Sunday, February 27, 2011

Albuquerque Journal Adds NY-Written Column; NY Times Comes to NM for Expertise

The Albuquerque Journal today added a new column on the economics of marriage, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal copy inserted into the Albuquerque newspaper’s Sunday “Money” section. This is good. But the writer is a woman who lives outside New York City. At least one or two elements in her family’s life won’t apply to those of us in New Mexico.
The New York Times came here for its relationship economic expert recently. The Times featured Allen Parkman, a mostly retired economics professor at the University of New Mexico’s Anderson Schools of Management, in a February 12 pre-Valentine’s article headlined, “When Love Outgrows Gifts on Valentine’s Day.”
The article appeared in Ron Lieber’s “Your Money” column. Lieber says, “What I did discover, however, was that many of us were probably taking the wrong approach to quantifying our generosity in the first place. Long-term relationships do not survive without gifts, to be sure. But they are not the gifts you may think.
“Allen M. Parkman has been married 37 years, though his parents divorced in 1944, when he was just 4 years old. Figuring out why marriages fail has driven part of his research as an economist and (now emeritus) professor of management at the University of New Mexico.
“His 2004 article in the journal Economic Inquiry, “The Importance of Gifts in Marriage,” went a long way toward cracking the code (Parkman) says. It began by noting, as other researchers had, that unlike people in his parents’ generation, those marrying more recently were seeking increases in psychological welfare in addition to material gains. To his mind, many gains come from gifts, which he defined as an offering where you incur a cost but receive no direct or immediate benefit.
“This makes a lot of sense. After all, there is a display of plumage that goes on during many courtships, a wooing based in part on establishing one’s credentials as an exceedingly generous soul. A lot of disposable income goes toward this sort of thing. The De Beers people seized on the metric in a brilliant and insidious way, suggesting that no price was too high for an engagement ring — simply pile up two months’ worth of salary.
“But this is only half the story, Mr. Parkman says. Many gifts are of the psychological and intangible sort. They range from simple empathy, affection and a catch-all category called “understanding,” to complex actions like sacrificing your career so your family can move to a city where a spouse or partner has a new and better job.
“This is a useful construct during tough economic times. Worrying about the gift-giving ritual is a high-class problem, after all. But if you count yourselves among the working (or nonworking) class and can’t afford to buy many gifts, it sure seems as if there are still plenty of gifts you can give.”
Parkman suspects that Lieber found him as the result of a conversation a year ago with another Times reporter. That earlier interview didn’t make the paper.
Parkman’s 2007 book “Smart Marriage” applies economic principles to marriage. In his professor emeritus status, Parkman teaches a bit; plays tennis, basketball and golf; views Lobo games of teams good and bad (even football); and works on more books.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fewer New Mexicans Work Than National Average

During 2010, 56.9% of New Mexicans 16 and older worked. The national average is 58.5%. The state’s employment to population ratio, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls it, dropped in 2010 from 57.8% in 2009. The BLS released the numbers today.
While hugely touting any one economic number buries important details, the simplistic point is that if a larger percentage of New Mexico’s population worked, then incomes across the state would be higher.
Certainly one factor in New Mexico’s lower employment ratio has to be the number of people in the “informal economy,” which is the third world term for people working for cash. I’ve never seen numbers on this informal economy in New Mexico. My guess is that such folks concentrate along the southern border and in the Northwest.
Of our neighbors, only Arizona challenges New Mexico. That state also has 56.9% of its population employed. For the others, the figures are Colorado, 62.8% (this was Colorado’s lowest ratio ever); Texas, 60.5%; Utah, 62.9%. Arizona has had a real estate recession that makes New Mexico’s recession look like roaring prosperity. Utah has a huge population under 16.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Abq GDP Up 0.3% in 2009. Farmington Down 16%.

Albuquerque was just barely among 74 metro areas that showed increased economic activity during 2009. Real gross domestic product (GDP) declined in 292 metro areas from 2008 to 2009, according to figures released yesterday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The figures are preliminary for 2009 and revised for 2008. The numbers are adjusted for inflation.
Overall, in the nation’s 366 metro areas, GDP dropped 2.4% in 2009, following a 0.4% decline in 2008.
The Albuquerque metro GDP increased just 0.3% (three tenths of one percent) to $35.5 billion. Though Albuquerque’s economy has grown every year since 2006, it has been stagnant, showing 3% growth for the period.
Albuquerque’s metro GDP ranked 60th among the 366 metros in 2009.
Las Cruces grew every year between 2006 and 2009. The 2009 increase of 2% brought the economy to $5.4 billion. The Las Cruces GDP ranked 252nd during 2009.
Farmington’s economy took the hit in 2009, declining 16%, or just over $1 billion, during the year to $5.2 billion. Farmington’s economy placed 261 during 2009.
For the Santa Fe GDP, 2009 also showed a decrease. The drop was 5%, bringing the local GDP to $6.7 billion.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

January Home Sales Down 28% From December, Up 4% from January 2010

It’s seasonally traditional that January home sales show a big drop from December. January sales of 363 single family detached homes were down 28% from the 505 homes sold during December. My speculation is that since the business world around Albuquerque essentially closes after the first week in December, fewer deals are made in time to close in January.
The big surprise was the 4% increase over the 349 homes sold during January 2010. This was the first January year-over-year increase since January 2008, says the Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors (GAAR), which posted the sales figures today. For the past year or so, GAAR has posted the figures around the tenth of the month.
January showed 693 sales pending, a 28% increase from December, suggesting that closed sales might increase this month. Pending sales are a leading indicator of closed sales. January pending sales were down 6.4% from 740 in January 2010. The early 2010 sales were artificially pushed up by the Obama first-time homebuyer tax credit.
Both median and average prices slipped during January. Median prices spent 2010 in the vicinity of $180,000, peaking at $186,000 in July. Average prices spent the past year north of $210,000 with a July peak of $230,213.
The January median price, $172,000, was the lowest since the $170,000 median in October 2009. The $201,239 average was down about $16,000, or seven percent, from December 2010. Early 2005 was the last time Albuquerque average prices were below $201,000.
Maybe sellers are getting realistic about asking prices.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Education Secretary Qualifications in Constitution.That Makes No Sense

This morning’s report is about some wondering whether the qualifications of Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera fits the requirements of the state constitution. The section from the constitution about the secretary is below.
“Article XII Education
“Section 6 A. There is hereby created a ‘public education department’ and a ‘public education commission’ that shall have such powers and duties as provided by law. The department shall be a cabinet department headed by a secretary of public education who is a qualified, experienced educator who shall be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate.”
The question raised is whether being a “qualified, experienced educator” requires having spent time teaching in a classroom in the kindergarten through 12th grade level and whether said classroom must have been in a public school system.
For me, being inside a classroom stands as a unique experience and, other things equal, the experience would be useful to an education secretary. However, things are never otherwise equal and to have missed the experience of being in the room with the kids and with the door closed hardly disqualifies one from the being an educator. Overall Skandera’s qualifications are outstanding
But why are the stated qualifications in the constitution? That’s the bigger question. After finding the description above, I looked briefly, to no avail, for job specifications for other department secretaries. With two exceptions, the word “secretary” is used in the phrase “secretary of the state.” The exceptions are in Article XII, Section 6 A quoted above and in the context of ratification of the constitution.
The qualification statement, such as it is, has no business in the constitution. This situation strikes me as yet another reason for revising our constitution. That means this situation offers yet another reason to support Rep. Joseph Cervantes House Bill 207 calling for an independent constitutional revisions commission.

Monday, February 21, 2011

NM Gets D in History, Up from F

The Thomas B Fordham Institute (, a Washington, D.C., think tank, offers the slogan, “Advancing education excellence.” In pursuit of that mission, the institute periodically reviews education standards in the states. The history standards review appeared February 16.
New Mexico got a D in the new report, “up,” if one can say that, from an F in 2003. New Mexico joined 27 other states with a D or an F. Only South Carolina got an A.
The report pulls no punches.
From the section in the introduction on The State of State U.S. History Standards. “Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia offer some form of U.S. history standards. These run the gamut from impressively comprehensive to uselessly vapid… The most pressing and common defect in state standards is the submersion of history in the vacuous, synthetic, and anti-historical “field” of social studies
“In fact, “social studies” is more than a method of organizing content: It is an ideology that has steadily evolved and adapted since the early twentieth century. However, its central concept remains immovable: Positing trans-historical (and often ahistorical) interpretive “concepts” over historical facts and context, it splits the past into arbitrary and thematic “strands.” It exemplifies the self-defeating “how-to-think not whatto-learn” mentality, favoring jargon-laden thinking and learning skills over specific content. Many states with the most smug introductions — touting abstract and un-measurable social studies aims, even as they boast of excellence, thoroughness, and comprehensiveness — have the worst and least substantial standards. Indeed, social studies practitioners often openly reject the notion of core curricular substance in history. Students are instead expected to analyze concepts, using whatever knowledge they may happen to acquire. They are asked to focus on what is relevant to their contemporary concerns and developing selfhood — an invitation to judge the past through a present-day lens, rather than to understand it in historical context. (This tendency is commonly known in the education field as “presentism.”)
This sounds like what I didn’t like in “Telling New Mexico, A New History,” which was created for the new New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.
New Mexico’s approach to U.S. history contains an odd emphasis to the Iroquois, the report says. For me Iroquois government is well worth perhaps a paragraph, but no more. The Iroquois also played a significant early role in New York, but again, a paragraph or maybe two. This reminds me of the repeated discussion in “Telling” of the film “Salt of the Earth,” which got five pages.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ice Cream Opening Requires Screw Driver, Wire Cutter

We needed a screw driver and a wire cutter to open our ice cream last night. And, yes, we were quite coherent and functional at the time. It was the new approach to closing the ice cream carton. Kroger, which operates the Smith’s stores in New Mexico, brought us the “opportunity” for this learning experience. The ice cream brand was ‘Private Selection,” a Kroger house brand
The ice cream, previously packaged with a plastic band around the top, came with a pull-tab. The instructions were to pull the tab down to open. We did. The tab broke. Nothing opened.
We were left with a black lid with a lattice structure around the bottom and a notch previously occupied by the tab. No obvious means of opening the lid appeared. Grab the bottom and lift, the usual approach, didn’t work. I got the screw driver and went to work on the lattice.
Susan, the family civil engineer, heard my struggle and offered help. She, too, was mystified. I got the wire cutter and began destroying the lattice. We continued trying to lift the lid.
Finally, success. We broke the seal around the top. The lid structure (or lid system?) was scored around the top, between the lattice band and the real lid. The presumed purpose of the tab is to break the scored line, allowing easy lid lifting.
Memo to Kroger and Smith folks: Change is supposed to be for the better, to create value and improve productivity and thereby grow the economy and Smith’s sales along the way. This change fails.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

AFT’s Trujillo Goes Parochial Over Skandera’s Education Consultants

Thinking she needed some fresh eyes and high powered talent to get started attacking New Mexico’s public school mess, Hanna Skandera, secretary-designate of the public education department, hired some consultants, most with ties to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also is Skandera’s former boss. Skandera might be considered a bit politically tone deaf for the consultant hire for $152,000, given the state’s financial situation. But at least she used money made available by dumping exempt (i.e. political) employees from the Richardson administration. The Albuquerque Journal’s February 13 story did mention this fact, but not until the 12th paragraph.
The consultants, called The Public Education Department’s Advisory Team, were announced in a department news release ( last Wednesday, February 9. The release, in the third paragraph, said the department contracted with the consultants as “an alternative to the immediate hiring of many of the departments exempt positions.”
What was close to comic was the response to the consultants from Christine Trujillo, president of New Mexico's chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. In a statement posted on AFT’s website (, Trujillo said, "You can't copy and paste an education agenda for New Mexico's kids that outside consultants have used elsewhere. Our students and teachers need education leaders who come from New Mexico and understand the unique needs of our state's children — not folks with connections to the failed education policies of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and to former President George W. Bush's botched No Child Left Behind program. In times of financial crisis, it is unbelievable that Gov. Susana Martinez and state Education Secretary-designate Skandera would choose to hire outside consultants on the dime of struggling New Mexicans."
Trujillo plants herself completely in the cause of utter parochialism and hyper- partisanship and bad political cliches. She claims that New Mexico’s children have “unique needs” that can be understood by people from New Mexico. That’s just nonsense.
Just one of the flaws in Trujillo’s “logic” is that a bunch of New Mexico kids were born outside the state and/or born to parents who grew up elsewhere. Did the kids, needs change when the parents crossed the state border?
Under the Richardson administration, Trujillo and her buddies did one thing successfully—spending money—while retaining performance at the bottom.
The linking of Skandera to the Bush brothers is a stretch, if Trujillo means the linkage denotes failure. Sure Skandera worked for Jeb Bush, by Jeb’s education policies are generally deemed successful, if measured by student performance. No Child Left Behind, while hated by more than a few in education (hmm….) was a mixed bag in my understanding.
The “failed policies” phrase is the cliche.
Finally I’ll bet that Trujillo would be quite happy to have those Richardson administration political appointees to still be in the education department, living “on the dime of struggling New Mexicans.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Abq Home Prices Up Slightly in 2010. Sales Down.

The average sales price for an Albuquerque single family detached home increased during 2010 after two years of decline. The average price was $215,989 during 2010, a $1,327, or 0.6%, increase. Prices dropped 4.3% in 2008 and 7.7% in 2009.
There were 7,181 homes sold during 2010, the fewest since 6,740 homes in 2000. The sales figure includes townhouses, condominiums and single family detached homes. Metro Albuquerque home sales peaked at 13,448 in 2005. Condo / townhouse sales average around ten percent of total sales.
The 2010 sales peak came in May with 834 units closed. This figure was pushed by the first-time homebuyer tax credit that ended April 30. The number sales dropped steadily to 513 in October and increased slightly in November and December, defying the usual seasonal pattern.
With an average price of $215,533, the 180 homes sold in the Rio Rancho South area were the closest to the Albuquerque average of any of the city’s 41 areas. North Albuquerque Acres continued to have the city’s highest average sales price with an average of $571,502 for 95 homes sold during 2010.
Sixteen areas registered an increase in the average sales price during 2010 with two others unchanged. Foothills North led the price hikes with a $56,721, or 11.3%, jump from 2009 on the sale of 79 homes.
The largest price decline came in the North Valley where 146 homes sold during 2010 for an average of $297,045, a $27,852, or 8.6%, drop from 2009.
The numbers come from the Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors (

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mowing in February? Yes, and I'm Not Kidding.

The Department of Transportation does much of what they do outside. That means people can see what they do. That also means that when the department does something stupid, people can see it.
Just after noon today, we were driving north on I-25, approaching the Rio Grande. An orange diamond-shaped sign in the median said something about mowing.
“In February,” I thought. “That’s bizarre.”
As we continued north, I could just barely notice that the short, scraggly,t dead stalks of grass in the median had been mowed.
At the Isleta exit at 12:10 a.m. (I checked the clock on my dashboard), we saw the mower. Deserted. Just behind the mower was another orange diamond shaped sign. This one said, “End Mowing.”
Indeed, we should end mowing until around the first of May.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Union Pacific and Incentives

A month ago today Gov. Susana Martinez, in one of her first public acts as governor, went to Santa Teresa to pitch a gross receipts tax and compensating tax exemption for locomotive fuel. Unlike, the the movie subsidy and the RailRunner subsidy and a bunch of others, this is a really good idea. It would level the field with Texas.
The tax exemption is tied to a railyard planned by Union Pacific at Santa Teresa. Long story short, Union Pacific needs to extricate itself from El Paso. If you have ever driven on I-10 west of downtown El Paso, you pass the existing railyard. There is no space. Twenty or so years ago, Kevin Boberg, now assistant dean at the New Mexico State University School of Business, had a bright idea. Let's build a multi-modal transportation facility at Santa Teresa, he said.
Dr. Boberg was ahead of his time and well ahead of the then King administration's inclination to make a decision. Then there was little at Santa Teresa.
Now is the time. All sorts of things happen now at Santa Teresa. Perhaps more important, UP may well have money now. The railroad had a record fourth quarter in 2010 and a record year, netting $2.8 billion. UP expects to hire 4,000 this year, mostly replacing people lost through attrition.
The UP jobs will be real, regular jobs, not project work that comes and goes like the movies.
If I get a bill number on this proposal, I will pass it along.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mt. Taylor TCP Designation Thrown Out

It was about respect, said the Acoma, Hopi, Laguna, Navajo and Zuni tribes in mid-2008 pitching the designation of Mount Taylor as a traditional cultural property. A year later the TCP designation was a done deal, except that some other guys felt they were given insufficient respect. So they sued the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee and Acoma Pueblo. The petitioners included individuals, uranium mining companies and the Cebolleta Land Grant.
Today District Court Judge William G. W. Shoobridge of Hobbs ruled for the petitioners. He sent the matter back to the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee.
Essentially, the TCP designation expanded the bureaucratic requirements that must be met before doing anything with the land within the area.
My glancing through the ruling finds these main points.
1. “The designation in the Final Order of 819 square miles of raw land, even if reduced by 140 square miles for apparent clerical error, and fluid reductions for “non-contributing” properties, is overboard and arbitrary as the CPRC can not reasonably inspect, recommended repairs and maintenance of such a diverse constantly changing mass of land.”
2. “This cause should be reversed and remanded to the CPRC to provide personal notice to all property owners, including mineral estate owners, whose property rights may be affected by any proposed TCP designation as the failure to provide personal notice violated due process rights, is arbitrary and not in accordance with law.”
3. “…the Court finds that the listing of thousands of acres of Petitioner Cebolleta’s private common land as contributing state land is contrary to law and should be reversed.”
What now? An appeal? I have no idea. I suppose it depends on the Pueblo of Acoma and the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee. The committee, in turn, probably depends on Susana Martinez.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Another Famous New Mexican Who Isn’t Famous in NM

David Eagleman got a ten minute (or so) segment tonight on the Nova program on public television.
Eagleton is from Albuquerque. Wikipedia introduces Eagleman this way. “David Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. He is best known for his work on time perception, synesthesia, and neurolaw. He is also an internationally bestselling fiction writer published in 22 languages.”
Eagleman must never sleep. He does too much to sleep. That’s OK, high achievers seldom sleep. The fiction writer part derives from Eagleman majoring in literature at Rice, where he got bachelor’s degree in 1993.
Has anyone in Albuquerque other than his parents and his Academy classmates ever heard of him?
Not likely. We spend so much time whining about our (intellectual and economic) poverty that we forget our excellence.
Not to rave much more about Eagleman, who appears to be amazing, but he is the youngest board member of the Long Now Foundation. (See
The relevance here is that Long Now was founded by Stewart Brand, who has a New Mexico connection as a former Santa Fe Institute board member and friend (I think that’s the correct word) of passive-solar pioneer Steve Baer of Zomeworks Corporation and of Steve Durkee (whose Muslim name I forget), a co-founder of the Lama Foundation near San Cristobal.

(Two commentators point out that in the original post I confused Eagleman with Eagleton, who I think was George McGovern's original running mate when McGovern ran for president. I appreciate the oversight.)

Game and Fish Continues Fancy Newsletter

There it was again, New Mexico Wildlife, tucked into my morning newspaper a couple of days ago.
When the newsletter first got my attention a couple of years ago, I asked about the cost, amazed at the excess of the newsletter production. The Department of Game and Fish staff without hesitation said the newsletter cost $40,000. Given the tight money times in state government, or so I thought, I quickly awarded New Mexico Wildlife an early and high listing in Harold’s List of Really Stupid Stuff.
Susana Martinez hasn’t given us “bold change,” but you would think that the folks down the food chain would have gotten the message about spending less money. Not at Game and Fish, apparently. The new issue is 16 pages with color photos on all 16 pages. The paper seems a step up from regular cheap newsprint.