The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist”
in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson,
in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism. We learn first to play with it academically.
. . . Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.
Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true. It now shows itself ethical and practical.” John
Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant. Al Gore
invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed
by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Pollution and Policy, Then and Now
7:50 pm edt
Before the Clean Air Act was amended to allow pollution credits to
be traded--an innovation which has been suggested for greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit the risks of global climate
change--this 1988 letter to the editor of the New York Times concerned air pollution, politics, and public opinion.
There is a legitimate debate about the merits of a "cap
and trade" versus "tax and dividend" approach to addressing greenhouse gases. Done progressively--with
the revenues returned to stimulate alternative energy and greater efficiency, create related jobs, and assist those who can
least afford to pay higher taxes for polluting sources--the "tax and dividend" strategy deserves careful attention.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Inequality in Connecticut and beyond
11:26 pm edt
recent articles and studies highlight growing income and wealth inequalities in Connecticut and nationally. There are
policy implications for business climate and job growth, a possible state earned-income tax credit, housing, health care,
child care and the quality of and access to pre-K to 16 (early childhood through college) educational options.
New York Times April 9, 2008
Income Gap in Connecticut Is Growing Fastest, Study Finds
By Alison Leigh Cowan “The income gap between the have-lots and the have-nots
is widening faster in Connecticut than in any other state, a new study says.”
Times article, which discusses a joint study of the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,
concludes by quoting a domestic-violence counselor who has to work multiple jobs to live modestly. The Times article
also mentions the Connecticut Voices study issued with the report of the two national research and advocacy groups.
Connecticut Voices for Children, April 2008
"Pulling Apart in Connecticut: Trends in Family Income, Late 1980s to Mid 2000s"
By Douglas Hall, Ph.D. & Shelley Geballe, J.D., M.P.H.
“Over the last two decades,
the gaps in average, inflation-adjusted ("real") income between wealthy and poor Connecticut families and between
wealthy and middle-income families have grown more in Connecticut than in any other state in the country. While real income
for the poorest families in the state has declined since the late 1980s by 17%, the largest drop of any state, the wealthiest
families have enjoyed an increase in their real income of 45%. Middle-income families have seen little change in their real
incomes, which increased by only 5.1%. This modest increase for middle-income residents was the lowest among all states. Connecticut
is the only state in which real income for the poorest fifth of families declined significantly since the late 1980s. On average,
real income for low-income families in the U.S. increased by $1,814 (11%), but in Connecticut, real income for these families
actually declined by $4,437 (-17%). The average income of the wealthiest fifth of Connecticut families now is 8 times greater
than the income of the poorest fifth, compared to 4.6 times in the late 1980s. The wealthiest families now have income 2.7
times that of middle-income families, compared to 1.9 times in the late 1980s. Both of these increases in income inequality
are the greatest among all states.”
An earlier, December 2007 Connecticut Voices study focused on disparities in
wealth, which are even greater than the growing gaps in income:
"Connecticut Family Asset Scorecard, 2007-08"
By Joachim O. Hero, MPH, Douglas
J. Hall, PhD, and Shelley Geballe, JD, MPH
“Despite the state's apparent overall prosperity, Connecticut's ranking in the latest
Family Assets Scorecard fell from an A to a C since the 2005 Scorecard, reflecting wide disparities in assets by race, ethnicity
and gender; high levels of debt; declining homeownership; and growing numbers of households with no employer-provided health
insurance. Despite losing ground, Connecticut continues to rank well compared to other states on some measures, ranking fifth
among states in net worth of its households and fourth in the concentration of workers with college degrees. However, other
measures show that a lack of assets among many families, high levels of debt, and racial disparities threaten the state's
overall quality of life and economic security. One in five households in Connecticut is asset poor, meaning they do not have
sufficient resources to survive at the poverty level for three months without any income. Connecticut's racial disparities
in assets are among the greatest in the nation. Minority households are much less likely to be homeowners and are more likely
to have low assets, as compared to white households. For example, the median white household in Connecticut is nearly 27 times
wealthier than the average minority household.”
With this in mind, here’s news of some big winners amid the current economic
and financial turmoil:
New York Times April 16, 2008
Wall Street Winners Get Billion-Dollar Paydays
By Jenny Anderson
More on income (and ultimately
wealth) inequalities can be found in the work of economists such as Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, who explore the historical
evolution of income inequality in the U.S. and how the progressivity of the federal tax system has changed over decades.
A summary of their findings, as well as links to extensive other material about budget and social policy, is available from
the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Literacy and writing skills, 1980s and today
9:46 pm edt
This occasional blog begins with a juxtaposition of journalistic accounts two decades
removed. Here was the title and lead of an article Fred Hechinger wrote in December 1986 based on NAEP results at that
"Stubborn Pockets of Illiteracy"
"THE United States faces a serious deficit
of young adults who read and write well enough to perform the complex technological, scientific and managerial tasks on which
the nation's future depends.
This does not mean that great portions
of American are illiterate, as some sensational reports have suggested. It does mean that a level of literacy that may once
have been sufficient is no longer good enough to keep the United States competitive. . . ."
And here was Sam Dillon's recent take in the Times:
"U.S. Students Achieve Mixed Results on Writing Test"
"About a third of the nation’s eighth-grade students, and roughly a quarter of
its high school seniors, are proficient writers, according to nationwide test results released Thursday.
That proportion of students demonstrating
writing proficiency is about the same as in 2002, when a similar exam was last given.
But the results of the latest test, administered last year, also found modest increases in the skills of lower-performing
students. Nearly 9 students in 10 can now demonstrate at least a basic achievement in writing, defined as partial mastery
of the skills needed for proficient work.
As in the past, girls outperformed
boys by far, most decisively at the eighth-grade level, where 41 percent of them achieved proficiency, compared with 20
percent of boys. The racial achievement gap narrowed slightly, with black and Hispanic students’ writing improving
a bit more than did whites’.
The results for eighth graders, though
not for seniors, were broken down by states, the top performers of which were New Jersey, where 56 percent of students scored
at or above proficiency levels, and Connecticut, where the number was 53 percent. Nineteen states ranked above New York,
where it was 31 percent.
That a third of the nation’s eighth graders
can write with proficiency may not sound like much, but it is the best performance by eighth-grade students in any subject
tested in the national assessment in the last three years. Only 17 percent of eighth graders were proficient on the 2006
history exam, for example. . . ."
There is some encouraging
news here for Connecticut, though reading performance on the NAEP and other measures continues to lag writing performance,
and there is some controversy about the value of the writing assessment. Will Fitzhugh is quoted on this point in Dillon's
article. The gender gap, among other achievement gaps cited here, is striking. Connecticut deserves credit for continuing
to gauge and emphasize writing even though it is not required for NCLB purposes.
The 1986 Hechinger article is a reminder that concerns about literacy skills, particularly in an economy that increasingly
emphasizes formal education, are nothing new.