Dynamist Blog


The latest manifestation of California's compulsion to pass a law against anything anyone thinks is a bad idea: The Assembly has voted to forbid everyone under 18 from using a tanning booth. (Current law requires a parent's written permission.) From the SacBee report:

For teenagers who think California government doesn't care about the color of their skin, the Assembly proved otherwise Thursday.

Legislators fear that too many youngsters are getting too much tan.They approved AB 2193, by a vote of 42-26, to prohibit minors from using indoor tanning booths without a doctor's prescription.

If signed into law, the measure would affect countless thousands of youngsters who crave a golden glow before a party, prom or just for fun.

Assemblyman Joe Nation, a San Rafael Democrat who proposed the bill, said the evidence is clear that indoor tanning - like outdoor tanning - can cause skin cancer.

"I think it is the proper role of government to minimize the exposure of kids to known carcinogens," Nation said.

Yes, tanning booths are bad for you. So are a lot of things--including going to the beach without sunscreen. Is that next on the list of California regulations? I wouldn't be surprised.

Stay tuned for more in this never-ending story...


I never cease to be amazed at the great resources you can find on the Internet. My latest discovery: the Internet Sacred Text Archive, which includes full-text versions of all sorts of religious and mythological texts. Doing research on glamour, I came across its online version of the Malleus Maleficarum, the very creepy 1486 manual for witch hunters. (A "glamour" used to mean a literal magic spell.)


Lots of interesting, provocative observations on Grant McCracken's blog, which "sits at the intersection of anthropology & economics." Check it out.


Over at VodkaPundit, Stephen Green writes a semi-review of The Substance of Style, in which he finds a hopeful answer to a nagging worry about the future of the economy:

Thanks to modern methods of production, the expanding umbrella of free trade, and low-cost shipping, most anyone can produce most anything, in most any country.

Let me repeat that, because it's a vital economic fact: Most anyone can produce most anything in most any country. The profit margins--hence wealth--in manufacturing are nothing great, and will get smaller. Oh, whatever is the latest and greatest in high tech will still earn big fat margins, but nothing else. Cars, home electronics, power tools, you name it--anyone can make them, everyone will make them, and nobody will be making big bucks doing so. If, that is, they make the plain vanilla versions.

So are we doomed to be poor, what, with our ever-shrinking and out-sourced manufacturing base? Hardly. When everything people need to live is cheap, then there will still be lots and lots of money to be made selling things people want.

And what people--wealthy people, like even lower-middle-class Americans--want, is something cool. Something hip, something pretty, something special. And look and feel--or "hip & cool"--is what Americans excel at designing and marketing.

In the comments, some people took issue with Stephen's national pride, pointing out that Japan, for instance, is even better--or at least more obsessed with--figuring out cool. That's right. There are certainly other countries, notably Japan and Italy, that are well positioned to do well as the frontier of competition moves toward aesthetics.

What Americans actually do well is to produce economic value, without a whole lot of sentimentality about whether what the market values is what it should value or whether the good old days were better. This economic pragmatism, combined with the creativity required to identify and produce new sources of value, is more distinctive than its manifestation at the moment, whether that's in delivering "cool" or manufacturing and distributing mass quantities of laundry detergent.


I have a short article in today's Boston Globe Ideas section:

THE BAD NEWS for newlywed Massachusetts gays and lesbians is that, under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government won't recognize their marriages.

The good news is that by staying "single" in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, they could save a lot on taxes. Despite some reforms in 2001, many two-earner couples still pay a "marriage penalty," particularly if one spouse earns enough to hit the top tax bracket on his or her income alone.

Massachusetts, I learned during my reporting, has a fairly "marriage neutral" tax code--one that I wish the federal tax code would emulate. Read the rest here. For background on the broader issues, and the history of the "marriage tax," see my 2003 Globe piece here.


What does this quote from the latest on Abu Ghraib tell us about U.S. prisons?

[Joseph] Darby quoted [Charles] Graner, a former Pennsylvania prison guard, as saying: "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself."'

Of course, U.S. prison guards have the good sense not to take photos, and, judging from popular culture, the general public couldn't care less about abuse, including widespread rape, in U.S. prisons.


My latest NYT column looks at a question politicians and pundits don't ask but should:

Congress and the White House are wrangling over how much the federal government should spend on highways.The White House proposed a $256 billion budget for roads, bridges and transit over the next six years. (The previous six-year measure, which expired last year, cost $218 billion.) The House passed a $284 billion version, while the Senate further upped the ante to $318 billion. The White House threatens to veto those amounts as too lavish.

To political analysts, the highway bill is a popular program that has fallen prey to partisan, and intraparty, bickering. Lost in the dispute is the economic question: What are we getting for our money?

Find out here.


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From a report by the American Institute of Architects' chief economist, Kermit Baker:

Architecture firms reported even further improvements in business conditions in April. Overall, 29 percent of firms indicated that their billings had significantly increased, while 17 percent reported a comparable decline. Overall billings have increased every month this year, and in some cases the increase has been very dramatic.

As encouraging as the magnitude of the improvement has been its breadth. Firms in all regions of the country note a significant upturn in business conditions. Likewise, business conditions have improved for all types of firms, regardless of their area of specialization. Of particular note is that firms with an institutional focus reported the strongest improvement in billings in April. Many of these firms had reported softer conditions in recent months.

This solid upturn in business activity at architecture firms shows no signs of abating. Inquiries for new project work were also very strong in April and, again, very broadly based. Firms in all areas of specialization indicated very healthy increases in new inquiries, with residential firms reporting the sharpest gains.

The report includes graphs--and some interesting news on outsourcing.

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