Take the Money and Run for Office

If you’re not a regular listener to This American Life (I’m not), you still need to hear their program from last weekend, Take the Money and Run for Office.

Produced by the people behind the essential Planet Money podcast, this is a rather depressing hour about how US congress critters spend their time raising money to run for office (more time, in many cases, than on their actual jobs) and what it buys for those contributors.

That flow of money traded for influence has long since moved from the exception to the rule.

That’s our system. If a congressman went in front of a town hall meeting and said, for $5,000, I’ll sit down with anyone of you and have breakfast. You can tell me exactly how you’d like me to vote. He’d be booed off the stage.

But that’s the case for pretty much everybody in Congress. They don’t even have to say it.

I think the worst part of the hour, however, was listening to the incredible hypocrisy of John McCain, co-author of the last major piece of legislation to address campaign finance, as he whined about a situation he continues to wallow in.

Anyway, spend the time to listen and then pass it along to friends and family. If you teach US Government or American History, play it for your students and ask for their responses.

Now, I’m not naive enough to believe one public radio program is going to change anything. But it would be nice if more people paid attention to this crap instead of naively believing the old Schoolhouse Rock version of the legislative process is still the way things work.

Throwing Money

The morning Post tells me that our new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, gets $5 billion from the newly approved economic stimulus bill to support “educational innovation”.

What the article doesn’t do is offer a clear idea of what anyone in charge means by “innovation”.

However, I have a couple of ideas for where to start.

Kill off No Child Left Behind and go looking for classrooms that don’t look like they did fifty years ago, including those not in the US.

And don’t send a dime to KIPP or anyone pushing AP classes as their one and only solution.

Feeling the Numbers

Which price is better: $29.99 or $30?

Most people, if they take the time to think, would say the two are pretty much the same.

However, in an interesting article at the BBC, marketing researchers say that shoppers make those price comparisons emotionally rather than logically.

One theory is consumers just aren’t up to the maths. Dr Jane Price, lecturer in psychology at the University of Glamorgan, says we “tend to put numbers in categories like ‘under £5′ or ‘under £6′ – rather than them representing a value. Shoppers are aware of what is going on, but don’t respond to it because they don’t think logically about how close numbers are – such as £99.99 and £100.”

She thinks shoppers tend to focus on the big denomination – which the pound sign draws the eye to – rather than the smaller denomination: the pence. There is also the emotional incentive – people like to feel they are getting better value for money.

I wonder if there’s any connection between these feelings and people holding on to the concept that buying more lottery tickets with the same “lucky” numbers will increase the odds of winning.

Is this pricing philosophy related to the illogic behind adding 9/10 of a cent to per gallon gas prices?

Anyway, then there’s also the fact that many people seemingly don’t even care about the pence at all.

For consumers, the saving is minimal and the copper coins they receive as change when paying with a note seem to be more of a hassle than a benefit – in 2005, Britons discarded or stashed away £133m [about $265 million] in unwanted coppers, according to Virgin Money.

Virgin Money? Is there a business that Richard Branson isn’t involved in?

I think I read somewhere that the cost of making a US penny is more than the coin is worth.

Man! This post is even more rambling and pointless than normal. :-)