Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Talking to little girls without talking about looks

Some good advice and thoughts. "Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It's surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I'm stubborn."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Do tax cuts "pay for themselves" by increasing government revenues?

Nope, argues Bruce Bartlett — who was an economic policy advisor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

But that hasn't stopped Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty from using this idea to justify his economic plan, relying on statistical claims that, as Bartlett explains, are "completely untrue."

Bartlett also clears up the association people often make between Reagan and the "pay for themselves" idea:

[N]o one in the Reagan administration ever claimed that his 1981 tax cut would pay for itself or that it did. Reagan economists Bill Niskanen and Martin Anderson have written extensively on this oft-repeated myth. Conservative economist Lawrence Lindsey made a thorough effort to calculate the feedback effect in his 1990 book, The Growth Experiment. He concluded that the behavioral and macroeconomic effects of the 1981 tax cut, resulting from both supply-side and demand-side effects, recouped about a third of the static revenue loss.
As you'll see if you click the link, Bartlett similarly debunks Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's claim that George W. Bush's tax cuts increased revenues.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"What we’re about to do is redefine what the American family is."

"And that’s a good thing. The world around us evolves."

Does conforming to traditional gender roles lead to better or worse sex?

Better.

Or, worse.

(Both abstracts are from the blog Barking up the Wrong Tree.)

The second article says (here's the whole thing as a PDF; I've omitted the citations to make it more readable):

We propose that men and women who invest in gender norms are more likely to base self-esteem on others’ approval and thus feel less sexual autonomy and consequently experience less sexual satisfaction. . . .

Research on gender roles typically focuses on how adherence to gender norms is problematic for women’s mental health, academic performance, and subjective sexual experiences. Restrictive gender norms, which undermine women’s power, competence, and agency, help account for women’s higher rates of depression, poorer standardized scores, and higher discontent with sex. However, the argument that gender roles are more problematic for women than for men contrasts with evidence that investment in gender norms is a risk factor for both men and women. We argue that although gender roles per se may be more problematic for women than for men, investment in gender norms (i.e., feeling pressure to conform to gender norms) is equally problematic for women and men. With regard to gender roles, the expectation that women should be subservient and cater to their partners affords women less autonomy in their intimate relationships with men. In addition however, both men and women who invest in gender norms may be vulnerable to diminished autonomy because they feel pressure to conform and base their self-esteem on what other people think of them. . . .

We argue that both men and women who invest in gender conformity feel as though they need to meet these ideals to gain others’ approval. Although preliminary evidence suggests that those who invest in gender normativity feel better about themselves when they are engaged in gender-normative activities, our results suggest that elevated affect and self-esteem could be a short-term boost related to feeling as though one has others’ approval. Previous research suggests that boosts and drops in self-esteem related to succeeding and failing at contingencies of self-worth are related to increases in symptoms of depression over time. . . .

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to the question of whether women and men should conform to gender norms. On one hand, research suggests that women and men may gain others’ approval or at the very least avoid others’ disapproval or negative evaluations if they follow gender norms. On the other hand, men and women who feel compelled to follow norms may sacrifice their own needs and desires, which can prevent the development of satisfying and authentic intimate relationships with others.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Is "I Only Have Eyes for You" (the Flamingos version) the best song ever?

While at a cafe in the West Village the other day, I posted this status to Facebook:

John Althouse Cohen is at 'sNice, where they're playing pop songs from the '50s and '60s. Runaround Sue, You Can't Hurry Love, I Only Have Eyes for You, Signed Sealed Delivered, etc. Such overwhelmingly great music. Why can't they make top 40 songs like this anymore?
When I got home, I looked up one of the songs on YouTube:



I almost regret finding this, since I've been watching it compulsively over and over. It might not be the best song ever, but it's at least in the running.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Conservatives criticize Republicans' "growth"-based economic policy.

Kevin Williamson writes in the National Review:

If we had the ability to know in advance how much growth particular economic policies would produce — or even whether they would produce growth at all — then we would never have a recession. We would always be at the sweet spot of maximum real growth. But we are limited and fallible creatures, and right-wing political macroeconomic management is no more reliable, or predictable in its outcomes, than is Keynesian political macroeconomic management. The economy is not a machine, and any time a politician says, “If we will adopt Policy X, we are sure to achieve Statistical Abstraction Y,” he is talking through his hat. . . .

We probably credit politicians too much for good economic outcomes and blame them too much for bad economic outcomes. The economy is big and complex; public finances are less so, and we could, right now, enact policies that would address the imbalances in those public finances, and do so in an orderly and largely predictable way. But that means making very unpleasant choices of the sort that are bound to be keenly unpopular with voters in New Hampshire, Iowa, Florida, etc. . . .

It is important to work toward growth, of course, and to adopt good economic and monetary policies that we think will encourage it. . . . But counting on optimistic assumptions about growth beyond current projections is, for the most part, a way to evade the very difficult business of reconciling our public income with our public spending. We have to work with what we have, with the reality before us.
Ross Douthat, the New York Times' house conservative, links to Williamson's piece and adds that Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has been engaging in
magical thinking, in which cutting taxes on business, investment and high-earners leads to 5 percent growth every year for a decade — something that neither the Reagan nor the Clinton booms came close to achieving — which in turn goes a long way toward closing the budget deficit, happily, before we have to start in on painful cuts.
Ramesh Ponnuru (who writes for the National Review) has more thoughts on how Republicans "don't appear to be trying very hard" to come up with a realistic economic agenda. "[H]alf-remembered bits of Reaganism aren’t a sufficient conservative agenda for today."

When conservatives are so consistently attacking Republican policy — not for being too squishy or compromising with Democrats, but for being too rigidly, ideologically extreme — those conservatives are worth taking seriously.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"You cannot tell someone that you love them and stay silent when people call for their death."

"'Love' is empty when you say someone's life isn't natural."

America's tax rates would be similar to Europe's if health-care costs counted as taxes.

Bruce Bartlett explains:

When Americans see these data they are usually incredulous that Europeans submit to such seemingly oppressive tax levels. Conservatives, in particular, tend to view freedom as a fixed sum: the bigger government is as a share of G.D.P., the less freedom there is for the people (if government consumes, say, 40 percent of G.D.P., then people are only 60 percent free).

The late Milton Friedman popularized this idea, but even he thought that freedom would not be seriously threatened in Western democracies until government spending reached 60 percent of G.D.P. We are far away from that “tipping point,” as he called it; in 2010, total federal, state and local government spending amounted to 36 percent of G.D.P.

American conservatives tend to ignore the composition of spending; to them, just about all spending is equally bad. . . .

Average American workers must pay for health care out of their pockets, or through their employers in the form of lower wages. Europeans prefer to pay higher taxes and get government health care for every resident in return.

Conservatives universally believe that whenever the government provides a service it will be vastly more costly than if the private sector does so. This is why they support the plan offered by Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the House Budget Committee, to essentially privatize Medicare. Conservatives believe competition will drive down health costs for the elderly.

But O.E.C.D. data show that Americans pay vastly more for health care than the residents of any other major country. . . .

[I]f we had a health care system like those in most developed countries, we could, in effect, give every American an increase in their disposable income of 8 percent of G.D.P. – about what they pay in federal income taxes – and have health care no worse than they have in Britain or Japan. It would be like abolishing the federal income tax in terms of allowing people to spend more of their income on something other than health care.

Because most people have little more choice about medical spending than they do about the taxes they pay, one can think of the two as being similar in nature. . . .

Looking at taxes alone, the burden in the United States is 25 percent below the O.E.C.D. average, but including the additional health costs Americans pay, the United States is just 4.7 percent below average.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Something is starting to creep me out about advertising in general, and Apple's advertising in particular.

I've been feeling more and more unnerved by how advertisers abstract away from so many of the fascinating details that make people who they are, and hand us dull, cartoonish, predictable stereotypes that we're supposed to aspire to.

Apple just announced its new operating system, Lion, and I can't focus on the new features because I'm distracted by how insidiously Apple-like the advertising images are.

Apple ads promise a world with perfect racial and gender diversity — but almost no other kind of diversity.

No one is significantly overweight or underweight; everyone's moderately slim.

There are no same-sex couples.

Only a few different ages seem to be allowed: everyone's either 7, 17, or 27.

And of course, everyone has the same expression all the time.

I assume they did a focus group and found that seeing an abundant amount of diversity in the race and gender categories somehow makes us feel better about a world where people are homogeneous in every other way.

Swedish playground

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dr. Jack Kevorkian dies at 83.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, "the central figure in the tumultuous national drama surrounding assisted suicide," died today.

"My ultimate aim is to make euthanasia a positive experience. . . . I’m trying to knock the medical profession into accepting its responsibilities, and those responsibilities include assisting their patients with death."

I also posted a Metafilter thread, which is getting a lot of comments. "Silentgoldfish" says:

I've worked in a palliative care ward. All he was trying to do was make legal the kind of things that happen already but aren't spoken of. And stop people needlessly suffering.
Another commenter, "sotonohito," says:
I watched my father, already pretty much brain dead, suffer two weeks of agony. The hospital wouldn't give him enough medication because that would cause constipation of all insane things. It went on until a nurse risked his job and told us that we had the right to order my father transferred to a hospice.

We did, and though they allowed him to die (removed ventilation), and administered sufficient painkillers, they still were prevented from simply ending his life [which] we knew he would have wanted.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Does Mitt Romney have a good chance at being the Republican presidential nominee?

An ongoing discussion between two New Republic writers. One of them, Jonathan Cohn, thinks Romney has a good chance, while the other, Jonathan Chait, thinks he's doomed by the health-care issue.

One factor I don't see either of them bring up: the conventional wisdom is that Republicans prefer a candidate who's run for president in the past. (I suppose Republicans would say they like to see someone diligent and battle-tested, who's paid their dues — and Democrats would say Republicans are uncomfortable with newness and youth.)

Of course, this isn't an ironclad rule. George W. Bush's nomination in 2000 might seem to be a counterexample since he hadn't run before. But the main other strong candidate, John McCain, hadn't run before either, so this wasn't a factor as between those two. OK, Pat Buchanan had run in the past, but he never had a chance. The general rule isn't a silver bullet that renders all other factors irrelevant.

John McCain's nomination in 2008, on the other hand, is a clear example of the general rule. None of the other plausible candidates (Romney, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson) had run for president before.

You might think 2012 doesn't even offer an opportunity to test the theory, if you think Romney's record on health care makes him an implausible candidate off the bat (along with his flipflop on abortion, his general reputation as a flipflopper, and the fact that he was governor of a state that Republicans view as ultra-liberal). If health care is truly a deal-killer for most Republicans, then it doesn't matter if Romney's record as a candidate in 2008 is an advantage; he has no chance anyway.

Well, I'm not convinced. Everyone knows health care is a major obstacle for Romney. But every presidential candidate faces obstacles. You generally can't completely rule out someone who would otherwise be a formidable candidate based on a single issue. McCain got the nomination despite a very long list of issues on which he had flipflopped and/or taken liberal positions. He was on record attacking the Bush tax cuts on first principles, saying they were unfairly tilted toward the rich. Sure, he later tried to characterize his past position as narrowly as possible (by saying he objected to the tax cuts only if there continued to be excessive spending), but this was as disingenuous as Romney's attempt to distinguish health care as a national issue from the decision he made at the state level: it's hard to imagine any voters actually basing their vote on such transparently post hoc line-drawing. McCain simply took the hit on taxes and other issues, but he ended up getting enough votes to be the nominee. And aren't tax cuts at least as defining an issue for Republicans as health care?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What Medicare services should be cut?

The New York Times' Room for Debate gives some suggestions.

Do we mislead college students about how to pursue their careers and lives?

David Brooks says we do, in this excellent column.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here's a sample:

[T]heir lives have been perversely structured. This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.

Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare people for a decade of extreme openness. But this is exactly what has emerged in modern America. College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. . . .

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to.
Similarly, Eliezer Yudkowsky (who writes the blog called Less Wrong) has observed "how completely ridiculous it is to ask high school students to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives and give them nearly no support in doing so." What kind of "support"? For example, "spending a day apiece watching twenty different jobs and then another week at their top three choices, with salary charts and projections and probabilities of graduating that subject given their test scores."

Why do we give such bad advice to people who look up to us? It's not that hard to stop and notice what's wrong with the advice. After all, Brooks's column probably didn't take long write, and it certainly isn't difficult to read. If you feed students the "find yourself"/"limitless possibilities" message because it projects an appealing image of yourself — as someone who's encouraging and inspiring to young people — you may be helping yourself more than you're helping them.

RELATED: Don't "do what you love."

ALSO: Advice to prospective undergraduates who want to make the world a better place.