Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Virtues of Volunteer Firefighters


Volunteer firefighters are prime examples of altruism.  A study in Vermont found that "service to others" was far and away the main motivation for volunteering for the serious responsibility, vital training, and dangerous work of putting out fires in rural communities. The second motivation, though, was what the researchers called "image," or what sociologists usually call status.

Some people think desiring status for good works undermines their goodness.  Tocqueville, though, reminds us that American democracy works by mobilizing the citizens' sense of self interest - but self interest, rightly understood.  And that right understanding is that when I serve the community, I am also serving myself.  This does not undermine the virtue of serving the community.  Rather, it puts that habit on a more reliable footing.

Status is a gift we give to others out of justice - a sense that they truly deserve it. We would hope that, in a just community, they would do the same for us, when we truly deserve it, too.

The Vermont study made ingenious use of one local fact - volunteer firefighters could buy a special license plate with an emblem marking their role.  This was not needed to to their job. They often added lights and sirens to their vehicles to help clear their way to a fire.  Rather, the license plates were pure status markers.  And as such, they were good signals of civic virtue, which other people did honor.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Kentucky Legislature Should Not Add "In the year of our Lord" to its Resolutions


The Kentucky legislature quietly voted to add "in the year of our Lord" to all their resolutions.

I think this is a bad idea.

Don't get me wrong - I am a church elder.

The state is not like any other institution.  It should not be run "like a business" or "like your household" or "like a church."  Those are all private institutions, which can have their own private rules. But the government has a mission to serve everyone, not just the majority.

I wish we had more government officials who understood that the government serves all the people, not just the people like them.  The state has to be religiously neutral for the good of the church, as well as to do justice to all the citizens who are not Christian.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Really Works to Reduce Teen Pregnancy (and Abortion)



Colorado is leading the way in providing long-acting reversible contraceptives - LARCs - to teenagers.  These include intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implanted contraceptives, such as Norplant.  The state covers the high upfront cost.

The results have been dramatic - a 40% reduction in teen pregnancy, and a 35% reduction in abortions.

The Colorado plan builds on earlier experiments in St. Louis and statewide trials in Iowa.  Colorado added a "no wrong door" approach, to try to reach teens anywhere and everywhere they might be open to talking about birth and birth control.  In addition to the LARCs, this approach included comprehensive sex education.

I believe LARCs have the possibility of breaking down the polarization about sex and abortion.  Reducing teen pregnancy and reducing the demand for abortion is a cause we can all get behind.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Good News About Global Poverty


The good news is that global poverty at the very bottom has been cut in half in the past generation.

The surprising news is that most people think global poverty is as bad as ever, and maybe getting worse.

Sure, there are still hundreds of millions desperately poor.  But there are now billions of people who are not.

In the 1970s the world changed from mostly very poor, to mostly not very poor.

And the even better news: desperate poverty keeps declining.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Right-Wing Movements Are About Nationalism, Not Economics


There are right-wing movements all over the world.  Some are in more market-oriented societies, some in strong welfare states, some in state-authoritarian economies.  Their economic policies, likewise, range from populist social provision to you're-on-your-own-Jack austerity.

What they have in common is ethnic nationalism.

The Trump vote was driven more by white racial resentment than by economic dislocation.

I believe other studies will find similar things about the rise of right-wing populism in other countries, as well.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Low Education Whites Dying Younger" May Be a Statistical Artifact, Not A Real Worsening


It has been widely reported that low-educated whites have had increased mortality at younger ages, reversing the decades-long trend of all groups living longer in the U.S.  Indeed, the "decline of the white working class" has been the main explanation of who the Trump voters are.

However, this Slate piece points to another possible explanation: the "low-education white" population has changed over time, with the healthier getting more education (and thus moving out of the "less than high school" category).

This takes us into the statistical weeds, and is not a sure thing.  What might have happened is this:

White people who did not finish high school have always been less healthy than more educated white people.  Nonetheless, for a long time, white people of all levels of education have been living longer.  Recently, though, "less than high school whites" started dying younger.  This could mean that this whole group is actually dying younger - they are less healthy, are smoking, drinking, and taking drugs  more (especially opioids), and are committing suicide more.

However, it could also be that the healthiest part of the group of low-education white people used to stop before high school graduation, but now they finish high school.  Even if the overall longevity of these people stayed the same, by using "less than high school" as the dividing line, it appears that the least educated are also dying younger.

As evidence, this article cites a paper which found that if we look at the lowest quartile of whites, there has been no decline in longevity.  It could be that, a generation ago, much of the lowest quartile of whites did not finish high school, so these two categories were very similar.  Now, with more people finishing high school, the "less than" group is smaller and composed of the worst off (who die sooner), while a rising portion of the lowest quartile are now high school graduates.