While the Media Keeps Messing Up the $15 Story, One Pseudonymous Blogger Keeps Getting It Right

Seattle certainly isn’t suffering from a shortage of uninformed chatterers with opinions about the $15 minimum wage. But the problem with opinions is that they’re not facts. Q13 Fox can quote a pizza restaurant owner’s charges that the increased minimum wage ran her out of business, but if they don’t investigate the facts behind the situation their report is less than useless, as Paul Constant pointed out this morning. Here’s the thing: really good data analysis is very hard to come by. People get confused, they read the data wrong, they’re not smart enough to determine the actual patterns behind everyday life. A very good data analyst is rarer than a four-leaf clover.

That’s why I was so thrilled to learn about Invictus this morning. Barry Ritholtz explains on his Big Picture blog that Invictus has to keep his identity hidden behind a pseudonym because he “works at a shop that does not allow its staff to publish economic and data analysis outside of their formal imprimatur.” Even though his identity is obscured, Invictus is obsessed with getting to the truth about Seattle’s minimum wage. On Twitter and in posts on the Big Picture, Invictus has been hammering at conservative fear mongering on Seattle’s minimum wage.

Invictus’s biggest fight is against the Washington Policy Center, which has been spreading misleading stories about restaurant closures in Seattle using what he characterizes as “poor, misinformed, and data-free sources” to support their scurrilous charges. The Washington Policy Center says that restaurants in Seattle are closing. Invictus responded with a chart sourced from public information readily available at the King County Office of Economic and Financial analysis:

City of Seattle Food Business Count

That’s some beautiful data right there. It conclusively disproves the claim that Seattle is losing restaurants at a rapid clip, or that restaurant growth is slowing down in anticipation of the increased minimum wage.

Still, the data on that chart doesn’t include April 1st, when Seattle took the first step in our minimum-wage increase, so conservative blogs have been perpetuating the idea that Seattle’s restaurant growth would flatline or even decline as soon as the minimum wage goes up. The Z Pizza story gave them another opportunity to spread that fear around. This morning, Invictus responded with his own fresh chart demonstrating “the NAICS codes for the food service industry in Seattle via up to date licensed business counts” through yesterday. Guess what? The minimum wage doesn’t seem to be hurting food service licenses at all. In fact, they’re way higher than they have been in over a year: 

Seattle NAICS

Look at that chart! I think I’ve got a man-crush on Invictus right now.

Almost a decade ago, Nate Silver’s groundbreaking presidential coverage proved that America was desperately in need of deep, data-driven journalism. The panicked media frenzy over $15 minimum wages demonstrates that we need much more of this kind of factual analysis. Invictus’s research and reportage on this subject is invaluable, and it’s not even his day job!

If you want to know the truth about Seattle’s economy, you’ll stop following @Q13FOX on social media and start following @TBPInvictus. That’s where all the real news is happening.

The Economic Case for Marriage Equality: Why Exclusion is Bad for Business

The Supreme Court this week heard arguments on marriage for same-sex couples. Those arguments represent a fault line in American life: on one side are those who believe our country is made better through exclusion and policies that divide us and on the other side are those who believe our country is improved through inclusion and policies that allow more people to participate.

As you might expect, the arguments the lawyers made revolved around questions of fairness, justice and the role of the state in regulating our relationships. But here’s the thing: out here in the real world, the market (both of ideas and commerce) has already decided this question. The verdict? Inclusion wins.

Don’t get us wrong: it is fair and just to make sure that everyone in America is free to marry the person they love and free from discrimination. But it is also good for business. The states that are fighting for exclusionary laws like marriage bans (we’re looking at you Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee) or “religious freedom” laws (would Louisiana, Indiana, Arkansas and others please stand up?) are endangering their economic future. Americans have rightly realized that bigotry isn’t just morally wrong; it is economically stupid.

Here’s the 21st century reality: inclusion strengthens our country, our institutions, and our economy. And politicians in the twenty-one states fighting to keep their discriminatory marriage practices appear to be totally clueless about how modern technological economies work, and how extreme the competition for talented workers that drive innovation has become.

In the technological economy of the 21st century, growth and prosperity are created through a virtuous cycle between innovation and demand. Innovation is the process by which we solve all human problems, and thus raise living standards. Consumer demand is the mechanism through which markets distribute and incentivize innovation. And it is economic inclusion—the full, robust participation of as many people as possible—that drives both innovation and demand.

Innovation is an evolutionary process and, just like in the biological world, diversity is the key to evolution. The more cognitive diversity we have—the more people simultaneously approaching the same problem from as many different backgrounds and perspectives as possible—the greater the rate of innovation. It’s not how hard you try; it’s how many different ways you try to solve a problem that leads to success. Innovation is driven by differences, not sameness.

The evidence is clear: diversity does not hinder growth—it supercharges it. That has always been America’s competitive advantage: we have the most diverse workforce in the world, and for all our problems, we do a better job of integrating diversity than anyone else. Diversity is America’s most valuable resource; it is what makes us the most innovative nation on Earth.

Corporate America understands this. It’s why hundreds of the country’s most prominent businesses signed on to an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of marriage equality. And it is why 69 percent of large corporations responding to a 2011 Forbes Insight survey reported that they have internal offices overseeing diversity and inclusion strategies, most of them reporting directly to the CEO, board of directors, or other top executives.

It also explains why Wal-Mart pressured Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to refuse to sign that state’s self-destructive religious freedom law. And who can forget the instant uproar from firms national and local about Indiana’s religious freedom law? These aren’t just public relations disasters, they are bad for business, making it harder to attract the diverse and inclusive workforce that is absolutely critical to continued innovation and long-term success in an insanely competitive global market.

Including more people is simply good for business and good for growth. That is why inclusive cities like San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Boston are kicking the daylights out of exclusionary places like Michigan, Tennessee and Indiana. It’s not that LGBT citizens are more innovative, it’s that they add to our diversity and we are collectively more innovative as a result. And the best and the brightest – gay, straight or otherwise – want to work for companies and live in states that foster this dynamic.

Here in Washington State we know something about creating an inclusive environment – we passed comprehensive anti-discrimination laws and were one of the first states in the county to pass marriage for same-sex couples by a popular vote. In fact, some of the most recognizable corporations in the world – Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft and others – were at the forefront of passing marriage equality in Washington State because they understand that diversity attracts diversity. It is a positive feedback loop that has boosted our state’s economy and helped make Seattle the fastest growing big city in America. And as our city grows, it is growing more diverse.

The great danger for exclusionary places is that feedback loops can be positive or negative — they can be virtuous cycles or death spirals. Make it clear that LGBT people or immigrants or other minorities aren’t welcome, and they will flee and so will their allies. Leading businesses that depend on the diversity that drives innovation will look elsewhere to find inclusive communities with a workforce that is the key to success. The best and the brightest will go to where the best jobs are. Left behind will be an increasingly homogenized, narrow, and less competitive population, electing the same kind of leaders who will enact the same kind of laws that chase even more smart people away, creating a “brain-drain” death spiral that both degrades the ability of that place to compete, while simultaneously strengthening competing geographies.

We are unlikely to be able to change the moral reasoning of political leaders who are fighting for discrimination and against marriage equality. But we can surely take advantage of their economic shortsightedness. So, to all of you creative, innovative, different people living in places that have chosen to fight to exclude people rather than include them: The world faces tremendous challenges. They will only be solved by people like you. Come to places like Seattle that will embrace you, and leverage your talents.

We need you. The world needs you. Their loss will be our gain.

Nick Hanauer is a founder of Second Avenue Partners, a venture capital company in Seattle specializing in early-stage startups and emerging technology. He has founded or financed dozens of companies, including aQuantive Inc. and Amazon.com, and is the co-author of two books, “The True Patriot” and “The Gardens of Democracy.”

Zach Silk ran Washington United for Marriage, the successful campaign to pass marriage equality in Washington state in 2012. He is a veteran campaign professional and serial entrepreneur. He is the Chief Troublemaker here at Civic Ventures.

Daily Clips: April 30th, 2015

New Yorker – John Cassidy.

Words are just words, John Cassidy warns us all in his latest piece. But he feels that the latest speeches from Clinton and Obama on criminal justice reform are an encouraging starting place for a necessary pivot from the “lock-em up” mentality that has dominated the public debate in America for so long. The scope of their language on the Baltimore riots, Cassidy claims, is sufficiently broad and acknowledges the complex nature of these issues. As Hillary Clinton said the other day:
I don’t want the discussion about criminal justice, smart policing, to be siloed, and to permit discussions and arguments and debates about it to only talk about that. The conversation needs to be much broader. Because that is a symptom, not a cause, of what ails us today.
Why so many Americans feel powerless: Robert Reich points out how our choices in everyday life are rapidly receding in the 21st century, from airline providers to the political system. He attributes this lack of choice to the rising levels of frustration and powerlessness that pervades our national psyche today.

Minimum wage as a 2016 wedge issue: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will target Senate Republicans who have opposed a minimum wage increase in 2016 elections.

Nonviolence as compliance in Baltimore: The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that “when nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse.”

Z Pizza, the $15 Minimum Wage, and What Q13 Fox Didn’t Tell You

There's more than one way to slice a pizza

There’s more than one way to slice a pizza.

In a story headlined “Owner of pizza shop says new Seattle minimum wage law is forcing her to close,” Q13 Fox’s Tina Patel reports that a Capitol Hill franchise of international pizza chain Z Pizza will close in August. Patel quotes franchise owner Ritu Shah Burnham as saying that Seattle’s new $12 minimum wage for employees of companies with over 500 employees is the cause of the closure. “I’ve let one person go since [the wage increase on] April 1, I’ve cut hours since April 1, I’ve taken them myself because I don’t pay myself,” Shah Burnham told Q13 Fox.

A dozen employees work at that particular Z Pizza, and Shah Burnham expressed concern for their future in the current job market. “I absolutely am terrified for them,” she told Q13 Fox. But then things get weird: “I have no idea where they’re going to find jobs, because if I’m cutting hours, I imagine everyone is across the board,” she said. Uh, that’s a hell of a leap for her to make.

Look, I want to be clear: I feel bad for Shah Burnham and her employees. It’s a terrible thing when any business closes its doors. Owners of businesses—be they franchises or independently owned—work hard. They invest their money, their time, and their dreams in their operations, and they have the added responsibility of providing a livelihood for their employees. It’s not easy.

But it’s ludicrous to apply Z Pizza’s particular situation to every single business in Seattle. The context for that location is important. Z Pizza opened five years ago within a block’s walk to the boomingest business corridor in Seattle, the fastest-growing city in America. Within two minutes’ walk, you could buy an enormous New York-style slice at Big Marios Pizza or beloved local institution Hot Mamas Pizza. A little further away, there’s a Dominos Pizza outpost and a Pagliacci Pizza. If you prefer thin-crust, there’s a Via Tribunali nearby.  That’s a huge array of pizza choices—every style of pizza but Chicago deep dish (which arguably isnt even a pizza)  served by small businesses, venerable local chains, and even other international corporate pizza chains.

And in my experience, Z Pizza wasn’t offering a very compelling product.

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Daily Clips: April 29th, 2015

On Trade: Obama Right, Critics Wrong
New York Times – Thomas Friedman.

While most political commentators today have been focusing on the domestic consequences of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Friedman looks at the TPP through its impact on global affairs. His article acts as a basic defense of liberal foreign policy theory: the US must promote greater engagement and trade with other countries in order to stabilize the world arena and bring about peace. He says:
[T]here has never been a more important time for the coalition of free-market democracies and democratizing states, that are the core of the World of Order, to come together and establish the best rules for global integration for the 21st century, including appropriate trade, labor and environmental standards. These agreements would strengthen the backbone of the World of Order.

Whether you agree with this argument or not, it’s a fresh perspective that should be examined for anyone looking to better understand the TPP and its effects.

Washington Post – Chico Harlan

Between January and March of 2015, the US Gross Domestic Product grew at a rate of 0.2 percent. This number is certainly not great news and heightens concerns about the fragility of the American economy. However, others point to harsh winter weather, low oil prices, and stagnant wages as limiting factors. In this vein, Wells Fargo said in a research note that the US economy “looks poised to repeat the pattern it exhibited in 2014 — a weak Q1 followed by a rebound back to steadier growth for the remainder of the year.”
CNN – Eric Liu

Eric Liu diagnoses the current state of the US after the Baltimore riots. Instead of falling into the normal left-right frames of blaming the other side, Liu reflects on how we, as a people, have come to this moment in time. He appreciates both frames, acknowledging that longstanding structural racism and personal irresponsibility are on display in the Baltimore riots. Liu doesn’t want us to blame the other side, but to alternatively look at ourselves and recognize that our worldview cannot possibly contain all the solutions.  If you want to read an article on how we should examine these riots, Liu’s piece is a must-read.
Salon – Elias Isquith

This is a Q&A session between Salon and Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who has been a vocal critic of income inequality. Here’s an excerpt which gives us a taste of the overall piece:
Q: One of the more middle-of-the-road policy responses to inequality you’ll hear about is improving education. But that point of view also has its critics. What do you think of that approach?

A: That’s sometimes called part of a minimalist apple pie agenda. I’m very convinced that that won’t go far enough and what’s happened in the last fifteen years, has made it even more clear that that won’t go far enough. Since the beginning of the century, even educated people have not been doing very well. They’re only doing well relative to those without a college education. So those without a college education, have seen their incomes really sink and those with a college education have been treading water. So what is going on is much more fundamental, it’s much deeper than that. It is part of any agenda but it’s just a part and won’t really address the fundamental problems going on.

Dow Constantine Comes Out Swinging Against Income Inequality

If you haven’t seen the state of the county speech that King County Executive Dow Constantine delivered yesterday, you really should. It’s not just the best speech Constantine’s ever given—it’s also a comprehensive survey of King County’s pervasive income inequality. Watch it below (the speech begins at 23:25).

Constantine makes it clear that the state of the county is strong by every traditional metric—unemployment is down, median income is up—but he points out that strength is not enough.

In the highly competitive global economy of the 21st century, no one is expendable. That is why, if King County is to continue to prosper, we must give all of our children, regardless of race, or family income, or ZIP code, the best start in life we can. On average, King County families are doing well. But that is only on average, for the disturbing truth is, almost all of our job growth is coming at the very top and the very bottom of the income spectrum.

“For the first time in postwar history, King County’s middle class is shrinking,” Constantine warns, and he rightly cites this as the result of  “nearly four decades of trickle-down economics, Wall Street deregulation, and a concerted political attack on the power of workers to organize.”

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Daily Clips: April 28th, 2015

Republicans reach deal for budget plan, target Obamacare
Reuters – David Lawder.

It should be noted that this budget is non-binding and merely represents a policy manifesto of sorts for Congressional Republicans. It’s quite a manifesto too – it boosts military spending and cuts social programs. Sound familiar? The lack of innovative and new policy directions in the GOP is by far the most interesting aspect of this budget plan.
Washington Post – Katrina vanden Heuvel

The author, vanden Heuvel, is stunned by the intense lobbying effort put forward by the Obama administration. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) noted that Democrats have been “talked to, approached, lobbied and maybe cajoled by more Cabinet members on this issue than any issue since Barack Obama’s been president. That’s just sad.” It’s an odd digression for Obama, who up until the TPP negotiations, was pleasing many progressives with his actions and stances on immigration and minimum wage.
Washington Post – Dana Milbank

Is it just me or is Dana Milbank’s becoming more progressive? In his latest article, Milbank points out how the primary process has been hijacked by the wealthy and acts as a microcosm for how our political system has been taken over by the 1 percent (or more accurately the 0.01 percent). Think this is hot air? The Center for Responsive Politics shows that the top 1 percent of donors to super PACS contributed 67 percent of super-PAC funds in 2012.
Vox – German Lopez

Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether state’s can ban same-sex marriage. Vox provides a very neat and tidy overview of how far the US has come in the last ten years and where our judges most likely stand on this pivotal point in the marriage equality movement.

Seattle Needs to Join the Fight Against Clopening Shifts

Your typical clopening worker, between shifts.

Your typical clopening worker, between shifts.

When I was younger, my life was packed with clopening shifts. In my first job at Sears in the Maine Mall, I’d work on the receiving docks until 9 at night, drive the half hour home, eat, get a few hours’ sleep, and then wake up at 5 am so I could eat, shower, and get back to work for a stocking shift by 6 am. A few years later, I’d close a bookstore down at 11 at night and be back to open it at 9 in the morning. When I managed a cafe, some days I’d choose to sleep under my desk in the back office for six hours at night, rather than lose two hours of sleep to commuting home and back.

Back when I worked those shifts, we called them “turnarounds.” Now, according to Steven Greenhouse at the New York Times, they’re called “clopening” shifts, and they’ve become so prevalent that lawmakers are finally starting to do something about them.

Earlier this year, Boston.com’s Justine Hofherr wrote a story about a bill presented by Massachusetts state Rep. Sean Garballey which “would mandate that employers give workers at least 11 hours between shifts and three weeks’ advance notice for schedules.” Hofherr explains that employers “would have to pay time and a half whenever employees are called in before 11 hours have passed between shifts.” And then this:

If employers make unexpected schedule changes under the new bill, they would have to give employees a revised written work schedule within 24 hours of making the change and receive written consent from the employee. Workers unable to consent to the rapid schedule change would not be penalized.

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