Chart of the day

Jonathan Cohn with 7 charts that show Obamacare is working.  Here’s two:

Several factors seem to be at play, including the recession. For that reason, it’s likely that spending will start to accelerate a bit as the economy recovers. But most experts now think the “new normal” is lower inflation, because the health care industry is becoming more efficientat least partly in reaction to new incentives that the Affordable Care Act introduced.

One sign that those incentives is working is a dramatic decline in the number of hospital readmissions. The decline began just as hospitals started facing new financial penalties, enacted as part of Obamacare, for high readmission rates. Whatever the cause, it’s clear that health care spending isn’t accelerating rapidly, as critics predicted would happen once Obamacare became law.

Federal health spending

Say what you will about Obamacare’s architects, but they took their fiscal responsibilities seriously. The law calls for new spending, since the government now has to underwrite the costs of both an expanded Medicaid program and all those subsidies for people buying health insurance. But for every dollar in new spending, there is at least one dollar in either new revenue or new spending cuts. The net effect, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is to reduce the deficit.

So, does this mean that all those who preached ruinous doom and gloom will recant?  Or at least that journalists will not take them seriously on this issue?  Yes, and unicorns.

The most depressing study I have read about aging

Okay, I know that my body will slow fall apart and my mind will work slowly.  But to think that the older me would not find The Office of Curb Your Enthusiasm to be funny?!  Now that is truly depressing.  From the Atlantic:

There’s an episode in the first season of The Office in which Michael Scott, the tactless boss, is asking his female employees to serve as cheerleaders for an upcoming company basketball game. When the heavyset Phyllis says she’ll do it, Michael reflexively says, “Oh yuck, that’s worse than you playing.” He then tries to rescue the crack with, “because we need you as an alternate.”…

According to a new study published in the journal Psychology and Aging, this type of humor is exactly the kind you should never deploy around the elderly.

Jennifer Stanley, a psychology professor at the University of Akron, had 30 young adults, 22 middle-aged people, and 29 senior citizens watch a variety of different sitcom clips, including the above segment from The Office. The subjects rated how socially appropriate and how funny they found each clip. Stanley also used facial electromyography to determine how much the clips caused their smile muscles to move…

What the authors found was that older adults were much less likely to be fans of the aggressive style of humor—laughing at the expense of others—that’s so often used by Michael Scott. The 64-to-84-year-olds found The Office clip about 23 percent less funny than the middle-aged people did, and about 19 percent less funny than the 17-to-21-year-olds did.

Young adults were also more likely to smirk at the clips that showed self-deprecating humor, as exemplified in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasmin which Larry pumps his waiter for information about how much his friend left as a tip.

The older participants, meanwhile, liked affiliative humor—the kind of jokes that bring people together through a funny or awkward situation. Stanley says aGolden Girls clip in which the women try to buy condoms and suffer an embarrassing price check is a good example.

I honestly don’t even want to think that the 70 year-old me would not find the following clip hilarious.

Thank God for dashboard cams

This cop is in jail and rightfully charged with a serious crime.  Who honestly thinks he wouldn’t still be out patrolling and doing heaven knows what else if he didn’t have a dashboard cam.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s Animal Photos of the week:

A herd of white horses gallop through a calm saltwater delta, kicking up spray as they race wildly against the setting sun. Their movements become blurred as they rush along the remote landscape, slowing to a single line when the leader decides he's had enough.The animals belong to several ranches of the Camargue which lies in the Rhone River, in southern France.

A herd of white horses gallop through the calm saltwater delta of the Camargue which lies on the Rhone river in southern FrancePicture: Xavi Ortega/Solent News

Fraternities, bad behavior, correlation and causation

Interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed asking if colleges should ban all fraternities.  Of course this will never happen, but it is interesting to discuss.  Any why should colleges think about doing this?

While the majority of fraternity members do not commit rape, they are three times as likely to commit rape as non-members, according to a 2007 study. Another study, published in the NASPA Journal in 2009, found that 86 percent of fraternity house residents engaged in binge drinking, compared to 45 percent of non-fraternity men. Fraternity house members were twice as likely to fall behind in academic work, engage in unplanned sex, or be injured after drinking.

Fraternity members were more likely to have unprotected sex, damage property, and drive, all while under the influence of alcohol.

“It’s not just a stereotype,” said George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “There is pretty good evidence that fraternity individuals are drinking more, particularly in the heavy range of binge drinking. They have more problems associated with drinking. They have more impairment in occupational functioning related to drinking, such as getting homework and term papers done.

Wow.  Those are some damning statistics.  Of course, there is an implication that fraternities play a causal role in this.  I think they do, but I suspect even more at play is the type of individuals drawn to a fraternity (selection bias!) and that it is the type of young man more likely to abuse alcohol, women, etc.  That said, given what we know of social psychology, bringing a bunch of such men all together in one reinforcing organization does seem like it would only serve to heighten and feed these worst tendencies.  So, ban fraternities?  Not so, say many of the experts:

But, I don’t think you should go about banning fraternities. Punishment is rarely the way to go about anything like this. If you punish a behavior, it comes back with a vengeance.”

In the case of banning a Greek system, that behavior could come back in the form of off-campus houses or underground fraternities that could not be regulated by colleges.

“There’s always the risk that if you force fraternities off campus, they just form their own houses off campus,” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. “They’re still there, exhibiting the same behaviors, only now they don’t really have to answer to anybody.”

Personally, I’m not convinced.  I suspect that cost/benefit wise you get greater benefit from the ban than the cost of driving the behavior underground.  The simple truth is that there are many, many individuals who will join a university (and thus society) sanctioned organization who will not join an underground animal house.  I imagine the problems would be even more severe in “underground fraternities” but that the actual participation in such organizations would be dramatically lower than in university-sanctioned fraternities.

But you know what, there should be data on this from natural experiments:

For many college presidents, too many aspects of Greek life are not being “done right,” Kruger said, and patience is wearing thin. The colleges that have abolished fraternities — mostly small private liberal arts colleges like Colby, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Williams — say publicly that they do not regret the decision. While the bans at these colleges did lead to secret fraternities sprouting up off-campus, their influence has waned over the years.

Surely somebody has done an actual empirical study at one of these places (and if not, that’s one helluva dropped ball).  Did the problems of binge drinking, sexual assault, academic slacking, etc., actually get better or worse at these colleges?  Give me data!  That said, clearly these universities did not see the horrible backlash warned by the fraternity proponents.

I eagerly await my comments on the great benefit of fraternities.  And I will not discount the very real benefits.  But in my cost/benefit world, those benefits need to be pretty damn good to outweigh the very clear costs.

Cotton and farming

I recommended Molly Ball’s excellent profile of the likely next Senator from Arkansas, Republican Tom Cotton.  Cotton’s one problem is that he is from Arkansas and voted against the Farm Bill.  His solution?  Lie shamelessly and keep on lying after being called out by fact-checkers.  Chait is on the case:

Cotton’s opponent, Mark Pryor, has assailed him for this vote. Cotton has shot back with an ad claiming that this only happened because “President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turning it into a food stamp bill.”…

Faced with his controversial vote against the farm bill, Cotton has urgently fashioned himself as an agri-supremacist. He has urged the locals to ignore the judgment of fact-checking journalists who pronounce his ad false: “I don’t think liberal reporters who call themselves fact checkers spent much time growing up on a farm in Yell County growing up with Len Cotton, so I think I know a little bill more about farming than they do.” Cotton’s identity as a onetime farmboy, by this argument, lends him a superiority in any dispute over farm policy that overrides even the facts themselves. Cotton perhaps first developed this epistemological theory while studying philosophy at Harvard.

Cotton goes further still. Molly Ball, in an engrossing profile, reports that Cotton argues against food stamps because its recipients live high on the hog: “They have steak in their basket, and they have a brand-new iPhone, and they have a brand-new SUV.” As an argument against food stamps, this is laughably false: The program offers a benefit averaging $1.50 per person per meal, and its beneficiaries are quite poor [emphasis mine]

Cotton is just evil.  The man is Harvard-educated.  Surely he knows how utterly misleading his characterization of your typical food stamp recipient is.  Rather, he would just seek to demonize poor people for his own political power.  Love Chait’s conclusion:

The snag in Cotton’s rapid path to national power turns out to be that his ideology is just a little too consistent. But he has found the solution. He is running not quite as a principled foe of government, but instead as a committed opponent of redistribution. Government is bad insofar as it gives money to the poor and vulnerable. Tom Cotton is going places in the Republican Party.

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