The welfare state is dead. Long live the welfare state!
It's getting hard to keep track of which countries aren't Greece anymore.
First, Ireland wasn't Greece. Then it kind of was. Then it was Portugal's turn to not be Greece. Then it was Portugal's turn to be Greece. Next, Spain wasn't Greece. But now it might be. At the very least it's Ireland. Although Uganda looks like it's in the clear. It's not Spain, which could be Greece. That's better than Cyprus can say. They're pretty much Greece. And, of course, Greece is almost certainly Greece. That goes without saying.
But there's one country that definitely isn't Greece. That's the United States.
Let's step back. What makes a country "Greece"? It's become shorthand for wild government overspending -- especially on entitlements. Paul Ryan says we don't have long to avoid the same fate. Neither does the terrifyingly successful investor Michael Burry. They think that absent drastic reform -- read: cuts -- to the social safety net, we'll end up in penury like the Greeks.
It's a scary story. But it's just a scare story. Yes, we have a long-term healthcare spending problem. But that doesn't make us Greece. Heck, Greece isn't even Greece. At least not the "Greece" that's become such a political football. The evidence -- or lack thereof -- is in the chart below. It compares each country's average social spending since 1999, via the OECD, against its current borrowing costs. See the pattern?
There is none. Europe's biggest social spenders don't have any problems. And Europe's biggest problem countries don't spend that much on social programs. The death knell of the welfare state this is not.
Here's the dirty little secret of the euro debt crisis. There is no euro debt crisis. There is a euro crisis. The debt is a symptom of the crisis of the common currency.* Europe's bailed out countries all saw piles of capital pour in during the boom, only to pour out during the bust. They were left with inflated, uncompetitive wages -- and that's sent them into deep slumps. That's been despite lower social spending than their northern euro neighbors. Germany, Austria, Finland, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium and -- at least for now -- France have all been able to sustain more generous safety nets thanks to the magic of competitive wages.
It's the same story for Europe's non-euro nations. Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and the Czech Republic are all lucky enough to not be passengers on the Titantic members of the common currency. (Denmark has pegged its krone to the euro, but they still have their own central bank). Most of them spend more on social programs than the so-called PIIGS, but all of them can borrow for almost nothing. Investors are actually paying the Swiss and Danish governments for the privilege of lending to them short-term. Think about that. What's going on? Well, if things ever get rough, they can just print money or devalue their currencies. In other words, they can never run out of money.
But Greece can. Being in the euro means never being able to print your own money. And that turns each euro country into a bank. Imagine a bank run. Fear becomes self-fulfilling. Depositors try to pull their money out before everyone else because they're worried the bank will collapse -- which, of course, causes the bank's collapse. Very Oedipal -- minus the parent love. It's the same with Greece. Investors worry that Greece will run out of euros. That's a very rational fear right now. So they try to sell-off their bonds, which pushes up Greece's borrowing costs -- and makes it more likely that Greece will run out of euros. This kind of panic is why Italy -- which has a primary surplus! -- is flirting with trouble too. Only the ECB can stop this.
Notice that I didn't talk about debt at all in the previous paragraph. The PIIGS have too-high wages, too little growth, and face crippling crises of confidence. Austerity won't cure any of that. It'll make things worse. It has. It kneecaps growth. And investors are more worried about growth right now than they are deficits.
Also notice that none of this applies to the United States. We never have to worry about self-fulfilling prophesies of bankruptcy because we can never run out of dollars. As the Boomers retire, we'll spend more on entitlements. That's not the end of the world. Unless you think Sweden is the end of the world. Yes, we need to rein in healthcare inflation, and, yes, we need to raise some more revenue. The former might already be happening. The latter is a political choice. Neither makes us Greece.
So don't believe the rumors of the welfare state's death. They're greatly exaggerated.
* Caveat: Greece is sui generis. They really did just spend too much money. They're not pictured here, because their 10-year bond yield is -- wait for it -- off the chart. Fitting their 27 percent borrowing costs onto this graph makes it too hard to see anything else. But Greece's average social spending is only 21.4 percent of GDP.
A CFPB investigation concluded that Transunion and Equifax deceived Americans about the reports they provided and the fees they charged.
In personal finance, practically everything can turn on one’s credit score. It’s both an indicator of one’s financial past, and the key to accessing necessities—without insane costs—in the future. But on Tuesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that two of the three major credit-reporting agencies responsible for doling out those scores—Equifax and Transunion—have been deceiving and taking advantage of Americans. The Bureau ordered the agencies to pay more than $23 million in fines and restitution.
In their investigation, the Bureau found that the two agencies had been misrepresenting the scores provided to consumers, telling them that the score reports they received were the same reports that lenders and businesses received, when, in fact, they were not. The investigation also found problems with the way the agencies advertised their products, using promotions that suggested that their credit reports were either free or cost only $1. According to the CFPB the agencies did not properly disclose that after a trial of seven to 30 days, individuals would be enrolled in a full-price subscription, which could total $16 or more per month. The Bureau also found Equifax to be in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which states that the agencies must provide one free report every 12 months made available at a central site. Before viewing their free report, consumers were forced to view advertisements for Equifax, which is prohibited by law.
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
The party appears to be struggling to convince the public it represents a better alternative to President Trump and the GOP.
If Democrats want to regain the power they’ve lost at the state and federal level in recent years, they will have to convince more voters they can offer solutions to their problems.
That may be especially difficult, however, if voters think the party and its representatives in government don’t understand or care about them. And according to a recently released poll, many voters may, in fact, feel that way. The Washington Post-ABC News survey, released this week, found that a majority of the public thinks the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of average Americans in the United States. More Americans think Democrats are out of touch than believe the same of the Republican Party or President Trump.
The event's impressive turnout suggests the mainstream environmental justice movement has arrived.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—On President Trump’s hundredth day in office, a flood of protesters—fearful of the more literal floods to come—deluged the nation’s capital.
Tens of thousands of people filled downtown Washington on Saturday to protest the Trump administration’s environmental agenda and the decades-long history of American inaction on climate change. Over the course of a sweltering 91-degree day, they shut down Pennsylvania Avenue, surrounded the White House in a massive sit-in, and rallied in front of the Washington Monument.
“What do we do when our communities are under attack? Stand up, fight back!” said Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network and one of the emcees of the rally.
In the age of the digital hermit, a psychologist explains what it means to avoid other people—and what to do about it.
People today might not actually be avoiding social interaction any more than they did in past decades, but they’re certainly more vocal about it. The rise of digital communication seems to be spawning a nation of indoor cats, all humble-bragging about how introverted they are and ordering their rides and groceries without ever talking to a human.
Sometimes reclusiveness can be a sign of something more serious, though. Social anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, but it’s still poorly understood outside of scientific circles. The good news is that it’s highly treatable, according to Stefan G. Hofmann, the director of the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University.
I recently talked with Hofmann about how social anxiety works and what people who feel socially anxious can do about it. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. He was, it turns out, extremely prescient.
Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, a generally empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the established formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky outfits, and attempting, overall, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”
As the death toll in the Philippines soars, those left behind confront a different life.
MANILA—On the morning of September 19, 18-year-old Brent Michael Bravo was on his way home from Manila’s Pasay City Hall, where he was being tried for illegal drug possession. He flagged down a motorized rickshaw, driven by 27-year-old Marvin Columbino. Bravo sat behind Columbino, so that his girlfriend and his grandmother, who had accompanied him that morning, could sit in the motorcycle’s side carriage. As they rounded the corner of city hall, a motorcycle, its driver wearing a bonnet and sunglasses, pulled up next to them. Suddenly, he raised a gun and opened fire, shooting at the rickshaw five times at close range. One bullet hit Bravo’s left arm and body, exiting through his right side and embedding itself in Columbino’s spinal chord. According to police reports, Bravo was the target of the attack.
Jill Filipovic’s new book, The H-Spot, argues for a movement that de-emphasizes women’s equality—and focuses instead on their fulfillment.
Earlier this month, the New York Times ran an article on its website titled “How to Be Mindful While Cleaning the Bathroom.” The piece, part of the paper’s Meditation for Real Life series, offers advice on transforming that most thankless of chores into a spiritually rewarding activity, from the beginning (“once you’ve selected your cleaning tool, take a moment to notice it with your various senses”) and throughout the process (“maintain your focus on each circular, left-to-right or up-and-down motion”). The point of the exercise is not so much a clean bathroom—“you’re not chasing a result”—as it is an embrace of the notion that even toilet-scrubbing, when gone about in the right way, can produce its own soft satisfactions. “With the practice of mindful cleaning,” the piece notes, “you can transform this once boring activity into a nourishing and enjoyable moment to yourself.”
A new documentary explores how early experiences drive development.
The idea that new babies are empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge of the world around them doesn’t sound unreasonable. With their unfocused eyes and wrinkly skin, tiny humans sometimes look more like amoebas than complex beings.
Yet scientists have built a body of evidence, particularly over the last three decades, that suggests this is patently untrue. “When kids are born, they’re already little scientists exploring the world,” said the filmmaker Estela Renner via a video conference from Brazil before a recent screening of her new documentary The Beginning of Life (streaming on Netflix) at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
That’s something Renner, a Brazilian mother of three, discovered as she spoke with early-childhood experts and parents in nine countries around the world about the impact a child’s environment in the first few years of life has on not only her physical development, but her cognitive, social, and emotional development, too. “I didn’t know that kids were not blank slates,” she said. “It changed the way I look at babies.” If more people recognized that fact, the way communities and policymakers think about and invest in the early years of life might be different.