Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Beyond Quick Fixes

We seem culturally opposed to long-term solutions.  Our healthcare system is dramatically underperforming, as is our education system.  Perhaps an infusion of targeted incentives would fix things.  It hasn’t and won’t.  The consequences of climate change and global warming include fires, storms and flooding that are massively destructive.  We provide billions of dollars in disaster […]

Coming Together

The recent week of celebrations and funeral of Queen Elizabeth II has reminded me of several other recent funerals at the Washington National Cathedral.  I live across the street from the Cathedral and I am a member of the congregation.  I was not, of course, among the invitees to these services.  However, I stood outside […]

Another Day in the Neighborhood

So, what’s going on?  The Covid 19 pandemic still kills about 500 people per day.  Monkey pox is surging.  The chronicle of the January 6th insurrection continues to astonish.  Hordes of classified documents are turning up in Florida.  Roe v. Wade was overturned.  Inflation is frustrating, and the Fed is trying to cool the economy.  […]

Layers of Complexity

Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988) presaged Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking, 2004).  Both books provide vivid explanations of how societies fail and why. Societies create mechanisms to deal with new challenges.  Walls are built to thwart Mongol hoards.  Regulations are created to deter […]

Hidden Taxation Math

Let’s say a university needs revenue of $25,000 per year per student.  What tuition should they charge?  Let’s assume there are three equal populations of students.  One third can afford to pay full tuition.  Another third can afford to pay 20% of full tuition.  The last third cannot afford to pay anything.  What should tuition […]

Two Countries

I recently read Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized (Simon & Schuster, 2021).  He provides a profound analysis of identity politics, ranging from white supremacy to the politics of rage.  He provides suggested “corrections” that might ease this tension. However, consider another scenario.  The 25 states supporting Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 agree to become […]

Forces of Greed

I have been reading much history, most recently Ada Ferrer’s Cuba: An American History (Scribner, 2021) for which she won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for History.  She provides a panoramic view of the business of slavery. James DeWolf, a US Senator, was one of the major players in the business of slavery.  Based in Bristol, […]

Let the Liar Beware

A significant proportion of our population is scientifically illiterate.  They have no understanding of the Big Bang Theory or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  Actually, one quarter are functionally illiterate and only one third can perform simple arithmetic calculations.  Yet, they manage to function in life quite reasonably.  They are oblivious to scientific misinformation and disinformation. […]

Bringing Democracy Back

It seems that everyone in the country, from both the right and left, feels that the US is headed in bad directions.  The Supreme Court seems totally committed to States Rights as envisioned in the early 19th century.  Each state can make its own decisions on abortion, the environment, sexual equality and voting rights.  The […]

Human Well Being

We know quite a bit about human well being, broadly defined to include the physical, behavioral, social, economic, and political elements of the concept.  We seem to lack the will and the resources to pursue broadly based improvements in the well being of everyone.  Many of us feel that everyone is on their own, and […]

Lessons Learned

What happens if a fundamental tenet of life turns out to be wrong?  Does it depends on the nature of the premise or belief? How central is it to how you manage your life? Does this realization fundamentally change your subsequent behavior?  Do you become a different person than you would have become with this […]

We Only See What We Can See

Consider two recent pieces in the New York Times: “How Animals See Themselves” by Ed Young, and “In a Parallel Universe, Another You” by Michio Kaku, both published on June 20th. Young reports that animals sense light, sounds, smells, etc. much differently than humans do.  It helps them to identify food, mates, and other means […]

Emerging Crises

I recently read Serhii Plokhy’s Atoms & Ashes (Norton, 2022), a chronicle of six nuclear disasters over several decades in America, England, Japan, and Russia, three in the military and three in electric utilities.  In all six cases, the consequences of the disaster were much worse than expected and governments did their best to cover […]

The Community of Pubs

Pubs are “public places” where we convene for drinks, meals, and often sporting events.  I always sit at the bar.  At a table, I am left to conversations with my colleagues with whom I entered the establishment or, if by myself, catching up with email with far-flung colleagues. At the bar, it is likely that […]

Democracy at Risk

Where are we headed as a country?  We were once – at least we thought – the shiny exemplar of liberal democracy.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were our themes.  We understood that there would be conflicts in these pursuits, but we would work it out.  Reasonable adversaries would discuss and debates paths […]

Appealing to Voters

Quite simplistically, assume that there are two populations of voters: X: A population that can easily be manipulated in terms of values, concerns, perceptions and decisions about consumption, health, education, and votes. Y: A population that reflects on what is knowable, explainable, and predictive, consciously deciding what is believable and the consequences for decision making. […]

Winning Ways

What do these three practices have in common? Selling exorbitantly-priced drugs that provide no relative health benefits, but one cannot buy particular patented drugs and devices from other suppliers Producing very expensive weapon systems that may no longer be needed, but one cannot buy these weapon systems and spare parts from other suppliers One cannot […]

Manipulation

I find it very interesting how easily people are convinced to behave in ways in conflict with their own self interests.  Advertisements for low-quality junk foods and vehicles that really will not increase your sex appeal are good examples. Advertisements for prescription drugs that may benefit a few, but are not beneficial for most people […]

Hopeless Causes

I have been wondering about change initiatives that are hopeless in the sense that change is virtually impossible.  What do I mean by “impossible”?  Theoretical impossibility is quite rare.  Planes that fly faster than the speed of light and the elimination of death and all taxes are good examples.  Most would agree on the impossibility […]

Leaders of Change

Do the times make leaders or do leaders make the times?  I have long thought that great leaders understand the times and determine how to take advantage of them.  More specifically, I think many great leaders have had a naturalistic orientation to understanding their worlds in terms of what is achievable, in what time frames, […]

Societal Allocation of Resources

With the proposed FY 2023 federal budget, government expenditures will grow to roughly 23% of the $26 trillion US Gross Domestic Product. Even with the proposed substantial annual tax increases on high-earners’ incomes, the offsetting tax revenues are insufficient to avoid a perpetual trillion dollar deficit each year, amounting to 5% of US GDP. This […]

The Election Follies

Now that Members of Congress no longer have legislative responsibilities, they have become very creative in how they pursue reelection.  Some play it straight in the sense that they pretend to be serious about eliminating immigration, deporting anyone in the US whose family has been here less than three generations, and gutting K-12 curricula to […]

Running for Election

Members of Congress have only one objective – getting reelected.  Their every utterance is focused on appealing to the voters that can get them through the primaries, if necessary, and winning in the general elections.  Many also have aspirations for higher offices.  Most have absolutely no interest in policy discussions and debates.  They have concluded […]

Society’s Perfect Storm

Three weather fronts collided off the New England coast in 1991 – and the subsequent movie in 2000.  The Gloucester fishing boat Andrea Gail tried to endure but could not survive the onslaught.  Everyone was lost. We have as a society encountered a collision of “fronts” that have left us reeling.  The US mortgage crisis […]

Time Horizons

We seem to think of the future, and perhaps the past, in terms of decades.  We likely recall our grandparents and, of course, our parents.  We consider our own lives and those of our children in terms of employment, education and eventually retirement.  Our overall time horizon for planning is likely 20-40 years. Our plans […]

Common Ground

Thirteen months ago, the Trump wing of the Republican party attempted a coup of the US government.  They failed despite injuring hundreds and killing several.  Many hundreds of these people have been indicted for their acts of insurrection.  Prison terms have started to result with hundreds more in the offing.  The Republican party has characterized […]