Sunday, June 29, 2008

Avoiding the Internet Cocoon

#1 on my wishlist:
Although mainstream views are much more palatable therefore less likely to be suppressed, and while it takes one hundred times the effort to find attention or acceptance for out of the mainstream views, it's very important not to cocoon yourself with the like-minded.

I find that people with mainstream views, finding acceptance more readily, therefore more confident to espouse their beliefs, may even search out "radical" points of view to disparage, bolstering their belief system at the same time.

However, when you limit yourself to a single source, or a cocoon of thought, you prevent yourself from getting to the truth of the matter. If you get your information from a group or configuration of varying ideas and sources, and cross-check all the information that you get, taking the time to engage in back-and-forth discourse, you not only strengthen your ability to back up your own set of beliefs, or debunk them, you open yourself up to a wealth of knowledge to draw from enabling the creation of new ideas.

I repeatedly mentioned the people who "matter" yesterday while blogging the Antichrist out of my system; here is an example of what I meant by referring to those that matter. The other side of the equation... equally important to the path to the truth. I'm fairly certain they would disagree completely that they are the only ones who matter, and may argue that the ones who get all the special treatment are the ones who really "matter". I'll address that later, but they do have a point.

Keep in mind, I am an anonymous blogger and there is a certain luxury of being able to hide your identity, and if you choose to do that, as I have, it's even more important that you do not abuse the privilege by engaging in bashing others who do identify themselves. I am not putting these people down by singling them out. Not at all. Both the left and the right skew the statistics to support their "agenda" or point of view.

However, just because a person inserts a picture and a name does not mean it's that person. It's very easy to take on the identity of someone else on the Internet. Unless you see that person on TV, or hear them on the radio or they are affiliated with a major company, like Andrew Sullivan, for example, there is no way of knowing whether that person is who he or she says they are.

How high is the U.S. poverty rate?

Here is some wisdom, from the non-libertarian, non-right-wing, never-asked-to-contribute-to-the-WSJ-Op-Ed-page Lane Kenworthy:
Poverty comparisons across affluent nations typically use a “relative” measure of poverty. For each country the poverty line — the amount of income below which a household is defined as poor — is set at 50% (sometimes 60%) of that country’s median income. In a country with a high median, such as the United States, the poverty line thus will be comparatively high, making a high poverty rate more likely...

Using a relative measure, the U.S. poverty rate is higher than Romania’s and only slightly lower than Mexico’s (see here). Similarly, Mississippi’s relative poverty rate is the same as Connecticut’s.

So when you hear that the U.S. poverty rate is about 20 percent, keep this in mind. Here is more, including links to research. Here is a response from Paul Krugman. Note that Krugman's initial Op-Ed stresses how the measured rate has not fallen over (some periods of) time, but his response simply cites a ranking of the U.S. among other wealthy nations, based on an absolute poverty rate. Have the time series comparisons been jettisoned or should we stand by them?

Here is more useful information. It's also worth noting that poverty rate numbers do not take into account food stamps, housing subsidies, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Medicaid, among other benefits. Not to mention black market income and underreported income (often for EITC reasons); yes it is worth referring back to consumption data which show that the poor do quite a bit better than income data alone would indicate. That said, a very good case can be made that we overinvest in fighting the poverty of the elderly and underinvest in fighting the poverty of children.

The bottom line: Be very suspicious when you hear talk about the poverty rate. The real question, as stressed by James Heckman, is what rate of return we can hope to achieve from feasible interventions in favor of poor, young children. That's a much harder question to argue. Heckman of course finds a high rate of return, so I suspect the key question centers around what is "feasible" given the imperfections of politics. It's worth noting that many federal anti-poverty programs have in fact failed, or so changed that we don't even call them anti-poverty programs any more. At the end of the day that calls for "better action" rather than inaction, but softening people up with overly pessimistic and uncritically presented numbers will probably make a good program less rather than more likely.
So, at the end of the day, or more like the beginning in my case, I've found two more interesting blogs. Lane Kenworthy's blog, who I believe could easily fit into my cocoon of thought, and Marginal Revolution, who presents the other side. I do grow tired of reading and listening to things that agree too much with my own point of view, sometimes. I have to remind myself that reading a variety of viewpoints and keeping an open mind is so important to the creative process.


jake,  18:00  

Totally agree with you. Too much harmony is the enemy of truth. Must have hale and hardy discourse.

Great blog!

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