Five Best Wednesday Columns

Amy Davidson on Obama's opponents, Mark Bittman on pink slime, Peter Orszag on food stamps, Holman W. Jenkins Jr. on high-speed trading, and Anna Schiffrin on measuring happiness.

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Amy Davidson in The New Yorker on Obama's opponents President Obama gave a combative speech Tuesday that addressed several Republicans by name. "[T]he choice of a Republican nominee finally looks clear and irrevocable: Mitt Romney. And yet he is the least interesting of the enemies Obama has chosen or will be forced to confront," Davidson writes. Obama spoke at length about Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal, demonstrating how he plans to run his campaign against House Republicans. He's spoken against conservatives on the Supreme Court in public comments this week, as well. In his speech, he mentioned Mitt Romney, but only as a supporter of Ryan's budget plan, trying hard to make him look at once dangerous and small. "Conservatives in Congress and on the Court are appealing targets because of their solidity, which their party's presumptive candidate lacks. Mitt's hollowness makes him a bit like one of those punching-toy clowns," she says.

Mark Bittman in The New York Times on pink slime The public has paid so much attention lately to "pink slime," the name for Lean Finely Textured Beef that's treated with ammonia, that a company that produced it has temporarily shut down two factories. "But there's an irony: the stuff is gross, for sure, but it's far from the most disgusting meat product out there, and at least its origins reflect an attempt to make meat safer," writes Bittman. He points out that producers invented pink slime to prevent E. Coli infections, and they may have succeeded. But then, the outcry should force us to revisit the meat industry that provide grain-fed beef and manure that breeds E. Coli in the first place. "The United States food system may seem more palatable when 'pink slime' and many other forms of chemical processing are gone, but it won't be any safer until we begin to seriously address the reasons they exist in the first place."

Peter Orszag in Bloomberg View on reforming food stamps New research posits that children from families that use food stamps grow less well-behaved in school near the end of the month, likely because they're eating less. "[A] more comprehensive strategy worth exploring would be to split the SNAP benefit into two semi-monthly installments. Then food purchases and caloric intake might be smoother over time," writes Orszag. The research shows that families on food stamps, or SNAP, tend to buy their groceries in one large installment. A twice-a-month plan could inconvenience those for whom the commute to a grocery store is costly or inconvenient. But it could also prevent the varying availability of food for children in school that causes behavioral problems. Orszag says the costs and benefits could be determined with a smaller trial in certain cities.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. in The Wall Street Journal on high-speed trading BATS Global Markets, a venue for trading stocks listed on other exchanges, tried to go public on its own exchange, but a software glitch quite publicly ruined the effort. "Within days, its trading volume was back to normal. Restored equanimity, however, did not deter trading professionals and market students from reviving a furious debate about the value of electronic markets and the high-speed trading industry," writes Jenkins. He lays out the broad case against electronic trading, which holds that it prevents people from investing in smaller, less liquid companies. But he argue against this, saying that glitches aside, electronic trading offers markets more efficiency and benefit from competition. "Market volatility, especially volatility caused by passing computer glitches, meanwhile is just spectacle."

Anya Schiffrin in Reuters on the limits of happiness A conference in Bhutan is exploring happiness, and how we can improve and promote it. Similarly, the Sarkozy Commission in 2009 explored factors other than GDP that measure a country's success. "Peace and quiet and the time for leisure must surely be part of what makes people happy, and the Bhutanese have become famous for popularizing the concept of gross national happiness ... There are, however, people like me for whom complaining is essential to happiness." She points this out to argue that economic concepts, including political freedom and distribution of wealth, do inform how happy a population is. It's useful to look at places where income growth doesn't correlate with increased happiness. Still, that exercise can result in rich countries instructing poor ones that they needn't feel envy. "Happiness is a good thing, but essential to it are fairness, healthcare, social mobility, education and jobs."

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