New Minimum Wage Research

Suggests what you might call the textbook result:

The hike in the minimum wage thus appears to have raised the wage for low-skilled workers but made it harder for them to find jobs.

Full paper here. From the summary:

…because we identify targeted workers on a population-wide basis, our approach is relatively well suited for extrapolating to estimates of the minimum wage’s effects on aggregate employment. Over the late 2000s, the average effective minimum wage rose by 30 percent across the United States. We estimate that these minimum wage increases reduced the national employment-to-population ratio by 0.7 percentage point

This is about as close to a controlled experiment as we can get. They looked at individual states and separated those for whom the federal wage was still under the state wage, comparing them to states where the minimum wage was operative. Add this to the pile of work that contradicts Card & Krueger.

07. December 2014 by Andrew Hofer
Categories: Economics, Inequality | Leave a comment

Striking a blow for affordable communications

Federal and State Governments add more than 25% onto the charges for a no-frills landline (for my alarm system).  The total bill is $43.78.


Tax portion of a $43 bill for basic landline service.

Tax portion of a $43 bill for basic landline service.

06. December 2014 by Andrew Hofer
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What caused the healthcare spending slowdown?

The article discussed here suggests it was related to the crisis:

The common element appears to be the global financial crisis, which affected economic activity and governments’ capacity to finance continued health care spending growth.

On the other hand, the author notes that it started before the crisis:

As I’ve argued in the past (here and here), U.S. health care spending seemed to slow down in the mid-2000s, well before any cost-constraining measures of the 2010 legislation could take effect. In addition, the slowdown in health care costss has been international, which suggests that changes in U.S. law are not the driving factor.

So either way, the slowdown may have multiple causes, and we have some reason to believe ACA wasn’t as important. Frankly, it’s only just kicking in, so listing it as a cause is silly (case in point).

05. December 2014 by Andrew Hofer
Categories: Economics, Healthcare | Leave a comment

The German Green Experiment…

Does not appear to be going well:

Germany has been pressing for lower carbon emission for years. The country wants 80 percent of its energy production to come from favored green energy sources, such as wind and solar, by 2050. But today, less than a quarter of Germany’s energy comes from green sources.

Germany’s energy production is in such disarray that the country has been forced to beg neighboring Sweden for assistance. Vattenfall, Sweden’s state-owned utility, is planning to sell two coal mines it owns in Germany’s Northeast in an attempt to reduce its carbon footprint. Both the German economic minister and vice-chancellor are pushing the Swedish government to reconsider its decision because Germany needs coal-fired energy.

Domestic energy bills in Germany are 50 percent higher than the European Union average.

05. December 2014 by Andrew Hofer
Categories: Energy and Environment | Leave a comment

Simple government solutions

This is hilarious and tragic:

As you might recall, giving feedback on Uber is a veritable labyrinth of steps:

  1. Activate your mobile device screen.
  2. Dry the finger or fingers to be used during the feedback operation.
  3. Position your finger over the pertinent screen coordinates.
  4. Apply pressure using the predesignated digit.
  5. Lift your finger.

But Nevada’s system is as easy as 1–2–3, with no conditions on limb wetness:

  1. Print out the Long Route Voluntary Witness Statement.
  2. Complete the sworn affidavit in view of a public notary.
  3. Mail or fax the form to the Department of Business and Industry.

Given that, here are a few insider “tips and tricks” to keep in mind when cabbing in Vegas:

  • Wear a fanny pack containing a desktop computer, a printer, envelopes, stamps, a fax machine, a notary, and food pellets for your notary.
  • While in the cab, note the driver’s full name, permit number, cab company name, cab number, license plate number, and physical appearance. If you don’t have this information memorized for some reason, just ask the driver while you’re locked in the car with him. If he wants to know why you need it, explain that you’re trying to have him fired and ask for a selfie to fulfill the physical description requirement.
  • Remember to bring $10 to pay the notary to witness you sign your complaint that you were overcharged by $10.
  • If you need transportation to a notary, consider taking a taxi cab.

04. December 2014 by Andrew Hofer
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Remarks at the Learning Ally National Achievement Awards

Below are the introductory remarks I made at the Learning Ally National Achievement Awards last Saturday. First I introduced a video about the awards, then I spoke about Learning Ally’s progress in technology and community building.


Thank you Dee and Scott.
Unfortunately, I never met the women who endowed these awards, Mary Oenslager and Marion Huber. But I wish they could stand with me, look out over this audience, and reflect on how these awards have grown and blossomed,and how Learning Ally has grown and blossomed with them.

They are both amazing stories of transformative philanthropy that I want to share with you tonight. Mary Oenslager and Marion Huber saw the outstanding accomplishments of students who overcame immense challenges to succeed academically and personally and saw their potential to be role models for other students on a similar path.

Their story, the story of these Awards, I will delegate to a video.But while you are learning about the awards, pay attention to a quick montage of audiobook technologies, including those in use in the 1950s through 1990s. There will be a quiz on that later.

So, in the spirit of 20th century audio technology, please “roll the tape”.

[5 minute video on Huber and Oenslager and the history of RFB&D/Learning Ally]

You are in for a real treat – when I’m done with you.

I find it such a privilege to meet and hear from our award winners.  They will give you vivid and moving first person accounts of their journeys.  So for my part I’d like to address the remainder of my remarks to the other people in this room – our outstanding management team and this community they have built called Learning Ally.

I would really like to give you a sense of degree of difficulty of what they’ve done, and the impact they’ve had. Forgive me if I bring the perspective and mindset of my day job as an investor. I get excited about good investments, like this one you are making in Learning Ally.

Did you see the reel-to-reel tape deck and the cassettes in the video?  Those first two audiobook formate changes took 40 years. Since then Learning Ally’s product cycle has gotten shorter and shorter.

When I joined the board ten years ago we were just moving to CDs and digital files. Now, among other things, we have rolled out:

  • cloud-based libraries synced across apple and android applications,
  • that connect teachers to their students’ progress,
  • and sync text and refreshable Braille to human voice.
  • And instead of a few months to complete a book in a studio, we can do it in two weeks with a virtual community of readers working at home.

Making large investments in a time of such rapid change is not a picnic.

For example, consider that those books and cloud-based services are all traveling on 40 million miles of fiber optic cable laid, rather optimistically, by dozens of telecommunications companies in the 1990s. Before they built the infrastructure that made all this data movement possible, coast-to-coast phone calls cost as much as a dollar a minute. Remember that? Today there’s limitless global skyping, and the Learning Ally bookshelf. In fact,my breakfast companion this morning was texting to her husband at Base Camp 2 on Mt. Everest.

Did you know that 23 of those telecom companies went bust or otherwise disappeared from 2002-2004?

This has been the kind of environment where it’s good to be a consumer, but dangerous to be a provider.  Learning Ally has invested in that kind of environment. And technology was just the beginning. In 2007, our funding environment also turned completely topsy-turvy.

Talk about degree of difficulty.

And that’s why I am so incredibly proud of our CEO of five years Andrew Friedman, Connie Murphy, our amazing Development Officer and now Cynthia Hamburger, Learning Ally’s terrific new Chief Information Officer, for negotiating these treacherous waters. We also have our own presidential appointee, George Kersher, to thank for keeping us in the middle of the evolving world of technological standards.

All those updates in our audiobook product alone would be a major accomplishment….

but wait, they didn’t stop there, there’s more!

All these changes have also brought a plethora of new options for our members. I hope you’ve had a chance to visit with the YES group, who’ve been demonstrating many of these technologies, such as screen readers, commercial audiobooks, synthetic voice and even image-based text recognition. This morning my new young friend from YES, John McCoy demonstrated his Voicestream text-to-speech app for me. He uses it to LISTEN to assignments and handouts from his teachers. Like John, I’m pumped that our members have more cost-effective options for learning-through-listening than ever before. But only those who know they need it, know how to get it and know how to use it are getting pumped like me and John.

For young students, availability is only half the battle.

So Learning Ally’s management team is innovating to solve that problem as well.  It all started with a presentation our EVP Jim Halliday gave to the board a few years ago called “The Parent Journey”, in which we learned how parents get from recognition to adaptation.

This inspired similar research for Teachers and Volunteers

Using both new technologies and old-fashioned advocacy we engaged in some of the most robust community-building Learning Ally has ever done

We hired people like Deb Linum, our new head of community engagement, and invested to build up that all-important support network around our current and potential members. What my board colleague and LA member SK Shin likes to call “God’s Special People”.

I’d like to read for you some feedback from God’s Special People, to give you a sense of the impact these efforts have had.

One of our volunteer readers said

“…the new Virtual Community Model has been a real “game-changer” for me as a volunteer ……the whole experience gave me a lot of satisfaction, knowing that, in just one volunteering session, I can now do an entire chapter or more of work that our members will use and appreciate.”

We reach out to educators through

  • professional development workshops
  • helping with
  • recognizing students that read differently,
  • How to use all these new tools, and integrate members into the mainstream classroom.
  • and We’ve built Companion technologies to our Audiobooks such as Teacher Ally

An assistive technology specialist wrote to us to say:

“The changes that have gone on within Learning Ally this year have revolutionized my practice …”

And a teacher in the Denver Public School System:

“Learning Ally gives students the courage to access parts of the curriculum that otherwise would be difficult for them. I have students who would never have been able to consider an honors or AP class, who are now doing so with great success.”

Our progress in the parent community is almost ‘viral’, thanks to Deb and Diane and their colleagues. We run

  • online webinars from experts
  • peer support programs such as Ask-A-Parent
  • They’ve successfully lobbied state legislatures to recognize, for the first time, dyslexia as a condition requiring accomodations.
  • They run a virtual community for parents to seek advice, comfort and guidance as they help their kids and navigate their own school systems.

In fact, Thursday night, a Mom coping with her struggling third grader checked in on Learning Ally’s’ Facebook page. One of our winners, Eddie Maza, chimed in to offer help, advice and comfort.

I want to close with four quotes from parents:

“I am new to the world of dyslexia and this has given me a real jumping off point. Thank you for helping me help my daughter.”

“I LOVE the webinars. I’ll definitely attend all I can and watch the rest. Dyslexia is a very isolating issue for parents – it’s great to have a support network out there! …. It’s invaluable to us.”

“I just wanted to say that for the first time for as long as I can remember my son is enjoying a book. It nearly brings tears to my eyes.”

“The Specialist was so knowledgeable and having been where I am, was able to share the experience. She made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”

No. She is not alone anymore. There are 300 of us right here.

Look around you at the Learning Ally community. All of you here, our donors, volunteers, readers, educators and our outstanding management team and staff at Learning Ally. You all are here, just like Marion Huber and Mary Oenslager, engaged in transformational philanthropy.
This is a bittersweet night for me, as this is my sixth and final year as Chair of the National Board for Learning Ally. What a fantastic board member journey you’ve given me.

Thank you for your dedication, your support, and most of all your fellowship. I am honored to have worked with you for the last decade

03. May 2014 by Andrew Hofer
Categories: Reading and Accessibility, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Multi-stat visual summary of inequality

These are pretty cool:
US summary

Among the key takeaways from this figure: U.S. inequality follows a U-shaped pattern, with a number of measures of inequality falling in the 1930s and 1940s, and then rising since the 1970s. For example,
“the top decile of earnings has risen from 150 per cent of median in 1950 to 244 per cent in 2012.” The table also suggests some puzzles. For example, the share of total wealth held by the top 1%, based on estate data, doesn’t seem to have risen in the last few decades along with inequality of incomes. The dispersion of earnings as measured by the top decile starts rising in the 1950s, but the overall inequality of earnings doesn’t seem to start rising until the 1970s–presumably because during the 1950s and 1960s, there was declining inequality at the bottom of the income distribution, as seen in the falling poverty rate, to offset rising dispersion of incomes at the top.

They don’t take into account well-known discontinuities, and wealth data is notoriously inaccurate, but interesting stuff. One welcome side-effect of the progressive fetish with this issue is that lots of cool data is getting collected and visualized.

I’d also add that global poverty and inequality are shrinking. Looking at single countries doesn’t tell the story.

see also: Sweden.

Originals here.

29. March 2014 by Andrew Hofer
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another reason to be skeptical of government guidance

Because we don’t know what we think we know:

The food pyramid from my childhood:
the old food pyramid

From Aaron Carroll, who usually defends government guidance against philistines like myself.

29. March 2014 by Andrew Hofer
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sunday Links – hours worked, austerity & wealth, groupishness, high school fiction, backscratching by survey

I don’t think minimum wage hikes are going to help here.  A tale of two work-weeks:

Austerity …. NOT.

In sum, federal fiscal policy decisions in recent years added enormously to deficits and have produced the highest levels of spending, deficits, and debt relative to GDP since the aftermath of World War II. I leave it to others to determine whether this can reasonably be termed “austerity.”

 Why the rich live paycheck-to-paycheck

In reality, living within your means (and living well, within your means), should feel a lot more successful than it does, but unfortunately we’re creatures of comparisons.

As we wrote about in a recent blog post, happiness is not related to a set level of spending, but rather positive changes upward every year.

This is long, but really interesting. A scientific approach to finding consensus about climate.  The “trouble” is the policymakers and advocates haven’t been allowed as much influence.  Consensus is difficult enough.

On groupish behavior

Human beings evolved in small bands.  Group identity – and group identity’s tendency to corrupt our sense of justice –  is in our DNA.  Once you learn this harsh truth, though, you can, should, and must compensate for your immoral urges.  Review your judgments of out-group members for draconian harshness.  Review your judgments of in-group members – yourself included – for maudlin absolution.  You won’t make a lot of friends, but you will be a better person.

Should we stop teaching novels to high school students?

To hell with Gatsby’s green light! Maybe the classroom is not the best setting for children to have profound literary experiences. Give the kids something they can relate to, immerse themselves in, and even copy!

Poll of smart people suggests they confidently think their own preferences are correct about the stimulus.

Hold up. Economists answering this question are supposed to ‘take into account’ ALL of the economic consequences? including ‘any’ ‘likely future effects’? Over the timescale of [now to infinity)?

What discount rate are they meant to use? What utility metric? It doesn’t say so I guess they just substitute Their Favorite. But hey, here’s a possible utility-metric that probably coincides at least some with the metric economists (or anyone else for that matter) is implicitly going to use when answering Hopelessly Vague Questions:

“Policies that I like get scored a utility of One Zillion. Policies I don’t like get scored a Zero Zillion.”

23. February 2014 by Andrew Hofer
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CBO Inequality Data via Brookings

Gary Burtless brings us changes in real after-tax income for various quantiles, since 1979 and 2000.  Unsurprisingly, the incomes of the wealthy have a much higher beta to the economy than the poor.  Yet people keep presenting that as a surprise.  But Burtless is also working with a slightly different, and more relevant definition of income – real, after-tax.


These are after-tax figures.  Burtless also points out that after-transfer figures reveal the degree to which tax relief and government programs insulated lower quantiles from the recession:



The things that have become terribly expensive in the last 5 decades are the things we’ve been subsidizing: healthcare, education and real estate.  Healthcare is directly subsidized through government programs, and the degree to which that makes a difference is clear here.  Education transfers are outside this analysis, but all colleges are running a progressive pricing system.  Redistribution mechanisms have grown dramatically in the US, but they have become far more opaque than direct government transfers.

23. February 2014 by Andrew Hofer
Categories: Inequality | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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