Spincycle Select | Dec 1st to Dec 15th 2007

8 Dec

“Crack is whack” (and so is the punishment for using it)
Whitney Houston in a Prime time interview with Diane Sawyer famously said, “Crack is cheap. I make too much for me to ever smoke crack,” she said. “Let’s get that straight, OK? I don’t do crack. I don’t do that. Crack is whack.”

Yes, crack is whack. And so has the punishment for using it for the past twenty years. Under the sentencing guidelines enacted in 1986 and 1988, possession 1 gm of crack cocaine-induced the same minimum sentence as possession of 100gms of its powdered form. Finally, though half measures in reducing some of the absurdity in sentencing have succeeded. United States Sentencing Commission recently ruled to reduce the prison sentences for using crack cocaine to bring them closer to that of powdered cocaine.

Back in 1994, the USSC was asked to study the differential penalties. The commission in 1995 recommended equalizing the quantity that triggered minimum sentences for both forms of cocaine but the recommendation sank in a Republican controlled congress, and the election year calculations meant that President Clinton quietly signed the bill into law.

Supplementary Reading:

Levitt and Dubner talk about changing pattern of cocaine use in their NY Times op-ed.

Time article on “Crack” in 1986.

China: a shrinking violet

Keidel at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reports that an updated PPP measure – the prior measure was based on a 1980 survey (!) – means that estimates of the size of the Chinese economy have been revised downwards from $10 trillion to $6 trillion. Meanwhile, the estimate of the number of poor people has been revised upwards to 300 million.

Citation: The Limits of a Smaller, Poorer China by Albert Keidel, published in the Financial Times, 11/14/2007

Taxing thoughts

Cornell professor presents experimental corroboration for the long-held common-sense belief that telling citizens upfront about the costs of reducing tax burden will reduce support for a reduction in taxation.

Citation: Reshaping the Debate on Raising Taxes, Robert Frank, New York Times, 12/9/2007

i-Identity: Apple of society’s eye

Apple, the once niche club of all-consuming hipness, may yet bequeath its hard-earned ‘Cool-Aid’ to mass popularity.

Citation: The Elite Apple Corps: A Hundred Million Strong, Every One of Them Cool, Hank, Stuever, 12/9/2007, Washington Post.

Gawande: checklists help reduce medical errors

Atul Gawande writes about how checklists can help reduce errors in the medical profession. He quotes Dr. Pronovost, the man behind the idea, as saying, “The fundamental problem with the quality of American medicine is that we’ve failed to view delivery of health care as a science. The tasks of medical science fall into three buckets. One is understanding disease biology. One is finding effective therapies. And one is ensuring those therapies are delivered effectively. That third bucket has been almost totally ignored by research funders, government, and academia. It’s viewed as the art of medicine. That’s a mistake, a huge mistake. And from a taxpayer’s perspective, it’s outrageous.”

Citation: The Checklist, Atul Gawande, The New Yorker, 12/10/2007 (forthcoming issue)