Special mention



In the United States, there are now somewhere between 270 million and 310 million guns, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s almost one gun for every person in the nation.

While we spend a lot of time discussing Second Amendment rights and gun-control measures, the fact is guns are big business in the United States.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, U.S. gun manufacturing has more than tripled since 2001 (from 2.9 million to 10.8 million total firearms produced).


Meantime, as Jim Tankersley explains, gun manufacturer profits have risen as well.

The stock market shows that story. If you’d bought shares of Sturm, Ruger & Co. in 2009, they’d be worth about 10 times as much today. That’s a slightly better return than if you’d bought Apple.


And while some U.S.-manufactured guns are exported (a bit less than 400 thousand in 2013), that was more than made up for by firearms imports into the United States (more than 5.5 million in 2013).

You want to understand the escalation of gun violence in the United States? Just follow the money. . .

Chart of the day

Posted: 3 October 2015 in Uncategorized
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While we’re at it (trying to make sense of the extraordinary number of mass shootings and other gun-violence victims in the United States), here’s another way.

CNN [ht: ja] decided to tally up the number of Americans killed through terrorist attacks (both foreign and domestic) in the last decade and compare it with the number of Americans who have died in gun violence.

Using numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we found that from 2004 to 2013, 316,545 people died by firearms on U.S. soil. (2013 is the most recent year CDC data for deaths by firearms is available.) This data covered all manners of death, including homicide, accident and suicide.

According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas as a result of incidents of terrorism from 2004 to 2013 was 277.

In addition, we compiled all terrorism incidents inside the U.S.* and found that between 2004 and 2013, there were 36 people killed in domestic acts of terrorism. This brings the total to 313.

Have we had enough yet—enough to control the production and ownership of firearms and to eliminate the other structural causes of violence within the United States?


Special mention

OctoBEAR_cartoon_10.01.2015_normal 650

Art of the day

Posted: 2 October 2015 in Uncategorized
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I guess we’re far enough away from the Cold War that a socialist can make a serious for the presidency—and for the art that was produced in the early decades of the Soviet Union to be appreciated in the United States.

Yesterday, Kristin M. Jones reviewed the Jewish Museum’s exhibit “The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film” for the Wall Street Journal.

In Dziga Vertov’s exuberant “Man With a Movie Camera” (1929), the camera dances, spins and materializes on rooftops, before an oncoming train and even on stage. Combining electrifying editing, naturalistic scenes and trick photography, the film evokes 24 hours of Soviet urban life, beginning with humans and machines awakening at daylight. Vertov envisioned an all-seeing “cinema eye—more perfect than a human eye for purposes of research into the chaos of visual phenomena filling the universe.” Filmmakers explored various aesthetic approaches during the era, but it was a period of startling cinematic invention.

And, of course, that same startling artistic invention can be seen in the original poster for the film (created by the Sternberg brothers).


Value of a college education

Posted: 2 October 2015 in Uncategorized


The escalation of college costs—for both private and public institutions—has provoked a proliferation of college rankings based on post-graduate earnings. So, for example, there’s College Scorecard (by salary after attending), Brookings (value-added ranking), PayScale (mid-career pay), and others.

All of them are attempts to measure the extent to which, as students and their families are being forced to have the freedom to pay more in tuition and to take on increasing amounts of debt, is it all worth it?

That is, what is the value of a college education?

This issue came up yesterday in class, as I was discussing the difference between the use-value and exchange-value of commodities. I asked the students how they and their fellow students saw their purchase of the college commodity: was it to become better educated or to invest in themselves to increase their earnings after college?

In the latter case, the idea is to buy (the college commodity) in order to sell (their ability to work, to some employer later on)—with the goal of earning more than they paid to the college or university they attended (discounted, of course, by the earnings foregone while studying). From that perspective, the earnings-based rankings matter a great deal.

In the former case, the goal is a bit different: the focus is on learning how to think, and the various ways their education benefits not only themselves, but society as a whole.

Those are very different ways of thinking about the use-value of a college education.

The problem is, as college costs go up, it is increasingly difficult to sustain the focus on learning how to think as against buying in order to sell. There’s more and more pressure on students and their families to be able to prove that the more they spend on college the more they are “worth” when they graduate. And that, as it turns out, is very difficult.

As James B. Stewart explains,

The bottom line is that no ranking system or formula can really answer the question of what college a student should attend. Getting into a highly selective, top-ranked college may confer bragging rights, status and connections, but it doesn’t necessarily contribute to a good education or lifelong success, financial or otherwise.

Of course, the only way to put the focus back on college as learning (to the benefit of both individuals and society as a whole) is to rein in college costs and to expand access to affordable, high-equality public education.

Chart of the day

Posted: 2 October 2015 in Uncategorized
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mass shootings

Yesterday’s gun attack at a community college in Oregon, which killed at least nine people and wounded seven more, brought the total of U.S. mass shootings this year—incidents where 4 or more people are killed or injured by gunfire—to 294.

Charleston. Lafayette. Virginia. Now, Roseburg Oregon. But beneath the steady drumbeat of these high-profile cases lay the hundreds daily mass shootings that most of us never hear about. 11 wounded in a Georgia barroom.Six shot outside a Tulsa nightclub. A pregnant mom and grandmother killed, an infant wounded in Chicago.

We’ve gone no more than eight days without one of these incidents this year. On six days in September, there were 3 mass shootings or more. If the initial casualty figures in Oregon hold up, that would bring the total of deaths by mass shooting this year to 380 so far, with well over one thousand injured.

And of course, there’s the broader universe of nearly 10,000 people killed and 20,000 wounded in nearly 40,000 gun violence incidents so far this year.

These numbers only tell the smallest part of the story. And these very numbers will need to be updated again tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that.