Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Almost Over...

We leave for good in two days. Last minute packing and cleaning now fill up most of our time. I just hope now that everything fits in the cars. Looking around the room, the apartment is just a shell. The only thing that remains the same are the pictures on the walls (left up to keep our sanity as long as possible). Even the pictures will come down either today or tomorrow. Luckily we have done pretty much everything that we need to outside the apartment so there won't be much rushing around today.

It is really nice that Denise and Kayla will be coming up to help us move. Having the truck to haul some of the big stuff will be a lifesaver. It is also really good because it will allow us to take one final tour around Vancouver tomorrow, showing Kayla the place we have come to call home. I will really miss this area, I have never been unhappy about the weather my whole time here. Even when it is raining, it feels right.

I turned in all my stuff into the thesis office (close to 800 pages of paper). The funny lady that runs the place let us know that there were no glaring mistakes that would require a reprint of the whole thing (margin errors, page numbering, etc.). That was a huge relief. Now we just wait a couple months and hope there are no problems prior to binding. Being completely done with the thesis feels like a relief. It was an interesting topic and I enjoyed the things I learned from it. I can't believe it is really over...

Copies of my thesis are for sale, only $80 CAD each (Just kidding SFU, I know I only have a partial copyright).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Still Hasn't Sunk In Yet

I defended my thesis successfully yesterday. It was really intense but a lot of engaging questions were raised and everyone there complimented me on my answers and calmness. I can't believe that I am done. I just have to make some minor revisions and then print the copies to be bound by the library. It is so exciting to have a Master's. Since Heather defended yesterday (which was overly success), every time she does something I say "that is your first time doing _____ with your master's." I have started doing it for myself as well since yesterday afternoon.

It just feels crazy to think that we will be moving back to the U.S. in about a week. Having worked for two years on one project is something new and I am glad that it has worked out so well overall. My extremely kind adviser came to the bar after the defense and graciously bought pitchers for a few of the grad students that came to the defense. It was a nice celebration. Today we have been invited to a celebratory/going away BBQ. It will be sad to leave our friends, but moving onto to the next part of our lives will be really exciting. Seeing all our old Utah friends will be really fun as well.

Because I am a bit of a masochist, I found a couple jobs I could not pass up applying for in Washington D.C. It was actually kind of fun updating my resume. The jobs that I see are really interesting and would be really exciting as careers. It is cool to be in a position to try out careers and still have a lot of options to fall back on if I decide it isn't exactly what I want. The possibility of doing a PhD is still out there but I think that getting an idea of what is out there for the types of jobs I want first is a good idea.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Migration Myths, Journalistic Mistakes: How do Articles Like this Get Printed?

On the front page of MSN today was a link titled "What if All the Illegal Immigrants Went Home". It sounded like an interesting piece so I decided to check it out. Obviously the folks at felt the actual title of the article, "What if we threw out all the illegal immigrants,"was not quite appropriate for the tagline. Once I saw the actual title and checked the credentials of the writer (Shirley Skeel, a "print and radio journalist based in Seattle who has written for Bloomberg News, The Seattle Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph in London. She has also produced radio features for National Public Radio and its affiliates"), I was not sure what I would find. I did a quick google search of Skeel's previous work and found some other less than complimentary commentaries about other Skeel articles here.

While shoddy journalism is nothing new at MSN Money, this articles takes lessons learned from an intro to economics course and attempts to apply them to the real world.
The biggest losers would be middle-class families with two working parents, living in high-immigrant states such as California, Texas, Florida or New York."
What about the twelve million people forcibly displaced? Seems like being tossed back to a variety of countries in Latin America, Europe, and Asia would be more difficult. These workers left for a multitude of reasons (including discrimination), and being forcibly returned would be much worse than someone having to clean their own house. Not to mention that many of those that had to go back to low-income countries would now face extremely difficult circumstance as large numbers of former immigrants would now end up competing for the same jobs that caused them to leave their home country in the first place. Also, the families that would be destroyed by such an event would also be in a worse situation than the guy who has to mow his own lawn. Many families have some family members that are undocumented workers while other members have gained legal status. This could even mean couples being split up and parents separated from children. Skeel touches on the difficulties of deporting so many people, but only as an afterthought (though it seem like the whole article is more of an afterthought, than actual journalism).

Possibly the most insulting part of the article:
"Economists say if [American citizens] agreed to bone meat or install insulation, they could earn 6% to 10% more than the deported workers, as wages rose to lure new workers. That could mean $18,000 to $30,000 in pay a year."
Come on, what "economists" did you speak to? This sort of theoretical armchair economics is the reason most Americans understand so little about how global capital works. These two sentences are riddled with so many problematic and untrue assumptions that it would take more time than I am willing to invest to deconstruct them. However, I will focus on two key points: wage determinants and employment networks.

This statement (and the wider article) makes the fallacious assumption that the "illegal immigrants" are the reason for lower wages. While from a purely theoretical perspective this may seem plausible or even likely, any engagement with the actual literature on wage restructuring points to wider, more structural factors. Aviva Chomsky (2007) notes that wages across the U.S. have either stagnated or declined for low-skill workers, while profits have increased in many sectors. She argues that it is the businesses that target undocumented workers because of their marginal status, which allows companies to treat them abhorrently while not fearing repercussions. This is particularly true in many agricultural industries that rely heavily on undocumented labor. Were they to switch to documented workers with legal rights they would deeply cut into their profits and thus face the wrath of their short-term minded shareholders. This would likely push many companies either to increase their production of goods in other countries (which may not be as profitable as it used to be, due to the high costs of transportation due to higher gas prices) or by directly increasing the prices of goods (something that would create a serious backlash).

For employment networks, most social scientists recognize that it is not simply employment that determines where an individual lives. However, Skeel found someone intellectually lazy enough to believe so (however without evidence, like most researchers at the Heritage Foundation; Rector is a senior research fellow, though research is a strong word for what the Heritage Foundation does)

"Just how quickly would Americans fill the vacated jobs? And at what pay rate? Perryman points to Texas, where he says there are more than 1 million illegal workers, but only 450,000 unemployed residents. 'If you do the math, it just doesn't work,' he says. He doubts that many needy Virginians would move to Texas for often-grueling, low-paying jobs.

Rector disagrees. He says it would take time for 'Cousin Fred' in Texas to phone up his jobless mates in Virginia, but, 'There are a lot of people who work for less than $20,000 a year.' And they would move for a job."

While some people move to find employment, the vast majority of Americans would have no idea where and what types of jobs are available in their own town, even less so in places across the country. The idea put forth by Rector in the above quote relies on the economic ideology that individuals are rational choice robots that have perfect information and are able to weigh the costs and benefits of their decisions. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize winning economist, has studied informational asymmetries and notes that these naive assumptions of many economists simply are not supported by research. Calvó-Armengol and Jackson (2004) identify that the importance of social networks in determining opportunities for employment has been well-researched and is overwhelmingly supported. To assume that eight million American citizens (the number it would take to replace the employed undocumented workers, from Skeel's estimates) would pick up and move to take part in unskilled and nonunionized work is just ridiculous.

While such hypothetical articles allow us to think about the difficulties of immigration policy, when as poorly researched as this one, it is hard to see how it adds to the debate. Immigration is a complex issue without simple solutions (as can be seen in nearly all countries), however, using simplistic logic and ignoring previous empirical work will not get us any closer to a solution.


Calvó-Armengol, Antoni, and Matthew O. Jackson. 2004. "The Effects of Social Networks on Employment and Inequality." The American Economic Review 94: 426-454.

Chomsky, A. 2007. They Take Our Jobs: And 20 Other Myths About Immigration. Boston: Beacon Press.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is it a little Chile in here?

So I dropped off the final copies of my thesis today for my upcoming defense. Printing off four copies of a 150 page thesis is pretty brutal. The four copies doesn't even include the one I will print off for myself... At some point in the last two weeks they reset all the grad student printing accounts without telling anyone. Both Heather and I were reduced to $30; about enough to print two copies. Luckily, my senior adviser came through and offered up his printer. Sadly his printer has that weird glitch where it just stops midway through printing sometimes.... To make a long, painful story short, the theses are in. Just a little over two weeks now until the actual defense. I am kind of looking forward to it, though I am still nervous about the event itself. It will be nice to have that closure. I ran into my second adviser today and he was saying that he really likes the defense because it is a good opportunity to have an academic dialogue. He felt this was something very common where he did his graduate degree (University of Wisconsin - Madison). I have to agree in some ways, though I would rather not have to talk to most of the other grad students any more than I already do.

In other news, I have stepped down from my position as the president of the SA Grad Caucus. While the job was not terribly intense, not having to care about the when, where, and how of the next meeting is nice. I do feel concerned about the person that was elected to take over the position. He can be pretty overbearing and long winded. I guess it isn't my problem to worry about.

I am really going to miss having limitless access to academic journals and a well-stocked library. I have begun looking through some of the journals I use most frequently and getting all the articles I can... Kinda scary. Also, as crazy as this sounds, I will miss writing my thesis. I really enjoyed writing it and am sad that it is over. I have even begun looking at doing some freelance articles for different political magazines. While I already have a couple academic co-authored articles under review, it would be nice to also show that I can write for more popular audiences (and get paid for it). There are a few areas that I feel that I have sufficient expertise to write widely on (not that expertise should stop me, you just have to look at the hacks over at Slate and the New York Times to see that qualifications mean nothing).

Now to go work on perfecting my query letter...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I <3 Computers

So the other day Heather and I got asked by the second adviser on her committee to present in the graduate methods course on going from the prospectus to writing your thesis. My presentation was going pretty well until I started explaining the importance of a good way of organizing your computer files and articles as you work. I talked about creating a library folder and then having a consistent naming scheme that would allow you to find the files you need easily. One of the older PhD students (the same student who once said she was so frustrated she wanted to "take my kayak and paddle off into the sunset"), asked a couple questions about the program I used to organize citations, Endnote. Those questions went fine but I wasn't sure if she was understanding my answers.
It became clear when she said "Also, what do you mean create a library folder?" To which I explained that it was a place to put your various pdfs of articles that you will accumulate.
She responded quickly "Oh I get that, but how do you create a folder?"
Confused I said "On a computer?"
She said "Yeah, do you mean like a word folder?" (as if such a thing exists) At this point I was at a loss for words, students obviously had similar experiences like this with her in the class and giggled and rolled their eyes.
The professor chimed in "No, just a regular computer folder."
"Uh, yeah, just right click to create a new folder where you want it" I said, not sure if the idea of right clicking would make her head explode.
"Well I'll just ask you more about it later" the student said to me.
At this point I was looking for the exit to make a run for it. My presentation ended and Heather started hers. When Heather was in her first few minutes the fire alarm went off and we had to file out of the building. The kayak lady cornered me outside and said "Well I am really bad at the computer so I'll email you in a couple weeks and we can get together and talk about" At this point she knew I was defending in less than a month which means I have to turn in my final draft in two weeks. In less than a week from the defense we will be moving back to the U.S. The last thing I have time for is helping someone learn to right-click and create a folder. Why did I say yes....