Fascinating read, via the estimable Rick Perlstein (whose Nixonland you really want to read, and which I’ll one day get around to properly reviewing), via Corey Robin at Crooked Timber. 
I think of my friends in desperate pursuit of tenure — or even a job that promises tenure in a mirage-like way — and I wish them luck. I used to dream that academia would be free of all the bullshit that I expected the corporate world to be filled with, and that academics had endless freedom to research whatever they chose. My sense is that the latter just isn’t true. As for the bullshit piece: I’m sure academia has its own bullshit; it’s just different bullshit than the bullshit I deal with.
We’re all part of the capitalist machine, whether we like it or not. Fortunately, that means the solution to your problems is likely the same as the solution to mine: organize.
 – Robin one day leapt onto my radar, and has been writing astonishing essays ever since. His Reactionary Mind is on my list, though I think I need to read The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy, by the great A.O. Hirschman, first. I also owe you guys a review of a Hirschman biography that I recently read, not to mention Hirschman’s own The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before Its Triumph. What can I say; I’m behind.
The Census Bureau, 72 years after the 1940 census, put the raw data from the 1940 census up on the web last year. It is completely fascinating.
It’s also tricky, for me anyway, to find my ancestors’ information. My partner has an easier task for her grandparents: they lived in New York City, and the New York Public Library helpfully posted 1940 phone books expressly to help people navigate the 1940 census (thanks, New York Public Library!). No such luck for Burlington, Vermont. But by asking my parents, I was able to find my dad’s parents, 7 years before my dad was born, when it was just my grandparents and my aunt. Among the interesting tidbits:
- My grandfather was listed as unemployed (and seeking work) at the time of the census; in 1939 he had only been employed 30 weeks. He had been unemployed for the four weeks preceding March 30.
- In 1935 they had lived in Alburg, Vermont on a farm.
- My grandfather’s profession was listed as ‘weaver’ at ‘woolen mill’. I knew him as a watchmaker, though I imagine he was just an all-around handyman.
- As of 1939, his salary was $630. Looking around a bit, I found a Social Security Administration document from 1947, which says that the median family income in 1939 for a family with 3 people, with a male head of household under age 35 (my grandfather was 30) was $1,373. So as of 1940, it looks like my grandparents weren’t doing so well. I’ll be curious how that changes when the 1950 census data become available in 2022.
- Both my grandmother and grandfather had fourth-grade educations.
There are a couple things to note about this. First, my method for chasing down the census records was basically ad-hoc; I asked my parents, who asked my aunt, who guessed what their street address had been when she was seven years old and was basically right on the money. Even with that information, the census data aren’t terribly easy to navigate. With luck, you can use an address to get an Enumeration District, which is basically the terrain that a single census-taker covers. But even within an ED, there are a lot of scanned census forms to peruse. This seems like a case that would derive a lot of value from some crowdsourcing: people using the 1940-census site would be able to tag individual records or pages with whatever information they want to contribute: street addresses, names, etc. Over time, it ought to be possible to write SQL queries against raw census data (“SELECT * FROM 1940_data WHERE state = ‘Vermont’ and LastName = ‘Laniel’”).
Even in my partner’s case, which is less ad-hoc, not everyone had a phone in 1940. What would we do if we wanted to look up the census information of someone alive in 1940? I’m sure there’s a well-known way to bootstrap oneself to a family tree, but I’m not familiar with it. And I’d vastly prefer a SQL query to a complicated bootstrapping process.
I dunno. Tell me if you disagree on this one. He’s talking about a public library for cast-iron stoves, a public library for DVDs, etc. “Deliver the thing in an electronic form” is just an implementation detail; the overall architecture is just “people shouldn’t own things; they should rent them or borrow them or use them in non-tangible form.”
This reminds me that I really should use the public library for books more. I own too many books. The thing is, though, that I love beating the crap out of them, breaking their spines, taking notes in them, spilling coffee on them, etc. I’m something of a book sadist.
(I finished The Sleepwalkers and Lost Memory of Skin this weekend, by the way. Reviews forthcoming, for some definition of ‘forth’.)
Or perhaps like with two of my children, a 6 year old cares for her 18 month old brother after school alone every day and all day on weekends while her mother works – her food options are limited to what her mother feels she can safely prepare – microwave popcorn, microwave hot dogs, cereal, canned soup.
I can buy enough brown rice, cabbage and dried beans to live cheaply and on food stamps – but what I can’t do is mimic the circumstances and realities that accompany life on food stamps.
–Why I Won’t Do the Food Stamp Challenge (via Cosma Shalizi‘s Pinboard)
You should go read Uwe Reinhardt. That’s true 100% of the time, but it’s especially true here. Reinhardt writes about “conservative” health reform, where “conservative” somehow means “involving a great deal of intrusion into everyone’s life.” Remember how one of the big problems with HealthCare.gov is that it’s required to connect to so many other systems to confirm details of the beneficiary’s life? It needs to confirm that you’re not in the U.S. illegally; needs to confirm that your income is low enough to qualify for subsidies; needs to connect to private insurers’ websites; etc. How is that conservative? It’s likely to make an already inefficient system even less efficient.
Why is this so hard? I don’t need to sign up for bronze, silver, and gold national defense. I pay my taxes, and I get a service in response. Let’s just expand Medicare to everyone and call it a day. Or extend the VA hospital system to everyone and call it a day. Inasmuch as ‘conservative’ should mean ‘delivering a given level of service as cheaply efficiently as possible’, those approaches would be highly conservative. Instead we get systems that are more and more jerry-rigged over time, with more and more obvious flaws. Enough already.
On the occasion of Jared Bernstein’s and Dean Baker’s publishing an essay on how low an unemployment rate we can tolerate before inflation spirals out of control, it’s worth linking back to a something I wrote in 2010 about James Galbraith’s views on the matter.
Even supposing that there actually is a NAIRU (i.e., a level of unemployment below which inflation will start accelerating), and even supposing that something bad will happen if we cross below that line, it’s not as though we lose control of the ship right then. At that point we know what happens: the Federal Reserve jacks up interest rates, unemployment skyrockets (particularly as mortgage rates rise and employment in the housing sector collapses), and inflation drops back down. It’s happened before. We have control over this. Doesn’t the Federal Reserve just need to signal that it takes its dual mandate seriously? If everyone believes that the Federal Reserve will bring the hammer down if inflation rises too high, what’s the big deal? Better to let inflation rise too high because unemployment was allowed to drop too low, and correct the problem later, than allow millions of people to remain involuntarily idle.
The call to cut Social Security has an uglier side to it, too. The Washington Post framed the choice as more children in poverty versus more seniors in poverty. The suggestion that we have become a country where those living in poverty fight each other for a handful of crumbs tossed off the tables of the very wealthy is fundamentally wrong. This is about our values, and our values tell us that we don’t build a future by first deciding who among our most vulnerable will be left to starve.
Thank you, Senator Warren (via Matt Yglesias). I’m really proud to have voted for you.
Sure would be nice if I could read this.
Just like it says up top: you should go to Giulia, in that part of Cambridge that is equally inconvenient to both Harvard Square and Porter Square; in that same little area are Simon’s (formerly the best coffee in Cambridge until Crema came to town), Marathon Sports, and the West Side Lounge. M’lady and I have gone to Giulia twice now, and had an absolutely lovely time both times. They have delicious cocktails, and plenty of lovely Italian small plates that even vegetarians such as myself can enjoy. The décor is warm, cozy, and inviting, such that I’m sure Giulia will be a welcoming destination in the dead of winter.