The problem with Wall Street

Kevin Drum comes back to one of his favorite points today– Wall Street sucks up way too much of our national resources (i.e., brainpower, etc.) while contributing very little of value to the overall economy.  I always nod along, but have never linked to it on my blog.   About time I did.  Here’s the key summary:

The financialization of the American economy has been a disaster. Forget all that stuff about the hollowing out of our manufacturing base or increased global competition or waves of immigrants taking away our jobs. Those are all legitimate issues of one stripe or another, but the far bigger issue is that a gigantic chunk of our productive capacity — Wall Street — is deployed almost solely to make money for one sector of our economy: Wall Street. Until that changes, until the financial industry is focused primarily on providing capital and services toother people, we’re always going to suffer from either (a) underperformance in the real economy or (b) an endless boom and bust cycle. Take your pick.

Of course there is some very real value from Wall Street, but the fact is, the vast majority of Wall Street’s energies go towards simply making money for money’s sake, with very little larger societal benefit beyond that.

Being a happy parent

One of my longest and most loyal readers, Sonia H, was kind enough to send me this interesting link about parenthood and happiness.   The author brings up the really important point that this is something that really needs to be addressed cross-culturally.  Surely, its easier to be happier in a society that provides you a lot of support as a parent than in one where you are seen as little more than a breeding machine with no rights (obviously, the latter applies pretty much only to women).

The more pressing question Ms Senior asks is whether there are aspects of contemporary child-rearing, as practiced in America, that are particularly stress-inducing and unpleasant…  She notes that happiness studies conducted in Europe have found that Danish couples with children are happier than those without, and that a study by Daniel Kahneman found mothers in Rennes, France enjoyed child care more than those in Pennsylvania did.

There’s potentially some provocative cultural and policy explanations for the differences:

On the other hand, as Ms Senior writes, America’s lack of paid parental leave or subsidised day care makes parenthood much more stressful than in similarly wealthy France or the Scandinavian countries. In part, the anxiety and over-protectiveness of American parents criticised in Lenore Skenazy’s FreeRangeKids blog stems simply from the absence of such support systems. But it’s always seemed to me that this anxiety is also driven in part by high levels of inequality. In a society with a large gap between excellent and inadequate schools, parents face tremendous psychological pressure to raise and educate their kids the “right” way. In societies with a more egalitarian distribution, parents don’t reproach themselves so much for laying off the kids a bit.

I’m not sure how much role lack of policy support for parenthood may play in all of this, but I do think, at least among a certain stratum of American parents, that the parents place way too much stress on themselves to be perfect parents.  I certainly notice this in many people I know.  Perhaps one of the reasons Kim and I are such happy parents is that we largely refrain from stressing out as to whether we are doing enough for our kids.  I like to joke that since a mother’s education level is the single best predictor of a child’s future success, we can just like back and not worry since Kim has a PhD.  Likewise, back when Evan was a baby and he was inclined to introduce himself to danger without me being too worried, I would claim, “he’s our third, we let him play with knives.”  I guess we’ll have to see just how not worried I am for baby #4.  Or maybe I’ll regress after the long lay-off.

Newsflash: world is not black and white!

Last week a CNN reporter, Octavia Nasr, was fired from her job for saying that she has a lot of “respect” for a recently deceased Hezbollah cleric, Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.  As Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, she obviously had to lose her job for having any respect for any member of the organization.  The world is so clearly black and white.  We all know that some people are pure evil and that others are all good, and that there’s nothing in between.  Or if we didn’t, fortunately CNN management is there to sort it out.

As any semi-literate person should be able to figure out, Nasr’s thought on the dead sheik were considerably more complicated (her mistake was trying to squeeze them into a 140 character tweet– not a firing offense in my book).  Anyway, here’s the context:

In an essay on CNN’s website, Nasr wrote she deeply regretted her tweet – saying it was shorn of context. But she also wrote that he had been a moderating force – a champion of rights for Islamic women and a critic of Hezbollah’s loyalty to Iran.

Was Fadlallah a “bad guy”?  I don’t know, he very well may be.  But it sure sounds to me that he deserves some “respect” for fighting for rights for women in a society that does so much to oppress those rights.  In the real world, there’s “bad guys” who actually do admirable things and “good guys” who do deplorable things.  That’s part of what makes life so interesting.  I hate the knee-jerkism that simply wants to put everybody in a box.  Life is complicated.  Something you’d think the people at CNN would actually understand.  (I think there’s a correlation here with political ideology, but that’s another post).

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