Saturday, May 22, 2010

My New Foundation

My wife has been doing some work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

I was thinking that I should have a foundation, too. I could have it jointly with my children. I could be the bull in charge, and my kids, or "little goats" in the more formal parlance of foundations, could be my partners.

The Bull and My Little Goats Foundation.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Paternal Postpartum Depression

A new meta-analysis of many others studies suggests that 10% of new fathers feel depressed after the birth of their children. Equally interesting, dad's depression seemed to correlate with mom's depression.

As a guest couple said to my family life class this term, "having a baby is like dropping a bomb in your relationship."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why The Fear Wave Now?

David Brooks notes that "if you grew up in a big city in the '70s, then life is better for you now in every respect." But this also means that if you grew up in a big city in the '70s, you came of age in a time of crime, drugs, riots, a lost war, and family collapse. If you grew up near a big city in the '70s, as David Brooks did, as I did, the spectacle of the terrible things happening nearby and Coming For You Next was, if anything, even scarier than if you lived within it and learned how to cope with real dangers.

Your worldview is shaped by what was going on when you first started noticing the world. Even if the actual world gets much better - as it has for young Boomers and old Xers - your adolescent worldview tends to stick with you. The generation that came of age in the 1970s, what Doonesbury rightly called "a kidney stone of a decade," are now coming to power.

I think the fear that drives much of American politics now is not driven by real threats of today. They are driven by the scary conditions that prevailed in the childhood and early adolescence of today's rising ruling cohort.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It Really is Important for Government to Make People Happy - With Government

One more interesting idea from David Halpern's The Hidden Wealth of Nations:

"the growing use of subjective satisfaction measures may prove to be the single most important innovation in public services of the last decade."

Subjective satisfaction measures means asking people if they are happy with the services they are getting from government. By looking at the details of what citizens do and not like about their interactions with the state, the government can get a reality check about how it is doing, and which things it needs to improve.

The Canadian government did detailed studies of citizens' satisfaction with the service they were getting. The government was often surprised that the things that bothered and pleased people were not what the government workers providing the service thought it would be. For example, people were much more upset about the police not showing up when they said they would than about whether the police solved the crime. The Canadian government then set targets to improve consumers' satisfaction with government services, starting from this baseline. They evaluate agency heads on whether people are actually more satisfied with the service they are getting, not on whether the agency was satisfied that it followed its own procedures.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The State Should Not Let Fear Be the Declarative Norm

More thoughts inspired by David Halpern's The Hidden Wealth of Nations.

The "declarative norm" is what we perceive others to be doing. We are much more likely to do something if we think that "everyone is doing it."

I have always thought that one of the distinctive functions of sociology is to show people the true proportions of every practice - everyone is not doing it (whatever it is); X percent are doing it, but you could choose to be in the Y percent who are not.

The government often makes the big mistake of inflating a problem to get more attention. However, this strategy makes it more likely that people with think that problematic behavior is the declarative norm, which makes them more likely to do it.

I believe that of all the big mistakes government can make, promoting the culture of fear as the declarative norm is the biggest mistake of all.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Babies Prefer Helpers to Hinderers.

Paul Bloom, a Yale psychologist, has done some nifty studies in which babies watched puppets and toys in little stories in which some characters helped others, while other characters hindered others.

The babies overwhelmingly preferred the helpers.

When toddlers where shown similar stories, they punished the hinderers.

Morality is built in. It is not merely a social construct.