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Politics and Economics

California's Gig-Worker Law Just Passed - to the Advantage of Some Workers and Detriment of Others

Occupations granted exemptionsd from the new law include physicians, accountants, direct sellers, real estate agents, hairstylists and barbers, aestheticians, commercial fishermen, marketing professionals, travel agents, graphic designers, grant writers, fine artists, enrolled agents, payment processing agents, repossession agents, and human resources administrators.

Occupations that were not granted an exemption include: franchise owners, owner-operator truck drivers, nurse anesthetists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, optometrists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, radiation therapists, marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, respiratory therapists and audiologists, language translators, janitors, youth sports coaches, construction workers, manicurists, medical technicians, nightclub strippers, and software coders.

Behind The Headlines: How Much Do Uber Drivers Really Make?

Excuse me, but if you’re going to compare the earnings of independent contractors and employees, you have to consider the tax consequences of being an independent contractor. Why? Because they get very generous expense deductions by virtue of being self-employed. And if you’re referring to the wage of an employee, then you need to also indicate the pre-tax wage. After all, political arguments for a higher minimum or living wage always use the pre-tax wage as the aspirational reference point, e.g. $15 an hour (which would be roughly $12.51 an hour after taxes). ….So here are the right comparisons and the right figures…

Which is More? What Profit Takes or What Profit Gives Back?

Of course, the spill-over effects of capitalist greed are not all conducive to the common good. And so the government must step in and tame the wild beast without killing its spirit. Not an easy task but a task made easier by a clear understanding of how capitalism works its magic in specific cases. It’s one thing to say a free market lifts all boats and quite another to appreciate how this happens on the ground (or in the water).

Reconciling the Politics of Responsibility and the Politics of Conviction

As an imaginary politician, I care deeply about the environment, affordable housing, universal healthcare, maintaining a robust economy, the value of work, and the “American Project”: the idea of unity in diversity as we work together for the common good. Then I chill the passion to develop specific policy goals and proposals. And I make sure my proposed policies do not become an end in themselves but are easily scaled back, revised or reversed if they don’t work.

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.