July 16, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asks Cuba protesters to stop blocking roads, an illegal act under his 'anti-riot' law (PETER WEBER, 7/16/21, The Week)

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a controversial "anti-riot" law in April, citing racial justice protests following the police killing of George Floyd, he said "there needs to be swift penalties" when "you have people out there shutting down a highway." On Tuesday, when South Floridians blocked the Palmetto Expressway for hours in support of Cuban anti-government protesters, DeSantis said, "I think people understand the difference between going out and peacefully assembling, which is obviously people's constitutional right." 

To be fair, the law isn't only anti-black; he'd enforce it if the Cubans were protesting immigration limits too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


The pandemic-fueled decline of cash (Kate Marino, 7/16/21, Axios)

What's happening: More consumers are going digital for obvious reasons -- the convenience, the safety of not carrying around wads of cash, and after COVID, because of sanitary concerns, says Jody Jonsson, portfolio manager at Capital Group.

And while the entirety of cash payments is impossible to track, we can see that digital payments have grown faster than overall consumption over the past decade, Kenneth Rogoff, professor of economics at Harvard, tells Axios.

By the numbers: For long-term trends, surveys by the Atlanta Fed determined that in 2019, paper currency was used in 26% of consumer payments by number, and 6% by value. That's down from 40%, and 14%, respectively, in 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


The mystifying bond market behavior could last all summer (Patti Domm, 7/16/21, CNBC)

The most closely watched U.S. interest rate metric -- the 10-year Treasury note yield -- again skidded below 1.3% Thursday, a level where it last traded in February, prior to last week. It was at 1.32% Friday. The surprise and swift decline is being blamed on a number of things, including short-covering, technicalities, peaking growth -- and the Fed.

The 10-year yield is important since it has been a foil for tech stocks. When it has fallen, tech and growth shares have mostly risen lately. It also influences mortgage rates and other consumer and business loans. Many strategists had expected the 10-year to hold at higher levels and march toward 2% or above by the end of the year.

Lockdown having just demonstrated the superfluity of labor, a bet on deflation is only sensible.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Searching for Moby-Dick (and the Elusive Truths of America's Pastime): Rick White on Bill James, Herman Melville, and the Whaleness of Whiteyball (Rick White, July 13, 2021, Lit Hub)

I got my first job when I was ten years old. Without so much as a routine interview, the fine folks at the Babe Ruth baseball park in my hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas, hired me to be a scorekeeper. For two or three games each night during the summer, I tracked, with pencil and paper, every groundout to second base (4-3), hit by pitch (HBP), error on the shortstop (E6), wild pitch (WP), walk (BB), strikeout swinging (K), strikeout looking (ꓘ), double play (6-4-3, 4-6-3, 2-3-4, etc.), and more. I turned in my scorecards at the office at the end of each game and, in exchange for my labor, received a complimentary hot dog and a slushie of my choice. It was the best job I have ever had. It was also where I became fluent in my second language.

I had been playing baseball and collecting baseball cards for over half my life, so I already spoke baseball and read baseball, both quite well. I could look at the statistics on the back of Willie McGee's 1986 Topps® card and explain why he won the National League MVP in 1985: the .353 batting average, the .503 slugging percentage, the league-leading 216 hits. I could see his 56 stolen bases and 18 triples and know from the numbers alone that McGee ran the bases both aggressively and fast. Learning to keep score was like learning to diagram a sentence, though. Suddenly, I saw the mechanics of the working thing at rest--not just what certain numbers on the back of a baseball card meant, but how they had come to mean. And in the cyclical way that knowledge begets affection, and vice versa, I also began to see why those numbers meant so much to me.

"When the numbers acquire the significance of language," says Bill James, "they acquire the power to do all of the things which language can do: to become fiction and drama and poetry."[i] James is a fellow baseball lover and numbers nerd. Back when Willie McGee was stealing bases for the St. Louis Cardinals, James was in Kansas City trying to change how baseball people watched, played, and thought about America's favorite pastime--with numbers, yes, but more so with words. For James, the story was in the statistics, but his ambition was to make good literature. "It is not just baseball that these numbers, through a fractured mirror, describe," he says, conscious of alliteration and fearful of no lofty metaphor:

It is character. It is psychology, it is history, it is power, it is grace, glory, consistency, sacrifice, courage, it is success and failure, it is frustration and bad luck, it is ambition, it is overreaching, it is discipline. And it is victory and defeat, which is all that the idiot sub-conscious really understands.[ii]

In a 2003 profile of James in The New Yorker magazine, journalist Ben McGrath says of "the professor of baseball" that his "approach seemed distinctly American, descended from the nineteenth-century pragmatist tradition exemplified by his namesake, the philosopher William James." While this may be true of James's statistical analysis, his prose descends not from William James, but from the lineage of a different, and distinctly not pragmatic, titan of American letters. Bill James on baseball is Herman Melville on whaling.

The Anatomy of America's Game

Flip through any of James's annual Baseball Abstracts from the Reagan years and the comparison I just made will not sound so grandiose. Tables of obscure batting and fielding statistics accompanied by illustrations of the complex mathematical formulas used to create them are interspersed with lengthy essays on, and rankings of, players, managers, and teams, all of it connected and dissected and opined on by a first-person narrator, Bill, an unabashed Kansas City Royals fan.

For example, in the 1983 Abstract, in the section on third basemen, he ranks George Brett, a future Hall of Famer, as the fourth-best third sacker in baseball due to a slump in his batting statistics over the two seasons prior. James chalks this up, in part, to Brett's seeing more curve balls from pitchers and not being able to hit them, but also, curiously, to Brett's bachelorhood, and to the particular strain of masculine entitlement the hot-tempered Brett inherited from his father and brothers, which his former manager, Whitey Herzog, nurtured, but which his current manager, Dick Howser, does not. "[Brett] wants the Royals to tell him that they love him," James says, "and instead they tell him it's a business. Sure, he's a spoiled kid, but we're not all too adult to sympathize with those feelings, are we?"[iii]

This is not an essay about Bill James, though. At least, it is not an essay about Bill James any more than Moby-Dick is a book about whales. But in the introduction to that 1983 Abstract, wherein James describes the "eccentricity" of his own style, both personal and literary, you will forgive me for seeing, through a fractured mirror, not baseball statistics but cetology, and not James in Kansas City, but Ishmael in New Bedford, or, better yet, at sea:

The subject of the book is sabermetrics; SABR for the Society for American Baseball Research, Metrics for measurement, with an extra "e" thrown in so you can pronounce it. Most of the time, anyway; sometimes I take off on a tangent and start writing about Princess Margaret, call-in shows or shark jokes. But what the hell, sportswriters will stop writing about baseball at the drop of a hat and start writing about economics, drugs or lawsuits, and they don't feel bad about it. Indeed, what is eccentric about my writing about baseball is that I write so much about baseball and sometimes will examine the tiniest parts of the game in exhaustive detail without seeming to feel any compulsion to leave the subject and start writing about leadership or character or personality conflicts or go do an interview somewhere.

Except, like Melville, leadership and character and personality conflicts are exactly what Bill James is writing about when he debates the value of advanced fielding metrics for managerial decisions. Also like Melville, James knows it, and is cunning enough to play coy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Boomer Wealth BoomA crucial shift in retirement savings helped a generation salt away trillions. (Steven Malanga, July 11, 2021, City Journal)

Baby Boomers have been retiring in increasing numbers, and now some are dying. They leave behind a giant pile of money that the media have labeled "the greatest wealth transfer" in modern history: a collective net worth that currently sits at $35 trillion, much of which will be passed down to their heirs. It's so much money that, naturally, the Biden administration is examining ways to tax it, charities and nonprofits are angling for their share of it, and estate lawyers are licking their chops at the prospect of helping to plan how it all gets dispensed.

Yet news stories about this wealth transfer are overlooking something basic: a simple explanation of how boomers accumulated this wealth amid a supposedly massive financial crisis spurred by the alleged inadequacies of our private-sector pension systems, which, four decades ago, began a shift from defined-benefit retirement plans to individual savings accounts. Rather than leaving a generation bereft, as critics have predicted for years, that shift helped place an unprecedented amount of money in the hands of boomers, while laying bare the inadequacy of the defined-benefit systems that persist today in some places--especially in the misguided public sector.

The seeds of the shift were planted in the 1960s, amid several well-publicized failures of private pension systems (including a plan covering some 10,500 workers and retirees at a Studebaker auto plant in Indiana that went bust, leaving enrollees with just cents on the dollar). Spurred by such disasters, Congress created legislation to govern plans and protect employees, including rules on how workers should be vested in these plans and what constituted minimum funding requirements for pensions. The new rules seemed to make sense until it became clear that they had sharply boosted the cost of funding defined-benefit plans, which guarantee workers an income for life based on a formula that considers a worker's years of service and final salary.

Unable to meet those costs at an affordable price and wary of the risks now involved, companies began rapidly shifting toward defined-contribution plans, in which employers set aside a specific amount for each worker in an individual account--a type of plan formalized in a 1978 amendment to U.S. retirement law. The share of workers with defined-benefit-only plans in private industry consequently dropped precipitously, from about 25 percent in the 1970s to about 3 percent today, while the share participating in company-owned, defined-contribution pensions rose from 8 percent in 1980 to 31 percent today. Around the same time, Congress enacted laws to let those who worked for businesses that didn't offer retirement plans save on their own through individual retirement accounts.

Boosted by market returns, assets in these contribution plans have soared. In the last 25 years alone, the combined assets of defined-contribution plans offered by employers and individual retirement accounts (many of which are rollovers from company defined-contribution plans by workers who have changed jobs) have increased nearly eightfold, to $23 trillion--far outpacing the holdings in any other category of retirement plans. Those accounts now amount to nearly two-thirds of all U.S. retirement assets, up from less than 25 percent in 1995. 

Now follow through on the rest of W's Ownership Society and put every American in such accounts. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The great sleep divide: Sleep deficits are robbing poor people and racial minorities of health and earning power. What can be done? (Katherine Ellison 06.22.2021, Knowable)

It's still commonly assumed that poor sleep is a symptom rather than a cause of other medical or mental problems, according to Troxel. Yet today we know poor sleep can also cause illness. People with sleep apnea suffer more cardiovascular disease and stroke, as well as increased inflammation, which may contribute to illnesses including heart disease, cancer and arthritis. For teenagers, one study has shown, each hour of lost sleep comes with a 23 percent increase in the risk of tobacco, alcohol or marijuana use and a 58 percent increase in suicide attempts. Insufficient sleep may even make people more vulnerable to viruses and less likely to benefit from a vaccine.

Black Americans have markedly higher rates of sleep apnea, at least partly because they are more likely to be overweight or obese. Without special devices, like this CPAP machine, to help them breathe, sleep apnea sufferers can wake dozens of times per night, leading to daytime sleepiness and other health issues.

But here's where the great sleep divide comes in. Over the years, researchers repeatedly have found evidence that people in poverty get less sleep than those with more money. In 2013, for instance, a large CDC survey found that 35.2 percent of people earning below the poverty level reported sleeping less than six hours in an average 24-hour period, compared with 27.7 percent of those earning more than four times the poverty level.

The disparities are even sharper among racial groups. A rigorous 2015 study involving both lab tests and self-reports from more than 2,000 US participants found that, compared with whites matched for age and sex, Blacks were five times as likely to sleep for shorter periods. Hispanics and Chinese Americans were roughly two times as likely to get fewer hours of sleep than whites.

Several economic, social and physical factors contribute to these differences and their related harm to health, school performance and productivity.

Merely living in low-income neighborhoods is a risk factor for poor sleep, for a slew of reasons that include more light and noise pollution and less access to green spaces. "It's said that your zip code matters as much as your genetic code," says Troxel, who has gathered evidence demonstrating that where people live affects their health.

Shut down inner cities and move residents to the suburbs.