Suggestions for Comfortable and Effective Face Masks, e.g., Korean KF94’s

With Covid cases and deaths surging despite widespread vaccinations, face masks are back in. Back in the dark days of early-mid 2020, all commercial masks of any kind were allocated to medics/first responders. Back then, the only mask option for the rest of us was to cobble together something made of regular cloth. But studies I looked at show that the protective performance of those cloth masks, and even standard rectangular surgical masks, is really quite poor [1].

A cloth or surgical mask is definitely better than nothing, but is much inferior to other mask options which are now widely available. If you are going to bother with a mask at all, why not use a more effective one? A well-known effective mask is the KN-95. It has a kind of aggressive beak-like profile, as shown below, and typically uses elastic earloops. It gives good protection because it seals to the face (including around the nose, thanks to a malleable metal strip there) and is made of appropriate multi-layer filter materials. It is the standard protective respiratory mask in China, whereas in the U.S. the standard protective mask is an N95, with elastic straps that go around the whole head, not the ears.

Image Source: Amazon

I got a box of ten KF95’s back in June of 2020. I loved them – they were comfortable, worked OK with my glasses, and clearly sealed well to my face. However, I gave some of these away to family members, lost a few, and used the rest so many times so they started to lose their shapes.

There are lots of KN95’s for sale on Amazon, all made in China. Not all of these may be of the same quality. Some but not all of these brands were tested and approved by the FDA for emergency use; this article from March 2021 notes some of these brands that were for sale on Amazon at that time. It seems the approved Powecom masks are still for sale.

A problem with most of these Amazon KN95’s is that the earloops are painfully tight around the ears. I pored over the comments to try to select masks where at least some of the reviewers claimed the masks didn’t hurt. Alas, all my KF95’s are pretty much unbearable for a guy like me with maybe an oversized head. (I compared the length of their earloops with my original comfortable KF95, and indeed the earloops are clearly shorter on all the new ones).

In the course of reading dozens of reviews of KN95 masks, I saw several comments recommending KF94 masks instead. These are made in South Korea. They are standard personal protective equipment in that country, and as such must meet certain standards for fine particle capture. They look a little different than most masks, but seem less beak-like than the KN95s. They have a flattish rectangular middle part which is the main filter, with two triangular sections that cover the nose and the chin:

Image: Amazon

So I got a box of KF94’s, large size, and they are wonderfully comfortable for me. No stress on the ears, and sealing over the whole face. The shape of the mask keeps it from rubbing on your mouth. The “Large” size I got was actually a tiny bit looser than felt optimal, so I tied tiny knots in the lower part of the earloops to shorten them a bit. My wife uses a mask extender strap (e.g., HX AURIZE Mask Extender Strap on Amazon) around the back of her head to pull the KF94 earloops a little tighter, with the added benefit that if she wants to take the mask off temporarily, it can hang around her neck via the extender strap. In sum, the KF94s are a win, and I highly recommend them.

I see on Amazon that small (for e.g. 7-12 year old children) and medium KF94 masks are also available. One caveat on buying is to make sure that you are buying from an actual Korean seller, else you risk getting an inferior Chinese knockoff.

Back to my unusable KN95’s. I know that you can use mask extender straps like the HX Aurize straps linked above, or similar homemade hacks, to go behind your head and take some of the direct pressure off the back of the ears. However, I found using a behind-the-head strap still put pressure on part of my ears, and was just an added complication. I thought, surely there must be some way to make those darned earloops simply longer. What I did for one mask was to cut the earloops close to the bottom of the mask, and tie in a small rubber band into each loop, to make them effectively longer. (I put a dab of glue on the cut ends of the earloops, to keep them from unravelling). That worked out well, so I can recommend this as a “hack”. I also see on Amazon that you can order ¼” wide white elastic ear loop type band material, and I think I will buy some. I can then take more of my tight KN95 masks, cut the existing earloops, and tie in an extra inch or two of this elastic to get the length right for my head size.

ENDNOTE

[1] Some studies on masks:

(A) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32845196/  Kim, et al. 2020. They had seven Covid-inflected patients cough five times with various masks on, and with petri dish sitting in front of them to catch germs. A surgical mask did no better than no mask at all (3 out of 7 patients’ petri dishes got infected in both cases), whereas zero out of 7 patients’ petri dishes got infected for a full N95 respirator made by 3M (not a Chinese KN95) or for a Korean-made KF94 mask.

(B) https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-6817   Bundgaard, et al., 2020. Done in Denmark around April-June 2020. From 6000 participants, all of whom initially tested Covid-negative, half were randomly selected to wear standard surgical-type masks while in public and half to not wear masks. (These are the usual rectangular masks that do not seal tightly to the face). Incidence of Covid infection after about a month was assessed for each group. For mask-wearers, the infection rate was about 1.8% versus 2.1% for the non-masked group. According to the standard statistical definitions, this was not enough to show that wearing that type of mask gave significant protection against becoming infected. That said, the difference between the 1.8% and the 2.1% is compatible with a 46% reduction to a 23% increase in infection on 95% confidence intervals. Depending on how you want to slice the numbers, it seems fair to say that there may have been “some” effect of the masks here. Also, it should be noted that this study did not test whether wearing a surgical mask would help keep an infected person from spreading the disease (I suspect the answer to that would be “yes, sort of”).

(C) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33087517/ Ueki, et al., 2020. They used two full size human mannequin heads, and tied masks on their faces. The “Spreader” head was piped to have a stream of covid-aerosol-laden air coming out of its mouth. The “Receiver” head had a pipe that pulled air in through its mouth and through a gelatin membrane filter to collect the covid viruses that made it through the masks. Some of the results are shown below. I am not sure how to summarize them accurately in a few words. Note that these plots are on log scales, so small visual differences in the bars are actually big (see the numbers at the bottom of the bars). It seems clear that the cloth (cotton) and the surgical masks blocked some virus spreading compared to no masks, but a full N95 mask was much more effective (the N95 was tested with its edges naturally resting on the contours of the mannequin face, and also “fit” with the edges sealed against the face with adhesive tape). A KN95 or KF94 mask was not tested here.

POSTSCRIPT

After publishing this POST, I noted Jeremy Horpedahl’s post from last week, suggesting that the costs of wearing masks may be worth it even if they give a 10-15% decrease in viral incidence. Jeremy referenced an article by Bryan Caplan who questions the trade-offs with wearing masks having only marginal effectiveness vs. the discomfort and the dehumanization of having people’s faces obscured. Caplan in turn referenced a survey of research by Jeffrey Anderson (August, 2020) which summarized many real-life randomized controlled trials with populations wearing/not-wearing masks (presumably the surgical kind, not N95/KN95/KF94 better-sealing types) which found generally no benefit to wearing these types of  masks in reducing the incidence of virus transmission. (These studies were mainly pre-Covid, dealing with SARS and other viruses). This overall result is roughly consistent with the Danish study mentioned above, which did not find a significant difference for using those types of masks to protect from viral infections.

We need City-States

What happens when the world changes sufficiently that a subset of the institutions that laid the groundwork for the most successful nation of the last 200 years becomes becomes maladapted to their context? Well, thanks to a couple billion year of evolutionary biology, we know the possible outcomes. The classic evolutionary answer is that the species in question will either adapt, migrate, or die. Repurposed for the modern nation-state, the country in question will either:

  1. Adapt it institutions
  2. Change the context (i.e. whole nations can’t migrate)
  3. Steadily decline into some combination of irrelevance or chaos

Omar Wasow put together a nice thread, where each individual tweet stands wholly on it’s own as an acute observation, on the current state of the Senate as an elected institution:

So let’s think about our options here.

Decline into Irrelevance and Chaos

I mean, it’s a choice, but it’s not one I’m particularly excited about.

Adaptation

We could amend the constitution to change how the Senate is apportioned in some clever way that still maintains the mandated suffrage of every state. We could change/abolish the electoral college. I’ll be blunt: I don’t ever see a path forward for constitutional change that will entirely undermine the political power of the one of the major parties (good luck getting 2/3 of Senators to push through an Amendment that will undercut the careers of at least half of them). The resistance to it, at every level, will be extreme. The last time we tried to make an institutional change with that much impact on the balance of power, we had to fight a war to resolve it. There may be a path forward here, but not on a timescale that I’m interested in. I’m only interested in solutions that could be feasibly enacted in my lifetime.

Change the Circumstances

Unlike your typical seed-eating bird of the Galapagos Islands, we do have the means to change the map upon which the Senate is selected. In other words, more states. I don’t mean just granting statehood to Puerto Rico and DC (though it is mildly unconscionable that we haven’t done so already). And I don’t just mean (the very good and perfectly reasonable idea) of splitting California and Texas into 5 and 3 states. I mean a lot more states.

Let’s think about the underlying problem for a second. The Senate biasing representation towards a small minority of voters is a symptom of a larger phenomenon: the continued movement of Americans to dense urban areas. People keep moving to cities, and often from states without a major urban center, and into states with multiple large cities. The rural areas that they are emptying out from maintain their pool of slots for elected Senators, while the cities gain none. So what’s the answer?

Welcome to the great state of Seattle! [state motto: “If it’s not caffeinated, send it back”]

The Vinegar-Tomato Sauce State of Raleigh! [state color: halfway between Duke blue and UNC blue]

The Beechwood Aged State of St. Louis![ state left fielder: Lou Brock]

The Always Hustling State of Atlanta [state anthem: written and performed by Outkast]

City-states. Remember city-states!? Yes, I know, when we speak historically of city-states we mean entities independent of any other nation state – classic Venice, current Singapore or Monaco, but that doesn’t mean we can’t piggyback on their awesomeness. Texans already joke about the “People’s Republic of Austin” – let’s make it official! We can set a size minimum as either an explicit population threshold (e.g. 500k) or a moving bar, such as the population of the smallest state in the previous census. It’s essentially adding another option for a city to apply for inclusion in the next tier of our federalist system.

This is more feasible than you might think and vastly more feasible than amending the constitution.

Consider:

  1. These cities already have government infrastructures. The governor on day 1 is the current sitting mayor.
  2. The citizens of most medium- and large-sized cities derive the bulk of their regional identity from their city, not their state. Most urbanites will be thrilled at the notion of elevating the political status of their city while losing the affiliation of their previous state.
  3. New state coffers will be heavily subsidized with flag and swag sales the first few years (only mostly kidding)
  4. The remaining rural states will have the far more manageable task of trying to serve rural citizens without having to serve an urban voter base with radically different needs and preferences. Public goods will be better matched with the citizens of rural states as well.
  5. States will often look like Swiss cheese, which will be both hilarious and, slightly less importantly, will allow for constituents to even more easily vote with their feet when elected officials fall short in their duties.

Are there downsides? Sure.

  1. The speed traps before you enter and as you exit city-states into their rural envelopers will be aggressively extractive. There will be rampant attempts at exporting taxes across borders.
  2. Reconstituting water supplies as special districts supporting multiple states will be tricky.
  3. Coordinating interstate public goods will, no doubt, at times become even more farcical than the status quo.
  4. Decent chance this turns into a Neal Stephenson novel within 100 years.

But, in the medium and long run, I believe the benefits will greatly outweigh the costs. Throughout the pandemic there has been a constant tension, particularly in “red states”, between the public goods desired by the citizens in cities versus rural areas. While urbanites have been desperate for mask and vaccine mandates, rural citizens have been far more interested in consuming personal liberty and symbolic group-identity goods, at the expense of greater Covid cases and deaths for those in denser areas.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it tomorrow: there isn’t a red-blue divide, a religious divide, or a class divide. America is currently defined by an urban-rural divide. If we don’t adapt our institutions to reflect it and balance the equal political enfranchisement of people on both sides of that divide, it will continue to erode the integrity of our political infrastructure.

I imagine I don’t have to persuade many people that the integrity of the franchise is not something to be taken lightly. Regardless of the mathematical salience of an individual vote to any election, the fact remains that the less people believe their vote has at least the potential to be realized in the form of representation that serves them, the more they will look to alternative channels to the political process. And maybe, for the libertarian inside of you, the alternative you imagine might exist in the private marketplace for goods and services. But history informs us that the dominant alternatives to democracy are heritable lineage and bloodshed, and I don’t see any benevolent American scions laying in wait.

One Year of EWED Blogging

We would like to thank the readers and subscribers who have joined us since we started blogging in August of 2020. This has been a great experience. Special thanks to people who have linked to us. Most of our web traffic comes from the United States, but I am pleased to report that we receive visitors from almost every nation in the world.

We believe that the world is better when people keep learning. Reading and writing blogs is a good way to learn. All of the EWED writers have benefitted from reading other blogs. We want to put new facts and analysis into the pool.

Our three most-viewed posts so far for the year 2021 are

  1. Academic Publishing: How I think we got here by Mike Makowsky
  2. Coase and COVID by Jeremy Horpedahl
  3. GDP Growth in 2020 by Jeremy Horpedahl

Looking back to 2020, the most-viewed post was my Complacency and American Girl Dolls.

In winter of 2021 we got some new graphics, like the one below. The importance of the shipping container cannot be understated, for economic growth and trade. Every blog post individually is like one box, not very important on its own, a piece of the essential human discourse.

I see blogging as a complement to both research articles and Twitter. Blogs get published much faster than journal articles and they allow more depth than tweets. By writing a new post every day we stay accountable both to ourselves and to our readers.

The various EWED writers represent a range of opinions, but we all agree that blogging is a way to make “small steps toward a much better world”.

Inequality VS the Environment

What do we know?

We know that density is good for most environmental measures. With greater density comes less water runoff, less carbon emissions, less burned fossil fuel. With density, fewer people own vehicles, implements of yard curation, and we require fewer roofs per person.

What else do we know?

We know that in a static economy, progressive taxation makes after-tax incomes more equal. There are formal models that say the same thing about dynamic economies. Progressive taxation results in more income equality, and regressive taxation results in less. For clarity, income tax progressivity is determined by percent of income paid in taxes. When the rich pay a higher percent tax rate, that’s more progressive.

Are you ready?

Wealthy people tend to have more valuable land. That is, they improve the land and the things built on it. Do you want to tax land progressively? Then what you want is a property tax with a sliding tax rate. This way, you can make those rich people pay their ‘fair share‘. Even without a sliding scale, rich people will pay more dollars for their improved land.

Uh-oh.

Now that we are taxing property on land proportionally, rich people are seeking alternatives. They’re trying to avoid taxes! What do they do? Well, a smaller and cheaper house is a nonstarter. What is all that wealth for, if not to enjoy it partly through one’s home environment? The rich are going to find a place to live where they can be comfortable and where their property taxes are lower. Maybe a place where the land is not so expensive. Hello rural estate!

Do you want a proportional property tax so that rich people pay for the value of their property? Be ready to say hello to suburbanization and sprawl. All those benefits of urbanization mentioned above? Invert all of them to see the results.

Okay…

I see the attraction of taxing immovable property. Taxing a residence is nice for the government because the tax revenues are nice and stable, given the relatively inelastic demand for real property.

If only there were a real property tax scheme that provided stable revenues and encouraged urbanization… Well, the answer is not to try taxing the value of the land without taxing the value of property. What am I? A Georgist?

A Georgist I am not. But, I do have an affinity for lump sum taxes.

If, as a polity, you want urbanization, then impose lump sum taxes per area of land owned. Doesn’t matter if it’s a house. Doesn’t matter if it’s commercial. Doesn’t matter if it’s unimproved farm land. Just sit back and watch the skyline rise, our environmental footprint shrink, and plenty of land being turned into wildlife preserves and parks.

Oh dear.

People have feelings. Consider a beautiful multi story single-family home on an acre. Now consider a mobile home with a large yard and some trees – also on an acre. With a standard, flat proportional property tax, the owner of the big pricey house pays more. With lump sum taxes per square foot of land, they pay the same dollar figure. In other words, the less wealthy person pays a higher proportion of his properties value in taxes. In case you missed it, this beautiful solution to sprawl and environmental degradation comes hand-in-hand with proportional regressivity.

BTW:

I live in Collier County Florida. If all of the land, excluding surface water, in the county was taxed at the same lump sum per square foot, then we would need to pay about $1,600 per acre in order to replace all revenues currently collected from a variety of sources. If we assume that government property is excluded from the tax and we assume that the government owns a very liberal 10% of all property, then it is more like $1,780.

I haven’t even discussed all of the improved economic performance that an already developed counties might enjoy by eliminating the distortionary excise taxes and ad valorem taxes. I don’t know about you, but $1,600 doesn’t sound too bad in exchange for eliminating all the other nickel and dimes that add up to quite a bit.

(Just as I am not a Georgist, I am also not a revolutionary. We need not jump in head-first. We could ease our way into such a system. We’d just add a fixed lump-sum portion to existing property tax bills that increases over time. Property taxes bills would be calculated slope-intercept style with a portion being constant and a portion being dependent of property value.)

Remote Work vs Employer Power: Why I’m Not Sweating Tenure

When there’s only one employer in town who hires for jobs like yours, they have labor-market power, and can pay less and have worse working conditions than a competitive firm would. Economists call this “labor market monopsony” but I like the term “employer power”, which is simpler and makes sense when there are a few employers as well as when its literally just one. This keeps down the wages of machinists at the only factory in town, nurses at the only hospital in town, and professors at the only university in town.

Of course, workers in this situation could always move and get a better job elsewhere, and this does put some limits on employer power, but many workers have strong preferences to stay in their home, which means the balance of power is with the employers- or at least, it has been.

The growth of remote work means that workers can get jobs all over the world (or at least all over nearby time zones) without having to leave their town. Which means that monopsony is over, at least for jobs where remote work is possible.

I’m going up for tenure at my college soon, meaning that by next June they will tell me either that I have a job for life or that I’m fired. This “up or out” system naturally causes a lot of anxiety for professors. Partly this is because many professors’ identities are wrapped up in our jobs to an unnecessary and unhealthy extent, and so we take it as a judgement on our worth as human beings. But partly there was always the very practical problem that failing tenure almost certainly meant you would either need to move, accept a substantially worse job, or both.

The thinness of the academic labor market means that unless you live in a major city, its probably the case that no university nearby is hiring tenure-track academics in your subfield this year; and even if you are in a major city, there are probably only 2-3 searches in your field, and they will be so competitive that you almost certainly won’t get the job. To have a real chance at another good academic job, people need to apply nationwide (when I got my first job I sent out 120 applications all over the country to get 1 offer). Getting another job locally generally means taking a job with much worse pay, worse conditions, or both- like high school teacher, adjunct professor, or entry-level business analyst. Those in relatively practical fields like economics were able to get decent jobs outside of academia (PhD economists in private sector and government jobs typically earn better salaries than academics, at the cost of working more hours with less freedom), but such jobs were plentiful only in a few major cities (DC, SF, NYC, Boston), which usually still meant moving. Even in a mid-sized state capital like Providence, I don’t think I’d have an easy time finding something here- or I didn’t think so, until remote work became ubiquitous last year.

Now I won’t be losing any sleep over the possibility of losing my job next year. Partly I think my odds of getting tenure are good, but even a 1% chance of losing my job would have been worrisome in the pre-remote world. Now instead of worrying I just think about the huge range of opportunities in tech, finance, consulting, business, think tanks, and even government. Remote also addresses one big reason I ignored those jobs in the first place and only applied in academia- flexibility. I didn’t want to be stuck in an office 40+ hours/wk; I wanted to be able to pick my kids up from school. Now flexible hours and the ability to be evaluated on output rather than time spent at the office seem to be increasingly common.

To the extent that remote work puts a dent in employer power we would expect to see higher employment, higher wages, and fewer people feeling trapped in their jobs. We’ve seen all of these in 2021- quits in particular are at an all-time high, a good sign that workers don’t feel trapped- though much this could simply be due to the rapid economic recovery. The real test will come when we see how much this is sustained past the initial recovery, and whether it is mainly in remote-able jobs or is a broad improvement.

Would You Pay $3,000 to Not Wear a Mask?

How well do masks work at preventing disease transmission? This is a question that many of us have been asking throughout the pandemic. I have been trying to read as much about mask effectiveness as I can (for example, here’s a Tweet of mine from way back in June 2020). I think the bottom line is that, if you want really good RCTs of mask use during the COVID pandemic, there is surprisingly little evidence in any direction. But there are lots of studies, less well done but still OK, suggesting that masks do provide some protection.

I don’t want to wade into all of that research here, because Bryan Caplan has been doing that lately himself. His reading of the literature is that masks aren’t a silver bullet, but he suspects “that masks reduce contagion by 10-15%.” Still he thinks that the costs of masks (inconvenience, discomfort, and dehumanization) are large enough that they don’t pass a cost-benefit test. But this seems like a very strange conclusion given that he suspects masks reduce contagion by 10-15%! So let’s be explicit about the cost-benefit analysis.

[I am assuming that reducing contagion by 10-15% means 10-15% fewer cases and deaths. I see this as a bare minimum, since contagious disease can follow exponential growth trends, so 10-15% less contagion could mean that cases/deaths are reduced by more than 10-15%, but I’m making a simplifying assumption and the hard case.]

Quantifying the costs of the pandemic deaths is tricky, and it’s something that Bryan and I have debated before. Perhaps this is just a rehash of that debate (Bryan is highly skeptical of the VSL estimates), but I think it’s worthwhile to plug in some numbers.

What numbers should we use?

Continue reading

Scrolling Alone

Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone was one of those high brow academic-ish books that, for a few months at least, made the leap to coffee and bedside tables across America, bringing a simple thesis that Americans had dropped out of the traditional social organizations that served, directly and indirectly, as the bedrock of civic life. It was a great read and made a compelling argument.

It was the book that introduced me, then still a grad student, to the concept of social capital to me. It had lots of stylized facts and broad theories, and was seemingly comfortable being at war with itself when the facts didn’t play nice. For a simple run down (and it’s been more than 10 years since I read the book, so take the accuracy here with a grain of salt)

  • Americans bowled more than they used to, but were less frequently members of leagues.
  • Americans didn’t join new associations when they moved to new towns, but they also moved towns less than they used to.
  • We worked a lot more, so there was less social-leisure time to dedicate to local associations.
  • Political and activist groups had sacrificed in-person meetings and local cohesion for greater national scale

You get the idea. Pushing his logic, Americans had become solitary households, islands held together less by social identities than work affiliations. The book, published in 2000, arrived while the internet was still in a pre-social media, pre-smart phone construct, but essentially warned that the growing dearth of social capital would undermine civic engagement and eventually democracy.

It might seem odd, but I think picking up (and picking on) a 20-year old book gives some insight into what we are frequently overlooking today.

  1. Bowling alleys are not filled with loners. They are filled with groups of friends bowling together. What changed wasn’t interest in social activities, it was how we schedule our lives. Work may be both more flexible for many of us, but also less predictable in the hours we work, and with (perhaps) more total hours. Combined with the predominance of two-earner households, its just that much harder for a casual bowler to lock down 2.5 hours every week for a league obligation. Remember, total bowlers increased– they didn’t actually start bowling alone, they just did it on their own schedule.

This a good thing to remember when we’re wringing our hands over the latest thing that the current generation is destroying (television, movies, cereal) or, ahem, abstaining from. What looks like the end of something central to human existence is more often than not just a refitting to new economic incentives and constraints. Humans are clever and we are well-advised not to mistake basic adaptation and re-optimization for massive generational divides.

2. We don’t need to make new friends as much when we move to new towns because we can actually stay friends with people in our old town.

When you moved to a new state, or even a new town in your state, that used to mean going years or decades without seeing or hearing from old acquaintances. That is not the case anymore. Between twitter, instagram, facebook, and zoom, I am in regular contact with people scattered both geographically and temporally (autobiographically?) from my life. Some fall in and out of touch, much the way they would if we lived down the street from each other, but the point is that there isn’t the same pressure to find local social institutions to rebuild a social network from scratch like there use to be.

I’m not sure this a good thing, by the way. I think it has removed important sources of noise and variation in our social networks. I think it was made them far too centered on the groups we formed during schooling, leading to homogeneity within networks and distrust across educational strata. But it doesn’t mean we are alone, but it does mean that shape of our social lives have changed in important ways.

3. Political activism as a source of social identity remains strong. But does it bring community or just conformity?

The clubs or group-identities that dominate our life are relatively unchanged: religion, politics, profession, ethnicity, sports, etc. But the manner in which those social groups cultivate identities has changed. As Putnam noted, politics has become considerably less local, a trend exacerbated by the rise of social media as a tool not just for promoting an identity, but for regulating that identity and assigning status within it.

There is no shortage of people that have noted the rising pressures to conform within groups. This is where I think Putnam’s original thesis has some unexpected bite: I don’t think our social capital has eroded, but it has become a lot less local. It is subject to standards less tailored to your currently lived experience. Further, as any good Orwellian knows, the rewards to successfully identifying in-group traitors and purging them scales with network size. With social media technology exponentially scaling the number of people monitoring us, it has brought with it tremendous pressure to conform. If the nuclear families in the small town 1950s lived in terror of what will the neighbors think, consider the pressure that extremely online millennial professionals are under. One mistake and a lifetime’s social capital can go poof as the hordes move in to shame, excommunicate, and (occupationally) terminate.

If you’re wondering why there seems to be so much in-group signaling on twitter, so much group think and obviously disingenuous mutual affirmation of seemingly ludicrous affronts against common sense and empirical reality, and so much viciousness, just remember what’s at stake. I tend to fall back on a simple model of human utility functions:

Utility = Stuff x Friends

What’s important is that it’s multiplicative, which means loneliness is deadly. In the modern world, our associations are in many ways less robust than previously – one false move and you’re being pushed out on an ice float. Maybe that’s why we should all join a sports league or a religious organization, why we should start volunteering twice a month at the YMCA, join the Rotary Club, help register people to vote. Because its great that you still have your old tribe, but it’s always nice to have a backup plan. A last resort. A set of associations you can keep in a glass box to “Break in Case of Purging”.

Neighbors.

Go urban, young man

The U.S. Census Bureau is gradually releasing data gathered in the 2020 decennial. Their release of a map showing which US counties have lost population caused a small Twitter furor.

Visually speaking, it’s a lot of brown. People are leaving rural counties in favor of urban areas with jobs and amenities.

The main facts from Home for a Millennial were: 1) although millennials were slower to buy homes, they are trying to buy them now and bidding up housing prices in desirable metros 2) millennials were more likely to live with parents than previous generations, so that’s part of the answer to where they were prior to the home buying scramble 3) the previously-not-house-buying phenomenon is not associated with chronic unemployment

Buying a home in the desirable areas is going to be expensive, unless there has been a lot of building. Texas, the leader in building, added more than 1.5 million housing units in the last decade. The map above illuminates what “moving to Texas” means. At the county level, some people are leaving Texas. However, the booming cities of Texas are really booming.

Being the largest generation, millennials are going to be a factor in the general move from rural to urban areas. I have about two peer friends who, after graduate school, moved to a rural place. They are garden influencers, using hashtags like #AllTheNature. The novelty of growing their own vegetables has earned them a minor celebrity status among my internet circles. How trad of them. The exception proves the rule. Most millennials don’t want to farm or even dabble in raising goats. If I grew up in farm country, my social media experience would be very different, so I don’t want to conclude too much from my bubble. The Census data confirms it. Many young Americans are gathering into the cities and leaving the rural areas.

I have a (white) Boomer relative who has 4 siblings. He was born in Iowa. I remember him telling me that his large family would drive 2 hours to visit another large family, for fun. He said the only thing to do for entertainment was visit each other’s kids. Those 5 siblings “escaped” cold Iowa in favor of the more desirable metro areas, and they did not go on to have large families of their own.

The move to cities and the shortage of housing therein connects with the delay on forming families (relative to past generations). Expensive housing could be delaying desired children, or millennials who don’t want children could be moving to places that are more fun than the farm.

Aside from rural America losing population, the other big result from the Census was the increase in racial diversity, which is also driven by young people.

The Two or More Races population (also referred to as the Multiracial population) has changed considerably since 2010. The Multiracial population was measured at 9 million people in 2010 and is now 33.8 million people in 2020, a 276% increase.

Has anyone offered a simple narrative that relates the increasing racial diversity with the urban land grab?