Benjamin Summers at The Washington Post on America's worship of military members. Summers, a captain in the U.S. Army, argues that not everyone who wears a uniform is a hero, and that America's "military worship" undermines our ability to make good policy. "Too much hero-labeling reinforces a false dichotomy that’s commonly heard in our political discourse: You’re either for the troops or you’re against them. We badly need to find ways to bridge this civilian-military gap to cultivate a more nuanced appreciation of service and to produce better policy in Washington. [...] It isn’t that the U.S. public shouldn’t honor those who served in combat; it’s that a large civil-military divide prevents policymakers from even asking the right questions."
Leonid Bershidsky at Bloomberg View on why no one should be shocked by Facebook's research experiment. Bershidsky says Facebook's social science experiments are not surprising to anyone who cares to pay attention to the company's business model, saying "If Kramer's week-long experiment appears outrageous, what Facebook does on a daily basis is monstrous." The real problem is the most people would rather not think about what their relationship with Facebook really is. "Facebook manipulates what its users see as a matter of policy. Academics may discuss whether the users give their informed consent to such use of their data, but common experience suggests that a lot of people choose to stay uninformed. Others realize they are being tracked, and experimented upon, by the likes of Facebook and Google and don't mind. It's par for the course on the social web."
Christopher Blattman at The New York Times on giving cash to the homeless (paywall.) Many people argue that simply giving cash to homeless people doesn't help them because they will only waste it. A professor who has worked on extreme poverty programs overseas disagrees: "Globally, cash is a major tool to fight extreme poverty. The United Nations is handing out ATM cards to Syrian refugees alongside sacks of grain. The evidence suggests these cash programs work. .... The results show that sometimes people just eat better or live in better homes. Often, though, they start businesses and earn more." He allows that New York City's homeless might be different, but gives them the benefit of the doubt. "You might worry handouts encourage idleness. But in most experiments, people worked more after they received grants.
Stephen Haber and Ross Levine at The Wall Street Journal on the "myth" of the patent troll (paywall.) Patent trolls are blamed for stifling innovation and wasting the time and money of corporations trying to make new products, but the authors claim the evidence doesn't back that up. "Research we conducted with Alexander Galetovic of the Universidad de Los Andes found that innovation rates have been strongest in exactly the industries that patent-reform advocates claim are suffering from "trolls" and a broken patent system. The innovation in these industries is matched with a rapid decline in prices." They say the worries of those fighting the current system are mostly overblown. "Thanks in large part to the patent system we have, the current rate of invention in the U.S. might be the fastest in human history. Where is the evidence that society would benefit from undertaking the risky process of reforming a patenting system that has been the envy of the world for more than two centuries?"
The Los Angeles Times editorial board on the maze of nonsense that is the "no-fly list." ACLU recently won a major case against America's no-fly list which is arbitrary, completely secret, and nearly impossible to get removed from. "This is where the Kafkaesque absurdities mount. If you've made the list, you don't know it until you're barred from boarding a flight for which you have a ticket. You receive no official explanation for why you've been barred. If you suspect that you were bumped because you're on the list, you can ask the Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program to remove you. The government eventually replies that it has completed its review, but it doesn't say whether you were, or still are, on the list; you find out the next time you try to fly."