Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Noah Smith writes that far too many Americans (like people around the globe) face needless barriers to thinking, and suggests that the key public project of this century may be to remedy those problems:
The biggest threat to clear-headedness comes from drugs. The twin epidemics of opioid-painkiller dependence and heroin abuse destroy people’s lives and harm productivity. There is a strong correlation between opioid use and unemployment, and it’s no great stretch to assume that the former helps cause the latter. A recent Goldman Sachs report concluded that drug abuse resulted in large productivity losses throughout the economy. Even when opioid and opiate users stay at their jobs, they probably become less productive.

A second, much-discussed problem is lead pollution. A flood of research is finding that even small amounts of lead exposure in childhood can lead both to worse academic performance later in life, and to more criminal behavior. Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that American children are far more exposed to lead than most people realize. Lead paint contaminates soil, lead pipes contaminate drinking water, and a variety of commercial products from cosmetics to electronics contain bits of lead. The U.S. is allowing its people to be poisoned with heavy metals, and both their intelligence and their self-control is being degraded as a result.

But drugs and lead aren’t the only forces preventing Americans from being able to think clearly. Poverty is another. Everyone knows that the U.S. is a very unequal country, but few think about the damage that causes to American minds. A growing body of research shows that poor people have different brain structures from other people. Mental problems can and do cause poverty, of course, but poverty also exposes people to many of the forces that are known to cause post-traumatic stress disorder -- violence and unstable family situations -- in addition to brain-damaging malnutrition. Let's hope that new long-term studies will clarify just how much poverty damages the brain, although the mechanisms are already pretty obvious.

Violence in general probably causes lots of long-term harm to the minds of American children. The U.S. as a whole has a high murder rate for a rich country -- 4.2 homicides per 100,000 people, about three times as high as France or the U.K. Some U.S. cities, however, have murder rates as much as 10 times the national average -- St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans and Detroit stand out. Millions of American children are probably getting some form of PTSD as a result of growing up in these cities.

When all these factors are added up, they represent a severe threat not just to Americans’ quality of life, but to the productivity of the U.S. workforce. Policy makers, economists and other intellectuals should start thinking more about how to beat back this multipronged assault on national clear-headedness.
- Doug Saunders discusses how the wealthiest few in Canada are almost entirely ghettoized, and offers a couple of suggestions to rein in inequality and rebuild the social links which once connected the 1% to everybody else. And Luke Savage comments on the great CEO revenue heist which allows corporate magnates to avoid tax on 50% of one of their main sources of income.

- Meanwhile, Marco Chown Oved and Robert Cribb report on a first discussion of corporate transparency - though it's telling that the Trudeau Libs are intent on preserving the "privacy" of people benefiting from the privilege of limited liability. And Dean Beeby reports on the Libs' continued plans to sell off airports and other public services.

- Nikil Saval traces how laissez-faire theory is now recognized as flawed by all but its most dogmatic adherents.

- Finally, Zarqa Nawaz writes about Saint-Apollinaire's embarrassing rejection of a cemetery for Quebec City Muslims.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:13 a.m.

    I thought I'd read a statistic saying that alcohol is the number one cause of low-productivity, as well as family and community problems.