The Situationist

Archive for the ‘Public Policy’ Category

David Brooks, the Situationist

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 9, 2011

From New York Times:

Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen a number of gigantic policies produce disappointing results — policies to reduce poverty, homelessness, dropout rates, single-parenting and drug addiction. Many of these policies failed because they were based on an overly simplistic view of human nature. They assumed that people responded in straightforward ways to incentives. Often, they assumed that money could cure behavior problems.

Fortunately, today we are in the middle of a golden age of behavioral research. Thousands of researchers are studying the way actual behavior differs from the way we assume people behave. They are coming up with more accurate theories of who we are, and scores of real-world applications.

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Yet in the middle of this golden age of behavioral research, there is a bill working through Congress that would eliminate the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. This is exactly how budgets should not be balanced — by cutting cheap things that produce enormous future benefits.

Let’s say you want to reduce poverty. We have two traditional understandings of poverty. The first presumes people are rational. They are pursuing their goals effectively and don’t need much help in changing their behavior. The second presumes that the poor are afflicted by cultural or psychological dysfunctions that sometimes lead them to behave in shortsighted ways. Neither of these theories has produced much in the way of effective policies.

Eldar Shafir of Princeton and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard have recently, with federal help, been exploring a third theory, that scarcity produces its own cognitive traits.

A quick question: What is the starting taxi fare in your city? If you are like most upper-middle-class people, you don’t know. If you are like many struggling people, you do know. Poorer people have to think hard about a million things that affluent people don’t. They have to make complicated trade-offs when buying a carton of milk: If I buy milk, I can’t afford orange juice. They have to decide which utility not to pay.

These questions impose enormous cognitive demands. The brain has limited capacities. If you increase demands on one sort of question, it performs less well on other sorts of questions.

Shafir and Mullainathan gave batteries of tests to Indian sugar farmers. After they sell their harvest, they live in relative prosperity. During this season, the farmers do well on the I.Q. and other tests. But before the harvest, they live amid scarcity and have to think hard about a thousand daily decisions. During these seasons, these same farmers do much worse on the tests. They appear to have lower I.Q.’s. They have more trouble controlling their attention. They are more shortsighted. Scarcity creates its own psychology.

Princeton students don’t usually face extreme financial scarcity, but they do face time scarcity. In one game, they had to answer questions in a series of timed rounds, but they could borrow time from future rounds. When they were scrambling amid time scarcity, they were quick to borrow time, and they were nearly oblivious to the usurious interest rates the game organizers were charging. These brilliant Princeton kids were rushing to the equivalent of payday lenders, to their own long-term detriment.

Shafir and Mullainathan have a book coming out next year, exploring how scarcity — whether of time, money or calories (while dieting) — affects your psychology. They are also studying how poor people’s self-perceptions shape behavior. Many people don’t sign up for the welfare benefits because they are intimidated by the forms. Shafir and Mullainathan asked some people at a Trenton soup kitchen to relive a moment when they felt competent and others to recount a neutral experience. Nearly half of the self-affirming group picked up an available benefits package afterward. Only 16 percent of the neutral group did.

People are complicated. We each have multiple selves, which emerge or don’t depending on context. If we’re going to address problems, we need to understand the contexts and how these tendencies emerge or don’t emerge. We need to design policies around that knowledge. Cutting off financing for this sort of research now is like cutting off navigation financing just as Christopher Columbus hit the shoreline of the New World.


Related Situationist posts:


Posted in Choice Myth, Distribution, Education, Life, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

The Psychological Situation of Climate Change

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 17, 2011

Situationist friend, Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, describes the psychological impulses that make it difficult for humans to confront the threat of global warming.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Emotions, Environment, Evolutionary Psychology, Morality, Public Policy, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Upstream on Environmental Health and Justice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 9, 2011

Upstream website recently published the above sample of interviews that makes clear how situational or environmental factors are contributing to disease and inequality (Upstream blog here).

Some related Situationist videos:

Posted in Distribution, Education, Environment, Public Policy, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Unequal Situation of Seperation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 5, 2011

From Rice News (by Mike Williams):

However much people choose to live in a segregated society, the trend is a losing proposition for all.

That was the takeaway message delivered by Rice’s Michael Emerson in a presentation to the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals (HAHMP) last week. Members came to campus to hear him discuss select results from the Houston Area Survey, particularly as they relate to housing preferences among blacks, whites and Hispanics.

Emerson, the Allyn and Gladys Cline Professor of Sociology and co-director of the university’s new Institute for Urban Research (IUR), gave a brief summary of segregation in Houston based on the 2000 Census that showed distinct separation between black and white neighborhoods, with Hispanics somewhat more integrated but still dominating many neighborhoods of their own.

“People make their own decisions, their own incomes, and they’re all trying to get the best house and neighborhood they can get. How does it end up they live so segregated by race?” he asked.

Emerson said he hears two common answers. The first: “It’s not race; it’s class.”

“In fact, that’s not the answer,” he said. “There is a range of incomes within any racial group, and when we look at where people live by income level, (they’re) still segregated by race. Segregation by race is substantially greater than segregation by income.”

The second answer — “People like to live with people like themselves” — is somewhat more accurate, he said, but still not the answer. “What we have found is that in current times, many people want not to live with certain people — people they think will drive down their property values, raise crime and lower the quality of local education. They use race to decide these other factors.”

Emerson’s own neighborhood is a good example of what has befallen not only Houston but also major cities nationwide. “When I moved there, it was mixed with many racial groups, but now it’s 99 percent black and Hispanic,” said the professor, who is white. He noted that in 21st-century America, he’s “totally convinced we have to live in integrated neighborhoods, so my family and I choose to do so.”

Too few are so committed to diversity, according to the most recent Houston Area Survey.

A “factorial experiment” of African-Americans, Hispanics and whites, 1,000 each, revealed important results. Individuals were first asked if they’d buy a house that had everything they were looking for, was close to work and within their price range.

“Everybody hears that,” Emerson said. “Then there was a part that was computer-generated (with parameters that changed for each phone call): Checking on the neighborhood, you find the property values are increasing/decreasing, the crime rate is high/low, the schools are of high/low quality, and the neighborhood is X percent respondent’s own race and X-to-100 percent of another racial group.

“This is a lot to remember,” he said. “That’s exactly what we want, because we’re looking to see what people key on. For example, if I hear ‘crime rate is increasing,’ that’s what I’ll remember, and I probably won’t buy that home.”

Emerson said the results showed, as expected, sensitivity among all groups to high crime rates and low-quality schools. Blacks and whites were more sensitive to home valuation than Hispanics.

“Are there still racial-composition effects? If what people tell us is true, they should go away,” he said. Race is indeed less of an issue for Hispanics, at least in Harris County. But for whites, “you get a different story. They are highly sensitive to percent black and percent Hispanic.

“Even if you take a neighborhood that has low crime, high-quality schools and rising property values and you say it’s 30 percent black, in almost every single case, the white respondent will say, ‘Not likely to buy the home.'”

And the more educated whites are, the more likely they are to live in highly segregated neighborhoods, he said. “Again, this is not an income effect; it’s an education effect.

“What we find is that we can have diverse neighborhoods; we just can’t have whites in those diverse neighborhoods for very long because of their racial preferences.”

Similarly, he said, African-Americans in Harris County proved less interested in neighborhoods where the percent of Asian residents was on the rise.

Why does neighborhood segregation by race matter? The fourfold increase in the national gap between net worth of white and black families — demonstrated in an “incredibly detailed” study of 2,000 families followed over 24 years from 1984 to 2007 — is telling, Emerson said. The study, he said, “shows most middle-class Americans generate their wealth through their homes, and white neighborhoods, due to higher demand, rise in value more than in other neighborhoods. So it’s a big deal where people live. We must find ways to stop giving benefits along racial lines. As most Americans believe, benefits should go to people by merit, not race.”

Emerson said he and his IUR colleagues are anxious to see the results of the 2010 Census when they become available next year. He hopes to find Houston neighborhoods that have been integrated for 20 years or more. “We will attempt to understand why they are stably integrated and what the consequences are, positive and negative, for people who live there,” he said.

“People give all kinds of reasons why it’s OK to have segregation and to have inequality by class and race, never actually trying to face it,” he said. “That’s what we’ve really got to push on. Why is it OK? Who is it OK for? Who gets hurt by it?

“The fact is,” he said, “the society our children inherit will suffer and the society our grandchildren inherit will suffer even more if we don’t address racial segregation and the resulting increasing racial wealth gap.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Choice Myth, Distribution, Education, History, Ideology, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Interview with Professor Robert MacCoun on Drug Policy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2010

Here is a fascinating interview of Professor Robert MacCoun about “The Psychology and Politics of Drug Policy.”  The 36-minute interview was conducted by Nina Catalano as part of the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard Law School.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Robert MacCoun, a psychologist, joined the faculty of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Policy in 1993 and the Boalt faculty in 1999. From 1986 to 1993 he was a behavioral scientist at The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan private research institution. He has published many studies of jury decision making, alternative dispute resolution, illicit drug dealing, alternative drug laws, harm reduction, gays and lesbians in the military, media biases, and bias in the use and interpretation of research evidence. He is on the National Academy of Sciences committee on drug policy research and analysis, and in 1999 he was a visiting professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Table of Contents

00:15 — How do you see the relationship between scientific research and drug policy?

05:34 — What role does the media play in public drug policy debates?

07:50 — What’s up with the drug policy reform movement these days?

11:36 — How does our scientific understanding of addiction impact the legalization debate?

17:31 — What are your thoughts about the California ballot initiative to legalize and tax marijuana?

28:10 — What are the current trends with regard to marijuana and public opinion?

32:44 — Can you tell us how you got involved in the intersection between psychology and the law?

Duration: 35:24

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “News about the Captured Situation of Food Policy,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” “Andrew Papachristos Explains Why Criminals Obey the Law – Video,” and “The Situation of Criminality – Abstract.”

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Law, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

News about the Captured Situation of Food Policy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 16, 2010

From the New York Times:

Domino’s Pizza was hurting early last year. Domestic sales had fallen, and a survey of big pizza chain customers left the company tied for the worst tasting pies.

Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign.

Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits. “This partnership is clearly working,” Brandon Solano, the Domino’s vice president for brand innovation, said in a statement to The New York Times.

But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.

And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.

Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.

When Michelle Obama implored restaurateurs in September to help fight obesity, she cited the proliferation of cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese. “I want to challenge every restaurant to offer healthy menu options,” she told the National Restaurant Association’s annual meeting.

But in a series of confidential agreements approved by agriculture secretaries in both the Bush and Obama administrations, Dairy Management has worked with restaurants to expand their menus with cheese-laden products.

Read the entire article here.

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From the Guardian:

The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald’s and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.

In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five “responsibility deal” networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month.

The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. Working alongside them are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health. The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The food network to tackle diet and health problems includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, and Compass, the catering company famously pilloried by Jamie Oliver for its school menus of turkey twizzlers. The food deal’s sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo, owner of Walkers crisps.

The leading supermarkets are an equally strong presence, while the responsibility deal’s physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association, which is the lobby group for private gyms and personal trainers.

In early meetings, these commercial partners have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed. They have been assured by Lansley that he wants to explore voluntary not regulatory approaches, and to support them in removing obstacles. Using the pricing of food or alcohol to change consumption has been ruled out. One group was told that the health department did not want to lead, but rather hear from its members what should be done.

Read the entire article here.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Policy Situation of Obesity,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” or review the collection of posts here.

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Political Situation of the Economic Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 6, 2010

In Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, Jacob S. Hacker of Yale and Paul Pierson of Berkeley argue that America’s money-addicted and change-resistant political system is at the heart of the enormous and rapidly growing income inequality that they say is undermining America’s economic and political stability.

Posted in Book, Deep Capture, Distribution, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Psychology of Guns and Race

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 2, 2010

I have just posted my forthcoming article, Quick on the Draw: Implicit Bias and the Second Amendment, on SSRN.  The abstract appears below:

African Americans face a significant and menacing threat, but it is not the one that has preoccupied the press, pundits, and policy makers in the wake of several bigoted murders and a resurgent white supremacist movement. While hate crimes and hate groups demand continued vigilance, if we are truly to protect our minority citizens, we must shift our most urgent attention from neo-Nazis stockpiling weapons to the seemingly benign gun owners among us—our friends, family, and neighbors—who show no animus toward African Americans and who profess genuine commitments to equality.

Our commonsense narratives about racism and guns—centered on a conception of humans as autonomous, self-transparent, rational actors—are outdated and strongly contradicted by recent evidence from the mind sciences.

Advances in implicit social cognition reveal that most people carry biases against racial minorities beyond their conscious awareness. These biases affect critical behavior, including the actions of individuals performing shooting tasks. In simulations, Americans are faster and more accurate when firing on armed blacks than when firing on armed whites, and faster and more accurate in electing to hold their fire when confronting unarmed whites than when confronting unarmed blacks. Yet, studies suggest that people who carry implicit racial bias may be able to counteract its effects through training.

Given recent expansions in gun rights and gun ownership—and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of private citizens who already use firearms in self-defense each year—this is reason for serious concern. While police officers often receive substantial simulation training in the use of weapons that, in laboratory experiments, appears to help them control for implicit bias, members of the public who purchase guns are under no similar practice duties.

In addressing this grave danger, states and local governments should require ongoing training courses for all gun owners similar to other existing licensing regimes. Such an approach is unlikely to run into constitutional problems and is more politically tenable than alternative solutions.

To download a copy of the entire paper, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,’ “He’s a Banana-Eating Monkey, but I’m Not a Racist,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,”A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing,” Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.”

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Implicit Associations, Law, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Robert Reich on the Unequal Situation of the Great Recession

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 8, 2010

From Youtube:

Robert Reich on the ideas in his new book, “Aftershock.” The economic recession we are in is a structural problem rooted in an economy where wealth is as unequal as any time since in the great depression. That inequality leaves us susceptible to political extremism unless we fix it.

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In the following videos, Robert Reich discusses his book at length at Strand Bookstore.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Even monkeys know when they’re being treated unfairly,” “Robert Reich on the Situation of Health Care Reform,” Monkey Fairness,” “A Discussion about (In)Equality,” “The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality,” “The Situation of Money and Happiness,” “Nicole Stephens on ‘Choice, Social Class, and Agency’,” “The Situation of Mortgage Defaults,” “Barbara Ehrenreich – a Situationist,” “Warren on the Situation of Credit,” The Situation of the Mortgage Crisis,” and “Financial Squeeze: Bad Choices or Bad Situations?.”

Posted in Book, Conflict, Distribution, Politics, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of High Marginal Income Tax Rates and Motivation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 5, 2010

A leading rationale against progressively higher income tax rates for top-earners is that high taxes will dissuade them from working hard, being innovative, or trying to be the best at whatever they do. This rationale has seemingly prevented a return of the very high marginal income tax rates used between 1951 and 1963, when taxable personal income over $400,000 was taxed to the tune of 91% by the federal government.

Now-a-days, taxable personal income over $373,650 is taxed at 35% by the federal government (the percent will increase to 39.6% in 2011 if the Bush tax cuts are not extended or made permanent.  39.6% was used during the Clinton years.  When combining many states’ income taxes, the effective rate would–at least for those high-earners living in states with progressive state income taxes–jump to close to 50%, but still much lower than 91%).

Keep in mind, only about 1.5% of the U.S. population earns over $250,000 a year, so a marginal tax rate increase for those earning over $373,650 is not an increase that would directly impact the vast majority of Americans.  And yet such an increase is commonly viewed as harmful because it might, in the view of some, deter work ethic/innovation by those with entrepreneurial dreams and undermine a corresponding creation of jobs.

Is there any empirical or even anecdotal truth behind this rationale?  Over on Daily Kos, a writer unequivocally says no in his piece titled “No Country for Zuckerbergs.”  The piece details the extraordinary success of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old who is now worth close to $7 billion and whose company has made many of the 1,200 Facebook employees very well off.  The piece contends that innovative persons like Zuckerberg would not be dissuaded by higher taxes.  Here’s an excerpt:

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Mr. Zuckerberg, for example, in 2004 was staring at a top marginal tax rate of 35 percent, the Bush rate. It seems to me he considered paying that rate of tax would be worth the cost of earning himself almost $7 billion. Does anyone really believe he would not have founded Facebook if the tax rate was 39.6 percent, the Clinton rate? Is that extra 4.6 percent such a huge obstacle to success, that Mr. Zuckerberg would have decided Facebook and its prospects weren’t worth the effort? How about Bill Gates of Microsoft staring at a top rate of 70 percent in 1979? Or perhaps Gordon Moore of Intel starting out with a top rate of 75 percent in 1968? Why did Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard start HP in a garage in 1939 with a top rate of 79 percent and then take the company public in 1957, during which time the top rate rose to 91 percent? 91 percent!

The fact is the idea that tax rates have anything to do with business creation is a myth. Nobody who has a great idea and good prospects is going to not go for it because of tax rates. Even if the tax rate was 100 percent over annual income of $1 billion, it isn’t going to stop someone who has some moxie for going for that $1 billion a year. Lets face it, a billion dollars is a good living. Furthermore, it has almost nothing to do with job creation. American Express surveyed small business this year and found only 18 percent cared about high taxes. Only 8 percent were worried about the federal deficit. When asked “Which of the following would most incent you to hire,” 67 percent of small businesses said more consumer demand or better economic outlook. Only 11 percent said tax credit.

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An increase in the top marginal tax rate is going to have no effect whatsoever on job creation or business investment. Business success has nothing to do with income tax rates and everything to do with the old-fashioned things: passion, perseverance, inspiration, timing, moxie, and most of all luck.

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To read the rest, click here.  To read other Situationist posts on taxes, click here.

Posted in Ideology, Law, Public Policy | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

The State of Shareholder Power in the Situation of Citizens United 

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 22, 2010

Who is speaking when a corporation talks? Can a corporation represent all of its shareholders and workers in political speech? How will corporations decide who to represent?  In “Corporate Governance Redux in the Light of Citizens United,” Robert A.G. Monks will detail  the history of corporate personhood and how this case relates to corporate governance.

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Come hear Mr. Monks, shareholder activist, author, corporate governance advisor, and HLS alum, for a lunch-time discussion of the state of shareholder power after Citizens United (04/22/10).  The talk will be held in Austin West at Harvard Law School (12pm-1pm).  Lunch will be provided.

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Events, History, Law, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

De-Capturing the FDA

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2010

Harvard Law Student, Jason Iuliano, recently posted his forthcoming article, “Killing Us Sweetly: How to Take Industry Out of the FDA” (forthcoming Journal of Food Law and Policy) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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For more than a century, the Food and Drug Administration has purported to protect the public health. During that time, it has actually been placing corporate profits above consumer safety. Nowhere is this corruption more evident than in the approval of artificial sweeteners. FDA leaders’ close ties to the very industry they were supposed to be regulating present a startling picture. Ignoring warnings from both independent scientists and their own review panels, FDA decision makers let greed guide their actions. They approved carcinogenic sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose while simultaneously banning the natural herb stevia because it would cut into industry profits. This Article proposes two reforms that can end these corrupt practices and take industry out of the FDA. By strengthening conflict of interest regulations and preventing companies from participating in safety trials, the FDA will be able to gain independence from corporate control.

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To download the paper for free, click here.

To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” The Policy Situation of Obesity,” The Situation of Food: The Movie,”Our Situation Is What We Eat,” Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” Big Calories Come in Small Packages,” The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Industry-Funded Research,” The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,” The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

The American obesity paradox is explored at some length by Situationist Contributors, Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosifon, who devoted a sizeable article to the mistaken but dominant dispositionist attributions made regarding obesity and the actual situational sources of the epidemic, including industry capture of regulatory institutions. To access their article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 18, 2010

Here is an outstanding 30-minute video interview about the sources of the financial crisis.  The interview should resonate with regular readers of The Situationist and those otherwise familiar with the “deep capture” hypothesis.

From Bill Moyers Journal:

“How did Big Finance grow so powerful that its hijinks nearly brought down the global economy – and what hope is there for real reform with Washington politicians on Wall Street’s payroll? Bill Moyers talks with authors Simon Johnson and James Kwak, two of the nation’s most respected economic experts and authors of the new book 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltodown.”

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Here’s a sample of the transcript:

James Kwak: I think there are two things. There’s a narrow and a broad view of this. The narrow view is I think Rubin is actually not lying. I think it is true that Rubin did not know what the risks were. Although he certainly should have known what the risks were. And that’s because he was fully subscribed to this ideology that free markets are good. That the market will take care of itself. That, he also suffered from a lot of the blindness that corporate officers and directors have. Corporate officers and directors manage these enormous organizations with tens of hundreds of thousands of people. They have very little idea what’s going on. They’re getting their information from subordinates, who are giving them a filtered view of the world. On the other hand, when he says, no one could have foreseen this. This is what I call an intellectual cover up. And I say that because it’s very disingenuous. Over the past 20 years, these banks used their economic power and their political power to engineer an unregulated financial environment in which precisely this sort of thing could happen. And in that sense, I think that this was not an accident. It was not a natural disaster. It was not unforeseeable. It was the product of the efforts by the sector over the past 20 years to reshape Washington and to engineer an environment that would allow them to make as much money as possible. Simon talked earlier about money. And we know that the financial sector, especially Wall Street, has been, has made enormous contributions to both campaign contributions and lobbying expenses. But I think there were, there were two more potent weapons in their arsenal. One is the revolving door. So, we’ve seen an enormous number of people passing back and forth between Washington and Wall Street over the past 20 years. This is not a new phenomenon. It happens in every industry. But there are certain things that make it especially pernicious when it comes to finance. One is that, one is a question of incentives. So, compared to other industries, Wall Street can simply offer enormous amounts of money. I’m not saying that everyone did that. I’m not saying that even the majority of people did that. But that is, that is very clear.

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

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You can learn more about Wall Street reform and Simon Johnson and James Kwak here.

The most basic prediction of the “deep capture” hypothesis is that there will be a competition over the situation (including the way we think) to influence the behavior of individuals and institutions and that those individuals, groups, entities, or institutions that are most powerful will win that competition. The deep capture hypothesis was described in more detail in a series of posts.

  • Part I of that series explained that the “deep capture” story is analogous to the (shallow) capture story told by economists (such as Nobel laureate George Stigler) and public choice theorists for decades regarding the competition over prototypical regulatory institutions.
  • Part II looked to history (specifically, Galileo’s recantation) for another analogy to the process that we claim is widespread today — the deep capture of how we understand ourselves.
  • Part III picked up on both of those themes and explains that Stigler’s “capture” story has implications far broader and deeper than he or others realized.
  • Part IV examined the relative power (measured as the ability to influence situation) of large commercial interests today, much like the power of the Catholic Church in Galileo’s day.
  • Part V described other parallels between the Catholic Church and geocentrism, on one hand, and modern corporate interests and dispositionism, on the other.
  • Part VI laid out the “deep capture hypothesis” a bit more and began loosely testing it by examining the role that it may have played in the “deregulatory” movement.
  • Part VII provided some illustrative examples of how atypical “regulators,” from courts to hard-hitting news networks, reflect and contribute to deep capture.
  • Part VIII contrasted different cultures for evidence of commercial interests in promoting dispositionism.
  • Part IX described the strategy of employing third-party messengers.
  • Part X summarized some of the evidence of how pro-commercial interests invested to shape legal theory and law.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Century of Dipositionism – Part I,” “Robert Reich on the Situation of Health Care Reform,” “Conference on the Free Market Mindset,” “Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” “Tushnet on Teles and The Situation of Ideas – Abstract,” “Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” “The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Reclaiming Corporate Law in a New Gilded Age – Abstract,” The Illusion of Wall Street Reform,” Industry-Funded Research,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” “The Situation of Talk Radio,” “The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” “The Situation of University Research,” “Captured Science.”

Posted in Book, Deep Capture, Ideology, Law, Public Policy, Public Relations, Video | 3 Comments »

Situationism in Policy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 10, 2010

Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson was recently interviewed by Big Think.  Here is his answer to the following question: “How have policy makers responded to your research?”

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

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You can view more at “Harvard Law Spotlights Situationism” and  “Jon Hanson on Situationism and Dispositionism,” which contains other related Situationist links.

Posted in Law, Legal Theory, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Addictive Situation of Fatty Food

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 30, 2010

Sarah Klein wrote an article for CNN, titled “Fatty foods may cause cocaine-like addiction,” discussing recent research co-authored by Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute.  Here are a few excerpts.

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In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Kenny and his co-author studied three groups of lab rats for 40 days. One of the groups was fed regular rat food. A second was fed bacon, sausage, cheesecake, frosting, and other fattening, high-calorie foods–but only for one hour each day. The third group was allowed to pig out on the unhealthy foods for up to 23 hours a day.

Not surprisingly, the rats that gorged themselves on the human food quickly became obese. But their brains also changed. By monitoring implanted brain electrodes, the researchers found that the rats in the third group gradually developed a tolerance to the pleasure the food gave them and had to eat more to experience a high.

They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain. When the researchers applied an electric shock to the rats’ feet in the presence of the food, the rats in the first two groups were frightened away from eating. But the obese rats were not. “Their attention was solely focused on consuming food,” says Kenny.

In previous studies, rats have exhibited similar brain changes when given unlimited access to cocaine or heroin. And rats have similarly ignored punishment to continue consuming cocaine, the researchers note.

The fact that junk food could provoke this response isn’t entirely surprising, says Dr.Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., the chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York.

“We make our food very similar to cocaine now,” he says.

Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive.

According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. “We purify our food,” he says. “Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we’re eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup.”

The ingredients in purified modern food cause people to “eat unconsciously and unnecessarily,” and will also prompt an animal to “eat like a drug abuser [uses drugs],” says Wang.

The neurotransmitter dopamine appears to be responsible for the behavior of the overeating rats, according to the study. Dopamine is involved in the brain’s pleasure (or reward) centers, and it also plays a role in reinforcing behavior. “It tells the brain something has happened and you should learn from what just happened,” says Kenny.

Overeating caused the levels of a certain dopamine receptor in the brains of the obese rats to drop, the study found. In humans, low levels of the same receptors have been associated with drug addiction and obesity, and may be genetic, Kenny says.

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To read the entire article, click here.

To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Policy Situation of Obesity,” The Situation of Snacking,” Big Calories Come in Small Packages,”The Situation of Eating – Part II,” The Situation of Eating,” “The Situation of the Dreaded ‘Freshman 15′,” “Our Situation Is What We Eat,” “Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,” The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,”The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

The American obesity paradox is explored at some length by Situationist Contributors, Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosifon, who devoted a sizeable article to the mistaken but dominant dispositionist attributions made regarding obesity and the actual situational sources of the epidemic. To access their article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

The Situation of Bottled Water

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 26, 2010

From the Story of Stuff: The Story of Bottled Water, releasing March 22, 2010, employs the Story of Stuff style to tell the story of manufactured demand—how you get Americans to buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week when it already flows from the tap. Over five minutes, the film explores the bottled water industrys attacks on tap water and its use of seductive, environmental-themed advertising to cover up the mountains of plastic waste it produces. The film concludes with a call to take back the tap, not only by making a personal commitment to avoid bottled water, but by supporting investments in clean, available tap water for all.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see ““Flow” and the Situation of Water,” and the links that posts contains.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Life, Marketing, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“Flow” and the Situation of Water

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2010

From Wikipedia: Flow: For Love of Water is a 2008 documentary film by Irena Salina. The film concentrates on the big business of privatization of water infrastructure which prioritizes profits over the availability of clean water for people and the environment. Major businesses depicted in the film are Nestle, The Coca-Cola Company, Suez, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The first video below is the trailer.  You can watch the movie in 9 (roughly 10-minute) sections after the jump.

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Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Food and Drug Law, Geography, Life, Politics, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Hanson & Kysar To Deliver the 2010 Monsanto Lecture

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 18, 2010

Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson and Yale Law Professor Doug Kysar are co-delivering the 2010 Monsanto Lecture on Tort Law and Jurisprudence tomorrow at Valparaiso University School of Law.  Their lecture is titled “Abnormally Dangerous: Inequality Dissonance and the Making of Tort Law.”  Here’s the abstract.

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At the conceptual heart of tort law rests a choice between negligence and strict liability as the default standard of care for unintentional wrongs. The prevailing American view holds that strict liability should be reserved for rare cases in which an activity poses significant hazards even after a defendant has taken all reasonable care. The types of explanations for that preference have shifted over time from a classical liberal rationale to an economic efficiency rationale.  Neither of those explanations is fully persuasive on its own terms, as a careful examination of leading cases makes clear. So what might explain why courts sometimes prefer a negligence standard, when their logic could as easily have led them to a strict liability alternative?

There is growing evidence from the mind sciences that the reasons people give for their behavior and decisions are rarely causal and are often confabulatory. The field of social cognition, for instance, has demonstrated through countless experiments that “implicit attitudes” and “implicit motives,” which lie outside the purview of introspection, play a far more significant role in shaping our attitudes, ideologies, and behavior than most of us realize—or care to acknowledge. Among the most studied and influential implicit motives are the “cognitive closure” motive and the “inequality rationalization” motive.

Focusing primarily on Judge Posner’s famous and influential opinion in Indiana Harbor Belt R.R. Co. v. American Cyanamid Co., we examine whether an understanding of those implicit processes might help explain why he held that the activity of transporting highly toxic and flammable chemicals through residential neighborhoods was not abnormally dangerous and thus not subject to strict liability (and why, more generally, negligence has so thoroughly dominated strict liability as the default standard of care).  We investigate further whether such implicit dynamics left unexamined might themselves be abnormally dangerous.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Taking Behavioralism Seriously (Part I) – Abstract and Top Ten List,” “Tort Law’s Distributional Injustice,” The Cultural Situation of Tort Law,” Situationist Torts – Abstract,” Robin Hood Motives,” “The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” and “The Situation of Inequality – Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Events, Implicit Associations, Law, Legal Theory, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of the Health Care Debate

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 14, 2010

A Harvard Law student wrote a worthwhile post on Law & Mind a few weeks ago about some of the dynamics behind the health care debate.  Here is an excerpt.

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How should an institution inspire collective action?  What’s the best strategy?  The conventional wisdom is that to solve a collective problem, the institution should reward contributors and punish free-riders.  To prevent people from littering, fine them; to induce people to donate to charity, reward them; to move people to invent, lure them with intellectual property . . . .  The implicit reasoning is that the typical human agent is a rational wealth-optimizer who won’t contribute to a public good unless he or she is incentivized to do.  Yet, . . . the rational actor model isn’t an accurate depiction of human nature.  Just as the average person doesn’t make the “rational choice” in an ultimatum bargain, the average person doesn’t jump to contribute to a public good on account of a mere carrot or stick.  The conventional wisdom—that the optimal solution for the collective action dilemma is incentive-based—is a gross oversimplification; the almighty incentive is only one aspect of a rich, complex puzzle.  Nonetheless, the conventional solution is unquestioned in our popular discourse regarding collective action.

Enter [Situationist Contributor] Professor Dan M. Kahan of Yale Law SchoolAs he’s done for quite a while, Professor Kahan challenges the conventional wisdom.  In the “The Logic of Reciprocity: Trust, Collective Action, and Law,” Professor Kahan argues that the traditional solution for a collective problem is often counter-productive, and offers an alternative theory that is grounded in an ecologically valid appraisal of the human animal.

Before exploring Professor Kahan’s theory, though, consider a recent example of the conventional wisdom’s influence on public discourse from an article in Slate entitled, “The Senator’s Dilemma,” published last week.  There, Christopher Beam argues that the Democratic Party’s strategic stance with respect to health care reform can be viewed as a classic collective action problem.  Although Beam’s characterization of the problem is surely correct, his policy prescription is conventional.

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To read the rest of the post click here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, “Rebecca Onie: Doing Something about the Situation of Medical Care,”  “How Ted Kennedy’s Passing Influences ‘Obamacare’,” The Situation of Racial Health Disparities,” “The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers,” “The Racial Situation of Pain Relief,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” and “Infant Death Rates in Mississippi.”  To read other Situationist posts discussing Dan Kahan’s work, click here.

Posted in Conflict, Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Value-Affirmation, and the Situation of Climate Change Beliefs

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 26, 2010

On NPR’s All Things Considered, Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan and Donald Braman were interviewed this week by Christopher Joyce regarding their important work on cultural cognition.  Here is an excerpt.

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Over the past few months, polls show that fewer Americans say they believe humans are making the planet dangerously warmer, and that is despite a raft of scientific reports that say otherwise. And that puzzles many climate scientists, but not social scientists.

As NPR’s Christopher Joyce reports, some of their research suggests that when people encounter new information, facts may not be as important as beliefs.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The divide between climate believers and disbelievers can be as wide as a West Virginia valley, and that’s where two of them squared off recently at a public debate on West Virginia Public Radio.

Coal company president Don Blankenship is a doubter.

Mr. DON BLANKENSHIP (CEO, Massey Energy Company): It’s a hoax because clearly anyone that says that they know what the temperature of the earth is going to be in 2020 or 2030 needs to be put in an asylum because they don’t.

JOYCE: On the other side, environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr.

Mr. ROBERT KENNEDY JR. (Environmentalist): Ninety-eight percent of the research, climatologists in the world say that global warming is real, that its impacts are going to be catastrophic. There are 2 percent who disagree with that. I have a choice of believing the 98 percent or the 2 percent.

JOYCE: For social scientist and lawyer Don Braman, it’s not surprising that two people can disagree so strongly over science. Braman is on the faculty at George Washington University and a part of a research group called Cultural Cognition.

Professor DON BRAMAN (George Washington University Law School/The Cultural Cognition Project): People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook, their worldview.

JOYCE: Braman’s group has conducted several experiments to back that up. First, they ask people to describe their cultural beliefs. Some embrace new technology, authority and free enterprise – the so-called individualistic group. Others are suspicious of authority, or of commerce and industry. Braman calls them communitarians.

In one experiment, Braman then queried his subjects about something unfamiliar: nanotechnology, new research into tiny, molecule-sized objects that could lead to novel products.

Prof. BRAMAN: These two groups start to polarize as soon as you start to describe some of the potential benefits and harms.

JOYCE: The individualists tended to like nanotechnology; the communitarians generally viewed it as dangerous – all based on the same information.

Prof. BRAMAN: It doesn’t matter whether you show them negative or positive information, they reject the information that is contrary to what they would like to believe, and they glom on to the positive information.

JOYCE: So what’s going on here?

Professor DAN KAHAN (Yale University Law School/The Cultural Cognition Project): Basically, the reason that people react in a close-minded way to information is that the implications of it threaten their values.

JOYCE: That’s Dan Kahan, a law professor at Yale University and a member of Cultural Cognition. He says people test new information against their preexisting view of how the world should work.

Prof. KAHAN: If the implication, the outcome, can affirm your values, you think about it in a much more open-minded way.

JOYCE: And if the information doesn’t, you tend to reject it.

In another experiment, people read a United Nations’ study about the dangers of global warming. Then the researchers said, okay, the solution is to regulate pollution from industry. Many in the individualistic group then rejected the climate science. But when more nuclear power was offered as the solution…

Prof. BRAMAN: They said, you know, it turns out global warming is a serious problem.

JOYCE: And for the communitarians, climate danger seemed less serious if the only solution was more nuclear power.

Then there’s the Messenger Effect. In an experiment dealing with the dangers versus benefits of a vaccine, the scientific information came from several people. They ranged from a rumpled and bearded expert to a crisply business-like one. And people tended to believe the message that came from the person they considered to be more like them – which brings us back to climate.

Prof. BRAMAN: If you have people who are skeptical of the data on climate change, you can bet that Al Gore is not going to convince them at this point.

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You can listen to, or read the rest of, the interview here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts related to cultural cognition, see The Situation of Scientific Consensus,” Dan Kahan on the Situation of Risk Perceptions,” Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk.” For still more  Situationist posts discussing cultural cognition, click here.

For more Situationst posts on perceptions of climate change, see Global Climate Change and The Situation of Denial,” “Al Gore – The Situationist,” The Situation of Climate Change,” “Getting a Grip on Climate Change,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Denial,” The Need for a Situationist Morality,” “The Heat is On,” and “Captured Science.”

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Ideology, Legal Theory, Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

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