The following short video provides a really nice presentation of the gap between perceived and actual income inequality in the US .

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File:Classroom.JPGThere can be little doubt that schools across the nation have experience notable budget cuts since the recent economic fallout. Without protection from larger economic trails, educational systems have had to manage substantial budget cuts and reductions in available resources. Across different media platforms, new articles are peppered with headlines concerning the myriad of challenges schools are now facing. Despite financial tightening and limited avenues for support, it is clear that school performance has not escaped popular attention. With initiatives like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top”, schools must meet higher expectations within a highly competitive atmosphere – although some schools hit harder than others by adverse economic conditions. more...

This article discusses some of the fundamental flaws in game theory and discusses agent based modelling as a successor to model social emergence.

Axelrod (1984) made a major contribution to Game Theory in his book “Evolution of Cooperation” but thirteen years later he, dissatisfied with game theory, moves onto agent based modelling to rework his view of cooperation in his book in 1997 “The complexity of Cooperation: Agent-based Models of Competition and Collaboration”.  In a similar move, the Santa Fe Institute in the US was established in 1984 to grapple with complex social issues and used agent based modelling amongst other techniques to “collaborate across disciplines, merging ideas and principles of many fields — from physics, mathematics, and biology to the social sciences and the humanities — in pursuit of creative insights that improve our world”.  Additionally, the EU acknowledges the failure of traditional economics so adopts agent based modelling.

Agent based modelling captures the interaction between agents to simulate emergence whether at the physical or social level. NetLogo  provides an extensive library of simulations of both physical and social emergence that shows the diversity of application of agent based modelling.  These sample simulations can be readily tailored to meet the needs of social scientists.  The software is free and there is a thriving enthusiastic community support group.

Why is there a move by a prominent game theorist, the Santa Fe Institute and the EU to agent based modelling?  The article Game Theory as Dogma by Professor Kay (2005) discusses ample reasons to search for alternative techniques to model competition and collaboration  and emergence in general.  For instance.

The trouble with game theory is that it can explain everything. If a bank president was standing in the street and lighting his pants on fire, some game theorist would explain it as rational. (Kay 2005, p. 12) more...

I can no longer stomach certain clichés.  Last night at the Democratic National Convention, I heard one of these.  A university student, who introduced Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the Vice-President, noted that she “shouldn’t be here” and was “almost a statistic.”  My immediate response, to my computer screen, was “You still are a statistic and you don’t understand what statistics are.”  I know that she was just rehashing a cliché, but it is a cliché that privileges “self-help culture” and undermines social science.

To be fair, by this point I had listened to a number of speakers say little to nothing of substance for over an hour and was not in the best of moods.  Still, the defiant tone of “I didn’t want to be a statistic” and  “I shouldn’t be here” treat social statistics (not the social reality but the reporting of such statistics) as some form of oppression from which she, with the help of Dr. Biden, freed herself. more...

Sustainability, social progress, environmental protection, economic growth and energy are discussed using the sustainability framework in Figure 1, where sustainability is at the confluence of social progress, environmental protection and economic growth.

Figure 1 Sustainability framework

(Source: IUCN 2006)

There are designs being made toward Ecological Civilization and welcome moves to address the shortcomings of GDP in Completing the picture – environmental accounting in practice by the Australian Bureau of Statistics .  Extending the national accounts to include degradation of natural resources makes a measurable target for politicians to focus on rather than purely GDP.    However, there are problems when social progress is overlooked in the move toward more environmental protection. more...

There can be little doubt that because of the current economic conditions, a large part of society has undergone considerable strain. Whether discussing unemployment rates, downsizing, closed up businesses, or market trends, it seems that little has been left unaffected by these financial times. Of concern for this post is how schools, specifically secondary schools, have had to adapt to and deal with the economic state. Often making top news reports on major broadcasting stations or making the front-page of newspaper outlets, it is not uncommon to hear of another school having to face financial cutbacks and crisis. It is the budgetary tightening within schools that this post considers; more specifically, when facing budget cuts, what policies and programs are left in place and which are discarded.

A mentor and I are currently writing about the financial context of certain school practices and policies. When discussing school budgets, the primary concern is with which programs – on a continuum of being financed – receive budgeted funding given both the economic situation of the school and, more broadly, the larger economy? Stated another way, are there programs and policies that remain funded while others are cut, and if so, what is the reasoning or rational behind how budgeted funds are distributed? more...

On my weekly trip to the grocery store, the traffic seems heavier than usual; perhaps the nice weather has coaxed people from their homes or out of work. It is surprisingly warm today with a high reported to reach the 70s. Taking advantage, my car windows are rolled down, sunglasses are on, and it seems that Bruno Mars has gripped popular radio channels. While stopped at a red light (about a dozen cars back), I notice a group of about eight cars parked on the right side corner of the upcoming intersection.

This intersection is rather bleak and run-down. The building on the lot is abandoned; it seems to have been a major fueling station, but now, all that remains is the building’s structure and gas lines protruding from the ground. It resembles a quilt with different shades of white – some patches are more faded, some soiled from the dirt of the lot, and some brightly white. Having driven by this lot a few times in the past, graffiti artists oftentimes ‘tag’ and ‘piece’ this building for recognition but their artwork is quickly covered by a fresh coat of white paint.

As the light turns green, I find myself looking toward the gathering instead of the road. Three cars have been parked so that their trunk opens toward the road. From a distance I can see NFL jerseys, shoe boxes, clothing accessories, and a set of 22s (rims/wheals). Looking for a Bears jersey for the upcoming season, I pull in. Packed in the trunk of a ‘murdered out’ Dodge Charger, I notice “NFL Authentic” jerseys being sold for $40 instead of the sport store’s $120. Also, there are new air force ones, hand bags, new car parts, and even fresh sea catches being sold for a fraction of what major stores charge. During the roughly five to ten minutes on the lot, the three different ‘retailers’ had cycled through nine ‘customers’ making approximately $340. It seems that the deal was always on the turn; that the street-level sale had garnered attention from both ‘entrepreneurs’ and prospective ‘consumers’. more...

“Many US Blacks Moving to South, Reversing Trend” reads a recent headline from the New York Times.  This article evokes more than a reversal of geographic mobility as it cites a “New South.” This article follows, an article from a few days earlier entitled, “Black and White and Married in the Deep South: A Shifting Image.” Based on 2010 Census data, these articles suggest an America where the reversal of racial migration flows and long-standing taboos may signal an end to racial inequality.

Other recent articles have noted that suburbia, the once all-white enclaves that allowed its inhabitants to hoard resources gained in a discriminatory labor market, are now places where new immigrants settle and an emerging black middle class embraces home ownership.  The population shifts and more fluid racial boundaries that allow a growing number of people to identify as “mixed race” are encouraging signs. Certainly growing segregation and hardening racial boundaries would be unwelcome.

While these articles qualify as “good news”, I am both skeptical of the perennial overarching claims about the “end of racism” as well as concerned because the factors which continue to perpetuate racial segregation and its negative impacts still require attention. more...

In the last presidential election, “hope” that Washington could be a less partisan and ultimately a less corrupt and more transparent place, coupled with a longing for “change,” propelled Obama into office. That, and an intense disappointment with the previous administration. However, the economic meltdown and the generally painful economic situation for a large number of Americans has lead even many Obama supporters to question whether anything is actually different and whether our president can be pragmatic and effectual in difficult times. This had lead, for instance, one woman at the recent CNBC question and answer session with the President to say: “Quite frankly, I’m exhausted….defending the mantle of change I voted for.” She, in fact, rattled off a list of exhaustion, including how unpleasant life is for many “middle class” Americans today. Most are in historically unheard of debt, even if they don’t have college loans (but if they do, it’s even worse), many are losing their houses, some are reportedly even resorting to food banks because they simply can’t make ends meet. And this is in the middle class.

This CNBC press conference, largely because the audience consisted of Obama supporters, calls into question what those who voted for Obama are feeling about the economic situation. Who do you blame when things are bad if you voted for the person in charge? And, if I’m unemployed, caring about hope and change may not only be irrelevant now, but it may anger me that those were the more intangible values upon which I based my feelings in the last campaign. Not wanting to direct my feelings of frustration at myself, the party I voted for and the politicians I had a hand in electing will surely bear the brunt of my anger. Social psychological studies inform us that we are more likely to attribute blame to others or external forces for bad consequences and think of ourselves as having a role in the ones that prove to be useful or have a positive outcome in some way. So, I might feel good about the Democrats’ role in health care reform and feel as though my vote had something to do with it, but when it comes to the economy, the death of soldiers in two wars, etc., I might instead blame the administration and likely the President as the figurehead. And, what does this mean for the the 2012 political season? Frustrations are high and people don’t want to blame themselves, so they blame the administration (and that’s the Democratic supporters!). Looking forward to the next election, I have to wonder if there’s any way for the democrats and the President to escape this blame game unscathed.

Disappointed Supporters Question Obama

Attribution Theory

For the last several decades, depression rates have been on the rise at a rapid pace. At the same time, the economy was in a boom. Socioeconomic status is a variable that has been shown over and over again to affect the likelihood to experience depression; there is an inverse relationship between income/wealth and depression. If the economy was better a few years ago and depression rates were up, it is imperative that we think about what is happening and may happen in the future, as the economy has plunged and unemployment has risen to levels unseen in decades. With the economy struggling, with nearly 1/10 Americans unemployed (by official statistics – the numbers are likely much higher), it is necessary for Americans think about the ramifications for mental health of the looming economic crisis. According to MSNBC, first time jobless claims jumped by 12,000 last month and we know unemployment is certainly not a boon for mental health.

One question to ask is: to what extent will depression (or anxiety, for that matter) actually increase because of the recession (or depression as some suggest we are in)? In other words, how many new diagnoses of this impairing condition will be directly related to these jobless claims, unemployment status and general downturn of the economy? But another equally important line of thinking, especially for sociologists, is about what will happen to “depression,” as a diagnostic category, if the economy begins to affect so many people that much of the American population seems disordered in some way?

When the economy is good, those who are depressed because of unemployment or poverty are considered disordered, even if they are responding to a normal, stressful social situation – or position in the social structure. However, what happens when increasingly large numbers of people are “disordered” because of that same situation? It’s no longer a social anomaly, or residual deviance. Now, it’s actually normal. Will we be diagnosing and likely medicating large quantities of the population for symptoms related to the stress of home foreclosure, unemployment and poverty more broadly? Or, will it become more normal and acceptable to experience symptoms of sadness because of socioeconomic status or economic distress, as increasing numbers of people experience these problems? These are important questions to investigate, both because of the distress associated with increased experience of depression and because of the problems associated with diagnosing illness where it does not truly exist – the over-inflation of illness estimates and the over-prescribing of medications, just to name two.

Of course, there are myriad factors to consider here. One other is the price of treatment and medication for mental illness. Generally, wealthier people get the best mental health treatment. It is usually not the people who actually need help the most that get good treatment – or any treatment at all, for that matter. If this is the case, then we might assume that a great deal of the people who are unemployed, underemployed, losing their homes and in general economic ruin, will not necessarily be the ones who seek (or are able to search out) help for depression. If this is the case, then we might actually see a decrease in the rates of depression, as people who might once have been able to afford help for a mild form of depression may not be able to seek help for more intense symptoms. And, the population that is likely to still be employed (minus some wall street execs) are the people who can afford treatment. They are not affected by the economic crisis in the same way.

Jobless Filings at Highest Point Since November

Depression, in The Blackwell Dictionary of Modern Social Thought