Why are elites so worried about inequality while most Americans aren’t?

by Ryan Streeter on April 18, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

As someone who once helped build a global index of well-being that considered factors beyond purely economic ones, I have long been interested in the relationship between happiness and economic prosperity.

So I found this article in last week’s NYT Sunday Review of interest. The authors write:

Despite soaring inequality, worsened by the Great Recession, and recent grumbling about the 1 percent, Americans remain fairly happy. All of the wage gains since the downturn ended in 2009 have essentially gone to the top 1 percent, yet the proportion of Americans who say they are “thriving” has actually increased.

The authors contend that the status associated with success has been diversified in recent years, such that it’s no longer purely economic status that matters but also other factors such as whatever makes something “cool.” They conducted research on “coolness” and found some interesting things:

Asking people merely to look at products and people they considered “cool” sparked a pattern of brain activation in the medial prefrontal cortex — a part of the brain that is involved in daydreaming, planning and ruminating — similar to what happens when people receive praise. Our brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, in short, tracks our social esteem.

Their thesis is interesting. It turns out, they argue, that happiness is driven by feeling connected to something that is socially esteemed. This might matter more to most people than climbing the economic ladder. One can argue whether or not this is good or important, but it’s more evidence that there’s more to homo economicus than we previously thought.

Place over space – how do you decide where to live?

by Ryan Streeter on April 17, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

At its core, the simple life for us was wrapped up in our appreciation for walkability. That summarizes our family’s definition of a good place, and that’s what we tell our realtor every time. We want to be able to walk to the coffee shop, grocery and pub. We’ve resided in apartments and townhouses. Once we even tried a single-family home. Today, as a family of four, we live in a downtown high-rise with two teenagers. We haven’t owned a lawn mower since 2001.

That’s my wife, Kathryn, describing how “place over space wasn’t a philosophy of living my husband and I carefully studied and neatly selected. It found us along the way, growing stronger with every move.” Read the whole thing here.

The ten best cities for post-graduates

by Ryan Streeter on April 14, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Rent.com has come out with its list of the top 10 cities for recent college graduates.

Contrast the list below with the data on where millennials are actually moving, featured in this post. The latter shows a lot of migration to cities in the south where opportunity is rich and cost is lower. The Rent.com list is based on a combination of factors such as jobs per 1,000 residents, percentage of millennials, unemployment and concentration of bars and restaurants.

It is thus a list determined a bit more by what people think millennials want than what migration data say about what they actually seem to want. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting combination of cities.

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What’s your biggest household line item?

by Ryan Streeter on April 13, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Do you save more than you spend driving around each month?

This is the most interesting graph I’ve seen all week:

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It comes from WSJ’s Real Time Economics blog. Only the top 10% spend more on retirement and insurance than they spend on transportation. The spread on food between rich and poor was not as much as I would have thought. It’s the final category,”Pensions and Insurance,” which clearly shows what separates the rich and poor.

The transportation issue comes into clearer relief when you read about it in the context of commuting to where the jobs are. This issue is increasingly important in the fight against poverty. It’s best illustrated in this graph, from the same blog:

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David Brooks: “Life is essentially a moral drama, not a hedonistic one”

by Ryan Streeter on April 13, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Day to day we seek our pleasure, but deep down, human beings are endowed with moral imagination. All human beings seek to lead lives not just of pleasure, but of purpose, righteousness, and virtue. As John Stuart Mill put it, people have a responsibility to become more moral over time. The best life is oriented around the increasing excellence of the soul and tranquillity that comes as a byproduct of a successful moral struggle. The meaningful life is the same eternal thing, the combination of some set of ideals and some man or woman’s struggle for those ideals. Life is essentially a moral drama, not a hedonistic one.

That’s David Brooks via Rod Dreher. The former’s new book comes out tomorrow, and the latter’s excellent meditations on the book are here.

Brooks writes in his book about how our focus on “resume virtues” too often comes at the expense of “eulogy virtues.” I very much look forward to reading it.

Where is the land of opportunity for America’s two most aspirational groups, millennials and immigrants?

by Ryan Streeter on March 20, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

The renewed movement of population to the Sunbelt suggests that the South, and parts of the West, will continue to gain influence. California, although clearly still a powerhouse, appears to have passed its demographic apogee and increasingly resembles the slow-growth states of the Northeast.

That’s from this January article by Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox that I was re-reading this morning. Their claim is based on an analysis of where millennials, the largest generational group in America’s history, and immigrants have been moving, and which regional economies are growing the fastest. Did you know that half of the nation’s fastest-growing technology companies are in the south?

The importance of this development is more than just the numbers. It’s what the numbers show about two of the nation’s most aspirational groups: rising young workers with their entire careers ahead of them, and immigrants who have come to the land of opportunity to make a life.

Regarding young workers, when you look at where 25-34 year olds are moving at the fastest clip, you find the top 6 states:

are all in the South – Nashville, Tenn., San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Orlando, Fla., and Jacksonville, Fla. Their ranks of young, educated workers have grown more strongly than in coastal California or Northeastern metropolitan areas. Some locales, such as Portland, Ore., and San Diego, which have prided themselves as magnets for young educated people, seem to be losing their appeal.

Regarding newcomers:

Immigrants have accounted for roughly 40 percent of the country’s population growth during 2010-14. Once heavily concentrated in the Northeast and California, immigrants now also appear to be heading to the lower-cost regions of the South and Texas. Indeed, since 2010, the Southeast – including Texas – has led the nation in terms of newcomers, adding 1.5 million immigrants to their populations. This is roughly 50 percent more than the migration to either the Northeast or the West Coast.

Austin, SF, and Tel Aviv top the list of top tech cities

by Ryan Streeter on March 2, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Austin, San Francisco and Tel Aviv are the top ranking cities for tech companies, according to a report by international real estate advisor Savills. Proving small cities are big hitters on the global stage.

That’s from Savill’s new global report on the best tech cities.

Here are the top cities:

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I’ve heard a few comments about this report here in my new hometown, Austin. They are pretty much in the “well, yeah, of course” category.

People in Austin seem to be used ranking on top of this-or-that list, so they don’t really dwell on it. They are just looking for the next thing to do and achieve.

As a new guy in Austin, I find the rankings more interesting than the people I’m bumping into in this-or-that food truck court.

The release on the report also says:

[S]maller cities with their significant creative population offer some things that mega cities just can’t.  City living on a smaller footprint can give residents shorter commute (Savills finds the average commute for tech cities employees is 31 minutes), accessibly by bike, easier to access amenities and a better work/life balance – but with all the buzz of larger urban centres.  Austin has also seen recent population growth, GDP growth, and house price growth – its stand out economic growth rivals the bigger cities and the median average age is only 31 years.

As someone who’s older than the “median average age” and who rides his bike to work, I can affirm that Austin is a special place. People here complain about the traffic all the time, but having lived in Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta, and London, I can only say the commute here is still way better than it is in most large global cities.  And access to fantastic food and music per square foot is off the charts compared to the other cities on that chart above.

I haven’t lived in San Francisco, but I’ve spent a summer there. I’d still say “move to Austin” if you had a choice between the two.

A generation of change: How America has changed for 18-34 year olds in 2 charts

by Ryan Streeter on February 28, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

I was re-reading this Mark Perry post and struck by the stories the following two charts tell. Read the whole post for Perry’s more detailed analysis.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 2.29.31 PMIf the preceding chart shows how much the rising generation has change in terms of income, race, ethnicity, and family patterns, the following shows how the geography of opportunity has shifted from manufacturing centers to knowledge centers:

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Rubio and Summers as a guide to 2016

by Ryan Streeter on February 13, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

The biggest philosophical difference between Rubio and Summers is this: Rubio sees government as a bridge helping people to get into the marketplace, while the Summers document argues that the marketplace is structurally flawed throughout and that government has to be a partner all the way along.

That’s David Brooks using Marco Rubio’s book and Larry Summers’ new paper as a guide to the philosophical dividing lines going into 2016.

Reading the column brought to mind John Micklethwait’s parting column at the Economist last month.

Two great debates are forming that will redefine liberalism. The first is to do with inequality. A more open society, where global markets increase the rewards for the talented, is fast becoming a less equal one. As this newspaper pointed out last week, the clever are marrying the clever and manically educating their children, making it ever harder for the poor to catch up. Liberals should resist the left’s inclination to punish the talented and somehow to mandate equality. But in the name of equal opportunity, progressives need to hack away at unnecessary privileges…But [progressives of the 19th century] also believed in a smaller state. This is the second debate forming around liberalism, and a dilemma: for although this newspaper wants government’s role to be limited, some of the remedies for inequality involve the state doing more, not less…The answer is to scale down government, but to direct it more narrowly and intensely. In Europe, America and Japan the state still tries to do too much, and therefore does it badly. Leviathan has sprawled, invading our privacy, dictating the curve of a banana and producing tax codes of biblical length. With each tax break for the already rich and with each subsidy to this business or that pressure group, another lobby is formed, and democracy suffers.

It seems that Rubio and Summers generally agree on the first dilemma, that of unequal economic growth. And it is their disagreement on the 2nd point, namely the scope of the state, that will define much of the debate leading up to 2016.

Texas and Florida win, Illinois and New York lose…again

by Ryan Streeter on February 11, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Internal migration is the major force for redistribution of population across states. In numbers, the big gaining states are to Texas and Florida, as has been the case for quite a while, but there are strong gains in Colorado and Arizona as well. In terms of migration gains, increasingly prominent are North and South Carolina and Tennessee, and even Washington.  The biggest losing states are again as they have been for some time:  New York, Illinois, New Jersey, California (to other states in the west), Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

That’s from this New Geography piece by Richard Morrill.

I’ve long been fascinated with the economic, political, and cultural factors behind domestic and international migration. Why do some states or countries lose people while others gain?

I’ve written a few times about Texas’s dominance, especially compared with California, since they are the two largest states in America. Little did I know while writing those posts that I would move to Austin, Texas one day. My family and I arrived in the Republic of Texas at the very end of December 2014. So I’ve helped contribute to that big black dot you see here:

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