Aspirin And The Cost of Knowing How Things Work

Did you know that aspirin was distributed to help people with pain before scientists knew how it worked? Popularized in the 1890s by the Bayer company, aspirin is the brand name for acetylsalicylic acid, which was manufactured from willow bark and other plants.

For centuries, the plants used to make aspirin were known for their abilities to reduce pain from inflammation and fever, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that researchers discovered how the plants’ properties worked.

Fast forward to now. Now, no medicine in the United States goes on the market until its exact and precise properties are determined and approved. This ends up being a costly endeavor in a system ripe for improvement.

For Dr. Thomas Stossel (brother to commentator John Stossel), the massive time and money wasted on an inefficient bureaucracy could be redirected to help researchers get results much faster. But, he laments, companies have to answer to government scientists.

Now that may seem like a fair requirement. After all, the government is supposed to be looking out for the health and safety of its citizens. Science is far more advanced than even a century ago and knowing what is going into our bodies is an important piece of information for most people.

Stossel’s point isn’t that companies should recklessly release chemicals into the hands of patients and let results be what they may. His point is that the government took the reins from private industry to determine how the process works, and as a result government ended up feeding itself as much as it assisted patients.

From Stossel in The Wall Street Journal:

Many physicians have never lacked motivation to develop treatments for diseases. But the government-academic biomedical complex has recruited predominantly nonphysician scientists who value elegant solutions to medical puzzles—generally preferring to impress their influential peers rather than solve practical problems. Vannevar Bush believed that basic research, unrelated to specific ends, was the best approach to scientific progress. How something works became more important than whether it works. Aspirin, for example, came into use even though researchers weren’t sure exactly what made it effective. That approach would never work today. Instead of the messy work of studying sick patients, scientists now prefer experimenting with inbred mice and cultured cells. Their results accrue faster and are scientifically cleaner, but they arguably are less germane to health.

Practical innovation requires incremental efforts. But the reviewers of grant applications for medical research are obsessed with theory-based science and novelty for novelty’s sake. They find incrementalism mundane. Consistent with that attitude, a 2003 review published in the American Journal of Medicine found that of more than 25,000 publications in prominent biomedical journals, only 100 even mentioned a medically relevant application of the research.

Academic administrators, operating under the delusion that government largess would grow forever, have become entitled. But since the 1980s, funding for the National Institutes of Health has lagged far behind the growth of an aging population in need of medical innovation. The extra $4 billion in the 21st Century Cures Act will have little effect on that financial gap.

Today, researchers compete for government grants at increasingly shorter intervals and with diminishing chances of success: Less than 1 in 5 grant applications succeeds. This inhibits risk taking.

By contrast, private investment in medicine has kept pace with the aging population and is the principal engine for advancement. More than 80% of new drug approvals originate from work solely performed in private companies. Note that such drug approvals come on average 16 years after the beginning of clinical trials, which typically cost $2.5 billion from start to finish. Even if grant-subsidized academics wanted to create a new drug, economic reality prevents it.

For Stossel, improvements in cost and efficiency could come if government agencies and public researchers started cooperating with private medical researchers and focusing on patient results rather than the size of their laboratories.

Read more about the role of philanthropy in medical breakthroughs

Do You Know Anyone Who Drives A Pickup Truck and Other Offensive Questions

In the past days, Twitter has been on fire over a tweet by a Florida-based web developer and blogger who asked, “The top 3 best selling vehicles in America are pick-ups. Question to reporters: do you personally know someone that owns one?”

The inferno that erupted was notable for its defensiveness, particularly among New York and Washington-based media elites who tried to challenge the premise of the question without answering it.

The quarrelsome reaction, noted in conservative blogs and media outlets who kept the conversation alive a full two days after the question was asked — a rarity in the era of 24-minute news cycles, is a fulfillment of the cliché about “hitting a nerve.”

But blogger John Ekdahl’s bubble question, and the commentary that ensued, isn’t the first of its kind on the subject nor does it really get to the heart of the matter. That’s where social scientist Charles Murray comes in.

Murray has been probing the issue of American-made bubbles for decades, and has written several books about the sectionalism of American culture, most notably in his best-selling book, Coming Apart. In it, he offered a quiz in which people could test the thickness of the bubble in which they lived.

More than 140,000 people responded to the quiz, which was picked up and shared by PBS’s News Hour, and Murray has been sizing up the feedback for the past couple years.

Interestingly, the bubble that Murray investigates is the same one that Ekdahl triggered. And when the boys in the bubble started to react, the Twitter conversation, as usual, melted down and became less of a teachable moment and more of the same ol’ same ol’.

Murray, on the other hand, offers a meaningful and insightful discussion of not merely what the bubble is, but why the bubble matters. He explains his position in response to questions that he received on his own Twitter feed, where he often shares his analyses.

For instance:

“Why are large, diverse cities considered a ‘bubble’ but ethnically homogeneous small towns are not?”

Because it’s not just any old bubble that I’m interested in, but the bubble in which too many members of the new upper class live. The reason their bubble poses problems whereas the bubble in an ethnically homogeneous small town does not is an asymmetry of power. The people in ethnically homogeneous small towns don’t affect the lives of the new upper class. The new upper class pervasively affects the lives of all Americans everywhere, through their effects on the nation’s politics, economy, and culture. What we saw in the last presidential election was in part a result of the members of the new upper class being isolated in their bubbles. It would be good for the nation if they got out more.

So who is this new upper class? Murray describes them as fitting several criteria that put them into a very narrow and elite group of people. This is not based merely on zip code or socioeconomic status, but also on education and culture.

(U)rban-rural isn’t really the major source of the difference in bubble scores. Culture is, with mainstream American culture being conspicuously different from the culture of the new upper class. The decisive indicator of that culture is a zip code’s percentage of adults with college degrees. … (E)ducation continues to have the largest independent role even after putting measures of urbanization into the analysis. …

What does this tell you? Well, it’s not a critique of America’s educational system, and amusingly, the quiz turns pass/fail on its head so that the lower the mean score in a zip code, the bigger the bubble in which its residents reside.

After serious number-crunching, Murray finds that the biggest bubbles are no surprise, not merely because of their insularity, but because of their nearly homogeneous attitudes about everyone else.

The lowest means were found in New York City, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles—the core cities for the regions that contained such a large proportion of the nation’s 100 bubbliest zip codes. Now look at the bottom of the list, where the mean bubble scores for the elite zip codes are closer to the national mean. These with means of 38 and higher are all well away from the Northeast or the Left Coast.

So while pickup trucks may be the biggest selling vehicles in the United States, these thick-bubbled cities are more likely to contain Amtrak’s Acela riders and SUV drivers, and they’re apparently none too happy for having that pointed out, especially since they discovered in the most recent presidential election that their influence didn’t have the seeming sway it usually does.

Take the bubble quiz.

Education Department Employee Mantras to Save The Children

With every presidential election comes a discussion about the abolition of unpopular federal agencies. Usually the Environmental Protection Agency and the Education Department are at the top of the list.

But with each new administration, the federal bureaucracy revs up to go full tilt. With President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos to be education secretary, the Education Department is likely not going anywhere, but it does have a good chance of refocusing on different priorities, including competition and choice in education.

Rick Hess, a researcher and author with experience working across the political spectrum to find solutions that often involve ideas from teachers who are actually good at what they do has come up with some thoughts for federal bureaucrats at the Education Department to repeat while they’re at work every day.

Here are a few of the highlights. Just say “Om.”

  • I’ll tell myself every day: “I’m no smarter than I used to be just because I’ve been hired as a federal bureaucrat.”
  • I’m in an office that I haven’t “earned” in any real sense and yet have a significant ability to influence the lives of millions of students, educators, and families. Thus, I’ll strive to remember that many of these people may disagree with me as to what’s “right” or in their best interest, and to accept their criticisms and disagreements in good faith.
  • I will remember that it’s Congress’ job to write the nation’s laws, and that the job of executive branch agencies (like the Department of Ed) is to execute those laws—not to rewrite them or impose their own.
  • I won’t allow all the people sucking up and asking for my time to give me an inflated sense of self. I’ll remember that their affection isn’t actually about me; it’s about access, influence, and money. When I fear I’m forgetting any of this, I’ll call an old friend or colleague who will call bulls$%t . . . and remind me what I used to say about self-impressed federal bureaucrats.

Read the entire mantra by Rick Hess at Education Next.

The American Dream Still Lives Despite Growth Rate of Millennial Incomes

Researchers from Stanford, Harvard, and the University of California recently proclaimed that the American Dream is “fading” because millennial incomes are not as high as their parents’ incomes were when they were their children’s age. The American Dream may have taken a beating recently, blogger and Jeopardy champ James Pethokoukis concedes, but mobility is not the deciding indicator of whether the dream is alive.

Why not? Guess it comes down to definitions. The Equality of Opportunity Project defines the “American Dream” as “absolute income mobility,” meaning that kids are doing better than their parents. The project found that just 51 percent of American 30 year olds earn more than their parents did at their age, a decline from 92 percent of 30 year olds in the early 1970s who earned more than their parents did at their age.

Several factors are at play when it comes to a slowdown in absolute mobility: automation, trade, slower economic growth overall in the U.S., and greater disparities in income. But the forlorn conclusions are not as severe as suggested when looked at with regard to the overall picture.

Pethokoukis points to Scott Winship for a deeper explanation. Winship who used to manage research for the Pew Economic Mobility Project, says the project’s data are probably accurate. Absolute mobility is slower now than in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. But this has been true for decades so should not come as some tragic surprise, especially since the research is concentrating on the trend and not the actual level of absolute mobility, as reported in breathless newscasts.

What is surprising, however, is the number of variables that the research paper does not include in its analysis when it comes to measuring that level. Among selected measurements excluded, Winship notes, the adjustments for cost of living, which if counted would suggest that the absolute mobility rate would rise 3-4 percentage points. Additionally, government transfers and taxes are not accounted for and baseline incomes are probably higher than what is reported in the research.

If we assume that the incomes of everyone not experiencing absolute mobility in the baseline numbers actually are higher by $5,000 than the baseline figures indicate, that would push up the share of the 1984 cohort achieving upward mobility by about 5 percentage points. Why might that be a reasonable assumption? Health benefits and other nonwage compensation are one factor. Nothing in the Chetty paper includes such benefits as income. Cohabitation is another. Two cohabiters will be two ‘families’ in the Census Bureau data used in the paper (and will be two ‘tax units’ in the paper’s tax data). In reality, cohabiters pool their incomes, just like married couples.

Undercounting of income is a third reason to think that the reported incomes in the Chetty paper are too low. Undercounting is a pretty bad problem in the bottom third, especially in the CPS and census data, but also potentially in the tax data, where people don’t report under-the-table earnings. (I reviewed this evidence in Appendix 3 of my recent paper on poverty trends). A caveat here is that parents also have understated incomes because of these issues, but nonwage compensation, government health benefits, cohabitation, and undercounting of income have all increased over time, so their impact is greater on children.

Put all this together and it looks to me like size-adjusting pushes the absolute mobility rate up 10 points, using the PCE deflator another 3 to 4 points, taxes and transfers another 2, and the rest (plausibly) another 5 points. That’s 20–24 percentage points, which would put the absolute mobility rate at 70–74 percent. Two-thirds seems like a safe conservative estimate.

For adults who were poor children, absolute mobility rates almost certainly remain above 90 percent. This is hardly evidence that the American Dream is ‘fading,’ as the paper’s title claims. The period from 1939 to 1969 was one of exceptionally strong income growth. That growth translated into very high absolute mobility rates. Income growth has slowed since then, though it has not reversed. Thus, absolute mobility rates have fallen, though most people still do better than their parents did at the same age.

What does it all mean? Pethokoukis notes that a 2014 study concluded that the probability of mobility — the chance of moving up or down the income ladder — is about the same as when the parents of today’s millennials were in their shoes.

He optimistically adds that policies that promote work and opportunity, policies that may be coming back into vogue, are a likelier method to faster and more inclusive economic growth than any redistribution methods, an outlook shared by the study’s “superstar” author.

So, as Pethokoukis concludes,

The American Dream still exists, although it’s a bit dinged up. And the United States remains the Land of Opportunity, although it could definitely be better. All of which should pass for good news in a year with precious little of it.

Read James Pethokoukis’ article on the American Dream.

Read Scott Winship’s analysis of the study’s conclusions.

Why We Have an Electoral College — To Preserve a Two-Party System

Why does it happen that a candidate can win the popular vote but still lose an election? You know the answer is that in the United States, the Electoral College selects the president.  But was the Electoral College also designed to ensure a two-party system in the United States?

2016 is the fifth time in the nation’s history when the popular vote went to the loser of the presidential election. To some, it seems unfair. If the winner doesn’t win, then why have a contest? Well, there appears to be method to this madness, and perhaps the Founding Fathers were looking past the danger of a single-headed monarchy to the chaos of a multi-party system and its destructive impact on the republic.

You probably already know how the Electoral College came to be, but here’s a recap for history lovers: the Founding Fathers were concerned about flat-out letting the public elect a president. To rely on the popular vote would have meant each state would likely have put up its own candidate, and the biggest state would win with a small plurality of the popular vote.

At the same time, the Founding Fathers were smart enough to figure out that if the Congress selected the president, the president would eventually become beholden to it, when really the idea is to have checks and balances to prevent any concentration of power within one branch of government.

The “third way” called for each state to pick a body of electors to serve in an Electoral College that would meet only once — to select the president and vice president. In this way, the electors wouldn’t be subjected to political persuasion and each state could choose for itself how to select the electors.

Each state is assigned a number of electors based on its size and proportional representation in Congress. Originally, it was set up so that each elector got two votes — one for president and one for vice president. This was aimed at preventing each elector from choosing his state candidate only. A second vote would force electors to look at candidates from other states.

Over time, the system has faced a few changes, most notably the 12th Amendment, which shifted the election from the Electoral College choosing the president and vice president based on a first- and second-place vote to a shared presidential/vice-presidential ticket.

Fast forward to today: 48 states and the District of Columbia use a winner-take-all system for awarding Electoral College votes based on the popular vote in the state. Maine and Nebraska, however, award two electoral votes for the popular vote winner and then the Electoral College votes are distributed based on the popular vote winner in each congressional district.

Five hundred thirty-eight votes are cast in the Electoral College and the ticket must win a simple majority of 270 to win the presidency. Each political party gets a slate of electors based on the number of senators and congressional representatives in the state.  Whichever political party’s candidates win the state, that’s which party’s slate gets to vote in the Electoral College. The District of Columbia gets three Electoral College votes even though it is not represented by a voting member of Congress. Hence, the 538 members of the Electoral College.

In 26 states, the members of the Electoral College are bound by law to cast their votes for the winner of the state’s overall vote. Though it’s not required in the rest of the states, the Electoral College is usually comprised of party loyalists so there’s no chance of overturning the state’s majority rule. However, the notion of the “faithless elector,” who disregards his state’s popular vote, has been known to happen, reemerging as an issue again in 2016.

Despite the “odd-man-out” behavior of faithless electors (and while some have tried to change how the Electoral College works within their own states), the Electoral College has served the nation for more than two centuries by maintaining the legitimacy of the outcome of presidential elections. This nation is governed under a constitutional system, not a parliamentary one, and despite the partisan motives (and questionable patriotism) of those behind the hashtag #notmypresident, the president represents all the people, even when elected only by a large plurality. Otherwise, we’d be electing a prime minister.

But could it be that the Electoral College was designed to create and preserve a two-party system? After all, a parliamentary system works in England without (too) many crises.

There have been several iterations of political parties in the United States — the ill-fated Federalists versus the Anti-Federalists, who became Democratic-Republicans who became Democrats, or Democratic-Republicans who became National Republicans who became Whigs who became New Republicans. But there have generally only been two major factions competing at a time, even with the participation of third parties like Anti-Masonics and Free-Soil and Constitutional Union and even the “American” Party.

In the 2016 election, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson was on the ballot in all 50 states, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein put up a show, even suing for a recount in three states. But neither of these candidates, nor any of the dozens of others running on third-party platforms, will impact the Electoral College.

Economist and public policy researcher Ben Zycher suggests that the Founding Fathers intended it that way, and for good reason (emphasis added below).

Because the plurality winner in a state gets all of that state’s Electoral College votes, third and fourth parties have little hope under most circumstances of winning important numbers of Electoral College votes (although they can deny a plurality to a given candidate in a particular state, as Ralph Nader almost certainly did to Al Gore in Florida in 2000).  This means that the Electoral College promotes the two-party system at the state level.  However unsatisfying and mushy the candidates and platforms often served up by the two parties, the two-party system offers the supreme long-term benefit of forcing candidates and party platforms toward the middle of the political spectrum so as to forge broader-based coalitions, thus increasing consensus and compromise and reducing political strife.

In other words, you think you don’t like the candidates now, imagine if there were 10 candidates of equal party stature to choose from in the general election. And if you think the nation can’t seem to make any progress, imagine if there were factions pulling for their specific and minimalist goals. We’d have special interest presidents who are way more specialized than they are today.

As a nation, we would be more divided than we are now. And that can’t be good for the republic. So to the victor go the spoils, and that’s just one example of the perennial wisdom of the Founding Fathers.

A Better Measure of America’s Poverty Rate

Sen. Mike Lee is proposing legislation that, if instituted correctly, could more accurately reflect America’s poverty rate to better determine the impact of welfare assistance and whether it is doing the job it is supposed to do.

Lee’s proposal is called the Poverty Measurement Improvement Act. The point of it is just as the title explains: to more accurately measure household incomes to see if poverty is as bad as the data indicate.

As Lee, R-Utah, explains:

This bill would improve the data available to lawmakers by authorizing a new Census Bureau survey that would more accurately calculate income by including wages and federal means-tested benefits. This information would then be linked with individual records from the IRS and other federal agencies that administer means-tested benefit programs.

The Census Bureau calculates the official poverty rate, but the results are based on families’ pre-tax, cash income, and ignores assistance like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) and tax credits for working families.  The result is that the Census counts the people who are being helped by these programs as still living in poverty when in fact they may be living in much better conditions.

Poverty has been a persistent and seemingly intractable problem for decades. President Lyndon Johnson launched the Great Society in 1964 with the goal of eradicating poverty. But in 1966, the poverty rate was 14.7 percent while in 2012, it was 15 percent. The lowest the poverty rate ever reached was during the Nixon administration, when it dove to 11.1 percent (1973).

In 2012, the amount spent on poverty programs was 20 times higher than when the anti-poverty programs were instituted in 1964, and during that time assistance has increased from $160 to more than $2,000 per person in real dollars.

As an aside, the number of children being raised by a single mother rose from 8 percent in 1964 to 23.7 percent in 2013 while the number of working-age men (25-54) participating in the labor force has dropped by shocking amounts.

As demographer Nick Eberstadt tells it, 7 million working-age men are currently not seeking work:

In fact, if work rates for men were only as high today as in 1965—a time when we enjoyed true “full employment”—nearly 10 million more men would have paying jobs today. Think of the difference that would make to our country.

In other words, what used to be a “nuclear household” has seemingly been nuked.  Lee noted the impact of government programs that discourage one of the most important relationships individuals have and society benefits from: families.

The core problem with our welfare system today isn’t just its bloated annual budget, but its tendency to undermine the two most dependable routes out of poverty: marriage and work.

But we can’t improve these programs until we have better data on how they are affecting working families. The Poverty Measurement Improvement Act will do just that.

Poverty researchers on both sides of the political aisle agree that government assistance helps pull people out of poverty. Accurately measuring the role of public assistance will help determine where opportunities lie to increase workforce participation, encourage stronger households, and inform the role of programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit that are used to get people into the workforce. That’s a goal to encourage, and measuring the data correctly seems like an easy starting point.

Romantic Notions: Why People Revere Karl Marx When They Know He’s Wrong

Political economics is not for the faint of heart, as Deirdre McCloskey has learned from experience. The distinguished professor of economics, history, English, and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, not only has studied Karl Marx, but has looked at the phenomenon of why people study Karl Marx, even revere him in some cases, when they know he’s wrong.

In her most recent essay on Marx, McCloskey admits that Marx is a fascinating subject, even though saying so has caused her much consternation over the years.

I enrage my friends on the right by stating the obvious, that Marx was the greatest social scientist of the 19th century, without compare. But then I enrage my friends on the left by adding, which is my point here, that he was nonetheless mistaken on almost every point of economics and of history. Which is why I haven’t got any friends.

Marx’s legacy has endured to this day despite the error of his theories and overall wrongness of pretty much every facet of his arguments. Nonetheless, McCloskey describes how his lasting impact may be due to the tendency of Marxists — or “Marxians” or “Marxoids” as McCloskey describes their evolution over the decades — to romanticize that which sounds ideal, even if completely irredeemable in practice.  Another part of it is the tendency to demonize everything anti-Marx as motivated purely by “evil,” in other words, by an expectation of profit. Still another part is a tendency of otherwise cordial Marxists to refuse to challenge one another, even when in general agreement with others’ conversation points.

McCloskey cites from her own experience.

Some years ago I mildly remarked to a gathering of my beloved Department of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago that the speaker who had just concluded his presentation, a fashionable Marxian imported from New York, just might not have got the economic history exactly right. The speaker responded in a sentence, “Oh, I see that you are a neoliberal” and sat down. That was it, and none of my colleagues, mostly themselves Marxians or Marxoids or cautious fellow travelers, would speak up to insist that he respond more fully to someone who after all had some claim to knowing a little about economics and history. I was startled by his exhibition of proud ignorance and saddened by the implicit agreement in the room that one is not to “listen, really listen, to one’s friends’ questions and objections” and certainly not to those of one’s party enemies. The result of a century of name-calling-as-argument, from “Bernsteinian revisionism” and “economism” to “bourgeois” and “neoliberal,” and not listening, really listening, has had the scientific result one might expect.

Part of its endurance may be that Marxism as a philosophy is “fairly easy to master, but sufficiently mysterious to attract young people,” McCloskey notes. It is like atheism in its “macho positivism” — it is “courageously tough,” hence its appeal in particular to males; and it is built on traditional, even biblical, narrative styles of storytelling — the underdog facing a stronger and more powerful challenger who has the ability, and perhaps even the inclination, to ruin those who get in his way. The capitalist Goliath vs. the David guildsman.

But, therein lies the starkest and most obvious problem with Marxism, McCloskey explains: the left’s “professionalization of history” is built upon an ahistorical foundation.  The vernacular used by Marx has been completely repurposed, if not fully recast, to categorize individuals and groups as falling into one of two roles, despite all parts of the capitalist equation applying to all participants in all exchanges.

(Marx’s) foundational labor theory of value was wrong, as every serious student of the matter has agreed for the past century and a half. … (V)alue is determined by how much people want things, considering the income available, not by how much effort the seller put into the things, and that the wage is determined not by bargaining strength but by the market value of what the last worker produces, considering that free labor is a little mobile. …

Everyone buying labor, for example, is a “capitalist” by a consistent use of the word, and therefore “exploiting.” … (A)sk the inhabitants of the Indus valley civilization or those who traded with them in the third millennium BCE from the Horn of Africa or indirectly from Sumer if the trade was “exploitative.”

“Equal trade,” a phrase that floats in the background of many Marxian discussions of exchange, sounds generously wise. It is not. We trade precisely because we differ — if you wish because of a species of “inequality”— not because we pointlessly trade your frog for my identical frog of equal value to us both.

In truth, after all, “surplus value” is “extracted” every time you exchange anything for something else — or else you wouldn’t do it, would you, now? You are a “capitalist” when you buy a cup of coffee served by an “exploited” owner of a coffee shop. She gets the profit of a price higher than the lowest she would accept, and you get a cup of coffee for lower than the highest price you would accept—which is why exchange happens, earning a profit for both sides.

A member of the “working class,” such as you or I, gets profit likewise from our employments. The working class in any case is not peculiar to modern times. It has existed anciently … Under the Marxist definition of workers a CEO hired at $20,000,000 a year to drive Home Depot into the ditch is a worker, too, because he was hired. The “relations of production” therefore do not have the explanatory force that Marxists attribute to them. So the Marxist word “capitalist” and its derivative dating from (Werner) Sombart, “capitalism,” which are supposed to have historically unique relations of production, but don’t, serve to mislead people into thinking that there is something especially modern about banking and finance and profits (which is mistaken … ).

“Unequal bargaining power” and “unequal trade” can only mean market outcomes that we wish were different, wishing that the hungry farmer’s cotton sold for 15 cents rather than 10 cents a pound, that the Indian worker got $10 an hour instead of pennies. No one bargains when they have options, and markets, as against literal enslavements, bring options, however nasty.

No, market outcomes aren’t always equal, but over time, the overall outcome has been to lift incomes as well as human dignity by measurable and immeasurable sums.

Just as recently as 40 years ago, the world faced a bottom 4 billion out of a total human population of merely 5 billion, with no prospects. Now the abysmally poor are a bottom billion out of 7 billion, which is bad, but much, much better than in 1976, and historically unique.

Since 1976, that is, most of the poorest people in the world have been getting better off almost every year. From 1981 to 2008 the share of the world’s population living at the level of Afghanistan, a horrible $2 a day (expressed, if roughly, in present-day US prices allowing for the cost of living; US income now is $130 a day), fell from 70 percent to 42 percent. The share of the world’s population living on an appalling $1.25 a day, as in Liberia (the experiment in sending African Americans with longer American lineages than most European-origin Americans “back to Africa”), fell from 53 percent to 22 percent. It fell, in other words, by more than half. From 2005 to 2008 even sub-Saharan Africa, for the first time since its independence from the colonial powers half a century earlier, shared on average in the betterment.

As for earning a fair wage, state interference, if anything, has distorted real wages, but efforts to keep raising the minimum prove that mandated minimums don’t “work as advertised.” If that were the case, Venezuela, for instance, wouldn’t be suffering from empty grocery shelves or creating a new era of boat people in search of more hospitable shores.

Finally, Marxism encourages the romantic notions of the left because his own words have been misquoted, McCloskey states. Morality arguments claiming that capitalism is the equivalent of “greed” rarely appear in the arguments Marx made to describe man’s pursuit of gain.

More so, the sins of capitalism ascribed to it by the Marxian left have not, in fact, come to pass.

Left feminists have supposed that trade-tested betterment damages women, when it has in fact liberated and enriched them.  … The left has said in sequence, 1848 to the present, that capitalism results in impoverishment (it has not), in alienation (not), exploitation of the Third World (not), spiritual corruption (not), inequality (not), and, recently, environmental decay (correctible, socialism having done much worse).”

But in this late day and age, an admission of misplaced romanticism has been superseded by the quest for political supremacy.

In keeping with the simplicities of the early-life formation of political opinions, the left now supposes that rightists are simply bad people, who do not care about the poor, and are therefore not to be listened to. By contrast, the right is more likely to believe that the leftists are simply misled — not entirely bad people, though shamefully ignorant — and therefore that they might be open to patient factual and logical correction.

McCloskey closes with a plea to her “friends on the left (and less hopefully with my enemies there),” that they take a look at how liberalism and socialism compare over the centuries and reach the conclusion “that Smith’s liberalism, not Marx’s socialism or its shadows in regulation, has achieved since 1800 a pretty good approximation to human flourishing.”

Read McCloskey’s entire essay here.

The Gender Pay Gap Vs. College Degree Choices

Think there’s no gender pay gap? Hate to break it to you: there is. But how much of the gap is eliminated when an apples-to-apples comparison is made of all the variables that go into what men and women make? A lot!

A recent enlightening chart shows one of the variables that is often overlooked in reporting about where some of the gap begins.

The chart, constructed by economist Mark Perry, borrows from a Washington Post article about the 50 majors that offer the highest paying jobs out of college. The original article pulls from a report by job search engine Glassdoor.

Lo and behold, many of the highest-paying jobs are in fields where women are underrepresented in college graduation rates.

Shocker, right? Women are studying in majors whose fields offer lower-paying wages.

College degrees and gender wage gap

Perry’s comparison is rich in details. For instance, he notes that women earned 57 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in 2014 compared to 43 percent of men who graduated that year, yet men were “significantly over-represented for the highest-paying college majors,” specifically taking at least 80 percent of the degrees in eight of the top 10 highest-paying college majors. The one exception where women were overrepresented in a high-paying career — nursing.

He notes that for the top 20 college majors, men earn an average of nearly two-thirds of those degrees; and 60.5 percent of the degrees for the top 30 highest-paying fields.

Perry, a professor at University of Michigan-Flint, acknowledges that the comparison is complicated by the fact that the Department of Education, from where he pulled the gender data, does not separate out degree fields as carefully as Glassdoor, and doesn’t even list certain degrees that offer high-paying jobs.

For example, the Department of Education only reports the number of bachelor’s degrees by gender for the broad academic field of “engineering,” without any details on engineering degrees in the six sub-fields of engineering reported by Glassdoor (electrical, mechanical, chemical, etc.). Likewise, all of the business-related degrees in finance, accounting, marketing, human resources, advertising, etc. are only reported as bachelor’s degrees in “business” by the government. Economics degrees are included in the category Social Sciences, along with degrees in fields like sociology, anthropology, political science, etc. For some Glassdoor college majors like Fashion Design, Biotechnology, Graphic Design, Film Studies, Sports Management, it wasn’t clear what bachelor’s degrees reported by the Department of Education matched those majors, so I omitted 10 of the 50 college majors, leaving 40 majors in the table above.

The lack of detail by the Department of Education is interesting in itself, and certainly makes it more difficult for the federal government to claim to know the source of gender wage disparity, but Perry argues that the wage gap could be reduced if women chose career fields in the sciences and technical fields, as boring as they may seem to some.

Read more of Perry’s analysis.

The Never-Ending Battle Between Public Good and Private Property

In today’s American society, the battle between the public good vs. private rights manifests itself weekly, with reports of court cases and government regulations involving eminent domain, property rights, appropriate levels of taxation, and other disputes between individual freedom and society’s demands.

It’s no wonder. The argument over the exact balance between public and private has been going on for centuries.

In the second in a series of essays in the new volume, Economic Freedom and Human Flourishing: Perspectives from Political PhilosophyPeter B. Josephson explains how philosophers, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, two kingpins of modern political thought, were in conflict over the tradeoffs between public good vs. private rights, though in the end they ended up coming to conclusions that were more alike than different.

As for the similarities, the two great philosophers spoke about the state of nature, and the notion of natural equality and liberty, wholly separate from the machinations of man, which created government and institutions. This natural world is where man is given his existence, his independence, which cannot be denied. Life is valued equally, and not to be decreed by one person or institution over another.

But is this state of nature good, or does it need to be contained? Josephson of Saint Anselm College explains how the two disagreed.

Hobbes famously explains that in the state of nature there is no ‘mine and thine,’ and ‘no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncer­tain, and consequently, no culture of the earth . . . no commodious building . . . no knowledge of the face of the earth.’ In Hobbes’ account, the condition of perfect liberty and equality—our natu­ral, ungoverned condition—is a state of war: a war of all against all that produces a condition that is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ On the other hand, Locke describes a state of nature that includes natural rights to property and therefore an account of natural justice. Locke carefully distinguishes the state of nature from the state of war and describes the state of nature initially as a state of ‘perfect freedom’ and ‘equality,’ governed by a ‘law of nature’ that teaches anyone ‘who will but consult it’ that ‘no one ought to harm another.‘ In describing the ‘plain difference’ between the state of nature and a state of war, Locke writes that they are ‘as far distant, as a State of Peace, Good Will, Mutual Assistance, and Preservation, and a State of Enmity, Malice, Violence, and Mutual Destruction are from one another.’

As a result, Hobbes believes an absolute sovereign is needed to save us from ourselves while at the same time, our need for self-preservation means we must establish for ourselves a system to protect us from the haphazard or overbearing nature of a sovereign who would kill us to keep us from killing each other.

On the other side, for Locke, individuals agree to be guided by a common set of rules and leaders, but we submit to them out of convenience because we seek to work in harmony. No sovereign can remove our good from within us by telling us how or what to be. Political power is established according to a set of laws by which we consent to be governed.

Unlike our liberty, the philosophers disagree on man’s natural rights to property, though they eventually lead to the same place. On the one hand,

Hobbes insists that prop­erty is not natural, that it is rather a creation of the sovereign, sub­ject to consent and political authority, and so readers should expect extensive exercise of government authority over the private property it has created. …

In contrast, Locke insists that property rights are natural, and that each individual naturally holds a property right that is not at all dependent on the consent of others. In other words, we need no one’s permission to build our own property, not even the per­mission of the government.

So how is it possible that these two men, opposite sides of the coin, collectively have created the ground game on which so much of modern-day political society operates? They are in a constant battle between what is of the public concern, and what is private. It is that battle that we contest over and over again in the partisan realms of American governance.

For Hobbes, “political authority is necessary for the very creation and security of property; order precedes prosperity.” The sovereign basically hands out the property, and the rights to it, while at the same time the sovereign does not have total ownership in the first place, and the means of production cannot be centralized because if something goes wrong, everyone suffers. He suggests taxation as a means to make sure no one runs away with too much of a good thing.

For Locke, personal industry results in public good by its very nature. At the same time, while labor is the manifestation of our natural right, not all labor will be equal, and the overabundance of one man’s accumulation can result in scarcity for another. Since it is the natural right of everyone to exist, as a result, man needs to smooth over the unevenness, but Locke asserts that can only occur with the consent of the property, or labor, owner to contribute to the public good.

So how do we get to flourish as humans if we’re constantly being clipped and groomed and subject to the rule of law? Are we decent enough to contribute on our own, without a push from a central authority? Are we too unruly to be left alone? Can we have both personal success and achieve the summum bonum, the highest good?

Josephson explains:

As a response to that natural state of war, so-called lib­eral government is asked to respect and secure private natural rights, and to moderate or regulate the assertion of those rights. That is, we demand liberty, and also a defense against the dominion of others. Property, broadly understood, grounds the rights of individuals to govern themselves, and those rights also help establish a limit on the claims of others or the authority of the government. …

Liberalism thus seems an instrumental political arrangement, one that makes possible the private pursuit of diverse good lives with­out imposing a particular telos on its citizens. An essential instru­ment of this liberty—and therefore of the opportunity for human flourishing—is protection of the rights of private property. Rights of private property can ensure a level of sustenance and even indepen­dence that is instrumentally necessary for any good life.

Though life in the liberal regime thus promises neutrality with respect to conceptions of the good, in practice the new liberal regime cannot help imposing its own conception of the good or the tolera­ble on its subjects. Liberalism is “not mere proceduralism, nor is it neutral with respect to ways of life or virtues.”95 While the regime permits private pursuits of diverse goods, it also largely consigns those pursuits to the private sphere. The public realm still insists on particular characteristic actions. The free individual who can make his own way or chart her own course in the world must have certain capacities. Such a person must be independent and hardworking. Because of the liberal foundation in natural equality and natural lib­erty, such a person must respect the independence and hard work of others. And so liberalism insists on certain modern virtues, includ­ing industriousness and self-reliance, and toleration and civility. It rewards innovation and pragmatism more than tradition and phil­osophic speculation. Goods of the soul may be pursued freely in private. Lives devoted to faith or philosophy, to heroic virtue, or to pleasure must be moderated in the service of peace, preservation, and prosperity.

No regime is truly neutral with respect to the good life. The instru­ments of liberal life become the ends in themselves, and these new good lives may lack the lofty allure or ambition of the old. Modern liberalism secures a realm of privacy that makes some human flour­ishing possible, but that may not incline us toward teleological con­ceptions of the good. In its elevation of the instruments of the good life, liberalism may even close our minds to conceptions of ultimate goods. Without a teleological account of human flourishing the idea of the greatest good becomes, for the philosophers of modern liberty, nothing more than a matter of taste, and taste is so much a matter of private judgment that we find it increasingly difficult to consider ultimate goods—and the common good—seriously. Thus egalitar­ian liberalism has a tendency toward relativism. And yet liberalism properly understood is not neutral; it asserts its own particular claim to the good. Taking liberalism’s particular claim seriously would be the first step toward a serious reappraisal of the alternatives—and especially of the claims of faith, philosophy, and heroic virtue.

Read Peter B. Josephson’s entire essay on Hobbes, Locke, and the Problems of Political Economy.

International Smoking Deterrence Programs Cause Spike in Illicit Cigarette Trade

In the realm of unintended consequences comes this beauty: International efforts by the World Health Organization to try to develop a global smoking deterrence program has resulted in a rise in the illicit trade of a legal though infamous product: cigarettes.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) became policy in 2005 with the intention to reduce smoking, believed to be the largest cause of preventable premature deaths globally.

FCTC has adopted a policy of encouraging developing nations to follow the demand reduction strategy of mature markets in raising taxes and introducing and then expanding regulation on tobacco products. In many cases such policies result in the rise of illicit tobacco (either counterfeits or legally produced smuggled cigarettes), especially where policy changes are implemented rapidly and enforcement capacity is limited.

According to a report by global auditing firm KPMG, illicit tobacco is now about 10 percent of the global cigarette market, and rising.

So why the massive increase in “illicit whites” — smuggled products that are legally produced? One, they’re cheaper. Two, they’re easy to get.

But HOW is the real question? How did this happen? According to international health expert Roger Bate, too much bureaucracy trying to alter human behavior and global markets.

Reacting to the spread of illicit tobacco, WHO established the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (ITP) under the FCTC in 2012. While sound in principle, the ITP faces numerous challenges in implementation. The ITP’s primary objective is to control the supply chain of tobacco products, which necessitates a very high level of international and commercial cooperation. The spillover effects of production and trade in tobacco require most if not all jurisdictions to share aims and ambitions; without that, coordination is likely to fail. Yet WHO has no expertise in trade policy or overcoming economic objections to health priorities. WHO also has zero experience in combatting organized crime, whose representatives will undermine coordination. ITP has some excellent guidelines, but it is incumbent on individual governments to control demand and police free trade zones (FTZs), where illicit activity of all kinds proliferates.

Voluntary support for the protocol is patchy. For example, the UK, Russia, India, and China are parties to the Framework Convention, but have not ratified the protocol; the US is not even party to the convention (United Nations 2003). …

Studies of illicit activity demonstrate that illegal operations are highly dynamic and respond swiftly to deterrent measures. It is likely that only with the cooperation of the entire supply chain (including the major cigarette companies and governments that currently allow smuggling) will illicit tobacco be controlled.

As if this report wasn’t enough of a headshaker, here comes the kicker: WHO doesn’t want the cigarette industry involved in implementing the protocol, in other words, taking more control of its product distribution, nor is it collaborating with the World Customs Organization or the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which both have extensive experience with some of the challenges WHO is facing. Essentially, the agency won’t accept help combating a problem that it created.

Meanwhile, the illicit tobacco market is flourishing. The trade in illegal cigarettes, particularly through free trade zones and sometimes with the collusion of governments, is huge, lucrative, and sophisticated. Without assistance from international security experts and producers, and without funds to offer signatories in technical assistance, the WHO’s Illicit Trade Protocol has only a slim chance of being implemented in emerging markets, even if nations ratify it.

Read the report on the illicit cigarette trade.

Florida: Study Shows Impact of Marriage on Children’s Graduation Rates

Brad Wilcox at the Institute for Family Studies does some great research, and part of its greatness is that his results force policy makers to confront wisdom that is sometimes hard to hear, but ultimately super helpful in developing action plans.

The latest is a study he did on Florida schools, called Strong Families, Successful Schools, which builds on conclusions reached in a recent MIT study of 1 million Florida school children and found that poor boys are much more negatively impacted than poor girls, even within the same family, when families break up, and more so, that high-school graduation rates see a smaller gender gap when parents are married.

Wilcox and psychologist Nicholas Zill took the MIT study a step further and looked at the relationship between these variables on a macro-level — the county rates of high school graduation versus the number of married households with children in the county, across a five-year period.

Here’s what the researchers started out questioning:

We hypothesize that counties with more married families enjoy higher levels of parental engagement, better parental discipline, and more parental involvement in PTO groups, all factors that would likely redound to the social and educational benefit of children in these counties.”

This is what he found:


Specifically, Strong Families, Successful Schools finds that the share of married parent families in a county is one of the strongest predictors of high school graduation rates in the 67 counties across Florida, as well as recent growth in high school graduation rates in the Sunshine State.

The share of married families also is the strongest predictor of county school suspension rates in Florida in our models. Moreover, the share of families headed by married couples is a more powerful predictor of high school graduation and school suspension rates than are income, race, and ethnicity in Florida—factors that tend to get more attention in media and policy circles.

The report also finds that parental education is the best predictor of county high school graduation rates in Florida, according to our models (emphasis added). In sum, Florida counties that enjoy strong and stable families also tend to enjoy more successful and safer schools. Accordingly, policymakers, educators, and civic leaders should work to strengthen families—as well as schools—across the Sunshine State.

The study looks at several factors that play bear on high school graduation and suspension levels across the counties,  including marriage rates, adult education levels, income, race, and the size of the child population in the county.

The researchers acknowledge that the report does not look at the quality, character, and spending of county schools as they relate to graduation and suspension rates, and note that school quality obviously is a factor in performance. At the same time, however, the role of the family, specifically the relationship of parents, is a major variable in outcomes.

Click here to read the entire report.

Why Don’t Families With Housing Vouchers Move to Better School Districts?

If you have a housing voucher that you’re allowed to use anywhere, why wouldn’t you situate yourself near a good school for your kids? That’s the question that a new study dives into after learning that “voucher holders do not, on average, use their vouchers to reach better schools.”

Housing choice voucher programs, which have been around for more than 40 years, cost the taxpayers $19 billion a year. They provide assistance to approximately 2.2 million households, which include over 2.5 million children. The program has been in existence for 40-plus years. Studies suggest that kids in housing voucher programs who go to better schools end up better off in the long run.

Obviously, not every voucher holder cares about the school district where they live.

They may instead use their subsidy to move out of overcrowded living situations (Wood, Turnham, & Mills, 2008), write down rent burdens, find larger, higher quality homes (Mills et al., 2006; Rosenblatt & DeLuca, 2012), relocate to neighborhoods with lower crime (Lens, Ellen, & O’Regan, 2011), or satisfy other household demands. Certainly voucher holders without school-age children have little motivation to consider school quality in location decisions. And the long waiting lists for vouchers may, in practice, mean that many voucher holders receive their vouchers after their children have already started school. These voucher holders with children who are already enrolled in school at the time of voucher receipt have to weigh the potential benefits of a new neighborhood against the potential negative effect of school mobility (Chetty, Hendren, & Katz, 2015; DeLuca & Rosenblatt, 2010). Thus, only a subset of households are likely to be motivated by a voucher to move toward better schools: those with young children starting school soon.

So for those families with school-age children, what’s the explanation why their parents don’t move to better schools, especially considering that the vouchers are usually substantial enough to enable them to live in nicer neighborhoods?

Evidently, timing is everything.

We find that families with vouchers are more likely to move toward a better school in the year before their oldest child meets the eligibility cutoff for kindergarten, suggesting salience matters. Further, the magnitude of the effect is larger in metropolitan areas with a relatively high share of affordable rental units located near high-performing schools and in neighborhoods in close proximity to higher-performing schools. To be sure, the effects we find are not large, but they suggest that voucher holders do, indeed, move toward better schools when schools are salient and accessible.

In other words, if the kids are ready for school, then the parents pay more attention to the quality of schools near available rental properties.

Even so, voucher holders with school-ready kids may still neglect the search because better schools are farther away and the area is unfamiliar. For many parents, uprooting kids from their communities may be unpalatable, even for those with kids in lower-performing schools. Another potential barrier is the competition in those housing markets — nicer neighborhoods are in higher demand, and finding an affordable rental is difficult at the price permitted by HUD.

And while the voucher program may intend to help families with children move to higher-performing school systems, targeting those families is tough because the waiting list for vouchers, particularly in metro areas, are so long that kids are no longer at eligibility age by time the family receives a voucher.

The study noted that voucher holders who are not facing the time pressure of locating a place, a crunch that occurs usually for first-time voucher recipients, eventually end up in lower poverty neighborhoods with better schools during subsequent moves.

The research looked at 1.4 million housing choice voucher holders in 15 states, and compared it against data from 5,841 different districts to compare the quality of schools.

Read the housing choice voucher report here.

How to Reinvigorate the Marketplace of Ideas

A fierce competition of ideas is vital not only for the future of the free enterprise movement, but also for the future of American society. Intense debate and rigorous argument are the proving ground for good ideas and good public policy.

But the marketplace of ideas needs to have principled competitors, and few politicians in Washington seem to understand and articulate the core principles of free enterprise, much less apply them to policy.

Still, one simple point that is often neglected in heated campaign seasons like this one is this: No matter which side you’re on, the vast majority of your political opponents are actually not stupid, nor are they evil.

Let’s not mistake this for some milquetoast assertion that disagreement is in itself wrong, that everything should be settled easily by simple consensus. You hear that around Washington sometimes. I don’t buy it, and you shouldn’t either.

But there’s also a middle ground between consensus and the way Washington too frequently operates. The “polarization industrial complex” fans the flames of bad-faith accusations in order to drive up audience numbers and profits, and it’s no surprise that so many of us start to feel a bitter cynicism about the other side of the aisle. Political disputes give way to personal animus and we hardly even realize it’s happening.

Giving in to these feelings and allowing ourselves to caricature our opponents can seem to offer some short-term catharsis. But something in our core militates against it. Deep down, we know that most progressives, most conservatives, and most independents seek to improve the country and lift up the vulnerable.

In addition to being simply inaccurate, caricaturing our opponents also carries a practical cost. It erodes away the civil disagreements that are so vital for building up the competition of ideas. Innovative thinking is attenuated and political gridlock becomes more entrenched.

Declare Independence From Contempt

So what’s the solution? How can we start a revolt against the politics of contempt?

I offer an old tactic to try out. Actively make a personal effort to substitute kindness for contempt. When you feel especially frustrated or angry in a conversation, deliberately try to marshal up a sense of brotherhood to take those feelings’ place. You’d be surprised how quickly answering hostility with love can turn an entire interaction upside down.

Case in point: Shortly after I published my first book for mass consumption, Who Really Cares, I received an email from a reader. My first reaction: Hey, someone actually read my book! But when I opened the message, I was greeted by a point-by-point attempt to rebut my whole thesis. The criticisms were scathing and — I thought — unreasonable.

At first, I was infuriated. I started drafting a thorough reply. But then I realized that an aggravated response was going to accomplish nothing. Instead, I responded with a note thanking the reader for picking up my book. I expressed gratitude that he had engaged with it so thoroughly.

His reply came quickly. It was about as shocking as the initial email: He immediately softened. He responded with kindness himself, sanding down the rough edges on a few of his critiques. He even proposed we get dinner together the next time I was in his hometown.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. My friend the Dalai Lama teaches often about the value of answering anger with love. And growing up, it’s what I learned in Sunday school. Matthew 5:44 tells to pray for our enemies and those who would seek to persecute us.

Here’s the hard truth: The forces of division and polarization won’t be vanquished by one politician riding in on a white horse. The marketplace of ideas can only become less toxic from the bottom up. Fixing our politics begins with each of us treating our political adversaries with greater dignity and more respect.

Again, you might think this sounds a bit “out there.” This nation has been through a lot these past years, and the frustrations are understandable. But consider this: be open to the idea and appreciate the sentiment. Then try to act on it, and see if the outcome is better than the other route.

15 Years After 9/11. It’s Like Remembering Yesterday

Do you remember where you were on Sept. 11, 2001, when you heard that the first airplane hit the World Trade Center? You wouldn’t be alone. A Pew Research Center released a poll recently saying 91 percent of Americans recall exactly what they were doing at that moment.

But what about since then? After the attacks, President George W. Bush gave an impassioned speech, with his arm wrapped around a New York fireman, declaring that the terrorists will hear America’s mighty response. The government mobilized. The military was quickly sent to Afghanistan, the base of the Al Qaeda operatives. The Department of Homeland Security was formed in a matter of months. A senior intelligence chief was appointed on top of the central intelligence director.

The actions had the effect that it intended. In late 2001, 88 percent of people said the government was doing well in addressing terrorism. Unfortunately, that number dropped to a low of 52 percent in December 2015 following the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

A lot has passed since those early post-attack days. A lot of politics has gotten in the way of solutions, and a lot of highs and lows have occurred in all of our lives. Americans, like others around the world, learned to cope with the day-to-day of living with threats. We love, laugh, work, argue, struggle, and sleep, among other things.

But our resilience is not merely time. In fact, research shows that we remember 9/11 — and other shocking or traumatic events — because of a neurological process  in which emotionally arousing events trigger activity in the amygdala, which is involved in emotional learning and memory.

The interaction then triggers production of a protein called Arc in neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in processing long-term memory.

The scientists think the Arc protein helps store certain memories by strengthening synapses, the connections between neurons in the brain.

Emotionally neutral events generally are not stored as long-term memories,” said Christa McIntyre, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Irvine. “On the other hand, emotionally arousing events, such as those of Sept. 11, tend to be well-remembered after a single experience because they activate the amygdala.”

On the flip side, while many of us may remember it like it was yesterday, some, like those who were particularly close to the terror, may not remember the details. That’s because that same part of our brain is also designed to store feelings, but not necessarily facts.

(I)t has been shown that when we have a traumatic event in our lives, the body produces major amounts of glucocorticoids. This helps to calm us down so we can cope. It also gives us that ‘numb’ feeling that many people describe during stress. But glucocorticoids have a transverse effect. They destroy neurons in the hippocampus. This means that the more stress we are under, the less we will be able to store the traumatic event in long-term memory. This partially explains how some people who endured years of trauma through abuse have very little memory of the entire season of events.

However, there is one other effect of Glucocorticoids. They enhance the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system helps us store our emotional reactions in events. Our brains can actually store our emotional output during a traumatic event much more completely than we can store the facts of the event.

Of course, being bombarded with images of that horrific day helps to keep the memories alive, if not distorted, as they are adapted to suit imaginary narratives produced in art, film, and history-making. But even when we can’t remember exactly the details, our instincts remind us that we must never forget.

The Poverty Debate: Why We Don’t Agree on The Same Set of Facts

The political realm is a great place to toil if you aspire to be an armchair pugilist. Without much personally at stake in the outcome of  the poverty debate, it is easy to pick a side and argue statistics and facts. But in the midst of all the fighting are real people being impacted by decisions outside of their control.

Such is the case when it comes to arguments between the political scientists of the left and right over welfare reform, and whether those at the bottom rungs are any better off despite numbers showing that millions of people were clearly lifted out of poverty as a result of the 1996 welfare reform law.

To this day, commentators on the left employ bogeyman language for the anti-poverty law — demonizing Newt Gingrich and House Republicans for coming up with legislation that Bill Clinton signed — while at the same time acknowledging that the percentage of people in poverty is demonstrably less than reflected in the antiquated methodology used to determine current poverty levels.

Take the words of Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute:

The official poverty rate is just above 15 percent, about a point larger than it was in 1996. But that measure is misleading, because it doesn’t take into account non-cash benefits and tax subsidies. According to Harvard University’s Christopher Jencks, the absolute poverty rate falls to under 5 percent when adjusted for food and housing, the earned income and children’s tax credit, and a more accurate measure of inflation.

Nonetheless, Jencks and other social policy researchers are concerned about the rise of “deep poverty” — an increase in the percentage of families whose income is less than 50 percent of the official poverty line.

Some liberal analysts blame welfare reform for gouging a huge hole in the social safety net. Even as unemployment soared during the Great Recession, they note, TANF caseloads stayed down. That meant fewer needy families were getting cash assistance when they needed it most.

That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. As cash assistance has shrunk, other forms of social support have grown and become more generous. These include unemployment insurance, food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and disability programs. In fact, some conservatives complain that welfare reform hasn’t made poor single-parent families less dependent on government; it just transferred their dependence to other programs that lack TANF’s strong work requirements.

Marshall notes that welfare reform, courtesy of President Clinton or otherwise, helped reduce the number of people in poverty. The big problem now is the number of women with children who live in “deep poverty,” which is defined as people living on less than half the official poverty rate. Professors Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer recently wrote a book in which they demonstrate that “deep poverty” rose by 2.6 percentage points between 1996 and 2011, from 1.7 to 4.3 percent.

At the same time, however, the Manhattan Institute has released a study contradicting the numbers, while saying something similar to Marshall from a completely opposite perspective.

Practically no children of single mothers were living on $2 a day in either 1996 or 2012 (the latest year for which we have reliable statistics), once the receipt of all government benefits are factored in. In 2012, fewer than one in 1,500 children of single mothers were living in what is called “extreme poverty.” This finding is consistent with other research.

Herein lies the challenge. If both sides agree that “official poverty statistics can create a misleading impression that hardship has increased,” then both sides must get out from beyond their political lens to evaluate not whether welfare reform has been a net positive — it has — but what’s the next step.

Progress is being made. More needs to be done. But the debate must start from the perspective of not what should be done, but whether we can eradicate poverty or whether it will always exist to some extent.

Then it’s a matter of determining how much help is enough to ensure that the least among of us has the means to live in safety and with dignity. This is where agreement is elusive and where next measures stall. Determining what those in deep poverty need, want, and are capable of contributing could go a long way to getting past arguments over whether six in one is equal to a half dozen in the other.

Uninformed America: Global Poverty Down Nearly 60% in 30 Years

The percentage of the world living in poverty has declined by nearly 60 percent in the last 30 years, from 52 to 21 percent. That is an astounding number, especially as the world population has risen from 4.933 billion to 7.215 billion in 2015, a 31.6 percent increase, during that same period.

Even extreme global poverty — defined as lack of access to clean water, enough food, sufficient clothing and shelter, or basic medicine like antibiotics,which impacts 1.4 billion people today — has declined from 21 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2013.

Despite these facts, 67 percent of Americans said they thought that global poverty had gotten worse over that time period, according to a Barna Group in conjunction with Compassion International, a child advocacy ministry.

Why so pessimistic? Hearing the news each night regularly puts people in a foul mood, but really, it’s a lack of awareness of efforts that have been made. Fortunately, knowledge is power.

Compassion International’s take is that Christians have a responsibility to be involved in helping relieve poverty, and happily reports that many Christians agree. It notes that more Christians donated to anti-poverty causes than the U.S. population as a whole, and donated more cash than non-Christians overall. This is true for Christians over and under 40 years of age.

The survey also found:

Fewer people are likely to have volunteered for a poverty-related cause in the past year. Practicing Christians, however, are still more likely than the general population to have spent time working to end global poverty. Among all adults, 14 percent volunteered for a church and 11 percent volunteered for a non-profit to help the global poor. Among practicing Christians, one-third of those over 40 volunteered at a church to help the global poor and about one-quarter (24 percent) did so at a non-profit. Among those under age 40, 36 percent volunteered at a church to help the global poor and one-fifth (21 percent) did so at a non-profit.

Still, two-thirds of Americans don’t believe that poverty can be eradicated in the next 25 years, despite it dropping so much in such a short time. They fault corruption, the enormity of the problem, government corruption, and an uncoordinated global response among causes of poverty’s persistence.

As research shows, poverty can be eradicated by creating greater opportunity. The freeing of markets across the globe is the most credited reason for poverty’s reduction. In other words, the ability of people to pursue opportunities to build their own livelihood is the single-greatest facilitator in the reduction in poverty.

Read the global poverty perceptions survey here.

090216 Global Poverty Christians

Are Poor People More Optimistic Than Others About Their Futures?

Poor people are more likely than non-poor people to think that they will be able to pull themselves out of poverty. Forty-eight percent of the poor say most poor people will remain poor for a long time while 41 percent say poverty is a temporary condition. That compares to 60 percent of people who said that the poor will remain poor for some time.

Meanwhile, 61 percent of Americans, including 64 percent of Americans living in poverty, say that most poor people who receive welfare benefits would rather earn their own living instead of staying on welfare.

Those are some of the findings from a new Los Angeles Times poll, conducted in partnership with The American Enterprise Institute, a top Washington think tank. The poll provides other stark findings about how Americans think about people in poverty.

America’s political parties may want to take note of those findings, particularly because 37 percent of people living in poverty defined themselves as somewhat or very conservative while only 31 percent defined themselves as liberals. Another 24 percent declared themselves moderate.

Only 27 percent of Americans said they believe that conditions for poor people have improved in the last 10 or 15 years while 42 percent say it has gotten worse for poor Americans. Only 13 percent said they believe that the poverty rate has declined in 30 years.

In reality, 14.8 percent of people were living beneath the official poverty line in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3 points below the rate that lived in poverty in 1965, the year that President Johnson’s War on Poverty programs began, and 3.3 percentage points higher than in 1985, when the AEI-LA Times study was first conducted.

The 2016 survey mimicked the 1985 survey and demonstrates how (little) opinion has changed over 30 years. The seemingly small differences over that time frame may be due to the fact that little has changed when it comes to public policy — or more exactly, how much change has kept things the same. The pivotal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which is coming up on its 20th anniversary since enactment, shifted responsibility for welfare from the federal government to states, but poverty is more persistent than the “T” in TANF intended.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that only about half of the federal and state grant money for TANF actually went to “core welfare reform activities” in 2013, in part because “states can use TANF funds much more broadly than the core welfare reform areas of providing a safety net and connecting families to work; some states use a substantial share of funding for … other services and programs.”

So what else do people think of the poor, and how do the poor perceive themselves? Other poll findings that stand out:

Fifty-four percent of people as a whole, and 47 percent of people living in poverty, said they believe that the potential loss of welfare benefits “almost always” or “often” impacts the decision of unmarried people on whether to get married. This is an interesting finding given that much work has been done demonstrating that marriage helps families get out of poverty. It’s notable also that 47 percent of all the people who took the survey reported they are married, but only 23 percent of the people in poverty who answered the poll said they are married.

About 87 percent of Americans — including 81 percent of individuals living below the poverty line — believe that requiring poor people to seek work or participate in a training program in return for benefits is a better approach than providing benefits without asking for anything in return.

Fifty-four percent of people think welfare encourages dependency, down from 59 percent in 1985. On the flip side, more people feel negatively about the way things are going, 67 percent of people, and 66 percent of people who are poor, said they are dissatisfied with the country’s direction. That pairs with the increase in the number of people who say that it’s harder for poor people to find work, up to 57 percent today from 43 percent in 1985.

Seventy-six percent of people, including 71 percent of people in poverty and 80 percent of people not in poverty, said they thought that welfare programs are badly designed or under-funded, and that’s why they have failed to pull people out of poverty.

Thirty-five percent of people said government has the greatest responsibility for helping the poor — that’s twice as high a percentage over those who responded that either churches, charities, families, or the poor themselves have the greatest responsibility.

The entire poll, conducted between June 20 and July 7, 2016, can be viewed here. The survey was conducted among 1,202 adults, including 235 adults living in poverty. The survey oversampled individuals living below the poverty line to get reliable estimates of the views of poor Americans themselves.

Social Security Calculator Lets You Decide Reform Policy

At first, the news report that said that the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget had created a Social Security calculator to determine how old readers will be when the Social Security Fund becomes insolvent seemed like a joke.

The report showed a Social Security calculator where readers submit their birth year. It notes the projected year of insolvency for Social Security is 2034. It appeared quite the sad interactive tool to ask people to use a calculator to see how old they will be when Social Security runs out when only two variables are at play. Did we really become such dullards that we couldn’t subtract our birth year from 2034? It’s simple math.

Well, turns out there’s more to the CRFB’s “Social Security Reformer” than just calculating your age in the year the retirement system goes bankrupt.

The CRFB’s interactive program “allows users to choose from a number of options to modify Social Security tax and benefit levels in order to close the program’s 75-year shortfall and keep it sustainable for future generations.”

In other words, it’s a do-it-yourself experiment for fixing Social Security.

CRFB offers a lot of suggestions on the revenue and distribution sides of the equation, including some that don’t get much mainstream attention, like requiring state and local government workers who are exempt from paying into the system, but who receive benefits from the system, to pay. Or indexing the retirement age to longevity projections. Certainly, seniors are living longer, which contributes to the strain on the system, so that’s an option ready for a correction.

Several suggestions are available that will raise and lower the bar graph’s lines on projected outcomes to determine how long Social Security can be extended.

The tool should be particularly engaging for young workers, those who are certain to lose out.

Many millennials live their lives differently than previous generations — they work fewer hours in the work week, and say they are the “experience” generation which prefers “tiny houses” and free time to large homes and luxury cars. But living fanciful experiences means many are neither savvy nor realistic about their retirement savings, and they are not saving what they need. They are also over-reliant on employer contributions to retirement plans, if and when they get them.

If Social Security isn’t reformed, and is left on its current trajectory, in 2034, “all beneficiaries regardless of age and income will face an immediate 21 percent benefit cut.”

Some in the Millennial and Gen X generations who are contributing to the system and are doing the math realize they are going to come up on the short end of the stick. So, at this point, just 18 years from insolvency, is it too late to fix Social Security?

Probably not, but why not be part of the solution? Play with the “Social Security Reformer” and become a fixer. You can even submit your work for review at the CRFB calculator.

Pandhandling and Homelessness: One Mayor Who Looked the Problem in the Face and Helped

TPOH has long repeated the sentiment that the least among us must be treated like assets to be developed, not liabilities to be managed, so it’s heartening to see that the mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., is embodying the effort to show people who are “at their lowest that they have real value.”

The Washington Post reports that Mayor Richard Berry decided to test the “Will Work for …” signs held by homeless panhandlers by actually starting a program to give work for hourly pay, lunch, and a shelter bed. Turns out many of the folks holding up the signs are willing to jump on the offer of a job. The program is so successful, it’s now slated for growth.

Next month will be the first anniversary of Albuquerque’s There’s a Better Way program, which hires panhandlers for day jobs beautifying the city. In partnership with a local nonprofit that serves the homeless population, a van is dispatched around the city to pick up panhandlers who are interested in working. …

In less than a year since its start, the program has given out 932 jobs clearing 69,601 pounds of litter and weeds from 196 city blocks. And more than 100 people have been connected to permanent employment. …

The There’s a Better Way van employs about 10 workers a day but could easily take more. When the van fills, people have begged to get a spot next time, she said. That’s why the city has increased funding for the program to expand it from two to four days a week. And it inspired St. Martin’s to start its own day labor program, connecting the jobless to employers in the area who could offer side jobs.

As the Post reports, panhandling is objectionable to residents in many cities. Very few people enjoy walking down the sidewalk and having a group of unkempt men holding out their hands or smelling the foul odor of urine at the crosswalk.

But if those scenarios are uncomfortable for most, imagine what it feels like for the person on the other side of that equation.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty reports that municipal laws prohibiting panhandling extend beyond begging for money. “Homeless people are being criminally punished for being in public even when they have no other alternatives.”

What’s an alternative? Well, for people without family or friends as resources, in cities where the number of homeless exceed the number of emergency shelter beds or affordable housing units, hospitals and jails serve as costly temporary “housing” options for homeless “criminals.”

There are more innovative ways to go about it, however.

In its 2013 Comprehensive Report on Homelessness, the Utah Housing and Community Development Division reported that the annual cost of emergency room visits and jail stays for an average homeless person was $16,670, while providing an apartment and a social worker cost only $11,000.

A 2013 analysis by the University of New Mexico Institute for Social Research of the Heading Home Initiative in Albuquerque, New Mexico showed that, by providing housing, the city reduced spending on homelessness-related jail costs by 64%.

Those are just some of the findings in the law center’s report. It also points out that making criminals of homeless people only hinders their chance for getting jobs or finding housing, and it creates financial penalties they cannot pay.

So if communities really want to help end homelessness, one way to start would be to find innovative solutions, like the 100,000 Homes Campaign, which helped 235 communities “identify all of their homeless neighbors by name; track and measure local housing placement progress; and adopt methods of housing homeless people more quickly, using process improvements.”

The result? 101,628 people and families, including 31,171 homeless veterans, found housing in under four years.

The solutions are there if we look the problem in the face. That’s what Albuquerque’s mayor proved willing to do.

Read more about Mayor Berry’s work program for panhandlers.

Here’s a video by the city about the program.

The Value of $100 in Every U.S. State

The Tax Foundation has issued its annual report on what $100 gets you in each of the 50 states. It’s a great reminder of the cheapest and costliest places to live, and also provides some additional insight into why a national minimum wage doesn’t really make sense.

The map shows what the value of $100 is in each state, so if a state lists a value of $101, you’re getting a 1 percent bump on your money. If a state lists the value as under $100, the cost of living there exceeds the value of the bacon you’re bringing home. The data are based on 2014 numbers recently released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Tax Foundation Value of $100 by State

As you can see, it really may be like living in paradise, but when it comes down to Hawaii’s value, $100 won’t get you very far. That’s the most expensive state in the nation. Residents of the District of Columbia, not technically a state, fare even worse, which is sad considering it doesn’t have the weather, the waves, or the way of life as Hawaii, but at least you can rub elbows with the people deciding how to spend dollars that were formerly yours.

Conversely, if you’re not making a lot of money in Mississippi, you may still be doing all right since $100 goes further there than in any other state in the nation. Similar circumstances for South Dakota, which is also sparsely populated — it’s 46th in population but 17th in size — so you could probably get a good deal on land.

As Alan Cole at the Tax Foundation explains it, the state-by-state differences are stark.

Regional price differences are strikingly large; real purchasing power is 36 percent greater in Mississippi than it is in the District of Columbia. In other words, by this measure, if you have $50,000 in after-tax income in Mississippi, you would have to have after-tax earnings of $68,000 in the District of Columbia just to afford the same overall standard of living.

So guess which state is more economical to live in, Nebraska or California? Yeah, we didn’t think you needed a cheat sheet for the answer to that. In all, one key to living large is to find the state with good salaries but not high costs of living.

Read more of the Tax Foundation’s report on the Value of $100 by State.

Cost of Higher Education to Spike From New Federal Loan Forgiveness Rules?

The advent of universal schooling was a noble, distinctly American endeavor that is responsible for massive strides in education among the American public. But the over-reliance on public education and a resistance to for-profit institutions has created its own beast, including a federal Department of Education that is overbearing in the areas of regulation and implicated in the rising cost of higher education.

No one wants to be cheated in their learning after paying the pricey cost of higher education, and while some predatory for-profit institutions need to be reined in to prevent substandard college-level teaching, the creation of a new trigger in the Department of Education to cover the tab for students who didn’t get what they expected could be the next step in the push for universal higher education.

That appears to be a potential outcome resulting from the latest set of guidelines proposed to penalize for-profit schools — and even public universities — when students don’t get the post-degree payoff they expected.

Under the new (Education Department) proposal, former students may apply for (loan) forgiveness if a college has made a ‘substantial misrepresentation’ to its students, defined as a statement or omission with a ‘likelihood or tendency to mislead under the circumstances.’ This clear-as-mud definition would give wide latitude for complaints. In a typical fraud cause, the burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate an ‘intent to deceive.’ Here, the burden would be on the defendant to disprove a ‘tendency.’ The verdict will rest on the whim of a Department of Education hearing examiner; colleges will have no recourse to a court of law.

According to the Education Department, these regulations are aimed primarily at for-profit colleges. But, this standard would apply to all colleges, and all ought to be alarmed. For-profits aren’t the only institutions that could find themselves accused of fraud.

Take, for example, Arizona Law School, ranked 40 by U.S. News and World Report’s ‘Best Law Schools.’ Alumni could point to a flier boasting a 2.8 percent unemployment rate nine months after graduation. Bloggers at Above the Law accused the law school of deception, pointing out that Law School Transparency lists the number at 9.7 percent. Arizona Law School responded that 9.7 percent was the nonemployed number, which included those who are not seeking work, so they were well within their rights to advertise 2.8 percent. No court would call this fraud.

But an enterprising graduate could claim that it ‘had a tendency to mislead under the circumstances,’ and recruit all alumni who plausibly could have seen that flier for a joint-action complaint. The burden would be on the ‘schools to demonstrate that individuals in the identified group did not in fact rely on the misrepresentation at issue.’ That being plainly impossible, a hearing officer could grant loan forgiveness to all. These graduates wouldn’t just see their outstanding balance erased, they’d also recoup the last six years of payments.

How does this affect the taxpayer? Well, according to author Max Eden in U.S. News & World Report, quoted above, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have proposals for dealing with loan forgiveness, and both appear to open the door for the public to ultimately cover the cost of repaying student loans. Clinton’s proposal is flat-out taxpayer spending while Trump’s idea would force universities into an asset insurance program that could clearly drive the schools into bankruptcy.

Eden doesn’t take the step of suggesting that the new regulations are an attempt to rig the system toward the ultimate ends of government-paid higher education, but if it becomes an exorbitantly prohibitive cost for colleges to protect themselves from spurious alumni demands for tuition repayment, that direction seems like an obvious heading.

Read more from Eden about how loan forgiveness rules could increase the cost of higher education paid by everyone.

The Persistent Marriage Penalty and Its Impact on Family Formation

You thought this was resolved in the ’90s, didn’t you? It wasn’t.

“Almost one-third of Americans aged 18 to 60 report that they personally know someone who has not married for fear of losing means-tested benefits.”

That’s right, the marriage penalty still exists on families who receive government subsidies, and it is impacting more families as the safety net expands.

Now, the bias up the social ladder has traditionally been to assume that people who have kids without getting married are of questionable moral character because who would go have a baby without having a stable household, right? After all, studies show that children raised by their biological parents in married households have a likelier chance of success in school, a stable job, and upward mobility.

That notion of planning your marriage, then your family is outdated in a lot of communities, not least because when is it ever a good time to have a kid? So maybe the decision to not marry is not a question of moral repute, but in fact a question of public policy working against a loving family whose only commitment phobia is filling out the paperwork.

At least 43 percent of families with children 18 and under receive some kind of means-tested aid from the federal government, from Medicaid to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds. That number goes up to 47 percent for families with children five and under. And this is what they are likely to face if they marry.

… 82 percent of those in the second and third quintiles of family income ($24,000 to $79,000) face this kind of marriage penalty when it comes to Medicaid, cash welfare, or food stamps. By contrast, only 66 percent of their counterparts in the bottom quintile (less than $24,000) face such a penalty. …

Couples where each partner’s individual income is near the cut-off for means-tested benefits—are about two to four percentage points less likely to be married if they face a marriage penalty in Medicaid eligibility or food stamps. Most of these couples are in the second and third quintiles of family income for families with children two and under ($24,000 to $79,000).

Indeed, this recent report on the marriage penalty notes that couples’ combined income in that second and third quintile of earners ($24,000 to $79,000) could face penalties of lost benefits up to one-third of their income if they were to marry.

A valid question is why has the social safety net grown so large that families making nearly $80,000 are still receiving benefits? That may make sense if you’re talking about a family in Brooklyn or around the Beltway outside Washington, D.C., or  Honolulu, or San Francisco, for example, but that’s certainly not the situation in Indianapolis, Louisville, Omaha, Memphis, Tulsa, and so on.

The answer lies in the decision not to marry. If one unmarried person is reporting income to an agency, then the household earnings don’t get counted as $80,000, it only gets counted as the one family member’s income. A combined income would phase out benefits whereas a reported single income would qualify.

Certainly, no one wants to see anyone in need unable to receive the staples of shelter and food, but as the below infographic demonstrates, 59.7 percent of cities surveyed by Experian (click on it to enlarge) have a lower median income and a lower cost of living than the national average so many recipients can in fact afford to live without federal benefits.

Cost of living in America infogrpahic

The report does not challenge the expansion of the safety net to the lower-middle class, but it does raise the question of whether public policy discourages couples from marrying. And as the evidence shows, a significant minority of Americans say they have seen marriage ruled out because of the policies.

So how does government policy correct itself to not penalize lower-middle-class couples for being married when they start their family? The report makes four suggestions:

– In determining eligibility for Medicaid and food stamps, increase the income threshold for married couples with children under five to twice what it is for a single parent with children under five. Such a move would ensure that couples just starting a family do not feel pressured to forgo marriage just to access medical care and food for their families. The cost of this policy change would be limited, since it would only affect families with young children.

– Offer an annual, refundable tax credit to married couples with children under five that would compensate them for any loss in means-tested benefits associated with marrying, up to $1,000. This would send a clear signal that the government does not wish to devalue marriage and, for couples, it would help to offset any penalties associated with tying the knot.

– Work with states to run local experiments designed to eliminate the marriage penalty associated with means-tested policies. States could receive waivers to test a range of strategies to eliminate penalties in certain communities, and to communicate to the public that the penalties are no longer in force there. Successful experiments could then be scaled up to the national level in future efforts to reform means-tested policies.

– Encourage states and caseworkers working with lower-income families to treat two-parent families in much the same way as they do single-parent families. For instance, states could ease the distinctive work requirements that many have in place for two-parent families receiving cash welfare. Reforms such as this one would put two-parent and single-parent families on a more equal footing when it comes to public assistance. More generally, policymakers and caseworkers should try to eliminate policies and practices that effectively discriminate in favor of single-parent families.

Read the report on the marriage penalty’s impact on lower-middle income families.

How Advanced Placement Classes Leave Kids Underprepared for College

A fascinating article that compares how well students perform in high school advanced placement classes and how they perform in college exposes the terrible disconnect created by high schools in teaching students how to think and hold critical discussion that occurs at the college level.

Many states have already reported that college students are not prepared, and places like California have seen remedial math and English classes exceed the 50-percent mark. The National Assessment of Educational Progress found in 2013 that only 39 percent of students scored at a math level and 38 percent scored at a reading level needed to be academically prepared for college.

Despite the highest rates ever recorded for high school graduations in the U.S., the dropout rates for college are also exceedingly high, wasting time and money while leaving students without the skills they need for employment.

Brookings Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, noted more than 20 small-scale studies by college professors since 1980 have been conducted using “their own students to investigate how much high school knowledge predicted performance in their college courses.”

Here’s what the studies, and then Brookings, found:

These published studies collectively show that the effect of high school course-taking on college grades ranges from -5.3 to +6.7 points on a 100-point scale. When comparing students of similar race, gender, standardized test scores, and socioeconomic background, most of the papers find that high school course-taking makes no more than a two percent difference in the final college grade, even when high school courses include Advanced Placement. …

Analyzing thousands of transcripts from the Department of Education’s National Educational Longitudinal Study, we found confirmatory evidence that advanced high school courses apparently do little to prepare students for success in college coursework.

Specifically, we showed that students with one more year of high school instruction in physics, psychology, economics, or sociology on average have grades in their first college course in the same subject just 0.003 to 0.2 points higher on a four-point scale. For example, for students of similar race, socioeconomic status, and high school standardized test scores, those who took a year of high school economics earn a final grade in their college economics class 0.03 points higher than students who have never encountered that subject before. What’s more, these trivially small differences hold even for students who took exactly the same college course.

The authors at Brookings noted that what doesn’t work is better known that what does, and point to a lack of argumentative and non-fiction writing as barriers to performance in college-level courses. The also suggest teaching with less traditional models like AP classes and start focusing more on “non-cognitive skill development and technical education.”

Read the Brookings Institute’s report on college preparedness.

Hillbilly Poverty: Trump’s Appeal to Poor Appalachian Whites

The discussion of "hillbilly poverty" — a deep and abiding poverty that has been prevalent, but overlooked, for generations in the Appalachian region — seems to keep coming back to the fore, particularly this election season. It may be because white poverty is a blind spot to many Americans who are either white, but don't live in poverty, or are non-white and unaware of or too preoccupied with their own identity struggles to worry about the white underclass. Or maybe most Americans are aware, but feel helpless to do anything about it. read more

Hey, Older Workers: Raise Your Hand If Too Much Work Makes You Dumber

A study cited by the BBC claims that too much work makes you dumber. That’s right, working too many hours after a certain age could be bad for our brains … maybe.

If you’re over 40, working more than 25 hours of work a week could be impairing your intelligence, according to a study released in February by researchers for the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research in Australia. The team conducted reading, pattern and memory tests in more than 6,000 workers aged over 40, to see how the number of hours worked each week affects a person’s cognitive ability.

Working 25 hours a week (part time or three days a week) was the optimum amount of time spent working a week for cognitive functioning, while working less than that was detrimental to the agility of the brain for both men and women, the study found.

Oh, if only everyone could use such excuses to take the afternoon off.

So why is 40 the magic number?

According to (lead researcher Colin) McKenzie, our ‘fluid intelligence,’ which is how well we process information, starts declining around the age of 20 and ‘crystallized intelligence,’ or the ability to use skills, knowledge and experience starts decreasing after 30 years of age. McKenzie said that by age 40, most people perform less well at memory tests, pattern recognition and mental agility exercises.

Of course, while it’s unlikely a person at 40 years of age is going to call it a day during the peak of his or her career and head to part-time service, take heart — lower performance over 40 is not an across-the-board truth. Getting the right amount of sleep, mixing up the routine, and enjoying the type of work you do are all elements that can prolong the ability to perform at optimal levels.


Why Americans Aren’t Saving Money: It’s Not a Reassuring Explanation

A new study explains why Americans aren’t saving money: They are procrastinators who don’t understand math.

Yes, it’s a sad state of affairs. The two-fold problem, according to the study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, is that Americans like to put off until tomorrow what could be done today, and compounding interest is an illusion to them.

The study’s authors defined these two defects as present bias and exponential growth bias, respectively. Present bias is pretty easy to grasp. We say we’ll do something as long as we don’t have to start this second. For something like saving money, tomorrow never comes.

‘Present bias’ refers to the tendency, in evaluating a trade-off between two future options, to give stronger weight to the earlier option as it gets closer. An individual with present-biased preferences might express willingness to invest a tax refund she will receive in six months in a retirement savings account, for example, but when the refund arrives she will prefer not to do so, even though nothing has changed except the passage of time. This individual will save less for retirement than another who also favors investing the tax refund (who has the same long-run ‘discount rate’) but does not suffer from present bias and thus does not change her mind as the refund date nears.

The exponential growth bias is a little sadder, explains an enlightening piece published in The Atlantic:

Exponential growth bias, isn’t a cognitive bias, perhaps, so much as a failure of math. They found that 75 percent of participants in their study didn’t understand compound interest, the principle that even small annual growth over a long period of time yields surprisingly great returns.

It’s intuitive to most young people that saving $100 now is better than saving $100 the year before they retire. But most people underrate the benefits of compounding interest. Saving $1 at the age of 20 is twice as valuable in retirement as saving $1 at the age of 40.

The rule that has stuck with me (although I can’t remember where I heard it) is the 2-20-50 rule. Two percent annual growth might sound shockingly meager. But a sum of money that grows by 2 percent each year for 20 years will have increased by about 50 percent.

The shocking part is how these biases affect the bottom line. According to the study’s authors, people had higher retirement savings when they were aware of the bias, even controlling for the effect of income, education, risk preference, financial literacy, IQ, and other characteristics.

A two-standard-deviation increase in either measure of bias (equivalent to moving from a typical level of bias to the 95th percentile) would decrease retirement savings by about $26,000, or about 20 percent relative to the mean value of $133,000.

Overall, eliminating both biases from the sample would lead to a 12 percent increase in retirement savings, the authors estimated.

Relevant Today: Robert F. Kennedy Speech After Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassination

Robert F. Kennedy had barely launched his presidential campaign when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Upon hearing the news, Kennedy delivered remarks in Indianapolis, Ind., discussing the difficulty of racial division in America, a division that was rupturing the nation even at a time of great hope and opportunity. Shockingly, Kennedy was shot and killed just two months later, after speaking to supporters in Los Angeles, Calif.

Sadly, his words still carry the same import, and the message still remains to be said, nearly 50 years later.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love. …

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black. …

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

See Kennedy’s remarks here.


Elie Wiesel’s Universal Wisdom

Elie Wiesel died on July 2, 2016, at 87 years old. A Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, novelist, scholar, historian, and human rights activist, Wiesel was 15 years old when he was taken to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland from his home in what is now Romania. He lost his mother, father, and a younger sister to the Nazis, but was later reunited with two sisters.

He married and had one son. Wiesel had a very complex belief system when it came to faith, memory, and despair, but he held an unrelenting willingness to teach and to learn, and was a tireless activist for those seeking freedom of conscience, liberation from despotism, and relief from war.

Wiesel wrote 60 books and gave countless speeches. His quotes span decades, but much of it rings true on this day as when he first uttered his thoughts.

Here are some of his most memorable quotes.

On bigotry:

If someone had told us in 1945 that in our lifetime religious wars would rage on virtually every continent, that thousands of children would once again be dying of starvation, we would not have believed it. Or that racism and fanaticism would flourish once again, we would not have believed it.

Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, Dec. 11, 1986

On hatred:

Hatred is at the root of evil everywhere. Racial hatred, ethnic hatred, political hatred, religious hatred. In its name, all seems permitted. For those who glorify hatred, as terrorists do, the end justifies all means, including the most despicable ones.

Parade Magazine, Oct. 28, 2001

On indifference:

Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.

White House Millennium Lecture, April 12, 1999

On God:

I rarely speak about God. To God yes. I protest against Him. I shout at Him. But open discourse about the qualities of God, about the problems that God imposes, theodicy, no. And yet He is there, in silence, in filigree.

Paris Review interview, Spring 1984

On peace:

Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.

Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, Dec. 11, 1986

On gratitude:

When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.

Oprah Magazine, November 2000

Read this moving tribute to Elie Wiesel from his friend, Menachem Z. Rosensaft.

Watch Elie Wiesel give his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

How to Get Anti-Poverty Programs Beyond Red State-Blue State Divide

A key element of the Republican “Better Way” agenda is a series of anti-poverty programs that call for more emphasis on work, streamlining entitlement programs, and funding programs at the federal level that work while de-funding non-working programs.

In the past several years, the number of people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program who report no income has grown dramatically. A variety of solutions that go beyond the Democratic-Republican, or urban-rural divide, are at hand if lawmakers are willing to get beyond partisanship.

“The condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. said while announcing the anti-poverty programs. Ryan warned, however, that federal programs must be reformed if they are going to avoid trapping people in the poverty track.

Robert Doar, the former commissioner for the city of New York’s Human Resources Administration under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said Ryan is reacting to a concern that the welfare reform program of 1996 has gotten away from the work requirement, even though it has been demonstrated that low-income households receiving benefits are more likely to get out of poverty when able-bodied, working-age adults work.

“Employment is really the best way out of poverty,” Doar said in a recent interview.


Watch Doar explain some of the barriers to success that are put up by partisanship and a bureaucracy that silos assistance programs and creates layers of eligibility for individuals trying to get out of poverty.

Reason to Believe? Missing the Gospel at the Atheism Rally

The best part of an atheism rally in Washington, D.C.? Obviously, it is when the speakers invoke Martin Luther King, Jr., to make their political points. You know, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Baptist minister and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

And yet, Vox reports that at the recent Reason Rally 2016, that’s just what happened, even though that invocation, as well as many other comments by the speakers, didn’t gin up the crowd the same way an impassioned sermon might.

It is clear … that almost nobody who takes the stage at Reason Rally was ever trained as a preacher. The whole thing is languid, urgent words in measured tones. The goal is an ‘end to bigotry,’ in the pitch of a polite request, to ‘reject’ a supernatural worldview with all the force of tepid applause.”

Despite not having religious faith, atheists share a common belief:

Once religion is banished from the public sphere, the most pressing difficulties in our national life will largely fade away, rationally debated and swiftly solved according to the dictates of reason.

There is less agreement regarding the likely outcomes of those debates. …

Vox writer Emmett Rensin, himself a stated atheist, notes the inherent trouble with politically charged atheism: While atheists may oppose religion because its intersection with politics can create unfortunate outcomes, “atheism has never seemed to me to solve any political problems at all.”

Speakers at Reason Rally advance admirable goals: pluralism, reproductive rights, tolerance. But what about the absence of God tells me that these are civic virtues?

It is not surprising that religion provides rhetorical urgency to reactionary causes, but what causes of any kind has it not at times imbued with moral purpose? Most people are religious. The talk appeals. What would surprise is a world where the absence of faith produced an absence of bad politics or bigotry. Only a narrow imagination supposes that the depravity of men will not find other cudgels; that an empty sky will make good policy visible to all. …

Set aside that such clear skies are improbable, that religion is a stubborn thing and one that persists too well in climates far more hostile than the present. The promotion of an improbable goal is not Reason Rally’s sin.

What is troubling in Reason Rally, in Movement Atheism, among Dawkins and Nye, in the throngs of free thinkers turned out on a dry Saturday to hear the talk of turning points and revolutions, what is troubling in all of this is the optimism of these free thinkers. The extraordinary credulity of skeptics.

David Silverman, the president of American atheists and a “self-described firebrand,” demands we all chant atheist! together as an act of political unity. This activity consumes roughly half his speech. And then?

Banish superstition, and the major political struggles of the American state will solve themselves by measurement. Accept the facts, the prime fact, the fact of an imaginary God, and we will realize the dream of the Founding Fathers.

But a fact is not an answer. A fact, in this case, is just an absence. We are only interested in logic, but what are your premises? Empiricism is the only way to know the truth about the world. Well, what do you want to know about it?

The trouble with Reason Rally is how little it cares for what comes after; its hubris is the faith of so many attendees that pure reason will reward their politics.”

Read more from Vox on Reason Rally 2016.