by Sunita

Readerlinks are back!

This article on McDonald’s as a community space resonated with me because I see these kinds of groupings in small towns when we drive cross-country. It’s the only time we eat in McD’s, and we don’t always go inside. But when we do, whether it’s small-town Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nevada, or Wyoming, we’ll often see tables of old people, moms with kids, or some other community group having a meal together.

For America’s graying cohort, often sectioned off by age at places like senior centers, the dining room of a fast-food restaurant is a godsend. It’s a ready-made community center for intergenerational mingling. The cost of admission is low—the prices beckon those on fixed incomes—and crucially, the distance from home is often short. And that’s just one demographic.

In spite of the plastic seats, the harsh lighting, and in many cities, the semi-enforced time limits for diners, people of all sorts can sit and stay and stay and stay—at birthday parties, first dates, father-daughter breakfasts, Bible-study groups, teen hangs, and Shabbat dinners. Or at supervised visitations and meet-ups for recovering addicts. For those who crave the solace of a place to call home that is not home, a fast-food dining room offers it, with a side of fries.

Spending summers and holidays in the Bay Area, I see a *lot* of Teslas. A few Leafs and Bolts and Volts too, but mostly Teslas. I’m skeptical about them, precisely because I so rarely see the cost of electricity generation and materials mining properly factored into the short- and long-term costs. So I found this article comparing 100 percent battery-powered autos to hybrids
interesting. It makes total sense that that last 10-20 percent isn’t worth capturing and that hybrids are actually more ecologically sensible. It almost makes me want to buy a Prius.

The diminishing marginal utility of batteries becomes blazingly self evident the moment you understand that:

1 kWh of battery capacity in a Prius L-Eco cuts fuel consumption by almost 50%;

7.8 kWh of additional batteries can eliminate the next 40% with a Prius Prime;

31.2 kWh of additional batteries can eliminate the last 10% with a Leaf; and

60 kWh of additional batteries can accommodate road trips in a Model S.

The ugly reality becomes morally offensive when the analysis moves to a societal level where long-range EVs actually undermine efforts to cut COemissions.

If you have 100 kWh of lithium-ion batteries, you can build one Model S and save one driver 385 gallons of fuel a year, or 600 gallons per year if you assume that Model S buyers would invariably buy gas-guzzlers if they couldn’t drive electric. That same 100 kWh of lithium-ion batteries also could be used to build a 100-unit fleet of Prius L-Ecos that would each save 180 gallons of fuel per year. When I learned arithmetic, saving 18,000 gallons of fuel with 100 kWh of batteries was far more efficient than saving 385 to 600 gallons of fuel with the same 100 kWh of batteries.

Cancelling student-loan debt has become a Democratic primary contest talking point, as both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have embraced the idea. There has been a fair amount of pushback, some of it centered around overall fairness (as in, “I paid back my debt, why shouldn’t they?”) and some around the regressive nature of the proposal, i.e., not just poorer students will benefit, but more affluent families and students will have their debt erased too. This article shows that the policy isn’t nearly as regressive as critics have argued:

But the more important implication of these two charts is that while the total amount of outstanding debt in the population is indeed increasing as a function of income, the Warren proposal would greatly reduce the burden of student debt more for lower-income indebted households. This is especially clear in the green bars in the second chart, and the fact that debt burdens decline most for the least-well-off households. Just look at those green bars. The lowest earners go from owing more debt than their annual income to owing only about ⅕ as much as their annual income. That is, the least-well-off households get the largest relative relief, and the result is a roughly constant ratio of debt levels to income across the income distribution. Compare this to the status quo, in which the poorest borrowers are by far the most burdened.

This measure of progressivity—amount of the benefit, as a share of pre-forgiveness income (or wealth)—is the standard way that distributional analysis is done when evaluating policy proposals, e.g., Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The idea that it should be done on the basis of raw dollar amounts by quantile, as you find in the analyses that claim the plan is regressive, is not the standard approach taken in the evaluation of the distributional impact of policies.

Frankly, I’d support a forgiveness program even if it was somewhat regressive. Some of our near-bullet-proof programs, like Social Security and Medicare, have this feature. You get your Social Security regardless of your income level because it’s perceived to be paying you back what you put in (it isn’t, really, but that’s a conversation for another day). It’s the universal nature of the program that makes it so popular, not just the sense that it’s already “your” money. Overinclusion in policies can be a good idea. But in this case, it’s not that overinclusive! Having fewer young people burdened by debt will be good for society as a whole, not just them. We need to find a way to get them out from under.

I’ve really been enjoying my blogging return over the past few months, but blogging is still pretty last-decade as a platform. Comments are down, views are down, word-of-mouth is down. And people who enjoy having an audience (which is basically all people) have to fight that familiar feeling of discouragement:

To be honest, though, in both cases I was also a bit disappointed that the posts didn’t spark more discussion in the comments, and that set me back a bit, as it made me wonder what exactly I thought I was doing here–not a new question, and one every blogger comes back to at intervals, I’m sure. I appreciate the comments I did get, of course, and there was some Twitter discussion around the Odyssey post, which as I know has been remarked before is a common pattern now–though I can’t help but notice that there are other blogs that routinely do still get a steady flow of comments. Anyway, for a while I felt somewhat deflated about blogging and that sapped my motivation for posting. I know, I know: it’s about the intrinsic value of the writing itself, which my experience of actually writing the Woolf and Homer posts more than proved–except it isn’t quite, because if that was all, we’d write offline, right?

Well, yes and no, at least for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love having commenters and lurkers! But what has worked for me this time is treating blogging as a writing practice, one which forces me to write about a set of things every week. I’ve got a bit of a structure (not much, because come on, it’s me) with a weekly links post, Weeknotes, and reading updates. Seeing readers as friends and kind strangers who give me the gift of their attention, rather than worrying about an audience, creates a happy middle ground for me.

And finally, today is the big semi-final match between England and USA in the Women’s World Cup. I’ll leave you with The Fiver’s take on it:

Much will most likely depend on who gets the best of things on the USA! USA!! USA!!! left, where Megan Rapinoe faces down Lucy Bronze. The American co-captain has scored five goals in this tournament already, but Bronze is another level compared to anything she’s faced in France so far. Bronze also has an endearing habit of hoicking the ball into the opposition’s goal in big matches, and with net-bothering ferocity to boot. So should the Lyon right-back have another banner day, a third major semi-final win for the Lionesses in 47 years (the men really need to take a good look at themselves) is a genuine prospect. But if England don’t make it, further success for Rapinoe will really irritate Donald Trump. So in that childish yet righteous sense, it’ll be a win whatever happens.

Childish yet righteous; I couldn’t agree more. Go all the ladies!