Friday, September 27, 2013

Is There Economic And Political Meaning In "The Wizard of Oz?"

A new 3D version of the movie has been playing this week.

To get a handle on this, you can read Money and Politics in the Land of Oz By Quentin P. Taylor. Also, for my students, there is an article in chapter 15 of the micro book by Tucker and in chapter 18 in the macro book.Below is an excerpt from the Taylor paper:
"Dorothy, the protagonist of the story, represents an individualized ideal of the American people. She is each of us at our best-kind but self-respecting, guileless but levelheaded, wholesome but plucky. She is akin to Everyman, or, in modern parlance, “the girl next door.” Dorothy lives in Kansas, where virtually everything-the treeless prairie, the sun-beaten grass, the paint-stripped house, even Aunt Em and Uncle Henry-is a dull, drab, lifeless gray. This grim depiction reflects the forlorn condition of Kansas in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when a combination of scorching droughts, severe winters, and an invasion of grasshoppers reduced the prairie to an uninhabitable wasteland. The result for farmers and all who depended on agriculture for their livelihood was devastating. Many ascribed their misfortune to the natural elements, called it quits, and moved on. Others blamed the hard times on bankers, the railroads, and various middlemen who seemed to profit at the farmers’ expense. Angry victims of the Kansas calamity also took aim at the politicians, who often appeared indifferent to their plight. Around these economic and political grievances, the Populist movement coalesced.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Populism spread rapidly throughout the Midwest and into the South, but Kansas was always the site of its most popular and radical elements. In 1890, Populist candidates began winning seats in state legislatures and Congress, and two years later Populists in Kansas gained control of the lower house of the state assembly, elected a Populist governor, and sent a Populist to the U.S. Senate. The twister that carries Dorothy to Oz symbolizes the Populist cyclone that swept across Kansas in the early 1890s. Baum was not the first to use the metaphor. Mary E. Lease, a fire-breathing Populist orator, was often referred to as the “Kansas Cyclone,” and the free-silver movement was often likened to a political whirlwind that had taken the nation by storm. Although Dorothy does not stand for Lease, Baum did give her (in the stage version) the last name “Gale”-a further pun on the cyclone metaphor.

The name of Dorothy’s canine companion, Toto, is also a pun, a play on teetotaler. Prohibitionists were among the Populists’ most faithful allies, and the Populist hope William Jennings Bryan was himself a “dry.” As Dorothy embarks on the Yellow Brick Road, Toto trots “soberly” behind her, just as the Prohibitionists soberly followed the Populists.

When Dorothy’s twister-tossed house comes to rest in Oz, it lands squarely on the wicked Witch of the East, killing her instantly. The startled girl emerges from the abode to find herself in a strange land of remarkable beauty, whose inhabitants, the diminutive Munchkins, rejoice at the death of the Witch. The Witch represents eastern financial-industrial interests and their gold-standard political allies, the main targets of Populist venom. Midwestern farmers often blamed their woes on the nefarious practices of Wall Street bankers and the captains of industry, whom they believed were engaged in a conspiracy to “enslave” the “little people,” just as the Witch of the East had enslaved the Munchkins. Populists viewed establishment politicians, including presidents, as helpless pawns or willing accomplices. Had not President Cleveland bowed to eastern bankers by repealing the Silver Purchase Act in 1893, thus further restricting much-needed credit? Had not McKinley (prompted by the wealthy industrialist Mark Hanna) made the gold standard the centerpiece of his campaign against Bryan and free silver?"
Now an excerpt from Tucker:
"Gold is always a fascinating story: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900 and this children's tale has been interpreted as an allegory for political and economic events of the 1890s. For example, the Yellow Brick Road represents the gold standard, Oz in the title is an abbreviation for ounce, Dorothy is the naive public, Emerald City symbolizes Washington, D.C., the Tin Woodman represents the industrial worker, the Scarecrow is the farmer, and the Cyclone is a metaphor for a political revolution. In the end, Dorothy discovers magical powers in her silver shoes (changed to ruby in the 1939 film) to find her way home and not the fallacy of the Yellow Brick Road. Although the author of the story, L. Frank Baum, never stated it was his intention, it can be argued that the issue of the story concerns the election of 1896. Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan (the Cowardly Lion) supported fixing the value of the dollar to both gold and silver (bimetallism), but Republican William McKinley (the Wicked Witch) advocated using only the gold standard. Since McKinley won, the United States remained on the Yellow Brick Road."
But not everyone agrees with this. Economist Bradley Hansen wrote an article titled The Fable of the Allegory: The Wizard of Oz in Economics in the Journal of Economic Education in 2002. Here is his conclusion:
"Rockoff noted that the empirical evidence that Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as an allegory was slim, but he compared an allegorical interpretation to a model and suggested that “economists should not have any difficulty accepting, at least provisionally, an elegant but controversial model” (Rockoff 1990, 757). He was right—we did not have any difficulty accepting it. Despite Rockoff’s warning, we appear to have accepted the story wholeheartedly rather than provisionally, simply because of its elegance. It is as difficult to prove that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was not a monetary allegory as it is to prove that it was. In the end, we will never know for certain what Baum was thinking when he wrote the book. I suggest that the vast majority of the evidence weighs heavily against the allegorical interpretation. It should be remembered that no record exists that Baum ever acknowledged any political meanings in the story and that no one even suggested such an interpretation until the 1960s. There certainly does not seem to be sufficient evidence to overwhelm Baum’s explicit statement in the introduction of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that his sole purpose was to entertain children and not to impress upon them some moral. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a great story. Telling students that the Populist movement was like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz does seem to catch their attention. It may be a useful pedagogical tool to illuminate the debate on bimetallism, but we should stop telling our students that it was written for that purpose."
I found a review of the book in the NY Times from 1900 and it does not mention anything about OZ having political or economic meaning. The book was also made into a musical a few years later and none of the reviews of the musical mention any political or economic meaning.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

Percentage Of College Students Receiving Financial Aid Rises

See 7 in 10 Undergraduates Get Financial Aid, New Data From a Major Federal Study Show by Beckie Supiano of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Excerpts:
"Seventy-one percent of undergraduates received some form of aid in the 2011-12 academic year, up from 66 percent in 2007-8, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Their average aid amount also went up, to $10,800 from $9,000 four years earlier..."

"Take the Pell Grant program, the main federal support for needy students. Forty-one percent of undergraduate students received a Pell Grant in 2011-12, up from 28 percent in 2007-8. Some of that increase was probably the result of lower-income adults going back to college in a weak economy and families finding themselves in worse financial positions as they faced the tuition bills for their children.

At the same time, policy changes expanding eligibility for the program also drove some of the increase."

"As for borrowing, the share of undergraduates with federal Stafford loans grew from 35 percent in 2007-8 to 40 percent in 2011-12, while the average amount they borrowed also went up, from $5,000 to $6,400."
The article also has some very detailed statistical tables.

See an earlier post called Are College Costs Actually Falling? The basic idea is that although the stated price (tuition) has been rising, so has financial aid.

Another post explained how financial aid is just price discrimination. Schools are just charging different prices to different students. See As college costs rise, sticker shock eased by student aid

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Are People Driving Less Because Of The Economy Or Something Else?

See Americans Driving Less as Car Culture Wanes by JOAN LOWY of the Associated Press. Excerpts:
"After rising for decades, total vehicle use in the U.S. — the collective miles people drive — peaked in August 2007. It then dropped sharply during the Great Recession and has largely plateaued since, even though the economy is recovering and the population growing."

"... the average number of miles drivers individually rack up peaked in July 2004 at just over 900 per month..."

"By July of last year, that had fallen to 820 miles per month..."

"... the share of people in their teens, 20s and 30s with driver's licenses has been dropping significantly..."

"Researchers are divided on the reasons behind the trends. One camp says the changes are almost entirely linked to the economy."

"The other camp acknowledges that economic factors are important but says the decline in driving also reflects fundamental changes in the way Americans view the automobile. For commuters stuck in traffic, getting into a car no longer correlates with fun. It's also becoming more of a headache to own a car in central cities and downright difficult to park."

"Lifestyles are also changing. People are doing more of their shopping online. More people are taking public transit than ever before. And biking and walking to work and for recreation are on the rise.

Social networking online may also be substituting for some trips."

"Demographic changes are also a factor. The peak driving years for most people are between ages 45 and 55 when they are the height of their careers and have more money to spend, said transportation analyst Alan Pisarski, author of "Commuting in America." Now, the last of the baby boomers — the giant cohort born between 1946 and 1964 — are moving out of their peak driving years."

"There's also a driving gender gap. In a role reversal, there are now more women than men in the U.S. with driver's licenses"

"There are several economic factors that help explain the trends. Driving declines exactly mirror job losses among men during the recession, when male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction were especially hard hit, researchers said. But average automobile use has declined recently even among those who have remained employed.

Economists say many Americans, especially teens and young adults, are finding that buying and owning a car stretches their financial resources. The average price of a new car is $31,000..."

"Then there's the cost of insurance, maintenance and parking. The price of gas has gone up dramatically over the past decade.

The share of younger workers who can find jobs is at an especially low ebb, while the cost of a college education — and with it student loans — is soaring."

"18- to 20-year-olds were three times more likely to have a driver's license if they lived in a household with an annual income above $100,000 than if they lived in a household with an income below $20,000."

Friday, September 06, 2013

Can Financial Stress Make It Harder To Think?

See Financial Stress May Hit Your Brain and Wallet by SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer. Excerpts:
"People worrying about having enough money to pay their bills tend to lose temporarily the equivalent of 13 IQ points, scientists found when they gave intelligence tests to shoppers at a New Jersey mall and farmers in India.

The idea is that financial stress monopolizes thinking, making other calculations slower and more difficult, sort of like the effects of going without sleep for a night.

And this money-and-brain crunch applies, albeit to a smaller degree, to about 100 million Americans who face financial squeezes, say the team of economists and psychologists who wrote the study published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

If you are always thinking about overdue bills, a mortgage or rent, or college loans, it takes away from your focus on other things. So being late on loans could end up costing you both interest points and IQ points, Mullainathan said.

The study used tests that studied various aspects of thinking including a traditional IQ test, getting the 13 IQ point drop, said study co-author Jiaying Zhao, a professor of psychology and sustainability at the University of British Columbia."

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Does Getting A College Degree Cause Income To Rise?

See The Tuition is Too Damn High, Part II: Why college is still worth it, by Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post.

The article says that the median income for people with a bachelor's degree is $49,600 (age 25 or older as of 2011). For people who stopped with a high school diploma it is $28,600.

But the article raises two interesting questions about whether or not the extra education caused the higher incomes
"But that alone doesn’t tell you that college is causing those earnings differentials. Maybe it’s just that naturally smart people tend both to get a lot of education and to earn a lot, but the two aren’t actually related. For example, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates both went to Harvard and became billionaires, the theory goes, because they were smart. Harvard didn’t cause their riches. They dropped out before earning degrees, in fact. Their smarts caused both Harvard and the riches."
"There’s another strand of criticism that alleges that whatever effect college has on wages is an effect of signaling. It’s the degree that matters, as a way to tell employers you’re smart and accomplished, rather than what you learn in pursuit of the degree, under this theory. Note, first of all, that this doesn’t really negate the finding that college causes higher earnings. It just presents a slightly cynical explanation of how it is that college causes that earnings bump."
But then the article goes on further to describe some research that shows that, yes, the extra education does cause incomes to rise, over and above what you might expect even when you take the above issues into account.