Interesting studies

There are certain studies which are of particular interest to those who are interested in politics, which I come across and then forget, only to search for them again. Even if only for my own future reference, here are a few interesting ones:

Apparently, the town of Dauphin, Manitoba was used for a sociological experiment in the 1970s, in which every resident was given a guaranteed minimum income regardless of their circumstances. They were then compared to residents of nearby towns in similar economic straits but without this program in operation. The result: contrary to popular belief, it did not cause people to stop working. The only people who worked less under the guaranteed minimum income program were teenagers (who tended to go back to school) and new mothers (who tended to raise their children). In both cases, that is an outcome that most people find desirable. This tears a big hole in the popular conservative notion that minimum income would make people stop working: apparently, nobody is particularly happy to live on a minimum income, and rather than simply laying about on it, will use it as a springboard to attempt to move up the socio-economic ladder.

A researcher named Joe Henrich decided to conduct numerous psychological experiments which had been done before in the US, but he conducted them on residents of foreign cultures. The results were startling: many of the conclusions drawn by psychologists from prior research on Americans were assumed to be universal human traits, but were in fact unique to Americans. This has many far-reaching ramifications for the field of psychology, since the bulk of psychological research has been conducted on Americans.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2003, the administrative overhead cost of American health care is roughly three times as high per capita as the administrative overhead cost of Canadian health care. Not only does this blow a hole in the widespread assumption that private industry is always more efficient than government, but it explains much of the soaring cost of American health care.

“Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha And Jamal?” Researchers conducted experiments in which they sent out resumes with identical information except for one difference: “white-sounding” versus “ethnic-sounding” names. The results were startling: white-sounding names received 50% more call-backs for interviews after sending out otherwise identical resumes. Not only that, but the effect of higher-quality resumes was more pronounced for the people with white-sounding names. Variations of this study have been conducted independently in different areas, with similar results. For those who call for an end to “affirmative action”, this study rather inconveniently points out that the raison d’etre for affirmative action still continues to exist, and that it merely levels the playing field rather than unfairly tilting it toward minorities.

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4 Responses to Interesting studies

  1. Brett says:

    Good stuff.

    1. I’m not surprised, and it just reinforces my belief that if you fundamentally accept that society should not let people starve or go homeless, some type of direct income assistance (or a basic income) is the most effective and efficient way to do that. We sort of have that in the US (despite Republican opposition), but it’s a patchwork of unemployment insurance, social security, and disability payments. There’s a pretty good NPR article on the last one here, if you’re interested. I don’t know what it’s like up in Canada.

    Some people would no doubt just live off the payments and maybe do a little side work here and there, but it could still have socially beneficial impacts that vastly outweigh the costs. You just have to structure it so that you don’t get perverse incentives, like a family losing a big chunk of income if they decide they do want to work more.

    2. It’s probably even worse than that. College students tend to be a perennial favorite in psychology experiments, and I doubt they’re too representative of the overall American population.

    3. No surprise, and why I’ve been in favor of a federalized single-payer program in the US.

    4. I’m not surprised, sadly*, and I’m impressed with the study (the sample size is massive). That said, it’s been ten years since then, and the study only focused on black and white names. I’d love to see them do a follow-up with names from a broader selection of ethnic categories, to see if anything has changed over the past decade.

    * I remember reading an interesting book where the author (a black writer who moved into some super-white suburbs around the country as an experiment) talked about “black surprise”. He has a name that doesn’t sound particularly “black”, and when he came in for interviews, he said their unstated reaction would often be “You’re black?” “Surprise!”

  2. Michael Wong says:

    Here’s another interesting one:

    Apparently, in a series of UC Berkeley studies (the last one being conducted by Paul Piff and published in the Feb 27 2012 issue of “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”), they did surveys of rich people and found that they are significantly more likely than everyone else to act like douchebags, including simple things like cutting people off in traffic. We already know that the top 20% of earners give less than half as much to charity (as a percentage of their income) as the bottom 20%, but it’s interesting that the guy in the expensive Mercedes really IS more likely to be a dickhead driver: it’s not just your imagination.

  3. stephen says:

    out of curiosity when was the last time America had “private healthcare?” the 50’s? I mean I know people like to pretend that for the last 20 years that our healthcare system has been free-market.

    I’ve always been blown away with how you can be an Atheist and a Liberal. Of all the people in the world who deny freedom of thought and action, especially when it comes to sex and drugs, liberals have to be the worst. Conservatives are just dumb. It just seems so very at odds with the free-thinking attitude of atheists.

    I guess maybe I’ve seen only the liberals on TV. The ones who want to ban violence, and smoking, and increase the violence used in the drug war home and abroad, and deny you your right to choose (just not about abortion). Seems so very much at odds with… thought.

    • Michael Wong says:

      Ah yes, the “it’s a great system; it just has never been TRULY put into practice” argument. I used to hear this all the time from Marxists. Good one: you libertarian nutjobs have become the new Marxists.

      Your health-care system is market-driven, not social-policy driven. The fact that it still has regulations does not change that. Even the banking system has regulations and is not truly “free”; I suppose you think bankers are socialists too?

      There is no such thing as a truly free market; the “free market” is a libertarian abstraction. In order to have functioning markets, you need regulation.

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