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Welcome to the Club, Mr. President—Obama on Economic Mobility

President Obama gave a speech to the Center for American Progress in Washington this past Wednesday on the theme of economic mobility:

Paul Krugman described this speech in his column as important, despite the relatively ho-hum if not actively negative reaction of the press:

Looked at from a political point of view, the speech seems to affirm Krugman’s analysis that it’s a sort of coming out of the closet for the President. Obama makes quite clear that he’s speaking as a fellow progressive and that he intends to conduct himself as such for the remainder of his term. Apparently, all pretense (if it ever was pretense) of being a centrist and being above all dedicated to bipartisan solutions, no matter how much he might have to give up to cut a deal with the Republicans (who usually refused to cut a deal anyway), is done with as a failed effort. Just as it is hard to imagine that the Congress could get any more partisan and nasty just because the Democrats changed the Senate rules to limit filibusters, it is hard to imagine that the Republicans could scorn Obama any more because he made this speech.
Our point of view here, however, is related to economism. I have quoted from previous Obama speeches, both in The Golden Calf and in this blog. As a rule, in the past, I was quite happy if I could identify one or two passages in an entire speech that seemed fully expressive of an anti-economism posture. In this speech, on the other hand, I was hard put to find a passage that did not seem to me to call out economism for the flawed ideology and policy that it is.

The main focus, as the title indicates, is the way that income inequality in the U.S. has led to a loss of economic mobility. It is simply no longer true that a poor person, or the poor person’s children, can hope that through hard work, or education, or whatever, they will become reasonably well off.  Obama labels this as a serious challenge to who we are as a nation.
Along the way, the President trots out many of the statistics that people worried about income inequality commonly cite—like the CEO who was content to make20 to 30 times that the average worker made in the 1960s now makes 273 times as much, and that the top few percent of the population are running off with an increasingly disproportionate percentage of wealth and new economic growth. He deals with many of the standard ploys that economism’s defenders use to defend the status quo (like the claim that raising the minimum wage would hurt poor workers) and points out why all of them are misguided or inaccurate. He insists that government policy must play a major role in redressing the problems.

The road back from economism (maybe that’s a good title for the book that refutes the standard reading of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom) will be long and difficult, but it has to start with the flaws of economism becoming the subject of robust political debate. As I explained in The Golden Calf, for far too long, economism has thrived on the widespread belief that the key portions of its ideology are nothing but common sense and that no rational politician could possibly disagree with them. Just to call them out and to insist that the debate must start is a major step forward.

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This entry was posted in Health Care and tagged . Posted by Howard Brody. Bookmark the permalink.


When Less is More—Saying No to the Technological Imperative at the End of Life

Nanette Elster, JD, MPH

Bioethicist and octogenarian Daniel Callahan wrote an op-ed in the New York Times this week about society’s quest to extend life. He opined, “Adding years to a life doesn’t necessarily make it any fuller.”  I understand Callahan’s view.  I recently assumed the role of healthcare power of attorney for an elderly relative who suffered a traumatic brain injury compounding a previously existing dementia.   I have posed a similar question to Callahan’s observation to every healthcare provider I have encountered during my relative’s most recent hospitalization.  Test after test to identify the reason for his weakness and the cause of his exacerbated confusion have yielded no answers, yet there is still the push to keep looking. …

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This entry was posted in End of Life Care, Featured Posts, Health Care. Posted by Nanette Elster. Bookmark the permalink.


Where Have All the Negative Results Gone?

by Craig M. Klugman, PhD

This week I gave a lecture at a university in Texas on ways to teach research ethics. A question from the audience led to a conversation about the stresses and pressures that lead researchers to be involved with ethically questionable activities. I mentioned that among the pressures are to maintain and increase funding as well as to get published. This pressure manifests itself in the fact that we are more likely to publish positive results than negative. As I said at the talk, “After all, journals are in the business of selling subscriptions. And who is going to buy a journal that says ‘Special Issue—We Found Nothing’.” It makes sense to think that a company is less likely to fund a researcher who finds its products lack efficacy.…

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This entry was posted in Clinical Trials & Studies, Featured Posts, Research Ethics, Science. Posted by Craig Klugman. Bookmark the permalink.


When Religion Trumps Medicine

by Arthur L. Caplan, PhD

Imagine that you were in a terrible car accident and suffered a huge loss of blood. An ambulance comes and takes you, dazed and in pain, to the only hospital within a hundred mile area of the accident. That hospital happens to be affiliated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Everything at the hospital is state of the art. The doctors and nurses are all well trained. There is only one hitch in terms of your medical care. You need blood transfusions or you are going to die. The hospital does not have a blood bank. Nor does it offer transfusions.…

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This entry was posted in Featured Posts, Reproductive Ethics and tagged . Posted by Arthur Caplan. Bookmark the permalink.