Five Best Thursday Columns

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Charles Murray in The New York Times on narrowing class divisions Murray's new book Coming Apart discusses the growing gap between professional and working classes in America, and it's elicited a lot of comment and critique. Murray writes: "Some of the critiques are fair, some are frivolous. But there's one — 'He doesn't offer any solutions!' — that I can't refute. The reason is simple: Solutions that are remotely practicable right now would not do much good." He argues against a commonly proposed mandatory national service program for the young. He suggests and argues for some measures that would help, including an elimination of the SAT, a ban on unpaid internships, and replacing a race-based affirmative action system with a socioeconomic one. But even these, he says, won't make much substantive difference. "There may, however, be a symbolic value in these reforms. The changes that matter have to happen in the hearts of Americans."

Joshua Green in The Boston Globe on the folly of reviving manufacturing Both President Obama and Republicans often talk about reviving manufacturing as if it's their most important priority. "New jobs are always desirable, especially during a prolonged economic slump. But few economists show much enthusiasm for the ideas most often put forward to help the manufacturing sector," writes Green. "What's driving the focus on manufacturing isn’t economics, so much as politics." Economists, he says, don't like the proposed programs like tax credits for certain sectors of the economy or trade barriers. But politicians like appealing to the American ethos that we ought to produce physical products (not financial ones). The long term trends that have driven most manufacturing jobs overseas aren't likely to reverse because of the short term fixes proposed by both parties. "That's a fantasy, but one so beguiling that few politicians would dare challenge it."

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Steve Chapman in The Chicago Tribune on the NFL's bounty scandal The NFL and its fans are in flux after revelations that the New Orleans Saints offered players $1,000 bounties to injure players, often increasing the fee as the stakes rose. "If the NFL fails to take vigorous action to stamp out bounties, it runs the risk of alienating fans and steering parents toward soccer and volleyball," writes Chapman. He documents the prevalance of the practice long before the Saints took it up, and he notes the lack of surprise or concern among NFL players, even those who were targeted. But he points to other sports that have taken action against violence to point out that fans grow increasingly intolerant of it when it's needless. "Fortunately, bounties shouldn't be hard to banish," he notes. "Ban offenders for a season, levy six-figure fines, strip teams of draft picks and, voila, no one will think $1,000 is worth the risk."

Matt Miller in The Washington Post on the President's media strategy President Obama "coincidentally" scheduled his first press conference of the year against the Super Tuesday contests, and he scheduled a speech to the United Auto Workers on the day of the Michigan primary. "The White House is managing the president's schedule and activities so that major events on the GOP campaign calendar become chances to contrast the president in the news cycle with the frivolous, shrill and increasingly surreal Republican race," writes Miller. "The 'split-screen' strategy is looking very effective so far." Miller gives a history of presidential media management since Richard Nixon reinvented the sport. He notes how important it can be and cites examples where Obama hasn't done as well as he should have. "Democrats better hope the White House knows the split-screen strategy amounts to easy primary-season pickings. Once the Republicans settle on a nominee... the terrain will change completely."

Ezra Klein in Bloomberg View on the Kochs and Cato Charles and David Koch recently began efforts to take over the board of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank they helped found, and make it into more of a party organ, reliably committed to defeating President Obama. "The brothers have started a large number of advocacy organizations... They could start another such group, one dedicated to providing campaign-season ammunition, without noticing the expense. The puzzle is that the Kochs ever started this campaign in the first place," writes Klein. He details the many ways he disagrees with Cato's philosophies but trusts that they are made independent of electoral politics and says they often challenge and influence his thinking. A Cato takeover, he says, probably wouldn't help the Kochs very much since it's the trust we can put in Cato's independence that makes their conclusions so worthy. "Cato is an organization that can have more than a marginal impact on elections. It can have a significant impact on policy and governance. That's a level of influence even the Kochs can't buy."

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