Archive for the 'Debates' Category

Blaming The Teachers Union For Our Failed Education System

Some people think I am being overly partisan when I blame the teachers union for a good part of our education failure. Well Intelligence Squared sponsored a debate in NYC on exactly that question. Greene reports, “On the union side was Randi Weingarten and two union bosses whose names are not worth remembering. On the other side was a dream team of Terry Moe, Rod Paige, and Larry Sand”. The results?

Let’s just say that the debate wasn’t close. Before the debate the audience was polled and 24% believed teacher unions were not to blame, 43% believed they were to blame, and 33% were undecided. By the end of the evening 25% believed the teacher unions were not to be blamed, 68% believed they were, and 7% remained undecided. Given the quality of the arguments made by Moe, Paige, and Sand and the lame responses from Weingarten, et al, it’s easy to see how the union side gained virtually no supporters while the union-critics won over an additional 25% of the audience.

If your interested in balanced look at this issue, I highly recommend reading the debate here (pdf) and here (click on Audio/Video to watch the debate). Jay P. Greene has more here.

Capitalism Vs. Others – A Discussion

This post is a continuation of the discussion between me and tin that started here and continued here.

Let me start the discussion with some definitions. I define communism, or more generally collectivism, as any economic system that exhibits the following criteria,

1. Little to no property rights

2. little to no free trade

3. the means of production and the price of goods are controlled by government

I define capitalism as the following,

1. strong property rights

2. high levels of free trade

3. an overall laissez-faire economy where people are allowed to enter into whatever contractual agreements they like

4. An economic system where prices are allowed to signal scarcity – the more expensive something is, the more scarce and in demand it is

5. A government that protects property rights, enforces contracts, and holds up the rule of law

Why is capitalism superior to other forms of economic ideologies? One of the primary reasons is that because it has been implemented and seen to work – especially in comparison to other economic systems.

Walter Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, explains the differences this way:

There’s no complete explanation for why some countries are affluent while others are poor, but there are some leads. Rank countries along a continuum according to whether they are closer to being free-market economies or whether they’re closer to socialist or planned economies. Then, rank countries by per-capita income. We will find a general, not perfect, pattern whereby those countries having a larger free-market sector produce a higher standard of living for their citizens than those at the socialist end of the continuum.

What is more important is that if we ranked countries according to how Freedom House or Amnesty International rates their human-rights guarantees, we’d see that citizens of countries with market economies are not only richer, but they tend to enjoy a greater measure of human-rights protections. While there is no complete explanation for the correlation between free markets, higher wealth and human-rights protections, you can bet the rent money that the correlation is not simply coincidental.

So we see here that the more capitalist a country becomes, especially compared to collectivist economies, the higher the standard of living and human rights are.

This is not just a pattern in the West, this pattern has been repeated all over the world. To see how the spread of capitalism around the world is affecting global poverty I recommend everybody watch this short ted talk by Hans Rosling, a Swedish professor on international health and economic development.

Click here to watch the ted talk

That is not to say that we don’t have more to learn on economics or that capitalism is perfect – we certainly do and it definitely isn’t, but any reasonable discussion on economics must first start off acknowledging what we know works and must work within that system. History has shown as clearly as it possibly can that a market oriented economy is superior, indeed vastly superior as far as standard of living for the poor and human rights go, to a government centered economy where prices are dictated by government fiat instead of by scarcity. Utopian aspirations may be good for establishing an end goal but actual economic implementation should be dictated by theory and empirical evidence, especially when so many lives depend on it.

Economics Debate: Why Are We Getting Fatter?

The Wall Street Journal has posted another economics debate. This time it is between Darius Lakdawalla and Carol Graham, on the topic of American obesity (No subscription needed for 10 days).

The debate can be found here.

My favorite parts:

It’s no secret that Americans have been getting fatter over the last several decades. But in fact, weight has been rising for more than 150 years, as shown by the economic historians Dora Costa and Richard Steckel. From the Civil War to the 1990s, the weight of a 6-foot-tall American male increased by about 30 pounds on average.

These historical trends are not hard to understand. As we have gotten wealthier and more technologically advanced, food has gotten cheaper and work more sedentary. Both these factors have contributed to rising weight over the time-frame of centuries, and the recent rise in obesity has likewise been fueled by reductions in the price of food.

The full debate can be found here.

Why Such An Increase In Immigration?

The Wall Street Journal has another econoblog debate and this time the topic is immigration.

Gordon Hanson, professor of economics at UCSD, answers why there has been such a drastic increase in Mexican immigration:

Mexican immigrants now account for about 5% of the U.S. labor force (and 35% of the immigrant labor force), up from less than 1% in 1970. What happened?

I would cite two events. Since 1982, Mexico has had several major economic contractions and has been unable to string together more than a few years of solid growth. As a result, per capita income in Mexico has steadily fallen relative to per capita income in the U.S. Why stay in Mexico when incomes are rising faster in the U.S.?

Compounding migration pressures has been the entry of Mexico’s baby boom into the labor force. While fertility rates in Mexico have dropped sharply in the last three decades (from five kids per woman in 1970 to three kids per woman in 2000), it wasn’t that long ago that the typical Mexican woman had nearly a half dozen children. Mexico’s high fertility years produced a demographic bulge, the members of which in the last 20 years have come of age and started to look for work. As luck would have it, Mexico’s baby boom entered the labor force during Mexico’s two decades of dismal economic performance and decidedly lackluster growth in labor demand. The result has been the surge in Mexican immigration that we have been witnessing.

The full debate can be found here.

The Growing Irrelevance Of Income Inequality

Economists Heather Boushey of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Russell Roberts a professor of economics at George Mason University debate income inequality in the Wall Street Journal econoblog here.

Here are some notable quotes:

First, consider the level of inequality that we can actually perceive in our daily lives, as opposed to the level of inequality that we might know from reading government statistics. I’ve had dinner with a few billionaires at various charity events. As Hemingway pointed out long ago, the rich are different from us, they have more money. But as my colleague Don Boudreaux has pointed out to me more recently, it’s striking how difficult it is to perceive the differences between us and the super-rich in the absence of reading their tax returns.

The super-rich guy at that charity dinner may have flown on a private jet, but I can afford to fly by jet, too, albeit in a coach seat. The super-rich guy may have been chauffeured to the dinner in a luxury car, but my Honda Accord is pretty quiet and comfortable. The rich guy wears a custom-made suit that may have cost over $1000. But my Lands’ End suit is 100% wool and looks pretty good. I’d have to finger the fabric of his jacket to feel inferior. Yes, his watch is more expensive. But mine probably keeps better time. Unless I stop by his house for a visit, I’m unlikely to feel the pinch of my lower income status. Compare that to 50 or 100 years ago, when the qualitative aspects of the lives of the wealthy were much more noticeable to the average person.

Without the government data that is so widely reported, how would I ever know that I’m falling behind or that the super rich or even the mere rich are racing ahead? What I really care about is whether I’m moving forward.

And this is where the government data are particularly misleading. They usually compare two snapshots at different times, and so they mask the progress the average person makes over time in well-being.

The average poor person has a washing machine, a dryer and central air conditioning. Almost two-thirds of the poor own or have access to a car. The poor’s access to what once were luxuries has improved dramatically over the last 15 years despite pessimistic claims to the contrary. On many dimensions, even access to health care, the average poor person lives better than the wealthy of the past.

Immigrants risk death for the chance to be poor here and live among people much wealthier than they are. They still think of America as the land of opportunity. I think they’re right.

The full debate can be found here.

Economics Debate: Stitching a New Safety Net

The Wall Street Journal has posted another economics debate. This time it is between Mark Thoma of EconomistsView blog and Andrew Samwick of Vox Baby blog, on the topic of Social Security, Medicare, and Health Care Reforms (No subscription needed for 30 15 days).

The debate can be found here.

My favorite parts:

We do several things wrong in the way we provide health insurance to non-retirees, and our first tasks should be to undo these mistakes. The first mistake is to make insurance voluntary when we don’t subsequently exclude those who need care from getting it at the public’s expense. We should make health insurance mandatory, but we should do so by putting the mandate on the individual, not the employer. Those who cannot provide proof of insurance on their tax returns should be charged an amount that corresponds to an insurance policy in their area. Implementing this on the tax form allows for family resources to be taken into consideration.

…and this,

But Medicare already offers us a glimpse of whether a single-payer system generates enough preventive care and superior opportunities to resolve conflicts of interest. I am less persuaded here. I do not see Medicare as it is currently implemented as a model of preventive care. Practitioners get paid for providing inputs to health, not necessarily for achieving a healthy outcome. And recent research has documented that there are wide disparities in how much Medicare pays by geographic area. My colleague Jonathan Skinner and his co-authors find that, other things equal, Medicare spends twice as much in Miami as it does in Minneapolis. I don’t think Medicare has made much progress in providing useful resolutions to the conflicts of interest Mark is considering.

Economists Debate: How Should Tax Reform Be Done?

I’m a bit late on this but the Wall Street has another econodebate. This time it is a new and repeated debate between Max Sawicky and Tyler Cowen, on the topic of Tax Reform. It is a must read for those interested in the tax reform debate (No subscription needed for 30 days).

More on the debate at Max Sawicky’s site here, and Tyler Cowen’s site here and here.

Also, for an analysis of the debate, and a really great explanation of why not (yes, not) running deficits now is fiscally irresponsible, read Asymmetrical Information here.

Debating Economic Literacy

Two economics professors, Russell Roberts and William Polley, debate economic literacy, and what can be done about it here (the link will expire tomorrow).

Maybe we need a new name for what we do when we talk about tradeoffs and unintended consequences, emergent prices, market forces and the seen and the unseen — the whole range of creative ways that economics helps you see the world. When people hear the word “economics,” they think of either the stock market or someone talking about the Fed’s latest move. Those things are related to economics, yes, but if that’s all people think we think about, it’s like hearing the word football and assuming it’s about the ball of your foot. It leaves out the most interesting stuff.

“The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” on the other hand, is a treatise on temperance. It is a study of propriety, sympathy, and justice. Sadly, many people don’t even know the book exists or that it was written by the man who is sometimes called the “father of capitalism.” Ignorance of Smith’s other major work leads people to think that economics is only about greed, self-interest, and rational maximization. As a result, many intelligent people who would be quite capable of becoming economically literate are turned off to economics because they see it as promoting a “greed is good” mentality that doesn’t square with their world view. Unfortunately, this perception is so well embedded in the pop culture view of economics and economists that it may be very difficult to reverse.

More on the debate can be found at the professors blogs, here, here and here.

Enjoy!!!

Europe vs. USA – Again

For those of you that don’t know, there is a long-standing disagreement amongst economists of various leanings on what economic model is better for a country. On the one hand, you get ‘liberal’ leaning economists who prefer regulations, government services, and an overall welfare state system, than on the other hand, you get the more ‘conservative’ leaning economists who prefer anti-regulation, laissez-faire, low taxes and an overall anti-welfare state. In short, the liberal leaning economists tend to focus on income inequality while the conservative leaning economists tend to focus on economic growth. The debates are often fierce and can sometimes get personal. For non-economists like myself, it is hard to see who really has the upper hand (although my biases clearly lie on the conservative side) since it is hard to compare apples to apples, every economic situation has its own nuances and slight differences that complicate the comparisons (although, with the current progress towards the unification of Europe’s economy, me thinks that within a generation or two, we will be a lot closer at more definitively settling this debate).

Since the United States is widely viewed as following the more conservative economic model and since Europe is widely viewed as following the more liberal economic model, the debates often come down to USA economy vs. Europe economy, and which one is ‘better’. The liberal economist, for example, will point to the stock market burst and the (probable) current housing bubbles as evidence that our economy is too unstable, that these rapid ups and downs hurt the poor. The conservative economist will point to Europe’s very low economic growth (less than 1%, while the USA’s is more than 3%), and overall lower standard of living for the poor. Back and forth the debates go, than in comes talks about economic mobility, long-term welfare problems, and education and on and on with each trying to show why one economic philosophy is better than the other. Occasionally, you’ll get other stuff thrown in as well. The liberal leaning economists will talk about the United States religiousness, and the conservative leaning economists will talk about Europe’s secularism, or family values vs. materialism, etc…. and so continues the discussions.

So it’s expected that a disaster like Katrina, and our lousy handling of the situation, would flare up these discussions again. To give my readers a taste of how these debates play out, I thought I’d link to them, and allow my readers to make up their own minds. So if you have some free time, perhaps during lunch or something, take a look at this liberal leaning economic critique of the US and its economy, and than it’s conservative response here and here (yeah, the conservative pro-USA response gets two, call me bias, so what!!).

Enjoy.

Are School Vouchers The Next Great Civil Rights Issue?

Legal affairs hosted a debate on whether or not school vouchers are the next great civil rights issue. Clint Bolick, President and General Counsel for the Alliance for School Choice, took the affirmative and Laura Underkuffler, a professor at Duke Law School, took the negative. The debate can be found here and here.

Clint Bolick writes:

School choice gives disadvantaged families some of the clout that middle- and upper-income families have, through the power to exit the system. School choice provides an educational life preserver for children who desperately need it, and creates a competitive incentive for public schools to improve. Harvard’s Caroline Hoxby has found that wherever public schools are subjected to meaningful competition, they improve.

That has happened in Florida, where children in failing schools are offered scholarships to attend better-performing public schools or private schools. Only about 750 kids statewide have transferred to private schools, but their footsteps have reverberated across the state. Schools faced with failing grades—and the prospect of vouchers—are adopting reforms that they long have resisted, such as spending more money in the classroom rather than the bureaucracy, hiring tutors for failing students, moving to year-round schools, etc. The result has been dramatic academic improvement, especially among minority schoolchildren. The racial academic gap is narrowing in Florida like nowhere else.

Notice here that Clint gives both the theoretical and the practical arguments behind vouchers. Some people continue to argue that vouchers won’t work, that they will destroy the public school system, that they will benefit only some students, this and that, but they overlook the fact that vouchers, in one form or another, have already been implemented in various states around the country. And the clear results are success, success for all students, for public schools, and especially for those who need vouchers most, those students (who are primarily low income minorities) formerly trapped in inner city schools who now have options, options that they never had before. In addition, when these students exercise that option and go to other schools, the results are overwhelmingly positive. You now have students with higher chances of graduating, higher grades, and an overall better education and with that, a better future, all things they were deprived of before vouchers.

So who could argue with this? What possible argument could someone give to being against vouchers now? This is why Laura is against vouchers:

What if the private school chosen is one that reflects the teachings of a religious “cult”, or that teaches racial hatred, or the inferiority of girls and women, or the denial of civil rights on the basis of sexual orientation, or other values that are at odds with the fundamental principles of our society? The limitation often cited by choice advocates—that the school be required to accept all comers—will not solve the problems that such schools present. The issue is far more fundamental: do we want our tax dollars to fund such schools?

Throughout the debate, she focuses on the fear that truly abhorent beliefs will be adopted by new private schools. She alludes to racism, to sexism, to even terrorism, as examples of what future private schools may teach, without any possibility for the state to regulate, this is her main argument against vouchers. But Clint directly addresses her concerns.

He writes:

Society expresses itself through democratic processes, and so far those processes have produced school choice programs that achieve a balance between parental choice and mainstream educational objectives. Most states, for instance, require all private schools to adhere to a sequential program of core academic instruction. The Florida program forbids schools from requiring participation in religious activities. Cleveland’s excludes schools that advocate racial hatred.

Clint also responds that currently, higher education gives the very same freedom that vouchers would give to K-12 students. So, for decades we have already had a system that Laura fears, and none of what Laura claims will happen has happened. So if you accept this system with higher education, why should it be restricted with lower education? Especially when the stakes are so high. This is a response that Laura never addressed, even after Clint repeatedly asked her four times to address it.

So why do you think Laura is really against vouchers? It can’t really be a fear that schools will start to teach racism, or sexism, or hatred against the USA. Since, as the current Cleveland and Florida case shows, those types of schools can be easily banned in a voucher program. Afterall, what American would be against a ban on public money going to schools that teach racism? Or schools that teach sexism or hate? It would be easy to get citizen support to ban those schools.

What I think Laura truly fears from a voucher program is what many opponents of vouchers in general truly fear from vouchers. The real reason, IMHO, most many opponents of vouchers that know more than basic economics are still against vouchers is this, what Laura let slip in one of her responses.

She writes:

You argue that the fears of voters are unfounded, citing the ban on the teaching of racial hatred in the Cleveland voucher plan. This is fine as far as it goes. But how far does it go? The problems involved in interpreting and enforcing such a ban are obvious. (What is “racial hatred”? Does it include “racial inferiority” and other ideas?) Even more telling is what this ban does not include. It does not attempt to prohibit the teaching of religious intolerance, or the teaching of the subordination of women, or the teaching of the denial of gay rights. (emphasis added)

While one can be assured that the American public will not tolerate racism, sexism and national hatred, what they will tolerate is mainstream religious teachings that speak against gay marriage, or abortion, and many other views the secular left holds dear, and this, Laura, and many voucher opponents, can’t tolerate.

That is right my friends. Their true fear with vouchers is not that they won’t work, but they will work, too well. In other words, they have the fear that several of these parents in poor areas, given the choice, will take their kids to religious schools like Catholic private schools, and get (gasp!!) Christianized.

Given a choice between A. giving children stuck in the ghetto a good education, an education that gives them a real chance to escape poverty, but at the same time allowing the possibility that they may become Christianized, or B. Having them remain in a secular environment, but one that robs them of a proper education thereby dooming them to a life of failure, Laura and her ilk would choose B!!

This is yet another reason why I am a strong conservative. With ‘friends’ like the above, who needs enemies?

AConstrainedVision has more.

A List Of Econoblogger Debates

Economist Max Sawicky, blogging over at MaxSpeak, gives us a list of the Wall Street Journal Online Econoblog debates.

Update: Bloggers Barry Ritholtz vs Andrew Samwick on whether we are Shopped Out?

Economists Debate: Is The Labor Market Doing Good?

Is the labor market doing good? Does the falling unemployment figures give an accurate picture of how the economy is doing? Economists on both sides of the aisle debate precisely that. This time it is between Max Sawicky and Tom Walker on one side, and David Altig on the other. The debate should be free only for the next 30 or 20 days, after that it will only be offered to paying customers. So please, those of you interested in this topic, rush over and read what you can now.

More on the debate here.

Conservative And Liberal Dialogue Is Good

Oso And HPFor those of you that don’t know, shortly after the 2004 election, I was asked to be a guest on a liberal blog. The owner of the blog, Oso, was disappointed by the results of the election and felt more dialogue between the two sides was needed. The idea was to open up communication between liberals and conservatives, and hopefully help reduce the misunderstandings that are so common in liberal/conservative discussions.

The plan was simple, I was to give my side of a conservative belief, and in the comments section, answer any questions or disagreements any of his readers (mostly liberals) might have. Than, after that post died down a bit, Oso would present his side and give me a chance to address it. That way both sides are presented in their own words, and hopefully some agreement or at least understanding would follow.

I must admit, I have learned a lot from my participation there, and more importantly, I have made a lot of new friends. I comment so regularly on that blog now that I don’t consider myself to be the ‘Republican guest blogger‘ anymore but an accepted member of that blog community. In addition, because Oso lives in the same city as I do, we have been able to go out for drinks and have thoughtful discussions in person, as well as online (he also happened to be in Monterrey, Mexico when I visited, so we met up and he helped me (actually, he did all the work) upgrade my website while I was there).

So back to my main point, I wanted to give readers of my blog a chance to see how liberals react to conservative beliefs, and to see how conservatives (mostly myself, but there is the occasional conservative blogger as well) react to liberal beliefs. What better topic to do that on, than our (somewhat) recently finished discussion on gay marriage. If you’re interested, take a look at how (my version) of the conservative side against gay marriage was presented and defended, and his version of the liberal case for gay marriage was also presented and defended.

My Case Against Gay Marriage

The Liberal Response In Support Of Gay Marriage

In addition, if you are also interested, you might want to check out our previous topic, on abortion.

My Case Against Abortion

A Liberal Case For Choice

Oh yeah, one more thing, Oso has also written about minority conservatives that generated some interesting comments. You might want to check those out as well.

Understanding Minority Conservatives Part One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

Enjoy!!

Intrinsic Sex Differences And The Role They Play: A Debate

Women-Men Bell CurveScottish IQ ResultsThe edge has a debate “on the research on mind, brain, and behavior that may be relevant to gender disparities in the sciences, including the studies of bias, discrimination and innate and acquired difference between the sexes”. The debate is between Steven Pinker, the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, and Elizabeth S. Spelke, Berkman Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, where she is Co-Director of the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative.

PINKER: These are two Gaussian or normal distributions; two bell curves. The X axis stands for any ability you want to measure. The Yaxis stands for the proportion of people having that ability. The overlapping curves are what you get whenever you compare the sexes on any measure in which they differ. In this example, if we say that this is the male curve and this is the female curve, the means may be different, but at any particular ability level there are always representatives of both genders….

There are some important corollaries of having two overlapping normal distributions. One is that a normal distribution falls off according to the negative exponential of the square of the distance from the mean. That means that even when there is only a small difference in the means of two distributions, the more extreme a score, the greater the disparity there will be in the two kinds of individuals having such a score. That is, the ratios get more extreme as you go farther out along the tail. If we hold a magnifying glass to the tail of the distribution, we see that even though the distributions overlap in the bulk of the curves, when you get out to the extremes the difference between the two curves gets larger and larger.

For example, it’s obvious that distributions of height for men and women overlap: it’s not the case that all men are taller than all women. But while at five foot ten there are thirty men for every woman, at six feet there are two thousand men for every woman. Now, sex differences in cognition tend not to be so extreme, but the statistical phenomenon is the same.

A second important corollary is that tail ratios are affected by differences in variance. And biologists since Darwin have noted that for many traits and many species, males are the more variable gender. So even in cases where the mean for women and the mean for men are the same, the fact that men are more variable implies that the proportion of men would be higher at one tail, and also higher at the other. As it’s sometimes summarized: more prodigies, more idiots.

With these statistical points in mind, let me begin the substance of my presentation by connecting the political issue with the scientific one. Economists who study patterns of discrimination have long argued (generally to no avail) that there is a crucial conceptual difference between difference and discrimination. A departure from a 50-50 sex ratio in any profession does not, by itself, imply that we are seeing discrimination, unless the interests and aptitudes of the two groups are equated…

Now, all we need to do to explain sex differences without invoking the discrimination or invidious sexist comparisons is to suppose that whatever traits I have that predispose me to choose (say) child language over (say) mechanical engineering are not exactly equally distributed statistically among men and women. For those of you out there — of either gender — who also are not mechanical engineers, you should understand what I’m talking about.

Okay, so what are the similarities and differences between the sexes? There certainly are many similarities. Men and women show no differences in general intelligence or g — on average, they are exactly the same, right on the money. Also, when it comes to the basic categories of cognition — how we negotiate the world and live our lives; our concept of objects, of numbers, of people, of living things, and so on — there are no differences.

Indeed, in cases where there are differences, there are as many instances in which women do slightly better than men as ones in which men do slightly better than women. For example, men are better at throwing, but women are more dexterous. Men are better at mentally rotating shapes; women are better at visual memory. Men are better at mathematical problem-solving; women are better at mathematical calculation. And so on.

But there are at least six differences that are relevant to the datum we have been discussing. The literature on these differences is so enormous that I can only touch on a fraction of it. I’ll restrict my discussion to a few examples in which there are enormous data sets, or there are meta-analyses that boil down a literature.

It turned out to be a very good debate with both sides giving strong support for their views. Everything from stereotypes to the SAT-M was discussed. While, ultimately, I think Pinker did overall better, the debate has such a wealth of information that people on both sides of this debate are guaranteed to learn something new. ATSRTWT

Link via Duke University professor of political science Michael Munger, who has more on the topic.

Economics Debate: How Is The Economy Doing?

The Wall Street Journal has posted another economics debate. This time it is between John Irons and Arnold Kling, on the topic of how healthy is the U.S. economy, really? Are we on the edge of a recession or a boom? It is a must read for those interested in the state of our economy (No subscription needed for 30 days).

You can find more on this topic at Arnold Klings blog.

Affirmative Action Debate

For those of you interested in the affirmative action debate, there is a very lively debate on whether or not affirmative action hurts black law students. The debate is betweeen Professor of Law at UCLA Rick Sander and Associate Professor of Law at Indiana University Bill Henderson. Rick Sander, as some of you probably remember, is the one who came out with a study that concluded affirmative action positively hurts blacks in law school a few months back. This a must read for anybody interested in affirmative action in higher education.