Arthur Gardner was an electrician. Born in 1883, one year after Thomas Edison turned on the lights for 59 customers in Lower Manhattan, my grandfather was part of a new and rapidly growing occupation. He spent his workdays running wire through the homes of Chicago’s wealthy South Shore neighborhood. Electricity displaced the use of coal gas, which, in its turn, had displaced oil lamps and candles. Just as gas lighting propelled an expansion of industrial production and improved literacy, electricity—good for so much more than lighting—made vast new industries possible.
Arthur raised a family of gearheads—amateur engineers who tinkered with every kind of technology. My father began a career in computers in 1960, taking night classes in computer programming languages throughout my childhood. Coding books—FORTAN, COBOL, RPG—littered our basement. When our car needed winter “ballast” for snowy streets, we threw in 8 or 10 boxes of IBM cards. I still have a few. Read more »
Oscar Wilde’s quip, “the truth is never pure and rarely simple,” is flagrantly ignored by the “Best Places/Top Cities” industry. Yes, these “top XX” lists have been around since Athens v. Sparta. We’ve had decades with the “Best Places to Live” lists; U.S. News & World Report turned rankings into a market segment. For WalletHub, with revenue driven by the “eyes” attracted to its website, it’s the whole business model. And now that we’re awash in data, it is ever cheaper to capture someone’s attention with a new ranking. Should we be paying attention? Read more »
As one of Rochester’s resident data geeks, I often find myself explaining why we don’t know what we don’t know. At the “micro” level—e.g. an individual firm—we have become accustomed to knowing more and more about our customers and what they buy, where they buy it and when they buy it. A sophisticated food retailer like Wegmans, for example, can tell you how many gallons of milk were sold yesterday at each of its 89 stores. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they could tell us how many gallons of 2% were sold in Pennsylvania last Tuesday between 10 and 11 am! High volume, low margin retailers depend on this information to keep the shelves filled, satisfy customers, and improve their bottom line.
Aggregate information about our communities—milk consumption is one thing but what about more consequential information about employment, income and educational attainment—is far more difficult to obtain. We rely on the same sources of information we’ve used for decades. Data on employment and earnings still depend on twice a year reporting from firms covered by federal unemployment insurance. The state and federal labor departments supplement with monthly sampling that give us a snapshot of trends that have yet to be reported under the unemployment insurance program. Just in the last decade we’ve had access to labor data that matches reporting by firms to income tax records, although this takes time and is only available after a couple of years have passed. Read more »
Governor Cuomo has been widely criticized for the modest achievements of the “Start-Up NY” economic development program. In a report released on Friday of the July 4 weekend (timing that raised eyebrows), the state attributed only 332 jobs to the program during 2015, thus a total of 408 jobs since the program’s inception.
If you’re not familiar with the program, here’s a quick summary: Firms can qualify for an exemption from most taxation—sales, property, even personal income taxes owed by individuals hired to work in the venture. And the benefits last up to 10 years. It’s a sweet deal if you qualify. Read more »
Britain America First! ??? When does patriotism evolve into hate and bigotry? America First! New York First! Rochester First! Family First! Me First! Where does it stop? Cheering for our favorite team or expressing pride in our nation must stop short of hating the other team or endorsing formal discrimination in favor of what is deemed “ours.” Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration would soon morph into a ban on American-born Muslims, to a ban on Islam itself. Is that not a small step away from a descent into warring tribes, each convinced that they alone deserve special treatment?
Next Thursday the Brits will decide whether or not they should remain in the European Union. Dubbed “Brexit,” the referendum puts the United Kingdom’s European identity to the test. The Economist/YouGov poll scores the contest at a dead heat—42% or 44% on either side with 10% on the fence. My forecast—the status quo wins when the poll is even. Brexit is dead. I think.
The poll reveals some big divisions: the young want to stay while the old want to leave; the rich want to stay while the poor want to leave; Scotland wants to stay while Wales wants to leave. Liberal Labor wants to stay while Conservative Tories want to leave. Read more »
Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time . . .
Let’s apply this perspective to apply to the problem of poverty. The persistent, concentrated poverty we confront here in Monroe County is an elephant of a problem—let me suggest a few “bites” we might be able to chew. Read more »
Got a connecting flight? As long as you’re continuing with the same airline, the gate can’t be THAT far away, right?
Not anymore. If you’ve flown through Detroit lately, you’re familiar with Delta’s McNamara Terminal. With 121 gates, the terminal boasts of 1.5 miles of moving walkway. That’s the good news. The bad news is that your connecting gate may be 1.5 miles away. Since merging with Northwest, Delta dominates flights through Detroit. Or how about Atlanta? Delta flies out of every one of Atlanta’s seven terminals, spread over nearly seven million square feet—60% larger than the Mall of America
Delta, now the oldest American airline (1924), was built from parts of Chicago and Southern, Northeast, Northwest, Republic, Hughes Airwest, Bonanza, Pacific, West Coast, North Central, American Overseas, National, Western and Standard airlines plus Southern, Pan American World, and Atlantic, Gulf, and Caribbean airways. Ranked by total passengers, Delta was the largest airline in the world in 2014. Read more »
Governor Cuomo’s push for an increase in the minimum wage has a worthy goal—providing workers with enough income to support their families. That’s a goal most of us support.
Yet as an anti-poverty strategy, a $15 minimum wage has a number of flaws, the sum of which are fatal. First, it is a shotgun blast that helps ALL low wage workers, not just breadwinners of families in poverty. We’re effectively increasing the sales tax on consumers (as prices will rise) and taxes on business (as profits will fall) and distributing the benefit to the teenage children of the middle class as well as people in poverty. Second, it eliminates jobs for the most vulnerable. Those who are the most in need are often the least skilled, thus are the workers who will get passed over for jobs at the higher wage. The risk is greatest in sectors where technology is displacing labor—fast food comes to mind. The impact on employment is most assuredly negative, although we can debate the magnitude. These points (and others) have been made in this space before. Read more »
Isolationism is a recurring theme within the United States. An advantage of our size, our rich stock of natural resources, the diversity of our people and our placement between two oceans is that we can afford to be more independent than, say, Belgium, a tiny nation nestled among France, Germany and the Netherlands, with the United Kingdom just over the Channel. Many Americans never visit our continental neighbors, Canada and Mexico, much less cross an ocean to see less familiar lands.
Yet the world invades our homes through the media—a visual loop of terror, privation and menace. It also invades our work lives as global competition, supported by new technology, robs many of their occupations and threatens their well being. Read more »
Fear sells. Ask Donald Trump. Or Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle whose two-line headline of inch-high bolded capitals declared “SECOND ROCHESTER MAN LINKED TO ISIS.”
Terrorism is certainly real and frightening. The self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), with its video beheadings and shrewd use of media (social and otherwise) must be taken seriously. And yet we can control our response to events and must avoid the temptation to overreact.
Consider the December 14 email sent to a number of school districts nationwide. Anonymously threatened with murder and mayhem, New York chose to treat this as a hoax. By contrast, Los Angeles cancelled school for 640,000 students, a decision that affected 1,087 schools. Events proved that NYC chose correctly. Students in LA learned a different lesson that day, that they are at risk and that any fears they may have are justified. “Why would the city have closed schools otherwise?”
The D&C wasn’t alone in its breathless reaction to the “second ISIS recruit.” Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli, in consultation with Mayor Lovely Warren, cancelled the scheduled New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration, as the chief wanted the officers on the streets, presumably looking for other terrorists. Like the 640,000 Los Angeles students, Rochester-area residents were put on notice—be afraid. Read more »