Monthly Archives: February 2010

Traiberman-Li Blog

Two of my former high school debate friends, Sharon Traiberman and Jimmy Li, have graduated college and have started a blog. I highly recommend it for people interested in good analytical arguments, particularly with regard to economics and ethics.

On an aside, Sharon Traiberman remains one of the people I felt were truly treated unfairly by the the politics of Missouri high school debate. He has always been a brilliant thinker and unfortunately innovation outside of the narrow political box of Missouri high school debate has never been consistently rewarded.

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On Life Imitating Art

A discussion about Lincoln to be perhaps posted later pushed me to a secondary realization: the common trope about art imitating life is wrongly conceptualized. It is the case that art in the creation and experience is a human experience, and trying to distinguish human experience from human experience is silly.

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The National Security Argument for Legalizing the Use of Performance Enhancers for Professional Athletes

I note first we are willing to make distinctions as far as enhancement is concerned for athletes that we don’t make for soldiers (ref: Dexedrine use by Air Force pilots) or for students (who increasingly use performance enhancing substances like adderall and coffee).

Second, I note that there are possible invasion scenarios for which we face a shortage of soldiers with highly specialized physical abilities. I claim first that we have a natural pool of these kind of recruits in professional athletes and second that in doomsday invasion scenarios where there is a premium to be placed on the physical skills and endurance necessary to perform highly specialized tasks we want to have the ability to select for specific traits and want to absolutely maximize the expressions of those traits. Under these circumstances there is no counterargument for legalizing and using performance enhancers and indeed much depends on the state of the scientific knowledge base that we can access to inform those efforts.

That’s why we should legalize performance enhancers. There are several parameters that need to be set, for instance, the nature of the optimal regulatory framework, and how professional sports leagues should react to chances in these laws. But note that this policy carries a positive externality for athletes: it allows them access to the legal and scientific remedies that they don’t have access to in a world where they necessarily and exclusively bear the totality of the physical, emotional, and financial tolls that come with using illegal performance enhancers now.

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The Invisible Weight of Whiteness: The Racial Grammar of Everyday Life in Contemporary America

I attended a lecture where Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (Duke) spoke on his concept of racial grammar. The following are my rough notes:

Racial grammar

  • sets the logic and rules of proper composition of ‘racial statements’ (and I add of what can be seen and ‘felt’)
  • grammar is mostly acquired through social interaction and communication
  • no grammar dominates completely any linguistic field as there are always breaks and challenges as well as alternative grammars

Discusses ‘Beauty and the Beast’ style misrepresentations and omissions of the media in terms of racial grammar. Specifically mentions cases where media shuns missing black girls and ccreates media circuses around missing white girls:

  • stories about whites as ‘universal’
  • casts white ‘beauty’ as all beauty
  • underrepresentation of minorities on TV and movies
  • minorities appear mostly in stereotypical fashion (cites Republicans who use the phrase ‘magic negros’, an apparent reference to Chip Saltsman’s infamous run for RNC Chairman)

Many of our cultural storylines:

  • Reinforce racial boundaries
  • bolster a ‘racial order of things’
  • present felicitous view of racial affairs

Cites CDC data from Tim Wise citing statistics that say white high schools students are seven times more likely than blacks to have used cocaine, twice as likely to binge drink and drive drunk, among other things. Claim: racial grammar is a tool to scapegoat blacks for the involvement and complicity of white people in these systems of crime.

Talks about oppressively white environments at colleges and universities, where the narrative of whiteness is so overwhelming that the culture and atmosphere remains unwelcoming and harsh. Talks about specific instances of racism towards black students on campuses.

Bonilla-Silva closed with some fragments from Langston Hughes’s poem, “Democracy“.

My Incipient Modeling Career

I just modeled True/False Film Festival apparel for a photographer friend, Mallory Taulbee, who owns her own photography business under the name Avia Photography.

This is of course not my first experience with the high-strung world of professional modeling. Earlier I appeared on the main poster for the CASA Speed Dating event in January 2009, though I can’t find a non-Facebook photo to link to.

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How Legalizing Performance Enhancers in Major League Sports Might Benefit Athletes

At the outset, let me note that I have an visceral dislike of the idea that the sports that I follow, or at least that I admire, should be populated by athletes willing to use performance enhancers of all kinds. But after thinking about performance enhancers more generally I found some incongruities in my own thinking and this series of posts will be my attempt to flesh out the meaningful arguments to the debate. So here goes.

I start by noting that athletes are often the people most likely to be injured meaningfully by sports. This is because they’re the ones risking their lives to make a payday or to win a medal. Coaches, team organizations, and the corporations that utilize the human capital of skilled athletes only face the costs of having poor outcomes in competition and seek to maximize profit. In this world athletes have substantial incentives to use performance enhancers to attain even marginal competitive edges because marginal differences, especially at the top, come with disporportionately larger payoffs. The organizations that support them face incentives to maximize athlete performance both continuously over time and in specific, critical situations.

But performance enchancers come with dangers. I don’t know the state of the literature, but I hypothesize that the illegality of consumption has some dampening effect on investment and research, so in an general sense we’re constricted to a limited and diffuse body of knowledge. That is to say, the typical things that people do to hedge against risk, specifically risk assessment, are a lot more limited in this arena and athletes have to bear the risk of unknown and poorly understood outcomes from specific enhancers without the prospect that time will be of much value. Additionally, the constraints on research and legality also constrain the knowledge of the medical professionals who illicitly provide enchancement services to athletes.

And athletes rarely have real recourse. In the case of death, perhaps there are liability issues that can be mediated through the legal system. It seems logical however that most athletes who use enchancers have to hide their use, even years after retirement. For athletes who have been injured through the direct or indirect use of performance enhancers, there is little to no recourse. There is no mechanism that holds medical professionals in this black market accountable, or even to separate negligent quacks and charlatans from real professionals. Moreover, teams and coaches who pressure and exploit athletes don’t face financial penalties or real sanctions from their actions, regardless of outcomes. Worse, athletes who aren’t stars are routinely undercompensated for the risks they face.

So here’s the argument as to why performance enhancers should be legal and athletes who consume them should be allowed to participate in sports. In a world where performance enhancers are legal, there are a lot more protections, legal and otherwise, for players. Legalization of performance enhancers means that players don’t face the real legal sanctions that the status quo holds and it’ll be politically easier to institute mandatory testing and disclosure of players who take performance enhancers. Players will face payoffs relevant to how consumers in the aggregate evaluate their decisions, though I doubt that consumers will really change their behavior too much.

Where this really pays off for players is where insurance companies and other market-based regulatory mechanisms get involved. Because legalization means that markets and market actors get access to more information. Performance enhancers become things subjected to rigorous scientific risk assessment and players have access to medical professionals who they can vet for quality and honesty. Treatments and procedures are documented and now athletes have access to legal remedies against people who exploit them for their talent and health.

I don’t like the thought of sports being poorer for not being pure. But it seems to me that as a spectator who is part of a system that ultimately victimizes a lot of athletes I should be willing to consider ways to end the exploitation of athletes.

I don’t know if there are empirics to support this argument, but I thought it was worth at least hypothesizing.

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Ezra Pound on Robert Frost

From The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, Robert Frost (Two Reviews):

There is another personality in the realm of verse, another American, found, as usual, on this side of the water, by an English publisher long known as a lover of good letters. David Nutt publishes at his own expense A Boy’s Will, by Robert Frost, the latter having been long scorned by ‘great American editors’. It is the old story…

…I remember that I was once canoeing and thirsty and I put in to a shanty for water and found a man there who had no water and gave me cold coffee instead. And he didn’t understand it, he was from a minor city and he ‘just set there watchin’ the river’ and didn’t ‘seem to want to go back’ and he didn’t much care for anything else. And so I presume he entered into Ananda. And I remember Joseph Campbell telling me of meeting a man on a desolate waste of bogs, and he said to him. ‘It’s rather dull here,’ and the man said, ‘Faith, ye can sit on a middan and dream stars.’

And that is the essence of folk poetry with distinction between America and Ireland. And Frost’s book reminded me of these things.

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Today at the Missouri Supreme Court

Got the email about the latest at the Missouri Supreme Court from communications counsel Beth Riggert, and thought that I don’t know of any Missouri blogs that blog Missouri Supreme Court decisions, so I thought I’d at least post the decisions:

1. Orla Holman Cemetery and Susan Rector vs The R. Plaster Trust, Stephen Plaster, Village of Evergreen:

The undisputed facts establish that Laclede County owns Row Crop Road. Because the Village of Evergreen did not annex the road, it is not within the Village’s boundaries, and the Village has no authority to regulate it. Because Orla Holman Cemetery has not proven it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law to an easement over the parking area, this Court reverses that part of the judgment and remands the case. In all other respects, the judgment is affirmed.

2. Manion vs. Elliott: The court decides in favor of a defendant in a probation revocation action where the presiding judge denied a request for a change of judge.

3. Akins vs. Director of Revenue: The court decides that 3 convictions stemming from one drunk driving incident meets the criteria for a ten-year license revocation.

4. Engel vs. Dormire: A rather sordid tale of government agents bribing informants and an innocent man’s 26-year struggle for justice.

5. Missouri vs. Brooks: Prosecutors use a defendant’s post-Miranda silence to impeach the defendant’s credibility. The court agrees with the defendant that this is unfair, reversing the decision and remanding the case back to the trial court.

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2012 Meta

Have you been following the huge wins the US military has been having in Afghanistan?

Prediction: President Obama will be able to neutralize the right-wing trope that he’s weak on terrorism and national security with 3 years of clear, consistent victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is one of the reasons why I don’t think that conservatives will be able to find a solid challenger for the presidency, at least not collectively. With that issue out of play potential conservative candidates will be crowded into an increasingly narrow set of issues that they can differentiate on and gain political traction with. There is a strong chance that the GOP will not be able to maintain internal coherence and will face Tea Party competition from a well-known political figure acting at least partially out of opportunism if not zeal. There are other policy advocacies that the President is sure to be considering that will further strain GOP coherence, particularly in areas where libertarians are at odds with social conservatives.

In this sense I’m not concerned that the Glenn Beck-style crazies on the right have taken over the conservative dialogue from the sane. I think that Democrat losses at other levels will be more because of the idiosyncrasies of the races and candidates and this is where the far right is likely  to be more meaningful. I’m not concerned that Sarah Palin or a Glenn Beck-style thug will be within a heartbeat of the nuclear football.

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The Literature on Local Food, School Nutrition, and the School Lunch Program

One of my prominent criticisms of Show-Me Institute blogger Sarah Brodsky’s opposition to local food movements is that her arguments are grounded in armchair theorizing without reference to any serious data or literature on the many and varied subjects that one might discuss on this issue. Here is a rough list of the work I am aware of in the field. The literature on the subject is deep and fascinating. I have attached commentary or key excerpts where possible. I apologize for any formatting inconsistencies, and I’ve tried to link to ungated versions of papers where possible. Obviously this is not close to an exhaustive list and I just realized I haven’t linked to any papers on the nutrition dilution hypothesis, so that’ll have to wait until I have time tomorrow. Continue reading

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The Shadow Cost of Undernourished and Hungry Children

I argue that there are significant implicit costs that opponents of school nutrition reform and the local food movement neglect in cost-benefit analyses of the grassroots transition to serving more local, nutritious foods in schools.  One of the key omissions is the implicit costs of hunger in the classroom. Kleinman et al 1998 in the journal Pediatrics note:

The data from this study reveal that hunger may constitute another of these poverty-related burdens and seems to have a unique impact on the daily psychosocial functioning of poor children. In this rigorously selected community sample of low-income children, hungry children were 3 times more likely than at-risk for hunger children and 7 times more likely than not hungry children to receive scores indicative of clinical dysfunction on the PSC.

They continue:

…Analysis of specific symptoms revealed that hungry children were 7 to 12 times more likely to exhibit symptoms of conduct disorder than not hungry children. In addition, the PSC case rate (8% in this sample) was consistent with case rates of 7 to 11% found in recent large-scale studies of low-income populations using an oral administration of the PSC,33,34 although lower than the rate found in earlier studies using the standard written administration with African-American children. Although poverty puts a child at-risk for dysfunction, the added burden of periodic experiences of hunger may increase the chance of psychosocial  dysfunction and may produce some important negative behavioral sequelae. Specifically, the findings from this study suggest that hungry children demonstrate higher levels of anxious and irritable, aggressive and oppositional behaviors than their low-income, but not hungry, peers..

Here is a partial list of the implicit costs associated with our collective failure to provide schoolchildren with sufficient nutrition through the school day. A useful framework is the concept of ‘guard labor’ developed by Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev.

  • The cost of discipline professionals in schools: security/police officers, nurses, counselors trained in psychiatry and other sciences predicated on managing behavior.
  • The cost of discipline problems in schools immediately linked to hungry or malnourished children. This includes the costs of separate detention facilities, social workers to manage cases, legal costs, incarceration costs, etc.
  • The costs of diagnosis and medication of misbehaving children. There is a massive industry that is predicated on the notion that we can medicate away most behavior problems. As a result, it is probably true that disorders like ADHD are massively overdiagnosed and drugs like Ritalin and Adderall prescribed far too often.
  • The implicit costs of the forgone gains in academic achievement. Hunger systemically mitigates the effectiveness of all other programs we have in place to boost academic achievement.

The implication here is that the aggregate costs of managing hunger and misbehavior in schools are large and systemic. Two additional implications:

  • This means that increasing net participation in school breakfast and lunch programs is a policy imperative.
  • This means that we should have a preference for nutritious food over processed commodity foods with low nutritive value and hard-to-evaluate safety risks (like the bottom-grade meat subsidized for school consumption by the USDA)

In terms of increasing net participation, serving tastier food is a logical choice. In this sense the pure taste dimension of food serves important branding function. So arguments that we shouldn’t spend more money on food that simply taste better miss the point: if we spend more money on tasty food, we increase school lunch participation, and we garner large-scale aggregate benefits to increased academic achievement and large-scale indirect savings from the reduction in the equilibrium quantity of non-productive guard labor and technologies used.

Why local food? And yes, the definition of what is ‘local’ is somewhat variable. But think of ‘local’ in relational terms, or in terms of search costs. ‘Local’ functionally means that search and management costs are low; in relational terms this means that you have a personal relationship of some meaningful nature with the people you do business with. In a world of electronic communication, this means that the spatial component is less meaningful. By way of example, take a look at the number of wineries trying to build their brands through direct internet marketing over Facebook, Twitter, etc. ‘Local’ wine products are branded and distributed globally and winemakers and brands can manage their relationships directly. ‘Local’ food also implies small production (or at least non-industrial production) and a commitment to sustainable farming; as a corollary, food yields are relatively lower and more nutritious.

Under these parameters, does it make sense for Sarah Brodsky to criticize a Vermont school district for spending an additional $1 per pound for local beef by misrepresenting this grassroots shift in consumer preferences as “protectionism”? Consider what the school in question (Sharon Elementary) got in return:

  • Less food waste and increased participation in their school lunch program, meaning lower waste costs and  systemically better academic outcomes:
    • When Ms. Perry used to prepare salads for the kids, there was a lot of waste. But when kids could choose what they wanted in their bowls or on their plates, more were eating fruits and vegetables, she says.
      The number of students buying hot lunch has jumped by 50 percent since the school added the salad bar, Perry says. The salad bar is also used for tacos and stir-fries.
  • Gains in student interest that directly translated to better academic outcomes:
    • Kids are interested, and teachers are given more diversity in the curriculum — they can work the food angle in science, reading and health classes, he says. “That really changes kids’ perspectives on the traditional reading, writing, math, science, social studies,” Mr. Williams says. “If they can see that they are meeting writing standards through doing a response to their cooking activity that day, you know, that means something to them.”
  • Increased the performance of students who responded well to different modes of instruction:
    • A student who may struggle with a textbook — sitting down and reading text and responding to text — may excel going into a place-based activity,” Williams says. “Whether it’s visiting a farm or going on some type of field trip and having a hands-on experience, and then being able to respond to that through writing.” Working with local farmers helps build community, he says, although that food may be more expensive than the commodity food that some schools use.
  • Lower marginal costs of providing education, since schools don’t have to pay for the expertise and knowledge base that they’re able to access from local farmers that they’re buying product from. This saves on the costs of purchasing curriculum and allows teachers to become more efficient by tapping into informational synergies garnered from collaboration with local farmers.
  • The article also notes throughout that this program has resulted in children getting excited to learn and performing well. Implicitly this means that there are savings from not utilizing non-productive behavior management personnel or technologies.

So here’s my point. There are fair criticisms and arguments as the difficulties and costs associated with the proposals to utilize more local foods in school lunches. But a fair assessment of the costs of child hunger in the status quo are also in order, and it is important to note the implicit costs of market distortions. But Brodsky doesn’t do that. She sticks to selective, patronizing arguments against the children and parents and school districts who evaluate the food choices available and decide it is worth the extra money and effort to acquire local food products (here, here, and here). In fact, virtually all of the articles Brodsky cites conclude that increasing usage of local food is good and present cogent arguments for improving the quality of school lunches, despite the structural barriers in the status quo. These are arguments she never addresses seriously or represents fairly.

Before I finish, I’ll address one last argument here. First, the role of public health agencies in promoting local food is a good and necessary one. The argument is that educated people make better decisions than ignorant people, and health decisions are hugely meaningful when we are confronting obesity and diabetic* epidemics that are caused in large part by uneducated consumption habits of our population. Public health agencies have a lot of work to do to persuade people to decrease their consumption of refined sugar, processed grains, and other processed foods that are artificially cheap because of large, market-distorting subsidies. In this sense, public health agencies have a consumer protection function: consumers are victims of large information asymmetries and the public agencies are uniquely placed to mediate those asymmetries. This is a good thing.

If we can replicate this program in Missouri, why not? I’ve been touting Culinary Institute of America graduate Brook Harlan’s** program at Rock Bridge High School and the Columbia Area Career Center for as long as I’ve known him and the woman he works with, Carrie Risner. Here is a profile of Brook and his program by local food blog He Cooks, She Cooks.

(*: Full disclosure: my father is an endocrinologist specializing in diabetic treatment. **More full disclosure: I’ve worked with several of Brook’s students and even hired some of them in previous jobs).

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Blog Meta

I’ve decided to change the way the main page of this blog appears by using the wordpress option to hide a selected portion of larger posts under a “fold” that you can click through. The reason is that I want visitors to the homepage to see the headings of 3-5 posts instead of having to scroll through longer posts that they’re not necessarily interested in. Thoughts?

As an aside, here is Rory Sutherland giving a Ted Talk titled “Life Lessons From an Ad Man“. Key concept: The interface determines behavior. You could write several papers on information economics from the ideas contained within.

Additionally, I’ve asked a couple friends and academics to co-blog a couple posts on this blog. I’ll keep you updated if I have responses and hash out specifics. I will say that I’ve asked a close friend to blog about the structural features of some fascinating emerging markets, and another to blog about their research into ethnomusicology. I’m excited.

Oh, and a quick book recommendation: Beppe Fenoglio’s Twenty-Tree Days in the City of Alba. Picked this up Monday, finished it tonight (after many interruptions). This is incisive, wonderful Hemingway-esque prose from a relatively unknown author. Truly remarkable.

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On the Honduran Constitution

Michael Dulick, a former teacher of mine, now retired and living in Honduras doing charitable work among the poor, writes to me Sept. 30th:

Then, suddenly, another turn, for the worse. Previously so proud of the freedoms he “preserved” by deposing Mel, Micheletti went a little crazy in the head á la Dr. Strangelove and decreed martial law–no assembling, no dissenting, no talking, no warrants, no warning. Not a lot different, really, from the police-state tactics in the streets of Pittsburgh during the recent G-20 Summit. But even Micheletti’s loyalists think he’s lost his mind. He’s certainly lost his trump card, his vaunted legality (see next paragraph). Panicked, the ‘presidenciables’ abruptly changed their tune from “We Are the World” to Megadeth. They fell all over themselves to condemn this latest threat to “democracy,” that is, to their own slim hope of legitimacy. Micheletti, for his part, said the crackdown was necessary to counter Mel’s continuing calls for “revolution.” Indeed, when Mel sounded the alarm for “the final push,” even his host President Lula of Brazil cautioned Mel to simmer down. And the U.S. State Department advised that Mel’s dramatics were “foolish.” Then, another little miracle: Micheletti quickly repented and promised to reverse the restrictions, begged forgiveness of “the people,” and he sent Lula a “big hug.” Jim Carrey plays more stable characters!

A legal study just published by the U.S. Library of Congress found Mel’s removal from the presidency constitutional, according to Honduran law, though not his removal from the country. You know, some readers have been confused by my reports–the result both of my glancing blows and even more because of the insane situation–but let me summarize. Unlike the U.S. constitution, some articles in the Honduran constitution cannot be amended, especially its strict one-term limit for the president. Furthermore, the constitution declares even the attempt to amend this provision an act of treason that automatically separates an official from their office. Mel forced the issue when he insisted on a sham balloting scheduled for June 28 to extend his term. The Supreme Court judged that Mel had crossed the line and they ordered his arrest, for treason. The army grabbed him and flew him out of the country. So the presidency was vacant, and Roberto Micheletti, president of Congress, next in constitutional succession (Honduras has no Vice-President) was sworn in. So there you are. Easy as pie. Very neat, on paper. Now, back to the real world, where, as the protesters at the G-20 in Pittsburgh would have noted, the poor should have had their say, too. In fact, conditions are so desperate here that maybe all the poor will say, “I’m going to America!” You already have a million Hondurans up there, what’s a few million more? Very inviting, especially with “Obamacare” in view…!

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On the Uniqueness of Springfield, Missouri

I have heard anecdotally for years that Springfield, Missouri, is the nation’s most competitive restaurant market. It is a test market particularly for national chains; if McDonald’s or KFC wants to forecast consumer response to a new menu item Springfield is where the item is first tested.

Does anyone know more on the subject? There doesn’t seem to be much literature that I could find through Google and I imagine most of the literature on the subject is proprietary. But I’m interested, if anyone knows where I might find information on the subject.

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Sarah Brodsky on School Lunch: Consumer Preferences = Protectionism

I’ll write a longer, more exhaustive post, but Sarah Brodsky’s latest post at the Show-Me Institute has me boggled with how inane and wrong-spirited it is. In it, she responds to an article in the Christian Science Monitor noting the following:

As Farm to School expands to include products like meat or cheese, it gets harder for supporters to justify the program as anything but protectionism. The appeal of local fruits and vegetables is easier to relate to. Anyone’s who’s eaten delicious fruit right off the tree can sympathize with activists’ support for local produce. (At least, we can sympathize in the early fall and late spring. Activists still have to explain how local produce is superior during the rest of the school year, when very few fruits or vegetables are harvested. Many will say to preserve the local food in the fall — but is locally preserved food really better than food that was preserved somewhere else, or shipped in fresh?)

Protectionism refers to the top-down trade policies of nations looking to protect domestic industries through tariffs or import quotas. Neither of these are the case. What is the case is that schools are working hard to transition from unsafe food low in nutrients to safe foods high in nutrients; often these are locally produced produce and meats. There is no restriction on the availability or price of market alternatives.

Further, Brodsky’s armchair theorizing is inane and worse than useless. Of course it’s true that there are seasonal variations in what is available. But it’s wrong-spirited to criticize the people who are making those decisions for making the rational calculations that say that it is worth it to them to begin transitioning their consumption in ways that take advantage of what is available locally when they can. Perhaps Brodsky should call the fourth-graders cited in the article and tell them that they should be eating industrially produced meat that may have high levels of bacterial contamination that they can’t easily monitor but is available for a lower price than local meat.

And Brodsky ignores what the article in the CSM actually says. Here are some excerpts:

The students are learning to eat healthier, and the focus on agriculture, local food and nutrition is paying off in the classroom, says principal Barrett Williams.

Kids are interested, and teachers are given more diversity in the curriculum — they can work the food angle in science, reading and health classes, he says.

“That really changes kids’ perspectives on the traditional reading, writing, math, science, social studies,” Mr. Williams says. “If they can see that they are meeting writing standards through doing a response to their cooking activity that day, you know, that means something to them.”

But activities like the farm field trips are what Williams really likes.

“A student who may struggle with a textbook — sitting down and reading text and responding to text — may excel going into a place-based activity,” Williams says. “Whether it’s visiting a farm or going on some type of field trip and having a hands-on experience, and then being able to respond to that through writing.”

Working with local farmers helps build community, he says, although that food may be more expensive than the commodity food that some schools use.

The grant helped to buy at least 200 pounds of ground beef from Back Beyond Farm in Chelsea, which cost about a dollar more per pound than hamburger from an area distributor, Perry says. But Vermont apples are cheaper than apples from other states, she says.

The school has raised money for the program by hosting a winter farmers’ market.

I am honestly stunned that the Show-Me Institute pays for this quality of scholarship. Brodsky’s argumentation is not even coherent, nor is it based on any educated or thoroughly researched framework. Brodsky simply does not like the idea that school districts are re-evaluating their school lunches and consider the investment in better meat and produce to be worth it; indeed, she characterizes this expression of consumer preferences as protectionism! Nor does she compute the implicit benefits of better academic achievement or the economies of scale that are generated when the school invests in multi-use programs like these.  And one would think Brodsky should know better: she is either a student or a graduate of a Masters program in economics at Loyola, which means at some point she’s been taught how to parse information and research at a graduate level.

I want to specifically note that I don’t deny the infrastructural problems or the issues that face school districts looking at their cafeteria as a place where improvement is drastically needed. Sensible debate can be had over food policy, from agricultural subsidies to nutrition to the constraints that schools operate under. Indeed, I had a great discussion about subsidy policy yesterday with an engineer friend, Eric Lefevre. But Brodsky’s analysis and argumentation are poor and patronizing. Indeed, most of her posts cite articles that are selectively interpreted for her purposes because they draw the opposite conclusion.

I don’t mean to discourage readers from the rest of the Show-Me Institute’s writers. Dr. Haslag, a former professor of mine, has some very useful and worthwhile advocacy in support of switching from a state income tax to a state sales tax here. The coverage of the Northside trial by Audrey Spaulding  is absolutely worth reading if you are interested in eminent domain and land use politics in this state. David Stokes covers the politics of contractor work in St. Louis (a fascinating and worthwhile read). But Brodsky’s advocacy is embarrassingly useless and I hope it doesn’t discourage people from thinking seriously about the benefits of feeding our children well.

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