Fineman responds to the Porsche argument against maternity coverage

Lest you think free market economists give no thought to fairness — or have little compassion for underinsured Americans — Harvard Economist Greg Mankiw recently worried that purchasers of individual health insurance can no longer choose to forgo the luxury of health insurance coverage for pregnancy and childbirth (Is Community Rating Fair? Nov. 11, 2013). Emory University Law Professor Martha Fineman thoroughly takes apart his faulty assumptions in an essay in the Guardian, Dec. 1, 2013, excerpted below:

Having a child is nothing like deciding to buy a Porsche

..Republican outrage over the inclusion of mandatory maternity coverage in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues. Greg Mankiw, ….wrote on his blog Random Observations for Students of Economics:

People who drive a new Porsche pay more for car insurance than those who drive an old Chevy. We consider that fair because which car you drive is a choice. Why isn’t having children viewed in the same way?
His use of this analogy reveals the simplistic mindset behind the “free market” criticism of ACA’s maternity care mandate.

First, while Mankiw concedes that the “goal is to spread the risk of childbirth among the larger community”, he conveniently fails to note that the maternity coverage mandate serves to eliminate price disparities between the insurance premiums for men and women prevalent before ACA. From a policy perspective, even if an individual woman can choose whether or not to have a baby, the prior system placed the costs for childbearing exclusively on women.
Second, … Cars are not equivalent to children. Children are human beings, a fact that distinguishes the choice to have a child from the whims of the auto enthusiast. ….

But, putting aside these vital points, let’s analyze Mankiw’s analogy on his own terms: is it unfair to treat a choice to have a child differently from any other consumer decision, specifically the preference for a Porsche? …. Republicans have made their preference on this type of policy question very clear: if you can afford a Porsche or to have a child, fine, but don’t expect the rest of us to chip in.
In considering the justness of this analogy, we might first ask whether parents should only be viewed as consumers of children. For the sake of an accurate analogy they should also be thought of as producers of children.

… The production costs for the producers of Porsches and other consumer goods are subsidized – heavily, through regulatory measures such as tariff and tax policy and lax labor laws disfavoring unions. It’s also done directly through incentives such as when communities bid for location of plants or lawmakers slash taxes and make infrastructure investments facilitating distribution of goods, or provide other services designed to entice businesses interested in lower production costs and higher corporate profits…..

Of course, society also subsidizes child production, but in doing so relies primarily on the concepts of the “private family” and “individual responsibility” in which public provision of benefits is not considered investment, but stigmatized as connoting dependency. Even public provision of education is under attack by fiscal conservatives and those who would privatize anything that could be turned into individual profit. The business of child rearing simply does not evoke the largesse afforded to the business of car (or many other forms of) manufacturing, and what subsidies currently exist are subject to constant scrutiny and cost-cutting measures….

One could analogize a different comparison between consumers of Porsches and consumers of the next generation. Reaping the benefits, but not sharing in the costs of the reproduction of society is the equivalent of the state and market institutions stealing lovingly created and skillfully constructed Porsches. At a minimum, the term “freeloaders” seems applicable here.

Mankiw’s simplistic resort to analogy to address serious and complex social issues obscures the substantially unfair ways parents and children are treated in our society. A cavalier “let them drive Porsches” response to the needs of parents trying to raise children in a country with growing poverty, increasing food insecurity, failing public schools, diminished opportunity and access should make us angry.
Children deserve our investment in terms of both money and effort. This is an obligation we collectively owe, not only to our own children, but to all children. The growth in inequality that has resulted from our losing sight of this fundamental principle of social justice profoundly undermines the future possibilities for our nation’s children and, therefore, the future of the nation itself.”

Posted in economic and social rights, Free market ideology, Health, Legal Theory, Morality and Economics, Poverty, Vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanks to Southwestern Law School, host of ClassCrits VI Conference

Kudos and great thanks to Southwestern Law School for fabulously hosting the ClassCrits conference this past weekend.  Besides providing superb logistical support from first rate staff, Southwestern set the right tone for our discussions by providing an environment shining with diversity, innovative scholarship, and engaged students (and we could not have had a more beautiful law school setting than Southwestern’s historic art deco building).  A highly professional team of Southwestern Law Review student editors, who will publish selected papers in a symposium issue of their journal, contributed with exemplary professionalism throughout the conference – showing up at 7am with enthusiasm at the conference hotel to guide visiting participants, directing us and staffing registration throughout the day and best of all joining us in exploring the challenging theoretical and practical questions of panel discussions.   Southwestern faculty also contributed a wealth of expertise and energy with their active participation in many panels, and lead organizer, Southwestern Law Professor Danielle Kie Hart combined intellectual vision with outstanding administrative skill to take us in important new directions – not only producing the law review publication but also including community advocates, for example.

  Thanks also to SUNY Buffalo’s Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy and to the University of California Davis School of Law for their financial support of this event, representing institutional leadership in cutting edge scholarship in pursuit of justice.

    This institutional leadership, and the brilliance, community spirit and commitment to justice of so many participants, was particularly inspiring in this time when vocal critics of legal education are pushing for an increased hierarchy in the profession, insisting that only well-pedigreed elites are worthy of tackling big questions about law and society.   A panel on “Unequal Education” confronted that criticism head on, with Julie Nice (San Francisco Law) analyzing the celebrity faultfinding as a movement with the effect, if not the self-serving purpose, of limiting working class access to the legal profession, in reaction to the substantial evidence of great success and leadership over recent decades from less privileged law graduates and law schools.   Nice, along with audience commentators, emphasized that countering this effort to re-stratify the profession must involve working together across institutional rankings to emphasize that the value of law is less about earning high salaries and more about advancing justice to benefit society.  Lucy Jewel (University of Tennessee Law) astutely developed this theme in her paper, Tales of a Fourth Tier Nothing, a Response to Brian Tamanaha’s Failing Law Schools, tying current criticism to earlier, overt efforts to construct a gender, class and race-based two-tier profession and illuminating the cultural benefits of broad access to law school.  Jewel’s paper also notes that defending working class access to the profession requires resisting efforts to casualize legal skills teaching and to divide teaching from scholarship. The panel also included crucial contributions from Victoria Haneman (University of Nevada Las Vegas Law) on the importance of analyzing the student debt forgiveness schemes and Terry Smith and Sumi Cho (DePaul University Law) on the role of faculty governance in defending faculty diversity.   The panel also emphasized that concern for student debt should be directed toward increasing support for education access rather than for exclusion.  That topic was the main focus of a panel organized by Martha Mahoney (Miami Law), with analysis of federal loan policy by Isaac Bowers of Equal Justice Works, and featuring groundbreaking research by Miami law students about innovative ways of assisting indebted students in reducing their costs and resisting arguably deceptive practices by the burgeoning loan servicing industry that profits from student debt.   

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ClassCrits VI Conference Nov. 15-16 Southwestern Law School, L.A.

We are excited about our upcoming conference, Stuck in Forward? Debt, Austerity and the Possibilities of the Political at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, Nov. 15-16 2013. See for the latest event information.

While the deadline for papers has closed, we have openings for moderators and works-in-progress commentators. Contact if you have questions or see the web link above.

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ClassCrits Conference Extended Deadline for Papers


ClassCrits VI

Stuck in Forward?

Debt, Austerity and the Possibilities of the Political

Sponsored by

Southwestern Law School &

U.C. Davis School of Law

Los Angeles, CA    * November 15-16, 2013

Keynote Speaker: Professor Akhil Gupta, Department of Anthropology

Director, Center for India and South Asia, University of California, Los Angeles

 Proposal Submission Procedure and EXTENDED Deadline
Please submit your proposal by email to by May 15, 2013.  Proposals should include the author’s name, institutional affiliation and contact information, the title of the paper to be presented, and an abstract of the paper to be presented of no more than 750 words.  Junior scholar submissions for works in progress should be clearly marked as “JUNIOR SCHOLAR WORK IN PROGRESS PROPOSAL.”

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Commenting on the commentary about “Accidental Racist”

By Lisa R. Pruitt 

I don’t watch TV or follow much pop culture, and most of the country music I occasionally listen to is on old albums by the likes of Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Alison Krauss.  But this was apparently a “big week” in country music thanks to Brad Paisley and his new album Wheelhouse.  I was on the road on Tuesday, but by the time I was catching up on email early Wednesday morning, I had lots of messages from friends giving me a heads up on the furor associated with Paisley’s new song, “Accidental Racist,” which includes a cameo from LL Cool J.  Commentators have varyingly discussed Paisley and his new song thusly:

In short, as one commentator put it, the song has attracted “an unusual amount of … sneering.”

Eric Weisbard did not sneer in his piece for NPR.  His headline references the history of white southern musical identity, and Weisbard touches on biases against the South, as well as white-on-white biases:

As you may have heard, Paisley is sifting through some rubble of his own right now, having been declared a national laughingstock by virtually all commentators coming from outside mainstream country. But then, this condescending dismissal is nothing new. There is a history to “Accidental Racist,” the history of how white Southern musicians — heatedly, implicitly, at times self-servingly and not always successfully — try to talk about who they are in answer to what others dismissively assume they are.

After all, while the Jim Crow South was Anglo supremacist politically, American culture offered a very different dynamic. Ever since white Northerners started putting out their records, Southern whites have represented a backward rural mindset in a national culture of jazzy modernity.  … Variety loved jazz but scorned the hillbilly in 1926 as ” ‘poor white trash’ genera. The great majority, probably 95 percent, can neither read nor write English. Theirs is a community all to themselves. [They are] illiterate and ignorant, with the intelligence of morons.” Continue reading

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Imploring the Ivy League to attend to rural strivers

By Lisa R. Pruitt

One of the most e-mailed items in the New York Times for the past day or so has been Claire Vaye Watkins “The Ivy League Was Another Planet.” (The alternative headline is “Elite Colleges Are As Foreign as Mars.”) In her op-ed, Watkins recounts her journey from nonmetropolitan Pahrump, Nevada to college at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her story is that of a kid from a working class family in “rural” Nevada (her description; technically, Pahrump is not rural because, though unincorporated, its 2010 population is more than 35,000) who didn’t know about colleges or how to pick one.  Lucky for her, Watkins went on to get an MFA from Ohio State and is now an assistant professor of English at Bucknell.

Watkins writes of getting her wake-up call about dramatic variations in educational resources when she was a high school senior, vying for a prestigious state-funded scholarship. That’s when she met a peer from a Las Vegas high school who attended a magnet school, took college prep courses, had a tutor, and had spent time abroad.  The variations in resources, she realized, were based on geography:  he was an urban kid and she was a rural one.  But they were also based on class.  She doesn’t specify the background of the Vegas teen, but she mentions that her mother and step-father had not gone to college.  I note that Pahrump’s poverty rate is a fairly steep 21.1%.  Just 10.1% of residents there have a bachelor’s degree or better, compared to about 30% nationwide.

Even after meeting the privileged teen from Vegas, however, Watkins didn’t know what she didn’t know.  She remained ignorant of the world of elite colleges, a sector that represented the “other planet” or “Mars” of the headline.  Instead, Watkins applied to UN Reno, she explains, because she had once taken a Greyhound bus to visit friends there. As Watkins expresses it, when poor rural kids apply to college (which, I might add, is altogether too rare), they typically apply to those institutions to which they have been “incidentally exposed.” Continue reading

Posted in Education, Geography, mobility, Poverty, Race and Ethnicity | 1 Comment

Hunting as classed? classless? classy?

By Lisa R. Pruitt 

This story by Felicity Barringer in the New York Times last week-end was a revelation for me–a revelation about the complex linkages between class and hunting.

Barringer’s story is ostensibly about how the state of Utah doles out hunting licenses and manages wildlife, so I figured I’d write a post for Legal Ruralism about those issues.  As I read the story, however, I was struck by the fact that hunting is not only a working class pursuit–as it has been popularly perceived in recent years.  Remember Bittergate during the 2008 presidential race?  If not, refresh your recollection here and here, and mull the title of Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus:  Dispatches from America’s Class Wars.  Indeed, Barringer’s story pits what one might think of as “regular Joe hunters” against rich hunters, which reminds us that people of all socio-economic strata hunt, albeit with different motivations,  trappings, and prey.  (I don’t think those paying big bucks for premium hunting in Utah are after the squirrels Ree killed in Winter’s Bone to feed her younger siblings).

Barringer writes:

More than any state in the West, Utah has expanded hunting opportunities for the well-to-do and has begun to diminish them for those seeking permits directly from the state.

Essentially, “those with means can buy public licenses through private outlets, paying thousands of dollars to move to the head of the line.”  While Utah officials acknowledge this, they say their “increasingly free-market model” results in more revenue they can use for conservation. Continue reading

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