The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Wow, who could have seen this coming?

New Republic's Alex Shepherd lays out how the Amazon HQ2 "sweepstakes" is a scam that will not do what Amazon claimed:

The company not only garnered free, widespread publicity, but also drove up its asking price, as some competitors raised their bids by billions. It’s possible that the plan all along was not to open a second headquarters, but to open two, smaller satellites. What’s unlikely, however, is that the deals being offered to Amazon will change significantly, even though the company is effectively halving their investment.

Amazon has already faced backlash for its handling of HQ2. The $1 trillion company is hardly in need of public handouts, and yet it has benefited greatly from taxpayer dollars in recent years. It may have sensed there would be further backlash over its decision, which would explain why the news broke on the eve of the midterm elections, effectively burying it. Unlike other localities, which made their offers public, not much is known about the bids from New York City and Virginia. But the public scrutiny of HQ2 will only intensify as the details—and the social consequences of HQ2—become clear.

Amazon likely chose Washington and New York for obvious reasons, making the pageantry surrounding the yearlong search for an HQ2 site all the more absurd. These are attractive places to work, and, as national hubs of politics and media respectively, they influence the national discussion. But they’re also among just a handful of major cities that could meet Amazon’s needs, in terms of infrastructure and talent. That was always true, and the company cleverly exploited it, using cities that never stood a chance to extract concessions from the few that did.

But all this was obvious from the start. And it does not make anyone look good.

Monopsony effects on workers

This morning we in the US got the news that the employment rebound that started under President Obama has continued, giving us the best employment picture in 50 years. Yet at the same time, despite robust wage growth in some places, families still feel squeezed.

The Economist suggests this may come in part from business concentration depressing wages through the same mechanism through which monopsonies increase prices:

In perfectly competitive markets, individual firms wishing to sell their widgets must charge the prevailing market price and no higher. But the situation changes when one or a few firms dominate a market. A monopolist may charge higher prices. The calculation is that consumers, faced with little choice, will buy enough of its offerings at a higher price to yield greater profits. But some sales are lost because of monopoly pricing, which represents a “deadweight loss” to society—a missed opportunity to raise total welfare. Monopolies can also stifle innovation. AT&T, America’s once-mighty telecoms firm, used its dominant position in the operation of local phone networks to overcharge consumers for service and handsets. It took the break-up of the network monopoly to clear the way for falling prices and innovation.

Just as powerful firms may use their clout to overcharge customers, they can also manipulate markets to pay lower wages. In competitive labour markets an individual employer can do little to squeeze pay, because workers can easily find better-paying jobs. But in a “monopsony”, such as a mining town with only one mine, workers have fewer options. Firms can offer wages below the competitive-market rate knowing that many workers will not be able to afford to turn them down. As with monopolies, this exercise of monopsony power boosts profits but saddles society with a deadweight loss—the underemployment of workers—as well as other costs, such as higher spending on state benefits.

To date, governments have been too focused on the harms to customers from increasing industrial concentration. A consideration of the impact on workers is overdue. Without competition, large firms become exploitative bureaucracies that are accountable to no one. Consumers and workers alike deserve better.

Witness Amazon.

Fear of loss

Paul Krugman highlights how the politics of the Republican party are mainly about privileged white men feeling like they're losing their privilege:

There have been many studies of the forces driving Trump support, and in particular the rage that is so pervasive a feature of the MAGA movement. What Thursday’s hearing drove home, however, was that white male rage isn’t restricted to blue-collar guys in diners. It’s also present among people who’ve done very well in life’s lottery, whom you would normally consider very much part of the elite.

In other words, hatred can go along with high income, and all too often does.

At this point there’s overwhelming evidence against the “economic anxiety” hypothesis — the notion that people voted for Donald Trump because they had been hurt by globalization. In fact, people who were doing well financially were just as likely to support Trump as people who were doing badly.

I very much ran with the nerds during my own time at Yale, but I did encounter people like Kavanaugh — hard-partying sons of privilege who counted on their connections to insulate them from any consequences from their actions, up to and including abusive behavior toward women. And that kind of elite privilege still exists.

But it’s privilege under siege. An increasingly diverse society no longer accepts the God-given right of white males from the right families to run things, and a society with many empowered, educated women is finally rejecting the droit de seigneur once granted to powerful men.

And nothing makes a man accustomed to privilege angrier than the prospect of losing some of that privilege, especially if it comes with the suggestion that people like him are subject to the same rules as the rest of us.

This basic dynamic explains almost every revolution in history, including the American one in the 1770s. This time it's white men, but it could be any elite group who start losing power. The Post makes a similar point:

Jennifer Palmieri, a Democratic strategist and author of “Dear Madam President,” a book about reimagining women in leadership roles, said the nation’s fast-changing culture can be unsettling and indeed frightening to men in power.

“A lot of white men don’t know what it’s like to feel threatened, powerless and frustrated,” said Palmieri, former communications director for Clinton’s campaign. “As we go through the reckoning of this lopsided power balance, there’s going to be a lot more of this.”

The Republican Party has long identified with more traditional white males, such as former presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. But strategists say it is now turning more toward combative male candidates in the mold of Trump, with allegations of misconduct interpreted by many within the party not as liabilities but as unfair political attacks.

“We’re a party of angry, older white men at a time when our country is going through tremendous demographic change,” Republican strategist John Weaver said, predicting that the GOP would suffer the consequences in future elections.

So when white voters tell pollsters and reporters that they fear a tide of "those people" coming over the border, they feel afraid of losing their birthright. Not the traditions and culture, necessarily, but the parts of those things that put them on top because of the accident of birth.

Personal update

For the first time since April 2000, none of my property is real.

(That's a little lawyer humor.)

The last transaction of the month will be Friday, when I close on Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters 5.0. Meanwhile, I own nothing, and I owe nothing. It's an odd feeling.

Morning reading list

Before diving back into one of the most abominable wrecks of a software application I've seen in years, I've lined up some stuff to read when I need to take a break:

OK. Firing up Visual Studio, reaching for the Valium...

Lunchtime reading list

While trying to debug an ancient application that has been the undoing of just about everyone on my team, I've put these articles aside for later:

Back to the mouldering pile of fetid dingo kidneys that is this application...

Tracking gentrification through Yelp

Researchers at the City University of New York have discovered that Yelp data can show rising incomes with remarkable precision:

First, in testing a popular theory about signs of the gentry’s arrival, they pulled out all the Starbucks listings on Yelp across the United States dating back to 2007. Combining that information with Federal Housing Finance Agency data by zip code, they found that the arrival of every new Starbucks into a given area was associated with a 0.5 percent rise in local housing prices. Coffee shops of all kinds—artisanal and chain—had a similar relationship.

More broadly, they found that housing prices grew in tandem with the entry of new restaurants, bars, hair salons, convenience stores, and supermarkets. Counting reviews, the Yelp data also captured commercial activity at those businesses, which turned out to be a predictor of rising home values, too.

Fascinatingly, different listing types were more correlated with different demographics than others as they increased within Big Apple neighborhoods. Grocery stores were more strongly associated with demographics than any other listing type—the greater the change in grocery stores in a neighborhood, the greater the change in college-educated white people ages 25-34, the researchers found.

Citylab caveats the data, saying, "Still poorly understood, however, is which comes first in gentrifying neighborhoods: the wealthier residents or the 'nice' amenities."

Party like it's 1879

Atlantic editor Adam Serwer draws a straight line between the ways the Redemption court of the 1870s paved the way for the Gilded Age and Jim Crow, and how the Roberts court now (and especially with Brett Kavanaugh on it) is returning to those halcyon days:

The decision in Cruikshank set a pattern that would hold for decades. Despite being dominated by appointees from the party of abolition, the Court gave its constitutional blessing to the destruction of America’s short-lived attempt at racial equality piece by piece. By the end, racial segregation would be the law of the land, black Americans would be almost entirely disenfranchised, and black workers would be relegated to a twisted simulacrum of the slave system that existed before the Civil War.

The justices did not resurrect Dred Scott v. Sandford’s antebellum declaration that a black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect. Rather, they carefully framed their arguments in terms of limited government and individual liberty, writing opinion after opinion that allowed the white South to create an oppressive society in which black Americans had almost no rights at all. Their commitment to freedom in the abstract, and only in the abstract, allowed a brutal despotism to take root in Southern soil.

The conservative majority on the Supreme Court today is similarly blinded by a commitment to liberty in theory that ignores the reality of how Americans’ lives are actually lived. Like the Supreme Court of that era, the conservatives on the Court today are opposed to discrimination in principle, and indifferent to it in practice. Chief Justice John Roberts’s June 2018 ruling to uphold President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting a list of majority-Muslim countries, despite the voluminous evidence that it had been conceived in animus, showed that the muddled doctrines of the post-Reconstruction period retain a stubborn appeal.

Roberts wrote that since the declaration itself was “facially neutral toward religion” and did not discriminate against all Muslims, it did not run afoul of the Constitution. In doing so, he embraced the logic of decades of jurisprudence from his predecessors on the high court, whose rulings ensured that the Constitution would not interfere with the emergence of Jim Crow in the American South. The nation’s founding document is no match for a dedicated majority of justices committed to circumventing its guarantees.

He lays out that in the Roberts court at least they're not vociferously white supremacist. But the deference to corporate rights, he points out, almost guarantee another generation of increasing wealth disparities in America.

Unless we win all three branches of government and pass an amendment or two. But it'll have to get a lot worse before we do that, if history is any guide.

Update: Longtime reader MB sent this: "At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past."—Maurice Maeterlinck

Hard to know for sure

Jennifer Rubin believes she's found President Trump's stupidest Tweet ever:

President Trump has issued shameful tweets, offensive tweets and self-serving tweets. Rarely, however, has he sent out a tweet that better conveys his abject ignorance about the country and economics than the tweet he posted Wednesday:

No, no, no.

Our country was founded on a principle Trump often seems unacquainted with: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

[T]he notion that other countries are stealing our wealth is wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. We send dollars to foreign exporters, who in turn invest in America and hire our workers. They are making the United States richer.

Trump doesn't really care about all that, because if he can keep enough people believing that free trade is the problem, rather than Republican policies that transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, then he and his cronies can continue looting the populace.

As Aaron Sorkin once wrote,

American Land Use

Bloomberg published on Monday a super-cool analysis of U.S. land use patterns:

Using surveys, satellite images and categorizations from various government agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture divides the U.S. into six major types of land. The data can’t be pinpointed to a city block—each square on the map represents 250,000 acres of land. But piecing the data together state-by-state can give a general sense of how U.S. land is used.

Gathered together, cropland would take up more than a fifth of the 48 contiguous states. Pasture and rangeland would cover most of the Western U.S., and all of the country’s cities and towns would fit neatly in the Northeast.

This is, of course, total Daily Parker bait.