Why An “Objective” Economist Attacked Me On Twitter

The fight continues!

The fight continues!

Yesterday, Daniel Beekman at the Seattle Times reported that city councilmember Kshama Sawant sent a sternly worded letter taking issue with aspects of a recent University of Washington study of Seattle’s minimum wage. Sawant had two main areas of contention: first, she questioned some of the methodology of the study, including its approach of frankensteining together a hypothetical “Synthetic Seattle” where the minimum wage didn’t go up. In the real world, Seattle saw lots of good news—higher pay, more jobs, more hours worked—but this imaginary “Synthetic Seattle,” which was compiled together out of lower-wage parts of Washington State, did even better.

But Councilmember Sawant also had a problem with the “anti-minimum wage editorializing” by UW Professor Jacob Vigdor. In a letter signed by all the UW researchers, Vigdor and the other professors responded:

 With regards to Dr. Vigdor’s public commentary, we are very aware that the value of this study rests entirely on the perception that it is an objective, nonpartisan effort. We are also aware, however, that our work product is a public document, subject to partisan interpretation. As you know, selected findings from this study have been used to promote both a positive view of the minimum wage (as in the Bernstein piece) and a negative view (as in the Monson piece).

Dr. Vigdor and other team members have conducted interviews across the media and political spectrum, with full knowledge that anything said can be edited or taken out of context. This is a risk that we can only avoid by refusing contact with the media. As the most misleading representations of the report have been authored by individuals who did not contact any member of our study team, we do not feel that a withdrawal from public commentary on our own work would enhance public understanding.

Hmmm. Who could they be talking about in that second paragraph—the bit referring to the “most misleading representations of the report” and so on? Gosh, I wonder. I wrote the first summary of the UW study back in July, before Professor Vigdor presented it to the City Council, and he famously went ballistic in response, leaving comments on the article, in our Facebook feed, on Twitter, and over email. To my knowledge, Vigdor hasn’t responded as vigorously or as ferociously to anyone—on the left or the right—in the time since.

I stand by my interpretation. Unlike many of the conservative commentators who misconstrue the study as definitive proof that Seattle lost jobs due to the minimum wage, I acknowledge the “Synthetic Seattle” model in my write-up. (Plenty of second-hand conservative sources now repeat the lie that employment is down in Seattle without ever mentioning that employment is only down when considered in relation to the even-higher numbers of the imaginary Synthetic Seattle.) And in fact, in real Seattle, as I said, “wages are up, low-wage employment is up, and the number of hours worked are up.” So what could Vigdor’s problem be? Why hasn’t he tackled these conservative pundits with the same ferocity that he brought to my report?

I couldn’t tell you for sure, but I do find it interesting how the UW team acknowledges that they value “an objective, nonpartisan” stance; they seem to blame any partisan slant that may be attributed to their team as “edited or taken out of context.” Jud Lounsbury has reported at The Progressive that Vigdor has a professional relationship with at least two conservative think tanks, both of which have done considerable work to discredit the minimum wage. Further, Seattlish dug up some of Vigdor’s own old blog posts from 2014 where he wrote that the minimum wage is at once “a lousy anti-poverty program” and “largely a tax on food.” These posts are not edited or taken out of context and they are decidedly not “objective” or “nonpartisan.”

Look: I think objectivity is bunk. Everyone has an agenda. I wouldn’t even be upset if Vigdor just admitted his preconceptions. When scientists perform experiments, they always carry expectations about what’s going to happen. The trick is to be transparent about those expectations, and to report honestly on the findings. This is what we expect of our scientists, and it should be what we expect of our economists.

But for the researchers behind the UW study to claim objectivity as a goal in the same letter that they gloss over Vigdor’s personal failure to be objective is more than a little suspicious.

My lack of objectivity is a matter of record. I believe that when people who work in restaurants make enough money to eat in restaurants, we all do better. I believe that people who threaten the end of the world when the minimum wage goes up are trying to intimidate workers out of the money that they’ve earned. And I believe that everybody’s got an angle, and the people who say they don’t have an angle are the people you should trust the least.

Daily Clips: September 22nd, 2016

UW researcher has some conflict of interests: Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant raised concerns about research surrounding Seattle’s “landmark minimum-wage-law and about public comments by one of the University of Washington professors leading the effort.”

Between two ferns with Hillary Clinton: Very clever.

Yellen decides to keep the interest rates steady: 

Yellen pushed back hard on the criticism on Wednesday. “The Federal Reserve is not politically compromised,” she said. “I can’t recall any meeting that I have ever attended where politics has been a matter of discussion. I think the public if they had been watching our meeting on TV today would have felt that we had a rich, deep, serious, intellectual debate about the risks and the forecasts for the economy.”

No revolving door in Clinton administration, says Warren: Wouldn’t that be something?!

“When we talk about personnel, we don’t mean advisers who just pay lip service to Hillary’s bold agenda, coupled with a sigh, a knowing glance, and a twiddling of thumbs until it’s time for the next swing through the revolving door,” she said. “We don’t mean Citigroup or Morgan Stanley or Blackrock getting to choose who runs the economy in this country so they can capture our government.”

Tweet of the day:

Daily Clips: September 21st, 2016

How to protect workers from job-stealing robots: Economists and politicians have been talking about robotics and their potential to displace jobs. Jason Furman, Obama’s Chief Economist, does not believe that is an inevitability:

Of course, advanced economies have seen vast amounts of innovation in the last three centuries without rendering human labor obsolete. Most of the types of jobs that existed in the 1700s do not exist today, but new types of jobs that no one could have imagined then have taken their place—all because of technological advances. A different trajectory is unlikely to emerge this time around because even though AI has the potential to replace certain human tasks, it will likely also create entirely new fields of jobs.

Are firms that discriminate more likely to go out of business? The short answer: yes. “Results suggest that employers who engage in hiring discrimination are less likely to remain in business six years later.” Inclusion>exclusion.

Ross Douthat complains about how society is moving to the left: Conservatives are a remarkably…reactive bunch. They very rarely push society in new ways of thinking. They are almost always complaining about how a society is moving away from what it used to be.

Donald Trump says it’s worse than ‘ever, ever, ever’ for black people in the United States: The man is clearly not a historian.

Tweet of the day:

 

 

Daily Clips: September 20th, 2016

Seattle City Council approves worker-scheduling law: A big win for Seattle workers! If you have no idea what secure scheduling entails, listen to our podcast episode on the subject.

David Brooks tells us about meeting a working-class person: There’s really no other way you could summarize Brooks’ latest  piece. He comes off as a snob desperately trying to understand the “sad, noncumulative pattern to working-class lives.” (Tip to David: maybe don’t use those phrases when speaking to the working class.) As you can tell, he has a thing for buzz phrases with no inherent meaning: my favorites in this column were “nurture webs of mutual dependence” and “stochastic, episodic nature”.

US companies are ‘hoarding’ a record $2.5 trillion in cash overseas

House GOP’s ‘Better Way’ Tax Plan A Much Better Way For Richest 1%

Clinton hasn’t won over millennials. And no sexism isn’t to blame: Excellent article which accurately identifies my generation’s feelings towards Clinton. Here’s a particularly strong point:

Since the Democratic national convention, Clinton and Trump have peddled their own politics of fear. Hers: of an ascendant far-right. His: of immigrants and the prospect of a truly multi-racial democracy. If Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign showed anything, though, it’s that young Americans are eager to vote for something – not against it.

Tweet of the day:

 

Daily Clips: September 19th, 2016

Best headline of the day: Brought to you by Tim Worstall who seemingly cannot let the minimum wage ever score a point.

That is Onion-like.

Millennial voters may cost Hillary Clinton the election:

In state polling, where the Millennial sample can be very small, there is not as clear a pattern of Johnson and Stein pulling more voters from Clinton than Trump. But state polls do reaffirm the trend of Clinton’s vote among Millennials running well below the proportion of them who view Trump unfavorably.

The US infrastructure investment debate: Is infrastructure a “progressive romance” that has become too widely accepted? Here, the author goes through a variety of thinkers who all have different takes on infrastructure and the next moves for the USA.

Everybody thinks they’re the middle class: I guess that’s what happens when politicians lionize this American group over and over and over again.

It’s Not Too Late to Fix Fox News: 

The sealed universe of Fox News might be an excellent strategy for a niche television audience, but it’s a disastrous one for presidential candidates who have to appeal to swing voters. Mr. Trump continues to double down on his most outrageous opinions and proposals, like the Mexican wall, cutting his campaign off from the support of moderate Republicans, undecided voters and disaffected Democrats.

Tweet of the day:

The Seattle Times Editorial Board Gets Everything Wrong on Secure Scheduling

The Seattle Times: protecting our beloved sloughs from the menace of popular public transit since 1891.

The Seattle Times: protecting our beloved sloughs from the menace of popular public transit since 1891.

On Monday at 2 pm, the City Council will finally vote on secure scheduling. A majority of the council has already voted the bill out of committee, so the legislation is expected to become law. This is great news for workers in Seattle, who will finally enjoy predictable scheduling, allowing them to balance their work and personal lives. It will enable them to plan doctor’s appointments, family time, school schedules, and all the other everyday activities that so many Seattle office workers take for granted.

Secure scheduling makes sense from a business perspective, too: this law will allow these workers to reinvest themselves in their communities as consumers who can plan their finances more than five days in advance. We’ve already agreed in Seattle that when restaurant workers have more money, that’s good for restaurants. Secure scheduling is a continuation of that idea; it ensures that restaurant workers have the time (and the sense of financial stability) to spend their money in restaurants. It’s just good sense.

So, naturally, the Seattle Times Editorial Board fucking hates it. They published an editorial this morning titled “Seattle’s scheduling rule is counter to our innovative business culture,” and it’s so packed with bullshit that I have no recourse but to fisk the thing—go through line by line to unspool all the lies and misdirections stuffed inside. Ready? Here we go, from the very beginning:

Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council are moving at breakneck speed, for them, on new legislation this month.

This push for legislation started back in February, so it’s not exactly the 2 Fast 2 Furious frenetic road race that the Times is disingenuously depicting here. There have been plenty of committee meetings where citizens on both sides of the issue have spoken out, there have been community events, there have been many opportunities for everyone to comment.

 Not to finish police reform or fix infrastructure overwhelmed by growth and traffic.

Such a lazy attempt at misdirection. You want city leaders to be able to handle a variety of issues at the same time. That’s literally why we have a government: we don’t want leaders to just run around trying to put out whatever fire is supposedly burning the hottest at any given moment, we want them to make the city livable on a variety of levels.

 No, the legislation flying through City Hall this month will instead dictate scheduling policies at a narrow slice of companies operating within city limits.

Note the “flying”—you could conceive and give birth to a child in the amount of time it’s taken this legislation to come to a full vote—and the “dictate,” here, both of which are highly misleading. There’s a difference between regulations and dictatorial demands. Does government “dictate” that five-year-olds can’t work in factories?

And this is the first instance of a weird dichotomy in the piece: first the Board complains about the law, and then they complain that it only affects a small number—or, in this case, a “narrow slice”—of employers. Which is it? Do you hate the law, or do you want it to apply to small businesses?

In this case, secure scheduling only affects food service or retail businesses that employ over 500 workers worldwide, or sit-down restaurants with over 40 locations worldwide. It’s basically the same structure as our minimum wage adoption schedule: big chains with CEOs who make tens of millions of dollars a year are held to a higher standard. And it makes sense to take the same tack with secure scheduling: these chain stores already have the sophisticated scheduling technology to easily handle a few additional scheduling requests.

 Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council are emulating San Francisco, which passed the nation’s first “secure scheduling” legislation in 2014. They presented a Seattle version on Aug. 9, hustled it through committees and expect to finalize the rules on Monday.

“Hustled.” You’d think this legislation broke land speed records. There’s nothing unusual about the process secure scheduling has taken; would the Board prefer a city where no law ever passed? Is the Seattle Times a huge fan of the dreaded Seattle Process?

 The rules require companies to provide at least 14 days notice of work schedules, offer existing employees additional hours when they become available and pay extra when schedules change.

One of the few true sentence in the whole piece. They don’t mention, of course, that the “extra” pay is a single hours’ wages, and they also don’t mention the part of the law that affects “clopening” shifts, which require employees to work late at night and then turn around and come back early in the morning. Probably they don’t include that bit because everybody thinks clopening is a terrible thing to do to an employee. Clopening is so unpopular that Starbucks itself announced that they were abolishing it chainwide it a few years ago. They still do it, though, which is a great example of why we can’t trust these companies to self-police.

 Before rushing this through, Seattle officials should consider the long-term effect of these rules and their other efforts to micromanage business operations at the behest of national labor organizations.

“Rushing.” The Board really broke out the thesaurus for this one. It should be mentioned that the Board also complained about Seattle rushing into the $15 minimum wage, and into expanding transit. Basically, any legislation they dislike moves too fast for them.

The terrific thing about the political process is that it does take in all sides, and business interests have had plenty of input in the secure scheduling law. Just this week, the City Council adopted several amendments which address problems that large corporations had with the day-to-day realities of the secure scheduling law, making it easier for them to comply. The city isn’t dictating employee schedules, it’s not micromanaging anyone’s operations. It’s setting standards for businesses, the same way they establish health and food safety standards and, uh, a minimum wage.

 Seattle’s current success is due in large part because the city’s been an incubator of disruptive retail companies that are now household names.

And when those disruptive retail companies were very small, the secure scheduling laws would not apply to them. What’s your point?

 As companies such as Starbucks, Costco and Nordstrom extended their brands far and wide, they also projected Seattle values — including service and benefits that raised the bar in their markets.

The “benefits” in that sentence is important because it accidentally highlights something the Times is gently avoiding here: Those businesses succeed, in part, because they demonstrate the Seattle value of being great places to work. Costco is famous for its great employee retention numbers. I talked with Starbucks employees who fought for secure scheduling, and they all told me that they love their jobs and their coworkers—they just needed more security in their scheduling so they could balance their jobs and their lives.  Secure scheduling instantiates those Seattle values into law, because we know that the economy requires everyone’s participation to succeed. Without food service employees who make decent money and have the time to spend it, the economy suffers.

 Seattle must fiercely protect its reputation as a place of business innovation and agility. That provides far more jobs and opportunity than being a sandbox for special interests’ regulatory experimentation.

Seattle, in case the Board missed reading it in their own paper, is not hurting for jobs. The $15 minimum wage has not killed the economy as the Board repeatedly threatened; in fact, it’s strengthened it.

It’s a question of balance — providing the flexibility and level playing field businesses require while protecting workers from unreasonable practices.

That’s almost exactly what supporters of shared security have been saying since the beginning. More than halfway through the piece, the Board still hasn’t made the case that shared security hurts business—they’ve just thrown around some scary insinuations.

 Some companies have used new scheduling technology in ways that cause such erratic schedules, making it untenable for those at the first tier of the retail workforce. Starbucks, notably, was shamed by press coverage into improving its scheduling policies in 2014.

And again, Starbucks failed to improve its scheduling policies. And so here we are.

But Seattle officials’ response is questionable. The proposed rules single out particular companies, applying burdensome regulations to some but not others. They won’t benefit the majority of retail workers in the city, who mostly work at small- to mid-size companies.

Again, secure scheduling follows roughly the same standards established by the $15 minimum wage rollout, which is working just fine. Large retailers like Starbucks and Target already utilize scheduling software that enables them to plan their schedules months in advance; this will not be an undue burden on them. The legislation has language that requires the city to reinvestigate secure scheduling two years from now, with studies to examine its effects. Presumably at that point, the employer size regulations will be reinvestigated. This is how good policy works.

Only affected are national retailers, coffee chains and restaurants with at least 500 employees and 40 or more establishments globally.

True.

Retailers in general are struggling to compete with Amazon.com, yet it’s mostly exempted. The rule only affects Amazon workers in physical stores, which so far are limited to roughly 15 employed at University Village.

This is such an obvious concern-troll misdirection; do you honestly suppose that the Seattle Times would be in favor of a law demanding that Amazon’s programmers enjoy the same protections that the current legislation stipulates? Why bring Amazon into it? While it’s true that Amazon is a retailer, most of the people it employs in Seattle are not directly involved in the service industry. And besides, if Amazon’s current expansion plans follow through, they will likely be required to follow the current secure scheduling guidelines soon enough.

Unionized retailers are excluded from the layers of new regulation and potential penalties, even if their contracts provide fewer worker protections than stipulated.

Union workers are better-paid than their non-union counterparts. They enjoy better benefits than non-union workers. Union workers are much more likely to be full participants in the economy, which is the goal of this legislation.

The rules are so complex and difficult for companies to follow without incurring penalties. The path of least resistance becomes unionization.

This is ludicrous. The law is not complex and difficult to follow. Believe me; speaking as someone who has had to sit through a number of anti-union training videos for at various shitty retail jobs, no huge retail corporation would prefer unionization to entering a few additional restrictions into its scheduling software.

This legislation is not onerous. It is not complex. It’s easy to imagine the Board saying the same thing about food safety laws, if the City Council were passing a hand-washing ordinance today: “Does the city honestly expect employers to stand in the bathroom with employees and supervise them as they wash their hands? This confusing job-killing legislation will cause restaurants across the city to shut down.”

 That raises a question about the legislation’s intent and primary beneficiaries: Is it more about improving conditions for workers or encouraging unionization of large companies?

Wow. So now it’s all part of a conspiracy to unionize Starbucks? Again, this isn’t going to happen. If there’s one thing big retail chains hate more than paying their employees, it’s unionization. This is the same kind of scare tactic the Board employed in 2013, when it warned that raising the minimum wage in SeaTac could kill the hotel industry near the airport. (And besides, given that union employees make more money, enjoy more benefits, and are generally treated more humanely than the average work-for-hire employee, I wouldn’t be that opposed to this scary fictional outcome that the Board is waving around.)

Seattle voters should ask their elected officials who they are truly representing here and what they’re doing to nurture the city’s business climate.

Respectfully, I’d argue that Seattle Times readers should ask the paper’s editorial board who they’re truly representing with this article and what they would define as a healthy business climate for Seattle. Because the Board has been on the wrong side of just about every good legislation we’ve seen in the last few years, from raising the minimum wage to supporting public transit. Increasingly, the Seattle that the Editorial Board promotes looks nothing like the Seattle that I see when I walk down the street every day. Why do they waste valuable space in the paper promoting the trickle-down interests of the one percent when it’s clear that Seattle is choosing a different path?

Daily Clips: September 16th, 2016

The race is tightening for a painfully simple reason: A remarkably well-argued piece from Yglesias. He uses his historical knowledge to great effect. His analysis on Stein stunned me:

To find a fourth-place candidate polling higher than Stein’s current results, you need to dial all the way back to the 6 percent of the vote Eugene Debs earned in the bizarre 1912 electionthat saw the GOP nominee (the incumbent, no less!) finish in third place behind a third-party bid spearheaded by ex-president Teddy Roosevelt.

For what it’s worth, I’d highley recommend Sidney Milkis’ book on that historic 1912 race.

Mayor Murray changes course, shelves North Precinct police station plan: Wow, huge victory for the #BlockTheBunker movement in Seattle.

Seattle area jobless rate dips to 8-year low: I’ll give Goldy the stage.

Good news! We’re as rich as we were in 1998: And we’ve only lost a few major wars in between that time, too!

Tweet of the day:

Donald Trump’s New Economic Agenda: More Food Poisoning, More Government Subsidies of Low-Wage Employers

food

Donald Trump unveiled a new economic agenda today, marking his third attempt at a tax plan in less than a year. But this was more than just taxes—it’s an “agenda” that aspires to serve a bunch of conservative masters while never once aspiring to coherence.

It must be said, though, that Trump’s conservative masters are pretty happy with the plan. The Wall Street Journal has gone gaga over it, running an editorial from Michael Saltsman titled “Don’t Raise the Minimum Wage: Trump Has a Better Plan.” That better plan? It’s to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, which basically would pay out based on how much or how little a taxpayer earns. According to Saltsman, this is a pro-business idea. Which is true, but artificially so. By not raising the minimum wage and offering a higher EITC in its place, government is basically subsidizing low-income employers. (Nick Hanauer wrote about this at length back in May.) So much for small government. So much for the free market.

Anyway, as I just told you yesterday, proponents of trickle down economics employ three major tactics to ensure that the top one percent benefits from inequality:

1. Tax cuts for the rich.

2. Deregulation for the powerful.

3. Wage suppression for everyone else.

You’ll see these three tactics throughout Trump’s economic agenda. Especially the deregulation bit. Here’s the part of the plan that’s getting the most attention right now:

Specific regulations to be eliminated include: …The FDA Food Police, which dictate how the federal government expects farmers to produce fruits and vegetables and even dictates the nutritional content of dog food. The rules govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures, and even what animals may roam which fields and when. It also greatly increased inspections of food “facilities,” and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill.

Yeah, you read that right. Donald Trump wants to save government money by cutting the regulations that keep our food safe to eat. If you’ve listened to the interview with food safety super-lawyer Bill Marler in our podcast on paid sick leave, you know that this is a terrible idea. Even with the regulatory framework that we already enjoy, there have been way too many produce-based salmonella and listeria outbreaks in the last few years.

The other regulations Trump wants to cut involve environmental protections and regulations on the energy industry, which would likely mean more fracking, less safety in our oil extraction methods, and more environmental mayhem. Combine that with artificially low wages supported by government and a tax plan that benefits the super-rich Trump family with an end to the estate tax and a dramatic lowering of corporate tax rates and you’ve got a plan to turn America into a theme park: Trickle Down Land, where the one percent thrives in luxury and everyone else has to fend for themselves.