Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Sunday, January 15, 2017
 
Denying human exceptionalism
The Washington Post reports that Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circuses are ending their traveling shows. I have mixed feelings. My own prejudices are against seeing animals kept in sub-optimal conditions in captivity, especially transported from venue to venue, but also in favour of keeping an iconic company that employs 500 people open. I'm also afraid of what animal rights extremists will do next. Just because some animal training regimens might be objectionable or that particular captivity conditions are insufficient, hardly means that all zoos and animal exhibitions are wrong. But PETA and the Humane Society will target them next. Indeed, the Post quotes PETA's official statement reacting to the closure of the circuses:
All other animal circuses, roadside zoos, and wild animal exhibitors, including marine amusement parks like SeaWorld and the Miami Seaquarium, must take note: society has changed, eyes have been opened, people know now who these animals are, and we know it is wrong to capture and exploit them.
From one target to another. But the public shouldn't be fooled by PETA, which denies human exceptionalism. Note that the statement says that "people now know who these animals are." It's what these animals are, not who. PETA and their allies want to ban pet ownership and zoos because they consider animals equal to human beings.


Saturday, January 14, 2017
 
McGinnis on first-contact movies
In his January Interim column, Rick McGinnis writes about Arrival (starring Amy Adams) and first-contact movies:
I have always been a sucker for the “first-contact” subgenre of sci-fi movies – films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, District 9 and, at the very genesis of the genre, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Distinct from the usual sort of sci-fi that re-imagines westerns or war movies with ray guns and space ships, these films try to imagine how humanity would cope with an alien race that has built a civilization without our history or cultural references, and the existential crisis this would inevitably provoke ...
First-contact movies are a philosophical exercise masquerading as an entertainment, and one with profound spiritual implications. They’re a by-product of a culture that has been secularizing with growing speed for over a century, but they touch on every kind of theological idea and heresy, flirting with Gnosticism and imagining the aliens as both devils and gods – or even God. When made with intelligence and skill, you can feel the spiritual yearning in every shot, the desire for an answer even if – absent any actual aliens – we’re really just asking ourselves the question.


 
Action vs. design
CafeHayek's Donald Boudreaux's comment on his selected quotation of the day:
Neither society in general, nor the economy in particular, is a machine to be engineered; instead, each is a process that emerges, along with each of their many and ever-changing specific features, as the result of human action but not of human design.


 
NFL Divisional Round
Houston Texans (9-7) at New England Patriots (14-2) Saturday 8:15 pm: This is considered one of the most lopsided games in playoff history with the Vegas line is at 15 points. No one is giving the Texans a chance to win this -- Will Leitch says the best chance Houston has to win is if New England forfeits the game because it misses the bus to the stadium. The Patriots have the best scoring defense in the NFL and the second best offense according to Football Outsiders; Houston has the 30th best offense according to FO. The Pats won their week three contest 27-0 using third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. This game could be close. The Texans have a decent pass rush and if they get to Tom Brady, maybe he makes a mistake and Houston gets lucky. I just wouldn't be on it.
Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (11-5) Saturday 4:35: Seahawks beats the Falcons 26-24 in October, but that game was in Seattle. The 'Hawks have only forced three turnovers in the five games since safety Earl Thomas's season ended in injury against Carolina in Week 13; in that time they held the Los Angeles Rams to three points and the Detroit Lions to six, but have also allowed 38 points (Green Bay Packers) and 34 (Arizona Cardinals). Without Thomas the entire 'Hawks defense is ... different. It doesn't have the depth to mix things up to confuse opponents. The Falcons D ranks 27th in points allowed (25.4 ppg) -- it allowed at least 24 points in each of its five losses -- so if the O-line can protect Russell Wilson and the Seattle run game does just enough to keep Atlanta's defense honest, Seattle should be able to put up points. While Seattle has the second best scoring defense (17.5 ppg), they face a dynamic Falcons offense that scored an average of 33.8 ppg during the regular season, or a ridiculous 540 points in total. Even if Richard Sherman takes Julio Jones out of the game, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan has has distributed the ball around all season that losing his top target shouldn't matter that much. The way Russell Wilson has played this season, Seattle can't really be expected to keep up with Atlanta's high-scoring offense, and without Thomas, it is difficult imagining the Seahawks keeping the game close. Atlanta wins at home to get to the NFC Championship game.
Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Dallas Cowboys (13-3) Sunday 4:40: Probably the two premier teams in NFC history, although the Packers have appeared in five NFC Championships since the last time the Cowboys made such an appearance. This is another rematch from the regular season (in fact, all four divisional games are). In week six, the 'Boys went to Green Bay to face one of the top run defenses at the time. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 190 yards in a Dallas 30-16 victory. Green Bay isn't going to win because of some Aaron Rodgers magic, but the Pack have a chance. Green Bay has scored at least 30 points in each of their last five games and put exactly 38 on the scoreboard three times. While the Dallas D greatly improved this year, it is only a slightly below average defense overall. The Cowboys could be hard pressed to stop Rodgers who has been nearly perfect since Week 12, running the table to win the NFC North by throwing 19 TDs (with no picks), completing 70% of his passes and posting a 121.7 passer rating. He beat the Giants last week, and despite the fact New York has a superior defense, he put up 362 yards against the G-Men. Even without Jordy Nelson, Rodgers should be able to feast on the Dallas secondary. The Cowboys have an efficient and diverse offense. Elliott led the league in rushing and keeping the ball out of Rodgers' hand will be essential for Dallas to win. Eating clock makes sense. Rookie QB Dak Prescott has shown incredible poise all season: four picks and four lost fumbles, whereas Rodgers had seven and four respectively. According to Football Outsiders, Dallas the the second best running offense, third best passing offense, and third best offense in the red zone. The Packers have been missing numerous cornerbacks at the same all time all season, and this weekend is no different. Prescott should be able to eat up yardage in the play action and the deep threat to Dez Bryant. The Boys have just too many offensive weapons for the injury deleted Packers to stop. Green Bay could win in a shootout, but I wouldn't count on it. Dallas wins a high-scoring game to return to the NFC Championship for the first time since the 1995 season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) Sunday, 8:15: The game has been moved from the early afternoon to nighttime due to an ice storm hitting the area this weekend. Steelers have won eight in a row (including the wild card game) and earlier this year they beat the Chiefs at home 43-14, but week four is an eternity ago. Both sides were better teams by the end of the season. The Steelers had the fewest sacks up to week 10, but have the most sacks since then. Pittsburgh has scored at least 24 points in each of their last eight games and have allowed 20 or fewer in six of them. The offense is capable of putting a lot of points on the board. Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown are an unrivaled trio at the offensive skill positions, with Bell the best running back in the NFL and Brown one of the top two wide receivers. They can beat opponents by running the ball, short passes, or the deep threat. Teams can defend two of the three but it impossible to scheme against all three, although the weather might take long passes out of the playbook. Last week, Brown scored two 50+ yard touchdowns, but they were on a slant and a screen pass. Bell scored two TDs, including completing a drive in which he carried the ball on all ten plays. Both Pittsburgh's offense and defense is top ten according to Football Outsiders. Kansas City has a middling, vanilla offense predicated on avoiding turnovers. Any Steeler fan would rather have Pittsburgh's linebackers keeping short passes small plays than have their secondary try to prevent big ones, so this could be a favourable matchup for Pittsburgh. That said, Kansas City's Travis Kelce has emerged as the best tight end in the NFL when The Gronk is sidelined with injuries. The key for the Chiefs is Tyreek Hill, a dynamic WR and the league's most dangerous punt returner; Pittsburgh must figure out how to minimize long runs and possible scores when kicking and punting (KC has eight returns for score). It will help the Chiefs that they can pressure Roethlisberger with LB Justin Houston and without blitzing to keep enough defenders in coverage to prevent Brown from turning short passes into long distance runs. Safety Eric Berry has been a beast in the secondary, with two pick sixes since his return. He is exactly the kind of opportunistic defender to make Roethlisberger pay for foolish throws under pressure. Everyone expects a close game. If it is, special teams could make a real difference. Football Outsiders has the Chiefs as the best special teams in the NFL and Pittsburgh's punt return coverage is the weakness for its special teams unit. There is a lot of variance in this game, partly because of special teams and turnovers. If the 3 Bs are on and Pittsburgh doesn't turn over the ball, the Steelers could have a lop-sided road victory. But KC's defense could dominate and keep Pittsburgh off the scoreboard or force them to kick field goals. Both of these teams are top five defenses in the red zone and with the poor weather, I expect a close, lowish scoring game. This is probably my heart speaking, but I'm see either a late Pittsburgh field goal or defensive stop to help the Steelers get to the AFC Championship.


Friday, January 13, 2017
 
Cowen on citizens vs. experts
Riffing on William F. Buckley's famous comment that he'd rather be ruled by the first 2000 people in the Boston telephone book than the faculty of Harvard, Tyler Cowen says the citizens vs. experts argument is a dichotomy he considers too simple. Rather the argument is "when we should side with the citizens and when with the faculty." That is, the policy preferences and sensibilities of one group is preferable in some circumstances, but the other group is other circumstances. Cowen explains: "I prefer the citizens for broad questions of policy and society," because "the citizens are more likely to be in touch with the concerns of everyday life, and less likely to embrace utopian schemes." But, "when it comes to the nuts and bolts of governance, typically I would prefer to be ruled by the Harvard faculty, even recognizing the biases of experts." Cowen explains there are upsides and downsides to both groups:
For better or worse, direct rule by [William] Buckley’s 2,000 American citizens probably would mean a slower pace of immigration, less emphasis on free trade, more law and order politics, and a blunter form of nationalism in foreign policy.
Those don’t match my policy preferences (I am more of a globalist, and also a professional academic), but I fear what the Harvard faculty could bring. I can imagine an America closer to Bernie Sanders’s vision, with single-payer health insurance, levels of taxation exceeding 50 percent of GDP, levels of immigration unsustainable with a large welfare state, too many aggressive attempts to legislate equal treatment for various groups, excessive fondness for a universal basic income, and too many humanitarian interventions abroad.
Cowen is concerned that government by faculty would "underestimate the backlash" against attempts at social engineering and that the faculty governors would lack the necessary humility to prevent policy from "rac[ing] too far ahead of the citizenry." Yet, in some areas, the faculty experts are preferable, namely for problems that defy "common-sense fixes" and require some technical expertise. For Cowen, that includes the work of the Federal Reserve, environmental protection, and trade policy.
The column is self-recommending.


 
French paper to ignore polls
The Guardian reports that Le Parisien will not commission public opinion polls in the next presidential election campaign:
“Rather than just talking about what some see as errors in the polls, we’ve decided to go back to the core of our profession: going out in the field, proximity to people,” said Stephane Albouy, editor of Le Parisien, which with its sister paper, Aujourd’hui en France, was historically among the biggest media users of political polls, which often dominated their front pages.
“I’m not attacking opinion polls,” Albouy added. “They don’t do their job badly – they give a snapshot. The problem is the way the media uses them.” He said he wanted his newspaper to stop obsessing about the “horse race” element of which candidate was in top position and do more in-depth reporting on the public mood and policy platforms.
Pundits often decry the lack of interest in public policy and then focus on the horserace. I'm not sure that one paper moving away from the horserace aspect of a campaign will shift the political culture that much. The public is probably not well served by the endless polls. I'm not sure what the editor means by "proximity to the people," but that might not be great either. Getting the reaction of individual irrational and low-information voters is a less accurate snapshot than are polls.
And yet, there is a case that public opinion polls are pieces of information that voters should have. French pollster Roland Cayrol told The Guardian, "I don’t think people vote based on polls but I think more and more voters take polls into account in terms of the impact of their vote. It allows them to be strategic and that’s fits with my idea of democracy." Voting to stop this party or help that one might not be as noble as voting for the platform or leader that one thinks is best for the country, but why can't it be a factor?
In my Walter Mitty moments when I imagine myself the editor of a large daily, I ban polls from stories but doing so requires the hiring of unusually inquisitive journalists who don't have Walter Mitty moments of being political strategists. The problem with polls might have less to do with voters than how they incenvitize lazy and often dumb journalism. I hope Le Parisien has political reporters who don't need this crutch to fill column inches.


Thursday, January 12, 2017
 
Better late than never: getting behind Brexit
The Daily Mail reports that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has accepted Britons' choice to leave the European Union:
Philip Hammond today admitted that he had finally come to terms with the public’s decision to back Brexit despite his previous warnings about leaving the EU.
In a significant shift in tone, the Chancellor urged fellow Remain supporters to accept the result and focus on achieving a strong divorce deal with Brussels.
Mr Hammond, who has attracted criticism for his gloomy tone in the aftermath of the referendum, said that his position had ‘moved on’ after once claiming that Brexit would leave Britain poorer.
He said "people like me" have moved on, indicating the debate is now about what kind of Brexit. It is magnanimous of the Chancellor to accept the referendum result more than six months later.
To his credit, the former foreign minister did not comport himself like his predecessor, George Osborne, or even the former prime minister, David Cameron, in a campaign of scare-mongering during the referendum. But as recently as October, pro-Brexit cabinet colleagues were suggesting that Hammond was throwing a wrench in the gears to slow down the process and last month Hammond was promoting a soft Brexit with a long timeline (and the Financial Times called him the "standard-bearer of Soft Brexit). His comments to a little league version of Davos in Germany might be an attempt to publicly get on board with his government's harder core position. At the very least, he cannot be seen undermining the insistence of his boss that Brexit means Brexit. Hammond's posture in recent months has been Brexit means as-little-Brexit-as-possible-whenever-it-happens. That's an unacceptable position alongside Prime Minister Theresa's relatively unclear but more emphatic statements. Hammond had to, and is, getting in line with his government on this essential file.
Hammond took a tough line at the Die Welt economic summit this week calling on German officials and businesses not to use Brexit to give the EU a leg up on Britain because their economies will be best served everyone succeeds. Surprisingly, even tougher was Bank of England's Mark Carney, who used his testimony before the Treasury Select Committee as a warning to Europe that they had more to lose than did Britain if they screwed over The City. Riffing on earlier comments that London is Europe's banker -- British financial services account for three-quarters of EU foreign exchange trading, about three-quarters of hedging products, and half of all lending -- Carney reminded continental Europe, "If you rely on a jurisdiction for half of your lending [and] half of your securities transactions you should think very carefully about transition from where you are today to where you will be tomorrow."
It's nice to have Hammond and Carney on board with the clearly expressed will of the British people to leave the European Union. It's about time.


 
Democratic politics has its black equivalent of 'player to be named later'
Via the Daily Wire, we learn that Axios has the list of candidates for a Hillary Clinton cabinet. We shouldn't make too much of this -- I assume someone on every campaign does this. Of course, presidential or prime ministerial candidates have given some thought to who should hold what job in their administration. But it is unusual that such a list becomes public. Here is HRC's list:
Secretary of State: John Podesta, Bill Burns, Joe Biden
Deputy Secretary of State: Kurt Campbell, Wendy Sherman
Treasury Secretary: Sheryl Sanderg, Lael Brained
Defense Secretary: Michèle Floury
Attorney General: Loretta Lynch retained, Jennifer Granholm, Jamie Gorelick, Tom Perez
Commerce Secretary: Gregory Meeks, Sheryl Sandberg, Terry McAuliffe
Labor: Howard Schultz
HHS: Neera Tanden
Energy Secretary: Carol Browner
Education Secretary: Jennifer Granholm, John Sexton
EPA: Likely an African American (and/or at Education)
Budget Director: Gene Sperling
U.N Ambassador: Tom Nides, Wendy Sherman, Bill Burns
Director of National Intelligence: Tom Donilon
CIA Director: Tom Donilon, Mike Morell
Check out who Clinton, or her team, wanted at the Environmental Protection Agency and maybe education.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017
 
Joe Biden to make history
Joe Biden will likely become the longest serving vice president not to break a tie in the Senate during his time in office. Biden has been in office 2,922 days and the Senate has had more than 1500 roll call votes, but he has never been called upon to break a tie. Dan Quayle and Charles W. Fairbanks never voted to break a tie, and they are the only two vice presidents to serve a full term (1,461 days) and not have to be the deciding vote in the Senate. The fewest tie-breaking votes cast by two-term vice presidents was three, by both Daniel D. Tompkins (James Monroe) and John Nance Garner (Franklin D. Roosevelt).


 
Reporting on police shootings
Jason Riley writes in the Wall Street Journal about the violence -- often lethal violence -- on the streets of Chicago. Riley writes:
Crime reporting these days seems more focused on the behavior of the police than on the behavior of criminals. Police shootings of black men are rare, for example, but they get far more media coverage than when black civilians shoot one another, which is much more common. There were 4,368 shootings in Chicago last year, according to the Chicago Tribune’s crime database. Almost all of the shooting victims were black, and more than 99% of the shootings were carried out by civilians, not cops.
Riley is correct to say this is a serious tragedy being ignored by the media. There should be more reporting on the escalating violent crime epidemic in several American cities, especially Chicago. That said, the media covers the unusual not the typical, so police shooting civilians is more newsworthy. The problem is the ideological torquing that does along with that reporting and the lack of context (99% of blacks are not shot by cops, most of them are by members of their own race, and that most inter-racial crime is black on white).


 
Giving to charity
Chris Blattman has a post on giving to charity -- his thinking and which organizations are recipients of his generosity. I agree with some of the thinking (favouring cash transfers (and thus praise for GiveDirectly), understanding that one's dollars go further in the developing world, the important work that GiveWell does, and that "the means and end to human well being is good government and political rights and freedoms") but I disagree with many of the specific organizations that he supports directly. But mostly I disagree with the number of charities and individuals that he supports. Nineteen years ago (today) Steven Landsburg made the moral case against diversifying charitable giving arguing that "Having made that judgment," about which charity deserves your first $100 donation, "you are morally bound to apply it to your next $100 donation." I encourage you all to read both pieces to help you think about how to give to charity intelligently. Few of us donate with much thought, which means we are giving sub-optimally.


 
Real News
The Daily Mail: "Home Secretary's high heel got wedged in the Downing Street pavement." Maybe a little embarrassing for Amber Rudd, but news?


 
Improving access to mental health services in Canada
Doctors David Gratzer and David Goldbloom have an editorial in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry: "New Government, New Opportunity, and an Old Problem with Access to Mental Health Care." Noting that "more money alone does not necessarily result in better care," they have three policy recommendations for federal government to improve access to care:
Ottawa should look to scale up successful existing mental health programs. Access to mental health services is problematic, but creative programs already exist in this country. Strongest Families Institute, for example, helps families of youth with anxiety and attention issues by educating them, with DVDs and workbooks, and weekly follow-ups with e-therapists. Here’s the irony: this evidence-based program is not available in several Canadian provinces, but it is used in Vietnam and Finland (P. Lingley-Pottie, Strongest Families Institute, personal communication, 2016). The Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation (chaired by Dr. David Naylor) recommended that Ottawa establish an innovation fund; in mental health, there is plenty of innovation, and that type of targeted funding would be important.
Ottawa should better develop technology to deliver e-mental health services. Across the country, people struggle with access to mental health services, but those in rural areas find access to care to be particularly problematic. Consider the gap between cities and noncities in Canada’s largest province: psychiatrist supply is 62.7 per 100,000 population in Toronto but just 8.3 in northeastern Ontario. Technology could help: Internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programs that are well designed have been shown to rival traditional, in-person CBT. Future work could be modeled after Australia’s e-therapy programs that offer CBT and other psychotherapies to people with Internet access. And televideo psychiatric consultation also overcomes geographic barriers. Furthermore, Internet-delivered therapies could be used to bridge cultural and language barriers, not just geographic ones—relevant both in Toronto and northeastern Ontario.
Modeled after the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (or NICE; www.nice.org.uk), Ottawa could create a national clearinghouse for treatment recommendations. With most of psychiatric care provided by family physicians, rather than psychiatrists, access is not just about getting better specialty care but about accessing informed primary care. But if primary care doctors need timely and relevant information on psychiatric conditions, this information is currently provided by different professional bodies, using different formats and standards. The federal government has a role here and should work to make it easier for primary care providers to get unbiased information on evidence-based care. Indeed, the creation of a knowledge exchange centre was part of the original mandate of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which has not been fully realized. A Canadian version of NICE would be nice—and given its impact in the United Kingdom, it would be important.
The authors also have recommendations for physicians, noting, they, and psychiatrists in particular, need to "modernize their work to better address the poor access to care."


Tuesday, January 10, 2017
 
Another name for trade is exchange
At Cafe Hayek Donald Boudreaux talks about how people's thinking about trade becomes distorted when we put the term "international" in front of it:
People in my neighborhood freely trade with people outside of my neighborhood. Sometimes this freedom to trade works to the immediate disadvantage of my neighbors – for example, to have the oil changed in my car I do not use my nearby, neighborhood service station; instead I go to the dealership where I bought my car, which is several miles from my home.
Fortunately, we have no sub-discipline in economics devoted to the study of “interneighborhood trade.” ...
Trade is trade is trade, no matter how many, or what sort of, political borders it might span in any specific instance. Economists should study trade, period, with no more attention paid to international trade than to interstate or intercontinental on interneighborhood or interfamily or interhousehold or interpersonal trade. Without a separate sub-discipline called “international trade,” the general public would be spared – and rent-seeking interest groups would be denied – the many misleading mirages that are created when trade is discussed as if its character and contents are fundamentally different when it spans political borders compared to when it doesn’t.
Me: another name for protectionism is bigotry. Trade limitations are morally indefensible because it assumes that one class of people -- my fellow citizens -- are more deserving of my money in exchange for their goods or services than are the citizens of another country. Protectionism is outright discrimination against foreign workers and business owners, and it has no place in a civilized society. None. If you think that protectionism is defensible, apply the principle to those who live on the next street, another city or province, or any other group of people (by race or religion or ethnicity) and see how what is being proposed sounds.


 
Obama and Guantánamo
In 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama repeatedly vowed to close Guantánamo and on the first day of his presidency he signed an executive order closing the facility. During the first year of Obama's administration, the New York Times explained that closing the Cuban island American military prison. Fair enough, these things can take time. But eight years later, Guantánamo is still open. Amnesty International in its report on American human rights abuses:
On 10 January 2017, there were 55 people still held at the base, 45 of them without charge, the remainder facing, or already having faced, military commission proceedings incompatible with international fair trial standards ...
For eight years, the Obama administration has failed to address the detentions as a human rights issue. Instead it has applied a distinct “law of war” framework and allowed domestic politics to override international human rights norms. This is consistent with a long held reluctance of the USA to apply the same international standards to its own conduct that it frequently says it expects of others.


Monday, January 09, 2017
 
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Presidency dropped an average of three bombs an hour
NBC reports:
The U.S. dropped an average of 72 bombs every day — the equivalent of three an hour — in 2016, according to an analysis of American strikes around the world.
The report from the Council of Foreign Relations comes as Barack Obama finishes up his presidency — one that began with promises to withdraw from international conflicts.
According to the New York City-based think tank, 26,171 bombs were dropped on Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan during the year.
CFR warned that its estimates were "undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single 'strike,' according to the Pentagon's definition, can involve multiple bombs or munitions."
According to CFR's Micah Zenko and Jennifer Wilson nearly 24,300 of the more than 26,000 bombings were in Syria and Iraq.


 
From No Society to Big Society to Shared Society
The Daily Mail reports that in a speech Monday British Prime Minister Theresa May will outline her domestic agenda. In it she is expected to outline how government and civil society can help every layer of society, especially the JAMs -- those Just About Making it. It is expected to address improving mental health services, government programs were state intervention makes sense, a call for personal responsibility, and advocacy of non-government organizations to help where they can. Of course, everyone believes in those things, it's just a matter of to what degree for each.
In an interview on Sky News, the Prime Minister was talking about mental health issues when she said "it is always wrong for people to assume that the only answer to these issues is about funding." For May, this goes beyond mental health; like Cameron, she's thinking about the education that needs to take place in order for a cultural change to take effect. The first step in improving mental health might not be funding, but reducing the stigma of talking about mental illness. It is pretty clear that May doesn't think the first answer to everything is a government program.
The Daily Mail reports that May calls her plan the Shared Society and the paper says it has echoes of Cameron's Big Society. The paper reports:
Downing Street insists Mrs May's Shared Society is a significant development of social policies pursued by Mr Cameron and Margaret Thatcher, who sparked controversy by declaring there was 'no such thing as society'.
A senior Whitehall source said: 'Thatcher didn't believe in society; Cameron wanted the Big Society to replace the state; we believe there is a role for government, but it must be shared with the public.
The Sun and the Sunday Express both take the angle that May is repudiating Cameron's position -- the Sun reports May "will shift the Tory position on society once again" -- but it seems pretty close to me. Cameron's Big Society vision wasn't about replacing the state but, rather, replacing Big Government. There is room for government, but it should be limited and it shouldn't have a monopoly on helping or always be the helper of first resort. May and Cameron share that common-sense view. May perhaps is a bit friendlier to the state's role, but this is a matter of degrees not kind. Her interview does seem to signal a repudiation of Thatcher's view that there is "no such thing as society." I cannot imagine the Iron Lady saying, as May did: "From tackling the increasing lack of affordability in housing, fixing broken markets to help with the cost of living, and building a great meritocracy where every child has the opportunity of a good school place, we will act across every layer of society to restore the fairness that is the bedrock of the social solidarity that makes our nation strong."
Cameron didn't do as much as he could have, or should have, with his Big Society vision. He talked up Life Chances, but was derailed by the Brexit referendum. Cynics look at his speeches as public relations stunts, with big concepts that had little political application. May must avoid that same fate. She, too, will be distracted by Brexit politics -- the actual negotiation of leaving the EU -- but she must be able to deliver on her domestic agenda as well. A government that works for every layer of society -- a Shared Society of family, church, work, community, and nation -- is a matter of justice. To realize that Shared Society, the poor and JAMs need help not slogans.