Monday, May 29, 2006

American middle class bio

Si te pidieran describir como tu "clase social" ha afectado tu vida, serías capaz de publicarlo en internet?  Bryan Caplan (americano, BA de Berkeley, doctorado en Princeton, padre de dos gemelitos), no tiene ningún problema:
"My childhood would have been much worse if I had grown up poor, but frankly, I doubt that my adult life would have been very different. As long as I had enough to eat, poverty per se wouldn't have bothered me much. But based on my experience with non-ability-tracked classes, I would have been friendless and bored out of my mind. (These days, perhaps, I could have found solace on the internet at a public school or library). By the time I finished high school, though, there would probably have been plenty of scholarship money available for me. Even if there weren't, I would have been fanatically motivated to put myself through college in order to escape from my origins.

You could say that growing up poor would have stifled my mental development, but I doubt it. Twin and adoption studies show that childhood environment has little or no long-run effect on IQ. You could say that growing up poor would have changed my attitudes. But I'm a difficult person to mould. I'm an atheist despite sixteen years of my mother's Catholic indoctrination. If anything, I think that growing up poor would have made me more elitist than I already am, just as growing up Catholic made me more impious.

For my adult life to have been radically different, I would probably have needed to grow up in an absolutely poor family in the Third World, not a relatively poor family in the First World. My instinct in that situation would be to learn English and migrate to the U.S., but immigration restrictions would get in the way. This realization is part of the reason I have so much more sympathy for immigrants than I do for low-skilled Americans."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Comparative Economic History

Hace unos meses hubo una conferencia en Harvard sobre "The New Comparative Economic History".   El programa y varios de los papers están disponibles en:
Este es uno particularmente interesante:
Democracy and Protectionism

Kevin H. O'Rourke, Alan M. Taylor

NBER Working Paper No. 12250 May 2006, NBER Program(s):   DAE    ITI 
Does democracy encourage free trade? It depends. Broadening the franchise involves transferring power from non-elected elites to the wider population, most of whom will be workers. The Hecksher-Ohlin-Stolper-Samuelson logic says that democratization should lead to more liberal trade policies in countries where workers stand to gain from free trade; and to more protectionist policies in countries where workers will benefit from the imposition of tariffs and quotas. We test and confirm these political economy implications of trade theory hypothesis using data on democracy, factor endowments, and protection in the late nineteenth century.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Measuring the unmeasurable: happiness research

Dan Gilbert doesn't have an instruction manual that tells you how to be happy in four easy steps and one hard one. Nor is he the kind of thinker who needs Freud, Marx, and Modernism to explain the human condition.

Gilbert, the Director of Harvard's Hedonic Psychology Laboratory, is a scientist who explores what philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics have to teach us about how, and how well the human brain can imagine its own future, and about how, and how well it can predict which of those futures it will most enjoy.

Below he talks about a wide range of matters that include how we measure a person's subjective emotional experience; the role of "positive hedonic experience"; science as an attempt to replace qualitative distinctions with quantitative distinctions; the role negative emotions play in our lives; the costs of variety; and the need to abandon the romantic notion that human unhappiness results from the loss of our primal innocence.

John Brockman JB

DANIEL GILBERT is he Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Director of Harvard's Hedonic Psychology Laboratory.

He is the author of the recently published Stumbling on Happiness.



Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Open Letter on Immigration

This is an open letter from Alex Tabarrok (GMU, Independent Institute). The link also provides valuable references on this issue.

"Dear President George W. Bush and All Members of Congress:
People from around the world are drawn to America for its promise of freedom and opportunity. That promise has been fulfilled for the tens of millions of immigrants who came here in the twentieth century.
Throughout our history as an immigrant nation, those who are already here worry about the impact of newcomers. Yet, over time, immigrants have become part of a richer America, richer both economically and culturally. The current debate over immigration is a healthy part of a democratic society, but as economists and other social scientists we are concerned that some of the fundamental economics of immigration are too often obscured by misguided commentary.
Overall, immigration has been a net gain for existing American citizens, though a modest one in proportion to the size of our 12 trillion-dollar economy.
Immigrants do not take American jobs. The American economy can create as many jobs as there are workers willing to work so long as labor markets remain free, flexible and open to all workers on an equal basis.
Immigration in recent decades of low-skilled workers may have lowered the wages of domestic low-skilled workers, but the effect is likely to be small, with estimates of wage reductions for high-school dropouts ranging from eight percent to as little as zero percent.
While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices. As with trade in goods and services, the gains from immigration outweigh the losses. The effect of all immigration on low-skilled workers is very likely positive as many immigrants bring skills, capital and entrepreneurship to the American economy.
Legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on the poorest Americans should not be addressed by penalizing even poorer immigrants. Instead, we should promote policies, such as improving our education system that enables Americans to be more productive with high-wage skills.
We must not forget that the gains to immigrants from coming to the United States are immense. Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised. The American dream is a reality for many immigrants who not only increase their own living standards but who also send billions of dollars of their money back to their families in their home countries—a form of truly effective foreign aid...
America is a generous and open country and these qualities make America a beacon to the world. We should not let exaggerated fears dim that beacon."

Unskilled immigrants

Mercatus Center - Hey, don't bad-mouth unskilled immigrants: You don't have to be a computer genius to be good for the U.S.:

Yes, immigration brings some real costs. But most of these problems are concentrated in a few border and urban areas; federal policy can help correct the imbalances.
Americans have heard from politicians for more than 200 years that immigration will cause the sky to fall. Yet each time it has only made us stronger.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Public universities, public failure?

This is from the may 12, 2006, New York Times:

There are 32,000 students (...) but no student center, no bookstore, no student-run newspaper, no freshman orientation, no corporate recruiting system. The 480,000-volume central library is open only 10 hours a day, closed on Sundays and holidays. Only 30 of the library's 100 computers have Internet access.  The campus cafeterias close after lunch. Professors often do not have office hours; many have no office. Some classrooms are so overcrowded that at exam time many students have to find seats elsewhere. By late afternoon every day the campus is largely empty.

(Sounds like a familiar university?  Think again.) 

Sandwiched between a prison and an unemployment office just outside Paris, the university here is neither the best nor the worst place to study in this fairly wealthy country. Rather, it reflects the crisis of France's archaic state-owned university system: overcrowded, underfinanced, disorganized and resistant to the changes demanded by the outside world.
Read the rest here:

Alex Tabarrok reflects on the US vs. French system:

The United State's has one of the most admired university systems in the world and one of the most deplored k-12 systems.  Could the difference have something to do with the fact that universities operate in a competitive market with lots of private suppliers while k-12 is dominated by monopolistic, government provided schools?

What would our university system look like if it operated like the k-12 system?

Look to France for the answer.  The riots of 1968 forced the government to offer a virtually free university education to any student who passes an exam but as a result the universities are woefully underfunded especially for the masses.  Amazingly, with just a few exceptions for the elites, students are required to attend the universities closest to their high schools.  Sound familiar?

Well, many public universities in the US are pretty good--perhaps due to the competition with private ones?  To be sure, one would have to look at a large sample of university systems (public, private, mixed) to determine whether public universities work or not, and why.  But it seems like France would be an underperformer in such a comparison.