Is fertility a health issue or a lifestyle choice?
This month a health care refom advisory panel will mee
t to consider whether contraception should be offered free of charge as a form of preventative medicine, the AP reports. Healthcare reform of course poses many questions concerning how medical services are paid for and delivered. But, as the AP notes, social mores are at the heart of this latest question.
Contraception is a controversial tool for preventing pregnancy, with many religious movements banning it outright. At the heart of the argument against free contraception is that the use of contraception is a lifestyle choice, not a health issue. As the president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center notes, “there are other ways to avoid having children than by ingesting chemicals.”
All other things equal, should the use of contraception be thought of as a health issue or a lifestyle choice? And should it matter for whether it is provided free as a form of preventative care? Read more
BBC News reports that some Western companies Buy cialis online without prescription
c.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11587345″>continue to work in Burma despite pressure from governments and activists. The European Union bans and penalizes commercial activity that clearly supports the Burmese military regime and its repression. The United States and a few other countries impose sanctions that make business in the country nearly impossible.
On the one hand, according to the BBC report, “the firms that invest say their capital helps to improve the lives of ordinary Burmese, ties the military into international systems of oversight, and consequently promotes openness and a respect for human rights.” On the other hand, in an authoritarian country like Burma, it is not unreasonable to think that the “money goes straight to the generals, who use it to buy weapons and widen their repression.”
The argument in favor of investing
in Burma resembles one of the moral arguments in favor of free trade, sweatshops and all. But even if this claim carries water, the second argument is true as well. Legitimate business done in almost any part of the world will see its cut taken in the form of taxes by the government and so, in effect, “supports” that government. We normally don’t complain (too much), but the Burmese junta happens to be an exceptionally vile regime.
In the past I have written about the great harm that sanctions can inflict on the public. Does the good of punishing the military government with sanctions outweigh the good of providing jobs and income to ordinary Burmese through trade? Unless we think that sanctions will weaken the Burmese junta to the point at which democratic revolution is possible, it’s a tough moral case to make.
Photo by Flickr user informatique used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Radley Balko at Reason magazine ar
gues thatthe close association between democratic politics and crime policy results in a vicious cycle of fear-mongering, excessive incarceration, and intergenerational poverty. He cites a Boston Globe article that reveals a tendency for undue and irrational pessimism and fear among the population. I explored the problem of irrational fear in a previous post, where I noted that there is often a gap between realistic and imagined levels of danger. In the case of crime, it is extreme. Although crime has been declining since the mid-1990s, 74% of Americans insist that crime is getting worse.
Balko’s solution to the vicious cycle is to divorce crime policy from the political process. Today, many judges and prosecutors in America are elected officials and as a result have been hijacked by public demands for tough sentencing. In most other countries, these jobs, which are technical in nature, are held by more-or-less impartial civil servants.
In any fair legal system, judges are supposed to be impartial, and so there is an argument for taking direct democracy out of the legal system. But we should
be leery of technocracy more generally. There is a danger to having too many degrees of separation between the public and its agents. While public sentiments can certainly hijack policy for the worse,
so can interests that have no accountability whatsoever to the public, with the results being systematic corruption and abuse.
In a complex society, we will always have to tread a fine line between technocracy and democracy.
Image by Flickr user bitzcelt used under a Creative Commons Attribution License
In a bizarre twist on the grade school classroom contract, ABC News reports that Westfield High Schoo
l in Virginia has prohibited students in AP World History from consulting any outside sources, including parents, classmates, the internet, or anything other than their textbooks and lecture notes.
It’s not clear if this is a serious policy. A spokesman for the Fairfax County Public Schools described it as “… a little tongue-in-cheek from the teachers,” but the principal of Westfield High claimed that the policy “guaranteed fairness among students and wouldn’t give a student with more resources an advantage.”
There is of course a serious side to the “fairness argument.” Things like a supportive home environment can have a real impact on educational achievement and it is clear that such factors are not consistent across families. It’s possible that the policy was meant to address this imbalance.
But it reveals one
of the principle conundrums of the principle of fairness: for things that are not (easily) redistributable, like the quality of parenting, fairness may require bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator.
This seems particularly troubling in the case of education. It severely truncates the scope of learning and inquiry to the viewpoints offered by the texts and teachers, reducing what should be an exploration to mere rote learning. So even if fairness is important, should it ever be an excuse to compromise the general quality of education?
Photo by Flickr user alamosbasement used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that multiculturalism has “ut
terly failed”amidst growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany. In the Netherlands, anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders was recently acquitted of discrimination and hate speech. Both of these mark serious departures from what was formerly the European consensus on multiculturalism. Given that immigration is both necessary and inevitable in the modern world, how should a country deal with immigrants from radically different cultures?
There are two widely regarded approaches to cultural pluralism. The prevailing European approach consists of treating immigrant populations as distinct subcultures, with few efforts made to integrate them into the broader society. Originally, this idea was in part tied to an
expectation that most of these migrants were to be temporary migrant workers only. The idea that cultural integration need not accompany immigration has persisted even though it has become clear that millions of (mostly Muslim) immigrants are in Europe to stay. Although dressed in the benign language of “multiculturalism,” it is effectively a policy of exclusion.
The other approach is the “melting pot” that is usually attributed to the United States. In a melting pot, disparate ingredients blend together, creating something new that is (hopefully) greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, immigration in the United States has been anything but smooth. Successive waves of immigrants faced tremendous hostility. But by and large immigrant populations assimilated within the space
of a few generations, gradually assuming full participation in society and escaping the confines of ethnic ghettos. The same has not happened in Europe, with tragic consequences.
There are certainly merits to cultural diversity. To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, a diversity of viewpoints in the marketplace of ideas is necessary to inform human flourishing. But diversity is a means and not an end in its own right. This is a crucial point that, until recently, the European approach to immigration has overlooked.
Image by Flickr user SpreePix – Berlin used under a Creative Commons Attribution License
Fear and loathing in law and politics
Risk-perception expert David Ropeik writes at Project Syndicate that nuclear energy remains controversial in Germany in the wake of Chancellor Merkel’s decision to extend the operating lives of the country’s nuclear plans. A 2006 BBC poll finds that in France some 56% of the public opposes nuclear energy, even though 75% of the country’s electricity comes from it. Apparently it is not always possible for people to be acclimated to things they are just afraid of at a gut level.
According to Ropeik, things
that are undetectable, capable of causing great pain, man-made, and associated with distrusted persons tend to amplify fear to an irrational degree. Nuclear power certainly fits the bill. So do drugs and guns (and maybe the internet). These same characteristics can provoke revulsion as well. Ask anyone about organ markets and the likely reaction will be disgust. Psychologists Yoel Inbar and David Pizarro write that revulsion clearly influences moral, social, and legal judgments. But should fear and revulsion have any place in the formation of public policy? Read more
The BBC reports that the World Economic Forum has found Iceland to b
e the country with the greatest parity between the genders. Out of curiosity, I decided to take a look at Iceland’s fertility rates to see if gender equality came at the expense of large families. It does not. In fact, according to John Carlin at The Guardian, Iceland simultaneously has Europe’s highest birth, divorce, and female employment rates.
This would probably be a recipe for social disaster in most of the rest of the world. But Iceland has negligible levels of crime, strong family cohesion, and high levels of both subjective happiness and living standards. Is there something we can learn from the Icelandic experience?
The Guardian article gushes with enthusiasm for the Icelandic way. A taboo-free and open-minded culture allows unconventional family arrangements to thrive. The Icelandic approach to relationships, marriage and family is casual and eminently pragmatic. Instead of leading to distress, poverty and broken families, high rates of birth, divorce, and female employment accompany strong, though patchwork, families and hardy children.
Cultures are complicated. They evolve organically over the course of centuries and are sustained under highly specific circumstances. Most fundamentally, to live like Icelanders, people would have to amend time-cherished beliefs about marriage and family. They might also have to reconsider the role of the state
in supporting motherhood.
There are certainly things to be said for living “free of cant and prejudice and taboo.” But to overcome basic notions of family values is no simple matter. Unfortunately for those of us who might consider moving, the language is notoriously difficult.
Image by Flickr user Gunna used under a Creative Commons Attribution License
Should people be allowed to hang their laundry out to dry?
The BBC has an cialis buyews/magazine-11417677″>amusing perspective on a trend in the United States toward foregoing the use of mechanical driers in favor of drying clothes on the line. Outdoor clothesline drying is prohibited by many landlords and community associations on the basis that it that detracts from property values. Advocates of clothesline drying argue that it is less costly, friendlier to the environment, and has therapeutic benefits as well.
There are a couple of possible approaches to this issue. One approach is a consequentialist one, wherein we are faced with the costs and benefits preserving the property values and well-being of neighbors on the one hand and protecting the environment as well as peoples’ enjoyment of their own property on the other.
Some economists have tried to address problems of “social cost,” namely costs that people impose upon others as secondary consequences of their actions. But such analyses are only reasonable when we can make precise and commensurable measurements of the costs and benefits involved. How do we compare environmental degradation per ton of carbon emissions to property value loss, or the enjoyment and therapeutic value of hanging laundry? Many of these costs and benefits are subjective and vary wildly on a personal basis. Read more
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