distribution of campaign stops

Look at how Edwards’ campaign stands out in the distribution of campaign stops. His stops are marked by stars and are alone running up and down the Mississippi River delta.

the end of equality

From The End of Equality by Mickey Kaus:

Something unpleasant has happened in America in recent decades. It’s not that the country has gotten poorer. It hasn’t. It’s not that the poor are poorer now than they were, say, when I was growing up in the 1960s. They aren’t. But the significance of money, the role of money has changed in ways that conflict with most Americans’ image of their country.

We’ve always had rich and poor. But money is increasingly something that enables the rich, and even the merely prosperous, to live a life apart from the poor. And the rich and semi-rich increasingly seem to want to live a life apart, in part because they are increasingly terrified of the poor, in part because they increasingly seem to feel that they deserve such a life, that they are in some sense superior to those with less. An especially precious type of equality–equality not of money but in the way we treat each other and live our lives–seems to be disappearing.

 

gender differences and educational attainment

Susan Dynarski, of the Kennedy School and NBER, released a new paper in May titled, “Cradle to College: The Puzzle of Gender Differences in Educational Outcomes.” She has some fascinating findings that I think are worth highlighting.

  • Women account for nearly all of the recent growth in the education levels of the labor force.
  • Between 1979 and 2005, the percentage of of 29-year-olds with a B.A. rose from 23 percent to 32 percent. Men contributed one percentage point to the increase while women contributed the other eight.

In general, Dynarski provides data that suggests that women are much more responsive to changes in the cost of college. Dynarski writes, “a drastic reduction in the cost of college substantially increases the college enrollment and completion rates of women, but has no impact upon men.” She concludes that a policies which make college cheaper will increase enrollment but will also widen the gender gap.

For those interested in expanding Pell Grants, is this an acceptable trade-off?

the generosity of philosophers

Check out an interesting blog post on data showing that philosophy students tend to be more generous than other undergraduate students. The data also suggests, however, that the students don’t become generous as a result of studying philosophy but rather start out so.

why generation next should remember to care about poverty in america

“Ultimately, global and domestic poverty are interconnected, as are the solutions to these challenges.” – Center for American Progress

Global poverty is the scourge of our generation. At a time when wealth is dilating at a blistering pace, many of the world’s poor are doing just as badly as ever and their plight is arresting. The students of my generation—Generation Next—those who have come to age with the ease of the Internet and earned their college degrees in the new millennium—have become doughty champions of a fecund global anti-poverty campaign. They are a cadre of well-educated, clever, and entrepreneurial young adults showing deep commitment toward ending the debilitating indigence in the developing world. Generation Next is a group of promising consummate cosmopolitans, making strides in the moral dilemmas posed by their increasingly connected world; what philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah calls the challenges of cosmopolitanism.

But, as Appiah also points out, cosmopolitanism is not just a challenge. It is a mindset that proclaims that we have obligations to others outside of our close network of kin and clan and that we take seriously the value of individual human lives, not just the aggregate value of human life. Just as cosmopolitanism is a challenge for the moral individual, global poverty is a moral challenge for the cosmopolitan individual.

Concern for the global poor has not only become a waxing moral demand; it has become a mainstream cause. A recent issue of Vanity Fair, guest edited by Bono, asked the 2008 presidential candidates what they’d do for Africa. Celebrities are adopting AIDS orphans from Sub-Saharan Africa, lobbying for pro-poor policy change, trumpeting their indignity on the cover of popular magazines, and touting the feel-good product lines of fair trade coffee, sweat-free T-shirts, and (PRODUCT) RED iPods, all in which consumers can indulge with a sense of pride.

But Generation Next isn’t just a generation of moral consumers; it’s a generation in which devoting one’s career to the world’s toughest cases is widespread. Jobs and degrees in sustainable and international development are on the rise; recently the University of California at Berkeley approved a new minor for undergraduate students in global poverty and practice. Harvard and Columbia both have renowned graduate programs in sustainable development. A career in international development offers our generation the opportunity to rectify the injustice etched into many countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Generation Next has exhibited extraordinary compassion and commitment to vanquishing global poverty. But Gen Nexters ought to remember that poverty at home, although in many ways less severe, is just as much a moral obligation.

Jeffrey Sachs has forcefully argued that there is no extreme poverty in the United States. While 2.5 billion people in the developing world live on less than $2 per day and 970 million live on less than $1, Americans rarely know such extreme deprivation. Our poverty line for a single individual, at or below which are 37 million Americans, is right around $10,000 per annum, about 12 times that of she at the $2 per day threshold. Even the income of the two million Americans living below half of the poverty line is still in the stratosphere compared to most developing countries.

But income statistics can be, in some ways, misleading. As Amartya Sen shows, African American men, who make on average many times more than a man from China or Kerala, India, even after controlling for differences in costs of living, have a noticeably lower chance of surviving past the age of thirty-five. Similarly, an African American from Harlem has a much lower chance of living past the age of forty than a man from Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries. Although this is not convincing evidence that poverty among certain demographics in America is as bad as in the poorest countries, it does illustrate the complexity of the poverty phenomenon and suggests that income statistics don’t paint a complete picture. Poverty in developing countries is atrocious, but poverty in America is still real. And the severity of international poverty does not free us from the need to address the troubling blight of poverty in urban, suburban, and rural America.

The American poor are citizens of our own country. To them we are bound by an explicit and implicit social contract that entails particular obligations. The strictest of utilitarians would, of course, disagree. She would argue that we have obligations to whomever has the greatest need. National boundaries, at least when it comes to the issue of poverty, are morally irrelevant. But this requires an extension of the traditional concept of a state.  As it stands, governments, by definition, and unlike individuals, are limited in scope by national boundaries. There may be a utilitarian case to be made that a state ought to offer more aid to developing countries but this in no way entails the dissolution of particular obligations to citizens. Part of what makes our country work well is the idea that we can both meet our most demanding obligations and that we give special attention to those with whom we are closest—fellow Americans.

But most of the champions of the campaign to end global poverty are not strict utilitarians; they prioritize ending global poverty, but don’t necessarily think that domestic poverty should be ignored by policymakers. For these Gen Nexters, as the global anti-poverty movement grows and the 2008 presidential election nears, they should not forget about poverty in America. Domestic poverty entails both a serious material lack—although our incomes are higher and welfare state larger—and inequality that can be psychologically debilitating to the poor.

Some scholars argue that what we look for in determining our well-being is not how well-off we actually are, but how well-off we are in comparison to others. When it comes to inequality, research by Thomas Pikkety and Emmaneul Saez has shown that the top one percent of the income distribution in America now takes in the largest share of the nation’s income—19.3 percent—since 1929. The top ten percent now earns more than 400 times, per person, that of the average individual in the bottom half. Such an unequal distribution of wealth would lead to a lower level of subjective well-being for the worse-off even if they were just as well off in absolute terms. And subjective well-being—happiness and psychological health, broadly conceived—matters.  Researchers have shown that there is a tight correlation between poverty and personality disorders and mental illness. Mothers on welfare in the United States are much more likely to be clinically depressed than mothers with higher incomes. These mothers have a harder time getting a job and will raise their children on welfare; these children will, in turn, be much more likely to experience depression. In order to make progress against poverty, it’s necessary to make progress against the psychological impediments associated with poverty and inequality that prevent individuals from moving upward.

Social mobility and equal opportunity are the cornerstones of our social fabric—the bedrock for the American Dream—and neediness inhibits both opportunity and mobility. Our current situation is like a cartoon in which a character fleeing a growling, slobbering mastiff tries his luck climbing a ladder to escape but is cursed by his inability to even reach the bottom rung. As a result, the character is time after time nipped by the dog, running across the screen, and too preoccupied with avoiding bites to worry at all about how to get onto the ladder.

But perhaps the 2008 presidential election will bring the ladder within reach.

The election will be one in which the plight of others matters enormously, both in itself and as a matter of national security. A February poll from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development shows that 62 percent of Americans believe that poverty here at home is a threat to security.

Poverty is indeed ravaging the world and our country, but it can be brought under control. Raising and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to include non-custodial fathers and single men, offering universal medical coverage, and offering high-quality universal pre-kindergarten and early childhood education are a few of the many sound policy proposals that scholars widely agree would make an impact on poverty.

But 2008 will ultimately be about more than just poverty. For Generation Next and the general population, the 2008 presidential election will turn on the interests of others, broadly conceived. How successfully a candidate stands up to worldwide poverty, the humanitarian crises in Darfur and Iraq, the disproportionate burden borne by the developing world of global warming, and other issues will be a strong measure of his or her success in the election and as a president. And so, no matter your vantage of the 2008 political landscape, the interests of others matter. Generation Next has shown impressive commitment to furthering this cause abroad. We should make sure to remember that the bite can be just as devastating here at home.

the beneifciaries and victims of asymmetric warfare

Barack Obama argued in a recent piece published in Foreign Affairs that one of the major challenges facing our military is our general lack of preparation to engage with foes that fight “asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale.” That the United States faces this military vulnerability is upsetting evidence of our inability to learn from the past.

Do I mean the war in Vietnam? No, I’m referring to the Revolutionary War. The army of King George was, at the time, the largest, best-trained, and best-equipped of all the armies in the world. They had triumphed in some of the most sophisticated and arduous battles of their time, both on land and sea. But their military style was conventional–history would later show that it was in fact sclerotic.

The formal tactics of warfare used by the British in the Revolutionary War were based on conventions followed in previous British engagements. But much of the American successes were attributable to asymmetric warfare; Generals Washington and Greene used a strategy of progressively grinding down British forces rather than seeking victory in a single, decisive battle. Southern militias, who were largely independent of the American army, held firmly against the British by employing guerilla warfare tactics.

So it should surprise us that we, who owe our national freedom to the advantages of asymmetric warfare, have become the sclerotic bunch at the door of defeat by the hand of a rag-tag militia adept in asymmetric battle tactics? If you believe religious fundamentalist terrorism to be a serious threat to the well-being of American citizens and sovereignty then you should be disturbed by the portentous signs of the shortcomings of our present military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the wider Middle East. As they say, history sure must be due to repeat itself.

the persistence of poverty

Below is a summary of a new book out called The Persistence of Poverty by Charles Karelis. It’s an interesting read and I’d certainly recommend it. Even if you don’t buy the arguments he presents a novel way of thinking about the issue of ‘irrational’ behavior amongst the poor.

Views about the behavior of the poor traditionally fall into two camps: dysfunctionalism and non-dysfunctionalism. The former holds that the poor engage in poverty-worsening behavior as a result of psychological dysfunctions such as pathological apathy, a fragmented self, or a weak will. Non-dysfunctionalists believe, by contrast, that the poor remain poor not because of dysfunction but because of unduly limited opportunities or perhaps perverse incentives created by public policy.

 

Conventional economics argues that the poverty-worsening behavior exhibited by the poor (e.g., non-work, non-education, crime, alcohol abuse, non-savings) are irrational because of marginalism; the poor ought to exhibit ‘good’ behavior since the marginal benefit of, say, income or education is greater than it is for the non-poor. But Charles Karelis argues that the poverty-worsening behavior is actually rational behavior for the poor, although it is irrational for the non-poor. He claims that the poor face increasing marginal utility below levels of basic needs rather than decreasing marginal utility from the outset.

 

Karelis postulates that there are three different types of goods: relievers, pleasers, and goods that function as relievers at low levels of consumption and pleasers at high levels. Pleaser goods, such as a glass of fine wine or a rich dessert, always exhibit diminishing marginal utility. But reliever goods, such as basic food needs or salve for a bee sting, exhibit increasing marginal utility. Imagine that you’ve been stung six times by a bee. The salve that you put on the first sting won’t make as much of an impact as the salve that soothes the very last sting. Likewise, quieting a shout in an otherwise silent room will make a much greater impact than quieting a shout in a riot. Karelis argues that this is true for all goods that function as relievers.

 

When we ask, then, why the poor don’t work (the argument can be applied to other poverty-lessening behaviors), we see that their increasing marginal utility curves suggest that they have little to gain from working initially and the marginal income that they will receive. They will require larger incentives in order to jump into the work force. The poor don’t refrain from work because they are irrational, but rather because they are rational but face increasing marginal utility functions for all goods that can serve as relievers.

 

This, naturally, has strong implications for anti-poverty policy. Karelis, for example, thinks that conventional economics lead us to underestimate the positive effects of wage-supplements, such as the EITC, on incentives to work. If marginal utility of income rises amid true scarcity then supplementing income will encourage workers to work more. He diverges from the mainstream view on the positive effects of toughening welfare by arguing that those who cannot benefit from the EITC, those who are not in the formal labor force, will not be encouraged to work through “tough love” policies. Rather, it’s just the opposite. By providing no-strings assistance we increase the marginal utility of income and therefore make it more likely that they will work. Now, no-strings assistance is obviously politically unfeasible. But we should bear in mind the general point that poverty itself will not be a motivator to join the work force since marginal utility slopes upwards for the poor.

In conclusion, Karelis touches on issues of economic justice, of which there are two widely-held theories: the first claiming that people are entitled to whatever they produce or trade for and the second stating that an allocation is just only when it is proportional to an individual’s needs. Utilitarianism says that we should strike a balance between these two poles by finding out which system of redistribution maximizes total welfare. Karelis’ hypothesis regarding increasing marginal utility suggests two deviations from this utilitarian approach. In the first, according to traditional utilitarianism the moderately poor should give to the worst-off as that would maximize total welfare. Karelis argues that since both are under the threshold of basic needs, the worse-off won’t gain more. In fact, the opposite is true: the better-off poor would lose more than the worse-off would gain by giving it away under an increasing marginal utility curve. Second, utilitarianism suggests that redistribution will decrease the work incentives for both the rich and the poor—the rich because of smaller returns on their work due to taxation and the poor because they can get by without having to work. Karelis’ hypothesis suggests that redistribution will increase the work incentives for the poor. He concludes that this suggests that, at least in the U.S., we should favor a theory of economic justice that favors the second theory of justice, need-justice, more than is conventionally appreciated.