Above is a picture of my mother as a young woman. I would like to tell you about her.
My mother was born on July 18, 1927, the second child of Nicholas and Catherine Sawchak.
Nicholas and Catherine were immigrants from Ukraine. They came to the United States as teenagers, arriving separately, neither with more than a fourth-grade education. Catherine was from a farming area in western Ukraine. She left because her family wanted her to marry an older man rather than her younger boyfriend, who had been conscripted into the army. Her first job here was as a maid. Nicholas was from Kiev, where he had been trained to be a furrier. In the United States, he worked as a potter, making sinks and toilettes. When Nicholas and Catherine came to the United States, they thought they might return home to Ukraine eventually. But World War I and the Russian Revolution intervened, causing a change of plans. Catherine’s boyfriend died in the war. Nicholas and Catherine met each other, married, and settled in a small row house in Trenton, New Jersey, where they lived the rest of their lives.
Catherine and Nicholas had two children, my uncle Walter and my mother Dorothy. When my mother was born, her parents chose to name her “Dorothy Theresa Sawchak.” But because Catherine spoke with a heavy accent, the clerk preparing the birth certificate did not understand her. So officially, my mother’s middle name was “Tessie” rather than “Theresa.” She never bothered to change it.
Nicholas and Catherine were hardworking and frugal. They saved enough to send Walter to college and medical school. He served as a physician in the army during the Korean war. Once I asked him if he worked at a MASH unit, like in the TV show. He said no, he worked closer to the front. He patched up the wounded soldiers the best he could and then sent them to a MASH unit to recover and receive more treatment. After the war, he became a pathologist in a Trenton-area hospital. He married and had two daughters, my cousins.
My mother attended Trenton High School (the same high school, I learned years later, attended by the economist Robert Solow at about the same time). She danced ballet. She water-skied on the Delaware River. She loved to read and go to the movies.
In part because of limited resources and in part because of the gender bias of the time, my mother was not given the chance to go to college. Years later, her parents would say that not giving her that opportunity was one of their great regrets. Instead, my mother learned to be a hairdresser. She was also pressured to marry the son of some family friends.
The marriage did not work. With my mother pregnant, her new husband started “running around,” my mother’s euphemism for infidelity. They divorced, and she kicked him out of her life. But the marriage did leave her with one blessing—my sister Peg.
My mother continued life as a single mother. Some years later, she met my father, also named Nicholas, through social functions run by local Ukrainian churches. They both loved to dance. He wanted to marry her, but having been burned once, she was reluctant at first. Only when she realized that he had become her best friend did she finally accept.
In 1958, nine months after I was born, Mom, Dad, Peg, and I left Trenton for a newly built split-level house in Cranford, New Jersey. My father was working for Western Electric, an arm of AT&T, first as a draftsman and then as an electrical engineer. He worked there until his retirement. One of his specialties was battery design. When I was growing up, I thought it sounded incredibly boring. Now I realize how important it is.
My mother then stopped working as a hairdresser to become a full-time mom. But she kept all the hairdresser equipment from her shop—chair, mirrors, scissors, razors, and so on—in our basement. She would cut the hair of her friends on a part-time basis. When I was a small boy, she cut my hair as well.
I attended the Brookside School, the public grade school which was a short walk from our house. When I was in the second or third grade, my mother was called in to see the teacher. The class had been given some standardized aptitude test. “Greg did well,” the teacher said. “We were very surprised.”
At that moment, my mother decided the school was not working out for me. I was talkative and inquisitive at home but shy and lackluster at school. I needed a change.
She started looking around for the best school she could find for me. She decided it was The Pingry School, an independent day school about a dozen miles from our house. She had me apply, and I was accepted.
The question then became, how to pay for it? Pingry was expensive, and we did not have a lot of extra money. My mother decided that she needed to return to work.
She started looking for a job, and an extraordinary opportunity presented itself. Union County, where we lived, was opening a public vocational school, and they were looking for teachers. She applied to be the cosmetology teacher and was hired.
There was, however, a glitch. The teachers, even though teaching trades like hairdressing, needed teacher certification. That required a certain number of college courses, and my mother had not taken any. So she got a temporary reprieve from the requirement. While teaching at the vocational school during the day, she started taking college courses at night to earn her certification, all while raising two children.
My mother taught at the vocational school until her retirement. During that time, she also co-authored a couple of books, called Beauty Culture I and II, which were teacher’s guides. From the summary of the first volume: “The syllabus is divided into six sections and includes the following areas of instruction: shop, school, and the cosmetologist; sterilization practices in the beauty salon; scalp and hair applications and shampooing; hair styling; manicuring; and hairpressing and iron curling.” I suppose one might view this project as a harbinger of my career as a textbook author.
When my parents both retired, they were still the best of friends. They traveled together, exploring the world in ways that were impossible when they were younger and poorer. During my third year as an economics professor, I was visiting the LSE for about a month. I encouraged my parents to come over to London for a week or so. They had a grand time. I believe it was the first time they had ever visited Europe. When I was growing up, vacations were usually at the Jersey shore.
My father died a few years later. My mother spent the next three decades living alone. She was then living full-time at the Jersey shore in Brant Beach on Long Beach Island. The house was close to the ocean and large enough to encourage her growing family to come for extended visits. Two children, five grandchildren, four great-grandchildren. The more, the merrier. Nothing made her happier than being surrounded by family.
My mother loved to cook, especially the Ukrainian dishes she learned in her childhood. Holubtsi (stuffed cabbage) was a specialty. Another was kapusta (cabbage) soup. One time, the local newspaper offered to publish her kapusta soup recipe. They did so, but with an error. Every seasoning that was supposed to be measured in teaspoons was printed as tablespoons. The paper later ran a correction but probably to no avail. I am not sure if anyone ever tried the misprinted recipe and, if so, to what end.
During her free time in her later years, my mother read extensively, played FreeCell on her computer, and watched TV. A few years ago, when she was about 90 years old, I was visiting her, and I happened to mention the show “Breaking Bad.” She had not heard of it. She suggested we watch the first episode. And then another. And another. After I left, she binge-watched all five seasons.
As she aged, living alone became harder. When she had trouble going up and down the stairs, an elevator was added to her house. But slowly her balance faltered, and she fell several times. She started having small strokes, and then a more significant one. She moved into a nursing home. Whenever I visited, I brought her new books to read. Her love of reading never diminished.
This is, I am afraid, where the story ends. Last week, Dorothy Theresa Sawchak Mankiw tested positive for Covid-19. Yesterday, she died. I will miss her.
IPA’s weekly links
Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.
Some student-created infographic examples from the Communicating Economics website.
- Communicating Economics is a site with tools, tips, and videos of in-person college level lectures on, well, pretty much what the title says. It comes from the person behind Econ Films, whom I’ve worked with before and are very good at at what they do.
- A Belgian court has cleared the way for the remains of the first Prime Minister of an independent Republic of Congo (now the DRC) to be returned to his family. In 1961 Patrice Lumumba had been in the job for three months when the Belgian government had him killed, along with two family members. And his “remains” consists of a tooth, because the Belgian authorities also ordered his body to be dissolved in acid. Longer story (for those with strong stomachs) here.
- An interesting paper by Obie Porteous, analyzing 27,000 econ papers about Africa finds:
“45% of all economics journal articles and 65% of articles in the top five economics journals are about five countries accounting for just 16% of the continent’s population. I show that 91% of the variation in the number of articles across countries can be explained by a peacefulness index, the number of international tourist arrivals, having English as an official language, and population.”
The “big five” locations that dominate Western econ are Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, and Malawi. On Conversations with Tyler recently, Tyler Cowen asked Nathan Nunn about this (particularly as relates to RCTs). Nunn responded that it’s very difficult to set up a research infrastructure, but once it’s there, it’s hard to go somewhere new and start again, and admitted that even though he doesn’t do RCTs he’s fallen into the same pattern.
- A cool-looking paper from Agyei-Holmes, Buehren, Goldstein, Osei, Osei-Akoto, & Udry looks at a land titling program in Ghana (I know, see above, but to be fair, I know that at least Udry’s been doing research in Ghana for 30 years, and two of the authors are at Ghanaian institutions). The paper looks at how giving formal ownership to farmers increased their investments into their land and agricultural output. Except that it did the opposite – interestingly, when people got titles to the land, the value of the land increased and the owners, particularly women, shifted to other types of work, and business profits went up.
6 Crucial Races That Will Flip the SenateThis November, we have…
6 Crucial Races That Will Flip the Senate
This November, we have an opportunity to harness your energy and momentum into political power and not just defeat Trump, but also flip the Senate. Here are six key races you should be paying attention to.
1. The first is North Carolina Republican senator Thom Tillis, notable for his “olympic gold” flip-flops. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, then offered a loophole-filled replacement that excluded many with preexisting conditions. In 2014 Tillis took the position that climate change was “not a fact” and later urged Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, before begrudgingly acknowledging the realities of climate change in 2018. And in 2019, although briefly opposing Trump’s emergency border wall declaration, he almost immediately caved to pressure.
But Tillis’ real legacy is the restrictive 2013 voter suppression law he helped pass as Speaker of the North Carolina House. The federal judge who struck down the egregious law said its provisions “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Enter Democrat Cal Cunningham, who unlike his opponent, is taking no money from corporate PACs. Cunningham is a veteran who supports overturning the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, restoring the Voting Rights Act, and advancing other policies that would expand access to the ballot box.
2. Maine Senator Susan Collins, a self-proclaimed moderate whose unpopularity has made her especially vulnerable, once said that Trump was unworthy of the presidency. Unfortunately, she spent the last four years enabling his worst behavior. Collins voted to confirm Trump’s judges, including Brett Kavanaugh, and voted to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial, saying he had “learned his lesson” through the process alone. Rubbish.
Collins’ opponent is Sara Gideon, speaker of the House in Maine. As Speaker, Gideon pushed Maine to adopt ambitious climate legislation, anti-poverty initiatives, and ranked choice voting. And unlike Collins, Gideon supports comprehensive democracy reforms to ensure politicians are accountable to the people, not billionaire donors.
Another Collins term would be six more years of cowardly appeasement, no matter the cost to our democracy.
3. Down in South Carolina, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is also vulnerable. Graham once said he’d “rather lose without Donald Trump than try to win with him.” But after refusing to vote for him in 2016, Graham spent the last four years becoming one of Trump’s most reliable enablers. Graham also introduced legislation to end birthright citizenship, lobbied for heavy restrictions on reproductive rights, and vigorously defended Brett Kavanaugh. Earlier this year, he said that pandemic relief benefits would only be renewed over his dead body.
His opponent, Democrat Jaime Harrison, has brought the race into a dead heat with his bold vision for a “New South.” Harrison’s platform centers on expanding access to healthcare, enacting paid family and sick leave, and investing in climate resistant infrastructure.
Graham once said that if the Republicans nominated Trump the party would “get destroyed,” and “deserve it.” We should heed his words, and help Jaime Harrison replace him in the Senate.
4. Let’s turn to Montana’s Senate race. The incumbent, Republican Steve Daines, has defended Trump’s racist tweets, thanked him for tear-gassing peaceful protestors, and parroted his push to reopen the country during the pandemic as early as May.
Daine’s challenger is former Democratic Governor Steve Bullock. Bullock is proof that Democratic policies can actually gain support in supposedly red states because they benefit people, not the wealthy and corporations. During his two terms, he oversaw the expansion of Medicaid, prevented the passage of union-busting laws, and vetoed two extreme bills that restricted access to abortions.The choice here, once again, is a no-brainer.
5. In Iowa, like Montana, is a state full of surprises. After the state voted for Obama twice, Republican Joni Ernst won her Senate seat in 2014. Her win was a boon for her corporate backers, but has been a disaster for everyone else.
Ernst, a staunch Trump ally, holds a slew of fringe opinions. She pushed anti-abortion laws that would have outlawed most contraception, shared her belief that states can nullify federal laws, and has hinted that she wants to privatize or fundamentally alter social security “behind closed doors.”
Her opponent, Democrat Theresa Greenfield, is a firm supporter of a strong social safety net because she knows its importance firsthand. Union and Social Security survivor benefits helped her rebuild her life after the tragic death of her spouse. With the crippling impact of coronavirus at the forefront of Americans’ minds, Greenfield would be a much needed advocate in the Senate.
6. In Arizona, incumbent Senate Republican Martha McSally is facing Democrat Mark Kelly. Two months after being defeated by Democrat Kyrsten SINema for Arizona’s other Senate seat, McSally was appointed to fill John McCain’s seat following his death. Since then, she’s used that seat to praise Trump and confirm industry lobbyists to agencies like the EPA, and keep cities from receiving additional funds to fight COVID-19. As she voted to block coronavirus relief funds, McSally even had the audacity to ask supporters to “fast a meal” to help support her campaign.
Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, became a gun-control activist following the attempt on her life in 2011. His support of universal background checks and crucial policies on the climate crisis, reproductive health, and wealth inequality make him the clear choice.
These are just a few of the important Senate races happening this year.
In addition, the entire House of Representatives will be on the ballot, along with 86 state legislative chambers and thousands of local seats.
Winning the White House is absolutely crucial, but it’s just one piece of the fight to save our democracy and push a people’s agenda. Securing victories in state legislatures is essential to stopping the GOP’s plans to entrench minority rule through gerrymandered congressional districts and restrictive voting laws — and it’s often state-level policies that have the biggest impact on our everyday lives. Even small changes to the makeup of a body like the Texas Board of Education, which determines textbook content for much of the country, will make a huge difference.
Plus, every school board member, state representative, and congressperson you elect can be pushed to enact policies that benefit the people, not just corporate donors.
This is how you build a movement that lasts.
Fear & Data
It is a key driver of behavior, whether in markets (Fear & Greed), politics (Tribalism), Health care (Anti-Vaxxers) or whatever (FOMO).
Fear is a great memory aid. For most of human history, people communicated not via the written word, but by oral storytelling. Hence, we are primed for emotional, memorable narratives. Looking at data and performing cold, calculated analyses is a learned, not innate, skill.
Social media understands this. Is it any surprise the algorithms of Facebook surfaces the most extreme views and claims? Look at what plays directly into that evolutionary trait, via clickbait and manufactured outrage. With our perfect hindsight bias, isn’t it obvious how inevitable this was?
Irrational fear is a driver of much of what we think and do. Often reflexively, frequently without thought. Contemplate what this means as you process new pandemic information, relying on mental models, performing data analysis.
How often do we react to a headline we disagree with, but after diving into the data underneath, it changes our mind? Not often enough, but on those rare occasions when that happens, it is a sign that you are doing this correctly. Our first reaction is the thoughtless programmed emotional response; the second is the more complex analytical result. It is your lizard brain (basal ganglia and brainstem) versus developed frontal lobe (neocortex).
Which brings us back to Covid-19. The probability of anyone of person getting this disease and then suffering a fatality is exceedingly low. I don’t want to suggest things are statistically normal, and you should definitely do things to stay safe: wear masks, socially distance, wash your hands frequently, and not touch your face. You can be (relatively) safe by doing these simple things.
But excess fear is driving all sorts of negative consequences, including stress, psychoses, economic damage, relationship issues, and health problems. This is counter-productive.
One day, this pandemic will end. Then we can all go back to worrying about cholesterol, high blood pressure and sugar.
Over/Under Represented: Causes of Death in the Media (June 13, 2019)
Fearing the Dramatic, Complacent for the Mundane (April 29, 2019)
Denominator Blindness, Shark Attack edition (February 5, 2019)
Shark Attacks Illustrate an Investing Problem (February 4, 2019)
MiB: Danny Kahneman (February 11, 2017)
Crashes & Terrorists & Sharks – Oh, My! (November 9, 2015)
How’s Your MetaCognition? (August 16, 2013)
Source: Our World In Data
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Advice needed. I’m a cheapskate and I have a compulsive tendency to NOT SPEND any money at all.
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