No, I don’t hate old people

Which you might think, after a recent post.  What I hate is our political system kowtowing to any particular group.  And we bend way over backwards to avoid upsetting older voters.  The reason is obvious, as this graph of voting turnout by age clearly shows:

That said, I think Matt Yglesias makes a really important point here.

Whenever you see plans to trim entitlement spending, the norm is to assume that everyone over the age of 55 should be exempted from any cuts. The point I raised with her is that this serves to totally undermine any arguments from generational equity that one might want to make. She then pointed out to me that we don’t apply this standard in any other budgetary context. When cash-strapped states cut Medicaid for the poor they do it immediately and without warning in just the way that it’s allegedly impossible to do for Medicare.

Is that a kind way to treat people? Of course not. But insofar as a time will come when the budgetary situation does in fact require immediate cuts in something, I don’t think there’s any reason to think old people should be categorically exempt from the pain.

Yglesias makes the point that it is just a given to assume that older Americans should never feel any pain in entitlement reform.  On its face, that’s ridiculous, but somehow its become completely ingrained bipartisan political doctrine.  Of course, as long as that graph above looks that way (which it always will), we’ll have to live with this.  When I’m a grandfather (and with 4 kids, I damn well better be), I plan on voting in my grandkids’ long-term interest and not my short-term interest.

Kagan Confirmation hearings

Presumably I should say something interesting about the Kagan confirmation hearings.  Alas, generally speaking, these things bore me.  Basically, you get a lot of grandstanding by Senators of both parties that is invariably a great deal of sound and fury amounting to nothing.  We’re a long way from the good old days from Robert Bork, who was actually willing to stand up for his radically conservative positions (and is not a Justice because of it).  These things have degenerated to pure political theater.  That said, I still remember distinctly the Roberts confirmation hearings because he was so successful at being so fundamentally dishonest.  What a great disservice he did to Americans understanding of judging with his baseball metaphor of “I’m just an umpire calling balls and strikes.”  The problem is, of course, that like umpires, Justices make their own strike zone.  Thus, its really important to know where a potential Justice really stands, not just all the pretending.

The customer is not always right

My good friend and former Duke roommate Jamie Smarr recently had an awesome guest column in the New York Times (yes, I am damn impressed) about customer’s who abuse the “customer is always right” notion.  Here’s the great concluding anecdote:

There is but one automatic carwash in East Harlem. Yes, it’s true that what they charge is highway robbery, as my grandmother used to say. It’s hardly worth $18 to splash water, soap and wax on a car for two minutes and then wipe it off, but this does not give the guy in front of me license to make up outrageous claims. You didn’t see any wax being splashed on your car while it went through the tunnel, and so you shouldn’t pay? Surely you jest! Dummy, the wax isn’t discrete from all the other goopy stuff raining down on your vehicle. Why don’t you just go ahead and throw in a specious damage claim while you’re at it?

Much to my enjoyment, the manager does not back down. He does not give in to threats and bullying. He demands the guy pay or he’ll call the cops. Yes! This manager is my new friend. We high-five it out. I’m now his customer for life.

As the husband of the sole proprietor of a small business, I can definitely relate to obnoxious customers who think they are entitled to anything.  I think it is safe to say that such customers cause Kim more angst than anything else about her business.  Kim gives into them far too much for my tastes (though far from always), but that’s easy for me to say when I’m not worried about running a business.  I don’t know whoever is responsible for the ridiculous “the customer is always right” mantra, but they sure are responsible for a lot of evil in the world.  It’s amazing the number of people who just truly believe that because they are the customer they are right.  Period.  Anyway, I loved Jamie’s pushback, give it a read.

Yet another gender post

This one, however, is personal:

I must admit, both Kim and I are a little freaked out by this.  Obviously, it’s very exciting, but we feel like we’ve got this boy thing down.  Now it all changes.  Furthermore, when you’ve got 3 boys, you just start assuming any kid you have will be a boy, even though you still know the chances are 50-50.  I will say, that I’ve always said I’d be a great father for a daughter as I plan on raising an empowered young woman who’s not going to take any crap from the patriarchy.

No children

The latest Pew report shows that American women are having fewer children.  This is just part of an ongoing trend.

Nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-ten in the 1970s.

What’s especially notable, though, is that women with advanced degrees (e.g., Kim) are actually having more children now (Kim is certainly doing her part).   Here’s the cool chart:

Though childlessness (there’s a fun word) is still most common among this with more education, the educational differences are flattening out, as the percentages have gone up for less educated and down for more educated in the past decade.  The racial gap, too, are shrinking (though white women are the most likely to not have children):

By race and ethnic group, white women are most likely not to have borne a child. But over the past decade, childless rates have risen more rapidly for black, Hispanic and Asian women, so the racial gap has narrowed…

Among all women ages 40-44, the proportion that has never given birth, 18% in 2008, has grown by 80% since 1976, when it was 10%. There were 1.9 million childless women ages 40-44 in 2008, compared with nearly 580,000 in 1976.

The report also offers up some public opinion data on the matter as way of partial explanation:

Over the past few decades, public attitudes toward childlessness have become more accepting. Most adults disagree that people without children “lead empty lives,” a share that rose to 59% in 2002 from 39% in 1988, according to the General Social Survey. In addition, children increasingly are seen as less central to a good marriage. In a 2007 Pew Research Center survey, 41% of adults said that children are very important for a successful marriage, a decline from 65% who said so in 1990.

Being in academia, where most of the women I know are highly educated, I know more than my fair share of women without children.  I would never suggest that they “lead empty lives,” but obviously given my life decisions, I think they are missing out.  One has to wonder about causality and selection bias, too.  To what degree does being a high achiever make it harder and less likely for women to bear children and to what degree is the type of woman who desires high educational achievement simply the type of person less likely to want children?  I don’t have an answer, just think its an interesting question.

Finally, it’s worth noting that if the flattening out based on education continues, the future horror hypothesized for the greatly under-appreciated Idiocracy, becomes less likely to pass.

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