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Ideas for context

Some ideas to keep in mind while you are researching and writing for this course.

Motivated reasoning (Wikipedia)

The processes of motivated reasoning are a type of inferred justification strategy which is used to mitigate cognitive dissonance. When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled “motivated reasoning”. In other words, “rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.” This is “a form of implicit emotion regulation in which the brain converges on judgments that minimize negative and maximize positive affect states associated with threat to or attainment of motives.”

learn more: Why We Believe Lies, Even When We Learn the Truth

Example of motivated reasoning that causes harm: missing children

Why do we judge parents for putting kids at perceived but unreal risk?

In the U.S., how many children are killed in cars? about 900 per year

CDC: Too many kids die unbuckled

Despite a 43% drop in road crash deaths of children 12 and younger from 2002-2011, more than 9,000 children in that age group died in crashes during that period.

In the U.S., how many children are killed by strangers who abducted them? 45 per year

Nonfamily Abducted Children: National Estimates and Characteristics

In 2002, about 90 children under 12 were abducted by strangers; about half of the children were killed or not recovered.

Look at that ratio, 900:50. If  parents are to be arrested for endangering a child, it should be for driving them to school, not letting them walk to school.

Moral foundations (Wikipedia)

Moral foundations theory is a social psychological theory intended to explain the origins of and variation in human moral reasoning on the basis of innate, modular foundations. The theory proposes six such foundations: Care, Fairness, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity.

Various scholars have offered moral foundations theory as an explanation of differences among political progressives (liberals in the American sense), conservatives, and libertarians, and have suggested that it can explain variation in opinion on politically charged issues such as gay marriage and abortion. In particular, Haidt and fellow researchers have argued that progressives stress only two of the moral foundations (Care and Fairness) in their reasoning, and libertarians stress only two (Liberty and Fairness), while conservatives stress all six more equally.

learn more: Moral Foundations web

False balance (Wikipedia)

aka false equivalence

False balance is a real or perceived media bias in which journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence actually supports. Journalists may present evidence and arguments out of proportion to the actual evidence for each side, or may omit information that would establish one side’s claims as baseless.

Other examples of false balance in reporting on science issues include the topics of man-made vs. natural climate change, the relation between thimerosal and autism and evolution vs. intelligent design. For instance, although the scientific community attributes global warming to the effects of the industrial revolution, there are a small number of scientists who dispute this conclusion. Giving equal voice to scientists on both sides makes it seem like there is a serious disagreement within the scientific community, when in fact there is an overwhelming scientific consensus favoring anthropogenic global warming.

learn more: Both sides now

Stealth democracy (Amazon)

People do not like the process of openly arriving at a decision in the face of diverse opinions.

Budgets: Sovereign nations and Family Households

It’s common sense, isn’t it? If it is disastrous for a family to run a deficit, that is, spend more than it takes in, then it is also disastrous for a country to run a deficit.

Perhaps not.

How The Federal Budget Is Just Like Your Family Budget (Or Not)

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio: “Every family in America has to balance their budget. Washington should, too.”

Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J.: “You know, every family in America understands the necessity of a balanced budget.”

Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.: “This is how every family tries to live in good times and in bad. Your government should do the same.”

Nobody understands debt

You can see that misunderstanding at work every time someone rails against deficits with slogans like “Stop stealing from our kids.” It sounds right, if you don’t think about it: Families who run up debts make themselves poorer, so isn’t that true when we look at overall national debt?

No, it isn’t. An indebted family owes money to other people; the world economy as a whole owes money to itself. And while it’s true that countries can borrow from other countries, America has actually been borrowing less from abroad since 2008 than it did before, and Europe is a net lender to the rest of the world.

Because [the national] debt is money we owe to ourselves, it does not directly make the economy poorer (and paying it off doesn’t make us richer).

Socio-economic mobility (Wikipedia)

Socio-economic mobility refers to the movement of people from one social class or economic level to another, often by changing jobs or marrying. This “vertical” mobility can be the change in socioeconomic status between parents and children (“inter-generational”); or over the course of a lifetime (“intra-generational”). It typically refers to “relative mobility,” the chance that a person’s income/status will rise or fall compared to others in another income/status group but can also be “absolute,” whether (and by how much) living standards in America have increased.

In the U.S., belief in strong social and economic mobility, that Americans rise from humble origins to riches, has been called a “civil religion,” “the bedrock upon which the American story has been anchored,” and part of the American identity (the American Dream), celebrated in the lives of famous Americans such as Benjamin Franklin and Henry Ford, and in popular culture (from the books of Horatio Alger and Norman Vincent Peale to the song “Movin’ on Up”). Opinion polls show that this belief has been both stronger in the US than in years past, and stronger than in other developed countries.

However, in recent years several large studies have found that vertical intergenerational mobility is lower, not higher, in the US than in comparable countries.

Economic Policy Institute’s U.S. lags behind peer countries in mobility

The notion that anyone in America who is willing and able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” can achieve significant upward mobility is deeply embedded in U.S. society. Conventional wisdom holds that class barriers in the United States are the lowest among the world’s advanced economies. Motivating this belief is the notion that there is a tradeoff between market regulation and mobility; advanced European economies are characterized by higher taxes, greater regulation, more union coverage, universal health care, a more comprehensive social contract, etc. Because some see these policies and institutions as impediments to mobility, mobility is believed to be greater in the United States.

While faith in the American Dream is deep, evidence suggests that the United States lacks policies to ensure the opportunities that the dream envisions. According to the data, there is considerably more mobility in most other developed economies. The figure below, from The State of Working America, 12th Edition, measures the relationship between earnings of fathers and sons in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with similar incomes to the United States and for which data are available. An elasticity of zero would mean there is no relationship, and thus complete intergenerational mobility, with poor children just as likely as rich children to end up as rich adults. The higher the elasticity, the greater the influence of one’s birth circumstances on later life position.

The relationship between father-son earnings is tighter in the United States than in most peer OECD countries, meaning U.S. mobility is among the lowest of major industrialized economies. The relatively low correlations between father-son earnings in Scandinavian countries provide a stark contradiction to the conventional wisdom. An elasticity of 0.47 found in the United States offers much less likelihood of moving up than an elasticity of 0.18 or less, as characterizes Finland, Norway, and Denmark.

Wealth inequality in America

The graph below connects the two: economic mobility and wealth inequality. It comes from Miles Corak’s blog Economics for Public Policy.

The countries toward the lower left corner, including Australia (and the Netherlands, where the Gini coefficient is between Sweden’s and Germany’s), have less wealth inequality than the countries toward the top right corner. They also provide greater opportunity for their young people to be richer than their parents.

Do you think one of those things causes the other? Or are they both caused by something else?

As the gap between the rich and poor increases (to the right on the horizontal axis), the ability to be richer than your parents decreases (higher on the vertical axis).

As the gap between the rich and poor increases (to the right on the horizontal axis), the changes of being richer than your parents decreases (higher on the vertical axis).


the practice of viewing the world from a European perspective and with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the preeminence of the European social model.

The European social model is a common vision many European states have for a society that combines economic growth with high living standards and good working conditions. Historian Tony Judt has argued that the European social model “binds Europe together” in contrast to the ‘American way of life’.

European states do not all use a single social model, but welfare states in Europe do share several broad characteristics. These generally include a commitment to full employment, social protections for all citizens, social inclusion, and democracy. Examples common among European countries include universal health care, free higher education, strong labor protections and regulations, and generous welfare programs in areas such as unemployment insurance, retirement pensions, and public housing.

Child Well-Being In Rich Countries

American exceptionalism

American exceptionalism refers to the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other countries. … Historian Gordon Wood has argued, “We Americans are a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty and democracy.” …Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense. To them, the United States is like the biblical “shining city on a hill,” and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.

How great is the U.S.?

How great is the U.S.?

The case for American exceptionalism was made recently by Newt Gingrich in the video A City Upon A Hill: The Spirit Of American Exceptionalism – trailer

It is a fact-free case that uses the word “belief” repeatedly. In contrast, the fact-based case for the U.S. not being the “greatest” country in the world was made by Jeff Daniels in the opening scene of the HBO series The Network.

Most Americans think the U.S. is great, but fewer say it’s the greatest
Pew Research Center, July 2, 2014

The decline in the view that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world has occurred across most demographic and political groups, but it has been particularly acute among Republicans.

Ranking America – a site for information about the U.S. – How does the U.S. rank in …

Australian exceptionalism

Australian Exceptionalism”…. let that phrase roll off your tongue.

Now stop laughing for a moment if you can!

There’s something about that phrase that just doesn’t sit right with us. We’re not only unaccustomed to thinking about ourselves that way, but for many it’s a concept that is one part distasteful to three parts utterly ridiculous – try mentioning it in polite company sometime. Bring a helmet.

We’ll often laugh at the cognitive dissonance displayed by our American cousins when they start banging on about American Exceptionalism – waxing lyrical about  the assumed ascendancy of their national exploits while they’re forced to take out a second mortgage to pay for a run of the mill medical procedure. That talk of exceptionalism has become little more than an exceptional disregard for the truth of their own comparative circumstances.

But in truth, we both share that common ignorance  – we share a common state of denial about the hard realities of our own accomplishments compared to those of the rest of the world. While the Americans so often manifest it as a belief that they and they alone are the global benchmark for all human achievement,  we simply refuse to acknowledge our own affluence and privilege – denialists of own hard won triumphs, often hysterically so.

Never before has there been a nation so completely oblivious to not just their own successes, but the sheer enormity of them, than Australia today.