Monthly Archives: August 2014

A Theory on Long-Term Economic Trends and a Sudden Crash

A Theory on Long-Term Economic Trends and a Sudden Crash

AUG. 22, 2014


“Employment losses during the Great Recession may have had more to do with factors like the rise of Walmart than with the recession itself, two economists say in a new academic paper.

The paper, presented Friday morning at the annual gathering of economists and central bankers at Jackson Hole, Wyo., argues that the share of Americans with jobs has declined because the labor market has stagnated in recent decades — fewer people losing or leaving jobs, fewer people landing new ones. This dearth of creative destruction, the authors argue, is the result of long-term trends including a slowdown in small business creation and the rise of occupational licensing.

“These results,” wrote the economists Stephen J. Davis, of the University of Chicago, and John Haltiwanger, of the University of Maryland, “suggest the U.S. economy faced serious impediments to high employment rates well before the Great Recession, and that sustained high employment is unlikely to return without restoring labor market fluidity.”


A Walmart employee in Pico Rivera, Calif., last year. Walmart offers relatively stable employment, contributing to reduced labor market churn. CreditKevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Their findings contribute to the growing genre of papers that purport to show that the weakness of the American economy is caused largely by problems that predate the recession — and that the Federal Reserve can’t remedy them with low interest rates.

One of the clearest measures of the economic malaise is that the share of American adults with jobs fell from 62.7 percent at the end of 2007 to 58.3 percent at the end of 2009, and that it has since rebounded only slightly to 59 percent as of July.

At the same time, those who do have jobs are more likely to stay put. The high-profile change in the number of jobs that the government reports each month is a tally of the larger numbers of jobs created and eliminated. In recent decades, that churn has steadily declined. So has movement by workers among existing positions. The net effect is that the share of workers either leaving a job or taking a new one has steadily declined from about a third of the total number of workers in the 1990s to about a quarter of workers last year.

The basic idea at the heart of the paper is that the lack of churn in the labor market is making it harder for younger people to find jobs, and those who don’t are more likely to remain outside the labor force

“Those who seek work are likely to find a suitable job in a fluid labor market,” the authors write. “They then travel a path that involves human capital accumulation, strengthening their attachment to employment. In contrast, some marginal workers fail to find suitable employment quickly in a labor market characterized by reduced fluidity. So their market-relevant human capital depreciates, and their attachment to work weakens. These effects are likely to operate with particular force for younger worker, for whom labor market experience or its absence can powerfully influence whether they follow a path characterized by ‘specialization’ in market work or alternative nonmarket uses of time.”

Or more pithily, “Joblessness today begets joblessness in the future.”

The paper says that a 1 percentage point decline in the churning of the labor market lowers the employment rate by 0.77 of a percentage point, a huge effect. For the most vulnerable workers — young men who don’t complete high school — the employment rate drops by 1.44 points.

Mr. Davis and Mr. Haltiwanger attribute some of this decline to the aging of the work force; as people get older, they tend to change jobs less frequently. The decline in the creation of new companies is also playing a role. In effect, companies are getting older, too. This has been particularly pronounced in the retail sector, where giants like Walmart and McDonald’s offer relatively stable employment.

The paper argues that economic policy also plays an important role. The cost of training workers has increased, partly because the share of all workers who require government licenses has grown by one estimate from about 5 percent in the 1950s to 29 percent in 2008. This discourages hiring. So do legal changes that have made it more difficult to fire employees, the paper says. It also mentions health insurance as a reason that employees may stay put.

In the view of Mr. Davis and Mr. Haltiwanger, the recession just made a bad situation worse.

The economy clearly had problems before the crisis. Indeed, those problems contributed to the crisis.

But economists and policy makers will have to reconcile the assertion that these trends were the dominant factors with the reality that the employment rate rose in the years before the recession, then dropped sharply during the recession.

The new paper, like others of its genre, basically requires belief in a big coincidence: that a short-term catastrophe happened to coincide with the intensification of long-term trends — that the economy crashed at the moment that it was already beginning a gradual descent.”


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Psychologists Find a Disturbing Thing Happens to Women Who Read ‘50 Shades of Grey’

Psychologists Find a Disturbing Thing Happens to Women Who Read ‘50 Shades of Grey’

By Erin Brodwin  August 23, 2014


“Anastasia Steele’s biggest defeat may not have been submitting to her abuser’s sexual desires, but convincing other women that the behavior was okay. At least that’s the finding of a new study in the Journal of Women’s Health, which claims young adult women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are more likely to replicate the behaviors of people in abusive relationships.

Source: Getty Images

In the book series, Anastasia ‘Ana’ Steele is constantly afraid; not only of her abusive partner, Christian Grey, but of the realization that she is losing her sense of self. Though Ana’s behavior is initially survivalist, it eventually become engrained as she automatically responds to her partner’s abuse. Though fictional, the storyline is a chillingly accurate portrayal of very real life relationships.

The study: In a sample of 650 women aged 18-24, researchers at Michigan State University found that Fifty Shades of Grey readers were 25% more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them. Readers were also 34% more likely to have a partner who displayed stalking tendencies and 75% more likely to have fasted for more than 24 hours or used a diet aid. Worse still, women who read all three books in the series were more likely to regularly binge drink and have multiple sex partners, both of which arerecognized risk factors for intimate partner violence.

One thing the study couldn’t determine was whether women who engaged in risky behaviors started doing so before or after reading the books. Regardless of the order of the activity, the books could either have brought on the behaviors or further encouraged them, lead study author and behavioral scientist Amy Bonomi said in a press release. This is backed up by past research has shown that when we are consistently shown images that reinforce a specific behavior or body type, we are more likely to internalize those images and see them as normal.  

Source: Getty Images

Normalizing dangerous relationships: While the research might be bad news for 50 Shades fans, it’s important that we recognize how media depictions of abusive relationships can encourage the behavior in the real world. Intimate partner violence is a very real problem. Every minute, about 24 Americans are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. That’s about 12 million men and women each year. Nearly 1 in 5 women (18%) and 1 in 71 men (1%) are raped during their lifetime.

Books, magazines and films that ignore this reality delegitimize the pain experienced by real-life survivors of abusive relationships. If you’re looking for a real heroine, put down the book and start a healthy conversation with a friend instead.”

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I’m sorry for coining the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”

I’m sorry for coining the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”

TUESDAY, JUL 15, 2014 01:45 PM PDT

I'm sorry for coining the phrase "Manic Pixie Dream Girl"Zooey Deschanel in “(500) Days of Summer,” Kirsten Dunst in “Elizabethtown,” Natalie Portman in “Garden State”


“When I coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in an essay about the movie “Elizabethtown” in 2007, I never could have imagined how that phrase would explode. Describing the film’s adorably daffy love interest played by Kirsten Dunst, I defined the MPDG as a fantasy figure who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

That day in 2007, I remember watching “Elizabethtown” and being distracted by the preposterousness of its heroine, Claire. Dunst’s psychotically bubbly stewardess seemed to belong in some magical, otherworldly realm — hence the “pixie” — offering up her phone number to strangers and drawing whimsical maps to help her man find his way. And as Dunst cavorted across the screen, I thought also of Natalie Portman in “Garden State,” a similarly carefree nymphet who is the accessory to Zach Braff’s character development. It’s an archetype, I realized, that taps into a particular male fantasy: of being saved from depression and ennui by a fantasy woman who sweeps in like a glittery breeze to save you from yourself, then disappears once her work is done.

When I hit “publish” on that piece, the first entry in a column I called “My Year of Flops,” I was pretty proud of myself. I felt as if I had tapped into something that had been a part of our culture for a long time and given it a catchy, descriptive name — a name with what Malcolm Gladwell might call “stickiness.”

But I should clarify a few things here. The trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a fundamentally sexist one, since it makes women seem less like autonomous, independent entities than appealing props to help mopey, sad white men self-actualize. Within that context, the phrase was useful precisely because, while still fairly flexible, it also benefited from a certain specificity. Claire was an unusually pure example of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl — a fancifully if thinly conceived flibbertigibbet who has no reason to exist except to cheer up one miserable guy.

The response to my review was pretty positive but relatively sleepy. The A.V. Club was a whole lot smaller back then and the phrase didn’t really gain traction until a year later, when my colleague Tasha Robinson proposed doing a list of Manic Pixie Dream Girls for the “Inventory” feature of our site. The list, published in 2008, was titled “16 films featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls,” and featured, along with Dunst and Portman, Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” and Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

I remember thinking, even back then, that a whole list of Manic Pixie Dream Girls might be stretching the conceit too far. The archetype of the free-spirited life-lover who cheers up a male sad-sack had existed in the culture for ages. But by giving an idea a name and a fuzzy definition, you apparently also give it power. And in my case, that power spun out of control.

In the years since I wrote about the MPDG, I’ve been floored by how pervasive the trope has become. At first it was just a few scattered mentions in other critics’ reviews. Then Zooey Deschanel strummed a ukulele and became a Hollywood It girl and suddenly the MPDG was everywhere. During one particularly strange day in 2011, I read that Cameron Crowe (the man behind “Elizabethtown,” as well as “Almost Famous” and much else) was asked about the phrase and replied, “I dig it … I keep thinking I’ll run into Nathan Rabin and we’ll have a great conversation about it.” This blew my mind. I have been writing about pop culture for a long time but I could honestly not believe that Cameron Crowe knew my name and thought about meeting me someday.

But the more the cultural myth of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl expanded, the more my ambivalence about it grew. “Manicpixiedreamgirl” became the title of a young adult novel about a teenage boy obsessed with a free-spirited female classmate, something I only learned about when a reader directed me to the book’s Amazon page. The author did not choose the book’s title, I learned in my one exchange with him over Facebook; it was his publisher’s idea. I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Critics began coining spinoff tropes like the “manic pixie dream guy.” Mindy Kaling name-dropped Manic Pixie Dream Girls in a New Yorker piece on female-centric films. And last year I had the surreal experience of watching a musical called Manic Pixie Dreamland, about a fantasy realm that produces Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Sitting in the dark theater, I thought: “What have I done?!”

Sure, part of it was that by that point, I had begun to feel a little like a one-hit wonder. But I also realized that I didn’t recognize the manic pixie anymore. Clearly labels and definitions are inherently reductive. And if you are a critic, labels and names and definitions are a necessary evil. But it’s a particular feature of the fast-paced, ephemeral world of online criticism that writers are always seeking quick reference points to contextualize their analysis — so the rise of the MPDG was in large part a creation of the Internet as well.

At the film site the Dissolve, where I am a staff writer, my editor has gently discouraged me from using the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in my writing, less because using a phrase I coined reeks of self-congratulation, but because in 2014 calling a character a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is nearly as much of a cliché as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.

And I don’t need much discouraging, even when writing about a fairly clear-cut instance of a Manic Pixie, like Charlize Theron’s impossibly perfect, sexy, supportive gun-slinger in “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” As is often the case in conversations about gender, or race, or class, or sexuality, things get cloudy and murky really quickly. I coined the phrase to call out cultural sexism and to make it harder for male writers to posit reductive, condescending male fantasies of ideal women as realistic characters. But I looked on queasily as the phrase was increasingly accused of being sexist itself.

John Green, for one, felt so passionately about the toxic nature of the trope that in a Tumblr post he declared that his novel “Paper Towns” “is devoted IN ITS ENTIRETY to destroying the lie of the manic pixie dream girl” before adding, “I do not know how I could have been less ambiguous about this without calling (Paper Towns) The Patriarchal Lie of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Must Be Stabbed in the Heart and Killed.” In an interview with Vulture, “Ruby Sparks” writer-star Zoe Kazan answered a question about whether her character was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl by asserting: “I think it’s basically misogynist.” In a later interview, when once again confronted with the dreaded MPDG label, Kazan continued, “I don’t like that term … I think it’s turned into this unstoppable monster where people use it to describe things that don’t really fall under that rubric.”

Here’s the thing: I completely agree with Kazan. And at this point in my life, I honestly hate the term too. I feel deeply weird, if not downright ashamed, at having created a cliché that has been trotted out again and again in an infinite Internet feedback loop. I understand how someone could read the A.V. Club list of Manic Pixie Dream Girls and be offended by the assertion that a character they deeply love and have an enduring affection for, whether it’s Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall or Katharine Hepburn in “Bringing Up Baby,” is nothing more than a representation of a sexist trope or some sad dude’s regressive fantasy.

It doesn’t make sense that a character as nuanced and unforgettable as Annie Hall could exist solely to cheer up Alvy Singer. As Kazan has noted, Allen based a lot of Annie Hall on Diane Keaton, who, as far as I know, is a real person and not a ridiculous male fantasy.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to pop culture: I’m sorry for creating this unstoppable monster. Seven years after I typed that fateful phrase, I’d like to join Kazan and Green in calling for the death of the “Patriarchal Lie” of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. I would welcome its erasure from public discourse. I’d applaud an end to articles about its countless different permutations. Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness. But in the meantime, Manic Pixies, it’s time to put you to rest.


Nathan Rabin is a staff writer for the Dissolve and the author of four books, most recently “You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me,” about his experiences following Phish and Insane Clown Posse.

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Mental Health Cops Help Reweave Social Safety Net In San Antonio

Mental Health Cops Help Reweave Social Safety Net In San Antonio

“San Antonio diverts people with serious mental illness out of jail and into treatment instead — an effort that has saved the city and county $50 million over the past five years.”

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Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

“…They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s overtime and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life…”

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Tax Burden in U.S. Not as Heavy as It Looks, Report Says

Tax Burden in U.S. Not as Heavy as It Looks, Report Says

“…“Despite the claims of corporate apologists, international business ‘competitiveness’ has nothing to do with the reasons for these deals,” he writes. “Whether one measures effective marginal or overall tax rates, sophisticated U.S. multinational firms are burdened by tax rates that are the envy of their international peers.”

What? We’ve been told repeatedly that the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world — 35 percent — which is higher than the nominal tax rates in places like Ireland (12.5 percent), Britain (21 percent) and the Netherlands (25 percent) and the 24.1 percent average rate of all countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

All of that’s true, but Professor Kleinbard contends that most United States multinational companies don’t pay anywhere near 35 percent. Companies paid, on average, 12.6 percent, according to the Government Accountability Office, which last measured it in 2010, by deliberately stashing piles of cash abroad…”

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Beautiful Definition of Feminism Is Pretty Much Perfect

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Beautiful Definition of Feminism Is Pretty Much Perfect

“…In an era when multiple high-profile celebrities have publicly distanced themselves from the “feminist” label, Gordon-Levitt’s consistent and enthusiastic embrace of the “f-word” should be required reading. As the actor noted in an interview with the Daily Beast published on Thursday:

What [feminism] means to me is that you don’t let your gender define who you are — you can be who you want to be, whether you’re a man, a woman, a boy, a girl, whatever, However you want to define yourself, you can do that and should be able to do that, and no category ever really describes a person because every person is unique.

He goes on to say that yes, he absolutely considers himself a feminist: “I’m a believer that if everyone has a fair chance to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, it’s better for everyone.

The interview highlights the young actor’s already deep understanding of not just feminism as a concept, but the feminist movement as a whole, a viewpoint that has been distressingly absent in interviews withother celebrities.

Lady Gaga, for example, once said that she wasn’t a feminist because she “[hails] men, [loves] men, [celebrates] male culture, and beer, and muscle cars.” Kelly Clarkson, whose ballads are consistently empowering for women in girls, noted that she wouldn’t call herself a feminist because “when people hear feminist, it’s like, ‘Get out of my way, I don’t need anyone.’ I love that I’m being taken care of and I have a man that’s a leader. I’m not a feminist in that sense.” And who can forget Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who said that she wouldn’t consider herself a feminist because she doesn’t have the “militant drive … that comes with that.” And the list goes on…”

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