Tag: new york times

The 21st Century Silver Spoon

ELIZABETH CURRID-HALKETT, associate professor of urban planning, USC’s Price School.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on Nov. 10.

In 1899, the sociologist Thorstein Veblen scathingly critiqued what he called the “conspicuous consumption” of America’s upper class. The rich were so obsessed with their social status, he wrote, that they would go to gratuitous lengths to signal it. His famous example was silver flatware: handcrafted silver spoons, though no more “serviceable” than and hardly distinguishable from aluminum ones, conferred high social rank and signaled membership in what he called the “leisure class.”

A silver spoon is no longer a mark of elite status. Take the nation’s top 10 percent of households. The top 1 percent — those making more than $394,000 annually — are today’s version of Veblen’s leisure class in terms of wealth, but they are not the biggest buyers of silver flatware. Instead, households in the rest of this high-earning cohort — those making between $114,000 and just under $394,000 — take the silver prize.

The Outrageous Cost of the Angelina Jolie Test

DAVID AGUS, professor of medicine and engineering, Keck School of Medicine of USC.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on May 21.

Angelina Jolie’s revelation that she had had a preventive double mastectomy was eloquent and brave. She had learned that she inherited a faulty copy of a gene, BRCA1, that put her at high risk for invasive breast cancer as well as ovarian cancer. Now women everywhere are asking: Should I get the same test? What will it cost?

Only one in about 400 women carry mutations to BRCA1 or to a related gene BRCA2, though such hereditary defects are implicated in between 5 percent and 10 percent of all breast cancers. The majority of the 230,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed annually in the United States are not related to these genes. But if you’re that one in 400 women, you’d want to know so you could make informed decisions about your health care.

Our Internal Food-Traffic Regulator

KATHLEEN A. PAGE, assistant professor, Keck School of Medicine of USC, and ROBERT S. SHERWIN, professor of medicine, Yale University.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on April 28.

Imagine that, instead of this article, you were staring at a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The mere sight and smell of them would likely make your mouth water. The first bite would be enough to wake up brain areas that control reward, pleasure and emotion — and perhaps trigger memories of when you tasted cookies like these as a child.

That first bite would also stimulate hormones signaling your brain that fuel was available. The brain would integrate these diverse messages with information from your surroundings and make a decision as to what to do next: keep on chewing, gobble down the cookie and grab another, or walk away.

Studying the complex brain response to such sweet temptations has offered clues as to how we

Successful and Schizophrenic

ELYN SAKS, professor of law, USC Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 25

Thirty years ago, I was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. My prognosis was “grave”: I would never live independently, hold a job, find a loving partner, get married. My home would be a board-and-care facility, my days spent watching TV in a day room with other people debilitated by mental illness. I would work at menial jobs when my symptoms were quiet. Following my last psychiatric hospitalization at the age of 28, I was encouraged by a doctor to work as a cashier making change. If I could handle that, I was told, we would reassess my ability to hold a more demanding position, perhaps even something full-time.

How to Escape the Debt Ceiling Limit

EDWARD KLEINBARD, professor of law, USC’s Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 10.

The fiscal cliff may have been avoided, but an even higher-stakes political standoff — this time, over the federal debt ceiling — is just around the bend.

Congressional Republicans have said they will demand immense cuts to popular government programs in exchange for agreeing to raise the nation’s authorized borrowing limit of $16.4 trillion. The Treasury Department briefly nudged against that ceiling on Dec. 31, but used “extraordinary” financial measures to buy more time. If nothing is done, the government will soon be unable to pay all of its bills in a timely manner. This unprecedented event would profoundly damage the government’s credit rating and send the financial system into a tailspin.

The 2,000-Year-Old Prescription to Control Health Costs

DAVID AGUS, professor of medicine and engineering, Keck School of USC.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on Dec. 11.

The inexorable rise in health care spending, as all of us know, is a problem. But what’s truly infuriating, as we watch America’s medical bill soar, is that our conversation has focused almost exclusively on how to pay for that care, not on reducing our need for it. In the endless debate about “health care reform,” few have zeroed in on the practical actions we should be taking now to make Americans healthier.

An exception is Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who is setting new standards that we would do well to adopt as a nation. In the last several years, he’s changed the city’s health code to mandate restrictions on sodas and trans fats — products that, when consumed over the long term, harm people. These new rules will undoubtedly improve New Yorkers’ health in years to come.

Obamacare Exchanges May Be Too Small to Succeed

DANA P. GOLDMAN, director of USC’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, MICHAEL CHERNEW and ANUPAN JENA, professor of health policy at Harvard University.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on Nov. 23.

With the re-election of President Obama, the Affordable Care Act is back on track for being carried out in 2014. Central to its success will be the creation of health-insurance exchanges in each state. Beneficiaries will be able to go a Web site and shop for health insurance, with the government subsidizing the premiums of those whose qualify. By encouraging competition among insurers in an open marketplace, the health care law aims to wring some savings out of the insurance industry to keep premiums affordable.

The Medicare Disadvantage

DANA GOLDMAN, director of USC’s Schaeffer Center, ADAM LEIVE, graduate student at University of Pennsylvania and DANIEL MCFADDEN, senior fellow, Schaeffer Center.

This op-ed originally appeared at the New York Times.

One question at the center of the Medicare debate is whether private insurance companies have a future role to play in the huge federal program. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget proposal gives private health plans a starring role in the form of a voucher program. But some economists would give them the hook, citing the failure of Medicare Advantage to control costs. Some perspective is in order.

Medicare Advantage has historically cost 7 to 12 percent more than traditional Medicare, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. But to conclude that this cost difference proves that private health plans have no place in Medicare misreads the Medicare Advantage experience in an important way: It ignores the decisive role that government has played in driving up the program’s costs. Medicare Advantage is only partly about reducing costs. It is also designed to increase choice for beneficiaries. And the incentives that government gives private health plans to expand choice end up undercutting efforts to save money.

New China Syndrome: Richer, Unhappy

RICHARD A. EASTERLIN, professor of economics, USC Dornsife.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times.

China’s new leaders, who will be anointed next month at the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress in Beijing, might want to rethink the Faustian bargain their predecessors embraced some 20 years ago: namely, that social stability could be bought by rapid economic growth.

As the recent riots at a Foxconn factory in northern China demonstrate, growth alone, even at sustained, spectacular rates, has not produced the kind of life satisfaction crucial to a stable society — an experience that shows how critically important good jobs and a strong social safety net are to people’s happiness.

The Shrinking World of Responsibility

JOHN MONTEROSSO, associate professor of psychology, USC Dornsife, and BARRY SCHWARTZ, professor of psychology, Swarthmore.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times.

Are you responsible for your behavior if your brain “made you do it”?

Often we think not. For example, research now suggests that the brain’s frontal lobes, which are crucial for self-control, are not yet mature in adolescents. This finding has helped shape attitudes about whether young people are fully responsible for their actions. In 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for juveniles was unconstitutional, its decision explicitly took into consideration that “parts of the brain involved in behavior control continue to mature through late adolescence.”