GOP's not-so-secret weakness: unfairness


"A capital gains tax rate (making money off money) that is lower than the earned income rate (making money off work) is just not fair; bestowing that rate on hedge-fund managers through a specially designed loophole is just not fair" -Wick Allison, American Conservative, Nov 12, 2012.

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Princeton economists: democratic presidents are just "lucky"

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 10.19.04 AMIt's well established that the US economy fares better when a democrat is president. Why is this?

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How good is your zip code?

The Washington Post reports on "super zips"--postcodes that rank highly for income and college education levels. A striking interactive map is included in the article, to show what money looks like from space.

Employment advice for Millennials


Diesel Sweeties creator R. Stevens has some advice for Millennials who are having a hard time finding work in the modern economy. It's so simple!

Six Totally Easy Tips For Millennials To Get Ahead In Today’s Economy (via Wil Wheaton)

UK sex-workers hit hard by recession


The Economist claims that prostitution in the UK has been hard-hit by the down economy, with men treating sex-for-money as a luxury lacking precedence behind rent, petrol and energy bills. At the same time, more women are reportedly engaging in sex-work, looking for money in an economy with high unemployment and inflation and contracting welfare and benefits. This increases competition for sex-work, driving prices down further. Some sex workers are dropping their prices, and one independent escort in the south of England says that she believes that prostitution can no longer serve as full-time employment adequate to covering all bills and expenses .

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Dead WalMart reborn as library


A dead WalMart in McAllen, Texas has been remodelled as a library, making it the largest single-floor library in the USA. It's award-winning design makes excellent use of all that space -- two football fields' worth -- and includes an acoustically separated teen space.

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German children use bundled inflationary money as blocks, 1923


Here's a little visual aid for any inflation hawks out there who're looking for just the right graphic to stick in a powerpoint decrying stimulus packages or extolling gold's virtue: a group of Weimar-era kids using bundles of devalued Deutsche marks Reichsmarks as building blocks.

German children using marks as building blocks, when Germany tried to pay its war debts by printing money, causing hyper-inflation. 1923. (via Dark Roasted Blend)

An unbiased view of what the meat industry looks like from the inside

Most of the time, when somebody goes undercover inside a meat processing facility, it's done with the express goal of convincing other people to stop eating meat. But that wasn't what journalist Ted Conover had in mind. He was more just curious, especially given the growing trend of state laws preventing undercover infiltration of agribusiness facilities. So, using his real name and address, Conover got a job as a USDA meat inspector at a Cargill plant.

What's fascinating here is that the problems he finds have less to do with animal abuse (Maryn McKenna reports that Conover was surprised to find himself in a clean, safe, humane facility) and more to do with the abuse of antibiotics — a trend that is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance.

You can't read the full story for free, unfortunately. Such is the way of Harpers. But Maryn McKenna has a summary, Conover has a blog post on agribusiness gag laws, and you can buy access to the full story with a Harper's subscription.

Widespread, illegal debtors' prisons in Ohio

A new ACLU report called The Outskirts of Hope (PDF) documents the rise of illegal debtors prisons in Ohio. A majority of municipal and mayors' courts (an unregulated and rare system of courts only permitted in two states) surveyed by the ACLU routinely imprison people for their inability to pay fines, a practice banned in both the US and state constitution. 20 percent of the bookings in the Huron County Jail are "related to failure to pay fines."

Taking care of a fine is straightforward for some Ohioans — having been convicted of a criminal or traffic offense and sentenced to pay a fine, an affluent defendant may simply pay it and go on with his or her life. For Ohio’s poor and working poor, by contrast, an unaffordable fine is just the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time. The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines.

The U.S. Constitution, the Ohio Constitution, and Ohio Revised Code all prohibit debtors’ prisons. The law requires that, before jailing anyone for unpaid fines, courts must determine whether an individual is too poor to pay. Jailing a person who is unable to pay violates the law, and yet municipal courts and mayors’ courts across the state continue this draconian practice. Moreover, debtors’ prisons actually waste taxpayer dollars by arresting and incarcerating people who will simply never be able to pay their fines, which are in any event usually smaller than the amount it costs to arrest and jail them.

The report documents heartbreaking cases, like Samantha Reed and John Bundren, a couple with a nine-month-old who were both ordered to pay fines they can't afford. John diverts whatever seasonal/part time wages he earns to Samantha's fines so she can look after their baby, while he goes to jail for ten-day stretches for failure to make payments. They are effectively indigent, but are not given access to counsel when they appear in court over their debts.

(via Reddit)

Game theory and bad behavior on Wall Street

An opinion piece by Chris Arnade on the asymmetry in pay (money for profits, flat for losses), which he describes "the engine behind many of Wall Street’s mistakes" That asymmetry "rewards short-term gains without regard to long-term consequences," Chris writes in a new guest blog at Scientific American. "The results? The over-reliance on excessive leverage, banks that are loaded with opaque financial products, and trading models that are flawed." [Scientific American Blog Network]

Database documenting payouts to UK slave-owners to be launched for public use

The British government paid out £20 million to compensate 3,000 slave-owning families for the loss of their "property" when slave ownership was abolished in Britain's colonies in 1833. At the time, that sum amounted to 40% of the UK's annual spending budget; today, one could calculate the total value of the 19th-century payouts to be around £16.5 billion (=USD $25 billion; the actual sum can vary, depending on how you calculate).

In The Independent, an article digging in to the data, which will be released this week in the form of a publicly accessible database.

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Caviar vending machines in LA malls


Caviar vending machines have been installed in three upscale malls in LA. In addition to $500/oz caviar, they also dispense blinis, mother of pearl spoons, and other caviar essentials. The vending machines (they're billed as "ATMs for caviar") can be found at Westfield Century City, Westfield Topanga, and the Burbank Towne Center. Apparently, these are old news in Russia, where they are favorites of oligarchs and their entourages.

Finally! Caviar by ATM (via Super Punch)

Marijuana dispenser machine company's stock gets really, really high, man

Medbox (MDBX), a firm that makes medical marijuana dispensing machines, says its stock "is getting way too high." Shares spiked 3,000% this week (from about $4 Monday to $215 Thursday), "prompting executives to try and dampen investor enthusiasm." The surge was caused by a MarketWatch story about how to invest in legalized marijuana.

Merck halts shipments of key cancer drug to Greece

The German pharmaceuticals maker Merck will no longer deliver the cancer drug Erbitux to Greek hospitals, according to a statement from the company today. The drug also known as cetuximab is often used for patients with head and neck cancers. The move to halt distribution is a sign of a worsening economic and budget crisis, and its impact on critical services including care for cancer patients. (thanks, Gerrit)

Fact-checking the RIAA's claim that the number of working musicians fell by 41%


Matthew Lasar's long Ars Technica feature, "Have we lost 41 percent of our musicians? Depends on how you (the RIAA) count" does an excellent job of digging into RIAA CEO Cary Sherman's claim that the number of working musicians in the USA has declined by 41 percent. After checking the RIAA's math, Lasar finds a gigantic discrepancy between the figures they cite and the conclusions they reach. But then Lasar delves further into the underlying sources, as well as government and industry stats, and finds that basically, the number of musicians working in America may have slightly declined, but is also projected to rise.

It is worth ending this cautionary tale with a review of the BLS's own occupational handbook projection for musician/singer employment in the near future. Note that the handbook cites a much higher employment figure for both trades in 2010 than mentioned in the above tables: about 176,200 musicians and singers. That's because it comes from the Bureau's National Employment Matrix, I was told, which adds additional data sources.

Employment for musicians and singers is expected to grow by ten percent over the decade—"about as fast as the average for all occupations," the government notes:

The number of people attending musical performances, such as orchestra, opera, and rock concerts, is expected to increase from 2010 to 2020. As a result, more musicians and singers will be needed to play at these performances.

There will be additional demand for musicians to serve as session musicians and backup artists for recordings and to go on tour. Singers will be needed to sing backup and to make recordings for commercials, films, and television.

Have we lost 41 percent of our musicians? Depends on how you (the RIAA) count