Nonpartisan CBO Estimates $15 Minimum Wage Would Cause 1.4 Million Job Loss

(p. B5) WASHINGTON — Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — a proposal included in the package of relief measures being pushed by President Biden — would add $54 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office concluded on Monday [Feb. 8, 2021].

. . .

Critics of the plan noted a different element of the report: its forecast that raising the minimum wage to $15 would eliminate 1.4 million jobs by the time the increase takes full effect.

“Conservatives have been saying for a while that a recession is absolutely the wrong time to increase the minimum wage, even if it’s slowly phased in,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The economy’s just too fragile.”

For the full story, see:

Jason DeParle. “$15 Minimum Wage Would Cut Poverty And 1.4 Million Jobs.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 9, 2021): B5.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 8, 2021, and has the title “Minimum Wage Hike Would Help Poverty but Cost Jobs, Budget Office Says.”)

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report mentioned above is:

Congressional Budget Office. “The Budgetary Effects of the Raise the Wage Act of 2021.” Feb. 2021.

Walter Williams Wrote That a Minimum Wage “Encourages Racial Discrimination”

(p. 26) Walter E. Williams, a prominent conservative economist, author and political commentator who expressed profoundly skeptical views of government efforts to aid his fellow African-Americans and other minority groups, died on Tuesday [Dec. 1, 2020] on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia, where he had taught for 40 years. He was 84.

His daughter, Devon Williams, said he died suddenly in his car after he had finished teaching a class.

. . .

In the 1970s, during a yearlong stint at the conservative-leaning Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University, Mr. Williams was commissioned by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress to study the ramifications of a minimum wage and of the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandated that laborers in federal construction projects be paid no less than the locally prevailing wages for corresponding work on similar projects in the area.

He outlined his findings in a 1977 report: A minimum wage causes high rates of teenage unemployment, especially among minority workers, and actually “encourages racial discrimination.”

He concluded, he recalled in an interview with The New York Times for this obituary in 2017, that the Davis-Bacon Act had “explicit racist motivations.”

Suppose, he said, that there are 10 secretaries, five of them white and five of them Black — all equally qualified — who are applying for a job. “If by law you must pay them all the same wage,” he said, “it doesn’t cost anything to discriminate against the Black secretaries.” Without such a mandate, he suggested, the Black secretaries would have a better chance at being gainfully employed, even if at lower pay.

In his book “The State Against Blacks” (1982), Mr. Williams was similarly critical of a host of government measures involving labor — from taxicab regulations to occupational licensing — that in his view wound up disproportionately harming Black people in the name of preventing discrimination.

For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. Hershey Jr. “Walter E. Williams, Conservative Economist on Black Issues, Is Dead at 84.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 6, 2020): 26.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated December 7, 2020, and has the title “Walter E. Williams, 84, Dies; Conservative Economist on Black Issues.”)

Williams’s book, mentioned above, is:

Williams, Walter E. The State Against Blacks. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

Naps Aid Immunity, Energy, Alertness, Memory, and Mood

(p. D4) Sara E. Alger, a sleep scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., has been a public advocate for naps, particularly in the workplace, except in cases of insomnia. Along the way, she has had to fight anti-nap prejudice.

“Naps in general have a stigma attached to them as something you only do when you’re lazy or when you’re sick,” Dr. Alger said.

Wrapped inside nap phobia in the United States is often a message reminding us to be productive during what we now think of as normal working hours, although that concept is relatively new.

Modern attitudes about napping go back to the Industrial Revolution, according to Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer, an anthropologist at Binghamton University in New York and the author of “The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life.”

“For a long time, people had flexible sleep schedules,” Dr. Wolf-Meyer said. Farmers and tradespeople had some autonomy over their time. They could choose to rest in the hottest part of the day, and might take up simple tasks during a wakeful period in the middle of the night, between two distinct bouts of sleep.

As the 1800s went on, more and more Americans worked in factories on set shifts that were supervised by a foreman. “They work for a total stranger, and a nap becomes totally nonnegotiable,” he said.

Staying awake all day and getting one’s sleep in a single long stretch at night came to be seen as normal. With that came a strong societal expectation that we ought to use our daylight hours productively.

. . .

Although there are no hard data so far on whether naps have been on the rise during 2020, sleep scientists like Dr. Alger think it’s likely. The many people who now work remotely no longer need to worry about the disapproving eyes of their colleagues if they want a brief, discreet period of horizontality in the afternoons.

If most offices reopen next year, as now seems possible, perhaps greater tolerance toward the adult nap will be one of the things salvaged from the smoking wreckage of the working-from-home era. (In a tweet last week, Dr. Wolf-Meyer called the pandemic “the largest (accidental) experiment with human #sleep ever conducted.”) . . .

Experts say that people who get seven to nine hours of sleep a day are less prone to catching infectious diseases, and better at fighting off any they do catch. Afternoon sleep counts toward your daily total, according to Dr. Alger.

This immunity boost, she said, is in addition to other well-known dividends of a good nap, like added energy, increased alertness, improved mood and better emotional regulation.

Included under the last rubric is a skill that seems especially useful for dealing with families, even if you never get closer to your relatives this year than a “Hollywood Squares”-style video grid: “Napping helps you be more sensitive to receiving other people’s moods,” Dr. Alger said. “So you’re not perceiving other people as being more negative than they are.”

Napping also helps you remember facts you learned right before nodding off. Given the way things have been going lately, of course, you may not see this as a plus. You could look at it from the reverse angle, though: Every hour before Jan. 1 that you spend napping is another hour of 2020 you won’t remember.

For the full commentary, see:

Pete Wells. “This Thanksgiving, Nap Without Guilt.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 25, 2020): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 24, 2020, and has the title “This Thanksgiving, It’s Time to Stop Nap-Shaming.”)

The book by Wolf-Meyer, mentioned above, is:

Wolf-Meyer, Matthew J. The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Early Animation “Followed Only One Rule”: “Anything Goes”

(p. C5) The story of Disney Studios is a central strand in Mitenbuler’s narrative; Disney became the formidable force that the other animation studios would look toward, compete with and rail against. Max Fleischer, whose studio was responsible for the likes of Popeye and Betty Boop, groused that Disney’s “Snow White,” released in 1937, was “too arty.”  . . .  The wife of one of the Fleischer brothers, though, said they had better watch out: “Disney is doing art, and you guys are still slapping characters on the butt with sticks!”

But what if those slapped butts were part of what had made animation so revolutionary in the first place? Mitenbuler suggests as much, beginning “Wild Minds” with the early days of animation, in the first decades of the 20th century, when the technology of moving pictures was still in its infancy. Like the movie business in general, the field of animation contained few barriers to entry, and a number of Jewish immigrants shut out from other careers found they could make a decent living working for a studio or opening up their own. Even Disney, who grew up in the Midwest, was an outsider without any connections.

The work created in those early decades was often gleefully contemptuous of anything that aspired to good taste. Until the movie studios started self-censoring in the early ’30s, in a bid to avoid government regulation, animators typically followed only one rule to the letter: Anything goes.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Ehh, What’s Animation, Doc?” The New York Times (Thursday, December 17, 2020): C5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 16, 2020, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: ‘Fantasia,’ ‘Snow White,’ Betty Boop, Popeye and the First Golden Age of Animation.”)

The book under review is:

Mitenbuler, Reid. Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.

“Increasing Minimum Wages Can Cause Some Job Loss”

(p. B6) Increasing the minimum wage could lead employers to lay off some workers in order to pay others more, said David Neumark, an economics professor at the University of California, Irvine.

“There’s a ton of research that says increasing minimum wages can cause some job loss,” he said. “Plenty workers are helped, but some are hurt.”

A 2019 Congressional Budget Office study found that a $15 federal minimum wage would increase pay for 17 million workers who earned less than that and potentially another 10 million workers who earned slightly more. According to the study’s median estimate, it would cause 1.3 million other workers to lose their jobs.

For the full story, see:

Gillian Friedman. “Base Wage Of $15 Gains In Popularity Across U.S.” The New York Times (Friday, January 1, 2021): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 31, 2020, and has the title “Once a Fringe Idea, the $15 Minimum Wage Is Making Big Gains.”)

“Hillbilly Elegy” Book (but Not the Movie) Suggests a “Culture of Poverty”

(p. C3) “Hillbilly Elegy,” published in June of 2016, attracted an extra measure of attention (and controversy) after Donald Trump’s election. It seemed to offer a firsthand report, both personal and analytical, on the condition of the white American working class.

And while the book didn’t really explain the election — Vance is reticent about his family’s voting habits and ideological tendencies — it did venture a hypothesis about how that family and others like it encountered such persistent household dysfunction and economic distress. His answer wasn’t political or economic, but cultural.

He suggests that the same traits that make his people distinctive — suspicion of outsiders, resistance to authority, devotion to kin, eagerness to fight — make it hard for them to thrive in modern American society. Essentially, “Hillbilly Elegy” updates the old “culture of poverty” thesis associated with the anthropologist Oscar Lewis’s research on Mexican peasants (and later with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s ideas about Black Americans) and applies it to disadvantaged white communities.

Howard and Taylor mostly sidestep this argument, which has been widely criticized. They focus on the characters and their predicaments, and on themes that are likely to be familiar and accessible to a broad range of viewers. The film is a chronicle of addiction entwined with a bootstrapper’s tale — Bev’s story and J.D.’s, with Mamaw as the link between them.

But it sacrifices the intimacy, and the specificity, of those stories by pretending to link them to something bigger without providing a coherent sense of what that something might be. The Vances are presented as a representative family, but what exactly do they represent? A class? A culture? A place? A history? The louder they yell, the less you understand — about them or the world they inhabit.

For the full movie review, see:

A.O. Scott. “I Remember Bev and Mamaw.” The New York Times (Friday, November 27, 2020): C3.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 23, 2020, and has the title “‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Review: I Remember Mamaw.”)

J.D. Vance’s book is:

Vance, J. D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016.

Members of the Elite Exempt Themselves from Rules They Impose on the Hoi Polloi

(p. 12) SAN FRANCISCO — It was an intimate meal in a wood-paneled, private dining room in one of California’s most exclusive restaurants. No one around the table wore masks, not the lobbyists, not even the governor.

Photos that surfaced this week of a dinner at the French Laundry, a temple of haute cuisine in Napa Valley where some prix fixe meals go for $450 per person, have sparked outrage in a state where Democratic leaders have repeatedly admonished residents to be extra vigilant amid the biggest spike in infections since the pandemic began.

. . .

The photos of the gathering, taken by a diner at a nearby table and shared with a local television station, also showed the chief executive for the California Medical Association and the organization’s top lobbyist.

. . .

In a 2019 review of the French Laundry and two other Napa restaurants, the New York Times critic Tejal Rao described being “overwhelmed by the opulence” and feeling as if transported onto a “spaceship for the 1 percent, now orbiting a burning planet.” Mr. Newsom said in October that his children, who attend private school, returned to in-person classes even as most of the state struggles with remote learning.

“Newsom and the first partner eschewed state public health guidelines to dine with friends at a time when the governor has asked families to scale back Thanksgiving plans,” wrote the Sacramento Bee editorial board on Friday. It added, “If the governor can eat out with friends — and if his children can attend their expensive school — why must everyone else sacrifice?”

For the full story, see:

Thomas Fuller. “Officials’ Lavish Meal Out Spurs Outrage Among Californians.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, November 22, 2020): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 18, 2020, and has the title “For California Governor the Coronavirus Message Is Do as I Say, Not as I Dine.” The online version says that the title of the New York print version was “California Governor Calls” and appeared on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. The title of my National print version was “Officials’ Lavish Meal Out Spurs Outrage Among Californians” and appeared on Sunday, November 22, 2020.)

“The Often-Unsung Adaptability of Organic Intelligence”

(p. A13) . . ., as the journalist Jonathan Waldman chronicles in “SAM,” the quest for a bricklaying robot has been bumpier than the work of a mason with vertigo.

. . .

Several themes run through the book. First is the often-unsung adaptability of organic intelligence.

. . .

The minute adjustments a human makes when manipulating objects, especially in messy environments like construction sites, result from billions of years of evolution. We make it look easy, until you give instructions to a robot and watch it fumble around or freeze up when it gets a little dirt on its face. Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief A.I. scientist, once told me, “I would declare victory if in my professional lifetime we could make machines that are as intelligent as a rat.”

Mr. Peters has laudable motivations. “By creating a bricklaying robot,” Mr. Waldman writes, “he aimed to eliminate lifting and bending and repetitive-motion injuries in humans; to improve the quality of walls; to finish jobs faster and safer and cheaper; and to ease project scheduling and estimation. Basically: to modernize the world’s second oldest and most primitive trade.”

. . .

Within this physically and culturally harsh environment, Construction Robotics had to invent and reinvent their business model on the fly. Should they license their innovations? Sell the robots? Rent them? Provide robots and technicians as a service? Create a full-service masonry shop? Pivot from bricks to cement blocks? Take money from venture capitalists, court Google or a Dubai investment fund? Mr. Peters follows the philosophy of the book “The Lean Startup” and aims for an MVP—minimum viable product—to gain exposure and experience, knowing the risks in the construction industry. Word of a robot that builds crummy walls will travel fast, and demolished reputations are hard to rebuild.

The business finally finds its footing in the epilogue, around 2018. Construction Robotics gets SAM to lay more than 3,000 bricks a day (versus 300 to 1,000 for a human mason), and they create another machine that helps workers lift and place concrete blocks, quickly selling dozens. The company now looks to be solvent, though it’s unclear how much the construction landscape is poised to change.

For the full review, see:

Hutson, Matthew. “BOOKSHELF; Building a Better Bricklayer.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 13, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘SAM’ Review: Building a Better Bricklayer.”)

The book under review is:

Waldman, Jonathan. SAM: One Robot, a Dozen Engineers, and the Race to Revolutionize the Way We Build. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020.

A.I. Lacks Common Sense: “A Broad and Often Unspoken Understanding of How the World Works”

(p. A15) Journalists like to punctuate stories about the risks of artificial intelligence—particularly long-term, humanity-threatening risks—with images of the Terminator. The idea is that unchecked robots will rise up and kill us all.

. . .

Melanie Mitchell, a computer scientist at Portland State University, is in the too-soon-to-worry camp. “My own opinion is that too much attention has been given to the risks from superintelligent AI,” she writes in “Artificial Intelligence,” “and far too little to deep learning’s lack of reliability and transparency and its vulnerability to attacks.”

. . .

Object-recognition software, for instance, can track pedestrians, detect tumors and sort photo libraries. But it doesn’t understand the content the way we do. Its obtuseness becomes sharply apparent in so-called adversarial attacks, in which only minimal changes to an image (or a sound or text file) can fool an AI into misidentifying it. Such attacks even transfer to the real world. A stop sign with a few innocuous stickers becomes a speed-limit sign.

The researchers first elucidating such vulnerabilities in neural networks—machine-learning programs inspired by the brain’s wiring—called them an “intriguing property.” Ms. Mitchell writes, “Calling this an ‘intriguing property’ of neural networks is a little like calling a hole in the hull of a fancy cruise liner a ‘thought-provoking facet’ of the ship.”

Ultimately, these systems lack common sense, a broad and often unspoken understanding of how the world works. Common sense, in turn, might require embodied experience in the world, plus the ability to abstract from it and form analogies. Much of Ms. Mitchell’s academic work concerns helping AI form analogies. It hasn’t progressed far. (No fault of hers.)

For the full review, see:

Matthew Hutson. “BOOKSHELF; Learn Like a Machine.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, November 20, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 19, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Human Compatible’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ Review: Learn Like a Machine.”)

The book under review is:

Mitchell, Melanie. Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019.

U.A.W. Spends $60,000 on Leaders’ Cigar Expenses

(p. B1) On a single day in December 2015, Gary Jones, who resigned last month as president of the United Automobile Workers, spent more than $13,000 of the union’s money at a cigar store in Arizona. His purchases included a dozen $268 boxes of Ashton Double Magnums and a dozen boxes of Ashton Monarchs at $274.50 each. “Hi Gary, Thank you & Happy New Year,” read a handwritten note from the store.

The purchases, documented by a federal complaint filed against a union leader in September, were part of more than $60,000 in cigars and cigar paraphernalia that Mr. Jones and other U.A.W. officials expensed to the union between 2014 and 2018. And the cigar purchases were in turn just a small portion of the roughly $1 million in union money that court filings say U.A.W. officials spent on golf outings, four-figure din-(p. B2)ners and monthslong villa rentals during regular retreats in Palm Springs, Calif., and elsewhere.

The scandal comes on top of an investigation into company and union officials’ improper use of millions of dollars from a joint Fiat Chrysler-U.A.W. training center. Mr. Jones’s predecessor as president, Dennis Williams, is accused of encouraging the use of Fiat Chrysler funds meant for worker education as a way to pay for the extravagant spending in Palm Springs and other places.

For the full story, see:

Noam Scheiber and Neal E. Boudette. “Living the High Life On the Workers’ Dime.” The New York Times (Thursday, December 26, 2019): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Behind a U.A.W. Crisis: Lavish Meals and Luxury Villas.”)

With Race-Based College Admissions “Everyone Is at Each Other’s Throat”

(p. A3) Richard Alvarez, a senior of Mexican heritage, is waiting to hear from the University of Chicago. He said his school has spent years educating students about race, but now that the college crunch has arrived that sensitivity training “has gone out the window.”

“Everyone is at each other’s throat,” he said. “White students have this thing that brown and black students unfairly get into schools over them.”

For the full story, see:

Douglas Belkin. “Identity Box Vexes College Applicants.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 24, 2019): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 23, 2019, and has the title “The Most Agonizing Question on a College Application: What’s Your Race?”)