Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Private Money Goes Publicly Nowhere
I listen to BBC America and there are Nations in Africa that are sure that technology is the key to ending all their ills. And of course Mark Zuckerberg and Google are more than willing to accommodate that with 99 air balloons (appropriately called Project Loon) and other idiocy to assist in that endeavor. So it does not surprise me that the author is a former advisor to the PM of England, another member of the 1% club, a man with utter disdain for the public sector while ironically working in it. Sounds like we have a lot more in common with our founders that we thought.
For those not aware of the now political ambitions of Mr. Zuckerberg, we have of course his intervention in immigration with the fake group, Fwd.us and now we have his new fake group, Internet.org - all tax exempt - a great way to hide/divert your billions.
If anyone is confused about the intent of that organization, helping others is not the predominant focus. Even Bill Gates has spoken against its futility and ambition. But hey nothing in the Tech sector is ever absurd. My personal favorite is the Hyperloop, jet age travel for the jet set. Hey I would settle for high speed rail across the country but lets just do this between San Francisco and L.A. and see how it goes.
But there is a point to this idea and that in a country that seems to always focus on the intrinsic and are sure it is somehow personal failings, weaknesses that are the contributing factor in why some succeed and others do not and that welfare, assistance or support via the Government is the enabler, why not level the playing field with clear policy intended to do so by focusing on the individual and their ability to fix their problems in ways that will build them up vs keeping them down as many often believe that social programs do.
Again there are raging gaps in the concept, such as call lines to get help. Well there actually has to be help available to assist women and families in high risk situations. I have written about the nuisance laws that are evicting the same for using the Police to assist so unless you have in place immediate shelters, the ability to relocate and of course access to the Court system (good luck with that one) to fully enable and offer true help.
And we need pre school, child care and other means to fully educate children. Family leave and of course decent living wages, access to health care to actually use those apps he suggests should all be part of the plan. Can't buy Obamacare if you can't afford it, the tax penalty is cheaper.
The technology sector does have the resources to actually do much of this but unfortunately they give millions to varying absurd start up notions, many which are lather rinse and repeat of others. How many car sharing services does one need and frankly with only 4 cities participating what kind of profit does one expect. I don't imagine Lyft or Uber making it in Detroit, Cleveland or Baltimore the same cities that were cited in my hate mail from former residents who love the Amazonia Seattle currently being built. But hey a fuck buddy app now we're talking. That is the kind of money thrown around in the land of milk and honey when real people actually have none on their table.
Public Policies, Made to Fit People
By RICHARD H. THALER
Published: August 24, 2013
I HAVE written here before about the potential gains to government from involving social and behavioral scientists in designing public policies. My enthusiasm comes in part from my experiences as an academic adviser to the Behavioral Insights Team created in Britain by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Thus I was pleased to hear reports that the White House is building a similar initiative here in the United States. Maya Shankar, a cognitive scientist and senior policy adviser at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is coordinating this cross-agency group, called the Social and Behavioral Science Team; it is part of a larger effort to use evidence and innovation to promote government performance and efficiency. I am among a number of academics who have shared ideas with the administration about how research findings in social and behavioral science can improve policy.
It makes sense for social scientists to become more involved in policy, because many of society’s most challenging problems are, in essence, behavioral. Using social scientists’ findings to create plausible interventions, then testing their efficacy with randomized controlled trials, can improve — and sometimes save — people’s lives, all while reducing the need for more government spending to fix problems later.
Here are three examples of social science issues that have attracted the team’s attention:
THE 30-MILLION-WORD GAP
One of society’s thorniest problems is that children from poor families start school lagging badly behind their more affluent classmates in readiness. By the age of 3, children from affluent families have vocabularies that are roughly double those of children from poor families, according to research published in 1995.
The research found that one of many reasons that poor children often have difficulty learning to read is that they suffer at home from what might be called a “word deficiency.” The caregivers of these children simply don’t speak or read to them as often as those in better-off families. The study estimated that by age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words than a child growing up in a family of higher socioeconomic status.
Until recently, this word gap has been hard to address. One promising new approach is being tested by Dr. Dana Suskind, a professor of surgery and pediatrics at the University of Chicago. Parents or caregivers who want to improve their children’s language skills can be coached to improve their interactions with them. (For example, interactive exchanges are better than soliloquies.)
New technologies, like the digital language processor developed by the LENA Research Foundation, whose work focuses on language problems in young children, can aid in this effort by letting parents receive feedback on the frequency and nature of their verbal interactions with their children. (Think of it as a box score for those interactions.) Providence, R.I., has won a $5 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies for a Providence Talks program to use these kinds of techniques to improve school readiness for low-income children.
In this domain, the team’s role is multifaceted. There is no silver bullet for closing the word gap, but by encouraging more trials nationwide, providing evaluation expertise and distributing results, we can help give poor children their best chance to succeed.
The team will primarily lend support and expertise to federal agency initiatives. One example concerns the effort to reduce domestic violence, a problem for which there is no quick fix. But a good place to start is to ensure that each component of a victim’s support system works as well as it can. One such component is the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which victims can call for advice and support. Like other call-in centers, it can become busy and put callers on hold. Many victims hang up before they’ve had a chance to speak with a counselor.
In this case, the Administration for Children and Families is building an alliance of call centers to collaborate on experimental trials to see how best to keep callers on the line long enough to get assistance. Avoiding long periods of silence with callers, and offering an estimate of the waiting time, can help achieve that goal. So can composing the initial message in a way that maximizes the chances that a caller won’t hang up.
One reason for high health care costs is that patients fail to follow their treatment regimen.
A good way to approach this problem is via a behavioral assessment, identifying obstacles to that compliance. As Sendhil Mullainathan, a Harvard economist, discussed in this space recently, one such obstacle is the co-payment, the patient’s share of a treatment’s cost. He sensibly suggests that for some highly effective treatments, there should be no co-payment at all. That’s a good place to start.
A thorough assessment could also uncover other factors that reduce patients’ adherence to best medical practices. If forgetting to take a medicine is the problem, a variety of interventions can help — from changing the medication’s design (a once-a-day dose is easier to remember than one taken three times a day) to using technology that reminds patients to take their pills.
Similarly, offering phone or text reminders of medical appointments can reduce no-shows and ensure that lab tests are done on time. Information technology makes these mental crutches easy to use, and is the focus of the team’s collaboration with the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.