Conor Friedersdorf Carries Yet More Water for Rand Paul: Thursday Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot-Bang-Query-Bang-Query Weblogging
Noted for July 18, 2013

And: Jim Henley on the "Realism" of Timothy B. Lee: #2 Wednesday Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot-Bang-Query-Bang-Query Weblogging

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Outsourced to Jim Henley: A Model World:

My first thought on reading Timothy B. Lee’s headline, “That McDonald’s budget people are making fun of isn’t cruel. It’s realistic.,” was that he was presenting a false dichotomy: the budget could easily be both realistic and cruel. But on closer examination, the “realism” disappeared anyway. Of all the many problems with the budget itself and Lee’s account of it, I want to concentrate on what he should have seen because he was literally staring at it, but didn’t…. I know how to recognize a rosy scenario when I see it. Let’s ignore a lot of things we could pick at--like the True Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a car you can buy for loan cash of $7K. Let’s stick to….

  • McDonald’s average US wage for restaurant workers is $7.63.
  • At that wage, you get very close to their representative $1,105/month take-home pay if you work 40 hours per week 51 weeks a year.
  • At that wage, you need to work an additional 35 hours per week at the second job McDonald’s advises you to get (again, 51 weeks/year).
  • That is 75 hours of work per week.
  • That is two full-time jobs as the BLS defines full-time jobs per the very dataset to which Lee links.
  • Only a quarter-million Americans managed to do that in 2012 (somewhat fewer in 2011)
  • McDonald’s employs about a half-million Americans in its restaurants.
  • There are many, many other low-wage employers in the country.

A simple principle of budgeting: if what you represent as needing to happen only actually happens 0.2% of the time, your model is as “realistic” as the diagram of a hyperdrive Chad Orzel’s dog might receive in the mail from a thinker the physics establishment has inexplicably shunned. We can imagine all sorts of reasons why hardly anyone holds down two full-time jobs at once – stamina, scheduling, job availability, entropy – if we think about it for a second. But once we notice that it hardly ever happens, we should realize that it hardly ever happens.

Lee chides denizens of “the Northeast Corridor” for their provincialism, but he doesn’t always think about the “realistic” numbers he’s finding…. He doesn’t notice that the all-important number, people with two full-time jobs, is… vanishingly small. He wants this to be a morality play about out-of-touch coastal liberals…. What he does is demonstrate that his particular brand of hard-headedness is itself a fantasy.