Hip Sneakers, Rare Books, & My Wardrobe Budget

Air Jordan 3 True BlueI really want to get away from talking about politics. It’s just getting so boring. I mean, I enjoy it to some extent. But what is there to say? Saudi Arabia is an evil country that we pretend is good because they are an official ally. Said that (many times). The Republican Party is a proto-fascist revolutionary group that is far more dangerous than people will admit. Said that (many times). And the media pretend it isn’t true. Said that (many times). So I want to write about other things. And today, I thought that I would write about fashion — in particular, sneakers.

On Wednesday night’s The Daily Show, Hasan Minhaj presented a report on the secondary sneaker market. This is a subject that is probably well known to all of you. I knew that in the past Air Jordans were a very big deal and that people paid ridiculous sums of money for them. What I didn’t know is that they are still being made and people still pay ridiculous amounts of money for them. What’s more, Nike apparently makes fewer sneakers than there is demand and so has created this secondary sneaker market. It’s kind of like ticket scalping at popular live events.

I do sort of understand the whole thing. Yesterday, I went over to Treehorn Books here in Santa Rosa. It’s the first time I’ve gone into a bookstore in ages, because I have a hard time stopping myself and I’ve been on the financial edge for some time. I’m not that fond of new bookstores. (There’s a Barnes & Noble right across the street that I don’t like going into.) But used bookstores are places of adventure. And Treenhorn is great because it is so overflowing that books are hidden behind books. You never know what you’ll find. And yesterday, I almost bought the original two volume Putnam translation of Don Quixote. Why? Did I need it? No. I already own it. But the dust jackets on this one were in slightly better condition. (Although it didn’t have the box it originally came with, which would have doubled the price. I, of course, have the box.)

So I understand wanting to have stuff. But it’s also true that I use that edition of Putnam. The only other edition is abridged. And I’m definitely not collecting copies of Don Quixote to impress my friends because they just think I’m weird. Now I suppose that at least some of these people wear the sneakers. But even the nicest ones struck me as — Oh, what is the word?! — ugly. What I’ve been wearing for the last year (and will wear for about two more years) are Gen-X Mens Mercury Skate Shoes. I bought them two years ago for $15 at Big 5 Sporting Goods and they sat unused until my last pair of shoes literally fell apart. (I mean “literally” as in “actually happened.”)

But this is the exception. I don’t normally buy clothes. I accrete them. People are going to throw stuff out and they know they can give them to me because I really don’t care what they look like or if they fit. This doesn’t make me better than other people — just different. And I think I suffer for it. When I checked out at Treehorn Books, I was very excited. I had just found The Collected Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett (first edition, seventh printing) for nine bucks. But the cashier seemed downright rude to me. Then I went to the bagel shop and I got similar treatment. I think people assume I’m a homeless man. (Not that this is an excuse; and a homeless man who reads Beckett ought to be honored!)

I’ve seen similar things. There are a lot of techs who are obsessive about the state of their computers, but who live in a complete mess. Everyone has their obsessions. But some of these sneakers sell for well over a thousand bucks. You know what you can get for that amount of money? You can get the 1755 first edition of Tobias Smollett’s translation of Don Quixote. It’s available for roughly $1,800 from Lyppard Books in the UK. And I know: to each his own. But even in 1755, this pair of books was rare — far more rare than any Air Jordans ever made. Yet the Air Jordan III OG sell for $4,500 — two and half times as much. And they are… sneakers. They are worth so much because (1) they were the first with the “Jumpman logo”; and (2) Michael Jordan himself “won a very memorable slam dunk contest” wearing them. Note: he just wore that style of shoe; $4,500 doesn’t get the actual shoes he wore.

But I would never pay $1,800 for a first edition Smollett. For one thing, I’m not that fond of the translation. But books are not objects of reverence for me. I use them. I damage them. That’s one of the reasons the two volume Putnam is so great: it’s well bounded with heavy stock pages. (Don Quixote is usually published as a single volume, leading to lots of binding breaks.) I’ve destroyed any number of other copies of Don Quixote. If I had an $1,800 Smollett, it would sit somewhere because I would be afraid to touch it. That’s what I assume is what happens to the $4,500 sneakers that other people buy.

But it is interesting to think that I could buy that Smollett right now. Because I haven’t wasted a bunch of money on nice clothes and overpriced sneakers.

Good Jobs Report Doesn’t Mean Fed Was Right

Timothy B. LeeTimothy B Lee and Soo Oh are mostly right, We Just Got Some Really Great News About the Economy. I wouldn’t say “great news,” but the new jobs report is quite good news and the economic recovery keeps on keeping on. We added 292,000 jobs last month. And the estimates from the two previous months were revised up by a total of 50,000 jobs. So that means that the economy created 2.7 million jobs last year. That’s very good, but still less than 2014, when 3.1 million jobs were created.

It’s not all good news, however. The employment to population ratio (for prime age workers 25-54 years old) is stuck at 77.4%. To give you an idea of what this means, it was 80.0% in January 2008. It was 81.9% in April 2000. This is not a sign that people have gotten lazy. And given it only deals with people at least 25, it mostly filters out people going to school. And given it only deals with people under 55, it mostly filters out people who are retired. So our low rate (which has increased substantially from its nadir of 74.8% in December 2009), simply indicates that there are not enough jobs around.

Let’s do a rough calculation. The employment to population ratio for prime age workers is roughly 2.5% below where it was before the financial crisis. That represents about 3.5 million workers. And I continue to believe that full employment is not 5% (Much less 5.5% or 6%!) but rather 4%. So that represents another 1.5 million workers, for a total of 5 million workers. So if we continue to gain jobs at a rate of 292,000 per month, we will be back at full employment in a year and a half. Of course, no one expects the economy to continue to grow at this rate. It is more reasonable (but hardly assured) that we will see 200,000 jobs per month, which is over two years. For people who have been waiting for seven years, that’s still a long time.

This brings us to the Federal Reserve. This jobs report does not exonerate the recent rate hike. For one thing, the economy hasn’t had time to adjust to it. But the other thing is that the the economy doesn’t have to tank for the Fed to be hurting it. As I’ve just discussed, there are roughly five million people who would like jobs who can’t find one. Wage growth this last year was 2.5% — just above the core inflation rate for the year of 1.8%.

This brings up another question: when was the core inflation last substantially above the Fed’s 2% target? You have to go back 20 years to get even up to 3% for the year! The average core inflation over the last 15 years (1.95%) has been less than the Fed’s target, yet it is terrified that it might might go over the target. It is clear that despite its legal mandate, the Fed has no target; it has a ceiling. It will work to stop low inflation, but it only freaks out about inflation dipping above 2%.

I really hope that the economy will really start to take off now and that this jobs report is just the start. But I seriously doubt that. The most likely case is that it will continue to improve at the mediocre 200,000 jobs per month. At the same time, the Republicans will do everything they can to stall the economy. I mean, look at the following graph. This is what the Republicans have done to keep Americans out of work:

Government Jobs After Recessions

That’s a two million job gap right there. And given a 50% multiplier effect (which is probably low), if the Republicans had allowed the government to grow as it always did after past recessions, we would more or less be at full employment. If that were the case, the Fed could do almost anything it liked and I wouldn’t complain. But despite this jobs report, we are still in the middle of a very fragile recovery, and the Federal Reserve should be doing everything it can to help — and not just please bankers who want larger returns on their “investments.”

Morning Music: Bo Carter

Bo CarterBo Carter is perhaps the greatest character of the Mississippi delta. He is known mostly for his bawdy songs like Banana in Your Fruit Basket and Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me and many others. But he was a whole lot more than that.

I quite like his guitar playing, which reminds me a lot of Mississippi John Hurt. It’s an intricate picking style, clearly designed to put the focus on his voice. I’ve also heard him play some slide guitar, which sounded very good.

Now I had meant to provide you with one of his straight songs, but I think you should hear “All Around Man.” It’s probably his most clever song of sexual innuendo. Although if you try really hard, you can see it as a plea for a place to stay and work because he’s a jack of all trades. Still, when he talks about being able to help out until the milkman comes, I’m afraid he steps over the line of innuendo.

Anniversary Post: Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New OrleansOn this day two hundred years ago, the Battle of New Orleans started. Oh my, but don’t we make a big deal out of it! I went to New Orleans when I was a kid and you could barely walk for all the monuments to it. And we as a nation love to talk about it, because it is the one part of the War of 1812 that wasn’t humiliating. This was the war that included the burning of Washington and President Madison having to flee the White House. It’s very likely we would have lost the war right then if it hadn’t been for a hurricane that blew through.

The thing about the Battle of New Orleans is that it happened two weeks after the British and Americans had ended the war with the Treaty of Ghent. The thing is, we always want to glorify war. And so we pick and choose those things that make it all sound glorious, when it was just a rotten war with lots of people killed and wounded with the result being that nothing changed.

On the other hand, we do have Johnny Horton’s song, “Battle of New Orleans.” It makes it sounds like we just destroyed the British. But that isn’t really true. The main thing is that the British were invading and the American forces had intelligence of the coming attack and so set up very good defenses. But in total, less than 400 British soldiers were killed out of 11,000 total troops. Roughly 50 Americans wee killed out of 5,000 troops. Yes, it was a clear victory for the Americans. But it was in no way a defeat that would have broke the backs of the British military.

This is a point of some annoyance to me. People think of war in very romantic terms. “If one side is just or has the will to fight, they can win the day!” Not really. There are cases where errors are made like the British getting bunched up at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. But when a seemingly weaker side wins, there is always a clear reason, like the use of the longbow at the Battle of Agincourt. Americans tend to think there was something special about the Texans at the Battle of the Alamo, but it wasn’t that; it was that they occupied the Alamo Mission. And as it turned out, the Mexicans didn’t lose that many men in taking it anyway.

If people understood just how systematic war is, I don’t think they would be so keen on it. But the power elite love wars. And that’s why they provide myths like the romantic heroes at the Battle of New Orleans, when it was just a stupid battle that cost hundreds of lives in a war that was effectively over.