Wealth and Work

Dan Carlin’s Common Sense podcast from January 31, 2015, used the most recent State of the Union and subsequent political maneuvering as a launching point to discussing the nature of work and similar themes. Carlin notes that he hates the term “income inequality” because it frames the issue of wealth disparity in ways that are potentially unhelpful, but struggles for a better term.

His stuff is always worth a listen. This particular podcast reminded me of some prior posts I had done, particularly this one entitled “Technology and the Future of Work.” One question we have to ask ourselves is whether what we designate as the free market, if unregulated, will function in a sustainable way. And, if not, what sorts of regulations are necessary to create that sustainability. Obviously, I think regulation of some sort is necessary. After all, the very concept of property (as distinguished from “stuff you happen to possess at the moment” and the manner of its enforcement is itself regulation of sorts. Now we’re just haggling over the price.

We also have to come to grips with our goals for an economy. Maximum productivity sounds like a good goal until you think of the distribution. Lets say the unregulated free market produces $100 worth of value but $98 goes to one guy and the remaining $2 is divided up so that the remaining 99 people get about $0.02 apiece. Then lets say that regulations put a serious drag on productivity, cutting it in half so that the regulated economy produces only $50 in value. But, let say that the distribution is much closer to equal – maybe the one guy gets $10 while the other 99 get more like $0.40 apiece. Which economic system is better?

One of the things Carlin mentioned was a billionaire commenting that the masses simply needed to reduce their expectations. Maybe the economy has changed such that the average job simply isn’t going to make you able to afford a suburban home and an iphone. This plays somewhat on an idea I’ve had for awhile – that it would be useful for the State to provide a model budget for its citizens based on various income levels. My initial impulse for this was that a lot of citizens are bad with money, and there are often complaints that poor people have enough to live on, but they’re making poor spending choices (e.g. cable, cell phones, tattoos, cigarettes). Perhaps a model budget would help — one for poverty level, one for median income, and maybe model budgets for other income levels. On the other hand, it would be a little uncomfortable if that model budget for median income revealed that the middle class simply could not afford the things we normally associated with “middle class.”

A certain amount of income inequality is very sustainable and, in fact, desirable. If there is that pot of gold available if you just work a little harder, that is quite an incentive. But, at a certain point, the folks on the bottom just aren’t going to give a damn about the productivity of the system and the underlying government structure that supports it. Carlin mentioned the people in Greece and their recent lurch to the left in the wake of austerity measures. How much of a reduction are the people at the top of the heap willing to take in exchange for a sustainable system? Maybe the guy getting $98 in the unregulated market is willing to go to $10 if his alternative is the peasants snapping, wrecking the system, and just murdering him for his stuff (think French & Russian Revolutions).

If we don’t rely solely on the free market to make the determination, how do we decide who gets what and under what circumstances? Well, that’s politics.

R.I.P. Terry Record

Joshua Claybourn has posted on Facebook that Terry Record has passed away at the age of 34. I thought it appropriate to mention that here since I had a number of posts about Record back in 2007 – 2009. Record was a deputy prosecutor under Carl Brizzi in Marion County when he was involved in a drunk driving accident that killed Jimmy Cash. He eventually plead guilty to a Class C felony and spent a year in jail.

Writes Josh of Record’s post-accident efforts:

I will remember his courageous path toward redemption and a renewed faith, particularly through the Catholic tradition. He worked hard to cross the bridge of forgiveness toward a new hope.

I’m hoping for peace for Mr. Record’s friends and family and, of course, hope that Mr. Cash’s friends and family have found peace as well. Sounds like a difficult stretch for these everyone involved with these individuals.

Calamity and Wealth – My Thoughts on Robert Putnam’s America

Emily Badger, writing for the Washington Post, has an article entitled “The terrible loneliness of growing up poor in Robert Putnam’s America.” Putnam’s ideas – as presented – aren’t terribly shocking: children of upper class parents have a lot of advantages that children of lower class parents do not, and these trends are becoming more pronounced and locked in over the years. From the article, it sounds as if he starts the trend line from the 1950s and focuses primarily on the condition of white Americans in that era.

Half an hour into his Swarthmore lecture, Putnam winds into the voice of what an associate calls an “Old Testament prophet with charts.” He starts throwing graphs on the screen behind him that reflect national trends mirrored in Port Clinton: rising income inequality, growing class segregation, the breakdown of the working-class family.

They all look ominously similar. Each graph shows two lines diverging over the last several decades in the experiences of American kids at the top and bottom: in the share born to single mothers, in the chances that they’ll eat family dinners, in the time parents spend reading to them, in the money families invest in their clubs and lessons.

. . .

The poor children in “Our Kids” are missing so much more than material wealth. They have few mentors. They’re half as likely as wealthy kids to trust their neighbors. The schools they attend offer fewer sports, and they’re less likely to participate in after-school activities. Even their parents have smaller social networks. Their lives reflect the misfortune of the working-class adults around them, who have lost job prospects and financial stability.

More than 60 percent of children whose mothers never made it past high school will now spend at least some of their life by age 7 in a single-parent household. In the 1970s, there was virtually no difference in how much time educated and less-educated parents spent on activities like reading to infants and toddlers, which we now know matter tremendously for their brain development. Today, well-off children get 45 minutes more than poor kids every day of what Putnam calls “? ‘Goodnight Moon’ time.”

This sort of work is complemented by the work of Thomas Piketty, the French economist who has shown that, in developed countries, the rate of capital return exceeds the rate of economic growth and, consequently, we see a concentration of wealth among those who own the capital.

In simplistic terms, you don’t acquire wealth through merit so much as you acquire wealth by being in close proximity to it. Putnam wants to change the dynamic through a “won’t anyone please think of the children” appeal to strengthen our social fabric. Which isn’t awful. It’s certainly easier to sympathize with kids who are more or less innocent than with adults who have made a series of poor life choices — even if their circumstances, economic and familial, put a thumb on the scale, tipping the balance in favor of those bad choices. Americans can also always be counted upon to be nostalgic for the ideal of the 1950s when everyone (by which I mean white men) was a member of the Rotary or Masons or Moose or other civic minded organization, and kids grew up in a community with a strong sense of itself. (Putnam’s point of origin – at least rhetorically – seems to be Port Clinton, Ohio circa 1959 which is the place and time of his high school graduation.)

But, historically, what was the actual condition of the working class in, say, the 1890s or the 1910s? Were the kids of laborers in the Gilded Age looking at brighter prospects than the kids of today? I think not. If my assumption is correct, it’s worth looking at what got us from the Gilded Age to the 1950s — which was a better time for working families, even if it wasn’t quite the Leave It to Beaver ideal. Maybe I’m just in a cynical frame of mind, but my sense is that if we find one period of time with particularly concentrated wealth followed by another time of economic prosperity that reaches the middle class, in between we will find a period of calamity.

The prosperity of 1950s middle-class America was built in no small part by the draining of wealth from the upper classes, both domestically and abroad, during the World Wars. Notice how we don’t see so much in the way of landed gentry in England as we once did? Government had no choice but to extract wealth where it could be found in order to fight off the existential threat of war. High taxes on the wealthy and relatively generous benefits for the returning soldiers meant the wealth did not return all at once to the places from whence it came. So, that’s my hypothesis. I’d be interested to see examples of societies that transitioned from concentrated wealth in the upper classes to a more egalitarian sort of prosperity without some intervening awfulness. (An aside – but I also have a notion that societies with concentrated wealth trend toward more extraction of wealth from others (e.g. empire, slave owners) while societies with a more equal spread trend toward more of an organic growth of wealth model (e.g. businesses rising to meet demand — of which there is more if more people have money in their pocket.)

The beneficiaries of concentrated wealth are few in number but the rest of the population are often pitted against one another, fighting over the remainder. (Bringing to mind the Jay Gould quote I’ve probably worn out by now, “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”)

From the Putnam article where he suggests solutions such as more investment in early childhood education, criminal justice reform so more low-income men can find work, religious groups taking up mentoring, and public schools ending “pay to play” fees for after school sports:

Many of these things will require money, though, and that is where the fight brews. In Port Clinton, his team interviewed one mother from the wealthy community that has grown up on the town’s lakefront, as neighborhoods just inland have collapsed into poverty. She is wary of the idea of special education funding for poor kids in town.

“If my kids are going to be successful,” she says, “I don’t think they should have to pay other people who are sitting around doing nothing for their success.”

So, are there viable, less than unpleasant solutions? From my perspective – that of a middle class white male coming from middle class, very educated parents – I don’t know. From my perspective, I earned a lot of what I have. My kids will prosper based on the work and sound choices I’ve made. In the short term, what’s the upside to me and my family for making sacrifices. Now, I can abstract myself from my own personal situation and, at a macro level, see some reasons. But personally, not really.

I studied hard as a kid. I saw a lot of kids goofing off. I even got mocked by fellow students for using big words. I’m not, therefore, naturally inclined toward sympathy for those who didn’t value education. I waited to have kids and picked a compatible spouse to marry after I was done being a kid. I’m not, therefore, naturally inclined toward sympathy for those who have the opportunity to delay being a parent or pick a compatible spouse, fail to take advantage of that opportunity, and suffer economic consequences. I work hard – I’m often the first in and last out of work, I stress over my business even when I’m not at work. I don’t smoke. I exercise. I don’t (often. anymore.) drink to excess. In short, there is some justification for the internal narrative where I worked hard and played by the rules, and I can attribute my relative prosperity to that. Not knowing nearly as much about others, I can attribute their lack of prosperity to them not working hard and playing by the rules. (The narrative about the more prosperous is a little telling — could they have worked that much harder and played by the rules that much more? Of course not. They don’t deserve *their* wealth, go ahead and take it from them if you must. Just leave me alone.)

Fortunately, I’m introspective enough to realize that narration from my perspective is limited at best, but often enough, just plain unreliable. I had opportunities not given to others. My parents valued education, so of course I did. I goofed off quite a bit. More than a little luck is involved in choosing a good spouse (particularly for those who came from unstable families). A lot of the reason I work so hard and stress about my business is because I *have* a business, and if I generate profit, I get to keep it. But relying on that level of introspection and at least a bit of short-term selflessness to create egalitarian social change seems a little too hopeful by half.

So, I think we’re going to continue seeing this concentration of wealth play out until it either causes or is the victim of the sort of calamity that leads to a shuffling of the cards. And, if you’re one of the lucky ones, maybe you can escape the calamity relatively unscathed and enjoy the benefits of a prosperous middle class and an economically secure lower class.

With Malice Toward None: Sesquicentennial of the Second Inaugural

Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war–seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Wow. As powerful now, I think, as it must have been then.

A Corporation is a shield except when it’s not

Initial disclaimer: two different courts, a different legal scenario, and I think the Indiana Court of Appeals probably got it right here. In Meridian North Investments v. Sondhi, decided today, Meridian North was the landlord and Sondhi-Biggs Orthodonics was the tenant. Dr. Sondhi, owner of Sondhi-Biggs, signed the lease on behalf of Sondhi-Biggs. Later, he slipped on some ice and fell, allegedly because Meridian North was negligent in maintaining the premises. The lease contained exculpatory clauses where the tenant said it wouldn’t hold the landlord liable for negligently maintaining the premises. The Court of Appeals said that those clauses didn’t bind Dr. Sondhi because Sondhi-Biggs, and not Dr. Sondhi, was the signatory on the lease. As an agent, he waived liability asserted by Sondhi-Biggs but not himself.

And, yet, under Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Sondhi-Biggs could assert rights and exemptions from general regulations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (and perhaps Indiana’s pending state version) based on Dr. Sondhi’s religious beliefs.

I suppose I’m just taking another opportunity to vent about the inconsistency in how and when we recognize the corporate form. It’s a government created legal fiction designed to limit personal responsibility. It has it’s uses, but that form should be recognized or not consistently.

Education Fight: One Million Kids, Eight Billion Reasons

Indiana’s appropriations for K-12 education is closing in on $8 billion, representing something like 50% of the state budget. Higher ed is another $1.8 billion. That’s a lot of money. For years, educational policy has been in flux due to the work of advocates who use the rhetoric of “choice.” It’s all about the children. But policy makers support kids’ education in much the same way parents often support kids’ sports: loudly, counterproductively, and, quite often, sincerely. And, just as it’s hard to ignore the suspicion that the parent is projecting some childhood dreams of glory on the young athletes, so too is it hard to ignore that big pot of money the policies of choice advocates will redirect to friends, well-wishers, and, quite often, themselves.

From the comfort of my couch, I see three basic fronts for this installment of the education struggle. As an immediate concern, we have the spectacle of ISTEP tests which will test endurance as much as intellect. Short term, we have legislation that will remove the Superintendent of Public Instruction from, what I am told, is a 100 year tenure as chair of the Indiana State Board of Education. Longer term is an effort to make the Superintendent of Public Instruction an appointed position instead of an elected position.

ISTEP Endurance Testing

The ISTEP endurance testing seems to be a product of the requirements of the federal “No Child Left Behind” combined with the recent dithering over Common Core. As you may recall, Indiana abandoned Common Core for reasons that remain unclear to me — other than there was a Tea Party notion that it was a federal imposition and therefore Obama and therefore bad. What the substantive problems with Common Core were, I still don’t know. Indeed, there were complaints from Common Core detractors that the new Indiana standards were too much like Common Core. (From the first link):

When Indiana stopped using Common Core standards last year and wrote its own, we were still required under No Child Left Behind to test our students on whatever standards we used. So the ISTEP+ had to change to reflect the change in standards. Educators have known since last summer that the test would be different, but the shock this week came when schools saw the amount of time the ISTEP+ would take.

And the difference is significant. Last year, a third grader spent a total of five hours and nine minutes doing ISTEP+ testing. This year, that amount jumps to 12 hours and 30 minutes. These increases are for every grade that takes the ISTEP+, not counting stress tests if a school has their students sit to complete those.

The fruits of this slap dash effort to appease Common Core detractors will now be realized by Indiana’s students who have to give the test for these Indiana Standards its shakedown cruise — piloting a lot of the questions. Gov. Pence has attempted to mitigate the political fallout from this through a last minute executive order. Certainly, the headlines he received were favorable — saying in most cases that he was taking action to shorten the test. (See, e.g., “Pence signs executive order to shorten ISTEP”) In reality, his executive order calls for the Office of Management and Budget to hire a consultant which it has done at an expense of $22,000. The first phase, at an expense of $11,000 will be for recommendations on Spring 2015 — though, turning the ISTEP battleship on a dime seems unlikely. (I’m full of mixed nautical metaphors today). The recommendations will come just as the testing is supposed to start. The second half of the consultant’s contract will be for Spring 2016.

Chair of the Indiana State Board of Education

The only slightly less immediate issue is HB 1609 which seeks to remove the Superintendent of Public Instruction as chair of the Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE). The Superintendent is a Constitutional Office provided for in Art. 8, Section 8 of the Indiana Constitution. However, the duties of the Superintendent and the manner of selection for the Superintendent are left up to the General Assembly. The Superintendent’s role as chair of the SBOE is specified by IC 20-19-2-2. The Superintendent is the only member of the SBOE not appointed by the governor. As chair of the SBOE, the elected superintendent has something of a check on education policy over a body otherwise dominated by governor’s appointees. When former Superintendent Tony Bennett turned a largely ignored office into something that riled up the voters, they threw him out in favor of the current Superintendent, Glenda Ritz.

With new blood in the Superintendent’s office potentially upsetting the apple cart, the SBOE suddenly couldn’t get along with its chair. Note: this isn’t necessarily a party thing. The Republican Superintendent always seemed to be able to work with the Democratic Governors, and – though Governor appointees, IC 20-19-2-2 specifies that not more than 6 of the 10 appointees can be from the same political party (although the controls on who is in or out of a political party are a little sketchy). There are Democrats who also stand to profit off of the privatization of education. So, I would say this has more to do with conflicting visions of our educational future than with pure party politics. Advocates of traditional public education tend to favor Democrats and advocates of a more privatized vision tend to favor Republicans, but it’s not a 1:1 correlation.

Rep. McMillin’s HB 1609 recently passed by a vote of 58-40. It leaves the State Superintendent as the 11th member of the board but directs the SBOE to elect a chair from its membership in the July meeting. This effectively transfers control of the SBOE to the Governor entirely. The House rejected, by a vote of 69-26, a proposed amendment that would have had the Department of Education submit nominees from a process involving school districts in the area served by the vacant board seat and one that would have provided for direct election of SBOE members. (Another bill, SB 1, alters the composition of the SBOE to include fewer governor appointees and to include four appointees from the House and Senate that would likely consist of two Republicans and two Democrats) as well as stating that the Superintendent is not the automatic chair.)

The cursory explanation for the power grab is that having the Superintendent as the chair of the SBOE is just too dysfunctional. But I think that’s kind of the point of the current structure. Democratic systems of checks and balances are messy. Sometimes they don’t make the trains run on time. If you’re just going to put all of the power into the hands of the Governor and his people anyway, why let the citizens of Indiana have a direct vote on a position having to do with educational policy at all? Which brings us to:

Appointment of Superintendent of Education

Longer term, there is a proposal that would eliminate the Superintendent as an elected office and make it an appointed position. SB 24 would make that effective in the year 2021. (SB 500 has so much jammed into it, that there could be something about the Superintendent in there for all I know.)

Seems to me that, to the extent Republicans pass legislation that concentrates education authority in the hands of the Governor, they are being a little short sighted. Democrats don’t have much luck in statewide elections in Indiana. They have somewhat more luck in Governors races than in down-ticket races. I’m not one to put too much stock in the “messages” being sent by voters — the ballot box is not a very precise tool for communication. But, the fact that Tony Bennett was rejected as Superintendent of Education was probably as close as we get. His position was very specific to education. His tenure was very much about privatizing Indiana’s educational system and otherwise diverting money away from traditional schools. Despite being in a very favorable position (down-ticket, statewide race) in a very favorable year, Tony Bennett lost, receiving 48% of the vote to Ritz’s 52% – the first Republican to lose that race in 40 years. I have nothing against Superintendent Ritz, but I don’t believe the result of this race was so much about embracing her as it was about rejecting Bennett and his policies. Nevertheless, proponents of the policies championed by Bennett will not be dissuaded. They are just that passionate about the children, you see.

The hell of all of this is that it’s not doing the kids any good. I know my kids are going to be trading education time for time taking a standardized test. They’ll do fine, but they’d be better off if their teachers were talking to them about history or current events or triangles or just about anything. Heck, they’d be better off running around outside kicking a ball around. And, generally speaking, there isn’t a lot of evidence showing that kids are doing any better in the non-traditional schools parents theoretically get to choose after all is said and done. The 20 years or so of data we have show that voucher schools don’t perform notably better and often perform worse than traditional schools.

There are about a million kids in Indiana’s schools, but more like eight billion reasons for this education fight.

Wealth and Marriage

There is a New York Times article about how married couples are better off financially than their single counterparts.

But, while it did a good job of describing the wealth gap between married and single, it didn’t do a good job of describing the reasons behind it – looking at whether, for example, the relationship was causative (and in which direction) or merely correlated. I imagine there’s a little of everything going on.

People who have money are more likely to get married. People who get married are more likely to save money. And the sorts of habits and abilities that make people able to make money also make them able to enter into and sustain a marriage. I don’t think it’s simply a matter of telling poor people to get married and they’ll wind up wealthier. (See, e.g. the proposal for an “Office of Marriage Promotion”) A lot of the dysfunctions that make people poor would also make their marriages a disaster (and still leave them poor) even assuming they were able to find a willing partner.

ISTEP+: 243% more wasted instructional time thanks to Common Core Opponents

So, because people had an emotional opposition to Common Core and we have a slavish devotion to standardized tests that don’t do much to educate our kids, the State of Indiana is going to use my kids and their instructional time to vet its new test questions. Super.

Claire McInerny at State Impact Indiana explains that the increased duration of the testing has to do with Indiana’s decision to drop Common Core:

Last year, a third grader spent a total of five hours and nine minutes doing ISTEP+ testing. This year, that amount jumps to 12 hours and 30 minutes. These increases are for every grade that takes the ISTEP+, not counting stress tests if a school has their students sit to complete those.
. . .
A reason for the increased testing lengths is that since the test questions are new, and this test will be used in the future, a lot of the questions have to be piloted.

These tests don’t do a thing to educate my kids, and now they will spend more time doing them. I suspect their time would be better spent playing Minecraft.

Rule of thumb on standardized tests – early: help the student / late: test the teacher

A friend shared with me a concept about the timing of standardized tests that I hadn’t appreciated before. If the test is early in the year, it can be used as a tool for the teacher to help the teacher understand a student’s strengths and weaknesses. If the test is late in the year, the state is basically just using my kid as a tool to measure the teacher — based, I might add, on sketchy metrics. (“Don’t worry about what you’re measuring, just give me a number!”)

These tests are a waste of time and money. Finland, one of the world’s best educational systems, takes one externalized, high stakes test at the end of high school. That’s it. It would make some vendors very sad (and much poorer) but we could save my kids a lot of time and our school systems a lot of time if we chucked these tests.

Might even be easier to just ask the teachers how their students are doing — if you trust and respect the teachers as professionals, that is.

Vaccination Debate is a Proxy War about Science and Communal Obligations

The Incidental Economist has a couple of posts about how ridiculing parents who don’t vaccinate their kids is unhelpful:

Aaron Carroll: Could we stop asking politicians gotcha questions about measles please? And anyone else for that matter?

Bill Gardner: Enough hating on anti-vaccination parents, please.

They’re probably right in terms of the narrow question of how best to prevent outbreaks of diseases for which there are vaccinations. The background is a measles outbreak that seems to have been exacerbated by people who believed junk science or ignored science altogether about the relative dangers of vaccines versus real or imagined side effects of the vaccines. Ridicule probably makes such parents entrench themselves and become even more staunchly against vaccination. It’s a form of tribalism.

What gives this debate more juice, in my opinion, is that it’s not just about vaccinations. It’s about the proper role of science in policy making and about the proper limits of individual liberty in policy making. Anti-intellectualism is nothing new in American politics — a politician won’t go broke championing “common sense” over those eggheads in their ivory tower. What seems a little newer – and this might just be my limited knowledge – is a rhetorical commitment to individual liberty that overwhelms any notion that an individual might owe any sort of duty to the community. An anti-intellectual commitment to liberty at all costs generally squares with what we’ve seen out of the Tea Party movement. But with the anti-vaxxers, there seems to be a twist. These are, often enough, suburban, Oprah-watching moms. A sense that “they ought to know better” might add more intensity to the response.

So, I think what you’re seeing in these responses is not frustration limited to the question of how best to stop the spread of measles. It’s frustration with what seems like a selfish, deliberately obtuse world view that persists even where the evidence is clear and even where the benefit to the community so vastly outweighs the actual risk to the individual. “We had these horrible, horrible diseases licked and you people are screwing it up for everybody for almost no reason at all.”

Update: Talking Points Memo has A Brief History of How People Got Duped by the Anti-Vaccination Myth.

Update 2: This column by Chris Mooney about hostility between climate change camps seems somewhat related. It’s tribal:

The new study, by a group of Australian psychologists and social scientists, examines the clash between climate adherents and so-called “skeptics” as an “intergroup conflict” (a psychological buzzword) driven, in significant part, by anger at those on the other side.

Or to put it another way, the debate is a cultural clash between two groups with divergent social identities who define those identities, in part, by criticizing those on the other side.

“Believers and sceptics [sic] are united, but only insofar as they are united in opposition to each other,” notes the paper, whose lead author is Ana-Maria Bliuc of Monash University in Victoria.
. . .
One key aspect of in-group/out-group behavior is called “outgroup derogation” — negativity towards those who are members of the opposing group — and Postmes sees it here. “People tend to talk badly about the outgroup as a way of expressing solidarity with their own side,” writes Postmes.