July 2, 2017

Minneapolis is going Seattle one better … and the results will be even worse

Filed under: Business, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Tim Worstall explains why, despite all the pious hopes that significant increases in the minimum wage won’t negatively impact employment or take-home pay, Minneapolis will have measurably worse outcomes:

Minneapolis has just passed an ordinance making the minimum wage in that fine city $15 an hour at some point in the near future — the effects of this will be worse than the effects of the similar Seattle ordinance raising the minimum wage there to $15 an hour. I agree that this is an unpopular prediction but it’s one that I’ll still stick with for the interesting bit is that I predicted the effect of the Seattle rise correctly. I even managed to get right why it would go bad. This is not, sadly, because I have a crystal ball, nor am endowed with super-powers, it’s just that I understand the basic economics of the minimum wage.

The details of which are that modest rises in the minimum wage don’t have much effect. They don’t have much effect on wages and thus they don’t have much effect upon employment. Changes which are at best “Meh, marginal” have effects which are at best “Meh, marginal.” The problem with Seattle’s minimum wage rise was that it wasn’t marginal, the problem with that in Minneapolis is that it is even less so.


But why isn’t it all going to be wondrous? If we just insist that poor people should be paid higher wages then why won’t it all become copacetic? Well, this was tried in Seattle. And the results weren’t that way. We have the actual academic study of why and it’s just as conventional economics predicts. Modest rises in the minimum wage have modest effects, immodest rises have immodest. Which leaves us with trying to define immodest.

As I’ve been saying for some yeare now that definition of immodest seems to be 45 to 50 % of median wage in that labour market. We don’t usually have median wages by city, only by a rather larger economic unit. But Seattle’s area median is higher than that of Minneapolis. When we look at the cities, the mean is higher in Seattle than in Minneapolis.

We already know that $15 an hour is too high a minimum wage for Seattle, it leads to lower incomes for low wage workers. The Minneapolis $15 an hour minimum wage is higher compared to local wages–the effects will be worse.

June 27, 2017

Seattle sees some negative effects from their latest minimum wage hike

Filed under: Business, Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ben Casselman and Kathryn Casteel report for FiveThirtyEight on initial reports from Seattle after their most recent increase in the city’s minimum wage rules:

In January 2016, Seattle’s minimum wage jumped from $11 an hour to $13 for large employers, the second big increase in less than a year. New research released Monday by a team of economists at the University of Washington suggests the wage hike may have come at a significant cost: The increase led to steep declines in employment for low-wage workers, and a drop in hours for those who kept their jobs. Crucially, the negative impact of lost jobs and hours more than offset the benefits of higher wages — on average, low-wage workers earned $125 per month less because of the higher wage, a small but significant decline.

“The goal of this policy was to deliver higher incomes to people who were struggling to make ends meet in the city,” said Jacob Vigdor, a University of Washington economist who was one of the study’s authors. “You’ve got to watch out because at some point you run the risk of harming the people you set out to help.”

The paper’s findings are preliminary and have not yet been subjected to peer review. And the authors stressed that even if their results hold up, their research leaves important questions unanswered, particularly about how the minimum wage has affected individual workers and businesses. The paper does not, for example, address whether displaced workers might have found jobs in other cities or with companies such as Uber that are not included in their data.

Still, despite such caveats, the new research is likely to have big political implications at a time when the minimum wage has returned to the center of the economic policy debate. In recent years, cities and states across the country have passed laws and ordinances that will push their minimum wages as high as $15 over the next several years. During last year’s presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton called for the federal minimum wage to be raised to $12, and she faced pressure from activists to propose $15 instead. (The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour.) Recently, however, the minimum-wage movement has faced backlash from conservatives, with legislatures in some states moving to block cities from increasing their local minimums.

September 18, 2016

Progressives who suffer from small-c conservatism

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer explains why many “progressives” are actually driven by very conservative ideas:

Begin with a libertarian goal that should be agreeable to most Progressives — people should be able to live the way they wish. Add a classic Progressive goal — we need more low income housing. Throw in a favored Progressive lifestyle — we want to live in high density urban settings without owning a car.

From this is born the great idea of micro-housing, or one room apartments averaging less than 150 square feet. For young folks, they are nicer versions of the dorms they just left at college, with their own bathroom and kitchenette.

Ahh, but then throw in a number of other concerns of the Progressive Left, as administered by a city government in Seattle dominated by the Progressive Left. We don’t want these poor people exploited! So we need to set minimum standards for the size and amenities of apartments. We need to make sure they are safe! So they must go through extensive design reviews. We need to respect the community! So existing residents are given the ability to comment or even veto projects. We can’t trust these evil corporations building these things on their own! So all new construction is subject to planning and zoning. But we still need to keep rents low! So maximum rents are set at a number below what can be obtained, particularly given all these other new rules.

As a result, new micro-housing development has come to a halt. A Progressive lifestyle achieving Progressive goals is killed by Progressive regulatory concerns and fears of exploitation. How about those good intentions, where did they get you?

The moral of this story comes back to the very first item I listed, that people should be able to live the way they wish. Progressives feel like they believe this, but in practice they don’t. They don’t trust individuals to make decisions for themselves, because their core philosophy is dominated by the concept of exploitation of the powerless by the powerful, which in a free society means that they view individuals as idiotic, weak-willed suckers who are easily led to their own doom by the first clever corporation that comes along.

Postscript: Here is a general lesson for on housing affordability: If you give existing homeowners and residents the right (through the political process, through zoning, through community standards) to control how other people use their property, they are always, always, always going to oppose those other people doing anything new with that property. If you destroy property rights in favor of some sort of quasi-communal ownership, as is in the case in San Francisco, you don’t get some beautiful utopia — you get stasis. You don’t get progressive experimentation, you get absolute conservatism (little c). You get the world frozen in stone, except for prices that continue to rise as no new housing is built. Which interestingly, is a theme of one of my first posts over a decade ago when I wrote that Progressives Don’t Like Capitalism Because They Are Too Conservative.

September 23, 2015

In debt to the bank? Underwater on your mortgage? You might want to check the document carefully…

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At The Intercept, David Dayen says that there are a lot of sketchy documents that banks are hoping will stand up in court, but they might well be wrong:

A Seattle housing activist on Wednesday uploaded an explosive land-record audit that the local City Council had been sitting on, revealing its far-reaching conclusion: that all assignments of mortgages the auditors studied are void.

That makes any foreclosures in the city based on these documents illegal and unenforceable, and makes the King County recording offices where the documents are located a massive crime scene.

The problems stem from the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS), an entity banks created so they could transfer mortgages privately, saving them billions of dollars in transfer fees to public recording offices. In Washington state, MERS’ practices were found illegal by the State Supreme Court in 2012. But MERS continued those practices with only cosmetic changes, the audit found.

That finding has national implications. Every state has its own mortgage laws, and some of the audit’s conclusions may not necessarily apply elsewhere. But it shows how MERS reacted to being caught defrauding the public by trying to sneak through foreclosures anyway. Combined with evidence in other parts of the country, like the failure to register out-of-state business trusts in Montana, it suggests that the mortgage industry has been inattentive to and dismissive of state foreclosure laws.

September 2, 2015

Seattle is considering implementing rent control

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Megan McArdle on the things Seattle may learn — painfully — if they fail to heed the experiences of other cities that have implemented rent control:

So I see that Seattle is considering rent control. For a columnist who covers economic issues, this is a little bit like hearing that residents are debating how big to make the reet pleats on their zoot suits. It’s hard to get economists to agree on much of anything, but as Alex Tabarrok notes, this is an area of rare consensus among economists: Rent control creates more problems than it solves.

If you want a vivid example of what those problems look like, you can do no better than a letter written by a resident of Stockholm to the good citizens of Seattle, quoted by Tabarrok: “Seattle, you need to ask your citizens this: How would citizens like it if they walked into a rental agency and the agent told them to register and come back in 10 years? … Stockholm City Council now has an official housing queue, where 1 day waiting = 1 point. To get an apartment you need both money for the rent and enough points to be the first in line. Recently an apartment in inner Stockholm became available. In just 5 days, 2000 people had applied for the apartment. The person who got the apartment had been waiting in the official housing queue since 1989!”

Now, Stockholm is extreme. But the general effect always goes in the same direction. Rent control creates two classes of tenants: people who have the right to rent at below-market rates, and renters who would like to get a long-term lease on an apartment, but cannot, or must pay through the nose for a limited number of uncontrolled properties. Meanwhile, landlords let the quality of the existing stock decline and become very reluctant to build new housing that they can’t make a profit on.

This is not some sort of arcane secret that has not reached the policy analysts in our nation’s fair metropolises. They’re well aware of what rent control does. So why is it ever on the table?

January 24, 2015

Hey, young’uns? Wanna feel old? It’s over 20 years since Nirvana’s last concert

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At risk of alienating some of my younger friends — it’s already more than two decades since Nirvana’s final concert:

Yes, it’s been over 20 years now since Nirvana played their last show, and if you’re old enough to have been there, go ahead and take a moment of silence to mourn your lost youth. Given the relative paucity of raw, authentic-sounding guitar rock these days, it’s tempting to romanticize the nineties as halcyon days, but that kind of nostalgia should be tempered by an honest accounting of the tedious flood of grunge-like also-rans the corporate labels released upon us after Nirvana’s mainstream success. In a certain sense, the demise of that band and death of its leader marks the end of so-called “alternative” rock (whatever that meant) as a genuine alternative. After Nirvana, a deluge of growly, angsty, and not especially listenable bands took over the airwaves and festival circuits. Before them — well, if you don’t know, ask your once-hip aunts and uncles.

January 14, 2015

Dave Grohl’s demo tapes

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Open Culture, Josh Jones talks about Dave Grohl’s early work while he was still a member of Nirvana:

Like ‘em or lump ‘em, you should give ‘em credit — Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters have kind of redefined the concept album with their latest, Sonic Highways, pushing a tired form in a refreshing direction. Rather than a self-contained narrative, the record opens itself up to tell the stories of rock ‘n’ roll itself or, as Allmusic puts it, “the classic rock that unites the U.S. from coast to coast.” Picking up where his celebratory film Sound City left off, Grohl ties in his newest release with a series of HBO documentaries that visit cities from New York, to Nashville, Austin, New Orleans, L.A., Washington, DC., and Seattle to tell their musical stories.

Of course, the musical history of that last metropolis cannot be narrated without reference to Grohl’s former band, and so, Consequence of Sound informs us, “Nirvana received heavy focus during the [Seattle Sonic Highways] episode as Dave Grohl recounted his time in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame outfit. Among the biggest revelations was the time Kurt Cobain asked to hear solo recordings Grohl had been working on during Nirvana’s 1992 tour.”

    “Kurt heard that, and kissed me on the face, as he was in a bath,” Grohl revealed. “He was so excited. He was like, ‘I heard you recorded some stuff with Barrett [Jones].’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Let me hear it.’ I was too afraid to be in the same room as he listened to it.”

December 29, 2014

Western states and the female franchise

Filed under: History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:19

An interesting story from Maggie McNeill, discussing the career of Lou Graham, Seattle’s most famous madam:

As Thaddeus Russell explains in A Renegade History of the United States, the reason so many western states gave women the right to vote long before the eastern ones (or the country in general) had absolutely nothing to do with high-minded egalitarianism and everything to do with pragmatism and arse-kissing. You see, frontier populations are always disproportionately male because they tend to lack the sort of amenities “good” women tend to want. Accordingly, frontier towns fill up with lonely young men desperate for female company and usually possessed of money drawn from whatever industry the town is built on (whether that be mining, trapping, trade or whatever). Naturally, whores arrive to capitalize on this and so the minority of frontier populations which are female are usually made up largely of working girls. These ladies soon amass a disproportionate share of the wealth, and madams tend to become fabulously wealthy; in order to win their favor (the better to secure donations and investment in civic projects), city fathers all over the western US granted them suffrage. Seattle did this on November 23rd, 1883 and almost immediately regretted it; by the time the city had actually granted suffrage, the whores had been outnumbered by recently-arrived “good” women, who immediately repaid the “bad” sisters who had won the vote for them by electing “progressive” prohibitionists to enact new laws (and vigorously enforce old ones) restricting saloons, brothels, gambling and other “vices”. The result, naturally, was a dramatic loss of tax and license revenue, and by the time women’s suffrage was revoked by judicial fiat in 1887-88 the city’s finances were in shambles.

Talk about your unintended consequences!

June 4, 2014

A real-life experiment – does a higher minimum wage cause job losses?

Filed under: Business, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Seattle just changed their minimum wage to $15 per hour (that’s the city, but not the surrounding suburbs). Tim Worstall outlines what we may see in this handy real world economic experiment:

The first and most obvious effect of a $15 an hour minimum is that there are going to be job losses. Don’t forget that the message from the academic literature is that “modest” increases in the minimum don’t seem to have “much” effect on employment levels. And we’d all agree that a $100 minimum would have rather large effects. So our puzzle here is to try to decide what is the definition of “modest”. Clearly $100 an hour isn’t. But also we can dismiss something like $1 an hour as being problematic. Since no one at all gets paid a sum that small making the minimum $1, or $1.50, has no effect on anything whatsoever.

The best result we have from the academic literature is that a minimum wage in the 40-45% region of the median wage has little to no effect on unemployment. The reason being similar to that of a $1 one. So few people get paid so little that it just doesn’t affect the wages of anyone very much. The same research tells us that once we get to 45-50% of the median wage then we do start to see significant unemployment effects.

This $15 an hour in Seattle will be around 60% of the local median wage. We would therefore expect to see reasonably large unemployment effects.

We would also expect to see unemployment among high school graduates rise very much more than the rate in general. For this minimum applies only inside the City of Seattle: it doesn’t apply to the surrounding counties or suburbs that aren’t part of that political jurisdiction. Imagine that you were a college graduate having to do some basic work to make ends meet while you were waiting for that career opening. If you’re going to get $7.25 outside Seattle and $15 inside it you’d probably be willing to make the trip each day to earn that extra. Of course, as a high school graduate you would too. But now think of yourself as the employer. You’ve got the choice of a college graduate or a high school graduate, both willing to do the same job at the same price. Who are you going to hire? Logically, the higher grade worker, that college grad.

So we would expect minimum wage jobs within Seattle to be colonised by those college grads at the expense of those high school ones. We would therefore expect to see a much larger rise in the unemployment rate of those high school grads as against the general unemployment rate. In fact, we’d expect to see this happening so strongly that we’d take the empirical evidence of that widening unemployment gap to be evidence that it was this minimum wage rise causing it.

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