It’s becoming more and more common for workers to be self-employed using apps like Lyft, Uber, Instacart, Postmates, and others. This transition has been called the “sharing economy,” the “gig economy,” and other optimistic-sounding terms. But what we’re really looking at is a “platform economy”: an economy where the primary beneficiaries are those who own platforms. It must be said that the basic idea of a platform economy is not new.
All this week I have been writing about issues of health in the United States. Americans are less healthy than our counterparts in other wealthy countries, for a variety of reasons. But the two biggest reasons are poverty and culture. Poverty can be dealt with using the bluntest of methods: throw money at it. It works. Food stamps, welfare payments, and other programs have been effective at poverty reduction, despite the bad press they have received and constant harping by conservatives that such initiatives only create generations of government dependence.
The series is not done yet! Today, I am writing about issues of American health and the ways in which they are bound up and influenced by morality politics. There’s no point mincing words: American attitudes, by and large, are more conservative than those of citizens in other wealthy countries. We are more religious, we take religion more seriously, and part of that is assigning moral components to almost every public policy decision.
Continuing on the theme of issues in American health, this time I want to talk about two things that haven’t gotten much attention so far: mental health and addiction. The good news is that mental health in the United States isn’t as stigmatized as it used to be. Overall, we speak about it more openly, and are more willing to seek treatment than in the past. The stigma is eroding, albeit slowly.
Given the title of yesterday’s article, it should be clear that this one is intended as a sequel, hitting on similar themes, but focusing more specifically on black Americans, who I believe didn’t get much focus in the study discussed yesterday. First things first: black Americans have lower life expectancy than white Americans. This is well borne out by statistics. The most straightforward way to put it is that black men and women today have the same life expectancy as their white counterparts did in 1970.
Recently, Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders released his healthcare reform plan. Suffice it to say, it’s a single-payer system. Others say this is unrealistic, impossible, etc. Many Americans are frustrated by the reality of the Affordable Care Act, when compared to what was promised. (This is ignoring, for the sake of argument, those who hated it all along.) If we could magically have a single-payer system tomorrow, would it work? Would it be cheaper?
I play the lottery now and then, by which I mean maybe once every year or two. I like to think I might win, but of course don’t entertain any illusions that I will. It’s more of a fun social activity to take part in a lottery pool at work, or among friends. But the lottery isn’t that way for everyone. Lotteries bring in billions while preying on the poor. They are touted as helping education funding, but once lottery funds pick up, it gives state legislators an excuse to cut taxpayer funding.
Today, parcel carrier FedEx is facing negative press from two sides: customers angry that their packages weren’t delivered in time for Christmas, and those who are upset that FedEx has employees working on Christmas Day. Bloomberg has an article today focusing on the former angle. It notes that UPS–FedEx’s main competitor–had similar problems a couple years ago, but is effectively able to have no operations today: UPS, which refined its peak-season strategy this year, said before the holiday that it was monitoring package volumes and could ask “a small fraction” of workers to sort or make deliveries on Friday.
Education reform is not a new topic in American discourse. The No Child Left Behind Act–perhaps the most extensive education reform carried out in the US in the past half century–was passed in 2001. Fourteen years later, its results are mixed, to say the least. But what if there was nothing to reform in the first place? What if the “education crisis” is another resilient, yet false, construct? The common scapegoats for the perceived failures of our education system are administrators, teachers’ unions, uninvolved parents, and government meddling.
Why do I have a job? Why do you? Why does anyone? If you’re lucky, what you do for a living is something you enjoy, or at least don’t have any strong negative feelings about. Otherwise, you might feel indifferent about your source of income, or even hate it but feel stuck with it because it’s the only way you can survive. Maybe you need multiple jobs to make ends meet.