Marriage cure

Way back in the Spring I spoke to Rachel Cohen, the author of this interesting take on marriage and public policy.  I don’t necessarily agree with everything here, but I sure do love that she name-checks my book:

As political scientists Laurel Elder and Steven Greene have traced in their book, The Politics of Parenthood: Causes and Consequences of the Politicization and Polarization of the American Family, the Democrats’ family rhetoric began to veer to the right under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Since then, nontraditional families have been without a political champion, at least in presidential politics.

Nice!  So, onto the main point of the article:

If there were policy interventions that would lead people to feel secure enough to marry, as the Marriage Opportunity Council hopes, that would be great. Stable and loving marriages are to be cherished, and evidence suggests they are salutary for children. But the government is just not very good at promoting such marriages. [emphasis mine] And poverty corrodes them. Single parenthood and divorce have continued to increase under conservative rule as well as liberal. Today, more than 40 percent of American children are born outside of marriage.

That’s why making it easier for parents, married or not, to manage their responsibilities is so critical. Economic policies like universal child care, paid family leave, paid sick leave, living wages, child allowances, rent subsidies, affordable health care, and quality public transportation are examples of the types of reforms that we know would dramatically improve the lives of millions of families.

Good points.  I’m just not so sure we should give upon the government promoting healthy marriages.  Healthy marriages do tremendous good for the individual, the children, and society (that’s been a key plank in Jonathan Rauch’s compelling argument for same-sex marriage).  Basically, there’s a very nice liberal case laid out here for all the liberal policies government can do that, among other things, should help marriages.  And I think it can.  But this confidence in government disappears when it comes to the “conservative” idea that marriage should be encouraged.  We may not have a very good idea, given the known benefits of healthy marriages, I absolutely don’t think the government should simply give up on promoting them.


Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of a heron standing in a river in Yokohama, Japan


Photograph by Arthur Matsuo, National Geographic Your Shot

In Yokohama, Japan, a white heron stands resolute against a rush of river water. Your Shot community member Arthur Matsuo noticed the unwavering waterfowl while exploring his new neighborhood. “In one of those explorations,” he writes, “walking along the border of a small river that runs across the area, I saw the heron standing still in the middle of the shallow but turbulent waters. Observing that the bird remained immobile, I pointed the camera [at] it and used a slow shutter speed to highlight the contrast between the motionless heron and the chaotic movement of the water. It is really amazing how many interesting and beautiful scenes we can find just around our homes.”

How Paul Ryan games the system

Love this Paul Krugman column which quite accurately explains how Paul Ryan so expertly exploits pathologies of political journalism:

What makes Mr. Ryan so special? The answer, basically, is that he’s the best con man they’ve got. His success in hoodwinking the news media and self-proclaimed centrists in general is the basis of his stature within his party. Unfortunately, at least from his point of view, it would be hard to sustain the con game from the speaker’s chair.

To understand Mr. Ryan’s role in our political-media ecosystem, you need to know two things. First, the modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn’t do real solutions to real problems. Second, pundits and the news media really, really don’t want to face up to that awkward reality…

The Times’s Josh Barro has dubbed Mr. Rubio’s tax proposal [quite similar to Ryan’s plans] the “puppies and rainbows” plan, consisting of trillions in giveaways with not a hint of how to pay for them — just the assertion that growth would somehow make it all good.

And it’s not just taxes, it’s everything. For example, Republicans have been promising to offer an alternative to Obamacare ever since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, but have yet to produce anything resembling an actual health plan.

Yet most of the news media, and most pundits, still worship at the church of “balance.” They are committed to portraying the two big parties as equally reasonable. This creates a powerful demand for serious, honest Republicans who can be held up as proof that the party does too include reasonable people making useful proposals… [emphasis mine]

And Paul Ryan played and in many ways still plays that role, but only on TV, not in real life. The truth is that his budget proposals have always been a ludicrous mess of magic asterisks: assertions that trillions will be saved through spending cuts to be specified later, that trillions more will be raised by closing unnamed tax loopholes. Or as the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center put it, they’re full of “mystery meat.”

But Mr. Ryan has been very good at gaming the system, at producing glossy documents that look sophisticated if you don’t understand the issues, at creating the false impression that his plans have been vetted by budget experts. This has been enough to convince political writers who don’t know much about policy, but do know what they want to see, that he’s the real deal.

Are there Democrats who are unserious about policy?  Sure.  Except that we don’t pretend that they are the ones who are serious about policy.  The truth is there are some very real differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.  And one of those is that the Republican Party simply doesn’t take policy seriously as anything other than a political weapon (and low taxes on rich people no matter what).  But it’s really hard for political journalists to admit that there’s these kinds of differences between the parties because “both sides!”

Elite college admission by lottery?

Loved this blog post from a Yale alum on why he is no longer doing alumni admissions interviews (and you should click through– it’s full of fun comics to illustrate):

You may have heard this chestnut: “The hardest thing about getting a Yale degree is getting accepted in the first place.” For me, it rings true. Thousands upon thousands of the rejects from Yale would have thrived there, if they’d just gotten the thick “yes” envelope instead of the thin “no” one. (That includes the five totally amazing kids I interviewed last year, none of whom got accepted.)

Dozens of people have asked me, “Wow, how did you get into Yale?”

Not a single one has ever asked, “Wow, how did you manage Yale coursework?”

With so many uber-qualified students lining up, top colleges don’t—as you might expect—look for the “very best.” They don’t even operate on a single, well-defined notion of what “best” means. Instead, they pick and choose. They go for balance. They’re just trying to fill their campus with a dynamic, diverse cohort of freshmen. Consistency and “fairness”—whatever that would mean—have nothing to do with it.

It’s like making a trail mix. I don’t care whether this particular peanut is more “deserving” than that particular chocolate chip. I’m just choosing high-quality ingredients to strike a nice balance of flavors. Nothing more…

I find myself compelled by the so-crazy-it’s-gotta-be-right proposal of the psychologist Barry Schwartz: run admissions by lottery. Says Schwartz: “Every selective school should establish criteria [for admission]…. Then, the names of all applicants who meet these criteria would be put into a hat and the winners would be drawn at random.”

Before you write Schwartz’s proposal off, remember this. Currently, we’ve got a random process, disguised as a deliberative one.

Why not take off the mask?

I knew college admissions– especially at elite universities– had gotten out of control, but I did not realize it was quite this bad.  The Common Application is great for making things easier for applicants, but it has clearly led to an explosion in applications.  And the more getting into an elite university seems like a lottery, the more of them people apply to, figuring that they will increase their chances in the lottery.  Thus, a self-reinforcing cycle.  It is time for something radical like an actual lottery among highly-qualified applicants to break the cycle.  Of course, my own kids are just going to be applying to NC State and UNC.

And here’s Barry Schwartz on that lottery idea (and by the way, I love The Paradox of Choice):

A lottery system would relieve the pressure on students. Instead of being the “best,” they would only have to be “good enough” — and lucky. It would free students up to do the things they were really passionate about in high school. And it would enable colleges to be straight with the public about what they are currently doing. Any honest admissions dean will tell you that the current system already is a lottery. Only now, it’s disguised as a meritocracy. [emphasis mine]

By easing the pressure, a lottery may get teenagers to see the college admissions letter as the starting line, not the finish line, which in turn will make them more engaged and enthusiastic — better students — when college begins.


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