Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues



The Gap Between Spending and Results

This subject was discussed on December 23, 2013.

One of the key “talking points” used in the debate over the Affordable Care Act has been the fact that the U.S. spends substantially more than virtually any of our international “peers,” but has lagged those same peers in terms of health outcomes.  Similarly, the U.S. education system spends more per pupil than almost any other country, yet our students perform poorly on tests of reading, math and science skills. We could probably identify many similar situations…high spending, low outcomes…if we tried.

What is driving this enormous gap between financial commitment and results? To what degree does it have to do with:

  1. The role of Federal and local governments in education and, increasingly, in health care?
  2. Our expectations that, given our success of the last 50 years, we are somehow “entitled” to continued success?
  3. The changing roles and attitudes of our people, whether parents, children, healthy or infirm?
  4. In short, is this more a problem with the “system”…teachers, doctors, health care companies and administration…or with our “culture”?

The Senate Filibuster Rule

This topic was discussed on December 2, 2013.

The Democrat-controlled Senate has finally taken what both sides had previously referred to as the “nuclear option”…amending Senate procedural rules to prohibit filibusters of certain Presidential appointments. We should examine the role of the “filibuster rule” in the context of the rest of our governance:

  • Is it true that requiring a supermajority is part of the essential difference between the House and the Senate? (Others being longer terms and differences in the matters each house is empowered to consider.)
  • Are the recent Republican efforts to block Obama Administration appointees “beyond the pale,” effectively requiring the Democrats to make the change, or does it reflect polarization on both sides (with the Administration proposing candidates with more “extreme” (or “reliable”) views?
  • This is particularly important for lifetime appointments of Federal judges…should that policy be revisited?

Here are two recent Washington Post Op-Ed pieces on the subject:

20131124 Bipartisan Approval Lends a Sense of Balance to the Judiciary (WP)

20131125 A Nuclear End to Denial (WP)

Is America a “Classless” Society?

This topic was discussed on November 25, 2013.

No we’re not going to discuss “boorish” behavior! There has been widespread focus (and concern) about the growing disparity between various groups of Americans in terms of race, education, economic resources, geography, family structure, etc. Which raises the question: “Does American society have a “class” system analogous to the feudal systems of centuries past?”  In addressing the question, we may want to grapple with the following general and specific questions:

  • What do we really mean by a “class” system? Once defined, is it inherently bad, or undesirable, or is it simple “to be expected?”
  • How important is the disparity of income (and, probably more importantly, “well-being” or “opportunity”)?
  • Are “classes” at a point in time a significant issue if there is substantial mobility between classes (however defined) over time (years, decades, generations)? What does the data about Americans’ income (or education or wealth) mobility indicate?
  • How does one identify a “balanced” disparity of income? Absolute equality leans more heavily toward socialism, which may dampen individuals’ enthusiasm for creating, innovating and trying to excel. Enormous disparity may destabilize the society and lead to revolution (“let them eat cake”). But where in between?

During the meeting, we discussed several studies on social and economic mobility. For those that are interested, here are some links to articles or studies on the subject:

A US Treasury report on income mobility:  20071113 Income Mobility in the US 1995-2005 (US Treasury Report)

A July 2012 Pew Charitable Trust report on mobility:  20120700 Pursuing the American Dream (Pew Charitable Trust)

A response to the Pew report published in American Spectator:  20131125 The Mirage of Income Mobility (Am. Spectator)


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