Book Notes: The Origins of Sex


The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution covers the changing attitudes toward sexuality that occurred in the 18th Century, plus some spillover before and after.

Prior to this first revolution, the author notes that “Ultimately, the right to have sex, and to form a family, was regulated by the community. … when paupers had children out of wedlock they could be taken away from them.”

Boston was not a great place to party: “In the early seventeenth century, all the colonies of New England enacted harsh laws against unchastity: banishment, imprisonment, severe public flogging, the wearing of scarlet letters and other shaming garments for the rest of one’s life. Many of them, affirming with the founders of New Haven that ‘the Scriptures do hold forth a perfect rule’ of government, followed the Old Testament and made adultery punishable by death.” (Though Glastonbury might have been: “To get a young relative of hers to sleep with men, for example, a bawd called Margery in early seventeenth-century Glastonbury encouraged her ‘that she had a good cunt and bid her make use thereto for if she did not she would do her self wrong, for if ground were not tilled and manured it would be overgrown with thorns and briars’.”)

Commercial sex providers lawyered up:

A deeper problem was therefore the rising legal expertise of hardened sexual criminals. Litigation against such people must always have been particularly difficult; but in the eighteenth century the balance seems to have shifted decisively in their favour. It was dismaying to see how easily lewd and disorderly houses brushed aside justice by ‘the suborning of false witnesses, and perjuries in the open courts’, complained a preacher in 1734. Compared with their opponents, bawds and their associates increasingly had deeper pockets and greater confidence in manipulating the law. An important contributory factor appears to have been the growing involvement of lawyers, whose influence is evident from around the turn of the century in several procedural challenges to the prosecution of whores and bawds.11 By the 1730s it was not uncommon in cases of all kinds for solicitors and barristers to offer themselves for hire to offenders taken before a magistrate, put on trial, wishing to appeal, or looking to sue for damages.

By the middle decades of the century even ordinary street-walkers sometimes had recourse to lawyers, and by the end of the century the legal confidence of some of them was remarkable. In 179I, when one young woman was picked up by Viscount Dungarvan and the transaction between them went wrong, she promptly sued him for theft. She lost, but only after an extraordinarily long trial, lasting almost six hours. For an illiterate London prostitute to have put an aristocratic client on trial for his life over such a matter would have been inconceivable in any earlier age. (Her name was Elizabeth Weldon, alias Troughton, alias Smith. When cross-examined she spoke frankly and confidently about her life and profession. Her attorney had been recommended to her by her hairdresser.)

Gay rights were substantial in the 18th century:

A similar mindset appears to have underlain the first extended public defence of homosexual relations in English, Thomas Cannon’s Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify’d (1749), which, disingenuously pretending the custom was now universally ‘exploded … and disowned’, described it as ‘that celebrated passion, sealed by sensualists, espoused by philosophers, enshrined by kings’, and set out to ‘discuss it with freedom, and the most philosophical exactness’. As Cannon pointed out in his introduction, ‘every dabbler knows by his classics … that boy-love ever was the top refinement of most enlightened ages.’ … Especially in private, homosexual freedom was also justified with growing confidence as natural, harmless, and commonplace.

Knowledge of the human body was imperfect:

Because women’s easy arousal was taken for granted, it was also generally believed until the eighteenth century that female orgasm was essential to pregnancy: without it, no child could be conceived.

It equally explains the breathless speech of the maidservant Anna Harrison, who in the 1690s supplemented her income through casual sex with acquaintances. ‘Pray make haste, make haste, make haste,’ she would exclaim, as a man penetrated her body, ‘I am afraid you should get me with child … no, no, I must take care for that, ‘tis a very troublesome thing to have a child, and no father, who owns it.’

By 1800, however, exactly the opposite idea had become firmly entrenched. Now it was believed that men were much more naturally libidinous, and liable to seduce women. Women had come to be seen as comparatively delicate, defensive, and sexually passive, needing to be constantly on their guard against male rapacity. Female orgasm was no longer thought essential to procreation.

Then, as now, cash was exchanged, but attitudes towards vendors varied with the era:

As the East End prostitute Anne Carter put it in 1730, what she did for a living was not the desperate resort of a ruined woman, but simply the exchange of money in return for ‘the satisfaction of her body … according to contract’.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this new way of regarding prostitutes – not as wilful, independent sexual agents, but as the victims of seduction, entrapment, and impoverishment – was to remain the overriding view of sexual trade.

In the work of more radical thinkers such as Mary Hays and Mary Wollstonecraft the critique went further still, and prostitution sometimes was held up as an epitome of all female suffering. In Wollstonecraft’s unfinished novel The Wrongs of Woman, when the protagonist hears the horrific story of a former prostitute, it makes ‘her thoughts take a wider range … she was led to consider the oppressed state of women’ more generally. Such assertions had particular force in the difficult economic climate of the 1790s. Yet by then the idea that inadequate opportunity of employment was one of the main causes of prostitution had been long established. ‘Women have but few trades and fewer manufactures to employ them’, it was observed in 1758: small wonder that so many ended up as whores.

The rise of the word ‘prostitute’ itself epitomized this development. Before 1700 it was not a term often used, or differentiated from general notions such as ‘whore’ or ‘harlot’. In the course of eighteenth century it took on a much sharper definition. As the focus of public policy narrowed from whoredom in general to the problem of the unchaste poor in particular, ‘prostitutes’ and ‘prostitution’ became pre-eminent categories in the classification of immorality.

The best way into these questions is through one of the most striking novelties of eighteenth-century culture: a growing public fascination with the lives of low-born whores. Around 1700 this would have been unimaginable. Even in London, few prostitutes ever became famous enough to be widely known or written about. By the end of the century, however, even as ever-greater stress came to be placed on the sexual passivity of respectable women, a whole culture of celebrity had grown up around their most immoral counterparts. Their actions were routinely reported in newspapers and magazines, their personalities analysed in pamphlets and poems, their portraits painted, engraved, and caricatured. So ubiquitous did this type of material become that a few decades later it gave rise to a new term, ‘pornography’, literally meaning the description of harlots.

Think that tabloid stories about the sexual escapes of the miscellaneously famous are new?

In the case of sexual celebrities even the most apparently trivial incident could be amplified a hundredfold. When in March 1759 Kitty Fisher was thrown off her horse whilst riding in St James’s Park, it inspired months of public comment, songs, verses, pictures, pamphlets, and entire books

Above all, there was an immense new appetite for biographies of real people. The eighteenth century was the first age of biographical dictionaries, of regular obituaries, of collected letters, and of published memoirs on a large scale.

This was also the age in which scandalous women first published real autobiographies and vindications of their own behaviour. Such writings served a variety of purposes. They allowed the author to present a favourable picture of herself to the world, and to name and shame her enemies. They earned her money from eager readers and booksellers. Most lucrative of all was the practice of blackmailing former lovers and clients, by threatening to publish their names and letters. This was one of the central aims of the serialized Apology of the courtesan Teresia Constantia Phillips, which was a runaway bestseller when it started appearing in 1748. In the same year were published the first two volumes of the Memoirs of Laetitia Pilkington, denounced by her estranged husband as ‘an incorrigible prostitute’. By 1800 the genre had become well established. When Margaret Leeson, the most fashionable prostitute and brothel-keeper of eighteenth-century Dublin, found herself down on her luck in the 1790s, it was thus obvious to her what to do. Like any modern celebrity seeking to capitalize on her moment of fame, she began publishing her memoirs. In three volumes, over several years and several hundreds of pages, she told all, drawing on her extensive private papers, accounts, and correspondence. It was a heady brew. There was the inevitable narrative of her own seduction into unchastity and courtesanship, with vignettes of her many keepers; the even fuller story of her life as a madam to some of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom; copious tales of high jinks in high society; letters from her lovers; histories of all the famous prostitutes she had known; and endless details of sexual commerce and scandal (see illustration 50). No wonder the work was ‘bought up with the greatest avidity’.3

In 1781, the actress, author, and feminist Mary Robinson, who also happened to be one of the most celebrated courtesans of her day, publicly threatened to publish the letters of her former lover, the Prince of Wales – until she was granted a ‘reward’ of £5,000 and an annuity for life. In 1806, when the Duke of York cast off his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, without an adequate financial settlement, she likewise threatened to publish details of their affair. … Her reward was a gigantic pay-off from the government (a lump sum of £10,000, and large annuities for life for her and her daughter), in return for the suppression of this dangerous text … The great courtesan Harriette Wilson went further still, maximizing her profits through a combination of extortion and titillation. First she announced the imminent appearance of her memoirs, which caused consternation amongst her innumerable former lovers, not least the king. Next she wrote privately to each man, threatening to expose him unless he immediately sent her hundreds of pounds. This tactic alone netted her several thousand pounds.

The pendulum swung back in the 1800s:

By the 1820s, most commentators agreed that public manners had become more decorous in recent decades, and sexual vice more restrained

And many historians would now concur that this ‘Victorian’ avowal of strict boundaries on sexual freedom, and the repression of various forms of sensuality, lasted well beyond 1901–indeed, that it was a dominant feature of western sexual culture until the 1960s. So pervasive did this outlook become that it gradually affected sexual relations even within marriage. Between 1800 and 1920, for example, rates of childbirth in most western countries plummeted by fifty per cent or more. This was a permanent change, and it appears to have been brought about not principally by any innovation in birth control, but by the mass adoption of techniques of sexual restraint within settled relationships–abstinence, limits on intercourse, the use of coitus interruptus.

A vital component in this re-emphasis on discipline was the relative desexualization of women. This book has tried to explain the eighteenth-century origins of this remarkable trend: but it reached its fullest development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For women of all classes, sexual ignorance and passivity came increasingly to be valued as essential components of respectable femininity and heterosexual love.

The final key feature of modern boundaries on sexual freedom was the growing frequency and harshness with which homosexual men were persecuted, both legally and socially. … Throughout the nineteenth century, there were hundreds of prosecutions and convictions per year [in England] for sodomy and homosexual indecency.

This book came out in 2012, long before publications such as the New York Times became saturated with reports of sexual activities among college students and debates about how to control them. But the text makes it clear that, even within a single society, it is hard to create long-term agreement about what kinds of sexual behavior are acceptable. So we shouldn’t be surprised if we are covering the same ground that the English covered in the 1700s.

More: Read The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution.

Walter Scott, child support defendant, earned about $800/month


An April 10, 2015 article in The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) by Lauren Sausser titled “Walter Scott dogged by system that ‘criminalizes’ debt” gives some more information about the man who was murdered by police last week. The victim earned $800 per month in 2003, the last year for which data are available. In other words, the guy was roughly at the poverty line with less than $10,000 per year in income. Perhaps he enjoyed some raises since then, but it seems unlikely that he was the kind of defendant that a typical plaintiff would seek out. Yet the $6 billion state and federal child support enforcement apparatus was after him for cash. This was a sensible strategy for the government workers involved. They all got taxpayer-funded paychecks for pursuing Scott, prosecuting him in front of a judge, ordering him to go to prison three times (a defeated parent in South Carolina can be imprisoned if he or she is five days late paying child support in whatever amount might have been ordered by a court), guarding him in prison, etc.

Despite the fact that child support arrears had accumulated during Scott’s various imprisonments (in most states, a convict is supposed to continue to pay his or her plaintiff every month; if the child support cash is not paid while imprisoned, the money must be paid, plus interest, after the child support defendant is released), times during which presumably he had been unable to earn any income, his total debt was only about $18,000. A stated reason for the government to pursue child support defendants aggressively is that it will reduce welfare expenses, but $18,000 isn’t enough to cover the welfare bill of a typical family for very long (consider subsidized housing, Medicaid, food stamps, home heating assistance, school lunches, plus cash assistance such as TANF; total is about $60,000 per year per family in poverty). But in this case the salaries for the government workers chasing him were higher than the total amount sought (and thus presumably far higher than the total amount that anyone could expect to be collected). Let’s consider just one of Scott’s imprisonments. It was five months in length. The South Carolina Department of Corrections says that it spends about $19,137 per year per inmate. So just that single imprisonment cost roughly $8,000 in today’s dollars.

What about the idea that chasing after Scott for cash was somehow good for his children? The studies cited in our “Citizens and Legislators” chapter concluded that children were actually worse off. Here’s an excerpt from the “Children, Mothers, and Fathers” chapter:

“Child Support and Young Children’s Development” (Nepomnyaschy, et al, 2012; Social Science Review 86:1), a Rutgers and University of Wisconsin study of children of lower income unmarried parents, found that any kind of court involvement was associated with harm to children: “We also find that provision of formal [court-ordered] child support is associated with worse withdrawn and aggressive behaviors.” The authors found that informal (voluntary) support from fathers could be helpful to children living with single mothers but court-ordered support, even when the cash was actually transferred, was on balance harmful.

So the taxpayers funded constant harassment and periodic imprisonment of this guy for more than a decade with no conceivable benefit to anyone except some government workers. Now the taxpayers will have to pay for the murder prosecution of the police officer who shot Walter Scott in the back. If a conviction is obtained, taxpayers will have to work extra hours every year so that the government can handle the typical endless rounds of appeals.


Milton Friedman Interview


As we finish out Passover (scholars have found that “slavery” in ancient Egypt meant being subject to a 20 percent income tax that full citizens did not pay) and prepare to file our tax returns for 2014 it seems like a good time to look back 42 years to Milton Friedman: The Playboy Interview.

Americans today want the government to set wages and, for at least some products, prices. President Richard Nixon made a foray into this area:

I regret that he imposed them; yet in doing so, I think he behaved the only way a responsible leader of a democracy could. He resisted controls for nearly three years when there was strong pressure for their introduction. He tried to make the case against controls, to educate the people about the causes of inflation and the best methods of fighting it— namely, reduced monetary growth and lower federal spending. But he failed and finally gave in to the popular demand for some kind of immediate and extreme measure to halt rising prices, and controls were the measure most people seemed to agree on. As a leader, that was a proper thing for him to do, even though he felt it was the wrong solution. He behaved the same way with regard to the war. Playboy: Aren’t you saying that there’s been a large element of political opportunism in Nixon’s reversals? Friedman: One man’s opportunism is another’s statesmanship. There is a very delicate balance between the two in our society. Good politics is what we should demand from our politicians— to a degree. We don’t want our leaders to charge off in every direction

What about the higher minimum wages that politicians around the country are currently debating and imposing?

A minimum-wage law is, in reality, a law that makes it illegal for an employer to hire a person with limited skills. Playboy: Isn’t it, rather, a law that requires employers to pay a fair and livable wage? Friedman: How is a person better off unemployed at a dollar sixty an hour than employed at a dollar fifty? … the effect of a minimum-wage law is to produce unemployment among people with low skills. And who are the people with low skills? In the main, they tend to be teenagers and blacks, and women who have no special skills or have been out of the labor force and are coming back. This is why there are abnormally high unemployment rates among these groups. …  Blacks get less schooling and are less skilled than whites. Therefore, the minimum-wage rate hits them particularly hard. I’ve often said the minimum-wage rate is the most anti-Negro law on the books. Playboy: Couldn’t those who are hurt by minimum-wage legislation be trained for more skilled jobs at better wages? Friedman: The minimum wage destroys the best kind of training programs we’ve ever had: on-the-job training. … In an attempt to repair the damage that the minimum wage has done to traditional on-the-job training, you now have a whole collection of programs designed to take up the slack. The great proliferation of governmental programs in which employers are subsidized to provide on-the-job training gives employers an incentive to hire people and then fire them in order to get other people for whom they can get more subsidies.

Friedman plainly did not foresee the expansion of the Welfare State or the development of Xbox and Comcast! (Or he would not have asked how a person could be better off unemployed than working at a crummy job!) Why do we have so much poverty after 42 years of expansion of anti-poverty programs since the interview?

the law of supply and demand works very generally. If there is a demand for poor people, the supply of poor people will rise to meet the demand. In setting up programs such as Aid to Dependent Children and all the other welfare programs, we have created a demand for poor people. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not blaming poor people. You can hardly blame them for acting in their own interest. Take a poor family in the South, working hard for a very low income. They learn that in New York City they can get $ 300 a month— or whatever it is— without working. Who can blame such a family for moving to New York to get that income?

If someone on welfare finds a job and gets off welfare, and then the job disappears— as so many marginal jobs do— it’s going to take him some time to go through all the red tape to get back onto the program.

If a man is working and has an income above the minimum, he’s not entitled to welfare. But if he deserts his family, they can receive welfare. That way, he can continue to earn his income and contribute it to his family, in addition to the welfare they get. Many ADC families are actually created by fake desertions. Of course, you have real desertions, too. If a deserted woman is going to be immediately eligible for welfare, the incentive for the family to stick together is not increased, to put it mildly.

How much inflation has there been since 1973? Friedman estimates the cost of “a survival existence” at $1,600 per person and proposes that this amount be exempt from income tax.

What about the estate taxes that fascinate Thomas Piketty and some American politicians?

There’s no such thing as an effective inheritance tax. People will always find a way around it. If you can’t pass $ 100,000 on to your children, you can set them up in a profitable business; if you can’t do that, you can spend the money educating them to be physicians or lawyers or whatever. A society that tries to eliminate inheritance only forces inheritance to take different forms. The human desire to improve the lot of one’s children isn’t going to be eliminated by any government in this world. And it would be a terrible thing if it were, because the desire of parents to do things for their children is one of the major sources of the energy and the striving that make all of us better off.

After giving about 40 percent of your income to local, state, and federal governments via property, sales, income, excise, and other taxes, are you feeling charitably inclined? Friedman says that, if so, you’re in the minority:

One of the worst features of the current system of Social Security and welfare arrangements is that it has drastically reduced the feeling of obligation that members of society traditionally felt toward others. Children today feel far less obligation toward their parents than they did 50 years ago. If the state is going to take care of the parents, why should the children worry? Similarly with the poor. Who feels a personal obligation to help the poor? That’s the government’s job now.

How about the evil Koch brothers who now use their money to get American voters to dance to their tune?

under capitalism, the power of any one individual over his fellow man is relatively small. You take the richest capitalist in the world; his power over you and me is trivial compared with the power that a Brezhnev or a Kosygin has in Russia. Or even compared in the United States with the power that an official of the Internal Revenue Service has over you. An official of the IRS can put you in jail. I doubt that there is a person in the United States who couldn’t be convicted of technical violation of some aspect of the personal income tax.

Friedman pushes for the elimination of government-run schools and the provision of tuition vouchers to American children partly to achieve integration by race and income class. Friedman asks why the neighborhood in which a family can afford to live should also determine the schools that their children will attend. Friedman thinks that Americans will come around to the idea of shrinking government’s role in society:

Galbraith said a few years ago that there wasn’t anything wrong with New York City that couldn’t be fixed by a doubling of the budget. Of course, that’s happened and things are worse now than when he made the remark. So one of the things that encourage me just a little is the proven inefficiency of government, regardless of how big it gets. I think people are catching on to it.

New York City became insolvent in 1975 and government spending as a percentage of GDP has risen in the years since the Friedman interview.  Did he not foresee any of that?

You have to consider the ideological climate. The spirit of the times has gone against freedom and continues to go against it. There are still intellectuals who believe that concentrated power is a force for good as long as it’s in the hands of men of good will. I’m waiting for the day when they reject socialism, communism and all other varieties of collectivism; when they realize that a security blanket isn’t worth the surrender of our individual freedom even if it can be provided by government.

Gosplan decides that there should be a new Jeep factory in Ohio


After the federal government showered Chrysler with $7 billion in 2009, this foreign-owned crony capitalist enterprise needs a new factory. Thus it is now time for Ohio taxpayers to come up with $400 million (Wall Street Journal) for gas-guzzling 4WD Jeeps. One advantage of Gosplan was that they provided written five-year plans explaining the rationale for their allocation of society’s resources. Would it be asking too much to see the plan where wise officials decided that this was the best use of $400 million?

[I’m leaving out the $1.5 billion bailout during the Jimmy Carter years, which translates to about $5 billion in today’s mini-dollars. Note that the article covers a $750 million hand-out from New York taxpayers to SolarCity (perhaps the government-provided cash should be conditional on the company renaming itself “Solyndra“).]

Too bad that Gandhi isn’t around to answer the question “What do you think of American free-market capitalism?” with “I think it would be a good idea.”

New Yorker versus Rolling Stone


Rolling Stone has been in the news a lot lately because, after hearing about criminal activity during a fraternity party, they ran a story about the guilt of the fraternity brothers without picking up the phone and calling to inquire “Were you guys having a party on this particular night?” (Wikipedia). The New York Times, hard on the heels of incorrectly predicting a victory for Ellen Pao in her sex discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins, ran a story about how the fraternity can’t expect to win a libel lawsuit. It seems that, even with unlimited domestic long distance calling, calling the fraternity was too much to expect from Rolling Stone.

What would actual journalism look like? Check “The Kings of the Desert” from this week’s New Yorker magazine. Most of the action happens in Bahrain, the events are much more complex than what some college students supposedly did during a party, and most of the people with relevant knowledge speak Arabic as a first language. Yet the writer, Nicholas Schmidle, manages to get and present most sides of the story (though the guy who apparently ended up with most of the cash declined to be interviewed).

Litigious Minds Think Alike: Divorce litigators react to the Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins lawsuit


As part of wrapping up our book on divorce, custody, and child support laws in the 51 jurisdictions nationwide we talk to a lot of divorce litigators. We’ve talked to nine litigators since the Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins jury came back and asked all nine “What do you make of the Ellen Pao case that has been in the news?” One litigator had been busy handling a trial and hadn’t heard about the Pao case. Among those attorneys who were aware of the Pao lawsuit, the first reaction was the same for 6 out of 8: “If you want to get paid for having lady parts you go to Family Court, not Superior Court,” was how one of the 6 phrased the general idea. “If she wanted money, what was she doing with a junior partner?” was an alternative response along the same lines. “Pregnancy with the boss is a better financial strategy than having a fling with a co-worker,” said another lawyer.

[What did the divorce attorneys who did not immediately volunteer the child support profiteering alternative lead with? “When I stage a gender war my client is going to win; the only question is how much.” and “Law firms are always desperate to have more women partners and will give a qualified woman a lot more breaks and chances than they would give a man.”]

How do the numbers work out? Pao’s boss was Kleiner Partner John Doerr, listed by Forbes as having a fortune of $3.4 billion. Let’s assume that a California family court would have imputed 7 percent per year in income to those assets and/or that Doerr actually can earn 7 percent per year. That’s $238 million per year in income for calculating child support or roughly $20 million per month. The official California child support calculator shows that Ms. Pao would have collecting a tax-free $1.05 million per month in child support ($227 million over 18 years). If she had used her Harvard Law School education to study the the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, in which a factor for obtaining jurisdiction over a nonresident such as Mr. Doerr is the nonresident engaged in sexual intercourse in the state and “the child may have been conceived by that act of intercourse,” she could have made a lot more money accompanying Mr. Doerr on business trips to states where children are more profitable. For example, if Pao could have persuaded Mr. Doerr to have sex with her in Wisconsin she would have been entitled to between 10 and 17 percent of Doerr’s income over an 18-year period. That would have been as much as $728 million. Sex in Massachusetts and New Hampshire would also have yielded a better return than sex in California.

By spending one night with Mr. Doerr, Pao would have been in a good position to profit from any future period of inflation. State child support formulae are not inflation-adjusted. Thus if inflation rose to 9 percent per year and Doerr’s return on assets correspondingly rose to 14 percent in nominal terms, Pao’s child support profits would double.

In her lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Pao had the burden of proof. To get $238 million in child support under California’s formula, however, Pao would have had the presumption on her side. Doerr would have had the burden to prove that he should be ordered to pay a different amount.

A divorce litigator with a tax background pointed out that had Pao prevailed in her discrimination lawsuit she would have had to pay income tax on at least the $160 million in punitive damages; child support revenue, on the other hand, is tax-free. Had Pao prevailed in her discrimination lawsuit she would have had to share her profits with her attorneys; she could have gotten guideline child support from a Kleiner partner, on the other hand, using taxpayer-funded child support enforcement personnel.

“Pao was sitting on something a lot more valuable than her Ivy League degrees,” concluded an attorney from a state with uncapped child support. “I just want to be there to represent her when Buddy Fletcher decides to go back to being gay.”


Buy a laptop from Woot for Kids on Computers?


Kids on Computers needs some more laptops for a lab. The machines are standardized with Linux and have a bunch of offline content from a local server so they don’t need to be high-spec (and if you live in a poor country you’ve already suffered enough and don’t need Windows 8). Avni Khatri found a $150 deal on Woot but it is 1 per customer (same price as one laptop per child but a full 14″ screen instead of 7.5″). Who else wants to buy one of these and give it to Avni? Only one hour left in the deal. Without your help, how will a child in an unnetworked region of Africa be able to use his Google Glass?

Click here to buy. (You can log in with your Amazon credentials, so it takes just a minute.)

[And, more importantly, can the machine be upgraded to 128 GB of RAM? (previous post 1; previous post 2)]

Walter Scott: at odds with the law prior to being murdered by the police


Four children lost their father and a woman lost her companion when Walter Lamer Scott was shot on April 4. The Wikipedia article on Mr. Scott notes that he had been repeatedly arrested for failure to pay child support. News articles linked to by the Wikipedia posting indicate that Scott was running away from the police officer who murdered him due to fears about being incarcerated for being behind on child support.

How common is it for an American to be on the wrong side of the law due to our child support system and how realistic were Scott’s fears? The “Post-Divorce Litigation” chapter of our book cites some statistics indicating that roughly 1 in 7 men who are ordered to pay child support will eventually be imprisoned. As they are being imprisoned for contempt of court rather than a criminal offense they are not entitled to an attorney nor do they enjoy a presumption of innocence.

The media coverage of the event stresses the fact that Mr. Scott was in conflict with the police due to his skin color. Yet they could equally have stressed that he was in conflict with our justice system due to the fact that he had children and, for whatever reason, was not living with their custodial parent(s).

This was a sad event, obviously, but I am not sure that it must be interpreted as a black-white event.

[What if Mr. Scott had lived in Europe? In most countries, the financial consequences of losing a custody lawsuit would likely have been a small fraction of what he had been ordered to pay here. In most countries he would not have been subject to imprisonment for failure to pay. (section 3.3 of this EU Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality report has a table of the coercive measures applied in different countries)]

New York-area police officer life in novels versus reality


In honor of spending a few days in Florida I indulged in a mystery novel: The Whites (sample review). The plot centers on a group of NYPD detectives who are upset about people whom they believe to be guilty but who can’t be convicted and imprisoned under the prevailing rules. Life for these cops is dramatic and enervating. Somebody gets killed in a bloody manner nearly every night. Nobody is concerned about quietly working until pension age (typically about 41?) and joining the check-of-the-month club. Writing sample:

He hated the no smoking laws. They created nothing but problems—late-night noise for the neighbors, elbow room enough for the bar-cramped beefers to finally start swinging, and a plague of off-duty limos and radio cabs all tapping their horns to hustle fares.

Is it a good book? Sort of. Does it reflect real life? My last long conversation with a New York-area police officer was during an airport-to-Manhattan Uber ride. The driver was a a police officer in a New Jersey town just across the river. He’d been on the force for six years. Was he obsessed with a murderer who got away, like the cops in the book? Sort of. Except the murder victim was his pension plan and the murderer was Governor Chris Christie who has been refusing to raise taxes sufficiently to fully fund the commitments that the state and local governments are making to public employees. A New Jersey cop gets a raw retirement deal compared to a New York cop. The pension starts after 25 years, which means age 43. It is 65 percent of an officer’s base salary, not the total payments including overtime as it would be in New York City or with the Port Authority.

Was there a lot of drama in the life of a NJ cop? “We have two trailer parks in town,” he responded. “That’s a big source of business for the police.” If not in the trailer park, what was he typically doing? “Our most common complaint is domestic violence,” he said. “Though more than half the time you show up and there is no evidence of anything other than maybe the couple had an argument.” (A domestic violence police report can be useful for a New Jersey divorce/custody/child support plaintiff; see Heleniak.) Any other intersection between the world of custody and child support litigation and his work as an officer? “Many women get orders that their children will be exchanged with the father at police stations,” he replied. “If the father is one minute late they ask us to log that and then they have something that they can take to their next court hearing.”

When being a police officer is in fact safer than being a trash collector (Daily Beast) how is it that these dramatic novels continue to be described by reviewers as “realistic”?

Caveman Economics: Will the next rounds of higher minimum wages cause massive unemployment?


Some of the academic discourse in The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy concerns the minimum wage. The eggheads say that when minimum wage is higher businesses will use less labor:

Traditional labor and macroeconomic theory predicts that marginal labor income tax rates and binding minimum wages distort the labor market and thereby reduce aggregate labor usage, reduce aggregate consumer spending and investment, and, in the short term, increase wages, labor productivity, and the usage of factors that can take the place of labor hours. As a result of greater labor productivity, part of the population—those (if any) not subject to the marginal tax rates or minimum wages—actually works more, even while aggregate work hours are less.

To understand why labor demand might be wage-inelastic, notice that prices are one of the ways in which employers might signal to their customers that the labor market has changed employment costs, and thereby create an elastic labor demand curve. For example, an increase in the minimum wage rate makes labor more expensive, in response to which the employers of minimum wage labor might raise their prices. Customers react to a price increase by purchasing less and, with fewer customers to serve the employers can cut back on their labor. This “pass-through” process, as industrial organization economists call it, links the amount of labor hired to the wage rate through a wage elastic labor demand curve like the one used throughout this book.

The Federal Minimum Wage Hikes Likely Reduced National Employment by Hundreds of Thousands, Especially Among the Young and Unskilled

Using the estimates surveyed in Neumark and Wascher (2008) and information about the amount and character of the July 2009 federal minimum wage hike, Neumark (2009) estimated that the July 2009 hike would reduce national employment among teens and young adults by three hundred thousand. Given that about half of all persons earning at or below the minimum wage in 2008 were under twenty-five and the other half over that age (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2009a), Neumark’s teen and youth estimate suggests that the nationwide employment effect (all ages) of the July 2009 minimum wage hike might be a reduction of about six hundred thousand,

My 2011 paper (Mulligan 2011c) estimated a monthly time series model of national part-time and full-time employment per capita for each of twelve demographic groups distinguished according to race, gender, and age, relative to prime-aged white males, whose employment rates were assumed to be unaffected by the July 2009 minimum wage hike. I used the model to estimate the amount and composition of employment losses due to the hike for the average month between August 2009 and December 2010, and found that lower-skill groups had the greater employment losses. The net nationwide employment loss estimate was 829,000, which includes employment gains among more skilled people

Among persons aged sixteen and over who were neither elderly nor household head or spouse, employment per capita fell from 58.0 percnt in 2007 to 52.3 percent in 2009. If instead their employment rate had continued to be 58.0 percent, about three million more of them would have been working. Thus, the minimum wage hikes since July 2007 might explain about roughly one-third to one-half of the employment decline among persons aged sixteen and over who were neither elderly nor household head or spouse.

Mulligan was talking about the comparatively small rises in minimum wage that occurred between 2007 and 2012. Much larger ones are scheduled, depending on the state and, more recently, on public pressure on companies such as Walmart and McDonald’s. I’m wondering if we can apply our experience as consumers to predicting what will happen.

Costco is known for paying higher wages than Target and Walmart. However, even a casual visitor to the stores in question can notice that the work being done per employee per hour is not the same. The Costco workers know what they are doing, move quickly around the store, and help move an astonishing amount of merchandise per worker. Target and Walmart? Well, let’s just say that the speed at which workers move is highly variable. Could it be the case that with higher minimum wages every retail store will turn into a Costco with a handful of reasonably well paid highly energetic workers? If Target cashiers scanned goods at the same rate as Costco cashiers Target could get by with perhaps 2/3rds as many cashiers.

The McDonald’s that is on my way to Hanscom Field used to have two workers running the drive-thru. One would take the cash and one would hand out the food. Since the Massachusetts minimum wage was pushed to $9 per hour (beginning of 2015) they’ve cut back to just one worker handling both tasks. Presumably they could increase throughput if necessary with a touch-screen ordering system and self-service credit card reader at the order entry position (maybe even simpler with the phone-based payment systems that are catching on).

It seems as though there is general political agreement in the U.S. that the lowest quality workers should be winnowed out of the workforce and the labor force participation rate should be kept on the low side. Nobody wants to see someone get off the couch and go to work all day for less than maybe $12 per hour. A natural question is “What should investors do about this trend?” Building low-income housing where the rent will be mostly paid by the government is already highly profitable. Perhaps invest in the relative handful of companies that are sufficiently close to government officials to be approved for this activity? Invest in Obamaphone providers? (how many are publicly traded?) People have been predicting doom and gloom for the cable TV providers but if there are a few million more customers who have been winnowed out of the workforce, isn’t that a solid source of revenue for them? An American who doesn’t work gets a lot more value out of a cable TV subscription than someone who is at work all day. Go long Comcast?

We will also need a word to describe what happens when a business goes from a large group of low-paid workers to a small group of gung-ho moderately paid workers. My vote: “The business has been Costcoed”.

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