Explaining Southern California's economy

Economists are a special breed of nerd

In this three photo combo, Professor of


Paul Krugman supports Occupy Wall Street, but he has some ideas about its agenda.

Lately, I've been reading this very entertaining economics blog, Noahopinion, written by Noah Smith, a recent econ PhD who just got a job at the Stoney Brook University College of Business (Congrats!). Smith engages with a lot of the usual wonky econoblogger topics (and also some heavily wonky topics), but he also takes a look at the culture of economics. In this post, he really nails the strange relationship between economist and the more overtly nerdy members of other professions, like physics, computer science, and math. 

He argues that economists should release their inner nerd. BUT they have to be careful about how truly nerdy that nerd they release actually is. For example:

But for Milton Friedman's sake, don't be a science nerd! If someone references Star Trek or Mass Effect, give them the hairy eyeball. Remember, "technology" has nothing to do with semiconductors or machine learning or General Relativity; "technology" is the Solow Residual! Economists evaluate technology from on high; we do not descend into the muck of knowing how it actually works. And remember: you do math well, but you don't likemath, not for it's own sake. Do not gush about all the cool difficult math you just did, whine about it.


Freelancing: The new way to work — if you don't care about getting paid



Freelancing: as a work choice, it's full of ups and downs.

Last year, I wrote a bit about the "gig economy" and the joys/frustrations of freelancing. I meant to blow it all up into a larger feature, but things like Occupy Movement and Solyndra hit. 

However, having been a freelancer at times during my career, I keep an eye on the subject. Via Twitter, I found this great infographic that captures the pros and cons of being a Rough Rider.

•Pro: 50 percent of freelancers "saw their incomes increase in the past year"

•Con: The average freelancer was stiffed for $6,000 total, while 8 in 10 freelancers had a employer refuse to pay up

The data sounds accurate to me — in my anecdotal experience, anyway. In the past decade of so, I never got stiffed or had an employer fail to pay. But in the 1990s...well, it happened on several occasions. We were so much younger then...


DeBord Report on 'America Now with Andy Dean,' March 2 edition

Listen in to my regular Friday Economics Report on "America Now with Andy Dean." Andy and I cover a lot of territory as he re-educates my — according to him — liberal soul. When we get to talking about Apple, an iconic company for lefties, I do get some credit for being one of the cynical liberals who doesn't think Apple is going to get a free ride to $1,000 per share (and if fact the stock is taking a hit in trading today). For his part, Andy makes an excellent point about Apple dealing with its $100-billion cash hoard by getting out a quick dividend this year, so that investors can see it taxed before potential political changes see a hike in the rates on dividends as capital gains next year. (This does assume that Obama gets re-elected and that he can get a tax-reform package that tackles cap gains through Congress.)


We're driving less...because we have fewer cars

U.S. vehicle miles driven have dropped. And it's probably because the size of the fleet has been in decline.

I felt like I should pull out Occam's Razor over the weekend when I spotted, via Twitter, some speculation from Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider and later Matt Yglesias of Slate about why the number of vehicle miles driven in the U.S. has been dropping. 

Weisenthal toys with out all sorts of correlations to explain the decline — everything labor reductions to gas prices to an aging population...and of course e-commerce! This last part is what Yglesias picked up on. By the time the these two had finished, they'd trotted out no less than ten charts. Here's Matt:

One very interesting social trend we have going on in the United States right now is the  decline in vehicle miles traveled, which initially looked like a mere recession thing but seems to be continuing even as the economy has added jobs for the past 18 months. Joe Weisenthal was speculating on twitter that online shopping might be the reason.


Apple and the jobs 'multiplier effect'



Should we be thankful for all that Apple has given us, including jobs?

Apple seems to be getting a little nervous about its self-image. First the technology giant, currently the world's most valuable company, came under fire for labor practices in China. In Asia, Apple keeps something like 700,000 people working, at numerous suppliers and contractors (at pay levels that would horrify the average American six-year-old on an allowance). In the U.S., however, the company has less than 50,000 people on the payroll, according to the New York Times

And as tech firms go, that's a lot. Facebook, for example, employs less than 5,000 people. To combat the impression than it's basically in the business of exporting employment in order to maintain its 30-percent profit margins, Apple commissioned a study to bolster the idea that it has directly or indirectly created more than half a million jobs (throw in another 200,000 or so if you count the developers who create apps for Apples devices), and that its business activities produce a "multiplier effect": for every job Apple directly creates, it generates, say eight jobs somewhere else in the American economy.