Friday, May 17, 2024

Raises and Inflation

I'm embarrassed to admit that it was alarmingly late in life that I realized that part of the reason workers get (and expect) raises each year is to account for inflation.

In my head, for most of my life, I associated a raise solely with being rewarded for performance and/or seniority. As you advance in your career, you (hopefully) become more effective, take on more responsibilities, develop additional competencies, etc.. That makes you more valuable to your employer, and so in turn, you get more money. It would of course be possible that in bad economic times one's employer might not have the money to give you a raise. But the raise you do get is meant to be an advancement -- it improves you vis-a-vis your position in the year before. By the end of my career, assuming I stay on the same professional arc I'm on now, I should be making more money than at the start of it.

This is one function of a raise. But because of inflation, it's not the only or even initial function. At the outset, a raise is not about advancing you economically compared to the prior year, it's about maintaining parity. Not getting a raise isn't career stagnation, it's actively losing money. If throughout your career you only get a raise equivalent to that year's inflation rate, you've basically never gotten a raise at all.

I'm not realizing anything that isn't obvious. That said, it's been noted that the view that raises are earned based on merit while inflation is imposed is actually a pretty common one amongst American workers, so I wasn't entirely alone on it as an unreflective intuition. The mental uncoupling of wage growth from inflation, in turn, probably causes all manner of misshapen beliefs about the state of the economy and what constitutes reasonable wage growth -- particularly if one (rightly!) thinks that one's real, not just nominal, salary should increase as one gains experience and seniority.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Did You Hear? CUNY Branches Cancel Hillel Yom Ha'atzmaut Events

Two branches of the City University of New York system -- Kingsborough and Baruch -- have apparently canceled Israeli Independence Day events sponsored by local Hillel chapters, citing security risks. In the case of Baruch, administrators reportedly offered alternative venues to the Hillel chapter (which were declined), at Kingsborough, by contrast, the administration reportedly refused to make any arrangements to enable the event to go forward.

CUNY is a public university, so this raises the usual First Amendment problems. While every case is different, there are some clear overlaps between this case (in particular, the citation to "security" concerns) and the cancellation of pro-Palestinian speakers and events justified on similar logic (for example, at USC). This, of course, represents a golden opportunity for people to lob dueling hypocrisy charges at one another ("You were aghast when this happened at USC, but I don't hear you complaining now!" "Yeah, well you were apologizing for this when it happened at USC, but you're aghast now!"). I'm sure that will be a grand old time for everyone.

I do want to make one note on the relative coverage and penetration of this story compared to other free speech debacles related to Israel and Palestine on campus. I haven't seen this story covered outside of the Jewish press. That doesn't mean it won't be later, and I'm not generally a fan of the "...but you'll never see this reported in the mainstream media!" genre of commentary. In part, that's because I think there's massive selection bias in what we claim is over- or under-covered; in part, it's because I think virtually everyone massively overestimates how many stories break through to mass public consciousness at all. In reality, I think different stories gain traction in different media domains, such that a story which might tear through one sort of social or ideological circle might make barely a ripple in another.

That said, in many of the circles I reside in, there is essentially no knowledge that there are any cases of academic censorship of "pro-Israel" voices on campus at all. To be clear, I'm not saying that there are not numerous cases of academic freedom violations targeting pro-Palestinian speakers -- there are a slew of them. But the notion that this is a Palestine exception to academic freedom, rather than something which unfortunately happens in a host of other cases and contexts (including, in the right-slash-wrong environments, to pro-Israel speakers), speaks less to the reality of academic freedom and more to an epistemology of which cases get attention and which don't. There are many academics for whom the Steven Salaitas are known, while the Melissa Landas are not. In other domains and registers, there are different gaps.

Ultimately, it's a variant on "they would say it about Jews, they'd say it about other groups too." The claims of injustice are not wrong, but the claims of uniqueness very often are. How many times have we heard variations on "can you imagine if there was a mob of people harassing and making racist remarks towards any other minority group -- how would universities respond to that?" (As we saw at UCLA, the answer apparently is "they'd sit back and let said mob kick the crap out of their targets"). And at the same time, we've also heard plenty of iterations of "if a university dared cancel a pro-Israel event, it'd be on the front-page of every newspaper for the next month" (so far, no headlines).

So I'll all say is that, if you're of the bent that there's no meaningful suppression of pro-Israel speech in campus environments, and your informational ecosystem (other than me, I guess) didn't alert you to this cancellation at CUNY, you should consider how the former belief might be correlated with the latter lacuna. Other people might have different gaps, and they should contemplate what generates them as well.