Welcome to the Farmy Party!

Short answer: Enormous government subsidies for mean, dairy, and grains

Long answer: Actually, the short answer is pretty much covers it.

The subsidies are intended to support farming and food production industries and keep prices for these foods stable (not market based), but interestingly, “food” doesn’t seem to include fruits and vegetables.

Thus, meat, dairy and grains (read: corn) are abundant and artificially cheap while fruits and veggies are appear relatively more expensive.

What’s interesting though is that government support of the food industry usually takes the form of a price floor: it guarantees farmers a minimum price for their product.  It enforces supply restrictions to keep the floor intact and buys up any surplus in case farms overproduce.  The extra goes to school lunches and other food assistance programs (e.g. school lunches).

SO — without this support, meat, dairy, and grains could actually be cheaper. What?

Hello backwards logic.  Welcome to the Farmy Party!

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Achievement Gap Whack-a-Mole and The Stress of Parenting

We talk a lot about the racial achievement gap — the fact that Black, Latino and other historically disadvantaged minorities kids perform far worse, on average, than white children in the same classroom or school system.  But we don’t often hear about the income achievement gap, mostly because it is expected that students from higher-income families do better in school than those from lower-income families.

Breaking: turns out students from low-income backgrounds do worse in school than their high-income peers.

Actually, the real Breaking is that the income achievement gap has gotten much worse while the racial achievement gap, for all its perniciousness, has actually narrowed.

As the New York Times reported this week, a Stanford University study showed that since the ’40s, kids from high income families have lept ahead in their scholastic achievement relative to their low-income peers.   Meanwhile, the gap between black and white children has closed almost as rapidly as the income gap has widened.

As the chart at the left shows, a child born in 2000 into a family of economic means — the 90th income percentile, or a family making about $160,000  — scores four grade levels above a child born in the same year to a family in the 10th income percentile ($17,500).

That’s a ninth-grade reading level versus a fifth grade reading level.  On the same test.  For the same age kid.  

Which explains by another study showed that the income gap in college completion widened by 50% in the past twenty-five years.  And as we know, finishing college is a big deal.  Like three times less likely to be unemployed kind of big deal. Like, three quarters of a million dollars over a lifetime kind of big deal.

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Paull et All Bait

Whisper sweet nothings to me, Economist’s Democracy in America blog!

He's not even kidding with that title

Among the many things that my peeps (The Davids: Brooks and Frum; Sullivan; Douthat) are tip-typing about this week is Charles Murray’s strange book, How Rich White People Lost Their Groove and How They Can Get It Back Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010.  Murray says all kinds of crazy stuff and manages to offend just about everyone, including the great minority: reasonable people.

Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded on premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.

YES YOU ARE.

To wit, whoever wrote the Economist’s blog post today had a lot of fun with this exercise (his/her exact words).  An example:

Same-sex marriage. I’m so pro, I almost wish I were gay so I could have one. If compelling evidence were unearthed that showed that widespread same-sex marriage really would precipitate the unraveling of the traditional family and subsequently the stability of society and the ruin of us all, I suppose I’d settle for the right of same-sex couples to shack up.

I’m a bore as it is; imagine how boring I argued the same position over and over in spite of changing times and facts?!

This was going to be a picture of Ron Paul, but even he can be lively sometimes. "The EPA!"


Final thoughts (no promises) on the birth control shenanigans

1.) Though birth control is a critical health benefit, this doesn’t mean every employer must offer insurance that covers it.  Employers should do so voluntarily, and it’s a shame if they don’t, but because contraception violates the core of many religions, we must tread lightly here.  As EJ Dionne in WaPo argues:

Speaking as a Catholic, I wish the Church would be more open on the contraception question. But speaking as an American liberal who believes that religious pluralism imposes certain obligations on government, I think the Church’s leaders had a right to ask for broader relief from a contraception mandate that would require it to act against its own teachings.

2.) 98% of Catholic couples use some form of artificial birth control, but that doesn’t mean that the 2-3% of those who don’t are irrelevant or — this is important — are the only dissenters.  As Ross Douthat points out, there are many Catholics who happily use birth control but who have no interest in the government undermining the Church’s values here.  And, there are many cases in which public health and welfare are so endangered that the government has an obligation to mandate this or that, despite compelling religious liberty issues.  This is not one of those cases.

The argument that the state’s interests can trump religious liberties so long as the group of people being asked to violate their consciences is small enough is not an argument at all. It’s just a raw appeal to power.

(Being the charitable person I am, I think it’s just a dumb mistake that will likely be softened in the next few days)

3.) Finally, and most importantly, this is exactly why employers should have zero to do with health insurance.  The fact that they are at the center of our delivery system is absurd and more of an historical accident than anything else and leads to a completely dysfunctional labor and health care market.

4.) And, if you’re interested in someone’s else’s “interesting” perspective on the issue (save for confirming point #3), read this article by John Cochrane.  As they say in Twitter land, retweets do not equal endorsements.

More on contraception

Beyond policy and morality — way beyond — there is politics.

As much as the former should take center stage, I’d be remiss not to mention how this decision is playing.  Looks like it has some unexpected support:

 

The Catholic bars are really interesting.  But as Sarah Kliff explains, that “unaffiliated” group is really the point because these are the elusive Holy Grail Independents that make or break elections.  The independents that swung the 2008 elections were more female, secular and young than the rest of the electorate.

Many in this group are wary of abortions as a concept, or at the very least not actively pro-choice.  There’s an “intensity gap”, as they say.

But when the conversation moves away from abortion to contraceptives – as it has this week – the intensity gap flips

FWIW.

Hello fans. Today’s topic is abortion.

Well, not really.  Today’s topic is contraception, which, as you’ll see, is a whole different ballgame from abortion.

About two weeks ago, the Obama administration clarified a rule about the health benefits employers must provide — for free — to their employees.  One of these “essential health benefits” is birth control, and some of these employers include Catholic hospitals and social service providers.

[Note: Institutions focused primarily on religion itself — e.g. churches — are exempt from this requirement]

Naturally, peeps is a-twitter.

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Confirmed: I’ve drunk the Trader Joe’s Kool-Aid and I’m OK with That

Home sweet yuppie Cambridge home

I had the pleasure of shopping at Stop & Shop today, which was very similar to every other grocery shopping experience I’ve ever had.  Except those in the past two and a half year, because my local grocery store turns out to be Trader Joe’s (well, Whole Foods is equidistant.  Hi, I live in Cambridge).

I say “pleasure” because it renewed my appreciation for my little TJ’s, which I’ve come to adore since my conversion back in July 2009 when I thought it was some stupid WF knockoff.  NOPE! It also made me regret every time I grumbled at TJs because it doesn’t stock raw beets, Diet Coke, or lentils (I actually don’t feel bad about that.  You need to stock lentils), it runs out of staple items on occassion (garlic is a staple!) and the store is jammed on Sunday at 5pm.

I’m sorry, I’ll never speak ill of you again, Trader.  Stop and Shop gives me freaking vertigo.

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