Sunday, August 8, 2010

Democracy vs. Constitutional Democracy

Not really on subject here, but this video discusses minority rights in the face of majority opinion. When Truman ordered the racial integration of the military, most in the military were against it, and that didn't matter; our constitution protects the rights of minorities.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Lasting Impact of Kindergarten

What's the effect of having a good kindergarten teacher? Common wisdom in social science is that it's nowhere near as important to the child's success as the education and socioeconomic status of the child's parents, but new research gives early education more importance. Based on a study in which students' kindergarten classes were randomized so that they "had fairly similar socioeconomic mixes of students and could be expected to perform similarly on the tests given at the end of kindergarten," similar scores were not found, nor were the students' futures similar:

Class size — which was the impetus of Project Star — evidently played some role. Classes with 13 to 17 students did better than classes with 22 to 25. Peers also seem to matter. In classes with a somewhat higher average socioeconomic status, all the students tended to do a little better.

But neither of these factors came close to explaining the variation in class performance. So another cause seemed to be the explanation: teachers.

Some are highly effective. Some are not. And the differences can affect students for years to come.

When I asked Douglas Staiger, a Dartmouth economist who studies education, what he thought of the new paper, he called it fascinating and potentially important. “The worry has been that education didn’t translate into earnings,” Mr. Staiger said. “But this is telling us that it does and that the fade-out effect is misleading in some sense.”

Mr. Chetty and his colleagues — one of whom, Emmanuel Saez, recently won the prize for the top research economist under the age of 40 — estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year. That’s the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. This estimate doesn’t take into account social gains, like better health and less crime.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Our Recession Continues...

The chart above (supplied by Greg Mankiw) illustrates one reason that our current recession is different from others: when people lose their jobs now, they lose them for a lot longer.

Another thing that's different now as our liquidity trap: the Federal Reserve's interest rate is effectively zero, and there's little left for the Fed to do to stimulate the economy, thus we're left with financial stimulus from our government (effectively financed through debt to other government). Though media attention has been on those who think this debt is out of line, Hale Stewart at 538 has a lengthy argument for why that's not the case. Summarized:
  1. This new found love of lower government spending is politically motivated. It has nothing to do with altruism or love of country. It's about the November elections. Period.
  2. Government spending has been and always will be part of the the GDP equation
  3. Countries that tried austerity are worse off for it.
  4. Countries that inject massive amounts of the proper stimulus (such as infrastructure spending) grow at high rates.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Also, "Why Unhealthy Food Is So Cheap"

Mint's blog offers a pretty good primer that covers how subsidies and economies of scale help nudge us toward obesity and heart disease in the checkout line, if the subject is unclear.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Another reason why cheap oil has been deleterious to urban design

from this LA Times story:

Suburbia's original appeal came wrapped in visions of green earth, clear skies and backyard bliss. But to fulfill the dreams of home buyers on modest incomes, developers cut back on costly structural features such as movable window sashes, screens, awnings and eaves, high ceilings, thermal mass, cross-ventilated designs and attic fans. They bulldozed shade trees and began building instead for mechanical climate control. Families responded by spending more time indoors...

The relentless intensification of work and commuting patterns could not have been sustained summer after summer without the air-conditioned pipeline that conveys employees in cool vehicles from cool homes to cool offices and back, maybe with a stop at an even chillier supermarket or mall.

But the parking lots, roadways and buildings that support that efficient delivery system also trap and re-radiate solar energy, creating the so-called urban heat island effect. Cities and freeways now stay several degrees hotter than the surrounding countryside during the day and as much as 20 degrees warmer at night.

As a sidenote, posting here may be mere linking and blockquoting until I complete my interstate move, which is the cause of my recent absence.