Category Archives: Politics

5 Maps That Show How Divided America Really Is

The Atlantic commenting on data from the American Community Survey:

“These five maps, however, jumped out at us for how they each illustrate deep and lingering differences between the American North and South, as seen through several different data points. Of course, the patterns aren’t perfect, and exceptions abound; major cities in the North turn out to be hotspots of inequality on par with much of the Deep South.”

There’s nothing here that most people didn’t already know, but what’s interesting to me is that major cities in the north are just as (if not moreso) unequal as the south. Could that be the key to solving for this problem?

Via Nelson Rosario

The Politics and Philosophy of Racism

Alex Tabarrok and John Sides (via the Economist) on Chris Hayes’ claim that “It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other”:

…identification with the Democratic Party tends to decline, and identification with the Republican party tends to increase, as attitudes toward black become less favorable—at least when attitudes are measured with two different racial stereotypes. However, the relationship is far from deterministic: substantial minorities of those with unfavorable attitudes toward blacks identify as Democrats.

Reihan Salam (also via the Economist) comments on this study:

[F]or many of the people “in my world”—that is, professionals who attended selective colleges and universities in the English-speaking world—the notion that racist Americans are almost entirely in one coalition (the center-right coalition) is an article of faith that is really central to center-left political identity. Those of us who do not share this view thus find ourselves arguing from a position that is seen as intrinsically morally suspect.

But perhaps most interesting is the Economists author’s take on his libertarian view of racism/sexism:

Racism and sexism have come to matter more to me in that I have come to see them in terms of the political value that matters most to me: liberty. And so I have become much more sympathetic to policies that would limit individual liberty in order to suppress patterns or norms of behaviour that might pose an even greater threat to freedom. So I’ve become fairly friendly toward federal anti-discrimination law, affirmative action, Title 9, the works. I have found that this sympathy, together with my belief in the theoretical possibility and historical reality of structural coercion, releases me almost entirely from the liberal suspicion that I’m soft on racism (even if I do wish to voucherise Medicare). Phew!

I’ve been trying to articulate this for a long time. Two parts to this:

1) The problem is that people refuse to weigh issues; any violation of any belief is unacceptable.  If I hate racism and I hate government legislation, but only government legislation can get rid of racism, I have to make a choice of which I hate more. 1 (racism, in case you’re wondering) I may have to violate my political beliefs, but isn’t it worth it?

2) But if the opposite is true (legislation to decrease racism actually makes it worse), I would be considered morally suspect to come out against something that is perceived to solve for racism. No one would ever admit to it, but some people consider the perception of solving an issue just as good as solving the issue. Oddly enough, there may be an argument for that.

All of us have biases that prevent us from seeing the larger picture. Sometimes these biases are good; most of the time, they’re bad. You may end up exactly where you started, but before giving a knee jerk reaction to something, consider why you think that way and why someone else thinks otherwise. You may find yourself staying quiet or– gulp–on the other side of the road more often than you think.

  1. I know there’s a point where this isn’t true, but anything can be taken to extremes. If carrots are getting stolen from the grocery store, one way to prevent that is for the grocery store to stop carrying carrots.

Defeated Kansas Senator: “Koch Industries is Just a Terrible, Terrible Citizen”

Recently defeated Kansas State Senator Tim Owens:

I’d say that maybe 80 percent of country are middle of roaders. They’re not always fired up enough to go and look at what impact government has on them. The people who play close attention, it seems, are so passionate against everything. And so the middle of the roaders don’t want to be anywhere close to that. Until we turn back to the middle and get balance, we’re in trouble. That will bleed over into opinions people have of Kansas. It will bleed over into opinions people have of us internationally.

Terrible headline, great interview by David Weiss of Slate.

via Ben Gaskins

Knowing Is Half the Battle

During this year’s State of the Union address I tweeted:

In the next ten years, the lack of widespread affordable high-speed Internet will fragment the country. That needs to be solved now. #sotu

That’s inaccurate. But, in my defense, it’s inaccurate because I was limited by how much I could say at one time. Since I’ve been invited to the White House Tweetup this Monday, I wanted to take a couple of paragraphs to flesh out this idea, since I think it’s what got me invited in the first place.

Let’s start out with why that statement is inaccurate: the lack of affordable high-speed Internet isn’t what’s going to fragment the country, information asymmetry is the culprit. Information asymmetry may be correlated with the lack of affordable, high-speed Internet, but the Internet in and of itself is just a tool for delivering information; it’s meaningless without content.

So what is information asymmetry? Essentially it’s when one party has more information than another and is better able to make decisions because of it. Most definitions you’ll find include both parts (more information and making better decisions), but truly the first part is all that’s necessary.

The second part of that definition, though, is why this is such a pressing problem. We see one group of people who continually become more and more informed and thus are able to make better decisions because of it. Eventually the decision equilibrium is thrown off and someone starts to win and someone starts to lose. That’s when information asymmetry goes from being an inconvenience to a pressing problem. This may be simplifying matters a bit too much, but many of the problems we’re facing today come from the fact that one person is able to take advantage of another person based on information that he or she has that the other person does not.

To make matters worse, information is a process. It’s stackable. What I’ll learn about tomorrow is built upon what I learned about yesterday. There’s no way to get around that; it’s why you have to go to first grade before seventh grade. While learning has non-linear tendencies, it’s a decidedly linear process. This means that this isn’t a problem we can turn around overnight. It’s a problem that needs to be solved now, so that we can stop reaping the consequences in ten years.

But, how do you solve for this? It’s not like you can (or should) force people to become more informed (as if “informed” is a palpable, achievable goal). But, what you can do is break down the barriers that are preventing people from getting there. Widespread, affordable, high-speed Internet access can contribute. Putting information in a forum that people pay attention to (e.g. social media) can as well. Tailoring information to target specific groups is another way. These are all easier said than done and there are a thousand questions that need to be asked (What is information? How much needs to be spread? What constitutes as something that people need to know?), but it’s a direction we need to move in quickly, before we lose the attention of the general public.

I wanted to say this now because in my application to the White House Tweetup, I mentioned that one of the things that interests me about Twitter is how it’s engaged people with issues. Folks who would never pick up the New York Times or the Economist are now exposed to those ideas on a daily basis. Granted, it’s a shallow exposition, but knowing is half the battle. Acting on this knowledge may well be the other half, but that’s a struggle for another day.