Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Not More Extremism. . .

It's just easier to see:
We live in a complex world and I don't mean to oversimplify this too much. But it seems to me that, rather than a change in underlying sentiments -- that is, more prevalence of quote-unquote extreme, alienated, nonmainstream, populist, pox-on-both-their-houses viewpoints -- what has instead changed is that these viewpoints have become much more visible. And the reason has to do with technology -- to some extent cable news but to a much greater extent the Internet.

Take the Tea Parties, for example. . . .

. . . .
The change we are seeing is perhaps principally a technological one.

Nate has the rest.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


From Pandagon:
. . . Certainly, the discussion of welfare has always been bogged down by moralistic hand-wringing over the idea that the poor might scratch out some pleasure they don’t “deserve”, because it’s supposed to be reserved for what Sarah Palin likes to call Real Americans---white, middle class, politically conservative. A long time ago, I read an essay by a woman on food stamps that really opened my eyes to how much this is true. She was describing how she got glares from people in the supermarket for having items as innocuous as strawberries in her cart. I’m sure if those people were confronted, they would say that they don’t want to pay for someone who is wasteful and that strawberries are just too expensive and don’t go far enough. But this argument is bullshit, because strawberries are nutrient dense compared even to most fruits. You get a lot of bang for your strawberry buck in terms of fiber and vitamin C. I think they even have more calories than most fruit. Clearly, the objection to strawberries is that they’re so pleasurable, and someone on food stamps is viewed as someone who doesn’t deserve even the smallest pleasures.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cash, Not Cans

From the NYT:
Ann Kansfield, who runs a weekly food pantry at the Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn, cannot bring herself to tell you this, so I will: She doesn’t want your cans. As uncharitable as it sounds, she doesn’t want your holiday food drives. Don’t be offended. She knows you are well meaning; just misguided, perhaps misinformed. . .

Read the rest.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Monday, December 07, 2009

Perry v. Schwarzenegger

"Like Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade, it has the potential to change American life."

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Nicely Done

Josh K. publishes his Op-Ed. Anyone else having any luck?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Costs and Benefits

Tony Judt, in the New York Review of Books (emphasis mine):

I suggested above that the provision of train service to remote districts makes social sense even if it is economically "inefficient." But this, of course, begs an important question. Social democrats will not get very far by proposing laudable social objectives that they themselves concede to cost more than the alternatives. We would end up acknowledging the virtues of social services, decrying their expense...and doing nothing. We need to rethink the devices we employ to assess all costs: social and economic alike.

Let me offer an example. It is cheaper to provide benevolent handouts to the poor than to guarantee them a full range of social services as of right. By "benevolent" I mean faith-based charity, private or independent initiative, income-dependent assistance in the form of food stamps, housing grants, clothing subsidies, and so on. But it is notoriously humiliating to be on the receiving end of that kind of assistance. The "means test" applied by the British authorities to victims of the 1930s depression is still recalled with distaste and even anger by an older generation.

Conversely, it is not humiliating to be on the receiving end of a right. If you are entitled to unemployment payments, pension, disability, municipal housing, or any other publicly furnished assistance as of right—without anyone investigating to determine whether you have sunk low enough to "deserve" help—then you will not be embarrassed to accept it. However, such universal rights and entitlements are expensive.

But what if we treated humiliation itself as a cost, a charge to society? What if we decided to "quantify" the harm done when people are shamed by their fellow citizens before receiving the mere necessities of life? In other words, what if we factored into our estimates of productivity, efficiency, or well-being the difference between a humiliating handout and a benefit as of right? We might conclude that the provision of universal social services, public health insurance, or subsidized public transportation was actually a cost-effective way to achieve our common objectives. Such an exercise is inherently contentious: How do we quantify "humiliation"? What is the measurable cost of depriving isolated citizens of access to metropolitan resources? How much are we willing to pay for a good society? Unclear. But unless we ask such questions, how can we hope to devise answers?