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Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you

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Turns out it wasn’t as easy in Germany as I imagined.

Fascinating account. The one part that resonated with me is the importance of establishing school curricula that highlight the negative aspects of the country’s history.

Several years ago my wife and I visited the Dachau concentration camp. It was late May and there were tons of school children touring the facility. We were told that visits to concentration camps are mandatory for elementary schools to understand what happened in the past and that teachers were fitting in their required visits before the end of the school year.

The day before we were sitting in the Hofbrauhaus in Munich sharing large steins of beer with a young German couple. When we mentioned that we would be visiting Dachau the next day the young man grew silent for a few moments and then remarked that he hoped we would not judge the current generation based on what we would see there. It was a revealing insight into how some Germans are reckoning with their past.

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Disinformation campaigns can be pretty sophisticated:

This is a year old, but it’s absolutely the best match to my intuitions about the underlying mechanisms that have divided and polarized the country.

I had always lived in these dense population zones described here, even when outside the “big cities”. It’s why the primary concerns of the Fox News set have come as such a shock to me over the years. I was not exposed at all to the white nationalism/anti-education and science view that pervades that world.

A few years ago, I left for the less-expensive rural areas, and the cultural differences could not be more stark. So much so that I had imagined writing something about it! As usual always, someone beat me to the punch and did a better job of it. Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center:

The Density Divide: Urbanization, Polarization, and Populist Backlash (PDF)

Executive Summary

► Urbanization sorts populations on attributes—ethnicity, personality, and education— that make individuals more or less responsive to the incentives to move toward cities.
► Self-selected migration has segregated the national population and concentrated economic production into megacities, driving a polarizing wedge between dense diverse populations and sparse white populations—the “density divide.”
► The filtering/sorting dynamic of urbanization has produced a lower-density, mainly white population that is increasingly uniform in socially conservative personality, aversion to diversity, relative disclination to migrate and seek higher education, and Republican Party loyalty.
► Related urban-rural economic divergence has put many lower-density areas in dire straits, activating a zero-sum, ethnocentric mindset receptive to scapegoating populist rhetoric about the threat of “un-American” immigrants, minorities, and liberal elites who dwell in relatively prosperous multicultural cities.
► The low-density bias of our electoral system enabled Trump to win with majority support in areas that produce just 1/3 of GDP and contain less than 1/2 the population.

So much good stuff in the details. I especially like the “Sorting on Personality” section that begins on page 34.

Comet NEOWISE could give skywatchers a dazzling show this month. Here’s what to know. | Space

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The focus of the article below (based on David Autor’s research) is how large cities no longer provide entry to the middle class for minorities to the extent they did even 20 years ago, primarily due to changes in the structure of the economy. But the findings are consistent with those of the Niskanen study with respect to education levels, regardless of race or ethnicity.

“What we learn from Autor’s work is that non-college workers can no longer expect that moving to a high-paying city will be a mechanism of upward mobility,” said Melissa Kearney, a University of Maryland labor economist.

This is a disturbing view that, if true, will tend to increase the polarization described in the Niskanen study. It reinforces the importance, in my view, of education and training that over time will increasingly allow more U.S. workers, regardless of their location, to provide the goods and services that foreign consumers increasingly demand.

100% agree (except for the foreign customer part). We live in a very high-cost society. It’s tough to live in that kind of a place without skills to compete on the global market. Anything and everything that can be automated or off-shored has been (and continues to be). There’s no way to effectively compete against that in the low-skill global arena… people’s skill levels MUST be elevated. Our urban education system is CRAP and until that’s fixed, this will be a problem.

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Rural education system ain’t great either.

The American education system was designed to create compliant factory workers.

Not sure how you change that when soooo many people have a “good old days” view of education.

Economist Dani Rodrik has had the hot hand recently, IMO.

Foreign middle classes are growing around the world. Just like middle classes in the developed world, they will want more high-tech goods and services. U.S. firms and workers need to capitalize on this development.

This may have been true in the past, but my kids are fresh enough out of high school that I can say pretty certainly that the majority of our secondary education today is geared towards College Prep (and standardized tests). I don’t think there was even 1 student in my kid’s class who said “I’m going to work in manufacturing”. It’s nowhere on the radar.

My previous employer, a large global manufacturer, used to have apprenticeship programs with all the local technical schools. Not only are the apprenticeships gone, but many of the schools are too (along with the factories they supported). Now, too many kids are just told “you can go to college!” when for so many a better answer are the trades, or some kind of technical skill (not necessarily mfg oriented). “in my day” the local vo-tech was an option for every high school kid. Now, it’s very “outdated” to go to vo-tech.

I was referring more to the methods/pedagogy rather than the content.

Against my wishes, my kid attended a ritzy private school. The lengths it went to to develop the kid went far beyond its rejection of “teach to the test” (the school was exempt from those requirements).

They were aided in these efforts by tuition that was 3x what public schools pay per pupil (supplemented by private donors in order to keep it even that “low”), being allowed to kick problem kids (rich version) to the public schools, and by teachers willing to work for a lot less than the public schools paid.

Rodrik is right that the manufacturing employment ship sailed long ago due to a combination of outsourcing and technological change that increased labor productivity.

Even in nominal (current dollar) terms, manufacturing accounts for only 11% of U.S. GDP, down from 12% in 2010. More broadly, goods-producing industries (manufacturing, mining, and construction) account for 17% of U.S. GDP. Private services-producing industries (excluding government) account for 70%.

Services cover a broad range of economic activities from haircuts and retail stores to cross-state and cross-country traded high tech business, professional, and technical services. When he states future jobs need to focus on services, I would prefer that include the traded high tech type rather than the traditional locally produced and consumed type.

Even high-tech manufacturing can play a big role. These are the types of goods and services that require high skill and that can be provided from any location, not just densely populated urban areas.

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Manufacturing in the U.S. is not dead, it’s just changed. Most of the low skill, low wage, repetitive motion jobs on assembly lines are gone forever, and good riddance. We lead the world in high tech manufacturing and it’s a lead that we should be careful not to fritter away.

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