Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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17 May 2012

Minority Babies Now the Majority

Time to celebrate!
The Census Bureau has made it official: White births are no longer a majority in the United States. Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the 12-month period that ended last July, according to Census Bureau data made public on Thursday, while minorities — including Hispanics, blacks, Asians and those of mixed race — reached 50.4 percent, representing a majority for the first time in the country’s history.
Cool! Are there any potential downsides to this momentous achievement? Sure - but you know whose fault that is:
The contrast raises important policy questions. The United States has a spotty record educating minority youth; will older Americans balk at paying to educate a younger generation that looks less like themselves?
For older Americans, the obvious solution to the problem of having so many young people who "don't look like us" is to encourage them to start looking like us - stop having Hispanics identified as "minority" and join the majority; encourage mixed-race people to identify with the majority. The only reason for a latino to resist the "white" label is that there are all kinds of goodies to be had with the "Hispanic" label.

Still, there are serious challenges ahead in particular with the low level of college degrees among current Hispanics (13% vs 31% of whites). "But there are bright spots" the article notes. You'd think that statement might lead into a description of, say, efforts by Hispanic business leaders to start pushing education and changing the Latino culture that's so dismissive of education. But then you'd be forgetting whose fault this is.
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said the immigration debate of recent years has raised the political consciousness of young Latinos and he is hopeful that more will become politically active as a result. “We have an opportunity here with this current generation,” Mr. Vargas said. About 50,000 Latinos turn 18 every month, he said.
I'm feeling better already.

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Stuctural or Cyclical?

There's a little skirmish going on between the Keynesians and the more conservative economists over the underlying source of our current travails. Team K (Keynesians), most prominently represented by Krugman, insist the problem is lack of aggregate demand which can be solved by government the handing out jobs. Team S (Structuralists), insist unemployment is structural, meaning the unemployed lack the proper skills to be productive in today's economy, and so such government intervention would be useless. Here's the K-Man:
What does it mean to say that we have a structural unemployment problem? The usual version involves the claim that American workers are stuck in the wrong industries or with the wrong skills...but...contrary to what such stories suggest, job losses since the crisis began haven’t mainly been in industries that arguably got too big in the bubble years. Instead, the economy has bled jobs across the board, in just about every sector and every occupation...So all this talk about structural unemployment isn’t about facing up to our real problems; it’s about avoiding them, and taking the easy, useless way out. And it’s time for it to stop.
It sounds to me though that it's the Keynesian-approach that is the easy way out. Who wouldn't want increasing wealth to be as easy as spending a whole bunch of government-created money? No one who believed that such policies could work would object to doing it. Tyler Cowen, from Team S, responds here. While characteristically opaque, I think what Tyler is saying is that "structural" unemployment need not be concentrated in specific industries, but can be manifested in widespread chronic unemployment. Let's remember that this Great Recession wasn't a shot out of the blue - we had the Internet Bubble bursting in 2000, followed by 6 years of very anemic growth accompanied by a massive housing bubble. This has been going on for quite awhile.

One thing I don't hear too many people discussing these days is the apparent unwillingness of Corporate America to train their own workers. There is much gnashing of teeth over the dearth of STEM graduates and it is indeed distressing seeing so many young people graduating college with useless majors like journalism and communications. But in past decades people with non-technical degrees - or quite often just high-school graduates - could get hired by a large corporation and learn COBOL or accounting basics or whatever. A few months ago I heard the chairman of Caterpillar complain on SquawkBox about the lack of trained mechanics to service their high-tech equipment. No one on the panel asked him why Caterpillar doesn't train them.

One obvious disincentive is poaching - companies get real sore about investing in employee training only to have newly-trained workers leave for a higher salary. In the old days, presumably, a mutual sense of loyalty limited this problem. But such ideas are now quite passe. Corporate America's view of colleges is now much like the NFL's - a recruiting ground for fully-trained star players who only need some additional coaching on some organizational specifics. It's probably a no-brainer for any young person that if you're smart enough to do well in engineering or computer science or quantitative analysis that's how you ought to proceed. But if you're not - and the vast majority are not - it's pretty tough to figure out which field is going to get you somewhere. When companies did their own training, that kind of took the guess work out of the equation.

My feeling is that Krugman is wrong and we cannot cure our ills by artificially boosting aggregate demand - and that the problems run deep as the Structuralists contend. But this structural problem is much deeper, and no one is really thinking very deeply about what to do about it.

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10 May 2012


The scourge of typecasting used to be a big deal, but I don't get the sense that it's such a big deal these days. But years ago many an actor were certain their careers were ruined by being typecast in a role.

The 60's in particular seemed a particularly brutal period for typecasting. Actors were being positively subsumed left and right by their characters. Perhaps it was the over-the-top nature of many of these roles. Batman, Herman Munster, Gilligan (not to mention The Skipper, Ginger, et. al.), Maxwell Smart, Batman - these were characters memorable for their hyperbole and often preposterousness and tended to stick with the actors. The actors, as well, were probably not nearly as gifted as the largeness of the characters might have suggested, so they no doubt greatly disappointed when seen in other roles. Adam West's arch blandness was perfect for his campy Batman role, for example, but way too drippy for much else. Don Knotts, on the other hand, partly because he was a talented comic actor and partly because he essentially invented the character, was able to successfully escape his Barney Fife role (albeit to star in a series of goofy Disney movies, though his brief turn in Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was brilliant).

So in more recent decades has typecasting been a problem for any actors?


09 May 2012

How to Quickly Ascertain You're Not Smart

Read this post and start counting....