Category Archives: Middle Class

How Hard is Life? Here’s What the Numbers Say

Scott Alexander just wrote one of the more important posts I’ve read this year (HT Tyler Cowen).

Please do read the full post.

After Scott gave qualitative information about human suffering in America, he ran some numbers to come up with what a random sample of 20 Americans might be dealing with.

Here’s what he came up with (NP = no problem in terms of the narrow ailments he ran):

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In sum, only 9 out of 20 Americans have escaped some combination of chronic pain, alcoholism, sexual abuse, domestic violence, unemployment, and depression.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that these people can’t lead happy and meaningful lives (I personnaly am very close with three alcoholics who have kicked drinking and are thriving).

But this is also a narrow list of ailments: I could think of numerous other sufferings that could make life very, very difficult.

A few takeaways, most of which are pretty obvious:

  1. Things were probably harder back in the day. This seems to definitely be true during the agriculture and early industrial ages, and was probably true in the hunter and gather age as well.
  2. The United States is amongst the richest nations in the world. It also has fairly high levels of happiness and meaning rates. So if the numbers are grim here, they are most likely worse for much of the world.
  3. So while things are indeed better, they are not amazing. Declaring that things are amazing is ignorant at best and destructive at worst, as the policy regime for “things are amazing” is likely to be different than the policy regime for “things are still pretty tough for a lot of people.”
  4. Of course, humans brains were not evolved to be happiness machines, so suffering will always be with us so long as we retain our humanness. But I hope there doesn’t need to be this much suffering.

It is interesting to think about what this might mean for education.

I’ll try to tackle that in a later post.

Getting Back to Anxiety, Paranoia, and Self Doubt

I’m going to try and take a break from New Orleans ten year education battles.

I think the aggressive push back led by John White, Pete Cook, Chris Stewart and others was necessary – and I tried to play my part.

But it’s not that fun.

It sacrifices a lot of nuance. It requires pretty aggressive attacks against well meaning people. And it surely is not about learning or getting better.

I felt myself getting dumber by the day.

So it’s time to get back to things that I think are fun, that lead to learning, and that involve our tribe getting better.

It’s time to tap back into the wonderful virtues of anxiety, paranoia, and self doubt.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the chance to pepper some great educators and policy wonks (a few of them quite skeptical of relinquishment type reforms). Here are the two most commonly names critiques / threats / etc.

1. Human capital limits for dominant CMO models: The best charters run off type A people in their twenties working 60-70 hour weeks. This will not scale. Moreover, it’s not just a matter of the top charters being more systematized, as their current systems are predicated on working people long hours – and these systems will crack under a different human capital model. Big picture: existing high-performing CMO models will never be able to scale.

2. Not serving the middle class: No national reform effort will ever get to scale unless it benefits the middle class. The politics will prove impossible. And scale can’t be achieved by only focusing on low-income families in cities. Currently, there are very few highly effective charters serving the middle class, and the political fights in the suburbs are a war that can’t really be won. Moderately well performing monopolies with generally satisfied parents will persist in perpetuity.

Both of these issues have been discussed on this blog before.

But I don’t think we have enough good solutions to consider these issues even moderately solved.

Our tribe needs to work hard on these issues. Myself included!