Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 13, 2006
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Here’s an abstract of some recent NBER research:

“Why Does Democracy Need Education?,” by Edward Glaeser, Giacomo Ponzetto, Andrei Shleifer

“Across countries, education and democracy are highly correlated. We motivate empirically and then model a causal mechanism explaining this correlation. In our model, schooling teaches people to interact with others and raises the benefits of civic participation, including voting and organizing. In the battle between democracy and dictatorship, democracy has a wide potential base of support but offers weak incentives to its defenders. Dictatorship provides stronger incentives to a narrower base. As education raises the benefits of civic participation, it raises the support for more democratic regimes relative to dictatorships. This increases the likelihood of democratic revolutions against dictatorships, and reduces that of successful anti-democratic coups.”

But here’s a follow-up question: Does a top-down, dictatorial model of eduation undermine education’s tendency to support democracy? If so, then it seems the best model for education in a democracy would be the vigorous and free schooling provided by the private sector.

Blog author: jspalink
Thursday, April 13, 2006
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When I was in college, living in the dorms, friends of mine would play a game called bigger and better. In this game, they would take an object–something that they owned–and trade it up for something that was worth a bit more to them, but worth a bit less to the person that they were trading with.

This is a perfect example of a market economy. You have something that you can trade, somebody else has something that they can trade, and both parties are better off for the transaction. My friends could go out with a pen and come home with a couch for the dorm. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t always this successful. It usually involved a little bit of time, but it made for a fun Saturday afternoon.

Then I found this website, a blog, where a man documents his game of bigger-and-better. He started out with a little red paper-clip. Right now he’s looking to trade one year in Phoenix (which includes one year free rent in the heart of downtown Phoenix. [If needed, the apartment can also come fully furnished] and roundtrip airfare for two from any major airport in North America) for something bigger-and-better. His goal is to own a house at the end of his game.

A small example of how having something of little value to yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t leverage what you have on the market to find something of greater value to yourself.

An op-ed earlier this week in the New York Times examines the emphasis and attention that has been placed on the influx of low-wage immigrants to the United States. According to Steven Clemons and Michael Lind, “Congress seems to believe that while the United States must be protected from an invasion of educated, bright and ambitious foreign college students, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, we can never have too many low-wage fruit-pickers and dishwashers.”

They base this conclusion on many of the measures and stipulations that have been put forth in the varieties of proposals, bills, and amendments flowing out of the latest discussions over immigration reform. “While the United States perversely tries to corner the market in uneducated hotel maids and tomato harvesters, other industrial democracies are reshaping their immigration policies to invite the skilled immigrants that we turn away,” they write.

The answer, say Clemons and Lind, is to model US immigration policy on the successful examples of other countries, that see highly-educated and motivated immigrants as a boon rather than a curse. Even so, the authors oppose the interests of skilled and educated immigrants against those of the unskilled and uneducated. In doing so, I think they go a bit too far.

It is one thing to say that the influx of competitive, driven, educated, and skilled immigrants has not received enough positive attention in the current debate. Clemons and Lind are right on that score. As they write, “more talent means more innovation and opportunities for all, immigrant and native alike.”

They don’t think this holds true for unskilled immigrants however, and view them in a rather less positive light: “with the vast pool of poorly paid, ill-educated laborers already within our borders, we do not need a third of a million new ones a year.” But to make their case, I don’t think Clemons and Lind have to pit the skilled against the unskilled.

It is true that higher competition for low-wage jobs will have the tendency to lower wages, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a powerful incentive for unskilled natives and immigrants alike to pursue new training and education to increase their standard of living. Being a line-worker at Subway is ideally not a career, but rather ought to be a transitional position and motivation for workers to increase the cost of their labor.

The Copenhagen Consensus of 2004 recommended policies that lower barriers to migration for skilled workers as a “fair” program, because they “were regarded as a desirable way to promote global welfare and to provide economic opportunities to people in developing countries.” The reason that the Consensus opposed guest-worker programs was not because low-skilled workers necessarily have a negative economic impact, but because they have a “tendency to discourage the assimilation of migrants,” by placing them in a social and economic position that is lower than natives.

Andrew Yuengert makes the case that there is a limited right to migrate in his monograph, Inhabiting the Land. The unskilled possess this right to no less of an extent than the skilled.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, April 13, 2006
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Silla Brush penned an interesting little piece in the latest U.S. News and World Report, using the Massachusetts health care bill as a springboard to a wider observation of policy innovation at the level of state government. Leaving aside what any of us may think about any of the initiatives mentioned (they mostly represent bigger government), the observation is a good one.

But then this:

When the feds stall, leave it to the states. The result may be a hodgepodge. But maybe, just maybe, some of the best ideas will find their way to Washington.

This is a manifestation of just the wrong sort of mentality. Brush views the states as laboratories where legislator-scientists impatient with the pace of change at the federal level experiment with policy ideas. Once the states, with their hodgepodge laws, have worked out the best one, the feds can take it and make it universal.

No, our end-goal should be the hodgepodge, not national uniformity. Various states have various sorts of industry, resources, populations, and cultures. Their different needs and values can be expressed through differing policy approaches to questions such as health care, wages, and the environment (with, of course, certain responsibilities reserved to the national government, per the Constitution). That’s the genius of the federal system. Let’s not view the states as launching pads for national policy; let’s allow the states to make policy and leave it at that.

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
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In this week’s commentary, Jennifer Roback Morse takes a look at the socio-economic factors that influence the age at which young people aim to get married. Many are waiting. One reason why so many young people put off marriage unitl their late 20s or early 30s, says Morse, is that the cost of setting up an independant household is too high — unjustifiably high. Physically, humans are ready to reproduce in the mid-teens; financially, young people are not ready to be independent until their late 20s; the cost of housing and debt are often obstacles. During this waiting period — a time of sexual-economic tension — young people pick up many habits and expectations that are not compatible with maintaining a healthly marriage.

So, what can be done? Read Morse’s commentary to hear one approach to the problem.

On a related note – Zenit interviews Maggie Gallagher about the importance of a healthy marriage in the lives of children. In a nut-shell:

  • Marriage reduces the risk of poverty.
  • Fatherless households increase the risk of involvement in crime.
  • Marriage protects childrens’ physical and mental health.

It seems that it may be possible. An interesting article from yesterday’s International Herald Tribune:

Danielle Scache tries to avoid using the term “capitalism” in her economics class because it has negative connotations in France.

Instead, she teaches her high school students about the market economy, a slightly less controversial term she started using last year after a two-month internship at the dairy giant Danone. That was an experience that did away with more than one of her own prejudices, she said.

“I was surprised to see that people actually enjoyed working in a company,” said Scache, who is 59. “Some of them were more enthusiastic than many teachers I know.”

“You know,” she confided with a laugh, “in France we often think of companies, especially multinationals, as a place of constant conflict between employees and management.”

This view of bosses and workers as engaged in an endless, antagonistic tug-of-war goes some way toward explaining the two-month rebellion against a new labor law.

Read the whole thing for an interesting look into the state of economic education in France.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, April 10, 2006
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Bryan Caplan at EconLog says that he has long wondered about the validity of the statistics of the spread of AIDS on the African continent:

The whole story had a quasi-Soviet flavor to it. The main difference: Soviet growth statistics were too good to be true, while African AIDS statistics were too bad to be true. Reflecting on the incentives cemented my skepticism: Just as the Soviet Union had a strong incentive to exaggerate its growth numbers in order to get the world’s respect, researchers and advocates had a strong incentive to exaggerate their AIDS number in order to get the world’s money.

He goes on to cite a recent Washington Post story that backs up his doubts. While Caplan may ultimately be wrong in his skepticism, I think it’s a responsible question to ask. Any system of charity or aid that faces an ongoing and high-level need should wonder about the incentives that it creates for people to take advantage of the system.

Update: More on “disease-mongering” at WorldMagBlog. I suspect there’s an analogous phenomenon in all the climate change, environmental disaster hubbub.

French President Jacques Chirac has given in to the student protests in his country, protests that called for the removal of the First Employment Contract. This is a controversial new law giving employers greater freedom in whom they fire amongst under-26 employees. The law, as I am sure you’ve seen, sparked students protests for weeks.

Michael Miller in last Wednesday’s Acton News and Commentary addressed the deeper issue here: economic ignorance and moral apathy–I won’t repeat his analysis here. But here’s what I’d like to point out: what will fill in the vacuum.

The minister of employment, Jean-Louis Borloo, told Le Monde newspaper that the new plan will include increasing government subsidies to employers who hire people under 26 who face the biggest obstacles to finding jobs. He said the cost to the government in the second half of the year would be about $180 million.

From more economic freedom to subsidies. It is one thing to surrender to the protests and remove this law. It is quite something else to enact an (apparently) equal and (certainly) opposite policy. One wonders what will be the straw to break the Gallic camel’s economic back. Perhaps we should start a betting pool…

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, April 7, 2006
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Jordan’s post below observes the divisions among evangelicals on the hot-button issue of immigration. Its divisiveness—cutting across the usual lines of conservative/liberal and Democrat/Republican—has made the immigration debate an unusual and therefore extraordinarily interesting one.

The issue also divides Catholics. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has been among the most uncompromising national voices in favor of immigrant rights. But his comments have not gone unchallenged among Catholics. Activist Jim Gilchrist denounced Mahony’s views. Kathryn-Jean Lopez at NRO questioned them more delicately. But then Larry Kudlow, another Catholic and another conservative NRO writer, without explicitly supporting Mahony, wrote a very pro-immigrant piece (cited also by Jordan).

I don’t pretend to have the answers to this huge and complicated problem, but I do think that any contribution to the debate ought to balance two principles: compassion toward immigrants (legal and illegal) and respect for the rule of law. I share the strong pro-immigrant views evident in the public interventions made by Catholic officials such as Mahony and Bishop Gerald Barnes of the USCCB.

But these officials’ minimizing of the issue of law is disturbing. As everyone knows, in the vast majority of cases immigrants enter the United States in pursuit of economic betterment. And as Kudlow says, who can blame them? Is it not also obvious that one indispensable pillar of this country’s relative prosperity is its relatively vigorous rule of law? Any immigration reform that ignores that fact will be counterproductive in the long run. Bishops Barnes, to his credit, notes the importance of normalizing immigrants’ legal status. But he and Cardinal Mahony not only fail to recognize the importance of enforcing immigration law as the flip-side of that coin—they explicitly oppose it. This is incoherent. What is the value of being a “legal” immigrant if there is no penalty for being an “illegal” one?

“Letter on Immigration Deepens Split Among Evangelicals,” trumpets a story from the Washington Post. Ever since evangelicals received such credit in the election and reelection of George W. Bush, the ins and outs of evangelical politics has recieved a greater share of media attention. A great part of this attention has focused on so-called “splits” among evangelicals, as a way to highlight the newly recognized reality that all evangelicals aren’t card-carrying Republicans.

So from issues like immigration to global warming, the press is eager to find the fault lines of evangelical politics. And moving beyond the typical Jim Wallis-Jerry Falwell dichotomy, there are real and honest disagreements among evangelicals on any number of political issues.

This stems from the fact that political policy is most often about the prudential application of principles, and thus is a matter where there can and should be a variety of informed and committed voices. Thus, says Aquinas, human law should not seek to make illegal everything that is immoral, but only that which is necessary for the maintenance of a just society.

He writes, “many things are permissible to men not perfect in virtue, which would be intolerable in a virtuous man. Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like” (Summa Theologica, II.1.96.ii).

For Aquinas then, human law is the result of the prudent and contextual application of the natural and divine law. And it’s not surprising that among a diverse group like evangelicals, different opinions will exist as to what considerations are relevant to the construction of a particular policy.

With respect to immigration reform, for example, the previously noted Cooperman article reports that a letter signed by numerous evangelical leaders outlining four major points of emphasis was sent to members of the federal government (original letter here in PDF). Among the national evangelical organizations that signed on to the letter are the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the World Evangelical Alliance.

Notably absent, however, was the National Association of Evangelicals, and the lack of support for the bill was noted as the occasion for the Cooperman headline. According to the NAE’s vice president for governmental affairs, Rev. Richard Cizik, “the NAE itself did not sign the letter because its members are divided on how to deal with immigration.” Since the letter makes rather specific policy proposals rather than general moral and theological guidelines, many evangelicals are not ready to endorse the statement. (more…)