Saturday, January 16, 2016

Are Wal-Mart's recently announced closures a symptom of higher minimum wage?

Wal-Mart recently announced that they would be closing 269 stores globally; 155 of them in the US.  This is pretty big news.  I've seen several claims by bloggers, news sites, and others have jumped on this story to claim that these closures were to be expected, as minimum wage raises across the country demanded by angry workers unable to feed their families on Wal-Mart wages have made operations impossible.

It's plausible, but I was curious if the numbers backed it up.  I have found that they do not: overall there is a very weak correlation between minimum wage and the recently announced closures.  I've summarized my findings in a few graphs below.

Visualizing the Data

Predicting closures by minimum wage
On the right is a scatter of the closures vs the state minimum wage.  As you can see, the states with the highest minimum wage also saw some of the fewest closures, there is even a downward trend as minimum wage decreases.  This could suggest that with a lower minimum wage that people consume less from places like Wal-Mart since they have less money.  But with a p-value of well over .05, the model wildly varies.  Texas is also a major outlier, with nearly 30 closures in their state despite their modest minimum wage.  The 5 states with no minimum wage at all still saw a moderate number of closures.  The R-Square of the data is microscopic, the minimum wage is a terrible predictor of the number of closures per state.

Controlling for party control of the state executive and legislative branch

Another interesting point to consider would be which party has control of the state.  Everyone loves to blame all our problems on the dreaded Other Party That Isn't Us™, so let's look at the data again but control for party.  Democrat controlled states do have a fairly strong upward trend to closures, but the significance is well over .05 here as well.  The trend among divided (one party controls executive branch the other controls legislative) and Republican states is mostly flat, with similarly low significance causing wide amounts of variation.  The wide amount of variation can probably be explained by the fact that so few states are fully Democrat, so each data point has a lot more pull.

And here's a few charts summarizing the data:

State minimum wage
Number of closures
Overall you can see that Republicans obviously favor lower minimum wages, with the 5 states with no minimum wage being shown in green on the second graphic.  Purple states typically have higher minimum wage than Republican ones, curiously, and there are even a few Democrat controlled states with lower minimum wages than a few of their Republican counterparts.  Particularly surprising is how bad Wal-Mart is doing in their home state, Arkansas, where 11 stores are closing.


With the data being mostly insignificant, we will have to turn to theories to help us jump to some conclusions.
My theory is that Wal-Mart sucks and people are avoiding them.  Wal-Mart has gotten a lot of negative publicity for their abysmally low wages, food drives for its own employees living in poverty and attempts to stop employees from speaking out about horrible working conditions, and of course the destruction of local businesses through low prices they're able to provide with things like child labor and underpaying employees.  I wouldn't go so far as to call it an outright boycott, but I know I for one avoid going there at all costs.  I usually went just to people watch and wander around.  What else are you going to do in a small town at 2 am?  It's safe to assume that with all the attention being drawn to what a horrible company they are that people are trying to find other ways to support themselves and their community.

The truth may be a little less of a crusade and a little more about shifting economics.  People are shopping more online, which is thought to be eating into Wal-Mart's business significantly.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why do Libertarians like Bernie Sanders?

I align with Libertarians on many issues.  I like personal responsibility over myself instead of a theocratic nanny state telling me what I can and can't do.  I don't like Americans dying in wars that only make more enemies.  I don't like having to choose between a welfare state party and a theocracy party living in the 1st century.  I don't like to see a lot of government intervention in the market.

The Libertarian base doesn't like the idea of more federal or sometimes even state government.  Government only leads to bloated bureaucracies, back room deals and mismanaged wastefulness.  Which is often true.

But many of us are excited about a self-described socialist named Bernie Sanders.  A democratic socialist to be exact. How can we call ourselves Libertarians but support more government?  Government bad, remember??  Well, there are a lot of reasons for a Libertarian to support this socialist.  He's against corporate welfare, the NSA surveillance state, private prisons that lobby to keep Americans in jail for money, the Drug War, restrictions on abortion and gay marriage, globalist "free trade zones" that hurt American jobs.

But Sanders is a Socialist.  A Socialist!  He's going to come to our homes and take our money and guns and property away from us!  How could you support this you commie!??

Well, it's not quite like that.  First of all, the definition of socialism has gotten twisted around so much in this country that it's nearly as dirty a word as "liberal" (USA is a liberal country.  Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness ring a bell?) and "compromise".  So what socialist policies does this commie Jew think would be good for our country?  Bernie wants more regulations on Wall Street to prevent another financial meltdown.  He wants to raise the minimum wage to raise all working wages back to where they relatively were in the 80s and 90s.  He wants health care and retirement plans to be universal.  He wants paid maternity leave for new mothers.  Many of these things are already enjoyed by our European counterparts.  Why are we BEHIND in terms of democracy and freedom?  American invented Freedom, with a capital 'F' goddammit!

Just to show how intelligent he is and how long he's had this platform, here he is predicting the Wall Street collapse due to bad investment and crony capitalism A FULL 10 YEARS before it actually happened.  He also refuses personal attacks.  He talks about facts and issues, and completely refuses to take place in the political theatrics of the likes of Cruz and Trump.

I don't agree with everything he says.  But I think he's a reasonable, intelligent man who is willing to listen to his opponents and come to a compromise.

So there's quite a few reasons for any American that isn't a millionaire to get behind Bernie Sanders.  That's why I'll continue to call myself a Libertarian, and continue to call myself a fan of Bernie Sanders.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Two Would Have Been Better Than Zero

Obama vetoed the Keystone XL recently.  It's a bit maddening that this pipeline gets so much attention.  After all, a pipeline is a safer way to transport oil than by rail, boat or truck (all of which can tip over fairly easily) and the environmental impact is fairly minimal compared to all the other pipelines extracting tar sands.  Furthermore, only approximately 35 jobs are expected to be permanent after the pipeline is constructed, and the oil isn't expected to have a big impact on the US market.  So why did this turn into such a bitter fight?  Wait, the Koch brothers own a significant share in this?  Now I'm starting to see....

Either way, we've wasted enough time on it.  Instead of vetoing it, Obama could have given Republicans their pipeline in return for the removal of a rider from a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security that also included a highly politicized rider attacking his immigration order a few months ago.

We could have seen 2 bills pass instead of 0.  Trading one bill that doesn't matter for a bill that would have kept DHS funded and helped improve the lives of honest and hardworking immigrants would have been a pretty good deal in my opinion.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Not all cops are bad. But oversight keeps them honest. Here's what you can do about it.

The revelations of March 30's assault on another American, Kianga Mwamba, for the crime of videotaping their arrest of Cordell Bruce, is disturbing for several reasons.  First, this happened on March 30th, why are we just now hearing about it?  The cops deleted the video from her phone.  It had to be recovered from her cloud account.  Second, it doesn't seem like she was doing anything wrong.  In the video, her conversation with the police goes from calm to violent in a flash.  It's difficult to see what happened as the phone camera flailed around, but it's clear that things escalated unreasonably fast.  Third, the police officer called her a "dumb bitch" after throwing her on the ground, and claimed she had tried to run over an officer.  Also pretty unreasonable.  And fourth, they tased her.  This has become way too common.

Image from CBS shows some of the injuries Kianga incurred during the altercation
While in custody, Mwamba gave her phone to a police officer to show that she hadn't tried to run over the officer (the car never goes faster than idle in the video) and the video was erased.  She was released with cuts and bruises, but no charges.  It was clearly just a setup to get rid of the video, which doesn't show anything except the excessive force they used to get Mwamba's phone.

It almost seems like they thought she had seen them committing a crime, such as kicking him as they allegedly were right before she started filming.  Interesting.

So how can we protect ourselves?

Video everything.  Keep bringing attention to what is happening on our streets.  These are high profile cases.  If you get arrested, a lawyer will DEFINITELY take up your case pro-bono.  That kind of publicity is priceless.  

One thing I have done is download an iPhone or Android app called Bambuser.  It's a social video sharing app, but it has a few important features.  It automatically uploads WHILE STREAMING, so even if the cops take your phone and try to wipe it, as they did to Kianga, you will still have access from your cloud Bambuser account.  Assuming you have a bad connection, it will only take minutes for your video to be safely uploaded to the cloud.  It also records video even with the screen off, so you can pretend you are taking a phone call while you record.  

Password-locking your phone in some way is good too.  You don't have to use a lockscreen password, I have a custom lockscreen that quizzes me Japanese vocabulary that I prefer to use.  Using an app called AppLock, Android users can lock individual apps with a pin, password or pattern.  iPhone users, you have no options here, but I do recommend you put a lock screen password up.

Stay safe, friends.