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Politics and Economics

The Net Price of a Public College Education in the US

… if you’re on a tight budget and seeking a two- or four-year degree, public colleges are the way to go (unless, of course, a private school is offering a fantastic scholarship package). My basic message is that college degrees from public institutions are usually very affordable. Scary news stories about the cost of getting a degree usually refer to the “sticker price” of colleges, but that’s a ridiculous metric: only the affluent pay anything close to the full sticker price. What’s important is the net price of college - that is, after grants and scholarships.

Neighborhood Matters: Increase Residential Mobility, Decrease Inequality

Back in the day, I ran an adult education and vocational training program in Chester, Pennsylvania. At the time, Chester had the highest unemployment and crime rates in the state of Pennsylvania. The program’s ultimate goal was to find decent jobs for our students. That would have been impossible if their job search were limited to Chester. The jobs were in Philly - around 30 minutes away by train. Unfortunately, many students were terrified at the prospect of going to Philadelphia; some had never been there their entire life. So field trips to Philadelphia became part of the curriculum.

With Liberty, Justice, and More Disposable Income for All

In 1960, food, clothing, housing, healthcare, and transportation accounted for 86% of household spending. That left just 14% for everything else. In 2017, food, clothing, housing, and healthcare accounted for 73% of household spending… Progress has been made.

Which Legacy Counts? The Case of Racial Differences in Homeownership, Part II

According to a 2006 HUD report covering the period of 1990 - 2003, close to half of low-income buyers did not sustain home ownership for more than five years. However, HUD found no evidence that first-time buyers were systematically using higher cost or riskier mortgage products during this period. Instead the report noted that “the share of low-income home buyers with severe payment burdens (over half of income) rose from 14.5% of buyers in the first part of the 1990s to 20.1% by 2003”.

Which Legacy Counts? The Case of Racial Differences in Homeownership, Part I

So many questions! For instance, why do government policies that ended over 50 years ago count more towards the “legacy” than more recent policies? Is homeownership a necessary condition for social mobility? When does homeownership undermine social mobility? How much does wealth facilitate social mobility? What other factors come into play?

Why Is There So Much More Homelessness in Oakland than San Diego?

This was a very bad year for Oakland, California: poor town was just revealed to have the highest per capita homeless rate in the state. What’s going on here? My initial thought was that it must be Oakland’s homeless policy… Then I noticed that San Diego doesn’t have near the homelessness problem as Oakland, despite having beautiful weather (making living outside still awful but a bit more tolerable than being on the streets in Chicago). So I decided to dig deeper.

How Owning a Small Business Changes One's Politics (Update)

Which is why it makes total sense to me that small business owners are more likely to be Republicans than Democrats. One, the vast majority of small business owners work long hours – so the Republican emphasis on hard work resonates with them. Two, the vast majority of small business owners make less than $100K a year; they don’t see themselves as part of an “elite establishment” but as hard-working common folk pursuing the American Dream – another Republican theme. Three, over two-thirds of small businesses fail within 10 years, so owners are sensitive to government policies that impact their bottom line.  Four, even when small businesses beat the odds, it typically takes decades for owners to strike it rich.  As far as these lucky few are concerned, their riches are deserved, not the result of unfair privilege.

How We Think about Luck, Hard Work, and Social Justice: It's All Related

While disagreements about the importance of luck versus work are often framed as matters of degree, there is a school of thought that subsumes hard work within the higher-order category of luck - basically reducing the role of hard work to zero. The argument goes something like this: yeah, some people work really hard to get where they are, but the reason they’re able to work so hard is because they were lucky enough to have been born into privileged circumstances (e.g., parents, neighborhood, schools, connections). In other words, it all boils down to luck.

Neither Right Nor Left Nor In-Between: Thinking Outside The Line

There is no natural connection between being pro-business and anti-environment. Nor natural connection between embracing gender fluidity and advocating for a more generous social welfare system. Nor between being a fiscal conservative and an evangelical Christian. These political orientations are correlated in the US, not because they “naturally” go together but because the American system of government favors a two-party system, which is turn favors broad coalitions. This is not the case in European countries with strong multi-party traditions, where you find much greater mixing of political views than in the US.

What's Worse: Our Side Losing or Their Side Winning?

So on one side we have a racist president who has pushed some decent policies that have improved the lives of most Americans. On the other, we have …the Democrats, who promise to undo those policies and usher in the new era of Payback. Then again Trump doesn’t care about the environment or the possibility of climate change….

Crossing the Southwest Border from 2000-2018: Are There Any Clear Patterns?

No doubt these Central American countries remain violent and unsafe - but the changing numbers of families leaving for the US appear unrelated to homicides rates. Guatemala in particular has seen declining homicides for a decade and has a much lower homicide rate than El Salvador and Honduras, yet the number of Guatemalan families apprehended at the border has skyrocketed over the past three years

Astrology, Political Attitudes and Party Affiliation

…twice as many Democrats as Republicans consider astrology “very” scientific and Republicans are more likely than Democrats to consider astrology “not at all” scientific. What’s going on here? Is there a solid scientific case for believing in astrology?

Behind The Headlines: "Wealthy Opponents of New Shelter Claim Homeless Are Bad for Environment"


“This project will have a significant effect on the environment due to these unusual circumstances, including by attracting additional homeless persons, open drug and alcohol use, crime, daily emergency calls, public urination and defecation, and other nuisances,” the lawsuit states.

Opponents of the shelter have long said that their ultimate concern is public safety, a point that homeless rights advocates have argued was bigoted and dehumanizing.