up as the economy improves.  This is true for the 1980 & 1981 recessions, as well as 2000 and 2008.

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Filed under Financial, Government

Oil Prices

From MarketWatch:

Supply glut? Worries about waning demand? All of these factors may have contributed to crude oil losing nearly two-thirds of its value since its peak in June 2014. But a chart tweeted on Monday by Charlie Bilello, director of research at Pension Partners, highlights another key factor swaying crude’s gyrations.


Yep, that pretty much says it all.

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Filed under Financial