Five Best Thursday Columns

Dana Milbank on Ben Bernanke, Ezra Klein on election year rhetoric, Amy Davidson on women at the State of the Union, Henry Levin and Cecilia Rouse on graduation rates, and Richard Thaler on corporate responsibility.

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Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on Bernanke and the Fed Fed chief Ben Bernanke answered questions while reporting Wednesday that, expecting low rates of inflation, the Fed will likely keep interest rates low into 2014. "He deserves credit for keeping his equanimity as the Republican candidates abuse him. And, at long last, he has some results to show for the work he has done," writes Milbank. He recounts how reporters gave Bernanke the chance to respond to Republican candidates who have criticized him harshly through the campaign, but notes that the chief just pointed to the current inflation rates to vindicate his policies. Milbank points to other signs of a recovery, too, and credits Bernanke with giving straightforward answers to reporters' questions Wednesday. "For Republican presidential candidates, it's worse than wrong to take aim at the one public servant who has done more than any other to keep the nation out of depression," he writes.

Ezra Klein in Bloomberg View on the parties' narrow philosophical gap Both parties characterize the coming election as a "Thunderdome" battle, "an epochal clash between irreconcilable worldviews." "The two parties are much further apart politically than they are philosophically... But elections are zero-sum affairs, and the one question on which there is no overlap between the two parties is which side should take power in November," writes Klein. He criticizes Romney's criticism of Obama, characterizing the president's agenda as center-left and not actually very far from policies Romney supports. He also critiques Obama's characterization of past Republican agendas, noting that Obama continued many Bush programs including the tax cuts. Klein notes there are significant and large differences between policies, but if both parties weren't focused on zero-sum elections, they'd probably be able to meet in the middle. Free enterprise isn't in danger in 2012, Klein says. Instead, "it's a political system where you win elections by denying areas of ideological agreement and refusing to participate in cooperative governance."

Amy Davidson in The New Yorker on women at the State of the Union The State of the Union featured three men -- Obama, Biden, and Boehner -- facing a mostly male Congress, so Davidson chooses to focus on the presence of three women from Tuesday night. "[Gabby] Giffords and other women at the speech, both legislators and guests, provided some of its most arresting, and challenging, moments," writes Davidson. Watching Giffords embrace the president, while supported by a Republican friend, provided the night with a moving moment, she says. Warren Buffett's famed secretary, Debbie Bosanek, reminded viewers accustomed to thinking of her as an abstraction that she was a real person, representing "secretaries everywhere," she said. Finally, Colonel Ginger Wallace sat with the first lady. She's a lesbian, newly free to acknowledge her partner of 20 years to colleagues, and her presence also removed from abstraction that the military "can and has been a transformative civic classroom." She and others there, "helped keep the President's peroration from sinking too far into metaphor."

Henry Levin and Cecilia Rouse in The New York Times on graduation rates and society In his State of the Union, President Obama proposed to make high school mandatory until graduation or the 18th birthday. It was "a step in the right direction, but it would not go far enough to reduce a dropout rate that imposes a heavy cost on the entire economy." The costs associated with lowering the drop-out rate might sound expensive, write the two economics professors, but the costs to society of keeping the rate so high are much greater. They describe methods for improving the rate, investing not just in high school education but even in strengthening pre-school programs. And they detail their calculations that society would benefit, with reductions in welfare payouts and a widening tax pool, from the money spent to graduate more kids. That, they say, is "a reason both liberals and conservatives should rally behind dropout prevention as an element of economic recovery, leaving aside the ethical dimensions of educating our young people."

Richard Thaler in Bloomberg View on corporate responsibility There's a long-running political debate over whether corporations have a responsibility to act as moral citizens or whether their responsibility is solely to shareholders and profits. "I would like to push back a little on those who claim to be following [Milton] Friedman's tenets and offer my own alternative, middle-of-the-road view," writes Thaler, a professor at Chicago's Booth School. As an example, he describes banks that decided that if you make several charges to a debit card and overdraw your account, they can process your purchases from the largest expenditure first, to maximize the number of times you've overdrawn and collect more fees. All this without notifying you. Thaler argues that practices that you're afraid to announce publicly will improve your short-term profits but might anger consumers or incite more legislation against you. "As a matter of logic, if the only standard you are willing to live by is the letter of the law, then you should expect that the letter of the law will become increasingly specific."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.