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Current Affairs

January 19, 2015

"The Year of Piketty"

Bloomberg columnist Clive Crook concisely summarizes the major attacks on Piketty's work and concludes with this vicious, mostly accurate swipe at how the social sciences work:

Attention, social scientists. Don't worry about being wrong, just be wrong in a big way. Be wrong because you over-reach. Be wrong the way Marx was wrong (but maybe hope for less collateral damage).

"Here’s How To See What College Admissions Officers Wrote About You"

Hoo boy, this could really shake things up. Watch Congress pass an amendment to FERPA in world-record time.

A group of Stanford students have discovered a way to access their own confidential admissions files — including comments by admissions officers, criticisms of their applications, and information about how their status as minorities, athletes, or legacies affected their applications.

"A New Study of the Conservative Alternatives to Obamacare, and What's Missing From It"

I agree wholeheartedly with Veronique de Rugy:

This demands, as he puts it, that health-care policymakers discard their “Fortress” mentality and adopt a “Frontier” attitude that tolerates calculated risks and welcomes competition from diverse practitioners and disciplines. . . .

The bottom line: To fix American health care, we need a new way of thinking about it, a new focus away from the demand side – away from the provision of health insurance toward the supply side of health care.

By the way, don't be suckered by those claims that Obamacare is "working". See Michael Tanner's piece.

"Scientists balk at ‘hottest year’ claims"

Not that I'm in the habit of trusting the mass media on heavily politicized stories, but this discussion still proved surprising and enlightening.

UPDATE: See also "The Most Dishonest Year on Record".

"Spin won’t stop the pension wrecking ball"

An editorial by Union Tribune, San Diego.

The debate in the Golden State over government pensions has been distorted for years by union-funded groups like Californians for Retirement Security and their allies. Not only do they deny pension costs are soaring, they consistently depict reformers as driven by animus toward unions and envy over a benefit they won’t get to enjoy.

But two recent U-T stories show the real reason reformers keep trying to scale back public employee retirement benefits: their immense cost.

See also "UC's Pension Fiasco".

"Simple Economic Growth Won't Fix the Middle Class"

Robert Samuelson:

The great middle-class fear today is that the connection between personal aspirations and societal opportunities is breaking down.

Personally, I'd ascribe that fear to an educational system that does too little and a federal government that does too much.

"How computers will replace your doctor"

I like my doctors, but the more stuff I can do for myself the happier I'll be.

For example, look at the future of the general practitioner of medicine. This is considered the epitome of the high-skilled, secure, remunerative job. Four years of college! Four years of medical school! Internship! Residency! Government-protected cartel membership!

And yet, this profession is going the way of the dodo bird.

To understand why, the first thing you need to understand is that multiple studies have shown that software is better able to diagnose illnesses, with fewer misdiagnoses. Health wonks love this trend, known as evidence-based diagnosis, and medical doctors loathe it, because who cares about saving lives when you can avoid the humiliation of having a computer tell you what to do.

January 16, 2015

"The Myth of Gentrification"

Oh, my: this is an eye-opener.

Of course, displacement is not the only way in which gentrification could harm the poor. Residents of gentrifying neighborhoods might stay put but suffer from rising rents. Freeman and Braconi found that rents did rise in gentrifying neighborhoods in New York. But rising rents had an unexpected effect: As rents rose, residents movedless.

“The most plausible interpretation,” the authors concluded, “may be the simplest: As neighborhoods gentrify, they also improve in many ways that may be as appreciated by their disadvantaged residents as by their more affluent ones.”

. . . 

McKinnish, White, and Walsh aren’t the only researchers whose work suggests that blacks often benefit from gentrification. In his book, Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality, sociologist Patrick Sharkey took a close look at black neighborhoods that saw significant changes to their ethnic composition between 1970 and 1990. He found that when the composition of black neighborhoods changed, it wasn’t because whites moved in. That rarely happens. For black communities, neighborhood change happens when Latinos begin to arrive. Sometimes these changes can be difficult, resulting as they often do in new political leaders and changes to the character of the communities. But Sharkey’s research suggests they also bring real benefits. Black residents, particularly black youth, living in more diverse neighborhoods find significantly better jobs than peers with the same skill sets who live in less diverse neighborhoods. In short, writes Sharkey, “There is strong evidence that when neighborhood disadvantage declines, the economic fortunes of black youth improve, and improve rather substantially.”

"Something about the Crusades . . . CNN with up-to-the-moment analysis of church bombings in Europe."

You can laugh--I did--or you can cry a little. Either response is reasonable.

"Congress Fiercely Divided Over Completely Blank Bill That Says And Does Nothing"

Sounds real, but it is The Onion, of course.

A blank piece of legislation that says nothing, does nothing, and contains no text whatsoever has been the source of heated debate in Washington this week, and has sharply divided Congress along partisan lines, Beltway sources confirmed Thursday.

Known as S.0000, the bill, which doesn’t have sponsors, co-sponsors, or an author, has reportedly drawn starkly contrasting opinions from legislators in both the Senate and House of Representatives, and has paved the way for a major legislative battle in coming months.

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