Category Archives: Economics

Al Franken Is No Joke.

By the Billion.

Like cool visualizations? Like information? (Of course you do, you’re here, aren’t you?) Want to wile away a few hours? A co-worker sent me a link to this chart he saw on The Big Picture. It’s spending in billions (adjusted for today’s dollars) on random stuff color-coded by “spending, earning, giving, fighting, losing, and illin’.” (Click for a larger size.)

billion_dollar_960

This image originally came from Information is Beautiful, a blog of information organized into really pretty charts and visualizations. Go forth and be aesthetically informed!

More Supermarkets, Please.

via Wikimedia Commons.

via Wikimedia Commons.

Up until last fall, I lived in Bed-Stuy, and the only supermarket near me was so far away that I would just do my food-shopping on the way back from my gym — which happens to be in a completely different neighborhood.  The bodegas on either end of the block where I lived only sold white bread; fresh fruit and vegetables were completely out of the question. Fast food restaurants abounded. After 10 p.m., you had to stand outside the bodega and tell the store employee what you wanted through bullet-proof glass; they handed you your goods via a rotating carousel. If you were hungry at that hour — and I usually was, since I work evenings — there was no place to get food, except Papa John’s. (Ugh.)

Then my lease ran out and I stumbled into an apartment for slightly less than I was paying — in Park Slope, that notorious bastion of upper middle class liberalism and helicopter parenting. My mind was blown. It’s just two miles away, but the demographic chasms are ginormous. This is the whitest, most affluent place I’ve ever lived, and the nutritional options border on the cartoonish. There are supermarkets two blocks in every direction, a surfeit of top-shelf restaurantsthe famous Food Co-Op, and the 24-hour bodega on the corner sells fresh herbs and organic kale. As dope this is for me now, I had to move to a completely different neighborhood in order to have regular access to fat-free milk.

The larger public health implications of these kinds of disparities  are obvious. The lack of access to a decent-sized supermarket is a growing problem here in the city, though it’s worse in other places:  there are just four chain supermarkets in all of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city; Detroit, a city with a population of just under a million, doesn’t have any.

When we talk about obesity and the way it correlates is poverty, we spend most of our time talking about pushing low-income consumers into making healthier choices and probably not enough time discussing how we can get food retailers to sell healthy food them in the first place.

More…

Your Monday Random-Ass Roundup: Nuts about ACORN

Today in my office, a pimp and his prostitute came looking for advice on where to score some blow and advice on how to fill out their W-2s. When I told them what they could do, they accused me of encouraging them to engage in public masturbation. I hope Beck and Co. don’t get hold of the video:

pimp

It’s hard out here for a pimp. No, really. James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles (not pictured above) risked their lives, limbs and a camcorder to infiltrate the den of “thug criminality” that is the largest organization of poor and working families in America.

This is a time for us to appreciate their deep commitment to maligning ACORN, which clearly is an issue of utmost importance in these most troubled and divisive of times. I am sure their hearts and motives are pure.

Now if we can, let us move forward and consider some of the news of the weekend:

1. As always, if you want to learn something new or interesting or possibly infuriating about health care reform, reading Ezra Klein is essential. (Blackink)

2. Are pregnancy, bunions, acne, or receiving therapy or counseling pre-existing conditions that might allow health insurers a reason to deny people coverage? Of course. Best health care system in the world, eh? (Blackink)

3. Officially, according to a U.S. Census report, the Bush years were full of fail. h/t John Cole. (Blackink)

4. Go with your first instincts, Roxanne Wilson. (Quadmoniker)

5. Massachusetts might appoint an interim replacement for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the late Ted Kennedy by the end of the week. (Blackink)

6. In an e-mail sent to friends and supporters last week, Van Jones made his first public comments since resigning from the White House. Said Jones: “Of course, some supporters actually think I will be more effective on the ‘outside.’ Maybe so. But those ideas always remind me of that old canard about Winston Churchill. After he lost a hard-fought election, a friend told him: ‘Winston, this really is just a blessing in disguise.’ Churchill quipped: ‘Damned good disguise.’ I can certainly relate to that sentiment right now. :)” (Blackink)

7. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is cutting federally funded child care in the poorest wards of the District. Making it more difficult for single mothers to bring in money (or inviting child neglect cases) seems like a counter intuitive way of addressing city budget issues, at best. (Shani-o)

8. Something we probably won’t see in any campaign brochures from Texas Gov. Rick Perry next year: Texas remains first in the nation in rates of uninsured residents and uninsured children. Upholding family values and rebuffing creeping socialism … I love my home state. (Blackink)

9. Also related: Perry is not a very smart or honest man. (Blackink)

10. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) backed off prior claims that President Obama is a socialist because, uh … he’s not one. (Blackink)

11. Among those at the Values Voter Summit this weekend, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was the clear choice for 2012 Republican presidential nominee. The 600 voters said abortion was the most important issue in determining their choice. What else is there to say about that? (Blackink)

12. Also at the Values Voter Summit, the chief of staff for Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma made the case that: 1. we should trust the sexual instincts of prepubescent boys; 2. bigotry against homosexuals is fine by him; and 3. “all pornography is homosexual pornography.” Video here. Sigh … Michael Schwartz and his ilk are almost completely beyond ridicule. (Blackink)

13. So rather than resort to ridicule, Amanda Marcotte moves the conversation forward to talk about some of the very real problems with porn. Which don’t include making boys turn gay. (Blackink).

14. Don’t you love links about porn? Yes. Well, here’s another: “The awkward truth, according to one study, is that 90 percent of 8-to-16-year-olds have viewed pornography online. Considering the standard climax to even the most vanilla hard-core scene today, that means there is an entire generation of young people who think sex ends with a money shot to the face.” Whoa. (Blackink)

15. Feminist Finance speculates on where she’d be if she hadn’t rejected all the “dudely money advice” she’s received over the years. (Shani-o)

16. BitchPh.D puts out a call for volunteers for the 40 days for CHOICE campaign. (Blackink)

17. For John and Elizabeth Edwards’ sake, I hope his former aide is lying about this: “Mr. Edwards once calmed an anxious Ms. Hunter by promising her that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.” Please let that be a lie. (Blackink)

18. Let us mourn the death of American civility with Jude at First Draft. (Blackink)

19. Bruce Bartlett remembers Irving Kristol, father of neoconservatism. (Jamelle)

20. According to Marcus Buckingham at the Huff Post, women have grown increasingly unhappy as they made professional and social progress over the past 40 years. There’s a lot to digest in the provocative piece, and I get the feeling something is missing from this analysis. I need someone smarter than me to fill in the gaps. (Blackink)

21. After six years, Leslie Bennetts says The New York Times is finally attempting to set the record straight about the “Opt-Out Revolution” – well-off women who quit their careers to become full-time mothers. (Blackink)

22. Crooked Timber highlights a recent op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education that points out the problem of poor, black and Hispanic students choosing to go to less-demanding college institutions and an overreliance on standardized tests. (Blackink)

23. Colorism isn’t just the purview of black folk — it exists in the South Asian community as well. Sepia Mutiny notes a campaign that’s attempting to address the fear of darker skin. (Shani-o)

24. After charges were dropped last week against five men accused of raping a Hofstra University freshman, Amanda Hess parses some of the many problems of living in a rape culture. That includes false rape accusations. (Blackink)

25. In case there was ever any doubt, Andrew Sullivan has major pull. (Blackink)

26. While I was watching the Giants thump the Cowboys and the season premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” apparently Neil Patrick Harris and the Emmy Awards were putting on quite the show. (Blackink)

27. I’m finding myself agreeing with Alyssa again: you should definitely get down to your nearest newstand or bookstore, pick up a copy of the latest New Yorker and read Ta-Nehisi’s piece about MF Doom and hip-hop. And, like her, I might quibble a bit with a few parts of the feature. Then again, we’re both from the South. (Blackink)

28. Harry Allen asks if Kanye is doomed to become “the next O.J.”? At the least, Kanye’s “victimization” of Taylor Swift has drawn out some of the bigots among us. (Blackink)

29. Nearly four-fifths of NFL players are bankrupt or struggling financially within two years of retirement. The Business Insider looks at some of the reasons why. (Blackink)

30. And because I’m from Houston and hate the Dallas Cowboys, I really enjoyed this:

Feel free to drop some links that would be of interest or chat among yourselves. Let’s hope we’re all in for a great week.

Deuces.

Your Monday* Random-Ass Roundup: Heard ‘Em Say

Believe it or not, I’ve been known to be a jackass. Ask anyone who had the misfortune of knowing me in college. Or a couple years ago. I really hope President Obama isn’t asked about it anytime soon:


Anyway, lots of things have happened since our last Monday roundup. Here’s a few of them, a week and almost a full day later than usual. Sorry. I blame it on death panels and creeping socialism:

1. As you all probably know, President Obama called Kanye West a “jackass” for his behavior at the VMAs. But that moment was supposed to be off-the-record, and so Terry Moran, the ABC reporter who tweeted the comment, took it down. ABC has apologized. (G.D.)

2. Alyssa agrees: maybe Kanye really does need a break. (Blackink)

3. One picture tells a million – or two million – lies. Politifact gets to the truth about the latest “tea party” in D.C. (Blackink)

4. A new poll says that 73% of doctors want a public option. (G.D.)

5. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich attempts to bring some sanity – and facts – to talk about the public option. (Blackink)

6. But even if there is a public option, Obama has plans to go beyond language in a House bill to make sure no public money goes to pay for abortions under health care reform. Why? (Blackink)

7. Speaking of health care reform, file this under everything is always good for Wal-Mart. (Blackink)

8. The FDA just approved a new vaccine against the H1N1 virus that causes swine flu. (Blackink)

9. Despite evidence to the contrary, many people, especially Southerners, think crime is on the rise. (Quadmoniker)

10. 50 Things being killed by the Internet. (Belleisa)

11. In eight states and D.C., being a victim of domestic violence is a pre-existing condition. No, really. (Blackink)

12. As if South Carolina tourism officials didn’t have a hard enough sell, a number of people have indicated they’ll be staying away from the Palmetto State following GOP Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst at President Barack Obama. (Blackink)

13. From Jonathan Chait’s fantastic review of a new biography about Ayn Rand: “‘She wrote of one of the protagonists of her stories that “he does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people’; and she meant this as praise.” Well, that explains a lot. (Blackink)

14. This is rich: President Bush thought Sarah Palin was underqualified to serve on the national level. Well, he would know best. Also, he thinks Hillary Clinton has a “fat keister.” Classy. (Blackink)

15. Wow. A study in England found that when heroin was given to addicts in supervised clinics, drug use and street crime dropped dramatically. (Blackink)

16. Sort of related: Newly released FBI numbers show that we’re nearing epic fail in the “War on Drugs.” (Blackink)

17. Call it “The Chinese Dream“: a number of Africans are migrating to China in search of economic opportunity. In fact, a 10 square kilometer area in Guangzhou has been dubbed “Chocolate City.” (Blackink)

18. After years of being the envy of the nation, California’s higher education system- if not the state itself – could face a bleak future if it follows through on a plan for a large fee increases. (Blackink)

19. Reports of sexual misconduct of federal inmates by prison staff members have doubled over the past eight years, according to The Washington Post. In many places, as Matt points out, being sentenced to prison is a form of abuse itself.

20. A video of Quentin Tarantino’s best movie picks since 1992. And “Friday” made the list. (Belleisa)

21. Racewire calls Michael Moore’s latest film, “Capitalism, A Love Story,” his best work yet. (Blackink)

22. This post, from Booker Rising, is disgusting. And not even close to funny. There will be more on this later. (Blackink)

23. From Jacket Copy, the LA Times book blog, a site called Slaughter House 90210 which mixes pop culture images with literary captions. (Belleisa)

24. Is anyone really surprised that Jay Leno’s new show was not that funny? (Blackink)

25. The Face of Foreclosure: a Planet Money listener offers up aLink series of photographs outside the foreclosed home of Minneapolis woman Rosemary Williams. (Blackink)

26. South African runner and unfortunate international curiosity Caster Semenya has now been placed on suicide watch. I strongly agree with Pam: “She deserved — and deserves — so much better from the collective us than what she’s received.” (Blackink)

27. Michael Jordan will never let us forget that he was better than everyone else. Not even as he’s being inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Blackink)

28. And give it up, New York. LeBron ain’t playing for the Knicks. Unless, of course, he somehow tires of playing on a winning team. (Blackink)

Told you I was a jackass.

* It’s actually Tuesday.

Does It Pay to Play Hard to Get?

A reader, “Unsure” asks Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational, for advice: she wants to jump into bed with a guy [George] that she really likes, but wonders whether she should I make him wait.

“After all, there must be some reason that all those books and magazines (not to mention my mother) champion the make-him-wait rule,” she said. “But does it really work?”

Ariely’s response raised my eyebrow.

…making the guy sweat a little (no, not like that) is in your best interest if you want to maximize the chances f a long term relationship. The reason lies in cognitive dissonance, which refers to what we do when our beliefs and actions misalign: Can’t change the cold, hard facts? Then change your beliefs!

The classic experiment here comes from psychologists Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith, who had participants perform a boring task and then paid them either $20 or $1 to convince someone else that the task had been great fun. Everyone then rated the task, with the result that the $1 participants rated the task more positively than did the $20 crew. While the $20 group could explain away the dissonance between their action (“I told someone the task was riveting”) and their belief (“It actually bored me to tears”) via money (“I was paid to promote the task”), the $1 individuals could not because they could not justify misleading others for such a small amount of money– so they changed their initial belief (“I must really like the task, to have promoted it”) and they ended up rating the task more positively.

To give you an example that is closer to our social life, look at fraternities: loyalty to frats increases with the amount of hazing, since pledges tell themselves, “I did a lot of embarrassing stuff for my frat – it must really matter to me.”

So, going back to your dilemma, Unsure, cognitive dissonance suggests that if you really want a guy, you have to create a dissonance for him, so that he will say, “Wow, if I put in all this effort for the woman – I must love her.”

This means that instead of putting out early, you have George pursue you. Instead of splitting the check, you let him pick up the entire tab. Instead of calling him up and suggesting dates, you leave the calling and planning up to him. In other words, make him work, and he will rationalize it by deciding he loves you.

Yeah, no. I’m not sure this reader wants to follow dating advice from someone who seems to believe in the fundamental rightness of both The Rules and the fallacy of sunk costs. And that frat/hazing analogy is all kinds of janky; I’d wager that greater loyalty from longer pledging periods has to do with the relationships you form with your fellow pledges (who also act as a buffer against dropping out midway through pledging) and more time being exposed to the rigorous indoctrination of the intake process. None of that is true in actual flesh-and-blood dating world. (Or maybe it is and I’ve just been really lucky.)

But what if “George” hates all those quaint little dating games? What if he’s a struggling grad student who would really cotton to a cool, understanding woman who offered to go dutch (or  GASP! — pay for the whole meal)?  Way too many variables, because, y’know, people are complicated, with different turn-ons and dealbreakers.* There are lots of practical arguments for waiting before getting it in (conversations about expectations and sexual health, etc.) but this isn’t one of them.

*In my experience, people tend to shoehorn the narratives of their failed relationship into neat little boxes that overemphasize deviation from their personal values (“he/she didn’t respect me because i slept with him/her too soon!”) while paying less attention to the practical shortcomings of those relationships (immaturity, incompatibility, external obligations, and so on).

Fixing Health Care With Socialism.

Somewhere in a musty box in my mom’s garage is, hopefully, a red folder with pages and pages of notes I took as an undergraduate abroad in London in a class called “Economics of the Public Sector.” (I can’t promise it’s actually there, because the decisions I make on what old papers to keep and what to throw away have a lot to do with what’s in front of me when I’m in the mood to clean and not a lot to do with considering what I might need at some point later in life.)

Either way, I wish I had it in front of me right now, because all the graphs and scribbles I took as a jaunty little Scottish man jabbered away in an entirely incomprehensible accent boil down to one idea that I’m going to have to hope you’ll trust I could convince you of if I had the graphs and scribbles to do it:  private insurance markets always break. More…