The real impact of Interest Groups

Short version: not as much as you think.  Miller-McCune has a nice article highlighting the major findings from a groundbreaking new book on lobbying:

The real outcome of most lobbying — in fact, its greatest success — is the achievement of nothing, the maintenance of the status quo. “Sixty percent of the time, nothing happens,” says Frank Baumgartner, one author of the book and a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “What we see is gridlock and successful stalemating of proposals, with occasional breakthroughs. We see a pattern of no change, no change and no change — and then some huge reform.”

But those large reforms — such as health care for 32 million uninsured Americans under President Barack Obama, the scheduled phase-out of the estate tax under President George W. Bush, and the normalization of trade relations with China under President Bill Clinton — are far more often linked to a change in who inhabits the White House than to campaign contributions or K Street hires.

This paragraph– in addition to being a nice concise description of political science at work– shows why I’ve never been drawn towards Interest Group research.  It’s hard work:

Lobbying and Policy Change confirms these 50-50 findings more conclusively, delving into not one but 98 issues — chosen randomly — and going well beyond campaign contributions. The five authors, all of them political scientists, had the help of a small army of graduate students. They sifted through 20,000 lobbying reports and interviewed more than 300 key advocates, including lobbyists, government officials and the legislative aides and chiefs of staff of members of Congress, all of whom were actively trying to bring about change or preserve the status quo.

Though much of the article seems to suggest that all this lobbying balances out, it’s not at all surprising that when you get down to it, the wealthy prevail in American politics:

Lobbyists may not be the boogeymen the public thinks they are, but K Street does exemplify a fundamental problem with American democracy. It takes money to play the game, and the lobbying agenda in Washington is overwhelmingly the agenda of the wealthy…

The real losers of a system attuned to the desires of the wealthy and tilted toward maintenance of the status quo are the poor, who don’t have tens of thousands of dollars a month to spend on a lobbyist. Few in the Capitol are advocating for mental health care, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, patients’ rights, neighborhood safety or the economic security of working Americans. “The biggest indictment of the lobbying community is that it amplifies the voice of those who already have the most resources in society and leaves the people with the greatest needs completely voiceless,” Baumgartner says.

Actually, that’s a rather depressing conclusion about the state of our democracy.  Lobbying has a huge status quo bias– it is way easier to prevent change than to create change in our democracy– but after a couple hundred years the status quo has very much come to represent the values of those with the money.

Protect the children– stop gay marriage

This is pretty good…

Beck rally

Best thing I’ve read on the Glenn Beck rally from Reihan Salam (not sure you can trust him with a name like that, though):

And though Beck is scrupulously inclusive — I was particularly struck by his reference to “our churches, our synagogues, our mosques” during his lengthy address to the crowd — his people are overwhelmingly white and old. Among Americans over the age of 65, 80 percent are non-Hispanic whites, an artifact of an earlier era in which the number of Latinos was negligible and African Americans were the only minority population of any significance. This over-65 population, well represented at the rally, has tended to be the most hostile to President Obama’s agenda. Not coincidentally, the average age of Fox News viewers is 65, a shade older than CNN’s 63 and MSNBC’s 59.

This year, in contrast, will likely be the first in which non-Hispanic whites will be a minority among newborns. In part, this reflects an average birthrate of 1.87 for non-Hispanic white women as opposed to 2.99 for Hispanic women, with African American and Asian American birthrates falling in between. Without foreign-born mothers, the U.S. would have below-replacement fertility, like much of Western Europe. This would mean less demographic vitality, but it would also mean that the pace of cultural change would slow markedly. With each passing year, the cultural mix of the United States is growing more Latin and Asian and black. Non-Hispanic whites are just 56 percent of the under-18 population, a reality reflected in an increasingly pan-ethnic youth culture that seems baffling to older white Americans. Imagine how elderly viewers of Glenn Beck must feel when they accidentally catch themselves watching an episode of Jersey Shore.

This generational culture clash is already driving our politics. The battle over health reform pitted elderly citizens who feared Medicare cuts against less affluent younger voters clamoring for stronger social protections. A similar dynamic has defined bitter fights over school funding across the Southwest.

Angry old white people who don’t like the way their country is changing.  Obviously, this does not account for all the tea party and Glenn Beck followers out here, but I think it does get us a considerable way.    As I mentioned earlier, “it’s the white ethnocentrism, stupid.

Time to squat

Just helped Evan after a trip to his tiny little potty that sits on the floor, such that he is basically squatting.  Reminded me of this surprisingly interesting piece in Slate about how standard toilets basically work against how we’ve evolved to evacuate our bowels.  Here’s the anatomical science:

Before we dive into the data, let’s review the mechanics of going to the bathroom. People can control their defecation, to some extent, by contracting or releasing the anal sphincter. But that muscle can’t maintain continence on its own. The body also relies on a bend between the rectum—where feces builds up—and the anus—where feces comes out. When we’re standing up, the extent of this bend, called the anorectal angle, is about 90 degrees, which puts upward pressure on the rectum and keeps feces inside. In a squatting posture, the bend straightens out, like a kink ringed out of a garden hose, and defecation becomes easier…

An Israeli doctor named Dov Sikirov tested this idea for a 2003 study published inDigestive Diseases and Sciences. He had several dozen patients defecate in each of three positions: sitting on a 16-inch-high toilet, sitting on a 12-inch-high toilet, and squatting over a plastic container. He asked his subjects to record how long each bowel movement took and rate the effort required on a four-point scale ranging from effortless to difficult. Sikirov found that, when squatting, subjects averaged a mere 51 seconds to move their bowels, versus 130 seconds when sitting on a high toilet. And as they moved from a sit to a squat, subjects were more likely to rate the experience as easier.

Alas, recent consumer trends are only making the issue worse:

Standard models, 14 inches from floor to rim, now compete with “comfort height” toilets that tower more than 17 inches of the floor. Americans, now fatter than ever, are having trouble standing up from a sit, never mind a squat.

I don’t see myself putting my feet on the toilet seat and squatting any time soon (as the author of the article did), however, I do remain adamantly opposed to the “comfort height” toilets which are simply more unnatural and, thus unhealthy, than a regular toilet.  We shopped for a new low-flow toilet last year to replace our out-dated high-flow model and it was frustrating as our choices were quite constrained that many of the toilets I would’ve otherwise wanted were only available in the “comfort” height.  No more than 14″ high for the Greene family damnit!  (Not to mention, every inch makes a difference with little kids).

Sleep and school

With a new school year underway, I feel so sorry for my friends who now have to get up absurdly early so their daughters can catch the 6:15 bus to their absurdly early 7:20am school start time for middle school (they’re not nice people; they wouldn’t feel sorry for me).  I already feel sorry for me for next year when David hits middle school and he’ll have to be there by 7:30.  I plan on driving him not because I want to, but because I’m not going to abuse his growing brain by making it wake up at an absurdly early hour to catch the bus.

What’s particularly frustrating about this is the ever-mounting evidence that we are simply harming our kids by making them get up so early.  Miller-McCune highlights the latest study:

A pilot study at a small private high school in Providence, R.I., has confirmed the well-documented benefits of a half-hour delay in the school start time for teens, an easy fix for the chronic and rampantly ignored sleepiness of adolescents.

The study shows that two months after the St. George’s School changed its start time from 8 to 8:30 a.m., students were getting 45 minutes more sleep on school nights, on average, or nearly eight hours in all. They were going to bed an average 18 minutes earlier, presumably because it felt so good. On Sundays, they spent less time sleeping to catch up…

The consequences [of not enough sleep], she said, can range from mood, attention and memory problems to obesity and low grades.

“We’re really fighting biology,” Owens added. “It’s time we started to recognize that sleep is not an optional activity. Adolescents cannot fall asleep much before 11 at night. If they have to start school at 8 a.m., they’re not going to get anywhere near the hours of sleep they need.”

This is such an easy fix.  Probably the simplest thing any school district could do to raise middle and High school test scores is to simply get rid of start times before 8 or 8:15.  That would likely do more than all sorts of investments in teachers, new programs, etc.  But then students would get out of school later, have less time for after-school jobs and extracurriculars, and parents would whine.  I wish more parents would whine that our current scheduling policies are keeping their children unhappy and from realizing their potential.  Urgh.

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