Corpse Bride

Corpse BrideI know that I’m in something of a rut, but I’ve watched another Tim Burton film: Corpse Bride. And what a wonderful film it is! It is so rare that I see a movie that is enjoyable from beginning to end. But it is, after all, my kind of film: lots of silliness and a very sweet, even sentimental story. Combining Corpse Bride with Frankenweenie and Nightmare Before Christmas makes for a great triple feature. They are all quite different, even as the form a cohesive visual whole.

But as much as I liked Corpse Bride, I thought a slightly more complex story would have worked even better. Actually, I think this is so obvious, that I suspect that the writers must have played with the idea. The back story is that the Emily (the corpse bride) was waiting to be married when she was murdered. It is revealed that Lord Barkis was both her fiance and her murderer. The plot follows on with Barkis getting his comeuppance and Emily being set free, transforming herself into dozens of butterflies. Okay, but I think we could do better for her.

It would provide a more fulfilling ending if Emily’s fiance was not Barkis. Her fiance could, through any number of plot devices, find himself at the final wedding. Barkis could kill him, thus allowing Emily to have a happy ending. Then the rest could be the same: Barkis triumphantly drinks the poison and then is attacked by the corpse mob.

The one thing that I wonder is what problem there is with this idea. Like I said: I’m sure they tried it. It must have been abandoned due to some problem that I’m not clear on. The one thing I can see is that there is already a little problem with Victoria accepting Victor after he has been pretty clearly unfaithful. (In his defense, he thought Victoria willingly married Lord Barkis.) It might have been too much complication to justify Emily’s unfaithfulness to her fiance. Plus, it would take some time to establish the fiance’s good reason for being late.

Still, I think these are solvable problems. Sometimes it is just a question of time. Once a production gets the go ahead, it has to move fast lest the money be pulled. Still, if you haven’t see Corpse Bride (or you just haven’t seen it recently) go and see it. It is wonderful.

Pope Stops Theological Innovation

PopeOn Monday, The Onion reported, Resigning Pope No Longer Has Strength To Lead Church Backward. The article says, “According to the 85-year-old pontiff, after considerable prayer and reflection on his physical stamina and mental acuity, he concluded that his declining faculties left him unable to helm the Church’s ambitious regressive agenda and guide the faith’s one billion global followers on their steady march away from modernity and cultural advancement.”

I know, I know: after posting Fuck the Mother Fucker, you think I have it out for the Catholic Church. But that isn’t it at all. I really like the Catholic Church. In a play I wrote, I even put a sex scene in the baptismal font. So you can forget all thought of that. I like the rituals and churches and robes and all that stuff.

But The Onion is onto an important theological issue. Should our theology be constrained by dogma? I don’t mean just in moral terms, but that is the biggest problem from a cultural standpoint; I mean in a theological sense. There really are theological innovations. For example, monotheism was an advancement over thinking there were endless gods controlling each part of the world as we found it. And today, we really should be past thinking that there is some God in the sky who really cares that we only stick penises in vaginas.

It is unfortunately the case that most religions are actively involved in keeping our spiritual thinking as primitive as it was hundreds or thousands of years ago when the religion was created. For all the ridiculousness of something like Scientology, at least it is a new idea. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for most Christian offshoots. Mormonism, for example, just takes the Christian mythology and moves it horizontally.

My biggest question about most modern religions is how they can possibly answer people’s spiritual questions. Clearly, Jainism is malleable enough to allow one to really search. But Christianity? It just seems to be a system designed to stop people for thinking. I remember as a little kid being extremely frustrated that my church explained the existence of God as being “begotten not made.” For whom do such answers help in the least?

Note: I’m come to think of the universe as being begotten not made. But there is a big difference: my mind is wrapped around the absurdity of that statement. It is part of my deep appreciation for the unknowable nature of existence. I would never tell someone who was struggling with the concept that the universe was begotten not made. That kind of thing just stops thinking. And so do most religions.

I am, however, hopeful that the new pope will be at least a tiny bit more liberal than the last. Regardless, I know this: eventually the Catholic Church will accept homosexuality just as it now accepts shellfish eating. The twenty-first century awaits the arrival of all of the Abrahamic religions!

Rasing Minimum Wage Won’t Hurt Employment

So much of conservative economic analysis comes down to, “I kind of paid attention to the lectures that term I got a C in Econ 101.” It is certainly true that you can understand a lot of what is going on in the economy by understanding some simple economic theory. But you can also go very wrong with this if your understanding is too limited. This is what we get from a lot of libertarian leaning people.

Let’s consider the minimum wage. A very simple understanding of it indicates that if you raise the minimum wage, it will result in fewer jobs as employers drop marginal employees. But it doesn’t work this simply. First, minimum wage employees do some of the most basic (and important) work at a company. Most companies could survive for a month or two without a CEO; they can’t survive without the janitorial staff.

Much more important is the issue of company profits. A common myth among conservatives is that if a company’s taxes are raised, the company will simply pass on the cost to the customer. Belief in this myth belies a shocking level of ignorance about not only how companies operate but also how markets themselves work. Undoubtedly, some increased costs will be passed on. But much of the increased costs will just have to be absorbed—profits will decrease and the company will be forced to become more efficient.

The same goes on with the minimum wage. The fact is that most companies paying minimum wage could afford to pay more. What’s more, if the minimum wage were less, most of them would pay that lesser amount. Now, is it true that raising the minimum wage never causes people to be laid off? Not at all. It is just that the increased pay also increases the demand in the economy more generally. Remember: the economy is nothing so much as one very big feedback loop and your spending is my income. Really, the economy is only slightly less complex than existence itself.

But as Travis Waldron reported last year, this isn’t just a theoretical calculation, Studies: Increasing The Minimum Wage During Times Of High Unemployment Doesn’t Hurt Job Growth. He discusses five papers that were summarized by researchers at the Center for American Progress that showed that increasing the minimum wage doesn’t slow job growth—even during periods of high unemployment. They write:

A significant body of academic research has found that raising the minimum wage does not result in job losses even during hard economic times. There are at least five different academic studies focusing on increases to the minimum wage—including increases ranging from 7 percent to 12.3 percent made during periods of high unemployment—that find an increase in the minimum wage has no significant effect on employment levels. The results are likely because the boost in demand and reduction in turnover provided by a minimum wage counteracts the higher wage costs.

In other words: what I just said but with data. Interestingly, Freakonomics has reported on research in Indonesia that found that raising the minimum wage actually increased employment, primarily by moving workers from the black market to the legal (tax paying) market. They also note that this same thing would not likely happen in an advanced economy. Nonetheless, it shows that the economics are more complex than the simpleminded conservative refrain that paying people a living wage will destroy us all.

Last year, Democrats in the House wanted to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour. This would have put it at the level that it was in 1968 (adjusted for inflation). Obama called for $9 per hour in his State of the Union address. I can see why. The conservatives are flipping out even at that level. Of course, the conservatives would be flipping out if he had suggested raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $7.26. In fact, Paul Krugman reported back in 2009 that conservatives wanted to cut the minimum wage. This is, by the way, a really bad idea. (Of course it’s a bad idea; it’s a conservative idea!)

There aren’t many policy ideas that are not harmful and that do unquestioned good. Raising the minimum wage is one of these few policies. The business community will freak out, of course. But they will manage fine, just like they always do. And it might even increase inflation a little and that’s very good for business. Let’s raise the minimum wage now!

Afterword

Note that raising the minimum wage even up to $9 per hour is a 24% increase. This is not optimal. Think of your rent. You like it a lot better if your landlord raises the rent by 10% every year than 100% every ten years—even though it is much cheaper if he does the latter. This is because the rare but significant increase is a shock. The same goes for businesses. The problem is that conservatives drag their feet on the minimum wage and thus require big increases whenever Congress gets around to it.

What we should do is just raise the minimum wage every year by the rate of inflation. Business owners would like that a lot more, even though they would actually pay more. In addition, if Congress found that the minimum wage was getting too high, it would be an easy matter to cut it back.

After Afterword

This is via Greg Sargent. Here is video of Ted Kennedy giving his “When does the greed stop?” speech at a Senate the last time the minimum wage was raised. It is 7 minutes of wonderful:

Update (17 February 2013 7:54 pm)

From Mike Konczal interview of economist Arindrajit Dube:

We could disagree about the level of the minimum wage, but it seems like a no-brainer to me that no matter what level we pick, we should have a relatively smooth adjustment process. A natural adjustment process is tying the rate of cost of living increases, like many items including Social Security payments. It makes a lot of sense. Daniel Hammermesh—a well-known labor economist who in general is not in favor of high minimum wages—has nonetheless come out supporting indexation.

Rich Protectors of the Rich

Dean BakerYesterday, Dean Baker wrote two important articles that obliquely addressed the conservative obsession with all the terrible things we are doing to our children’s future. You know the kind of thing: “We are mortgaging our children’s future!” Or: “Someday our children will have to pay these bills.” And perhaps most perniciously: “Our children will go bankrupt paying for the long and lavish retirements of their parents!” You know, class warfare is terrible, but inter-generational warfare is grrrrreat!

Baker writes, Millions of Children are Growing Up With Unemployed Parents Because of Fix the Debt and Other Deficit Hawks. After that headline, you hardly need to read the article. But let me break it down for you anyway. As anyone knows, debt is not that bad a thing as long as you have a good job that allows you to manage your financial obligations. For example, my biggest problem is not my debt; it is that right now there is much too little money coming in.

The deficit hawks effectively want to will to our kids no debt but also no opportunities. Children growing up in poverty today are having their futures limited. As has been well documented, if you want a college degree, it is better to be born rich than smart. Of course, being born poor also limits your chances of excelling even in grammar school. It is hard to focus on school when you are insecure about where you will live, much less if you will have enough to eat.

It isn’t that the deficit hawks don’t know this. We are really better off thinking of these people as royalists. Their concern about future debt is not that the middle class will be held down. It is that in the future everyone may see the necessity of taxing the rich at a reasonable level. The deficit hawks are the rich looking out for the interests of the rich. Even the millennial deficit hawks are what I accurately describe as Rich Kids for the Rich.

The main point of this is that if we really care about future generations we need to do something today about income inequality and unemployment. We can’t cede the “Save our kids!” ground to people who are really just pushing for “Save our rich kids!”

Bake also takes on world class fucktard and humility expert David Brooks. He writes, “David Brooks told us again today that he doesn’t like Social Security and Medicare. He does this frequently in his columns although usually while he ostensibly makes some other point.” You see, Brooks says that those dirty stinking retirees with their $1200 per month stipends and oh so convenient healthcare “needs” are destroying our future!

In two different ways!

First, they are taking money away from forward looking projects like building rockets to go to Mars so that we could terraform it and turn it into like Disney World, but more cool, because, hey, Mars! You know, like on Futurama where Mars is like New Las Vegas?! We could totally have that if it weren’t for those dirty stinking old people and their hip replacement surgeries which could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $120,000 if you can even get a quote. And hey, wouldn’t a moon colony be really cool?! (Note: David Brooks’ column is only slightly less fanciful with its discussion of past Americans who “gave their lives a slingshot shape.”)

Dean Baker notes that even if he got rid of Medicare, the tax revenues wouldn’t still be there. People accept a tax for Medicare because they like Medicare. If you take away the program, the people will want their money back. Also (and we talk about this a lot around here), the problem is not Medicare. The problem is that healthcare in the United States costs twice what it should.

Brooks goes on to show that he doesn’t understand the basics of finance. It’s a funny thing. Week after week, Dean Baker embarrasses David Brooks and yet, Brooks just chugs along. I really don’t understand it. It isn’t like I’m never wrong. I am stunningly wrong from time to time. But unlike Brooks, I look for opportunities to get my facts straight and correct earlier mistakes. But what is a deficit hawk like Brooks to do? He needs to protect the wealth of the future rich while maintaining that he is protecting the future more generally. When you are involved in such an endeavor, you either have to lie or be really stupid. I’m not sure exactly how Brooks partitions these attributes.

Regardless of all this, we really do need to worry about future generations. And that means fixing our politics and economy today. That means reducing the effect of money on politics. That means enfranchising more voters. That means addressing our accelerating income inequality. That means fixing our healthcare delivery system. It does not mean screwing old people in the name of inter-generational warfare.

A Nice Cup of Tea

Cup of TeaEvery morning I get up and anxiously think, “What am I going to write about on Frankly Curious?” And this morning was no different. There are a few things on my mind. I’d like to counter this reasonable sounding but wrong idea that raising the minimum wage will hurt job growth. And I’d like to discuss just how pathetic it is that the Republican great white hope is someone of such limited skills as Marco Rubio. And I’d even like to highlight how much it says about the Democratic Party that no one thinks it of particular note that Obama gave a great State of the Union address. But something else is on my mind right now.

Each morning, I start my day with a nice cup of tea. I got into this in graduate school when I lived with the Wild siblings, a couple from England who taught me how to drink far too much alcohol and just the right amount of tea. In particular, I remember Straford explain to me that the reason there were so many more Irish pubs than English pubs in America is because most of the English in America came here because they wanted to leave England. There is at least something to that. A lot of Irish people I know have fairly sketchy backgrounds.

There is something very relaxing about sitting in the cold morning drinking a nice cup of tea. No one is talking to me. There are no demands on me. I can sip my tea while I read Greg Sargent or Jonathan Chait. And that means, by the end of the cup, I’m ready to start ranting about important matters of state.

Speaking of which: my tea is almost done. Gotta go!