That generation is the millennials – our generation.
The culprit, say some social commenters, are millennials themselves. In this telling, we are a lazy cohort of entitled and narcissistic brats — the proverbial Generation Me. But this is a classic case of blaming the victim.
The true cause of this unfortunate situation is clear: It’s the economy. The Great Recession stymied economic growth, halted job creation, kept older Americans in the workforce longer, and encouraged younger Americans to continue debt-financed schooling.
Moreover, the Great Recession was not merely a one-off calamity — it was a symptom of economic ills long perpetuated and ignored. And the criticism and labels that have been heaped upon millennials bear much more resemblance to the type of intergenerational stereotyping that has always existed (“darn kids these days”) than to any measurable reality.
The truth: The economic tragedy of the Millennial generation was written before many of us had even learned to read — Baby Boomer parents and grandparents who, at once, genuinely love and care for us, but have also created or perpetuated institutions, policies, and economic realities that have now hobbled us.
Our generation has been called “entitled.” We beg to differ. If any generation is entitled, it’s our parents’ and grandparents’ generation: the baby boomers.
True entitlement is tripling the national debt since the 1980s and using the proceeds to spend lavishly on tax cuts and government programs that primarily provided short-term economic boosts, while refusing to raise the Social Security age of retirement or to reduce benefits, even as the gluttonous program careens toward unsustainability.
AAP Image/NEWZULU/ZOEA protester at recent Australia climate-change rallies in the lead up to the UN climate summit in New York.
True entitlement is allowing the reasonable minimum wage that Baby Boomers enjoyed when they were our age to deteriorate while opting to cut taxes on the gains from stocks and bonds that they accrued during periods of debt-driven economic and stock-market surges — creating an economy where wage earners at all income levels, as of 2012, receive a smaller portion of economic output at any time since 1929.
True entitlement is, for decades, enjoying the benefits of the lowest energy costs in the world while refusing to price-in the external costs of carbon emissions, exacerbating the real changes to our planet that pose profound risks to the environment and economy for which millennials will soon be the primary stewards.
These grave consequences were entirely foreseeable — but they happened. Young Americans have been fleeced in order to fund the transient excesses of the old — and yet millennials are labeled “entitled” because we were given “participation trophies” and “personal tutors” before we were old enough to vote … ?
Give us a break. Millennials are not entitled. But we are frustrated.
We’re frustrated, because the same baby-boomer bloc that created or tacitly perpetuated the policies that have hamstrung millennials now makes up almost a third of the American voting-aged population and holds nearly two-thirds of the seats of the US House of Representatives and Senate. This, during a decade-long span when incumbent House and Senate members are richly rewarded for being the most unproductive legislators in US history, respectively winning reelection 94% and 87% of the time.
Granted, many members of our generation need to learn how to vote every two years, not just every four. And we need to begin to fulfill the civic-minded label — “The Next Great Generation” — which social scientists have bestowed upon us. When we do begin to regularly share our opinions in the voting booth, not just on Twitter, you can be assured that we’ll act to keep this country great. We’ll make the “hard” choices the baby boomers have refused to make.
Already, we’ve learned how to be fiscally responsible — with the most student debt of any generation in history, we’ve had to. More than any other generation, we eschew expensive possessions like cars and large houses, opting instead for bikes and shared living spaces. Sure, we would like to own all that fancy stuff someday, but we realize that we can’t have everything we want.
“If everything you know about guns, dogs, and wild animals comes from rolling through Bass Pro and loading up on Duck Dynasty swag, meet the small but hardy group of sportsmen in the Ruffed Grouse Society. With a deep respect for the birds they pursue and a vested interest in seeing the habitats they love stay healthy, they are the future of hunting. But when they’re gone, who will follow the trail they’ve blazed?
“Good, Daisy! Good! Good girl!” Ron Ellis exclaims in a throaty whisper. Behind his wire rim spectacles, his eyes glow with pleasure. “It’s her first point,” he declares proudly.
Daisy is a 10-month-old Brittany weighing in at just over 30 pounds, the granddaughter of a 32-time field trial champion from North Carolina named Nolan’s Last Bullet. Bought from a breeder in Bowling Green, Kentucky, early in 2014, she has just pointed a farm-raised quail Ellis released in a fallow field thick with wild grass on the outskirts of Bethel this frosty November morning. He’s training Daisy on a docile upland game bird now so that she will be ready when they encounter the more elusive ruffed grouse and American woodcock in the wild. Ellis’s fascination with grouse is a lifelong passion; over the years it has served as something of a muse as he built a career as an outdoor writer, upland game-bird hunter, and committed conservationist. His reverence for the bird that he first began hunting at 14 is strong. Now 65, Ellis has hunted for most of his life and his relationship to the animals he hunts and the habitats they thrive in is fueled by an abiding respect. He cares about the grouse that he and Daisy are after but sometimes wonders if he and his dog are the last of a breed.
Daisy’s cognac-colored eyes have the depth of an old soul and match an exact shade in her orange and white coat as she glances up at her owner. She is the fourth Brittany he’s owned since he first brought home a spirited little bitch named Ellis’s Lady of Autumn—Lady for short—in 1976. Ellis, who lives in the Northern Kentucky suburb of Lakeside Park, summed up his life with and love for Lady a few years ago in “The Dog I Belonged To,” an essay published alongside work by such esteemed writers as Jim Harrison and Guy de la Valdène in Afield: American Writers on Bird Dogs: “I often counted myself lucky to have stumbled onto such a wonderful dog to partner with in loving wild birds and the beautiful places they called home.”
A hunter can own many bird dogs in his life, but his first one often looms largest in memory. Just talking about Lady transports Ellis back to other times and places. “She hunted her heart out for me, always, throughout all of our years together, with the meager expectation that at the day’s end she could remain close to me, maybe sleep curled up on the car seat beside me on the long ride home,” he recalls. “And I tried never to disappoint her.” But his attention today is on Daisy, whose own auspicious first has Ellis grinning from ear to ear. It’s clear that a dog has never been just a part of his sporting equipage. As he rubs her velvety ears, Daisy leans into his leg for more.
Out in the field—on one of the first cold days of autumn, necessitating both a wool cap and gloves—Ellis and his friend Mark Jones are putting their Brittanys through the paces. Jones has brought three of his own: Hope, a 16-year veteran with a greying muzzle and minimal eyesight but a nose that refuses to quit; Max, 12, the sole boy in the brood, who is fairly calm and collected throughout the morning; and Piper, a 4-year-old female who bounces through grass and brush with such relentless energy that she begs comparison to the Energizer Bunny. Both men, clad in khaki with orange hats and vests, wear whistles around their necks and give short bursts to keep the dogs on task.
After 27 years at Northern Kentucky University, where he served as assistant vice president for advancement, Ellis retired in 2001 to write full time. In 1998, as his father lay dying, Ellis submitted 25 pages of an intimate account of their relationship and mutual sporting connection with a “magical” tract of dense hickory woods in northeastern Kentucky to the University of Montana’s Environmental Writing Institute, taught by the novelist and environmental activist Rick Bass. On the power of his submission, Ellis was selected to attend the seminar and came away with both an active mentor and cherished friend: Bass wrote the forward to the book that grew out of those 25 pages—a fictionalized memoir called Cogan’s Woods, published in 2001. “In everything I write, landscape is a character, the primary character,” Ellis explains. “It breathes, loves, and smells. It is lit with sunlight and moonlight; animals come and go. And the landscape where I’m sure my heart is buried is Cogan’s Woods. I deeply love that place because my family’s history is there. My father’s heart is still there, I’m certain of that.”
Drive about 50 minutes in any direction out past Cincinnati’s suburban sprawl and you’ll find yourself in a similarly wooded setting—acres of family farms, private stretches of forest, and state-sanctioned wildlife areas all begging to be explored. Certainly inner peace can be sought in a church pew or yoga class, but it’s also readily found in a contemplative meander through the woods. We ferry our kids to countless sporting events and activities, but all too often neglect their exploration of the natural world and a solid understanding of their place in it. Collectively, American consumers spend millions of dollars a year on fad diets meant to budge the bulges created by processed foods—the more affluent paying top dollar for “clean” meat and fish while talking a steady stream about sustainable food sources, never having killed or butchered a chicken, let alone a deer, currently the most abundant (read: sustainable!) source of animal protein available in our wilds.
Much of this fervor is generational. Many Midwestern baby boomers, including my own father, grew up spending significant time outdoors hunting, fishing, or simply observing the cycles of life. The largesse of these wild places, where relentless forces of predation are constantly, though quietly, battling for domination, has given many of our elders a lifelong sense of awe and a commitment to a brand of conservation that is rooted in scientific study and common-sense land management. But with ever-increasing competition for young people’s attention, the old guard worries that their children and grandchildren may not share their appreciation and take up the mantle of informed environmental stewardship. As Bass put it in his essay “Why I Hunt”: “All I know is that hunting—beyond being a thing I like to do—helps keep my imagination vital. I would hope never to be so blind as to offer it as prescription; I offer it only as testimony to my love of the landscape where I live—a place that is still, against all odds, its own place, quite unlike any other.”
A commendable stance to be sure. Except that sometimes it’s difficult to get that heartfelt respect and appreciation for the land across when all non-hunters want to see is a guy marching into the woods to blast birds from the sky.
Ellis’s deep love of wild places forms the bedrock of his friendship with Mark Jones, a 67-year-old retired City of Cincinnati development officer. “It’s a natural friendship,” says Jones. “We’re interested in words and ideas, dogs and hunting.” The two are active members of the Gilbert R. Symons chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS), a national conservation group dedicated to preserving the habitat of the quixotic upland game bird that has fascinated them and other hunters for years.
Unless you hunt, or perhaps are into birding, you probably haven’t heard too much about grouse. They’ve got an avid fan base. In the anthology A Passion For Grouse: The Lore and Legend of America’s Premier Game Bird, the ruffed grouse is identified as a non-migratory, solitary bird that typically weighs a little more than a pound. Dubbed the “king of game birds,” it has been likened to a partridge but is notable for tufts of feathers at the base of the neck that look like avian shoulder pads. Both sexes share gray and red mottled crests at the crown of the head and are so similarly marked that it’s difficult to denote gender, even at close range. One of the few ways to tell is by the different dot patterns on their rump feathers—a single dot for females, two dots for males. The bird’s most distinctive characteristic, however, is something called “drumming.” Males establish and defend their territory by bracing their tails against a flat surface, standing upright on logs or stumps (referred to as drumming stages), and rapidly beating their cupped wings against the air. The low frequency sound reverberates in the thickly vegetated “early successional” habitat—that is, forest regularly disturbed by wind or fire every six to eight years—to attract females and warn off other males.
Ellis and Jones first met at a fund-raising dinner for the Ruffed Grouse Society more than 20 years ago and ultimately bonded over Ellis’s memoir. In addition to Cogan’s Woods, Ellis has since edited Of Woods and Waters: A Kentucky Outdoors Reader and In That Sweet Country: Uncollected Writings of Harry Middleton, on top of writing Brushes With Nature: The Art of Ron Van Gilderand numerous essays for various sporting anthologies.
Jones’s smirk is almost invisible beneath his bushy white mustache as he good-naturedly calls Ellis “the romantic.” It’s a mantle that Ellis accepts with a shrug and a rueful smile. “This guy’s all about deep introspection and effusive explaining. I just want to do stuff,” says Jones. A master of understatement and self-deprecation, Jones is a voracious reader and a regular contributor of literary criticism to Library Journal, but he’s also one hell of a do-er. If Ellis’s prose can entice a couch potato out into the winter woods in pursuit of an elusive game bird, Jones is a regular ringleader of the local sporting conservation movement.
This past April, the local RGS chapter staged a fund-raising benefit at New Riff distillery in Bellevue. Jones put the whole evening together. David Cook, chef and owner of Daveed’s Next in Loveland, and himself a hunter and lover of the outdoors, prepared multiple tasting courses with game provided by members, including rabbit à la King, Florida wild hog sausage with sauerkraut, Lake Erie walleye piccata, mallard duck confit, and sliced pheasant with peach compote and blackberry drizzle. The evening unfurled, slow and pleasant, an endless procession of food, tumblers of private-barrel bourbon, fly-fishing demonstrations on the terrace with Orvis instructors, and an extensive auction that included two guns—a CZ 20-gauge over/under shotgun and an Ithaca Model 37, one of only 10 ever produced, engraved specially for the society—both successfully bid on by women. Nationally renowned wildlife artist John A. Ruthven, a long-standing member of the society, always auctions off a signed limited edition print—this year it was “Dogwood Spring”—and he didn’t hesitate to toss in a charming anecdote or two, which helped ratchet up the bids. Jones estimated that that one night of good food and easy company netted more than $5,000, funds that will be used to finance habitat projects that the federal government can no longer afford to support.
Of course, it’s not just the federal government that finds itself strapped these days. In 2014, the Ohio Division of Wildlife reported spending 41 percent of its $59.6 million budget on fish and wildlife management; the remainder covered administrative costs, staff payroll, and outreach education. More than 60 percent of that working budget—well over $36 million—came from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, deer permits, turkey permits, and wetland habitat stamps. Federal dollars accounted for only 28 percent of the state conservation agency’s working budget. Bottom line: Ohio’s sportsmen and -women are funding habitat management, and often pitching in on the work themselves.
The list of habitat reclamation projects that RGS volunteers have lent their time, money, and muscles to in southern Ohio is impressive. Jones happily gives me a quick rundown: thinning stands of trees in parts of Shawnee State Forest to help develop more early successional habitat; laying down seed mixes that provide clover and other wild grasses that feed deer, wild turkey, and a variety of other woodland creatures; using habitat machines (similar to a bulldozer) to clear trees in Wayne National Forest and Tranquility Wildlife Management Area, which enables fledgling plants that provide both food and habitat to repopulate former pastureland that is no longer fertile and typically supports little biodiversity, often only red cedar. “These huge tracts [of red cedar] have become a monoculture, meaning animals do pass through, but the land is not providing any kind of quality habitat for them,” Jones explains.
At Indian Creek Wildlife Area near Fayetteville, RGS has invested about 10 years of habitat maintenance under the careful eye of trained wildlife biologists (who oversee all of the society’s habitat projects). By clearing culverts and creeks, they’ve helped to maintain the moist soil that woodcock need for easy access to worms, their dietary staple. The area is also adjacent to open ground where the birds often sing and attract mates. “We’re only cutting and clearing about an acre a year at that location,” Jones says—a rate that supports a variety of habitats. Fellow society member Rick Bryan III and his son Rick Bryan IV, owners of Bryan Equipment Sales near Wards Corner, play a key role in getting the work done, donating the use of their equipment (chain saws, safety chaps, hard hats, face guards, and protective ear muffs), and providing training for volunteers.
But it’s not all bulldozers and chain saws. According to Mark Wiley, an upland game biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, volunteers from the Symons chapter of RGS run three drumming routes in the Shawnee State Forest in southeastern Ohio. “There’s a two- to three-week period in April where these birds are at the peak of their drumming,” says Wiley. “We use 10 points along a roadside roughly half a mile apart—because the dense habitat can be tough to traverse—where a surveyor will get out of the truck or car and listen for a few minutes at each point. We train them to count how many drumming males they hear at each. Then they’ll move on to the next point, recording again, giving us an index as to whether there are more or less.”
In addition to drumming surveys—overall indexes are monitored at a state level and are publicly available—some RGS members also keep hunting diaries. “Since 1972, we’ve had a program where grouse hunters keep a diary,” Wiley says. “We send out about 200 to 300 diaries each year [in Ohio], some to guys who have been participating since the first year. Unfortunately not as many of the older hunters are in the field on a regular basis.” Indeed, as the average age of the grouse hunter has increased, the number of diaries the Division of Wildlife gets back has fallen to about 75. Still, the data is integral to understanding the health of the game bird population throughout the state. “For 100 hours of hunting, how many grouse are they flushing? In the ’70s and ’80s there were anywhere from 100 to 150 flushes in 100 hours,” says Wiley. “This year we are down to 22 flushes, and it’s all driven by [a loss of] habitat.”
Cutting down trees to help create habitats for multiple species may seem counterintuitive, but that has more to do with misconceptions that flourish in popular culture as opposed to well-researched and documented wildlife biology. “During the ’60s and ’70s, as much as 50 percent of Ohio’s forested land was in seedling and sapling stage,” Wiley explains. “That’s very young forest. Much of the non-forested land was in agricultural service and regularly plowed. As family farms were abandoned in southeastern Ohio and the land has reforested, Ohio has lost precious young forest—the exact habitat that is vital to the survival of ruffed grouse and American woodcock but also home to many songbirds, mammals, and reptiles. All species that are dependent on early successional habitat are currently trending downward.”
Wiley cites a study by Amanda Rodewald, formerly of Ohio State University and now at Cornell, who found that many species of songbird previously thought to be mature forest birds, such as the scarlet tanager, are
heavily utilizing these young forests. “Typically people think of a mature forest area—and I’ve seen this written—as a vibrant ecosystem,” says Wiley. “While that is the case, a young forest area is equally as vibrant and produces a lot of plant species that support wildlife, not only with cover but with foliage—like wild raspberry or blackberry.”
Wiley can also connect the dots further up the food chain. “[People] associate an animal like the bobcat with a forested system, but bobcats actually really benefit from early succession environments because that’s where you’ll find much of their prey,” he says. “We’ve been trained to think that no disturbance is a good thing for wildlife when in fact a wide variety of wildlife species are highly dependent on disturbance.” Human populations have purposely minimized the disturbances, especially when it comes to fire and disease; ironically, now that means the disturbances necessary to promote wildlife diversity require a human hand.
Wiley’s graduate studies at OSU involved a long-term habitat study of the bobwhite quail that continues today. The university’s terrestrial wildlife ecology lab is not the traditional stationary model. It includes four learning sites on different slices of private land with specific habitat characteristics located near Hillsboro, Sardinia, Belfast, and a parcel where Highland, Brown, and Adams counties converge. According to Olivia Smith, a master’s student currently working the sites, since 2008 OSU has fitted 774 birds with bands that utilize radio telemetry to zero in on habitat usage. Each tiny transmitter worn by a bird emits a specific frequency that can be tracked; birds must weigh at least 165 grams to offset the weight of the band. “Bobwhites usually move about 1.5 kilometers between seasons, depending on where they find good habitat,” says Smith. “While they can fly, they typically don’t unless they’re flushed.”
The results of Smith’s work help local conservation groups target habitat management projects; in turn, those groups provide funding and logistical support. “Both Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, not to mention Division of Wildlife, help us catch birds for tagging,” she says.
If it weren’t for the knowledge and skill of sportsmen and -women who have devoted themselves to the layperson’s study and passionate pursuit of upland game birds, many more academics would be fighting a rear-guard action. A week after his blowout 90th birthday bash at the Cincinnati Club—hosted by Senator Rob Portman and Nick Clooney, and attended by RGS buddies Ellis and Jones, along with more than 400 other friends—John A. Ruthven is giving me a quick tutorial of Herbert T. Brandt’s ornithology collection at the Geier Center, the collections storage facility of the Cincinnati Natural History Museum. Row after row of metal double door cabinets are filled with drawers containing birds from around the world. Organized by taxonomy, each bird bears a tag around its ankle denoting its Latin and common names, age, sex, collection date and location, name of collector, and any special or circumstantial information. Ruthven’s familiarity with these birds stems from the fact that he collected a lot of them.
Ruthven’s fascination with birds started early. As a kid, he would walk from his family home in Walnut Hills down to the shore of the Ohio River. “In those days it was safe for a young boy and I often took my sketch pads with me,” he recalls. “I was always encouraged by my family to draw and learned much about the outdoors by just looking.” The more he looked, the more he wanted to get closer to the birds and animals that he spied. His parents allowed him to sign up for correspondence courses—a luxury during the Depression—from the Northwestern School of Taxidermy. “Every month I received documents on how to prepare bird skins. Not for scientific study, but just how to stuff them and put them on a post or a table,” he says.
Eventually, his bird obsession paid off. In 1960, a painting by Ruthven (“Redhead Ducks”) won the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, a competition started in 1949 to promote the highly collectable stamp required for hunting waterfowl. Like much to do with hunting, conservation, and wild game, the annual competition flies under the general cultural radar, but it’s prestigious enough that Ruthven went from hardworking commercial artist (he designed the iconic Play-Doh logo) to a nationally recognized wildlife painter virtually overnight. He’s made a good living painting birds and other wildlife ever since.
Ruthven’s success owes much to his rigorous study of the subject. For Herbert T. Brandt, scion of a Cleveland meatpacking family, bird collecting was a passionate hobby. But in 1918, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, making it illegal for a private individual to collect birds for non-research purposes, and Brandt donated his birds to the City of Cincinnati. Eventually, the collection was housed at the University of Cincinnati and Ruthven became fast friends with its curator, Emerson Kemsies, who allowed Ruthven access to it for his artistic research. It didn’t take him long to start adding specimens himself.
A devoted upland game bird hunter, Ruthven secured collecting permits from Kemsies to bring back samples of non-protected birds from his research trips to Africa and South America. Ruthven would typically shoot a male and female of each bird required, then immediately peel the bird skin from the carcass and reassemble the bird’s body form using whatever stuffing material was at hand (he often improvised with wild grasses) and plenty of borax. Ruthven would wrap the bird in cotton batting, then plastic, and pack it up for its journey back to Cincinnati.
“Taking one or two samples does not impact the population as a whole, but yields significant information and a better understanding of the overall population,” says Glenn Storrs, curator of vertebrate paleontology and vice-president of collections and research at the Geier Center.
In 1962, after the publication of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s account of the devastating effect that pesticides were having on North American birds, Ruthven traveled to Africa and collected a variety of common bird samples for UC under the careful eye of the Nairobi Division of Firearms. The idea was that collecting samples of birds from beyond our shores would help scientists in the U.S. compare and monitor pesticide levels on various continents.
From one of the cabinets, Storrs helps Ruthven locate the last bird shot on that trip, a large African crow they found near downtown Nairobi. Ruthven recalls it happened to have been regularly defecating on a car owned by an official in the Division of Firearms. Storrs places the bird in Ruthven’s outstretched hands. “Well, hello there, old friend,” he says, fondly.
As drawer after drawer is opened to reveal exotic parrots, backyard robins, and eventually a jackpot of ruffed grouse, Ruthven’s ability to identify birds he gathered nearly 50 years ago is uncanny; his emotional investment in the collection and his understanding of its importance as a reference for both science and art couldn’t be clearer. Storrs estimates that there were 75,000 specimens in the collection when it was first donated by Brandt; at last count, they had more than 100,000.
“In 1968, Emerson came to me one afternoon and said that he thought he’d die soon,” Ruthven tells me. “Well, I thought that was just crazy and I didn’t want to listen to him, but he sat me down and explained that he’d made me the executor of his estate. He was sure that as soon as he was gone, UC would up and sell the collection. He made me promise that I’d use what he left behind to make sure the collection stayed in Cincinnati. He knew I was as committed to it as he was. Sure enough, two weeks later he died, and about two weeks after that I got a call from UC that they planned to sell. I set that guy straight. I told him that I planned to use all the financial resources I could to fight them and make sure the collection never left the city.” Ruthven chuckles at the memory. “I really scared them.”
A few days later he got a call from someone at UC. “He said if I wanted the birds I had better come and get ’em,” he recalls. Ruthven rented three vans, marshaled a committed group of volunteers, and together they moved 75,000 bird specimens to the old Cincinnati Natural History Museum on Gilbert Avenue. Surveying the room and all the open drawers of birds, Ruthven puts his hand on my arm and looks me dead in the eye. “I’m so glad I could save it,” he says.
Ruthven’s legacy would, at first glance, seem to be his prolific art career. With more than 800 original works and multiple commissions waiting to be completed, it’s obvious. But the closer one looks, it’s his outstanding dedication to the scientific and artistic study of wildlife, primarily birds, paired with a commitment to habitat conservation, that forms the formidable backbone of his oeuvre. Ruthven is fiercely proud of a plaque from Ducks Unlimited that hangs in his studio, commemorating his personal fund-raising efforts of well over a million dollars for the organization. Mark Jones estimates that he’s raised at least $500,000 for RGS as well.
Much has been written of Ruthven’s admiration for John James Audubon, the early American wildlife painter who spent part of his career in Cincinnati. Ruthven has been known to use techniques similar to Audubon’s in his art, furthering the ideal of hyper-realistic wildlife painting, including personally procuring and preserving his specimens. The difference between the two is that when Audubon was shooting the birds he catalogued, the North American continent was teeming with wildlife. No one in the 18th and 19th century could conceive of the drastic effects that human hands would wreak on American soil and in the air. Ruthven and his fellow hunters in the Ruffed Grouse Society fully understand that impact. Their desire to hunt game birds is what motivates them to document, maintain, and sustain the wild bird populations and their dwindling habitats.
When I ask fellow RGS members Ellis and Jones about cultural touchstones that inspire their dedication, like Ruthven they point out the contributions of parents, teachers, and mentors who led by personal example. But the flip side of that reverence is urgent concern, especially as they age, over future generations’ seeming lack of interest, scientific knowledge, and exposure to nature as a whole.
“More and more young people are interested in sustainable food from close to home,” Jones says. But without a parent, friend, or mentor who hunts, access to the sport can be tricky. “We encourage people to come to the RGS events,” he adds. “I love to invite people to come out to my place in March and watch the woodcock mating dance or train dogs with me.” Other RGS members are active in youth programs, introducing middle-school-age children to hunting safety courses and arranging youth hunts—doing their part to expose young men and women not just to hunting but to the thrill and unexpected mysteries of life in the outdoors.
“We have to get young people and more women involved,” stresses John Eichinger, president and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society. Eichinger has dedicated much of his adult life to conservation. Before moving to Pennsylvania to helm the RGS in 2012, he spent years volunteering with the Michigan United Conservation Club, an umbrella organization of more than 250 conservation clubs throughout the state, and also served as a vice chairman of the National Wildlife Federation. Eichinger admits that RGS’s challenges are not unique. “We are experiencing what other conservation groups are experiencing,” he says. “We have found over the years that many of the youth members of RGS also have a parent who is involved, and while we want to continue that, it’s now time to reach beyond.
“We know that we cannot do this on our own,” he adds. “We are actively looking for a partnership or an alliance with an organization that has programs for youth, particularly in urban areas. In the last census, the results showed us that 90 percent of the population live in or near cities. That doesn’t mean we need to turn everyone into a hunter—that’s not our objective at all—but we do need to get people outdoors.”
For all their earnest attention to habitat management and respect for the birds, the fact is that a lot of RGS members rarely even kill many these days. Most came to hunting when grouse and woodcock were plentiful, and white-tailed deer and wild turkey were few and far between.
“Decreasing populations of upland game birds, loss of habitat, and the aging of the bird hunter population dims the outlook for this sport’s popularity. It’s a reality that’s hard to face. In southwestern Ohio—except for woodcock hunting and dove shooting—you’re going to have to travel good distances,” notes Jones, who routinely drives up to his native Michigan, as well as New Hampshire, where he and his wife spend most of the warmer months.
Both he and Ellis actively lament the way hunting culture is portrayed on cable television. “I’m appalled because the emphasis is always on killing—like it’s football. Hey look, I’ve scored a touchdown!” Jones says, shaking his head.
In the course of my conversations with RGS members, no one bragged about birds killed or tried to give me any kind of hard sell on gun rights; mostly they came across as devout disciples of conservation. Ellis summed up his point of view with a line from Wallace Stegner’s open letter to the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission in 1960, later entitled “Wilderness Letter” and published in his book The Sound of Mountain Water: “We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”
Ruthven, Ellis, and Jones all speak solemnly about hunting ethics. They pick up spent shells and litter left behind by less concerned sportsmen—“It’s just how I was raised,” says Ellis—and are committed to cooking and eating every upland game bird they bag. Ruthven, who says his mother laid down the law and demanded that he never waste a life, enthuses over woodcock “stuffed with a jalapeño pepper, wrapped in bacon, and cooked exactly two minutes on each side over a charcoal fire.” Later on, Jones e-mails me a luscious-sounding recipe for baked grouse breast with crème fraîche, fresh thyme leaves, and wild mushrooms.
Ellis credits his father with his introduction to game bird hunting, but Germanic hunting culture sealed the deal. Stationed in Berlin with the Army in his early 20s, he spent hours at the Grünewald forest and joined a rod and gun club, immersing himself in a group that often switched between four or five languages during the course of an evening, reliving stories from wilderness regions around the globe and sharing a common love for bird dogs, clay pigeon shooting, and fine food and wine. “I’m not finicky, but a good wine and a good game bird and I’m happy,” he says. “It just hit me there—these are my people.”
There was a hunting school he was required to attend in West Berlin to earn a hunting permit. “It was all about respect for animals,” he recalls. “What color are the eggs? What are the seven terms for the mating dances? You also had to break a certain number of clay pigeons, and then complete a written and oral exam. It was a very big deal. I remember that the instructor—who looked like Kris Kringle in lederhosen—made me identify the scent glands on a roebuck, and asked me how many eggs were standard in a mallard duck nest.” He earned his beautifully illustrated Jägerbriefcertificate at the end of the course. It hangs in his home office to this day.
Ellis says that his son completed hunter safety courses when he was young and often hunted alongside him, but he’s 30 now and not currently hunting. “When I asked him why he went then and not now, he said, ‘I always just wanted to be with you, Dad.’ These days my son sends me postcards from all over the world and they’re all of beautiful, wild country,” he says. “He’s not hanging out in cities—he loves nature and experiencing those very special wild places.”
For Ellis that signifies one thing: mission accomplished. Still, fostering an appreciation for the majesty of the outdoors and a commitment to the conservation of the land he loves remains his prime concern. Sometimes that includes responsibly harvesting a bird or two for dinner, but more often than not it’s about a quiet morning tramping in the forest with his good friend Jones and their four Brittanys.
“The woods are a magical place for me,” he says. “That’s why I still go there. That awe, that wonder, that splendor—there’s always the anticipation of seeing something that I’ve never seen before.”
“YAMHILL, Ore. — ONE delusion common among America’s successful people is that they triumphed just because of hard work and intelligence.
In fact, their big break came when they were conceived in middle-class American families who loved them, read them stories, and nurtured them with Little League sports, library cards and music lessons. They were programmed for success by the time they were zygotes.
Yet many are oblivious of their own advantages, and of other people’s disadvantages. The result is a meanspiritedness in the political world or, at best, a lack of empathy toward those struggling — partly explaining the hostility to state expansion of Medicaid, to long-term unemployment benefits, or to raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.
This has been on my mind because I’ve been visiting my hometown of Yamhill, Ore., a farming community that’s a window into the national crisis facing working-class men.
I love this little town, but the news is somber — and so different from the world I now inhabit in a middle-class suburb. A neighbor here just died of a heroin overdose; a friend was beaten up last night by her boyfriend; another friend got into a fistfight with his dad; a few more young men have disappeared into the maw of prison.
Rick Goff, 64, of Yamhill, Ore., makes ends meet these days with odd jobs and his disability benefits. CreditSusan Seubert for The New York Times
One of my friends here, Rick Goff, 64, lean with a lined and weathered face and a short pigtail (maybe looking a bit like Willie Nelson), is representative of the travails of working-class America. Rick is immensely bright, and I suspect he could have been a lawyer, artist or university professor if his life had gotten off to a different start. But he grew up in a ramshackle home in a mire of disadvantage, and when he was 5 years old, his mom choked on a piece of bacon, staggered out to the yard and dropped dead.
“My dad just started walking down the driveway and kept walking,” Rick remembers.
His three siblings and he were raised by a grandmother, but money was tight. The children held jobs, churned the family cow’s milk into butter, and survived on what they could hunt and fish, without much regard for laws against poaching.
Despite having a first-class mind, Rick was fidgety and bored in school. “They said I was an overactive child,” he recalls. “Now they have name for it, A.D.H.D.”
A teacher or mentor could have made a positive difference with the right effort. Instead, when Rick was in the eighth grade, the principal decided to teach him that truancy was unacceptable — by suspending him from school for six months.
“I was thinking I get to go fishing, hang out in the woods,” he says. “That’s when I kind of figured out the system didn’t work.”
In the 10th grade, Rick dropped out of school and began working in lumber mills and auto shops to make ends meet. He said his girlfriend skipped town and left him with a 2-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son to raise on his own.
Rick acknowledges his vices and accepts responsibility for plenty of mistakes: He smoked, drank too much for a time and abused drugs. He sometimes hung out with shady people, and he says he has been arrested about 30 times but never convicted of a felony. Some of his arrests were for trying to help other people, especially to protect women, by using his fists against bullies.
In that respect, Rick can actually be quite endearing. For instance, he vows that if anyone messes with my mother, he’ll kill that person.
A generation or two ago, Rick might have ended up with a stable family and in a well-paid union job, creating incentives for prudent behavior. Those jobs have evaporated, sometimes creating a vortex of hopelessness that leads to poor choices and becomes self-fulfilling.
There has been considerable progress in material standards over the decades. When I was a kid, there were still occasional neighbors living in shacks without electricity or plumbing, and that’s no longer the case. But the drug, incarceration, job and family instability problems seem worse.
Rick survives on disability (his hand was mashed in an accident) and odd jobs (some for my family). His health is frail, for he has had heart problems and kidney cancer that almost killed him two years ago.
Obviously, some people born into poverty manage to escape, and bravo to them. That tends to be easier when the constraint is just a low income, as opposed to other pathologies such as alcoholic, drug-addicted or indifferent parents or a neighborhood dominated by gangs (I would argue that the better index of disadvantage for a child is not family income, but how often the child is read to).
Too often wealthy people born on third base blithely criticize the poor for failing to hit home runs. The advantaged sometimes perceive empathy as a sign of muddle-headed weakness, rather than as a marker of civilization.
Yes, these men sometimes make bad choices. But just as wealthy Americans inherit opportunity, working-class men inherit adversity. As a result, they often miss out on three pillars of middle-class life: a job, marriage and a stable family, and seeing their children succeed.
ONE of Rick’s biggest regrets is that his son is in prison on drug-related offenses, while a daughter is in a halfway house recovering from heroin addiction.
The son just had a daughter who was born to a woman who has three other children, fathered by three other men. The odds are already stacked against that baby girl, just as they were against Rick himself.
This crisis in working-class America doesn’t get the attention it deserves, perhaps because most of us in the chattering class aren’t a part of it.
There are steps that could help, including a higher minimum wage, early childhood programs, and a focus on education as an escalator to opportunity. But the essential starting point is empathy.”
This New York-based app developer aims to prevent food waste by letting its users connect with restaurants and grocery stores to buy their excess product before it’s thrown away. PareUp’s online marketplace is launching in early August and the mobile app will be available on Apple Store by mid-September.
“We want to change the cultural conversation around what it means to consume food and the life cycle of food,” says co-founder Margaret Tung. “Because we’re throwing out a lot more than needs to be.”
Together with Jason Chen and Anuj Jhunjhunwala, the PareUp creators have designed what aims to be a win-win system that benefits businesses and clients alike.
Using PareUp’s platform, food retailers can showcase inventory and indicate excess items together with a discounted price and the time when they’ll be ready for sale.
This helps stores and cafés make money by selling products that they could not donate anyway, either because of food safety regulations or because they don’t meet the minimum weight required to arrange a pickup with a food bank or shelter.
Meanwhile, people using PareUp can call dibs and get 50 percent off their favorite treats, from chocolate cookies and artisanal baguettes to BLT sandwiches and quinoa salads.
Trial users claim it’s also a way to explore the city. “I’ve found one of my new favorite spots in Williamsburg because of PareUp,” says Sinead Daly. “I went there with friends to buy handpies after we got a PareUp notification. My two friends lived across the street from the place and had never been! Now they go there every morning.”
PareUp makes a profit by taking a small fee from every transaction, but the app is free to download for both users and retailers.
Still, getting people to eat food that was previously doomed for the trash might take some convincing. Tung admits to a perception problem. “The key is to stop labeling such items as ‘leftovers,’” she says, adding that no products are actually expired.
For now, PareUp will only be available in New York City but its creators are looking to expand as soon as possible. The next destination will likely be Chicago, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., but the team says it’s received interest from retailers in London, Sydney and Toronto.
Of course, an app won’t end food waste, but it might help reduce the volume. And it easily beats dumpster diving.”
“The news: New Jersey man Baer Hanusz-Rajkowski recently found out the hard way that the cost of American medicine is totally out of control. Two days after slicing his finger open on the claw end of a hammer, Hanusz-Rajkowski sought medical attention at Bayonne Medical Center’s emergency room when the cut didn’t seem to be healing.
After a brisk visit in which Hanusz-Rajkowski did not see a doctor and did not receive stitches, he got a bill in the mail for $9,000. Essentially, Bayonne charged him months’ worth of pay for some gauze and a tetanus shot.
Here’s the breakdown:
– $8,200 for visiting the E.R.
– $180 for a tetanus shot
– $242 for “sterile supplies” (presumably, the bandage)
– $8 for antibacterial ointment
– Hundreds more for a few moments of the nurse practitioner’s time.
“Have you ever seen a congressman snacking on a measly tin of sardines? Or maybe a governor ordering a McChicken off the dollar menu?
In Washington this week that scene was reality for three Democratic politicians who are taking the Live the Wage challenge.
Reps. Tim Ryan and Jan Schakowsky joined former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in taking the challenge–and are each living on a budget of $77 for the week–the same amount that a minimum wage worker typically has to spend on food, transportation and day-to-day expenses–after factoring out major costs such as rent and utilities.
A $77-a-week budget certainly doesn’t allow for luxuries.
“I basically had a couple bags of peanuts in the cloakroom–and there was a little fruit in the office that I ate yesterday,” Rep. Ryan told ABC News. “I spent about seven bucks last night on a couple cans of sardines and a bag of crackers from the convenience store up the street.”
The congressman began the “Live the Wage” challenge last week with hopes of bringing attention to the hardships facing minimum wage workers around the nation.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky also began the challenge Thursday–telling ABC News, “It totally changes your perspective. Even the shopping experience–I make a shopping list when I go to the store usually. I think about what I need–what I want–and I put it in the cart. I truthfully rarely think about how much it costs.”
“I’ll walk down the aisle and I’ll see something–you know, that would be great and I throw it in the cart. There’s just none of that when you’re on that kind of budget. There’s no spontaneity whatsoever,” Schakowsky added.
Strickland even took a trip to McDonald’s to try out the fast food chain’s dollar menu. Strickland posted a photograph of his $2.20 meal on Twitter noting that the workers at McDonald’s–(a company known for paying the legal minimum)–”deserve a raise.”
In a Politico op-ed, Strickland explained that he was unable to complete the week-long challenge with a budget of just $77. One particularly difficult aspect the governor discussed was eating a healthy diet while living on a $7.25 hourly wage.
“Because fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find at a price within a minimum wage budget, I turned to bread, peanut butter, bananas and bologna more than anything else. That was what I could find when I took this budget to the grocery story last Sunday. And that’s why I ate lunch from the McDonald’s dollar menu.”
Schakowsky and Ryan have also taken to social media in recent days to share their message about the challenges facing minimum wage workers.
“There are a lot of people out there who do this for extended periods of time–years–so the idea is to get the message out and raise awareness about some of the difficulties that can happen to you,” Ryan told ABC News.
“We realize it’s not going to be exactly like the challenges that a minimum wage family faces, but the country is talking about the minimum wage right now. And I think that’s exactly what we want to do.”
Schakowsky echoed Rep. Ryan’s sentiments.
“I’m not going to pretend that now I understand what it’s like to live on the minimum wage. I think it’s a taste of it. But for anyone who thinks it’s a gimmick, my suggestion would be–try it,” Schakowsky said.
“You will get a small sense of what it’s like to be constantly thinking about how much you’re spending.”
Ryan and Schakowsky were co-sponsors of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013. Their goal is to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.
The push to increase the national minimum has steadily intensified in the past year–as the minimum wage has remained unchanged since 2009.
Last week marked the five-year anniversary since Congress last passed an increase to the national minimum, while the wage for tipped workers has remained at $2.13 an hour since 1991.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum wage doesn’t get you very far. “On average, a single-parent household (One parent, at least one child under 18) will spend $5,457 per year on food, or about $105 per week.”
That’s $28 above what a minimum wage worker has to live on for a week.
When asked about plans for reintroducing minimum wage legislation, Schakowsky was optimistic, but expressed concerns over whether Speaker of the House John Boehner would bring the bill to a vote.
“We’re hoping that we’re going to see another vote on it in the Senate and that there will be more pressure,” Schakowsky said.
“I fully believe that if Speaker Boehner were to call an increase on the minimum wage–that it would pass. It’s a matter of making sure that we just get more Republicans over this recess to ask the speaker to just call the bill.”
Ryan, however, was not as optimistic about the bill’s prospects before the midterm elections.
“I doubt it. The speaker’s holding the line on this. And I hope it’s a rallying call for the 65,000 minimum wage workers in my district–and the million and a half across the country,” Ryan said.
“Let’s increase the minimum wage and get people to work and make sure work pays. That’s ultimately the conversation we want to have.””
Yes, Germany is now considered a blossoming land of opportunity for immigrants. It is the top immigrant destination in Europe and only second to the U.S. in number of immigrants welcomed in 2012.
The country has radically simplified the immigration process for educated E.U. citizens and foreigners and has developed special programs to encourage unemployed Europeans to migrate, with Germany footing the bill.
Jordi Colombi, a 36-year-old Spaniard profiled by the Washington Post, exemplifies this migratory pattern. Colombi’s journey from unemployment in Spain to flourishing architect in Germany is symbolic of a functional immigration system.
Germany, who the Economistcalls “a bastion of strength in the fragile euro zone,” is experiencing a surge in jobs and an employment peak for the first time in 2014 since 1990. And it is growing and thriving in part because the country has laid out welcome mats for people wanting the “German dream.” Meanwhile, America’s stale immigration system that is indefinitely locked in limbo could learn a thing or two from Germany’s success.
Image Credit: AP
Germany Immigration Policy 101: In 2013, a record high of 437,000 immigrants flooded onto Germany’s border, Deutsche Bank reported. That influx has aided a shrinking pool of German workers, where the country “has Europe’s oldest population and second-lowest birthrate after Monaco,” according toBloomberg Businessweek.
Specific policies are tempting foreign individuals to seek out Germany’s employment opportunities and transition programs. E.U. nationals can easily migrate between the 28 nations. But Germany went beyond that measure by instituting a “Blue Card” system in 2013 where anyone “with a university degree and a job offer with a minimum salary of $50,000 to $64,000 a year, depending on the field” can immigrate, theWashington Postreported.
Additionally, Germany invested $609 million in a program targeting unemployed European 18- to 35-year-olds. The country pays for almost all of their assimilation including travel, language classes and accommodations during job training (though the program had to stop taking new applicants in April).
Other than occasional xenophobic incidents, the country has seen nothing but positive results of these policies. Deutsche Bank estimated that in recent years, 10% of Germany’s economic growth “can be attributed to an increase in employment of citizens from [Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain] and Eastern European partners.”
Meanwhile in America: On the other side of the spectrum, the U.S. continues to display an aggressive and degrading approach to the immigration issue. Particularly as the country faces what President Barack Obama has declared “an urgent humanitarian situation,” with more than 47,000 unaccompanied children that have been detained crossing the U.S.-Mexico border since October 2013.
This is how Governor Rick Perry (R-Texas) decided to respond to the flood of children fleeing their poverty-ridden and violence-laden countries in Central and South America.
And Perry, holding an automatic weapon to “protect our borders,” isn’t even the half of it. In early July, misinformed protesters — demonstrating against so-called illegals who threaten their jobs and apparently spread diseases — blocked three busloads of the detained children from going to detention centers in Murrieta, Calif.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In Bloomberg Businessweek, Harold Silkin outlines how a more nuanced approach to immigration reform could end up being a tremendous boon to the U.S. economy:
Filling America’s workplace needs is a huge challenge. On one end, U.S. agriculture and the food and hospitality industries seem to have an insatiable need for unskilled labor—mostly to do jobs Americans don’t want to do. This should not panic anyone. Unskilled laborers with inadequate (or nonexistent) English-language skills are not infiltrating U.S. factories, taking skilled manufacturing jobs away from American workers. Claims to the contrary are a fiction.
At the other end of the labor market are the thousands of computer, science, engineering, and other high-skill jobs U.S. employers also are having difficulty filling. This is not a new problem. It’s one of the reasons we have the H-1B visa program, which authorizes the annual hiring of up to 85,000 highly skilled (mostly technology) workers per year from overseas. In a country of 310 million, that does not an invasion make.
Final tally: Germany’s immigration system bodes well for the country’s economy. If Germany were to tutor the U.S., they would likely point to their own policies that embrace foreigners and produce a skilled workforce that propels the economy forward. They would also highlight anti-immigrant fanaticism that consistently paralyzes immigration reform.
In late 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “Germany today is a country that is indeed very open to immigration.” With so much success under their belts, Germany is the best model right now for immigration. The U.S. better start scheduling those tutoring sessions … we have a lot to catch up on.”
“We may now have a new “most unread best seller of all time.”
Data from Amazon Kindles suggests that that honor may go to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which reached No. 1 on the best-seller list this year. Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Piketty’s book seems to eclipse its rivals in losing readers: All five of the passages that readers on Kindle have highlighted most are in the first 26 pages of a tome that runs 685 pages.
The rush to purchase Piketty’s book suggested that Americans must have wanted to understand inequality. The apparent rush to put it down suggests that, well, we’re human.
So let me satisfy this demand with my own “Idiot’s Guide to Inequality.” Here are five points:
The situation might be tolerable if a rising tide were lifting all boats. But it’s lifting mostly the yachts. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created in America went to the top 1 percent.
Second, inequality in America is destabilizing. Some inequality is essential to create incentives, but we seem to have reached the point where inequality actually becomes an impediment to economic growth.
Certainly, the nation grew more quickly in periods when we were more equal, including in the golden decades after World War II when growth was strong and inequality actually diminished. Likewise, a major research paperfrom the International Monetary Fund in April found that more equitable societies tend to enjoy more rapid economic growth.
Indeed, even Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, warns that “too much … has gone to too few” and that inequality in America is now “very destabilizing.”
Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised. That has been a classic problem in “banana republic” countries in Latin America, and the United States now has a Gini coefficient (a standard measure of inequality) approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries.
Third, disparities reflect not just the invisible hand of the market but also manipulation of markets. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a terrific book two years ago, “The Price of Inequality,” which is a shorter and easier read than Piketty’s book. In it, he notes: “Much of America’s inequality is the result of market distortions, with incentives directed not at creating new wealth but at taking it from others.”
For example, financiers are wealthy partly because they’re highly educated and hardworking — and also because they’ve successfully lobbied for the carried interest tax loophole that lets their pay be taxed at much lower rates than other people’s.
Likewise, if you’re a pharmaceutical executive, one way to create profits is to generate new products. Another is to lobby Congress to bar the government’s Medicare program from bargaining for drug prices. That amounts to a $50 billion annual gift to pharmaceutical companies.
Fourth, inequality doesn’t necessarily even benefit the rich as much as we think. At some point, extra incomes don’t go to sate desires but to attempt to buy status through “positional goods” — like the hottest car on the block.
The problem is that there can only be one hottest car on the block. So the lawyer who buys a Porsche is foiled by the C.E.O. who buys a Ferrari, who in turn is foiled by the hedge fund manager who buys a Lamborghini. This arms race leaves these desires unsated; there’s still only one at the top of the heap.
Fifth, progressives probably talk too much about “inequality” and not enough about “opportunity.” Some voters are turned off by tirades about inequality because they say it connotes envy of the rich; there is more consensus on bringing everyone to the same starting line.
There’s still a great deal we don’t understand about inequality. But whether or not you read Piketty, there’s one overwhelming lesson you should be aware of: Inequality and lack of opportunity today constitute a national infirmity and vulnerability — and there are policy tools that can make a difference.”
Compared with the average OECD country, the U.S. delivers (population adjusted) almost three times as many mammograms, two-and-a-half times the number of MRI scans, and 31 percent more C-sections. Also, the U.S. has more stand-by equipment, for example, 1.66 MRI machines per 6,000 annual scans vs. 1.06 machines. The extra machines provide easier access for Americans, but add to cost. Similarly, occupancy rates in U.S. acute care hospitals are much lower than in OECD countries, reducing the likelihood of delays in admissions, but building that extra capacity adds to cost. Aggressive treatment of very sick elderly also makes the mix expensive. In the U.S. many elderly patients are treated in intensive care units (ICUs), but in other countries they would receive only palliative care. More amenities such as privacy and space in hospitals and more attractive clinics also add to U.S. costs.
While the U.S. mix of services is disproportionately tilted toward more expensive interventions, the other OECD countries emphasize a “plain vanilla” mix. Compared with the U.S., the average OECD country has 30 percent more physician visits and more than 30 percent more hospital days per capita.
One reason for the more expensive mix in the U.S. is it produces more income for drug manufacturers, specialist physicians, and others who have considerable influence on policy. Second, some patients prefer the more expensive mix, just as some prefer to shop at Whole Foods rather than Walmart. Third, some workers mistakenly believe that employers pay for their healthcare and that more expensive means better care. Health economists believe that the premiums for employer-sponsored insurance come out of potential wages. Similarly, the extra money the government spends for health could be used for education, infrastructure, the environment, and other public investment, but these alternatives are not readily apparent or agreed upon. Does the more expensive mix result in better health outcomes? There are no definitive studies to answer this question. Superficially, it appears that the systems in the other countries are more effective because their life expectancy is higher. But their advantage may be attributable to non-medical factors such as significantly lower poverty rates.
A second important reason for higher healthcare spending in the U.S. is higher prices for inputs such as drugs and the services of specialist physicians. The prices of branded prescription drugs in the U.S. are, on average, about double those in other countries. The fees of specialist physicians are typically two to three times as high as in other countries. The lower prices and fees abroad are achieved by negotiation and controls by governments who typically pay for about 75 percent of all medical care. Government in the U.S. pays about 50 percent, which would still confer considerable bargaining power, but the government is kept from exerting it by legislation and a Congress sensitive to interest-group lobbying.
The third and last important reason for higher spending in the U.S. is high administrative costs of insurance. This includes private insurance which covers more than half the insured population. Each year scores of insurance companies must estimate appropriate premiums for plans they wish to sell to several million employers plus 20 to 30 million individuals. In addition, hospitals, clinics, and individual physicians incur substantial costs in billing for each test, visit, and procedure regardless of whether they are covered by private or public insurance or self-pay. Many of our peer countries have lower administrative costs through more coordination, standardization, and in some countries a single national system or several regional healthcare-insurance systems, even when the provision of care is primarily a private-sector responsibility.
The complexity of private-sector insurance is not in the public interest. Each company offers many plans that differ in coverage, deductibles, co-pays, premiums, and other features that make it difficult for buyers to compare the prices of different policies. For most goods and services, wider choice for consumers is assumed to contribute to well-being. In the case of health insurance, however, the fact that the customer knows more than the insurance company about his or her likely use of care results in adverse selection. If the company sets a premium based on average utilization, the company will lose money on the high users and will lose as customers those who expect to use less than the average. It is not efficient or fair to allow a family to choose a plan with generous maternity benefits when they are planning to have a baby and then switch to a plan with no maternity benefits when they are not.
If we turn the question around and ask why healthcare costs so much less in other high-income countries, the answer nearly always points to a larger, stronger role for government. Governments usually eliminate much of the high administrative costs of insurance, obtain lower prices for inputs, and influence the mix of healthcare outputs by arranging for large supplies of primary-care physicians and hospital beds while keeping tight control on the number of specialist physicians and expensive technology. In the United States, the political system creates many “choke points” for diverse interest groups to block or modify government’s role in these areas.
For those who would like to limit government control, there is an alternative route to more efficient healthcare through “managed competition,” proposed by Alain Enthoven, a Stanford University Business School Professor, more than 25 years ago. It is based on integrated group practice, which brings the insurance function, physicians, hospital, drugs, and other elements of care into a single organization that takes responsibility for the health of a defined population for an annual risk-adjusted per capita payment. Examples include the Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound in Seattle and the Kaiser Permanente organizations in California.
Such organizations deliver high-quality care at lower costs, and some employers offer such a plan as one option, but most don’t. And even those employers that do offer a low-cost integrated group practice as an option typically pay the same percentage subsidy of premium regardless of whether the employee chooses an expensive plan or the low-cost plan. For managed competition to be most effective, employees should be required to pay the marginal excess of a high-cost plan over the low-cost plan. For one large employer who did follow this approach, 71 percent of the hourly paid men chose the low-cost integrated group practice while 63 percent of the salaried men chose one of the more expensive plans.(This statistic comes from a study in progress by Enthoven and myself.)
With regard to healthcare, the United States is at a crossroads. Whether the Affordable Care Act will significantly control costs is uncertain; its main thrust is to reduce the number of uninsured. The alternatives seem to be a larger role for government or a larger role for managed competition in the private sector. Even if the latter route is pursued, government is the only logical choice if the country wants to have universal coverage. There are two necessary and sufficient conditions to cover everyone for health insurance: Subsidies for the poor and the sick and compulsory participation by everyone. Only government can create those conditions.”
“I viewed my bad investment as yet another moral failure.”
That’s the problem with the GOP and conservatives and anyone who views “bad circumstances” as “moral failures.” This article perfectly outlines the poor logical reasoning behind many right-leaning and/or conservative outlooks. It just doesn’t make sense.
More often than not, by pushing for the viewpoints that the GOP advocates for, you are hurting yourself as well as others. He says it himself: “Yet I blamed all of my considerable problems on the government, the only institution that was actively working to alleviate my suffering. I railed against government spending (i.e., raising my own salary). At the same time, the earned income tax credit was the only way I could balance my budget at the end of the year… I felt my own poverty was a moral failure. To support my feelings of inadequacy, every move I made only pushed me deeper into poverty.”
By pushing against the minimum wage raise, for example, you are hurting your own prospects as well as the prospects of others. If wages were raised, money would be pumped into the economy making life better for EVERYONE. Just look at the states that have raised the minimum wage this year, they’re seeing higher employment growth than the states that didn’t.
“I was a 20-year-old college dropout with no more than $100 in the bank the day my son was born in 1994. I’d been in the Coast Guard just over six months. Joining the service was my solution to a lot of problems, not the least of which was being married to a pregnant, 19-year-old fellow dropout. We were poor, and my overwhelming response to poverty was a profound shame that drove me into the arms of the people least willing to help — conservatives.
Just before our first baby arrived, my wife and I walked into the social services office near the base where I was stationed in rural North Carolina. “You qualify for WIC and food stamps,” the middle-aged woman said. I don’t know whether she disapproved of us or if all social services workers in the South oozed an understated unpleasantness. We took the Women, Infants, Children vouchers for free peanut butter, cheese and baby formula and got into the food stamp line.
Looking around, I saw no other young servicemen. Coming from the white working class, I’d always been taught that food stamps were for the “others” — failures, drug addicts or immigrants, maybe — not for real Americans like me. I could not bear the stigma, so we walked out before our number was called.
Even though we didn’t take the food stamps, we lived in the warm embrace of the federal government with subsidized housing and utilities, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Yet I blamed all of my considerable problems on the government, the only institution that was actively working to alleviate my suffering. I railed against government spending (i.e., raising my own salary). At the same time, the earned income tax credit was the only way I could balance my budget at the end of the year.
I felt my own poverty was a moral failure. To support my feelings of inadequacy, every move I made only pushed me deeper into poverty. I bought a car and got screwed on the financing. The credit I could get, I overused and was overpriced to start with. My wife couldn’t get or keep a job, and we could not afford reliable day care in any case. I was naive, broke and uneducated but still felt entitled to a middle-class existence.
If you had taken WIC and the EITC away from me, my son would still have eaten, but my life would have been much more miserable. Without government help, I would have had to borrow money from my family more often. I borrowed money from my parents less than a handful of times, but I remember every single instance with a burning shame. To ask for money was to admit defeat, to be a de facto loser.
To make up for my own failures, I voted to give rich people tax cuts, because somewhere deep inside, I knew they were better than me. They earned it. My support for conservative politics was atonement for the original sin of being white trash.
In my second tour of duty, I grew in rank and my circumstances improved. I voted for George W. Bush. I sent his campaign money, even though I had little to spare. During the Bush v. Gore recount, I grabbed a sign and walked the streets of San Francisco to protest, carrying my toddler on my shoulders. I got emotional, thinking of “freedom.”
Sometime after he took office, I watched Bush speak at an event. He talked of tax cuts. “It’s the people’s money,” he said. By then I was making even better money, but I didn’t care about tax cuts for myself. I was still paying little if any income tax, but I believed in “fairness.” The “death tax” (aka the estate tax) was unfair and rich people paid more taxes so they should get more of a tax break. I ignored my own personal struggles when I made political decisions.
By the financial meltdown of 2008, I was out of the military and living in Reno, Nevada — a state hard hit by the downturn. I voted libertarian that election year, even though the utter failure of the free market was obvious. The financial crisis proved that rich people are no better than me, and in fact, are often inferior to average people. They crash companies, loot pensions and destroy banks, and when they hit a snag, they scream to be rescued by government largess. By contrast, I continued to pay my oversize mortgage for years, even as my home lost more than half its value. I viewed my bad investment as yet another moral failure. When it comes to voting and investing, rich people make calculated decisions, while regular people make “emotional” and “moral” ones. Despite growing self-awareness, I pushed away reality for another election cycle.
In 2010, I couldn’t support my own Tea Party candidate for Senate because Sharron Angle was an obvious lunatic. I instead sent money to the Rand Paul campaign. Immediately the Tea Party-led Congress pushed drastic cuts in government spending that prolonged the economic pain. The jobs crisis in my own city was exacerbated by the needless gutting of government employment. The people who crashed the economy — bankers and business people — screamed about government spending and exploited Tea Party outrage to get their own taxes lowered. Just months after the Tea Party victory, I realized my mistake, but I could only watch as the people I supported inflicted massive, unnecessary pain on the economy through government shutdowns, spending cuts and gleeful cruelty.
I finally “got it.” In 2012, I shunned my self-destructive voting habits and supported Obama. I only wished there were a major party more liberal than the Democrats for whom I could vote. Even as I saw the folly of my own lifelong voting record, many of my friends and family moved further into the Tea Party embrace, even as conservative policies made their lives worse.
I have a close friend on permanent disability. He votes reliably for the most extreme conservative in every election. Although he’s a Nevadan, he lives just across the border in California, because that progressive state provides better social safety nets for its disabled. He always votes for the person most likely to slash the program he depends on daily for his own survival. It’s like clinging to the end of a thin rope and voting for the rope-cutting razor party.
The people who most support the Republicans and the Tea Party carry a secret burden. Many know that they are one medical emergency or broken down car away from ruin, and they blame the government. They vote against their own interests, often hurting themselves in concrete ways, in a vain attempt to deal with their own, misguided shame about being poor. They believe “freedom” is the answer, even though they live a form of wage indenture in a rigged system.
I didn’t become a liberal until I was nearly 40. By the time I came around, I was an educated professional, married to another professional. We’re “making it,” whatever that means these days. I gladly pay taxes now, but this attitude is also rooted in self-interest. I have relatives who are poor, and without government services, I might have to support them. We can all go back to living in clans, like cavemen, or we can build institutions and programs that help people who need it. It seems like a great bargain to me.
I’m angry at my younger self, not for being poor, but for supporting politicians who would have kept me poor if they were able. Despite my personal attempts to destroy the safety net, those benefits helped me. I earned a bachelor’s degree for free courtesy of a federal program, and after my military service I used the GI Bill to get two graduate degrees, all while making ends meet with the earned income tax credit. The GI Bill not only helped me, it also created much of the American middle class after World War II. Conservatives often crow about “supporting the military,” but imagine how much better America would be if the government used just 10 percent of the military budget to pay for universal higher education, rather than saddling 20-year-olds with mortgage-like debt.
Government often fails because the moneyed interests don’t want it to succeed. They hate government and most especially activist government (aka government that does something useful). Their hatred for government is really disdain for Americans, except as consumers or underpaid labor.
Sadly, it took me years — decades — to see the illogic of supporting people who disdain me. But I’m a super-slow learner. I wish I could take the poorest, struggling conservatives and shake them. I would scream that their circumstances or failures or joblessness are not all their fault. They should wise up and vote themselves a break. Rich people vote their self-interest in every single election. Why don’t poor people?”