Showing posts with label Research. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Research. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Another Kind of Brain Drain

There is a parallel here in the American experience with foreign students. After 9/11, American policy towards students from abroad and student visas became harsher and more restrictive. This resulted in a redirection of students to places like Canada and Germany. Now, we're seeing the flip side of this.

Students that would have maybe studied in America are finding themselves leaving Germany as soon as their education is completed, due in large part to the complexity and difficulty of complying with restrictive, anti-immigrant laws that discourage keeping intellectual capital in the country. Germany needs foreign workers, desperately, in order to maintain its status as a net exporter of goods. It is not uncommon for one German worker to support as many as five other individuals (extended family, etc.) and it is entirely possible to do that here.

If you are going to bring people to your country and educate them and provide them skills, keeping them should be easy. Instead, these people, who have great value and potential, move on, looking for something palatable. Who can blame them?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Income Gap Widens

Would it shock people to learn that the income gap between whites and blacks and Hispanics is getting larger and larger, especially during these tough economic times?

I don't know what's sadder--the fact that this simply isn't news or that we've become accustomed to news like this. How about, for a change, we see the opposite?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Giving the Poor Access to Health Care Increases Quality of Life

You would think a no-brainer like this would catch on:
When poor people are given medical insurance, they not only find regular doctors and see doctors more often but they also feel better, are less depressed and are better able to maintain financial stability, according to a new, large-scale study that provides the first rigorously controlled assessment of the impact of Medicaid.
While the findings may seem obvious, health economists and policy makers have long questioned whether it would make any difference to provide health insurance to poor people.
Common sense tells me that if you provide stable, cost-effective methods of taking care of the needs of people, without wasting billions of dollars on programs which eliminate self-responsibility, you can see the results if that's what you are willing to see. If you refuse to accept that any sort of assistance program for the poor can help, then that's exactly what you're going to see no matter what happens. Critics of this sort of program are going to:

  • Talk about the cost
  • Talk about the waste
  • Talk about rationing health care
  • Talk about eliminating the choices for health care
  • Talk about the poor people who "defraud" the program

And nothing else is going to be considered. Success is something we don't associate with government programs because we're always looking for failure and scandal. Yes, the program costs money, there is waste, and I'm sure that there's going to be cases of fraud. I'm almost sure of it. But this is true of agricultural subsidies, corporate subsidies, and Veteran's benefits. Do we throw those out as well? No.

The fact that people question whether giving health care benefits to the poor will even work should tell you that we live in a society where dishonest arguments are allowed to flourish because we don't do enough questioning of the ideological viewpoints of the advocates. If you're a small government advocate, no amount of data and no evidence can convince you of the fact that giving poor people health care benefits will work unless you can be moved to modify, change, or update your views. Ideological rigidity is paralyzing this country. And it's getting worse because ideology is not properly factored into how we look at where an advocate or opponent of government programs is coming from. It just doesn't seem like anyone on the left or the right can properly explain themselves. But, results don't lie. Especially when they challenge a widely-held belief that all government programs make poverty worse. The truth is, no government program can eliminate or solve poverty, but some government programs can mitigate the effects and allow more people to escape from poverty.

We should work to improve, streamline, and make programs more efficient. In an ideal world, all programs would have the ability to shift and transform without cutting off the people who need a little assistance. I'm a strong believer in streamlining government functions. I'm also a strong believer in the idea that when you talk about "streamlining," it can be manipulated by people into "eliminating" or "reducing" what a program does.

Giving health care benefits to people works. That's what's important. Everything else is just static.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Not Everyone Who Owns a Wireless Phone Is Going to Fly

I cannot fault the marketing hype behind this "info-graphic" presentation. The idea that the airlines are going to cater to people who use cell phones is kind of a no-brainer. Anyone who understands that flying is really getting to be more and more of a rich person's endeavor already knows this.

I would predict that, as more and more airlines begin to realize that their product has such enormous costs built into what they do, they'll begin to price potential customers out of using their services. By charging more for a flight, fewer people will be able to afford to fly. The airlines will then structure their services based on getting just the right number of people to pay the right amount of money to keep them in business. That will mean that fewer people will fly, and those that do will pay just enough to make the airlines profitable. It could totally go the other way--what with cattle calls and all. But security nightmares, cost overruns, and labor costs are eventually going to make flying in a passenger plane a rich man's fancy, I would guess.

Anyway, the arrow points to a part of the info-graphic that bothers me. It says that "73.4% of the Earth's Population Subscribe to Wireless Services." I think it should have read "subscribes," but I'm nitpicking.

No, the real issue here is, so what? 73.4% of the Earth's population is not going to be flying on planes, ever, probably not even one time in their lifetime. That's because many of those "subscribers" actually use a pre-paid wireless phone and live at or below the poverty line. You see, wireless providers know that they can make money off of pre-paid handsets. There are just enough people who make just enough money to afford the basic luxury of having a phone with 50 or 100 minutes of service per month, and those people number in the millions. Are any of them ever going to fly on a plane? No, sadly they will not be able to afford to fly.

This is why I like to question the statistics that are out there. Sometimes you find things like this, which are minor, but do misinform.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Depletable Self Control

See if you can spot the problem here:

Flannery O’Connor once described the contradictory desires that afflict all of us with characteristic simplicity. “Free will does not mean one will,” she wrote, “but many wills conflicting in one man.” The existence of appealing alternatives, after all, is what makes free will free: What would choice be without inner debate? We’re torn between staying faithful and that alluring man or woman across the room. We can’t resist the red velvet cake despite having sworn to keep our calories down. We buy a leather jacket on impulse, even though we know we’ll need the money for other things. Everyone is aware of such inner conflicts. But how, exactly, do we choose among them? As it turns out, science has recently shed light on the way our minds reconcile these conflicts, and the result has surprising implications for the way we think about one of society’s most intractable problems: poverty.
In the 1990s, social psychologists developed a theory of “depletable” self-control. The idea was that an individual’s capacity for exerting willpower was finite—that exerting willpower in one area makes us less able to exert it in other areas. In 1998, researchers at Case Western Reserve University published some of the young movement’s first returns. Roy Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Mark Muraven, and Dianne Tice set up a simple experiment. They had food-deprived subjects sit at a table with two types of food on it: cookies and chocolates; and radishes. Some of the subjects were instructed to eat radishes and resist the sweets, and afterwards all were put to work on unsolvable geometric puzzles. Resisting the sweets, independent of mood, made participants give up more than twice as quickly on the geometric puzzles. Resisting temptation, the researchers found, seemed to have “produced a ‘psychic cost.’”
Basically what they're saying here is that any time you have to make a compromise and resist temptation, your brain won't work as well when confronted with a problem you couldn't solve anyway. I don't know if that's a valid experiment, since it seems fairly common sense to me that if you deny yourself, and set that denial of gratification up in your brain, your brain will be less effective. Consider the same sort of experiment. But run it this way. For half of your subjects, tell them their car has been towed. They cannot resolve this issue until they complete the puzzle you put before them. Now, compare their results with the results of the people who didn't have their car towed away.

How is that much different from the original experiment and how is that a valid experiment?

Anyway, here's where we're headed with this:
Last December, Princeton economist Dean Spears published a series of experiments that each revealed how “poverty appears to have made economic decision-making more consuming of cognitive control for poorer people than for richer people.” In one experiment, poor participants in India performed far less well on a self-control task after simply having to first decide whether to purchase body soap. As Spears found, “Choosing first was depleting only for the poorer participants.” Again, if you have enough money, deciding whether to buy the soap only requires considering whether you want it, not what you might have to give up to get it. Many of the tradeoff decisions that the poor have to make every day are onerous and depressing: whether to pay rent or buy food; to buy medicine or winter clothes; to pay for school materials or loan money to a relative. These choices are weighty, and just thinking about them seems to exact a mental cost.
Again, how is this relevant? People who are living at a subsistence level exist from situation to situation. Let's consider Maslow's hierarchy of needs:

Plenty of people have issues with Maslow, and that's fine. I'm not using Maslow to attack anything. I'm just pointing out that if you are living at the bottom of the pyramid--and are looking for basic sustenance--your mind is not going to be free to accomplish great mental tasks unless you are an extraordinary individual. Maslow identified this in the 1950s with a rather stilted experiment. He used brilliant subjects to perform a basic organization of wants, needs, and all that. And, let's remember something--there are brilliant people who can function under such stress and accomplish great things. These are generalizations, not hard facts.

If you want to come up with another excuse as to why there's poverty, okay. I just think that anything that detracts from the most basic causes--unemployment, lack of education, lack of opportunity, an absence of basic social justice--you're handing the opponents of things like welfare and social programs another half-baked scientific theory.
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