27 February 2013
Partisanship, Poverty & Paychecks
In his State of the Union address, President Obama issued a challenge: "Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour." On this he finds support from Governor Cuomo, who proposes increasing the New York State minimum wage because, among other things, it "reduces poverty."
Conservatives, of course, reject these proposed increases. Raising the minimum wage, they insist, will kill jobs, especially low-wage jobs. Commentator David Brooks made this claim on PBS immediately following the State of the Union address.
And House Speaker John Boehner quickly tried to puncture the president's proposal: "When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it. At a time when American people are asking, 'Where are the jobs?' why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?" Brooks and Boehner are pushing familiar talking points: minimum-wage legislation has negative consequences and there are better ways to address poverty.
As is frequently the case, our politicians and media analysts are roundly mistaken. Consider the conservative reaction. Economists have great difficulty establishing any significant negative relation between modest increases in the minimum wage and declines in employment levels.
Moreover, the common claim that low-wage workers are typically teenagers or are working part time – and so not "really" poor – is misleading. Projections conducted by the Economic Policy Institute regarding the impact of a higher federal minimum wage suggest a vast majority of those affected would be over 20. A majority would be women. Most would be working full time. And nearly 30 percent of those affected would be parents.
Finally, conservatives often insist that targeted programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit are a better way to alleviate poverty than minimum wage legislation. This too is debatable. On the one hand, such tax policies largely represent a hidden subsidy to employers who are spared the burden of paying reasonable wages. On the other hand, they might actually dampen wages because employers assume, often erroneously, that their workers will be eligible for a tax break. For that reason tax credits are better understood as complementing rather than replacing minimum wage legislation.
If conservative skepticism seems merely to mask basic resistance to government intervention, the Democratic case is overly optimistic. The federal poverty level for a family of four was $23,050 for 2012. Imagine, as President Obama suggests, we increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. That means a full-time minimum wage worker would earn a gross annual income of $18,720. If she lives on her own, this would sustain her above the federal poverty level for individuals. But if the worker has a family, it obviously falls well short.
Our point is not that the president and governor are wrong to recommend raising the minimum wage. Doing so, even to the levels being proposed, can make many people better off. But doing so is quite unlikely to propel many households out of poverty.
This hardly is an abstract complaint. It is directly relevant to Rochester where, in 2011, the overall poverty rate stood at over 29 percent and where just over 43 percent of all children lived in poverty. Raising the minimum wage can go some way to mitigating economic hardship in the city. But it would be only a start. It is the least we can do.
Susan Orr is assistant professor of political science at SUNY College at Brockport. James Johnson is professor of political science at the University of Rochester. They live in Hamlin.
26 February 2013
Charles Simic at Aperture
"In one of the older issues, Minor White had an essay called “What is Meant by ‘Reading’ Photographs” that made a big impression on me. He writes in it about hearing photographers often say that if they could write they would not take pictures. With me, I realized, it was the other way around. If I could take pictures, I would not write poems—or at least, this is what I thought every time I fell in love with some photograph in the office, in many cases with one that I had already seen, but somehow, to my surprise, failed to properly notice before. There is a wonderful moment when we realize that the picture we’ve been looking at for a long time has become a part of us as much as some childhood memory or some dream we once had. The attentive eye makes the world interesting. A good photograph, like a good poem, is a self-contained little universe inexhaustible to scrutiny."
25 February 2013
Best Shoot (239) ~ Joel Sternfeld
24 February 2013
Best Shot (238) ~ Shadi Ghadirian
23 February 2013
Ivan Martin Jirous ~ leben/werke/zeit
Keeping this blog has had regular unexpected pleasures. I have met (usually no more than virtually) many kind and generous people from all over the world. I also have had numerous 'professional' opportunities as a result of things I've written here. (I use scare quotes because many of my academic colleagues - here in Rochester and elsewhere - look askance at such endeavors.)
A while ago I received an email out of the blue (that is how these things happen) from Barbara Zeidler at the Institut für Kulturresistente Güter (Institute for Culture-Resistant Goods) in Vienna. Barbara explained that she and her colleagues were compiling a book about the recently deceased Ivan "Magor" Jirous and that, in the course of her web explorations, she'd come across this post - "The Lesson of Ivan Jirous" - I had written shortly after the man had died in the fall of 2011. She wondered whether they might include a translation of my very brief comments in the book. And so she has.* I am grateful and honored to be included.
The book release event took place this past week. It is likely you missed it. Likewise, it is unlikely you'll stumble across this book at your local Barnes & Noble. But, if you don't know much about Jirous it is worth your time to find out. He is a wonderful example of how what appear to be irredeemably offbeat, inconsequential lives can have immense influence.
* Barbara Zeidler und Abbé Libansky, eds. 2013. Ivan Martin Jirous ~ leben/werk/zeit. Braumüller GmbH.
Magnum in ROC ~ Fallout
I had planned to write a post on this, I even concocted the map above to discuss relevant local matters. But I find that most of what I have to say is covered at the links above. My bottom line? Pellegrin's rationalization of his behavior displays a stunning lack of professionalism backed by obliviousness, excuses and cliches. I think Micheal's defense of the role of critic undermines the hand-wringing of journalists who think he ought to have contacted Pellegrin prior to making his initial post. I don't think Michael had any obligation to do so and, given Pellegrin's reply, there is no reason to think anything would have been gained had he done so.
19 February 2013
Local Event ~ Juliet Schor at SUNY Brockport
If you are concerned about issues of sustainability and how they impact economic and social arrangements int he U.S. I highly recommend coming out.
18 February 2013
Picturing Rochester ~ This is 'News'?
(A house search. But the drug trade has survived this.)
Photograph © Paolo Pellegrin für ZEITmagazin.
Last month I offered these critical comments about a project that Paolo Pellegrin did on Rochester last spring. Well, the series has taken 2nd Prize in the General News Stories category of the World Press Photo. In my earlier comments I was pretty harsh about Pellegrin's project as an exemplar of photojournalism. My question for the judges at World Press Photo is this - where is the "News" here? The poverty, crime, racial conflict and segregation, and so forth in Rochester that Pellegrin depicts surely do not qualify. And Rochester hardly is unique in being afflicted by such blights. I have, in the past, been extremely critical here of the World Press Photo awards. Not much has changed.
The Fall & Rise of Occupy Wall Street
"A year and a half after the takeover of Zuccotti Park there exists a widespread conviction that Occupy Wall Street ultimately failed, and that it did so for lack of commitment, organization, and clear objectives. [. . .] But it has become increasingly clear that OWS didn’t fizzle because its objectives were too muddled or its talk too abstract or its organization too chaotic. In fact, the movement was undone by a concerted government effort to undo it."
Madrick persuasively argues two things: OWS neither failed nor fizzled. It accomplished several things - including focusing attention on glaring political economic inequalities that somehow escaped attention - and was actively suppressed.*
* And, for those who think this is just so much paranoid whining, here is a report from the Assembly Rights & Protest Project documenting the unjustified and illegal violent tactics the government used to suppress OWS in New York City.
14 February 2013
I am now not sure just where I came across this project - Self-Evident Truths by iO Tillett Wright. But it consists in a remarkable set of portraits, initiated in 2010 of "anyone that felt like they qualified to fall on some part of the LGBTQ spectrum, from bisexual, to transgender"and " intended to humanize the very varied face of gays in America today." The project started out as small but has burgeoned and is ongoing. Very nice, forceful work. And what I like most, perhaps, is that Wright invokes not the Constitution but the Declaration of Independence.
13 February 2013
Political Science In The News: They Say Political Science is Arcane and Silly. And They Say That As Though It Is A Bad Thing!
Such responses are nearly enough to make one stop at snickering. But what if we wanted to be constructive? If we are reasonable and self-reflective we might grant that much political science research has no obvious public relevance. But where, if anywhere, does the difficulty lie? There is lots of natural science research with no obvious public relevance. It is hard to make such research relevant (however we define that notion).* And it is expensive too. My own university just spent buckets of money a building dedicated to "translational science" to help push biomedical research conducted in the Medical School from the lab closer to potential treatment applications. And, biomedical research is not typically 'pure' science so the distance to 'relevance' is relatively short in this domain. Why should we assume that it will be easier to make that translation from legitimate theoretical inquiry in social sciences? Ferenstein is correct: "the discipline of political science lacks a system for turning abstract research into practical outcomes." There have been attempts - starting Perspectives on Politics (in part)**, individual forays into journalistic outlets or non-academic publishing, The Monkey Cage. But those hardly are systematic. How might we remedy that?
What we do know is that journalism is part of the problem. Most journalists are ill-prepared and/or unwilling to understand social science. Need an example? Consider this meme: given the polarization of American politics 'both parties are to blame.' Unfortunately, that meme is false. Journalists are bending over backwards to maintain the appearance of neutrality or objectivity instead of actually reporting what is very well established. Need another example: It we raise the minimum wage there will be immediate, significant negative impact on employment rates. (David Brooks out is out this canard on PBS following the State of the Union address last night.) Journalists typically are disabled in replying to such nonsense.
Then there are the entities that are meant to take up "social science" and make it relevant to the 'real world' - public opinion polling? think tanks? Much of what passes for "research" in such entities is too easily dismissed as being either ideologically driven, commercially oriented or simply mistaken (remember the way Clinton relied on the idea of 'primordial conflicts' to justify sitting on our hands in the face of genocide in Rwanda and the Balkans? Remember George W. Bush invoking the 'democratic peace' in order to rationalize unjustifiable military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan?) One thing that makes academic research defensible is that there is at least the gesture toward quality control.
Finally, is "relevance" an easy criterion to endorse? Anyone who has read Sasha Isenberg's The Victory Lab, should understand why elected politicians might be reluctant to fund certain sorts of political science research. It might be used against them by their adversaries. And anyone who has thought at all about the involvement of the Rand Corporation (say) in the formulation and implementation of military strategies might hesitate to embrace relevance as well. You can surely think of other examples.
Mr. Ferenstein raises some important matters. He then makes a hash of it - mostly, I suspect, from a mix of resentment and misunderstanding. But the topic he puts on the agenda is indeed important for political scientists. Can we set aside the silly parts of Ferenstein's tirade and take up its important parts?
* If you are really interested in this enterprise, I would recommend: Phillip Kitcher. 2006. “Public Knowledge and the Difficulties of Democracy,” Social Research 73:1205-24; Phillip Kitcher. 2011. Science in a Democratic Society. Prometheus Books.
** Full disclosure - I am a former editor.
Labels: political science
12 February 2013
"Black man, Chinese man, penguins" ~ Sports Illustrated
11 February 2013
Crooked Timber Seminar ~ The Priority of Democracy
Starting today Crooked Timber is rolling out this seminar (review symposium) on my book with Jack Knight, The Priority of Democracy: Political Consequences of Pragmatism (Princeton UP, 2011). The critics are Chris Ansell (Berkeley), Melissa Schwartzberg (Columbia), Peter Boettke (George Mason), Ingrid Robeyns (Erasmus), Adrian Vermeule (Harvard), Henry Farrell (George Washington) and Cosma Shalizi (Carnegie Mellon). Jack and I offer a reply. Thanks to Henry for coordinating the affair.
10 February 2013
Why Isn't Your ISP (if you have one) a Utility?
interview Bill Moyers does this week with Susan Crawford on why the US is a disaster in terms of internet access and service.
P.S.: The punchline to the interview is somewhat disappointing. Here it is:
BILL MOYERS: So briefly describe the need.Of course, Crawford wants to be appointed to the Federal Comunications Commission. So she is not able (willing?) to suggest that the solution actually is is something like an Occupy the FCC to put this on the political agenda and keep it there.
SUSAN CRAWFORD: All Americans need a fast, cheap connection to the internet.
BILL MOYERS: And the problem?
SUSAN CRAWFORD: A few companies control access in America and it's not in their interest to bring that fast, cheap access to us all.
BILL MOYERS: And the solution?
SUSAN CRAWFORD: The solution is for people to care about this issue, ask hard questions at every debate, make sure you elect people who will act and give your mayor air cover so that he or she can act to make sure that your city has this fast, competitive access.
Labor & New Deal Art exhibit @ Cleveland Public Library
Bset Shot (237) ~ Candida Höfer
09 February 2013
Passings: Lawrence Douglas "Butch" Morris (1947-2013)
I missed this sad news at the end of last month, but the remarkable composer, cornetist, and conductor (of large improvising ensembles) Lawrence "Butch" Morris has died. You can find an obituary here at The Guardian, another here at The New York Times, and remembrances here and here at NPR and The New Yorker respectively.
Political Science in the News: Brooklyn College and the BDS Fracas (4)
"The Brooklyn College incident, after all, is far from isolated. It is, in fact, symptomatic. The distressing tone and self-defeating tactics of the most vocal elements of the so-called pro-Israeli camp in America have been the rule, not the exception, in recent years, and they are also bound to backfire on us all. [. . .]
Because the sad fact is that far too much of the public discourse on Israel has been dominated and dictated by super-conservatives and ultra-nationalists and the billionaires who fund them. These are people whose visceral hatred for Obama has driven them over the edge, who view any measured or nuanced debate about Israel as treason, who are hell bent on making their observation that liberals are turning away from Israel into a self-fulfilling prophecy. And who usually know very little about the actual Israel they are talking or writing about.
They make mountains out molehills, carve Nazis out of Palestinians, evoke pogroms and massacres from each and every violent incident. They don’t acknowledge the occupation, see nothing wrong with settlements or “Price Tag” violence, turn a blind eye to 46 years of Palestinian disenfranchisement, regardless of whose fault it is. They recognize only one truth, their own, and view all the rest as heresy and abomination. By their narrow definitions, no less than 50% of Israelis who voted in the last elections for parties that support a two-state solution should be condemned – possibly by the U.S. Senate itself – as Israel-hating, Arab-loving defeatists.
This preposterously simplistic portrayal of Israel is bound to backfire. It is dishonest, and therefore self-defeating. It quashes disagreement and abhors true debate. It distances anyone and everyone who does not subscribe to its narrow definitions of what it means to love Israel and to truly support it, warts and all." - Ha'aretz
Best Shot (236) ~ Peter Schlesinger
08 February 2013
RIJF Line Up Meets Expectations
Political Science in the News: Brooklyn College and the BDS Fracas (3)
One Small Step - Batchen on the "Dissemination" of Photography
Labels: Patrick Maynard
06 February 2013
Local Event - Ethnic Heritage Ensemble at Lovin' Cup
04 February 2013
Political Science in the News: Brooklyn College and the BDS Fracas (2)
How Not to Run a Photo Contest
I stumbled across this story at the BBC reporting on a contest to pick the best satellite image of 2012.The image I've lifted above did not win. The prize went to an image of Burning Man. Any chance that the venue for the contest - Facebook - might have biased the sort of participants who 'voted'? Any chance that the typical Facebook user would be familiar with Burning Man but be clueless as to where Mt. Fuji is located? Fuji? Isn't that a film company?
03 February 2013
Harry Belafonte on Guns, Artists and Radicalism
This is a remarkable statement not just about the matter of guns and their impact on the African American population, but about the role of leaders, and especially artists, in advocating radical thought and action. There is a report here at The Guardian.
The Truly Incompetent
My question: How does anything Carly Fiorina has ever done qualify her to speak credibly about anything having to do with politics or economics? Let's see. She ran Hewlett-Packard into the ditch. She moved on to advise the losing McCain campaign, becoming in the process a promoter of the self-promoting Sarah Palin. She then ran for Senate in California, losing by double digits. This, politely, is a record of abject failure. Yet there's Carly, holding forth on This Week as though anyone should care what she has to say.
I'm confident that I could go out to the TOPS in Hamlin and get similar and less ill- informed views from my neighbors. Network TV is pathetic in affording a forum to the truly incompetent. You might think Krugman is an ideologue - you'd be wrong. Regardless, at least he is accomplished in his chosen field of endeavor. Carly Fiorina?
02 February 2013
Prove It! The Latest 'Birther' Angle
I am not a shooter. I don't need to be one in order to appreciate the danger of firearms or to criticize 2nd Amendment fundamentalists. Likewise, I do not use, possess, or traffick in child pornography. I do not not need to have done so to appreciate the harm that it does or to criticize those who do use, possess or traffick in it. I am an absolutist on the second issue. But I am not an absolutist on gun control. Don't ask for a photograph of me shooting. Just take my word for it.
Political Science in the News: Brooklyn College and the BDS Fracas
Having said that, I find the current campaign against colleagues in the Political Science Department at Brooklyn College (CUNY) reprehensible. The Department has voted to co-sponsor a panel discussion - initiated by student groups on campus - about the "Boycott, Divest, Sanction" Campaign (BDS) against Israel. For their trouble they and the College administration have been besieged by alums, the conservative press, and a diverse array of state and local politicians demanding that they rescind their sponsorship. You can find a report in The New York Times here.
Among the leaders of the critics is Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz - yes, he of the arguments for institutionalizing torture as a tool of American foreign policy via judicial warrant - who also is a Brooklyn College alum. Dershowitz is pretty much of a buffoon and his arguments, such as they are, against the Department and against the DBS speakers establish that for those not already so convinced. (I have in mind, for instance, his inability to differentiate sponsoring and endorsing, his inability to differentiate political issues from partisan elections, and his assertion without evidence that faculty in the Department grade students according to their political views, etc.) And Dershowitz, I would add, is among the calmer, more reasoned critics of the Department and the College in this affair. To the best of my knowledge Dershowitz - unlike other critics of the College - has not explicitly and publicly equated criticism of Israeli policy with anti-semitism. That is a sad state.
I recommend this column by Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian for a dissection of events.
Update: Mother Jones reports here.
Update #2: Kieran Healy skewers the critics here at Crooked Timber.