Friday, August 31, 2012

The War on Women, British Version

During the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics we watched an absurd, choreographed paean to the greatness of the Britain’s National Health Service.

Undoubtedly, Paul Krugman thrilled to the spectacle.

Hadn’t the famed monomaniac told us that all is well with the NHS?

In Krugman’s now-famous words:

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false.

Democrats want the upcoming election to hinge on the cost of Sandra Fluke’s birth control pills. In Britain the government-run NHS has just issued guidelines for childbirth designed to lower the cost of childbirth.

The Daily Mail reports today:

Family doctors are being told to try to talk women out of having Caesareans and very strong painkillers during birth to save the NHS money.

New guidelines drawn up for GPs urge them to encourage women to have natural labours with as little medical help as possible.

But for many women the prospect of giving birth without the painkillers is unthinkable.

And critics have said the move has been made without any thought for the women themselves.

The guidelines also remind doctors to tell women to consider having their babies outside hospital in midwife-run units or in their own homes.

Caesareans cost the NHS around £1,200 a time while epidurals – anaesthetic injections into the spine – are around £200.

The guidelines state that, as well as being expensive, they both slow down a mother’s recovery after labour and impede breastfeeding.

The advice does not suggest women should not be given any painkillers, such as gas and air which are commonly used.

However, it specifically tells doctors to try to reduce the numbers given epidurals and other anaesthetic injections into the spine.

The advice – drawn up by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the National Childbirth Trust – has enraged campaigners and some senior doctors.

NHS decisions are made by an advisory board, not by women themselves.

If the term “war on women” means anything, we see it in action in the new NHS policies on childbirth.

Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention

Considering the reaction, you have to think that Clint Eastwood hit a liberal nerve last night.

When Democratic polls and fellow travelers jump up to denounce Eastwood’s comic relief, you sense that they are trying to neutralize a blow that just hit them in the solar plexus.

Of course, they also want the public to identify the Republican party with Clint Eastwood, an octogenarian actor, not with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Roger Ebert said that Eastwood was “sad and pathetic.” I question whether Roger Ebert is the best person to use such terms.

Howard Kurtz said it was weird and Joe Scarborough declared that it sidetracked the convention.

Michael Moore worried about the damage that Eastwood was doing to his reputation:

The people of the future will know nothing about Dirty Harry or Josey Wales or a Million Dollar Baby. They WILL know about the night a crazy old man hijacked a national party's most important gathering so he could tell the President to literally go do something to himself (i.e. fuck  himself).

One appreciates Moore's concern for reputation, but apparently he was so overwhelmed by empathy that he completely misunderstood Eastwood’s bawdy-house humor.

The "crazy old man" was not telling POTUS to do it to himself. He was relaying what imaginary POTUS was telling Mitt Romney (and Clint Eastwood) to do to themselves.

I hope the distinction is not too difficult to understand.

Eastwood was offering some comic relief, some satire, some mockery, some raunch… all of which apparently threatens the humorless party.

Yet, people who are hanging on every empty word of George Clooney and Rosie O’Donnell are not well placed to criticize any Hollywood celebrity.

Considering how much air time these Hollywood airheads routinely receive on news programs and at political conventions, one might even imagine that Clint Eastwood was doing a put down of their pretension to offer thoughtful opinion or cogent analysis.

Eastwood was pitch perfect in pointing out, as only he could have, that the Democratic party, the party that is supposed to contain all of the great minds, has, as its second-in-command a running joke called Joe Biden.

Calling Joe Biden the intellect of the Democratic party is funny.

Representing President Obama by an empty chair is salient, high concept, and very much to the point.

It offers an image that conceptualizes the Republican critique of the Obama administration. It says that President Obama has failed to lead and has failed to discharge the duties of his office because he is more interested in being out and around campaigning than sitting at his desk in the oval office being the president.

Obama and his campaign staff were sufficiently torqued by the trope to have felt a need to tweet back a picture of the president at a cabinet meeting.

When you have to point out that the chair is occupied, that means that it isn’t.

When the President of the United States, on the advice of some of the most savvy media operatives in the world, feels a need to tweet an instant response to a Hollywood actor who is doing a stand-up comedy routine, you can score one for Dirty Harry.

If you missed Eastwood, here's a clip:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Getting People to Exercise

Traditionally, therapists have helped people to explore their own minds, rearrange their mental furniture and feel better about themselves.

They have largely missed a more relevant question: how do you motivate other people?

It is an extremely difficult task, made perplexing when you are trying to get someone to do something that is clearly good for him.

Other people exist and if you do not know how to motivate them you are going to have a difficult time of it.

Any leader, manager, parent or coach knows that motivating other people, getting them, as Dwight Eisenhower famously put it, to do what needs to be done because they want to do it, is extraordinarily difficult.

Recently, Jane Brody addressed the question in The New York Times. As the Times health columnist Brody has been advising people to take up physical exercise for many years now. She knows, and has happily told people that one of the best things you can do for your health is to maintain an exercise routine.

She is hardly alone. The news has been broadcast and disseminated far and wide. Everyone knows that he must do more exercise. Precious few Americans do so.

Brody frames the question this way:

What would it take to persuade you to exercise?

A desire to lose weight or improve your figure? To keep heart disease, cancer or diabetes at bay? To lower your blood pressure or cholesterol? To protect your bones? To live to a healthy old age?

You’d think any of those reasons would be sufficient to get Americans exercising, but scores of studies have shown otherwise. It seems that public health experts, doctors and exercise devotees in the media — like me — have been using ineffective tactics to entice sedentary people to become, and remain, physically active.

For decades, people have been bombarded with messages that regular exercise is necessary to lose weight, prevent serious disease and foster healthy aging. And yes, most people say they value these goals. Yet a vast majority of Americans — two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese — have thus far failed to swallow the “exercise pill.”

One should add that exercise has also been shown to confer important mental health benefits, too.

Why have the methods not worked? New research, Brody reports, has shown that people are more motivated to exercise when they see it in terms of an immediate benefit than when they are told that it will confer long term advantages.

Current well-being is a better incentive than future well-being.

I accept the research, but I believe that it is more difficult than that. When it comes to depression people are more willing to take medication that will take weeks to work than to undertake an exercise program that will produce positive results in a shorter period of time.

Let’s examine the question in more depth.

First, lethargy and sloth are bad habits. There is no magic bullet, no new way of framing the question that will suddenly erase a bad habit.

It takes time and effort and guidance to replace a bad habit with a good one.

Second, Brody points us in a good direction when she talks about the “exercise pill.”

For people who are generally lethargic, taking a pill is much easier than putting in the time and effort to do exercise.

Taking a pill fits well in a lifestyle characterized by sloth. Exercise does not.

Exercise feels like work. People who refuse to do it have probably lost their work ethic, too.

Third, advising people to exercise in order to be fit and healthy is contradicted by the fact that we receive medical care passively.

It takes no real effort to undergo surgery or to have a blood test.

In culture that equates good health with passively consuming medical care the message to become more active has had great difficulty taking hold.

Fourth, thanks to the therapy culture we have convinced ourselves that we are independent, autonomous beings who should not be taking anyone else’s advice.

People have learned that taking advice is bad for their soul. When they refuse to do what is good for their bodies they imagine that they are saving their souls.

Fifth, thanks again to the therapy culture most Americans believe that we can achieve happiness by sating our appetites.

Culture mavens tell everyone that they must satisfy their sexual appetites and that there is no such thing as too much sex.

But, once you have established the principle that people gain a benefit from satisfying their appetites, nothing will prevent them from applying the principle to their alimentary appetites.

And since doing exercise feels more like work and less like a lobster dinner, people who follow the culture’s dictates will likely forget about the first in order to revel in the second.

Sixth, people have been told that it doesn’t matter what other people think of them or how others see them.

Thus, people who are unhealthy and overweight console themselves by thinking that no one has a right to judge them.

If you are trying to convince such a being to exercise, you cannot tell him that his good health will benefit the team, the family or the community.

Obama, Romney and the Poster Child Vote

Move over soccer moms and NASCAR dads, a new demographic has just arrived.

Last night, Paul Ryan offered a perfect description of the unemployed or underemployed college graduates living at home with Mom and Dad. In Ryan’s honor, we will call them: poster children.

In his words:

College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.

You can’t get more high concept than that.

Last year they were Occupiers; this year they are poster children.

Supporters of the Occupy movement, whether Democratic politicians, labor union organizers or media mavens, were trying to make America’s disaffected young people a leftist force in American politics.

In that they failed.

This year the budding Occupiers are back home with Mom and Dad, waiting and wondering.

Four years ago they followed the Pied Piper of Chicago off the cliff.

This year, they can take a step toward a better future by getting up off the couch and voting to correct their mistake. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making Friends With Your Mind

Cognitive therapy has taught us that training your brain to think differently is more beneficial, psychically speaking, than a bushel-full of dubious insights.

Writing about this yesterday Elizabeth Bernstein subtitled her column: “Train Your Brain to Be Positive, and Feel Happier Every Day: It Only Sounds Corny”

Therein lies a problem. Compared to insight-oriented therapies, these new approaches, like cognitive treatment and coaching, seem to lack seriousness and intellectual sophistication. They feel “corny.”

Those who continue to defend the therapy culture often deride the newer approaches. The old therapy might not have cured them but it made them feel like they were part of the intelligentsia. Feeling that one is a serious thinker often trumps the wish to feel better, to function better, and to succeed.

What could be less sophisticated than training your brain? Isn’t the exercise inherently mindless?

The older forms of therapy, for the most part footnotes to Freud, did not treat or not cure.

They survived by producing a group of cult followers. After an extended sojourn on the couch these people felt superior to everyone else because they understood the inherent tragedy in the human condition.

They took pride in not being very happy, in not seeing the positive side of life. They thought that happiness and good moods were for chumps, for people who were out of touch, for self-deluded simpletons who were merely cogs in the corporate machine.

It was, and in many cases still is a powerful argument.

It isn’t just that insight-oriented therapies taught you the value of common unhappiness, it told you to go out and proselytize the one true faith, thus to share you insights and understanding, your negative outlook on everything.

Thereby, you could think that you were transforming the culture, bring it into closer contact with the higher truth that lay in tragedy.

This mindset fosters and sustains depression. Nowadays, it is commonly recognized as a problem, not a sign of moral superiority.

Medications and cognitive treatments have shown that no one needs to live in a state of constant misery. Fewer and fewer people have been making a fetish out of seeing the worst in everything.  

One must admit, that the path to happiness sounds too easy to be true.

Bernstein offers the recommendation of researcher Elaine Fox:

Want to try this at home? Write down, in a journal, the positive and negative things that happen to you each day, whether running into an old friend or missing your bus. Try for four positives for each negative. You'll be training your brain to look for the good even as you acknowledge the bad, Dr. Fox says.

William James once said that the truth is what works, and this exercise works. It might make you feel like a schoolchild doing homework, but, alas, it will improve your mood and help you to function more effectively in the world.

If you do not want to do it or to do any of its cousins, you need a better reason than false pride.

When the time came to market this new technique, researchers called it: “self-compassion.”

Unfortunately, self-compassion suggests self-pity, feeling sorry for your suffering self.

The wrong concept gives us the wrong idea. It would be better to understand that these therapists and coaches are trying to offer an antidote to a bad mental habit that has long been a staple of psychotherapy: self-criticism.

Freudian therapy is about getting in touch with your guilt feelings. After you discover all of your sordid and depraved motives, it will teach you to use self-criticism as moral self-flagellation, the better to palliate the guilt.

The more you criticize yourself the more this kind of self-deprecating judgment will become a habit. Then it will produce depression.

If you believe that a depressed mood reflects your exceptional insight into the human condition you will have little incentive to get rid of it.

Self-compassion might mean: give yourself a break. Conceptualized correctly it might have discovered an affinity with an older idea: love they neighbor as thyself.

The Biblical injunction also has a correlate in Aristotle’s idea that friends seek out the best in friends. It feels self-evident, but it is exactly the opposite of what Freud and his band of self-critics taught.

If psychoanalysis teaches you to criticize yourself, you will become habituated to critical thinking and will happily direct it at your friends, your neighbors, and your community.

Impugning everyone’s motives will give you a rush of moral superiority. You will revel in your ability to find a sordid motive behind every noble act.

When you start losing friends you will naturally start blaming the culture. You will feel misunderstood and misjudged by your inferiors.

A wag might ask: How can you love your neighbor as yourself when you do not care very much for yourself?

You might begin by pretending that you do like yourself. You can then try explaining why you would like yourself if you really did like yourself. 

But then, don’t just write a list of the good qualities you find in yourself. Start looking for the best in your friends and neighbors. Remember the old saying: seek and ye shall find.

MSNBC Silences Minority Voices

Obama’s only real hope in the upcoming election is high turnout by minority voters.

For reasons that escape me the African-Americans who have arguably suffered the most under the Obama administration are going to vote for him, as a monolith.

Recent polls have Mitt Romney at 0% of the black vote.

Obama is leading among Hispanic-Americans by a massive margin, more than thirty percentage points.

Without these two voting blocs, Barack Obama would not be in the game.

Clearly, this groupthink pleases the mainstream media. People who think that all virtue and rightness resides on their side of the political spectrum do not feel any need to address or engage opposing arguments.

The mediocrities on MSNBC prefer to tar Republicans as racists, thus telling the lemmings who follow their lead that, if they are white a vote for Romney means they are a racist, and that, if they are black or Hispanic, a vote for Romney is a betrayal of their race.

It isn’t a sophisticated argument, but, clearly, it is working.

Speaking of racism, last night the Republican National Convention featured a number of minority speakers. The party was clearly trying to do some outreach, so it showcased some of its minority stars, like Mia Love, Ted Cruz and Artur Davis.

This morning the Daily Caller reports that MSNBC did not show their speeches.

The Daily Caller reported:

One of the left’s favorite attacks on the Republican Party is that it is the party of old white people, devoid of diversity and probably racist.

If you were watching MSNBC’s coverage of the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Tuesday night, you might believe those assertions, since missing from the coverage was nearly every ethnic minority that spoke during Tuesday’s festivities.

In lieu of airing speeches from former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, a black American; Mia Love, a black candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Utah; and Texas senatorial hopeful Ted Cruz, a Latino American, MSNBC opted to show commentary anchored by Rachel Maddow from Rev. Al Sharpton, Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes and Steve Schmidt.

What does it all mean?

Minority group members who do not toe the party line are consigned to oblivion. If you think differently, even to the point of weighing a different opinion, you will be expelled from Liberal-land.

It also means that MSNBC is willing to silence speakers solely on the grounds of race and ethnicity.

Of course, the liberal media is selling a narrative. But it is using the narrative to control minds. As a political exercise, it is beyond ignoble; it is disgraceful, manipulative and disrespectful.

Clearly, these liberal thinkers have no use for deliberative democracy or a debate about the issues. If you belong to a minority group and you do not think the way they want you to think, then you had best just shut up. If you don't, they will shut you down.

For those who were watching MSNBC, here is what they missed:

Mia Love:

Artur Davis:

Ted Cruz:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Naomi Wolf's Orgasms

Feminists have wanted women to receive more respect. They are not alone in that.

As a rule, if you want to be respected the best place to start is by showing greater respect for yourself.

Respecting yourself does not guarantee that others will respect you but it’s a step in the right direction.

It will allow you to know that you did nothing to provoke any disrespect you might receive.

You build your self-respect by practicing it. Since respect depends on how others see you, self-respect should not be reduced to something you feel.

It is universally true that human self-respect originates in the impulse to cover the external genitalia. When you expose your genitals in public you are diminishing yourself as a social being, and thus, will experience shame.

The roots of shame lie in immodesty.

In the old days feminists railed against being seen as sexual objects. They did not want women to be identified by their sexual behavior.

No one could reasonably disagree with the notion.

Now, however, leading feminist Naomi Wolf has written a book in which she apparently identifies herself with her vagina and declares that her exceptionally wonderful orgasms make her a woman.

Apparently, Wolf believes that the country really needs to have a national conversation about her vagina.

We would do better to discuss Wolf’s vulgar shamelessness and her efforts to reduce women to sexual objects.

I accept that she has a constitutional right to diminish, demean and degrade herself in public. I find it sad, however, that legions of feminists who do not know any better will read her book and conclude that they ought to talk about their vaginas. Others will think that there cannot be anything wrong with sending pictures of their vaginas to their closest friends.

Her book has not yet been published, but Wolf has done a pre-publication interview with the London Times. The London Daily Mail brings us Wolf’s discussion of a problem she started to have with her orgasms.

The Daily Mail reports:

Miss Wolf, 46, said: ‘To my astonishment and dismay, while my orgasms were as strong and pleasurable as ever, something very different was happening after sex, to my mind.

‘I realised one day, as I gazed out on the treetops outside the bedroom of our little cottage, that the usual post-coital rush of a sense of vitality infusing the world, of delight with myself and with all around me, and of creative energy rushing through everything alive, was no longer following the physical pleasure.

‘I felt I was losing somehow, what made me a woman, and that I could not face living in this condition for the rest of my life.’

I am confident that her lover is thrilled to see their intimate experience exposed to public view.  

Anyway, where to begin? Wolf is telling us something that we really do not need to know. No one who is not directly involved really cares whether her orgasms measure up.

Let’s be clear. Wolf is not saying that she is anorgasmic; she is saying that her orgasms have been missing something, a je-ne-sais-quoi, a special quality that, in her words, made her a woman.

This is breathtaking, and not in a good way. Naomi Wolf is telling us that orgasms are what make her a woman.

Does that mean that a woman whose does not have orgasms is not a real woman? Does Wolf want us to divide the female gender into women who have orgasms and women who do not? Does she believe that a woman who has better orgasms is more of a woman than someone whose orgasms lack the mental rush that she finds so thrilling?

Wolf’s problem is more conceptual than orgasmic. If the quality of an orgasm makes a female a woman, how does anyone else know it? Should we walk up to every female we meet and ask her about her orgasms? If we don’t know, does that mean we do not know whether or not she is a real woman? Does Wolf believe that women should assert their womanhood by following her dreadful example and publicizing their experience of sexual enjoyment?

And if they do, how do you, as an outside observer, know that she is telling you the truth?

Where did Wolf go wrong?

Being a woman, like being a man, is a public identity, a socially defined role. It involves behaviors that are immediately recognizable by other people. A woman dresses a certain way, comports herself a certain way and fulfills a certain number of responsibilities.

It isn’t a mystery and has nothing to do with her sexual enjoyment.

We are all happy that Wolf has mind-blowing sex, but, truth be told, she has grossly overestimated its importance in defining her identity.

Since I know you want to know, Wolf did manage to solve her problem. She learned from her gynecologist that the problem lay in her spinal cord, not her vagina.

Discovering that she was a physiological organism blew her mind.

In Wolf’s words:

I almost fell off my chair in astonishment…neural wiring? Not culture, not upbringing, not patriarchy, not feminism, not Freud?...

Is she saying that it’s not all a social construct? Does she mean that human civilization is not a vast right wing patriarchal conspiracy designed to deprive women of the mind-blowing orgasms that make them women?

What will advanced feminist theorists do now?

In the meantime, Wolf underwent surgery to correct her spinal problem. Thereafter she recovered the extra added orgasmic thrill that made her a woman.

Now, she feels like more of a woman. Unfortunately, for having shared her story with the world she looks like less of a woman to everyone else.

The Medical Overtreatment Problem

It’s just as well that Tara Parker-Pope does not speculate about the cause of the problem. Sometimes it is sufficient to describe the problem and allow us to reflect on the cause.

The medical profession, Parker-Pope reports, has developed an unfortunate tendency to overtreat patients. Often, unnecessary treatment and tests make patients worse than they would have been otherwise.

In her words:

When it comes to medical care, many patients and doctors believe more is better.

But an epidemic of overtreatment — too many scans, too many blood tests, too many procedures — is costing the nation’s health care system at least $210 billion a year, according to the Institute of Medicine, and taking a human toll in pain, emotional suffering, severe complications and even death.

A few weeks ago Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote an article—dutifully reported here—in which he attributed overtreatment to the fear of lawsuits.

You cannot get sued for ordering too many tests or too many hospitalizations.

A physician can inoculate himself against lawsuits by ordering tests that patients, mostly, do not have to pay for and overtreament becomes endemic to the system.

Parker-Pope gives me the impression that there is more to it than the fear of lawsuits.

She explains:

Some complained that when they switch doctors they are required to undergo duplicate blood work, scans or other tests that their previous doctor had only recently ordered. Others told of being caught in a unending maze of testing and specialists who seem to forget the patient’s original complaint. I heard from doctors and nurses, too — health professionals frustrated by a system that encourages these excesses.

Or, consider the experience of Kara Riehman:

Sometimes the toll of too much medicine is brief, but emotional. Kara Riehman, 43, of Atlanta was vacationing in California when she lost a struggle with an ironing board in her hotel room and ended up with a black eye.

As the bruising peaked around 10 days, she called her doctor to make sure everything looked normal. But instead of seeing her, the doctor, through a conversation with the nurse, ordered a CT scan. She had no symptoms other than a bruised eye, but the doctor never spoke with her or examined her. The scan came back with an ambiguous finding, and the nurse told her it could be a tumor. She was then given an M.R.I. and for two weeks while she waited for the results, she worried she had brain cancer. The nurse called to tell her the M.R.I. was fine.

“It was really terrible,” she said. “It was only two weeks, but there is a lot of cancer in my family. I never actually talked to my doctor through this whole thing.”

The total cost to her insurance company was about $7,000. “It did change how I think about interacting with the medical system,” Ms. Riehman said. “It made me much more of a questioning consumer.”

One does not, as a non-physician, want to start second-guessing physicians. In this case the physician might reasonably have wanted to be cautious. And yet, the physician did not examine her or speak with her throughout her ordeal.

Most of Parker-Pope’s examples are anecdotal, and yet, the research suggests that the problem is pervasive.

From reading her story, one must conclude that physicians themselves bear some responsibility for the problem.

Beyond the fear of malpractice lawsuits, physicians often have a vested interest in prescribing extra care or extra tests or additional follow-up visits. All of them generate income for someone.

Thanks to trial lawyers and patient advocates we have all been taught that every American deserves the best medical care. The more the better.

And every American has been inculcated with the notion that physicians are venal and error-prone, to the point where we need armies of lawyers to protect us against their predatory impulses.

In this culture the practice of medicine has become an adversarial procedure. If it is acceptable for the lawyers to rip off the system, why shouldn’t physicians do the same? If people are dying because of physician error why wouldn’t physicians overtreat and overprescribe… not because they think that it is the best way to help their patients, but because they believe it is the best way to protect themselves against lawsuits and to enrich themselves.

Some will read these stories and conclude that we need malpractice reform. They will note that since Obamacare scrupulously protects the vested interest of trial lawyers it will never succeed in correcting this problem.

Others will examine the facts and decide to double down. They will conclude that we need more regulation, more government control and more trial lawyers policing the system.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Search for Equality

Everyone believes in equality, but no one agrees on what it means to be equal.

In some sense it’s all about semantics. We think we know what the word “equal” means, and yet we constantly get the issue confused.

Equal opportunity does not mean equal outcomes. In fact, in a fair race, it is impossible to have equal outcomes. Competition means unequal outcomes.

Those who want equal outcomes really want proportional representation at the finish line. But then, why run the race if the outcome is, in some way, fixed in advance.

The only way to guarantee equal or proportional outcomes is to rig the game.

People get confused about equal because they think it means “same.”

Men and women have equal rights, but that does not mean that they are the same. 

Equal rights does not mean equal status, equal prestige, equal respect, equal authority or equal responsibility.

Being equal to a task does not mean that everyone who has the same equal rights as you is also equal to the task.

In other contexts, equal means having equal value.

The value of a sculpture by Donatello might be equal to that of a painting by Vermeer, but that does not mean that the two artworks are the same or identical. Nor does it preclude your like the one a lot more than the other.

Or better, build the same house in Bel Air and Akron and you will find that their prices are radically unequal.

Value is determined by the marketplace. It is not fixed or graven in stone.

All Americans have an equal number of votes in each election. They have an equal right to express their views in the public square or the blogosphere. They do not have a right to an equal audience share.

Despite what feminists think, Americans do not have a right to receive equal pay, even when they have the same job title. No two individuals do the same work with equal efficiency. Two robots, maybe. Two humans, never.

Two truck drivers do not necessarily do the same job. The same applies to two dentists and two secretaries. 

Normally, the free market decides who gets what. Those who do not trust the marketplace, because it offends their sense of equality, would rather have trial lawyers and government apparatchiks decide.

But, ask yourself, what is more likely to be fair, a free and open marketplace or a bunch of government officials who are not motivated by what is best for your company?

In principle, if your company compensates people unfairly it will lose out in competition with other companies that compensate people more fairly.

But, what happens when the marketplace seems to break down and one group of people garners earnings that seem vastly out of proportion to those of everyone else?

Strangely, those who attack such inequities never single out the rock stars and sports heroes whose income is the most grossly disproportionate to their contribution to society.

No one is protesting Taylor Swift’s income or Dwayne Wade’s. Those who attack income inequality save their fire for corporate CEOs, Wall Street bankers, and rogue traders.

The argument for income equality or even fairness disguises a fundamental distrust of a marketplace based on the profit motive. The critics of the market want a new quasi-socialist state where bureaucrats decide.

If their interest were otherwise their movement would have been called, Occupy Beverly Hills, not Occupy Wall Street.

Of course, the bureaucrats will decide on the basis of a specious ideal of equality, not on the basis of what is best for the business.

Similarly, we all agree that everyone should have an equal right to own property. With the exception of the few unrepentant Bolsheviks no one believes that everyone should have an equal amount of property.

Of course, the marketplace is imperfect. It is simply the best instrument that has yet to be devised for distributing goods and services, for allocating resources and for rewarding those who contribute to society.

Besides, there’s more to life than money. And, there is more to markets than money.

Many government executives could make far more money in the private sector. Using their own free will they have decided to  trade income for prestige, authority, and, yes, power.

Some individuals prefer to spend more time with their children. Thus they tend to earn less and to rise to the top less often. 

They are exercising a free choice, based on an exercise of moral responsibility. Do you want to quantify the satisfaction gained by taking one’s parental responsibilities seriously?

Should the government take that joy away from them in order to distribute it equally to other parents who work longer hours?

What about those who prefer to spend more time lolling around the pool and less time working? Is it unfair to discriminate against them when it comes time for promotion?

If some people choose to work less, it is certainly not the government’s job to ensure that they will receive the same compensation and the same career opportunities as those who spend more time on the job.

In many cases women choose to spend more time with their children and less time on the job. This produces gender disparity in the workplace. Feminists use the fact to recruit new cult followers. They argue that if there more men than women in high executive positions, this can only mean that women are being subjected to discrimination.

If men and women are equal, the unreason goes, they should be paid equally, be promoted equally and be equally represented in the executive suite and corporate boards.

For people who do not know how to think, it makes perfectly good sense. For the rest of us, it sets an unrealistic, nearly impossible standard. Compare reality against an imaginary perfection and reality will always fall short.

In truth, as many studies have noted, when you factor in lifestyle choices men and women are being rewarded fairly.

I have posted about this topic before. In this week’s issue of The Economist, the columnist who writes as Schumpeter reviews the issues again.

Trying to help cure the “angst” that arises when feminists see instances of unequal representation at the top of corporate hierarchies, Schumpeter writes:

Several factors hold women back at work. Too few study science, engineering, computing or maths. Too few push hard for promotion. Some old-fashioned sexism persists, even in hip, liberal industries. But the biggest obstacle (at least in most rich countries) is children. However organised you are, it is hard to combine family responsibilities with the ultra-long working hours and the “anytime, anywhere” culture of senior corporate jobs. A McKinsey study in 2010 found that both women and men agreed: it is tough for women to climb the corporate ladder with teeth clamped around their ankles. Another McKinsey study in 2007 revealed that 54% of the senior women executives surveyed were childless compared with 29% of the men (and a third were single, nearly double the proportion of partnerless men).

Some companies are adjusting themselves in order to satisfy the feminist yearning for perfect sameness, but they will be competing against companies that have a different corporate ethos.

Here, again, the marketplace will decide.

In Schumpeter’s words:

For most big jobs, there is no avoiding mad hours and lots of travel. Customers do not care about your daughter’s flute recital. Putting women in the C-suite is important for firms, but not as important as making profits; for without profits a company will die. So bosses should try hard to accommodate their employees’ family responsibilities, but only in ways that do not harm the bottom line.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bias at the New York Times

It’s not a good sign when a newspaper hires a public editor to parry the constant criticism of its news coverage.

A normal paper, like a normal individual, would, upon discovering bias, try to correct the bias.

The Times, however, wants to continue its bias, but to make it part of an extended conversation where disgruntled readers would have the chance to vent.

It’s a perfect therapy-approved way to improve a relationship: keep doing what you are doing but have a conversation with your partner so your partner can learn not to be so judgmental.

Yesterday, the current New York Times public editor, Arthur Brisbane wrote his last column. It was the kind of column you can only write when you are out the door. Brisbane took the Times to task for contaminating its work with its progressive politics.

In Brisbane’s words:

I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

Take it point by point.

Brisbane dismisses the charge that the Times is run by a cabal that actively seeks to slant the news.

If he means t0 deny that a group gets together to decide how to slant the news, he is probably correct.

Yet, a culture of like minds does not just happen all by itself.

On university campuses, people who do not stick to the party line are subject to discrimination. Conservatives are most often disqualified from hiring and promotion.

Even tenured professors are subject to harassment when they take a position that is politically incorrect.

Witness the attacks on Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas. In a more recent case, a Berkeley professor named Brad DeLong recommended that Harvard fire Professor Niall Ferguson because Ferguson had had the temerity to argue in the pages of Newsweek that people should vote for Mitt Romney.

Regnerus is being harassed and bullied by people who claim to be opposed to harassment and bullying. Ferguson is immune from such sniping.

Yet, all other academics and aspiring academics cannot fail to have gotten the message: deviate from the party line and you will find yourself unemployed.

So, while it is no doubt true that the Times “beehive” contains people with like minds, you have to wonder whether there is something about the leadership that makes it impossible for a conservative to get hired.

If there is, the problem must lie with the owner, Pinch Sulzberger. Surely, Pinch has a right to his political views and he has every right to see them expressed in the paper’s editorials.

It is one thing to offer opinions. It is quite another to disbelieve in objective fact and to hire editors who do not believe in it either.

Aside from the fact that the Times is going broke, Sulzberger had turned the most influential newspaper in the world into a newspaper that fewer and fewer people trust.

As I argued yesterday, when you hire mediocre people you end up getting what you pay for: second-rate journalism written by second rate minds who know that they can succeed by sprinkling their personal opinions in their writing.

It’s very much like the American university system, STEM subjects excepted.

When Brisbane wrote that the progressive “worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times” he was laying down a marker.

He knew that phrase would be picked up and passed around as an indictment of the paper of record.

He was also suggesting that the Times is bleeding, that the current management is draining its lifeblood.

A newspaper that has fought the good fight against every kind of bias has been blind to its own intellectual bias. That fact is destroying it.

Brisbane calls out the paper for its coverage of the ill-fated and unserious Occupy movement.

Of course, the Occupy movement did not represent progressive or liberal thinking. It was a hard left radical movement.

The Times reported on it because it had been stung by the electoral successes of Tea Party Republicans in 2010 and was looking for a progressive counterweight.

It was also looking for a reprise of the 1960s counterculture, because obviously, the publisher’s brain had grown up (or down) on just such thinking.

The Times’ new editor Jill Abramson has taken exception, and I suspect that she has been trying to make political coverage more fair this year than it was in 2008.

Clearly, Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s excellent profile of Mitt Romney dealing with two personal crises is a far cry from the hit piece on John McCain that The Times published in 2008, accusing him of being an adulterer.

And yet, in the midst of Stolberg’s piece, we discover an instance of what Brisbane was talking about:

There are some reasons Mr. Romney may not want to talk to voters about the vulnerable moments in his life. Ann Romney, whose story has inspired patients all over the country, undoubtedly has access to the finest medical care, at a time when many Americans are struggling for lack of health insurance.

This gratuitous swipe furthers the Obama campaign election narrative. To the culture of like-minded people at The Times to be fair and balanced.

But if Stolberg does not detail the care Ann Romney received and whether or not it would have been available to an average citizen her remark is merely a bias that is so ingrained that it does not see itself as it is.

Besides, isn’t Obamacare the law? Won’t it give health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans?

A fair and balanced report would have noted that having health insurance is not the same thing as having health care.

Many have argued that the unintended consequences of Obamacare might make health care less, not more, available.

In blue Massachusetts, ironically, where Romneycare is the law of the commonwealth it take much longer to get an appointment with a physician that it does in many other states.