Four recent news stories caused me to think about the current political environment and how we increasingly reframe news to fit our ideological understanding of the world.
It seems that more and more, information means something totally different to people depending on their outlook – to the point that people with differing political positions can appear to be living in alternate realities.
Consider how some might react to these four unrelated recent events:
1. The Daily Caller reported March 15 that 2 million Americans got off food stamps in President Trump’s first year. Citing a recent assessment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the news organization reported this decline was caused by the combination of a dramatic increase in job opportunities and the reversal, by some states, of the Obama era abandonment of work requirements for individuals to participate in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the official name for of the food stamp program.
In Alabama and Georgia, counties that adopted work requirements for food stamp eligibility saw a tremendous reduction in the number of people enrolled in the program. This mirrored the earlier experience of Maine and Kansas, where similar requirements for able-bodied people led them to re-enter the workforce and get off of food stamps – because they no longer needed government help.
While many would agree that more people working and fewer people on food stamps is a good thing, some seem to think requiring able-bodied people to work (or go to school) to qualify for government benefits is unfair. Do you regard a 2 million person drop in food stamps as a positive Trump achievement or a sign of Republican hard-heartedness?
2. Black unemployment is at the second-lowest level in history. In February, only 6.9 percent of African-Americans were unemployed. Many see this as good because it is dramatic progress from the historically high rates of black unemployment. It should be regarded as an important achievement of the Trump administration’s success in helping to grow the American economy and create jobs for all Americans. However, some will quickly point out that the black unemployment rate it is still significantly higher than white and Hispanic unemployment – never mind that these voices were essentially silent when black unemployment was above 10 percent for most of the Obama presidency, reaching peaks as high as 16.8 percent.
Do you regard the lowest level of black unemployment in history as evidence of progress for African-Americans under President Trump, or is the continued existence of a racial employment gap a sign that the economic boom under Trump is mostly going to white people?
3: Fast Company reported March 12 that a Silicon Valley nonprofit called New Story, in collaboration with construction tech company, Icon, had created a 3D printer called the Vulcan that is capable of producing a four-room house in 24-hours for about $4,000. This is an encouraging step toward using technology to improve the lives of those who are struggling around the world. Of course, it also represents a significant shift in the way homes are constructed and could ultimately impact the 3.8 million Americans employed in the residential construction industry.
Is a $4,000 four-room house made in 24 hours a great breakthrough for housing the poor, or is it a job killer – an attack on the traditional labor-intensive and time-consuming model of home construction?
4. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched last month, and two of its three boosters returned safely to the launch pad. To me and many others, this achievement was good because a reusable heavy lift rocket will dramatically reduce the costs of getting into space.
A Falcon Heavy will only carry about half of what the proposed NASA Space Launch System (SLS) will be able to lift. However, Falcon Heavy will cost less than $100 million per launch. SLS on average costs taxpayers about $2 billion a year and has not yet flown. It is also expected to cost nearly $1 billion per launch. Thus, for the same dollar amount, you could carry five times as much weight into space through multiple Falcon Heavy launches. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origins is developing the New Glenn, which will be comparable in lift and cost to the Falcon Heavy.
The good news is that we are about to see a revolutionary decline in the cost of getting into space, as reusable rockets become better and cheaper. The bad news is an entire giant bureaucracy at NASA, and many of the “old space” companies with whom it contracts, are facing obsolescence. In this case, does the good outweigh the bad? It does to me.
In fact, to me, it seems like we are getting a lot of good news.