Our justice system is f*ed up for victims of sexual violence (triggers)

Just did another stint with jury duty.  Third time being called since September.  This time it was for ongoing sexual abuse of a child.

I didn’t get selected.  Because I said I was biased because forget getting to the indictment stage, just coming forward about sexual abuse is so rare that even getting to the kid actually telling someone means it’s pretty likely that it actually happened.  The defense stopped asking me questions at that point, just skipped over me.

I hate the jury selection procedures.  The prosecution and the defense throw out enough “hypotheticals” that by the end of it you know not only what the (alleged) crime is, but you know how the two sides are going to proceed.

In this case, the prosecution was going to allege that this dude repeatedly assaulted a young girl in his family, and that she didn’t come forward right away because she was scared to tell anyone.

The defense is going to paint said child as a malicious liar who is being manipulated by an older sibling into making a false accusation.

This is just so @#$@#ed up.  No wonder nobody ever comes forward when being abused.  No wonder nobody is willing to go through the trial.  No wonder false accusations are such a small statistically unlikely occurrence.

And of course the other prospective jurors just ate it up, especially the former teachers.  Kids lie all the time.  They’re malicious awful creatures.

Hell, the defense attorney wasn’t any better.  When asking us a hypothetical about the punishment, he made a comment about girls who were 13 going on 30, and if a 13 year old who looked like an adult was dating and having sex with a 17 year old for a six month period, then surely that would be not that big a deal (the defendant was obviously a middle-aged man).  WTF?  A 13 year old is still a child even if she has breasts.  Especially if she has breasts.   Seventeen year olds should be damn careful that they’re not having sex with middle-schoolers.  And if they are, that is in no way the 13 year old’s fault.

I don’t know what would be a better system.  I’d like to imagine that having these cases be decided judicially would be better for the victims, but judges are probably no better than normal people for being influenced by the patriarchy.  Just look at the supreme court.

Even the super-confident super-awesome are not immune to culture

Occasionally I have to take a break from mommy-blogs.

Why?  Because they make me anxious.

I know, you’re thinking, how could *I* be anxious about parenting?  I’m the laziest (non-negligent) parent on the planet and my kids are disgustingly perfect (though of course you note that I would never use the adverb, “disgustingly,” I would say they’re “awesomely” perfect or something [actually I would say "amazingly," but I grant you our frequent use of "awesome"]).  Both of these are true.

But mommy-blog anxiety gets even to me.  Culture is *that* strong.  There’s only so many blogs on having to lose the baby-weight, worrying about what/how much baby is eating or how much screen time toddler is getting or worrying about whether something is too early or too late or too long or whateverthe[expletive deleted] before even I start questioning if these are things I should be worrying about and are my kids really as wonderful as they seem [spoiler alert:  they are!] and if so, what’s wrong with them [rational answer: nothing!].

Now, I’m not talking about blogs where the kids or parents have actual real problems+.  [Also, I'm not singling out any one blog right now.  This unnecessary anxiety seems to be a contagion that is going through a huge number of mommy blogs right now.]  I’m talking about blogs where the kids are seemingly perfect, and the mom is seemingly perfect, but instead of acknowledging that fact, it’s anxiety this and worry that.  If their seeming perfection is wrong, then maybe I’m wrong about mine.

Of course, I’m not.  Even when the skinny girl complains about how fat she is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my normal weight.  But (just like in college with the weight thing) I can only stand so many repeated hits before it starts to get to me.  The patriarchy is expert at using the virtual paper cut as a primary weapon.  It perfected the ton-of-feathers attack.  Any one blog or post or NYTimes article can be brushed off, or given a supportive comment in response.  At some point part of me wants to say, “CALM the [expletive] down!  You’re working for the patriarchy!”  But that’s not supportive so I try not to, especially since it’s not any one post’s fault or even any one blogger’s fault– it’s the culmination of many posts and blogs with the same message to be more anxious.  I get grumpy because the patriarchy does that to me.

And you may be thinking, “You’re grumpy because deep down you know things aren’t really that perfect.”  But that’s not true.  Deep down I know they really are, because I have huge trust in my family.  I have trust that even if there’s bumps and growing pains, that they’ll figure things out for themselves even if I’m not doing whatever is “optimal” for them.  I trust that there is no “optimal,” that there’s just “different” and “sub-optimal” is another word for “learning experience” (or, as my mom would say, “character building”).  I trust that my husband and I love our kids and will always be there for them and that they know that.  I don’t have to trust me to know deep down that my kids are doing great, I have to trust them and my husband and that we’ll tackle the challenges as they come.

And I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll work through them.  But if there aren’t any right now, I don’t need to @#$#@ing create any.

I could do one of three things.  1.  I could comment super-supportive calming words on these blogs in an attempt to spread confidence (though of course this sometimes backfires because tone is difficult in writing among other reasons), 2.  I could do lots of introspection and re-affirm my core confidence and awesomeness, or 3.  I could avoid the anxiety paper-cuts by not going to those blogs.  Guess which option is the least work and most conducive to getting two more papers and a grant proposal out before summer ends?++

So… currently taking a break from mommy blogs, at least until swim-suit season is over.

+And we are *certainly* not talking about things like post-partum depression.

++Also note that we are not blaming people for working through their anxieties via the media of blogging.  It’s the patriarchy that is the ultimate root cause of that kind of unnecessary anxiety.  But that doesn’t mean we have to read about it if it has negative effects on our own well-being.

Escheatment

Escheatment is another fun (not really) term that I learned this tax season.  #2 didn’t even know this term!

Did you know that if you have a stock that is on a dividend reinvestment program and you don’t login to the webpage or call them or write to them (because it’s changed companies so you need to re-register and they send you a nice quarterly report and tax forms so there’s no reason to login), that after “some amount of time” the company has to, by law (depending on your state), declare your account dormant (even if you have ANOTHER stock from the exact same company with the exact same contact info that isn’t dormant because its dividends are going to your bank account, even if the reinvested dividends from the dormant account are buying shares in the non-dormant account).  Then they have to notify you 3 times to contact them.  The third time requires signatures from everyone on the account and you can no longer just login or call them to stop the dormancy.  The first two times can apparently be a one line suggestion that you login to their webpage to avoid dormancy hidden in the middle of a statement full of words and numbers.  So the third time with the signatures comes as a surprise.

What happens if you don’t get the signatures to the PO box across the country in time?  (Supposedly 30 days, but for some reason it takes a lot longer for the letter to get to you and then you don’t really pay attention to it until you start doing your taxes and go what is this OMG, I have 2 days.)  According to the internet, your entire dormant account is given to the state.  Then the state sells it (and you can’t sell it before that happens because your account is dormant so you can look but you can’t touch online).  If you want the money back, you have to go through the state’s lost money thing.

Of course, it isn’t clear from that third notice which state is going to get your money.  So good luck with that.

Update:  Escheatement averted.  And a reminder that I have to contact them at least once every 3 years in order to avoid escheatment, which can include logging into the account.  Maybe something to do at tax time.

So more fun with investing.  Seriously guys, Vanguard index funds.  Or target-date funds.  Maybe TIAA-Cref if that’s what your employer uses.

I hate dogs

That’s not even really true.  I hate people who own dogs.  It’s not the dogs’ fault.  I feel about dog owners the way Kate feels about fellows…

“I loathe people who keep dogs.  They are cowards who haven’t got the guts to bite people themselves.”  –August Strindberg

People should not be allowed to have any dogs without a vigorous approval process.    Leash laws should be ENFORCED in my neighborhood, thank you!  When I run over your dog because it’s in the street, that’s your fault.  [no dogs have been run over.]

Every place I live, there is always some stupid idiot dog who barks for 3 – 7 hours IN A ROW on MULTIPLE days.  That is not ok.  One day I will snap and murder someone.

I envision a magnificent future where, every time someone gets a dog from WHATEVER source, the dog EITHER comes surgically debarked, or the new owners have a binding obligation to teach it not to bark.  If they want a watchdog, they must legally commit to teaching the dog NOT to bark unless there is ACTUALLY a burglar… not their next-door neighbors walking around their OWN yard.  If there is any complaint about the dog barking… fines that increase each time, until the barking stops.  The money will be used to fund no-kill shelters.  What, you say surgically de-barking dogs is cruel surgery and makes them more aggressive?  Then you better be ready to deal with the consequences!  Only people who are able to devote the time and energy to training their dogs should be allowed to have them, PERIOD.

If someone wants to train their dog but can’t afford lessons or a class, then my magical program will pay for that.  But if they don’t have TIME to train their dog, the dog gets taken away or surgically silenced.  I think if you don’t have time to train it then you shouldn’t have it, because it won’t be a happy dog, but that’s your lookout.

Animals are fantastic companions, and a well-trained dog is a useful and wonderful addition to the family.  People are complete asshats.

Alternately, who wants to buy me this?  I’m totally serious here, folks.  So serious.

On privilege and patriarchy and Gwyenth Paltrow

The media has it out for Gwyneth Paltrow.  They’ve got a thing going where she’s out of touch and too-perfect and privileged and whatever.  She doesn’t help it with the things she posts on her blog.  After reading this post by Family Building with a Twist, I had to see what the latest thing was.  Turns out she’s suggested hundred dollar hostess gifts and stocking stuffers (cynically, I would not be surprised if some of the items on that list were sponsored or put down as favors for someone invested in their sale).  Useless over-priced crap that rich people give to each other even though they don’t need more stuff.  Because they can.

It actually reminded me of this recent CNN article on the huge amounts being spent on art and jewelry.  Money that is definitely not “trickling down” to the little people.

This is what wealth inequality does.  It makes useless luxury items more expensive and it moves wealth around amongst the wealthy.  It doesn’t feed kids.

But that doesn’t make me hate Gwyneth Paltrow.   Infinitely worse are people like the Koch brothers or Roger Ailes and other extremely wealthy people who are against higher marginal taxes for the 1% or for cutting food-stamps.  If Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t realize that not everybody can afford organic foods, personal trainers, or $200 hostess gifts, then she should be educated on that.  Maybe a little mingling with the hoi poloi could spark some social activism on her part, though she doesn’t have to become an activist.  Pretension isn’t worth worrying about unless it harms others.  She’s not actually doing real harm, just providing media fodder for fun little let’s hate the privileged rich girl stories.  (Now that Paris Hilton has dropped out of the public eye.)

And why do we have the privileged little rich girl stories instead of stories about people who are actually doing harm?  Well, Gwyenth Paltrow is harmless.  She’s a side-show.  She can’t harm us.  She can’t harm a media organization.  She’s probably even well-intentioned.  And she’s female.

People love to put down “perfect” women.  Paltrow is thin, pretty, rich, and self-confident.  Crabs in a bucket like to pull people like that down.  It provides circus entertainment to distract us from real problems, like unemployment, failing education systems, or children going hungry while the top 1% gets wealthier and wealthier.  It is her very irrelevance that makes her the perfect sacrifice.   Attack the perfect woman and we’ll feel better about ourselves and we’ll be less likely to riot in the streets.  We’ve dealt our blows to the system by making fun of an actress who doesn’t know any better.   And that isn’t going to fix a damn thing.  It’s just sending yet another signal that women shouldn’t get too uppity or other women will hate them.  That’s a stupid signal.

The patriarchy is insidious in its divide and conquer strategies.  It’s great at distracting us from real problems, because those real problems are caused by people we can’t be catty about.  Those people are dangerous and powerful.  They’re not writing up silly over-priced gift lists on their blogs.  Much easier to channel that ire against women.   The patriarchy is good at this stuff.  It’s had lots of practice.

When will we leave a sharply worded comment on your post?

You have been warned… !

These are gathered from general patterns across the blogosphere, not from anyone’s particular blog.  (Well, except #4.  Thank goodness we’ve only seen one blog that does that.)

  1. When you claim that it is poor people’s fault for being poor, or black people’s fault for being unemployed, or Hispanic people’s fault you don’t have a job, and similar things.  (Note:  these are not true.)
  2. When you attack a woman’s children because she is successful and thus cannot be doing a decent job of raising her kids.  (Note:  this is not true and there are better ways to justify your lifestyle choices.  If you need to attack someone else’s choices that they have no cause to complain about, then perhaps it is time to re-examine your own.)
  3. When you’re always blaming other people for your problems.  We try really hard to avoid these blogs but occasionally (we click on a tantalizing headline off someone’s blogroll and) we snap.  And although in this case, our comment is generally gently worded, we have made an enemy for life (because, oh yeah, you see the worst of every single interaction you’re in).
  4. When you sexualize infants, children, and attachment parenting.  That is just MESSED UP.
  5. When you’re always complaining about the SAME THING and then you go and make BAD CHOICES that are going to result in the same thing you’re always complaining about only worse.  We don’t mind complaining about the same thing if it’s justified (it’s not your fault your ex isn’t paying child-support), we don’t even mind what kinds of foolish choices you make with your money, it’s the digging yourself into a deeper hole just so you can complain even more that gets to us.  We try reallly hard to never read your blog again, but sometimes Schadenfreude wins, and when that happens sometimes we say something even though we know it won’t do any good.
    • #1 has much more of a hair-trigger on this one than does #2. #2 is hamstrung by the fact that my browser keeps logging me out of wordpress, so leaving comments becomes a several-step process and by then I don’t care anymore.
    • #1 notes that isn’t true– #1 is much better at not visiting said blogs.
  6. When you tell everybody that your life choice is the One True Path and that everybody else is destroying their children, is a wimp, a spendthrift, a loser, and so on.
  7. When you say that other people are not doing enough even though you’re not doing anything yourself.  Example:  telling infertile couples they should just adopt when you haven’t adopted, saying that people who don’t send their kids to public school are selfish when you’re not supporting public schools (this one even inspired a post)
  8. When you say that worrying about education for gifted kids is a terrible thing and you should let kids be kids.  Or that kids need to stay with their same-age peers.  Or that there’s no reason for kids to read early.  Hulk smash.

What gets you ticked off enough to be snippy?  We already know Cloud doesn’t roll that way, but what about the rest of you?

Stupid “opinions” on gifted kids

A lot of people seem to think that they are entitled to spew their opinions on gifted kids, parents of gifted kids, and gifted education without having read *any* of the research or without even ever spending time with gifted children.

Here are some of the things you should stop saying on the internet, behind people’s backs, or to their faces:

1.  Why do gifted kids need to be challenged anyway?  Why can’t we let kids be kids?  What’s the rush?

Gifted kids who are not challenged are at a greater risk of dropping out than normal kids.  They’re also more likely to have bad behavior than gifted kids who are sufficiently challenged.  And, if they’re not challenged early on, they can flame out spectacularly when challenged later as young adults.  (All of the previous statements are verifiable from pretty much any research-based book on gifted children.)

On top of that, most children find learning to be fun and to be part of childhood.  It is only adults who seem to feel the need to make learning not fun.  Fight that.

2.  It’s so important for kids to be with their same-aged peers.  It may not be important in elementary school, but just wait until they’re old enough to drive/go to prom/go to college.  Then you’ll see.

Gifted kids are often out-of-synch with their same-aged peers.  It would be great for them to hang around other gifted kids their same age, but many populations don’t have a large enough population to support gifted classes, and tracking is not currently in vogue.   A Nation Deceived makes a clear and convincing case that gifted kids actually do *better* socially on average when accelerated than when with same-aged peers in a normal classroom.  As for driving and prom… those are not the end-all and be-all.  Not all kids go to prom.  Many freshmen go to prom with seniors.  If a freshman hangs out with juniors, hir friends will be driving anyway even though ze can’t, and not all kids have cars or get licenses at 16 anyway.  In terms of college, there are many possibilities not limited to going early, taking a gap year, taking courses at the local college or community college, and so on.  There’s an exciting world of possibilities that may be even better than the status quo.

3.  I knew a kid who skipped grades and ze was totally messed up.

Correlation is not causation.  Gifted kids are often odd and out of synch compared to other kids.  Chances are they’ll seem messed up in the view of some subset of the population whether or not they’re accelerated.  Compared to gifted kids who are not accelerated, those who are accelerated do better academically AND socially, according to A Nation Deceived.

4.  Being bored/miserable/picked on/the only person doing work on a group project is a part of adult life.  Kids need to learn to get used to it in school.

When you’re gifted and do well in school, you can often sort yourself into a profession in which you’re more likely to be surrounded by other competent hard workers doing interesting things.  Being picked on is not normal as an adult.

5.  I’m so sick of hearing X complain about the problems she’s having with her so-called gifted kid, if the kid is actually gifted, which I have my doubts.  Gifted kids don’t need special treatment, not like real special needs kids.  She should just shut up.

It is not easy being the parent of a gifted child.  Gifted children are often intense.  They often do not sleep much, are energetic, are sensitive, act out, get depressed, can be crippled by perfectionism, and many other things, particularly if their needs are not being met.  And society is not set up to help meet their needs in many places.  Additionally, parents of gifted kids often do suffer from isolation.  They often cannot talk about their kids to other parents.  It is wonderful being a parent of gifted children, but there are also challenges.

6.  Kids aren’t really gifted, they’re just hot-housed by over-achieving parents.

We don’t believe there is a such thing as over-achievement (that’s an opinion).  However, gifted kids often achieve quite a bit without the least bit of hot-housing (that’s a fact).  Parents do often provide more academic enrichment for gifted kids because that is what the child needs to help behavior and happiness, but there are generally no flashcards or pressure involved.  Gifted kids often teach themselves to read.  And reading is fun!  All kids are sponges, and gifted kids seem very eager to soak things up.

Remember, opinions and facts are not the same thing, and sometimes incorrect opinions that are not based on actual facts can do real damage.  Do you really want to be one of those people who hurts an entire group?  Well, we know that none of *our* readers would, but occasionally people find their way to us via google.  If you’re in that situation and you say stuff like this, knock it off.

What are incorrect “opinions” that you find annoying, gifted-related or other?

Man’s search for meaning Part 2: Plant your garden

The Penny-Arcade guys are awesome.  They started out as a couple of dudes with a web-comic.  They’ve taken that web-comic and their fame and channeled it for something much bigger.  Yes, they run conventions, but more impressively, they started an awesome charity called Childs Play.

This charity, aimed at showing that video games are not evil incarnate, and that gamers can do good, connects children’s hospitals with games, books, toys, and other resources to help sick children keep their minds off their illnesses.  Donations started small– one hospital and the PA guys’ garages as storage facilities, and they made deliveries themselves.  Now they’ve ratcheted up into a large non-profit that connects with and ships directly to hospitals.

You can donate here.

And now for some negative griping.

Compare the PA guys to the onanistic navel-gazing you see from other movements.  The minimalists.  The travel the world folks.  The motivationalists.  [Note:  we are not saying that all minimalists, world-travelers, self-helpers etc. are onanistic con-artists, but you know they exist.]

The Penny Arcade dudes are real.  They have authenticity.

So much of that motivational crap seems so hollow and insincere, aimed just at making money off other people.

For the most part, they’re not actually doing anything.

The P-A guys, OTOH, are teh awesome.

And that, perhaps, is why I don’t expect them to get mid-life crises.  When you’re busy doing things that are real, you don’t have time to feel like life is meaningless.

also:  I like the word onanistic

Language is important: A feminist primer

Dr. #2 is going to have to help me out on this post since she’s the feminist scholar.  (Everything I learned about feminism I’ve been learning from her and academic blogs!)  But I’m beginning to know subtle sexism when I see it.

Language is a tricky thing.  We can say one thing overtly but use language that implicitly says something quite the opposite.  How we say something can be more important than what we actually say.

Woman as child

There is so much infantilizing of women.  When’s the last time you called a woman over age 18 a girl for any reason?  Please, check yourself.  If you get together with a group of women, are they girlfriends?  Who gets called baby?

[disclaimer:  I think this song is MAD CATCHY!]

Pronouns matter

Much of this information comes from the work of Janet Shibley Hyde and colleagues. 

Much research shows that when people read, say, or hear “he” or “him” as generic pronouns, they almost always think of male examples.  In one study, participants read a sentence about “the average student” at a university, and that student was referred to as either  his, their, or his or her.  Then participants had to make up stories about this fictional student.  When “the average student” got the his pronoun, 65% of the stories were about men.  Using their resulted in 54% of stories being about men.  Using his or her, 44% were about men.  There are a lot of studies that replicate this finding.

That study was from 1978 with adults, so Hyde wanted to look at children and how they developed these ideas. She gave children a sentence such as:  When a kid goes to school, ____ often feels excited on the first day.  She filled the blank with either he, they, or he or she.  When the word was he, not a single boy in all of elementary school (through fifth grade) made up a story about a girl.  In fact, most children, girls and boys, did not even know about he being (supposedly) gender-neutral.  However, despite not being aware of the rule, most children thought of “human” as equivalent to “male”.  In another sentence, Hyde had children fill in the blank: If a kid likes candy, ____ might eat too much.  Overwhelmingly, the children filled in “he” to represent a random kid.  Even the girls.

This is true in English, which does not have genders on all our nouns, and also in other languages, like German and Spanish, which do.

Finally, Janet Shibley Hyde gave elementary school children a paragraph describing the fictional occupation of wudgemaker.  She varied the pronouns, and then asked children how well a woman could do the job, and how well a man could do it.  When rating men, pronoun had no effect on what children thought of them as wudgemakers.  They answered that a man could do the job pretty well whether the pronoun described wudgemakers as he, they, she, or he-or-she.  However, when figuring out how well a woman could do the job, pronouns mattered.  Children who heard the pronoun he to describe a typical wudgemaker rated a woman as being “just ok” at that job.  Children who heard she rated a woman as being very good at the job.  The other two pronouns were in the middle.

Sexist language can even lower females’ ability to remember content from a passage of reading.

Media and sexual abuse

Rape

And don’t get us started on language used in rape cases.  Well, I guess it’s too late.

Problems include passive language“Every year thousands of women are raped.  How can this problem be stopped?”  Hello.  Every year thousands of men rape women!

In another study of sexual assault coverage, most of the quotes used were from the perpetrator or his lawyer (eww).  Who gets to tell their story?

Child Abuse

It gets worse with child sexual abuse in the media.

The media often use “it” to describe a child (most victims of sexual abuse are girls), and even when the media identify the gender they will later revert to using it, in something called Gender Slippage.  Language is of critical importance in influencing societal views.  When they do this, the article becomes more neutral and reduces the reader’s emotional involvement.  It also reduces the perceived seriousness of the problem.  Do we want to do that?

When adults abuse children, the media often frames the situation as a consensual relationship.  Media sometimes use the word “affair” between a 60-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl.  That is not an affair.  That is abuse.  “Jailed teacher afraid lover boy will dump her”  (O’Mahony, 1998) is one example.  Again, ewww.

Domestic Violence

Johnson (1994) did an incredible study of San Francisco newspapers’ coverage of domestic violence (DV) cases involving death of the victim.  Professional DV experts were quoted in only 25% of articles; the main source of quotes was perpetrator’s family.  Who has voice?

The term “domestic violence” was used repeatedly for non-white couples but rarely for white couples.  White perpetrators were usually described as nice, normal, sweet, and loving; minority perpetrators were described negatively.  In the articles, violence was seen as aberration in white communities but expected in minority communities.

Bullock and Cubert (2002) studied over 200 Seattle newspaper accounts of domestic violence.  They find that many many articles shifted blame from attacker onto victim or circumstances (“the divorce was hard on him”).  EWww!  One possible mechanism for how this happens is DARVO.  There was also a misconception that abusers should be readily identifiable (i.e., not the rich white people-next-door).

But wait, you also get…

We’ve already covered stereotype threat.  Yes, words really can hurt.

You get to choose what you consume in the media.  What will you tolerate?  Do you write letters to the editor?

Having a little bit of economics is worse than having none at all

When it comes to policy.

P. J. O’Rourke on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me just made a joke about how Obama needs to read an economics 101 textbook and apologize to Paul Ryan.

As a professional economist who knows and has personally met (and is known! by a subset of) economists who have advised the past FOUR presidents, I submit that Obama knows a hell of a lot more economics than Mr. P. J. O’Rourke does (who, admittedly also made jokes during today’s broadcast about how bad he is and has always been at math).

The problem is that a lot of folks take Econ 101, maybe Econ 102, which teach very basic theory and then they don’t take any field courses that deal with economics in *reality*.

In Econ 101, we have to keep things simple so that people can get the basics down.  How do supply and demand work?  What does thinking at the margin mean?  What are sunk costs?  How do interest rates work?  What is GDP?  And so on.   These are really complicated and deep ways of changing the way most of us think.

In order to make these concepts as simple as possible, we have to make a whole lot of simplifying assumptions.  We assume that markets always work– there is no market failure.  (Advanced classes may get to externalities by the end of the semester, but that’s generally the only source of market failure that they get to.)  They assume that the world is in perfect competition (and again, more advanced courses may get to monopoly power by the end of the semester, but many do not).   We assume that markets have full information and that all (identical) people are able to make rational decisions that involve complicated math problems instantaneously and in their heads.  When we make all of these simplifying assumptions and do the math, it seems very obvious that we shouldn’t have government at all except to enforce contracts and property rights.

It is true, a few PhD economists are still stuck on these theoretical dreams.  For example, Gary Becker’s work *proves* that taste-based discrimination cannot exist in theory… given the assumption of perfect competition and that we are in general equilibrium.  And if we had perfect competition, then of course nobody would discriminate against blacks or women.  Therefore if we see any differences it must be because blacks are inferior (he allows that that might be because of pre-labor market conditions like bad schools) and women should stay at home and support their husbands.  [Note:  he is wrong.  The perfect competition assumption does not hold, so owners can take some of their oligopoly rents as tastes for discrimination.]

Reality is, we live in a messy world of imperfect competition and there’s room for a lot of market failures whether we’re talking general equilibrium or partial equilibrium.  In addition to the basic problems of monopoly and externalities and partial equilibrium that are often covered in Econ 102, there’s a whole host of problems that lead directly to market failures.  There’s moral hazard, public goods problems, adverse selection, and sometimes paternalism (since most people who aren’t economists and even some who are aren’t the fully informed rational actors we assume they are in Econ 101).

All of these complications and all of these sources of market failure lead to the potential for government intervention.  Now, there are always costs to government intervention, and sometimes the costs outweigh the benefits or vice versa.  But suggesting from your very limited knowledge of economics that anyone who believes in any government intervention needs to read an Econ 101 textbook is ludicrous.  Instead, I submit that such folks need themselves to take and understand more economics.  They need to understand what happens when those simplifying assumptions we made in Econ 101 break down.  And they can use those tools that they learned in Econ 101 to get that understanding.

Until then, I submit that knowing a little econ is more dangerous than knowing none at all.  And I urge people who teach Econ 101 to add caveats when they’re doing this teaching and be very clear about the assumptions being made in order to get to the conclusions.  My 102 professor (a labor economist) was very good at doing that and those caveats awakened my thirst for further knowledge for when that world isn’t as perfect as it seems in that initial 101 class.  My sister couldn’t handle the unrealistic assumptions in 101 (stated as fact) and rejected the entire field– and perhaps that’s another way to go.  Personally I’m glad I stuck with it until I got to the more reality-based stuff.

And that’s my rant.  Any comments on when knowing a little of something is more dangerous than just using your common sense?

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