aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, March 27, 2005
More on choice
The NYTimes today has more on choice:
Critics point out that expanding consumers’ options is not always a good idea. People, they argue, often do not know how to choose properly or they simply refuse to choose. Sometimes, critics argue, government should limit people’s choices. That is, choose for them...For instance, participation rates in 401(k) plans are known to rise sharply when the default choice for the employee is switched to an opt-out from an opt-in.
In Sweden, where personal savings accounts were carved out of the social security system in 1998, 9 out of 10 new entrants to the work force let their investment portfolio go to a default fund set up by the government, instead of choosing one themselves…
The key is whether people understand their choices, said Richard H. Thaler, an economist at the University of Chicago. “People have to know what their preferences are and they have to know how the options they have map onto their preferences,” he said.
This might be easy when choosing between chocolate and vanilla ice cream. But it gets progressively more difficult as the number of flavors increases. When the risks are high and the decisions complex - as when choosing between medical procedures or investment portfolios - consumers may become easily flummoxed.
For more on choice, Thaler and the Swedish experience, see this Dynamist Blog post.
See also my post, The tyranny of choice.
Scalia’s supreme confidence
Just as Jeffrey Rosen’s April Atlantic profile of William Rehnquist is not available online (I posted on it here), neither is last week’s Margaret Talbot profile, “Supreme Confidence: The jurisprudence of Justice Antonin Scalia” from The New Yorker. (One-upping the Atlantic, the New Yorker’s isn’t even available to subscribers. A web only interview with Talbot on Scalia is). My post therefore relies on my own transcription.
Talbot confirms Rosen’s observation that Scalia’s no consensus builder, noting that in the early years, “Scalia’s exuberant questioning was not well received by his colleagues” but now “all of them - with the exception of Clarence Thomas - are garrulous:”
Scalia, having inspired his brethren to become equal in volubility, now primarily distinguishes himself with the force, and sometimes the scorn, of his written opinions. If his questioning is for the benefit of other justices, then his opinions seem to be for the benefit of a future generation that may yet be saved for [the philosophy Scalia ascribes to called] originalism. While his dissents often nimbly dismantle the dodgy logic of the majority opinion, they do so in a tone of such bitter disappointment that it’s hard to imagine his arguments winning over any justice who voted against him. (In fact, his unstinting critiques often help his opponents refine their arguments in subsequent cases.)
An exception to prove the rule:
Scalia has said that Ginsburg is the liberal with whom he’d most like to be stuck on a desert island. “Sometimes he has an Italian temper that flares up,” Ginsburg told an audience at the Georgia State law school in 2003. Still, she recalled, when he wrote the majority opinion in the V.M.I. [Virginia Military Institute] case Scalia came to her chambers to show her a draft of his dissent, saying, “Ruth, you’re not going to like this...but I want you to have my dissent as early as I can give it to you so you’ll have time to respond.” Ginsburg added, “He absolutely ruined my weekend, but my opinion is ever so much better because of his dissent.”
I’m pleased to read that, “Every year, he hires at least one liberal clerk, to give him somebody to spar with.” Lawrence Lessig was once a Scalia clerk, though I don’t know if a chosen liberal.
Reagan, who “began ‘breeding’ Supreme Court Justices - placing possible candidates on the courts of appeal to test them for philosophical consistency,” had to love this about Scalia:
The scholar David Yalof, in his book “Pursuit of Justices,” observes that a “thorough search of Scalia’s record uncovered not a single opinion in which either the result or the ground of the decision seemed problematic from a conservative point of view.”
He put Scalia, who “sailed through his confirmation hearings,” on the bench in 1986.
What’s in a name?
Apt names were dubbed aptronyms by the columnist Franklin P. Adams. Once you start collecting them, you can’t stop. Think of baseball’s Cecil Fielder and Rollie Fingers, the news executive Bill Headline, the artist Rembrandt Peale, the poet William Wordsworth, the pathologist (not gynecologist) Zoltan Ovary, the novelist Francine Prose, the poker champion Chris Moneymaker, the musicians Paul Horn and Mickey Bass, the TV weatherman Storm Field, Judge Wisdom, the spokesman Larry Speakes, the dancer Benjamin Millepied, the opera singer Peter Schreier, the British neurologist Lord Brain, the entertainer Tommy Tune, the CBS Television ratings maven David Poltrack...Then there are the names of people who succeeded in their professions despite what might be called their an-aptronyms: Dr. Kwak, Judge Lawless or Orson Swindle, a member of the Federal Trade Commission. Long before Armand Hammer bought Arm & Hammer, the baking soda company, many people assumed he owned it.
Ashley Smith, the 26-year-old woman who was held hostage by Brian Nichols, the accused Atlanta courthouse killer, has been canonized by virtually every American news organization as God’s messenger because she inspired Mr. Nichols to surrender by talking about her faith and reading him a chapter from Rick Warren’s best seller, “The Purpose-Driven Life.” But if she’s speaking for God, what does that make Dennis Rader, the church council president arrested in Wichita’s B.T.K. serial killer case? Was God instructing Terry Ratzmann, the devoted member of the Living Church of God who this month murdered his pastor, an elderly man, two teenagers and two others before killing himself at a weekly church service in Wisconsin? The religious elements of these stories, including the role played by the end-of-times fatalism of Mr. Ratzmann’s church, are left largely unexamined by the same news outlets that serve up Ashley Smith’s tale as an inspirational parable for profit.