Responsibility

Ezra Klein on Romney’s 47% video:

Still, for my money, the worst of Romney’s comments were these: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

When he said this, Romney didn’t just write off half the country behind closed doors. He also confirmed the worst suspicions about who he is: an entitled rich guy with no understanding of how people who aren’t rich actually live.

The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier.

That’s what money has bought Romney, too. He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream.

The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it.

In their book “Poor Economics,” the poverty researchers Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo try to explain why the poor around the world so often make decisions that befuddle the rich.

Their answer, in part, is this: The poor use up an enormous amount of their mental energy just getting by. They’re not dumber or lazier or more interested in being dependent on the government. They’re just cognitively exhausted:
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A modest proposal

Atrios wrote an online column for USAToday yesterday:

We already have an excellent, if not especially generous, program in place. Workers contribute during their working lives in exchange for a promised benefit level during their retirement years. This program is called Social Security.


Instead of considering some exciting new program to try to encourage workers into saving more, another Rube Goldberg incentive contraption designed to nudge individual behavior in the right direction, we should increase the level of retirement benefits in the existing Social Security program.


That sounds like blasphemy because we’ve all been fed the myth that Social Security is bankrupt. It is almost universally accepted in policy circles and in the pundit class that strengthening Social Security involves cutting future benefits relative to what current law promises because according to current projections, Social Security only has the ability to pay promised benefits in full until 2033, and then 75% of them thereafter. The basic thinking is that we must promise to cut benefits now so that we won’t necessarily have to cut them 22 years from now. What?


Imagine if that is how we treated defense spending. Since it appears budgets will be tight in the 2030s, best to mothball all those aircraft carriers today. Who would buy that argument?


The reality is that we will make our defense decisions about the 2030s in the 2030s. That’s just how we should treat federally financed retirement programs. We never actually have to cut benefits if we make the policy choice to keep funding them.


Social security is only bankrupt to the extent that our political leaders lose the will to invest in a decent retirement for American workers.


As the system exists, large numbers of Americans nearing retirement will have little more than fairly meager Social Security benefits (the average benefit for retired workers is currently $1230) to survive on in their old age. We can doom them to a life of insecurity and relative poverty or we can take the obvious step to improve their lives: Increase Social Security benefits.


The goal of a retirement system should be to ensure that retired people have sufficient income to live out the remainder of their lives without a radical reduction in quality of life after they stop working. Our current system, a modest mandatory government retirement program combined with individual savings, is failing to do that. Strengthen Social Security now, not by cutting benefits, but by increasing them.

News you can use

Johns Hopkins newsletter alert:

Engaging in physical and mental activity after acute ischemic stroke has been shown to improve recovery and function. In addition, a recent study reported in ?Lancet Neurology (Volume 10, page 123) found that the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) improved motor function when started soon after ischemic stroke occurrence in people with moderate to severe motor deficits.


Researchers randomly assigned patients who had an ischemic stroke and resulting paralysis or weakness on one side of the body to take 20 mg of Prozac or placebo for three months starting five to 10 days after the stroke.


Of 113 patients included in the analysis (57 in the Prozac group and 56 in the placebo group), the researchers found that motor function improvement after three months was significantly greater in the Prozac group than in the placebo group. Also, fewer participants taking Prozac developed depression, a common consequence after a stroke.


The practice of prescribing antidepressants following a stroke is one that is gaining ground, and this study supports its benefit.

Back to school in Chicago

Chicago teachers have voted to suspend their strike and will return to school this morning. The full contract won’t be revealed until after the membership ratifies it:

The vote, with 98 percent in support of suspension, was not a final vote on the union contract but rather an agreement to suspend the strike pending a final vote on the agreement hammered out between Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago school board and the teacher’s union over the weekend.


What remains unclear is which side, if either, emerges from the walkout victorious.


With details of the contract yet to be revealed, we have little to go on beyond the statement of Chicago Teacher’s Union president Karen Lewis who noted, “We said that we couldn’t solve all the problems of the world with one contract and it was time to end the strike.”


Lewis’ remark would suggest that the union failed to get everything it hoped to achieve.


Bilingual elementary school language teacher America Olmeda added, “I think this contract was better than what they offered. They tried to take everything away.”


Also unknown is the impact the hearing set for tomorrow in a Chicago courtroom had on the teachers’ decision to go back to their classrooms. Mayor Rahm Emanuel had brought the court action in reliance on a state law that prohibits teacher walkouts when they are “strikes of choice” rather than a strike designed to address an economic issue.


While it appears that the parties had agreed on a 16 percent hike in salaries over the next four years, the strike was called over the failure of the parties to come to terms on how teacher performance is to be evaluated along with disagreement over union’s demand that teachers who have been laid-off get the first crack at open positions.

Teachers aren’t completely happy with the offer, according to the Chicago Tribune:

The voice vote was taken after some 800 delegates convened at a union meeting hall near Chinatown to discuss and debate a tentative contract. Union leaders had already signed off on the agreement with Chicago Public Schools.


“We said we couldn’t solve all the problems. . .and it was time to suspend the strike,” CTU President Karen Lewis said at a news conference after the vote.


“The issue is, we cannot get a perfect contract. There’s no such thing as a contract that will make all of us” happy, Lewis said.


But “do we stay on strike forever until every little thing we want can be gotten?” she said.


“I’m so thrilled that people are going back, all of our members are glad to be back with their kids. It’s a hard decision to make to go out, and for some people it’s hard to make the decision to go back in,” Lewis said.

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