Archive | November 2015

Slowing of Growth

In How Demographics Rule the Global Economy, the Wall Street Journal offers seven interesting articles – Population Implosion, The End of Cheap Labor, Manufacturing Bust, Girl’s Life, Gender Gap, Promise of Youth, and Aging Gracefully – on how demographics may affect the world economy, particularly the growth paradigm.

Ever since the global financial crisis, economists have groped for reasons to explain why growth in the U.S. and abroad has repeatedly disappointed, citing everything from fiscal austerity to the euro meltdown. They are now coming to realize that one of the stiffest headwinds is also one of the hardest to overcome: demographics.

Next year, the world’s advanced economies will reach a critical milestone. For the first time since 1950, their combined working-age population will decline, according to United Nations projections, and by 2050 it will shrink 5%. The ranks of workers will also fall in key emerging markets, such as China and Russia. At the same time the share of these countries’ population over 65 will skyrocket.

There are a great many charts, some of which may be accurate, others of which may be skewed to satisfy the WSJ editorial view. The authors repeat the usual claims that Malthus definitively predicted a Malthusian catastrophe, which I discussed in Dissing Malthus Again, and that Ehrlich and the Club of Rome were wrong to be wary of overpopulation. They take a shot at Alvin Hansen, a Keynesian who advocated government spending to get us out of the Great Depression when he should have known that World War II would do the trick.

Probably the biggest takeaway is that the West will skew older and older while the far more populous Asia skews younger but so decidedly male that brides are already hard to find. Only Africa seems to be on track to continued population growth:

Simply put: A baby boom will lift the poorest continent on Earth into the center of global affairs. Africa will soon become the world’s most reliable source of new life: of college graduates, young workers and budding consumers.

It should be noted that the WSJ article does not consider the effects of climate change, protracted proxy wars, or refugee relocation in these expectations.

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Freedom Toast

Everyone loves Paris this week, but during the US invasion of Iraq, I was in a community theatre musical in Connecticut. At the cast party some of my castmates made a big deal of having wines that weren’t from France. Those were the days of saying, “freedom fries,” instead of, “french fries,” because we were all supposed to be pissed off at France for not supporting the coalition of the willing. Republican Chairman Bob Ney even had french fries and french toast renamed on the menus at Congressional cafeterias.

But now, all is forgiven. Over a hundred Parisians and tourists have died for our willingness to invade the wrong country, destabilize the region, and fund and arm the terrorists that have become ISIS, ISIL, Da’esh or whatever they are called now.

The rest of us will live under increased surveillance, anxiety and fear.

The Economy is Less Bad For Some, Still Bad For Others

FiveThirty-Eight offers a thoughtful article with a misleading title: The Economy is Better. Why Don’t Voters Believe It?

This is one of the central paradoxes of the 2016 presidential campaign. The economy is, by virtually any measure, drastically improved from when President Obama took office nearly seven years ago. And yet poll after poll reveals a national electorate that is deeply skeptical of that progress. In one recent Wall Street Journal poll, more than half of voters said the economic and political system was “stacked against people like me.” That sense of alienation has fueled the insurgent candidacies of Trump and Bernie Sanders, and led even establishment candidates to emphasize inequality, middle-class stagnation and related issues.

I write ‘misleading’ because FiveThirty-Eight answers their own question, but refuses to accept it.

The easiest explanation for this paradox is that it isn’t a paradox at all: Americans are pessimistic about the economy because, for many of them, the economy hasn’t gotten better. Unemployment is down, but incomes are flat. Millions of Americans left the labor force in the recession and haven’t returned. Millions more are stuck in low-wage jobs or are working part time because they can’t find full-time work.

Since the Great Recession, hardly anyone trusts the people that tell us the economy is great (cough, Jim Cramer, cough, Ben Stein, cough). We don’t even believe Robert Reich when he tells us that we can grow our way out of debt.

Many of us are spending more on necessities, and giving up luxuries. Many of us know people that are essentially unemployed, living off relatives, and abusing alcohol, meth, even heroin. One might dismiss them as ne’er-do-wells, but most of these people used to have good jobs.

FiveThirty-Eight goes on to show us all sorts of people that are doing well – but so what. I know some people that are doing well. I just know more that aren’t.

Older Bike, Younger Knees

In April I wrote about experiencing more and more knee pain after several years of riding my 2004 Xootr Swift increasingly longer distances, and more frequently, to work. One of the problems was that the clamps holding the saddle weren’t tight enough. Even if I got the saddle at the right height after unfolding, it could slowly slide down while I was riding. Fixing the saddle at the proper height with a clamp, was an improvement – but not enough.

In August, I heard/felt a noise from the rear wheel. I saw that a three inch segment of the Swift’s rear rim was pushing out and grabbing the pad during every rotation. While Light St Cycles was working on that in Baltimore, I had my 1988 Trek 1100, a full size road bike, refurbished at Pedal Power in Altoona. I brought the Trek to Baltimore and started riding it to and from work. The dimensions of the Trek are almost identical to those of my custom-fit Serotta, and I soon noticed that my knees weren’t hurting after commuting on the Trek every day.

A cycling buddy at work advised me that saddle height was important, but so were ‘stack’ and ‘reach’ – which define the distance from the pedal hub to the handlebars. I measured, and the Swift’s reach is much shorter than my other bikes. I could have tried a much longer handlebar stem, but instead I have just continued to ride the Trek.

Fortunately I now ride the light rail early, and there are so few passengers that I no longer need a folding bike in the morning. The Trek is not as compact as a folded Swift, but does fit under my desk. And since I ride home, I don’t have to deal with a crowded train at rush hour.

It has been well over a month since I felt any knee pain at all. I now have the Swift setup with grocery bags for one mile rides to the nearby stores, but ride the old Trek to and from work.

A Near Miss

I got up this first workday morning back on Eastern Standard Time, at the same time by the clock, but an hour later in reality. I biked to the light rail station, and caught the usual train, which was unusually empty. “To work, James,” I said to the empty car.

After getting off at Convention Center, I always pass a dignified woman of a certain age walking the other way, then wait for the train operator to either ring the bell or wave me by the tracks. This morning the train went first. After it passed, the light on Howard changed to red, and I got a crossing signal. It was still dark, and I always wait to see if the drivers are really going to stop. A city bus braked in the lane closest to me, and a car slowed just behind in the third lane away. Usually that would have been good enough for me to start across the six lanes to the Convention Center sidewalk, but for some reason I hesitated.

Several seconds after the light changed a nondescript white sedan shot out from between the stopped bus and the stopped car. I watched it go by and felt very lucky. Even with my three front lights and reflective jacket, the driver would not have seen me around the bus until too late, and would not have had time to stop before broadsiding me in the crossing lane.

Later, Penny told me that a couple riding a tandem on Tobacco Road in Calvert County, at 3 PM, had been struck and killed by a Jeep Cherokee driven by a drunk driver. Link here. She was incensed that the driver was out on bail.