Infographic of the day

Where the energy jobs are, via NYT story:

Amazing the power that coal holds in symbolic impact.  Especially on Trump.



What it takes for kids to get ahead

Yesterday’s post reminded me of this terrific Thomas Edsall column from about a month ago that I had meant to share.  It’s about the role of non-cognitive skills in how children get ahead.  One of my favorite topics ever since reading How Children Succeed.  (Seriously, read it).  Edsall:

In a 2014 paper, “The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence,” Reeves and two co-authors, Kimberly Howard and Joanna Venator, focus on what they call “performance character strengths” and the crucial role played by noncognitive skills in educational attainment, employment and earned income. These character strengths — “perseverance, industriousness, grit, resilience, curiosity, application” and “self-control, future orientation, self-discipline, impulse control, delay of gratification” — make significant contributions to success in adulthood and upward mobility…

Paul Tough, a writer heavily influenced by Heckman’s work, noted last year in an essay in the Atlantic, “How Kids Learn Resilience,” that research reveals that “students will be more likely to display these positive academic habits when they are in an environment where they feel a sense of belonging, independence, and growth” and where they “experience relatedness, autonomy, and competence.”

This kind of environment is difficult to replicate in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Instead, Tough writes, many of the kids brought up in these desolate areas have developed “a hyperactive fight-or-flight mechanism,” which conveys the warning

at car-alarm volume: I don’t belong here. This is enemy territory. Everyone in this school is out to get me. Add to this the fact that many children raised in adversity, by the time they get to middle or high school, are significantly behind their peers academically and disproportionately likely to have a history of confrontations with school administrators.

The result is a vicious circle: family disruption perpetuates disadvantage by creating barriers to the development of cognitive and noncognitive skills, which in turn sharply reduces access to college. The lack of higher education decreases life chances, including the likelihood of achieving adequate material resources and a stable family structure for the next generation…

What is to be made of all these findings?

First, the spectrum of noncognitive skills and character strengths are a major factor in American class stratification. Whether these factors are more or less important than extrinsic forces like globalization, automation and declining unionization remains unclear, but changing family structures are evidently leaving millions of men and women ill-equipped to ascend the socioeconomic ladder.

Second, neither religious leaders nor practicing politicians nor government employees have found the levers that actually make disadvantaged families more durable or functional. As a corollary, the failure of government efforts to affect or slow down negative developments has left an opening for conservatives to argue that government interventions make things worse.

For liberals and the Democratic Party, the continued failure of government initiatives to achieve measurable gains in the acquisition of valuable noncognitive skills by disadvantaged youngsters constitutes a major liability.

So, here’s the damn agenda.. figure out what policies and programs (and there’s increasing evidence and research on the matter) best promote non-cognitive skills (and if they are not government programs, figure out how to encourage them through public policy) and advocate like hell for these policies.



Perverse incentives to the left; greed to the right. Stuck in the middle with American health care

love Elisabeth Rosenthal’s  2013 NYT series on the high cost of American health care and have been assigning portions of it to my classes for years (including this semester).

So, when I learned she had written a new book about the American health care system, I was all over it and ordered it the day it was published and finished it in less than a week (that’s definitely fast for me– too much time with the internet, not enough with books).

The book is terrific.  I literally cannot recommend it highly enough.  Even if you think you are not interested in health care policy, chances are you’ve had plenty of interactions with our medical establishment and would be fascinated to learn just how perverse so many of the incentives are.   I’ve been a health care policy junkie for at least a decade and I still learned a lot that was new to me.  To some degree, what I learned was just how absurdly depraved and money-hungry the whole system has become.  In many ways, we are looking at a medical system of capitalism amok.  So many people are looking to monetize every last dollar off of human sickness and suffering.  There’s lots and lots of good people who just want to help, but they have been caught up into a perverse and greedy system where, often just practicing medicine, means partaking in a series of sleazy and ethically dubious practices and organizations that are looking to squeeze every last dollar out of patients and the government (i.e., all of us).  And it’s working.  And, as I’ve written time after time, this is largely a matter of policy choice.  Political Scientist Jacob Hacker sums it up quite nicely in his NYT review of the book:

The difference between the United States and other countries isn’t the role of insurance; it’s the role of government. More specifically, it’s the way in which those who benefit from America’s dysfunctional market have mobilized to use government to protect their earnings and profits. In every country where people have access to sophisticated medical care, they must rely heavily on the clinical expertise of providers and the financial protections of insurance, which, in turn, creates the opportunity for runaway costs. But in every other rich country, the government not only provides coverage to all citizens; it also provides strong counterpressure to those who seek to use their inherent market power to raise prices or deliver lucrative but unnecessary services — typically in the form of hard limits on how much health care providers can charge. [emphasis mine]

In the United States, such counterpressure has been headed off again and again. The industry and its elected allies have happily supported giveaways to the medical sector. But anything more, they insist, will kill the market. Although this claim is in conflict with the evidence, it is consistent with the goal of maximum rewards to (and donations from) the industry.

There’s literally dozens of examples from the book that left me open-mouthed that people were able to get away with such greed and perversity, supposedly in the service of human health.  One that really stuck out though, is that of Duexis.  It’s literally a pill that’s just ibuprofen and famotidine.  You can dose yourself with those two for literally pennies a day.  Yet somehow– only in America, of course– they manage to charge $1500 a month for it and get doctors to prescribe it and insurance companies to pay for it.  Ugh.  If I ever had a doctor prescribe something like this to me, I would find a new doctor the next day.

Now, imagine a book full of other such shocking and disturbing examples.  Not exactly fun to read, but totally engaging, and disturbing.  And, also designed to be useful for helping readers navigate this giant mess with their own health care needs.  Or, at least listen to the terrific Fresh Air interview.

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