Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Libertarian author" says economic growth must overcome inequality from a job market bifurcated by technology

duarto Cowen has an interview in the New York Times, with Tyler Cowen, “libertarian” author of “Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation” (Dutton, 2013), in a column called “Income Inequality and the Ills that Befall It”, in the print version in the New York Times Business Day on Wednesday, link here
Cowen believes that technology has bifurcated the job market, making urgent skills highly compensated (sometimes even for teenage workers self-taught well enough) but replacing more humdrum jobs with automation.  Cowen believes that economic growth is even more critical now to raise living standards for those with lower incomes.   Those with higher “IQ’s” will always accumulate more wealth.   
Yet there can be a problem in that those with higher living standards still depend on unseen sacrifices by others.  There are also some manual jobs that Americans don’t want (like migrant harvest workers) and dangerous work, done in difficult conditions (like during extreme weather or storms or fire) that become more difficult to get done.  But innovation can make these jobs safer – just like it can make infrastructure more secure and can address long term problems like climate change.  

Update: Aug. 6, 2014

On Yahoo!, Aaron Task and Beth Ann Bovino argue that income inequality does hurt economic growth, and one more of education per worker would add to growth, link here. She argues also that income inequality hurts investment in critical infrastructure.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Economic inequality could trigger old tensions about gender roles

When I was growing up in the 50s and early 60s, I had absorbed a perception that men had an inherent obligation to protect women and children, and that generally women were not to be expected to make it on their own economically.  I even remember a Ladies Home Journal article around 1957 (why was I reading that?) that asked, “Who would you rather see have a college degree, you or your husband?”  Indeed, all of this has changed, and how radically.
There was a perception that if a man did not marry a woman and have children by her, he was denying a woman somewhere a chance to become a mother, and relegating a female person to poverty.  Obligation to others didn’t wait until a man got a woman pregnant.  It existed anyway. Remember the ideas about "the family wage"? 
All of this weighed in as I grew up, and certainly had relevance when I was thrown out of William and Mary in 1961 for telling the Dean of Men (under pressure) that I was gay.  Furthermore, I was an only child, so if I didn’t meet “The Obligation” my parents’ marriage would produce no lineage at all and essentially come to nothing.  I think that’s in large part how it was seen.All of this came to a boil in my stay at NIH as a "patient" in the latter half of 1962.
Stephanie Coontz has a relevant op-ed in the New York Times, Sunday Review, July 27, “The New Instability: Women expect more, while men can provide less”, link here

Coontz doesn’t undercut gender (or even sexual orientation) equality in economic and workplace spheres.  But she does say that class inequality (partly related to race but not always) is making these old gender issues fester again. 
If you think about it, you can see that the old strict rules about sexual morality (no sexuality except for procreative monogamous marriage) would, could they be followed, result in a certain kind of cultural “equality”, however easily corrupted.   George Gilder’s writings in the 70s and 80s (“Sexual Suicide” and “Men and Marriage”) seem to be forgotten, and Allan Carlson's books on "the natural family" don't have much following.  But Charles A. Reich’s “The Greening of America”, a coworker present with a job change in 1971, is still remembered.   

Monday, July 28, 2014

Former Clinton Treasury Secretary explains why climate change denial is dangerous to the economy

“Ignoring climate change could sink U.S. Economy”,  Robert E. Rubin, US Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton from 1995-1999,  writes.  He also says that firms need to disclose climate change risks to investors.  His column  ppears Sunday July 27 in the Outlook section of the Washington Post.
Two of the biggest problems will be the loss of real estate in coastal areas, and the inability of people to work outdoors in many parts of the country in the summer. 
Governments or policy makers will have to figure out what happens to property that actually is lost and becomes unusable.  On a small scale, this is happening in the Fort Washington community of Piscataway Hills, in southern Prince Georges County, MD (south of National Harbor about ten miles) after a “slope failure” following heavy rains has resulted in the possibility of permanent condemnation of some homes. It appears that the County may give owners assessed value of the land, but the help from the state is not yet clear.  Is this what would happen in Florida, the Gulf Coast, Long Island, etc?  

Of course, as gruesome an idea as it sounds, governments could face the same possibility after some kinds of terrorist attacks, like a dirty bomb or large scale EMP, or even possibly after a massive solar storm.  In the worst circumstances, federal government could fail, as in the NBC series “Revolution”. 
But climate change denial is dangerous even from a free-market, business perspective, and Rubin is surprised to see so many Republicans clinging to it.    
By the way, I see that my own homeowner’s premium has gone up by 40% since 2004.  I presume (here in suburban Washington DC) that I am paying for others’ losses to hurricanes (especially Katrina and Sandy), monster tornadoes, and especially wildfires. (For these risks, we can build a lot smarter than we do.)  We haven’t had really major earthquakes, which are not affected by climate change.  Neither is space weather (and the Carrington coronal mass ejection risk, discussed yesterday on my main blog).   

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Federal judge strikes down Washington DC's handgun carry prohibition, focusing on refusal to license non-residents

In an unusual ruling on a Saturday, federal judge Frederick Scullin, Jr. overturned a Washington DC law prohibiting people from carrying guns outside their homes.  The case is Palmer v. District of Columbia, link here

Another source on the story is Legal Insurrection, with a Scrinbd opinion, here

The judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional under any level of scrutiny.

The details of the opinion go into the law requiring a license to carry a gun, and the District’s practice of never granting such licenses to non-residents. The ruling leaves no “gray area” and doesn’t have a stay.  But the District could appeal quickly to the federal circuit.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

DC Metro Silver Line opens in Northern VA, a positive move toward public transportation

Today wasn’t exactly National Train Day, but it did cast a vote for public transportation and going green.  The Silver Line on the Washington DC Metro opened. 

I went to Ballston, and had no trouble getting a train to Wiehle-Reston.  If follows the Orange Line route to East Falls Church, where it really got crowded.  It then took the turn along the Toll Road VA 267 and stopped at McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro, Spring Hill, and finally Wiehle Ave. in Reston. 

That was some distance from the Reston town center, and no eateries were visible.  The remains of the red carpet welcome from press were around.  I heard there were places near Spring Hill, but the only place visible when I got off was a Starbucks.  I recall a job interview in that area around 1992, and New York Life, where I actually considered becoming an agent in 2005, is about a mile (or less) to the East on Route 7. 

It strikes me as the height of arrogance (on someone’s part) to build the Tyson’s Corner stop (which looks impressive with the skyscrapers, and urban apartments where I’m told rent starts at $2600 a month, without a specific Metro parking lot for commuters. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Wall Street loudmouths already predicting a "Yellen" stock market collapse

Some in the finance committee are complaining about the new Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, complaining that her short-talking is going to a stock market crash like none other before,
Yahoo! has a story by Jeff Macke, “Shorts destroyed: the risks of betting on a bubble bursting”, here. if Yellen ran a hedge fund, she'd already be "fired". 

But MoneyNews reports on a rumor of a coming crash from Jeremy Grantham, with rumors that Warren Buffett is preparing for it, link  There us a video there pimping a “Peak Profit System” founded my Michael Carr, who was responsible for programming nuclear missile systems during the Cold War, which seems to be returning. AMTV talks about Yellen's looking like a man, and her wait for a "notable change", and compares this period to 1928. For someone retired who "stopped competing" in the "normal" workplace (of hucksterizing) this is serious business. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Obamacare not likely to be threatened by Federal Circuit ruling

The Federal circuit’s ruling against federal tax breaks for consumers who buy “Obamacare” through the federal exchange probably won’t gut Obamacare in the long run. Tom Goldstein offers an op-ed in the Washington Post today, here.  There seem to be conflicting opinions from the federal circuit and the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, which means that (1) Obama can ask for an en banc hearing in the federal circuit and (2) if there are still conflicting opinions after that process, the Supreme Court will certainly hear it.  And SCOTUS is unlikely to say that the federal government cannot return money to taxpayers.  Further, as Goldstein explains, the Court will probably allow the administration discretion in subsidies if the language of the law is ambiguous enough, which is what the (conservative) Fourth Circuit said.

Ezra Klein of Vox Media explains the ruling in “three sentences” here

The Halbig v. Burwell (federal circuit) opinion text is here . The King v. Burwell (4th Circuit) is here
Sometimes the I-95 drive 108 miles south is blessed. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

US birthrate seems to be sinking more because of economy (and maybe individualism)

The Washington Post has a Storyline account today by Todd Frankel, “What if I never have children? With US birthrate near historic law, a Missouri couple faces a bug question posed by a difficult economy”, online titled “They want a baby. The economy won’t play along”, link here

Indeed, the recovery is slow, especially with respect to wages and a feeling of job and financial security.  So couples now delay having children, more than in the past.
A certain portion of the population delays having children, or avoids it altogether, in favor of career (with preparation through years of education), or simply because of a more hyper-individualized sense of socialization (or a lack of need or toleration for it). 
All of this gets ironic in various ways, some of which we can’t afford forever.  We keep the work force (especially the “manual labor” part, to rehearse my own father’s moral musings) up through legal immigration – and often illegal immigration.  With the increasing acceptability of gay marriage, we now ponder not just whether same-sex couples make good parents, we wonder if we should ask them to become parents --- maybe sometimes of immigrants. 
In Russia, facing demographic catastrophe with its low birth rate, the anti-gay law of 2013 seems motivated in large part by perceptions that gay men not only don’t have many children of their own, but discourage others from doing so.  China must think how to undo it’s previous “one child” policy.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Obamacare, combined with lack of Medicaid extension in VA, creates real personal quandaries in DC area

The variability of the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in different states has an impact on where people live, how (and how many hours) they work, and whom and even how they love.  All of this appears in the Washington Post today in Business Page story “After a breast cancer diagnosis, her choice: Marriage or Medicaid”, by Damielle Paquette.  The story concerns a young woman, twice divorced, who does not want to marry again, but has to decide whether to follow her boyfriend as unmarried to Virginia, from DC, when Virginia does not accept the Medicaid extension.

The boyfriend is taking a job transfer to Reston, which could be difficult for someone living in the District.  If she marries him, she is covered.  Virginia does not any adults without children on Medicaid.

It’s pretty apparent how social conservatives can play this situation as promoting marriage.  Obvious, in Virginia, the possibility of getting insurance even through marriage for an indigent person in a same-sex coupling would not (yet) be possible, until litigation is over.

It's also easy to moralize about the willingness (or lack of) by someone to marry a partner after learning she has breast cancer.  It's easy to imagine other variations on this situation.
To me, the idea that refusing the Medicaid extension (paid for by the federal government) makes any sense at the state level does not compute, no matter how one feels about people on welfare.   It's interesting to me, though, that residents of intentional communities (income-sharing arrangements in rural areas) are often able to get Medicaid. 
This sort of problem will be particularly a problem in the Washington DC area, where Virginia’s politics are much more “red state” than Maryland or the District.  

The story was   not yet available online as of mid afternoon July 20,  but is supposed to be available soon (Monday?) on a feature called “Storyline”.  

Update: July 22, 2014

Paquette's story appeared on the Post site Tuesday morning, link here

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On the Road: A small intentional community, more records of big tornadoes in the East

I went on the road for the day and visited a few more spots around central Virginia that relate to some of my other posts.

In Culpeper County VA, on SR 229, a few miles north of Culpeper, a tornado touched down on September 24, 2001.  It moved northeast where it briefly intensified to F4 and destroyed at least one home on a private estate which cannot be viewed from public property.  But the whole area is not far from the Blue Ridge, so the idea that severe tornadoes cannot occur near mountains (in the East) or in fall or winter is certainly defeated.  That day, another tornado would reach F3 levels on the western edge of the University of Maryland campus in College Park and track up to Laurel as F1 or F2 in places (see June 14, 2014).

Later today, I drove past the Acorn Community Farm, a small intentional community not too far from the larger Twin Oaks community, described from a tour on this blog April 7, 2012.  This community, which is indeed much smaller (only about 30 members) seems even more remote, on country road 699, which branches off of US 522 right after US522 has joined US33 (south of Mineral) before continuing south.  As the road starts. Two large areas appeared to have been cleared of forest, as if they were going to be developed with homes.  But the road becomes narrow and rural, with small homes and homes and residents who seem self-sufficient and private.  The road becomes a dirt road before going into the woods.  As it approaches the South Anna river (to become a one lane bridge) the farm (with a conservatory for the seed business) appears on the right.  This community is probably less formal and even more into “self-sufficiency” than Twin Oaks, which is large enough to require some bureaucracy.   It is really “in the woods” and remote.  The community might be exposed to floods;  it seems about 20 feet above the creek (or “river”).
Soon, you come to a paved road, and can return to US 522 in about four miles. 
Besides my own ventures, there’s more news on resilience from other natural disasters (after two days of storms earlier this week – a possibly dangerous situation to have the jet stream sink right over the East Coast in mid-summer).

Apparently people in the entire state of California are now faced with water restrictions, with $500 per day fines, as the San Jose Mercury News (“conservative”?) writes, here.   
And in Fort Washington, MD (in southern Prince Georges County) residents of the Piscataway Hills area near the Potomac face possible buyout of their homes only at assessed value if the county cannot rebuild the damaged hillsides, story in Washington Post. (June 3, 2014).   

Update: July 17

There is more news on the Piscataway Hills situation, with a new plan to save some homes, WJLA report here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Some legal residents from Mexico are constrained by a "100 Mile Rule"

Another issue has come up with the immigration debate:  whether there is a “constitution free zone” along America’s borders, and whether the government can make certain kinds of searches without a warrant within 100 miles of a border or shore (or even an airport).  A typical writeup is here

But today CNN interviewed a woman of Mexican descent with a master’s degree who says she is allowed to stay in the US but cannot go farther than 100 miles from the border for work (which means San Antonio is not possible).  She says her family is in the “Rio Grande Valley”.  Don Lemon asked why she didn’t use her degrees to get a good job in Mexico, helping her family that way, and she said she wanted to stay with her family. Here’s a random article on senior jobs in Mexico from “Nearshore American”, link 
Later, on AC360 July 16, Jose Antonio Vargas explained that anyone who is within 45-100 miles of the birder may have to show documentation to leave the area, as there are interior border stations up to 75 miles away (I passed them when living in Texas and would be waved on because I look white).  . 

In 2002, there was a comedy film called "100 Mile Rule" made by a Minnesota filmmaker (about infiedlity of travelings salesmen, no direct connection to immigration). 

One other little oddity about legal status noted today.  TSA agents in a few places have not recognized District of Columbia driver’s licenses as legitimate identification, and in New Hampshire some bars have not, because law said that an ID had to be issued by a state or province.  Is that a statehood argument for DC? 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Child migrant crisis: will this become a call for personal "radical hospitality"?

What’s the main reason for the sudden influx of unaccompanied minors and frank children from Central America, actually riding the length of Mexico, sometimes by jumping freight trains? 
NPR has a good simple explanation  It’s a 2008 law  (the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, or TVPRA) that requires that people from non-contiguous countries be seen by an immigration judge before they are repatriated (sent back).  It can take months to get a hearing, so they have to be housed.  
Those who have family within the US typically get to stay there.  According to the Migration Policy Institute, some get foster care (link ). 

The TVPRA seems to have been renewed in 2013 as part of the Violence Against Women’s Act (Wordpress link) with a great deal of support from women’s groups.  That may have helped reinforce a misleading message that it would pay for minors to come here.
Furthermore, conservatives maintain that president Obama has made misleading promise that could attract immigrants. This relates to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. 
And several district attorneys from Los Angeles maintain that gang criminals whom they prosecuted might have gone down to Central America after release from prison, finding weak governments. 
Vox Media has a “yellow cards” 2-minute explanation of the crisis.  But today (Monday July 14) it backed away from a purely intellectual approach to a column “What you can do to help the US’ 52000 child immigrants”, link here,  Besides donating money (which some people, including me, manage through banks and trusts with automated payments, that can be changed or shifted around as crises emerge), the general answer is, in most parts of the country, not a whole lot (pro bono legal services are needed).  But the paper mentions “fostering a child” which it then recognizes is a tremendous commitment, and definitely not for everyone, maybe not for most people. Indeed, stepping up into something like this can require tremendous sacrifice and change in life direction. 
In fact, for the government or Obama administration to “ask” the American people to do this, or to suggest it is some kind of moral obligation (comparable to military or national service) would only encourage more illegal immigration, with more deaths and tragedies in the dangerous journey north. As a policy matter, the administration and Congress simply should not do this.

In fact, generally Americans haven’t been viewed as personally “responsible” for children in totalitarian or unstable countries, even like Syria, even though individual charities (Save the Children, World Vision, etc) and churches do respond vigorously.  Families who try to adopt these children find it risky and difficult.  The LGBT community could find that personal welcome mats or hospitality affects the ability of those needing asylum from hostile countries, but the media generally hasn’t made a lot of this yet.   In 1980, the LGBT community in southern states was asked to help house Cuban refugees already in the country (illegally). 

What individual people who have some means do on their own, however, does matter.  That sets the tone for how others view inequality, and has an effect on stability, even homeland security.  This is particularly vexing for someone like me who did not enter the world of “family formation” or engage in relations capable of producing children.  In coming weeks, there will definitely be a lot of sermons on this issue in many churches.  And there may be a call for “radical hospitality”. 

Update: July 15

WJLA-7 reports that some migrant children are being housed at undisclosed locations in Prince William County, 30 miles or so south of Washington DC, and are depending on charitable or religious organizations to provide care.  The article suggests that some immigration judges will allow some to stay because of threats of violence, but does this depend on secondary volunteerism? Details are sketchy,. 

Second picture: Smithsonian (Kenya).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Colorado public school system offers up to two years of community college free, helping students get around the tuition problem; a great idea!

Today Fareed Zakaria presented an enterprising idea to help students with college expense and student loan debt, and to get a leg up on adulthood:
Besides offering AP or Honors courses in high school, offer free community college courses for college credit.  The news story for Zakaria’s report is here.  The idea is being tried in Aurora, CO, a large suburb of Denver (unfortunately on the map for a horrible incident in 2012).   Courses have been offered since 2006.  High school teachers become certified to teach junior college, especially in courses like calculus and college chemistry and physics, as well as information technology. 
The idea could help with the idea of “career switch” (to teaching) for retirees, especially those with more degrees who would find teaching college courses appealing, This is one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a while.  I wish this had been going on ten years ago. 
Picture: Coors Field in Denver, Wikipedia link a bitters park despite distant fences because of high altitude.  That’s a good physics lesson.  

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Oklahoma's dramatic rise in earthquakes seems related to oil, gas, fracking and reinjection

CNN is reporting on a sharp increase of earthquakes in Oklahoma that seem to be related to fracking, especially the process of filling “underground injection wells” with water, which may destabilize old faults.
Areas of the state that saw only one or two measurable quakes a year now see hundreds.  One woman reported having to leave her home, and people are buying earthquake insurance. 
The strongest quakes have been in the 5.5 area range, enough for some damage.  This is comparable to the quakes in central Virginia in August 2011. 
The story is by Marlena Baldacci and Mariano Costillo, link here and includes a video interview.

The energy industry accounts for one out of six jobs in Oklahoma. 

Truthloader offers the video above, giving more explanation.  Some quakes occurs at some distance from the actual wells.

The problem is increasing in many other states.  But the southern part of the Mississippi Basin is over the “New Madrid Dimple”, and is susceptible to earthquakes (and a few large ones occurred in the nineteenth century).  

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

"Chikungunya" virus, spread by certain mosquitoes, is in 27 states with a small, but growing, number of cases; models a dreaded public health problem from the past

There’s a “new disease” of sorts, spread by some species (aeges) of mosquitoes, called “chikungunya”, with symptoms including rash, mouth sores,  fever, and severe joint pain, which can become prolonged. 
The greatest threats seem to be in southeastern US (from Texas east) and possibly coastal New England.  NPR has a story about the virus here  and CNN (Val Willingham) here  with a video.
There are no special precautions other than sprays and long sleeves, and avoiding allowing water to stand near your home or in areas you visit.  (That can be difficult after heavy rains.)
There is no treatment and no vaccine, and one can wonder why we don’t have the ability to develop vaccines more quickly. But Wikipedia says that some work on a vaccine goes on (story).  The virus is an RNA virus, but the symptoms seem to resemble those of some DNA herpes viruses.  The virus has been researched as a potential biological weapon. CDC's page is low-key, however. 
The total number of cases in the US seems small, but could be increasing rapidly.  It has spread to 27 states.  The virus seems to have come to the US threw infected travelers who get bitten, who then transfer the virus to others. (The arbovirus idea if applied to STD’s is indeed scary,but has never been confirmed; the religious right tried to exploit such speculation with HIV politically in the 1980s.)

The disease could be important to faith-based groups that send volunteers (including teens and young adults and students) to missions or on humanitarian work in low-income tropical areas, like the West Indies, Central America, SE Asia, India, or Africa (from where the virus seems to have originated).    

Some have compared the virus to West Nile, for which there have been 40000 cases in the US since 1999. 

Monday, July 07, 2014

Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh for Senate in NC may "spoil" race for "real" candidates; trend will continue

Libertarian candidates for office are starting to affect national politics more, as some candidates can take away sizable vote chunks, especially from socially conservative Republicans, from “conservative” voters who just want government to leave them alone.  That’s the case in North Carolina with pizza delivery man Sean Haugh, 53, who is in the Senate race.  There is a front page story  in the Washington Post this morning on him by Karen Tumulty and Reid Wilson.

I was actually a name for candidacy in the 2000 Senate race in Minnesota.  I declined because I feared complications from my mother’s situation at the time, and someone named Eric Parkheiser, much more gung ho on the gun issue, ran.  Oddly, when substitute teaching in Fairfax County VA in 2005, I shared one class with a sub also from Minnesota who knew the LPMN there.

We can have another discussion, about how important it is to run for office, instead of doing journalism and punditry.  

Update: July 22::  

More Libertarian pictures from Baltimore Gay Pride:

And this one on drug decriminalization:

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Fundamental moral questions loom behind immigration demonstrations in CA, TX, FL

Check the massive front page story in the Washington Post Sunday about Nora Sandigo, a legal guardian to hundreds of children born in the United States to parents here illegally.  The story ("A Band-Aid for 800 Children"),  by Eli Saslow, heavily supported with photographs, did not come up directly in the WP’s own search yet; the link is here

Lester Holt of NBC reports on the protests in Murietta CA, where children who have crossed the borders from Central America have been shipped.
And the demonstrators are indeed polarized.  On the one hand, the United States, as policy, cannot encourage people, especially minors, to enter the country illegally (and make a very dangerous journey to get here).  On the other hand, there is a humanitarian obligation on people.  Will this situation lead to a new moral debate: should all those financially capable of raising children be expected to do so? 

This crisis will play into the “gay parents” debate (not just gay marriage), and to the question of the support gays overseas need here to get asylum from hostile countries.
Still, Americans have not thought of themselves as personally responsible for people in other countries.  Churches try to make a dent by sending missions. 

Update: July 9:

Anderson Cooper interviewed the woman (and her husband) in the Miami area who is legal guardian to 817 immigrant children, and showed that she had a paper file on each child.  Many children are placed with legal relatives in the US. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Kansas towns zoning rules hamper families setting up "free lending libraries" on their own properties; "It's free"

Here’s another story about zoning rules and overreach.  In the Kansas City area, a family and little boy fight with local governments for the ability to put up a free lending library shed on its property, to promote reading skills. Some of the issue seems to be whether a separate structure can be set up. 

The Kansas City Star story, by Caroline Baumann is here. The cities most recently involved are Leawood and Fairway in Johnson County, Kansas. 

The sponsoring organization is the “Little Free Library Movement”  in Wisconsin.  There is another news story about the group here.   Curiously, my Webroot Secure Anywhere reports the LFLM site as unsafe!

Reid Ewing made a video called “It’s Free” where he visits a California public library.  It’s not up right now (as the hosting site Igigistudios is down), but this little film would really be relevant now.   

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Debate on whether home building practices have weakened our total infrastructure

The New York Times today offered an op-ed on workmanship that would have pleased my late father, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to; Inferior products and labor drive modern construction”, on p, A23, link here.  The writer talks about his own 60 year old house, built solid.

My parents knew the builder of the house they paid cash for in 1949.  I get the perspective.  But I think it’s mixed.

Older houses from that period sometimes have asbestos tiles or have it in insulation.  It doesn’t cause a problem usually, unless it gets wet or damaged, or if the house is rented, or sold, especially to a family with young children.  There is kind of a “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude in the whole real estate industry about it.

The writer says newer construction often has toxic materials in drywall, too.  Maybe.  In Texas, there were some well known cases of toxic mold in drywall.  

When I moved to Dallas (for 9 years, it turned out) at the start of 1979, condo conversions were common, and many projects had used aluminum wiring.  A few fires forced builders to change.  Also, flat roofs would leak.  Some litigation forced builders to change their behavior gradually throughout out the 80,s until the real estate bust around 1988.  Bubble and bust practices (with the subprime mortgage bust in the 2000s) would also influence building.
But with newer construction, there are opportunities:  for smart homes, earthquake, fire, and foundation failure risk reduction, and particularly windstorm and tornado resistance (by the way steel is used in construction frames, as well as storm cellars in the Plains).  The public has to demand it and be able to pay for it.  Or, better, be able to "do the work yourself" in less centralized world.