Archive for April 2023


What missing workers?

I saw that the prime age employment/population ratio hit 80.7 in March. With the exception of a few years during the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s and early 2000s, that’s the highest employment rate in US history.

So why all the hand wringing about “missing workers”? You know, the workers that supposedly dropped out due to Long Covid, or an addiction to playing video games, or an addiction to opioids. People keep writing essays about the missing workers, but I can’t see what data they are trying to explain. Can someone help me?

It’s worth noting that the labor market remained absolutely red hot in March, with payroll employment surging by 236,000 (a bit more than expected.) That’s far above the trend rate of employment growth (which is likely less than 100,000/month.) Both Bloomberg:

US Hiring Moderates

And the FT:

US jobs growth slowed in March as Federal Reserve tightening bites

missed the big picture. It would be like a Phoenix weather forecasters suggesting that there was a cooling trend when the temperature fell from 113 to 111 degrees.

During 2007, payroll employment growth fell below trend 6 months before the recession began in December. During 2000, employment growth fell below trend 10 months before the recession began in March 2001. If that pattern holds again, then we are likely at least 6 to 10 months away from the onset of recession, as growth is still far above trend. But of course this pattern may not hold in the next downturn, indeed during earlier business cycles employment growth occasionally declined right before the onset of recession.

Right now, I’m much more interested in average hourly earnings than I am with the employment figures. I’ve argued all along that price inflation doesn’t matter, rather what matters is NGDP growth and wage inflation. But of course price inflation does matter in one sense; the Fed has a 2% PCE inflation target. So they need to get NGDP growth and wage growth down to a level consistent with a 2% average inflation rate.

If NGDP growth suddenly falls to 3.5% and nominal wages are still growing fast, then you get a recession. (You need 3.5% NGDP growth to account for 2% inflation, 1% productivity and 1/2% labor force growth.) So to create a soft landing you need wage growth of about 3%, so that when NGDP growth slows to 3.5% you can still have full employment.

I’m happy to report that we are making some progress toward that goal. Twelve month growth in average hourly earnings peaked at 5.9% in March 2022, and has since fallen to 4.2%:

This has been a pleasant surprise. When I was younger, the US labor market was less flexible (perhaps due to more heavily unionized manufacturing jobs.) A labor market this hot would have had faster wage growth. If this downward trend continues, then the unemployment rate in the next recession (which Bloomberg says is certain to occur before October) will be fairly mild. I have my fingers crossed. But I fear that squeezing out that last 1.2% of excess wage growth won’t be as easy.

Some people focus on aggregates like NGDP and total earnings, which are also very important. Here I’d say that slowing the aggregates is essential for controlling inflation and slowing hourly earnings is essential for getting a soft landing when conducting your anti-inflation policy.

On the downside, I expect that RGDP growth will remain weak for many years. Trend RGDP growth is down to about 1.5%, and is likely to remain there until AGI produces a brief surge in growth just prior to human extinction. 🙂

Depressing articles

1. India seems to be following China in an authoritarian direction. But does anyone care? Here’s how a correspondent at The Economist characterizes the West’s reaction to Indian censorship:

The doubters also underestimate the limpness of Mr Modi’s Western allies. America, Britain and the rest may express some small concerns, from time to time, about minority rights and press freedoms in India. But what matters to them is the vast economic potential of the Indian market and their longing for an Indian bulwark in the West’s struggle for supremacy with China.

Last month Britain’s especially limp prime minister, Rishi Sunak, suggested he did not “agree at all” with the unpublished report’s characterisation of Mr Modi. There has been no full-throated backing in London or Washington for the bbc, let alone for Mr Modi’s far more vulnerable Indian victims. Fair enough, you might say; geopolitics is a rough game. But next time Banyan hears a Western leader congratulating Mr Modi on their countries’ “shared democratic values”, his stomach will turn.

2. Not from The Onion (Putin envy):

3. The National Review has an excellent article discussing the Biden’s administration’s shameful lack of support for Ukraine:

Meanwhile, here in the West, the same old pattern continues: The Ukrainians beg for tools to win the war — from fighter jets to long-range-missile systems to additional training by special-operations personnel — and the Biden administration’s response amounts to “Not yet, but maybe later.” The Ukrainians are bleeding now, but Biden and his team have plans for a lot of help to arrive in 2024 and 2025.

Read the whole thing.

4. Russia is moving into a Chinese style Cultural Revolution, with family members informing on each other, and children as young as 10 being arrested for not being sufficient patriotic. This FT article is worth reading:

‘Total distrust’: rise of the Russian informers

Teachers, neighbours and even family members are turning to Soviet-style denunciations in wartime Russia.

And China may be doing the same.

5. The Economist reports that Russia’s best people have fled the country, leaving two factions to fight it out:

For one thing, the 500,000 people who have fled are among Russia’s best educated and most dynamic. They may not have had any say in politics even before the war, but their voices were nonetheless audible. No longer. Political debate, to the extent there is any in Russia now, occurs not between those who oppose the war and those who support it, but between “patriots” and “turbo-patriots”, who criticise Russian commanders for not being brutal and aggressive enough.

(I suppose there were Germans who didn’t think Hitler was tough enough on his opponents.) The article is quite long, but worth reading.

6. Twitter’s new free speech policy doesn’t apply to India:

Twitter blocked 122 accounts belonging to journalists, authors, and politicians in India this week in response to legal requests from the Indian government. On March 23, the government issued a request for 29 more Twitter accounts to be blocked, as per data on the Lumen database — a collaborative archive which collects legal complaints and requests for removal of online material. The development follows a police crackdown and a subsequent internet shutdown in the north Indian state of Punjab to arrest separatist figure Amritpal Singh Sandhu. The government has declared Sandhu a fugitive and he is on the run. The current internet and SMS suspension in the state, enforced on March 18, affects 27 million people.

7. People in China’s wildlife trade have an incentive to blame lab leaks:

Yet individuals and companies who benefited from the wildlife trade resisted the [2003] curbs fiercely. Within months restrictions had been relaxed; business soon bounced back. By 2010 Zhong Nanshan, a doctor who became a hero during the SARS crisis, was warning a session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament that the wildlife trade’s resurgence was increasing the risk of a new disaster. . . .

Since 2020 the government has once again stepped up efforts to solve the problem. That year Xi Jinping, China’s president, said that eating wildlife “without limits” was a “bad habit” that had to be junked. China has imposed a fresh ban on consuming exotic animals. But Mr Li, noting that trading creatures for other reasons is still allowed, wonders how long even that prohibition will last. He says the wildlife industry retains powerful influence within the government.

The argument that a leaky laboratory may have been responsible for unleashing covid on the world has benefited traders of exotic animals. They see a chance to avoid blame for a pandemic that has killed millions. 

You won’t find me deflecting attention from China’s wild animal markets.

8. China apologists often argue that China’s GDP is dramatically lower than reported in official figures, thus making China seem like less of a threat to the US. But China’s official figures suggest that it’s only slightly richer than Mexico. If it is in fact poorer than Mexico, then how is this possible?

Last year Mexico’s economy minister said some 400 companies were interested in relocating facilities from Asia to Mexico. Andrés Benavides of Daikin, a Japanese air-conditioning manufacturer, says the company is moving some of its production for the American market from Thailand to Mexico. It plans to hire 2,000 people in Mexico over the next 18 months. The company has also brought lines of manufacturing down from the United States. A big draw is the availability of labour. And manufacturing wages are far cheaper in Mexico than in China.

So China’s poorer than Mexico, but Chinese wages are far higher? Please explain.

9. With the 21st century move from neoliberalism to nationalism, growth is declining. Here’s the FT:

The global economy is in danger of suffering a lost decade of growth, which would be even more severe if the current financial turmoil sparked a global recession, according to new research from the World Bank. . . .

Indermit Gill, the World Bank’s chief economist, said the fall in the level of sustainable growth was caused by “less work, less investment and less trade” than in the more rapid periods of growth and development in the 1990s and 2000s.

The bank projected that the growth rate the global economy could sustain this decade would be only 2.2 per cent a year for the rest of this decade, down from annual rates of 2.6 per cent between 2011 and 2021 and 3.5 per cent in the first decade of this century.

10. The Economist has a good article on America’s attempt to sabotage China’s economy:

Critics of America’s approach say that it is not just harming its own companies, but also hindering the development of technologies that will benefit all humanity. It will certainly raise costs for companies in the affected industries. The sanctions drive also risks making America look like a bully. Preventing Chinese nationals from participating in high-level quantum-science research might slow the development of quantum computing in China, notes Mr Parker, but it would also erode the notion of American openness. “I was totally shocked,” says a Chinese economist of the fdprs imposed in October, “It goes against everything I was told: free trade, a rules-based order, open competition.” 

America “looks like a bully” because it is a bully. (As is China.) In another article, the Economist suggests that pharma might be the next Chinese industry that the US seeks to destroy, in its attempt to kneecap an economy serving 4 times the US population:

Washington is abuzz with talk of its next “target”: what to feed into the FDPR machine? One idea is to take aim at China’s biomanufacturing industry, which makes drugs and their components. 

11. Meanwhile, Israel goes from bad to worse:

Mr Netanyahu still had to spend long hours begging his more radical coalition partners not to abandon him. The price he had to pay to Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Power party, was to promise a “national guard”, in essence a publicly funded private militia, which would come under the control of Mr Ben-Gvir’s national-security ministry.

Many in Israel’s security establishment think this will be another of Mr Netanyahu’s empty promises. But only a few months ago it was unthinkable that Mr Ben-Gvir, who has been convicted of backing Jewish terrorist outfits, could become the minister in charge of the police.

A private militia controlled by Israel’s racist ultra-right. What could go wrong?

12. This is from Reason:

Melissa Henderson, the Georgia mom handcuffed, arrested, and thrown in jail for having her 14-year-old babysit her younger siblings in the early days of COVID-19, has prevailed in her legal ordeal. . . .

Henderson is now a free woman with two problems still hanging over her head. The first is the time and money it will take to seal and expunge the arrest record, jail record, and court files, so she never has to mention it on employment or background checks. The second is that her ex-husband has just filed for custody of their two young children, based partly on her arrest. Her GoFundMe remains open to help defray the costs of both these battles.

And you wonder why people feel a need to be helicopter parents.

13. Anti-Chinese hysteria has reached the point where it’s become a sort of mental illness. Many states are so paranoid about China that they are banning the sale of farmland to Chinese firms:

The furor is striking, considering China’s modest holdings. Chinese entities own fewer than 3 out of every 10,000 acres of privately held American land, according to U.S. Agriculture Department figures. Tiny Luxembourg owns more.

But lawmakers say the Chinese government could use future deals, including by private companies, to conduct espionage or imperil the nation’s food supply.

LOL. Like they’d need to buy farmland to spy or to poison our food supply. Let’s hope AGI can save us; otherwise I see little hope for this crazy country.

Films of 2023:Q1

Before getting into film, let me thank commenter “ReverendWicksCherrycoke” for directing me to read “The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll”. I’m not particularly well read, and had never even heard of the author, Álvaro Mutis. Other’s seem to know him, however, as on the back cover Gabriel Garcia Marquez is quoted saying, “Mutis is one of the greatest writers of our time.” It’s actually a collection of 7 interconnected novelas, and you’ll rarely find a more enjoyable book.

As far as films, Amateur was the most pleasant surprise.)

Newer Films:

The Fabelmans (US) 3.7 This has many of the strengths and weaknesses of a typical Spielberg film, and I usually prefer his (earlier) escapist narratives. However, while his films are often too sentimental, the subject matter of this one is close to his heart, which helps a lot.

There’s a great scene at the end where Sam is asked if he wants to meet the world’s greatest director. He is introduced to John Ford, played by David Lynch. So which one is it; who’s the greater director? (Ford was arguably the best American director as of 1965, and Lynch was perhaps the best after 1980.) Either way, I thought it was one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in a Spielberg film—inspired casting.

In general, Spielberg reminds me of the Flemish painter Rubens. They have awe-inspiring talent, but one occasionally wishes they’d use it with a bit more subtlety. (Those high school bullying scenes—yikes.)

Broker (Japan/Korea) 3.7 Koreeda’s films are always impeccably directed. The ending is a bit too upbeat Hollywood for my taste, but this is an excellent film that will appeal to fans of Shoplifters.

Il Buco (Italy) 3.6 Almost a silent film, apart from the sounds of nature. The stunning visuals of Calabria (above and below ground) are extraordinary, and the only reason to see the film. If you watch it on an airplane . . . well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Outfit (US) 3.6 This film is surprisingly good, but runs on for about 5 extra minutes at the point it should have ended.

Moonage Daydream (Britain) 3.5 Makes the case for David Bowie being more interesting as a person than musician, the opposite of most rock stars. He has an unusually wide range of talents, and while I’m not sure he’s great in any one area, the total package is pretty impressive. The film does an unusually good job of allowing the viewer to see the world the way Bowie did. And unlike Keith Richards, he kept getting more attractive as he aged. (Or perhaps men that are too attractive seem sort of repulsive?)

Holy Spider (Iran) 3.5 Directed by Abbasis and done in the style of Farhadi, but it falls well short of the peaks the latter director achieved in films such as About Elly and A Separation. It starts very strong, but becomes a bit too conventional as it progresses. Even so, it’s worth watching for fans of Iranian films.

Return to Seoul (Korean/French) 3.5 Lots of really good scenes, but the film has one fundamental problem. At some point the director must make a decision—and go one way or another. How do you want audiences to feel about a (rather long) film that revolves almost entirely around one unlikeable person? The director sort of dodged the issue.

The Sound of 007 (Britain) 3.4 A really enjoyable look at the music used in the most dominant film series in the history of cinema. I’m more of a visual person, but this documentary makes the case for music being the key to the Bond series. My only complaint is that I would have liked to see a bit more time spent on the Bond theme music—what makes it work so effectively?

Loving Highsmith (US, CC) 3.2 Interesting documentary about the author of the Tom Ripley novels.

EO (Polish, CC) 3.0 Well intentioned, but a rather crude and heavy handed film. Not quite sure why it got strong reviews. If you wish to see a film about a long-suffering donkey, I’d recommend Bresson’s Balthazar instead.

Vengeance (US) 2.8 This film has some amusing scenes, but suffers from two big problems. First, the director wasn’t able to decide what sort of film he wanted to make. It mixes scenes of farcical black comedy and serious drama that don’t seem to belong to the same film. And the screenplay occasionally felt very awkward, especially when the characters were talking like Hollywood screenwriters think they talk, not how actual people talk. It felt stilted and artificial. There’s nothing more cringe-worthy than a film that aims at BIG IDEAS, where the director is in way over his head.

Rolling Stone: The Life and Death of Brian Jones (UK) 2.5 Why is there almost no music in these music documentaries? Is this evidence that our intellectual property laws are even more perverse than I had been assuming? Instead we get boring theories that he was murdered, which is much less interesting than his music.

Older Films:

Where is the Friend’s House? (Iran, 1987, CC) 3.9 I had forgotten what it’s like to be eight years old. Kiarostami is also an extremely perceptive observer of the adults that the little boy encounters. You need to be patient and use your imagination, but this is a wonderful film.

Amateur (US, 1994, CC) 3.8 A delightful absurdist comedy filmed with great skill. Each actor is nearly perfect for their role.

The Spirit of the Beehive (Spain, 1973, CC) 3.8 It often has the feel of a classic silent film. One of my favorite films about childhood, and perhaps my favorite Spanish film.

Traffic (France, 1971, CC) 3.8 A bit less original than Playtime, and thus I’d rate is slightly lower, but still a masterpiece. In the second half of the 20th century, no one came closer than Jacques Tati to recreating the magic of Buster Keaton. Many will find this one to be more enjoyable than Playtime, as the humor is more centered around people, not architecture.

Millennium Mambo (Taiwan, 2001) 3.8 Great to see this again on the big screen. The first time around I noticed Mark Lee’s cinematography. This time I noticed Hou Hsiao-hsien’s amazing ability to get “true to life” performances from his actors.

There Was a Father (Japan, 1942, CC) 3.8 Ozu films have an uncanny ability to seem flat and unemotional, and then somehow end up with a feeling of almost overwhelming emotion. Where does that come from? How does he do it? Unfortunately, this print was in very bad shape. Ozu is one of the great artists of the 20th century—why haven’t his films been restored?

To Be of Not to Be (US, 1942, CC) 3.8 One of Lubitsch’s more entertaining comedies. The Nazi era is interesting in that we seem to be more emotionally involved as time goes by, not less (as you’d expect.) Comedies like The Producers, Hogan’s Heroes and this film might seem a bit tasteless if made today.

The Breaking Point (US, 1950, CC) 3.7 You would think that a remake of Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not (which starred Bogart and Bacall) would fall far short of the original, but this might even be better. A very young Patricia Neal has a sort of unforgettable face. The plot is quite different, so don’t assume “you’ve already seen it.”

The Battle for Algiers (Algeria/Italy, 1966, CC) 3.7 A surprisingly even-handed docudrama on the Algerian war for independence. At the time the film came out it probably seemed like the good guys had won. Now it seems like there weren’t any good guys. Today, Algeria’s almost certainly poorer and less free than it would be if it were still a French colony. “But they got what they wanted?” Well, they got one of the things they wanted (independence), but not the other (freedom.) There are no easy answers.

The Woman in the Window (US, 1944, CC) 3.7 This Fritz Lang noir is much better than I remember it, and better than Scarlet Street. For once, the Hitchcock comparisons make sense.

An Inn in Tokyo (Japan, 1935, CC) 3.7 Ozu’s last silent film is quite absorbing. Made at a time when Hollywood had already switched to sound.

News From Home (US/Belgium, 1976, CC) 3.7 A piece of conceptual art where the protagonist never appears onscreen. Although this is less impressive that Jeanne Dielman, I enjoyed it more. Lots of nostalgia revisiting the world of my youth, much of which I had forgotten. As you might expect, New York never looked grungier than in 1976, but I noticed lots of other things as well. The clothing, the big cars, the lack of Asians. Also, the noticeable lack of obese people (for reasons I’ll never, ever understand.)

The nostalgia doesn’t come from seeing the things you saw long ago; it comes from remembering what it was like to view those things through the eyes of a 21-year old man.

BTW, I’m noticing that none of the female directed films added to the S&S top 100 list actually deserve to be there, but they’re all worth watching. (Well, all but Wanda.)

Scarlet Street (US, 1945, CC) 3.6 The plot and dialogue are often implausible, but this Fritz Lang noir remains highly entertaining. It’s always amusing to see how Hollywood viewed the art world back then.

Cry of the City (US, 1948, CC) 3.5 This noir has a Scorcese-like plot and is directed by Siodmak. An above average noir.

Desert Hearts (US, 1985, CC) 3.5 Likable lesbian love story. Nice acting, dialogue and cinematography.

Monterey Pop (US, 1967, CC) 3.4 As a film, I’ve overrated this one. It’s not a particularly well-made documentary. But the performances by Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin are electrifying. All three had recently achieved success, and all three would be dead within three years. (Redding died in a plane crash in my hometown, just a few months later.) For me, Joplin’s performance is the revelation. It seems like people have sort of forgotten about her, maybe because you had to see her live to appreciate what made her so special.

What did Wordsworth say about being young during the French Revolution? Alas, I was a bit too young in 1967.

Little Women (US, 1933, CC) 3.4 I’ve never read the book, so I guess it’s about time I finally got around to watching one of the film versions of this classic. I generally prefer the original version of a film, and this version offered a pleasant and painless two-hour experience. Are the later versions better?

The Suspect (UK, 1944, CC) 3.3 Similar to those Fritz Lang noirs where the ugly henpecked husband finds himself dating a mysterious beautiful woman. That never happens to me! Stars Charles Laughton.

Road Games (Australia, 1981, CC) 3.3 A sort of B-movie version of Speilberg’s Duel, but played for laughs. Better yet, it mostly takes place on the Nullarbor Plain. I’ll probably never satisfy my dream of driving that highway, but this is a nice consolation prize. A final chase scene occurs on the mean streets of Perth, which proceeds at about 10 mph. Perhaps the only time that the world’s most remote city will ever appear in an action film.

Man From Reno (US, 2016) 3.3 An odd film noir that is quite watchable despite only average acting and dialogue. The film’s ambiguity feels more Japanese than American.

The Ceremony (France, 1995, CC) 3.3 A bit like Jeanne Dielman, but the director (Claude Chabrol) seemed a bit unsure as to what sort of film he was aiming for.

Variety (US, 1983, CC) 3.3 A beautiful woman takes a job selling tickets at a porn theatre in Times Square, right about the time when NYC was at peak sleaze. (Right before AIDS began the world’s headlong rush toward a nightmarish, Orwellian panopticon.) It’s a not entirely successful attempt to make an art film out of female voyeurism, even featuring Nan Goldin in a small role. The Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang would have been better suited for this sort of thing, but 40 years later the film has a pleasant nostalgic feel. Don’t expect a lot of “action”.

The Far Country (US, 1954, CC) 3.3 Directed by Anthony Mann and starring Jimmy Stewart, but nowhere near as good as the previous Mann western I saw (Man of the West). In those days they used white men to play roles now played by minorities, (the downtrodden masses with a heart of gold, picked on by the powerful.)

One Hour With You (US, 1932, CC) 3.2 I’m not much of a fan of musicals, but Lubitsch films always give me the sense that he sees through all of life’s illusions.

Next of Kin (Australia, 1982, CC) 3.2 Although Quentin Tarantino compared the film to The Shining, you need to keep in mind that when it comes to B films, Tarantino grades on a curve. Still, I do see the connection. Indeed it’s fun noticing the many scenes plagiarized directly from Kubrick’s horror classic.

The Inland Sea (Japan, 1991, CC) 3.2 Hard to rate this documentary, which I found slightly disappointing. I loved the book, and it’s great to hear Donald Richie narrating certain passages against a backdrop of Japanese scenery. But the best part is probably Criterion Channel’s accompanying documentaries, especially the one with Ian Buruma.

There’s Always Tomorrow (US, 1956, CC) 3.2 While directed by Douglas Sirk, it’s not one of those lush color melodramas with Rock Hudson. But almost anything with Barbara Stanwyck is worth watching.

Pillow Talk (US, 1959, CC) 3.2 Ah, fond memories of party lines, which millennials would find hard to imagine. Amusing to see the scene where Rock Hudson makes fun of his alter ego, accusing him of being a sissy boy. The viewers of 1959 knew that a hunk like that could never be gay. Viewers of the 1990s would find the scene to be ironic. Today’s woke viewers would find it offensive. But is it as bad as the scene playing the abduction of Doris Day for laughs? As for me, I just go with the flow and assume that films reflect the times in which they were made. And it is a half decent romcom.

Edge of Tomorrow (US, 2014) 3.1 If you like sci-fi that is full of action, you should check out this film. I see why it’s highly rated. Personally, I find the almost nonstop action to be a bit tiresome, and prefer slower and more meditative sci-fi.

The Woman on the Beach (US, 1947, CC) 3.1 Not bad, but I expect more from a film directed by Jean Renoir and starring Robert Ryan and Joan Bennett.

Me and My Gal (US, 1932, CC) 3.0 This Raoul Walsh pre-code film stars Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett. Both are charming, but the film’s a bit uneven.

Big Brown Eyes (US, 1936, CC) 3.0 Another Raoul Walsh film, this one with Cary Grant and Joan Bennett.

Touki Bouki (Senegal, 1973, CC) 2.8 This movie seems sort of like something a talented film student might make on a shoestring budget. It’s not exactly a bad film, and perhaps would have been considered a bit avant-garde back in 1973. But I find it hard to understand why it’s on Sight and Sound’s top 100-film list. Rated #66 to be precise, one above . . . yikes . . . Andrei Rublev? Whatever.

What did I miss?

Chaos (US, 2005) 2.7 A poor man’s “The Usual Suspects”.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Czech, 1970, CC) 2.6 One of those soft-core medieval fantasies with witches and vampires and evil priests. This one’s more interesting as a historical document, as it’s made in communist Czechoslovakia and the protagonist is a nubile 13-year old girl played by a . . . er . . . 13-year old actress. Well, it was the 1970s. If you weren’t there you’ll never understand.

Every Man for Himself (France, 1980, CC) 2.5 Many critics view this Godard film as a masterpiece. After 40 years, however, the formal experimentation no longer seems very interesting. And when you take out the ideas, what’s left of the film? Perhaps a bit of humor, but even that is based mostly on shocking incongruities that have now grown stale.

Party Girl (US, 1995, CC) 1.8 I never even finished this boring comedy about a party girl that becomes a librarian.

Dead south

This tweet caught my eye:

So what explains this pattern? I presume there are lots of factors. The orange parts of South Dakota and Arizona are Indian reservations The blue along the Tex/Mex border reflects the long life expectancy of Hispanics. Hawaii has a heavily Asian population. Both groups contribute to California. Seattle and Denver have well educated people who like hiking. Etc., etc.

But what about the South? Some of it is race. Blacks have a shorter life expectancy than other groups. But not all; Tennessee and New York are both roughly 16% black. The South really does have a shorter life expectancy, at least in rural areas and smaller towns.

I grew up in Wisconsin, and thought I knew the state pretty well. But I couldn’t tell you why it looks bluer than Indiana. And before looking at this graph, I would not have expected such a vast different between Nebraska and Oklahoma (both boring flat states out on the Great Plains.)

Last time I checked, Wisconsinites drank more alcohol than any other Americans. That doesn’t seem healthy! When I visit, the people look obese. (It’s actually average, but my reference is relatively skinny Massachusetts/California.) So why is Wisconsin blue? Indeed other than those Indian reservations, the entire Nebraska/North Dakota/Wisconsin triangle looks pretty blue. Why? Why is Wisconsin bluer than Michigan counties with similar demographics?

Oddly, that triangle of longevity maps almost perfectly with another map showing places where white southerners did not move:

Longevity is obviously lower in the south, and (more subtly) seems a bit lower in parts of the north with lots of immigration from the south.

PS. The map shows white southern migration, but lots of blacks also migrated from the south, albeit mostly to northern industrial cities. They also tend to have a lower life expectancy.

Update: The graph below shows that Wisconsin drinking is in another league. When I was growing up, I assumed our drinking culture was normal, like everywhere else.

Oh, Canada!

Seven years ago, California had almost 10% more people than Canada. That gap had persisted since 1990, and there was no reason to expect it to change. But over the past 7 years, Canada has gained almost 3.7 million people (to 39.566 million), while California’s population has grown by only 120,000. Canada now has more people than California.

In just the past year, Canada has gained 1.05 million people (a 2.7% growth rate), only slightly below the US gain of 1.256 million. (The Canadian figure is boosted by a bounce back from the depressed levels during Covid. The trend rate is probably closer to 500,000/year.)

But the total population of the US is more than 8 times larger than Canada (it used to be 9 times), and thus in percentage terms Canada is now growing far faster.

Canada has usually been regarded as an afterthought in geopolitical terms. If the Canadians maintain their high immigration policy, however, and if countries like Japan and Germany continue to experience extremely low birthrates, then it’s not inconceivable that Canada will eventually become a major player in world affairs.

But Canada needs to fix its housing problem, as barriers to construction create unnecessarily high housing prices. Obviously, Canada has plenty of land for twice its current population, even if you discount the vast northern region that is too cold for most people.

Matt Yglesias won’t get his 1 billion Americans, but a goal of 100 million Canadians is a worthwhile initiative for the 21st century. By then it might have almost 1/4th the US population. (Canada will have 1/4th of the astronauts on the next moon mission.)