really awesome longform on the ad council, keep america beautiful, and public service ads as efforts to ward off public regulation: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/3642/
To amuse themselves in 1907, librarians Edmund Lester Pearson and John Cotton Dana published The Old Librarian’s Almanack, a pamphlet they alleged to have been written originally in 1773 by Jared Bean, “curator or librarian of the Connecticut Society of Antiquarians,” and evidently a man of strong opinions:
So far as your Authority will permit of it, exercise great Discrimination as to which Persons shall be admitted to the use of the Library. For the Treasure House of Literature is no more to be thrown open to the ravages of the unreasoning Mob, than is a fair Garden to be laid unprotected at the Mercy of a Swarm of Beasts.
Question each Applicant closely. See that he be a Person of good Reputation, scholarly habits, sober and courteous Demeanour. Any mere Trifler, a Person that would Dally with Books, or seek in them shallow Amusement, may be Dismiss’d without delay.
The book was reviewed seriously in the New York Sun, the New York Times, the Hartford Courant, Publisher’s Weekly, the Newburyport Daily News, the Providence Sunday Journal, and even the Library Association Record, which asked “what librarian would not at times in his secret soul sympathize” with Bean’s irritation with patrons who disturbed his reading time.
Finally Helen E. Haines of the Library Journal discerned the hoax, and the library community realized it had been had. Public Libraries wrote, “We congratulate the author of the book on being so clever to project himself into the past, as to deceive even the very elect. The book is well worth owning and reading. Let us be thankful that one with humor, imagination and sympathy has created for us dear old Jared with his gentle comradeship and his ardent love of books.”
Here's a great example from Elisabeth Rosenthal of the kind of scary price problems in American health care. It costs more to have a conventional delivery in the United States than it costs to have a cesarean in France or Switzerland or the Netherlands.
And note that this graphic is very careful to look at the actual all-in final amount of money paid. This is not a question of how the cost is allocated between the patient, the insurance company, the government, and the patient's employer. It's a question of how much money gets handed over from the people who pay for health care (patients, insurance companies, employers, governments) to the people who perform health care services. And Americans hand over a lot.
Perhaps someone will make the argument that America is gaining some important quality advantage over Swiss and Dutch childbirths in exchange for our money. But if you accept that we aren't, note that there isn't anything mysterious about the reason prices are so much higher in the United States than elsewhere. What other countries do is they write laws capping the price of health care services. The economic justification is that in all countries the purchase of health care services is heavily subsidized (because one of the best things a society can do with its material prosperity is ensure that sick people get better) so you need to use regulation to ensure that the incidence of the subsidy falls mostly on patients rather than on health care providers. In America, health care prices are largely uncapped so they get very high.
yglesias throwing shade at robin hanson at the end there
Josh Green had a fascinating story the other day about the difference between the Obama campaign's (accurate) internal polling data and Gallup's wildly off-base data. He delves into exactly how Gallup thinks they got it wrong, but looking at the chart I'm struck by how good Gallup's polling was at doing what Gallup's polls are supposed to do—drive media interest in Gallup polls.
You see two big things from the Obama campaign data. One is that on a day-to-day basis nothing matters and nothing changes. The people who follow campaign events are mostly strong partisans whose minds don't change, the swing voters whose minds might change aren't interested in politics so they don't know these things are happening. Even worse, the Obama data shows that even the things that do matter don't actually matter. The "bumps" Obama got from the Democratic Convention and the 47 percent tape were almost precisely offset by Obama's terrible performance in the first debate. This is a picture of how US presidential campaigns play out that's validated by scholarship on the history of elections, so it should give us some confidence that the Obama team knows what they're doing.
But what they're doing isn't what Gallup is doing which—again—is trying to drum up media interest in Gallup polls. And compared to the Obama numbers, the Gallup numbers are really interesting. You could write lots of articles about those numbers, while the Obama numbers tend to suggest that you shouldn't bother.
I'm not a huge fan of the "we should be gambling all the time about everything" school of thought, but it would be useful in this realm. If public polls were released by people who were placing large financial bets on the outcome of the campaign, then pollsters would work to purge their models of excessive volatility. But in the world that exists, the incentives are all wrong. "Incumbent President presiding over economic growth and falling unemployment will probably win and nobody's paying attention to the campaign" is a terrible news story. It just happens to be true.