“I have come to grasp an ugly but very important truth about American politics,” writes historian Robin Einhorn in the 2001 preface to her 1991 book Property Rules: Political Economy in Chicago, 1833-1872. “The antigovernment rhetoric that saturates our political discourse even today is rooted in the slaveholders’ fears of a democratic government invested with real political power….American governments were designed to be weak and decentralized so that they would not become democratic forums for debates about the nature and distribution of property.”

Is it better to be off welfare? Not as much as you might think, judging from the research of Steve Anderson, a social work professor at the University of Illinois. He interviewed 232 single mothers living in inner-city Chicago who left the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in December 1999, half of whom stayed off and half of whom returned later (called “recyclers”). According to a March 1 university news release based on his report to the Joyce Foundation, “Nearly half, or 47 percent [of those who stayed off TANF], said they did not have enough money to buy food when off welfare, compared with 61 percent of recyclers.”

“By our standards, these wages [paid by foreign firms in developing countries] are shockingly low,” says University of Chicago economics professor D. Gale Johnson in an interview in the U. of C. Chronicle (February 21). “But that is not the appropriate comparison. The appropriate comparison is with wages similar workers earn in locally owned enterprises. In China, the average rural worker earns about $420 per year. That’s $35 per month, or about 22 cents per hour for a 40-hour work week. In China, foreign firms do pay more, quite a bit more than local firms.”

Can we have more fuel-efficient cars without making them smaller, lighter, and hence more dangerous? Paul Portney, president of Resources for the Future, who chaired a recent National Research Council committee on the subject, says the expert consensus is yes, but not right away (National Academies Op-Ed Service Archive, January 18). “If…tighter fuel economy standards were phased in gradually over 10 to 15 years, automakers could use existing technologies to significantly improve the fuel economy of both passenger cars and light-duty trucks without reducing the size and weight of vehicles. For instance, our committee found that the fuel economy of midsize SUVs, which currently stands at 21 mpg, could be boosted to 28 mpg–an increase of 34 percent–over the next 10 to 15 years. This would add about $1,250 to the purchase price of the car, but the additional cost would be more than offset by the fuel savings the owners would enjoy over the 15-year life of the vehicle.”

“Neighborhood schools in the most rapidly gentrifying areas have failed to attract their new neighbors,” writes Dan Weissmann in Catalyst (February). In nongentrifying Chicago, public elementary school enrollment grew 13 percent between 1995 and 2000. In fast-gentrifying census tracts–in West Town, Lake View, Lincoln Park, the near south side, and elsewhere–enrollment has dropped by 18 percent.

More people are voting, according to a February 27 Census Bureau release. In 2000, 60 percent of American citizens cast ballots–up from 58 percent in 1996. Of registered voters, 86 percent voted in 2000 compared to 82 percent in 1996.

“I became an Ambassador in hopes of sharing my love for the bicycling lifestyle,” says Ruthy Woodring in “Mayor Daley’s Bicycling Ambassadors 2001 Report,” published by the city. “The freedom I feel on a bike–freedom to go where I want when I want, for free, with wind blowing through my body, without putting toxins into the air, water, and soil–is a freedom I think most people would be happy to have, if only they understood it.”