Sunday, September 01, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Emily Badger discusses how poverty affects people who are forced to use their physical and mental resources on bare survival:
Human mental bandwidth is finite. You’ve probably experienced this before (though maybe not in those terms): When you’re lost in concentration trying to solve a problem like a broken computer, you’re more likely to neglect other tasks, things like remembering to take the dog for a walk, or picking your kid up from school. This is why people who use cell phones behind the wheel actually perform worse as drivers. It’s why air traffic controllers focused on averting a mid-air collision are less likely to pay attention to other planes in the sky.

We only have so much cognitive capacity to spread around. It's a scarce resource.

This understanding of the brain’s bandwidth could fundamentally change the way we think about poverty. Researchers publishing some groundbreaking findings today in the journal Science have concluded that poverty imposes such a massive cognitive load on the poor that they have little bandwidth left over to do many of the things that might lift them out of poverty – like go to night school, or search for a new job, or even remember to pay bills on time.
Solutions that make financial life easier for poor people don’t simply change their financial prospects. When a poor person receives a regular direct-deposited paycheck every Friday, that does more than simply relieve the worry over when money will come in next.

 “When we do that, we liberate some bandwidth,” Shafir says. Policymakers tend to evaluate the success of financial programs aimed at the poor by measuring how they do financially. “The interesting thing about this perspective is that it says if I make your financial life easier, if I give you more bandwidth, what I really ought to look at is how you’re doing in your life. You might be doing better parenting. You might be adhering to your medication better.”

The limited bandwidth created by poverty directly impacts the cognitive control and fluid intelligence that we need for all kinds of everyday tasks.
- And Patricia O'Campo examines some tragic real-life applications of the principle - noting that while poverty is linked to a number of health problems in new mothers, it's especially closely correlated with the simultaneous development of multiple health problems.

- But then, a place at the top of the income spectrum doesn't insulate a person from other sets of problems - as Joshua Holland discusses new research linking upper-class status to unethical behaviour, narcissism and a sense of entitlement. And in an entirely unrelated commentary, Livia Gershon contrasts the real world against the one in which Thomas Friedman and others think that high-skilled jobs are available for everybody.

- Finally, Matthew Yglesias and the Guardian highlight the need to recognize the limitations of outside intervention, while pogge is rightly skeptical of the case for military action without any apparent plan or end goal. Rick Salutin comments on the double standard applied to foreign regimes whenever foreign policy insiders decide it's time for another war. And mistermix suggests it's possible to do much more good helping refugees of the Syrian civil war instead of dropping bombs.

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