Carpe Diem

Students used to learn that graffiti is a criminal form of vandalism, and they are now taught that it is an art form?

SAMSUNGGraffiti is described in the Oxford Dictionary as “Writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.”

Graffiti is also illegal in most jurisdictions as a property crime — here’s the law in the state of Texas, where graffiti can be a first-degree felony crime with jail terms from 5-99 years and fines up to $10,000:

Graffiti is defined as permanently marking, painting, drawing on, etching, engraving or scratching property without the owner’s permission.

Graffiti is classified as a separate property offense under the law. It carries a punishment range that is tougher than criminal mischief. Penalties range from a Class B misdemeanor to first-degree felony. These penalties are based on the amount of damage caused by the graffiti.

It is a state jail felony to mark graffiti on a school, place of worship or burial, public monument or community center, if the damage is $20,000 or less.

If three or more individuals “tag” property, they may be considered gang members and punished more severely.

Question: Why are our tax dollars now being used in public schools to teach students about graffiti as an art form, when it’s an illegal criminal activity, punishable as a felony crime with possible jail time and frequently associated with gang activity? The photo above was taken today by a teacher in a public middle school in the Twin Cities area, where today’s learning goals included:

1) I can watch a demo on how to draw graffiti, and

2) I can practice drawing in graffiti.

This is apparently part of a national trend to teach graffiti in the classroom as a felonious art form, check out some sample teacher websites here and here. And here’s a “Graffiti Fun Art” lesson plan that suggests that K-6 teachers:

Encourage students to design a personal and stylized signature or [graffiti] ‘tag.’ The tag can be a given name, a nickname or something they’ve made up to represent themselves. This school version of graffiti shows students that lettering is not only important in communicating, but that it can also be an artistic expression.

It wasn’t always like this. Here’s a teacher lesson plan from 1999 called “Graffiti Hurts” that starts out like this:

Two strategies a community can use to significantly reduce or even eliminate graffiti are rapid removal and education. Removing graffiti promptly sends a message that it will not be tolerated. Education is vital to foster in children a respect for the community and the property of others.

As an educator, you can help students develop the attributes of respect and responsibility – especially in younger students who have not yet become involved in graffiti. Students who possess these attributes understand how they, their families, and everyone in the community are hurt by graffiti and other forms of vandalism. They will also be able to channel their energies into more productive activities and help make their community graffiti-free.

MP: Wow, I guess a lot has changed in the last 15 years. Whereas students used to learn correctly that graffiti is a punishable property crime and a form of vandalism, they now learn to celebrate graffiti as an art form and are encouraged to design their own personal graffiti “tag.” Can’t you now easily imagine a scenario where a student faces misdemeanor or felony charges for graffiti property damage and explains to the judge that “I learned about graffiti in middle school and my teachers told me this was a legitimate art form and even made me design my tag that now appears on the sides of buildings and train cars – I’m confused why I’m being charged with a felony.”

Carpe Diem

‘Equal pay day’ this year fell on April 14; the next ‘equal occupational fatality day’ will occur on July 31, 2025


Every year the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) publicizes its “Equal Pay Day” to bring public attention to the gender pay gap. “Equal Pay Day” this year fell on April 14, and allegedly represents how far into 2014 the average woman had to continue working to earn the same income that the average man earned last year. Inspired by Equal Pay Day, I introduced “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” in 2010 to bring public attention to the huge gender disparity in work-related deaths every year in the United States. “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” tells us how many years into the future women would have to work before they would experience the same number of occupational fatalities that occurred in the previous year for men.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released new data today on workplace fatalities for 2013, and a new “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” can now be calculated. As in previous years, the chart above shows the significant gender disparity in workplace fatalities in 2013: 4,101 men died on the job (93.1% of the total) compared to only 302 women (6.9% of the total). The “gender occupational fatality gap” in 2013 was considerable — nearly 14 men died on the job last year for every woman who died while working.

Based on the new BLS data, the next “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” will occur about 11 years from now ­­– on July 31, 2025. That date symbolizes how far into the future women will be able to continue working before they experience the same loss of life that men experienced in 2013 from work-related deaths. Because women tend to work in safer occupations than men on average, they have the advantage of being able to work for more than a decade longer than men before they experience the same number of male occupational fatalities in a single year.

Economic theory tells us that the “gender occupational fatality gap” explains part of the “gender pay gap” because a disproportionate number of men work in higher-risk, but higher-paid occupations like coal mining (almost 100 % male), fire fighters (96.5% male), police officers (86.6% male), correctional officers (72.8% male), logging (97.9% male), refuse collectors (95.2%), truck drivers (94.8%), roofers (99.3% male), highway maintenance (98.9%) and construction (97.4% male); BLS data here. On the other hand, women far outnumber men in relatively low-risk industries, often with lower pay to partially compensate for the safer, more comfortable indoor office environments in occupations like office and administrative support (73.3% female), education, training, and library occupations (73.8% female), and healthcare (74.4% female). The higher concentrations of men in riskier occupations with greater occurrences of workplace injuries and fatalities suggest that more men than women are willing to expose themselves to work-related injury or death in exchange for higher wages. In contrast, women more than men prefer lower risk occupations with greater workplace safety, and are frequently willing to accept lower wages for the reduced probability of work-related injury or death.

Bottom Line: Groups like the NCPE use “Equal Pay Day” to promote a goal of perfect gender pay equity, probably not realizing that they are simultaneously advocating an increase in the number of women working in higher-paying, but higher-risk occupations like fire-fighting, roofing, construction, farming, and coal mining. The reality is that a reduction in the gender pay gap would come at a huge cost: several thousand more women will be killed each year working in dangerous occupations.

Here’s a question for the NCPE that I ask every year: Closing the “gender pay gap” can only be achieved by closing the “occupational fatality gap.” Would achieving the goal of perfect pay equity really be worth the loss of life for thousands of additional women each year who would die in work-related accidents?

Carpe Diem

Thomas Sowell on the minimum/living wage and why labor unions support raising wages for unskilled workers

From Thomas Sowell’s column this week “Mob Rule Economics“:

In 1948, the year I left home, the unemployment rate among black 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds was 9.4 percent, slightly lower than that for white kids the same ages, which was 10.2 percent.

Over the decades since then, we have gotten used to unemployment rates among black teenagers being over 30 percent, 40 percent or in some years even 50 percent. Such is the price of political “compassion.”
Whatever the good intentions behind minimum wage laws, what matters are the actual consequences. Many people have ideological, financial or political incentives to obfuscate the consequences.

Labor unions are the biggest force behind attempts to raise the minimum wage, not only in the United States but in other countries around the world. That may seem strange, since most union members already earn more than the minimum wage. But the unions know what they are doing, even if too many gullible observers do not.

Low-skill workers with correspondingly low wages compete in the labor market with higher skilled union members with correspondingly higher wages. Many kinds of work can be done by various mixtures of low-skilled workers and high-skilled workers.

Minimum wage rates that are higher than what most low-skilled and inexperienced workers are worth simply price those workers out of the job markets, leaving more work for union members. All the unions have to do is camouflage what is happening by using rhetoric about “a living wage,” or “social justice” or whatever else will impress the gullible.

Life was tough when all I could get were low-paying jobs. But it would have been a lot tougher if I couldn’t get any job at all. And a tough life made me go get some skills and knowledge.

Carpe Diem

A swamp of schlumps: Can we ditch the pajamas, shorts and flip-flops and stop dressing like slobs when we’re traveling?

1. In an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm above, Larry David offers some fashion advice and a traveling tip to the guy sitting next to him on a plane — “Try not to wear shorts, it’s not all that attractive to look at.”

2. In this Slate article, J. Bryan Lowder encourages the masses to stop dressing like slobs when they travel:

The primary reason I make the extra effort to plan my travel outfit is because, well, no one else does. Among the cavalcade of pajama pants, tracksuits, nightgowns, painting rags, and ill-fitting sweatshirts that one encounters in the world’s terminals and stations these days, the competently dressed individual stands apart as a beacon of civilized life, an island of class amid a swamp of schlumps. By dressing myself as a decent human being who is aware that he is in public, I like to think I am performing a small act of resistance against the increasingly slobbish status quo.

Alas, the general lack of respect for travel, itself, as a worthwhile human experience, seems to be the root of this lazy dressing phenomenon. Many of us act as if we’re trying to create a private, instantaneous bridge through folded space-time between our bedrooms and our hotel rooms by flying in our pajamas; the bad news is, barring a sudden forward leap in technology, wormhole creation is impossible.

3. One consequence of dressing like slobs, is that it facilitates people behaving like slobs.

Exhibit A: See the photo below (featured before on CD) that I took at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport a few months ago showing a woman lounging with her bare feet up on a public table, while the guy across from her is eating his food!


Carpe Diem

Markets in everything: High-tech, sensor-based trash collection saves up to 50% compared to the traditional system

Here’s a good example of both creative destruction and the invisible hand – Enevo ONe, a Finnish startup, is disrupting the waste management industry with a new, innovative sensor-based trash management system. Here’s how it works (from the company’s website):

Enevo ONe is a comprehensive logistics solution that saves time, money and the environment. It uses wireless sensors to measure and forecast the fill-level of waste containers and generates smart collection plans using the most efficient schedules and routes. The solution provides up to 50% in direct cost savings.

Until now collecting waste has been done using static routes and schedules where containers are collected every day or every week regardless if they are full or not. Enevo ONe changes all this by using smart wireless sensors to gather fill-level data from waste containers. The service then automatically generates schedules and optimized routes which take into account an extensive set of parameters (future fill-level projections, truck availability, traffic information, road restrictions etc.). New schedules and routes are planned not only looking at the current situation, but considering the future outlook as well.

Here’s a Forbes article with some background on how the company got started — the same way most successful companies get started — when Finnish entrepreneur Fredrik Kekalainen had a “eureka moment.”  And most of those “eureka moments” are perfect examples of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” concept, because entrepreneurs only become successful and rich in the marketplace by figuring out ways to make other people better off through better products or services, cheaper products or services, or new products and services that improve the lives of others. If things work out, entrepreneurs like Fredrik Kekalainen get rich, but their personal wealth is usually only a fraction of the social benefits that they generate collectively for the rest of society. By pursuing their own self-interest (and their desire to become wealthy) entrepreneurs like Fredrik are led by an “invisible hand” to make the rest of us better off. And that’s the miracle of the marketplace that Steven Landsburg described Armchair Economist - the amazing phenomenon that individually selfish behavior leads to collectively efficient outcomes.

HT: Jon Murphy

Carpe Diem

Washing windows hanging from a rope 12 stories above the ground, I hope he’s getting paid a risk premium

windowHere’s one example of why men earn more on average than women before making any adjustments for factors like hours worked, continuous experience, marital status, age and number of children: Men far outnumber women in occupations that are very dangerous, and therefore highly-paid, like coal mining, working on oil rigs, fishing, farming, logging, roofing, construction, fire fighting, law enforcement, etc.

To illustrate, I took the picture above today of a male window-washer hanging off the 12th story of a new building across the street from AEI. He was dangling on ropes, with no obvious safety equipment other than the several ropes that looked to be about the thickness of a clothesline attached to something on the top of the building, with no buckets, trays or harnesses to support him, and nothing below him except the sidewalk 12 stories down to stop a fall. I’m pretty sure this guy makes a higher wage than the maintenance workers who might be assigned to clean the same exact windows from the inside of the building.

Of course, there’s nothing that would prevent women from becoming outside window-washers like this guy, but there might be natural gender differences in risk tolerance that would discourage most women from hanging off a rope 12 stories above the concrete sidewalk. Isn’t it realistic to assume that men naturally show greater tolerance than women for risky, physically demanding, dangerous work in extreme outdoor conditions, and women put a higher priority on office work environments that are low-risk, indoors, safe and pleasant? Higher (lower) risk = higher (lower) wages, ceteris paribus, and women on average may be perfectly willing to accept lower wages for lower risk jobs, which would contribute to the unadjusted gender wage gap.

Here’s BLS data showing that in 2012, 92% of all workplace fatalities were men, here’s data showing that 91% of all fatal motorcycle accidents in 2012 were men, and here’s data showing that 93.4% of all current federal prisoners are male, so I don’t think there’s any question that men are significantly more risk-tolerant than women. As long as there are natural gender differences in risk tolerance, we should expect those differences to explain some of the gender wage gap. I’m not sure this always happens, but empirical studies of gender wage differences should control for risk differences by occupation by accounting for the probability of work-related injuries or fatalities by occupation.

Carpe Diem

Paul Krugman on the minimum/living wage: 1998 vs. 2014

Former economist Paul Krugman now apparently supports a $15 per hour minimum wage (or a $15 per hour “living wage”), and he recently claimed a $15 minimum/living wage wouldn’t have negative employment effects. In his former life as an economist, Krugman had a much different view of the living wage, as you’ll find in this excerpt of his 1998 review of the book Living Wage: What It Is and Why We Need It (emphasis added):

The living wage movement is simply a move to raise minimum wages through local action. So what are the effects of increasing minimum wages? Any Econ 101 student can tell you the answer: The higher wage reduces the quantity of labor demanded, and hence leads to unemployment. This theoretical prediction has, however, been hard to confirm with actual data. Indeed, much-cited studies by two well-regarded labor economists, David Card and Alan Krueger, find that where there have been more or less controlled experiments, for example when New Jersey raised minimum wages but Pennsylvania did not, the effects of the increase on employment have been negligible or even positive. Exactly what to make of this result is a source of great dispute. Card and Krueger offered some complex theoretical rationales, but most of their colleagues are unconvinced; the centrist view is probably that minimum wages “do,” in fact, reduce employment, but that the effects are small and swamped by other forces. What is remarkable, however, is how this rather iffy result has been seized upon by some liberals as a rationale for making large minimum wage increases a core component of the liberal agenda–for arguing that living wages “can play an important role in reversing the 25-year decline in wages experienced by most working people in America.” Clearly these advocates very much want to believe that the price of labor–unlike that of gasoline, or Manhattan apartments–can be set based on considerations of justice, not supply and demand, without unpleasant side effects. In short, what the living wage is really about is not living standards, or even economics, but morality. Its advocates are basically opposed to the idea that wages are a market price–determined by supply and demand, the same as the price of apples or coal. And it is for that reason, rather than the practical details, that the broader political movement of which the demand for a living wage is the leading edge is ultimately doomed to failure: For the amorality of the market economy is part of its essence, and cannot be legislated away.

Carpe Diem

Realistically, wouldn’t a $15 per hour minimum wage accelerate automation in industries like fast-food?

Explaining why a $15 per hour minimum wage wouldn’t lead to job losses from greater automation and mechanization, Paul Krugman tells us that minimum wage workers are employed in “areas where — yeah, you can mechanize some but not very much actually. For the most part minimum wage workers are in ‘common sense’ industries [like fast food]. The reason you need a person is because you require the kind of flexibility that I think we’re still a few decades away from getting out of computers.”

Actually, we might be much closer to the automation of fast food that Krugman dismisses as being “decades away.” Especially if the minimum wage was raised to $15 per hour…..

Exhibit A: Self-service ordering kiosks. Consumers are embracing self-service technology now more than ever.…..

mcd1Exhibit B: The burger robot pictured below is “poised to disrupt the fast food industry.” The Momentum Machine “does everything employees can do except better — it slices toppings like tomatoes and pickles immediately before it places the slice onto your burger, giving you the freshest burger possible. It’s more consistent, more sanitary, and can produce ~360 hamburgers per hour.”


Carpe Diem

Paul Krugman claims that a $15 per hour minimum wage (equivalent to a $17,500 annual tax) won’t result in job losses

Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour would be equivalent to a $16,120 annual tax on every full-time unskilled or low-skilled worker ($7.75 per hour x 40 hours per week x 52 weeks). After accounting for the employer share of payroll and unemployment taxes (about 8.25%), that would increase the “annual unskilled worker tax” to $17,500 per full-time minimum wage worker.  For a company or fast-food restaurant that employs ten entry-level workers, that would be equivalent to a $175,000 annual tax on its unskilled workers.

And yet, in this Huffington Post article”Krugman Demolishes Classic Argument Against Raising Minimum Wage” (and the Business Insider video above), we learn from Paul Krugman that there’s nothing to worry about because “paying fast-food workers $15 an hour won’t cause big companies like McDonald’s to cut jobs.” Really? A $17,500 annual tax per full-time, unskilled worker will have no effect on jobs?