Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sex, Drugs, and Guns in the NY Times

Some interesting numbers in the NYT talking about a Justice Dept. funded Urban Institute (UI) study about the size and nature of the underground sex, drugs, and gun businesses:

The study itself is here:

It can be quite dense and mathematical, but the numbers reported in the NYT surprised me in that the size of the underground gun market is *huge*.  In some cities (not all) it is bigger than the drug or sex economy. (Click on graphic below to enlarge)

This raises some interesting questions.  Is there any point to gun laws at all when the illegal gun industry is so enormous?  One school of thought says since there has been no progress in suppressing the underground drug or sex industry, we should make them legal so as to regulate them and tax them, providing protection and help to those who are victims of drug addiction or forced prostitution.  What to do about the illegal gun industry?

Disclaimer:  I am most emphatically *NOT* in the gun fight on *EITHER* side - I think there are more important social issues, like the very high HS drop out rate.  People without a way to get a job often turn to crime.  I just thought the numbers from the UI study raised some interesting questions.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Are We Done with Growth?

We have assumed growth will continue indefinitely as it has since the first Industrial Revolution in the 1700's.

This is part of the mythos of Silicon Valley - continued innovation and continued growth forever!

A National Bureau of Economics Research paper suggests that growth is not historically the natural order. There was no growth in GDP per capita before 1750 and once the three Industrial Revolutions (steam, electricity, computers) permeate the world population there will be (already is) a slowing down and things may return to a stable GDP per person as it was before 1750.  The paper is here:

(or search on "NBER Working Paper 18315")

From the paper abstract:
"A provocative “exercise in subtraction” suggests that future growth in consumption per capita for the bottom 99 percent of the income distribution could fall below 0.5 percent per year for an extended period of decades."

'But aren't we growing again?  Isn't it all around us?  What say you to that, dolorous fellow?'

Well, we may currently be in a bubble ("what? - A-GAIN!?") witness the Russell 2000 which is small cap stocks.  After a downturn the first to recover are big cap stocks (safest), followed by mid-cap, followed by small caps like the Russell 2000.  Available here (in a log scale so it is more extreme than it at first appears):

The Federal Reserve is printing massive amounts of money to purchase mortgages and bonds to help the economy recover.  This may not be having the intended effect of making people and companies buy more goods and get manufacturing and retail going again leading to higher employment in turn leading to more purchasing.  Instead all this new money may be going into "asset bubbles"  Assets are housing and stocks.

This doesn't mean things will collapse as they did in 2008.  The economy may just stop growing for a while to let inflation whittle down "real" prices.  Or it may all collapse.  Or something inbetween.  No one knows.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

CA Common Core "Acceleration Options"

I went to the CA Dept. of Ed. web site mentioned in the letter from Ms. Abreu-Coito:

about Common Core (CC) math.

In document "Acceleration Options" in the appendix (near the bottom), they discuss various ways to enable students to get ahead faster.  Specific recommendations for those judged capable:

1. "standards from Grade 7, Grade 8, and the Algebra I (or Mathematics I) course could be compressed into an accelerated pathway for students in grades 7 and 8" (lines 96-97).
2. "When considering accelerated pathways, it is recommended to compact three years of material into two years, rather than compacting two years into one." (lines 136-138).
2. offer Summer Courses in Common Core math so students can do 3 years of CC math in 2 years (lines 182-183)
3. offering Geometry along with Algebra 1 (line 178 in the doc.).  This is actually an advantage since there is virtually no relation between algebra and geometry and spending a year in geometry without algebra means everyone forgets algebra 1 by the time they take algebra 2.

It would seem that there are several ways you could still get Geometry in the 8th grade sanctioned by the CA Dept. of Ed .

1.  Compact CC math for grades 4-5-6 into grades 4-5 then grades 7 and 8 CC math are offered in grade grades 6 and 7 respectively, allowing algebra in grade 8, with an option for simultaneously taking geometry in grade 8.

2.  Compact CC math for 6-7-8 into 6-7 offering algebra 1 simultaneously with geometry as an option in grade 8. This is essentially one of the options now.

3.  Compact 3-4-5 into 3-4 followed by compacting 6-7-8 into 5-6, then starting Algebra 1 in 7th and geometry in 8th.  This is essentially what is available now.

4.  Offer CC math grade 6 and 8 in Summer school so those leaving 5th grade could take CC grade 6 math in Summer, CC grade 7 math in grade 6, followed by CC grade 8 math in Summer, leaving Algebra 1 for grade 7 and Geometry for grade 8.

Option 4 is an extra expense and for that reason is more likely to be cut in an economic downturn.

Both my sons took Kumon math starting from the 4th grade through calculus with AP Stat and AP Calc BC in HS.  My older one is now profoundly grateful for all that as he tutors his college class mates in math and realizes how advantaged he is in that crucial area.  The younger one (grudgingly :) ) admits it helped.

FWIW, I have a BS in Physics and an MA in math and I taught math for a few years in public HS's.

- Michael Goldman

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cities on Verge of Bankruptcy?

If you search on "Cities on the verge of bankruptcy" you get over 8M hits.  Some results from the last 6 months or so.  Budgets aren't comparable because some cities include the public schools while others have separate school systems with their own independent budgets for schools.  Some cities do everything, others leave many responsibilities to the county government.
  1. LA: pop 3.8M, annual budget $7.2B - Since 2008 cut civilian workforce from 14,000 to 9,000 - huge cuts to the police and fire departments, cutting the Recreation and Parks Department. , and
  2. San Diego: pop 1.3M. annual budget $2.8B - severe cuts to public/higher education sectors, fire engine cutbacks, etc.
  3. San Jose: pop 971,000, annual budget $2.8B - just laid off police officers. Last year, laid off firefighters, closed libraries, community centers.
  4. San Francisco: pop 800,000, annual budget $7.3B (City and County of SF combined):
  5. Washington, DC: pop 600,000, annual budget $9.6B including $3.2B in Federal funds -
  6. Baltimore, MD: pop 620,000, annual budget $2.7B - (very hard to find the actual budget numbers in city reports).  Implemented rotating fire company closures; shortened library hours and the swimming pool season; cut funding for an array of services, including park maintenance, street lighting, median mowing, cable television, and the 311 call center; and abolished more than 1,000 positions. The City also deferred $7 million in contributions to the Affordable Housing Fund and reduced Motor Vehicle Fund capital spending from $60 million to zero. and Citizens Guide to the Fiscal 2012 Budget

Lists 10 CA cities in "distress".  Includes San Jose, Oakland, & Fresno.

Adds Honolulu, HA; NYC, NY; and Chicago IL to the mix.