Quick hits part I

1) The lasting impact of pre-K programs is an area a study that has led to quite a range of findings about how well and how long the benefits last.  The latest findings from NC, though, are pretty impressive:

Helen Ladd, Clara Muschkin, Yu Bai, and I have tracked over one million children born in our state between 1988 and 2000 across their preschool years through the end of eighth grade. Because state funds for NC Pre-K (previously called More at Four) were allocated to some counties in some years at higher levels than in other counties and other years, some children were lucky enough to be four years old living in a county where the program was well-funded, while other four-year-old children lived in less well-funded counties. We have reported previously that while they were in elementary school, children in cohorts with average state funding demonstrated higher test scores in reading and math, less grade retention, and fewer placements into special education, compared with children in cohorts with less or no funding.

Our new analyses, just released as a working paper, show that the positive impacts of NC Pre-K and Smart Start continue through grades 6, 7, and 8. There is no fadeout. In fact, the impact grows. By eighth grade, for children in counties with average funding, NC Pre-K has reduced the likelihood of placements into special education by over one third. We find positive impacts for every group of children we studied, including economically disadvantaged as well as advantaged children; African American, Hispanic, and white non-Hispanic children; and children whose mothers are well-educated as well as those whose mothers are less well-educated.

The findings are clear: The more funding that North Carolina invests for NC Pre-K (and Smart Start), the better children will fare as they get older. The benefits from that investment will not fade out but will grow over the lives of these children.

2) I really like the idea of rating health care systems on efficiency (i.e., bang for the buck) as that is where America’s health care is so outlandishly horrible.  I’m not all a fan of using life expectancy as a key measure (mortality amenable to health care, damnit), but, still probably pretty good as a rough metric.  Anyway, in this Bloomberg study of health care efficiency, of 56 countries, U.S. comes in tied for 54th.  Just beating out Bulgaria.  The idea that Republicans essentially accept this monstrous inefficiency is so frustrating.

3) I really meant to do a post on AOC and taxes.  I love that she’s pushing a 70% top marginal tax rate.  Overton window and all that.  And, good policy.  Paul Waldman:

Naturally, just suggesting increasing tax rates at the top sends Republicans to the fainting couch, since the single most fundamental idea to which their party is devoted at this point in history is that the wealthy should pay as little in taxes as possible. But why shouldn’t we discuss it?

Instead, all of the predictions Democrats made about it at the time have come true. Republicans said the tax cut would generate so much economic activity that revenue would soar and the deficit would shrink. In fact, the deficit has ballooned; it is projected to exceed $1 trillion this year. Republicans said corporations would pass their windfall on to workers; Democrats predicted that corporations would use the money for stock buybacks, boosting share prices to benefit wealthy investors. The Democrats were right.

By now, we can say with confidence that the foundational principle of Republican tax policy — that cutting taxes for the wealthy brings economic nirvana and raising taxes for the wealthy brings economic doom — is utterly and completely wrong. It’s not even worth debating anymore. The entire history of U.S. economic policy shows it to be false, from the failure of recent Republican tax cuts to the fact that we had much higher top marginal rates4)  at some of our periods of strongest economic growth. In the 1950s and 1960s, through the postwar boom, the top rate was as high as 91 percent and never fell below 70 percent. [emphasis mine]

4) Stephen Pearlstein defends a better kind of capitalism in Vox.  I’m a fan.

How about let’s start with fixing the capitalism we have — or as Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales cleverly put it, saving capitalism from the capitalists. As I outlined in the book, I would start by getting money out of politics — corporate money but also union money. And ending the stranglehold Wall Street has put on the real economy be demanding companies be run to maximize shareholder value. And more vigorous antitrust enforcement to deal with old-fashioned consolidation and the natural winner-take-all tendencies of the new economy. We need to bring back a serious inheritance tax, a serious and reformed corporate tax and a top marginal income tax of 40 percent.

And while we are at it, why not create a new set of financial institutions — banks, insurance companies, mutual funds and pension funds — that are owned by their customers rather than by shareholders. Even a capitalist can understand the logic of an annual “dividend” for every American as his or her share of the nation’s natural and institutional bounty, particularly if it is combined with an obligation for three years of national service (my version of universal basic income).

Want to get really radical? How about ending school segregation by class the way we did with segregation by race, through enlarged school districts, magnet schools, and creative use of school choice.

I’m all for making it possible once again to organize a union without getting fired or spending the next decade in court, which unfortunately is the current reality. But there may be other, better ways to reinvigorate the union movement and give a bit more power to workers in a post-industrial economy. My guess is that many American workers don’t want the kind of union you pine for — the ones that undermined the competitive viability of their companies, the ones that rejected all pay for performance schemes and saddled companies with rigid work rules…

yes, we live in a society marked by hierarchy and inequality — and, yes, that’s intrinsic to capitalism. And, yes, power — economic power, political power — matters in terms of how the good things in life are distributed. Market fundamentalists who still insist it’s all about voluntary transactions within the context of a perfectly competitive and efficiency marketplace that neutrally and objectively sets economic outcomes are either kidding themselves or are trying to kid us.

But let’s be clear: This somewhat unsavory economic system called capitalism has lifted billions out of subsistence poverty since the industrial revolution and given us longer, healthier, happier lives to a degree not matched by any other system people have tried. And although some people have more power, money, security, and happiness than others, and some people get to boss other people around, the fault line is not between “workers” and “capital.” It’s between high-skilled workers and low, coastal metropolitan workers and rural ones, between white workers and nonwhite, men and women workers, religious workers and non-religious.

Let’s get real: The favorite politician of the oppressed, left-behind workers who you idealize is Donald Trump, while denizens of Wall Street titans and Hollywood moguls and tech billionaires back liberal candidates and causes.

5) I’ve very intrigued by this idea of affective presence.  I’d like to think I have a pretty good one.  But, I definitely know some people who have this in spades and people who are definitely lacking.

Some people can walk into a room and instantly put everyone at ease. Others seem to make teeth clench and eyes roll no matter what they do. A small body of psychology research supports the idea that the way a person tends to make others feel is a consistent and measurable part of his personality. Researchers call it “affective presence.”

This concept was first described nearly 10 years ago in a study by Noah Eisenkraft and Hillary Anger Elfenbein. They put business-school students into groups, had them enroll in all the same classes for a semester, and do every group project together. Then the members of each group rated how much every other member made them feel eight different emotions: stressed, bored, angry, sad, calm, relaxed, happy, and enthusiastic. The researchers found that a significant portion of group members’ emotions could be accounted for by the affective presence of their peers.

6) It’s even easier to legally shoot people in Florida:

Last month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state’s controversial “stand your ground” statute applies to police officers, just as it does to civilians. The ruling radically expanded the boundaries of justifiable homicide to grant police immunity from arrest, criminal prosecution, and a jury trial when they claim—even in spite of overwhelming contradicting evidence—to have killed in self-defense. This modification represents the latest in a steadily creeping distortion of justice that intensifies the “shoot first, ask questions later” logic of weaponized self-defense…

“Stand your ground” makes it very difficult to dispute even the most outrageous claims of self-defense. Drafted by a consortium of conservative lawmakers and gun lobbyists, Florida’s statute became the first of its kind in 2005, stipulating that a law-abiding person has no duty to retreat from a perceived threat wherever they may legally be. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explained, “stand your ground” laws stretch the traditional Castle Doctrine beyond the boundaries of the home, allowing you to “bring your castle wherever you go.” On the surface at least, the laws appear to grant all law-abiding persons permission to use lethal force, without first trying to retreat, in order to protect themselves from a threat. When civilians claim to have killed someone because they were in fear for their lives, a judge at a pretrial hearing may rule that their fear was reasonable, in which case they escape arrest and prosecution.

But time and an accumulating archive of evidence shows that, in spite of their apparent race and gender neutrality, “stand your ground” laws intensify existing injustices while making already criminalized populations more vulnerable.

7) How to make a lie seem true?  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  It’s almost like I can think of somebody who does this all the time.

8) John Cassidy makes the case for Elizabeth Warren:

But Warren isn’t merely talking the talk. In the past few years, she has put together a policy agenda designed to level the economic playing field in favor of workers, consumers, and small businesses. To be sure, she supports some things that virtually all Democrats now favor, such as enacting a national minimum wage of fifteen dollars, further expanding access to health care, and building more public housing. But she also has some more distinctive ideas, such as breaking up monopolies and promoting competition, making it easier for unions to organize, and forcing any public company with revenues of more than a billion dollars to set aside forty per cent of the seats on its board of directors for workers’ representatives. The latter proposal was contained in Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act, which she unveiled last summer. This draft legislation would also place limits on stock-based compensation for senior executives and force companies to get the approval of three-quarters of their shareholders for any political activities they are involved in.

Seizing upon these proposals, some of Warren’s conservative critics have tagged her as an old-style socialist, but that isn’t accurate. Rather than having the government take over the commanding heights of the economy, she wants to use legislation and regulation to root out corporate abuses, correct glaring market failures, and rebalance the power relationships between capital and labor, firms and consumers, and big businesses and small businesses. “I believe in markets,” she told The Nation, earlier this year. “But markets work only when everyone gets a fair opportunity to compete.”

9) Farhad Manjoo joins the chorus (including me) telling you to meditate:

And so, to survive the brain-dissolving internet, I turned to meditation.

Don’t roll your eyes. You’ve heard about the benefits of mindfulness before. Meditation has been rising up the ladder of West Coast wellness fads for several years and is now firmly in the zeitgeist.

It’s the subject of countless books, podcasts, conferencesa million-dollar app war. It’s extolled by C.E.O.s and entertainers and even taught in my kids’ elementary school (again, it’s Northern California). The fad is backed by reams of scientific research showing the benefits of mindfulness for your physical and mental health — how even short-term stints improve your attention span and your ability to focus, your memory, and other cognitive functions.

10) Loved this list of 20 Best TV Dramas since the Sopranos.  Of course my favorite of the Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad were all there.  For my son, I leave off with this:

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Quick hits part I

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    #3 You have to admit that the Republican tax plan is very efficient in transferring wealth to the already wealthy and to the most successful big corporations. Isn’t that the GOP goal?

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