Quick hits (part II)

1) I don’t usually agree with Brett Stephens, but I profoundly agree with his central point in his column about Northam:

He may have done something ugly and dumb many years ago, when he was a young man and prevailing notions of socially permissible behavior were uglier and dumber than they are today. In the face of a political and reputational disaster he has stumbled badly in explaining himself. If he weathers the scandal, it will mainly be because all of his potential successors have grave compromises of their own.

In the 35 years between those two points he has, by all appearances, lived an upstanding life without a hint of racial bias. If we are going to embrace a politics where that’s not enough to save a sitting governor accused of no crime, we’re headed toward a dark place.

That’s because we believe that our worst moments and dumbest utterances shouldn’t define us. That our youthful behavior is more of a reflection of what is around us than a representation of what’s inside. That we deserve to be judged by the decency of our intentions and the totality of our deeds. That we are entitled to a presumption of innocence, a measure of forgiveness, a sense for our times, and multiple opportunities for redemption. [emphasis mine]

2) It’s really kind of amazing the way the Supreme Court’s conservatives are so willing to blatantly and transparently ignore the first amendment’s admonition against favoring a religion when that religion is Christianity.

3) Interesting take on Northam– he’s the first actual Southerner Virginia has had for governor in over two decades.

4) Shockingly to nobody but Susan Collins, Brett Kavanaugh believes in neither precedent, Roe v. Wade, (or honestly the need for logic in Supreme Court opinions).

5) Great piece on media bias from Peter Hamby, “The ultimate bias in journalism is not political. It’s toward controversy, gaffes, and scandal—shiny new things that get ratings and shares and downloads. There’s a rather obvious lesson here for Democrats seeking the White House—and for media elites who are tragically out of touch with how Americans actually consume the news.”

6) As I have to keep telling my students, money is far from the most important thing in interest group influence.  Of course, the NRA is super-influential, but even lots of spending does not necessarily get them what they want, “NRA Spent Record Amount Lobbying Congress, With Little to Show.”

7) Jonathan Rauch and Peter Wehner, “Republicans Got Us Into This Mess, and They Have to Get Us Out of It”

The most troubling — and from our point of view the most disappointing — development of the Trump era is not the president’s own election and subsequent behavior; it is the institutional corruption, weakness and self-betrayal of the Republican Party. The party has abandoned its core commitments to constitutional norms, to conservative principles and even to basic decency. It has allowed itself to be hijacked by a reality television star who is a pathological liar, emotionally unsteady and accountable only to himself. And Republicans have embraced presidential conduct that, had it been engaged in by a Democrat, they would have denounced as corrupt, incompetent and even treasonous.

We disagree with those who think that Mr. Trump’s removal by his own party would weaken democratic accountability; if anything, the opposite is true. The United States has only two major political parties, and it needs both to be healthy, rational and small-d democratic. They are our system’s most durable and accountable political institutions and they comprise its first and most important line of defense against political demagogues and conscience-free charlatans. By reasserting its institutional prerogatives — by setting limits to the depredations and recklessness it will accept — the Republican Party would be acting to deter hijackers in the future. In doing so, it would defend our democracy, not weaken it.

8) Late-term abortions back in the news these days.  It’s important to remember that the vast majority of these abortions (which are a tiny fraction of the overall number) are due to horrible birth defects and genuine threats to the mother.  My mom had a friend who was had two pregnancies with anencephaly (do the Greek on that) and it was a pretty horrible experience.

9) Lamar Alexander sounds like he’s making sense on college student loans.  Maybe I’m missing something.

10) Even with the polar vortex January was unusually warm.

11) If you want to talk about “bad faith” when it comes to Republicans and budget deficits, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than Mick Mulvaney.

12) Jelani Cobb on Northam:

Yet there were other reasons that warranted taking a pause before calling for Northam’s resignation. The governor ran on a progressive platform that included free community college, greater access to health care, criminal-justice reform, a fifteen-dollar-an-hour minimum wage, and a rollback of voter-suppression laws in the state. Every one of those things would have disproportionately benefitted the black residents of Virginia. The yearbook photograph is indisputably terrible. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a monument that commemorates the victims of lynching and racial terrorism in America, lists more than four thousand black people who lost their lives to recreational murder in the South. No person who has even the dimmest recognition of what happened to those victims could find humor in a Klansman’s robes. Yet the more salient question, one that could not be answered in the clamor for Northam’s immediate ejection, was how his moral sensibilities had evolved in the intervening three decades.

The odds are high that a fifty-nine-year-old white Southerner would have grown up in a climate of ambient racism. The odds are also high that such a person might never find reason to publicly renounce that past. There is, however, an important tradition of white Southerners—Lillian SmithHarper LeeHowell RainesDiane McWhorter, and, more recently, Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans—publicly grappling with the racist legacy of the region and their own efforts to move beyond it to discover a broader recognition of humanity. (The late Robert Byrd, who served for more than fifty years as a senator from West Virginia, spoke openly about the wrongheadedness of his youthful membership in the Klan.) The example of Landrieu, a possible Presidential candidate in 2020, is particularly instructive. In 2017, he delivered a widely praised speech in which he not only called for the removal of racist monuments from city property in New Orleans but also explained the need to reject the warped view of history that had led to their erection in the first place. Northam’s situation was far more self-interested, but he nonetheless had, for a moment, space to address his prior actions in a way that might have at least been thought-provoking. But no.

13) I’m familiar with dynamic range in photography, but had never really thought about it in popular music.  Turns out the music of today is just plain louder with a much more limited dynamic range (and lots of cool charts here to prove it).

14) I do like that Democrats are pushing hard and bold on environmental policy.  But, I’d like it even better if the plans they pushed were more carefully thought through.  Chait on the Green New Deal:

Enacting an aggressive climate-change policy faces two large obstacles. The first is that every aspect of the policy contains a multitude of knotty technocratic challenges. It entails developing programs to wring carbon emissions out of the power sector, buildings, transportation, agriculture, and changing laws at the federal, state, and local levels. The difficulties faced by the long-developing bullet train in California, a state entirely controlled by Democrats, show how challenging it can be to carry out reforms that require buy-in from lots of stakeholders.

The second problem is political. Any national-level response quickly runs into the fact that, even if Democrats gain full control of government in 2021, and even if they abolish the filibuster or find a way to design a bill that can get around it, they will need the votes of moderate or conservative Democrats from fossil-fuel-producing states. The overrepresentation of oil, gas, and coal-producing areas in the Senate helped kill a modest energy tax under Bill Clinton, and a more ambitious cap and trade program under Barack Obama.

Also, adding in the part about paying for people unable or unwilling to work has the potential to be pilloried by Republicans for ages.

15) I also found this twitter thread on the matter to be a super-interesting way of looking at the underlying issues.

16) If we really believe in rehabilitation and redemption, than even former murderers should be able to work as attorneys.  I’d hire him.

17) Found this 538 feature on young, influential, anti-capitalist Democrats to be pretty interesting.  Personally, like Elizabeth Warren, I just think we need to do capitalism a lot better.

18) And speaking of Warren, I enjoyed Krugman’s take on the seriousness of her ideas:

Which brings me to the case of Elizabeth Warren, who is probably today’s closest equivalent to Moynihan in his prime.

Like Moynihan, she’s a serious intellectual turned influential politician. Her scholarly work on bankruptcy and its relationship to rising inequality made her a major player in policy debate long before she entered politics herself. Like many others, I found one of her key insights — that rising bankruptcy rates weren’t caused by profligate consumerism, that they largely reflected the desperate attempts of middle-class families to buy homes in good school districts — revelatory.

She has also proved herself able to translate scholarly insights into practical policy. Full disclosure: I was skeptical about her brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I didn’t think it was a bad idea, but I had doubts about how much difference a federal agency tasked with policing financial fraud would make. But I was wrong: Deceptive financial practices aimed at poorly informed consumers do a lot of harm, and until President Trump sabotaged it, the bureau was by all accounts having a hugely salutary effect on families’ finances.

And Warren’s continuing to throw out unorthodox policy ideas, like her proposal that the federal government be allowed to get into the business of producing some generic drugs. This is the sort of thing that brings howls of derision from the right, but that actual policy experts consider a valuable contribution to the discussion.

Is there anyone like Warren on the other side of the aisle? No. Not only aren’t there any G.O.P. politicians with comparable intellectual heft, there aren’t even halfway competent intellectuals with any influence in the party. The G.O.P. doesn’t want people who think hard and look at evidence; it wants people like, say, the “economist” Stephen Moore, who slavishly reaffirm the party’s dogma, even if they can’t get basic facts straight.

19) Josh Marshall throws some cold water on the Medicare-for-all cheerleaders:

Much of the debate is being carried on on the basis of polling and claims about public opinion that are highly misleading and in some cases intentionally so.

The point is simple. When you poll “Medicare for All” or “a national universal coverage plan” you get anywhere from clear to overwhelming majorities of public support – numbers ranging sometimes into the 60s or even 70s percentages. But when you add a range of the most obvious counters or negatives of such a plan, support drops dramatically.

For instance, if you ask about support for Medicare for All if respondents heard it would “eliminate health insurance premiums and reduce out-of-pocket health care costs for most Americans” you get 67% support and 30% opposition. But if you say it would “eliminate private health insurance companies” support drops to 37%. If you say that it would “require most Americans to pay more in taxes” that also pulls support down to 37%. (These numbers are all from this poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation from last month.)

Now there are good and clear rejoinders to both these criticisms, especially the second. Yes, it would lead to higher taxes. But certainly for the average American those new taxes would be less than the amount of money they currently pay in health insurance premiums. But this gets to a bigger point about politics. You never get to manage a political fight by defining the question entirely on your own terms or un-rebutted. Your opponents get to do the same. Some of those counter arguments will just be baseless or false and they need to be countered as such. With Medicare for All you will almost certainly hear Republicans talking about rationing, death panels, socialism and the like. Medicare for All would probably still include private health insurance providers offering supplementary plans as they currently do with Medicare for seniors. Some version of that exists in most countries with a national health care system. But it would almost certainly eliminate, either in practice or in law, health care plans as we currently know them, plans that provide a single source of reimbursement or coverage for all medical care…

My point here isn’t to throw cold water on the whole effort or demoralize people who see Medicare for All moving to the center of the national debate. But it is a mistake to pretend it’s wildly popular or will be wildly popular in an actual political or legislative debate. Because that’s deeply misleading. It also leads to other confusions. Are Democratic leaders resisting the push for Medicare for All because they’re neo-liberal shills or corrupt weaklings? Or is it because they realize it’s much more political challenging than supporters claim. It may be a bit of each. But people are substantially understating the latter possibility.

20) Chait makes a nice case for an inheritance tax, “An Inheritance Tax Is Democrats’ Best Weapon Against Trump’s Oligarchy.”

21) Flipping channels the other night and “Out of Sight” was on.   Ended up watching the whole thing for the first time in the 20 years since it came out.  Damn that’s a good movie.

22) And, of the newer variety, loved the documentary Three identical strangers.”


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.”


Will the world run out of people?


But, this was a fascinating interview about how the standard UN predictions for population may be much too high.  And largely because they completely fail to account for one of the key drivers in fertility rates: women’s education.  Very interesting stuff here:

 By 2100, that number will balloon to 11 billion, pushing society into a Soylent Green scenario. Such dire population predictions aren’t the stuff of sci-fi; those numbers come from one of the most trusted world authorities, the United Nations.

But what if they’re wrong? Not like, off by a rounding error, but like totally, completely goofed?

That’s the conclusion Canadian journalist John Ibbitson and political scientist Darrell Bricker come to in their newest book, Empty Planet, due out February 5th. After painstakingly breaking down the numbers for themselves, the pair arrived at a drastically different prediction for the future of the human species. “In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline,” they write. “Once that decline begins, it will never end.”…

DB: So, the UN forecasting model inputs three things: fertility rates, migration rates, and death rates. It doesn’t take into account the expansion of education for females or the speed of urbanization (which are in some ways linked). The UN says they’re already baked into the numbers. But when I went and interviewed [the demographer] Wolfgang Lutz in Vienna, which was one of the first things we did, he walked me through his projections, and I walked out of the room gobsmacked. All he was doing was adding one new variable to the forecast: the level of improvement in female education. And he comes up with a much lower number for global population in 2100, somewhere between 8 billion and 9 billion.

JI: Lutz has this saying that the most important reproductive organ for human beings is your mind. That if you change how someone thinks about reproduction, you change everything. Based on his analysis, the single biggest effect on fertility is the education of women. The UN has a grim view of Africa. It doesn’t predict much change in terms of fertility over the first quarter of the century. But large parts of African are urbanizing at two times the rate of the global average. If you go to Kenya today, women have the same elementary education levels as men. As many girls as boys are sitting for graduation exams. So we’re not prepared to predict that Africa will stagnate in rural poverty for the rest of the century.

DB: And that’s just one cultural variable. So you can say that the old models always worked in the past, but what if the past is not prologue? What if we’re moving into a different cultural moment? What if it’s accelerating? And what if that cultural moment really is about the personal decisions women make about their lives?

Image result for after people

Quick hits (part II)

1) Jeannie Suk Gersen on what DeVos’ new Title IX proposals on campus sexual violence get right (a lot) and wrong (a lot).

2) Good stuff from Matt Glassman (easily one of the smartest people I follow in twitter) in the NYT:

Donald Trump has a Congress problem. He can’t get Republicans to promote his policies. And when he forces the issue — as with his border wall — he can’t win their support.

But most Americans don’t know that. After all, Republican legislators voted with the president well over 90 percent of the time during the 115th Congress. Record numbers of appellate judges were confirmed, and the president signed major tax legislation. Many observers have concluded that Mr. Trump dominates the Republican Party, and his loyal base holds congressional Republicans tautly in line.

But discerning legislative influence is more difficult than it appears. Throughout the first two years of the Trump presidency, Republican leaders in Congress skillfully used a variety of tactics to minimize the president’s influence and maximize their own control over public policy.

Critically, congressional Republicans have adopted strategies that make the public — and more important, his conservative base — think Mr. Trump is in command. To casual followers of political news, the visible evidence from congressional votes and news releases suggests a powerful president leading a loyal congressional party. In reality, Republican legislators have hidden their influence, purposefully disguising a weak president with little clout on Capitol Hill while also preserving party unity.

3) Loved this Edsall piece, “The ‘Rotten Equilibrium’ of Republican Politics”

s trend creates a significant dilemma for Trump and the Republican Party. Candidates on the right do best during hard times and in recent elections, they have gained the most politically in regions experiencing the sharpest downturn. Electorally speaking, in other words, Republicans profit from economic stagnation and decline… [emphasis mine]

The results here and in England reinforce the conclusion that the worse things get, the better the right does.

As a rule, as economic conditions improve and voters begin to feel more secure, they become more generous and more liberal. In the United States, this means that voters move to the left; in Britain, it means voters are stronger in their support for staying in the European Union…

This has put the Republican Party in a painful position, according to Wilkinson:

It’s going to get worse for the G.O.P. as the urgency of the economic problems grows. But they just don’t understand that pushing the same button over and over isn’t going to have the same effect. And this is so in part because they don’t really want to see the seriousness of economic divergence, because they have no idea what to do about it that is remotely consistent with Zombie Reagan social policy dogma.

Brink Lindsey, vice president for policy, replied to my queries from a somewhat different angle: “You don’t need conscious intent to produce dysfunction to explain Republican governance failures.”

In Lindsey’s view,

it starts in ideological self-delusion — that government is simply incapable of performing well, so starving it of funds is always a good idea and trying to make it work better is a waste of time. The problem starts there, as I said, but it doesn’t end there, as these attitudes can very easily merge into cynical, lazy indifference to public administration and onward to outright venality and corruption. And, of course, this ideological stance turns out to be incredibly convenient for rich donors looking for any excuse to keep their taxes down.

4) Jill Lepore on the past, present, and future of journalism is terrific.  Read it! (My future students will)

5) I have never made the dreaded “reply all” by accident mistake, but here’s some advice if you do.  Actually, what I love is using the Gmail “mute” feature on my colleagues who (purposely) excessively “reply all.”

6) We need to talk more about the racial wealth gap in America and Cory Booker’s “baby bonds” are a great way to think about addressing it.

7) Oh, let’s mix things up and mention a conservative column that argues that liberal policy plans are over-reliant on taxing the rich to achieve their goals.

The “just tax the rich” rhetoric remains empty because the numbers simply do not add up. Wealthy families and corporations are not a bottomless ATM available to finance a socialist utopia.

In fact, America’s federal tax code is already the most progressive in the OECD, even adjusting for income inequality. The Congressional Budget Office reports that the top-earning 20 percent of taxpayers earn 53 percent of the income, yet pay 69 percent of all federal taxes, including 88 percent of all income taxes. The bottom 40 percent of earners earn 14 percent of the income while collectively paying no income tax, and less than 5 percent of all federal taxes. Tax code regressivity is not the problem.

Some good and true to a point.  And if we really want single-payer health care, yes, we absolutely need to tax the middle class, too (and that’s so much better than all that money going to health insurers, etc.).  But, looking at the massive income inequality in our country, yeah, we should be taxing the rich more.

8) Speaking of which, as Drum points out, there has been a massive shift in the share of business income that actually goes to the workers:

Since 2000, labor’s share has declined by about a trillion dollars. If you’ve become jaded by numbers this huge and have no idea what they mean on a human scale, it’s simple: this works out to something in the ballpark of $7,000 per worker. If we could just get back to the level of 80s and 90s, we’d all be making about $7,000 more per year.

This is not a huge ask. It’s not like trying to bring back the postwar Golden Age. We’re talking about something that was common as recently as 20 years ago. Since then, the CEO class has decided to add a trillion dollars to its income by taking it away from its workers. This is something that Democratic presidential candidates ought to share when they’re out on the campaign trail.

9) Does democracy need truth?  I’d say yes.

10) Seth Masket gives an emphatic “no” to the question of whether Democrats need to nominate a white man to defeat Trump:

What the bulk of the research suggests is that partisanship and campaign fundamentals (the conditions of the economy, the popularity of the incumbent, conditions of war or peace, and so on) have far greater impact on the vote that any intrinsic demographic qualities of the candidates themselves.

11) NYT, “Young Voters Keep Moving to the Left on Social Issues, Republicans Included.”  And, no, they are not going to move back more conservative when they get older.  The world changes.

12) Nice Wired story on how a recent “cancer cure” story is awful journalism run amok

13) In honor of Booker’s presidential declaration, a thread from John Pfaff that reminds me why I first became a fan.  He’s about the only politician talking truly honestly on criminal justice reform.

14) Let’s keep with the twitter.  Really liked this thread on Northam.  I’ll put the tweets I especially liked here.

15) OMG did I hate being bored as a kid.  And I hate it as an adult (it’s just much easier for me to avoid now).  I do not think childhood boredom made me a better person.  Just a more whiny one ;-).

16) This is really good and really sad, “the promise and heartbreak of cancer genomics.”

17) An article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed asks, “Are You Assigning Too Much Reading? Or Just Too Much Boring Reading?”  Personally, I say, neither.

18) Jane Brody makes the case for portion control as the key to weight loss.  I don’t know if it’s the key, but it is important and I’ve found it very valuable.  I like not denying myself anything (including donuts, girl scout cookies, and pizza today), but knowing it’s okay because they were all limited quantities.

19) And here’s your must-read for the day.  Eric Levitz relies on some nice empirical political science to make the case that Democrats should be waging class war in 2020:

Piston’s research affirms a broader insight of contemporary political science: Most human beings view politics through the lens of group identity, not ideology. Ordinary voters do not develop an intellectual attachment to some abstract philosophy of government, and then join the party whose platform best represents their theory of the state. Rather, the average voter is born into a variety of social groups (a religion, a “race,” a class, etc.), and then joins whichever party appears to best represent her people.

This theoretical framework helps explain why voters in the ANES surveys were less likely to complain about the GOP’s indifference to “inequality,” than about the party’s undue deference to the rich: Inequality is an ideological abstraction, “the rich” is a widely resented social group. The “all politics is identity politics” framework also indicates that the typical swing voter isn’t an ideological moderate, but rather, an American whose various social group attachments pull him or her in conflicting directions — for example, a white male union member who sees his racial and gender identities affirmed by the GOP, but his workplace identity celebrated by the Democrats.

There’s little to no evidence that railing against “the billionaire class” hurts Democrats electorally by making them sound too “far left” (in fact, Piston’s book shows that progressive fiscal policies become more popular — which is to say “mainstream” — when pollsters emphasize that said policies would hurt the rich). Meanwhile, there is significant evidence that the deployment of populist, “us versus them” rhetoric increases the salience of class resentments in U.S. elections — and thus, increases the Democratic Party’s share of the vote.

Moderate Democrats have every right to insist on praising the “patriotism” of America’s plutocrats, and deriding the “nasty divisiveness” of their party populists. But when they do so, they are prioritizing their ideological purity over defeating Donald Trump.






Quick hits (part I)

1) We very much take it for granted, but we have gotten so much better at weather prediction (case in point, polar vortex) in recent years.

2) The science of why this weeks frigid temperatures are caused by global warming and we’re likely to have more such events in the future.

The exact details of how this works are complex, but the explanation is simple: warmer land temperatures, particularly in northern North America and northern Eurasia, allow more heat to be transported into the Arctic stratosphere. A warmer Earth makes sudden stratospheric warming events more likely and more frequent. And those events destabilize the polar vortex, bring cold air down into the mid-latitudes, and cause the extreme weather we’re experiencing right now.

3) Obviously, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was wrong to dress in blackface in 1984, but short of murdering, raping, etc.,  someone in 1984, I think it is absurd to call on a person to resign in 2019 when we have a whole career of public service in between by which to judge them.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I’ve heard nothing calling into question Northam as a racist.  It would be one thing if he had some ambiguous/questionable history, and you could say, “see!” but there’s no history of racism, thus this is something really, really stupid and offensive for which he should rightfully apologize.  But to call for his resignation based on something 35 years ago when you’ve got the intervening 35 years to judge his character strikes me as dramatic overkill.  I got in an argument with my wife about this this morning, and honestly, the very fact that it ended up in his medical school yearbook and nobody thought to stop it tells you that it was, very unfortunately, not too far from the cultural mainstream in 1984 white Virginia.

4) I could do a whole quick hits just on Howard Schultz.  The great thing about his candidacy is that it has brought about so much smart commentary on the stupidity of reflexive “both sides!” centrism and the current state of the party system.  Great piece from Eric Levitz, “Howard Schultz Wants a President Who Will Tell Billionaires Their Favorite Lies”

As many have already noted, a “realist” who believes that a third-party candidate can win the 2020 election is a contradiction in terms. Schultz is about as fluent in the realities of modern American politics as Donald Trump is with those of modern American grocery shopping. Meanwhile, Schultz’s ostensible belief that the U.S. government is analogous to an upscale coffee chain — and thus, that Uncle Sam has no more business running up a $21.5 trillion debt than Starbucks does — is no less a declaration of economic illiteracy than Trump’s insistence that trade deficits are tantamount to theft.

But what makes Schultz’s pretensions to realism truly hallucinatory is this: Even if one stipulates that he is right about the appeal of centrism, and the evil of deficits, his own promises about fiscal policy would still be muchmore extravagantly “unrealistic” than the median democratic socialist’s.

In recent days, Schultz has promised to reduce economic inequality, end extreme poverty, cut the deficit, combat structural racism, and ensure that every American has access to quality health care — while keeping taxes on the rich near historic lows.

5) Krugman on “fanatical centrists”

Finally, the hallmark of fanatical centrism is the determination to see America’s left and right as equally extreme, no matter what they actually propose.

Thus, throughout the Obama years, centrists called for political leaders who would address their debt concerns with an approach that combined spending cuts with revenue increases, offer a market-based health care plan and invest in infrastructure, somehow never managing to acknowledge that there was one major figure proposing exactly that — President Barack Obama.

And now, with Democrats taking a turn that is more progressive but hardly radical, centrist rhetoric has become downright hysterical. Medicare and Medicaid already cover more than a third of U.S. residents and pay more bills than private insurance.

But Medicare for all, says Schultz, is “not American.” Elizabeth Warren has proposed taxes on the wealthy that are squarely in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt; Bloomberg says that they would turn us into Venezuela.

Where does the fanaticism of the centrists come from? Much of the explanation, I think, is sheer vanity.

Both pundits and plutocrats like to imagine themselves as superior beings, standing above the political fray. They want to think of themselves as standing tall against extremism right and left. Yet the reality of American politics is asymmetric polarization: extremism on the right is a powerful political force, while extremism on the left isn’t. What’s a would-be courageous centrist to do?

The answer, all too often, is to retreat into a fantasy world, almost as hermetic as the right-wing, Fox News bubble. In this fantasy world, social democrats like Harris or Warren are portrayed as the second coming of Hugo Chávez, so that taking what is actually a conservative position can be represented as a brave defense of moderation.

But that’s not what is really happening, and the rest of us have no obligation to indulge centrist delusions.

6) And Michael Tomasky,” Howard Schultz Is Wrong About ‘Both Sides.’ It’s Republicans Who Ruined the Country.”

Both parties are not to blame for the current dysfunction. All right, the Democratic Party is not blameless. But political polarization has been driven almost wholly by the Republican Party.

I could write a book about this (wait, I have!), but here in a column, let me just give a couple of examples.

The first is Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. You probably know of it; he has this pledge that he makes Republican members of the House and Senate sign agreeing that they’ll never raise a tax. He dreamed it up in the 1980s, and it really took off after George H.W. Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge in 1990. They’ve almost all signed it, and with very minor exceptions, no Republican in Congress has voted for a tax increase since 1990.

This has caused untold dysfunction. How? It’s a government’s job to assess the needs of the body politic and address new needs as they arise through some combination of spending cuts, borrowing, and tax increases. The government wanted to create Social Security; it imposed a tax. It wanted to build interstate highways; it borrowed and imposed a tax. It wanted to bail out the Social Security Trust Fund; it did so through a negotiated combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

Well, if taxation is taken off the table, the government can’t do its job. And that is what Norquist and the Republicans have done.

Imagine if the Democrats had done the opposite. If some Grover Norquist of the left had imposed a no-spending-cuts pledge. They would be branded as complete obstructionists, and reasonably so. But they have not. They accept spending cuts. Maybe grudgingly, but they accept them. They agreed to the 2011 sequestration deal that included big domestic cuts.

So in other words, one party, the Republican Party, has said, for 30 years now, that one of the two major tools any legislature has as its disposal to address society’s problems is unusable, untouchable. That is divisive. That has caused dysfunction. And it’s all on the Republicans. [emphasis mine]

7) Dahlia Lithwick on the awfulness that is Stephen Miller.

8) This is crazy and fascinating– big gender gap of student evaluations of teaching on a 1-10 scale that pretty much disappears on a 1-6 scale (for the record, NCSU uses 1-5).

9) Eric Levitz gets another for his great take on Democrats’ irrational support of the filibuster (something I’ve been complaining about for about as long as I’ve been teaching):

The wealthy speculators and slave owners who founded our republic had little faith in popular democracy. The specter of a tyrannical majority using its power over the state to infringe on individual liberty (i.e. their property rights) haunted their collective imagination. To keep that hypothetical thieving mob at bay, they designed a system of government chock-full of veto points — which is to say, opportunities for powerful minorities to kill popular reforms.

To become a law, bills would need to make it through the committee systems of not one but two legislatures, past an independently elected president, and then (after Marbury v. Madison) survive the withering scrutiny of judicial review (and in many cases, the modifications of state-level officeholders). By modern standards, this system was exceptionally small-c conservative. Virtually no contemporary democracy makes it anywhere near as difficult for elected majorities to govern as the early American republic did.

And yet, even the men who designed this system could not condone the modern Senate filibuster. The framers explicitly debated whether legislation should be subjected to any kind of supermajority requirement in the Senate — and they affirmatively decided against it.

And then, the upper chamber accidently created a loophole that allowed any individual senator to prolong debate indefinitely. Eventually, a supermajority threshold was established for closing that loophole, and, as American politics polarized, exceeding that threshold became a requirement for passing any major law. Now, America’s legislative system isn’t just unwieldy and conservative by 21st-century international standards, but also, by 18th-century American ones…

Arguments for preserving the filibuster come in two flavors: misguided and bad.

10) Drum asks, “How Did Lefties Take Over the Democratic Party So Quickly?” and answers that the ideological divisions were never so big to begin with.

It starts with the observation that there are two fundamentally different kinds of left-wing “centrists.” The first genuinely has pretty moderate views. The second actually has fairly lefty views but doesn’t think there’s any chance of getting them enacted. So they propose moderate programs not because it’s all they want, but because it’s all they think they can get. These folks are best thought of as tactical centrists.

Barack Obama was a genuine centrist in some areas (fiscal policy, for example), but a tactical centrist in others. I don’t have any doubt, for example, that he’s supported true national health care pretty much forever. He just didn’t admit it because he didn’t want to come off as too radical. And once elected, he let Congress take the lead and create the Affordable Care Act because he was keenly aware that it was the most he could get from the Democratic Party at that time.

But what happens to tactical centrists when, suddenly, national health care becomes a mainstream idea again?¹ Well, they were always for it privately, so they’re perfectly happy when it becomes OK to say so publicly.

I think what Drum is missing is not just the shift in the Overton window, but, more importantly, how Obama’s presidency (and I do love the guy) pretty much showed the failure of the tactical centrism approach for Democrats.  Why moderate your ideal points for compromise with somebody who is never going to actually compromise with you?

11) I love this, “Want to Stop Fake News? Pay for the Real Thing.”  Yes.  And you should start with a subscription to the Times or the Post if you don’t have one.  For the record, I could pay less than I do with an Educator rate, but I don’t because I believe in paying for what these news organizations provide.  And, especially pay for local news because we don’t have government accountability without it.

12) Seen a lot of good tweets on the matter and this Vox piece summarizes the key arguments, “The remarkably selective outrage on the right about Roger Stone’s arrest: ‘You shouldn’t only start caring about these things when some rich, white, powerful elite is subjected to its abuses.'”

13) Almost forgot Jamelle Bouie’s historical take on Schultz:

Is there any chance a third-party candidate could contest the presidency and win?

The short answer is no. As long as the United States has an Electoral College and winner-take-all process for presidential elections, third-party and independent candidates will have a hard time finding any traction.

There have been times in American history, though, when third-party candidates have upended the political landscape, winning entire regions of the country, although never the presidency. But unlike Schultz, those candidates weren’t self-proclaimed “independents”railing against “divisiveness” from the center; they were polarizers who built support by cultivating personal followings and sharpening ideological, cultural and geographic divides…

All of these examples share key elements. The most successful third-party candidacies relied on a pre-existing mass constituency, whether a movement or a charismatic following or a distinct minority with shared political and cultural interests. To mobilize those constituencies, candidates threw themselves into polarizing the electorate from novel positions — not the center — sharpening differences and working to reorganize the electoral playing field around their concerns. And they played on divisions in the major parties themselves, capitalizing on shifting attitudes within each coalition. The Populists exploited agrarian discontent within the Democratic Party; the Dixiecrats did the same for white Southern opposition to racial liberalism.

To believe, as Howard Schultz does, that “a formidable third choice for president also has a chance to succeed for the first time since George Washington,” one also has to believe that the structure of American politics has suddenly changed, with a large and distinct constituency of voters just waiting to be tapped by an enterprising candidate. Neither is true.

14) How the bad guys are getting past two-factor authentication.  Sneaky!

15) Trump tweeted out support for Bible literacy classes.  But teaching the bible in an honest and academic way might not be so good for Christians.

16) Love this, “Mom Mortifies Son With Amazing Jumbotron Performance.’

17) Drum, “Only 27% of Americans Think American Health Care Is Above Average.”  You know I’m not suprised.  One argument I pretty much never get from my students any more is, “but American health care is the best in the world!”

18) Interesting from NYT, “A Tiny Screw Shows Why iPhones Won’t Be ‘Assembled in U.S.A.’”

19) Really great NYT feature on American figure skater Gracie Gold and her struggles with mental illness.  I don’t care how talented, I honestly cannot imagine putting my child and whole family what it takes to go through to be an elite individual athlete.

20) Surely not everybody’s cup of tea, but damn did I love the outrageous and surreal satire in “Sorry to bother you.”

21) Enjoyed Benjamin Wallace-Wells on Kamala Harris.

22) And more good Schultz readings to cap things off.  Paul Waldman, “What Howard Schultz’s ludicrous candidacy tells us about the American electorate”

23) And Greg Sargent, “Howard Schultz is anything but a realist.”

When long paid parental leave is too much of a good thing

Obviously, the overwhelming problem in the U.S. is not nearly enough paid parental leave.  And we should absolutely have a national policy providing for it (and it should be socialized out of taxes rather than placing additional burdens on particular businesses).  But it is interesting too learn that there can be too much of a good thing about about 6 months of paid leave is probably about optimal.  The Upshot:

As the United States has debated the issue of paid parental leave, a few employers have stood out by providing very generous terms. One has been the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which in 2015 began offering parents one year of fully paid leave to spend with their babies.

It turns out it was too long to be sustainable. Last week, the foundation told employees it was cutting paid parental leave by half, to six months, because yearlong leaves were impairing the work of the foundation. It will add a $20,000 stipend for new parents to spend on child care costs and family needs when they return to work.

The Gates Foundation’s experience highlights the challenges of devising effective family policies. The United States is the only industrialized country not to offer paid leave, though lawmakers in both parties now support some form of it, as do about 80 percent of Americans. Yet on top of questions about whether it should be mandatory and who should pay for it, there has been little agreement on the right length of time — and whether paid leave alone is enough to help working parents.

International evidence points to some answers. Around six months seems to be the magic number for families to achieve the benefits but to avoid the pitfalls of parental leave. And paid leave is not enough: Financial assistance for child care has a bigger effect on women’s ability to keep working.

Three months or less isn’t necessarily enough time for parents and babies to get the full benefits of physical recovery, bonding and breast-feeding, research has found. Babies often aren’t sleeping through the night by then, and infant child care is most expensive. But leaves of nine months or more can backfire. They’re harder on businesses, and women who take very long leaves are less likely to stay in the labor force, to earn as much or to achieve senior positions, research shows.

This is pretty interesting, but kind of sad that we cannot even get six weeks as a matter of policy right now.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Good Atlantic article on the difficulty in actually achieving “potty parity” in building codes and public restroom design.  Of course, as long as they keep building restrooms with urinals right on top of each other with no or tiny dividers, I really question the judgement of the designers.

2) Seth Masket on what lessons the media should learn from 2016:

3) Really enjoyed Yglesias take/explanation of Elizabeth Warren’s pre-political book on family life and economics:

A glimpse of the electable Warren

Perhaps more than anyone else in the Democratic field, Warren’s prospects are haunted by worries about electability, whether framed in gendered terms around “likability” or in more data-driven terms that her 2018 reelection performance was a lot worse than you’d expect from a blue-state senator running in a Democratic wave year.

But while Two-Income Trap does not exactly reflect Warren’s current, much more ambitious, post–financial crisis policy agenda, it does outline a version of Warren that could be more broadly electorally appealing than her current national perception. The Warren of Two-Income Trap is fiercely progressive in championing the public interest over the bank lobby and her determination to clean up the political system, but is also attentive to the ways that poorly designed social programs can have perverse consequences.

And she’s very much not a dogmatic partisan or a member of any kind of establishment — sharply critical of the Republicans who pushed for the banks’ preferred bankruptcy law, but also savage in her attacks on prominent Democrats, including Biden and Hillary Clinton, who helped them do it.

Perhaps most importantly, Two-Income Trap Warren is offering a pitch for a progressive economic agenda that is squarely framed to appeal to people with moderate-to-conservative instincts on some social issues.

Democrats often seem to implicitly cast the “white working class” as composed exclusively of men who wear hard hats and work in factories while “women” are all ambitious professionals trying to balance family obligations with the drive to make partner or shatter glass ceilings in the C-suite. Two-Income Trap, by contrast, speaks to the questions recently raised by Tucker Carlson as to whether unfettered capitalism is undermining the traditional family.

Warren’s core argument in the book is that shifts in family life over the past couple of generations have not been all for the good, and that the explosion of economic inequality that’s accompanied them is part of the reason. Both the ideas she espouses in the book around bank regulation and the ideas she’s only later come to embrace fundamentally connect to this same theme that the kind of stable families conducive to child-rearing that conservatives idealize fundamentally require a different organization of the American economy.

It’s a framing of the relationship between the economy and family life that, while broadly compatible with the existing progressive policy agenda, is nonetheless pretty strikingly different. It has drawn praise from pundits who lean right on social issues but more to the center on economics. If Warren could translate that praise into actual electoral support from similarly inclined voters, it would give her a clear path to general election victory, which, in turn, seems to be the biggest doubt primary voters have about her.

4) Nobody watched the show “You” on Lifetime.  Then it began streaming on Netflix and became super popular.

5) Robin Givhan on the MAGA hat:

But the Make America Great Again hat is not a statement of policy. It’s a declaration of identity.

The MAGA hat. The acronym reads like a guttural cry. An angry roar. MAA-GAA! It calls out to a time — back in some sepia-tinged period — when America was greater than it is now, which for a lot of Americans means a time when this country still had a lot of work to do before it was even tolerant of — let alone welcoming to — them and their kind. Some see an era of single-income families, picket fences and unlocked doors. Others see little more than the heartbreak of redliningwalkers and beards, and the “problem that has no name.”

The past was not greater; it was simply the past. It’s only the soft-focus, judicious edit that looks so perfect and sweet.

In the beginning, the MAGA hat had multiple meanings and nuance. It could reasonably be argued that it was about foreign policy or tax cuts, social conservatism, the working class or a celebration of small-town life. But the definition has evolved. The rosy nostalgia has turned specious and rank. There’s nothing banal or benign about the hat, no matter its wearer’s intent. It was weaponized by the punch-throwing Trump rallygoers, the Charlottesville white supremacists, Trump’s nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Kanye West and proponents of the wall, the wall, the wall.

6) I’m probably not going to be reading Jon Haidt’s book because I feel like I’ve got a pretty good sense of it from his great interview with Ezra.  And this piece is a really nice summary (thanks, Nicole).  I do think he pushes some of his points too far (and most of academia is not elite liberal arts colleges), but I think he’s got some really important thoughts:

This is a book about three Great Untruths that seem to have spread widely in recent years:

  1. The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  3. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

While many propositions are untrue, in order to be classified as a Great Untruth, an idea must meet three criteria:

  1. It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
  2. It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being.
  3. It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

We will show how these three Great Untruths—and the policies and political movements that draw on them—are causing problems for young people, universities, and, more generally, liberal democracies. To name just a few of these problems: Teen anxiety, depression, and suicide rates have risen sharply in the last few years. The culture on many college campuses has become more ideologically uniform, compromising the ability of scholars to seek truth, and of students to learn from a broad range of thinkers. Extremists have proliferated on the far right and the far left, provoking one another to ever deeper levels of hatred. Social media has channeled partisan passions into the creation of a “callout culture”; anyone can be publicly shamed for saying something well-intentioned that someone else interprets uncharitably. New-media platforms and outlets allow citizens to retreat into self-confirmatory bubbles, where their worst fears about the evils of the other side can be confirmed and amplified by extremists and cyber trolls intent on sowing discord and division…

To repeat, we are not saying that the problems facing students, and young people more generally, are minor or “all in their heads.” We are saying that what people choose to do in their heads will determine how those real problems affect them. Our argument is ultimately pragmatic, not moralistic: Whatever your identity, background, or political ideology, you will be happier, healthier, stronger, and more likely to succeed in pursuing your own goals if you do the opposite of what Misoponos advised. That means seeking out challenges (rather than eliminating or avoiding everything that “feels unsafe”), freeing yourself from cognitive distortions(rather than always trusting your initial feelings), and taking a generous view of other people, and looking for nuance (rather than assuming the worst about people within a simplistic us-versus-them morality).

7) It’s just over a year old, but Scott Alexander on the very minimal placebo effect was really interesting.

8) Yeah, it is crazy that somehow we don’t have seamless on-line micropayments by now.  As a lover of good journalism, in particular, this is a real shame.

9) Interesting technical/empirical exploration to conclude that women are better at free throws than men.

10) Tim Herrera on why you should share your salary.  Seems like such a taboo, so, not here.  But, for the record, as a public employee, it is public record.

11) Pacific Standard on the research on home cooking of my friend and NCSU Sociology professor, Sarah Bowen.

12) Wired, “Pesticides are harming bees in literally every way possible.”

13) Okay, I know it’s bad, but this dramatically warmer winter in Raleigh by 2050 (and many other US cities) sounds kind of pleasant.

14) Chait on the total economic failure of Trump’s tax cuts:

Not only was the Republican assumption that zero revenue would be lost too optimistic, and not only was the more modest “dynamic” model that presumed just a trillion-dollar revenue loss too optimistic, but the “static” revenue model was also too optimistic. The tax cuts are losing more than forecasters predicted even when they assumed it would do nothing to encourage growth.

And as for that spike in corporate investment last year? Alexander Arnonsuggests the entire thing was caused by higher oil prices. As oil prices go up, energy firms invest more money in sucking it out of the ground. “The response to the rise in oil prices,” he writes, “explains the entire increase in the growth rate of investment in 2018.”

Obviously the Trump tax cuts have had an effect. They have bequeathed a gigantic windfall benefit to business owners (as well as the heirs to large fortunes, who will have to pay even lower taxes on the largest inheritances). The Trump tax cuts are of a piece with the endemic corruption that has tied the party’s political class to its buffoonish president. He has made his partners richer, at least temporarily. But by the public-facing standards set out for it, as opposed to the private venal reasons, the Trump tax cuts have failed as miserably as everything else.

15) Never thought the Large Hadron Collider would be a failure.  But that’s essentially the case argues a physicist:

I used to be a particle physicist. For my Ph.D. thesis, I did L.H.C. predictions, and while I have stopped working in the field, I still believe that slamming particles into one another is the most promising route to understanding what matter is made of and how it holds together. But $10 billion is a hefty price tag. And I’m not sure it’s worth it.

In 2012, experiments at the L.H.C. confirmed the discovery of the Higgs boson — a prediction that dates back to the 1960s — and it remains the only discovery made at the L.H.C. Particle physicists are quick to emphasize that they have learned other things: For example, they now have better knowledge about the structure of the proton, and they’ve seen new (albeit unstable) composite particles. But let’s be honest: It’s disappointing…

To date, particle physicists have no reliable prediction that there should be anything new to find until about 15 orders of magnitude above the currently accessible energies. And the only reliable prediction they had for the L.H.C. was that of the Higgs boson. Unfortunately, particle physicists have not been very forthcoming with this information. Last year, Nigel Lockyer, the director of Fermilab, told the BBC, “From a simple calculation of the Higgs’ mass, there has to be new science.” This “simple calculation” is what predicted that the L.H.C. should already have seen new science…

But big science experiments are investments in our future. Decisions about what to fund should be based on facts, not on shiny advertising. For this, we need to know when a prediction is just a guess. And if particle physicists have only guesses, maybe we should wait until they have better reasons for why a larger collider might find something new.

It is correct that some technological developments, like strong magnets, benefit from these particle colliders and that particle physics positively contributes to scientific education in general. These are worthy investments, but if that’s what you want to spend money on, you don’t also need to dig a tunnel.

%d bloggers like this: