Victims and Blame

September 9, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Blaming the victim.” William Ryan wrote the book and coined the phrase forty years ago to characterize explanations of poverty that ignored large social and economic forces and instead looked only at the behavior of poor people. If only they would anticipate the consequences of their choices in education, work, and family, theorized the victim-blamers, they would make other choices and rise from poverty. (My post on a very recent example is here.)

Now Courrier International, a Paris weekly with the tagline “L'anticipation au quotidien” takes blaming the victim to a new level. Here’s the English language version.

In the latest instance, Saatchi & Saatchi France used an image of the New York skyline with a shorter twin towers, two airplanes flying innocuously over the buildings. The tagline? “Learn to anticipate”.

HT: Polly, who, hélas, is no longer in Paris and not blogging so much.

Jesus, American Style

September 8, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

American Christianity has transformed the church and even Jesus into something that would have appalled the real Jesus and his followers. That’s the sermon David Brooks was preaching in the Times yesterday. Megachurches for congregations mirror the mega-houses and mega-SUVs for individuals.

Brooks’s inspiration is the recent book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream by David Platt, himself once the pastor of megachurch (N = 4300) in Alabama.
Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets, and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude. “When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, we may be worshiping ourselves.”
Sound familiar? Mr. Brooks, Rev. Platt (2010), meet M. Durkheim (1912):
[Religion] is a system of ideas with which the individuals represent to themselves the society of which they are members . . .God is only a figurative expression of the society .

Employee Health Care Costs

September 4, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

It always seemed to me that the loud and vitriolic opposition to health care reform wasn’t really about health care. (My earlier post on this is here.) I found it hard to believe that so many people were so rapturously pleased with the current system and its direction and so angrily opposed to any changes. I had only two explanations based on rationality:
  • Most people had no way to compare the current US system with the less expensive and often better health care in other countries
  • People who got health care via their jobs could not see the true costs of those plans.
On the second point, Aaron Carroll at The Incidental Economist reprints some charts from the Kaiser Family Foundation annual survey of employee health benefits. Here are two of them.

(Click on the chart for a larger view.)

A huge increase in prices, and people rallying in the streets NOT to change it? As Carroll says, the true costs of this increase are not easy to see.
employees actually pay the full cost of premiums (including the “employer” share) in the form of slower wage growth. Nevertheless, few workers understand this. The perception is that only the employee share is paid by workers. But that’s gone up too, so perception and truth align. Employees are paying more.

With a BA in Sociology

September 2, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

“How much of what you do on your job did you learn in law school?” I asked.

Morning coffee on the porch of a small inn across from the boardwalk at Ocean Grove earlier this week. My fellow guest – our families had just met, there on the veranda – was a lawyer, in charge of licensing for a healthcare group that includes some important hospitals in New England. He smiled and shook his head.

“None of it.”

“On the job?” I asked.

He nodded.

Then he said, “What I learned in school was how to learn, how to think.”

Which is exactly what I tell students when they ask the inevitable question, “What kind of job can I get with a sociology degree?” I have a standard answer: “College is not trade school; it’s not job training.”

Montclair students usually don’t believe me, and I can’t blame them. They know that they need a college degree to get a good job, so they figure each major must teach something that employers find useful. Different majors, different employers. So I say, “Ask your parents where they got the skills and knowledge they need for their jobs. Chances are they learned 95% of it on the job.”

I used to make an exception for post-BA professional training – law school, med school, etc. Now I’ll have to revise even that.

“What you’re learning in college,” I say, “is how to learn, how to think, how to read, and how to write.” Then I add, “You can do that in any major, so you may as well choose the department with the ideas or courses or professors that you really like or where you’ll have the best time.”
Making important school choices based on the enjoyment of learning?? That probably clashes with just about everything in their experience of the previous twelve years. In any case, I usually get the feeling they still don’t believe me.

My colleague Yasmein Besen-Cassino, who sometimes teaches statistics, has a different and probably more effective strategy. “Go to and enter ‘SPSS,’” she tells them.