Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It's Retroactionary Tuesday!

Updated 10/15/2014
Image by The Daily What, via Slashfilm.
Shorter David Brooks, "The Sorting Election", New York Times, 14 October 2014:
I mean which do you prefer, the Bay Area and the quaint old backward-looking, high-regulation, walkable-neighborhood broccoli information economy of the 1990s, or Houston and the hot new forward-driving, petroleum-stained, big-freedom raw-meat energy economy of the 1980s? The country's big enough for the both of them, right?
He's in his highest-gloss nonpartisan just-sayin' mode today, calling forth wonderful peals of invective from Driftglass, who can be driven very nearly insane by that "who, me, conservative? Why I'm just an innocent bystander" pose, and the faux-barbaric yawp coming from someone who until recently believed Applebee's had a salad bar:
The Bay Area is beautiful in the way urbanists like, while Houston is mostly ugly, in the way fast-food chains like.
Says someone who, evidence suggests, has been living in a $300 boutique hotel in Adams Morgan or the like for the past year and was rhapsodizing about walkability just the other day.

But what really interests me is the retroactionary part, the way he presents Oil City, with its metastasizing ooze across the landscape, as a delightfully hip new trend in opposition to those tired old northern Californians and their crazy zoning laws (in the week when the economics Nobel went to a hero of more regulation), and of course the source he gets it from, his pal the suburban futurologist Joel Kotkin, the prophet of sprawl, of Chapman University (217th in the Washington Monthly list of "affordable elites" if $45K a year is affordable) in Orange County, CA.

Because Kotkin more or less wrote this column, at much greater length, a week or so ago for the Daily Beast (I guess Brooks's readers at the Times wouldn't know about that any more than they'd know about Applebee's—nor would I, for that matter, if I hadn't Googled it), so that Brooks could suck all its data out and file it today, as he kind of does, once a year or so, with Kotkin's stuff. (It's not plagiarism in this case, I think, merely the kind of lame-ass thing you did in 8th grade when the bibliography for your term paper consisted of a single magazine article).

Kotkin has been singing hymns to the unwalkable housing tract settlement, where you can't even mail a letter without taking the car, for years now, the ham in Brooks's ham on wry, and he's currently deeply involved in praising Houston (in fact he's pretty openly working for the city as a well-paid image consultant, which makes his journalistic writing on the subject just a little ethically problematic, I think), and Brooks is clearly glad to give him a hand with that, if only in return for a column topic, something he's having an increasingly hard time finding.

The other thing about Kotkin is that he's always wrong. About everything.

I'm not going to work through the thing, because I can't bring myself to really care about Houston that much one way or another, except for the methodological part, but there's one bit that's really funny, where Kotkin/Brooks bring in a little of that Occupy rhetoric to show you how slick the city is:
Ironically, Houston’s growth has been more egalitarian than that of the notionally super-progressive San Francisco region. (Kotkin)
Kotkin, who has become an evangelist for the Houston model, points out that Houston is possibly the most ethnically diverse city in America. It’s more egalitarian than San Francisco. (Brooks)
Kotkin cites a reasonable sounding source for this, a Brookings study, but it's only one measure, which he doesn't actually display to critical attention, and he doesn't do it quite honestly, talking about the San Francisco region (i.e. including the Silicon Valley) but using a finding that's only for the city itself. But by other measures, San Francisco-Oakland alone are just barely more unequal than Houston, while the San Jose area is a great deal less so, so it evens out that Houston's inequality is quite a bit worse than that of the Bay Area as a whole, as you can see from the GINI coefficients/rank/score/rating, where Houston is 9th most unequal in 102 major US markets, San Francisco just ahead at 8th, and San Jose decidedly behind at 44th:


San Francisco-Oakland0.484581.37High
San Jose0.4604440.19Medium

ratio low-income to high income (the higher the ratio the greater the imbalance), neither of them bad at all but Houston is much worse and San Jose is the best in the sample

San Francisco-Oakland2.8399-1.57Low
San Jose1.97102-1.69Low

and poverty rates, where Houston is scary bad and the Bay Area not bad at all

Houston16.8%260.43Somewhat high
San Francisco-Oakland11.5%84-0.98Low
San Jose10.6%96-1.21Low

and high-wage vs. low-wage job growth (including some very rough-guess numbers, based on two reports by Richard Florida, which also provided the maps):

  • San Francisco/San Jose 49/63% high-wage ($21+/hr), compared with 24% for Houston;
  • SF/SJ apparently more than 25% mid-wage ($14-$/hr) vs. 47% for Houston;
  • and SF/SJ definitely less than 25% (under 20% in SJ) low-wage (less than $14/hr) next to 27% for Houston

The difference is, the Bay Area is unequal because its high-wage workers (not talking about the hedge-fund investors and trust-fund babies) are paid really well, and Houston is unequal because its low-wage workers are paid rather badly. (San Jose has a local minimum wage of $10.50, San Francisco $10.74, Houston none but the federal minimum of $7.25 applies.)

Houston's ethnic diversity is greater than New York's not because it has more different ethnic groups, it doesn't (it has scored in the past quite a bit better than NYC on integration measures, but see below), but because two sponsored booster institutions at Rice University, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas, made up a measure, the "Entropy Index", that says it is: because five basic "racial" classifications are more in balance than they are in New York:

I think it's dumb, but not worth arguing over, OK? If they want to brag about how entropic they are it's not my problem.

Update 10/15/2014: People of Quality

Woke up with a sudden realization what ethnic entropy is likely to be: the situation where no force can dislodge the non-Hispanic white minority from power. Sure enough, just two of the sixteen City Council members have Spanish surnames, one Asian, and you can do a rough count of the African American members yourself:

Mayor Annise Parker and the City Council. Photo from a story about how it's illegal to be homeless or to feed homeless people in Houston, because the mayor and council want to "make the city more appealing to people of quality", by Aufait at Hubpages.
On the integration question, it turns out that the student body of the Houston Independent School District is about 8% white, while
Of the 275 Harris County private schools that voluntarily reported their racial makeup, almost half were also at least 80 percent white -- or at least 80 percent minority. (Dallas News)
The data showing that Houston is one of the best integrated cities in the US date from the height of the housing bubble, around 2004. I'd like to see something on how the foreclosure crisis affected that situation—it was said to be creating graffiti-ridden "suburban ghettoes" in 2009.

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