1. GDP department: The NYT yesterday had a very good, double-length op-ed about the folly of relying strictly on GDP and its growth as a proxy for human happiness, social progress, or overall national success. (Simple illustration: home security systems add to national economic activity, but the need for them may illustrate a decline in real human happiness and wellbeing.) Back in 1995, the Atlantic had a very good cover story to very similar effect. I don't know whether it's discouraging that the same case has to be made again and again or encouraging to see similar logic being applied. But if you were interested in the NYT piece, the Atlantic one (by Clifford Cobb, Ted Halstead, and Jonathan Rowe) is a worthy complement.
2. Airplane department: I mentioned shortly after the tragic Hudson River aerial crash that a person who had never driven cars - let's say an Amish farmer -- might look at traffic on a busy roadway and think: how do they keep from hitting each other?!? How can it possibly be safe? Similarly, people with no experience in airplanes might look at areas like the Hudson River "VFR corridor" and think: how do they keep from hitting each other?!? How can it possibly be safe?
If you would like to hear how this perspective sounds when applied in a news broadcast, there was a specimen on NPR's (of course generally admirable) All Things Considered this evening, here. Contrary to general assumption (and the specific assumption of this segment), air traffic controllers are not what keep airplanes from running into each other. William Langewiesche, a long-time pilot and son of a revered aviation writer, explained this point in the Atlantic in a story about controllers several years ago. In brief: "controlled" flight is crucial when airplanes are in clouds or when for other reasons the pilots can't see where they're going; and when flights are being sluiced and sequenced into busy airports. It's also mandatory for all flights at the altitudes where jets fly. But otherwise, the pilots are the ones keeping their planes from hitting each other, as car drivers and boat skippers do. This crash was a tragedy that should be studied, but not from the perspective of a person on a buggy who views a collision as a sign that roads are inherently unsafe. (Minor factual-error complaint after the jump.*)
3. Health department: In response to this item yesterday, I have received abundant correspondence to the effect of: especially after you've come back from China, how can you possibly be against free debate? It would be so wrong to ram a bill right down the throat of an unprepared Congress and public.
Yes, yes, we're all in favor of free debate. But organized efforts to shout down public officials at "town meetings" are not my idea of what Thomas Paine, John Peter Zenger, Socrates, and the rest were trying to promote. Nor is propagation of demonstrably false information, including the "death panel" scare that has most effectively been debunked by a conservative Republican Senator from Georgia.
Below and after the jump, a note from a reader who has "genuine" concerns about the Obama plan but is worried that irrational "birther"-style opposition will keep the serious concerns from being aired. I don't agree with all of his concerns, as noted below; but I think his analysis of the politics is right:
I completely agree with the observations you and [Steven] Pearlstein make about the Republican positioning on the health care debate. I also agree with Steven's statement that "Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society -- whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off." However, that does not translate into automatic agreement on the plan as proposed--a presumption that the advocates of the current health care bill would have us accept as true.