Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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Rick Perry's Honorary Texans: Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, Palin

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Rick Perry makes Sarah Palin an honorary Texan.

Forget cowboy hats, wide vistas, or the mileage on the typical F-350 ranch truck. The biggest thing in Texas is the state's outsized sense of identity. Ever since the Battle of the Alamo immortalized Davy Crockett, the Lone Star State and its residents have loomed larger than life in popular mythology. Texas has its own rugged archetype in Hollywood, its own ethnic cuisines, and its own "national" beer and magazine. No state is better known as a cultural standout.

In Austin, where state identity is the manna of politics, governors have long upheld the tradition of naming worthy outsiders "honorary Texans"—a title that Crockett, a Tennessee native who died fighting for Texas, would have deserved. Foreign dignitaries, actors, and musicians have been the most popular picks, though some governors have gotten more creative. (Check out the stories behind 10 of the more unconventional picks.) Ann Richards named a breast cancer victim and a women's basketball star. George W. Bush named a Catholic nun and an insurance lobbyist. And Rick Perry named Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin.

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Why Expanding Colleges Won't Fix Income Inequality

| Thu Sep. 15, 2011 6:47 AM EDT

On the blog of the respected Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Vedder, a researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, recently made a strikingly counterintuitive argument against expanding access to college. Using a regression analysis of 2000 census data, he found that states with higher college graduation rates had worse income inequality. He also found that the opposite was true of those states in the 1970s, when the nation's college graduation rate was much lower on average but wages were more equal.

What's going on here? "I suspect the law of diminishing returns is at work," Vedder writes. "When college attendance/graduation is relatively rare, expanding it does bring in a number of able students who graduate and become productive members of the labor force." But when the number of graduates outstrips the number of available high-paying jobs, "the incremental graduates do not fare as well economically."

Vedder is no doubt onto something here. His findings illustrate why we can't save the American middle class by investing in education alone; we'll also have to figure out how to revive unions, fix tax and trade policy, and make the kinds of investments in technology and infrastructure that put Americans back to work.

That said, Vedder's findings are no cause to give up on publicly funded higher education. The five states with the highest college graduation rates all rank above average for median income. So college graduates aren't doing worse than non-graduates per se. In economically stratified (and highly educated) places like New York, Connecticut, and Silicon Valley, income inequality is to a large degree a gap between the affluent and the spectacularly affluent.

More important, Vedder fails to account for how inequality is widening between colleges themselves. Between 1999 and 2009, private research universities increased their per-student spending by about $7,500, to almost $36,000. Meanwhile, spending on the average public community college student stayed nearly flat, at slightly more than $10,000 per student. It should come as no surprise then that graduates of prestige schools continue to outpace other collegians.

As a conservative, Vedder wants to see schools tighten their academic standards and teach people the kinds of skills that they need to get jobs. Those are fine ideas. But we also need to stop eviscerating the budgets of public universities and colleges even as they expand enrollment. You don't have to be a Harvard grad to understand that you get what you pay for.

The Life of Rick Perry As Told Through Taiwanese Animation

| Thu Sep. 8, 2011 1:22 PM EDT

You've got to hand it to the Taiwanese for doing whatever it takes to educate the masses about politics. Ok, so maybe Karl Rove didn't really have a snake shooting out of his mouth when he convinced Rick Perry to become a Republican, and maybe Slick Rick has never ridden an elephant or shot up the governor's mansion with lasers, but who cares? It's a metaphor, dude. If you still think those Carly Fiorina Demon Sheep clips are weird, you've obviously never seen this masterpiece from Next Media Animation:

H/T Texas Tribune

Chart: Happy Labor Day! (If you're a CEO)

| Fri Sep. 2, 2011 5:34 PM EDT

Just in time for Labor Day, here's a handy illustration of how labor is getting shafted by Corporate America:

Source: Jared Bernstein, Center for Budget and Policy PrioritiesSource: Jared Bernstein, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

The red line is the share of the economy taken up by wages, salaries etc. The blue line is the share taken up by corporate profits. So the graph shows that corporations have bounced back from the recession even as workers' share of the economic pie continues to narrow.

Why is this happening? Jared Bernstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, who put together the graph, says companies have raked in the dough by selling into emerging markets while cutting costs through outsourcing and automating domestic jobs. I'd say the demise of unions certainly also plays a role.

As the chart also makes clear, widening income inequality in America is no longer just a matter of stratified wages. Today's investment class—the CEOs, the hedge fund managers, the bankers—owns a stake in an economic system that no longer needs to share much of its wealth with anyone else. In other words, it takes money to make money. And of course, spending some of it to buy off Washington doesn't hurt either.

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