It’s Not the Rich, Stupid; Cons Just Hate the Poor

Rich Uncle PennybagsThere was a time when the Census Bureau just released figures on poverty as in, “How much money are people making?” But as conservatives saw that poverty rates remained high, they balked. “What about all those fist fulls of sweaty cash we are giving them?!” they screamed. That is: what about the aid the poor get from the federal government? And so the Census Bureau came out with another measure, the Supplemental Poverty Measure or SPM. And it showed something really interesting: since the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008, SPM is actually higher than the old way of measuring poverty. Right now the old way indicates that we have 15% poverty and the SPM indicates we have 16% poverty.

Of course, you know how it goes. If poverty were down, they would declare “Mission Accomplished!” and call for eliminating poverty programs. And if poverty were not down, they would declare that the poverty programs don’t work and call for eliminating poverty programs. But if you look at the actual data, you will see something that is really interesting. From 1967, the poverty rate went down — and fast. It went from roughly 26% to less than 18% in that great inflection point year: 1980. Things changed under the great economic stewardship of Ronald Reagan and his war against the “welfare queens” on behalf of the poor beleaguered rich. The poverty rate shot back up to the low 20% level.

Luckily, a man of the people came to town in 1992. And by “man” I mean Bill Clinton. And by “the people” I mean, of course, “the rich.” The bubble-based boom that he was president during allowed more people to get jobs and so the poverty rate again went down. Over the course of six years, it went down from 21% to 15%. But during those years when poverty was being reduced, Clinton kept his word that he did not come to praise the poor but to bury them: he did indeed “end welfare as we know it.” And look how well it worked! Poverty rates were going down! It had absolutely nothing to do with his welfare policies (or any of his other policies, for that matter), but there was a correlation. And who cared?! He would be out of office by the time all the pain came back!

Under Bush the Younger, the poverty rate stayed pretty much where it had been. It went up a percentage point during the his first term in response to the recession. And then it went down a percentage point during his second term during the recovery. But when the crisis came, it went up starkly and continues to stay high. There are two great conservative heroes of the 20th century, although most conservatives aren’t aware of this. The first was Ronald Reagan, but he could only do so much. In much the same way that it was true that only Nixon could go to China, it required New Democrat Bill Clinton to solidify those conservative gains and really stick it to the poor long term.

And where are we today? Well, it depends upon where you are in the pecking order. Michael Hiltzik laid out the situation very well today, Census Data on Poverty Show Results of Economic Policy Gone Wrong:

The data show that Social Security is the single most powerful anti-poverty program in America — if its benefits were eliminated, the rate would have risen in 2012 from the SPM’s 16% to 24.5%. Among those 65 and older, in a world without Social Security the SPM poverty rate would have risen from 14.8% to a Depression-level 54.7%.

Of course, one reason that Social Security is such a powerful anti-poverty program is that it is the only one that hasn’t been savaged over the last four decades. But the conservatives would love to savage it! It’s the one remaining poverty plan that they could destroy and create huge numbers of 70-somethings out in the labor market keeping wages down at McDonald’s!

This is one small bit of good news, though, “Also striking is the effect of relieving the poor of the burden of medical expenses.” So Obamacare is likely to work to reduce poverty in the years ahead. Or at least, it will work in those states that have accepted the free money of the Medicaid expansion. But it also shows why Obamacare is such a big target for conservatives: it helps the poor!

I used to be of the opinion that conservatives didn’t hate the poor; they just didn’t care. They loved the rich and wanted to do everything they could to help them. That often involved harming the poor. But harming the poor wasn’t the point. I’ve come to think that I’ve been wrong about that. The truth is that harming the poor is usually bad for the rich — or at least not helpful. The money the poor get will jut get spent and circulate to the rich anyway. So helping the poor really helps the rich. See my article, I Was a Middle Class Food Stamp Kid.

So it would seem that harming the poor is an end in and of itself for conservatives. The only doubt I have is the thought that conservatives can’t be that mean and spiteful. But that’s just silly. Conservatives in red states all over the nation are rejecting free money from the federal government that would provide healthcare to the working poor. This is free money that would help everyone in their states. They aren’t taking the money out of pure spite. So of course they would hurt the poor just for the sake of it.

Some Serious Advice About G-Spots and Scrotum

G-Spot

Men, have you been embarrassed that you couldn’t find your woman’s G-spot? Women, have you been embarrassed about having such a clueless man? Fear not! Yet another study has come out that shows that the G-Spot is a myth. You see, ever since German gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg “discovered” the human equivalent of El Dorado, scientists have had as hard a time finding it as conscientious husbands have.

It isn’t that there is nothing to the old G-spot. Anna Pulley provides all the details in a very funny article at Salon, The Truth About the “G-spot”: Why it’s Time to Put This Sex Myth to Bed. But the news is not all good. For those of you who still have a hard time pronouncing the word “clitoris,” we have an even worse phrase: “clitourethrovaginal complex.”

I know what you’re thinking, “Holy lady parts, Batman!” Indeed. I share the awe that is the complexity of the female sexy sex thingity thing. And it isn’t just sex. Women are generally complex. Boys realize this at a very young age, although I must admit that it probably doesn’t speak so much to the complexity of girls as the simplicity of boys. Regardless, it is not at all surprising that women would have a “complex” down there and men would just have a penis.

KuatoSpeaking of that, let’s talk about the scrotum for a moment. Much of the human body is ugly, but nothing is as ugly as the scrotum. Now you would have thought after all this time, evolution would have produced a more attractive scrotum. Women would have seen a man naked, noticed his hideous scrotum and run away. This would have put evolutionary pressure on the scrotum, allowing men with slightly less disgusting scrotum to have produced sons with slightly less disgusting scrotum until it looks at least slightly more attractive than Kuato.

But this hasn’t happened for a very good reason. Most women, despite their complexity, are not interested in getting anywhere near the scrotum. But for those women who are, I have some news for you: men are not interested in you getting anywhere near their scrotum. The scrotum is not an erogenous zone. It is just this very awkward evolutionary solution to keeping sperm cool enough that they don’t die. And the price we pay for this is having a couple of fragile testicles hanging off our bodies. Don’t touch them or lick them or whatever. For God’s sake don’t suck on them! But if we are trying to rape or otherwise harm you, kick them or squeeze them very hard. If we are being nice, however, just stay the hell away and don’t mention how hideous they are!

Anyway, because no one is interested in learning to say “clitourethrovaginal complex,” there is a handy acronym: CUV. In consists of the “vagina, clitoris, and urethra.” This new word comes to us from Emmanuele Jannini, an endocrinologist from Italy. But isn’t that just like a man to reduce sex to nerve endings and body parts? The truth is that sex isn’t really about that. At least in my experience. It’s primarily a brain thing — like vomiting. (Ever wonder why you continue to vomit even when there is nothing to vomit?) In fact, it is well established that many men can bring a woman to orgasm just by leaving the house and never coming back.

The sad thing about this G-spot myth is that apparently, a lot of women have gone into therapy because they couldn’t have one of those crushing G-spot orgasms that they were reading about in the “Pictures Not Making You Feel Inadequate Enough?” column in Cosmopolitan. But it turns out most women just don’t have enough sensation in that part of the body to get much out of it. Anna Pulley humorously refers to the act as “attempting sign language in our partner’s vaginas.” The same thing has to do with the vaginal orgasm. The 25% of woman who can have them have “thicker tissue between the vagina and urethra.” People are built differently.

Thus, once again, I would like to give a plug for masturbation. Don’t get me wrong: sex is great. Interacting with another human being in a very intimate way is wonderful and necessary. But it is not the best way to generate orgasms. I’m for uncoupling sex from orgasms. No woman can ever come close to pleasing me in that way as much as I can myself. And I think that’s true of everyone. When we worry about other people’s orgasms, we get lost in this nonsense about how the orgasm is produced. And we already know the best way to produce an orgasm for ourselves. And we will never know the best way to do it for someone else — regardless of how much we study the CUV.

Education “Reform”: Looking for Cheap Answers the Rich Want

Jesse RothsteinI am a generalist by nature. This is part of why I am no longer a scientist. It just isn’t in me to dig really deep into what are usually esoteric subjects. I’m fascinated by zoology, but the idea of spending a lifetime studying evolutionary changes in the jawbone of the cougar strikes me as rather dull — even though I fully admit that for the right kind of person, there could hardly be a more fascinating subject. This is true of politics too. I know more about economics than most political bloggers, but I certainly am nothing close to an expert. The same is true of political science.

But I have a trick that allows me to see what is going on in politics without being an expert: I look at the incentives of people who push particular policies. That’s especially true in the education “reform” movement. I see that there are many things wrong with our educational system. And there are some things that are too obvious for anyone to miss. The biggest one is the inequality in education funding. We accept a system where the most resources and the best teachers are given to the students who need them the least. Yet this is not an issue that the mainstream education “reform” movement is interested in. In fact, they seem to have this idea that teachers should teach just for the love of it and shouldn’t have the same needs and desires that all workers have.

As a result of this observation, I’ve always been right on top of the con that is the attack on teacher “tenure.” I put the word in scare quotes because it isn’t the kind of tenure that most people think. Basically, it just means that schools have to have reasons for firing teachers. They can’t, for example, fire a black teacher just because the mostly white parents are unhappy about integration. Regardless, how could it possibly be that giving teachers the right to due process is really the A Number One reason that our schools under perform?

Well obviously, that isn’t the A Number One reason. And all you have to do is look at who is funding the education “reform” movement. The poster children of the movement are Billie and Mindy: the billionaires who so care about the kids their primary concern is destroying teachers’ unions. Providing educational equality is something that might take money away from Billie and Mindy. But the more unions can be crushed, the more money the economy funnels to capital owners like themselves.

This brings us to a very interesting interview of Jesse Rothstein by Max Ehrenfreund over at Wonk Blog, Teacher Tenure Has Little to Do With Student Achievement, Economist Says. But before discussing it: of course! I would think differently if the education “reform” movement said, “We have to do something about unequal education funding and get rid of teacher tenure that is protecting bad teachers.” But they aren’t. It is always, “Well, unequal education funding is a problem, but it is politically impossible to do anything about it.” Why? A recent poll found that 77% of Americans have confidence in public school teachers. It isn’t that it is politically impossible. It is that the funders of the education “reform” movement aren’t interested in funding such work. Because they don’t care about improving education; they have other priorities that they are simply using “the kids” to facilitate.

Let’s consider incentives for teachers, shall we? Getting rid of teacher tenure makes being a teacher less appealing. Ask yourself: would I rather have a job where I have some security or where I can be fired for any reason at any time? Not only would you rather have the former, you would probably even be willing to take a job that paid less for that. Yet the education “reform” movement claims getting rid of tenure would be great for the kids. This isn’t totally loony. Getting rid of teacher tenure would doubtless allow more bad teachers to be more easily fired. But it would also cause fewer good people to go into teaching in the first place. It would also allow administrations to fire good teachers for frivolous and political reasons. So would the elimination of teacher tenure really improve the education of our children? Let’s say that it is a contention that is at best controversial. But it is taken as gospel by those in the education “reform” movement.

Consider the most ridiculous argument for getting rid of teacher tenure: young people love risk! Here’s Jesse Rothstein:

The argument that anti-tenure people make is, “Look, there are all these excellent Harvard graduates and Yale graduates or whatever that are now going into finance because it’s risky. They like risk, and those people are being repelled from teaching by the lack of risk.” The people who are going into finance are not just taking on more risk, but are also getting a lot of reward for that risk. That was in some ways the thrust of my research. You can’t think about the risk in isolation. You’ve got to think about the combination of the pay package and the risk. If you adopt a policy that increases the risk, you’re going to have to pay people more to offset that. Maybe that’s a good deal, and maybe it’s not.

Spoken like a true economist! No wonder no one listens. He makes too much sense. Of course, the very idea that people go into finance because of the risk is ridiculous. If they were looking at the same reward with less risk, even more “excellent Harvard graduates and Yale graduates” would be going into finance. And we have to ask ourselves, “Do we really want the kind of people who are going into finance to be teaching our children?” When I was in college, I knew guys like that and they were, not to be too fine a point on it, the worst people in the world.

Rothstein points out another aspect of education “reform” that is toxic: student testing. As is entirely typical of us Americans, we don’t even care about doing it well. What we care about:

I think there’s been a tendency in thinking about methods to prioritize cheap methods over methods that might be more expensive. In particular, there’s been a tendency to prioritize statistical computations based on student test scores, because all you need is one statistician and the test score data. Classroom observation requires having lots of people to sit in the back of lots and lots of classrooms and make judgments.

In the interview, Max Ehrenfreund makes a stupid statement, “Everyone agrees that the goal should be to make teaching a respected profession, a profession that talented and able people want to enter.” How can he even say this? The education “reform” movement wants to make the lives of teachers harder. It wants to destroy unions and it wants to make employment more risky. This does not say, “We respect you!” But Rothstein provides an excellent answer to Enhrenfreund’s ultimate question about what could be done to make teaching a more respected profession:

We could double teachers’ salaries. I’m not joking about that. The standard way that you make a profession a prestigious, desirable profession, is you pay people enough to make it attractive. The fact that that doesn’t even enter the conversation tells you something about what’s wrong with the conversation around these topics. I could see an argument that says it’s just not worth it, that it would cost too much. The fact that nobody even asks the question tells me that people are only willing to consider cheap solutions. They’re looking for easy answers, not hard answers.

He’s actually a lot more positive toward the education “reform” movement than I am. I agree with everything he said. They are looking for easy answers — easy for their funders, that is. But above all, the funders have particular policies they want to push that have little to do with educating children. And the people in the movement itself are only interested in perusing policies that the funders will pay for. In the end, the rich will get what they paid for: fewer worker rights and a more compliant workforce. What we won’t get is better education.


H/T: Jeff Bryant

Incentivizing “Job Creators” Doesn’t Help Economy

Dean BakerDean Baker wrote an interesting article this morning, Should We Worry About Economic Stagnation Due to Weak Supply? It is primarily a response to work by Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon, who has argued that we are headed for a long period of slow growth. Baker scoffed at the idea, not because it is ridiculous, but just because economists have such a frightfully bad track record for making predictions about economic growth.

Baker also noted that there are two competing theories about growth among economists. First, there is the “robots will take all our jobs” theory. By this theory, soon productivity will go through the roof because McDonald’s won’t even have to employ people to make our McDoubles for us. Second, there is Gordon’s (and many others’) theory that productivity is going to stagnate. Baker, in his usual snarky way noted what this says about the economics profession:

This would be like a person going to a doctor for a check-up, with the doctor concluding that the patient is seriously obese and must immediately begin a strict diet and exercise regimen. The patient then goes to another doctor for a second opinion. This doctor is concerned about the patient being too thin and prescribes a high calorie diet to allow the patient to put on weight. This is the state of economics’ ability to predict productivity.

I want to add one thing to this issue, which Dean Baker is well aware of, but usually doesn’t mention. Productivity really doesn’t matter. At least it hasn’t for about four decades. There was a time when increased productivity led to higher wages. There was a partitioning between profits and wages. When productivity went up, profits went up and wages went up. It was a very equitable system where both capital and labor shared the benefits of productivity increases. No more:

Productivity and Real Wages

What this means is that if productivity doesn’t go up, the real wages of workers will be stagnant. But if productivity does go up, the real wages of workers will be stagnant. Dean Baker talks about this issue a lot in general terms: economic inequality is a policy decision. It isn’t God (or Market) given. So I have a very hard time caring about productivity growth when it means nothing for the average worker.

This too says something about the state of economics today: it is primarily concerned with the interests of the rich. In the late 1970s (and certainly by the 1980s), economists should have stood up and made a very big deal of the fact that productivity had become unmoored from the wages of workers. But as long as productivity led to higher profits, it didn’t matter. Who cares about the plebs? Am I right?!

Baker brought up another interesting point in the article. If productivity is going to be slower, then there is less risk of taking money from the “job creators.” If taxes must be kept low so that they will continue to innovate, and the innovations are going to be slow coming, it doesn’t mean as much to cut down the incentives of them to innovate. But I think the government should look at it differently (and should have been for the last four decades): if productivity increases are going to mean nothing for the vast majority of the population, why are we incentivizing to innovate at all? After all, all we are doing is giving them tax breaks to make more money that they don’t use to help the rest of the economy.

Nick Cave, There Is No More to Say

Nick CaveListen up folks: Nick Cave is 57 today. I have almost nothing to say about him. His work speaks for itself. I understand that he is a novelist and a screenwriter. And I even remember him acting (so to speak) in Tom DiCillo’s first film, Johnny Suede. But I don’t know much about this side of his life. I just know his music, especially in Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Of course, at this point it is hard to separate him from the band since Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld left the band — the three of them pretty much were the band. Of course, the band is as good as ever. That’s perhaps that greatest thing about Nick Cave: he hasn’t decreased the quality of his work over time.

Here is a whole set from when the original members were all still in the band. There is no more to say: