October 24th, 2013
“As more signs detach themselves from lifeworld elements they were presumptively designed to denote, they enter a realm that postmodernists call hyperreality. Once a sign takes up permanent residence in hyperreality, any kind of reality which may be called empirical loses influence over it. Better, hyperreality has a life of its own outside and hovering above the experiential reality of day-to-day life. Celebrities, the O.J. Simpson case, sports, and politics exist therein, with only the most tenuous relationship to the phenomenological reality of daily life.”
-Charles J Fox (1996). http://www.jstor.org/stable/976449
The NY Times series Retro Report is fascinating. A couple photos, and a primary symbol for frivolous lawsuits comes spinning apart. Just happened to line up well–even by decade–with some class reading on postmodernity.
October 12th, 2013
The Freakonomics podcast recently talked about a really neat paper treating the 1832 Georgia land lottery as a natural experiment to look at the effects of no-strings-attached wealth shocks. Spoiler: they didn’t find significant effects by the lottery winners’ grandchildren’s generation.
The authors were completely appropriate in limiting their meaning-claims (when asked about implications for policy, Bleakley comes back with “If the politician were contemplating, you know, giving wealth to these people in the 1830s”), but it puzzles me that the paper’s alternative explanation for persistence of wealth are couched in individual characteristics: “particular characteristics transmitted to them by their parents” (p. 2), things like teaching children to be ambitious or genetically inheritable natural ability. While this is undoubtedly a factor, there’s no mention of another set of factors: the social structures and extra costs imposed by social resistance against “developing human capital” when it involves jumping social classes, even in the U.S. What would it mean to be nouveau riche by chance then? How many noses would’ve gone in the air when the son of the previously penniless winner showed up for class? Even now? Academic preparedness and the means to afford (whether by cash or borrowing against future labor value) for education remove big barriers for intergenerational outcomes, but they’re by no means the only barriers. Not so long ago, the New York Times profiled a set of first-generation college students’ struggles in a way that gives a richer story about this. In practical terms, adding extra sets of interesting factors and speculating doesn’t at all change their result that wealth infusion alone wasn’t enough to significantly alter outcomes, but talking about characteristics of societies vs. characteristics of households/individuals does make a difference if we’re interested in what we can or can’t do to make our society fairer.
I don’t have solid ideas on how to operationalize social structure rigidity, and I doubt that there are many wild data sets with randomized wealth infusions out there to use to understand the additional factors at play. But thinking about it at all provides a tiny peek at why getting definitive answers from social science is tough, even when you get a fantastic chance to look at something in a way a modern Institutional Review Board would never approve for deliberate experimentation.
July 24th, 2013
One of my research interests right now is government privatization schemes and what happens to transparency and accountability in the more complicated arrangements. More local level/domestic type stuff, but I suppose this story on Afghan culvert cover contracts is one way to answer what happens when contracts go really, really wrong.
July 17th, 2013
Jeffrey Beall’s list of possibly predatory scholarly open-access publishers (as heard about on On the Media… again). Bookmarking it for myself, sharing. I suspect public admin/policy might be even more vulnerable than many fields for inadvertently mixing together reputable and, well, less-high-quality sources since we’re frequently pulling together information from multiple fields (some with less familiar publishing landscapes than others).
July 15th, 2013
No fully formed thoughts here, but the recent news full of NSA leaks and the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case have me thinking a lot about risk and fear. And of how we work to socially construct “reasonable fears”. Assumptions of limited rationality and cognitive biases are big deals if you want to play with modern policy theories, but… I don’t think better awareness of blindspots would hurt the world at large, not at all.
I’m doing a lot of my media intake via podcast these days, so apologies for linking almost exclusively to audio stories, but On the Media‘s recent interview with risk analyst Peter Sandman struck me as the sort of thing that might be particularly helpful to the conversation. Choose your own adventure for how upset to be over dangers, but maintain awareness that hazard level and upsetting aren’t inherently, rationally linked and that manipulation of fear levels is a profitable enterprise.