Friday, September 28, 2012

What I Read Today - Friday September 28, 2012

From: The New York Times - September 27, 2012

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/28/opinion/brooks-the-psych-approach.html?hp&_r=0

The Psych Approach


By DAVID BROOKS

In the 1990s, Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda conducted a study on adverse childhood experiences. They asked 17,000 mostly white, mostly upscale patients enrolled in a Kaiser H.M.O. to describe whether they had experienced any of 10 categories of childhood trauma. They asked them if they had been abused, if their parents had divorced, if family members had been incarcerated or declared mentally ill. Then they gave them what came to be known as ACE scores, depending on how many of the 10 experiences they had endured.

The link between childhood trauma and adult outcomes was striking. People with an ACE score of 4 were seven times more likely to be alcoholics as adults than people with an ACE score of 0. They were six times more likely to have had sex before age 15, twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, four times as likely to suffer emphysema. People with an ACE score above 6 were 30 times more likely to have attempted suicide.

Later research suggested that only 3 percent of students with an ACE score of 0 had learning or behavioral problems in school. Among students with an ACE score of 4 or higher, 51 percent had those problems.

In Paul Tough’s essential book, “How Children Succeed,” he describes what’s going on. Childhood stress can have long lasting neural effects, making it harder to exercise self-control, focus attention, delay gratification and do many of the other things that contribute to a happy life.

Tough interviewed a young lady named Monisha, who was pulled out of class by a social worker, taken to a strange foster home and forbidden from seeing her father for months. “I remember the first day like it was yesterday. Every detail. I still have dreams about it. I feel like I’m going to be damaged forever.”

Monisha’s anxiety sensors are still going full blast. “If a plane flies over me, I think they’re going to drop a bomb. I think about my dad dying,” she told Tough. “When I get scared, I start shaking. My heart starts beating. I start sweating. You know how people say ‘I was scared to death’? I get scared that that’s really going to happen to me one day.”

Tough’s book is part of what you might call the psychologizing of domestic policy. In the past several decades, policy makers have focused on the material and bureaucratic things that correlate to school failure, like poor neighborhoods, bad nutrition, schools that are too big or too small. But, more recently, attention has shifted to the psychological reactions that impede learning — the ones that flow from insecure relationships, constant movement and economic anxiety.

Attention has shifted toward the psychological for several reasons. First, it’s become increasingly clear that social and emotional deficits can trump material or even intellectual progress. Schools in the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, are among the best college prep academies for disadvantaged kids. But, in its first survey a few years ago, KIPP discovered that three-quarters of its graduates were not making it through college. It wasn’t the students with the lower high school grades that were dropping out most. It was the ones with the weakest resilience and social skills. It was the pessimists.

Second, over the past few years, an array of psychological researchers have taught us that motivation, self-control and resilience are together as important as raw I.Q. and are probably more malleable.

Finally, pop culture has been far out front of policy makers in showing how social dysfunction can ruin lives. You can turn on an episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” about a train wreck working-class family. You can turn on “Alaska State Troopers” and see trailer parks filled with drugged-up basket cases. You can listen to rappers like Tyler, The Creator whose songs are angry howls from fatherless men.

Schools are now casting about, trying to find psychological programs that will help students work on resilience, equanimity and self-control. Some schools give two sets of grades — one for academic work and one for deportment.

And it’s not just schools that are veering deeper into the psychological realms. Health care systems are going the same way, tracing obesity and self-destructive habits back to social breakdown and stress.

When you look over the domestic policy landscape, you see all these different people in different policy silos with different budgets: in health care, education, crime, poverty, social mobility and labor force issues. But, in their disjointed ways, they are all dealing with the same problem — that across vast stretches of America, economic, social and family breakdowns are producing enormous amounts of stress and unregulated behavior, which dulls motivation, undermines self-control and distorts lives.

Maybe it’s time for people in all these different fields to get together in a room and make a concerted push against the psychological barriers to success.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What I Read Today - Thursday September 27, 2012

From:  Seth Godin's Blog

Seth's Blog: Overstimulated

Time to pay attention to the Weber-Fechner Law.
(see http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weber-Fechner_law)


It's easier to tell the difference between two bags of flour that are three ounces apart in weight when one weighs a pound, than it is to tell the difference between two bags that are three ounces apart when one weighs twenty pounds.

It's easier to tell the difference between two flashlights that are 6 lumens apart when one is just 2 lumens bright than it is to tell them apart when one is 200 lumens.

The more stimulus you're getting (light, sound, pressure, delight, sadness) the less easily you can notice a small change. That seems obvious, but it's worth saying.

If you're entering a market filled with loudness, it's harder to be noticed, even if the incremental benefit you offer seems large to you. If you're trying to delight existing customers, the more delighted they already are, the more new delight you need to offer to turn heads.

One more reason to seek out those that are both interested and underserved.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What I Read Today - Tuesday September 25, 2012

From: The New York Times - September 24, 2012

The Conservative Mind


By DAVID BROOKS

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/opinion/brooks-the-conservative-mind.html?smid=pl-share

When I joined the staff of National Review as a lowly associate in 1984, the magazine, and the conservative movement itself, was a fusion of two different mentalities.

On the one side, there were the economic conservatives. These were people that anybody following contemporary Republican politics would be familiar with. They spent a lot of time worrying about the way government intrudes upon economic liberty. They upheld freedom as their highest political value. They admired risk-takers. They worried that excessive government would create a sclerotic nation with a dependent populace.

But there was another sort of conservative, who would be less familiar now. This was the traditional conservative, intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching. This sort of conservative didn’t see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government.

Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.

Recently the blogger Rod Dreher linked to Kirk’s essay, “Ten Conservative Principles,” which gives the flavor of this brand of traditional conservatism. This kind of conservative cherishes custom, believing that the individual is foolish but the species is wise. It is usually best to be guided by precedent.

This conservative believes in prudence on the grounds that society is complicated and it’s generally best to reform it steadily but cautiously. Providence moves slowly but the devil hurries.

The two conservative tendencies lived in tension. But together they embodied a truth that was put into words by the child psychologist John Bowlby, that life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base.

The economic conservatives were in charge of the daring ventures that produced economic growth. The traditionalists were in charge of establishing the secure base — a society in which families are intact, self-discipline is the rule, children are secure and government provides a subtle hand.

Ronald Reagan embodied both sides of this fusion, and George W. Bush tried to recreate it with his compassionate conservatism. But that effort was doomed because in the ensuing years, conservatism changed.

In the polarized political conflict with liberalism, shrinking government has become the organizing conservative principle. Economic conservatives have the money and the institutions. They have taken control. Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse. These days, speakers at Republican gatherings almost always use the language of market conservatism — getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom. Even Mitt Romney, who subscribes to a faith that knows a lot about social capital, relies exclusively on the language of market conservatism.

It’s not so much that today’s Republican politicians reject traditional, one-nation conservatism. They don’t even know it exists. There are few people on the conservative side who’d be willing to raise taxes on the affluent to fund mobility programs for the working class. There are very few willing to use government to actively intervene in chaotic neighborhoods, even when 40 percent of American kids are born out of wedlock. There are very few Republicans who protest against a House Republican budget proposal that cuts domestic discretionary spending to absurdly low levels.

The results have been unfortunate. Since they no longer speak in the language of social order, Republicans have very little to offer the less educated half of this country. Republicans have very little to say to Hispanic voters, who often come from cultures that place high value on communal solidarity.

Republicans repeat formulas — government support equals dependency — that make sense according to free-market ideology, but oversimplify the real world. Republicans like Romney often rely on an economic language that seems corporate and alien to people who do not define themselves in economic terms. No wonder Romney has trouble relating.

Some people blame bad campaign managers for Romney’s underperforming campaign, but the problem is deeper. Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.

Monday, September 24, 2012

What I Read Today - Monday - September 24, 2012

From: National Journal - September 24, 2012

Bipartisan Group of Senators Sound the Sequester Alarm

By Elahe Izadi

Lawmakers may have left town, but some are already readying the groundwork for lame duck sequester negotiations.


A bipartisan group of six senators sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying that a sequestration alternative has to be decided upon before January, and calling for any bipartisan proposals to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation by November.

The letter, addressed Sept. 21, was signed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., John McCain, R-Ariz., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. They stress the need to pass a bipartisan, long-term deficit reduction plan to avoid the sequestration and "provide as much certainty as possible for businesses and consumers."

The letter highlights looming cuts such as those to the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to federal education funding.

See the full letter after the jump.

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Republican Leader McConnell:

We face a critical challenge in the next few months: balancing the need to reduce the deficit with the need to safeguard important priorities, particularly protecting our national security, vital domestic programs, and our economic recovery. We believe it is imperative to enact a bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid the severe economic damage that would result from the implementation of sequestration. Any deficit reduction package should be long term and should provide as much certainty as possible for businesses and consumers.

The Congressional Budget Office has already warned sequestration in combination with the expiration of current tax policy could send our fragile economy back into a recession and raise unemployment above 9 percent, and the administration agrees that sequestration "would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core government functions." Failure to act to address the debt would result in sequestration taking effect in January 2013 with significant detrimental impact on our fragile economic recovery. According to a report done for the Aerospace Industries Association, if sequestration is allowed to occur in January, the nation will lose approximately 1 million jobs because of defense budget cuts and 1 million jobs because of domestic cuts in 2013.

Make no mistake about the devastating impact of sequestration. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, sequestration would leave our nation with its smallest ground force since 1940, smallest number of ships since 1915, and smallest Air Force in its history, and "would inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations." The indiscriminate across-the-board defense cuts scheduled to start this January would result in a 9.4 percent reduction to defense discretionary funding and a 10 percent reduction to defense mandatory spending programs. The administration reports that "sequestration would result in a reduction in readiness of many non-deployed units, delays in investments in new equipment and facilities, cutbacks in equipment repairs, declines in military research and development efforts, and reductions in base services for military families." Specifically, the Army would see a $7 billion reduction in operations and maintenance (O&M) funding, and the Navy and Air Force would lose another $4.3 billion each in their O&M accounts.

In addition, sequestration's impact will be felt beyond the Department of Defense. On the non-defense spending side, the administration reports that sequestration would "undermine investments vital to economic growth, threaten the safety and security of the American people, and cause severe harm to programs that benefit the middle-class, seniors and children." The National Institutes of Health would face a $2.5 billion cut and "would have to halt or curtail scientific research, including needed research into cancer and childhood diseases." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would see a $464 million cut, and states and local communities would lose billions in federal education funding for Title I, special education State grants, and other programs.

Based on this, we are committed to working together to help forge a balanced bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid damage to our national security, important domestic priorities, and our economy.

Sequestration will endanger the lives of America's service members, threaten our national security, and impact vital domestic programs and services. Meeting this challenge will require real compromise, and we do not believe that Congress and the president can afford to wait until January to begin to develop a short term or long term sequestration alternative. All ideas should be put on the table and considered. Accordingly, we urge you to press between now and November the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation to score any bipartisan proposals forwarded to them so that Congress may evaluate these plans.

We believe it is important to send a strong signal of our bipartisan determination to avoid or delay sequestration and the resulting major damage to our national security, vital domestic priorities, and our economy.

Carl Levin
John McCain
Jeanne Shaheen
Lindsey Graham
Sheldon Whitehouse
Kelly Ayotte

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What I Read Today - Wednesday September 5, 2012

This is from a daily eNewsletter I receive from the Missouri Society of CPAS.  It is prepared by a company by the name of armada-intel.

What Happened to Respect?

We could go on at length about the lack of respect that we give one another but the point of this diatribe is the respect that we once gave to our political leaders. I have to confess that I have been often very critical of the leaders in Congress and in the White House. It is, after all, our inalienable right to critique those we vote for and I do not for a moment suggest that we should curb our desire to critique and argue over policy. That is what a democracy is. The part that concerns and infuriates me is the utter contempt expressed by too many these days. It is one thing for an ill-educated clod to spew venom about the personal lives of the President and the other leaders. These are people who ought to be eternally grateful that they live in a nation that protects their right to be ignorant and opinionated. The comments that bother me are the ones that come from those who should know better. The issues facing the country are immense and complex and there has rarely been an election where the voter has been offered such diametrically opposed solutions. There is plenty to argue about. This makes the banal personal attacks all the more galling. I am truly tired of those that seek to attack the President’s legitimacy as a citizen or who assert that he practices a religion other than the Christian faith he has been part of his whole life. I tire of the attacks on Mitt Romney that are based on his supposed lack of personality. Joe Biden is crucified for every episode of verbal overenthusiasm and Paul Ryan is left explaining that he ran a race slower than he recalled. Have we
never had an ill-timed slip of the tongue? Have we never managed to make that routine catch in high school the one that won the game? I respect the men and women who do their best to lead 330 million of us. They are not perfect and I disagree with them on many occasions and on many issues. They are still the people we elected to be our Senators and Representatives and our President. I applaud the fact the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney want this job at all. The bottom line is that we can “respectfully disagree” and it would be better for the nation as a whole if we all adopted more of that attitude.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What I Read Today - Tuesday September 4, 2012


Actually, Tax Cuts Don't Spur Economic Growth

http://www.businessinsider.com/actually-tax-cuts-dont-spur-economic-growth-2012-9

Steven Strauss, Harvard University
Sep. 2, 2012, 4:02 PM

Steven Strauss is an Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University. Follow him on Twitter @steven_strauss.


It has been something of an article of faith among conservatives that the solution to America's problems is in smaller government and lower tax rates.

The argument on taxes goes something like: 'We need to unleash the wealth creators, who stimulated by the prospect of more income (due to lower tax rates), will create wealth for all of us.' And, that any tax increase -- for even the wealthiest taxpayers -- would have catastrophic consequences.

Actually the post World War II American economy provides a nice empirical test of this hypothesis -- the maximum marginal income tax rate gradually declined from about 90% to about 35%. Shouldn't this decline have lead to an explosion of economic growth as our wealth creators were unleashed? Sorry, Sarah Palin... it didn't.

During the ultra high tax 1950s (top marginal income tax rate of 90%), the United States had some of its best real economic growth (over 4%/year). And, for the decade where we had our lowest marginal income tax rates -- we had our worst real economic growth (about 1.5%/year). (See Table 1 below.)

So what happened? Well, first of all (Spoiler Alert! The following will upset ideologues!), the real world is complicated. Taxes are one part of the American economy, but by no means the only driver of our decision making process. People are motivated by lots of things -- not just money. In all the recent discussions about Steve Jobs, I can't recall a single quote, anecdote or story that suggested income tax rates had any influence on Steve Jobs' behavior. Does anyone really believe that if US income tax rates had been slightly higher Bill Gates would have founded Microsoft in Singapore (or some other low tax center)? As another example -- Warren Buffet, who has been an active investor from the 1950s to today, certainly could have moved offshore when tax rates were higher. He didn't.

Also, keep in mind that economic growth is not driven just by entrepreneurs and their hard work (okay, I've now simultaneously infuriated both the left and the right). In the 1950s, the global economy was emerging from World War II and the United States was the only industrial economy relatively unscathed. With better policies (arguably, the then current 90% tax rate was too high), we might have had even higher economic growth rates in the 1950s. But, our strong economic growth throughout the 1950s was helped by a strong tail wind (from outside the US).

In the early 21st century, we suffered relatively anemic economic growth (despite much lower tax rates), but we also faced a far more competitive world and a disastrous real estate bubble. It is not clear that lower income tax rates would have had much impact. But higher income tax rates and other policy adjustments might have avoided the real estate bubble from which we are now recovering.

Finally and most importantly, it is not just how the money is raised, but how it is spent. Tax revenues that improve infrastructure, and pay for basic research and education are investments in our future, and will foster economic growth. Tax cuts that primarily favor high end consumers might stimulate the purchase of luxury goods (McMansion anyone?), but may not contribute much to overall economic growth.

My point, and I do have one -- is that ideology is a poor substitute for pragmatic approaches to complicated problems. In fact the evidence that tax rates influence economic growth in any way is equivocal at best. A myriad of other factors are involved. Simply reducing tax rates, and primarily for the wealthy, may hinder -- rather than enhance our economic recovery.

Steven Strauss was the founding Managing Director of the Center for Economic Transformation at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. He will be an Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University for 2011-2012. He has also worked as a management consultant for McKinsey and has a Ph.D. in Management from Yale University. You can follow him on Twitter @steven_strauss.