Ricardo’s Scarcity Principle(s) and why YIMBYs should care

Usual caveat: I am not a supply skeptic. I am a “don’t assume simple solutions to complex problems” person. Supply and demand occur in contexts, and those have an unfortunately large effect on how things turn out.

Modern economists, even those who take Ricardo seriously like Thomas Piketty, tend to be a bit too hasty to conclude that Ricardo was wrong about the scarcity principle of land. In 1817 On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, he tackled the problem he saw about the increasing scarcity of agricultural land vis-a-vis growing populations. He was not, unlike Malthus or Smith, willing to conclude that more laborers were the problem. He suggested that increasing the number of people who needed ag land, along with the decreasing marginal productivity of extra land units, meant that adding additional units into production would still, depending on the rate of demand increase, result in increasing scarcity, rents, wealth and market dominance among the land-owning class.

Sound familiar? Fans of Henry George might find a lot to like in Ricardo.

We should point out, as Piketty does, that Ricardo wasn’t the only person observing the economic problems looming in continental Europe, notably France, with growing labor pools driving down wages and driving up rents. Arthur Young wrote about similar themes in his essay, drawing similar conclusions.

Why do economists generally think Ricardo was wrong? Piketty says as much in Capital. I’m not sure why, as they have to know that Ricardo’s situation was pretty exceptional. Not long after Ricardo, Young, and Malthus, ag land suffered a severe decline. But I doubt it was because there was some sort of market correction where landowners decided to start supplying more accessible units to people: early 1800s, ag tech and practices are changing, informed by Enlightenment science (for both good and ill) and better land is becoming more productive so that marginal ag land becomes excess supply, losing value quickly. I suspect prime ag land had a small dip in value for a bit and then continued to rise, and that the overall decline was an average effect. (Also see: more ag prodo getting shipped farther as the century moves on). The point being, we just began needing far less ag land as time wore on, something that continues today.

Ricardo’s point about increasing scarcity even with increasing supply matters to our discussion because it’s one reason why I think short-term effects of more housing supply are just about impossible to predict without better empirical models that consider the possibilities. Ricardo in Principles allowed that when there are extreme shortages of something, a new increment of supply would not drive prices down, but up. The problem is, like a lot of smart fellows back then, he didn’t have reviewers on his ass to explain his thinking there, so he doesn’t. Not very much anyway. But I think there are some key ideas in the theory, especially given Freemark’s counterintuitive findings in Chicago. (Lots of us didn’t feel like they were counterintuitive, but that’s ok.)

Here’s my thought experiment for the day: under what conditions are we likely to see Ricardo’s odd price responses to supply?

When there is population growth in a place, accommodating that population growth any number of things. I’ll collapse it to two scenarios for simplicity in the argument:

Scenario 1, the good marginal context for new supply. In this scenario, the shortage is not that bad or nonexistent, so at the margin, new supply disciplines landlords and we see slower rent increases, if not softening rents entirely.

In this instance, the shortage isn’t holding back any real urban productivity effects we get from including more people, and the increment in new people isn’t having any measurable deleterious impact on wages. These are relatively simple moves up and down demand curves.

I suspect this is why we see so little action in Freemark’s study in Chicago. Chicago’s hole isn’t as deep as the coastal markets, and there are all sorts of reasons why even there, rents and land values might not go down in ways easy to measure to social science studies. For one, prices are only one way landlords can compete. Small marginal changes in local demand might prompt landlords to market more, add a new service, or just stop acting like jerks about things like taking key money or any of the side hustles landlords with sufficient market power can grab.

Scenario 2: The more dicey context for new supply. In this scenario, which I’d say quite a few coastal cities are likely in, the shortage is profound. New housing supply is, as they say, a drop in the bucket. Housing shortages are cutting into the overall productivity of the metro area because they are dampening labor productivity by keeping productive laborers out. New supply is likely to go in at a market rate, which is expected at or even above where local landlords are, and they take their cues from the higher rents, not the possibility that their unit is going to sit empty. Why not? There is still no real supply competition because the shortage is so grave that any real price competition is years out, if ever. If anything, they have a motivation to grind harder now in anticipation that supply competition may be coming, but not for some time yet.

I’ve written before that infill housing is likely to increase local amenities and local landlord’s expectations about what they might charge. Various people have argued with me that the new supply effects should easily outweigh new amenity effects and that new supply should discipline landlords. That is entirely possible in the first scenario. In the second scenario, that is not necessarily true. Moreover, productivity effects are not amenity effects. Productivity effects are the bump land prices get because of getting spillovers from their location in an economically productive region. Amenity effects are the bump in price parcels get from being located reasonably proximate to nice things. Both can and likely do happen with new supply, and their size relative to any possible supply competition effects strike me as much more significant in places where landlords are secure price setters.

In the first scenario, by contrast, I could easily see supply competition cancel out amenity effects. I have less confidence it would cancel productivity effects in the long term across business cycles. That’s another essay for another day.

Laid atop these differences are submarket problems. This is another layer of complexity, but suffice it to say, we don’t have great information on the degree to which locations are substitutes in residential location decisions. At all. Again, added complexity for another day.

And again, this is not “don’t build.” That just makes the hole bigger. Instead, I’m of the “help low-wage laborers across the board with rental supports, unions, and a robust welfare state” argumentation.

Why endlessly focussing on the faults of female politicians is a problem.

Let’s be clear: Feinstein did and said the wrong thing. I don’t like a lot of her positions. I absolutely think we should listen to kids, in politics and outside of it. They are part of society, they have rights, and they should have voice. No question.

So I created a shitstorm on my Twitter feed by basically saying, look, I don’t care if Feinstein was nice to the kiddies or not.

For one, she’s kinda right. We aren’t getting the GND. She’s wrong about why not, but we’re not getting it because we don’t have the votes.

But actually, the reason I spoke up is that WE FOUND OUT THAT OUR SECRETARY OF LABOR GAVE A SWEETHEART DEAL TO A GUY WHO RAN A CHILD RAPE RING YESTERDAY. Oh, and our President defended him and say Acosta has done a swell job as Sec of Labor and “all that was a long time ago.”

Yeah, by now some of the girls they raped will be all of 19.

Was that in my Twitter feed? Nope, my Twitter feed was 80 percent Feinstein and 20 percent Klobucher. BUT SHE ABUSED HER STAAAAAAAAAAF.

Yeah, and? ACOSTA made a deal with Trump/Clinton/Dersh buddy Jeffery Epstein that GAVE PERMANENT IMMUNITY TO ANYBODY IMPLICATED. I REPEAT. PERMANENT IMMUNITY. That meant that as part of that plea deal, all his buddies who passed around young women–some as young as 13 and 14–would be entirely free from questioning.


Fortunately, the courts don’t have their heads up their asses and rendered that plea deal illegal.

I wouldn’t have complained if my feed had been like 60 percent Feinstein and 10 percent Klobucher and 30 percent Epstein. But I had NOTHING on Epstein. Nothing. Let me clear about how big a deal this is:

He plead the fifth about the PRESIDENT OF THE US. We have these randy old bastards passing girls as young as 14 around like the Sunday sprouts, and you want me to bbe super duper extra special outraged about Feinstein/Klobucher/HRC/AOC/Warren/whoever.

Then there is this nonsense:

WHAT THE ACTUAL F IS WRONG WITH YOUR BRAIN? First of all, by spending all of your time nattering on about female Democrats, you drown out discussion of CHILD RAPE in this instance. I agree, abusing staff sucks. CHILD RAPE SUCKS MORE.

By spending 100 percent of our time on Democratic women, we erase the fact that our PRESIDENT RAN A “MODELING AGENCY” that brought girls to Jeffrey Epstein. By all means, let’s fill everybody’s eyeballs with our righteous indignation about women who should be better.

The idea that we can “perfect” women by endlessly discussing their faults is a strong theme in the patriarchy, and it’s horse shit. Believing that THEY should be subjected to criticism while you “give up” on Republicans is the height of political cowardice.

Should we primary Feinstein if she runs again? Sure, ok, I’m in. I’m sure Newsom and the California Dems have somebody who would be a great stand-in if we want to demand her resignation. Fine. See? Handled that in a sentence.

Should Klobucher resign? I dunno yet. Maybe. If we demand her resignation, does Walz have somebody good to replace her?

She sounded damn good to me in her town hall. That’s exactly the sort of women that Russians would hate a lot. I need a little more time. Why? BENGHAZI! BUT HER EMAILSSSSSSS. That’s why I double-scrutinize allegations leveled at women. Sorry about that. Let’s, by all means, hold her accountable–after we get the full amount of evidence and not the “whisper network.”


Maybe all the California HSR hot takes are confusing because there are no good hot takes to be had

Gavin Newsom announced yesterday that he was going to keep supporting HSR as governor, but that he committed to finishing the Fresno-Merced segment and is, for now, letting go of the likely secondary phases of getting the service into LA and San Francisco.  I think that’s a fair representation of what he said.

There were various hot-takes, with coverage being all over the map as “this is Newsom walking back on HSR” to “this is Newsom redoubling the state’s commitment to the project!”  It left my head swimming by the end from reading all the hot takes from Transit Twitter yesterday.  (It is kinda funny that my iPad autocorrect changes hot takes to “hostages.” So, so meta.) 

Beloved colleague Marlon Boarnet pointed us to Henry Grabar’s nice piece up on Slate about the general feasibility of HSR in the US, and how most places aren’t the disaster that California currently is. He interprets Newsom’s comments as walking back the project. I am less sure. I also don’t agree that California HSR is a “disaster.” All projects, large and small, are messy and take more time and resources than you want them to, and evaluating most in the middle is a mug’s game. I reserve “disaster” for events where people die, just like I won’t allow for their to be any “war on” language when there aren’t tanks rolling.

 I think the general problem with trying to interpret Newsom’s comments as a definitive pro or con is maybe that he doesn’t know himself, and he probably shouldn’t.  We probably shouldn’t, either. Grabar is right in that these projects can be feasible, but it requires us to make good governance decisions along the way, or at least not totally f-ed up governance, and our federal leadership right now is….entirely screwed up. And could be for another six years. California isn’t getting anything out that administration unless Trumpie’s big donors here want it.

In theory, California could finance the entire project by itself. In practice, we still don’t have a really stable, sufficient funding source for the capital.   And that adds a lot to the capital risk, especially with putting lots of up-front investment into places that aren’t likely to be big markets for the service, like Central Valley cities.

The decision made years ago to start construction in the Central Valley created some path dependencies we can’t hop out of easily now.  There were benefits and costs to that choice, and it’s useless to repeat now the concerns I raised then because that brings crying over spilled milk to new levels. It’s probably better to acknowledge that Newsom’s signaling that we are going to finish the “Valley to Valley” segment first attempts to follow through on delivering at least some of the project’s envisioned benefits: the construction work is good for the people who get it (local benefits), and if our wildest dreams come true, what gets built will be operational and inspirational in a few years, and the rest of the state will clamor for their projects.

Less optimistically, we will spend a big chunk of change and get very little in the way of riders and the project becomes a poster boy for rail boondoggle among rail’s persistent opposition.

The fact that Newsom didn’t go there suggests something important: this project is less of a governing priority than things like housing where he has come out swinging. He’s kicking the can down the road a bit on HSR, and I think not really in a bad way.

Later, perhaps, when the project starts to get finished, people may get some clarity on how the state shouldn’t fund infrastructure systems on a few bond measures and cap-and-trade money that is going bounce around from year to year. To create a statewide network, we need a dedicated, long-term funding source, period.

I can say it out loud because I have tenure and I’m not running for office. The reason why this project has been fragile from the beginning was the unwillingness of its proponents to get that question answered first.

Unfortunately, “later” in a time of climate crisis is bad, but as far as I can tell, Newsom doesn’t really have a lot of choices here. If he does, I’d be glad to hear of them.

Helping students with anxiety and managing yours

Twitter had an upset last week when a professor of dubious decency wrote an ill-advised email mocking students’ disability accommodations that were designed to help a student with anxiety during an exam because great professor bro felt like his “exams were intended to cause anxiety.”

There was a lot of shaming this dude, which he deserves, but social media is often not very good at anything past that, and if there were long threads on the issues that I missed, I apologized–I am also sad because I probably could have learned from them. If you have any to share with me, please do.

In planning, it’s very hard to move up the career ladder with social anxiety, so you have to learn to cope or you will be stuck hard; the more you move up the ladder, the more public the job becomes. (Ditto with professoring). We don’t want a field to be nothing but extroverts who love to be the center of attention, talking and performing, though Lord bless them, I have hidden behind many of them. Quiet, shy people have a lot of give if we make space and help them occupy it.

I dealt with my social anxiety over the years as a consultant and teacher by powering through, and it was difficult. And it also leads to me an understanding: you want better answers to helping students learn to function with anxiety than “SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP” and “Oh, you poor dear thing, you aren’t capable.” The latter is not what student accommodations do, but I do tend to think that some profs, once they see the anxiety in a student, tend to withdraw. It’s messy, and if they don’t push they won’t be guilty of anything, but they won’t be responsible for anything either.

To wit, students with disabilities need mentors just like everybody else does, and just because a teacher has or has not experienced what a student has does not release them from their responsibilities to help raise up other people. There’s far too much of this damn “I can only mentor young white male geniuses or pretty pretty little white girls with pleasing manners” nonsense from white male scholars. Sometimes things get messy, and that means when you have been fortunate to have a life that has allowed to thrive, your duty is to pull others along with you, best you can. (That last rider is important).

This is different from assuming that you as an abled, white or cis-male mentor can meet a students’ needs. Students do need people who understand their struggle, and cis-white people in particular don’t get it and there’s no reason why oppressed students should trust them. I try anyway on all sorts of dimensions; there are things that all people need, regardless, and that I can help anybody with. You need somebody to promote your work? I can do that. You need a little loan to get home to see your people so you don’t go cray? I can help with that. Need a coffee? Broke but craving a princess-y lunch? I love princess-y lunches and am happy for the company. Just because white people can’t understand everything a black student goes through doesn’t mean they are off the hook for supporting and loving in ways that they can.

You don’t walk–buts lotsa dudes do, as evidenced in this bullshit headline: Another Side of #MeToo: Male Managers Fearful of Mentoring Women. I knew this was coming. There’s been a lot fixing that headline to great effect, but my fix is “Some men can’t mentor women unless they hold all the power.” Power between a student and a mentor need not be an all-or-nothing endeavor, and it’s wrong to act that it is.

More pragmatically, mentoring people with *difficult* struggles (not just, hey-hook-polished-me-up-with-your-high-powered-buds) takes time. It takes time from you being the glorious you you can be when you don’t help your brothers and sisters pick up their load. That means two things. Those of us who feel this duty, especially mentors of color helping students cope with oppression, get overloaded. And it means students often get short shrift from the most “famous” faculty mentors because one way you get famous is by investing in yourself constantly rather than investing your time in other people. Striking this balance is a tough one in the academy: you can do more for students externally the more famous you are, so if you *dont‘* take care of that side of things, you will be a well-intentioned support without entry to the elite professional networks students need to get ahead. Go too far that way and you become useless in other ways, cherry-picking easy students who are likely to get where they are going anyway.

This is all by way of saying that I’m really grateful for student accommodations. They give me a place to start with students when, without them, neither the student nor I may know how to best go forward. With learning to live with anxiety or anything else, you take things in small doses, controlling the situation so that you can learn to adapt as you go. With every student, disability or no, good teachers recognize where a student is and work from there.

BONUS Story: David Sloane has been a wonderful mentor to me. Once he asked me to go grab dinner at a new place on campus he liked. I thought I was pretty good at hiding how I lose it when my routine gets disrupted, but we got upstairs to the place and it was Lemonade, which is cafeteria style. OMG I HAVE TO MAKE CHOICES FAST AND IN FRONT OF PEOPLE I WILL PROBABLY DIE. So I am standing there hating myself for being worried about something normal people just get on with doing, and David starts in explaining what is there, what he usually does, and I find myself getting like entirely pissed that he is treating me like a five-year old, like I don’t need help, like I can do this…and then after I get over that rush of anger at him and myself, I felt so cared for. I had been seen when I had spent so many years covering up my problems–these situations were prime moments of emotional abuse in school and in family (because who for chrissakes can explain Maxwell’s electromagnetic field equation when she is 10 but can’t freaking manage a cafeteria?)–and he just made everything all right with simple, loving leadership. No wonder USC makes him do every leadership thing it can.

An Open Letter to Mr. Stanley Gold, USC Board of Trustees

Dear Mr. Gold:

The LA Times attributed this statement to you:

That prompted a trustee, Stanley Gold, who managed the late Roy Disney’s investment holdings, to issue his own letter Tuesday afternoon, deriding the professors as “know-nothing vigilantes.”

from the LA Times https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-usc-trustees-meeting-20190123-story.html:

You said that in a letter? When you had time to edit and rethink? Any chance they misquoted you? Because I truly hope it was a misquote. Out of context, maybe?

We who formed the concerned faculty group know this university intimately. We are here, teaching, day in and day out. Whose writing, publishing, and teaching got us those coveted higher rankings? I don’t think it was yours, and as effective as our administrators have been at boosting our signal, we, the faculty and our students, delivered the goods.

Speaking about us as though we are mere uppity employees diminishes both us and the institution.

Do we know Board politics? No. But we shouldn’t. Your comments and the behavior reported in the Times about a small number of men on the Board of Trustees reflect self-involved, rich men’s egos rather than the leadership we need. We need people on our board who understand two things:

  • the point of the university is not to annoint elites but to advance the human endeavor for enlightenment; and
  • a truly great university faculty is marked not by its deference to CEO-style leaders like Nikias, but by its intellectual and moral fearlessness in pursuing what is true and what is good.

Perhaps I am a fool in the world of the 21st century to believe these things, but I do.

This university has real problems. In addition to the decades-long powderkeg of sexual misconduct, our students, staff, and faculty suffer from crushing housing costs in Los Angeles. Some are homeless. Our contract employees have few benefits and little connection to our community. Just about every year, a student on campus takes their own life.

When you look at these problems, whether Jim Ellis’ feelings got hurt on his way to collect three more years of his lavish salary falls, deservedly, into the “cry me a river” problem category. I am sorry if he feels he was badly treated. That’s unfortunate, but worthy of two months’ squabbling, let alone airing the Board’s dirty laundry to the Times, it is not.

Less important than our real problems, certainly, is the fact that I want you to know that far from being a wild-eyed mob looking to exact vengeance Nikias or any other men, the concerned faculty agonized over how to approach the BoT about our concerns. The day I signed the original letter was one of the worst days of my professional life, and it wasn’t because I was worried about my job.

Mr. Gold, signing that letter broke my heart. It broke my heart.

But it was the right thing to do. I am sorry you do not see that.

Martin Luther King wrote a really important piece of political philosophy

Letter from a Birmingham Jail is an extended argument about the relationship between law and justice, the difference between those two terms and the duties to resist and change unjust laws. It is a call to action: he takes to tasks his fellow pastors and white moderates who are wringing their hands instead of joining him and his peers in the fight to change unjust laws and practices.

He helps moderns understand Plato’s Crito about when, perhaps, one should choose solidarity over individual right, and when you should choose the latter, and why time and patience can be oppression’s most powerful allies.

Much gets emphasized about MLK on his birthday: he gets quoted out of context, then we have lots of fights about how people have tried to defang him when he was really a revolutionary who stood not just for justice in civil rights, but also against poverty. I’m sure those worried about his cooptation are right.

One thing that gets lost sometimes, however, in that back and forth, is his sheer brilliance. “Letter from” is a masterpiece of composition and political thought that deserves a place in any class on justice theory.

You can find it here.

I don’t know what else to say about Dr. King other than, like lots of Black people destroyed by white violence, he should have had the rest of his time.

Trump’s WonderWall is teaching us about what happens when we dump cost-benefit analysis–and it’s not good

We all know the critiques of cost-benefit and EIR analyses. They are pseudo-science; they are political, agencies and politicos manipulate them, etc. As somebody who has done these things for a long time, though, I really still believe in them for their rhetorical value. No, they aren’t science. They don’t have to be. But they are a means of both a) engaging in and b) disciplining the imaginaries we construct around new projects. I’m not saying they provide all the info we need, or that they are the only decision criteria we should use. I am saying that they are a useful means for generating discussion.

We don’t have this with The WonderfulWall. And it’s bad.

I have found lots of conservative media references to ‘an internal report from the Department of Homeland Security’, but I can’t find the report itself. Just reporting on it from Reuters.

I also found a report from a stat prof Liberty Vittert writing for FoxNews where s/he puts the cost at about $25 B using a quick and dirty method. Ok. Vittert want us to know that it’s impossible to understand the consequences of the wall, but then mentions the goodies before concluding “Meh”:

Now, I’ve estimated the cost of the wall to be about $25 billion, but many of the estimates given by other sources include many other factors: how many more or fewer border agents are needed; reduction of “virtual” walls; on-going maintenance; economic costs to border towns; reductions in human trafficking and illegal immigration; reduction in drug trafficking; etc.

There are so many factors that “might increase” or “might decrease” that as a statistician, I can tell you it is empirically impossible to calculate all of the unintended consequences – good or bad – that the wall might cause. Anyone saying otherwise is flat out wrong.

Let’s give a litany of benefits, including the really, really dodgy claim about controlling smuggling, and then throw up our hands and say “who knows?”.

If it’s really the case you are lying if you think you know the future consequences, then why build anything? Why risk anything? We wind up looking towards the future through a glass darkly–the same we are doomed to look at our past–but throwing up your hands like this is frankly irresponsible.

And then they later then gives us an anecdote about going to Ellis Island with her dad and finding her grandma there! How sweet! Who cares? I have no idea what that story is meant to communicate about immigration policy other than the usual conservative assumption that things were so much better back in the day.

Cato estimates the cost more along the lines of about $60B. My quick and dirty calculation with risk factors put it lower, about $40B to $29B. I found a HuffPo report on an MIT study that puts the cost around $40B, but I can’t find the MIT study. AND IT’S DRIVING ME CRAZY. But anyway, a good rule is that when you have experts landing around the some number, it’s ok for going on with it. Cato writes:

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently sent a letter to Congress where it argued that $5.7 billion would pay for approximately 234 miles of a new physical steel barrier along the border.  That new estimate comes to about $24.4 million per mile.  This new OMB estimate is 41 percent more costly than the approximately $17.3 million per mile construction costs that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated just a few years ago, 2.7 times as expensive as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan estimated, and 5 times as expensive as Trump’s lowest estimate

So that’s the $5B number, and it’s per-mile breakdown from OMB, but why the 234 miles? Is that all they want to build?

This is all by way of saying, nobody in the United States would get away with asking for $1 million funding for a rail project without a way, way better cost-benefit analysis for the project. We have some cost analysis–some–but all we have for benefit analysis is a lot of blah blah. Am I missing that report?

And that’s kind of my point. As flawed as EIRs and C-B analyses are, they at least provide a framework for having a deliberation about what future consequences we want and how to deal with the ones we don’t want. Right now, it’s all just unabated conservative fantasyland.

Oh Lookie! The wall (fence) between Egypt and Israel works works works! (What do we mean works? Can we establish that Walls work! That’s why we put walls around prisoners, ya know! Walls make your house stand up! Of course they work! What would your cells be without walls, Huh? Huh? WATER THAT’S WHAT.

THINK OF HOW MUCH MONEY WE’LL SAVE ON BORDER PATROL! Come on. What are the actual costs of operating and maintaining the wall? Israel’s WonderWall I suspect *expanded* labor requirements. Do we know? Nope.

BUT THAT STOPPED ALL THE PEOPLE CROSSING. Um, maybe it stopped them crossing *there at that location* or smuggling *at that location*. But did it decrease human trafficking and smuggling overall? Can we show that terrorism is lower?

But WE’LL MAKE JOBS AT THE SAME TIME. (while controlling Border Patrol costs). And $5 billion is NOTHING, NOTHING compared to what we waste elsewhere. (Amazing. We have to cut Social Security because there is absolutely no money, but there’s just a lot of extra money lying all over for a wall.)

I have yet to see a real analysis of the security benefits here. For people who are claiming there are oodles of precedents, that’s inexcusable.

I am the worst teacher known to humankind, yesterday proves

Ok, so well yesterday was the first day of teaching and to say I am off my game is a bit of an understatement.

Something is going on with me, and I don’t know what it is. Part of it is a depression that seems to be coming and going, related to my chronic illness. It is hard to work through depression, but it’s not like I haven’t done so before.

Part of it is becoming a full professor, and not really knowing what that job is or what I am working for at this point, even though I should by now know what the job is and what I am working for, granted that I am a full professor and the dealio on that is that you get it once you establish that lots of people think you know how to do the job well, I guess, even if you yourself don’t think that.

Part of it is being jerked around on classes, and not being jerked around on classes. If I teach the same class in the same way for too long, it can get boring for me, but constant updating takes time. Then there are new course preps, forced on me by bad decisions that other people have made. New course preps are often awful, and I’m feeling super duper out of my league teaching Urban Informatics this semester on the one hand, and a class I’ve taught for nearly 10 years on the other. The new course prep sucks up the time I should use to giving the established a spruce-up make it interesting. If I give time to that class, it takes time from getting myself together for the new prep.

Then, of course, there is the fact that USC feels like a powder keg, where some leaders are trying to get us to get our act together but meet a solid brick of wall of old men who want their status and prestige maintained, no matter what, and who run off to their pet billionaire if they don’t get their way. The thing about abusive places and people…you begin to understand them and what you can and can’t do. It’s solid ground to stand on, even if it’s mean, and even if it is wrecking you, fast or slow. But right now it feels like we are trying to stealthily move out of the apartment on an abusive boyfriend/father who could reappear at any minute and destroy the tiny dreams of selfhood we’ve been bold enough to nurture.

Yesterday, the first day of teaching, then, was a terrible mess, in both classes, but in my Urban Informatics class in particular. I have struggled and struggled with the syllabus, and finally, I decided that I was overthinking it. I decided I needed to run the class like a workshop. Just give them data, show them how to do things with the data, reflect on what we are learning with the activities, and on the way they learn how to do stuff in R and Python and–what matters most to me–they begin to understand how to learn from and communicate with data.

I tried to explain that yesterday. I showed them visualizations I’ve had my other classes do, told them you can work with visualizing data using everything from R to magic markers, showed them some of my R work and some of my hand-drawn, learning graphics. I asked them if they’d like to do that in the class, and I got blank looks.

And a group of international students came up to me at the end of class and one very politely asked–and I quote: “What are you going to teach us in this class?”

Ouch. I went back through the spiel: I want you to learn to how to think about data and measurement, its validity, and how to use data to learn about cities and communicate about cities, yada yada.

Student blinks, and asks, still very polite. “But what are you going to teach us in this class?”

I sighed. “I will teach you R and Python.”

General jubilance.

Jesus wept. Or if he didn’t, I did because I really, really am not communicating while I tell other people I would like to help teach them to communicate. In my defense, I was talking about *data*, which I am generally pretty good at, and not human being speech which I am not so great at.

What am I doing?

Mass Transit Student Visualizations Fall 2018

My students took on various projects this fall, and I am very proud of what they worked on, so I asked their permission to share. Because they had a LOT of projects to do and to choose from, we spent less time perfecting graphics than we did telling stories with data. As a result, be gentle.

Full portfolios from contributors

Did I miss anybody? Let me know if I did.