Chart of the day

Nice Harold Pollack piece in Wonkblog of the failure of our supply-side driven (i.e., hopeless attempts to limit supply) war on drugs.  Simple truth is that humans are simply too ingenious when there’s this much money to be made.  Not to mention, the evidence across time and culture that many, many humans really value altering their psychological state via chemicals.  Anyway, the failure is quite dramatically summed up in the price of drugs:

embarrassing drug graph

Pollack writes

In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences concluded: “Neither the data systems nor the research infrastructure needed to assess the effectiveness of drug control enforcement policies now exists.”  That remains true today, 12 years and hundreds of billions of dollars later.

but I must be missing his point.  Given the law of supply and demand and how it relates to price, I would suggest that this graph is all we need (not quite, but goes along way) to assess the effectiveness of current drug control enforcement policies.  In short, stunningly ineffective.  Not to suggest full legalization, but it is quite clear that locking up ever more people for drug use and trying to limit supply are both failed policies.

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Subjects → citizens → customers

One of the great revolutions of the American experiment was the idea that Americans were not subjects of a monarch, but rather citizens of a shared social contract– government by consent of the governed.  Alas, for many Republicans, it would seem the next step is for us to evolve from citizens to consumers.  In taking a look at the education voucher proposal here in North Carolina, NC PolicyWatch’s Rob Schofield has a great take on the insidious negative effects of viewing citizens not as such, but primarily as consumers:

Sadly, Jones’ position roughly summarizes a core belief of the state’s modern, Tea Partying right-wing: that citizens have a divine right to relate to their government as they relate to a big box store.

This is not an exaggeration or a parody. Governor McCrory has made this idea one of the centerpieces of his new administration with his repeated references to treating North Carolinians as “customers.”

In the modern conservative worldview, all human relationships are driven by the interactions of the marketplace. Many of these ideologues have genuinely come to believe that humans have been commanded by the Almighty to pursue their own self-interest in virtually all matters of economic and social interaction and that when they do, the “invisible hand” will somehow lead us all to the best possible (or, at least, the most just) societal result.

Hence the notion that North Carolina’s education ills can be cured by giving parents the kinds of “choices” afforded to “customers” and forcing schools to compete for their “business.” It’s really a quite remarkable and coldly Darwinian argument – especially coming as it does from a group that so frequently espouses a full-throated conservative Christianity…

And when citizens are treated like “customers” rather than owner/stakeholders, a subtle but important attitude shift is abetted. Rather than caring for their entire community as a whole, inhabitants are encouraged to worry about themselves, treat their neighbors as competitors and threats and confine their communal instincts to private charity.

Does this explain all of Milwaukee’s [they have a famous school voucher program of questionable efficacy] racial divides or economic blight? No, of course not; but it does shine an important window on the struggles of this once-thriving city. And, sadly, unless a change in course is effected soon, this attitude shift could soon come to afflict North Carolina on a mass scale as well.

This is why so many caring and thoughtful people are so desperately worried about the introduction of school vouchers in North Carolina. It’s not the immediate demise of public education they worry about; they know that public schools will cobble together a way to survive in the near term (just as they have muddled along through the budget cuts of recent years).

What worries these advocates and observers most is that vouchers will expedite the ongoing demise of citizenship and the social contract that once bound North Carolinians together in a united society. And sadly, judging by the attitudes and rhetoric of voucher supporters, this is a well-founded concern.

That’s ultimately a sharper point than I’d put on it (I don’t think civic virtue can be quite so easily eliminated), but I think Schofield is indeed right that viewing citizens primarily as consumers ultimately erodes a sense of community and social contract that is ultimately essential to a healthy democracy.

Photo of the day

From an In Focus series on the US-Mexico border.  Whoops:

In this photo provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a silver Jeep Cherokee that suspected smugglers were attempting to drive over the U.S.-Mexico border fence is stuck at the top of a makeshift ramp, on October 31, 2012 near Yuma, Arizona. U.S. Border Patrol agents from the Yuma Station seized both the ramps and the vehicle, which stalled at the top of the ramp after it became high centered. The fence is approximately 14 feet high where the would-be smugglers attempted to drive across the border. The two suspects fled into Mexico when the agents arrived at the scene. (AP Photo/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Climate change and scientific expertise

Listened to a great This American Life about climate change today (I love when TAL gets political– almost always a phenomenal job).   One of their stories was about former SC Congressman, Bob Inglis, a conservative’s conservative except for his apostasy of saying climate change is real and we should do something about it.  That’s why he’s former Congressman.  He’s doubled-down, though, and is now on a mission to convince conservative’s to address the problem by speaking to them in the language of another conservative.  Sadly, he’s not having much success.  It seems mostly liberals come out to hear his speeches designed to convince a conservative audience.  Part of the segment had him trying to convince a conservative talk-radio host who basically said, “I’m from Mississippi, why should I believe in this.”  I.e., I am a political conservative and I take it as a matter of faith that this is a liberal plot; tell me why I should believe otherwise.

And there’s the rub, so many conservatives simply take it as a matter of faith that there is no climate change.  It’s theology as ideology.  Now, surely the 97-98% of climate scientists could be wrong, but who the hell is any non-scientist to judge.  I know I’m not.  Yes, scientists have gotten things wrong all the time, but science remains far and away the best approach we have to understanding the natural world and “well, liberals are for it so it cannot be true” does not exactly trump the scientific method.  Alternatively, reading a few skeptical articles here does not mean you are actually qualified to judge the science.  Yes, there is evidence that the rise in global mean temperatures has stabilized for the time being.  So, either A) climate scientists are persisting, despite contrary evidence, in their overwhelming conspiracy to pull the wool over the eyes of the the world’s citizen; or B) there’s plenty of other measures/indications (i.e., sea level, sea ice, etc.) that suggests we very much still have a growing problem that largely fits with the science and mathematical models.  Given the choice, I’ll go with the latter.

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