Tag Archives: Public Policy

Is There a Way to Broadcast Ideology Without it Colouring Opinion?

There was a good article in the New York Times this past weekend from a professor of economics at Harvard, N. Greg Mankiw. He talked about how when economist give advice on policies, they’re also giving advice as political philosophers. While this should come as no surprise to anyone, I think it’s good that it’s being discussed.

What’s more interesting to me, though, is how we can offer opinions or advice on matters as experts, while at the same time disclosing our inherent bias to a given political philosophy. And if we do this, does that then colour the way the opinion is received? Most folks would say that of course it is going to colour the way the opinion is received, but maybe it wouldn’t. Regardless, I think it’s necessary to disclose biases, especially when it comes to making policy advice.

The problem here is that people aren’t always aware that they have a given bias towards one political philosophy over the other. While I’m relatively sure that I lean towards the “left” of the political spectrum when it comes to social issues, where I fall upon the political spectrum when it comes to other matters can vary by issue. This is part of the reason why I encourage folks to take the time and read through some of the more notable philosophers.

I suppose the idea of signaling also comes into play on this matter. That is, if someone has a more conservative viewpoint on health policy and they support a more liberal policy, does that change the way other conservatives view the policy? Does it change the way liberals view the policy? Should it?

There are lots of questions, but no easy answers. As someone who’s steeped in biases in judgment and decision-making, I’m not sure which way would be best, but I’m glad that — at a minimum — it’s being discussed.

Updates to JeremiahStanghini.com: Papers & Series

I noticed that I’d been getting some more traffic than usual to my about page, so I thought I’d read it and see what it says (it had been a while since I’d seen it). Upon reading it, I realized that it needed some updating… so I’ve gone ahead and done that. I’ve tried to make it a little more universal than it was in the past, so I won’t have to update it as frequently (though, is a yearly update really that unrealistic?)

Anyway, the real reason I wanted to give you an update about the website is for a new page that I’ve created: Papers & Series. You’ll see this on the banner above my name on the right-hand side (it’s an important feature!) On this page, I’ve collected all the papers/series that I’ve posted here online. So, if you remember me saying something about a series on American Public Policy, but couldn’t find the link, you’ll now be able to see all of the links in that series. Or maybe something about telepathy and psi phenomena? Yes, they’re in there, too.

The best part about this page is that I’m going to continually update it. So, when I post a new series, I’ll also update that page to show that the new paper/series has been posted to the website. If you haven’t read all my series, I highly suggest checking them out. There’s likely something in there that you’ll like. Also, be sure to check back soon as I continue to dig through my old papers and share them on here.

Applying the Broken Windows Theory to Domestic Violence and Gangs

In my Public Administration class the other day, we were reviewing a case that played a role in the lead up to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passing in 1994. Reading about a man killing a woman when he was supposed to be in jail is heartbreaking. The case leads us to believe that bureaucracy played a role in the man not being in jail when he was supposed to be. I hear that argument, but I think it’s weaker than it lets on.

Anyway, during the ensuing discussion of this case (as viewed through the lens of Max Weber and bureaucracy), I was reminded of the broken windows theory:

The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.

Meaning, if a window is broken, instead of waiting for months to fix it, fix it right away. In this way, it demonstrates to the surrounding area that this community is a place that takes care of itself — and by extension — isn’t a breeding ground for crime and unsightly behavior. The broken windows theory — on its own — doesn’t really apply to bureaucracy and VAWA. Remember that Mayor Giuliani made a big push in NYC to implement this theory. My thought was: why don’t we apply the principles of the broken windows theory to an order of magnitude above broken windows?

To expand: another reason offered as to why the man in the case above was able to kills his ex-girlfriend was because the authorities were busy focusing on the gangbangers. So, to apply the broken windows theory: focus on the domestic violence cases or those crimes that are perceived to be as lower priority than gangbangers and maybe the gangbanging will take care of itself? I want to emphasize that I’m not judging as to which is more important (gangbangers or domestic violence), but in the way that the priority is given to the gangbangers, I wonder if instances of domestic violence (or similar crimes) were focused on, would that then cut off the “supply” of those people who join gangs?

Complementary and Preventive Medicine: Healthcare & American Public Policy, Part 5

: Economics
: Campaign Finance & Elections
: Education
: Food

On March 23, 2010, you may have seen many Facebook profiles switch over to the picture on the right. This is a picture of President Obama signing the into law. Most of the people of these Facebook profiles who displayed this picture would be supporters of the movement to improve healthcare in the United States. In fact, the bill that President Obama signed into law was intended to do just that.

Truth be told, I haven’t read the entire bill, but . While you can never ‘absolutely’ trust Wikipedia, it is still good for gaining an overview. In skimming over the Wikipedia article for this bill, we learn a number of things that this bill has done that could be perceived as steps in the right direction for American Healthcare:

  • Medicaid eligibility is expanded to include all individuals and families with incomes up to 133% of the poverty level.
  • Improved benefits for Medicare prescription drug coverage are to be implemented.
  • Changes are enacted which allow a restructuring of Medicare reimbursement from “fee-for-service” to “bundled payments.”
  • Low income persons and families above the Medicaid level and up to 400% of the poverty level will receive subsidies on a sliding scale if they choose to purchase insurance via an exchange (persons at 150% of the poverty level would be subsidized such that their premium cost would be of 2% of income or $50 a month for a family of 4).
  • Additional support is provided for medical research and the National Institutes of Health.
  • The law will introduce minimum standards for health insurance policies and remove all annual and lifetime coverage caps.
  • The law mandates that some health care insurance benefits will be “essential” coverage for which there will be no co-pays.

These are only some of the things that the bill changes with regard to healthcare law, not to say that this isn’t already a huge number of changes all by themselves. Michael Moore did a documentary on healthcare in the United States a few years back. The movie was called . While some of the things that Moore is lambasting have changed as a result of this legislation, I’m pretty sure that this bill doesn’t address all of the concerns that Moore raised in his movie.

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The one thing I would have liked to have seen more of in the bill that President Obama signed into law over a year ago, is more . Being a in what could be classified as CAM, I’ve seen the benefits of this important part of healthcare. And the modality that is not nearly as much of a household name as say, , , or (which includes ). In 2002, 36% of adults said that they had used some form of CAM in the last 12 months. .  That’s nearly 4 in 10 Americans who use CAM. [All of these statistics are from the , which is one of the many centers that make up the (a government agency).]

For comparison’s sake, in 2006, 54% of Canadians reported having used CAM within the last 12 months, which was up 4% (from 50%) in 1997 (). In looking closer at the profiles of  and as rated by the World Health Organization (WHO), I wasn’t completely surprised to find differences. There was one major statistic that stood out to me: obesity. Some argue as to whether or not , but as it stands, . In the WHO health profiles of Canada and the US, Canada’s obesity percentage is significantly lower than the US. The percentage of adults 20+ years of age, in 2008, that were classified as obese by the WHO: . Holding all variables the same (20+, 2008), but for Americans: . I’m not necessarily trying to say that Canadians are healthier because they are more likely to use CAM, but the correlation does seem to be there. Of course, to truly measure this, we’d need to do a study of health measures (before and after) of CAM users (and non-CAM users).

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I’ve given you some statistics about CAM, but haven’t yet explained it completely:

as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine. Conventional medicine (also called Western or allopathic medicine) is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) and D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine;) degrees and by allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses. The boundaries between CAM and conventional medicine are not absolute, and specific CAM practices may, over time, become widely accepted.

There’s one other bit of information that I want to cite from a :

This report demonstrates that there is significant underuse of effective preventive care in the United States, resulting in lost lives, unnecessary poor health, and inefficient use of health care dollars. All of the services examined in this report are extremely cost effective: they all provide an excellent return on investment. It is a national imperative to make these and other cost-effective preventive services affordable and accessible for all Americans. [emphasis added]

Much has been written in the past few months about America’s “.” As of 2008, the those of other countries relative to their [the healthcare costs in the US are nearly 16% of the total GDP, which is nearly 5% more than the “second place” country, Switzerland. For comparison’s sake, Canada is at 10%.] It takes a bit of foresight, but as the study above describes, it is imperative that the US (and other countries) significantly incorporate the effective use of preventive care into healthcare. Moreover, I think the diligent use of CAM (in conjunction with conventional medicine), paired with the idea of preventive care would dramatically reduce healthcare costs (for the government) and for its citizens.

New Zealand Grows No GMOs: Food & American Public Policy, Part 4

: Economics
: Campaign Finance & Elections
: Education

The US recently unveiled their new version of the and have called it: . I think this food plate is much better than the pyramid, but I won’t get into that in this post. I’ll talk about my opinion about “diets” in an upcoming post. In this post, I’ll be talking about food policy.

One of the main clues that there is something not completely right about the food policy in the US is some of the alarming documentaries. In 2004, there was . An alarming look at what it’s like to eat strictly a diet for 30 days, with little exercise (less than 2.5 miles of movement a day). At the time, McDonald’s did not have as many healthy choices as they have on the menu today, but as is pointed out in the film, salads can actually have more calories than the burgers (if cheese and dressing are added).

In 2005, there was . This was a difficult film for me to watch. It illustrates some of the unsightly practices of industries that use animals, but since this post is about food policy, I will direct you to the part of the film that explains the unnecessary harm that humans inflict upon animals for food production. While the film advocates veganism, I’m not suggesting you take up this practice, but after watching the movie, I’d be surprised if you didn’t at least consider it.

In 2008, there was . This is probably the most poignant movie with regard to food policy. This movie breaks down the unsustainable (both economically and environmentally) practices of food corporations like , , , and . If you eat meat (and don’t buy organic), there’s a good chance that it’s from one of these companies. Most effectively, the documentary explains that the reason food production has become what it is today, is due in large part to the boom of fast food in the 1950s. An increased demand  for food put pressure on companies to make more food — faster. And so this is what we have today.

One of the things that frightens me the most about the information found in documentaries like these have to do with (or any biological patent, for that matter). Companies like Monsanto, seeds in the lab and then patent the seed they’ve created. From there, they then sue (usually, successfully) farmers who use seeds that are similar to the ones that they’ve now patented. So, these farmers who know nothing of Monsanto and their created seed are going about their business doing what they do and are then, all of a sudden, told they have to stop using the seeds they use (because they are infringing on the patent rights of Monsanto).

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I think there’s something wrong with food policy when a company that creates a seed can legally sue (and win) against a farmer who uses the original and natural seed. The seed that came from the environment. Doesn’t that seem a little strange to you?

Like in my previous posts in this series, I don’t think there needs to be any grandiose solution to fix the problem. While the problem may be widespread (as in the other posts), the solution needn’t be overly complicated. Of course, these simple solutions aren’t necessarily as easy to implement as they are to envision. With regard to food policy, a simple solution I see is to . It may sound a bit extreme and unfeasible, but is it really feasible to continue to ingest these scientifically engineered foods? Do we really think that there are nearly as many nutrients in lab-created food as there are in “naturally-occurring” food?

European Countries that Have Banned Genetically Modified Foods in at Least One Part of the Country

Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK: England, UK: Scotland, and UK: Wales. (As of September 2010: )

In all, there are nearly 40 countries on that list. The site where I got that information from also has a of Europe that are at least partially GMO-free.

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Europe is often touted as being ahead of the North America when it comes to things like these, but how about New Zealand? From :

No genetically modified crops are grown commercially in New Zealand. No fresh fruit, vegetables or meat sold in New Zealand is genetically modified.

That’s right! No genetically modified food in New Zealand! It’s possible. It’s possible to have an entire country that does not produce food that has been genetically modified. Granted, New Zealand is smaller in terms of population than much of the rest of the world ( countries ranked by population based on country’s estimates and the UN), but this is still quite an accomplishment and dare I say, example, for the rest of the world. If New Zealand can do it, we can, too!

A Shift Towards Waldorf & Montessori: Education & American Public Policy, Part 3

In , I spoke about American public policy in the context of economics. Specifically, I tied in the concept of altruism and showed how given the opportunity, people are more likely to take money from a complete stranger than give money to a complete stranger. In , I wrote about campaign finance and elections in America. I understand that no system is perfect, but I felt that if there were more integrity in campaign finance & elections, people may have a little more faith in the system. In Part 3, today, I will talk about education in American public policy.

Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another story about the poor statistics of education in the United States. The Chicago-Sun Times is reporting that . And that’s an article that was published today! This past December (2010), the US slipped farther down the rankings on the ‘, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world.’ (The data can be found .) On these rankings, the US is now considered “average” on the overall reading scale and on the science scale. They fell below average on the mathematics scale. Shanghai-China, Korea-South, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Switzerland, and Poland, all out-performed the US on all three scales.

If you’re interested in the history of education in the United States, I’ve found a couple of great resources that highlight significant events through history with regard to education in the United States (; and .)

I had the chance to see earlier this year and I thought it was quite an eye-opening experience. While I don’t know that I agree with everything that is put forth in the movie, I think that the fact that this movie is even possible (meaning that a documentary of this nature could be done about education in the US) shows that there are definite holes in the system. It was interesting to watch attempt to alter the structure of unions for teachers in the Washington, D.C. area. I don’t think that many would have predicted a a year later.

I am not a primary school teacher, elementary school teacher, secondary school teacher, college-level teacher, or university-level teacher. I don’t know what it’s like to be standing at the front of the classroom day after day — students looking up at me expecting me to tell them something. I believe that it takes a special kind of person to not only be willing to do this, but to want to do this. I think teachers are a vastly underappreciated population. Sure, we have “,” but that’s far from enough, given the responsibility they are charged with — education our young. Could there be a more sacred responsibility?

A former cited statistics in an article published in association with (a libertarian public policy think tank) claiming that . While this may be true, I wonder if maybe the funding is going to the “wrong” places in education and if this may be a case of ‘.’ Put more bluntly — maybe the system is faulty. I think more funding for education can be a positive thing, if used in the right way and if given to the right places.

Maybe the US education system needs a . I was fortunate enough to have had an experience in the . I was far too young to really remember much of my experience there, (I was there from before kindergarten to just before the start of the second grade). It may not be feasible at this point, but I’d really like to see what a nation could do if all of their schools were taught in the Montessori-way or the . There are many different forms of across the world, but I am most familiar with Montessori and Waldorf.

I wonder what a nation of kids raised and educated through Waldorf Education would look like. Would we have ? Would we be ? Would there be less ? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I’d like to think that a system of education like Waldorf’s (given to us by Rudolph Steiner), would dramatically shift a fair bit of the way we interact with each other, especially with regard to education. As I said earlier, the responsibility of teaching our youth is sacred. We should treat this task and those who do it, with the highest regard, just as those who do it, should treat our youth with the highest regard.

Integrity, Please: Campaign Finance and Elections & American Public Policy, Part 2

In of this series, I wrote about public policy in America as it relates to economics. As I said quite clearly in the 1000 words or so, it’s difficult to surmise such a vast topic in such a short space, but I think I made an important connection between altruism and economic policy. While this series is aimed at American Public Policy, the first post in this series on economic policy is relevant to most countries in the . In Part 2, I’ll talk about two things: campaign finance and elections. First, elections.

The has been recently and likely will be for the next couple of days after an FEC official told a New York Times reporter, “,” (after having learned that something they [FEC] were told may not have been true). The FEC will also, undoubtedly be in the news anytime anyone decides to . For anyone that enjoys political satirist Stephen Colbert, you’ll know that he has spoken at length about his trials and tribulations to create a PAC and (then a Super PAC) on his show. While what he is doing is initially intended as humor, there is also a .

Earlier last year, the heard and ruled on what is a rather famous case, . There are so many different interpretations of what this means for elections in the US. Keith Olbermann had a rather . Rachel Maddow was a little , but she shares a similar viewpoint to Olbermann. Much of what you’ll find on YouTube are videos not in favor of this decision, but I was able to find one video from Congressman of California . I like the use of animation and moving picture, so another good video to check out is the one by .

When I first made a point of wanting to write a post about campaign finance, my initial thoughts were to have candidates donate all of the money they receive. Maybe that’s too idealistic? Really though, shouldn’t it be that money plays little to no role in who is elected? I understand how difficult it would be to sell Barack Obama on of his campaign contributions to charity, or whomever the Republican candidate happens . I think that . I think the problem that elections have become so “difficult” is that the citizens doing the electing don’t trust their elected officials. While we could bring in any number of psychological theories to help us understand, I think the bottom line is there should be an inherent honor (in the elected official) and, maybe, a covenant between elected officials and citizens.

There’s one more thing I want to say about campaign finance that is a nice segue into elections. I found a video of a professor at Harvard (who also happens to be the same guy that founded ) offering on the decision rendered by the Supreme Court on Citizens United [I’ve added emphasis]:

Many people will see this decision as a decision they should fight because they think corporations should be silenced. I don’t think the point here is that corporations should be silenced. I think the point is we need a political system where people can trust that the decisions Congress makes are decisions based on the merits; on what makes sense or what the people in their district want and not what the funders demand. This decision will only exacerbate the current problems with the system. And the way we should respond is by pushing for an alternative that gets us a system for funding elections that doesn’t lead people to wonder whether it’s money rather than sense that is producing a political result.

Elections can be a fickle thing, not just in the US, but around the world. I would think in a society that is so developed, elections fraud would not be something so rampant through its politics, but that seems not to be the case. A search for United States Elections Controversy on Google returns nearly 10,000,000 hits. One interesting article I found was one author’s view of the most significant (in the US). As I furthered my search, it wasn’t difficult to start turning up articles about controversy in US elections. In fact, there’s more than I can really talk about in the bit of space remaining for this post. There’s one about a , one about , and who could forget the ? In case you did forget, there was even a made about it.

For anyone who follows Wisconsin politics, there’s the by Waukesha County clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, . I don’t work in elections, so I don’t know how hard it is to organize these kinds of events, but I would think someone who has made so many errors that have been made public would probably not be hired (nor should she apply?) for jobs that require such finite detail.

Anyway, the more I read about elections in America (and the world), the more I wonder about integrity. I would expect that people involved in creating these laws and upholding these laws would operate with a sense of high moral integrity. Wouldn’t you? These people are being put in some of the more important (but undervalued) positions a country can have, and it seems that they just don’t see it that way. Maybe they do, but it’s not showing. Campaign finance and elections needn’t be dirty words. The people who create laws around these issues shouldn’t look for (or intentionally leave open) loopholes. In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about how inequality within a nation is bad for everyone in the nation (including the rich).