Kevin Drum

As Cities Raise Their Minimum Wage, Where's the Economic Collapse the Right Predicted?

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 9:45 AM EDT
The Fight for 15 protest in New York City Fast Food Forward

Fast-food cooks and cashiers demanding a $15 minimum wage walked off the job in 236 cities yesterday in what organizers called the largest mobilization of low-wage workers ever. The tax-day protest, known as Fight 4/15 (or #Fightfor15 on Twitter), caused some backlash on the Right:

Conservatives have long portrayed minimum-wage increases as a harbingers of economic doom, but their fears simply haven't played out. San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Washington, DC, were among the first major cities to raise their minimum wages to substantially above state and national averages. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the increases had little effect on employment rates in traditionally low-wage sectors of their economies:

Economists with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California-Berkeley have found similar results in studies of the six other cities that have raised their minimum wages in the past decade, and in the 21 states with higher base pay than the federal minimum. Businesses, they found, absorbed the costs through lower job turnover, small price increases, and higher productivity.

It's the taxpayers who ultimately pick up the tab for low wages, because the government subsidizes the working poor.

Obviously, there's a limit to how high you can raise the minimum wage without harming the economy, but evidence suggests we're nowhere close to that tipping point. The ratio between the United States' minimum wage and its median wage has been slipping for years—it's now far lower than in the rest of the developed world. Even after San Francisco increases its minimum wage to $15 next year, it will still amount to just 46 percent of the median wage, putting the city well within the normal historical range.

The bigger threat to the economy may come from not raising the minimum wage. Even Wall Street analysts agree that our ever-widening income inequality threatens to dampen economic growth. And according to a new study by the UC-Berkeley Labor Center, it's the taxpayers who ultimately pick up the tab for low wages, because the federal government subsidizes the working poor through social-service programs to the tune of $153 billion a year.

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Even the World Bank Has to Worry About the Competition

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 8:20 AM EDT

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has just published a deep look into the World Bank's track record of ensuring that the projects it sponsors don't end up harming local communities.

Since 2004, more than 3.4 million people have been economically or physically displaced by Bank projects, according to the report's analysis of the lender's data. And while the Bank has policies requiring it to reestablish and resettle such communities, the ICIJ's investigation found that they were falling short, operating under a troubling lack of safeguards, through bank officials too willing to ignore abuses committed by local partners, and with an institutional culture that values closing big deals over following up on human rights.

After being presented with the ICIJ's findings, the bank quickly promised reforms. But one part of the investigation contains this interesting passage, which suggests an unexpected reason the Bank may not be able to clean up its act: competition has gotten too stiff.

As it enters its eighth decade, the World Bank faces an identity crisis.

It is no longer the only lender willing to venture into struggling nations and finance huge projects. It is being challenged by new competition from other development banks that don’t have the same social standards—and are rapidly drawing support from the World Bank’s traditional backers.

China has launched a new development bank and persuaded Britain, Germany and other American allies to join, despite open U.S. opposition.

These geopolitical shifts have fueled doubts about whether the World Bank still has the clout—or the desire—to impose strong protections for people living in the way of development.

United Nations human rights officials have written World Bank President Kim to say they're concerned that the growing ability of borrowers to access other financing has spurred the bank to join a "race to the bottom" and push its standards for protecting people even lower.

Today's package of stories, published with the Huffington Post, is the first installment of a series reported in 14 countries by over 50 journalists. More than 20 news organizations were involved in the effort.

Health and Logistical Update

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 8:45 PM EDT

Howdy everyone. I'm back. But I'll bet you didn't even know I was gone.

I spent most of the day up at City of Hope in Duarte getting a few final tests plus a final visit with my transplant physician before I go up next week for the final stage of chemo. For those who are interested, here's my final and (hopefully) firm schedule.

On Monday I go up to CoH and check in to the Village. This sounds like something from The Prisoner, but it's actually just a small collection of houses on the grounds of the campus. Unless something goes wrong that requires round-the-clock observation and care, this is where I'll be staying. It's obviously nicer and more convenient than being cooped up in a hospital room, and it comes complete with its own kitchen so I'm free to make my own meals if I want. (I can also order out from the hospital cafeteria if I don't feel like cooking my own stuff.)

On Tuesday and Wednesday I go into the Day Hospital for an infusion of high-dose Melphalan, a powerful chemotherapy drug. This will kill off all my remaining cancerous bone marrow stem cells, and, along the way, kill off all my healthy stem cells too. So on Thursday they'll pump my own frozen stem cells back into me.

And that's about it. Within a few days of all this I'll be laid low with fatigue, mouth sores, and loss of hair—and hopefully not much more, since that would require transfer to the hospital, which I'd sure like to avoid. For the two weeks after that, I'll take a wide variety of medications and check into the Day Hospital every morning for testing and whatever else they deem necessary (for example, IV fluids if I'm not drinking enough). The rest of the time I spend in my little house, waiting for my immune system to recover enough for me to be sent home.

That will take me through the middle of May, at which point I should be in fairly reasonable shape. Full and complete recovery will take longer—possibly quite a bit longer—but that's unknowable at this point. I'll just have to wait and see.

The next time you see me after this weekend I'll be bald as an egg, as any true cancer patient should be. Yes, there will be pictures. I wouldn't deprive you of that. Between now and then, wish me luck.

Democrats in Oregon of All Places Just Torpedoed a Bill to Expand Abortion Rights

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 4:21 PM EDT
An abortion protester shows off his pro-life tattoo, because Portland.

Here's how quickly the prospect of expanding abortion rights can kill a piece of legislation: In February, a group of state lawmakers introduced a bill that would require insurers to cover the full spectrum of women's reproductive services at an affordable price. Just two months later, the same lawmakers have killed the bill. The section calling for abortion coverage proved just too controversial.

This didn't happen in the Rust Belt, or in a purple state where Democrats hold the statehouse by just a vote or two. It happened in Oregon, where the Democrats control both chambers of the legislature by a supermajority and where the party has a lengthy history of going to the mat for abortion rights.

Nina Liss-Schultz of RH Reality Check (and a MoJo alum) has the full story. The tale is an illuminating one as progressives contemplate how to respond to the historic number of anti-abortion laws that have passed in the last five years.

It's also an important dose of reality.

Conservatives have enacted more abortion restrictions in the past few years than they have in the entire previous decade. In January, though, several news reports circulated that made it seem as though a full-fledged progressive counter strike was already under way. The stories were based on reports by the Guttmacher Institute and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, pro abortion-rights think tanks. They found that in 2014, dozens of lawmakers introduced dozens of bills—95, by Guttmacher's count—supporting women's reproductive rights, surpassing a record set in 1990. "A Record Number Of Lawmakers Are Starting To Fight For Reproductive Rights," one headline announced. Another read, "Inside the quiet, state-level push to expand abortion rights."

It's certainly true that the tidal wave of new abortion restrictions has inspired a progressive backlash. But the suggestion that the two sides are evenly matched, or even approaching that point, is out of line with reality. Just four of those 95 measures were eventually passed into law. One of them was a Vermont bill to repeal the state's long-defunct abortion ban, in case the makeup of the Supreme Court allowed the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade—a looming danger, but not the most pressing issue facing abortion rights.

By contrast, last year alone conservative lawmakers introduced 335 bills targeting abortion access; 26 passed. And in two states that are overtly hostile to abortion rights—Texas and North Dakota—the legislature wasn't even in session. That's part of why you can expect this year's abortion battles to be even uglier.

But it's not just about sheer numbers. At the same time that progressive lawmakers were pushing forward-thinking laws, the 2014 midterms undermined their efforts. In states where there were serious efforts to expand reproductive rights—Colorado, Nevada, New York, and Washington—Democratic losses on Election Day have placed those plans on indefinite hold.

Here's how things fell apart in Oregon, according to the Lund Report, an Oregon-based health news website.

[Democratic health committee chair Sen. Laurie] Monnes Anderson said the abortion language was so toxic that "leadership"—her caucus leaders—would not even allow her to have a public hearing on SB 894, let alone move it to the Senate floor. She said House Democratic leaders were also involved in the discussion over whether the bill could see the light of day.

Meanwhile, in the time it took for Oregon to abandon this bill, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, and West Virginia passed 10 new abortion and reproductive rights restrictions. What happened in Oregon shows just how much reproductive rights advocates are playing catch-up, even in states that appear friendly to their agenda.

Drum vs. Cowen: Three Laws

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 10:59 AM EDT

Today Tyler Cowen published his version of Cowen's Three Laws:

1. Cowen’s First Law: There is something wrong with everything (by which I mean there are few decisive or knockdown articles or arguments, and furthermore until you have found the major flaws in an argument, you do not understand it)

2. Cowen’s Second Law: There is a literature on everything.

3. Cowen’s Third Law: All propositions about real interest rates are wrong.

I'd phrase these somewhat differently:

1. Drum's First Law: For any any problem complex enough to be interesting, there is evidence pointing in multiple directions. You will never find a case where literally every research result supports either liberal or conservative orthodoxy.

2. Drum's Second Law: There's literature on a lot of things, but with some surprising gaps. Furthermore, in many cases the literature is so contradictory and ambiguous as to be almost useless in practical terms.

3. Drum's Third Law: Really? Isn't there a correlation between real interest rates and future inflationary expectations? In general, don't low real interest rates make capital investment more likely by lowering hurdle rates? Or am I just being naive here?

In any case, you can take your choice. Or mix and match!

Senate's Iran Bill Probably Not a Bad Idea After All

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 10:44 AM EDT

President Obama has said that he's willing to sign the latest Senate version of a bill that gives Congress a say in any nuclear deal with Iran. I'm glad to hear that because, oddly enough, I'm pretty much in favor of the current bill. Here's why:

  • Congress should be involved in major arms treaties, regardless of whether my preferred party happens to control Congress.
  • The current bill requires Congress to vote on a final deal within 30 days. No one expects a treaty to get implemented any sooner than that anyway, so it's not much of a roadblock.
  • If Congress disapproves the deal, the president can issue a veto. It would then take two-thirds of the Senate to override the veto and kill the treaty.

I don't see much of a downside to this. If Obama can't get even one-third of the Senate to go along with his Iran deal, then it probably doesn't deserve to be approved. And the threat of a suspicious and recalcitrant Congress going over the treaty language word by word might actually motivate Iran to agree to more straightforward language in the final document. It certainly shouldn't doom the negotiations or anything like that.

A lot of this is political theater, and a lot of it is pure Israel-lobby muscle at work. Still, I suspect it does little harm and might even do a little good. And setting out the parameters of the Senate vote beforehand is probably all for the good. This isn't a bad bill.

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Driving While Black Has Actually Gotten More Dangerous in the Last 15 Years

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 9:50 AM EDT

Walter Scott's death in South Carolina, at the hands of now-fired North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, is one of several instances from the past year when a black man was killed after being pulled over while driving. No one knows exactly how often traffic stops turn deadly, but studies in Arizona, Missouri, Texas, Washington have consistently shown that cops stop and search black drivers at a higher rate than white drivers. Last week, a team of researchers in North Carolina found that traffic stops in Charlotte, the state's largest city, showed a similar racial disparity—and that the gap has been widening over time.

The researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill analyzed more than 1.3 million traffic stops and searches by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers for a 12-year period beginning in 2002, when the state began requiring police to collect such statistics. In their analysis of the data, collected and made public by the state's Department of Justice, the researchers found that black drivers, despite making up less than one-third of the city's driving population, were twice as likely to be subject to traffic stops and searches as whites. Young black men in Charlotte were three times as likely to get pulled over and searched than the city-wide average. Here's a chart from the Charlotte Observer's report detailing the findings:

Michael Gordon and David Puckett, Charlotte Observer

Not only did the researchers identify these gaps: they showed that the gaps have been growing. Black drivers in Charlotte are more likely than whites to get pulled over and searched today than they were in 2002, the researchers found. They noted similar widening racial gaps among traffic stops and searches in Durham, Raleigh, and elsewhere in the state.

Black drivers in Charlotte were much more likely to get stopped for minor violations involving seat belts, vehicle registration, and equipment, where, as the Observer's Michael Gordon points out, "police have more discretion in pulling someone over." (Scott was stopped in North Charleston due to a broken brake light.) White drivers, meanwhile, were stopped more often for obvious safety violations, such as speeding, running red lights and stop signs, and driving under the influence. Still, black drivers—except those suspected of intoxicated driving—were always more likely to get searched than whites, no matter the reason for the stop.

The findings in North Carolina echo those of a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Kansas, who found that Kansas City's black drivers were stopped at nearly three times the rate of whites fingered for similarly minor violations.

Frank Baumgartner, the lead author of the UNC-Chapel Hill study, told Mother Jones that officers throughout the state were twice as likely to use force against black drivers than white drivers. Of the estimated 18 million stops that took place between 2002 and 2013 in North Carolina that were analyzed by Baumgartner's team, less than one percent involved the use of force. While officers are required to report whether force was encountered or deployed, and whether there were any injuries, "we don't know if the injuries are serious, and we don't know if a gun was fired," he says.

Republicans Like Class Warfare—So Long As It's Against Hillary Clinton

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 4:18 PM EDT

How do you go about redefining Hillary Clinton? As one of the most well-known political figures in modern history, just about everyone in America already has a opinion of her.

After months in the lab and out in the field polling voters and testing messages, Republicans believe they have the answer they need to help prevent another four years of a Democratic presidency. As Politico reports today, the GOP plans to depict Clinton as an out-of-touch one-percenter, who doesn't drive her own car or pump her own gas, who owns multiple large houses and commanded a six-figure fee for her pre-campaign speaking gigs, who can't grasp the daily life of a working-class family. As Politico's Eli Stokols puts it, the GOP plans to "Mitt Romnify" Clinton:

The out-of-touch plutocrat template is a familiar one: Democrats used it to devastating effect against Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. While Hillary Clinton's residences in New York and Washington may not have car elevators, there's still a lengthy trail of paid speeches, tone-deaf statements about the family finances, and questions about Clinton family foundation fundraising practices that will serve as cornerstones of the anti-Clinton messaging effort.

"She's admitted she hasn't driven a car for decades; she probably doesn't ever go into a coffee shop and talk to regular people unless it's for a staged photo-op," said American Crossroads CEO Steven Law, alluding to Clinton's portrayal in her campaign's launch video on Sunday. "She really has lived the life of a 1-percenter these last several years, and it shows.

"We know her team is working to rebrand her as a relatable, regular person; the question is, can she actually perform in a way that convinces people she is that person? We think that's going to be hard for her."

The outlines of the effort to Mitt Romnify Hillary Clinton are still being sketched. Crossroads, the super PAC that spent $70 million in 2012 mostly on television ads attacking President Barack Obama, is in the middle of an extensive research project analyzing voters' existing perceptions of Clinton and their reactions to a number of potential critiques. But the Republican National Committee has done focus groups that suggest Clinton is more vulnerable to charges of being imperious and bending the rules than anything else tested against her.

"The most potent message against Clinton is that she doesn't live an average life, she's out of touch and doesn't play by the same set of rules," said the RNC's research director, Raj Shah. "[T]hat resonates more deeply than some of the policy hits, the ethical hits."

Soon after Stokols' story was published, Crossroads GPS, the GOP establishment's leading dark-money group, released its own polling data from 15 battleground states highlighting what it called Clinton's "major hurdles." Based on a poll of one thousand likely voters conducted in late March, Crossroads found that 95 percent of respondents had a fully formed opinion of Clinton; her popularity was evenly split, with 49 percent favoring her and 46 percent opposing. Crossroads also claims that some of the "most potent concerns" voiced by respondents were Clinton's "record of scandals" at the State Department, as well as doubts that the former first lady "is honest and trustworthy."

The data here aren't that surprising—after all, this was a poll commissioned by a Republican shop. But what caught my eye was Crossroads founder Steven Law's statement in the press release accompanying his group's findings: "A staged van tour," he said, "can't erase the legacy of scandals and luxury lifestyle that are ingrained in Americans' view of who Hillary really is." Right there Law shows his hand—luxury lifestyle. That's on top of his "one-percenter" jab to Politico.

In other words, get ready for 18 months of ominous, grimly narrated attack ads about out-of-touch plutocrats and the lifestyles of the rich and politically famous. Except this time the target isn't Mitt Romney; it's Clinton, the Democrat trying to run as the "champion" of "everyday Americans."

Hair Update

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 12:35 PM EDT

Huh. My hair is starting to fall out in clumps. That's not supposed to happen until after the chemo next week. I wonder what's going on?

Worst. Logo. Ever.

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 11:45 AM EDT

I've kept my distance from the nearly insane volume of reaction to Hillary Clinton's presidential announcement this weekend, including the tens of thousands of turgid words deconstructing her allegedly revolutionary announcement video. (Please.) It's a routine announcement, folks. We all knew it was coming. We all knew approximately what she'd say.

What's more, I nearly always stay out of discussions about logos. I have no artistic sense, so who am I to judge? And yet....holy cow. I have to go along with the nearly unanimous stunned reaction to Hillary's campaign logo. It's hideous on so many levels it's hard to even marshal my thoughts about it. Seriously, WTF were they thinking?