Archive for May, 2009

Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg’s latest ethnography gives an excellent portrayal of the construction and contestation of economic networks among the homeless in urban San Francisco.

This powerful study immerses the reader in the world of homelessness and drug addiction in the contemporary United States.


The result is a dispassionate chronicle of survival, loss, caring, and hope rooted in the addicts’ determination to hang on for one more day and one more “fix” through a “moral economy of sharing” that precariously balances mutual solidarity and interpersonal betrayal.”

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Living in Less

Home sizes are shrinking…

Though the square footage of new houses tends to dip modestly in recessions, the size of the American home has essentially increased since 1973. But that changed last year, when the size of the typical house suddenly shrunk by 11%. That appears to be faster than at any time since the 1970s.

“People are realizing, ‘Hey, I don’t need the Lexus anymore,’ ” said Wayne Eide of the Development Group, builder of the Terraces. ” ‘I can live with the Camry.’ ”

The National Assn. of Home Builders recently surveyed its members and found 90% of them are building smaller now. Developers cite many factors: increased energy consciousness, empty-nest baby boomers looking to downsize. But the strongest motivator is clearly the sagging economy.


“Families and lifestyles are changing,” said Bobbie Cooper, director of sales [for real estate company, The Development Group]. “In 2005 you couldn’t build it big enough. Now it’s all about getting back to the basics.”

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From the LA Times:

The economy is a wreck, and crime is down. Does that mean hard times and lawbreaking aren’t linked?


As L.A.’s most recent crime data suggest, high unemployment doesn’t necessarily translate directly into high crime rates. But that’s because the specific economic pinch in itself is not the immediate cause of criminal activity. What does seem to translate into crime is long-term economic trouble. One theory holds that the motivation toward criminal acts increases with prolonged social strain. Strain is the pressure people feel between their goals and their means to achieve them. One consequence of unrelieved strain is that the desire to achieve one’s goals leads some to use illegitimate means to get where they want to go.

“Long-term material conditions are important,” UC Irvine criminologist Elliott Currie told me. “They can affect values and the belief in what kinds of conduct are acceptable or not. If you put people in really lousy conditions, they’ll begin to think differently about school, drugs or gangs.”


the discrepancy between what many of us want and what we can get will deepen, social strain will increase, and maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, the other shoe will drop.  In the meantime, count your crime statistics blessings, but don’t fool yourself: Crime and hard times do go hand in hand.

A not completely unrelated piece of art (one of my favorites by Banksy in New Orleans):


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Guess what, kids? More of the same!

Events have been changing so quickly that we teachers are having trouble keeping up. Syllabuses are often planned months in advance, and textbooks are revised only every few years.

But there is another, more fundamental reason: Despite the enormity of recent events, the principles of economics are largely unchanged. Students still need to learn about the gains from trade, supply and demand, the efficiency properties of market outcomes, and so on. These topics will remain the bread-and-butter of introductory courses.

Nonetheless, the teaching of basic economics will need to change in some subtle ways in response to recent events.

The four ways are, indeed, quite subtle. I appreciate that change number four is a recognition of the limits of forecasting. I also appreciate that number one involves the word “institutions,” although I think an appreciation of a broader set than financial institutions is called for. For some deeper solutions, check out Toxic Textbooks (and Mankiw’s is one of the primary culprits).

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John Bellamy Foster:

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From NYT

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