Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Monthly Archives: December 2014

Then and Now: The Pull of Immigration

Circa 1976-77, my parents bought their old beater home in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. It had 3.5 bedrooms, garage and large back yard overlooking the 10 Freeway near the corner of Marengo and Evergreen streets. They paid $50,000 and could afford the mortgage on a combined income of approximately $375 per week. They had six children. Basic health care at the local clinic was available and we had General Hospital for minor emergencies that my parents could afford to pay. Elementary schools were good in those days too. We had enough to eat. It was a modest way of life but we had a chance to chase the American Dream. Thanks to affordable higher education at local city colleges and the California State University system, we caught it.

It is tricky to get purchasing power parity PPP comparisons of income then and now because of the big shifts in relative prices. In today’s dollars estimates of my parents’ weekly $375 in 1977 range from $1140 to as much as $3,010. Compare this to bare subsistence living in Mexico’s countryside as that country marched towards its economic catastrophe of the 1980s. Prior to the 1990s the borders were loosely monitored. During the 60s and 70s my dad crossed back and forth many times, and was chased out of the US seven times.

The pull factors from differences in relative wages were massive in the late 1970s, taking into account the relative ease of crossing the border. Today the pull factors are not as strong because, according to economists, technology and, to a lesser extent, globalization. In other words, the working classes today are in PPP terms significantly worse off.

The American dream is dying.


The Secret Auden

This is a must read essay.

“On the other side are those who can say of themselves without irony, “I am a good person,” who perceive great evils only in other, evil people whose motives and actions are entirely different from their own. This view has dangerous consequences when a party or nation, having assured itself of its inherent goodness, assumes its actions are therefore justified, even when, in the eyes of everyone else, they seem murderous and oppressive.”

Low Clouds

This year I’m especially grateful for discovering the beauty of low hanging clouds beneath baby blue skies. They have the sensational effect of seeming to bring the heavens closer to us. This is worth remembering on Christmas Day. 2014-12-12 21.18.30



On the so-called “wisdom” of the American people

I do not want to hear again the cliche about the “wisdom of the American people,” which on many big important matters is utterly ignorant, shortsighted, and stupid. These days our collective wisdom seems too OK with torture and has a view on the economy and the environment that has been in my judgment utterly destructive.

Holding two contradictory and seemingly mutually exclusive notions in our heads is a shortcoming that we Americans must endure and resist. It’s sad that we must boil things down to black and white, with us or against us, or red and blue.



In Defense of the Welfare State

Tony Judt pens an excellent defense of the welfare state here. This passionate and measured essay is itself an education and well worth reading with some care. It will be deeply disturbing to those whose perspective of states and markets is shallow and dogmatic. What I found most fascinating — something we rarely debate — is the discussion of the scope of public goods and their value. I share Judt’s perspective and have had a lot of fun debating this point of view with my colonels. The reason is that they get intuitively the notion that the end of public investment in war is not market efficiency but victory. I push them to think about the goals of investments in other public goods. I ask them: what is victory in education, prisons, or public health? Then the conversation gets really interesting and productive.

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