December 2nd, 2013 § § permalink
Many seniors are graduating this fall or next winter. It is a good time to be retrospective and evaluate whether they have a fruitful undergraduate study. A question one could ask is: is my undergraduate degree a good investment?
One way to answer this question is to look at the employment data as a reflection of market evaluation. According to a report by PayScale on College Salary, both the starting salary and mid-career salary are showing that undergraduate degrees in liberal art are correlated with relatively less salaries, compared to undergraduate degrees in engineering, actuarial math or statistics. Two liberal arts degrees that have the best employment data are Government and Economics. The starting salary is $42,000 for Government and $48,500 for Economics, and the mid-career salary is $95,600 for Government majors and $94,900 for Economics majors. However even those two degrees are unsatisfactory compared to Electrical Engineering (starting salary of $63,400 and mid-career salary of $106,000) and Computer Science ($58,400 and $100,000) not to mention Petroleum Engineering ($98,000 and $163,000).
Let’s take University of Michigan as an example to factor in the costs. Let’s assume a student enters U of M and study for four years (4 fall term plus 4 winter terms), enters job market immediately after graduation, gets same salary increase every year, reaches mid-career salary after 3 years, and continues to get salary increase at the same rate. We further assume the discount rate is 5% and apply a discounted cash flow analysis to six different majors: two best paid liberal art majors, Government and Economics, two typically paid liberal art majors, Psychology and English, and two typically paid engineering majors, Electrical Engineering (EE) and Computer Science (CS), and here are some results:
- It takes about 2.5 years (after graduation) for EECS majors to earn their full tuition back, 3 years for Government and Econ majors, and 4 years for Psychology and English majors.
- The salary gap is big at the beginning, but quickly shrinks as you stay at industry and accumulate working experience.
The analysis does make the employment situation for recent liberal arts college graduates looks a little bit better, but it is still counterintuitive. Aren’t the skills most wanted by employers, such as communications, critical thinking, and presentations, exactly the focus of training in a so-called traditional liberal arts degree? Why college graduates holding an undergraduate degree of liberal arts are earning less salaries both in the entry level, and in mid-career? What exactly made the difference between employment of a liberal arts student and his friend graduating from the department of engineering, math or statistics?
First of all, curriculum design is an important reason. Education and training in an engineering degree do a better job to prepare students for future engineering jobs. College of Engineering puts weight on projects in addition to theories. Some course projects are even sponsored by firms from industry, and thus very well recognized by other firms in the same industry. On the contrary, an essay or a term paper in a liberal arts class can hardly be a convincing experience to recruiters. To make up the gap between theory and practice, liberal arts majors need to participate in research assistantship, internships and well recognized competitions.
Secondly, the job market are in increasing demand of interdisciplinary talents, which puts liberal arts majors at disadvantage. For journalists to cover energy, they need to have at least basic knowledge in energy forms, generation and transformation; for public policy makers to design technology-promoting policies, they have to understand technologies; for lawyers to win patent infringement litigation in the Smartphone War, they have to understand all different things about smartphone as well. Nowadays, there are plenty of pure hard-science jobs but there are not much pure liberal arts jobs. It is easier for a pure hard-science major to gain skills trained in liberal arts education but it is much more difficult for a pure liberal arts major to do so vice versa.
Third, the standard deviation for salary is larger for a liberal arts degree than for an engineering degree, because engineering and statistic students learn hard skills that meet hard demand, for example how to master a software. Thus engineering and statistics students depend less on the reputation of their college, while liberal arts students rely more on signal effects of their college. Since PayScale constructs its report on 10,000 colleges and universities, the employment situation would be better for liberal art fresh graduates from top universities, for example University of Michigan.
In respond to the reasons are suggestions for current liberal arts majors to maximize the benefit from a liberal arts degree. First, try to build on soft skills such as critical thinking, team work, leadership and so forth through internships and extracurricular activities. Second, have a second major, or minor, or even some courses on mathematics, statistics and hard-science. Third, get into a good college or university because signal matters sometimes. Finally, despite our focus on employment in this article we want to make it clear that university education is not just about employment. A liberal arts degree helps student understand history and culture which will benefit students in the long-run and the benefit cannot be captured by employment data or salary numbers. After all, university students need to find out their own interests and passions, working hard not just to look for a job, but to find a career.
December 1st, 2013 § § permalink
On October 1, Healthcare.gov, launched to a resounding thud. The core element of Obamacare is that many people can buy health insurance through a national healthcare exchange. Healthcare.gov was designed as the platform for people to do this. On the opening day, the marketing of the plan was so successful, that there appeared to be voracious demand. However, from its launch, Healthcare.gov was plagued with errors. This meant “a mere 1 percent of the 3.7 million people who tried to register for a federal exchange in the first week were actually able to enroll” according to Millward Brown Digital, a consulting firm.
These failures have led Ezra Klein, one of the foremost proponents of Obamacare, to dub Healthcare.gov a “failure”. Additionally, it has led Obama and many of his key officials to publicly apologize. Despite these apologies, Healthcare.gov is still not operational. What went wrong and what are the ramifications?
According to David Auerbach, a software engineer, who wrote a piece in Slate, the failure of the Healthcare.gov was a failure to assign ownership of the “end-to-end experience”. In other words, no individual or individual contractor was responsible for making sure the entire system worked effectively. Thus, instead of a full-scale comprehensive test of the system, individual pieces were tested separately without any idea of how the system would work as a whole. Worse, when the system failed, it was unclear who was liable and how the problem should be resolved.
In response, President Obama has called in the “Best and the Brighest” to fix the problem, which is ironically the title of a book of how “a bunch of smart guys blundered the country into the Vietnam War” (Matt Yglesias). This ignores the implications of another famous book entitled The Mythical Man Month, which states that in a complex software projects adding manpower oftentimes only makes the project more complex. Despite a “tech surge”, the website remains broken with hope of it being fixed “by the end of November”. However, despite these problems the initial fallout has been limited.
During the launch of Healthcare.gov, America was in the middle of its first government shutdown since 1995. Thus, the government shutdown was the main story, instead of the failures of Healthcare.gov. While both parties took a hit from the shutdown, the Republicans approval ratings fared far worse. This provided Obama with a cushion.
As part of Obamacare, many plans in the individual market were no longer legal, as they provided insufficient coverage or were no longer profitable for insurers. This meant that many individuals who bought healthcare directly from insurance companies were notified of the cancellation of their healthcare plans, despite Obama’s promise that “If you like your [healthcare] plan, you can keep it”. Had the exchange been operational this would have only been a minor problem, since people would’ve been able to replace there existing plan. However, many individuals who trusted Obama felt worried and betrayed.
What have been the ramifications for this catastrophic failure? Not much. While Obama’s approval ratings and the approval ratings for Obamacare are down, the failure of Healthcare.gov did not have major ramifications on the 2013 Elections. For example, some claimed that this failure nearly cost the Democrats and Terry MacAuliff, the gubernatorial race in Virginia, but he still won. However, while the fallout so far has been limited, Obama and his new health care plan cannot afford any more failures.
December 1st, 2013 § § permalink
In May 2010, the state of Michigan raised $178 million through leases to extract minerals on public land, the majority of which was natural gas. This amount nearly totaled how much the state of Michigan raised in the previous 82 years. Given Michigan’s recent economic woes, it’s obvious why fracking is attractive. The main mechanism for extracting this gas is called hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as “fracking”, which has revolutionized the natural gas industry in the US and has led some to refer to the US as the “Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas.” However, as hydraulic-fracturing has become more mainstream, environmental and health issues have surfaced in lay and scientific media, the most high profile of which was a documentary, Gasland. Michigan organizations, such as letsbanfracking.org, have decided to campaign for a ballot initiative to impose a moratorium on hydraulic-fracturing. Given the benefits of fracking, a moratorium is not the answer, but these concerns cannot be dismissed. Therefore, while fracking in Michigan has and will continue to have tremendous benefits on the local economy, the environmental and health concerns cannot be neglected.
As is detailed in Gregory Zuckerman’s excellent book, The Frackers, fracking is the synthesis of two drilling processes: horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Horizontal drilling allows drilling companies to reach natural gas wells in shallow beds of rock far below the ground. Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting wells with a “mixture of water, sand and some chemicals” to fracture rock. This allows for the ability to extract natural gas from several smaller wells along the bed of shale rock. Both of these techniques have been used in isolation for decades. Over the past 10 years, these two processes have been combined to create what is now known as “fracking”, a technique, which has revolutionized US domestic natural gas production.
As recently as 2006, Cheniere Energy, predicting that the US was running out of natural gas, made a $1.5 billion bet on a natural gas import terminal. However, over the past 7 years, production in the US has increased by nearly 30% and the price has plunged from $5.84 per million BTUs in October 2006 to $3.59 per million BTUs in 2013. The company has since reversed course and is building a terminal at great expense to export natural gas. Additionally, in 2009, Exxon Mobil acquired XTO Energy, one of the largest natural gas producers at the time, for $31 billion. Clearly, major players see a lot of potential in this industry. After the bankruptcy of Detroit and the major auto companies, Michigan is looking to cash in.
Fracking benefits the Michigan economy through three main channels – jobs and investment in Michigan, royalty payments to landowners, and royalties, fees and taxes to the state government. According to the a report by the Graham Sustainability Initiative, natural gas production and servicing employs approximately 2,000 people in Michigan. These jobs tend to be higher skilled jobs paying above-average salaries. The majority of the firms that frack in Michigan are Michigan-based and tend to buy many of their inputs, particularly those who are servicing wells, in Michigan.
In exchange for the right to drill on an individual’s property, natural gas firms are required to pay lease fees and royalties to the private landowner. While it is not broken out explicitly for natural gas, in 2010, royalty and lease payments to private landowners for all mineral rights were $81.5 million. Finally, the state of Michigan receives money through royalties, which are “one-sixth of revenue on gas sales,” fees and rent for leases on wells that are on private property, and a 5% tax on drilling on private leases. The most lucrative year on record for the Michigan government was 2010, during which time these brought in over $270 million for all natural resource extraction.
Despite these benefits, people worry about the costs of fracking, which generally include the environmental and health-related costs. Some of the environmental costs include contamination of drinking water and methane emissions. The documentary Gasland shows evidence of people who are able to light their tap water on fire, which the documentary claims is due to fracking. In this case, the water is not safe to drink, and individuals are required to drink bottled water. However, there still is not definitive evidence of whether this is caused by fracking. In addition, people worry about the potential of the chemical compound, often referred to as the “cocktail” in fracking to pollute groundwater. There is not much evidence that this is happening on a widespread basis, however it remains a concern.
Methane emission is a more concerning byproduct of fracking. While natural gas has half of the carbon emissions of coal and a third of the carbon emissions of oil, leaks of natural gas, methane, are 25 times as damaging as carbon. These leaks are primarily due to old piping infrastructure that hasn’t been properly maintained and the excess natural gas that firms aren’t able to use that they can’t burn off or “flare”, particularly given the current low price of natural gas. According to a recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency, natural gas is still better for the environment than coal, however the evidence is not conclusive.
Fracking will continue to have a transformative effect on the Michigan and American economy. While there are clear benefits to fracking in terms of jobs and money, the costs need to be taken seriously. Thus, while prices remain low and until there is concrete evidence that the benefits of a dramatic surge in fracking in Michigan clearly outweigh the costs, growth in fracking should be limited. There is no rush.
November 30th, 2013 § § permalink
When news that the University of Michigan has received a donation is announced, many people begin to wonder how this incredible act of generosity will benefit them on an individual basis. It is understandable for people to believe that donations do not trickle down far enough to benefit students tangibly. When looking through the comment section of any article about donations, it is clear that a large sum of people wonder why donations are not being used to lower tuition.
Take Stephen M. Ross’ recent $200 million donation, for example. The donation will be implemented in the Ross School of Business to create new study spaces, a new career services center, an enhanced recruiting center, a collaborative research facility, new innovative classrooms, and scholarships for business students. On the athletic campus, the money will be used to improve its academic success programs, develop state-of-the-art facilities, and create new spaces for student-athletes to cultivate their success after college (Annarbor.com). Although this all sounds excellent, are there better ways to use these funds?
While this is a difficult question to answer, even if we could answer it, it really does not matter. Stephen Ross, and whoever else donates or has previously donated to Michigan, has earned to right to direct their donations in whichever direction they desire. Even if their donations do not trickle down to a point that makes them tangible for individuals, their generosity certainly benefits the University—and the city of Ann Arbor—as a whole.
This being said, perhaps these large donations are not as inefficient as they initially appear.
Tuition has risen largely because state funding has steadily declined. Over the past decade, state funding has decreased by more than 50% on a per-student basis. In the 60’s, state funding accounted for 80% of the University’s budget. Now, it accounts for less than 17% (vpcomm.umich.edu). Rises in tuition are used to uphold the “core academic missions” of the University (instruction, financial aid, academic advising, museums, libraries, computing centers, etc.). Tuition is not used to pay for athletics, student housing, UHS, student publications, and most construction projects. Donations are a substantial source of funding across all areas. Regardless of what they are used for, donations allow the University to maintain and improve education quality and prestige.
In this way, donations aimed at construction projects that may seem superfluous benefit the entire community. Construction creates employment, and once new structures are completed, they create space for jobs of all sorts (doctors, custodians, administrative staff, professors, etc.). New facilities allow the University to build towards the future and establish a competitive edge.
So, while it is common to wonder why large donations are not used to directly assist students in a more tangible manner, donations are guided in avenues that tuition itself is not able to reach. Beautiful new buildings and more robust programs create opportunity across the board that improves the University on a grand scale.
November 27th, 2013 § § permalink
On October 31st, I checked my inbox and spotted an email with the subject-heading “Fraternity Party Incident,” announcing that a fraternity party was cancelled for denigrating women and identifying people through cultural stereotypes. The email acknowledged that this kind of behavior is intolerable by the University and how it will be corrected and prevented from occurring in the future.
Without a pause, I thought, somebody is taking steps to protect minorities. That must be a good thing, right? After all, discrimination towards women and peoples of color greatly hinder their personal development and ability for social impact. White males still dominate fields that most strongly impact on the economy, such as the financial industry, politics, law and so forth. There are good reasons to believe that women and people of color should be supported and protected: so they can be provided opportunities with no more difficulty than their white male counterparts.
In this sense, the University is doing a good deed. However, despite my sincere appreciation of the University’s intent and efforts to address this issue, I must express my concerns about the process of dealing with the incident. My concern is not based on ideology or the University’s right to terminate student events. My concern addresses the effectiveness of their way to deal with offensive events against minorities, and the consequences of their actions.
Now, let’s quickly review what the University did. “Immediately upon being informed… [they] met with the fraternity chapter president to discuss the issue and begin taking appropriate corrective steps”. (Cancellation of the event is one of them as indicated by the email.) They are also “working collaboratively with the national fraternity headquarters, which has imposed restrictions on the fraternity until a full investigation occurs.” Also, an apology by the fraternity’s president has already been issued. The school will also impose educational interventions and plan educational forums with the fraternity.
I expect to hear from those individuals who were offended in the first place, to hear their rationale behind reporting this party. I would like to hear their voices in the process of the investigation, and their demand for apologies. However, all I received was the “whom-it-may-concern” rhetoric to stop and correct the situation. “Teach him to fish, not give him a fish.” The University’s actions make me feel like they are giving fish to offended minorities, but not teaching them how to fish. Not a single word mentions HOW minorities can protect their rights. No mention on possible institutions minorities can turn to for help, no follow-up on minorities’ involvement in the investigation, education, or “correction,” as the school calls it. As a result, possible ways to establish self-protection have not been sufficiently emphasized. Individual rights not fully recognized. Minorities were protected in this specific case, but were not given advice on self-protection, such as how can they equip themselves when they encounter similar incident in the future. How can a solution in this case be called effective if it cannot help most minorities better equip themselves to fend off future incidences?
The consequences are concerning. Since the University is helping minorities, chances are, reliance on the University becomes natural. Reliance on some institution, organization or group is dangerous for human rights. The effects are twofold. The reliance itself discourages minorities to pursue their rights and make their stance. We know the story — a rich man consistently gives to his small town he grew up in, and hopes that his hometown develops. However, his charity is exactly what hinders the growth of his hometown, because people feel they can depend on his charity. The same logic applies to our case. It is even more dangerous if the University on which minorities rely fosters overreliance.
A solution is effective only when it addresses the fundamental issues in the problem. So what are the fundamental issues here? The fraternity dared to organize the offensive party not because its members didn’t know what they are doing, or because they were unafraid of the University, or that they didn’t care about the national fraternity headquarters, but because they thought that the individuals they were offending were too weak to fight back. Therefore, education will not help because you cannot teach someone who pretends that he doesn’t know. University interference will not work either since it is fairly easy for this fraternity party to find somewhere outside the University’s power. The only ways that will work are those that make minorities stronger.
Good intent without effective results seems to imply irresponsibility and lack of real care. In order to avoid ineffective results and bad consequences, I believe the University should take steps to involve offended parties into the decision making process, turn their focus on educating minorities on self-protection, and give them chances to make their stance.
November 26th, 2013 § § permalink
On Thursday November 7th, the Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution asking the University of Michigan to remove the new digital billboard that sits over East Stadium Boulevard located near the Big House. Occupying 1300 square feet of space, the city claims the billboard is too big, too bright, and too distracting to drivers as they pass. Council member Christopher Taylor further elaborated: “We made this judgment based on the belief that these billboards serve to distract drivers and that the intrusion of illuminated advertising degrades our vision-scope.”
The billboard, with a cost of over $2.8 million, flashes constantly changing messages at a rate of four messages per minute. Standing 21 feet high, 27 feet tall, and 48 feet wide, the billboard is also used to play videos on game days. The city of Ann Arbor has an ordinance prohibiting digital billboards, however, being a state institution, the university is not obligated to follow local ordinances.
Early indications from the university are that they have no intention of removing the billboard. President Mary Sue Coleman defended the billboard, saying, “My view is that the driver is responsible for not being distracted.” Coleman views the billboard as a key promotional tool for the non-revenue U of M sports, meaning sports other than men’s basketball and football: “Do I like the fact that we can let some people know about some sports, particularly the sports that aren’t high profile…you bet.” Athletic director Dave Brandon has a similar stance, as he has claimed the billboard is similar to those at other schools. Furthermore, Brandon indicated the location of the billboard across from the golf course was specifically chosen to avoid disrupting Ann Arbor residents near their homes.
If not taken down, the city council would like the digital billboard to only be activated during game days. The athletic department has stated that they will bring the resolution before the university. However, based on the responses of Brandon and Coleman, it seems unlikely that a solution will be put forth quickly. President Coleman hinted that the university and the city sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye: “I know that we spend a lot of time working with the city. There are some things the city does that we don’t necessarily agree with. We don’t always come to a common understanding. We deeply respect the city, we know that we have a symbiotic relationship.”
Considering the cost of the billboard, the university is unlikely to concede easily to taking it down. Nonetheless, while drivers do bear the responsibility of remaining concentrated on the road, the presence of digital billboard flashing messages every 15 seconds is not necessarily a great way to ensure that drivers will maintain their concentration in its presence. On the other hand, Michigan athletics are a key economic stimulant within Ann Arbor, providing the city with many external benefits in result. Thus, the city would be wise to proceed cautiously when voicing their complaints in regards to the actions of the athletic department moving forward.
November 26th, 2013 § § permalink
When walking around campus I could not help but notice the “1 in 3” banners hanging around the Diag. I was curious as to what this “campaign” was all about. After visiting their website, www.1in3campaign.org/# I quickly realized this was a campaign for abortion.
What caught my eye was not whether abortions are right or wrong – this debate is for another time, place, and article – but the underlying assumptions that provide the foundation for this “campaign.” These assumptions are quite troubling, and the language that this “campaign” uses is rather dangerous. The assumptions that form the “avocation” of the “1 in 3 Campaign” also happen to be fallacies.
Their statement goes as follows:
The 1 in 3 Campaign is a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion—telling our stories, on our own terms. Together, we can end the stigma and shame women are made to feel about abortion. As we share our stories we begin to build a culture of compassion, empathy, and support for access to basic health care. It’s time for us to come out in support of each other and in support of access to legal and safe abortion care in our communities.
Here, the assumption that sticks out like a sore thumb is that abortion is considered “basic health care.” As though all should have access to it – as if it’s a right. Every right should be accompanied by a duty, but I digress; the language used here supposes it is our society that creates the “stigma and shame” associated with abortions, and that “women are made to feel” badly about abortions. But perhaps they are feeling shame that stems from feelings of empathy and compassion for the being (or clump of cells, or whatever you want to call it) that they had aborted.
The statement goes on:
The 1 in 3 campaign builds on the success of prior social change movements, harnessing the power of storytelling to engage and inspire action and strengthen support for abortion access. By encouraging women who have had abortions to end their silence, share their stories, and start a new and more personal conversation about abortion in our society, the 1 in 3 Campaign will help create a more enabling cultural environment for the policy and legal work of the abortion rights movement.
The fallacy in this statement is that, through “the power of storytelling” the “1 in 3 Campaign” is attempting to appeal to emotions – with no rational reason to support abortions. The support they seek merely relies on women’s stories of experience. They hope that through the stories of women who have aborted fetuses, this will “inspire action” to support access to abortions. In other words, through emotional stories, other people’s emotions can be aroused in order to gain support for their cause. But why should people support this cause? Just for the sake of shedding a negative stigma attached to them? Or for the mere choice, convenience, and freedom of the mothers?
Yet the most fallacious assumption which lies at the heart of the “1 in 3 Campaign” is that because a significant number of women have abortions in their lifetime (presumably 1 in 3), the procedure must be right and justified. This is simply an appeal to popularity, or “jumping on the bandwagon.” Just because presumably 33% of women will have abortions in their lifetime does not validate or justify the practice of abortions. There is no argument to see here – It is quite a lofty assumption to base a “campaign” off of.
What makes this type of fallacy dangerous is that it assumes the more people who commit an act, the more justified that act must be. If I were to say that 1 in 3, or 2 in 4, or 3 in 5 college students participated in risky behavior such as binge drinking, unprotected sex, or drug usage, it would be foolish and dangerous to assume these actions would be okay to do since a significant number of college kids do so. It is not the freedom or independence to do these things that makes them okay to do either, as many other abortion “campaigns” argue that “choice” is the basis of their justification, and definitive of an independent woman. But this “campaign” is not just pro-choice, it’s strongly pro-abortion – a procedure that has yet to be proven as being medically legitimate.
What this “campaign” does is label any argument posed by pro-life groups as “stigmatizing abortions.” This is yet another attempt of political correctness to demonize opposing arguments, portraying their own argument righteously as to “not offend anyone.” It is a pointing of the finger at the opposition, and blaming them for the negative feelings associated with abortions.
If this “campaign” wished to be unbiased, even if it is true that 1 in 3 women get abortions, they should also post the stories of women who regret having abortions, whom view it as a mistake. But no un-biasedness here – they only wish to shed the “stigma” associated with abortions. “1 in 3” poses themselves as being an innocent campaign for women to share their life changing stories of how their abortions kept their lives commitment-free and convenient for them – just like most other abortion campaigns. It would be unwise to fall for their seemingly “innocent” and simple claims; their assumptions are fallacious, as well as dangerous.
November 3rd, 2013 § § permalink
To judge mandatory health care successful by observing the number of people insured sounds great superficially, but to understand the reason for implementing mandatory health care in the first place, one must look to other measures to understand whether such reform is effective. Looking at how many people are insured after forcing them enroll in health insurance and saying that a program is effective because so many people have enrolled is so blatantly obvious – there almost is no need to examine that, unless the product is so awful people would rather pay a fine than enroll. Even in the case where health care is excruciatingly hard to get, (we’re looking at you healthcare.gov) people will still want it for a variety of reasons, one of which is obvious – fines suck.
However, what is the point of mandatory health insurance. Why is the government and people who know better than everyone else forcing the general populace to have health insurance? Their main goal is to increase people’s longevity, stave off mortality and they believe that people with health insurance will be better equipped to deal with life’s illnesses and diseases. According to the proponents of mandatory health care, diseases will be found earlier, people will be more likely to access preventative care and society overall will live longer.
Therefore, to understand whether or not mandatory health care is effective, one shouldn’t examine enrollment rates. It tells nothing about the distal outcome, the outcome the health care reform hopes to improve. Instead, we need to look at mortality, rates of illness and whether people do indeed more frequently access preventative care resources. How can we do that? After all, Obamacare is in its infancy. Barely anyone has enrolled, let alone feel the benefits of such a great social project!
Though Obamacare is in its infancy, one needs not to look in far away lands to gleam evidence supporting or weakening universal healthcare. One only needs to look at Massachusetts. As governor, Romney created a health care program, the same program Obamacare is modeled after. The program was praised, hailed as a success. How did these people measure Romneycare’s success? The number of people enrolled.
What happens when you look at Massachusetts’s mortality rate? Not surprising, Massachusetts’s mortality rate has gone down. It must be Romneycare! What a miraculous social program! Let’s say Romneycare’s effects can be observed starting in 2007, one year after it was enacted. Although the data demonstrates that mortality rates have gone down since 2007, the same data also shows the mortality rate has gone down since 2000 and has been doing so steadily every year, for 7 years before Romney care. Furthermore, the data does not seem to show a significant difference in decreased deaths pre- and post-2007.
Although the overall mortality rate has only decreased somewhat, surely specific illnesses have decreased drastically. It is unfair to lump all deaths together! One aspect of Obamacare, as is with Romneycare, is to decrease preventative diseases through preventative measures, which would be better accessed by those with insurance. A good measure of this may be cancer. Cancer is fast spreading but easily missed and only through frequent check-ups can one catch it. Thus, it could be used as a measure of how successful mandatory health care is as improving the outcome of preventative illnesses.
It does not fare well. Deaths from cancer have been steadily decreasing before 2007 and have since decreased at the same rate. What about specific cancers? Deaths from lung, colorectal and prostate cancer all have similar rates in the 2000-2010-time range. Sadly, deaths from breast cancer have actually increased since 2007. Deaths from other cancers, such as bladder, uterine and ovarian cancer have also gone up since 2007. If more women than ever in Massachusetts are insured, then why are they not able to identify and treat the cancers in time? It may be that the number of deaths from these types of cancers is not statistically significant, that is, they are not a drastic increase from pre-2007. However, it also means the number of deaths have no decreased, which is interesting, considering how mandatory health care should decrease these types of deaths.
Infant mortality rates have also increased since 2000. As technology, especially medical technology has improved, it is surprising to see that infant mortality, for Whites and Blacks (thus, not a problem for a specific race) have increased since 2000, 3.8 per 1000 to 4.1 per 1000 and 5.2 per 1000 to 7.1 per 1000 deaths for Whites and Blacks respectively. Why hasn’t better access to cheaper healthcare lowered infant mortality? Shouldn’t expectant mothers have better access to the necessary medical treatments, especially with more people enrolled with health insurance?
Is mandatory insurance the best way to go about increasing life expectancy? Is there possibly another way, a better, more effective way of disseminating medical care and medical knowledge and awareness to people to decrease mortality?
Perhaps, through better health education in high school or stronger public health campaigns about preventing illnesses and getting more frequent check-ups. These methods have research and empirical data backing their effectiveness, whereas Romneycare and Obamacare do not. Other ways of improving preventative care include stressing a medical model that focuses more on preventing diseases instead of merely treating them once they surface. These means may be better at improving life expectancy and attack lack of knowledge and treatment possibilities at the source rather than as a Band-Aid. Universal health care may work. However, with other external factors at work, Obamacare, as Romneycare has shown, may not work the way its implementers expect it to. Instead, it may need larger problems facing public health to be fixed before it can even approach success.
These are questions and problems that daunt Obamacare. After all, if the health care reform policy Obamacare is based on is unable to reduce the mortality rate, what good is it? The whole point of forcing people to do something, to deny their liberty to say no, is because it is better for them. Though I disagree people should be forced to do something, even if it is for “their own good”, at least it betters their lives. Romneycare was forced onto people and hasn’t even be demonstrated to be effective and it has been hailed as a great social program. If Romneycare isn’t able to do what it’s supposed to, how is Obamacare supposed to, especially when, in its early stages of implementation, it has been clumsily put together?
October 30th, 2013 § § permalink
Recently, in an op-ed for The New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin disputed President Obama’s claim of American exceptionalism, warning of the danger of such a term. But is America exceptional? And if so, is this mindset dangerous?
America is most definitely exceptional. However, many feel uncomfortable hearing this statement, especially at a large university such as Michigan where political correctness and multiculturalism are widespread. If one looks in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, they would find that the definition of exceptional is “not usual; unusual or uncommon; unusually good; much better than average.” For some reason this term is considered offensive; professors and administrators whom adhere to political correctness would say the term American exceptionalism marginalizes those in the world who do not have the opportunity to take part in the American experience.
There should be no offense taken to such a statement as “American exceptionalism,” nor is there any marginalizing intentions in the phrase. It is an expression of our patriotic nature, a two-word description of the American goal, or the American dream. It both expresses America’s success globally and a hope for better perfection.
What “American Exceptioanlism” Doesn’t Mean
This description is not some claim that Americans are superior or exceptional because of blood or heredity. One can have the privilege of being born in America, or one can legally be given the opportunity to take part in the American way of life. In an essay by Dinesh D’Souza called “What’s Great About America,” he explains that “millions of people come from all over the world, and over time most of them come to think of themselves as Americans. Their experience suggests that becoming Americans is less a function of birth or blood and more a function of embracing a set of ideas and a way of life.”
Another false assumption associated with American exceptionalism is that since we are exceptional, we must go about meddling in the business of other countries. We as a country can be exceptional without the interventionist foreign policies that are associated with America. Although collectively we have the military strength to intervene, it is not our attempts to spread democracy or the ability to oust dictators that makes America exceptional.
So Why Is America So Exceptional?
America is exceptional because of our great experiment in liberty that was our nations founding. It is the vision and values of our founding fathers that have been translated into the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Federalist Papers that protect the rights of all, which makes them unique and exceptional. The institutions of our government that split up power between the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches, creating a system of checks and balances have been greatly successful and speak to America’s institutional exceptionalism.
Despite the imperfections of these institutions – exemplified in the government shutdown – the founding fathers foresaw such problems. They understood that men are imperfect and sinful creatures, and thus a perfectly virtuous and utopian system of government was not possible. Despite such flaws, the democratic-republic form of government America is idolized for is unlike all others in the world and therefore exceptional.
America is exceptional because of the potential that is at every citizen’s fingertips. In other words, America is exceptional because of the “American Dream.” America is known for its entrepreneurial spirit – from Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton to Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. It the potential for self-made success in pursuit of happiness that has caused immigrants from all generations, all over the world, to come to America. The ability to work one’s way up the ladder of success allowing for class mobility, made possible through America’s vast capitalistic economy is yet another reason America is exceptional.
Another reason America is exceptonal is our multicultural origins. The fact that people come here from all over the globe to take part in American life is in itself exceptional. This multiculturalism results in a culmination of diverse cultures, traditions, and peoples. America is a pluralistic culture – a true melting pot – where people can preserve the traditions they hold near and dear while still taking part in American traditions. This culmination is not just of diverse people, but also of diverse ideas, that make America a breeding ground for innovation, education, and technology.
Do not mistake this multiculturalism I speak of as the brand of multiculturalism that plagues university campuses. This “false” sense of multiculturalism found in universities such as Michigan is the kind that attempts to socially level different cultures for the sake of “not offending anyone.” It finds the term “American Exceptionalism” as denigrating to anyone outside of America and denounces it as politically incorrect. This “false” sense of multiculturalism is afraid that American exceptionalism and American traditions will suffocate and destroy all other cultural traditions beneath it. This is not so.
Where else in the world can one have so much freedom to practice their own religions, preserve their traditions, and maintain their cultural identity? Where else do founding documents, values, and divisions of power protect people’s rights and liberties? Where else allows for such opportunities to succeed in the pursuit of happiness? These are all distinctly American. There is no other place on earth that allows for this type of freedom, potential, and opportunity. This is exactly what makes America exceptional.
October 28th, 2013 § § permalink
Throughout our history Americans have migrated in search of opportunities, from the pioneers who settled the west, to the Great Migration of African Americans from the south. However, as Timothy Noah points out in his Washington Monthly column “Stay Put Young Man,” following the financial crisis of 2007 Americans have migrated at a far lower rate than ever before, with only 1.7% of Americans migrating between states in 2011-12; this is less than half the rate of the 1950s. Additionally, those who have migrated tend to leave more prosperous cities, such as San Francisco or New York for cities with less opportunity, in states such as Texas or Nevada due to the lower cost of living cities in these states offer. As a prosperous city already, Ann Arbor – by embracing development – can become the economic hub of Michigan.
The “American Dream” is an idea centered on the belief that if people just work hard in America they can be successful. This dream was generally achieved through migration accompanied by low barriers to entry. For example, when the pioneers moved west, the Homestead Act guaranteed them large plots of free land to develop as they saw fit. However, as America developed, land no longer was freely available and became subject to various land-use regulations – in particular zoning laws – the most restrictive of which are in prosperous parts of America.
Restrictive or “exclusionary” zoning laws prevent the supply of housing to meet demand, which increases the price of housing. In The Gated City Ryan Avent lays out how “exclusionary zoning” works in practice:
In some cases, there are explicit zoning limits. Buildings can only be so tall or can only be used for commercial or industrial purposes… In many cases, neighbors opposed to new developments in their neighborhood lobby the government to change either the zoning rules or historical designations in order to block development projects. And in some situations, no actual law or regulation is necessary to limit redevelopment—community opposition is sufficient to do the work of curtailing supply.
The classic example of exclusionary zoning has been San Francisco. In San Francisco, despite recent prosperity due to a technology boom, the restrictive zoning policies have led to narrowly concentrated gains and a dramatic increase in the cost of living. Thus, while San Francisco has boomed, the city has seen net migration. This trend has played out across the country. According to the Equality of Opportunity Index from Harvard, people are actually leaving many of the cities that have the greatest economic mobility.
Ann Arbor has a similarly restrictive zoning policy. As I laid out in “Rising to New Heights”:
The current zoning policy of Ann Arbor limits the quantity and height of development in Ann Arbor. While there has been a significant increase in high-rise development since the height restriction was loosened in 2004, much of Ann Arbor, particularly outside of the urban core, remains single-family style housing. This has driven up rents and has made it so residents of Ann Arbor spend a staggering 37.4% of their income on rent versus 30.9% nationwide, despite a smaller living space.
Contrast this to a place like Texas that has free zoning laws. These zoning laws have allowed for an affordable supply of housing, which has encouraged an influx of migrants from more prosperous areas, such as San Francisco, despite fewer opportunities. While Texas has a low rate of unemployment, many states with high rates of in-migration also have unemployment rates above the national average. It is for this reason that while people once moved in pursuit of opportunities, they are now moving to places they can afford.
This provides a golden opportunity for Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is a great place to live and is more prosperous than much of Texas. By liberalizing its zoning laws and embracing development, so that housing is affordable, Ann Arbor can become the economic hub of Michigan.