Category: Politics

Philanthropic Arms Races vs. Charity

There have been a number of interesting pieces on charitable giving this holiday season. Peter Singer estimates how much individuals ought to feel morally obliged to give. Arthur Brooks argues that conservatives and the working poor are more inclined to charitable giving than society at large.

All of these news stories, as well as the supernova of Buffett-benevolence, tend to focus attention on charitable giving to the poor. However, some estimate that only 10% of all charitable giving in the U.S. helps the underprivileged. This has led to Congressional hearings on the topic, with some Republicans complaining about the nonprofit status of hospitals with low rates of charity care, and some Dems questioning donations to elite universities:

Representative Thomas and others are particularly vexed by nonprofit hospitals, often noting that data from the American Hospital Association calculated that their average spending on uncompensated care was 4.4

percent of their costs in 2002, compared with 4.5 percent for their commercial cousins. Representative Charles Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, has asked whether a better target may be universities, which sit on tens of billions of dollars in assets while tuition increases are outpacing inflation.

A big question here is: what’s behind these dynamics? As I suggest below the jump, a lot has to do with a pernicious interplay between increasing inequality and pervasive use of ranking systems as measures of quality for credence goods. In fields like education and health, where the quality of one’s experience is very difficult to evaluate objectively, ranking systems are forcing leaders into an arms race to acquire ever more resources.

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From the New Property to the New Responsibility

apple small.jpgJust as Charles Reich was a premier theorist of rights to government largesse, Peter Schuck and Richard Zeckhauser are leading exponents of the responsibilities it entails. In Targeting Social Programs, S&Z focus on the denial of benefits to “bad bets” and “bad apples:”

Bad bets are individuals who are likely to benefit little from social resources relative to other [beneficiaries]. . . . Bad apples are individuals whose irresponsible, immoral, or illegal behavior in the past—and predictably, in the future as well—marks them as unsuitable to receive the benefits of social programs.

This may sound a bit cold-hearted at first, but S&Z make a good case that, behind a veil of ignorance, we’d quite sensibly allocate resources to, say, the transplant recipient who is most likely to benefit, rather than the one who has been on the wait list the longest. They also show how often “bad apples'” worst effects are on the disadvantaged citizens near them. (For an example, see Kahan and Meares on anti-loitering ordinances.)

The West Virginia Medicaid program provides an interesting case study of “bad apple screening.” Consider the fate of one beneficiary who refuses to sign a “health responsibility contract:”

Mr. Johnson. . . goes to a clinic once a month for diabetes checkups. Taxpayers foot the bill through Medicaid . . . [b]ut when doctors urged him to mind his diet, “I told them I eat what I want to eat and the hell with them. . . . I’ve been smoking for 50 years — why should I stop now? . . . This is supposed to be a free world.”

Traditionally, there was little Medicaid could do to encourage compliance. But now, “[u]nder a reorganized schedule of aid, the state, hoping for savings over time, plans to reward “responsible” patients with significant extra benefits or — as critics describe it — punish those who do not join weight-loss or antismoking programs, or who miss too many appointments, by denying important services.” But as the article notes, “Somewhat incongruously, [Johnson] appears to be off the hook: as a disabled person he will be exempt under the rules.”

Critics claim the program is unduly intrusive: “What if everyone at a major corporation were told they would lose benefits if they didn’t lose weight or drink less?” asked one doctor. Certainly in some manifestations it could be; consider this 1997 proposal by Judge John Marshall Meisburg:

Congress should . . . consider legislation stipulating that no one can be granted disability by SSA if s/he continues to smoke against the advice of his physician, and smoking is a factor material to the disability, because such claimants are bringing illness and disability upon themselves. Such a law would reduce the burden of proof now needed to deny benefits to persons who fail to heed their doctors’ advice, and would dovetail with legislation just passed by Congress to abolish disability benefits for persons addicted to drug and alcohol. In many cases, smoking is akin to “contributory negligence” and the SSA law should recognize it as such. [From Federal Lawyer, 44-APR FEDRLAW 56 on Westlaw.]

I think S&Z frame the debate in a nuanced enough way to avoid this kind of draconian proposal. But I do have a few quibbles with the framing of their work, if not its substance.

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Matlock Needs CLE on IP

Andy%20Griffith%20wallpaper.jpgThe Washington Post has a story today about Andy Griffith suing a man who changed his name to Andy Griffith to run for sheriff. According to the Post (but one can never be sure because the press is always confusing IP laws), the famous Griffith is suing for trademark, copyright and right of privacy violations. Bad reporting or bad lawyering I say. Can’t see that any copyrights are involved. As to right of privacy, publicity seems a better choice. Privacy laws usually are more exacting in their requirement of use in advertising. But even right of publicity mandates commercial misappropriation. Assuming the candidate was advertising his candidacy and soliciting campaign contributions, does this use meet either threshold? Since his advertisements are not for a commercial venture and since his solicitation is not commercial in nature, I say no. This issue of whether or not a defendant’s use a trademark must be used commercially is currently hotly contested, with my vote and slightly more authority suggesting such a requirement. The one strong point the plaintiff has is the fact of a trademark in his name. I never did understand why a show about a sheriff named Andy Taylor was called “The Andy Griffith Show,” perhaps Griffith had prescient trademark lawyers at the time.

The Griffith formerly known as William Harold Fenrick admitted that he legally adopted the new name to create publicity to aid his race. The best laid plans…he came in third. Curiously, Andy of Mayberry in addition to damages and fees, is also asking the court to order the defendant’s name change. A court ordered “Opie” would sure send a message to would-be pirate sherrifs. Remedies experts, please weigh in.

Politics & Poetry

Though change was the order of the day this election season, there was remarkable stasis in the New Jersey Congressional delegation. One of the incumbents who won was Mike Ferguson, whose unfortunately named opponent (Linda Stender) was the subject of countless ads proclaiming “Linda Stender is a Spender.” (Some early ads featured a multicultural chorus, accompanied by a bouncing ball passing over the text of the Stender/Spender j’accuse.) At the climax of the campaign, Stender’s service in two government jobs became the focus of the ads, which crescendoed into

Linda Stender

is a spender!

and a double dipping

pension padder, too!

As pure poetry, it’s pretty priceless-we’ve got a trochaic rhyming couplet followed by delicious alliteration in the second pair of lines. A few of my colleagues have told me their kids ran around singing the slogan in the same mocking tones of the announcer.

It’s still too early to tell if Ferguson won (in part) because, or despite, the ads. (Now there’s an interesting empirical research project.) But for those who would despair of the place of poetry in politics, I highly recommend this amazing tribute to Seamus Heaney by Adam Kirsch. A taste:

A genuine artist almost always wants to feel answerable to something. . . . [T]here is liberation in feeling responsible to an ideal reader—the best poets of the past, perhaps, or the unbiased readers of the future; or to an ethical principle—speaking truthfully, bearing witness, offering sympathy; or to an aesthetic ideal—the radiance of beauty, the genius of the language. Not until you know what a poet feels responsible toward can you know how he wants and deserves to be read.

I tend to think many of the best election ads merge art and rhetoric, combining music, graphics, and words in particularly forceful ways. But the question remains: who is the “ideal viewer” of these ads? And does conditioning by the ads change us in some nonideal ways?

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my congressional district makes history!

The newly elected congressperson from my congressional district (Minnesota’s 5th), Keith Ellison, is making a lot of headlines as the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, and as Minnesota’s first black congressperson. I’m also proud to note that he’s a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ellison when he made the rounds around the law school last spring — I have high hopes that he will make an outstanding addition to the Congress.

Here are a couple of recent articles:

WP: “Minnesota Congressman is Muslim Trailblazer”

NYT: Muslim’s Election is Celebrated Here and in Mideast

Deep Blue, Metropolis, Big Sky, Greater Dixie

election.jpgThere are a lot of old faces leaving Congress, and we can expect many efforts to figure out what the Democratic wave meant. On one level, it may be all about “corruption [and] the Iraq war.” But a recent analysis by Stan Cox suggests some interesting possibilities.

Cox “compiled rankings of the 50 states for a range of characteristics, including wages, taxes, and energy costs from a recent Forbes Magazine’s survey entitled “The Best States for Business,” an environmental policy (“green-capacity”) rating by the Resource Renewal Institute, and government data on median income, income inequality, population size, and the number of Wal-Mart Supercenters relative to population.” He then divided “divergent states” into four categories based on their status: Deep Blue, Metropolis, Big Sky, Greater Dixie. He found that the more Democratic of these (Deep Blue and Metropolis) had median incomes “25% higher than in Big Sky and Greater Dixie.” Big Sky and Greater Dixie states also had far higher “Iraq war deaths per million residents,” lower minimum wages, and worse environmental policies (though they had cleaner environments, largely due to less population density).

I don’t agree with all the ways Cox interprets the data, but his organization of it is interesting. It’s a nice reminder to the MSM that rather than incessant coverage of the “horse race,” it might help to point out the huge disparities “in wages, business and environmental policies, income inequality, population size, racial and ethnic makeup, poverty, and military impact” of different areas. These disparities might explain a lot more about what went on Tuesday than the Limbaugh/Fox, macaca/misogynist, and Kerry “stuck in Iraq” feuds they fixated on.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Poor Yorick (“The 2004 presidential election as represented by population, by Mark Newman, Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan”).

PS: I forgot to mention a certain counterintuitive paper that suggests some legal uses of these results. Anup Malani has suggested that “The value of a law should be judged by the extent to which it raises housing prices and lowers wages. . . . Housing prices go up because more people want to live there. Wages go down because more people want to work there.” This type of data helps correlate things like wages and environmental laws.

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America, The (Less) Exceptional

I have the sense that, for the past few years, people in other countries – and particularly Europe – have begun to see Americans as truly exceptional. And not in a good way. As the European public grew increasingly troubled by Iraq, many people across the pond wondered whether Americans were so cocky, so self-assured, that they were incapable of rational thought about our international affairs. How could Americans not understand the problems with American Iraq policies?

Well, we may be a bit slower to speak out – it is, after all, our war, and it is awfully hard to abandon (and, implicity, discredit) a policy for which so many Americans have sacrificed. But in the end, Americans are less exceptional than others around the globe might have thought. Our citizens have now spoken out, critically, about the Administration’s Iraq strategy. If nothing else, I hope this is reassuring to the rest of the world. We all have to play in the same sandbox, after all.

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Lies, damn lies, and statistics

The Senate race is all about the Supreme Court, my friends tell me. If you want one type of Justice, vote Republican; if you want another type, vote Democrat. They’re right, of course. The Senate will have to confirm any appointments that Bush makes in the next two years. But just what kinds of results can we expect from a Democratic versus a Republican Senate? A quick survey of recent justices (excluding Justices Roberts and Alito, who are too new to really judge) shows:

Recent Justices Nominated by Republican President and Confirmed by a Democratic Senate

Clarence Thomas

David Souter

Anthony Kennedy

William Rehnquist

Recent Justices Nominated by Republican President and Confirmed by a Republican Senate

Antonin Scalia

Sandra Day O’Connor

The results are clear, aren’t they? If you would like to see justices similar to Justice O’Connor appointed, then vote Republican. And if you would like justices like Justice Thomas or Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed, then vote Democratic. History doesn’t lie, does it? Based on past history, for example, you can accurately tell your friends that you’re voting Republican this year because you didn’t much like Justice Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist, and prefer Justice O’Connor.

I only hope this information doesn’t arrive too late to influence anyone’s political choices this election day.

Election-Time Reading

Some folks out of Yale Law are starting a new publication called “Opening Argument,” “founded on the belief that most people are reasonable and much public commentary is not.” The first issue looks promising, with election-inspired commentary from Nancy Pelosi, Peter Schuck, Ryan Sager, and Reihan Salam. Schuck, ala Michels, offers a “wake-up call” to a Democratic party he views as too beholden to its base:

In crucial respects, the Democratic base . . . seems clueless about what the rest of America is like. America is deeply religious. The base is deeply secular. America is unabashedly patriotic. The base views outward patriotism as hokey and manipulative, if not embarrassing. . . Simply put, the base wishes that American society were more like Europe, and America does not.

The religion-friendly campaigns of Harold Ford and Bob Casey appear to show that some Dems are heeding Schuck’s advice. Jacob Hacker’s recent work The Great Risk Shift complements Schuck’s point of view, insisting that Democrats should emphasize insecurity, rather than inequality, as a key problem of economic policy, in order to broaden their appeal.

Whatever the results of the current election, Weekly Standard writer Reihan Salam warns Republicans that “every powerful social trend is moving in favor of redistributive, social-democratic politics:”

[C]onsider the sharp increase in income inequality we’ve seen during the post-Reagan years. . . [Managerial workers are] resistant to tax increases so they tend to vote for Republicans. Their days as a viable economic class, however, are numbered. . . . Living under conditions of diminished earnings power and smaller houses, it’s easy to imagine even well-off Americans growing resentful of the ultra-rich, and calling for more redistribution.

Regardless of whether you agree with Schuck or Salam, these are certainly some interesting “opening arguments.” They remind me of the pragmatism and realism I associate with my colleague Shavar Jeffries (at BlackProf) and the unconventionally sensible Tyler Cowen (at Marginal Revolution).