How far ahead should we look when planning economic policy?

A couple decades? 50 years? An entire century?

If job automation will be slow and relentless push, rather than a sudden tsunami-like wave, should we begin training people today for the jobs of tomorrow?

On one hand, it’d be more efficient to educate people once for a job they can work for a lifetime. Employing people now, in jobs doomed for extinction, can only mean periods of widespread unemployment later on. We can avoid repeatedly stretching our social fabric, creating tension and growing distance between the haves and have-nots — what we’re seeing today between the coastal elite and working-class families, struggling to stay afloat in Rust Belt cities and coal-mining counties. We recently elected a populist, malcontent president. We let the fabric rip. Can our democracy handle another?

On the other, implementing a minimum wage or a universal basic income ahead of a wave not only far on the horizon, but speculative in size and strength and speed, might be overkill. There’s overwhelming evidence that raising the minimum wage slows down economic growth. It burdens the everyday consumer as prices skyrocket; purse strings tighten and hiring crawls to a snail’s pace. Should we be lifting our foot off the accelerator and slamming on the brakes when our ramp exit is still 10, 20 miles away? What if China is tailgating us and they ram into our bumper, causing a traffic jam for everyone riding behind us, putting a screeching halt on the global economy? Or worse, what if they pass us — along with everyone else?



channeling “everything is copy”

Mindy is a recent hire. Larry is her boss — just a couple years older than she. On her second day on the job, Mindy loses a document that costs the office a pretty Benjamin and warrants an apologetic phone call to a new client.

***SCENE 1***

Mindy: I’m so sorry, but I can’t seem to find the papers. I’ve misplaced them.

Larry: That’s kinda fucked up.

Mindy: …

Larry: That’s kinda fucked up, isn’t it? That you lost the papers.

Mindy: Yeah, I’m so sorry. I must’ve given it back to the client instead of filing it. I have the client’s contact information if you want to give them a call.

Larry: Okay yeah, you’re definitely not getting this commission. You better make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Mindy: Of course not. It won’t. I’m sorry.


***SCENE 2***

Mindy: I’m so sorry, but I can’t seem to find the papers. I’ve misplaced them. I must’ve given it back to the client instead of filing it. I have their contact information if you want to give them a call.

Larry: Oh. Well okay, make sure that doesn’t happen again. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to subtract that commission from your paycheck if we don’t find the papers.

Mindy: That’s totally fine, I completely understand. Again, I’m so sorry.

Larry: It’s alright, it happens. Next time, reserve an entire shelf of your filing cabinet for these kinds of contracts. And file them as soon as they hit your desk.

Mindy: Will do! Thanks so much for understanding. Also, for the tip. It won’t happen again, I promise.

Larry: Glad to hear it.


***SCENE 3***

Mindy: I’m so sorry, but I can’t seem to find the papers. I’ve misplaced them.

Larry: Oh, don’t sweat it. It happens all the time.

lobby day: planting seeds in the statehouse

One day every summer, ordinary citizens overrun the basement of the statehouse. Stickers, buttons and t-shirts proclaim the issues they’re passionate about, the ideas worth meandering through Trenton’s streets for, parallel parking on a side street faraway, running out to re-feed the meter every two hours.

The state legislators, they’re here too. And they listen.

I’ve never been more excited about grassroots activism until today. Granted, I don’t know how it works inside the Big House on the Beltway, but it sure works in Trenton, in a powerful way.

The partisan divide in this country might be historically wide, but you couldn’t tell that based on the conversations I overheard between politicians and their constituents.

It was a give and take. People didn’t win all the battles, but they chipped away. If President Trump (who ran as a far-right candidate), can be persuaded to change his mind on climate change and the Paris Agreement, anything is possible with these politicians.

They planted seeds! Supporters of the Sierra Club warned one Republican assemblyman how dangerous it would be for firefighters to quell forest burns in the Pinelands, if a flammable gas pipeline ran through it. Another conservative assemblywoman thanked a rep from Clean Water Action for letting her know that a new bill on the table, one she initially thought was “harmless”, effectively weakened ethics laws to approve a pending pipeline.

What was amazing was, while yes, most groups had their full-time paid “lobbyists” or non-profit directors, leading the discussion, constituents spoke up. And the legislators listened. They debated. They changed each other’s minds. It was the most human, most democratic thing I’ve seen in a long time. It wasn’t just public comment, one side yelling at the other, the cold echo of microphones between them, a long formal line of people fidgeting to speak. It was informative, conversational and at times, a compassionate but fragile human compromise.

So this is how lobbying in a democracy is supposed to work. It’s for the public. It’s been for us this whole time.

in defense of lobby groups

Without lobbyists, politicians would be lost.

“At first glance, I didn’t think it was a big deal. But now that I’ve heard your points, I’m willing to give you my vote against that,” said Congressmen Holly Schepisi (R) on A4849, an assembly bill to weaken ethics laws so county commissioners could vote, even if they had conflict of interest. This bill is directly linked to pending approval for the South Jersey Gas pipeline.

This is where your money is going when you donate to Environment New Jersey. We go to the statehouse for you, to find your representatives and talk one-on-one, to make sure they don’t vote for leaky pipelines or pass laws that weaken the integrity of environmental decisions.

To be frank, there’s a lot on a politician’s plate. Yes, they have legislative digests prepared by their aides and unpaid college interns, and they even do their own research — Assemblywoman Schepisi mentioned that she spent fifteen minutes on the internet last night researching duckweed, trying to understand what local environmentalists were so worried about — but it’s hard to stay educated on so many issues when new laws are proposed left and right, and you’ve got your own political agenda to pursue for your constituents. For better or worse, things move fast in the New Jersey statehouse.

That’s where we come in. We persuade legislators to support the environmental issues that matter most, the ones in your backyard, the ones that big polluters try to push through right under your nose, and the ones that promise a cleaner and healthier future for every resident.

As the state with the most toxic superfund sites in the country, we have to care about these EPA budget cuts. We must stay vigilant against any laws, national or local, that strip away our right to defend the land we love, the place we call home. With your membership, we can keep up the good fight.




Trump’s “evolving” views on climate

Why did President Donald Trump go to the G-7 summit?

“He came here to learn. He came here to get smarter… he feels much more knowledgeable on the topic and learned how important it is for the United States to show leadership.” — National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, according to The Post.

Fine, but educate yourself before you decide to run for the single most powerful elected office in America.

Though I guess it’s true. The average climate denier probably doesn’t know much about the Paris Climate Agreement except that it’ll “kill trade and growth, no more jobs for hard working Americans #sad #bigfail.”

Could the Trump presidency be a macrocosm for what is happening in the microcosm of struggling towns across the country? Like votes for like and Trump has their eyes and ears. If they see him changing his mind on the topic, could they, too? President Trump is far from the “hero” this country deserves, but maybe he’s the one we need, to mend the bitter political fight on climate change in this country.

OR he could just be a big ig’nant fellow with a fake toupee and the petulance of a toddler, who only knows “green” as the grass on a sprawling golf course.

Para-Academia and the Public’s Right to Know

Para-academics fill the void of slow-to-print but rigorous academic research , the gold standard for peer-reviewed work. Media outlets are joining think tanks to attract readers by analyzing the news, not just reporting on it.

Operating outside the ivory tower of academia, journalists and policy analysts have many advantages to informing the public, first.

  1. Its faster to churn out
  2. It relates to current events
  3. Its simplified and easier to understand
  4. Journalists and think tank analysts are often more personable on screen than awkward academics (think smiling politician vs. wonky lab rat).

But if the public accepts these para-academic findings without a bigger grain of salt… what are the implications?

  1. Its not held to the same rigorous standards of peer-review
  2. The methods might be iffy (small sample, research bias, etc.)

What can journalists do to minimize these “risks” of misinterpretation and possibly misinformation (the dreaded CORRECTION)?

  1. Be more transparent to readers about limitations of analysis
  2. Address any potential counter arguments
  3. Reach out to multiple academic experts in that field and ask them to briefly look over the analysis before publication (or offer them a chance to write an op-ed for the next day’s paper).


Your Liberal Arts Major Does Matter

Headed into my last semester at Middlebury College, I’m an anthropology major with no interest in graduate school. I’ve applied to more internships and fellowships. I’ve thrown in resumes for consulting jobs. I’ve written clichéd letters to big banks.

It’s often reported that [[employers rank critical thinking, creativity and oral communication]] among the most hireable skills — hallmarks of a liberal arts education. My collection of rejection letters tells a different story.

In every application, I’ve had to justify my anthropology major, to spin my decision into something both relevant and profound. Still unemployed, I can’t help but think, what if – what if I knew how to code on computers? What if I crunched numbers in Stata? What if I had picked a more traditional major?

Most Middlebury students [[declare their major]] by the end of sophomore year. By the end of my sophomore year, I declared I was confused. Most days, I flip-flopped between anthropology and neuroscience. I liked the former; my parents loved the latter. When it flurried, I considered economics. When that turned to sleet, the idea of studying money depressed me.

I soon woke up to a ticking clock. Done with distribution requirements but nowhere close to finishing a major, extra classes meant student loans I knew I couldn’t afford. I ran to my de-facto advisor, an anthropology professor from my first-year seminar. I unloaded my anxieties, the pressure I felt from my parents, my hot-to-cold passion for most subjects. He smiled.

“Why so much worry? It’s a B.A., no matter what,” he said. He compared a liberal arts degree to an ice cream cone, with majors as different flavors. “You can debate over chocolate or vanilla, but at the end of the day, employers call it ice cream and it’s all tasty.” I declared anthropology that afternoon. I called home to share the news.

My parents panicked, begging me to pick anything (“Anything!”) besides that. They said I’d never get hired unless I went to grad school (“And who’s going to pay?”). Even then, they worried I’d end up broke in academia or worse, unemployed. I hung up. They called backup.

My godmother e-mailed me: “If you’re not quite sure what you want, but want to keep your options open, major in economics.” She warned that she, too, ignored her parents’ advice and majored in music management at New York University. Upon graduating, she found her applications to entry-level jobs outside the music industry— the ones that might pay for rent, food and utilities—often didn’t get a second glance. She ended up listing her SAT scores on her resume, just so recruiters wouldn’t assume she was “stupid.”

My sister sent me a [[“Planet Money” podcast that analyzed wages]] of recent college graduates. For a guaranteed paycheck, it told me to study petroleum engineering – a degree that Middlebury doesn’t even offer.

As the stubborn baby in my family, of course I ignored them all. I liked the intimacy of a small department and our heated class debates. I liked the books professors assigned and their passionate lectures about them. Whether we were studying cultural appropriation or segregated cities, everything seemed so applicable, more relevant to my life than say, how many bromide molecules it takes to make bromic acid (just one). Anthropology was far from my dream career, but it was a delicious flavor for a liberal arts degree. I stuck with it.

Fast forward two years, and I’m no longer so sure of my decision. Despite the well-rounded nature of a liberal arts degree, even graduates at colleges like Middlebury, it seems, land jobs tied to their majors; according to [[an interactive graphic]] analyzing the industries in which Williams College alumni end up, recent graduates in biology and chemistry went on the study medicine. Economics majors were best represented in banking and consulting. Of those who worked in government, a sizable chunk studied political science.

Anthropology majors were lumped under “Cultural Studies.” I clicked. Most worked in law or education, likely in an office with a framed piece of paper: J.D. or Ph.D. I guess my parents told me so.

I still remember what it felt like as a college sophomore, slumped in the seat across from my adviser, torn between disciplines with no interest in grad school. Looking back on his advice, I can only say this: though no major can determine my career path, it might have narrowed the road to my first job. Also, my tuition cost more than an ice cream cone.

I glance at the interactive chart, again. I spy a faint orange line from Cultural Studies to Writing/Communications. Though the road to journalism isn’t well-paved, at least it’s not completely blocked off.

The Freak Out Over “Frederick Douglass”

Trump and his press secretary Sean Spicer didn’t know Frederick Douglass is dead, and has been for over 120 years.

But this isn’t a scandal.

We already expected Trump and his administration to be publicly ignorant of any American who isn’t white, christian or conservative. Just look at his cabinet picks: Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos. Why is this a surprise?

The media continues to obsess over “Frederick Douglass” like it’s Watergate. Readers are spreading it like it’s the next sign of the apocalypse (as if Trump’s election wasn’t telling enough).

Though fueled by understandable outrage, the loud uproar is just noise.The charades over “Frederick Douglass”, the cynical jokes and nervous laughter, is entirely self-serving: “We knew it. He’s a racist idiot. See, see?”

Us liberals are still bitter that we were so wrong about the election, so clueless of working-class America, so misled by our left-wing media outlets, that we grab on to every “wrong” word uttered from our President’s mouth, whether it has any political consequence or not. But this isn’t part of Trump’s presidency; it’s his reality show and we’re subscribing.

We make fun of Trump’s thin skin and enormous ego getting in the way of making decisions and enacting policy. For example, his twitter feud last week with the national park service over how many people showed up to his inauguration, and whether that was more than Obama’s in 2013. Petty and immature, yet we’re guilty of the same.

Wasting our energy freaking out about the “Frederick Douglass” comments only distracts from the real political threats posed by the Trump administration: his executive order on immigration, his alt-right cabinet nominees, his plan to start a trade war with Mexico. The pillars of our democracy — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for ALL Americans — is under fire, and we’re hiding in the trench, nursing our egos.