Wellyopolis

May 25, 2005

Lingerie department

Interesting article in local mag, The Rake, about men hanging round lingerie departments.

The problem of how to deal with men in women's departments used to vex department stores greatly. It probably still does. Look around next time you're in the women's shoe department at a department store. There will probably be many more comfortable chairs than in the men's shoe department.

Obviously these chairs are now not just for men accompanying their wives. Back in the early twentieth century trade magazines told department store managers to put in comfortable chairs as a respite from shopping for easily tired ladies, and a place a husband unfortunate enough to have to go shopping with his wife could sit aside from the feminine pursuit of shopping.

In any case I have my own Mr-Awkward-in-the-Lingerie-Department story. Just after I'd finished my thesis on New Zealand department stores I was wandering up the stairs at Kirkcaldie & Stains, Wellington's premiere department store. It was the first day of their annual February sale, and I was on my way to kitchenware on the 3nd floor.

The stairs took me past the lingerie department, and as I passed I noted the throngs of women standing at the sale bins, scrabbling for bargains, and jostling for the best position to grab that slip or bra. I paused and watched, and reflected on the early twentieth century newspaper articles that used to breathlessly report on how thousands of women pushed down plate glass windows they were so eager to get a bargain at a department store sale, at the stories of women fainting in the crowds on the first morning of a sale.

You can find these stories in papers all over the English-speaking world. The details change from year to year and place to place, but the trope is the same. Women are born shoppers, and they are quite unladylike when they sense a bargain.

Perhaps that "pausing" and "watching" turned into staring, for two woman looked up and did not see me reflecting on the social history of department stores, but saw me staring at women choosing lingerie. They glared. I looked away. I wanted to say "It's research! And I was just on my way to kitchenwares, anyway!" But I didn't. You know, women and the animal spirits that get a hold of them when they see a bargain ... You wouldn't want to be chased down and attacked with a hairpin and parasol.

I just turned tail, climbed the stairs, and found a cheap corkscrew to replace the one that had gone missing last we'd had a party at the flat. And took the front stairs past the toy department on the way out.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:35 AM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2005

Give the single girls a chance!

I attended the Business History Conference over the past weekend. It was held in Minneapolis, which was very convenient and cheap. Even with the current gas prices my 1.5 mile drive to free street parking could not have cost much.

My session was distinguished by having the only two papers on the program that had exclamation marks in their title!! Actually, if you look at the program they don't have the "!" there, trust me that their title slide had the crucial "!"

In my paper I used interviews with 300 workers from the Western Electric company (the people that used to make all the telephones in America) conducted between 1929 and 1931 to look at what rank-and-file workers thought about married women being in paid employment.

During the Depression this was a topic of some concern, and nearly half the workers interviewed referred to the issue. (The interviews let employees choose the topics of conversation). The most identifiable group of workers opposed to married women remaining in employment were single women with dependent family members.

There were actually very few people who came out and said things like "a married woman’s place is at home …. she can find plenty to do there" and

There’s plenty of work to be done at home, and in order to keep the home fires burning the way they should be, I don’t think the woman’s place is down here. It is at home cooking good meals for her husband and doing the necessary work she should do.

Most employees opposed to married women working framed their opposition as a concern for equity amongst households while work was scarce. There was a widespread perception that families with both spouses working were spending all their money on "cars and fur coats," while struggling single girls had to support their parents.

At the same time, single women were also frustrated that men were delaying marriage proposals because of the Depression. The same ideology--that men's wages should support families--that criticized married women for working gave men pause about marrying.

The new thing about my paper is that it takes this literature into the factory, whereas much of the previous research about opposition to married women's work in the inter-war era has looked at women in clerical or professional occupations.

If you're truly interested, the paper is here. It's still a little loose and unformed, but gives me something to start hanging the rest of the fourth chapter around.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:35 AM | Comments (1)

Tips for readers

The Star Tribune has a barrage of letters with advice and strong feelings about appropriate amounts to tip.

The difference between 15% and 20% is hardly something I'd have thought justified language like "those food servers should be sent to jail" and "That woman ... is an idiot."

Me? I'm just glad to know that lots of people are all at sea with the appropriate percentages. It isn't just faulty information being given to foreigners.

I'm also glad to see that Miss Manners also thinks that folding service charges into the bill would be better:

You see why Miss Manners has been railing against the institution of tipping, with its silly pretense of being voluntary that brings out the worst in both giver and receiver? Putting the service charge on the bill is a big improvement, but building it into the cost of the food, as service is figured into the cost of buying other items, would be better. The very term “gratuity” inspires the nastiness you encountered, and a parallel unpleasantness on the part of some recipients who try to shame tippers into giving more.

One of the strange things about being an historian is that you can write a sentence like "tipping is actually quite new in the United States," and then realize that the early twentieth century is not "quite new" to most people.

In any case, no matter your perspective, tipping has only been around a hundred years or so in the United States. Economist Ofer Azar provides a good summary of the literature in a working paper "The History of Tipping - From Sixteenth-Century England to United States in the 1910s" and writes:

Tipping did not exist in the United States before the Civil War, but by the end of the nineteenth century it was prevalent throughout the nation and in many occupations. Yet, despite its prevalence, many regarded tipping as an evil and an un-American and undemocratic custom that should be eliminated. Those who disliked the tipping custom claimed that it is degrading to the tip-takers who have to “ask for favors” instead of earning a fair wage, and that tipping makes the tip-takers servile and creates different classes – the tip givers being superior to tip takers. Several customer and worker groups tried to abolish the practice, and in several states anti-tipping laws were passed around the 1910s.

And so to the present confusion ...

Posted by robe0419 at 10:24 AM | Comments (1)

May 19, 2005

Caroline Manning and The Immigrant Woman and Her Job

The third substantive chapter in my dissertation (PDF proposal) looks at immigrant wives in the workforce in the early twentieth century.

The main source that I'm going to be using are the responses to a survey carried out in 1924 in Pennsylvania. The survey, in Philadelphia and some Lehigh Valley cities, asked 2,146 women four pages of questions about their lives and working conditions. It's an amazingly detailed source. Between now and having anything substantive to say about the survey, I have to go out to D.C. and spend a couple of weeks in the National Archives photographing the forms and then getting an undergraduate RA to type it all in.

The original report on the survey was published in 1930 by the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor (still around after all these years) in The Immigrant Woman and Her Job by Caroline Manning. You can read (or download) a scanned copy of the book at Harvard University's Open Collections Program "Women Working, 1870-1930" site.

The book is not heavily cited (just 41 google hits, mostly used book-sellers), and even in JSTOR there's only 29 hits. Google Print brings up a few more references.

As part of my basic research I've been trying to find out what I can about Caroline Manning.

In the 1930 census there is a 53 year old single woman residing as a lodger in a "Government Hotel" in Washington, D.C. In the occupation column the initial entry is "Research," but this has been struck out and "Clerk" has been entered instead. It seems the same person made both the "Research" and "Clerk" entry.

"Research" would seem a more accurate description of what Manning did, since it's clear from the correspondence in the National Archives that she did, in fact, design and execute most of the research that she published in the Women's Bureau Bulletins. There's a nice irony in seeing a professional researcher on women's occupations have her occupation deskilled from "researcher" to "clerk." Ah, but it's all white collar, I suppose.

Manning was born in Minnesota in 1877, and her parents were English-Canadian. In 1880 she was living with her parents in Northfield (MN), and enumerated as "Carrie Maning." (1) Interestingly, her mother is not present in the house. The family has two servants. There's another daughter, and her father is working as a hardware merchant. Given that the U.S. census was de jure, the absence of her mother suggests either death or separation.

In 1910 she was working as a City Inspector in Philadelphia, and living in a social settlement house at 433 Christian St. with six women who were teachers. The head of the household she was living in was Anna F. Davies, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Consumers League. (2)

She completed her BA at Swarthmore, and then in 1945 a dissertation at Bryn Mawr, entitled "An Examination of Social Welfare Organization Methods in the Work of the National Committee on the Care of Transient and Homeless." (3)

While working at the Women's Bureau she contributed to several other Bulletins, including
The employment of women in slaughtering and meat packing (1932)
Women workers in some expanding wartime industries, New Jersey (1942)
The employment of women in the pineapple canneries of Hawaii (1930)
Women in Missouri industries :a study of hours and wages (1924)
Fluctuation of employment in the radio industry (1931)
Women in the fruit-growing and canning industries in the State of Washington (1926)
Wage-earning women and the industrial conditions of 1930 (1932)
The effects on women of changing conditions in the cigar and cigarette industries (1931)
The employment of women in Puerto Rico (1934)
Hours and earnings in tobacco stemmeries (1934)
Women in Delaware industries (1927)
Women in the candy industry in Chicago and St. Louis (1922)
The employment of women in the sewing trades of Connecticut (1935)
Women in Kentucky: a study of hours, wages and working conditions (1923)

While less famous than some of her contemporaries Manning was of a piece with other white women involved in welfare and labor research and reform from the Progressive to New Deal eras (4). She was unmarried, she was well educated, and she came out of the Midwest and spent much of her professional life on the East Coast. Her education at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore is also not atypical -- both colleges had a tradition of graduating what you might call "practical activists."

To fill out this 2 hour research into her life, I will probably visit the Rice County recorders office in Faribault (MN) to find out more about Manning's birth and early family life; and see if I can find any papers or a copy of her dissertation when I'm in Philadelphia in fall.

On the very slim chance that any readers know anything about Manning's life, please get in touch.

(Notes below the fold)

________
Notes
(1) I was able to work this out by searching our database of the entire 1880 census, and looking for anyone born in Minnesota aged between 1 and 5, with both parents born in Canada.

(2) Josephine Goldmark; Francis McLean; James T. Bixby; Alice Lakey; Edith Kendall; Arthur N. Holcombe; Rosamond Kimball; G. Hermann Kinnicutt; Frederick C. Manvel, "Work of National Consumers' League, Volume II" Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 38, Supplement (Sep., 1911), p.71.

Davies, it appears, was also involved with the American Association of University Women's Philadelphia branch.

(3) Students' Dissertations in Sociology, The American Journal of Sociology Vol. 52, No. 1 (Jul., 1946), pp. 56.

(4) See Linda Gordon's articles: "Social Insurance and Public Assistance: The Influence of Gender in Welfare Thought in the United States, 1890-1935." The American Historical Review. Vol. 97, No. 1 (Feb., 1992), pp. 19-54; and "Black and White Visions of Welfare: Women's Welfare Activism, 1890-1945." The Journal of American History. Vol. 78, No. 2 (Sep., 1991), pp. 559-590

Posted by robe0419 at 11:09 PM | Comments (1)

Good honest fortune cookies

"It is very possible that you will achieve greatness in your lifetime"

Just possible. But very possible. That's a little better. How possible is very possible?
Is it greater than probably? Perhaps not.

Maybe fortune cookies should come with a probability distribution instead of a deterministic statement ...

Posted by robe0419 at 10:58 PM | Comments (0)

When will it end?

Apparently today marks the 1,346th day since September 11 2001, or the same length of time between Pearl Harbor and VJ Day.

Bears thinking about ...

Posted by robe0419 at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2005

Google doesn't know about demography!

Great as Google is, they have never heard of Ansley Coale, the great demographer.

I did not mean "Coal specification"!

Posted by robe0419 at 10:49 PM | Comments (0)

Name that!

Long discussion on several blogs (Volohk Conspiracy, Matthew Yglesias, Marginal Revolution) about whether women should take their husband's name upon marriage.

The comments at both Volokh Conspiracy and Yglesias' site are fascinating. I have not seen a longer list of women explaining that their decision to take their husband's last name was not influenced by tradition, but was merely for convenience at the bank and at the kid's school and that they had always wanted to get rid of that four syllable-twelve letter German surname.

This would all be fine and their own choice (etc etc), but I find it exceedingly hard to believe that it is mostly women who end up with surnames they want to change. Are there really so few men out there with names they want to dispense with given the chance?

Now maybe I'll change my mind in years to come when I deal with these things myself, but the "inconvenient at the bank" and "teachers will be confused if I have a different name than my child" excuses are sort of shaky.

I've had joint financial arrangements with flatmates/roommates in the past, and now with my fiance, and you know, it really hasn't been difficult. No more difficult than opening any other bank account or insurance policy. Where are these banks and other companies that cannot keep track of a couple of different names on the account?

As for the "teachers will be confused" argument, I don't know from experience, but I think this would be no more difficult than the banks? Teachers have, what, 30 students in a class, at most. It surely wouldn't be beyond them after a while to remember that Joe X is the child of Sam Y. Perhaps the best teachers at the best schools keep written records of which children belong to which parents, it couldn't be hard.

Now this isn't to say that everyone in a family having the same name isn't a good idea -- it's a perfectly fine reason to change your name. I can understand the commitment it demonstrates to a relationship to both have the same name. But it does not lead logically to women taking their husband's names.

You can't ignore history here, and as I read it, the reality is that historically women changed their names as part of the system of coverture where married women lost a separate legal identity. Most of the legal traditions of coverture have been abolished in western countries, but women changing their names to their husbands is a social remenant of coverture.

In a truly equal society we'd see approximately equal numbers of men adopting their wives names. We don't.

None of the reasons given for women changing their names are special to the woman changing her name, as compared with both taking a new name or the husband taking the wife's name.

When those alternative practices are equally as common then it will be OK for women to adopt their husband's names. But until then there's a conflict of individual choice and advancing social equality. It will seem the height of arrogance to say this, but really, if people knew the background to the cultural practice of women changing their names it would be far less common.

On the other hand, if anyone has a good defence of why, in general, (not in your particular case) women should change their names to their husbands on marriage I'd be interested to hear it.

Upholding tradition is all well and dandy, but please know the tradition you're getting into first.

And donate to the Lucy Stone League.

Posted by robe0419 at 6:02 PM | Comments (2)

May 17, 2005

Outsized, part 2

The fattening of America continues ... I noted previously how it's sort of odd that at 6' I end up buying small clothes. And now another sign -- you can't even request a small t-shirt if you're running the Buffalo Marathon or Half-Marathon.


Posted by robe0419 at 12:50 PM | Comments (2)

Finchley and Golders Green

One of the cool things about the British election was hearing all those cool electorate (U.S.: district, Canada: riding) names. Here's a map you can zoom up over and see them pop up.

A few random ones: Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. Ceredigion. St Ives. (Not related to this St. Ives AFAIK) Louth & Horncastle.

The Canadian ridings have some interesting names too. Nunavut. Churchill River. Humber--St. Barbe--Baie Verte.

Australia has some Aboriginal names for electorates, and other exotic ones: Gellibrand. Kooyong. Warringah. Capricornia.

The indigenous electorate names pop up in New Zealand too: Aoraki. Maungakiekie. Tukituki.

Of course, all four countries have a large number of less exotically named electorates. North, East, West, or South Somewhere or Somewhere East, North, West or South are common too.

But it's still a nice touch, and makes elections more interesting. If it could avoid becoming a partisan fight, it would be a cool thing for American districts, and help make them more identifiable. Who really knows where the 8th district of Indiana is if you don't live in the district?

Gerrymandered districts probably make the task of giving a good name to districts harder. And the absence of real hills or mountains in many parts of America takes away one source of names. And some of them are so large it's difficult to pick a good name that would be accepted by everyone. But rivers, lakes, and other natural phenomena, along with indigenous names are all a good way of naming electorates.

All the at-large districts could be named after their states. That would be easy.

For example in Minnesota (district maps here), the 8th District (Duluth, the Range and the Shore) could easily be named "Arrowhead." Minnesota's 3rd district (western suburbs of the Twin Cities) could be "Lake Minnetonka." The 7th district (northwest Minnesota) could be Itasca. That's easy ... The 6th and 2nd (northwest and southeast suburbs of the Twin Cities) districts defy easy naming. And the 4th (St. Paul + suburbs) and 5th (Minneapolis + suburbs) could easily be ... St. Paul and Minneapolis, but perhaps that would offend the good people of St. Louis Park or Roseville. Tricky, tricky ... this is why those proverbial foreigners give the job to an independent commission made up of judges and geographers.

Suggestions welcome ...

Posted by robe0419 at 10:53 AM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2005

Jim Ryun

Good article on Jim Ryun (now a Republican Congressman) in the Washington Post.

What they don't mention in their catalogue of decline of American track is that one reason not very many high schoolers break 4 minutes for the mile is that American high schools don't run mile races. They run 1600m.

All race distances are arbitrary, but it is still somewhat silly. Can high schools afford tracks but not afford to paint the stagger line 9 metres back of the finish line on a 400m track? Are they afraid the kids will collapse in the final 9 metres (18 for the 2 mile!)?

The absurdity of the distances run in American high school track are, of course, a regular feature on letsrun.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:54 PM | Comments (1)

May 15, 2005

Great generalisations in social science

(The second in a very occasional series)

"Marx divided 19th-century societies into just two classes; Max Weber added a few more."

Somehow, so true and yet so misleading.

From Janny Scott and David Leonhardt, "Class in America: Shadowy Lines That Still Divide" in today's New York Times.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2005

Using maps as my ideas

Want to see the variation in social patterns across America?

Then check out Social Explorer, developed by Andy Beveridge (Sociology, Queens College) and colleagues.

Interesting stuff. Make sure you have a fast connection!

There's lots of quibbles to be had with mapping social data like this (it shows averages and not variations, it's hard to see the relationship between multiple variables), but it's an interesting way of seeing diversity across the country.

The title of the post is obscure. A chocolate fish to anyone who identifies the song I have deliberately misquoted ...

Posted by robe0419 at 3:39 PM | Comments (1)

May 13, 2005

Advice for atheists

Dylan Evans (good Welsh name!) in the Guardian:

Atheists who attack religions for painting a false picture of the world are as unsophisticated and immature as religious believers, who mistake the picture for reality. The only mature attitude to religion is to see it for what it is - a kind of art, which only a child could mistake for reality, and which only a child would reject for being false.

Well worth reading.

I have one piece of practical advice for atheists: In the Midwest if they ask what religion you are, say "lapsed Quaker". It's the passive aggressive Midwestern way of saying atheist.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:16 PM | Comments (5)

May 12, 2005

Luke what?

Team USA Minnesota athlete, Luke Watson, gets renamed by Let's Run. Come on down, Luke Whatson.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:55 PM | Comments (1)

Race you!

Clancy Ratliff's report on the Proposals for the Responsible Use of Racial & Ethnic Categories in Biomedical Research: Where Do We Go From Here? conference took me back to when I used to work in health services research.

The following is an anecdote, but I hope a useful one. We had a famous foreign researcher being interviewed for the position of Director. One of the New Zealand researchers asked the candidate how they would incorporate Maori and Polynesian concerns into his research on the efficacy and efficiency of health services. After struggling for an answer he replied [and I paraphrase]

I would include an independent variable for that in a regression

Outrage at the man's insensitivity to Maori and Pacific Islander concerns followed.

This answer exemplied what Raj Bhopal has called "black box epidemiology." Race or ethnicity is thought to affect health status or the outcome of treatment, but the precise pathways are unknown. The [dummy] variables for racial categories are generally retained in the model because they have statistically significant co-efficients, even if their effect on the outcome may be trivial.

I wager that despite this flurry of well-researched articles telling us that race and ethnicity as conventionally used have little purchase on answering medical questions, we'll continue to see it.

At level of the lab or the office it's because researchers in a black box of their own see race as a convenient proxy for something else they can't measure that well, and may not even be sure of how to go about measuring.

But my foreigner-in-the-Antipodes anecdote suggests something else: politics.

In New Zealand there is a significant political constituency for funding research into Maori and Pacific Islander health issues. The particular way in which that works is unique to New Zealand, but race and ethnicity are a live element in political discourse around the world.

Self-identification may not be a way out of the conceptual morass for researchers, but as long as people see race as part of their own identity it will be a part of social research. Bio-medical research is conducted by social people, and is not immune from the social and political currents around it.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:43 PM | Comments (0)

Crazy suburban types

City Pages reports on the craziness out in Minnetonka, where a vocal minority is opposing Minnetonka High School's introduction of the International Baccalaureate qualification to the district. Apparently, the IB is

"anti-American, anti-Christian, .... and rejects the Judeo-Christian values held by the majority of families in our district and instead promotes the atheistic Secular Humanist principles of multiculturalism, pacifism, one-world government, and moral relativism.

That well known godless communists George Bush has endorsed the IB, so it can't be all that bad.

One of the parents complaining about the IB says "Our education system is the envy of the world ... Why would we want to subordinate that to some organization connected with the United Nations?"

Umm, no. Or at least not according to the best international comparisons out there, available from the TIMSS study of international achievements in mathematics and science, and the PIRLS study of reading ability.

The United States' educational performance is virtually indistinguishable from Canada, Australasia, and Europe, and somewhat behind those hard-working kids in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.

Now you could make the claim that the U.S. education system is productive, since it achieves pretty good test scores for fewer hours in school (the same is approximately true of Australia and New Zealand, which also have low schooling hours compared to Europe and Asia). But that's a distinctly second order way of being the envy of the world.

(Also noted on Minnesota Politics)

Posted by robe0419 at 12:26 PM | Comments (1)

May 9, 2005

Where should the money come from?

If the gas tax isn't a good way to fund roads, where should the money come from?

The Star Tribune has quotes from people who think that more lanes and more roads are a great idea. But gas costs too much, so the money should come from somewhere else ...

"I think gas prices are high enough the way it is," said [name deleted to prevent embarrasment], 44, of Apple Valley, mother of three sons.

Higher pump prices have been especially tough on "people who have kids and are driving all over the place," [name deleted] said. Roads do need improving, in her opinion, but "I think they should find another way to get the money."
....
That includes [name deleted], 39, of Ramsey, who drives for a living making linen deliveries.

"Obviously, we need to expand capacity -- add more lanes," he said. "But any addition to the price of gas I'm totally against. It's too high right now to consider."


Where do they find these people? Do they have screening questions that find people who want the government to find the money "somewhere else," but can't actually identify where that somewhere might be.

Now I'm not sure what these people's other political views are, but in general it astonishes me how socialist midwestern American views are about funding and providing roads, co-existing with a scepticism about government action in other areas.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:54 PM | Comments (0)

May 8, 2005

Worth reading

Frank Rich on the press corps' relationship to the White House.

An interview with Jakob Dylan.

The New York Times manages to write about blogs with just the right degree of skepticism.

Senator Franken?

And for something completely different, Kevin Beck's Cognitive Emesis. A man not worried by what the world will think of his thoughts, it seems. But who really knows ...

Posted by robe0419 at 4:01 PM | Comments (0)

May 7, 2005

World gone wrong?



Baltimore leading the AL East?
Toronto in 3rd and the Yankees in 4th?
Chicago with the best record in the American League?

Is the Mississippi flowing backwards as well?

Posted by robe0419 at 3:05 PM | Comments (2)

CD labeling programs for Mac

Do any readers have recommendations for good CD labeling programs for a Mac? Please leave any thoughts in comments. Thanks in advance!

Posted by robe0419 at 2:48 PM | Comments (0)

May 6, 2005

Quick thoughts on the British election

I managed to avoid the time-suck that would have been following the campaign, and went to the theater last night so didn't even follow the results streaming in.


  • Get used to saying "Prime Minister Gordon Brown" -- it'll be happening soon enough
  • A smaller but still very workable majority will be good for the Labour government. There's nothing so bad for a government as complacency that the major opposition party is an embarrassment to itself.
  • Long-term predictions are a fool's errand but I'll make one: Labour will win again in 2009/10.
  • Good on the Liberal Democrats for their best showing in 76 years.
  • It won't be long before Helen Clark is claiming that this bodes well for her own upcoming election. Sound like BS to you? It is, but I don't think any Labour leaders believe the trans-national Labourism they spout whenever a Labour party wins.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:06 AM | Comments (1)

May 5, 2005

Social security as insurance

Matthew Yglesias writes:

I could see circumstances under which ditching the idea of a large-scale pay-as-you social insurance scheme in favor of a mandatory private savings plan would make sense .... As it happens, we have [a social insurance state] that's very heavily weighted toward hedging against retirement-related risks when I think we should be more concerned about health risks, income instability, and poverty more generally

Social insurance comes in many forms; it protects against life's uncertainties -- sickness and the ebb and flow of the labor market -- but it also smoothes income over time in the form of Social Security.

Retirement itself is far more predictable than ill health or unemployment and because of that there are some reasons for saying that people can save for their own retirement. But how long people will live in retirement is uncertain, and the ability to save during your working life is dependent on the uncertainties of the labor market.

Even if working life risks were better insured in America there would still be room for Social Security. The reality that American government don't insure people against working life risks very much makes the case for Social Security all the more compelling.

Posted by robe0419 at 5:37 PM | Comments (0)

Comparative history

Is comparative history on a sticky wicket?

Although Orlando Patterson and Jason Kaufman's article on cricket didn't strike me as very persuasive I admire their willingness to start painting in broad strokes and look at why cricket didn't become the summer game of North America.

Too much comparative history of the United States looks east to Europe for comparison. I've sometimes thought this reflects an undercurrent of anxiety among historians of America, as if the United States would be demeaned by being compared to piddling little countries like Australia or Canada, or illiberal embarrasments of the colonial era like South Africa, rather than obviously important countries like France or Britain.

For example, the huge volume that is Ira Katznelson and Aristide R. Zolberg, eds. Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth-Century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States. (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1986) largely ignores the comparisons that could be made between the United States and other immigrant societies. It's a fine, fine book but you wonder what additional insights about the dynamics of working class formation went missing when they largely ignored the copious labor historiography of Australia or Canada, for example.

Although the approach has its limitations, I think a good starting point for looking at comparative history is the one first put forth in the 1980s by people like Donald Denoon and John Fogarty: looking at [parts of] North America, Australasia, South America, and South Africa as "regions of recent settlement." The obvious limitation is that the elision writes the indigenes out of the approach. We're talking about "regions of recent European settlement," but the idea is a good one. Typically this approach has looked at regions where the European settlers quickly came to be a substantial proportion of the population, and often a majority.

The strength of this approach is that you can catch 10 countries in your net (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Newfoundland, New Zealand, United States, South Africa, Uraguay); this is also the weakness. Who can do archival research in multiple countries before tenure? In it's totality it's a project for tenured historians, or sociologists who are more comfortable relying on the secondary literature.

Most of these countries, of course, encompassed relatively sub-national units with varying degrees of autonomy: states, provinces, or separate colonies. Some of these predate the country we now refer to. For example, it sort of supposes federation was inevitable to talk about Australia before 1901 but most people do. This gives more variation in laws and customs, and makes in-depth research more feasible. For example, the North American Midwest and Northwest coast was largely settled in the mid-late 19th century, as were the Australasian colonies. This comparison makes sense, in a way that comparing 17th century New England to 19th century Australia does not.

Another approach, long out of favor, is the "comparative dominions" approach. This took Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa as natural comparators from their status as white dominions. Alexander Brady's 1947 book, Democracy in the Dominions remains insightful today, though readers of modern sensibilities may note that South Africa's course towards apartheid is not exactly prominent. It's mostly about comparative democracy.

This is still valuable -- you can, I think, make the argument that Canada, Australia and New Zealand were more democratic than the United States in the nineteenth century. Arguing over who has more democracy or more egalitarianism is fun for national pride, but unless you have an unambiguous [quantitative] measure of democracy or egalitarianism, it's better to fall back on examining how and why things changed, rather than toting up moral points.

Beginning with the "regions of recent European settlement" approach still strikes me as the way to go. The nation state is recognized, but not reified. Demography, economic conditions and the environment are key explanatory variables and topics of study. Difference and similarity between countries becomes the study of overlapping experiences, rather than stark divides.

It is not just because I am working on a dissertation that I advocate article to dissertation sized research that starts with small sub-national areas as the unit of comparison. It's because a lot of comparative history is still a manifesto for comparative history, and not research itself. Take a look at the Journal of American History's issue on "Beyond the Nation State" from December 1999. The ratio of manifesto to research is still relatively high, although things improved from the 1980 American Historical Review that was 2/3 manifesto and 1/3 actual comparative research (JSTOR stable link to the contents).

I'd love to know why cricket took off in 19th century Melbourne, but baseball took off in Toronto of the same era. Rob McDougall suggests that it was probably marketing. The answer awaits the researcher who wants to delve into the archives in both cities and read back copies of The Age and The Globe. The answer does not lie in essentializing national characteristics about the egalitarian ethos. My agenda for comparative history supposes that sociologists will get their hands dirty on microfilm and newsprint, and that historians view their small scale comparisons of city and region as contributing to a larger cross-national comparative project.

(You may think "great idea! what have you done about it?" It's a fair question -- there are none so idealistic as the un-initiated. I've published two articles that, I think, took the foregoing approach to comparative history.)

[Updated at 2:55pm cdt to correct some of the discussion of states and provinces etc, and add more to the discussion of Brady]

Posted by robe0419 at 10:32 AM | Comments (1)

May 3, 2005

Ignorance in the Star Tribune

You don't have to be an immigrant to be here legally ...

The Star Tribune (and many other papers) reports that: "the 11 states that issue driver's licenses to noncitizens are Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Hawaii, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin."

Let me explain this slowly. You do not have to be a citizen or immigrant to be in the United States legally and wish to obtain a drivers license. There are about 600,000 foreign students in the United States who are not immigrants, but may want to obtain a drivers license. As well as students there are other exchange visitors (au pairs, scholars, journalists) and representatives of foreign institutions or governments who may reside in America without intending to live here.

Perhaps it's not clear to the Star Tribune, nor to Congress, but a driver's license is a document that proves people have met some minimum (and in Minnesota they really are minimum) standards of competence to drive on public roads.

An identification card is a card that proves you are who you say you are.

Those are two quite different things. They ought not to be conflated.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:33 PM | Comments (1)

May 2, 2005

Cricket and the colonies

From one exciting topic (taxes) to another ... (via Crooked Timber, where the comments are the usual collection of the inane prattling to the academy)

Orlando Patterson and Jason Kaufman (elder statesman and rising thing young, respectively, in the Harvard Sociology Department) had a piece in the New York Times yesterday (illegal PDF copy here for future reference) that purports to explain why cricket faded into obscurity in North America (yes, that includes Canada) but is wildly popular in Australasia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, "the subcontinent" (i.e; Indian, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) and the West Indies.

Their thesis, simply stated, is:

Cricket lost ground in North America because of the egalitarian ethos of its societies.

Frankly, I don't get it. Perhaps the article is a little clearer on this startling new interpretation of Australian and New Zealand social history, not to mention American, but it just isn't plausible to me. Regarding Australia, they say

....less glamorous roles like bowling and fielding were assigned to social inferiors while those of specialist batsmen and team captain were reserved for elites. Much the same was true of 19th-century Australia, at the time a highly stratified colony whose masses were descended from prisoners. Cricket helped antipodean elites cultivate their Englishness, but the size and isolation of their European settlements limited the extent to which they could be truly exclusive.

It may be true that "less glamorous roles like bowling and fielding were assigned to social inferiors while those of specialist batsmen and team captain were reserved for elites," but calling Australia a highly stratified colony misrepresents how contemporary 19th century Australians saw their own country, and how it actually was. Since the Australasian censuses were destroyed we'll never really know how fluid the social structure was in 19th century Australia and New Zealand (the US had a much more fluid social structure than Britain. We know that.). It's abundantly clear that the popular view in both Australia and New Zealand was that social mobility was a good thing, and that marked social distinctions were bad.

Moreover, can you really say that 19th century America was a more egalitarian place than Australia or New Zealand? You can if you willingly ignore how race is related to class, and if you want to pretend that some regions with a social ethos a little removed from egalitarianism (that would be the South) are not really part of America. In other words, you can't advance the argument that 19th century America was substantially more egalitarian than 19th century Australasia without appearing a little foolish.

I admire the authors' bold willingness to explain in 750 words why one great game flourished in one place and another great game flourished elsewhere, but if that is the best they can do it doesn't inspire great confidence in their research.

UPDATE (3 May 2005 @ 5.25pm CDT): Not only do Orlando Patterson and Jason Kaufman have a flawed interpretation of North American history but they also have a damned shaky model of Indian history too, according to Sepoy at Chapati Mystery. (Tip o' the hat to Ralph Luker for the Chapati Mystery link)

UPDATE II (4 May 2005 @ 11.00am CDT): Rob McDougall is more sympathetic to Patterson and Kaufman, and advances a more plausible argument for baseball's advance in North America -- good marketing.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:30 PM | Comments (0)

Taxes, fees and credits

Via Minnesota Politics the news that the governor and the House Republican leadership want to cut the renters' tax credit.

Since I'm not likely to get the renter's tax credit this tax year anyway I want to believe that my opinion is not affected too much by the fond memories of the $300-500 checks that conveniently arrived just before the State Fair.

I've seen this kind of chicanery before about when paying more in tax is not actually a "tax increase," when the difference between user fees and taxes becomes emotionally heated, and when broadening the definition of taxable income or narrowing the definition of exempt income is not a tax increase even though some people pay more taxes after the change.

The 1990-1993 National Government in New Zealand had a peculiar fervor against raising taxes, but they introduced many new fees for previously free [at consumption] government services, reduced or eliminated many excemptions, and brought more income within the definition of taxable income. All the while saying that they had not raised taxes, which they defined narrowly as not raising the personal or corporate income tax rates, or the Goods and Services Tax (a value added tax) rate.

No-one likes paying more taxes. But when governments become fixated on not altering tax rates despite a persistent gap between government revenues and government expenditure this kind of inefficient fiddling at the margins is the result.

The level of taxes we have now is not perfect, it's the end result of bargains and legislative deals over several years. If in fact the people of Minnesota want state government to provide services provided or financed by local governments or private companies in other places then maybe our state taxes will be a little higher. Maybe in a few years if there's another boom they will be a little lower.

Taxation rates are a means to the end of having publicly provided services. There's nothing particularly special about whether they're 9.5% of total state income or 10.5%. The real question which is "what services do want the state government to finance/provide?" gets squeezed out by the reductive focus on keeping tax rates just as they were in 2002.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:01 PM | Comments (0)

May 1, 2005

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

Let me see if I understand the Star Tribune's write-up of yesterday's running of Minnesota's most expensive 10km, the Get in Gear. (Actually, their official tagline is "Minnesota's Annual Rite of Spring," but they seem to have taken the view that people will happily pay $5/mile for a 10k race.)

The Strib reports that "The slow early pace was dictated by the weather. Though many trees were in their best spring bloom, the temperature at race time was 40 degrees and winds blew at 7 miles per hour from the northwest." To be fair, they do rely on the 2nd place getters opinion to substantiate their summary. But if you skim the results down the field they actually look a little quicker than last year's running.

40 degrees is about 5-8 degrees on the chilly side of ideal, but a slight headwind in the first half, followed by a tailwind on the way home seems pretty good conditions. To be fair, I wasn't racing but I was jogging around the course in the opposite direction and it seemed pretty decent conditions for knocking out a reasonable time. Not perfect, but nothing too bad.

Unlike today. Knocked out my second [goal] marathon pace run in a week at the Wells Fargo Half Marathon. Now all I have to do is reduce the recovery between half-marathons from 165 hours to 0! The results are annotated "Snow (!), lots of wind" and that describes what we got. The race heads southwest, and the wind was out of the northwest, so heading west it was a little tough, but the last couple of miles were aided by a nice tail wind. To get in my 15 miles at pace I jogged through the chute, round the side and hauled myself back to the 11 mile mark at the same speed.

The snow was starting almost exactly as I finished the half marathon and I briefly contemplated stopping there. Glad I didn't as the extra 2 miles give me the confidence of knowing that I've gone beyond halfway at goal pace. Having done it in 34° with snow showers won't be much help if Grandma's turns on a hot day!

What is the 7 week extended forecast for Two Harbors?

Posted by robe0419 at 6:01 PM | Comments (1)