Five Best Thursday Columns

John Cassidy on Obama's campaign, Fareed Zakaria on health care costs, Susan Antilla on Rajat Gupta, George Will on Chicago's teachers, and Nicholas Kristof on African microsavings.

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John Cassidy in The New Yorker on Obama's Plan B Both President Obama's and Mitt Romney's campaigns have reasons to feel good about the past few months, but Obama's campaign strategy might be giving him the advantage, Cassidy writes. "The Obama campaign's Plan B is based on the assumption that the economy will continue to stutter along without slipping, once again, into an outright slump, which would probably insure a Romney victory. The basic idea is to try to neutralize the economic headwinds by changing the subject as often as possible, and by raising doubts about Romney's record, both at Bain Capital and as the governor of Massachusetts." It seemed unlikely at first, but polls show it might be working well enough to give Obama a win.

Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post on health care costs Zakaria notes that the health care law remains unpopular in part because of its perceived costs, and one way to address this is to continue focusing on making the market more efficient. Countries like France and Britain spend far less per patient and are far more efficient addressing certain diseases. "France and Britain are better at tackling diabetes and lung disease because they take a systemic approach that gives all health-care providers incentive to focus on early detection and cost-effective treatment and that makes wellness the goal," Zakaria writes. Such issues can't be addressed on the personal level, as some Republican plans want. "Having us spend more of the money ourselves is unlikely to solve the cost crisis in health care."

Susan Antilla in Bloomberg View on charity and white collar crime Rajat Gupta, convicted of securities fraud, is attempting to score a forgiving sentence by highlighting his good works and philanthropy through the years. "White-collar defendants with bottomless checkbooks have been known to make colossal efforts to paint themselves as philanthropic pillars of the community," writes Antilla. "You might wonder who would care if a rich person found guilty of a crime has sprinkled a few crumbs among the little people -- and juries often wonder the same thing." Still, it's worked in the past, she writes, and in this case, at least, Gupta's philanthropy began before his legal troubles.

George Will in The Washington Post on Chicago's teachers Will broadly details Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's efforts to reform schools and the teachers union's attempts to negotiate on the changes. "[M]oney -- salaries and pensions -- may not be the most problematic point of contention. It might be teacher 'accountability,' including merit pay, and identifying failing schools and teachers." Will is sympathetic to the teachers' arguments here that they can't choose their students, especially in a city where a kid's home life might have the most effect on his success. "Social regression, driven by family disintegration, means schools where teaching is necessarily subordinated to the arduous task of maintaining minimal order."

Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times on microsavings in Africa Kristof describes an effort to reduce poverty in Africa with "village savings and loans," where neighbors pool their savings and loan them out to aspiring entrepreneurs, allowing the unbanked to stop themselves from spending down their yearly cash influx too quickly. He points to Alfred Nasoni and his wife, Biti Rose, a couple in Malawi who have pulled themselves up with a loan to start a doughnut business. The effort works not just because of the economics, but because of the psychology, he says. "Assistance succeeds when it gives people a feeling that a better outcome is possible, and those hopes become self-fulfilling as people work more industriously and invest more wisely."

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