The data presented in this Animated Chart of the Day from Mark Perry are nearly impossible to square with Thomas Piketty’s repeated assertion that, except when major wars or economic depressions are ravaging humanity, capital grows automatically.
Mr. Glaeser, 55, is arguably the foremost economist who studies cities. It’s a growing tribe, he says in a Zoom interview from his office on the Harvard campus, to which, he’s keen to stress, he’s been going in person since August 2021. The “hallmarks” of the urban economic models he studies involve space—“recognizing that people and firms make choices about where to locate.” Zoom and hybrid work may be here to stay, he allows. “But for most of us the most important interactions of our lives will occur in the real world and, consequently, location remains absolutely critical.”
The way Mr. Glaeser tells it, cities are among mankind’s finest creations—engines of entrepreneurship, inventiveness and economic growth. His intellectual inspiration as an urban economist is Alfred Marshall (1842-1924), who formulated the hypothesis that Mr. Glaeser says has been central to his own career. “Great are the advantages,” Marshall observed of cities, “which people following the same skilled trade get from near neighborhood to one another. The mysteries of the trade become no mystery but are, as it were, in the air.”
That explains why young people are drawn to cities—and why, in Mr. Glaeser’s view, in-person work is vital in the early stages of a career. Cities—and face-to-face contact at work—have “this essential learning component that is valuable and crucial for workers who are young,” he says. The acquisition of experience and improvement in productivity, “month by month, year by year,” ensures that individual earnings are higher in cities than elsewhere.
Mr. Glaeser commends a “superb paper,” published in the Review of Economic Studies in 2017, that documents how people learn by working in big cities. The authors show that workers in Madrid earn 55% more than those in rural Spain. “These wage benefits don’t appear magically when workers come to Madrid or Barcelona,” Mr. Glaeser says. “Instead, a new worker in the big city earns only about 10% more than a worker in a mid-sized city.” After 10 years, that earnings gap grows to 35%.
Importantly, the authors rightly disparage the view of slavery recently espoused by the so-called New History of Capitalism (NHC), a menagerie of bad history and worse economic theory critiqued by scholars like Eric Hilt, Phil Magness, Alan Olmstead, and Gavin Wright (no relation). Ferguson and Witcher add to such critiques by countering NHC with new views of slavery by scholars like Jeffrey Rogers Hummel and myself. Hummel points to the deadweight losses created by slavery, while in The Poverty of Slavery: How Unfree Labor Pollutes the Economy, I point to the negative externalities inherent in the various forced labor regimes that have cursed humanity throughout time and the globe.
The authors correctly conclude from such studies that US chattel slavery did not make America wealthy and in fact hurt its economic development. Ditto with the forced labor regimes that replaced slavery in the postbellum period and the injustices of the Jim Crow and The New Jim Crow (mass incarceration) eras. Although a relatively few white people grew wealthy from slavery and segregation, white Americans as a group did not benefit from those policies, and in fact were hurt by them. Hence they owe nothing to the descendants of slaves except equal access to the classical liberal market economy that undergirds America’s prosperity.
“Let us not hope to create equality by dragging the majority down,” the authors conclude, “but rather by pulling the minority up.” To that end, the authors suggest selling government land to finance “the capital investments of any poor entrepreneur” or of anyone of any wealth level who can prove that they are an American Indian or the descendant of slaves.
So what is the increasingly corrupt educational establishment doing as a corrective? Two primary “fixes” are in the works: grade inflation and graduating students from high school who are functionally illiterate. In fact, a report released on May 16 by ACT, a nonprofit organization that administers the college readiness exam, finds evidence of grade inflation in high school seniors’ GPAs. While ACT scores declined between 2016 and 2021, the average GPA for students taking the test increased.
The trend was especially noticeable among black students and those from low to moderate income homes. Sadly, this is nothing new. Big city districts with their equity-obsessed leadership and powerful teachers unions know they need to show they are not failing. So instead of providing true rigor and firing bad teachers, they simply raise grades.
Detroit is a particularly egregious case. While 72% of the city’s students are graduating from high school this year, only 8% of them are academically ready for college.
Progressives’ Trumpian conviction that elections are ripe for rigging was fueled by their indignation about what they called Georgia’s new “voter suppression” law. It was the subject, in January, of perhaps the most unpresidential speech in living memory, Biden’s Atlanta eruption in which he asserted that if you disagree with him about Georgia — “Jim Crow 2.0” — you are a compound of Jefferson Davis, George Wallace and Bull Connor. Well.
If the Georgia law’s purpose is voter suppression, it is failing spectacularly: More than 857,000 unsuppressed Georgians voted early before Tuesday’s primaries, about triple the number who voted early in the 2018 primaries.
Welcome to the “Through the Looking Glass” world of unfalsifiable beliefs: Time was, obsessives about the John F. Kennedy assassination said that the complete absence of evidence of a conspiracy proved the conspiracy’s diabolical thoroughness. Today’s voter-suppression obsessives say the surge of Georgians voting proves the law’s wickedness, because it energized voters.
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