The political-economy debate-du-jour is whether Texas under Rick Perry is a job-creating powerhouse, or a dystopian charnel house where low-skilled workers go to be chewed into spiritual mulch on an endless low-wage conveyor belt that only ever leads to another McJob.
A post at the Political Math Blog does probably the best job of sorting out the competing claims. You really need to read the whole thing, but to pull out some of the more notable findings: Texas has created a lot of jobs, and its unemployment rate has risen largely because those jobs are attracting lots of people to move into the state. The jobs aren't particularly low-wage, and they aren't all in the energy sector. Democrats trying to push the line that the Texas economy isn't that great aren't going to get very far. It's pretty great (relative to the suckage in the rest of the country). That's why people are moving there.
The question remains, however: can we really credit Perry? I'm skeptical, for a few reasons:
High oil prices mean high living in Texas. The state is no longer as dominated by the energy sector as it was before the collapse in the 1980s, but it's still got a lot of energy firms, and skilled energy workers. Unless Rick Perry has been sneaking out at night to sabotage Iraqi oil pipelines, or sell automobiles and diesel generators to Chinese families, he can't really take credit for this.
The state's housing sector didn't boom or bust along with the rest of the country's. There have been a lot of posts over the past few days attributing this to a peculiar quirk of Texas mortgage law: unlike the rest of the country, Texans essentially cannot do cash-out refinancings for more than 80% of the value of the home. The law, enacted in the wake of the 1980s oil bust and the S&L crisis, undoubtedly helped keep things sane, but it's not necessarily the whole story. Nearby Oklahoma City also largely escaped the housing bubble, so this may be more of a regional story than a regulatory story. But either way, Rick Perry didn't personally pass Texan mortgage regulations, and he did not choose to locate Texas next to Oklahoma.
The governor of Texas isn't that powerful. In general, Texas has a weak state government, and my understanding is that the power of the executive is further diluted because powers that are normally concentrated in the office of the governor are actually spread out over a handful of elected officials. So even if awesome policy was responsible for how well Texas is doing, you couldn't give all the credit to Perry.
No governor is really that powerful. Economic growth is complicated. Sure, tax and regulatory policy help--and you'll be unsurprised to learn that I think Texas has about the right take on these things. But low taxes and a light regulatory touch do not, by themselves, produce economic growth. (Witness Texas in the 1980s.) And even if it were that simple, the governor of a state is not Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise--he does not simply point his hand at his underlings and say "Make it so!" Institutional inertia is a force more powerful than even the steely will of your favorite politician. A governor can make a difference, even a sizable one, at the margins. But he cannot single-handedly turn a state government around, much less the rest of the state.
I think that the Texan policies conservatives tout are probably contributing to growth, and not just in the form of beggar-thy-neighbor competition. Anyone who thinks that that's all there is to state-level tax policy needs to acquaint themselves with the concept of deadweight loss. Nor am I impressed with the much cited evidence that an unusually high percentage of Texans are uninsured: Hispanics and young workers are much more likely than other groups to lack insurance, and even most legal immigrants cannot qualify for Medicaid within five years of their arrival in this country, while with limited exceptions, illegal immigrants generally can't qualify at all (Obamacare doesn't much change this). Texas isn't really to my taste, but from the evidence of all the people voting with their feet, it seems to be a pretty good place to live.
But though I think the state has a pretty good policy environment, that's the beginning of the story, not the end of it. There are a lot of reasons for Texan growth, and very few of them can be laid at the feet of the governor. For which we should really thank God. If states really could be boosted into the stratosphere, or driven into the ground, merely by changing the occupant of the governor's office, we'd have to live with the constant risk that our fellow voters would elect an idiot, and destroy our lives. Thankfully, the government isn't quite that powerful.
For some, abandoning expensive urban centers would be a huge financial relief.
Neal Gabler has been a formative writer for me: His Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity was one of the books that led me to think about leaving scholarship behind and write nonfiction instead, and Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination was the first book I reviewed as a freelance writer. To me, he exemplifies the best mix of intensive archival research and narrative kick.
So reading his recent essay, "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans," was a gut punch: First, I learned about a role model of mine whose talent, in my opinion, should preclude him from financial woes. And, then, I was socked by narcissistic outrage: I, too, struggle with money! I, too, am a failing middle-class American! I, too, am a writer of nonfiction who should be better compensated!
Don’t expect Hillary Clinton to stay above the fray in the general election—her campaign plans “sustained and brutal attacks” on Donald Trump.
As they look ahead to the general election, some commentators envision a campaign in which Donald Trump attacks viciously and Hillary Clinton makes a virtue of her refusal to stoop to his level. “I think Trump’s method will be to turn on the insult comedy against Hillary Clinton,” declared GOP consultant Mike Murphy earlier this week. “Her big judo move is playing the victim.” Vox’s Ezra Klein speculated earlier this year that “Trump sets up Clinton for a much softer and unifying message than she’d be able to get away with against a candidate like [Marco] Rubio.”
I doubt it will play out that way. Rope-a-dope isn’t Clinton’s style. When facing political threats, her pattern has been to strike first—and with great force.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
The team, which had 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the English Premier League, has pulled off the biggest upset in sports history.
Much to everyone’s disbelief, the Leicester City soccer club was crowned the champion of the English Premier League Monday.
The team’s chances last summer were small, to say the least. Back then, William Hill, a British betting group, put the odds of the Foxes of Leicester City, a fledgling team based two hours north of London, of winning at 5,000-to-1. Essentially, the team had a .0002 percent chance of being the best team in the league of 20. Except for the 25 people who bet a combined total of just $243 on the team through William Hill, no one expected this from Leicester City.
Here’s some perspective: William Hill once put the odds of Elvis being found alive and well at 2,000-to-1 and an acknowledgment by the U.S. government that the first moon landing was faked at 500-to-1.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Home,” the second episode of the sixth season.
Every week for the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Christopher Orr, Spencer Kornhaber, and Lenika Cruz will be discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners are being made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Even as the militant group loses ground in Iraq, many Sunnis say they have no hope for peace. One family’s story shows why.
Falah Sabar heard a knock at the door. It was just before midnight in western Baghdad last April and Falah was already in bed, so he sent his son Wissam to answer. Standing in the doorway was a tall young man in jeans who neither shook Wissam’s hand nor offered a greeting. “We don’t want you here,” he said. “Your family should be gone by noon tomorrow.” For weeks, Wissam, who was 23, had been expecting something like this, as he’d noticed a dark mood taking hold of the neighborhood. He went to get his father, but when they returned, the stranger was gone.
Falah is tall and broad-shouldered, with salt-and-pepper hair. At 48, he was the patriarch of a brood of sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. He sat down with Wissam to talk things through. They had been in Baghdad for just three months, but that was long enough for the abiding principle of refugee life to imprint itself on Falah’s psyche: Avoid trouble. When Wissam had managed to find a job at a construction firm, Falah had told him to be courteous, not to mix with strangers, and not to ask too many questions. If providence had granted them a new life in this unfamiliar city, it could snatch that life away just as easily.
The newly discovered worlds are now the most promising targets in the search for life among the stars—and the race to take a closer look at them has begun.
The robot telescope settles on its target, a star that sits closer than all but a tiny fraction of the tens of billions of stellar systems that make up the Milky Way. Its mirror grabs light for 55 seconds, again and again. The robot telescope—called TRAPPIST—will observe the star for 245 hours across sixty-two nights, making 12,295 measurements. Eleven times, it will see the star dim, ever so slightly. This dip in luminosity, called a transit, has a straightforward astronomical explanation: It’s a planet passing in front of the star, blocking just a bit of its light. In this case, the transits tell us that 3 planets orbit the star.
“So what?” you might think.
Astronomers have been spotting planets around distant stars for years now, using the transit method, among others. Not a month goes by without a headline, touting the discovery of new “exoplanets.” But these planets are different, and not only because they’re near. Like the Earth these planets could potentially permit liquid water to persist on their surfaces—which is thought to be a key pre-condition for the emergence of life. Today, when their discovery is published in Nature, they will instantly become the most promising planets yet found in the search for life among the stars.