Monthly Archive for October, 2007

Quote Of The Day

“There is a reason many commentators on the left are allergic to evidence that economic well-being has improved up and down the income ladder: Americans are largely indifferent to the relative size of their income as long as it gets bigger absolutely. Absolute gains, from bottom to top, really take the wind out of populist sails, even if there are significant inequalities in the size of those gains. As long as the rising tide does lift all boats, the call for plundering the yachts will likely go unheeded”. — The Economist Magazine blog, after showing that the middle class and lower class have experienced large gains in earnings over the years (contra Krugman, and other lefties)

What Sicko Will Not Show

First we look at the sad state of Canada’s health care system:

1. A typical Canadian seeking surgery had to wait 18.3 weeks in 2007 between referral from a general practitioner and treatment (averaged across all 12 specialties and 10 provinces surveyed), reaching an all-time record high, up from 17.8 weeks in 2006.

Which bares a striking similarity to Britian’s health care system:

Record numbers of Britons are travelling abroad for medical treatment to escape the NHS – with 70,000 patients expected to fly out this year.

And by the end of the decade 200,000 “health tourists” will fly as far as Malaysa and South Africa for major surgery to avoid long waiting lists and the rising threat of superbugs, according to a new report.

The first survey of Britons opting for treatment overseas shows that fears of hospital infections and frustration of often waiting months for operations are fuelling the increasing trend.

Patients needing major heart surgery, hip operations and cataracts are using the internet to book operations to be carried out thousands of miles away.

Yet as this is going on, many on the left are pushing to get the United States health care system to mirror the Canadian and British health care system.

More on the Canadian health care system here and here. More on the British health care system here.

Quote Of The Day

“I very rarely get angry about politics. But every time I see some middle class parent prattling about vouchers “destroying” the public schools by “cherry picking” the best students, when they’ve made damn sure that their own precious little cherries have been plucked out of the failing school systems, I seethe with barely controllable inward rage. It is the vilest hypocrisy on display in American politics today.” —Megan McArdle, blogging in The Atlantic about David Nicholson, writing in the Washington Post, on his decision to leave Washington DC for the suburbs, where schools are significantly better

Spiteful Egalitarianism

Martin Feldstein, president of the National Bureau of Economic Research and professor of economics at Harvard University, said in his speech upon acceptance of a 2007 Bradley Prize:

There are always those who want to turn back the intellectual clock and return to counterproductive policies. They are willing to sacrifice economic efficiency and growth in order to redistribute income more equally. In the extreme, some dislike inequality so much that they favour policies that will hurt those with higher incomes even when such policies would not help those who are poorer. Fortunately, such spiteful egalitarianism is rare in the United States.

He clarifies what he meant by that in a later podcast:

Well, you listen to the political debate about the income distribution, and it’s not about poverty, it’s not about helping people who are seriously poor or badly off. It’s about cutting down those who have, through hard work, through good luck, though more education, whatever it may be, who have earned higher incomes, and it’s a, therefore I would say it is an egalitarianism. It’s an attempt to even the distribution of income rather than an attempt to help the poor. And I think it’s fair to call it “spiteful” because it’s not about helping the poor. It may be about helping the middle class because they’re the big voting group. But in my judgment, it often comes across as a spiteful attitude on the part of those who are pushing an egalitarian line.

I have always wondered why anybody would care about income inequality. Why is it important? Unless you have some deep hatred of the rich, why care about how much the rich make so long as the poor and middle class are also doing well? In other words, what is important should not be income inequality per se, but income mobility, poverty, and the real growth in wages should be what matters – yet in many cases, solving income inequality harms those very things.

Feldstein’s Bradley speech can be found here. His recent podcast can be found here. Comments on his discussion can be found here and here.

A Worthwhile Charity

Few charities have the potential to do as much good for low income minorities as The Center For Education Reform. It is a website where you can find privately funded scholarship programs that take kids trapped in a failing public school and pay for their tuition to go to a private school. You can use this resource yourself, or donate money to the scholarship.

To find a scholarship in your area go here, choose the state you live in, and select “Private Scholarship Groups”. The website can be used for other great resources as well, see here. Link via Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek.

Update: Children’s Scholarship Fund  is also a great resource.

Quote Of The Day

“Question to think about: If right-wingers are underrepresented in universities relative to the population and discriminated against by the left-wing majority, as Larry suggests, should there be affirmative action for right-leaning academics? It seems that, on principle, those on the left (who favor affirmative action to promote diversity and correct past injustice) should endorse such a university policy, and those on the right (who more often oppose affirmative action) would be against.” —Greg Mankiw, professor of economics at Harvard University

Quote Of The Day

“I agree entirely with David Bernstein’s previous post: affirmative action in higher education should not be categorically forbidden, but it should be both more transparent and better designed. As David writes, “it’s important to . . . have a theory as to which people you are giving preferences to, and why, rather than just give a preference to anyone who meets rather arbitrary ancestry rules.” This is particularly important in light of the fact that different rationales for affirmative action imply very different admissions policies. If affirmative action is based on the “diversity” rationale, which holds that students benefit from having classmates with varied backgrounds, then it might make sense to give affirmative action preferences to white immigrants from countries such as Sweden or Russia. Such people will, on average, contribute more to diversity than native-born American whites. The same goes for black immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean relative to native-born blacks.” — Ilya Somin, Assistant Professor at George Mason University School of Law, blogging at Volokh Conspiracy blog

Quote Of The Day

“I should note that some or all of these “preferred practices” [of how to better perform affirmative action at Universities] may be inhibited or prevented by the Supreme Court’s affirmative action jurisprudence, which allows preferences only for “diversity” purposes. Of course, no one really takes this seriously, least of all the Court itself; if this had been taken seriously, Grutter would have had to come out the other way, because the district court found as a factual matter that despite Michigan’s denials, the law school gave preferences only to select Hispanics (Mexican-Americans and mainland Puerto Ricans). Taking the tenth Mexican-American over the first Cuban or Columbian-American may make sense from a redistributivist perspective, but it hardly contributes to “diversity.” Nevertheless, universities must at least pretend to obey the law.”” — David Bernstein, professor at the George Mason University School of Law, blogging at Volokh Conspiracy blog

Quote Of The Day

“White liberals frown on independent thinking by minorities. Some of them claimed that Thomas was pulling up the ladder behind him and so they pulled the rug out from under him. These are the folks who claim credit for the success of those minorities they agree with while trying to discredit those with whom they disagree.” —Ruben Navarette, on Clarence Thomas and his treatment by liberals

Quote Of The Day

“[Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence] Thomas was talking about how surprisingly positively he has been received in campuses around the country over the past two decades. It is mostly the faculty, not the students or the public that are tough on him. Of course, there are some law schools he does not expect an invitation from. “About the only way I would get invited to Columbia is if I was a Middle East dictator with nuclear weapons.”” — Richard Miniter, writing about his Dinner With Clarence Thomas and Thomas’s new book, My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir

Slavery In Context – Friday Edition

Do me a favor, read this and this from Michael Medved and when you are done read this blog post and tell me if their description of what Medved wrote is accurate.

After reading the two articles I responded in the comments section to correct what I saw as a false representation of what he had written. After all was said and done I simply asked them to tell me what Medved said that was in error? Which of his general points were wrong? A simple request, I thought.

Reenee, one of the co-bloggers of the blog responded with this:

My co-blogger’s post was not misleading nor was it myopic. It was her expressing her opinion.
This country does not get off the hook for introducing slavery merely because it was being done elsewhere on the planet. Nor does it get off the hook by “abolishing it quickly” after 240 years. You might want to expand your reading to other writers other than the glossed over tomes available to most schools.
After you’ve finished with those books, go here, pick out the first ten history books about the indigenous people and how they were treated, and then you’ll have a more well-rounded grasp on their history and what was done to them.
Everyone in this country ought to be baffled when faced with an argument that tries to mitigate or downplay or excuse the very bloody history of what our country did to people, either found here or imported, since it was founded.

That they aren’t, baffles me.

And, that’s all I have to say about that.

In other words, still no list of errors. Simply rebuts to arguments I did not make and a recommendation of what books I should read to be more ‘enlightened’.

I responded and then Leesee, whom I assume wrote the original post, responded with this:

His-Pan: That you would seek to defend Medved and ask for point by point disputation astonishes me.
Medved seeks to diminish the murder, the slavery, the genocide and the suffering, he gives a seemingly rational argument but I’m not buying it and it’s my choice not to buy it.
Frankly I’m a little sad you fell for his feel good take on these very sad episodes in our collective history.
Sometimes when you argue the fine points you miss the bigger picture, the fact is these things happened and putting them in so-called historical context does not diminish the crimes.
We as a gente cannot let anyone else define our reality or make less of our experience.
It’s your choice to buy into Medved’s cleaned up history lesson and I’m just not there.
Go on over to Crooks and Liars specifically Keith Olbermanns take on Medved, he called him the worst person in the world for “apologizing” for slavery, how is you don’t get that?

You notice a pattern here? Still no list of errors and more of the same caricatures.

This was a few days ago and so you can imagine how surprised I was to see the topic brought up again today, see here. I thought for sure this time there would be a list of errors, a real critique of what Medved wrote. Well, if you guessed not, you would have been correct. It is more of the same. More caricatures, attacks on the credentials of Medved, and references to incidental parts of his article, not a direct rebut of his main points.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with everything Medved wrote. There are some points he makes that are stronger than others. There is wording he uses that I would not have used. There are some points he includes that I would not have. And of course, there are some exaggerations and misleading statements…but I do buy the overall heart of his article – specifically the points I commented on the original post (slavery was universal, it was primarily the west that abolished it, and the majority of Native Americans were killed by the unintentional transfer of diseases).

The reason I was asking for a critique is because he makes many of the same arguments that a book I am reading does, Thomas Sowell’s, Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Thomas Sowell backs up his claims with reputable sources, many of them respected historians. So when I saw the Medved post, and saw that he was making many of the same arguments, I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how one goes about critiquing Sowell’s arguments. However, the whole exchange left me with the impression that Sowell is more right than I initially gave him credit for (how else can you explain the irrational responses and refusal to deal with his central points?).

So if you have some time, read the two Medved articles, read the follow up posts by people who found the articles inaccurate, and if you find the refutations lacking and the topic interests you more I strongly recommend you read Thomas Sowells book, Black Rednecks And White Liberals, it gives more of the historical backing and larger context of some of the general points in Medved’s first article.

I want to close with a quote from a somewhat dated Thomas Sowell article:

Of all the tragic facts about the history of slavery, the most astonishing to an American today is that, although slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years, nowhere in the world was slavery a controversial issue prior to the 18th century.

People of every race and color were enslaved — and enslaved others. White people were still being bought and sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire, decades after American blacks were freed.

Everyone hated the idea of being a slave but few had any qualms about enslaving others. Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century — and then only in Western civilization.

Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research all of 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there.

But who is singled out for scathing criticism today? American leaders of the 18th century.

The full article should be read in full, see here. I’d post this response on the original blog post but then my two previous comments have already been blocked and on the last blog post there is a clear request not to.

The Case For Ordinary Teachers

Alex Tabarrok discusses the paradigm shift education departments have a hard time making:

What we need to save inner-city schools, and poor schools everywhere, is a method that works when the teachers aren’t heroes. Even better if the method works when teachers are ordinary people, poorly paid and ill-motivated – i.e. the system we have today.

In Super Crunchers, Ian Ayres argues that just such a method exists. Overall, Super Crunchers is a light but entertaining account of how large amounts of data and cheap computing power are improving forecasting and decision making in social science, government and business. I enjoyed the book. Chapter 7, however, was a real highlight.

Ayres argues that large experimental studies have shown that the teaching method which works best is Direct Instruction (here and here are two non-academic discussions which summarizes much of the same academic evidence discussed in Ayres). In Direct Instruction the teacher follows a script, a carefully designed and evaluated script. As Ayres notes this is key:

DI is scalable. Its success isn’t contingent on the personality of some uber-teacher….You don’t need to be a genius to be an effective DI teacher. DI can be implemented in dozens upon dozens of classrooms with just ordinary teachers. You just need to be able to follow the script.

Contrary to what you might think, the data also show that DI does not impede creativity or self-esteem. The education establishment, however, hates DI because it is a threat to the power and prestige of teaching, they prefer the model of teacher as hero. As Ayres says “The education establishment is wedded to its pet theories regardless of what the evidence says.” As a result they have fought it tooth and nail so that “Direct Instruction, the oldest and most validated program, has captured only a little more than 1 percent of the grade-school market.”

More thoughts by Megan McArdle here.

Quote Of The Day

“I just read a very interesting article by Thomas C. Leonard, Protecting Family and Race: The Progressive Case for Regulating Women’s Work, which appeared in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in July 2005. If you’re at all interested in Progressive Era economists’ and reformers’ attitudes toward working women, this article is a must read. More generally, Leonard, in this and other pieces, notes that many Progressive Era reformers supported “protective” labor legislation even though they knew that it would lead to unemployment, especially among women, immigrants, and African-Americans. Rather than being disturbed by this side effect of the legislation, many reformers argued that the disemployment caused to these groups was a social benefit, because it prevented “inferior” workers who were willing to accept low wages because of their low consumption from driving down wages for a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male workers, who needed higher wages to support themselves and their families”. — David Bernstein, professor at the George Mason University School of Law

“Conversation Continued” Section Created

Updated: Using the term ‘Conversation Continued’ instead of the politically charged ‘censorship’.

I am a frequent commenter on various blogs and especially those I politically disagree with. Over the years I have often encountered blogs that refuse to post my initial comment or follow up comments. However, since the blogs are the personal property of the writers, I often ignored it and moved on. But since I am now linking to my various discussions on other blogs, I feel that I have an obligation to let readers know what I would have responded had I been allowed to post my rebuttal.

So from now on I am going to post on here the comment that I would have posted on a blog that has (presumably) censored refused to post my response. I will do so under the tag of ‘censorship’ ‘Conversation Continued’. Before I do so though, I want to make a few things clear.

While I personally believe in a completely censor free blog (I have even allowed comments that called me racially charged names, traitor, and various other accusations) I also strongly believe that it is up to each individual blog owner to choose what policy they wish to follow. A blog is the personal property of the blog owner, and as a strong believer in property rights, I strongly believe that a blog owner has the right to decide what criteria comments should adhere to.

Second, just because I place a particular blog under the censorship ‘Conversation Continued’ tag does not mean that the blog intentionally censored refused to post my response. Oftentimes comments get eaten up by the spam filter, get lost in the clutter, or are simply forgotten and therefore if the comment is to later appear on the blog I will include an update to the post saying so.

Lastly, tagging a certain blog with ‘censorship’ ‘Conversation Continued’ is in no way to imply that the owner is in any way less supportive of free speech, and/or the first amendment in general…it is only here to give my readers the chance to see what I would have responded – nothing more.

The tag will be available on the right hand sidebar under ‘Categories’.

Is UCLA A Charity?

Long time readers of my blog know that I strongly disagree with those who argue that Universities need more government funding – especially elite Universities like UCLA. I’ve blogged on this in depth before, see here.

Robert Reich, former president Bill Clintons labor secretary, makes similar arguments in the Los Angeles Times:

Is Harvard a charity?
Most donations go to institutions that serve the rich; they shouldn’t be fully tax-deductible.

By Robert B. Reich
October 1, 2007

This year’s charitable donations are expected to total more than $200 billion, a record. But a big portion of this impressive sum — especially from the wealthy, who have the most to donate — is going to culture palaces: to the operas, art museums, symphonies and theaters where the wealthy spend much of their leisure time. It’s also being donated to the universities they attended and expect their children to attend, perhaps with the added inducement of knowing that these schools often practice a kind of affirmative action for “legacies.”

I’m all in favor of supporting the arts and our universities, but let’s face it: These aren’t really charitable contributions. They’re often investments in the lifestyles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have too. They’re also investments in prestige — especially if they result in the family name being engraved on the new wing of an art museum or symphony hall.

It’s their business how they donate their money, of course. But not entirely. Charitable donations to just about any not-for-profit are deductible from income taxes. This year, for instance, the U.S. Treasury will be receiving about $40 billion less than it would if the tax code didn’t allow for charitable deductions. (That’s about the same amount the government now spends on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is what remains of welfare.) Like all tax deductions, this gap has to be filled by other tax revenues or by spending cuts, or else it just adds to the deficit.

I see why a contribution to, say, the Salvation Army should be eligible for a charitable deduction. It helps the poor. But why, exactly, should a contribution to the already extraordinarily wealthy Guggenheim Museum or to Harvard University (which already has an endowment of more than $30 billion)?

Awhile ago, New York’s Lincoln Center had a gala supported by the charitable contributions of hedge-fund industry leaders, some of whom take home $1 billion a year. I may be missing something, but this doesn’t strike me as charity. Poor New Yorkers rarely attend concerts at Lincoln Center.

It turns out that only an estimated 10% of all charitable deductions are directed at the poor. So here’s a modest proposal. At a time when the number of needy continues to rise, when government doesn’t have the money to do what’s necessary for them and when America’s very rich are richer than ever, we should revise the tax code: Focus the charitable deduction on real charities.

If the donation goes to an institution or agency set up to help the poor, the donor gets a full deduction. If the donation goes somewhere else — to an art palace, a university, a symphony or any other nonprofit — the donor gets to deduct only half of the contribution.

Robert B. Reich, author of “Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life,” was secretary of Labor under President Clinton.

The full article can be found here. However, though he makes good points, there are still some reservations I have with his solution. The economist blog also mentions very important objections to his proposal, see here.

So what is my solution? I propose we take the middle ground. If your goal is a higher percentage of minorities and disadvantaged youths attending college, then why not directly subsidize them?

As I said in a previous post on this, if I were governor (and kudos to the Governator for proposing this), the way I would structure the system is in one hand increase tuition for all students by capping state subsidies, thereby decreasing the tax burden of all state citizens, and in the other hand use a fraction of that money to help low income families, whether they be middle or lower class. This has the added benefit of directly subsidizing the poor instead of through the -often very inefficient – middle man of Universities. So under my plan the poor and middle class students at these Universities would most likely wind up with even more assistance than is currently done under the current method.

If subsidies are your goal, direct subsidies are almost always the more efficient method. So if you want to subsidies poor students who can’t afford education, directly subsidies them, not some institution that primarily caters to the rich and already well connected.

Update: More here and here.

Are There Any Crime Free Young Blacks Out There?

Not many, according to John Edwards:

Question: What would you do to help eliminate inner city kids from partaking in violence?”

John Edwards: That’s a good question.

…I don’t think their’s a silver bullet to this. We start with the president of the United States saying to America, “We cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem.”

And, the idea that we are going to just keep incarcerating and incarcerating, soon we’re not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They’re all going to be in prison or dead.

This is yet another example of how liberals view minorities. The full video can be found here.