“Nebraskans Preparing for the Imminent Arrival of Several Million New York Refugees”

(p. 12) HOUSING prices are falling on both coasts, and bubble panic is around the corner.  The financial magazines are already grabbing their readers by the throat and taunting them with headlines like:  ”U.S. Housing Crash Continues!” ”Where Will Housing Prices Fall the Most?” ”Is It Time to Cash Out?”

What if it is time to cash out?  Where do you go?  If you sell on either coast, then you need to find real estate somewhere that the housing bubble missed.  Guam?  American Samoa?  Wait, how about eastern Nebraska?  Downright frothless when it comes to housing:  the median home price here usually chugs along at the annual rate of inflation and never goes down (up 4 percent last year, up 22 percent over the last five years).

Before you recoil in horror at the thought of living in Omaha, a city of 414,000 souls, consider that this year Money magazine ranked it seventh of the nation’s 10 best big cities to live in, ahead of New York City, which ranked 10th.  O.K., now you may recoil in horror.

These compelling statistics have Nebraskans preparing for the imminent arrival of several million New York refugees (victims of post-traumatic bubble anxiety disorder), who will need emergency real estate and housing triage services.

 

For the full commentary, see:

Richard Dooling.  "Sweet Home Omaha."  The New York Times, Section 4 (Sunday, October 29, 2006):  12.

Is Variety Good?

Chris Anderson has a stimulating and useful chapter in The Long Tail on why having variety and choice is good.

Not all agree.  My old Wabash economics professor, Ben Rogge, with wry amusement, used to refer us to Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock.  Toffler’s view was that choice was stressful—visualize the Robin Williams’ Russian émigré character in "Moscow on the Hudson," when he collapses in panic on not knowing how to choose amongst the variety of coffees in the Manhattan supermarket aisle.

What amused Rogge was the contrast between the old critics of capitalism, who criticized capitalism for providing too few goods for the proletariat, and the new critics, like Toffler, who criticized capitalism for providing too many goods for the proletariat. 

Although Toffler has recanted his earlier views, others, such as Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice, have picked up the anti-choice banner.

Here’s my current two cents worth.  Sometimes we value variety for its own sake, and sometimes not.  I may find the variety of ethnic restaurants exciting, but not the variety of music on I-tunes.

But even when I don’t value variety for its own sake, I still may value it because it increases the odds that the product I can find matches the product I want.  Let me explain.

In the language of Clayton Christensen and co-author Raynor, in The Innovator’s Solution, generally what I want is a good that does well, a "job" that I want or need to get done.

Some critics of mass production descried the loss of the variety of products produced by pre-industrial craftsmen.  But what good did it do the peasants that no two chairs were quite alike, if all of them were too hard and misshapen for the job of comfortably sitting in them?

Mass production reduced variety, but increased quality, in the sense of bringing (cheaply) to market, products that were far better at doing the jobs that most people wanted/needed to get done. 

If the modern varieties of chairs are a response to differences in the jobs that different consumers need to get done, then I might generally, and accurately, presume that variety is usually good, not because I want to constantly sample a lot of different chairs (like I want to sample a lot of different ethnic foods), but rather because variety increases the odds that I will find the one or two particular chairs that allow me to do the job that I want a chair to do for me.  

Specifically, recently, we were looking for a chair that was firm, spill-resistant, would swivel to allow talking to someone in the kitchen, would recline for watching television, would be dog-chew resistant, and would have a color/fabric complementary to the rest of the furniture.  We shopped at Nebraska Furniture Mart, which is the largest furniture store in the U.S., with the greatest selection, because we hoped to find the one chair that would do all of these jobs.

We came close, but I wish there was a store with even greater selection.

   

“If Ethanol Made Economic Sense, It Wouldn’t Need a Subsidy”

 

  Source of graphics:  online version of the World-Herald article cited below.

 

(p. 1D)  LINCOLN – David Pimentel, a Cornell University researcher, has been criticized repeatedly since he questioned the energy value of ethanol in 1980.

In a government-funded report, he suggested that ethanol provides less energy than is used to produce it.  Even though that report has been disputed and rejected by other analysts, Pimentel has not backed down.

He said last week that rural developers, farmers and investors will rue the day they put their money, hopes and dreams into the corn-based alternative fuel.

"It is too bad," he said in an interview, "because it would be a tremendous asset to agriculture if this were a true winner."

Pimentel is among the public critics who raise red flags as momentum gathers for dramatic increases in production, especially in the nation’s top two ethanol-producing states:  Iowa and Nebraska.

While Pimentel is perhaps the expert most often quoted – in part because he presented his analysis more than 25 years ago – others also raise questions about the energy value of ethanol and its economic benefits and environmental effects.

Ethanol backers defend the fuel as a viable way to help stabilize the nation’s fuel supply.  But they haven’t convinced Jerry Taylor, an energy policy specialist for the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

"If ethanol made economic sense, it wouldn’t need a subsidy," Taylor said.

 

For the full story, see:

BILL HORD.  "High-octane Clash."  Omaha World-Herald  (Sunday, August 6, 2006):  1D-2D.

 

  Source of graphics:  online version of the World-Herald article cited above.

 

Gateway Features artdiamondblog.com

Source of graphic: online version of The Gateway article cited below.

 

The Gateway, the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, ran a nice feature article on artdiamondblog.com on July 18, 2006, as the first installment of a projected series on blogs created by members of the campus community.

 

If you click the citation below, you will arrive at the online version of the feature:

Reed, Charley. "Meet the Blogger: UNO Professor Art Diamond." The Gateway (Tues., July 18, 2006):  3.

 

For your convenience, the text of the feature also appears below.

Continue reading “Gateway Features artdiamondblog.com”

Illegal Immigration Reduces Wages for High School Dropouts by Only 3.6%

ImmigrantEffectOnWages.jpg  Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

As Congress debates an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, several economists and news media pundits have sounded the alarm, contending that illegal immigrants are causing harm to Americans in the competition for jobs.

Yet a more careful examination of the economic data suggests that the argument is, at the very least, overstated.  There is scant evidence that illegal immigrants have caused any significant damage to the wages of American workers.

The number that has been getting the most attention lately was produced by George J. Borjas and Lawrence F. Katz, two Harvard economists, in a paper published last year.  They estimated that the wave of illegal Mexican immigrants who arrived from 1980 to 2000 had reduced the wages of high school dropouts in the United States by 8.2 percent. But the economists acknowledge that the number does not consider other economic forces, such as the fact that certain businesses would not exist in the United States without cheap immigrant labor. If it had accounted for such things, immigration’s impact would be likely to look less than half as big.

. . .

. . . , as businesses and other economic agents have adjusted to immigration, they have made changes that have muted much of immigration’s impact on American workers.

For instance, the availability of foreign workers at low wages in the Nebraska poultry industry made companies realize that they had the personnel to expand.  So they invested in new equipment, generating jobs that would not otherwise be there.  In California’s strawberry patches, illegal immigrants are not competing against native workers; they are competing against pickers in Michoacán, Mexico.  If the immigrant pickers did not come north across the border, the strawberries would.

"Immigrants come in and the industries that use this type of labor grow," said David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.  "Taking all into account, the effects of immigration are much, much lower."

In a study published last year that compared cities that have lots of less educated immigrants with cities that have very few, Mr. Card found no wage differences that could be attributed to the presence of immigrants.

. . .

When Mr. Borjas and Mr. Katz assumed that businesses reacted to the extra workers with a corresponding increase in investment — as has happened in Nebraska — their estimate of the decline in wages of high school dropouts attributed to illegal immigrants was shaved to 4.8 percent. And they have since downgraded that number, acknowledging that the original analysis used some statistically flimsy data.

Assuming a jump in capital investment, they found that the surge in illegal immigration reduced the wages of high school dropouts by just 3.6 percent.

 

For the full commentary, see:

EDUARDO PORTER.  "ECONOMIC VIEW; Cost of Illegal Immigration May Be Less Than Meets the Eye."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sunday, April 16, 2006):  3.

Ernie Chambers Right in Supporting Parents’ Role in Education

For several months, the Omaha community has been roiled by the hostile efforts of the Omaha Public School (OPS) district to seize the schools and territory of long-established suburban school districts. Here ia an email that I sent to my representative in the Nebraska unicam on Sun., 4/9/06:

Dear Mr. Brashear:
I have appreciated your hard work as my representative in the legislature, and I have always voted for your re-election.
We believe strongly in giving our 11 year-old daughter a Montessori education. The Millard School District is the only area district that has had the entrepreneurial initiative to offer such a program, so we filled out the paperwork to option Jenny into the Millard District.
I strongly resent the implication of OPS that those who choose other school districts necessarily do so for racial reasons. We would have been very happy to stay in OPS (and it would have been more logistically convenient), but OPS does not support the diversity of educational options that Millard does.
Ernie Chambers is often wrong, but he is not always wrong. Dividing OPS into three districts would be a modest step toward increasing parental choice. Parents of all races want to be free to choose.
Tomorrow, I hope your vote will be to support freedom and competition.
Thank you for considering my views.
Sincerely,
Art Diamond

Enron’s Kenneth Rice in Omaha on 9/11/01


Kenneth Rice exiting a Houston federal courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006. Source of image: the online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.
A lot of people remember what they were doing when the first jet crashed into the twin towers on 9/11/01. I was listening to a presentation on the potential of broadband given by Kenneth Rice, at a forum sponsored by Creighton University. A day or two earlier, Creighton had presented Rice with a distinguished alumnus award. I don’t remember much detail about Rice’s presentation, but remember thinking that he gave a clear and informative analysis of the potential and risks of the broadband business.

(p. 1D) HOUSTON (AP) – Kenneth Rice, former chief of Enron Corp.’s struggling broadband unit, testified Thursday that his boss, Jeffrey Skilling, directed him to paint a rosy, misleading picture for the Enron board of directors that was in line with false statements Rice said he already made to financial analysts in 2001.
But Rice, the former CEO of Enron Broadband Services, said in his third day on the stand at the fraud and conspiracy trial of Skilling and founder Kenneth Lay that he had no documents and “only my recollection” to back up a conversation he had with Skilling, Enron’s chief executive, as he prepared for a May 2001 meeting of the company’s board.
“What I took from meeting with Mr. Skilling was he wanted me to put a presentation together that was more consistent with the analyst conference and less direct on some of the challenges we were facing at EBS,” Rice said.
In January 2001, Rice told Wall Street analysts who influenced the company’s stock price that the business was well positioned for strong long-term financial performance. In reality, however, Enron’s broadband unit was spending $100 million per quarter and generating little revenue and business, he said.

For the full story, see:
“Skilling said paint rosy picture, Rice says.” Omaha World-Herald (Friday, February 17, 2006): 1D.