Stuff I didn’t blog about last week

So, as much as I enjoy blogging, I enjoy relaxing at the beach more.  Nonetheless, I do feel compelled to at least link to the items I would’ve blogged about in a non-vacation week.  So, here ya go…

1) Male physicians make more money than female physicians even in similar specialties with similar resumes (though still significant, the gap is smaller when adjusting for differences in hours worked, etc.).

2) Under all the good news of the Supreme Court upholding the ACA lets not forget that a majority found that it was not Constitutional under the commerce clause.  They were wrong (both links involve conservative judges explaining why).

3) Great 4th of July column from EJ Dionne on the utter intellectual bankruptcy of the “original intent” notion of Constitutional interpretation.

4) The problem with US health care is it is monstrously inefficient.  Unlike in most things, free markets don’t actually work to solve the problem in the health care marketplace, as Fareed Zakaria writes.   (And I think it pretty obvious from my 3 charts on health care post).

5) In general, Canada has a good health care system, but as OECD countries go, they are particularly poor on wait times.  Hence, anytime health care opponents start talking about Canadian wait times, you know they are just cherry-picking the most (un)favorable international comparison.

6) Pretty funny Mitt’s verbal gymnastics on the mandate as penalty vs. tax.

7) NC Republicans over-turned the Governor’s veto of fracking with lax regulation because an environmentalist Democrat actually pressed the wrong button on her vote.  Normally, members have the opportunity to fix their vote, but Republicans wanting victory at any cost, denied the member the opportunity.  How is that not just completely wrong?  Seriously.

8) The science of temper tantrums via NPR.  We see plenty of these these days.  Short version– there’s nothing you can do to help your child get over it faster, so just let it burn itself out as quickly as possible.

9) Yes, in a “ripped from the Onion” worthy headline, the Republican party of Texas has decided to oppose “critical thinking” from being taught in Texas schools.  You just cannot make this stuff up.

10) Nice piece on one of my favorite topics– the fact that your body is really much more an interdependent ecosystem of human and bacteria than just a single organism.  Yet more mention of fecal transplants– and some good news– scientists are working on ways to get this kind of bacterial transplant benefit without the absurdly high gross factor.

Obama’s Plan B

With the economy in such precarious shape if Obama’s going to win re-election he’s got to convince people that the election is not just about him, but that it is also about Romney and that Romney is a bad/dangerous choice.  There’s some interesting evidence that this approach may very well be working.  The New Yorker’s John Cassidy refers to it at Obama’s Plan  B:

Plan A was to say that the hard slog of the past four years had been worth it, and that the economy was finally recovering. For an incumbent, this is a pretty standard message: things are getting better—stick with me…

The Obama campaign’s Plan B is based on the assumption that the economy will continue to stutter along without slipping, once again, into an outright slump, which would probably insure a Romney victory. The basic idea is to try to neutralize the economic headwinds by changing the subject as often as possible, and by raising doubts about Romney’s record, both at Bain Capital and as the governor of Massachusetts. “We’ve got to make sure people fully appreciate Mitt Romney is not some safe alternative,” David Plouffe, one of Obama’s senior advisers, told the Times. Assuming the economy doesn’t get any worse, Obama’s strategists believe that they can eke out a narrow victory by mobilizing the same coalition that the campaign relied on in 2008—young people, minorities, women, and highly educated professionals—and by turning enough white working-class voters against Romney to deprive him of the surge in the Midwest that he needs in order to win…

The Obama campaign believes that its negative ads about Bain Capital, which have running in Ohio and other states during recent weeks, are having the desired effect, and that might well be true. In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of voters in swing states, one in three of them said that seeing or hearing about Romney’s business record made them view him more negatively, and just one in six said that it made them take a more positive view of him.

Now, if the economy takes a real dive, this is all moot and Romney wins period.  But in a close election, the fact that Obama’s negative attacks on Romney seem to really resonate, could well be the difference.

Image of the day

Apparently, the New Yorker went ahead and commissioned ideas for covers should the Supreme Court strike down the ACA.  Some of them are quite good.  You can check out the whole set here.


Bob Staake tops himself with this sketch of Chief Justice Roberts about to push granny down the stairs of the Supreme Court Building.

This is actually the least politically accurate, since granny will still have Medicare, but easily my favorite image of the set.

How to be happy (be politically conservative?)

Couple of interesting Op-Ed’s on happiness in the NYT yesterday.  The first was a nice summary of what we know about happiness research (a subject I’ve hit before).   Short version: once you hit $75K/year you are all good and spend your money on experiences and other people, not objects for yourself (that said, I’ve got to say that $400 for an Ipad definitely increased the overall happiness quotient of several members of the Greene family).  And, of course, we just spent a good chunk of change on an experience– a trip to the beach.  Definitely worth it.  Here’s the key portion of the Op-Ed:

Interestingly, and usefully, it turns out that what we do with our money plays a far more important role than how much money we make. Imagine three people each win $1 million in the lottery. Suppose one person attempts to buy every single thing he has ever wanted; one puts it all in the bank and uses the money only sparingly, for special occasions; and one gives it all to charity. At the end of the year, they all would report an additional $1 million of income. Many of us would follow the first person’s strategy, but the latter two winners are likely to get the bigger happiness bang for their buck.

We usually think of having more money as allowing us to buy more and more of the stuff we like for ourselves, from bigger houses to fancier cars to better wine to more finely pixilated televisions. But these typical spending tendencies — buying more, and buying for ourselves — are ineffective at turning money into happiness. A decade of research has demonstrated that if you insist on spending money on yourself, you should shift from buying stuff (TVs and cars) to experiences (trips and special evenings out). Our own recent research shows that in addition to buying more experiences, you’re better served in many cases by simply buying less — and buying for others.

Certainly good advice.  Then, in an interesting juxtaposition, Arthur Brooks comes along and argues you just need to be politically conservative (okay, not exactly, but that’s the general gist).  Basically, a lot of social science shows that conservatives are more likely to be part of religious communities and to be married– both of which are correlated with higher happiness.  Thing is, though, something tells me if a person kept their present lifestyle and started hating gays, abortions, taxes, social services for poor people, and a clean environment, they would not suddenly be happier.  Brooks does give us these correlations:

Many conservatives favor an explanation focusing on lifestyle differences, such as marriage and faith. They note that most conservatives are married; most liberals are not. (The percentages are 53 percent to 33 percent, according to my calculations using data from the 2004 General Social Survey, and almost none of the gap is due to the fact that liberals tend to be younger than conservatives.) Marriage and happiness go together. If two people are demographically the same but one is married and the other is not, the married person will be 18 percentage points more likely to say he or she is very happy than the unmarried person.

The story on religion is much the same. According to the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, conservatives who practice a faith outnumber religious liberals in America nearly four to one. And the link to happiness? You guessed it. Religious participants are nearly twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives as are secularists (43 percent to 23 percent). The differences don’t depend on education, race, sex or age; the happiness difference exists even when you account for income.

But, he fails to actually then make a case at all that this has anything to do with being politically conservative.  I think the answers lies in the finding he highlights that those at the political extremes tend to be happier:

People at the extremes are happier than political moderates. Correcting for income, education, age, race, family situation and religion, the happiest Americans are those who say they are either “extremely conservative” (48 percent very happy) or “extremely liberal” (35 percent). Everyone else is less happy, with the nadir at dead-center “moderate” (26 percent).

What explains this odd pattern? One possibility is that extremists have the whole world figured out, and sorted into good guys and bad guys. They have the security of knowing what’s wrong, and whom to fight. They are the happy warriors.

I suspect the answer lies in the fact that conservatives are more likely to be extremely conservative and in the fact that the conservative worldview, all else being equal, adopts a position of certainty in knowing right and wrong (e.g., the fact that liberals are much more willing to compromise on important policy issues).  Finally, I think conservatives are much more likely– as Brooks only addresses obliquely– to  blithely go through life convinced that we live in a just world (newsflash: we don’t).

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