The Secret to Danish Happiness: Vulnerable Family Time

A recent article from the Greater Good Science Center looked at research analyzing one of the main sources behind the high levels of happiness among the Danes: hygge. Hygge, the article explains,

is essentially drama-free togetherness time…Try to imagine going to a drama-free family gathering. There are no divisive discussions about politics, family issues, or Aunt Jenny’s dysfunctional kids. No snide comments, complaining, or heavy negativity. Everyone helps out, so that not one person gets stuck doing all the work. No one brags, attacks anyone, or competes with another. It is a light-hearted, balanced interaction that is focused on enjoying the moment, the food, and the company. In short, a shelter from the outside world.

The article also points out that high levels of inequality lead to unhappiness and that, according to one study, “rich Americans and Danes were equally happy,” but “low-income Danes were much, much happier than their American counterparts.” This could be interpreted as support for Danish models of social democracy. However, it is worth pointing out that family breakdown plays a major role in the lack of economic mobility among lower-income Americans, while wealth overall can have little effect.

Focusing on family and social ties is truly the key to happiness.

Reason, Revelation, and the Perils of One-Way Streets

781 - Faith and ReasonNeal Rappleye writes:

There is a growing tendency among Latter-day Saint academics to talk about “bracketing” faith out of scholarship (although not everyone uses that term). While I grant that this method has certain benefits as a provisional mental or intellectual exercise, and I have gained some valuable insights both from works where such “bracketing” has been done and from engaging such exercises myself, I fear there are also corrosive effects that are not often recognized by its practitioners.

He goes on to outline two of these perils, and the post is definitely interesting and worth your time. But here’s the observation that struck me as the most interesting:

The second byproduct is that it creates what I call a “One Way Street,” between reason and revelation. Because faith is “bracketed,” i.e., blocked off from traveling with our reason into the realm of scholarship, faith and revelation have no influence on the conclusions reached. But these conclusions are still imported back into the practitioner’s faith. That is, they reshape and reform their faith in light of conclusions reached without faith.

I would add just one additional consideration. There is an underlying assumption that bracketing faith leads in some sense to an objective and/or neutral viewpoint. In principle, there is validity to this. If you’re going to have a Muslim, a Mormon, a Jew, a Catholic, and an Atheist all provide mutually accessible analyses, then a great deal of bracketing is necessary. However, in practice the objectivity obtained via bracketing is anything but. Instead of shooting for a minimalist and open-ended neutral territory, bracketing is susceptible to becoming little more than a thin veil for a suite of ideological assumptions that are just as robust as those underlying any faith tradition.

The secularism of Western intellectuals is emphatically not a mere Blank Slate. It is, instead, a collection of metaphysical commitments (e.g. materialist reductionism, scientism) paired with stark political postures (always left-leaning.) This means that bracketing is not only susceptible to the theoretical flaw Rappleye expounds, but in practice is even more susceptible to far more serious pitfalls.

This doesn’t mean there is no place for bracketing. A tolerant, pluralist society must leave room for bracketing not only within academia but in broader social conversation. But this should be genuine bracketing. Even if it is impossible to hit the target perfectly, we should still be aiming at a truly neutral standpoint.

Shkreli, Price Hikes, and Capitalism (Act 2)

780 - Smarm Cat

779 - Perfect CapitalistBack in September the Internet was momentarily preoccupied by news that Turing Pharmaceuticals (run by Martin Shkreli) had purchased a company which made the generic drug Daraprim. Darapim “is used to fight toxoplasmosis, an infection to which unborn babies, AIDS patients, and certain cancer patients are vulnerable,” wrote Martin Tillier at Darapim had been sold for less than $15 / pill, but Shkreli raised the price by more than 5,000% to $750 a pill. This–along with the news that VW had been faking emissions tests–made it “a bad week for capitalism.”

Lots of folks used this as an object lesson in why capitalism is bad, and so the torrent of memes began. I’ve collected a few in this post to give you a sample.

778 - Capitalism and Sociopaths

But then the story got a little bit more interesting. As the Daily Banter so elegantly phrased it: Free Market Capitalist Martin Shkreli Gets Screwed By Free Market Capitalism.

You see, Darapim is not protected by any patents because it is such an old drug. If it was protected by patents, then Shkreli could charge whatever he wanted without fear of immediate competition, but that wouldn’t be the free market at work. That would be government regulation at work, since government regulation is the thing that would be preventing competitors from selling the drug, too. So Darapim was only being manufactured by one company (the one that Shrkeli bought), but there was nothing to prevent other companies from entering the market.

When Darapim was priced at $13.50, no one bothered to compete. This is primarily because setting up a new drug manufacturing line is expensive and–although Darapim is a life-saving drug for the folks who need it–not many folks need it. But when Shrkeli hiked the price to $750, it created plenty of room for competitors to offer their own products.

And now one has. San Diego-based Imprimis Pharmaceuticals Inc. has stepped in to offer Darapim from their website for less than $1/pill. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Or, in the words of finance professor Ramon P. DeGennaro, “Nothing protects consumers better than competition.”

Couple of notes for those interested in the economics, by the way. This isn’t just a textbook econ 101 case of market entry. If nobody wanted to compete at $13.50/pill, then any company who entered after Shkreli raised the price to $750 would have offered their competing product at a price lower then $750, but higher than $13.50. If they could have made a profit at less than $13.50, they would likely have done so already. But Imprimis is selling Darapim for less than $1/pill. Why?

The answer is PR. Imprimis will probably lose money on every pill they sell, but–because Darapim is not a product that is going to get popular–they also already know the maximum amount they stand to lose, and they see that as an expenditure for a brilliant marketing campaign. Think of all the goodwill and publicity that Imprimis gets from standing up as the good guy to oppose Shkreli’s creepiness and greed. So this is about competition, but it’s about competition in a dynamic, interactive system with many, many products and services rather than just a simple case of competition in a single market with a single product.


Fatherless Child: “Everybody Deserves a Voice.”

782 - Millie Fontana

Millie Fontana is an atheist raised by lesbian parents who–with the support of her mothers and also her biological father–has been speaking out against same-sex marriage. She stands with Christians (as she puts it) because only Christians are advocating for children in contemporary debates surrounding sexual ethics and law. Here she is, speaking with Ryan T. Anderson, at a conference in Australia. I think the video is well worth watching. (As usual, folks on email will have to visit the site to see the embedded video. Sorry.)


She makes a number of very good points, but here is one that I think was the most interesting. When asked by one of her mothers whether or not she would have felt more stable and secure if her mothers had been allowed to get legally married, Fontana replied with a question of her own: “How would psychologists have treated me for my underlying issues of fatherlessness if to acknowledge fatherlessness was a form of discrimination?”


Now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land in the United States, there’s a sense in which you might say that this is a moot point. Legally you could be right, although I’m not certain. Some once-controversial issues become widely accepted, such as interracial marriage. Others, however, like abortion remain cultural sticking points for decades with no end in sight. It’s too early to tell which of these categories same-sex marriage will fall into, but there is certainly precedent for the possibility that Obergefell was not the last word any more than Roe has been. In any case, however, another point that Fontana made is certainly worth considering:

Until we as a society have a discussion that . . . includes everybody who has been raised fatherless or motherless, until this discussion stops shaming children in my position from coming forward, we should not be pushing marriage through. I am not going to stand here and be silenced by people telling me what was acceptable for me to feel, that I’m a bad person for wanting a father, that maybe I didn’t love my mothers enough because I wanted a father. It’s bull. And I won’t support it.

Everybody deserves a voice.

Balancing the Evidence on Family Structure

Economist Steven Horwitz has a recent post that is well-balanced in its approach to the social science on family structure. Responding specifically to W. Bradford Wilcox’s latest National Review piece, Horwitz brings up some excellent points that should be considered:

  • “[T]here are differences among single-parent households formed through: 1) the choice to have and raise a child by oneself; 2) death of a spouse; and 3) divorce. Each of these presents a different set of circumstances and tradeoffs that we might wish to consider when we think about the role of family structure.”
  • “The empirical evidence under discussion has to be understood with an “all else equal” condition. A healthy marriage will indeed produce better outcomes than, say, single motherhood. But there is equally strong social scientific evidence about the harm done to children who are raised in high-conflict households. Those children may well be better off if their parents get divorced and they are raised in two single-parent households with less conflict.”
  • “[T]o say that married parents create “better” outcomes for kids does not mean that other family forms don’t produce “acceptable” outcomes for kids. It’s not as if every child raised by a single mother, whether through divorce, widowhood, or simply not marrying the father, is condemned to poverty or a life of crime. Averages are averages.”
  • [P]arents matter too…That parents matter too is most obvious with divorce, where leaving a bad marriage may be extremely valuable for mom and/or dad, even if it leads to worse outcomes for the kids. The evidence from Stevenson and Wolfers that no-fault divorce has led to a decline in intimate partner violence as well as suicides of married women makes the importance of this point clear. We can acknowledge that higher divorce rates have not been good for kids, but we can’t do single-entry moral bookkeeping. We have to include the effects of divorce on the married couple, because adults matter too.”

Definitely worth chewing on.

The Capitalist Conscience

The above graph comes from the World Values Survey Database. As you can see, the vertical line moves from traditional values (religion, ritual, hierarchy, authority) to secular values, while the horizontal line moves from survival values (economic and physical security) to those of self-expression. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt provides this helpful explanation:

The best way to understand the graph is to consider that nearly all societies used to be agricultural societies. Pre-industrial farming cultures generally have traditional and survival values (they cluster in the bottom left quadrant of the map). Life is hard and unpredictable, so you should do your duty, pray to the gods, and cling to your extended family for protection.

But as countries industrialize and people leave the land and enter factories, wealth rises and values shift.  Interestingly, countries don’t just move diagonally, from the poor quadrant (currently occupied by the Islamic and African nations) to the rich quadrant (anchored by Scandinavia, in the upper right). Rather, there is a two-step process. First, countries move upward, from traditional/survival values to secular/survival values. When money comes from fitting yourself into the routines of factory production, there’s little time or room for religious ritual. People express materialistic values in this quadrant—they want money, not just for security, but for the social prestige it can buy.

…Societies [then] transition to more service-based jobs, which require (and foster) very different skills and values compared to factory jobs. Also, as societies get wealthier, life generally gets safer, not just due to reductions in disease, starvation, and vulnerability to natural disasters, but also due to reductions in political brutalization. People get rights. The net effect of rising security is to transform people’s values in ways that the modern political left should love.

Haidt’s conclusion? “Capitalism changes conscience.”

Strong Families, Prosperous States

A brand new AEI study looks at the connection between marriage and family structure and the performance of state economies. The researchers found:

  • Higher levels of marriage, and especially higher levels of married-parent families, are strongly associated with more economic growth, more economic mobility, less child poverty, and higher median family income at the state level in the United States.
  • The share of parents in a state who are married is one of the top predictors of the economic outcomes studied in this report. In fact, this family factor is generally a stronger predictor of economic mobility, child poverty, and median family income in the American states than are the educational, racial, and age compositions of the states.
  • The state-level link between marriage and economic growth is stronger for younger adults (ages 25–35) than for older adults (36–59), suggesting that marriage plays a particularly important role in fostering a positive labor market orientation among young men.
  • Violent crime is much less common in states with larger shares of families headed by married parents, even after controlling for a range of socio-demographic factors at the state level.

Important stuff. Check it out.


About That Star Wars Racism Fiasco That Isn’t

You may have heard about a controversial new hashtag: #BoycottStarWarsVII. In case you haven’t, the Daily Show has a pretty hilarious report on it:

The problem is that the alleged movement to boycott Star Wars VII doesn’t actually exist. And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, National Review has a pretty funny article explaining the alleged movements non-existence: The Twitterverse Strikes Back against the Phantom Menace of Anti–Star Wars Racists!

You might be wondering, of course, if this thing doesn’t really exist, then why are people sharing it? Why are we hearing so much about a controversy that doesn’t exist?

Short version: it’s a sign of the End Times. We’ve got two polar opposite tribes coexisting in the United States, and they have so little actual interaction that they believe the darnedest (and silliest) things about each other. For example, a perfect mirror opposite to the whole #BoycottStarWarsVII is the equally non-existent #PissForEquality movement. Judging by disreputable right-wing sites like InfoWars, a bunch of Internet trolls suckered mushy-brained liberals into wetting themselves (literally) in the name of gender equality. There were all kinds of apparent photographic evidence to bolster the claims, and for a while you couldn’t swing a kitten meme on Facebook without running into a conservative guffawing at those dumb liberals who will do anything in the name of social justice. Except, as abundant follow-up reporting soon showed, all those pics of women wetting themselves in the name of equality were traced back to mysteriously brand new Twitter accounts with no followers. In other words: they were fakes. Thus you had articles like this one from Vice stating quite plainly: “none of it was real.”

Well, none of the #BoycottStarWarsVII thing is real either.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised if you can find one or two real racists buried in there somewhere, but not enough to count for anything. Here’s how Larry Correia–best-selling author and the originator of the notorious Sad Puppies movement–described it on Facebook:

So at the end of the day, 99.999999% of the “boycott” hashtag is dumb asses posting about how they once saw the Loch Ness Monster too, a few dudes from 4 Chan who are having a laugh, and four actual racists, all of whom are named Jimbo.

So you might be wondering: if there is literally nothing to this, then where did it come from? I will explain, but you’ll have to be patient enough to endure some nerd-talk here.

Here’s the thing: the Imperial stormtroopers of the original films are shown in the prequels to have originated from an army of clones. That’s why the second movie was called Attack of the Clones. Because it had a lot of clones in it. These soldiers, who wore white combat armor very similar to the later stormtroopers, were called (imaginatively) clone troopers, and they were all carbon copies of one man: Jango Fett.

784 - Jango Fett

That’s actor Temuera Morrison, by the way. He’s a New Zealander with Māori, Scottish, and Irish ancestry. That movie showed what all the clone troopers looked like: lots and lots of copies of Jango Fett. Lots of people assumed that, since the clone army was clearly the origin of the Imperial stormtroopers, that this meant the Imperial stormtroopers were still populated entirely by Jango Fett clones.

783 - Lots of Jango Fetts

So, when the first teaser for Star Wars VII came out and showed John Boyega in stormtrooper armor, people were confused. because they thought that all stormtroopers looked like Jango Fett under the helmets. (Since they were his clones, after all.)

785 - John Boyega Stormtrooper

It turns out the confusion stemmed from ignorance, however. Existing Star Wars lore says that–while the white-armored soldiers from the prequels were all clones–by the time we get to the stormtroopers of the original movies (you know, the real Star Wars) things had changed.

By the time the Galactic Civil War began in earnest, Jango Fett’s clones were heavily supplanted by clones based on a variety of templates . . . followed shortly after by enlisted Humans. Thus, the Fett clones were ironically reduced to a minority status after years of virtually filling the stormtrooper ranks in its entirety. According to a stormtrooper’s entry log in the 501st Journal, none of the Fett clones were ever truly able to come to terms with serving alongside recruits and different clones, all of whom were disdainfully dubbed as the “new guys.” (Wookiepedia)

Even if you throw out all that lore, the confusion is still not very well-grounded. Episode VII takes place a few decades after Return of the Jedi which in turn took place a few decades after Attack of the Clones, so there isn’t any solid reason to expect all the stormtroopers to still be look like Jango Fett. At this point, any given stormtrooper could look like absolutely anybody, and so why not look like John Boyega? There’s no reason not to.

It’s worth pointing one more thing out about that first trailer, by the way. The thing that really upset most Star Wars fans was the unorthodox triple-bladed lightsaber. I was one of them: Force Awakens Trailer and Lightsaber Crossguards: I am Dissappoint.

2014-11-28 Useless Lightsaber Crossguard - ZOOMED

And keep in mind, it’s not like John Boyega was the first prominent Black character in Star Wars. We had Billy Dee Williams playing Lando Calrissian starting in The Empire Strike’s Back (1980) and Samuel L. Jackson playing Mace Windu in the prequels (1999). Calrissian was one of the heroes of the first trilogy (he led the fighter attack on the second Death Star) and Mace Windu was the most powerful Jedi in the prequels (the only Jedi more powerful was Yoda: neither white nor human).  It doesn’t seem at all reasonable to believe that large numbers of Star Wars fans who loved Williams as Calrissian and Jackson as Windu suddenly flipped out when they learned Boyega was going to be a lead in the new trilogy.

So now you know where this story originated. And here’s my last observation. It’s really sad to live in a country where not only are we divided by politics as deeply as we are, but that each side is so willing–so eager–to believe the worst about the other. That’s why we get nonsense like the #PissForEquality hoax and the #BoycottStarWarsVII hoax. Because we just want to think the worst of each other, and we want to be validated in our superiority.

And that’s sad.


The Future of Children: Marriage & Child Wellbeing Revisited

Image result for future of childrenReaders of Difficult Run likely know that family structure and child well-being is a subject that I have spent quite a bit of time studying and reporting. It is this reason that I was excited to see this very subject revisited by the Princeton-Brookings collaboration The Future of Children in their October 2015 issue. According to the introduction article, this issue has a number of interesting points:

  • While many of marriage’s mechanisms “could be bolstered by public programs that substitute for parental resources—greater cash assistance, more generous health insurance, better housing, more help for caregivers, etc.—studies of child wellbeing that attempt to control for the indirect effects of these mechanisms typically find that a direct positive association remains between child wellbeing and marriage, strongly suggesting that marriage is more than the sum of these particular parts. Thus…the advantages of marriage for children are likely to be hard to replicate through policy interventions other than those that bolster marriage itself” (pg. 6).
  • “Cohabitation…is associated with several factors that have the potential to reduce children’s wellbeing, including lower levels of parental education and fewer legal protections. Most importantly, cohabitation is often a marker of family instability, which is strongly associated with poorer outcomes for children. Children born to cohabiting parents see their parents break up more often than do children born to married parents; in this way, being born into a cohabiting parent family sets the stage for later instability. On the other hand, stable cohabiting families with two biological parents seem to offer many of the same health, cognitive, and behavioral benefits that stable married biological parent families provide” (pg. 6).
  • Social science evidence indicates that “same-sex couples are as good at parenting as their different-sex counterparts. Any differences in the wellbeing of children raised in same-sex and different-sex families can be explained not by their parents’ gender composition but by the fact that children being raised by same-sex couples have, on average, experienced more family instability, because most children being raised by same-sex couples were born to heterosexual parents, one of whom is now in a same-sex relationship” (pg. 6-7).
  • “Race continues to be associated with economic disadvantage, and thus as economic factors have become more relevant to marriage and marital stability, the racial gap in marriage has grown” (pg. 7).
  • Causes of the retreat of marriage “include growing individualism and the waning of a family-oriented ethos, the rise of a “capstone” model of marriage, and the decline of civil society. The authors argue that these cultural and civic trends have been especially consequential for poor and working-class American families. Yet if we take into account cultural factors like adolescent attitudes toward single parenthood and the structure of the family in which they grew up, the authors find, the class divide in nonmarital childbearing among U.S. young women is reduced by about one-fifth” (pg. 7).

Check it out.