Tag Archives: policy

Quick Link: Article About Middle East Strategy

Long time, no post. Here’s an article about American grand strategy in the Middle East.

Our relations have never been worse. In Syria, we are engaged in arming, training and funding essentially the same people whom the new Egyptian regime is about to hang and whom we are considering bombing in Iraq. In Iraq, we are about to become engaged in supporting the regime we installed and which is the close ally of the Syrian and Iranian regimes that we have been trying for years to destroy; yet in Iran, we appear to be on the point of reversing our policy of destroying its government and seeking its help to defeat the insurgents in Iraq. And on and on.

We are lurching from crisis to crisis, seemingly without a goal in mind.

Pollution and a Sort of Nuclear Winter

A nuclear winter would likely be caused by a nuclear exchange and not nuclear power. That aside, China has is headed towards a similar spot climate wise:

Chinese scientists have warned that the country’s toxic air pollution is now so bad that it resembles a nuclear winter, slowing photosynthesis in plants – and potentially wreaking havoc on the country’s food supply.

China does have nuclear power and is seeking to build out more plants, but they can’t increase capacity fast enough (including with other energy sources) to replace their current reliance on fossil fuels.

Hopefully solar energy keeps dropping in price, although it won’t help if we’re already in the midst of a fossil fuel inspired nuclear winter.

Universal Preschool and Language

As drawn by its students?

I read this article about universal pre-school (école maternelle) in France, and thought it could use a touch more history.

The French language wasn’t widely used throughout France up to the Revolution. The aftermath resulted in a short-lived policy of freedom of languages for all citizens, followed by pretty much the opposite, and forcing everyone to learn French.

I don’t deny that teaching the national language (for countries with a national language) in school is necessarily bad, but when a national policy can be construed as linguicide, it loses some of its luster.

Over here in the United States, there isn’t a national policy, although as the article points out, it’s a hot topic. When I started writing this post, I thought there could be some clever way to include early childhood education taught in English to perhaps make immigration reform somehow more appealing to conservatives. Given what I’ve read of the language policy in the US, it doesn’t seem likely.

With the Bilingual Education Act, we had a policy that was more inclusive than what I suggested. It helped states fund programs for students with limited English ability.

As the Wikipedia article points out, this changed somewhat with the passage of No Child Left Behind.

So with immigration reform a possible hot topic this year, what should language policy look like? This paper goes over the history of US language policy, and provides a list of principles to build future policy around.

More on a Guaranteed Minimum Income

To follow-up on my previous post on the GMI, here are a few more links to other thought pieces about them.

Here’s a piece about an interesting thought experiment from Warren Buffet:

My political views were formed by this process.  Just imagine that it is 24 hours before you are born. A genie comes and says to you in the womb, “You look like an extraordinarily responsible, intelligent, potential human being. [You’re] going to emerge in 24 hours and it is an enormous responsibility I am going to assign to you — determination of the political, economic and social system into which you are going to emerge. You set the rules, any political system, democracy, parliamentary, anything you wish — you can set the economic structure, communistic, capitalistic, set anything in motion and I guarantee you that when you emerge this world will exist for you, your children and grandchildren.

What’s the catch? One catch — just before you emerge you have to go through a huge bucket with 7 billion slips, one for each human. Dip your hand in and that is what you get — you could be born intelligent or not intelligent, born healthy or disabled, born black or white, born in the US or in Bangladesh, etc. You have no idea which slip you will get. Not knowing which slip you are going to get, how would you design the world?

It really highlights the role of luck in people’s lives. There are simply many things that are out of your control, starting with who your parents are and where you’re born. Nobody gets to choose those.

That’s not to say that those obstacles are insurmountable, but that they play a part, sometimes a very large part, in our lives.

And the welfare state deals with specific instances of this. We have programs so children have health insurance (much of Medicaid), programs to reduce poverty among senior citizens (Social Security, Medicare), and programs to help low-income families (EITC, TANF).

These programs came up in a piecemeal fashion, in response to specific problems which were prominent at the time.

With rising income inequality, I’m not surprised that something like a GMI is now being discussed.

The second pair of articles discuss the guaranteed minimum income from a libertarian perspective.  The first attempts to find libertarian arguments in favor of a GMI.

1) A Basic Income Guarantee would be much better than the current welfare state.

 …

2) A Basic Income Guarantee might be required on libertarian grounds as reparation for past injustice.

 …

3. A Basic Income Guarantee might be required to meet the basic needs of the poor.

 It’s interesting reading, even though I’m not one of the intended audience, for its attempt to reconcile what, if implemented, could be one of the largest parts of the welfare state with a view that seeks to reduce the size of government.

The second is a response to that, and doesn’t agree that there can a be a case made on libertarian grounds for a GMI.

Concluding, so while I have a lot of sympathy for Matt’s suggestion for a Basic Income Guarantee I have major problems with his arguments for income redistribution. Hence, I continue to think a Basic Income Guarantee or a Negative Income Tax is a good idea as adenationalization strategy that could bring us (a little) closer to the ideal of a non-paternalitic classical liberal society.

The last article is the liberal case against the GMI (Universal Basic Income, or UBI in this article’s parlance).

Like good fiction, the way to read the UBI is not as a real proposal, but as a message about something else: our existing system. But the implicit critique of the existing system underlying UBI advocacy is not well-founded.

The alternative put forth in the article is to work with, and improve, the existing system.

I’m of the mind that the GMI is a proposal worth at least thinking about. As the author of the last piece says, GMI proposals are proposals, with none of the details worked out yet. But I can see the attraction in implementing one.

The Conservative Approach to Recessions

Related to my last post, but on the other side of the aisle, Republicans have no policies to help:

[C]onservatives favor the same set of economic policies when the economy is weak and when it is strong; when unemployment is high and when it is low; when few homeowners are facing foreclosure and when many are. The implication is that conservatives believe there is nothing in particular the government should do about economic cycles.

This is a big problem. Recessions are terrible. They create enormous misery by throwing people out of work and out of their homes. How can a political ideology have nothing to say about how to address recessions?

I’d actually go farther than this. The austerity policies that conservatives champion are not neutral toward unemployment and economic cycles. Europe’s experience with austerity is a large piece of evidence that austerity doesn’t help.

If there is a bright side for Greece, Spain and the like, it’s going to come with a huge amount of suffering attached. Let’s not copy the mistakes they’ve made.

Neat Yellen profile

A good profile on Janet Yellen, and how her journal could change Washington. The most important part, I think, lies here:

By a number of accounts, no one feels this more intensely than Yellen, who understands not just the human cost to individual lives and families but also the damage that a demoralized workforce can do to the economy as a whole. One of her most important papers, written with her husband, Nobel Prize winner George Akerlof, showed that workers who feel underpaid will be less productive. “She does see long-term unemployment, massive unemployment, as not only an economic problem or in terms of wasted resources but also as a human being,” says John Williams, president of the San Francisco Fed, who was Yellen’s research chief when she ran it. “It is very destructive to families.… This is passionate with her. Among economists, you don’t often see that human side. With her, it’s not just an abstraction, and if you try to treat it too much as an abstraction, she’ll react.”

There is a human cost to policy. What the Fed does affects the lives of millions of people, and the fact that five years after the financial crisis we’re still not near full employment is a huge loss of well-being.

I know there are downsides to pushing too hard, but I can’t believe that it outweighs the suffering that 5 years of a terrible labor market have created.

Elizabeth Warren Pushing the Overton Window

Good read on what most pundits are missing on Senator Warren.

But while Waldman is right, he’s answering the wrong question. It’s not his fault! Most pundits writing about “Warren versus Clinton” are answering the wrong question, because of the political media’s fixation on national elections and presidents. But the “economic populism” fight isn’t about Hillary Clinton and 2016. It’s about the entire Democratic Party and every policy fight and campaign it will be involved in in the foreseeable future.

(Emphasis mine)

It’s more about Warren pushing the Democratic Party toward adopting “economic populism”, rather than her getting elected because she holds her views. She has said that she wasn’t going to run for President, but I think that a single-issue (sort of) candidacy focusing on such an agenda would be a good way of pushing that agenda.

Origins of the Modern Welfare State

This, from Ta-Nehisi Coates,  on the origins of the welfare state in Western Europe:

I am coming at this as a total amateur and a total American whose exposure to the post-war narrative was something like—”The Germans learned their lesson and everyone (in the West, because no one talks about the East) resumed their status as upstanding white people.” Somewhere in there I knew something about the Marshall Plan. But whereas the narratives which nations tell themselves so often have a moral component, Judt is giving us something less flattering and more atheistic. Even Europe’s great achievement—a broad strong social safety net—seems inseparable from the barbarism from which it had just been plunged. A safety net (often means-tested) existed in Europe before the War, but there was not the same sense that a state should be a comprehensive guarantor of the health and happiness of its people:

It was the war that changed all this. Just as World War One had precipitated legislation and social provisions in its wake—if only to deal with the widows, orphans, invalids and unemployed of the immediate post-war years—so the Second World War transformed both the role of the modern state and the expectations placed upon it.

The change was most marked in Britain, where Maynard Keynes correctly anticipated a post-war ‘craving for social and personal security’. But everywhere (in the words of the historian Michael Howard) ‘war and welfare went hand in hand’. In some countries nutrition and medical provision actually improved during the war: mobilizing men and women for total war meant finding out more about their condition and doing whatever was necessary to keep them productive…

(He’s quoting from Postwar, by Judt)

This reminds me greatly of Atul Gawande’s piece in the New Yorker about the origins of the healthcare systems in Europe. Like Judt, he finds that much of the system grew out of World War 2.

On Britain:

The program proved successful and lasting, historians say, precisely because it was not the result of an ideologue’s master plan. Instead, the N.H.S. was a pragmatic outgrowth of circumstances peculiar to Britain immediately after the Second World War. The single most important moment that determined what Britain’s health-care system would look like was not any policymaker’s meeting in 1945 but the country’s declaration of war on Germany, on September 3, 1939.

As tensions between the two countries mounted, Britain’s ministers realized that they would have to prepare not only for land and sea combat but also for air attacks on cities on an unprecedented scale. And so, in the days before war was declared, the British government oversaw an immense evacuation; three and a half million people moved out of the cities and into the countryside. The government had to arrange transport and lodging for those in need, along with supervision, food, and schooling for hundreds of thousands of children whose parents had stayed behind to join in the war effort. It also had to insure that medical services were in place—both in the receiving regions, whose populations had exploded, and in the cities, where up to two million war-injured civilians and returning servicemen were anticipated.

As a matter of wartime necessity, the government began a national Emergency Medical Service to supplement the local services. Within a period of months, sometimes weeks, it built or expanded hundreds of hospitals. It conducted a survey of the existing hospitals and discovered that essential services were either missing or severely inadequate—laboratories, X-ray facilities, ambulances, care for fractures and burns and head injuries. The Ministry of Health was forced to upgrade and, ultimately, to operate these services itself.

On France:

n France, in the winter of 1945, President de Gaulle was likewise weighing how to insure that his nation’s population had decent health care after the devastation of war. But the system that he inherited upon liberation had no significant public insurance or hospital sector. Seventy-five per cent of the population paid cash for private medical care, and many people had become too destitute to afford heat, let alone medications or hospital visits.

Long before the war, large manufacturers and unions had organized collective insurance funds for their employees, financed through a self-imposed payroll tax, rather than a set premium. This was virtually the only insurance system in place, and it became the scaffolding for French health care. With an almost impossible range of crises on its hands—food shortages, destroyed power plants, a quarter of the population living as refugees—the de Gaulle government had neither the time nor the capacity to create an entirely new health-care system. So it built on what it had, expanding the existing payroll-tax-funded, private insurance system to cover all wage earners, their families, and retirees. The self-employed were added in the nineteen-sixties. And the remainder of uninsured residents were finally included in 2000.

In Britain, it seems that the NHS was born as a result of the government running a healthcare system for wartime, and in France, the sheer volume of problems the post war government was facing lead to it expanding what was available to a majority of its population.

America hasn’t faced those kind of pressures, and so it seems we don’t have the sense that government should provide. Seems like that accounts for much of the libertarian streak here.

As Coates points out, we probably can change to have an outlook that mirrors that of Western Europe by going through something similar.

Are there other states that haven’t faced much (any?) conflict on the home front in the 20th century? I’d be interested in the outlook on welfare those states have.