Happy 110th!

Today would have been my grandmother’s 110th birthday. Here she is with, presumably, my dad’s cat Waglio, which would mean this was taken in the late 60s, or maybe the 70s. No clue where it was taken.

It’s not the best picture of her out there. The composition is off a bit. You can see the photographer’s shadow at the bottom right. You can’t see her face and the cat looks to be in an awkward pose. Maybe he’s getting settled, who knows. But it occurs to me that I can’t think of many pictures of my grandmother (or grandfather for that matter) with pets, so it’s a bit of a novelty to me. In fact, I’m not sure they had any pets at all aside from this one. Either way, here it is: Gram either petting, or adjusting, or possibly advising Waglio.

Happy birthday!

Happy 120th!

Every year I post a digital birthday card for my grandfather. 2020 is a year, so here’s the card: Grampa with Gram and my dad on a beach. I believe the car is a Nash Statesman, but if it isn’t I’ll get corrected soon enough.

They’re not quite in their Sunday finest; for instance, my grandfather’s not wearing a tie in this shot. But the ancient broad outlines on a sedan big enough that I could probably park my own sedan inside, the woman in a shin-length dress, the man in slacks and a jacket on an otherwise empty beach, and nobody hamming or glamming it up for social media purposes, all speak to a very different time. That, and the photo’s in black and white.

The driver’s door being slightly ajar nags at me, though.

Grampa would’ve turned 120 today if he hadn’t died returning the three phantom centuries to our space-time continuum.

On pandemiconomics, part two.

Last time I left off with a promise that I’d resume my blathering on Thursday, which was pushed back to Friday in one of the comments. That clearly didn’t happen, so there goes my credibility. Anyhow, I don’t think the stimulus is actually going to stimulate, but I also don’t think it was a mistake. This is an odd position for me to be in, because my list of “economic stuff the government should do” is much shorter than most. (Proceeds to rattle off three things.)

I think that generally, the best things a government can do to help an economy out of recession are [A] to ease excessive tax or regulatory burdens on the economy, [B] keep inflation slow and low (given government control of the currency), and [C] nothing. [A]’s pretty straightforward and obvious; note the use of the word “excessive.” [B] will get me in trouble with my more hardcore libertarian/free-market readers, but I only have, like, three readers so we’re talking about one guy. [C]’s cool, but as I’ve said before, [C] loses elections unless you do the nothing early enough in your term that the nothing pays off and the economy recovers in time for the election. But if [A] and [B] are in place, then the government should do [C] so the market can work its wonders.

So why isn’t this “stimulus,” or as the letter from Presidente Donald J. Trump, printed in both English and Spanish, more appropriately calls it, this “Economic Impact Payment” necessarily a mistake?

Because in this case, the government– Trump, the feds, the governors, the states– forbade a lot of the economic activity that falls under the rubric of “the market working its wonders.” Those of you who took econ classes, you know how, like, supply and demand seek equilibrium when unfettered? How if butchers aren’t making money, then fewer butchers will butch and they’ll start looking for other work? Or if brewers are making lots of money, then more brewers will enter the industry to soak up the economic profits? Or if bakers are charging too much, then Q-sub-D will fall until– you know what, I’m not going to reteach the entire class here, you get the idea.

The invisible hand can’t work its magic if the butcher, the brewer, and the baker aren’t allowed to work.

The economic impact payment (EIP) isn’t going to stimulate the overall economy; I think production is going to drop too much for that to be possible. But what it might do, what it hopefully will do, is serve as a temporary bailout for those who aren’t allowed to work. (Warning: callousness ahead.) I don’t mean bail out everybody who’s out of work– because I guarantee that the invisible hand wants to shift many of those folks into different jobs. If I lose my job as a public school teacher because the marketplace falls in love with online teaching and I become redundant, then that’s on me to find or create new work, same as if times were normal. But if I’m not allowed to do my job,* then I think that’s a violation of my rights– perhaps a necessary one given the pandemic– and the government owes compensation.

Here’s the tricky, maybe weaselly** part: it’s tough to distinguish those who are out of work because of structural changes underway (i.e., the economy is transforming and demand for different types of jobs is shifting) from those who are out of work solely because the government says so (for good reason, granted). In some cases, someone may be out of work for a combination of the two reasons. So rather than sort the two groups out, and rather than determine how responsible the government is for your unemployment, the feds just sent checks to everybody because it was fast and simple. They said they’ll clean up the mess later (which means they won’t ever clean up the mess, but ignore that for now).

So: the EIPs aren’t going to stimulate, but they aren’t a mistake because the government needs to make up for putting people out of work. Yes, it was out of apparent necessity and an abundance of precaution, but the feds need to make up for it.

More analysis soon. Night night for now.

*I should specify: “my private sector job.” The public sector has the right to take away “my” public sector job.

**”Maybe weaselly” because I’ll concede the possibility that I have abandoned principle in the face of economic disaster. But I didn’t like stimulus checks in 2008, and I didn’t like them in 2001, and I have no reason to believe they would have helped in 1982, or 1973, or 1946, or 1929, and so on. This is a case of Uncle Sam saying “You’re not allowed to earn money for the next few weeks.” That didn’t happen in any other recession I can think of (though you could argue that conscription of labor and other resources in our major wars might be analogous). So if Trump tells me I have to close my store, and won’t allow me to make a go of it with social distancing and masks and proper hygiene and occupancy limits, he’d better cut me a check.

On pandemiconomics, part one.

Here’s a continuation of my response to “Just a former student.” JAFS wrote…

I wanted to hear […] your thoughts on how this COVID-19 pandemic will affect our economy. Do you think the government handing out coronavirus stimulus checks was a good idea? Or is increasing our national debt going to end up being a mistake?

The correct answers are, respectively, “I don’t know but I hope so” and “I don’t know but I hope not.” These are the correct answers because I only have intermittent access to the alternate universe where information and judgement are perfect. So allow me to ramble a bit and insult your intelligence by assuming you don’t already know this stuff.

Politically speaking, the government had to hand out stimulus checks. The government shut businesses down left and right, costing millions of people their incomes. Those people have mouths to feed, bills to pay, rent, mortgages, car notes, and so on. The government put them in this situation, or was forced to put them in this situation because of COVID-19, so the government had to make up for it by giving those people cash ASAP. “Do-nothingism,” whether right or wrong, causes politicians to lose their jobs.

Furthermore, by shutting businesses down without due process, I think government is constitutionally bound to compensate people for their losses based on the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Why? Well, there’s a pair of Due Process Clauses in there (I don’t remember hearings or trials before shutting everyone down), there’s the Equal Protection Clause (some folks were forced out of work, others weren’t), I think you could squeeze in that Eminent Domain Clause (“took” property for public purposes, thus must compensate), and there’s a badly underused Privileges and Immunities Clause that I think needs to be dusted off just to make sure it still works.

Economically speaking, it’s a tougher call. I think stimulus is less effective than most economists do, but that doesn’t mean it never works. The downside of stimulus is harder to see than the upside, because the downside takes longer to kick in, and by the time it does there are plenty of other factors to consider and actors to blame for these problems that seem to have come up out of nowhere.

Allow me to continue dodging your question by answering a different one. What are the downsides of stimulus? For starters, every dollar that Uncle Sam spends has to be paid for by taxes, inflation, or borrowing. Taxes make it harder to buy and sell stuff, inflation is a hidden tax because it weakens the dollars in your wallet or bank accounts, and borrowing drives up the national debt, which has to be repaid via taxation or inflation. None of those options are good, but of course they’re not good: this is about the downside, remember? If the taxes, borrowing, and inflation outweigh the good done by the stimulus, then it was a bad call. But that’s a tough judgement to make, costs and benefits take time to become apparent, and they do so unevenly.

Stimulus runs additional risks that I think I can boil down to two more statements:

  • Stimulus runs the risk of encouraging activities that aren’t that valuable anymore. Imagine giving a stimulus check to a buggy-whip manufacturer in the midst of the Model T Ford boom. Or, to work from current events a bit, imagine giving a stimulus check to the owner of a wet market right now. Whether or not wet markets were actually to blame for the outbreak, that wouldn’t make much economic sense, would it?
  • Stimulus also runs the risk of failing to encourage activities that are becoming more valuable. Imagine you get furloughed or fired due to the COVID-19 shutdown, and then Uncle Sam sends a stimulus check. Mightn’t that check make you a little more likely to try to ride out the tough times and resume your old job, and a little less likely to go looking for a job in a growth industry? Say in delivery, or in nursing, or working in an Amazon warehouse?

…so stimulus sometimes allows economic problems to continue, or discourages pursuit of new economic solutions.

I don’t think this stimulus is going to stimulate, but that doesn’t mean it was a mistake. And I will explain why on Thursday because my brain is fried and I need sleep.

On pandemucation.

“Just a former student” writes:

I hope you’re staying safe and healthy during these tumultuous times.

I wanted to hear how you’re coping with working from home and more importantly, your thoughts on how this COVID-19 pandemic will affect our economy. Do you think the government handing out coronavirus stimulus checks was a good idea? Or is increasing our national debt going to end up being a mistake?

Also, how is PSAS handling graduation?

Thanks!

I am safe and healthy aside from severe eye strain. Thank you for asking, and I hope you are well too, whoever you are.

Let me address the school stuff for now and the economic stuff in a later post, because there’s so much to be said. Teaching from home has generally been much tougher than teaching at school. Here’s a short list of my difficulties:

  • Learning how to use Microsoft Teams for tele-teaching, for conferring with colleagues, making announcements, etc.
  • Addressing student questions and concerns… though having a chat window where I can see their questions helps.
  • Maintaining test security. Test security in this environment doesn’t exist.
  • Monitoring student performance. Given the strain on the internet and the various degrees of internet access at home, the students can’t all turn their work in at the same time, so I can’t examine it all at the same time, and can’t give them feedback all at the same time.
  • Adjusting lessons/lectures based on student feedback. This is partly due to the same concern mentioned above, partly due to not being able to see looks of confusion or contemplation, partly due to not being able to interpret the tone of a question if it’s typed in a chat window. Note that this doesn’t mean I’d actually change anything; I give exactly the same lectures every single year.

But there’s been some upside:

  • Microsoft Teams makes it easier to get content to my students in case of absences– mine or theirs. And now I know how to use it.
  • The commute to work is much easier and less tiring, though I now avoid my office like the plague, no pun intended, during my “off hours.”
  • I’ve had time to think more carefully about what productive teaching entails. My conclusion is that I’ve been right all along and I’m going to keep talking at people. It works.

I think this whole mess could lead to some big structural changes in education. I’ll have more to add once I’m out of Internal Assessment Grading Mode, which should occur by Friday of this week. In the interest of helping us cope with the cancellation of the IB exams, IB decided to make my grading process 9.2 times harder this year by requiring commentary on 92 papers instead of a random sample of 10. So my brain is fried right now and is crying for sleep.

We don’t yet know how graduation is going to be handled, and I hesitate to share my own ideas for fear of getting blamed for a second wave of starting in late May or early June.

That’s it for now. More later.

EDIT: A quick Google search reveals a grand total of zero hits for “pandemucation.” I’m calling it now, and first.

Why I am sincerely more worried than ever before.

I don’t remember the last time the Bears had this many options for improving at quarterback via trade or free agency.

I like Mitch Trubisky. I think he loves Chicago and loves being a Bear. he’s got a lot of spirit and he seems like a very earnest kid. but the reality is that he can’t make reads, and he’s too inconsistent on easy throws. At best, he can read half the field at a time, which is why he’s so much better on rollouts or scrambles than he is in the pocket. And I will always maintain that no matter how good a QB is at rollouts or scrambling, he’s got to be able to throw from the pocket. Maybe he’ll be average or better one day, but I don’t want the Bears to take a chance that it’ll happen this year. We have better options now.

But the apparent pickings grow slimmer, with Bridgewater a Panther and Brady a Buc. So who’s left? Last I checked: Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, Cam Newton, Nick Foles, and Jameis Winston. Dalton is getting up in years and is the very definition of mediocre; look up the Dalton Line. I think Carr is tough to judge; his numbers look better than Trubisky’s at first glance except for his win-loss record. Cam Newton is likely available, but is a little banged up. Also I think he scrambled too much earlier in his career. Nick Foles is either an all-timer or somewhat sub-par. If he’s Eagles Foles, take him. If he’s Rams or Jaguars Foles, no thanks. Jameis Winston would be definitely the most exciting option, though that would be in a bad way roughly half the time. Maybe the LASIK helped. We’ll see.

Someone suggested building a time machine so the Bears could go back and draft Deshaun Watson instead of Trubisky. To my dying day, I will maintain that in 2018, the Bears with Watson (or that Mahomes kid, I guess) would have gone 15-1, if not unbeaten, in the regular season and gone to the Super Bowl.

We are left with just as dramatic and urgent a decision now. Which quarterback would actually be an improvement over Trubisky? And if we can identify him, can the Bears actually sign him? I would hate to see yet another window with such a good defense and such fair-to-middlin’ offensive skill players be wasted for lack of sufficient quarterbacking. This decision will make the difference between ongoing mediocrity and legitimate championship runs.