Archive for the ‘society’ Category

What the federal government should do and should not do

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

A lecture by Milton Friedman,

“The great threat to freedom is the concentration of power.” Listen to it all:

“Life is an underpaid occupation.”

Brought to you via Mr. Bingley

22020

Decadence, and a shameful painting

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

ShrinkWrapped writes on Decadence:

Anthropologists have pointed to evidence of the reverential treatment of the deceased as one of the first signs of humanity’s advance from the primitive to a nascent civilized state.

At one time it was universally accepted in the heirs to Judeo-Christian Civilization that each life was precious; for most, the idea that a Creator had endowed each of us with “certain inalienable rights” was a baseline; all else followed. Now, the sanctity of life and of the body has been eroded in this most post-modern of post-modern times. The body has become commodified, that is, it is no longer a holy vessel but merely an hedonic avatar.

Which is hardly surprising, considering how the bodies of living people have become commoditized in so many ways. But it’s still appalling and shameful to see that commodifying rewarded by an institution:

‘Devotional’ painting of artist’s dead mother shortlisted for award
Jonathan Brown reveals the three BP portrait prize finalists
The so-called “devotional” painting portrays

The emaciated and lifeless body of 100-year-old Annie Mary Todd lies propped up in the refrigerated room of the undertaker’s funeral parlour.

Poor Annie Mary Todd was not spared indignity even after death. As ShrinkWrapped said,

The “artist” used her mother’s body for her own purposes, to help herself feel better. In our idiotically therapeutic age, such an excuse allows anything, no matter how foolish or misguided. This is the use of a body as a commodity.

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child
, even in death.

Decadence, and a shameful painting

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

ShrinkWrapped writes on Decadence:

Anthropologists have pointed to evidence of the reverential treatment of the deceased as one of the first signs of humanity’s advance from the primitive to a nascent civilized state.

At one time it was universally accepted in the heirs to Judeo-Christian Civilization that each life was precious; for most, the idea that a Creator had endowed each of us with “certain inalienable rights” was a baseline; all else followed. Now, the sanctity of life and of the body has been eroded in this most post-modern of post-modern times. The body has become commodified, that is, it is no longer a holy vessel but merely an hedonic avatar.

Which is hardly surprising, considering how the bodies of living people have become commoditized in so many ways. But it’s still appalling and shameful to see that commodifying rewarded by an institution:

‘Devotional’ painting of artist’s dead mother shortlisted for award
Jonathan Brown reveals the three BP portrait prize finalists
The so-called “devotional” painting portrays

The emaciated and lifeless body of 100-year-old Annie Mary Todd lies propped up in the refrigerated room of the undertaker’s funeral parlour.

Poor Annie Mary Todd was not spared indignity even after death. As ShrinkWrapped said,

The “artist” used her mother’s body for her own purposes, to help herself feel better. In our idiotically therapeutic age, such an excuse allows anything, no matter how foolish or misguided. This is the use of a body as a commodity.

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child
, even in death.

20032

Behavioral economics hooey for better living

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Andrew Ferguson explains the ruling phylosphy of the governing class:
Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink
Behavioral economics—the governing theory of Obama’s nanny state.

The premise of behavioral economics is “predictable irrationality.” (Another catchphrase—you have to get used to them.) We all know we do dumb things. But the behavioralists say they’ve discovered that we do dumb things systematically; we act against our own best interest (eating pie, failing to save for the future) with a consistency that smart people can observe, catalogue, anticipate, and exploit. If you as choice architect, for example, know about the “status quo bias”—people are disinclined to alter their immediate circumstances even in the face of a clear long-term benefit—you’ll switch the default option on the 401(k). A list of the irrational quirks, or cognitive biases, that behavioral science claims to have uncovered would be endless. In addition to status quo bias, there’s delusional optimism, loss aversion, the representativeness heuristic, the law of small numbers, disaster myopia, the availability heuristic, the planning fallacy, the mere-measurement effect, the mere-exposure effect, even the “yeah, whatever heuristic,” so named by Sunstein and Thaler, who have a bias for whimsy, often fatal.

This grounding in the real world, confirmed by social science, is supposed to make behavioral economics superior to traditional economics as a guide to regulating human activity. Traditional economics—rational choice economics, or neoclassical economics—gets a rough going over from behavioral economists. By their reading, its gravest error is to accept homo economicus, the notion that man is a rational economic actor who is acting always and everywhere in his own best interest, however conceived. Traditional economists don’t really believe this, at least not with the dogmatic insistence they’re accused of, but pretending that they do allows behavioral economists to position themselves as hard-headed realists trying to correct the airy abstractions of out-of-touch dreamers—a clever reversal of the cliché that usually makes liberals out to be the softies and right-wingers the no-nonsense types. Behavioral economics, wrote a smitten correspondent for the New York Times, “is the study of everyday life as it actually happens, not as some textbook says it should.”

It’s been 15 months now since behavioral economics was enthroned as the administration’s reigning regulatory philosophy. If it does indeed break with a century of conventional wisdom in economics, as its partisans claim, then we should be seeing its effects already.

“It’s all over the place,” Thaler told me. “It’s hard to find a domain where you don’t see aspects of this way of doing things.” He mentioned a recent proposal to require all employers to enroll their employees automatically in retirement accounts, drawing on the opt-out model championed in Nudge. The nudge given to employees, however, comes only after Congress levels an unnudgey mandate on employers. Thaler also pointed to Michelle Obama’s public campaign against obesity, in which she has delivered stern lectures to grocers, food processors, parents, and schools about how fat their customers, kids, and students are. Yet Mrs. Obama’s pestering is just an example of the bully pulpit—government officials and first ladies have never required behavioral science to pound the podium.

But they do, because they know what’s best for you.

And they know, even when clearly they don’t. Take a look at Michelle Obama’s Mirror’s Blog – a perfectly-named blog for this era where we’re jumping through the looking glass while hearing terms such as ““libertarian paternalism,” which makes me grind my teeth. MOMB shows you the people at the First Lady’s child obesity task force:

I’m not quite clear on what the purpose of the meeting was, but Lady M kicked it off and it sounded really important. Next, Petey O showed off his knowledge of behavioral economics (the fact that everyone there knew what behavioral economics is tells you about everything you need to know.) Then Surgeon General Regina B noted that corporations should provide female employees with a clean and private place to breast-feed because, she said, research has shown that children who are breast-fed for the first six months of their lives are less likely to become obese.Who knew! And here’s good news: someone on some Congressman’s staff was totally up to speed on this critical research (that I’m certain is backed up by a first rate epidemiological study) because someone already stuck that requirement in the Obamacare Bill.

Forgive me for being crass about it, but who gives the right to these people (and don’t get me started on the Constitution; let’s just stick with “practice what you preach” for the moment) to rule your life and tell you how to behave/feed your children when the Surgeon General herself is at least sixty pounds overweight and doesn’t even have enough sense to find a tailor to properly hem her trousers?

Maybe it’s because liberals are irony-poor people. Not only do we have an obese Surgeon General attending child obesity prevention planning meetings, we also have a “behavioral economics” expert spout off these pearls of wisdom:

“If there’s a regulatory philosophy in behavioral economics, it’s that we should recognize that people in the economy are human and that there are people out there trying to take advantage of them.”

Yes – the administration. Your elected officials and their political appointees are the people out there trying to take advantage of you, mostly in the form of separating you from your hard-earned money, and telling you should be happy about it. All because they know what’s best for you, and you don’t.

Ferguson continues,

In this sense, behavioral economics is just conventional 1960s liberalism—and conventional 1960s economics, too—that assumes the free market itself is a kind of unending con game, with the smart guys exploiting the saps. As an advocate for the market’s hapless victims, the government has the responsibility to undo the con, a task that will require only the smartest administrators operating according to only the latest scientific research and making the most exquisite moral judgments.

“Behavioral economics” is like the old arguments you would have with your mom when you were a child (and yes, once you become the parent):

It is the same move that Ferguson’s article describes because it presumes to know what you don’t — viz., the set of rational outcomes. As an exercise in paternalism, it reminds me of conversations as a child with my mother — viz., it wasn’t a conversation in which we had come to reason together to conclusions that we each might reach, even to agree to disagree. No, the conversation wasn’t over until I had come to agree with her. That’s deliberative democracy in a nutshell — and Ferguson describes the same move recapitulated as social science, in the form of behavioral economics.

Welcome to the 21st Century, America. The Obama century.

SCOTUS: Strip search was illegal

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Following up on the Safford Middle School strip search case, an 8-1 decision:

Supreme Court Rules School’s Strip Search of Girl Was Illegal

The Supreme Court ruled today that Arizona school officials violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old girl when they subjected her to a strip search on the suspicion she might be hiding ibuprofen in her underwear.

The court ruled 8-1 that such an intrusive search without the threat of a clear danger to other students violated the Constitution’s protections against unreasonable search or seizure.

Lyle Denniston, writing at SCOTUS blog points out that :

The new rule is that searching students’ inner clothing, with exposure of their bodies, will be extremely difficult — though not impossible — to justify.

The other constitutional rule — searches of public school students’ backpacks, notebooks, other belongings, outer clothing, and pockets are generally allowed if they are based on “reasonable suspicion” — remains as it has for a quarter-century, but with a small amount of refinement, the exact scope of which is not quite clear.

And,

Thursday’s decision only applies to future searches, so the Constitution does not provide them a remedy.

And, hopefully, this will prevent cavity searches, too.

You can read the decision here (h/t Reason).

When to marry?

Monday, April 27th, 2009

I married The Husband when I had just turned 21, and have been amazed all these years at my good fortune.

Back then a lot of people wondered if that was a good decision. The answer, decades later, is yes.

Sociologist Mark Regnerus writes in the Washington Post today, Say Yes. What Are You Waiting For?

Of course, there’s at least one good statistical reason to urge people to wait on the wedding. Getting married at a young age remains the No. 1 predictor of divorce. So why on earth would I want to promote such a disastrous idea? For three good reasons:

First, what is considered “early marriage” by social scientists is commonly misunderstood by the public. The best evaluations of early marriage — conducted by researchers at the University of Texas and Penn State University — note that the age-divorce link is most prominent among teenagers (those who marry before age 20). Marriages that begin at age 20, 21 or 22 are not nearly so likely to end in divorce as many presume.

Second, good social science pays attention to gender differences. Most young women are mature enough to handle marriage. According to data from the government’s National Survey of Family Growth, women who marry at 18 have a better shot at making a marriage work than men who marry at 21. There is wisdom in having an age gap between spouses. For women, age is (unfortunately) a debit, decreasing fertility. For men, age can be a credit, increasing their access to resources and improving their maturity, thus making them more attractive to women. We may all dislike this scenario, but we can’t will it away.

Third, the age at which a person marries never actually causes a divorce. Rather, a young age at marriage can be an indicator of an underlying immaturity and impatience with marital challenges — the kind that many of us eventually figure out how to avoid or to solve without parting. Unfortunately, well-educated people resist this, convinced that there actually is a recipe for guaranteed marital success that goes something like this: Add a postgraduate education to a college degree, toss in a visible amount of career success and a healthy helping of wealth, let simmer in a pan of sexual variety for several years, allow to cool and settle, then serve. Presto: a marriage with math on its side.

Regnerus hits the bulls-eye next:

Too bad real life isn’t like that. Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you’re fully formed. We learn marriage, just as we learn language, and to the teachable, some lessons just come easier earlier in life. “Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth,” added Tennyson to his lines about springtime and love.

Go read the rest.

The whore of Mensa*

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

She saved herself for graduate school… in “family and marriage therapy”. I kid you not:
Student auctions off virginity for offers of more than £2.5 million
A student who is auctioning her virginity to pay for a masters degree in Family and Marriage therapy has seen bidding hit £2.5million ($3.7m)

Natalie Dylan, 22, claims her offer of a one-night stand has persuaded 10,000 men to bid for sex with her.

Last September, when her auction came to light, she had received bids up to £162,000 ($243,000) but since then interest in her has rocketed.

And she has a degree in women’ studies, too. Prostitution for academy’s sake runs in the family:

Miss Dylan, from San Diego, California, USA, said she was persuaded to offer herself to the highest bidder after her sister Avia, 23, paid for her own degree after working as a prostitute for three weeks.

Once Natalie’s transaction is completed and she gets her “degree”, I imagine she’ll make a bundle as a “family and marriage therapist,” too.

But let’s hear what the guys have to say:
James:

The ironies here abound. She’s been admitted into a graduate program for women’s studies and yet seems not to have a grasp of even the introductory literature. Further, what she’s proposing is exactly what her sister engaged in; she’s merely done a better job of haggling over the price. More amusingly, the joke’s on her if she thinks these bids are legit and will actually result in payment.

Jules:

Anyway, she’s pretty close to endowing a seat at Harvard with that dough.

Paul:

In base economic terms, this woman is selling herself short. Her virginity, her purity, her chastity is worth much more than 3 or 4 million dollars. Ten times that amount would probably fall short. And the puzzle is how exactly it came to be that the modern age convinced so many women to throw away their most prized asset, all the while calling it a grand liberation.

Robert:

Has the [feminist] sisterhood suddenly converted en masse to free-market economics? Is the auctioning of sex viewed as some sort of “liberation”? (Bob Dole: “Where’s the outrage?”)

Alan Colmes asks,

Is one roll in the hay really worth millions of dollars?

To which Ron replies,

She does find it surprising that men will pay so much saying, “It’s shocking that men will pay so much for someone’s virginity, which isn’t even prized so highly anymore.” What she might not realize is that the majority of bids are being placed under assumed names by Eliot Spitzer.

(*) Post title borrowed from Woody Allen.

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Redefining “parents”?

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Taranto’s The New Legitimacy
Solving social problems by redefining our terms
points to new low on Census Bureau definitions: now anyone who lives with a child is a “parent”.

According to the NY Times

The Census Bureau attributed an indeterminate amount of the increase to revised definitions adopted in 2007, which identify as parents any man and woman living together, whether or not they are married or the child’s biological parents.

The article then cites a number of experts (what would we do without experts? as Taranto frequently asks) who don’t appear to notice the new definition at all.

One of the most intractable and devastating problems affecting minorities, not just blacks since a large number of Latinos are also being raised by single mothers, most of them very young, has been swept aside with a change of terms.

Are these children being raised by both parents? Are the consequences of irresponsible adults’ actions solved? Of course not.

I share Taranto’s frustration:

So here’s a more modest idea: Why not redefine together to mean “on the same planet”? So long as at least one man and one woman live on Earth, whether or not they are married or the child’s biological parents, every child is being raised by two (or more) parents, and this will remain true at least until we begin colonizing space. Hey, it takes a village!

For a more realistic assessment of the problem of children being raised in poverty, read Kay Hymowitz’s excellent article, The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies:

More than most social scientists, Moynihan, steeped in history and anthropology, understood what families do. They “shape their children’s character and ability,” he wrote. “By and large, adult conduct in society is learned as a child.” What children learned in the “disorganized home[s]” of the ghetto, as he described through his forest of graphs, was that adults do not finish school, get jobs, or, in the case of men, take care of their children or obey the law. Marriage, on the other hand, provides a “stable home” for children to learn common virtues. Implicit in Moynihan’s analysis was that marriage orients men and women toward the future, asking them not just to commit to each other but to plan, to earn, to save, and to devote themselves to advancing their children’s prospects. Single mothers in the ghetto, on the other hand, tended to drift into pregnancy, often more than once and by more than one man, and to float through the chaos around them. Such mothers are unlikely to “shape their children’s character and ability” in ways that lead to upward mobility. Separate and unequal families, in other words, meant that blacks would have their liberty, but that they would be strangers to equality. Hence Moynihan’s conclusion: “a national effort towards the problems of Negro Americans must be directed towards the question of family structure.”

No amount of redifining “parents” will change that.

UPDATE
Chicago Boyz:

Such obfuscations have consequences. First of all, comparisons over time become pointless. Distinctions are lost. The often-discussed and often-proven differences between a nuclear family and one that shifts through a series of “fathers” and sometimes “mothers” can’t be measured. Difference in achievement, health, happiness will be irretrievable. (One suspects that is the point.) Second, such shifts affect our definitions of family. I have no problem with the commitment between two gays partially because I have long suspected it does a lot less to undermine the definition of “family” than a high rate of divorce and bureaucratic decisions/definitions like this. Third, this undercuts the biological. We forget such lessons at our peril – in this case, peril to children. We worry about the dangers of jungle gyms and slippery slides, but ignore those understood for millenia.

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Erik must have lived in Princeton

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Erik asks Who knows what they will tax next?


Qui sait ce qu’ils taxeront ensuite ?
by Contribuables

In other Erik news, he’s got a terrific post titled Witch Hunts in Contemporary America: Is the United States Turning Into a Fascist Country? on how child custody laws destroy families. In Lenin’s own words, “Destroy the family, and you destroy society”. Go read it.

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The finer things in life

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

As we all can see, the baby boomer generation is now nearing retirement age even as that same generation and their offspring become more obsessed with youth. This week Siggy has two essays on ageing that got me thinking about several people I’ve had the privilege of knowing throughout my life. All these people are too old to be baby boomers.

In his first essay Siggy says

Still, no matter how ferocious attempt to obviate nature, time will not be denied. The devotion to youth upends those who chase what will soon represent the lesser part of our lives. At 40 we enter middle age. At 50, we are reminded that there are those in the wings who are waiting for us to give way, for no other reason than our experiences and wisdom are of less value than youth. Mandatory retirement is no gift or recognition or achievement. It is the conclusion of a process that institutionalizes a process of inactivity and decline at an age when most of us have the capacity, wisdom and insight to be most productive.

While economies need to make way for new employees since at any give time there is a limited number of jobs available and new workers are less expensive than workers with more seniority, societies lose when the more experienced workers are discarded simply because the calendar turned one day.

Siggy also states,

Or are meant to contribute something meaningful and lasting? If we understand that our legacy will be measured in how we left this world a better and more meaningful place, then it becomes immediately apparent that our maturity, wisdom and insight are of far greater value than our physicality. When this truth is realized, the maturity, wisdom and spirituality of those with the experiences of life under their belts more than compensates for their diminished physicality. As our physicality declines, our priorities are reevaluated and ordered- and that usually results in making the four cubits we inhabit and beyond, a better place.

I have met several people who lived to a very advanced age precisely because they didn’t retire.

The youngest of my parents’ siblings to die lived past age seventy (and he had burned the candle at both ends and the middle), the oldest was at least 106 years old, so genetics has a lot to do with how long you live. How well you live has a lot to do with you.

I learned this at a young age from several people, one of which I’ll tell you about now.

When I was first married my husband and I went to his college reunion along with my in-laws since my father-in-law had graduated from the same college exactly thirty years earlier. They went off to some activity or another and I was left by myself enjoying a beautiful day, having lunch at a picnic table. A very elderly gentleman came by and asked if he could join me. Of course I said yes.

He was one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met.

He could walk about as long as it was on pavement, but because we were on a lawn he was on a wheelchair. He told me that he of course knew that the reunion was on and wasn’t sure he could make it since had recently been inconvenienced by some ailment, but since he was fine now he wasn’t about to miss it. He lived in Princeton (where I now live) which is some 300 miles from the college.

Aside from his charm and intelligent conversation, what I learned from him was that one’s work is never finished, and that that is a very good thing.

This gentleman was the oldest member of his family still to be involved in the family business, a very large multinational pharmaceutical company. He had through the years been intimately involved in the business even as chairman of the board, and had decided to step aside when he felt that he could not give his job 100% (later on I learned from another board member that he had insisted on stepping aside in spite of the board’s recommendation that he stay). But he didn’t go off to fade into the sunset.

Instead what he did was to become involved in projects that the company had with non-profit and community outreach organizations, and with the college (which we were visiting) and its students.

I realized right then that that was exactly why he was so vital, so interesting. His purpose was what gave his life meaning.

While this may sound like a real dozer of a conversation, he was witty, funny, and quick. So witty that it wasn’t until an hour later or so after our conversation that I realized that it was he who had donated the building for the school’s student union.

Mind you, the gentleman in question wasn’t simply another old codger bragging about his work. He was clearly happy to be there, he was enjoying the good food and the cold beer, the beautiful day, the company of a young woman who was totally absorbed in what he had to say. His conversation was not a long list of things he had done; instead it was a series of replies to my questions (since he was a great deal more interesting than I and he had a lot to say), replies which he peppered with humor, puns (and you all know how I love puns) and wit. He was well dressed, accompanied by a uniformed (attractive) nurse, and driven there in his luxury car by his chauffeur.

The guy knew how to live.

May we all learn to appreciate people like him. And may we all learn from people like him to enjoy the finer things in life.

More on aging (and a lot of other topics) in yesterday’s podcast.

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