Debate the data: are millionaires leaving New Jersey in large numbers?

A new report suggests some millionaires have left New Jersey:

New Jersey lost roughly 10,000 millionaire households, but those affluent families who remain still account for 7 percent of the whole state, the researchers said…

A high tax rate for top earners may have led to some migration out of the state, according to David Thompson, the lead researcher.

By losing those 10,000 millionaire households, the Garden State returns to third, where it was ranked from 2010 through 2012. Since the last report, Connecticut lost only 1,000 millionaire households, as it vaulted to the second spot, the group said.

And alternative interpretations:

“If millionaires were truly trying to flee NJ’s top income tax rate, we probably would have lost a lot more when the rates were higher,” Whiten said. “But during the 2000s NJ almost doubled the number of tax filers above $500K at a time when the tax rate was increased on them, twice.”Wealth has been reported leaving the Garden State before, however. In 2010, a Boston College team found that in a five-year period some $70 billion in total wealth left for other parts of the U.S.

Last year, a report by the Morristown-based Regent Atlantic wealth management firm released a report entitled “Exodus on the Parkway” that claimed so-called “tax migration” began in 2004, with the state’s passage of the “millionaire’s tax.” The report found that a couple with an income of $650,000 who moved to Pennsylvania would save some $21,000 per year in taxes, adding up to $1.65 million over 25 years, if invested. Most families with incomes of $500,000 per year or more were departing New Jersey for either the Keystone State or Florida, the Regent Atlantic authors added.

“The phenomena is there, that people are leaving – but people in New Jersey have high incomes,” said Joseph Seneca, professor of economics at the Edward Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

My interpretation: no one really knows whether 10,000 millionaire households leaving is a big number or not. If the true figure was 5,000, might those who oppose higher taxes still argue that taxes are pushing a large number to leave? And if the true number was 15,000, would this be enough evidence that taxes really are making a difference? Because this appears to be an ideologically laden debate, each side can look at the 10,000 figure and make a reasonable interpretation.

Here are two ways around the issue that both make use of comparisons. The first way would be to compare the New Jersey leavings over the years. Is the 10,000 figure more or less than years past? The second would involve comparing the leaving rate across states. This new report looks at millionaires per capita across states but why not compare the leaving rate per capita across states? Then, people in New Jersey could decide whether they are concerned with having similar or different rates compared to states with other policies.

A sociologist discusses the political leanings of Katniss Everdeen

Would Katniss fit in with political progressives, the Tea Party, or libertarians? One sociologist weighs in:

“I was convinced to read them by a vegan radical historian I knew from Japanese camp,” she says. While reading it in the context of the growing income gap, and the frustration that was causing, in the States, Armstrong-Hough recalls that it was impossible not to notice the social commentary, nor to untie the strands of it from the plot. And yet, particularly given the flipped switch of Mockingjay, wherein the revolutionaries show their own capacity for cruelty and depravity, she says, “I don’t think the franchise is promoting any particular kind of society.”Instead, according to Armstrong-Hough, it’s a model of total resistance. “We see politicking, corruption, and unjustified violence from both the guardians of the status quo in the Capitol and the architects of the rebellion,” she says. “Katniss, whom we naturally align ourselves with, rejects both these systems.”

This double rejection feels timely, Armstrong-Hough notes. “So many Americans are disenchanted with politics itself, not just one side of the aisle or the other.”

“What I did see, though, was a sort of theory of social change that I found surprisingly sophisticated,” she says, adding that the books remind her of the ideas of James C. Scott, a Yale-based social and political theorist. An influential, self-described “crude Marxist” professor who lives on a farm and raises animals in between publishing tomes about anarchism, Scott is a figure of interest to people on both ends of the ideological spectrum. The New York Times called one of Scott’s books “a magisterial critique of top-down social planning that has been cited, and debated, by the free-market libertarians of the Cato Institute… development economists and partisans of Occupy Wall Street alike.”…

Beyond just advocating personal resistance to forces of political control, she says the books put forth the idea that “violence breeds docility.” “I don’t mean that threatening people with violence makes them docile, because it doesn’t. I mean that teaching people to be violent and consume violence makes them docile,” she explains. “The Games institutionalize a political docility not so much because they threaten violence to the districts’ children, but because they create a society in which people think they must choose survival over solidarity. I think a lot of people, regardless of their political affiliation, feel like there has been a lot of being forced to choose survival over solidarity going around in the US.”

So The Hunger Games is a Marxist critique where the games distract everyone from the oppression from the Capitol? Or is it at the end primarily about not giving into revenge and instead establishing a stable society (since Katniss shoots Coin rather than Snow)?

The book ends like a lot of these kinds of stories often do: the heroine returns home, troubled by all the conflict, settled into “normal” family life. In fact, there isn’t much vision at the end of what Panem has become. We are told that kids are taught about the Hunger Games. But, what kind of government do they have? How do all the districts get along? The story isn’t terribly concerned with all of this; much of the energy of the series is about fighting the long battle, not about depicting the better society.

 

What does Stephen Harper have against sociology?

One academic suggests some reasons why Canadian Prime Minister dislikes sociology:

So what does Harper have against sociology? First, Harper is clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems. The benefit of this for those who share Harper’s agenda, of course, is that if there are no social problems or solutions, then there is little need for government. Individuals are solely responsible for the problems they face…

But there’s yet another reason this ideology is so hostile toward the kind of sociological analysis done by Statistics Canada, public inquiries and the like. And that has to do with the type of injustices we can even conceive of, or consider tackling, as a society.

You see, sociologists often differentiate between “personal injustices” and “systemic” or “structural injustices.” Personal injustices can be traced back to concrete actions of particular individuals (perpetrators). These actions are often wilful, and have a relatively isolated victim.

Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”…

What should be clear, then, is that Harper’s seemingly bizarre vendetta against sociology is actually an ideological attempt to prevent Canadian society from being able to identify, and tackle, its structural injustices. Without large-scale sociological analyses, we can’t recognize the pervasive, entrenched social inequalities that these analyses reveal. And because structural injustices are actually generated by our social systems, both their causes and solutions are social.

One of sociology’s key tenets and strengths is the ability to get beyond the individual level of analysis and look at the bigger picture in society. Think Durkheim’s explanations of sui generis social facts or Marx’s idea that people make choices within circumstances not of their choosing. Harper’s perspective sounds like one that is often identified with Americans, an individualistic approach that tends to ignore social structures and instead looks at whether people work hard or have good morals.

So why doesn’t someone ask Harper directly about social injustices? Certainly he must recognize some. Of course, he might still propose individualistic solutions to these but some are hard to pin solely on individuals such as situations like extreme poverty in developing countries.

Drawing Israel’s sprawling “urburbs” in the sand

Urban sprawl is not limited to the United States; a new installation in Israel looks at that country’s sprawl in the last half-century.

The State of Israel was created in 1948, with a population of around 800,000. Today, 8 million people live there—a tenfold increase that happened over the course of just a few decades. That kind of growth sparks a ravenous demand for land and housing, and in Israel has led to a housing sprawl that a group of designers, architects, and artists have coined the Urburb: neighborhoods that aren’t quite urban (they’re outside metropolitan areas) but not quite suburban (they lack the pockets of commercial businesses that define most suburbs).

To convey the notion of the Urburb, this group—comprised of architect Ori Scialom, artist Keren Yeala-Golan, designer Edith Kofsky, and professor Roy Brand—created an installation at the Israeli Pavilion for this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Inside the sunlit space, guests will find four large patches of sand. Atop each is a sand printer, a machine built by the group specifically to trace blueprints, Etch-a-Sketch-style, of Israeli neighborhoods into the sand. After the sand printer has drawn one plan, it wipes the sand clean and draws another. The four printers trace city plans of Jerusalem, Holon, Hadera and Yahud, and in succession, they show how Israel’s neighborhoods became what they are today…

This wasn’t by design. In 1951, when the nation was still in its infancy, a Bauhaus-trained architect named Arieh Sharon created a housing plan for Israel that advocated a dispersed approach to development. Unfortunately for Sharon, people gravitated towards the coast, Israel saw an influx of immigrants, and the plan didn’t take. Units went up quickly to accommodate a booming population, without much regard to architectural integrity. (Yeala-Golan describes the residences as “cookie-cutter houses.”)

Lousy aesthetics aside, the sprawl has also created a commuter culture that’s bad for the environment: Residents have to drive into the nearest city for practically everything—groceries, schools, entertainment, and so on—since commercial properties weren’t built into the neighborhoods.

Urburb is a unique term that seems most like bedroom suburbs in the United States that are primarily about residences.

There are perhaps some parallels here to American sprawl patterns. After World War II, facing rapid population growth, both countries allowed/promoted more sprawling development. In the United States, this was often tied to millions of returning veterans who encountered housing shortages when returning from the war and in Israel it was related to immigration. “Architectural integrity,” an interesting term in itself, was not a priority as people needed housing. When looked at in hindsight, this has its drawbacks.

An interesting question to ask may be what would lead countries like the United States and Israel to promote more sprawling policies while other countries have tried to contain growing populations in more dense urban centers. In the United States, you had a combination of government support (changed mortgage rules, Interstate construction) alongside a developed frontier and individualist ideology and stirrings of sprawling growth in the booming 1920s. Other countries have much longer histories of valuing the urban center. Perhaps where this is most pertinent today is in places like China that in several decades have moved from largely rural to largely urban. What are the political and cultural dimensions of that sort of rapid change?

Cities rethink privatization efforts

Leading with the example of Chicago’s 75 year parking meter lease, here is a look at how some communities are rethinking privatization of local services and amenities:

In states and cities across the country, lawmakers are expressing new skepticism about privatization, imposing new conditions on government contracting, and demanding more oversight. Laws to rein in contractors have been introduced in 18 states this year, and three—Maryland, Oregon, and Nebraska—have passed legislation, according to In the Public Interest, a group that advocates what it calls “responsible contracting.”

“We’re not against contracting, but it needs to be done right,” said the group’s executive director, a former AFL-CIO official named Donald Cohen. “It needs to be accountable, transparent, and held to high standards for quality of work and quality of service.” Cohen’s organization, a national clearinghouse exclusively devoted to privatization issues, is the first advocacy group of its kind…

Donahue, who has studied the issue since 1988, sees privatization as inherently neither good nor bad. Academic studies paint a mixed picture, he said. The private sector can deliver efficiencies when the task being sought is well defined, easy to measure, and subject to competition—mowing public parks, perhaps, or collecting trash.

But when the goals are fuzzier or competition is lacking, the picture gets cloudier. Is the purpose of municipal parking meters to maximize revenue, or is it to provide a low-cost amenity to citizens and the businesses they patronize? How do you value the various objectives of a prison system—justice, rehabilitation, social order—when the financial incentive is to lock more people up? In many cases, Donahue said, privatization and contracting save governments money not through increased efficiency but by undercutting public-sector wages and pensions or, as in the case of the parking meters, by effectively robbing the future to pay for the needs of the present. (By mid-2011, the city had spent all but $125 million of the $1.2 billion parking-meter payment.)

Three things seem fairly clear (to me):

1. One big mistake is privatization contracts that are way too long. Seventy-five years is a long time deal, particularly given how conditions can change. If the deal goes sour quickly or the public turns on it, this is a long time to wait for the contract to expire.

2. Not having enough time to read through contracts and then debate the particulars is a problem. Deals shouldn’t be entered into quickly, particularly when the public interest is at stake.

3. A lot of the public discussion of privatization seems more ideological rather than looking at research (some referenced in this article). Government vs. the private sector is a pretty large debate to have and there may be areas where each could perform better or might better protect the interests of residents.

Even if skepticism about privatization is increasing, this issue will continue to be important as numerous cities and communities seek to squeeze out more revenue from stagnant or limited resources.

Do conservatives only praise sociology when it fits their arguments?

Conservatives may generally dislike sociology but you can find cases where they are more than willing to accept the imprimatur of sociology if it fits their perspectives. Two recent examples:

1. Discussing a MSNBC exchange about Paul Ryan’s comments about the inner-city where one commentator suggested Ryan was echoing the arguments of Charles Murray, a Daily Caller writer defends Murray:

Murray is a prominent and widely-respected sociologist who penned the 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” which in one chapter posits certain racial differences in intelligence and suggests some of this may be due to genetics.

The book’s measured and well-researched take on a highly controversial issue failed to halt an immediate left-wing backlash. Murray was branded a racist pseudo-scientist, with the Southern Poverty Law Center filing his name under “White Nationalist” and falsely suggesting he maintains ties with neo-Nazi groups.

David Weigel, a left-leaning libertarian journalist writing for Slate, wrote that even after reams of well-received research since 1994, “[‘The Bell Curve’] wrecked Murray’s reputation with some people, and it won’t get un-wrecked.”

“But the conservatives of 2014 don’t cite Murray for his race work,” Weigel continued, noting that the fascinating work Murray presented in his later works “Losing Ground” and “Coming Apart” are much more likely to be referenced by opponents of the welfare state.

As I asked in February 2012, is Murray really a sociologist and how many sociologists would claim he is doing good sociological research?

2. Here is an interesting example from the Family Research Council of combining a temporarily favorable view of Hollywood actresses and sociology:

I know virtually nothing about contemporary stars and starlets, other than having consistently to turn away from the images of the substantially disrobed young “entertainers” displayed on the jumbotron across from my office in advertisements for their latest performances. Pornography, by any other name, ain’t art…

Now, however, Ms. Dunst is much in the news for having the audacity to say what she thinks of gender roles, to wit:

“I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued … We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created. And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work”.

Wow – how revolutionary! The idea that gender is not a social construct but actually has to do with biology, neurology, morphology, physiology, etc. is an affront to the received orthodoxy of the feminist left, many of whom have piled-on with a predictable combination of derision, illogic, non-sequitur reasoning, and obscenity…

So, men and women are different, and being a stay-at-home mother who cares for her children is something to be honored, not scorned: For affirming these self-evident truths, Ms. Dunst is being labeled “dumb” and ‘insufferable,” among the more printable adjectives.

Kirsten Dunst is now the good sociologist for agreeing with the organization’s perspectives on gender roles. No research required.

Conservatives aren’t alone in this behavior in cherry-picking studies and data they think supports their ideologies. Many groups are on the lookout for prominent studies and research to support their cause, sometimes leading to odd battles of “my three studies say this” and “your two studies say this.” But, given the complaints conservatives typically make about liberal ideas and research in sociology, how helpful is it to sometimes suggest conservatives should take sociology seriously?

Don’t be worried about dating a leftist sociologist

A recent wedding story in the New York Times included this bit about getting to know a leftist sociologist:

Ms. Levine, 61, is keeping her name. She is a sociology professor at Colgate University who has written six books, including “Class, Networks and Identity: Replanting Jewish Lives From Nazi Germany to Rural New York.” She graduated from Michigan State and received a master’s in sociology from McGill. She also holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the State University at Binghamton. She is a daughter of Rae Levy Levine of Peabody, Mass., and the late Frank Levine…

At the time, he did not care to know her name. But in February 2011, after his relationship ended, he changed his opinion. Once he found out she was Ms. Levine, he looked her up on the Internet.

“I saw titles,” he said. “I saw she was a leftist sociologist. So what?”…

He soon called with an invitation for dinner at his house, where they became so caught up in conversation that “the tuna steaks were way overcooked on the grill,” he said. While there, she scanned his bookshelf, and drew comfort from the fact he had books by Barbara Ehrenreich and so many other left-leaning authors she uses in her classroom. “It turned out we were much more compatible than I thought,” she said.

If sociologists can teach courses on love, they can also get married, sociological commitments notwithstanding.