the audit

Audit Notes: Illegal Immigrant Costs, E-books, Curmudgeons

September 28, 2010

(UPDATE: I misread this WSJ post. The Rand analyst was actually talking about all immigration, legal and illegal. The Journal has now updated its post to clarify that. Thanks to commenter James for the headsup.)

The Wall Street Journal‘s Real Time Economics blog reports on a Rand Corporation study that shows how much illegal immigration costs the average (legal) California family: $2,200 a year. That’s a lot of money, especially for a state as broke as California.

Interestingly, Rand found that the effects even out nationally since illegals (at least the ones in non-cash jobs) pay payroll taxes and such but don’t draw those benefits.

But the states with the most heated debates about immigration — California, Arizona, New Mexico, etc. — tend to have net negative costs. “There are places in the country where the taxpayer effect is a big deal,” Smith said. “We can’t ignore it even though on average the people come out even” on a nationwide basis.

You think?

— James Ledbetter pokes a Wall Street Journal page-one story today that’s not exactly bulletproof.

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This story has more holes in it than Albert Hall. It offers absolutely no evidence that literary fiction writers are more affected by this phenomenon than, say, commercial fiction writers, nonfiction writers, science and technical writers, or anyone. It also assumes that the e-reader phenomenon is responsible for the trend, whereas it wouldn’t be that hard to find people who could tell you that advances were declining well before e-readers had much of an impact.
But most frustrating: It fails to account for a simple marketplace fact. If, as the article demonstrates, a digital version of a book sells for less than half the price of the same book in hardcover, it should be possible to sell a lot more copies of the digital book.

Indeed. Plus, the Journal doesn’t mention the obvious way a business tries to boost its revenue: Raise prices. That’s a somewhat complicated story, but the Journal should have mentioned it.

And its numbers don’t add up. The Journal says e-book sales now account for 8 percent of all books revenue. But its chart shows what appears to be fewer than 100 million ebook sales (more like 50 million) this year versus about 1.5 billion printed books. If publishers get much less money from e-books than print sales, that 8 percent number doesn’t make sense.

— Jeff Jarvis says writers who think the Innernets aren’t teh awesomez 100%!! is a “curmudgeon.” Anybody who thinks about digital culture and sees problems is just anti-change of the “get off my lawn” variety. Neat trick there.

For The Social Network, geeks and entrepreneurs are as mysterious and frightening as witches. Its writer, Aaron Sorkin, admits as much in New York Magazine. “He says unapologetically that he knows almost nothing about the 2010 iteration of Facebook, adding that his interest in computer-aided communication goes only as far as emailing his friends.” Sorkin himself says, “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling.” Making shit up.

New York’s Mark Harris knows, in an aside at least, what this movie is really about. “The Social Network can be seen as a well-aimed spitball thrown at new media by old media.” Except it’s not really old media that’s spitting but neonew media. Sorkin is a member of the Young Curmudgeons’ Guild, joining Gladwell, Carr, Anderson, Rowan, Morozov, and Lanier. Old media resists change. These guys want to deny the internet credit for it.

Who knew the editors of a tech porn magazine like Wired and a guy whose “interests include biomimetic information architectures, user interfaces, heterogeneous scientific simulations, advanced information systems for medicine, and computational approaches to the fundamentals of physics” were curmudgeons!

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR’s business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.