Slut shame versus sex work as analogies, with adorable fat ladies dancing thrown in

Attention conservation notice: Sex work is different from slut shaming, and we should probably understand that.

Well, I know we are all well and truly sick of the Miley Cyrus commentary and counter-commentary, but I am Still Confused. So far, what I have read has gone along the lines of:

1. how shameful, she used to be so wholesome (she did? I always thought she was prodo out of a family of people who have bought and sold various parts of their images as cultural commodities, not unlike the Kardashians.)
2. you people waggling your fingers are anti-feminist prudes engaging in slut-shaming a young woman expressing artistic freedom around sexuality; note how you are not calling out Robin Thicke (who was never wholesome, I guess)
3. you white feminists who are defending Cyrus against slut-shaming are shameful bad white feminists for not calling out Cyrus on her racism and the appropriation of Black cultural innovations, like the word “ratchet” and the various dance moves that Cyrus appropriated from black artists.

I am going to be one of those irritating white feminists who doesn’t comment as much as I probably should on #3 because, people, I had to look up what twerking is. I can’t critique something I’m so ignorant about, so I will instead send you to a Storify link (I don’t know what Storify is, for the love of God) which compiles a succinct explanation from Arrakis of Sarcasm. I have no idea what the dance moves or lingo in question really are, but I’m willing to believe other people when they say those moves/conventions weren’t hers, and the process of appropriating ideas/innovations away from Black entertainers, redressing its practitioners in pretty white faces, and then selling them to big markets (for the benefit of white audiences and white producers, etc) is well-established in music and other creative fields. It’s a systematic way to remove the economic value of innovation away from Black creatives.

H/T to the brilliant Lisa Bates, whose job it is, apparently, to remind me that it is no longer the 1990s. (In my defense, I’ve read a lot of books, read five languages, can debate the theology of the Gospels of Mark versus John, and can do math through ODE. This on the internet gets you nothing.)

That said, it occurs to me that people love to rip on white feminists, particularly other white feminists, for being racist, but they don’t waste any ammo on the people who think both the cultural appropriation is just fine (in fact, if you think cultural appropriation is a problem, you’re a big dumb ninny race baiter/member of the perpetually aggrieved class) and the pornified TV is just fine, too. Look at those dumb white feminists! They’re so wrong. The end. And the cycle continues. Yes, white feminist fail all the time to do what we should, and we need to confront that, and yet sexism is still a thing, so how about we spread some of the responsibility for fighting oppression all around the white world, men too, and give some of it to men not doing jack for anybody besides themselves and enjoying watching them there annoying feminazis getting taken down some pegs for failing to dismantle white supremacy? I’m not saying give anybody a free pass: I am saying I’ve noticed a cycle of: feminists identify sexism, there is a backlash that notes that white women have privilege (the objection is labeled as narcissism, or self-centeredness or self-serving) and….then there’s a dull thud as a ball gets dropped and  no further conversation or action occurs, until the next time women point out sexism, and we see that white women have privilege, and…  Lather, rinse, repeat. The victims of this cycle, btw, are not white women (that’s not the point)  but people wrapped in a system that is stuck on repeat and where all claims of oppression are treated a priori as invalid.

But I want to return to a point: I have to admit to being a bit stodgy as a feminist. I have never bought into the idea that pornified entertainment in big-bucks venues amounts to a feminist statement. I didn’t go for it when people made these arguments around Madonna, and I’m not convinced by it here. While I do think slut-shaming is an important idea, I actually think its application here is terribly misguided. The idea of slut-shaming is important, and it’s too important to leave it to the notion that women’s bodies on display in an entertainment venue is a woman necessarily expressing her sexuality or ownership of her body. It’s industrial production: Cyrus was surrounding by other dancers who helped her construct the event. She has a promoter; she probably has a choreographer; she is a corporation, with a face, but a corporation, nonetheless. She is the face of a corporate entity who now wants to trade one image for another. She had Black entertainers with her in the performance; it makes me uncomfortable to conclude that they were mere props of Miley’s show. These are gifted men and women who have agency, too; they are her colleagues–not as well paid or famous, but nonetheless they have choice and reducing them to pawns strikes me as misguided.

Which, yes, that’s rather the nature of entertainment capitalism. It’s not that Cyrus isn’t entitled to remake her image, or that the back up dancer should be exempted or condemned because they like do things like…land jobs and get paid for those…but I hardly see how the rest of us rejecting that image as yet another image of a pornified young singer behaving in a more overtly sexual manner than her predecessors counts as shaming. It seems to me that the better feminist analogy for Cyrus’s production is sex work rather than slut shaming, and that sex work label applies across all the performers engaged in a performance whose entertainment pivots on sexual titilation. As sex work goes, performing at a major awards show seems pretty safe, well renumerated, and highly privileged.

There seems to me to be a universe of difference between Cyrus as a performer and a young woman who has engaged (or not) in sex in her life and has been made to feel wrong for using her body as she sees fit, or whose sexuality is used to justify violence against her. Think about Jodi Foster’s character in The Accused. The town slut who is viciously attacked and then degraded as having deserved it. In that instance, the woman is alone; she doesn’t have the power of industry or colleagues around her (in fact, those are turned against her.) I think about the lonely, battered young women who had somehow been affixed with the epithet in my high school; I see precious few parallels.

I guess I have always had to wonder if all this pornified entertainment is really sexually empowering, why do we only see heterosexually desirable women at the center of the stage?

Towards that end, here are women dancing just because they can. I love them!

Leaving the cul de sac of maleness, whiteness, Americanness in reading

John Purcell discusses his journey from ‘literary snob’ (I still don’t really know what that means) to a writer of erotic fiction:

”A lot of guys I know will stay in the men’s section. They’ll read their Cormac McCarthy and their Martin Amis and they will return again and again to this cul-de-sac of maledom. But once I crossed over to reading women authors, I never crossed back. The greatest propagandist for moral behaviour** is Jane Austen. I fell in love with Fanny Burney, Elizabeth Gaskell and the Brontes, then I found George Eliot – the list goes on.

I think he’s right about becoming more interesting if you can manage your intellectual development in such a way that you learn to read without reading having to be a mirror, reassuring you of your identity and the importance of that identity.  My friends say to me that I will read anything by anybody; and yeah, I will at least give it a chance.   Books are adventures, and reading something written by a Greek 2000  years ago or a contemporary Laotian increases that adventure.  With reading, you can travel without making yourself a pest to indigenous persons.  What’s not to love?

Following his lead, has 8 Australian writers who list their favorite books written by women. The result is a feast of book recommendations, though I liked Gone, Girl a little less well than others did.  You’re crazy if you aren’t reading Hilary Mantel’s books  ‘because she’s a girl’ or because you prefer to read the ‘real true history’ constructed by a historian.  Read both.

In the interests of expanding the book list, it’s also good to read internationally and across ethnicity, so in addition to northern European murder/revenge mysteries, here are some of my favorites. I apologize for the lack of novels from South and Central America and Mexico, but I am ignorant there and terribly behind in reading. The ones I love from those regions are the ones everybody already knows. I don’t read in Spanish particularly well, and I often find that I am not crazy about translations of Spanish.  Please tell us some good ones in the comments if you have a minute and a book to recommend:

1. Peter Hoeg: Borderliners. Children subjected to an experiment because of who they are fight the experimenters.

2. Banana Yoshimoto, NP.  Actually, I really like Banana Yoshimoto in general. Just read. This one is about a family dealing with suicide and the leavings of artistic production.

3.  The Kingdom of this World by Alejo Carpenter.  Haiti in early 1800s. A world built in the novel.

4. Sofia Petrovna by Lydia Chukovskaya A mother watching her son get mired into the deadly politics of the Soviet purges.

5. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada.  Based on a real set of events: a devoted couple send postcards opposing the Nazis. The novel is a brilliant antidote to the hero’s journey of men-with-guns fighting stories; it’s instead horribly real in the way it demonstrates how and why ordinary people collaborate with evil in ways both large and small.

6. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.  One of my favorites.

7.  Funny Boy by Shyam Shelvadurai A boy grappling with his body and his identity in a world where neither is acceptable to those around him.

8. Speaking of bildungsroman, Nervous Condition by Tsitsi Dangarembga.  A young women in 1960s Rhodesia gets a chance to get out, and does, and then comes to see the grace and dignity of the women of the women who did not.

9. July’s People by Nadine Gordimer. Nice white people confront the world as politics around them change.  Read.

10. Nectar in the Sieve by Kamala Markandaya. One of the biggest mistakes people make about ‘women’s novels’ is that notion that domesticity is dull.  Privileged domesticity might be, but domesticity fought for tooth and nail–hardly.

11. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata.  A meditation on gender, love, work and sex, and one of the best novels I’ve read in years.

12. The Oresteia by Aeschylus. A trilogy of plays on the fall of the house of Atreus. Don’t go sacrificing your own daughter.  It annoys people.

** Purcell is wrong about the moral propaganda part; Austen’s books are relentlessly pragmatic, not in the moral sense,  at the same time they are social criticism. But I don’t care. Just read.

Anna Gunn talks back to the haters

There are times when I think the NY Times is redeemable, and this Op-Ed by Anna Gunn is one of them.  In the all-encompassing love I  have seen created for Tony Soprano and Walter White over the years–two men who make loathsome choices and do reprehensible things–I’ve noticed the hatred directed at the women they have been married to, largely because, I think, these women are seen directly benefitting from their husband’s ruthless careers while failing to support them in those endeavors. The fact that Americans have so whole-heartedly embraced these two anti-heroes strikes me less, as the high art of the shows in question and more a sign that Americans love take-what-you-want-and-screw-the-rules characters.  See, Batman. The Terminator. I could name a dozen more. After all, both Walter and Tony are financially successful and can get purty things for their baby-girls.  What isn’t to respect there? Shouldn’t these women just be grateful their husbands aren’t dumping them for pretty young things, as it is the right of all successful men?

It’s very clear that Walter White, in particular, is read in myriad different ways among viewers–characters this complex usually are.  He’s a man who starts out on the means-end rationale and discovers he’s got a taste for evil.  He’s starting to like it.  For some, that character trajectory is a liberation, not what many of the rest of us, who started off dubious of the means-ends rationale he used to convince himself,  see when we see Walter White.

Gunn hits the nail on the head: people hate Skyler and Carmela Soprano because they are women who have agency, and that agency isn’t uniformly deployed in submission to their husband’s goals.  But she misses an opportunity as well: the fact that people do not understand why women in Skyler and Carmela don’t leave instead of carrying on come down to the same reasons why women don’t leave abusive men: Walter and Tony are both violent and perfectly capable of killing to get what they want.  These women have kids.  That inability to empathize–worse, the hatred–directed at these characters should more than concern us. It should sicken us.  Because it reflects not just the built-in misogyny and entitlement of the economically successful man/woman who should be grateful trope but also part of a cultural prison that keeps women in dangerous situations.

Hyperloop angst and the unfortunate long haul of implementation

Attention Conservation Notice: Fantasy is a key part of planning. It’s often expensive and irritating. But it’s also required. Your projects live by it, and they can also die by it.

There are times in the grand game of politics when people blink during s game of chicken. I think it’s fair to say that some vocal advocates of the California HSR project blinked, and blinked hard, during the past few weeks over the Hyperloop. It’s worth discussing.

If there is one thing anybody in infrastructure or planning should understand, there is a universe of difference between a concept on paper and a funded project, let alone between a funded project and something that exists in real-deal cement. See: the 710 freeway in South Pasadena. There is a whole industry of academic architects who have produced one vision or another of “what City X (LA, New York, Panama) might have been” if we had only followed this architect’s or that architect’s vision for it in the 1950s/1960s/1970s. And don’t get me wrong, I find those alternative trajectories very interesting, along with the nostalgia for those visions, but it’s not like it’s mere caprice keeps plans from becoming reality. A lot of reasons–sometimes even good ones–send us along different paths.

So there’s been quite a bit of huffing and puffing about Hyperloop from the the HSR folks. Market Urbanism threatened to unfollow anybody who brings up Hyperloop on Twitter (which I am thinking was a twitterjest*). Another well-linked takedown seems to be quite earnest in the belief that the Hyperloop presents a threat. I must admit, it does my teeny-tiny evil little heart quite a lot of good to watch people who have advanced their own project based on a good deal of fantasizing stomp around and dismiss as a fantasy the Hyperloop. Future states are all imaginaries, and while some are more realistic than others, somebody had to build the first bullet train even though he or she was told it was a fantasy.

The New Yorker’s Tad Friend describes why Musk is not somebody you should take lightly, for all his over-promising and swagger:

Musk, who grew up in South Africa reading Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series, sees himself as a hero tasked with the lonely burden of saving us all. His pet projects (space flight, electric transport) aim to buy us time to colonize Mars before we destroy Earth. There is something reproving about his blue-eyed stare, as if he’s come back after a spell on Gamma Nebula 7 and is disappointed to find us still burning hydrocarbons and chowing down at Cinnabon. Earthlings, repent!

People laughed at SpaceX—a privately-held rocket company?—but last year its Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial vehicle to dock with the International Space Station. No one thought Musk’s other full-time job, as C.E.O. of Tesla Motors, would work out either, but the company paid back four hundred and sixty-five million dollars in government loans nine years early, and it’s selling more than five thousand electric cars a quarter. Most strikingly, given the raft of production issues the company had to overcome, Tesla’s Model S is beautifully engineered: Consumer Reports gave it the magazine’s highest rating ever.

Yum, Cinnabon. But I digress.

The point is that he’s good at the whole visionary game even if he’s a big bitsy-better-than-thou.

But just being good at the visionary game doesn’t mean your every brain drop becomes reality. Walt Disney envisioned towns, too, but they were impossible to build.

The smartest strategy for the HSR people to do is simply…ignore the Hyperloop. Their blinking and their takedowns remind people of their project’s own, very serious problems. To wit:

1. His shinier, happier fantasy concept beats, hands down, their real project that, by virtue of their own over promising and the endless compromises that always result in democratic politics, is slower and less shiny than they promised it would be just two years ago. This is nobody’s fault. This is politics and reality of futurism and infrastructure policy. The HSR folks made political hay with cute animations of bullet trains and sweeping visualizations narrated by Peter Coyote. Now that they are the old boys, they have to put up with other people’s cutesy renderings taking the spotlight. It’s the law of the jungle.

2. If they spend too much time pointing out the political barriers to the Hyperloop, people will connect the dots and notice that those are the exact same problems facing the HSR, too. Yep, land is a huge problem for the Hyperloop. And it’s a problem for the HSR. Nope, nobody is going to want the Hyperloop going through their community. Guess what? Nobody wants the HSR planted on top of them, either. Yep, $6B is a horribly unrealistic cost estimate, just like the $32 Billion for the HSR six years ago was a horribly unrealistic cost estimate.

There is every likelihood that Musk will get bored and so will everybody else, and Jerry Brown is still Governor, for now. Ignore the Hyperloop and concentrate on getting the HSR out of courts.

But the best satire is, of core, The Daily Show.

Chatman and Noland solve a mystery in benefit-cost analysis for transit

There is a nice write-up over at Atlantic Cities of what appears to be a very important contribute to the literature on transit benefits: Public Transit is Worth More Than You Think.  The idea is that transit’s contribution to agglomeration adds value to commerce and land–totally believable. It could help us get to a point where we can help make more sense of transit benefits to cities. For years we have struggled with findings that the DC Metro doesn’t pass cost-benefit analysis, and the intuition has been we are undercounting benefits. Perhaps we are. (That said, costs are high, and they get higher with agglomeration.)  The research comes from Dan Chatman at Berkeley and Robert Noland at Rutgers, and it will appear in Urban Studies in a forthcoming issue.

I haven’t read the original paper, which is here, but I will. Dan Chatman is one of the smartest people I have ever met, and he is also a very careful scholar. He doesn’t let ideas go without testing them thoroughly, so I doubt I’ll find much to quibble over. I don’t know Dr. Noland personally, but what I’ve read of his work is very good.  Go read!

Does Hayek have to be Jesus?

Attention conservation notice: Philosophers and everybody else should remember their Aristotle: moderation in all things, even in their extremism. :^)

As with so many things on the interwebbies, the controversy that came up over this issue has come and gone before I got around to thinking about it, but since I am still thinking about it, I shall write about it and get some ideas out there.

Crooked Timber contributor Corey Robin’s piece in the Nation on Nietzsche’s Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek. The uncontroversial part of the article: the intellectual connections between Nietzsche and the Austrian intellectual tradition that would nurture Hayek. Read it. I mean it. It’s a good piece of popular writing on the history of philosophy, some of Nietzsche’s less celebrated work, Jevons, Menger, and the movement from economics away from a humanist tradition and into a scientific tradition. The key word play in the title comes down to “marginalism.” He doesn’t explain marginalism explicitly. Here is a nice explanation.

The piece started a bit of a debate, which is all-to-the-good, but the debate seems to be primarily ideological rather than historical. Most of the objections, covered in the second piece from Robin, come down to an unwillingness to have liberty-loving Hayek in any way associated with the facisist Nietzsche, even in the most oblique way, and in the desire to reinforce the mathematical association of marginalism rather than some sissy moral philosophy. But Jevons and Menger very much asserted a moral basis to their ideas about value, as did Smith.

The heat of the criticism leveled at Robin among fellow academics is shocking, though not perhaps to those of us in planning who are used to ideologues getting annoyed with researchers who ask the wrong question or derive the wrong conclusions. An explanation that Robin proffers for the heat makes sense to me:

One possibility is that my work unsettles the boundaries so many libertarians have drawn around themselves. (The liberal-ish conservative Goldman is a different matter; in his case, I think the problem is simply a lack of familiarity and experience with these texts.) Like some of their counterparts outside the academy, at Reason and elsewhere, academic libertarians often like to describe themselves as neither right nor left—a political space, incidentally, with some rather unwholesome precedents—or as one-half of a dialogue on the left, where the other half is Rawlsian liberalism or analytical Marxism. What they don’t want to hear is that theirs is a voice on and of the right. Not because they derive psychic or personal gratification from how they position themselves but because theirs is a political project, in which they borrow from the left in order to oppose—or all the while opposing—the main projects of the left.

I would agree with this assessment, but with caveats. There is an rather unhealthy and smug “I’m above conventional politics” assumption to much of contemporary libertarianism, and it’s entirely possible that its adherents don’t like the idea that their most effective, iconic modern representative among philosophers might be associated with the right. But as contemporary political practice with its strange bedfellows has made clear enough to us all by now, libertarians are running with Republicans in the US and conservatives in Europe. Intellectually one might question how you interpret Hayek’s treatment of elite actors and the hierarchies that emerge from markets. Reading Hayek–really reading Hayek, not just trading on ideas you think he had that you like–you see that he does advocate for the the moral and social legitimacy of the hierarchies that emerge from markets. Whether you believe hierarchies necessarily place his political theory on the right might be questioned (I have similar questions about Burke), but you can not read Hayek fairly without coming to the same conclusion about Hayek existing in the same camp as Menger and Jevons when it comes to the moral validity of market distributions. We can argue about Nietzsche, but I think Robin’s argument is fair enough to Hayek as far it goes. After all, libertarianism a complex set of ideas in political theory, and it’s likely that concepts and approaches overlap among political animals.

The second rejoinder Robin pens concerns the fact that people considered his mentioning Hayek’s association with Pinochet a “lapse in judgment” or irrelevant to Hayek’s moral philosophy, or a ‘smear job’ on the part of Robin. Critics offer up various suggestions:

1. That Hayek only defended Pinochet insofar as Pinochet was better than Allende;
2. That Hayek was in his 80s, so his association with Pinochet was a sign of age rather than of his philosophy; and
3. That Hayek ‘wasn’t Jesus’ so we shouldn’t care about his political associations.

Robin has his own points to make, but less so for the third, and that ‘s the one I am most interested in. But here’s some quickies from me:

1. We have no idea what Allende would have been like. Dead leaders can be anything we want them to be. See Kennedy, John. F. and Ceasar, Julius. And Jesus.

Secondly, Pinochet was engaged in consulting with Pinochet, as Robin’s post makes clear. This point matters more to the history of philosophy perhaps more than to pure political ethics, but it still matters. It suggests that like many ideologues who ostensibly deplore interventionist states, Hayek approved of interventionist states enough so long it mirrored his own social preference ordering around the primacy of the market.

Thirdly, libertarianism is not a philosophy that I think flourishes under consequentialist arguments like this one of being “better than Allende.” It’s strongest intellectual core rests on rights, not outcomes.

2. There is absolutely no evidence that Hayek was failing intellectually in his 80s. If anything he strikes me as being as sharp as ever in public comments. This comment is pure ageism and arguing from convenience.

3. Jesus. This is a particularly interesting comment, from a journalist:

Libertarian journalist Julian Sanchez says, “I don’t think anyone denies that was a grotesque mistake but…what? Hayek isn’t Jesus? Unsure why we’re supposed to care.” And again: “I mean, maybe Hayek was a shit human being. Let’s suppose. Still. Why do I care?”

Again, we care in the history of philosophy, but we also care about whether Hayek’s ideas, when applied to real-world political institutions, produce the favorable and morally justifiable ends he envisions. We can argue (and we would) that Pinochet’s state isn’t a fair application of libertarianism any more than Stalin’s or Mao Zedong’s  states were fair applications of Marx. As C.S. Lewis once pointed out, there is no more evil man than the religious evil man. It’s possible that Hayek’s philosophy led him where common sense would have told him to stay away; none of that means the theory isn’t useful. It means that the theory, like most, is partial. Moderation in all things, moderation in all things, our friend Aristotle cautions in his Ethics. Except moderation.

More to the point, Hayek already has way more in common with Jesus than many would allow. Both are discussed more than they are actually understood, it seems to me. Both aren’t who they really were any more, but are instead reflections of our own desires of what people want them to be. The Hayek of The Road to Serfdom is a somewhat different thinker than the Hayek of Constitution, and the Jesus of Mark is different than the Jesus of Luke (and the Jesus of Joel Osteen.) One doesn’t have to be Jesus to be a moral exemplar.

All these things come together as I’ve been thinking about Jesus quite a lot lately. I just chatted about Bart Ehrman’s book over at Price Points. The money quote from Ehrman:

Jesus was inescapably and ineluctably a Jew living in first-century Palestine. He was not like us, and if we make him like us we transform the historical Jesus into a creature that we have invented for ourselves and our own purposes.

It seems to me that the hostility directed at Robin’s work very much reflects this same problem: Hayek is already like Jesus in being a symbol, reduced to some essential toeholds of popular libertarianism. In trying to situate Hayek within an intellectual tradition, Robin runs afoul of the people who have constructed a Hayek of their own making (and a Nietzsche of their own making)–a little doll who thinks what they do and values what they do instead of the complex, evolving, and culturally situated thinker that Hayek was as a writer and a thinker.

Where does all that tuition money go? Not to your professors, tenured or not

H/T to the brilliant Lisa Bates

So, you know that narrative about how lazy, evil tenured proffies are driving up tuition costs with their lavish salaries and putting little John and Suzie into crippling debt just to teach them useless things from Women’s and Black Studies? Um, yeah, not true. 

 Lawyers, Guns & Money, which gets a priori props for reminding us all of the fabulous Warren Zevon, has a write up of a budget analysis of major universities. I haven’t looked at the original study, but the results square with my perception of US higher education as I’ve worked in it.  Go read it, but I warn you, drink anything you have in your mouth because this nearly sent coffee through the nose: 

During this time, he finds that both gross and net tuition revenue rose by nearly 40% in real, inflation-adjusted terms. How did university administrators decide to spend this money? If you guessed “on hiring lots more underlings, and giving enormous raises to themselves,” you have just won an authentic Gordon Gee bow tie.

Talen and Koschinsky try to establish the sprawl-income mobility connection over at BetterCities

I guess as more people are actually reading the Chetty et al (2013) study study, they are finding what I discussed yesterday: that study doesn’t have any urban form variables. Talen and Koschinsky from Arizona State have a short feature up at BetterCities that suggest there is a connection.

It’s a short piece, so there’s only so much to see, but there are problems here. They use WalkScore as a proxy for suburbanization, which is defensible if you think that clusters of amenities are likely to also to represent job clusters–I don’t see anything particularly wrong with that. However, I do have problems with the finding that there is a “strong correlation” when they don’t report the correlation, test it, or test its robustness to outlier removal. Sure, fine, don’t show us a full suite of regressions; you just started fiddling with the data, but we should know what type of correlation was used, particularly since one variable is an index.)

I also do not understand why they are aggregating to the city level in their reporting, other than the rather compulsive desire people have to rank cities on the internet. They have block group data; what we are talking about here is a neighborhood-within-a-region phenomenon–not strictly a region or a metropolitan phenomenon in and of itself. With that aggregation, they have a couple outliers that appear to be pulling the line in various directions, and that’s likely to be the case with 82 percent of their sample in the inaccessible category. There is also uneven spread in the data; that is, they have more scatter in some parts of the distribution than others. It may not matter, but here I suspect it does.

Anyway, none of that reassures me that the analysis shows what they want it to show.

We also do want to be careful. Intergenerational income and individual income mobility are longitudinal phenomena, conceptually. Income data attached to places as units measures the incomes of the people in that place at some aggregation. People move in and out, and it may be that places remain poor while people move in and out of that place and achieve higher incomes along the way. If you have a trajectory for an individual’s income, matching that to a place in time assumes they have always lived there, and that’s a dangerous assumption. We also have reverse causation problems here. Places with high walkscores and lots of amenities are more desirable places to live to begin with, so it shouldn’t surprise us that people who wind up there have income and wealth. We’ll need an experiment or a good instrument to suss these issues.

Beyond that, people, for heaven’s sakes: we already know that lack of access affects income and wealth because it affects job prospects. Why would we think otherwise? If there is one literature that has been empirically tested, it’s the spatial mismatch literature. Did John Kain live in vain? The very best work on this subject that I have ever encountered comes from Evy Blumenberg and Michael Stoll at UCLA. The story being told here is not particulary new. It stands to reason: if you grow up in a place where it’s hard for your parents to get ahead because they don’t have access, it’s not likely that you are going to get ahead, either. The Chetty et al. 2013 project is trying to look at opportunity from a wide variety of variables, and that is new.