The Destructive Influence of Imaginary Peers
By TINA ROSENBERG
Fixes looks at solutions to social problems and why they work.
ALCOHOL ABUSE, COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES, NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY, OPOWER
We humans irrationally think we’re rational. We think that we decide how to behave by weighing the pros and cons. In reality, the strongest influence on our decisions is the example of the people around us — even, oddly enough, when they are imaginary.
Like most universities, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb has a problem with heavy drinking. In the 1980s, the school was trying to cut down on student use of alcohol with the usual strategies. One campaign warned teenagers of the consequences of heavy drinking. “It was the ‘don’t run with a sharp stick you’ll poke your eye out’ theory of behavior change,” said Michael Haines, who was the coordinator of the school’s Health Enhancement Services. When that didn’t work, Haines tried combining the scare approach with information on how to be well: “It’s O.K. to drink if you don’t drink too much — but if you do, bad things will happen to you.”
That one failed, too. In 1989, 45 percent of students surveyed said they drank more than five drinks at parties. This percentage was slightly higher than when the campaigns began. And students thought heavy drinking was even more common; they believed that 69 percent of their peers drank that much at parties.
But by then Haines had something new to try. In 1987 he had attended a conference on alcohol in higher education sponsored by the United States Department of Education. There Wes Perkins, a professor of sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Alan Berkowitz, a psychologist in the school’s counseling center, presented a paper that they had just published on how student drinking is affected by peers. “There are decades of research on peer influence — that’s nothing new,” Perkins said at the meeting. What was new was their survey showing that when students were asked how much their peers drank, they grossly overestimated the amount. If the students were responding to peer pressure, the researchers said, it was coming from imaginary peers.
Report Card on Health Care Reform
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Published: March 23, 2013 183 Comments
Republican leaders in Congress regularly denounce the 2010 Affordable Care Act and vow to block money to carry it out or even to repeal it. Those political attacks ignore the considerable benefits delivered to millions of people since the law’s enactment three years ago Saturday. The main elements of the law do not kick in until Jan. 1, 2014, when many millions of uninsured people will gain coverage. Yet it has already thrown a lifeline to people at high risk of losing insurance or being uninsured, including young adults and people with chronic health problems, and it has made a start toward reforming the costly, dysfunctional American health care system.
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EXPANDING COVERAGE Starting in 2010, all insurers and employers that offer dependent coverage were required to offer coverage to dependent children up to age 26. An estimated 6.6 million people ages 19 through 25 have been able to stay on or join their parents’ plans as result, with more than 3 million previously uninsured young adults getting health insurance. The law requires private health insurers to provide free preventive care, without co-pays or deductibles. Some 71 million Americans have received at least one free preventive service, like a mammogram or a flu shot, and an additional 34 million older Americans got free preventive services in 2012 under Medicare.
Private insurers are now required to cover children with pre-existing conditions, which means that an estimated 17 million such children have been protected against being uninsured.
And more than 107,000 adults have enrolled in a federally run insurance plan for people with pre-existing conditions. The law also bars insurers from canceling policies on sick people; previously, 10,000 people a year had their policies rescinded.
The law appropriated $11 billion over five years to build and operate community health centers, a major factor in increasing the annual number of patients served to 21 million, a rise of 3 million from previous levels. Some $5 billion has been put into a reinsurance program that has encouraged employers to retain coverage for retirees and their families; 19 million people benefited with reduced premiums or cost-sharing.
These shifts suggest that the way markets distribute rewards is neither divinely determined nor purely the result of the “invisible hand.” It is determined by laws, regulations, technology, norms of behavior, power relationships, and the ways that labor and financial markets operate and interact. These arrangements change over time and can dramatically affect market outcomes and incomes.
This poses a dilemma for those making a moral case for free markets. If providers of capital could lay a moral claim to 25 percent of the nation’s income as recently as the early 1990s, why do they have a moral claim to 35 percent today? If the top five executives in a big public corporation could once lay claim to 2 or 3 percent of its profits, what gives them the moral right to 10 percent today? And what possible moral justification could there be for a system in which, for every dollar of increased output resulting from higher worker productivity, a mere 13 cents now goes to the typical worker in higher pay and benefits?
Moral philosophers since Adam Smith have understood that free-market economies are not theoretical constructs — they are embedded in different political, cultural and social contexts that significantly affect how they operate. If there can be no pure free market, then it follows that there cannot be only one neutral or morally correct distribution of market income.
In our current debate over capitalism, too much attention is focused on whether, how or how much to redistribute the incomes that markets have produced, with too little focus on the institutional arrangements that determine how that income is divided up in the first place. Such a focus would take in everything from minimum-wage laws to labor laws to the rules of corporate governance. At this point, the markets’ uneven distribution of income has become so dramatic that it threatens to overwhelm the ability of a progressive tax-and-transfer system to keep up with it.
A useful debate about the morality of capitalism must get beyond libertarian nostrums that greed is good, what’s mine is mine and whatever the market produces is fair. It should also acknowledge that there is no moral imperative to redistribute income and opportunity until everyone has secured a berth in a middle class free from economic worries. If our moral obligation is to provide everyone with a reasonable shot at economic success within a market system that, by its nature, thrives on unequal outcomes, then we ought to ask not just whether government is doing too much or too little, but whether it is doing the right things.
The Shadowy Residents of One Hyde Park—And How the Super-Wealthy Are Hiding Their Money | Vanity Fair
t comes as a surprise to most people that the most important player in the global offshore system of tax havens is not Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, but Britain, sitting at the center of a web of British-linked tax havens, the last remnants of empire. An inner ring consists of the British Crown Dependencies—Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man. Farther afield are Britain’s 14 Overseas Territories, half of them tax havens, including such offshore giants as the Caymans, the British Virgin Islands (B.V.I.), and Bermuda. Still further out, numerous British Commonwealth countries and former colonies such as Hong Kong, with deep and old links to London, continue to feed vast financial flows—clean, questionable, and dirty—into the City. The half-in, half-out relationship provides the reassuring British legal bedrock while providing enough distance to let the U.K. say “There is nothing we can do” when scandal hits.
Data is scarce, but in the second quarter of 2009 the three Crown dependencies alone provided $332.5 billion in net financing to the City of London, much of it from tax-evading foreign money. Matters are so out of hand that in 2001 Britain’s own tax authorities sold off 600 buildings to a company, Mapeley Steps Ltd., registered in the tax haven of Bermuda to avoid tax.
Britain could close down this tax-haven secrecy overnight if it wanted, but the City of London won’t let it. “We have, to put it provocatively, a second British empire, which is at the very core of global financial markets today,” explains Ronen Palan, professor of international political economy at City University in London. “And Britain is very good at not advertising its position.”
Despite the British passion for historic preservation, the recent huge influx of foreign money is changing the capital, both physically and socially. “Our Georgian and Victorian stock is so inflexible, frozen in time,” said Ademir Volic, of Volume 3 Architects. “We’re selling this city as a forward-looking metropolis, yet we can’t change a single window in a conservation area. Everything has to be hidden underground.”
That’s just what the plutocrats are doing: digging down. Maggie Smith, of the London Basement company, which carries out basement renovations, dates the craze to the early to mid-1990s, when she noticed increasing numbers of people wanting to renovate their musty old basements. “It started quite small, with people doing 30 to 40 square meters, generally under the front of a standard Victorian London house,” she says. “Then they began digging out under parts of gardens, then entire gardens, installing light wells and glass bridges to bring in natural light.”
Soon they built underground recreation centers, golf-simulation rooms, squash courts, bowling alleys, hair salons, ballrooms, and car elevators to the underground garages for their vintage Bentleys. The more adventurous installed climbing walls and indoor waterfalls.
“They would dig deep, have a media room and a funny sort of spring-loaded garage or a swimming pool,” says Peter York. “And they would disturb the water table. You can imagine what old-fashioned British toffs thought of that.” One Knightsbridge resident—and tension is such that he declines to identify himself or his street—says that on his short street of 15 or 20 properties he has recently suffered through nine simultaneous renovations.
Cable-TV mogul David Graham outraged his neighbors, near Lennox Gardens Mews, south of One Hyde Park, by seeking planning permission to excavate deeper than the height of neighboring homes, extending all the way under his house and garden. The Duchess of St. Albans, a neighbor, calls the plans “absolutely monstrous and unnecessary.” So far, permission has not been granted.
On March 19, 2003, as troops packed gear into their trucks on the Iraq-Kuwait border and loaded weapons for combat, President George W. Bush told the American people he had given the order to attack.
“At this hour, American and coalition forces are at the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger,” he said.
Ten years later, however, it is clear that most of the reasons given for the second post-9/11 war were dubious at best.
Rachel Maddow recently aired a documentary (which will re-air on Mar. 22 at 9 EST) called Hubris: Selling the Iraq War, in which she reminds us of how we got to that moment.
The head of the Navy’s Pacific fleet called climate change the most significant threat to long-term security in that region.Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III made the comments Friday in an interview with The Boston Globe.He said that turmoil from climate change “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’From the Globe:“People are surprised sometimes,” he added, describing the reaction to his assessment. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”That’s not to say Locklear isn’t also concerned about North Korea’s nuclear weapons testing, the rift between China and Japan regarding a set of small islands and computer hacking associated with China.But Locklear’s worries about climate change align with many other warnings from the armed forces and Defense Department.The Defense Department outlined climate change as a national security threat in the Quadrennial Defense Review it released in 2010.Military branches also have shifted to adopt more clean-energy technology in an attempt to reduce the armed services’ emissions.
When people get more education, they become more productive and help strengthen the entire U.S. economy. So it is discouraging to see that students from wealthy families are increasingly more likely to graduate from college than are those from poor families. This perpetuates inequality from one generation to the next and limits the economic benefits that could come if a wider swath of the population earned college degrees.
The widening gap in college completion rates is documented in a paper by economists Martha Bailey and Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan. Looking at children born in the early 1960s, the researchers found that only 5 percent of children from families in the lowest-income quartile completed college, while 36 percent of those from families in the highest-income quartile did.
For children born around 1980, the college completion rate among low-income students rose to 9 percent, but among high- income students it jumped to more than half (54 percent). In other words, over two decades, the college income gap widened to 45 percentage points from 31 percentage points. This widening was observed even after the researchers accounted for differences in students’ cognitive skills.
It’s tempting to conclude that the advantages of wealth and income have simply intensified, so the odds are increasingly stacked against poorer students. No doubt that’s true to some extent, but Bailey and Dynarski show that most of the change has been driven by trends among female students. The gap between rich and poor in both college entry and college completion widened by almost twice as much for women as it did for men. (An astonishing 85 percent of girls born in well-off families around 1980 entered college.)