Is this mailbag "screen time"?
Some especially good news, parenting advice, and a defense of my econ predictions
These five weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year always feel like dead space on the news calendar to me, but it’s about ten percent of the total year which is kind of a lot. So I’m gonna try to think of some good articles to write.
Kicking off this week’s good news, we are incredibly grateful to everyone who’s helped raise money for GiveDirectly this week. When we mentioned them briefly in our Giving Tuesday post last year, Slow Boring readers gave more than $15,000. This year, we thought a stronger pitch, made by more than one newsletter, would get us five times that amount, if we were lucky and people were feeling generous.
But we hit our 5x goal in just four hours, and the campaign has so far raised over $180,000 — and that’s not even counting the donations many of you made toward GiveDirectly’s matching goal. If you’ve been meaning to give and haven’t had a chance, the fundraiser will be open for four more days (through Tuesday, a full week) and we would love to hit $200,000. The village we aimed to fund is fully funded, but more money will let GiveDirectly expand to more villages.
More good news: We’ve got new jobs coming to former coal communities courtesy of the Energy Department, we’ve got third quarter GDP growth revised upwards to be even better, the hostage exchange is happening in Gaza, and NASA found six new planets. Apparently the past five years have been the five best years for book sales ever. And American life expectancy is rising again.
I also wanted to shout out the Niskanen Center’s new online mag Hypertext, which has a really cool symposium up talking about Milton Friedman’s vision of a free market welfare state centered on a Negative Income Tax. There are a lot of interesting technical issues around the workability of NIT, but I think the larger themes here are fundamental to Niskanen, and to my own thinking, in terms of how to create sustainable inclusive liberal institutions.
lindamc: Last week I went to my local running store to get new shoes. The ones I got were new to me — I'm recovering from a stress fracture, and was looking for more stability — so when I got home, I looked up reviews to see how others like them. I looked at several sites, including the one for the store (part of a national chain), where I saw that the shoes were 25 percent less on the website than in the store of the same company.
Do you have a take on this? I get that it's more expensive to have a store than a warehouse full of boxes, but 25% seems huge.
Maybe I'm a weirdo, but I prefer to buy things in person (among other things, it makes me more conscious of the fact that I'm spending money) and I like living in an urban environment with actual stores. A world in which people just stay home all the time, consuming entertainment on screens while ordering everything they need/want to be delivered, sounds very bad to me, and this seems like a meaningful step in that direction.
Ten years ago, I was constantly worrying about this. My neighborhood had gone from being full of vacant storefronts and shady used car dealerships when I first moved in 20 years ago, to being full of bars and restaurants but still almost no actual stores where you could buy things. That combined with the rise of online shopping made me think neighborhood retail as we knew it was maybe dying. But now, as of 2023, the stretch of 14th Street between Rhode Island Avenue and Florida Avenue has a bike shop, a Sephora, a Madewell, a separate Madewell men’s store, a Lululemon, a bookstore, a Commonwealth, a running goods store, a Backcountry, a Shinola, a Marine Layer, and a bunch of furniture stores, along with the cell phone places, liquor stores, banks, and marijuana dispensaries that you see everywhere. So I do think the demand for retail still exists, especially where there’s enough residential density to support it, plus enough zoning for ground floor retail that it isn’t all occupied by banks.
But this is a reason not to be dismissive of the signs of rising shoplifting and retail theft in some cities. Companies can and will invest in countermeasures to safeguard their warehouses, but anything that raises the cost basis of running an urban retail store will mean that at the margin you get fewer of them. And that will mean a less competitive marketplace and higher prices. My sense is that enforcement of the rules against this sort of thing has in practice always been pretty lax, but people didn’t necessarily realize how easy it was to get away with shoplifting and smash-and-grab jobs. Now the word is out and we need to take countermeasures.
City of Trees: What screen and device rules do you have for your son, and what rules do you have planned as he gets older? From what you've learned so far, is there any advice that you'd give to other parents in this regard?
Even though we use the phrase “screen time” for a lot of this stuff, the actual policies in our house are much more about content than about screens.