Tastes like chicken

I’ve been meaning to blog about this interesting piece about how our taste buds are just a small part of how we perceive flavors, but I haven’t.  It’s short and interesting (hopefully you’ve learned to trust me in my recommendations by now), so just read it.

One fact

Jon Chait wrote earlier this week:

If you only learn one fact about American politics, it ought to be that Americans hate government in the abstract and favor it in the specific. That basic truth determines the shape of political debates over and over.

Indeed!  Yet, if only learning one fact, is that really the most important?  Maybe, but I started thinking about what I would suggest.  I thought about things such a: rules matter, institutions matter, incentives matter, history matters– and I think these are all quite important.  They all also apply to politics quite broadly.  Still, I was thinking about the major themes of my Intro class, and I think for me it comes down to: “we’re dealing with humans, here.”   I.e., to understand politics it really helps to understand political figures as rational actors– whether a candidate making a presidential primary strategy, a bureaucratic trying to increase his budget, a lobbyist trying to gain influence, or a voter deciding whether to support a third party.  But I’m no rational choice guy–  humans are also supremely irrational actors.  Humans are easily frightened into irrationality, they’ll answer polling questions with no idea what they are talking about, they will support completely contradictory policies, they’ll make important decisions based far too much on transient factors, etc.  So, for me, I think it comes down to embracing both what rational choice (the rational) and social-psychology (the irrational) can helps us understand about political actors.  A lot more complicated that Chait’s suggestion, but, perhaps also more broadly applicable as a result.  What would be your “one fact” about American politics?

Chart of the day

This week in my American Government class I wrapped things up with the myths and realities of American Public Policy lecture.  Not surprisingly, I spent the most time on health care.  For the most part, I let the simple hard facts about America’s broken health care system to the work (here’s my lecture, if you are curious).  I used a number of nice charts from KFF, but (via Ezra, I think), I realize there’s a great one I missed:

Exhibit 10

I made the point verbally, but charts are more convincing.  Every country that way out-efficiencies us on health care does so by having dramatically more of the health spending come from the public sector.  People hate to accept that government is more efficient in some things than the private sector, but when it comes to health care, the evidence is pretty damn near overwhelming.

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