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I once saw Joel Garreau give a talk in which he promised (promised!) that brick-and-mortar stores would soon be gone (gone!) because everybody (everybody!) would be doing all their shopping online. Big boxes, especially, were dinosaurs (dinosaurs!), he claimed. And one of the major challenges facing urbanists would be what to do with the empty shell of the discarded consumer landscape after all of the consumers had moved to Internet. Garreau told his rapt audience that this process of creative destruction would take less than a decade.*

That was eleven years ago. And Davis’s gigantic new Target, a palace to hyper-modern consumer culture, is slated to open in less than a month.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve long had doubts about the idea that online education will spell the death of brick-and-mortar colleges and universities. But this article, coupled with the University of California’s decision to try to raise fees by A LOT over the next two years, gives me pause. My sense is that the children of relatively well-off parents will continue to go to traditional colleges and universities for the foreseeable future: to learn, for credentials, to network, for finishing school, etc. What I don’t know, though, is what will happen when some significant chunk of non-traditional students, coupled with the children of not-especially-affluent families, decide that higher education for $99/month sounds pretty darned good. What will that do to the revenue stream that colleges and universities now rely upon for survival? What will it do to the economies of scale that currently make higher education viable? And what will the ripple effects be? I guess I could give Joel Garreau a call and ask him what he thinks.

* Word to the wise: elements of this paragraph may be slightly exaggerated for effect. But only slightly. The talk, by the way, happened at a conference on cultural landscape studies held at the University of New Mexico in 1998. As part of that conference, I got to tour J.B. Jackson‘s house, which was cool.

(There was a post here.  Now it’s over here.  To me it resembled the first foray into something that might lead to something like this.  Apparently not.  No big deal.  But now you know why I have a complex.)

Dave’s post earlier today got me thinking, because it captures a series of ideas that are bouncing around the blogosphere: that Obama, for one reason or another, is getting played by the Republican minority in Congress; that he’s squandering his mandate for real and lasting change because of his rhetoric of bipartisanship; and that, in the end, the Obama administration may be captive to special interests and plutocrats. Let me note that, to some extent at least, I share these concerns.

But I’m equally worried that some people — not Dave, mind you — believe Obama should recapitulate the entire New Deal in one stimulus bill. Actually, that would be so totally awesome I can’t believe it. President Obama should crisscross the country atop a magical redistributionist ponycorn that will crap infrastructure projects here, there, and everywhere, while rejiggering the tax code by whinnying its sweet ponycorn breath on recalcitrant legislators. The president’s and his ponycorn’s every move should be documented by a team of the nation’s finest photographers and memorialized by collectives of state-sponsored folk singers and playwrights. And in their wake should come a phalanx of America’s youth, scattering seeds for grand forests that will provide shade for future generations of Democratic voters. Also, beer should be free. Sadly, I’m pretty sure none of that’s going to happen.

Being slightly more serious for a moment, I recently read this excellent — and very short — introduction to the Great Depression and the New Deal. (I mean, it’s not as good as Amity Shlaes’s masterpiece, but it’s not really fair to hold Eric to such a high standard, right?) And it seems that FDR did save the banks pretty much overnight. But from there, implementing the New Deal programs was a long, hard slog, a matter of incremental progress based on trial-and-error. Also, when FDR took office, the Depression was years old and the banks were already stone dead.

None of which is to say the current stimulus package couldn’t be better. Like the next coastal elite, I rely on Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong for their considered opinions of all things économique. And they seem to think that there are problems of size, scope, and tactics when it comes to Obama’s stimulus package (That sounds like pr0n, doesn’t it? Well then this pdf should almost certainly be labeled nsfw.).

Instead, my point is that this likely isn’t the last piece of legislation that will come out of the Obama administration. And given that, it seems possible that the real issue isn’t that Obama and the Democratic majority are getting slapped around by Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, nor that the president has hamstrung himself in service of bipartisanship. Maybe what’s really happening is that during the campaign Obama created a set of unrealistic expectations among his constituents — including me — by talking so often about change. Change, it turns out, takes time in our political system. Remember, too, that Obama always plays a long game. His strategies, then, require even more time to unspool. So although in this case time may be short because so many people are hurting, perhaps we could give him his standard 100 days before we rush to judgment. And in the meantime, it might make sense to read up on the New Deal. It turns out that it wasn’t built in a day.

Very important update: Ponycorn. And not.

Exhibit; Sentence.  I love this list.

Actually, Dick Cheney all those white dudes look alike Rumsfeld put his unknown unknowns in with my known unknowns

I was at the airport, checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked, ‘Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?’ To which I replied, ‘If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?’ He smiled knowingly and nodded, 
‘That’s why we ask.’

via.  (Probably one of those ‘what I should have said was….’ rather than reality.  But good!)

(More philosophy blogging as soon as I get an idea, kids.)

Man, and here I had thought at the time that the title of my earlier post was over the top, but apparently I was just a couple months early. I would advice these gentle folk that there is plenty in the Bible that they were not supposed to do, including:

  1. Slaughter all the first born.
  2. Harden thy heart against the widow and orphan.
  3. Commit adultery and covet thy neighbor’s ass.
  4. Slaughter thy brother and wander the land with a mark upon their forehead.
  5. Put thy God to the test by throwing thyself off the walls of the city.

Though the republic might thank them for the last.

via the godless apostropher.

Bear with me, I have a headache. So, as I understand it, Obama’s plan to tax the really wealthy consists largely (or entirely) of letting the Bush tax cuts expire instead of extending them. * This is derided as a socialism; but aside from the ridiculousness of the difference between Real American Taxes and Evil Islamic Arugula Socialism being 3% and roughly half a billion bucks…. does this mean we were already socialist during the Bush administration before the tax cuts and didn’t know it?

I thought the socialist barricades would come with a little flag to wave.

*This is the killing vs. letting die distinction, but for taxes!

From the Boston Globe, a defense of McCain’s health care plan that reviews the history of employer-based medical coverage. I’ve already said what I think the problems with McCain’s plan are, viz., that the $5000 tax credit isn’t even close to the cost of health insurance, plus, without a guarantee of eligibility, lotsa 50-year-olds are going to find they’re not insurable.

That doesn’t mean I like bad arguments against McCain’s plan. And Ezra Klein makes a bad argument here. Americans who have good employer-based health insurance are generally insulated from the actual cost of both their insurance and their medical care. And it’s certainly true that some medical emergencies and diagnoses are not the sorts of things one is inclined to cut corners on.

But Ezra’s mistake is in concluding that price of services isn’t a factor at all, saying “people don’t think much about price, because money isn’t much good if you’re dead.” And this just isn’t true, because the choice isn’t always between death and life with a lighter pocketbook. It’s deciding to put off routine dental care for another month because it’s $100 you don’t have right now. It’s waiting to see if the kid’s cold clears before rushing to the pediatrician, or forgoing the annual physical, or demanding generic erythromycin or asking whether the cough can be cleared up with Dimetapp, or if blood really needs to be drawn. It’s forgoing the mammogram.

It’s a kid off at school crying on the phone to her mom that she’s sorry for going to the university infirmary with horrible crippling stomach pain, I’m sorry mommy they say the scan’s going to cost $4000 to make sure I’m okay, I asked how much it would cost, so I’m going to try to wait out the night it’s probably nothing.

Or hell, let’s use Klein’s example:

Now think of how an individual consumption decision in health care works. You, the consumer, go for an annual check-up. You feel fine. Your doctor says that you exhibit various risk factors for heart disease, and he’d like to schedule something called a “coronary angiography.” He’d like to do this because it’s possible that doing it will keep you from dying. You say okay.

No, what happens is you probably forgo the annual check-up. You’re feeling fine, and it’s a couple hundred bucks out of pocket even if you don’t get any bloodwork done; why would you go? And if you do make it to the check-up, and you’re feeling fine, you probably say “risk factors? That’s not a reason to pay thousands out of pocket.”

Price isn’t a factor? My plump ass it isn’t.

What’s true, however, is that people will cut costs where they can see them. What they can see isn’t the car accident or cancer diagnosis, but the routine care, or the cold that will probably go away on its own, or the toothache. And sometimes, it’s a case of being pennywise but pound foolish. It’s easier and cheaper to repair a cavity than drain the abscess and remove the molar once it rots, but it’s also a lot easier to ignore the cavity. Preventive screening and care (all the stuff that saves money in the long run) is the first thing on the chopping block.

Klein’s right that there’s something weird about health care; it’s not like buying a table lamp or a pair of shoes. But what’s weird isn’t that people are insensitive to price, it’s that all of the ways a person can see to cut costs don’t help them in the long run, or reduce costs. So we get a sicker population making bad decisions about preventive and routine care.

Maybe instead of bailing out things that are too big to fail we should arrange it so the set of things too big to fail is empty.

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