Posts from January 2013

The ‘Up’ Series: The Original, and Best, Reality Television

Blog Post by: , on January 30, 2013

“Reality television” as we now call it has a game-show aura in which amateurs with a willingness to show off become pseudo-celebrities. While some viewers may cringe (or skip the genre altogether), reality shows have attracted audiences in droves. But the origins of poking into peoples’ lives on television had a distinctly different character. It was 1964 when a young trainee named Michael Apted at Britain’s Granada Television was mandated by a producer to round up a group of children for a documentary to test the Jesuit motto, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Apted brought together twenty children— ten boys and four girls eventually made it to the film—for a visit to the London Zoo. They were a cross-section of Britain’s post-World War II social strata, from the working class to the upper-middle class. The result was a vastly entertaining program called Seven Up. The black-and-white simplicity of the presentation did not dull the buoyancy of the children’s personas. Each of them was asked to frame their futures, and did so in keeping with their backgrounds. Unlike their American counterparts of the era, they all seemed ready to take the place Britain expected of them—a would-be jockey who became a cab driver; East End school girls in an age when professions for them were unlikely; schoolteachers and solicitors with appropriate preparation.

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UPDATED: Congress Takes Action on Guns and Mental Health in the Aftermath of Sandy Hook

Blog Post by: Thérèse Postel , on January 29, 2013

Gun control has become a politically charged issue at every level of American government since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012. Here is a look at some of the holistic legislative measures that have been proposed since the beginning of the 113th Congress. These bills not only attempt to strengthen gun control, but also look to address several public health concerns that have swirled around the firearm debate. This page will be updated on a regular basis as more bills are proposed and move through the legislative process.

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Social Insurance

Graph: Household Debt and Middle Class Stagnation

Post by: Benjamin Landy , on January 29, 2013

The economics blogosphere has been abuzz the last few days over a controversial op-ed, recently published in the Wall Street Journal, that attempts to expose the "progressive trope" of middle-class decline as a statistical illusion constructed by redistributionists and pessimists. The article's authors, economists Donald Boudreaux and Mark Perry, make several related claims: first, that the consumer price index (CPI) overestimates inflation by "underestimating the value of improvements in product quality and variety"; second, that stagnant wage growth does not take into account the rising value of employer-sponsored benefits such as health insurance; and third, that the average hourly wage has been held down by the entry of women and immigrants into the workforce. In fact, Boudreaux and Perry argue, American life expectancy has increased by five years since 1980, and household spending on "basics" such as housing, food, cars, and clothing consumes less than a third of disposable income, down from 44 percent in 1970 and 53 percent in 1950. 

There are several problems here. First, as Jim Tankersley at Wonkblog correctly points out, the percentage of disposable income spent on "basics" is very much dependent on the definition of "basic." While food, cars, computers and clothing are cheaper and of a higher quality than ever before, the cost of other essential middle class goods like housing, gasoline, health care and education have risen significantly.

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Workers & Economic Inequality

An Investment That Could Reduce Long-Term Debt

Blog Post by: Mark Thoma , on January 29, 2013

John Makin and Daniel Hanson of the conservative American Economic Institute talk sense on the deficit. Now if we could just get them over their inflation fears—the source of the "unfortunately" part of the title—we might be able to get somewhere in addressing our biggest problem right now, high and persistent unemployment, and enhance our long-term growth prospects at the same time:

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Foreign Policy

The Syrian Humanitarian Crisis

Blog Post by: Morton Abramowitz , on January 29, 2013

Via Shutterstock

A version of these comments were delivered at the Migration Policy Institute, January 14, 2013.

Leaving aside the continuing Congo and Sudan atrocities, the two-year Syrian humanitarian disaster—with already about 10–15 percent of the population displaced—is the biggest such crisis since the second Iraq war. There is an irony here. Syria received the brunt of the Iraqi exodus, and did reasonably well in managing that disaster. Indeed, in 2009, I was part of a delegation that visited Assad to discuss the needs of Iraqi refugees, and at that time he was much the humanitarian!
The Syrian situation is fraught with enormous uncertainty, and only short-term response prevails. No one knows when Assad will go away, or where he will flee to; he apparently is not listening to the cognoscenti who tell him that he is finished. The unending fighting is producing an ever-growing number of internally displaced Syrians as well as refugees. The UN now expects that Syrian refugees this year will reach one million—an increase of some 400,000. Millions more will struggle for survival in violence-wracked areas inside Syria, mostly dependent on the help of outside support, delivered by courageous Syrian and foreign organizations.

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Education

Does School Choice Help or Hurt School Integration?

Blog Post by: Halley Potter , on January 28, 2013

Proponents of socioeconomically and racially diverse schools, myself included, frequently point to data showing that charter schools, on average, have greater concentrations of poverty and racial isolation than traditional public schools. For supporters of school integration, these increased levels of de facto segregation are reason to be skeptical about the current direction of the charter school sector.

But it is important not to oversimplify this concern to mean that school choice in general is bad for diversity. In theory and in practice, school choice has the ability to help or hinder school integration.

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Post-Invasion Iraq Policy Twitter Chat—Wednesday, January 30, 1:00 PM EST

Blog Post by: The Century Foundation , on January 28, 2013

JOIN THANASSIS CAMBANIS and  #TheInsurgents author FRED KAPLAN in a LIVE TWITTER CHAT on WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30 at 1:00 PM EST— Use #TheInsurgents to join, ask questions, follow the conversation. 

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Foreign Policy

Erdogan’s Kurdish Issues

Blog Post by: Morton Abramowitz , on January 28, 2013

Turkey’s political discussion changes quickly. Yesterday it was mostly Syria. Today it is making peace with Kurds. That has been a boon to prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political standing—at least for the moment.

2012 marked the AKP’s ten-year anniversary as the ruling party, a rare feat in Turkish politics. The party has been one of the few constants in a new, more vital Turkey. But it was a difficult year for Erdogan because of Syria’s unending civil war. After a year of intense criticism over his handling of Syria, including from members of his own party, Erdogan’s political fortunes seemed to be suffering.

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Foreign Policy

Arrested Development

Blog Post by: Thanassis Cambanis , on January 26, 2013

TCF fellow Thanassis Cambanis writes about the future of the military, post-invasion Iraq and his New York Times review of the new book, The Insurgents.

The Pentagon finally learned to embrace new ideas. Can its short-lived revolution in thinking survive the coming period of austerity and retrenchment?

The American military has maintained global dominance in part by being all things to all people. Blessed with a Brobdingnagian budget, it has been able to prepare for all kinds of war, all at the same time. Faced now with cuts after a decade of open-handed war funding, the Pentagon has raised the alarm about readiness. The Joint Chiefs of Staff in a unanimous letter in January complained to the president that “we are on the brink of creating a hollow force.”

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Risky Business

Blog Post by: Richard C. Leone , on January 25, 2013

It wasn’t surprising that, in his second inaugural address, President Obama asserted his continuing support of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. What was unusual and remarkably insightful was his reference to the role these programs play in underpinning our prosperity. As Obama put it, “they free us to take the risks that make this country great.” It’s common to cite these programs as cushioning the burdens of old age and providing access to otherwise unaffordable health care. But how often do we think of them as protecting our backs in an uncertain, risky, and rapidly changing global economy? How often do we think about the safety net as proving some assurance that risk taking of the kind  represented, say, by starting a new business or going back to school to change careers doesn’t have to mean that we have increased our risk of winding up in abject poverty or ruined by the cost of an illness?

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When and What Kind of Deficit Reduction Matters Most

Blog Post by: Andrew Fieldhouse , on January 25, 2013

In the aftermath of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (i.e., the lame-duck budget deal, ATRA for short), many in Washington have urged ten-year deficit reduction targets that are trillions more than the $600 billion reduction already locked in by ATRA. While many of these calls for increased deficit reductions have been inchoate (as noted here), others have been more reasonably grounded. Yet, we think that nearly all demands for specific, ambitious ten-year deficit reduction targets are likely to be terribly counterproductive in the current debate

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Foreign Policy

Arrested Development—Thanassis Cambanis on the Future Military and His NYT Book Review

Blog Post by: Thanassis Cambanis , on January 24, 2013

JOIN THANASSIS CAMBANIS and author FRED KAPLAN in a LIVE TWITTER CHAT on WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30 at 1:00PM EST - Use #TheInsurgents to join, ask questions, follow the conversation. 

The Pentagon finally learned to embrace new ideas. Can its short-lived revolution in thinking survive the coming period of austerity and retrenchment?

The American military has maintained global dominance in part by being all things to all people. Blessed with a Brobdingnagian budget, it has been able to prepare for all kinds of war, all at the same time. Faced now with cuts after a decade of open-handed war funding, the Pentagon has raised the alarm about readiness. The joint chiefs in a unanimous letter in January complained to the president that “we are on the brink of creating a hollow force.”

The debate over the size and mission of the military often obsesses about questions of degree: should the US be able to fight two major wars at the same time? Should it design a force that can fight many small wars?

(Cambanis's New York Times review of The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War) 

(Cambanis and TCF fellow Michael Cohen debate The Insurgents and post-invasion Iraq

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Foreign Policy

TCF Fellows Thanassis Cambanis and Michael Cohen Debate The Insurgents and Post-invasion Iraq

Blog Post by: Thanassis Cambanis, Michael Cohen , on January 24, 2013

A dialogue between Century Foundation fellows Thanassis Cambanis and Michael Cohen on The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War by Fred Kaplan. Cambanis has the review of the book in The New York Times

Read the Twitter Chat between THANASSIS CAMBANIS and author FRED KAPLAN.

UPDATE Jan 24 5:30PM EST:

Thanassis: Fred Kaplan is a grim historian of ideas, and in his book The Insurgents he tells us that after years of ignoring reality in Iraq, officers in the Pentagon opened themselves up to criticism and innovation. Even if counterinsurgency doctrine, or COIN as it was known, was intellectually a Potemkin doctrine, it yielded bureaucratic change and reform. So what do you think? Is there anything redeeming we can find in the tale of COIN, Iraq, Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, and the officers who briefly changed the way the Pentagon thought about war?

Michael: No. Here's my problem with this narrative. COIN was much less than meets the eye. The COINdinistas liked to believe they were doing something different and innovative - and they bought into this hoary COIN canard that getting the inputs right would change the situation on the ground. But the reality is that what turned Iraq around in 2007-8 had far less to do with what is described in FM 3-24 [Field Manual 3-24, the new counterinsurgency doctrine produced by Petraeus in 2006] and far more in the traditional elements of war-fighting. This wasn't an effort to win over hearts and minds; it was "kill the enemy" - and it worked because the US chose sides and cultivated a partner that helped to end the conflict.

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The Importance of Revenue Revisited

Blog Post by: Andrew Fieldhouse , on January 24, 2013

Via Ezra Klein comes a must-read leaked memo from Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to Senate Democrats ahead of fashioning a Senate Budget Resolution. It’s an excellent chronology of the deficit reduction enacted in the 112th Congress—a hefty $2.4 trillion expected to take effect and $3.6 trillion if sequestration goes into effect—and the looming phases on the Beltway budget fights following the American Taxpayer Relief Act (i.e., the lame-duck budget fight, or ATRA for short).1

Klein hones in on tables depicting the fundamentally unbalanced nature of deficit reduction in the 112th Congress: Ignoring sequestration, 70 percent of policy deficit reduction measures (i.e., excluding additional debt service savings) enacted came from spending cuts as opposed to revenue, and if sequestration takes effect as scheduled, the share of spending cuts ratchets up to 80 percent. Murray’s memo contrasts these ratios with a 51 percent revenue share proposed by the Simpson-Bowles Co-Chairs’ report and 52 percent in the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Six” proposal.

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Workers & Economic Inequality

Graph: An Economic Snapshot of the United States As Obama Begins His Second Term

Post by: Benjamin Landy , on January 24, 2013

Four years after President Obama's 2009 inauguration, the economic recovery is finally taking shape. The S&P 500, which had fallen 50 percent from its October 2007 peak when Obama first took the oath of office, is now up 80 percent and continues to reach historic highs. The unemployment rate, which hit 10 percent during the first months of the Obama presidency, has fallen to 7.8 percent. And job losses, which approached 200,000 a week in early 2009, are being slowly offset by 34 consecutive months of private sector job growth and counting.

Other recent economic indicators are also positive. Initial claims, which measures the number of Americans first applying for unemployment benefits, fell to a five-year low of 330,000 today; the lowest level since January 2008. That number is comparable to the recession peaks of the early 1990s and 2000s—a solemn reminder that elevated unemployment remains near crisis levels—but is well below the 667,000 unemployment claims filed in March 2009 at the height of the Great Recession.

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