The Berkeley Blog: Why it’s China’s turn to worry about manufacturing

Visiting prof Vivek Wadhwa suggests that robotics and AI will bring manufacturing back to the US:

Why it’s China’s turn to worry about manufacturing:

America has been extremely worried about the loss of manufacturing to China. Seduced by subsidies, cheap labor, lax regulations, and a rigged currency, American industry has made a beeline to China.

But the tide may soon turn.

New technologies will likely cause the same hollowing out of China’s manufacturing industry over the next two decades that the U.S experienced over the past twenty years. That’s right. America is destined to once again gain its supremacy in manufacturing, and it will soon be China’s turn to worry.

China’s largest hi-tech product manufacturer Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, made waves last August when it announced plans … More >

(Via The Berkeley Blog)

I’m pretty excited about our robot overlords coming soon…

More logical fallacies, some public finance, and putting money where your train is

The CALHSRA response to their Peer Review Panel’s finding that the Central Valley portion of the California HSR project is not finically feasible:

“While some of the recommendations in the Peer Review Group report merit consideration, by and large this report is deeply flawed, in some areas misleading and its conclusions are unfounded. …Although some high-speed rail experience exists among Peer Review Panel members, this report suffers from a lack of appreciation of how high-speed rail systems have been constructed throughout the world, makes unrealistic and unsubstantiated assumptions about private sector involvement in such systems and ignores or misconstrues the legal requirements that govern construction of the high speed rail program in California.”

Or, as my four year-old neighbor girl who is Never Seen Without Tiara says: neener neener.

Yesterday, I covered the logical fallacy known as “slippery slope” arguments. Today, we’ll cover the logical fallacies known as “Argument From Authority” and “Ad Hominem.” The first is the chest-beating: “we are the experts in high speed rail, so we’re right” (argument from authority) and “those other people, blesstheirhearts, ain’t as smart as we is” (ad hominem).

Ever since the Peer Review Group came out with their report, I’ve had to hear one person after another explain about how HSR makes money “all over the world.” Great. You know what? Restaurants all over the world make money, too. But other restaurants go bankrupt, too. The fact that we haven’t seen HSR bankruptcies around the world during a pretty bad downturn makes me suspect that their profits come from creative accounting with lots of hidden subsidies thrown in because intercity transport markets of other kinds have bankruptcies, consolidations, and service suspensions rather routinely because of financial problems.

Nobody–not even the CHSRA–thinks the Central Valley links are going to generate an operating surplus. You need the large market areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco to do that, and I’m not convinced that even then we’d get surpluses–but it’s not impossible or laughable that we would, particularly if taxpayers eat all the costs of construction.

The bottom line is always in the financing, if you know where to look:

General obligation bonds encumber California taxpayers with the debt service for the bonds. Revenue bonds encumber the project itself: these are paid off with the revenues from the project.

If you always make money with HSR–that is, if your service actually generates an operating surplus— why did Prop 1A to fund high speed rail in California specify general obligation bonds rather than revenue bonds?

Why? Either:

a) you think the project can make money, and you want to give a gift to your concessionaire buddies by having taxpayers eat the capital investment costs; or
b) you know full well your project will never generate a surplus that can pay off the bonds.

Either way, troubling.

Brenda Simmons on Martin Luther King, Jr

So worth reading: On Martin Luther King Day, Ask ‘Where Art Thou?’
Brenda Simmons, co-founder of the African-American Museum of the East End and assistant to the Southampton Village mayor, delivered this speech on Rogers Memorial Library on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2008.

These lines are particularly moving:

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

We have a MLK Day parade here in Los Angeles: The parade will begin at 11 a.m. at Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and Western Avenue. From there it rolls west along King Boulevard until it takes a left turn south onto Crenshaw Boulevard. It then marches down Crenshaw to Vernon Avenue, where the parade takes a final turn and ends with a gospel festival at Leimert Park. There will also be lots of food booths and fun things to do throughout the afternoon and evening at the park.

Or if, like me, you social phobias keep you inside, ABC will be live-casting it here.

Slippery slope arguments and Rick Santorum

So I’m always on my students’ cases about slippery slope arguments in their theory essays as these arguments usually involve a logical fallacy easily refuted. Rick Santorum’s debate about marriage nicely illustrates the problem:

“Reason says that if you think it’s okay for two, then you have to differentiate with me as to why it’s not okay for three.” **

Reason says no such thing. It’s hard to tell if Santorum believes he is engaging in reductio ad absurdum, or whether this just sounded good to him.

The dimension being argued in this slippery slope argument is the number of people. So if two people are all right, but not three, we still haven’t addressed the issue of what equipment the two people have/what roles the two people have or why he’s worried about either issue, or why the rest of us should care why he’s worried. And, according to Rick’s reasoning, a marriage of two people is better than a marriage of three people (or more!), so that a marriage of one person must be more valid than a marriage of two people. Not the outcome he would favor, probably: i.e., the slope that started us sliding was recognizing marriage in the first place: if we legally recognize a man and a woman in a relationship favored by tax, inheritance, and family laws, then other types of couples will want that arrangement, as well.

He’d be better off simply standing by the communitarian argument based on tradition: “a marriage has always been between one man and one woman in this country, that’s what it should remain because tradition matters to community cohesion and identity.”

**BTW, I could care less if three people want to get married, so his analogy to polygamy doesn’t work, either. Polygamy has a long status in the history of mankind, and it’s still practiced where tradition and economics allow. Marriage in the US, legally, is mostly a property contract; the things that give marriage social meaning are much more complex. I’ve yet to see any research showing that kids in two-parent families do better than kids in four-parent families, or whatever. I’m not saying that research doesn’t exist; I’ve just not yet seen anybody produce it.

My New Year’s Writing Resolutions

I’m not one to do resolutions normally as I don’t really believe in self-improvement, which makes me un-American, practically. But last year, I had a mini-breakthrough with resolutions. I resolved that I wasn’t going to fiddle with my phone looking at emails or texts when somebody was *actually there* talking to me, and I did it–and I stuck with it–because fiddling with your damn phone rather than paying attention is rude. I mean, the email will always sit there; time with a real person is valuable.

To wit, I’ll make some writing resolutions.

1. I am going to finish my conference paper 3 weeks before it’s due. Since I am only planning to attend ACSP this year, this should be manageable.

2. I am going to turn around revise and resubmits in a month or less.

3. I am turning off the Internet entirely when I write.

4. When critiquing my own drafts, I am going to write positive, constructive things instead of “this sounds deranged” and “where’s the argument?”

Who mourns for the CRA, other than the CRA?

I’ve not posted much about the decision to kill off state funding for CRAs (Community Redevelopment Authorities) in California, largely because I haven’t really known what to think. I have students who tell me that the CRAs are absolutely crucial, but I’ve never seen any evidence of it. For example, California taxpayers chucked a lot of money into LA Live via the Community Redevelopment Authority, and we didn’t even get a bus bench or a street tree out of the deal as far as I can see. And every time I say “why can’t we pursue a TOD near this or that Blue Line station” the response is that “those are outside the authority of the CRA.” So really impoverished areas are not targeted?

So in my experience–not in my research area, but in my experience in LA–the CRA in LA puts money into already viable projects in places the extra money isn’t needed and refuses to advocate (or doesn’t advocate very well) for community design factors in addition to the project’s internal amenities in return for public investment. Stated that way, CRAs seem to be in the business of giving gifts to developers and not asking for much in return. I have nothing against developers, but I also don’t know why some deserve gifts from taxpayers for building something they’d probably build any way (and if they didn’t build it, something else could go up there) and not providing street amenities.

Two recent Op-Eds echo my impressions. Like I said, I don’t study CRAs so maybe I am being grossly unfair, but others share my assessment.

Bill Fulton in the LA Times notes that the CRAs have had every reason to avoid real risks:

When the governor proposed eliminating redevelopment, I was the only mayor in California who supported him. I did it because I believe redevelopment needs serious reforming. Despite decades of incremental improvements to the law, cities still find “blight” where there is none. They have used redevelopment to do anything and everything because the law has allowed them to and they have felt they had no other options. The result has been that one of every eight property tax dollars in the state has been going to redevelopment agencies through “tax-increment financing,” a system that sends any increase in property taxes after land is redeveloped back to the agency instead of to county coffers.

Janet Denise Kelly writes in City Watch LA’s Minorities Not Mourning Death of CRA:

The 20 year anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots is nearing. This period brought great travesty to the City and South Los Angeles in particular where buildings burned and people rebelled against social and economic injustice. Since 1992, there have been promises to rebuild South Los Angeles and to target areas for business growth and job creation. Those promises have been modest at best or maybe even lip-service to appease community members.

Crenshaw Boulevard has seen growth with the new stores, the renovations of the Baldwin Crenshaw Mall, and new restaurants like Post and Beam and Buffalo Wild Wings. The USC area has had a total makeover because of its proximity to downtown. These areas because of their political influence and middle class residents have been able to wrangle in businesses and housing developments to position them for more growth in the future.

However, the most blighted communities are still struggling due to the remnants of the 1992 uprising and have been fighting for a piece of the redevelopment pie for years to rid themselves of high concentrations of liquor stores, smoke shops, or problem business that prohibit economic progress.

LASD’s charm and grace

Here is a video of the LASD at work on a Metro Bus: LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Punches Special Needs Woman In the Face.


Two L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies tried to remove a woman with special needs from a public bus. When she refused, one of the deputies clocked her in the face. NBC has the video, which was taken on a cell phone by another passenger. The deputies attempted to confiscate the video, but the passenger said no. Upon his refusal, one of the deputies asked the passenger if he had any outstanding warrants.

The lesson:

Screw the environment. Buy your car now. (one)

The political gamble for the HSR markets outside the Central Valley

I talked about the fluffy op-ed from the LA Times the other day, and how they cavalierly conflate various criticisms into one straw man argument that anybody who dares point out the problems are all just short-term haters.

Most annoying in the original Op-Ed is this assumption:

The same phenomenon is already happening in Boston, home of the nation’s most expensive transportation project. The Big Dig highway tunneling scheme was a political catastrophe a few years ago, what with mistakes that prompted severe delays and caused the price tag to skyrocket. Although the Big Dig is nobody’s idea of the right way to build infrastructure, Bostonians are now reveling in a downtown park built on what used to be an expressway, and a tangled traffic mess has been unsnarled. In a few more years, the headaches will probably have been forgotten.

Worthwhile things seldom come without cost or sacrifice. That was as true in ancient times as it is now; pharaoh Sneferu, builder of Egypt’s first pyramids, had to try three times before he got it right, with the first two either collapsing under their own weight or leaning precipitously. But who remembers that now? Not many people have heard of Sneferu, but his pyramids and those of his successors are wonders of the world.

Where to start? First, ask the rest of Massachusetts how much they love the Big Dig because it delayed all of their projects for decades. Even in Boston, there are very nice subway projects that were set back for decades because of the Dig. I’ve always been one of the few defenders of the Big Dig–it started out well-intended justice project–but let’s not be stupid. If they wanted the park area back, they could have just taken the freeway down, been done with it, and saved everybody billions upon billions.

And then, the pyramids? We’re comparing the train the pyramids? Who wrote this Op-Ed? An intern?

I guess pyramids are kind of a good analogue because they were also at the time generally useless, very costly legacy monuments who gained value basically as a tourist curiosity thousands of years later (there is evidence that wealthy Roman toured them) rather than serving a practical function. That is, the pyramids’ main value was political rather than its ostensible function.

The main thrust of the Op-Ed is that pointy-headed experts don’t understand the politics of HSR, which will deliver HSR to the coasts despite all you haters because the train is backed by Little Advocates That Can. Once everybody sees the shiny train in the Central Valley, voters will clamor for theirs and reach into their wallets again for “their share” of the HSR pie.

And there’s a chance the Op-Ed is right on this point at least. Certainly, we’ve seen plenty of rail projects built, particularly suburban systems, based on these types of envy politics.

However, there are plenty–plenty–of orphaned megaprojects out there. Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor project. The Gravina Bridge (the Bridge to Nowhere. Remember that?) About a dozen pod car systems.

Sure, politics carries the ball on lots of rail projects. But there are plenty of stumpy little links of abandoned lines that became too politically difficult to carry forward. Cherrypicking examples of things that did get done doesn’t negate the history of things that never got done.

Christian Libertarians

Iowa City friend Jim Tully got me reading Norman Horn’s Can A Christian Be A Libertarian? Of course, his answer is yes, given his bio: Horn is the founder of

The part that concerns me a little about this piece is this paragraph:

Libertarians talk a lot about economics, and rightfully so. Money is central to a healthy economy. Christians are also concerned about money; in fact God talks frequently about money in the Bible. God’s warning against unjust “weights and measures” in Leviticus 19 is a warning not to tamper with the market ecosystem of money and trade. Rep. Paul acknowledges the Bible’s concern for honest money as well in End the Fed : “The Bible is clear that altering the quality of money is an immoral act… It is dishonesty in money that has been a major source of evil throughout history.” If the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, as 1 Timothy 6:10 says, how much more seriously ought we to take how our society views the control over the supply of money? If it is true, as many libertarians contend, that the Federal Reserve is the primary cause of the economic crisis we have today, then the only solution is to restore honest, sound commodity money, free from political machinations and special interests.

His argument here strikes me as terribly strained. Libertarians tend to talk a lot about markets because free exchange is an expression of personal liberty rather than out of some sort of notion about aggregate economic health–save for their fundamental idea that whatever aggregate conditions result from the expression of liberty are preferable–more optimal, more just if you will–than aggregate conditions arranged through institutions or other collective action.

The quotes from the Bible strike me as particularly strained. The quote from Leviticus is not about free markets; it’s about not cheating with misrepresentative weights—-something that is was entirely possible to do before standardized measurement, a Greek innovation. We’ll use King James for aesthetics. Let’s look at the whole bit:

34 [But] the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I [am] the LORD your God.

35 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.

36 Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I [am] the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.

I assume what Horn is talking here is Leviticus 19:35. But the text before and after help contextualize it: you don’t diddle your measures to your own advantage just because your buyer or seller, who may be a stranger to you, has no way to catch you.

A look at Deuteronomy 25:

13 Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small.

14 Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small.

15 [But] thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

16 For all that do such things, [and] all that do unrighteously, [are] an abomination unto the LORD thy God.

I’m pretty sure the writer here didn’t mean that God cares how you store your weights, together in a bag or in your house. The point here is, again, you don’t shortchange.

And, finally, Proverbs

16:11 A just weight and balance [are] the LORD’S: all the weights of the bag [are] his work.

20:10 Divers weights, [and] divers measures, both of them [are] alike abomination to the LORD.

These are very clearly admonitions about not putting your thumb on the scale rather than noninterventionism or healthy economies. Horn has got two ideas muddled together: a) free exchange and b) standard measures, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense as it is written because it tries to use shorthand to attribute to the Bible the basis for (some) libertarians’ objections to fractional reserve banking and fiat currency, both of which get pretty complicated fast.

Then there’s the argument he leaves us with: that the Federal Reserve caused the economic crisis. Without defining what he means, the statement makes little sense except to his choir. For Horn and people who think like him, the economic crisis means sovereign debt—a situation that the Fed has a hand in. But others are likely read “economic crisis” to mean the collapse of the housing bubble, subsequent underwater mortgages, etc. It’s hard to pin the latter on the Fed.