Quick hits (part I)

1) I like John Cassidy’s take on Bezos and the National Enquirer:

All credit to Bezos for refusing to submit to these intimidation tactics. He’s a ruthless plutocrat whose online behemoth crushes retailers big and small. He has run his company with all the transparency of the Politburo. And he has exploited his great riches to buy one of the most important and influential newspapers in the country, the Washington Post. But he’s just as entitled as the next person to a private life—and he has just performed an important public service, or maybe two.

Bezos has made transparent the bullying tactics employed by the National Enquirer and raised the question of how often they are directed at targets who are less well able to defend themselves. “On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake,” Bezos writes. In addition, he has raised the intriguing question of how and why the tabloid went after him in the first place.

2) I’m not sure that “helicopter parenting” and “intensive parenting” are the same thing, and definitely not the same thing as “authoritative parents,” but this is definitely interesting, “The Bad News About Helicopter Parenting: It Works: New research shows that hyper-involved parenting is the route to kids’ success in today’s unequal world.”

But new research shows that in our unequal era, this kind of parenting brings life-changing benefits. That’s the message of the book “Love, Money and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids,” by the economists Matthias Doepke of Northwestern University and Fabrizio Zilibotti of Yale. It’s true that high-octane, hardworking child-rearing has some pointless excesses, and it doesn’t spark joy for parents. But done right, it works for kids, not just in the United States but in rich countries around the world…

It’s not enough just to hover over your kids, however. If you do it as an “authoritarian” parent — defined as someone who issues directives, expects children to obey and sometimes hits those who don’t — you won’t get the full benefits.

The most effective parents, according to the authors, are “authoritative.” They use reasoning to persuade kids to do things that are good for them. Instead of strict obedience, they emphasize adaptability, problem-solving and independence — skills that will help their offspring in future workplaces that we can’t even imagine yet.

And they seem most successful at helping their kids achieve the holy grails of modern parenting: college and postgraduate degrees, which now have a huge financial payoff. Using data from a national studythat followed thousands of American teenagers for years, the authors found that the offspring of “authoritative” parents were more likely to graduate from college and graduate school, especially compared with those with authoritarian parents. This was true even when they controlled for the parents’ education and income.

The benefits aren’t just academic. In a British study, kids raised by authoritative parents reported better health and higher self-esteem. In the American study, they were less likely to use drugs, smoke or abuse alcohol; they started having sex at older ages, and they were more likely to use condoms.

3) Jamelle Bouie with a great take on “moderate” Democrats:

There’s something odd about the self-described moderates and centrists considering a run for president. If “moderation” or “centrism” means holding broadly popular positions otherwise marginalized by extremists in either party, then these prospective candidates don’t quite fit the bill.

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax on the nation’s largest fortunes is very popular, according to recent polling by Morning Consult, with huge support from Democrats and considerable backing from Republicans…

In each case, these moderate politicians have positioned themselves against broad public preference. What then makes a moderate, if not policies that appeal to the middle?…

What connects them (and similar politicians) is a belief that meaningful progress is possible without a fundamental challenge to those who hold most of the wealth and power in our society. For Biden, you don’t need to demonize the richest Americans or their Republican supporters to reduce income inequality; you can find a mutually beneficial solution. Bloomberg, a billionaire, may have a personal reason for rejecting wealth taxes, but he may also see them as unnecessary and antagonistic if the goal is winning powerful interests over to your side. McAuliffe governed Virginia with an eye toward the business community. Sweeping social programs might be popular, but they might alienate that powerful constituency. And Schultz wants a Democratic Party less hostile to those he calls “people of means,” who otherwise back goals like gun control.

But this is a faulty view of how progress happens. Struggle against the powerful, not accommodation of their interests, is how Americans produced the conditions for its greatest social accomplishments like the creation of the welfare state and the toppling of Jim Crow. Without radical labor activism that identifies capitalism — and the bosses — as the vector for oppression and disadvantage, there is no New Deal. Without a confrontational (and at times militant) black freedom movement, there is no Civil Rights Act. If one of the central problems of the present is an elite economic class that hoards resources and opportunity at the expense of the public as a whole, then it’s naïve and ahistoric to believe the beneficiaries of that arrangement will willingly relinquish their power and privilege.

4) Terrific Pro Publica feature on the story of US Navy warships crashing into cargo ships.

5) Stacey Abrams excellent essay in defense of “identity politics.”  The other essays in here are really good, too (thanks, Stefan, for pointing these out).  And Zack Beauchamp’s summary in Vox.

6) The gender gap in educational confidence and what to do about it:

When investigating what deters professional advancement for women, the journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found that a shortage of competence is less likely to be an obstacle than a shortage of confidence. When it comes to work-related confidence, they found men are far ahead. “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in,” they wrote. “Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect.”

As a psychologist who works with teenagers, I hear this concern often from the parents of many of my patients. They routinely remark that their sons do just enough to keep the adults off their backs, while their daughters relentlessly grind, determined to leave no room for error. The girls don’t stop until they’ve polished each assignment to a high shine and rewritten their notes with color-coded precision…

We need to ask: What if school is a confidence factory for our sons, but only a competence factory for our daughters?

This possibility hit me when I was caring for an eighth grader in my practice. She got terrific grades but was feeling overwhelmed by school. Her brother, a ninth grader, had similarly excellent grades, but when I asked if he worked as hard as she did, she scoffed. If she worked on an assignment for an hour and got an A, she felt “safe” only if she spent a full hour on other assignments like it. Her brother, in contrast, flew through his work. When he brought home an A, she said, he felt “like a stud.” If his grades slipped a bit, he would take his effort up just a notch. But she never felt “safe” enough to ever put in less than maximum effort.

That experience — of succeeding in school while exerting minimal or moderate effort — is a potentially crucial one. It may help our sons develop confidence, as they see how much they can accomplish simply by counting on their wits. For them, school serves as a test track, where they build their belief in their abilities and grow increasingly at ease relying on them. Our daughters, on the other hand, may miss the chance to gain confidence in their abilities if they always count on intellectual elbow grease alone.

7) This is cool— though, personally I preferred to speed up the time-lapse, “Watch a single cell become a complete organism in six pulsing minutes of timelapse.”

8) Farhad Manjoo makes a pretty good case for abolishing billionaires.  Excuse me, people of wealth.

I like to use this column to explore maximalist policy visions — positions we might aspire to over time rather than push through tomorrow. Abolishing billionaires might not sound like a practical idea, but if you think about it as a long-term goal in light of today’s deepest economic ills, it feels anything but radical. Instead, banishing billionaires — seeking to cut their economic power, working to reduce their political power and attempting to question their social status — is a pithy, perfectly encapsulated vision for surviving the digital future.

Billionaire abolishment could take many forms. It could mean preventing people from keeping more than a billion in booty, but more likely it would mean higher marginal taxes on income, wealth and estates for billionaires and people on the way to becoming billionaires. These policy ideas turn out to poll very well, even if they’re probably not actually redistributive enough to turn most billionaires into sub-billionaires.

More important, aiming to abolish billionaires would involve reshaping the structure of the digital economy so that it produces a more equitable ratio of superrich to the rest of us.

Inequality is the defining economic condition of the tech age. Software, by its very nature, drives concentrations of wealth. Through network effects, in which the very popularity of a service ensures that it keeps getting more popular, and unprecedented economies of scale — in which Amazon can make Alexa once and have it work everywhere, for everyone — tech instills a winner-take-all dynamic across much of the economy.

9) Loved this Frank Bruni column on Tony Romo and the value of true expertise:

It’s about the rarity of his unquestionably deep knowledge in an era when so many of the people who put on the trappings of authority and peddle pearls of wisdom don’t actually have the goods. When so many opinions come with a swagger inversely proportional to their worth. When social media, cable channels, webcasts, podcasts, blogs and more have created an environment in which everybody’s an expert and nobody’s an expert — in which it’s sometimes impossible to tell.

With Romo you can tell. His verified foresight proves his genuine insight.

As I’ve savored his genius and reflected on its appeal, I’ve flashed back to some comments that President Obama made to The New Yorker’s top editor, David Remnick, for a lengthy article in late November 2016 about his waning days in office. Obama was obsessed with the chaotic nature of this new information ecosystem. “Everything is true and nothing is true,” he told Remnick. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll.”

10) That column led me to this article on Lebron James’ super-human memory.  I had no idea.  Clearly, his amazing performance is not just physical, but very much mental as well.

11) Drum, “We Are All Social Democrats Now”

Because life would sure be a lot easier if we could all learn to accept social democrat as the most accurate description of most modern progressives.

I’m perfectly happy with the label, myself. For those of you who are hazy about what social democracy is, here’s a quickie bullet list. Assuming I didn’t bungle anything, it basically follows the work of Sheri Berman, one of today’s foremost scholars of social democracy and author of The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century:

  • Non-revolutionary; accepts democracy as its political foundation
  • Seeks to reform and reshape capitalism, not destroy it
  • Market based, but harnessed to the common good by a regulatory state
  • High progressive taxes to support a generous welfare state
  • Fundamentally communitarian, originally designed to counter the appeal of nationalism
  • Undergirded by belief in both social and economic equality

It’s worth adding that like most political movements, social democracy is both flexible and limited. It doesn’t insist on any particular view of gun rights or abortion, for example, nor will it tell you if recessions are best handled by monetary or fiscal policy.

12) Krugman, “Trump Versus the Socialist Menace”

What do Trump’s people, or conservatives in general, mean by “socialism”? The answer is, it depends.

Sometimes it means any kind of economic liberalism. Thus after the SOTU, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, lauded the Trump economy and declared that “we’re not going back to socialism” — i.e., apparently America itself was a socialist hellhole as recently as 2016. Who knew?

Other times, however, it means Soviet-style central planning, or Venezuela-style nationalization of industry, never mind the reality that there is essentially nobody in American political life who advocates such things.

The trick — and “trick” is the right word — involves shuttling between these utterly different meanings, and hoping that people don’t notice. You say you want free college tuition? Think of all the people who died in the Ukraine famine! And no, this isn’t a caricature: Read the strange, smarmy report on socialism that Trump’s economists released last fall; that’s pretty much how its argument goes.

So let’s talk about what’s really on the table.

Some progressive U.S. politicians now describe themselves as socialists, and a significant number of voters, including a majority of voters under 30, say they approve of socialism. But neither the politicians nor the voters are clamoring for government seizure of the means of production. Instead, they’ve taken on board conservative rhetoric that describes anything that tempers the excesses of a market economy as socialism, and in effect said, “Well, in that case I’m a socialist.”

 

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