How Journeyman Electricians Were “Gifted” a Second Chance to Succeed

Second chances are easier said than given. But that doesn’t mean there are no second chances. In fact, one electrical engineering firm decided that it was going to invest in second chances, and since then, business has snowballed.

For the Weifield Group in Denver, Colo., it was an evolution, and then, ultimately a conscious decision by the company’s owners to create an environment where people were involved in something bigger than themselves.

Why? Not just because it generated a lot of work, but because it was the best way to take advantage of “God’s gift” of leading a profitable business.

“God gives you different ‘giftings’ and if you have that business gifting and you can excel within business, you can capture a big audience,” said Karla Nugent, chief business development officer of the Weifield Group. “Being in that position where you can have an area of influence and affect people positively is powerful.”

“The construction market can be a rough trade,” said Seth Anderson, CEO of the Weifield Group. “We decided, ‘Hey we can do this, we can do this better. We can provide the quality. We can provide a good place for the employees to learn and develop new skills.'”

Becoming a journeyman electrician takes four years of training to complete. Weifield decided to start an apprenticeship program that lasts up to four years. That includes 40 hours of work per week and health insurance.

For many of Weifield’s 300 employees, that kind of on-the-job training has been a lifesaver. Many of its apprentices are ex-felons or recovering addicts who truly needed second chances. Being an ex-felon often makes it difficult to find decent work.

Not every company can afford to provide this kind of intensive and expensive on-the-job training. But for Weifield, it enabled the company to raise its skills and provide solutions to serve its clients, and it raised its business game to the next level.

Now that the company is flourishing, Weifield is expanding its outreach to help charities and community organizations, not just run a company.  Nugent said the growth is no surprise even as it keeps changing.

“We’re all blessed with all these talents, you know? How do you do something that’s bigger than build a building?”

The story of the Weifield Group is part of a new documentary called “To Whom is Given,” which looks at business owners’ faith-based decisions to help the common good. Learn more about the Weifield Group and “To Whom Is Given.”

Secular and Sacred: How Faith Inspired Business in the Great Outdoors

Faith gets dismissed a lot in this day and age, but for those who believe in God, whatever their religion, a true love of the Almighty is an inspiring mechanism from which to launch a business.

Indeed, a faith-inspired business is what Greg McEvilly set out to do after he started his path toward the ministry and then realized he had a knack for entrepreneurialism.

McEvilly combined his faith with his go-getter instinct and launched a company to inspire people to adventure and life-affirming experiences.

Watch More Stories From To Whom Is Given: Business For the Common Good.

Kammok, based in Austin, produces outdoor items like climbing gear, hammocks, and tents. But it’s more than just the products. McEvilly said he was interested in the way the business could “have a transformative impact on a broader scale.” Adventure never seemed so epic.

“We want to use adventure very strategically to help produce something greater in people, so we hope that adventure produces humility, curiosity and wonder,” McEvilly said.

Watch More Stories From To Whom Is Given: Business For the Common Good.

The customer transaction is just the beginning of the cycle.  Travis Perkins, who manages customer experience, says that the products are not the endpoint but rather that the company is “an outpost that is equipping and inspiring and moving the mind.”

McEvilly said business is as good a means of sharing the word because it is not limiting communications with like-minded people. Instead, customer interaction means dealing with people with a diverse set of beliefs.

And even though McEvilly’s name has “evil” in the middle, we couldn’t think of a nicer guy to get people off the couch and into creation.

The story of Kammok is part of a new documentary called “To Whom is Given,” which looks at how businesses can help the common good. Click here to learn more about Greg McEvilly and “To Whom Is Given.”

Best Friends, Opposing Views: Getting Along in the Age of Disdain

In a world of “fake news” and “filter bubbles,” can you really maintain friendships with people who disagree with you?

If Robbie George and Cornel West are any indication, the answer is not only yes, but that people on “the other side of the aisle” can be the best of friends.

These two professors, one at Princeton, one at Harvard, were introduced by Andrew Perlmutter, a then-religion student starting a campus magazine at Princeton. The magazine’s inaugural issue had one professor select another for an interview. West selected George.

The interview between the two, who had never met, was supposed to last an hour. It lasted four and a half hours.

“There’s no doubt that our spirits and our souls resonated, and intellectually we were both on fire talking about the great classical economical texts,” West said.

That’s when they decided to teach a class together. The 12-books to be studied that first semester spanned Plato to Martin Luther King, Jr. The two continued the class for 10 years, together selecting the texts for future seminars.

Recently, the two men got together to discuss their relationship, the purpose of studying liberal arts, and the value of finding common ground with people you may not otherwise know. Ultimately, George concludes, the examined life may not be pretty, but it is well-lived. And it doesn’t have to be in an ivory tower.

“The key element of the liberal arts is self-mastery” George said. “Self-mastery doesn’t require a college education.”

Philosophically, the two couldn’t be more different. West is a liberal who supported Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. George is a conservative who said was threatened with “excommunication” from the right for not supporting Donald Trump. The two said their criticism of the political party lines was a matter of commitment to their values and a “quest for integrity, honestly, and decency.”

“It’s not pure, it’s not pristine, but it has much to do with how we were raised,” West said. “It has much to do with the choices we make in terms of our religious Christian faith. It has something to do with the traditions that we choose to be a part of, and also how we choose to die, that we intend to be faithful unto death.”

Want to Work? Then Don’t Wait For Universal Basic Income

I recently read an interesting series of memos that propose three possible futures for the U.S. economy. This suite of essays, published by the Knight Foundation, merit a read if you’re interested in innovation and techno-futurism.

Their most optimistic scenario includes a version of a “universal basic income,” a popular policy idea among academics. The UBI would replace most complicated, conditional welfare programs with a straight-up minimum income guarantee that everyone receives from the government simply for being alive. (Nice work if you can get it!)

The UBI is the rare idea that garners support from both liberal and conservative intellectuals. Progressives like the idea of a generous and unconditional benefit for anyone who needs it; conservatives like the idea of replacing messy bureaucracies with a much clearer and more concise policy.

Unfortunately, on this front, I am the skunk at the garden party. As I wrote in a drive-by Medium response to the Knight memo, simply conceding a “post-work” future and paying everyone a salary to breathe is a poor substitute for the tougher job of actually getting people back to work. As the memo rightly notes, there are huge costs to simply cutting work out of people’s lives, even if you mitigate the financial aspect.

You can read the Medium post for my favorite research on this, but here’s one sample. Running my own statistical analysis on some survey data, I have found that Americans who have a job and feel successful at it are more than twice as likely to say they’re “very happy” than people who don’t meet those conditions. Importantly, this holds up when you control for income. Put simply, having a reason to set our alarm each morning gives us a psychic benefit that goes way beyond a paycheck.

What’s the better, more meaningful solution? How about we try a radical new agenda for forming human capital that empowers more Americans to stay engaged in the economy, rather than making it less painful for them to drop out?

How Feeling Needed Will Improve the Next Four Years

The next four years will present new challenges in governance and new opportunities to get policy right. It’s my honor to lead an institution that stands for the universality of human dignity and the limitlessness of human potential, and fights for policy and culture to better reflect both these truths.

One Huge Question That Could Define the Next Four Years!

If you’re into public policy, you may want to be a little more fluent in the emerging policy issues that the new Trump administration has to tackle. For instance, what will be done for veterans care? How will schools improve performance for K-12 students? What exactly is a “border adjustment tax“?

But there’s also a much bigger picture we need to understand. Let’s be honest: It wasn’t a massive popular demand for a border adjustment that swept Trump into the White House. So what was it? Here’s my explanation:

America has gotten pretty good at helping struggling people, but pretty terrible at needing them. Our nation is rendering millions of people effectively superfluous. This violates human dignity. And now we are seeing the results.

Everything from ancient philosophy to survey data tell us that feeling necessary – feeling useful to others – is a crucial piece of a happy and satisfying human life. How do you think things are trending for working-class Americans on this particular score?

Today, compared to 50 years ago, three times as many men are completely outside the labor force – that is, neither gainfully employed nor even seeking work. This dystopic economic shift owes partially to the Great Recession, partially to irresponsible policies, partially to decaying social norms, and partially to longer-term structural changes outside of Washington’s control.

The problem is only compounded by atrophy in other institutions that provide alternate paths to neededness. Instead of staying strong and buffering against economic decay, these other factors – family stability, religious participation, community engagement – are also sliding downward. Meanwhile, though our Great Society-era safety net has helped make poverty and joblessness a bit less materially intolerable, it has not made these states any less soul-crushing or any more escapable.

Both liberals and conservatives need to retire the old mindset of finding more ways to help citizens. This does not mean doing nothing, however. Congress and the Trump administration must develop a new agenda, consonant with the truths of free enterprise, that is specifically designed to make forgotten Americans more needed.

Editor’s Note: Sign Up to Stay in Touch With Arthur. Arthur is launching a new feature essay early this year that will diagnose this problem of feeling useful and instantiate an agenda with specific policy ideas to make more people needed. Updates will also be found at

For more information on the impact of being needed, enjoy this background piece on the subject.

Where Do Immigrants Live in the US?

Since the 2008 recession, the states with net-inflows of immigrants have changed dramatically from preceding years. So where are new immigrants moving to when they arrive in the U.S.? As a percentage of pre-existing immigrant populations, the biggest net gains are in the Eastern United States, specifically Washington, D.C., Florida, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and Virginia.

That’s according to 2016 U.S. Census estimates of state populations. At the same time, except for D.C. in Florida, the net outflow of people living in these states exceeded the number of people moving in. In other words, immigrants are moving into states where Americans are moving out.

On the flip side, Arizona and Nevada are seeing many more people who were already in the U.S. move into these states than the number of immigrants moving in. This is a change from previous decades. Columnist and demographer Michael Barone has a suspicion why this is.

(I)t seems likely given the increasing share of total immigrants coming from Asia rather than Latin America that a large share of these immigrants are Asian and presumably somewhat higher skill, on average, than the Hispanic and mainly Mexican immigrants who surged into the southwestern states in previous decades.

In other words, higher-skilled workers are moving into states where high-skilled industries are operating.

See which other states are experiencing changes in both domestic and immigrant populations.

Treating Opioid Addiction: A Holistic Approach to Recovery

Dr. Sally Satel is a psychiatrist who has spent more than 25 years treating patients with opioid addiction. She has seen highs and lows that would make a roller-coaster jealous. But she also sees light on the horizon when it comes to treatment.

With public attention and resources now closely trained on the opioid epidemic, there is a real opportunity for enlightened systems of care. Never before in the history of addiction management have there been so many different therapeutic elements to apply in combination to promote recovery. But we can’t afford to focus on just one set of these tools under the false idea that addiction is a disease like any other.

Why not just treat addiction like a “chronic illness”? As Satel explains, it is much more involved than just a medical diagnosis and prescription plan.

But first, we must acknowledge the problem, and it’s big. In the U.S. today, opioid use is skyrocketing. Some shocking statistics reveal its impact.

With an estimated 2.6 million people addicted to opioids—including heroin, fentanyl and oxycodone—the toll is daunting. Fatal opioid overdoses have risen from around 8,200 in 1999 to 33,000 in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making them a leading cause of accidental death. Last year, deaths from heroin slightly edged out gun homicides for the first time since the government began keeping such data.

The CDC reports that deaths from heroin overdoses quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. Heroin use spans the gamut; its use is rising among men and women, all age groups, and all income levels.

Statistics on treating opioid addiction.

So what needs to be considered when dealing with addiction?

  1. Medical treatment: Opioids are combated with anti-opioid medications. Many people have heard of methadone, but other options, like buprenorphine, or “bupe,” have been rising in popularity. With it come hazards: proper dosage and handling of anti-opioids is critical to preventing abuse. Monitoring patient dosage is a matter requiring close attention.
  2. Causes of Relapse: Satel notes that 40-60 percent of addicts drop out of treatment before they’re done. This is partly due to ambivalence on the part of the addict, partly because of the overwhelming pull of addiction, and partly because treatment plans are conducted by the wrong doctor in the wrong environment. In addition, often times, the treatment plan is too rapid or doesn’t address the triggers that cause people to return to drugs.
  3. Restoration: Addiction doesn’t just ravage the addict’s body, its impact is savage toward everyone around. Not just treating the cause, but looking at ways to cope with the future is imperative. Without it, the toll continues on an addicts’ and their families, their ability to work, their social networks, and their ability to find satisfaction through something other than drugs.
  4. Enforcement: In the desire to not overwhelm the public health or criminal justice systems, drug courts are looking for ways to influence addicts without destroying the possibilities of their being able to live a drug-free future. This means ruling with degrees of consequence like community service or “flash incarceration,” and providing other carrots and sticks, including expunging the record of someone who completes treatment.

Managing the situation of dealing with an addict is not easy, Satel notes.

I speak from long experience when I say that few heavy users can simply take a medication and embark on a path to recovery. It often requires a healthy dose of benign paternalism and, in some cases, involuntary care through civil commitment. Many families see such legal action as the only way to interrupt the self-destructive cycle in which their loved ones are caught. Users sometimes want it, too.

With an explosive rise in addiction, appropriate government policy can help. Satel says Donald Trump’s blueprint during the election was consistent with the Comprehensive Addition Recovery Act that passed Congress this summer, though is only partially funded.  The bill calls for expanding addiction treatment access, funding for diversionary programs such as drug court, and funding for naloxone (the opioid antidote that instantly reverses the respiratory suppression of overdose), among other things. This is heading in the right direction, she says.

If you deal with addiction in your family, it’s important to get help.  You can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or check out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for resources.

Read Sally Satel’s article on treating opioid addiction.

Get more statistics on America’s opioid epidemic.

Loving v. Virginia: Has America Finally Caught On to ‘Land of the Free’?

“Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society,” President Obama said in his farewell speech a week before leaving office. Undeniably, race relations appear to have taken a turn for the worse in the last eight years, but no matter the cause, Americans have come a long way toward accepting interracial relationships.

That’s a reason to celebrate, particularly as a new movie marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia. In it, the court ruled that it’s a violation of the Constitution to prohibit matrimonial “race-mixing.” The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison for marrying.

That was 50 years ago, a short time considering many young Americans today would likely find it hard to believe that anti-miscegenation laws were ever on the books, much less had to be thrown out by a ruling of the highest court in the land.

And it really wasn’t that long ago when you consider how much American viewpoints have changed since that time.

Political scientist Karlyn Bowman explains:

Although opinion, including those of whites, moved to agreement with the court’s ruling to eliminate discriminatory laws, actual support for the idea of interracial marriage lagged. Three-quarters of whites in 1968 and almost as many Americans overall (73 percent) disapproved of the idea of marriages between blacks and whites. The last time Gallup asked the question in 2013, 11 percent nationally gave that response. In the polls, blacks have always been more supportive than whites of interracial marriage, but the responses of both groups have moved in a more supportive direction in tandem. In Gallup’s 2013 survey, 96 percent of blacks and 84 percent of whites approved of interracial marriage. …

Opinions about interracial dating and marriage on a personal level have also evolved significantly. In 1971, 48 percent nationally said they would not approve of their own children dating someone of another race, while 28 percent said they would approve. In 2014, nearly eight in 10 Americans said it wouldn’t matter at all if someone in their family was going to marry someone of another race. Nine percent said they would be happy about it, while 11 percent said they would be unhappy. Today, a majority of whites (54 percent) say they would neither favor nor oppose a close relative marrying a black person. Blacks are slightly less ambivalent, with 42 percent of them giving that response about a close relative marrying a white person. Fifty-two percent favor the idea compared to 30 percent of whites.

Bowman notes that race relations as a whole appear not to have improved under Obama — a Pew Research Center poll released in the fall found that “only 9 percent thought race relations had gotten better since Obama came into office. Sixty-seven percent thought they had gotten worse.”

That may just be a historical blip caused by a divisive political climate rather than widely held views of entire groups of people.

But if you still have a problem with interracial marriage, you may want to get over your prejudice and stop living in the past — especially since it’s more commonplace than ever. The 2013 American Community Survey found that 6.3 percent of all marriages that year were between people of different races. That’s compared to less than 1 percent in 1970.

Read Bowman’s report on changes in attitudes about interracial marriage.


What’s Better Than Nationalism? Internationalist Nationalism

Can “internationalist nationalism” appeal to those who wish to protect what they have and also demonstrate the benefits of others succeeding? It would probably depend on understanding what internationalist nationalism is.

First, the word “liberal” gets thrown around a lot, to the point that someone who is described as “a” liberal in U.S. politics is not the same as someone who holds classical liberal principles. That’s a belief system generally held by “conservatives” in America. But when speaking of a liberal democracy, both sides agree that the blend of two contributing political philosophies has managed to achieve the most success for the most people.

So it gets particularly disheartening when the political spectrum starts to curve into a circle, and liberal democracy begins to falter.

This happens when populations move toward authoritarian — closed — forms of government. This usually occurs in times of extreme uncertainty and takes the form of ultra-nationalism, both on the political left and the political right. On the far left, it means communism and socialism, support for government equalizing everything regardless of whether it means everyone ends up with less with no one having a stake in their success. On the far right, it means support for government intervention to guarantee the security of outcomes for those who already “arrived” and staked their claim, and everyone else be damned.

It’s a proclivity in Europe, though the trend has been gaining ground recently in the United States.

Dalibar Rohac, a Czech-born economist who focuses on Europe and the backsliding of Russia toward communism, notes that in Europe (and to a lesser extent in the U.S.), the backlash against liberal democracy comes after a series of literal and figurative firefights in Europe, including Brexit, attacks in Nice, a coup in Turkey, and an Italian constitutional referendum to give government more authority.

Rohac warns that the closer Europe moves toward authoritarianism, the less likely Europe will be able to deal with coming problems. But don’t expect Europe to fall in a blaze of smoke and gunfire.

“The EU does not have to implode dramatically in order to become irrelevant,” Rohac writes in the European edition of Politico. He suggests proponents of liberal democracy, start extolling its traditional virtues in a way that resonates in this new and modern era — “internationalist nationalism.”

A genuine commitment to prosperity and success of one’s own country, they must argue, goes hand in hand with the embrace of openness, economic dynamism and globalization. … visceral, zero-sum nationalism … offers only a nostalgia for a past that never really existed. Its chimeric proposals — of industrial jobs that are never displaced by foreign competition or technological change, stable social hierarchies, ethnic homogeneity — are the fastest route to economic stagnation and backwardness.

Internationalist nationalism, by contrast, has a strong track record. It has been at heart of the success of open societies, and it is much more powerful than the variety offered by Europe’s far-right movements. Instead of trying to project fear, it encourages other countries to emulate it by embracing the rule of law, government accountability, economic dynamism, innovation.

The effects of this brand of nationalism can been seen in how the allure of the West helped transform the transitional economies of Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Today, we can still see it at work in places such as Ukraine or Georgia. With some luck and the right political choices, the West still has an opportunity to be “a shining city on a hill” for many other aspiring liberal democracies around the world.

Read the rest of Rohac’s article on “internationalist nationalism.”

Irregular Work Schedules While Raising Kids: Can Congress Pass a Law to Help?

Does Congress need to schedule your time off? A proposed law aims to address the downsides of irregular work schedules, and is receiving support from a surprising group of voters.

recent focus group organized by the Institute for Family Studies was asked to look at ways for government to make it easier for working parents to succeed. This particular focus group, based in a small town in southern Ohio, was composed of 10 white, working-class Millennials who mostly expressed support for President-elect Donald Trump.

Like every adult-age youngest generation before it, Millennials are the favorite target of older generations who like to tell them they don’t understand how the world works. But this focus group may be on to something. It has been coping with the way the world works for a while now, and has a diverse set of viewpoints despite their demographic similarities.

Their recent free-wheeling discussion suggests that while they backed the conservative presidential candidate, they are willing to explore a liberal lawmaker’s solution to problems they face. Gasp, could bipartisanship come back in vogue?

The group’s post-election conversation hit such heady topics as paid parental leave, payroll taxes, marriage penalties in public assistance programs, and other issues that tend to divide policy agendas in Washington. A common theme that emerged was that they are willing to work hard, and in exchange they want economic independence couched in fair treatment from employers and government.

The conversation spilled into the minimum wage debate , but a couple issues that struck a chord came down to adequate scheduling of work hours and promoting a “success sequence” for young people (finish school, get a job, get married, have children, in that order). The success sequence may be popular, albeit difficult to implement, but a proposed bill in Congress already captures what the Millennials said about adequate scheduling — they want the ability to plan their day-to-day lives.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, almost 10 percent of workers report that they have irregular schedules, which makes it harder for them to do typical activities like planning to attend functions at their kids’ schools or, as one couple in the focus group shared, scheduling their wedding. Another 7 percent of workers interviewed in the EPI study said they split or rotate shifts.

EPI reported that full-time employees in the retail and food service industries tend to have the most irregular shifts, but so do a significant proportion of workers in entertainment, repairs, transportation, and agricultural sectors.

What is concerning with the irregularity in scheduling, which inordinately hits lower income households, is the impact it has on the family. In essence, irregular schedules contribute to instability at home. For EPI, some of the solutions include implementing laws enabling workers the right to request changes and longer advance notice of what their schedules would be.

One bill on the table in Congress comes from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. It would do just what EPI supports. The legislation, called “The Schedules That Work Act,” would give workers in service industries the right to request changes to their schedules without fear of retaliation and would require employers to distribute schedules two weeks in advance.

It’s seems counter-intuitive that more law gives people greater freedom, but it has been done before. You’d be surprised what these Trump supporters in southern Ohio said about the idea.

Read the focus group’s response “The Schedules That Work Act.”

‘Psychic Numbing’: How to Avoid Desensitization to Bad News

No matter your political inclinations, we can all agree on one simple fact: 2016 was a crazy year. Anger and resentment became political focus points across the Western world. Foreign policy crises, especially the Syrian civil war, burned hot throughout the year with little resolution in sight. A flow of corruption and scandal took down government leaders on at least three different continents.

Everyone that you talk to will find different elements in 2016 to condemn and to celebrate. Some will be outraged by the presidential election results but thrilled with the big leftward steps taken in our culture and popular media. Plenty others will have precisely the opposite view, pleased with political victories but deeply unsettled about the broader direction of society. Wherever you fall personally, it seems safe to say that nobody will remember the last year as an apogee for optimism, warm-heartedness, or American unity.

What does that mean for your 2017? In the face of events or trends we dislike, it can be tempting to try to simply care less about the world around us. When the cable news gets too wearying, it seems like we should simply turn off the TV. Perhaps the prudent path forward is to pull up the informational drawbridges that connect us to the world and redirect our attention inward.

There is something noble in this instinct, but there is also something dangerous and destructive. A little social science can help us discern what to do.

First, let’s remember that these sensations are nothing new. Tragedies have always been part of life. That means there’s a surprisingly robust academic literature on the subject. And so, over the past couple of weeks, when I wasn’t hunting with my son Carlos over the holiday, I dug into some of the research that looks at our response to large-scale traumatic events. (First prize for nerdiest dad!)  I outlined my findings in a recent New York Times column, but here are some of the basic takeaways:

It turns out that social scientists have a term for when people simply throw up their hands in response to overwhelming circumstances: “psychic numbing.” Some of the most interesting research on this topic comes from Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon. His body of work shows that when tragedy is large in magnitude and in a distant location, we become desensitized. Recent history shows us some of the depressing  implications. For example, while many of us feel compassion for the refugees fleeing war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East, the organized response to such events is muted at best.

Slovic wasn’t the first academic to talk about “psychic numbing.” Any fan of Adam Smith will likely recall a famous passage from his Theory of Moral Sentiments where Smith discusses Europeans responding to an apocalyptic earthquake in China:

“If he was to lose his little finger tomorrow, he would not sleep tonight; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.”

Is there a solution to psychic numbing? Is there a better way forward than either feeling constant despair about events we can’t control or cauterizing our normal human empathy?

Absolutely, but it’s not what you might presuppose. When we hear of these tragedies, we often rush to grasp the big picture. Collect the data. Gather the evidence. Figure out what systemic changes we can demand from on high. Let me propose that this thinking is part of the problem. What if the real solution, on a personal level, is to do the opposite of “thinking big”?

Any readers who work in fundraising have likely heard some version of the saying, “One is greater than one million.” No, this isn’t bad math. It’s the real-world application of a “think small” philosophy. As I wrote in the Times column, “when it comes to people in need, one million is a statistic, while one is a human story.” Thinking small can simultaneously allow us to continue paying attention to trends or events that disturb us – but by focusing on individual victims instead of just on global systems, we are limiting the scope of our empathy to circumstances we may be able to actually improve through our own efforts.

I have seen this “1 > 1 million” axiom at work in my own life. As you all know, of late, there has been an incendiary bipartisan backlash against globalization and the notion of an interconnected world. But despite the short-term shift in political winds, my own personal and scholarly appreciation for globalization has only grown stronger.

I have contemplated the many lives I personally know who have been saved by our globalized world.  While I know of many such stories, my thoughts always return to daughter, Marina. My wife and I adopted her 12 years ago from an orphanage in China. Fifty years ago, that would have been virtually impossible, and it would even be more difficult today, thanks to misguided government policies that limit foreign adoptions. Her presence in my life is not only a profound blessing. It is also a simple reminder that the walls of protectionism and restriction don’t only wall off the movement of physical capital and traded goods. They also close the valve of opportunity for millions of children around the world.

Here’s a little challenge for the beginning of this new year. Look back on the events or trends that disturbed you most in 2016. Then, instead of thinking about global, symbolic protest movements you can join or systematic changes you can demand from on high, contemplate a practical way to familiarize yourself with one human being who has been affected. Then, find a way to concretely help that individual.

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.

Vive La Revolution: 401(k) Plans Are A Help for Retirees

When you wonder whether the 401(k) revolution was a mistake, you have to first ask yourself, what was the 401(k) revolution? That was the move beginning in the late 1970s from defined benefit plans to an employer-sponsored retirement savings that allows workers to save and invest pre-tax payments and pay taxes when they withdraw the money after retirement.

In 2017, people under age 50 are allowed to set aside $18,000 of their income in 401(ks)s while people 50 and over can add another $6,000 annually. Employers often match a percentage of the contribution employees make, and the money goes into market products that compound over time.

And boy do they. The average 401(k), which obviously grows in later years when people earn more, was around $120,000 last year, and those participating in a 401k for at least 10 years have average balances of $251,600.

Yet, the creators of the 401(K) lamented to The Wall Street Journal this week that they were not happy with the way the whole thing turned out. They didn’t want it to be so successful, apparently, because they wanted 401(k)s to supplement traditional pensions not replace them, and they decried the fees associated with investing in an uncertain stock market while people are also living longer.

Given that more people are now invested in their own retirement plans than ever before — 61 percent today compared to 45 percent when pension participation peaked in the 1970s — and that these plans are turning around benefits at high rates — since 1984, inflation-adjusted benefits per retiree have nearly tripled — the question to ask is why is this considered failure?

Former Social Security official Andrew Biggs always offers the deep dive on how to count the money. And his analysis suggests all the hand-wringing about retirement savings is a bit overwrought.

The Journal article features a nice chart – under the headline “Savings Struggle” – showing a declining U.S. personal saving rate since 1970. Some might take that falling saving rate as denoting that workers are putting away less money for retirement. Actually, not. The reason is that the total personal saving rate also includes the amounts that retirees are drawing down from their savings (or DIS-saving) , which lowers the saving rate.

And guess what? There are more retirees today than in the 1970s – one-third more, relative to the working-age population. As I’ve pointed out, the total personal saving rate says very little about retirement saving adequacy because, over a person’s full lifetime, their personal saving rate should be zero.

So what are we to do? Start by trying to figure out how much working-age Americans are saving for retirement and whether that amount has gone up or down. … In 1975 – the peak year for traditional pension participation, for those playing along at home – total pension contributions equaled about 5.8% of wages, while by 2013 contributions has risen to 8.3% of wages. That’s a 43% increase in the amount that’s getting set aside in retirement plans, even after accounting for the growth of incomes.

Or we can look to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which tracks how much households contribute to retirement plans from their own incomes, a figure that excludes employer contributions. The survey aggregates Social Security and pension contributions together, so I pulled out the Social Security payroll tax which rose slightly from 1984 to today. Despite the increase in payroll taxes, household pension plan contributions rose from 2.7 to 7.1% of incomes (for households aged 45 to 54, which are the prime saving years).

Pension Contributions As Percent of Household Incomes


But maybe households are contributing more to their retirement plans only because their employers are contributing less? Um, no. The Bureau of Labor Statistics generates data going back to 1986 for employer contributions to retirement plans. While employer contributions declined from 1986 to 1989, today employer contributions are 10% above their 1986 level and 38% above the average from 1989 to 2001.

Employer Contributions to Retirement Plans as Percent of Employees Earnings


Okay, so retirement savings are increasing. But maybe it’s only the rich who are participating in 401(k)s while everyone else gets left behind. Actually, participation in retirement plans today is substantially higher than it was back when traditional DB pensions ruled the world. Statistics aren’t great, and in particular the popular Current Population Survey isn’t great at catching whether employees are offered a retirement plan and whether they participate. Instead, the Social Security Administration looked at workers’ tax records, which record whether they or their employer contributed to a retirement plan. SSA found that in 2012, 61% of all workers participated in a retirement plan. According to data gathered by EBRI, back in 1979 – before 401(k)s took root – only 45% of workers participated in a retirement plan. And the news may be even better than that: if we look at the household level and leave out the poorest households — who will and should rely almost entirely on Social Security — most are saving. In the Survey of Consumer Finances, 89% of households aged 30 to 64 with per capita earnings in excess of $20,000 have either a 401(k) or IRA-style account or some entitlement to a traditional pension benefit.

Percent of All Private Sector Workers Participating in an Employer Sponsored Retirement Plan

So to sum up, we’ve got more workers saving for retirement and they’re saving larger amounts. And that’s your 401(k) failure?

Biggs adds that claims of retirement incomes stagnating due to high fees or individuals’ inability to invest are wrong, and points to a study that shows that “from 1984 to 2007 annual Social Security benefits for the median household rose by 25 percent above inflation. But incomes from private pensions increased by 141 percent. That’s one hundred forty-one percent, people. Total retirement incomes for the median household rose by 58 percent above inflation from 1989 to 2007.”

Biggs acknowledges that the retirement system has some problems, but notes that the history of the 401(k) isn’t one of them.

Read Andrew Biggs’ analysis in Forbes.

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 Gift-Giving Blues: Are Bad Presents Worse Than None at All?

If you struck out on gift-giving this year, pleasing no one and getting nothing you liked, maybe next year just hand over cash. Or maybe not.

In a recent article, economist and free market happy warrior Arthur Brooks said that the word from economists is that “gifts we buy others are worth up to a third less to them than what they would buy for themselves if we just gave them the money instead.” So, really the value of our gift-giving is less than the value of our dollars.

But that sounds a little grinchy so Brooks looked into whether the old saying that “it’s the thought that counts” really means something. Apparently, he found, social science says the adage only goes so far in a relationship. One study showed that individuals are more likely to perseverate on the meaning and intent behind a bad gift than the meaning and intent behind a good one. Not much good can come from blowing it when giving a gift to a loved one, but hopefully the relationship is strong enough to survive.

On the bright side, Brooks writes that the research shows that giving the perfect gift isn’t all that important for people in new relationships.

In a 2008 study in the journal Social Cognition, four psychologists conducted an experiment in which young men and women who had just met gave one another gift certificates. Unbeknown to the participants, the researchers manipulated the gifts, giving half of the recipients popular certificates, and the other half embarrassing ones.

Let’s consider this from the point of view of a participant. You sign up for an experiment to help out a professor, because you’re a good person. You meet an attractive person in the experiment, and give him or her a certificate to a nice bookstore. Maybe he or she will go out with you later, right? It turns out the researcher switches your gift for a certificate for something like acne cream. Perhaps someone should do a study about why psychologists don’t want you to be happy.

So what happened in the experiment when the participants got a bad gift? The answer depended on gender. Women who got an undesirable certificate shrugged it off, while men who got bad certificates judged themselves to be very dissimilar from the women who gave them. In other words, it’s easier for women to wreck a new relationship with a bad gift.

Fortunately, in perhaps the most unsurprising finding of the decade, scholars in the science journal PLOS One published an article in 2013 with the self-explanatory title “Women Are Better at Selecting Gifts Than Men.” Somebody actually might have gotten tenure figuring that one out.

Meantime, psychologists counter that people are happier when they focus on the meaning of the holidays rather than the mercantile rituals associated with them, leading Brooks to reveal some simple truths.

Try to give people what they value, but if you mess up, it isn’t a big deal to the people who truly love you. Above all, give of yourself, and share your faith and affection abundantly.

So, did you get the gift you wanted this holiday? And if not, are you mad at someone for the gift you did get or for the one you didn’t get? If you are upset, you may want to reevaluate your relationship. You may also have missed the reason for the season.

Read Arthur Brooks’ article on gift-giving here.

Farewell, Thomas Sowell, Thanks for the Memories

Thomas Sowell is retiring his column from Creators Syndicate. If you’re unfamiliar with the man, you’ve been missing out, probably while hiding under a rock.

Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, holding Rose and Milton Friedman chair. He is a National Humanities Medal and Bradley Prize for Intellectual Thought recipient.

Born in North Carolina, and raised in Harlem, N.Y., Sowell is an American economist who has written dozens and dozens of books on economics, education, and race, including two autobiographies reflecting on his life in the Jim Crow South and his travels from poverty to the military to the Ivy League to the Labor Department. He has taught at Howard University, Rutgers, Cornell, Brandeis, UCLA, Stanford, and Amherst. His books have been translated into at least a dozen languages.

As a black conservative, he has faced a barrage of hateful criticism, yet, even at age 86, he remains pithy, resigned, and thoughtful.

To appreciate fully the man’s intellect would take intensive study of him, but to enjoy Sowell wit takes merely a review of some classic commentary. Gathered here are a few of his quotes, some recent, some decades old.


There are words that were once common, but which are seldom heard any more. The phrase “none of your business” is one of these.

Being old-fashioned, I liked to know what the facts were before writing.

It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.

Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.

People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.

There are so many substitutes used in our society — substitutes for eggs, substitutes for wood, substitutes for diamonds — that perhaps we should not be too surprised to find substitutes for morality as well.  One of the most widespread substitutes for morality, especially among intellectuals, is sanctimoniousness.

The first rule of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first rule of politics is to forget the first rule of economics.

The primary purpose of mascots is to symbolize something that makes others feel good.  The well-being of the mascot himself is seldom a major consideration.

This is an era when many people are concerned about ‘fairness’, what is your ‘fair share’ of what someone else has worked for?

One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.

If naval-gazing, hand-wringing, or self-dramatization helped with racial issues, we would have achieved Utopia long ago.

Filling Manufacturing Jobs: How to Match Skills to Demand

You’ve probably heard by now that automation and off-shoring are responsible for the decline in manufacturing jobs in America. But in reality, manufacturing jobs are still a major contributor to the U.S. economy, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

Manufacturing jobs are defined as the creation of products from components or raw materials. They range from bakers to refrigerator makers. Pretty much everything that is made into a good from something else is considered a manufactured product.

Manufacturing employment, which peaked at 19 million in the 1980s, now stands at around 12.2 million. At the same time, the U.S. population is growing. You’d think that would mean the role of manufacturing jobs is decreasing as a percentage of the economy. But while manufacturing jobs may represent only 9 percent of the U.S. workforce, they account for 18.2 percent of global goods, and contributed $2.17 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2015. They provide good salaries, with workers earning on average more than $79,000 in pay and benefits.

So what’s the issue? Why is there so much talk about the loss of manufacturing jobs?

The reality is that 322,000 manufacturing jobs are available and ready to be filled right now.  The National Association of Manufacturers predicts that over the next decade, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be created, but 2 million of them will go unfilled.

The types of manufacturing jobs have changed over time, and have become much more sophisticated. Manufacturing is not just about widget production and Tupperware. Manufacturing involves biotechnology, carbon fibers, and nanotechnology, among other advanced industries.

Upgrading people’s skills is a definite necessity, but re-training is not as easy as just teaching workers how to fix robots. The real issue, according to economist Aparna Mathur, is recasting manufacturing as a desirable profession.

A survey on the Public Perception of Manufacturing shows that while most Americans perceive manufacturing as the backbone of a strong domestic economy, few parents want their children to work in this industry, and manufacturing is the last career choice for people between the ages of 19 and 33.

All of this suggests that to make manufacturing great again, we need a two-pronged approach. We must encourage workers to upgrade their skills with training in math, science and computing. For younger workers, paid apprenticeships with companies could produce big results. But aside from the skills gap, we also need to tackle the “image-gap”—the unwillingness of some workers to take up these jobs because of their inherent bias against working in jobs that they perceive as similar to the factory jobs of the past.

Bringing jobs back from overseas makes for a promising campaign pledge. But filling domestic jobs through skill upgradation and changing the image of manufacturing to make it a more appealing career choice can be a more practical and achievable jobs policy.

In essence, the four-year college may not be the answer to good careers for many young people. Manufacturing jobs require more than just studying the philosophers and psychology, they require learning skills that are not traditionally taught in liberal arts studies. And with college costs spiraling out of control, that alone could make a career in manufacturing a more attractive pursuit, if approached with the right attitude.

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.

Tom Price, an HHS Secretary Focused on Helping People Work?

President-elect Donald Trump is pretty close to filling out his Cabinet, and among the most interesting selections is Rep. Tom Price, the congressman from Georgia who is currently chairman of the House Budget Committee. Price was named as Trump’s nominee to lead the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department, which is fitting since Price is a doctor, a rarity in the position, but important because Price is also a strong proponent of eliminating waste and reducing the misuse of taxpayer money.

The cherry on top of the selection, however, is what Price’s nomination, and a few others, means for anti-poverty programs, or more specifically, government’s role in helping people who actually are in poverty.  HHS manages a gigantic sum of the federal budget. Price’s future department is responsible for administering Medicare and Medicaid payments as well as oversight of The Affordable Care Act. In 2017, HHS is expected to manage $1.145 TRILLION in outlays (money to be distributed, not used to fund programs).

But the agency also manages several other programs that many Americans might be surprised to learn. That includes heating oil for low-income families, medical assistance for military families, and emergency services after natural disasters. HHS runs 19 offices that provide programs and services to low-income Americans, including cash welfare, child care, and Head Start, to name but a few.

That’s a lot of responsibility for helping people get on their feet, so it is notable that while serving as House Budget chairman, Price’s committee issued a Budget Resolution that focuses on several areas that seek to empower individuals. Such empowerment comes from reforms to government assistance programs that aim to encourage people on welfare to work while also preparing lower-income Americans for jobs in exchange for benefits.

As an aside, Ben Carson, Trump’s pick for Housing and Urban Development, will handle a much smaller budget, but he too has a great opportunity to help reduce poverty. If he is aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan on his anti-poverty agenda, as reports say, this is a chance to really change the way the government does business in developing low-income communities, paying for housing, and encouraging people to find work or develop skills that can move them from dependency to self-sufficiency.

Much of the scholarly focus in recent years on poverty reduction is trending toward work in exchange for benefits and tax credits that empower and enable individuals to achieve successes for themselves. At the same time, the safety net needs to be made taut and real for those truly incapable of getting out of poverty without a helping hand. Whether the trending conversation results in a more prosperous society will determine whether the big change from the Obama to the Trump administration is matched by a big change in the way government runs itself.

As poverty researcher Angela Rachidi recently wrote,

Any changes that are made to anti-poverty programs in the coming years will ultimately be judged by whether they help people escape poverty through work and personal responsibility, and less government intervention. Recent declines in poverty suggest that these trends might already be starting. Surely, voters looking for more economic opportunity and less hardship will be paying close attention.

One place for voters to affix their gaze is at HHS and Price.

Does the Federal Government Have to Be in Washington?

Want to decentralize the federal government, start by decentralizing where the federal government resides. That’s the suggestion from economist Paul Kupiec, who suggests that there’s no real reason why all federal agencies need to be in the nation’s capital.

Kupiec says if the federal government really wants to spread the wealth around, one way to do it would be to let agencies that don’t need to operate in Washington build their headquarters around the country.

Kupiec noted that the FBI and the Labor Department are both ready to move to new buildings. They’ve outgrown the aging facilities where they are housed currently. Combined, the construction costs alone could top $3.5 billion, a pricey bill that not only could benefit other areas, but could actually come down if agencies were built outside the bubble that surrounds the nation’s capital.

But construction costs are not the only consideration for moving these agencies

To understand the potential impact of moving a federal-agency headquarters out of Washington, consider what relocating the FBI headquarters to Detroit would do. Moving 11,000 FBI employees would hardly make a dent in the D.C. economy. Over 275,000 people—over 14% of the workforce—are federal-government employees, according to the Office of Personnel Management. In contrast, 11,000 well-paid federal government jobs and $2.5 billion in construction spending would provide a significant boost to the Detroit economy, where less than 2% of the workforce are federal employees. …

It would also be healthy for the country to more broadly distribute the wealth and power of federal-government agencies across the nation.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 11 of the 20 richest U.S. counties—including the three richest counties—are in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Incomes near the national capital are bloated not only by generous federal-government payrolls, but also by ‘Beltway bandit’ consultancy firms that provide contract services to federal agencies. It is little wonder that many Americans view the federal government as a money machine for bureaucrats and political insiders.

Besides reduced construction and maintenance costs, smaller federal payrolls due to cost of living adjustments, and less bloat from special interests, there’s another reason for moving some of the federal government out of Washington.

The concentration of federal agencies in a single area increases the potential for a breakdown of government services in the event of a terrorist attack, a snowstorm, a hurricane, or even the increasingly frequent service interruptions on the Metro, the Washington area’s troubled subway system.

Sure, agencies outside the capital would need to keep liaison offices for cabinet officials and Congress, but modern communications make it easy to decentralize.

Ultimately, Washington is viewed with disdain by many Americans who are disconnected from the administrative functions of government and who look at Washington as an insiders club. To improve perception, and possibly even increase efficiency, it could be helpful and cost-effective to relocate the bureaucracy into the heartland, giving people a closer look at and a larger stake in how government operates.

What do you think?

Read Paul Kupiec’s article in The Wall Street Journal.


Fake News May Distract, But It Doesn’t Rig Elections

Fake news is not a technical glitch.” This sentence is the headline of a recent article about the hysteria that has enveloped the nation over the “unexpected” presidential outcome. It also is a simple explanation that clears up much of the confusion being disseminated since the Nov. 8 vote.

Ironically, there has been a lot of misinformation about what “fake news” is. Is it false stories made up whole cloth? Yes. Is it misreporting about events that have happened? No, but that’s become a much-discussed point about the journalism profession since the issue arose. Is it media opinion? No.

Blaming members of the media for expressing their opinion rather than just stating the facts of a news story has been a complaint for decades, if not centuries. Not reporting all the facts is poor journalism, but a lie of omission is not the issue at hand.

Fake news is “creative writing,” to be kind. It’s the act of crafting imaginary facts about people whose opponents would be willing to believe are true. It’s pernicious, but it isn’t merely bad journalism. It is not based in fact at all.

Yet, people are willing to believe what they are told is news because Americans trust the format.  “Crankish conspiratorial thinking has been a theme in America for a long time,” notes professional software engineer and blogger Ariel Rabkin.

But there has been an outcry at the platforms that have unwittingly served as dispensers of fake news. The messenger has been condemned as much as the fake news itself.

Blaming the messenger — the online platforms where this fake news appears — is not the answer, however. Getting angry at Google or Facebook for “throwing” the election by permitting fake news on their sites is a pretty big waste of breath.

Consider the complaints. Facebook repeatedly tweaks its algorithm to impact how news trends, for which it recently faced a fair backlash, but that does not equate to Facebook making up false stories that show up on the site. And it would hurt Facebook’s business model to try to decide what’s real and what’s not.

As Rabkin explains:

Facebook didn’t invent rumor-mongering. It doubtless has made the problem more visible, since what used to be merely asserted drunkenly in saloons or spoken on talk radio is now in publicly visible text online. But visibility is not the same as impact and we should not assume without evidence that technology has made false rumors more dangerous to society. (The election of Donald Trump is not evidence that falsehood has any new potency. Partisans have been repeating lies about their opposition since the birth of democracy.) …

Google and Facebook have a deep ethos of neutrality, and to the extent that they are credible, it is precisely because they do not make blatant editorial decisions that embed their preconceptions and beliefs about which sources to trust. If Google or Facebook were to anoint some limited set of news sources as “authoritative” and some others as “fake,” they would immediately be faced with quite an ugly controversy about who is who, and this is controversy they avoid for both business and philosophical reasons.

Getting to the top of Facebook or Google search returns is a contest, and contestants know how to play the game.

This is the era of digital marketing, where getting seen is as important as what is said. Many players are vying for the top spot, and are willing to pay for it. An entire industry has made its fortune teaching other businesses how to rank up the Google pages. They game and test and look at data to learn how to outbid their competition to get to that spot.

This is how these platforms make their money, and they aren’t going to jeopardize the funding stream. So while Facebook and Google may constantly be rewriting and reframing their algorithms to try to second-guess what people are looking for to be able to deliver that to them, there are many, many guardians at the gate willing to point out what these platforms are doing wrong.

To wit: Being the editors of quality news is not the job description for Facebook and Google engineers.

If users are seeking carefully curated news, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are both available online, and there is no particular reason why Google ought to compete directly against them.

Americans do want reliable information on which to form opinions, it’s in their best interest to have all the competing arguments coming at them, good and bad. This involves becoming educated, not just by what’s on the screen, but what is in books, what occurs in real-life experiences and involves real-life witnesses.

Anybody can put anything on the Internet, for better or worse. It’s our responsibility as members of society to be able to develop and express well-considered, well-formed, and well-sourced positions.

And for all its faults, America was not “hacked” into electing Donald Trump. Some Americans may have believed fake news and used it to form their opinions, but that is not what “hacking” is. No evidence points to machines having been tampered with, despite Trump’s pre-victory claims that it could happen. The Wisconsin and Pennsylvania recounts requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein only reinforce the validity of the vote.

So let’s be vigilant thinkers and put a little effort into determining the quality of information on which we form our opinions. We’ve no one to blame but ourselves if we fault the machines for doing a poor job of thinking for us.

Read Rabkin’s entire article on

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.

Giving Thanks This Thanksgiving to the Invisible Hand and The Grocery Store

Here’s another “aha” moment to remind us why we may want to be giving thanks this Thanksgiving to economic liberalism as well as the grocery store. Mark Perry of the Carpe Diem blog notes that in real dollars the cost of a Thanksgiving turkey in 2016 is 1.7 percent less than last year, and 20 percent less than in 1986. And the “time cost” used to prepare the traditional meal is also more affordable.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, a 16-pound turkey costs an average of $22.74 this year. That’s about $1.42 per pound, or 2 cents less per pound than in 2015.

Pumpkin and milk prices also fell this year due to improvements in production. Looking at a traditional basket of 12 food items served on Thanksgiving, the AFBF notes that for 10 people to eat to their heart’s content and have leftovers, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner this year is $49.87. That may be only a few dimes lower than last year, but at the same time, overall consumer prices and hourly earnings both rose in the past year.

Perry notes the savings not only in dollars but in time.

Measured in time worked at the average hourly wage for all private production workers of $21.72 in October 2016, the “time cost” of this year’s classic turkey dinner is only 2.29 hours, down by 3 percent from 2.37 hours last year and at the lowest level since 2010. Compared to 1986 when the average American would have worked 3.21 hours to earn the income necessary to purchase the turkey dinner for 10, the “time cost” for a worker today (2.29 hours) is nearly 29 percent lower.

In a separate piece on how lucky we may want to consider ourselves, Perry notes that the average time spent is not only a matter of hours worked but convenience. He notes that you don’t have to call ahead to the grocery store or go down to the farm to order your bird. Everything you need is waiting for you at the supermarket in the size and quantity you need it. In fact, a Thanksgiving meal can be ordered and delivered in some cities through Amazon Prime.

The reason your Thanksgiving turkey was waiting for you without an advance order? Because of the economic concepts of “spontaneous order,” “self-interest,” and the “invisible hand” of the free market. Turkeys appeared in your local grocery stores primarily because of the “self-interest” (maybe even greed in some cases) of thousands of turkey farmers, truck drivers, and supermarket owners and employees who are complete strangers to you and your family. But all of those strangers throughout the turkey supply chain co-operated on your behalf and were led by the “invisible hand” to make sure your family had a turkey on the table to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. The “invisible hand” that was responsible for your holiday turkey is just one of millions of everyday examples of the “miracle of the marketplace” where “individual selfish decisions must lead to a collectively efficient outcome,” as economist Steven E. Landsburg observed.

Perry quotes a 2003 Boston Globe column by Jeff Jacoby that cites how the beauty of what Adam Smith termed “the invisible hand” is the ability of the free market to work in a coordinated, yet spontaneous manner. In other words, innumerable people, each working for his own gain, … promote ends that benefit many. Out of the seeming chaos of millions of uncoordinated private transactions emerges the spontaneous order of the market. Free human beings freely interact, and the result is an array of goods and services more immense than the human mind can comprehend. No dictator, no bureaucracy, no supercomputer plans it in advance. Indeed, the more an economy is planned, the more it is plagued by shortages, dislocation, and failure.”

Certainly, the economics question leads some to note the massive influence government has played in the agricultural sector (not to mention other markets). Between subsidies, rural zoning, food inspections, and other rules and regulations, who knows what the actual price of a turkey would cost without all the interference? This is not to say all the impacts of intervention are good or are bad, but that the true price could even be less.

But at the very least, Americans can eat well and cheaply despite all the market variables. In the meantime, getting to the meaning of gratitude, consider that a small donation to feed people in less fortunate circumstances goes a much longer way than it used to do.

Kinda makes you want to pay if forward and give thanks for all that you have.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Smugness vs. Humility: What Works in Conservative and Progressive Leadership

Remember the letter that George H.W. Bush wrote to Bill Clinton after the 1992 presidential election? He left it in the desk at the Oval Office for Clinton to receive post-inauguration. The letter was considered the mark of civility in that a defeated Bush wished Clinton well, and told Clinton that he was now  “our” president, and “your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

Describing the essence of Bush’s action, Andy Smarick in The Weekly Standard asks where the days of unity went:

It demonstrates America’s proud tradition of peaceful transitions of power and highlights Bush’s ability to show kindness and maintain impeccable manners in what must have been his most dispiriting professional moment. But that generous letter is also the byproduct of a worldview; it’s a point on a straight line between a political philosophy and an approach to public policy. We do ourselves, and our politics, a disservice by separating the letter and its sentiments from the author’s views on governing. They’re part of the same fabric.

Smarick argues that the qualities of modesty and humility are conservative in nature and inform attitudes about collectivism. He points to a 2011 article by the University of Toronto-Scarborough’s Andrew Stark that explains that by their very nature, conservatives don’t put a lot of faith in the ability to herd people into political units to be measured and organized even while they trust their fellow man to make good decisions.

As a result, Smarick notes:

(C)onservatives are deeply skeptical about governing strategies that presume too much about our capacities—for instance, centralization, muscular government, expert administrators, and grand schemes. This naturally leads the conservative to seek to limit the authority of others: decentralization, the separation of governmental powers into branches, trusting small voluntary associations over compulsory state bodies, putting faith in markets over central plans. But—crucially—this humility extends down to the self and shapes how the temperamentally conservative individual engages in the public’s business: I am limited. I may be wrong. I need to trust others.

It was because of his humility that Bush succeeded in building coalitions, whether global or in Washington. It was his “personal modesty, deference to longstanding institutions, and dependence on local decision-making” that enabled him to cross the bridge between his own decision-making and majority rule, Smarick says.

But much of that behavior has gone the way of the 20th century. The difference in progressive vs. conservative leadership has grown wider over the last 25 years even as the right now trends toward left-leaning styles of governance.

For progressives, the whole notion of humility is long out the window, if it ever was a guiding principle. Leftists themselves acknowledge that idea, Smarick says, pointing to several liberals who have acknowledged their own “smug” condescension for the idea that people can take care of themselves. This distrust of self-governance manifests itself in the presumption that right-leaning Americans are uninformed and that makes them wrong, and that means they need to be told how to behave and what to think.

Yet, that’s precisely what blinded the left to the rise of Donald Trump. The left believed that Americans want to be organized and told what to do, and in the telling, they could be led to conclusions that they wouldn’t reach on their own. Trump, using the very bombast and conceit that is considered uncharacteristic of the right, tapped into the frustration felt by the half of America that was sick of being told that they don’t know what’s good for them.

With the campaign over, governing begins, and as humility and modesty are not guiding traits for Trump, therein lies the danger for conservatives who don’t want top-down policies. Trump’s success will depend on being able to decentralize governance while not letting his opponents or his followers slip into badgering Americans into accepting what’s good for them. Trump must pair his leadership and management skills with the conservative traits of humility, modesty, and trust in others to demonstrate how limited government can help the most people succeed.

The outright rejection of alternative viewpoints brings with it inaction and further division. This is true for both left and right. Trump needs to form the connective tissue to pull together these disparate parts. Multiple interests coming together to create agreeable and elastic solutions will have the greatest impact on our economic and cultural outcomes.

Smarick notes that the conciliatory victory speech by Trump is a good start for maintaining the ground game of where political conservatives can go from here, even if society trends toward slogans not solutions.

(N)o one should be accused of cynicism for doubting that the national political scene is about to enter a golden age of humility. It may well be the case that politics will always privilege hubris. We get fired up for “hope and change,” “morning in America,” and “happy days are here again,” not for modest expectations and incrementalism. The buoyant confidence of FDR, Reagan, Bush 43, and Obama was rewarded with reelection. The humility of a Gerald Ford or Bush 41 was not.

But we should also recognize that the greatest line in our greatest president’s greatest speech masterfully blended conviction and modesty. Abraham Lincoln ended his second inaugural by encouraging the nation simultaneously to pursue justice while recognizing our limited ability to ascertain it—”with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.” Perhaps appreciating—even embracing—the tension between those cardinal principles was essential for acting with malice toward none, offering charity to all, and binding up the nation’s wounds.

Read the entire article by Smarick in The Weekly Standard.

How Trump Can Improve Antipoverty Programs

With the presidential election in the rear view mirror, Washington and the rest of the country are now turning attention to what President Trump will mean for public policy. What would Trump do for antipoverty programs? Given Trump’s early focus on relieving child care costs for working mothers, that could be an early achievement for his administration.

A Trump administration may also be willing to require more labor force participation among SNAP and disability program recipients and could expand work-based tax credits.

After an election that showed the country is unsatisfied with the status quo, if Congress and the next administration are willing to put in a little work of their own, reforms to antipoverty programs could help more Americans get back to work.

Poverty studies researcher Angela Rachidi sketches an outline of a potential Trump antipoverty agenda.

Included should be a top-to-bottom review of existing safety net and job training programs. Ripe for reform are food, disability, and housing assistance programs — all of which could do more to support work among recipients. Additionally, workforce development programs, many of which have limited evidence of success, expansions to work-support programs, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and child care assistance, and efforts to improve the quality of education from birth to college, all deserve a serious look.

This is not a new concept for fans of TPOH. Indeed, apprentice training programs, gradual replacement of benefits as individuals climb the income ladder, and changes to disability programs have long been concepts discussed by TPOH to help the most vulnerable get on their own two feet.

For instance, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides that if a household doesn’t bring in a lot of money, then the government can supplement its earnings to help people stay on their feet and in their homes. However, childless households receive only $500 for a credit, not much of an incentive to encourage people to aspire to greater levels of achievement. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if individuals don’t develop an aptitude toward work, they won’t work, and will become dependent on welfare, so it makes sense to encourage work until people can develop the skills and interest in participating in the job market. EITC has shown that it has a positive effect on workforce participation.

As for apprenticeship programs, the original job training, who better to encourage that then the host of the 14-yearlong show called, “The Apprentice”? If exempted from minimum wage requirements, apprenticeship programs could be an area where companies feel encouraged to pick up and train employees in the areas where they need help. While getting on-the-job training from real-life employers, the government could use existing job training and college aid budgets to subsidize salaries, making sure individuals in these programs have enough money to live on while they develop their skills.

Finally, as labor economist Michael Strain explains, Social Security Disability Insurance was originally designed to help people who could no longer work after spending years in physically demanding jobs. Automation has reduced the number of physically exhausting jobs, yet the number of working-age adults on SSDI doubled between 1989-2009. This program has effectively discouraged work when it need not do so.

In today’s services economy, disability is often more a continuum than a binary state — a person may be disabled in the sense that he can’t stock shelves, but not disabled in the sense that he can’t sit behind a desk for 25 hours per week. SSDI should be modified to reflect this, covering individuals who truly cannot work, as a just society should, while encouraging others to do what work they can.

In other words, the safety net is becoming a hammock, discouraging people from working when it would be better used and more economical to help those who truly need a lift. Individuals with limited mobility can work in jobs that require fewer physical demands. As Mike Zelley, founder and president of the Disability Network, states, a half-million people with disabilities, including the 43 percent of whom have a college degree, are disincentivized to work because of federal disability programs.

The reality is that, due to his lack of specific proposals or experience in government, it is unknown what President-elect Trump intends to do to fight poverty. Will he be a strong fiscal conservative who focuses on requiring work, reducing fraud, and holding the line on the size of government; a Rockefeller Republican content to increase spending; or something else entirely?

Hopefully, the “wait-and-see” mode will soon be over.

Doing What You Love Has Big Social Payoff

It would appear that what TPOH has been saying is finally catching on: doing what you love with people you care about has a greater emotional — and social — payoff than just accumulating stuff.  Attachment to people, not things, is more fulfilling.

It would seem obvious, but a study from the American Psychological Association is tapping into new evidence to measure this theory.

A series of studies tested whether people are more grateful for what they have done rather than what they have; whether they are more motivated to mention gratitude after an experience than an acquisition of a possession; and whether experiential consumption makes people more generous than material purchases.

The authors found that experiences trigger a greater sense of appreciation of one’s own circumstances, and individuals more frequently express gratitude for things they experienced, not things they have.

Why does this happen? “Keeping up with the Joneses” has apparently exhausted itself.

‘One other reason for this increased gratitude may be because experiences trigger fewer social comparisons than material possessions,’ says first author Jesse Walker, a psychology graduate student.

Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, and his team reportedly found that experience also causes more “pro-social behavior.”

An economic game showed that thinking about a meaningful experiential purchase caused participants to behave more generously toward others than when they thought about a material purchase.

This link between gratitude and altruistic behavior is intriguing, ‘because it suggests that the benefits of experiential consumption apply not only to the consumers of those purchases themselves, but to others in their orbit as well,’ says coauthor Amit Kumar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago.

Read more about the Cornell study at Futurity.



Infrastructure Investment to Make America Even Better

Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution just ticked off a list of items where infrastructure investment through private-public partnerships (PPPs) could make American even better.

It’s one of the few subject areas that many Americans agree could help both the economy and Americans’ day-to-day lifestyles.  Now, it’s just a question of whether America has the will to get them done.

Here’s the short list:

  1. Airports: Both through privatization of the management of airports as well as the overhaul of aging terminals.
  2. Airplanes: The Federal Aviation Administration’s ban on supersonic aircraft has to do with noise. Innovation in this area could produce new, powerful, and quieter planes.
  3. The Electrical Grid: Tabarrok notes that “we have more blackouts than any other developed nation. It is a national embarrassment when millions of US residents our thrown into the dark by grid failures.” Lots of room for modifications and upgrades.
  4. Alternative Energy Transmission Lines: Solar and wind only work as well as the energy they generate being moved to where it’s needed.
  5. Nuclear Power Reactors: Technology has come huge distances, and the newest nuclear power plant in the United States is about to go live.  New reactors are safe, smaller, and more versatile integrating with alternative energy sources.

This is just one set of options for building infrastructure that isn’t just to create “shovel ready”  jobs, but actually can produce returns on investment.

Read the details of these infrastructure projects at Marginal Revolution.

Edmund Burke: The Link Between Economic Liberty and Human Flourishing

Edmund Burke is one of the most famous philosophers in the Western world. A member of the British Parliament from Ireland in the 18th century, Burke, a gifted orator and author, was not an economist, but had a major impact on the field of “political economy.”

Author Yuval Levin, in one of a new volume of essays on the great philosophers and their impact on economic liberty and human flourishing, notes that Burke’s thinking centered on the complexity of society, and with it, the inherent inability to regulate all manner of it without a moral consensus.

For him, economic life was best understood from the bottom up. He suggested that the power of markets, in our modern parlance, was that they enabled decisions to be made close to the ground and so aggregated society’s knowledge in much the same way that our other core social institutions do.

Note the emphasis on “social” institutions. Burke was fully aware that many people were not exposed to opportunity to improve their lives, and he wasn’t a huge believer that a high tide would lift all boats. But he was hugely skeptical of the ability of some so-called equalizing central force to intervene and correct course. In other words, he opposed government intervention in economic exchange.

At the same time, Burke did not believe in the principle of “rugged individualism” as a means by which society should manage itself because people whose limits come only from self-imposed guidelines are subject to injury from their own whims and foolish ways. In short, he questioned whether liberty could survive if each person is going to be left to his own devices.

Levin quotes Burke directly to elucidate the point.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. In proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

Levin then uses a principle of physics to sum up Burke’s position on why society is the force by which to constrain man: something can’t come from nothing.

Each human being arrives in the world as a new member of an old order, and far from a constraint upon our freedom that must be overcome, this fact is what makes our freedom possible. The primary reason for that, Burke argues, is that human beings have to be formed for freedom and are not born with that form. It is a social achievement. Social theories that begin with the free and rational individual alone seemed to him to beg a question they can never answer: where does this free person come from? Every person, after all, comes from a family—which is not a liberal institution—and enters the world both unable to exercise freedom and encumbered by all kinds of social relations that operate as restraints. To get from that beginning to the exercise of liberty, let alone to a society of free people exercising their liberty, requires much more than the absence of restraint.

Nonetheless, Burke believed that society would reach agreement and cooperation through a gradual evolution of its own morés, not the controlling external power of a technocratic central authority.

Through continuous, incremental change at the margins rather than sharp breaks and jostles, societies come to express in their institutions, charters, traditions, and habits a kind of simulacrum of the standard of justice. Society as it exists after such long experience comes to offer an approximation of society as it should exist.

In practical terms, Burke opposed what is now well-known as minimum wage, and he argued that employer and employee would be able to negotiate terms favorable to their own self-interests. He rejected what would come to be known as a central principle of Marxism, the effort to create “compulsory equalizations.” He said it would pull down the top toward the bottom rather than raise the bottom to what the top could achieve. Burke himself warns what comes from that effort to make all things equal:

A perfect equality will indeed be produced; that is to say, equal want, equal wretchedness, equal beggary, and on the part of the partitioners, a woeful, helpless, and desperate disappointment.

While Burke is quoted at length by Levin to describe the debate of farmer or laborer and employer over wages, Levin points out that Burke lived in a pre-industrial era, and that the market economy would end up disrupting pretty much every social arrangement — whether it be family, housing, congregation, or small business — as Burke knew them and from which he built his theory of political economy.

How Burke would have dealt with these new arrangements can only be guessed, though it’s safe to presume he would have come at them from a point of humility and humanism.

Read more about Edmund Burke and the political economy.

Read more from the great philosophers series.

A Catholic and a Buddhist Walk Into a Think Tank …

If the Dalai Lama were hanging around Washington, D.C., with the head of a free-market think tank, and the two were strategizing on how to build an embarrassment of riches, would you wonder what has become of the world?

If you would, you probably didn’t know that the Tibetan Buddhist leader is hanging out with Arthur Brooks, a man who has described himself as the most Buddhist Catholic he knows. And you probably didn’t know that the two are soulmates of a sort, in a quest to refocus Washington on increasing personal empowerment and helping people achieve their higher calling.

Indeed, Brooks and the Dalai Lama recently penned a New York Times essay in which they note their common goal.

What unites the two of us in friendship and collaboration is not shared politics or the same religion. It is something simpler: a shared belief in compassion, in human dignity, in the intrinsic usefulness of every person to contribute positively for a better and more meaningful world.

That sounds friendly, right? But what does it mean? America is living proof that financial wealth doesn’t solve all our problems. In fact, many problems are not wealth-related at all. All over the world, poverty has been reduced and billions of people now have a roof over their heads and regular meals.

Wealth disparity is not really the issue either. As the Dalai Lama points out, the billionaire’s and the pauper’s stomachs can only extend the same amount. The rich man and the poor man both have 10 fingers, whether they wear 20 rings or no rings at all.

As people all over the world become more secure and financially stable, Western society is facing an obvious malaise. The United States is looking at a decline in its labor force participation rate, and working-age men are dropping out of the workforce all over Western societies. What is the root of this problem?

Pain and indignation are sweeping through prosperous countries. The problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies. …

Feeling superfluous is a blow to the human spirit. It leads to social isolation and emotional pain, and creates the conditions for negative emotions to take root.

In other words, the authors suggest that the pillar of the happiest life is wealth, but not wealth defined as durable goods and bank accounts, but a sense of creating value and a positive contribution.

Much research on the topic shows that people who feel they have purpose live longer and healthier lives. If they can earn their own way, create something, and serve others, they have the greatest ability to feel purposeful. The lack of a sense of purpose has created a deep anxiety and its attendant scourges, both personally and for society at large.

Being ‘needed’ does not entail selfish pride or unhealthy attachment to the worldly esteem of others. Rather, it consists of a natural human hunger to serve our fellow men and women. As the 13th-century Buddhist sages taught, ‘If one lights a fire for others, it will also brighten one’s own way.’

In a society fraught with frenetic energy like that of the United States, defining purpose can be a mighty salve to our sense of discontent. Yes, having the financial ability to relieve day-to-day worries is always an issue, but the degree to which one contributes is the real means to reduce that stress.

Personal contribution begets money, not the other way around. And that is the very purpose of a free enterprise system. It’s not to create billionaires. It is to enable purpose.

So can our focus be redirected toward purpose and meaning? Yes, but it starts with leaders who acknowledge the changes that are need to enable all of us to excel.

Leaders need to recognize that a compassionate society must create a wealth of opportunities for meaningful work, so that everyone who is capable of contributing can do so. A compassionate society must provide children with education and training that enriches their lives, both with greater ethical understanding and with practical skills that can lead to economic security and inner peace. A compassionate society must protect the vulnerable while ensuring that these policies do not trap people in misery and dependence.

Read The New York Times article.