Monday, August 4, 2014

Two more points on the Phillips Curve discussion

I know this Magness guy is really not worth the time investment, but before I leave this behind I wanted to share this great passage from Samuelson-Solow on the difficulty of pinning down microfoundations (which, as you'll recall from the last post, is the point of the paper - to discuss competing microfoundational explanations of the Phillips Curve floating around in the 50s). From page 191:

"We have concluded that it is not possible on the basis of a priori reasoning to reject either the demand-pull or cost-push hypothesis, or the variants of the latter such as demand-shift. We have also argued that the empirical identifications needed to distinguish between these hypotheses may be quite impossible from the experience of macrodata that is available to us; and that, while use of microdata might throw additional light on the problem, even here identification is fraught with difficulties and ambiguities."

They go on to talk about a hypothetical natural experiment (they don't use that term obviously) and how it could potentially sort things out.

This is, of course, the Lucas critique. It just took Lucas to really make it stick.

The second point I want to make is that when you're talking about history of thought you really need to distinguish between what contribution (say) Friedman actually made to the discussion and what contribution Friedman said he made (or even what contribution the textbook or the Nobel prize committee said he made... because you don't do intellectual history by polling practitioners). It's trivial to find Friedman saying those crazy Keynesians didn't realize the Phillips Curve isn't stable. If the question is "how did Friedman describe his own research program" that has a different answer from the question of "how did Friedman fit into the history of the Phillips Curve".

Also, my daughter is a natural born empirical economist

May or may not be posed

The history of economic thought is not a food fight: Phillips Curve edition

One thing I hate and tried to teach my students to avoid in the History of Economic Thought class is the tendency to view intellectual history as a food fight - some kind of extended battle between the good guys and the bad guys. A great example of this is the Keynesv. Hayek rap and the whole idea that this is a fight stretching over the centuries. Of course there are disagreements - and certainly there was a disagreement between Keynes and Hayek - but nothing like these epic battles which dumb down the actual scientific discussion. This weekend I got into an argument with Phil Magness, a program director at the Institute for Humane Studies, about the Phillips Curve. He sees the history of the Phillips Curve very much in these terms: a Keynesian vs. non-Keynesian fight where Keynesians opportunistically used relationships in the data to push a policy preference. Friedman, Phelps, and Lucas came in to save the day and destroy the Phillips Curve, and nobody makes use of the Phillips Curve now except for "peripheral Keynesians" (his words).

Two notes: (1.) This will be long, but I’m going to divide it into sections to help focus on the main points. So if you’re not going to bother reading it all, please at least skim the section headings. (2.) None of this is hidden knowledge or original digging on my part – in fact I think it’s fairly widely known among people that care about this stuff. A lot of this is pulled from  Leeson and Young's (2008) "Mythical Expectations", Robert Gordon's (2011) "The History of the Phillips Curve: Consensus and Bifurcation", several articles by James Forder, and some from the primary sources. I'm not going to cite them formally below because this is not a formal write-up.

This is written sort of on the fly. There are a lot of subtle differences between these perspectives (prices vs. wages, direction of causality, reasons for LR/SR differences, etc.) so if some of it is a bit off don’t get too upset with me and let me know so I can adjust.


"No one supposes that a good induction can be arrived at merely by counting cases. The business of strengthening the argument chiefly consists in determining whether the alleged association is stable, when accompanying conditions are varied"

- John Maynard Keynes, 1921


1. Expectations augmentation did not start with Friedman and Phelps.

 Expectations have been important to economists for a long time. Malthus, Ricardo, and Bastiat all extensively discussed how taking expectations about the future into account often changes results in static models or models that don't include expectations. When it comes to expectations in macroeconomics, this was not new in the 1960s either.

The two really obvious cases are Keynes (1936) and Hayek (1937). Expectations play an enormous role in the General Theory in determining policy effectiveness. Keynes's interest in expectations and belief formation generally go back to his Treatise on Probability, some common interests with Frank Ramsey, etc. This is all very well known, and it was at the time. Hicks said in his review of the General Theory that 'From the standpoint of pure theory, the use of the method of expectations is perhaps the most revolutionary thing about this book' (see Forder, "The Historical Place of the Friedman-Phelps Expectations Critique"). For Keynes expectations fed primarily into entrepreneur's investment decisions and the liquidity preference function. They played less of a role in his analysis of consumption, at least in the General Theory (he seems to get at some of these ideas as they relate to consumption in How to Pay for the War, but I have yet to look closely at that). In any case, as far as the science is concerned this would come in later with Modigliani and Friedman, etc.. Hayek initially did not make expectations as central as Keynes as far as I can tell, but he made up for that in his 1937 paper "Economics and Knowledge" which laid a lot of the groundwork for how to think about defining a dynamic equilibrium in terms of expectations. 

Much of this was not formalized until later - a point I'll come back to. In the early formalizations of all of these ideas in the 1930s and before of course you start out simple, perhaps not formalizing the more complicated ideas, and then build up. But that is very different from saying that nobody understood or thought about the role of expectations.

This is getting far afield of the Phillips Curve (of course there was no Phillips Curve per se at this point). However, even at the very beginning of work on the Phillips Curve people understood the importance of expectations and appreciated each other’s insights. Most notably, Leeson and Young (2008) report that Friedman actually got the equation for adaptive expectations from Phillips in 1952. He was fascinated by Phillips’s work (at this point, principally the machine although the Phillips Curve grew out of that) but understood that the implicit assumption of the model was an expectation of stability. Friedman asked Phillips how he would model expectations that were potentially unstable, and he produced the adaptive expectations equation that Cagan would make so famous in his analysis of hyperinflation (which, if you think about it, is just Friedman/Phelps with half a Phillips Curve!). The Cagan analysis would of course be adapted by the rational expectations revolution as well. So Friedman certainly was not under the impression that the early thinking on the Phillips Curve was done in ignorance of expectation augmentation. Interestingly enough, Friedman twice offered Phillips a job at the University of Chicago (which he twice turned down).

So even in these early years expectations were an important part of economics, the germ of later developments came from Phillips himself, and there was no sense that the scientific questions these men were probing were “peripheral”. What about Samuelson and Solow? 

2. The difference between Friedman/Phelps and Samuelson/Solow was a difference of (a.) formalism, and (b.) the natural rate hypothesis. It was not a disagreement about whether the Phillips Curve existed or whether it was stable. Everyone agreed that it did exist and it was not necessarily stable.

I really don’t need to overcomplicate this: If you think Samuelson and Solow (1960) said that the Phillips Curve offers a stable menu of trade-offs between inflation and unemployment there is an extraordinarily high probability that you simply have not read Samuelson and Solow (1960). Not reading them is OK in my opinion. I am not one of those people that think every single person should take history of economic thought. But by the same token if you’re going to make a claim about the article you should probably... I dunno… read the article?

Samuelson and Solow (1960) are actually principally concerned not with a menu of policy options (though that comes up) so much as with the fight going on at the time between cost-push, demand-pull and other lesser varieties of explanations of inflation. But they do come back to how to think about the Phillips Curve on page 193 where they (very famously) write:
Aside from the usual warning that these are simply our best guesses we must give another caution. All of our discussion has been phrased in short-run terms, dealing with what might happen in the next few years. It would be wrong, though, to think that our Figure 2 menu that relates obtainable price and unemployment behavior will maintain its same shape in the longer run. What we do in a policy way during the next few years might cause it to shift in a definite way.

Thus, it is conceivable that after they had produced a low-pressure economy, the believers in demand-pull might be disappointed in the short run; i.e., prices might continue to rise even though unemployment was considerable. Nevertheless, it might be that the low-pressure demand would so act upon wage and other expectations as to shift the curve downward in the longer run-so that over a decade, the economy might enjoy higher employment with price stability than our present-day estimate would indicate.

But also the opposite is conceivable. A low-pressure economy might build up within itself over the years larger and larger amounts of structural unemployment (the reverse of what happened from 1941 to 1953 as a result of strong war and postwar demands). The result would be an upward shift of our menu of choice, with more and more unemployment being needed just to keep prices stable.

Since we have no conclusive or suggestive evidence on these conflicting issues, we shall not attempt to give judgment on them. Instead we venture the reminder that, in the years just ahead, the level of attained growth will be highly correlated with the degree of full employment and high-capacity output.”
Let’s take a tally of what is here and what isn’t here to better understand what was so important about Friedman and Phelps. First, Samuelson and Solow definitely don’t think the Phillip’s Curve offers a stable menu of policy options. They definitely recognize that it is a short-run trade-off. They also definitely recognize that policy choices impact the long run state of the Phillips Curve and they definitely recognize that expectations determine the long run state of the Phillips Curve.

What don’t Samuelson and Solow offer us? Well they don’t have a clear vertical long run Phillips Curve (i.e., they don’t have a natural rate). They have shifting curves in mind, which actually is what the data do end up looking like. If you read the rest of the article you’ll know that they also don’t have a model or any formal presentation of expectations. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that the whole point of their article is that the jury is still out on the theoretical underpinning of the Phillips Curve. We get both of these things from Phelps and Friedman, who set the ball rolling for modern macroeconomics: rational expectations, the Lucas critique, New Classical macro, New Keynesian macro, and what is sometimes called the “New Consensus” model.

The nature of adjustment depends of course on how expectations are formed, but the result of a NAIRU pops out as long as you assume that (1.) in the long run expectations have to conform to reality and (2.) full employment is determined by technical/exogenous factors. Phelps offers a more formalized picture than Friedman does and therefore has a more direct impact on later New Classical and New Keynesian Phillips Curves.

Some people, when discussing Samuelson and Solow on the stability of the Phillips Curve, like to point out that they thought that the curve shifted somewhat in the 1940s and 1950s or that differences in labor market institutions (principally unions) can explain some of the differences between the UK and the US. That’s all well and good but I think the passage above is what really drives the point home.

3. The contributions of Lucas were (a.) the introduction of much stronger assumptions about expectations and (b.) broader insights about the importance of using structural models.

Lucas comes at all this from a completely different angle because he’s interested in making a point about how we do modeling in macroeconomics. In the seminal Lucas island model, agents are assumed to be unaware of how much of the short run variation in their prices are due to general price level changes and how much is due to changes in the relative demand for their product. If they knew, they would not change their behavior in response to general price level changes but because they don’t know there is production (and therefore labor demand) response to price level changes: a Phillips Curve. The agents know the underlying probability distribution of all these components of the price and they have rational expectations, so in the long-run they can’t be fooled. There is, therefore, a slight difference in emphasis (though I wouldn’t say a fundamental difference) between Friedman’s argument and Lucas’s. In the island model the Phillips Curve comes from fooling people and you can’t fool people in the long run. In Friedman the Phillips Curve comes from more standard demand arguments and you can’t escape real factors in the long run. That’s a little stylized, but put in these terms it’s clear how Lucas is making much stronger assumptions about how agents interact with the world around them.

I’m sure Lucas was interested in inflation and unemployment, but the island model is extremely unrealistic (and when you read the paper it’s clear he knows that). So his real point, I think, isn’t to offer a convincing model of what’s going on so much as it is to point out that you can get the same reduced form relationship from a lot of different microfoundations and if you don’t know what microfoundations are true you can make policy decisions that can come back to bite you in the long run. This was a bit under the surface in his 1972 paper on the island model but it is front and center in his 1976 paper “Econometric Policy Evaluation: A Critique”. That paper is one of the most important in economics in the twentieth century. When I taught history of economic thought it was the only selection that I made my students (undergrads) read from for our single lesson on post-war short run macroeconomics (I had another lesson on growth theory). With Lucas I think you really get the whole path of post-war short run macro, from the Phillips Curve discussion through microfoundations, rational expectations, the rise of New Classical macroeconomics, and the structure of New Keynesian macroeconomics when it emerged. All of this pivots on Lucas.

But what didn’t Lucas say? Lucas definitely didn’t say there was no Phillips Curve or that it was “peripheral” (Magness’s words). It was quite real and like basically everyone before him he said that the short run and the long run versions were not the same thing. Friedman and Phelps brought formal expectations to the table and a NAIRU, while Lucas brought broader points about microfoundations and rational expectations assumptions to the table.

4. The Phillips Curve is extremely important. Essentially everyone uses it; it is not peripheral. There are active areas of research and disagreement over the Phillips Curve.

As with my Samuelson-Solow discussion, I’m not going to overcomplicate this: if you think the Phillips Curve is unimportant or peripheral to modern economics you’re simply wrong. Donald Kohn said that “A model in the Phillips Curve tradition remains at the core of how most academic researchers and policymakers – including me – think about fluctuations in inflation”. Although it’s important to remember there are a few steps to get from one to the other, the Phillips Curve is essentially just an aggregate supply curve, and the business cycle doesn’t really make sense without the aggregate supply curve. However, the fact that that’s settled doesn’t mean that there’s nothing interesting happening in the literature. I’m no expert in this area, but I think there are at least two important discussions going on.
First, it’s not entirely clear that the long run Phillips Curve is vertical. There’s good empirical evidence indicating that the long run Phillips Curve might be backward bending or otherwise downward sloping at low inflation levels. There are a variety of reasons offered for why this might be the case that are typically related to wage bargaining and rigidity or cognitive limitations around very low inflation levels (inflation is most costly to estimate and account for when it is high). This literature is generally associated with Palley in the Post-Keynesian world and Akerlof, Dickens, and Perry in the mainstream literature. Of course it has been of great interest lately with better anchored inflation expectations and subdued inflation during the Great Recession. This one is potentially huge because it does actually claim a (limited) long run trade-off.

The other, older discussion concerns “hysteresis” and whether the NAIRU is really stable. If the NAIRU is a function of past unemployment it could move around. Notice this is not just an observation that supply shocks could occur (which arguably is just a change in exogenous/technical factors and thus consistent with the original NAIRU idea). These are demand-side factors with a long-run impact on the NAIRU (albeit potentially through supply-side channels like skill degradation). This also has Post-Keynesian counterparts, and it is also of interest lately given the experience of persistent high unemployment.

None of this is “peripheral” stuff, I should add. Some of the biggest names in the field have wrestled with both of these questions, particularly the hysteresis issue.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hayek and Benevolent Dictators

Perhaps the biggest problem with libertarianism (and I'm talking about the more extreme minarchist and anarchist range of the spectrum, not Greg Mankiw saying he's largely a libertarian) is that it is a political philosophy which probably more than any other fails to engage its own unintended consequences and robustness. When problems do emerge the true Scotsmen close ranks and don't see it as an opportunity to reflect. What is even more fascinating about this is that these sorts of issues are regularly raised in criticisms of other viewpoints by libertarians.

An important example of this problem is, of course, Hayek and Pinochet. The Review of Political Economy has recently published a symposium on Hayek's relationship with Pinochet, featuring articles by Guinevere Nell and Andrew Farrant, among others. In the same issue, but not in the symposium, there is also an article by Jon Wisman, a professor at American University. Here are the abstracts:

Can a Dictator Turn a Constitution into a Can-opener? F.A. Hayek and the Alchemy of Transitional Dictatorship in Chile

Andrew Farrant & Edward McPhail

Commenting on the Pinochet regime, Friedrich Hayek famously claimed in 1981 that he would prefer a ‘liberal’ dictator to ‘democratic government lacking liberalism.’ Hayek's defense of a transitional dictatorship in Chile was not an impromptu response. In late 1960, in a little known BBC radio broadcast, Hayek suggested that a dictatorial regime may be able to facilitate a transition to stable limited democracy. While Hayek's comments about Pinochet have generated much controversy, this paper neither provides a blanket condemnation of his views (he did not advocate dictatorship as a first-best ‘state of the world’) nor tries to excuse his failure to condemn the Pinochet junta's human rights abuses, but instead provides a critical assessment of Hayek's implicit model of transitional dictatorship.


Hayek, Friedman, and Buchanan: On Public Life, Chile, and the Relationship between Liberty and Democracy 

John Meadowcroft & William Ruger

This article places recent evidence of Hayek's public defense of the Pinochet regime in the context of the work of the other great twentieth-century classical liberal economists, Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan. Hayek's view that liberty was only instrumentally valuable is contrasted with Buchanan's account of liberty situated in the notion of the inviolable individual. It is argued that Hayek's theory left him with no basis on which to demarcate the legitimate actions of the state, so that conceivably any government action could be justified on consequentialist grounds. Furthermore, Friedman's account of freedom and discretionary power undermines Hayek's proposal that a transitional dictatorship could pave the way for a genuinely free society. It is contended that Hayek's defense of Pinochet follows from pathologies of his theories of liberty and democracy.


 Dictating Liberty 

Theodore Burczak

Andrew Farrant and Edward McPhail demonstrate Hayek's willingness to support, under certain circumstances, a transitional dictator who seeks to implement an institutional structure conducive to liberty, understood to mean economic freedom. This comment links this support to Hayek's mistaken rejection of democracy as a constitutive component of freedom, which is the result of his overestimation of the epistemological abilities of judges.


The Alchemy of the Can Opener: How an Austrian Economist Found Himself Supporting Dictatorial Imposition of a Liberal Order 

Guinevere Nell

Why would Hayek, the great critic of ‘rational constructivism’ and defender of spontaneous orders, think a transitional dictatorship could work? Here I attempt to dissect the alchemy of ‘turning a constitution into a can opener’ as Farrant & McPhail (2014) put it. Hayek argues against the imposition by an external source of order upon a society. He stresses the importance of an evolving culture and tradition, noting that they should be spontaneous orders not command systems, and that the culture of a society must be accepting and supportive of its institutions. Sometimes the culture is more important than the formal institutions of a society for efficiency. So why would Hayek argue that a transitional dictator could impose a constitution upon the people? It will be argued here that if Hayek had pursued the theoretical line set out in his Constitution of Liberty, he might have responded to the situation in Chile differently.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Some links

- Norm Matloff, a regular voice in the high skill immigration debate (but not an economist) is now blogging.

- Think tanks discussed on the Diane Rehm show recently.

- Suzanne Konzelmann takes a crack at the political economy of austerity in the Cambridge Journal of Economics. I have said for a while now that public choice theory is likely to be judged negatively in the future for its inability or unwillingness to rise to the occasion of explaining one of the most important facets of public life today - austerity. Often, perhaps due to libertarian priors, self-identified public choice theorists deny there is even anything there to study. Lots of other people are on the job of course. One nice thing about public choice theory is that it's a cohesive set of tools.

- Home production is primarily substitutable for market goods, which has implications for the relative taxation of goods and services.

Those Austrian brain worms on income and capital again!!!!

Just kidding... Robert Murphy's recent Econlib article on income and capital was quite good. The title is just a reference to a recent Noah Smith article*. This is not to say I am 100% convinced by Murphy.

Bob starts off by explaining the value of capital as the capitalized value of a stream of income generated from that capital, and then also introduces Hayek's alternative view from Pure Theory of Capital. I had a little trouble with the sharp distinction Bob was trying to draw here, with the former as being "static" and the latter as being "dynamic", united only when capital gains are considered. Capital gains follow so fundamentally and naturally from a basic capitalization approach that I think this treatment of capitalization as "static" is pretty weak. I think of the real contribution of Pure Theory of Capital as being the development of the idea of roundaboutness, but in fairness I've only read parts of the book.

I would not worry so much about the capitalization/Hayek distinction though. Indeed it seemed like just a nice excuse to get Hayek and Mises in there. The important thing is that Bob explains capitalization and capital gains to his readers because these are critical for understanding the new Saez-Zucman work and the potential trouble with using tax data.

So in a nutshell the Saez-Zucman study: (1.) uses the capitalization method to estimate wealth distributions from income data, and (2.) diverges from direct tax measures of wealth:

Bob argues that income tax changes in 1986 reducing top marginal income tax rates incentivized many people to reorganize their businesses as S corporations that would show up in the income tax data. Several years ago Scott Winship shared a chart that I think originally came from Alan Reynolds illustrating the point:

Notice, though that, the big jump you see in Winship's series happens between 1986 and 1988, for obvious reasons. After that there seems to be low, steady growth in the contribution of "entrepreneurial income" but the major contribution to personal incomes reported for tax purposes has already been made. That does not seem to explain the trend increase in the S-Z IRS data or the SCF (unless I'm misunderstanding something about how business income is reported and whether some of that comes under the wage increase - which is entirely possible). In other words, the big pre-1986/post-1986 change seems to be a level change and a composition change, but what Bob is trying to explain here is a trend change.

It's also worth noting the big differences between the rich and the super-rich (or more like the super-rich and the super-duper-rich). Most of the changes have happened at the very top, so it's important to think about whether Winship's income numbers, Saez-Zucman's wealth numbers, the SCF's wealth numbers, and Kopczuk-Saez's wealth numbers are all dealing with the same population. The sampling frames are quite different, and given the small share of the population we're talking about small differences in the population can make the difference between a stark U-shape and a flat line. In other words, the contradiction here may or may not even be contradictory.

Ultimately, something that the Zucman-Saez number has in its favor is that it lines up with the increase in the SCF over time. The SCF is designed to really get at the top earners and it's direct survey data that does not require the substantial imputations necessary for using estate tax data. The SCF is also nice because it reports both income and wealth (and it even counts the tax-deferred wealth that Bob raises as a problem for income tax measures). In theory, you could apply the Saez-Zucman capitalization method to the SCF and compare the SCF capitalization estimate of the top 1% share to the SCF reported wealth estimate of the top 1% share. Maybe someone has already done this (maybe Saez-Zucman have already done this and I haven't looked closely enough!) but that would be a very nice test of the validity of all this.

So we still have the estate tax data to explain. Needless to say I am neither old nor rich (although I am feeling a little more of both every year) so I don't feel like I have a good grasp of what goes into estate planning that might be relevant here. But it is worth noting that in the last thirty years estate tax rates and exemptions haven't exactly been stable either. The best explanation I can come up with is that a person's estate is going to be a lagging indicator of wealth changes for the obvious reason that dead people amass their wealth over several decades. Short-term effects like financial crises may have big immediate impacts on estates, but a legitimate increase in wealth inequality starting in the mid-1980s might take some time to show up.

Those are my thoughts - I have no strong answers but my prior is that personal income tax and SCF data are more direct measures and estate tax data is less direct, so when the former two agree with each other we ought to take note. I also think that Bob's explanation is more of a level effect than a trend effect (unless I'm misunderstanding something), so I'm not sure how much it really explains. But the article is a really nice introduction to the issues and to the Saez-Zucman controversy. 

* - Which, in case you care about my opinion on these things, mirrored quite closely the criticisms that the GMU Austrians have made of the exact same people that Noah was criticizing. For some reason, though, even the GMU Austrians didn't seem happy with his article. I guess it's an "only we are allowed to criticize our own" thing.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Quick thoughts on "How to Pay for the War"

Sorry for the slow posting - here's something that might be interesting though. I've recently been leafing through a first edition of Keynes's "How to Pay for the War" (1940) that Evan picked up for me at a U Chicago library book sale. It's a really fascinating read and an often overlooked gem I think - I will have to read it properly once I'm done with Piketty. This, along with the Treatise on Money, for some reason does not get reprinted as often as Keynes's other books and so the treatment from people is often more casual. But I like it a lot for a couple reasons:

1. First it highlights quite explicitly the mission that is animating Keynes pretty much from the beginning, which is how a free society works in the modern economy. He sees one group of people who embrace a free society that pretend there is nothing really different about a modern economy (what he refers to elsewhere as "laissez faire", and then he sees another group that understands there is something different but addresses it by abandoning the free society (communists and fascists). He thinks that neither are a viable option. This understanding of his role is there throughout his life, but it comes out very clearly in How to Pay for the War.

2. The General Theory is detailed on investment theory but not as detailed on consumption theory - particularly the microfoundations of consumption theory. This is what gets developed in the 50s and 60s and this is really the foundation of New Keynesian economics. In How to Pay for the War Keynes seems to really deal a lot more with micro consumption behavior, which is understandable since he's talking about intertemporal public finance and tax issues.

3. He is talking about slowing growth and fighting inflation. A lot of people act like Kenyes forgot to address this, sometimes based on nothing more than a well circulated Hayek Youtube video claiming he forgot it.

4. He talks about expectations for post-war slumps, and as anyone that knows about his exchange at the Fed in '43 I believe (maybe '42) he is not pessimistic about it like Samuelson was at the time.

5. He carries over critiques of price controls and rationing that echo insights into consumer theory that he was making as far back as Economic Consequences of the Peace.

There are so many common threads here that just leafing through it makes me want to read his major works again (and in some cases for the first time), and take notes/outlines of it all to do something with... who knows.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Status report

Life's been pretty busy, but I thought some readers might be interested in what I've been up to.

I just learned that I passed my third and final comp, which officially means I only have the dissertation proposal and defense left. I should propose early in the fall semester. I started back at the Urban Institute, this time in the Income and Benefits Policy Center (previously I was with the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population). They do broadly similar stuff with a few different emphases... I think the split is largely historical. I am working with the workforce development team which means a lot of education and training evaluations.

I have a lot of projects on my plate jumping in:

1. Assessing research plans for an evaluation of Trade Adjustment Assistance training grants to community colleges (not actually doing the evaluations ourselves, but overseeing the evaluators).

2. Part of the evaluation of a health professions training program that was a part of the Affordable Care Act.

3. An evaluation of the Accelerating Opportunity, an Adult Basic Education program.

4. An evaluation of a science and engineering education program in Alaska that I am still green on, but my understanding is that it takes Alaskan natives, supports primary and secondary science and engineering education, and then follows them and provides supports through college for those who continue to college.

I'm also involved in a proposal for an evaluation of an apprenticeship program in Maryland.

In addition to the dissertation and this work I have recently been asked to write another report for the National Academy of Engineering on the role of out of classroom training in the engineering technician and technologist workforce. It will cover apprenticeships, internships, co-ops, and on the job training. I'm putting together some data for it but it will be a lot of case studies as well (because a lot of the data on this stuff isn't that great).

So I'm keeping pretty busy, but the fact that I've been able to focus this work on education and training, and especially on both mid-level skills training and science and engineering is very encouraging for me. My work with the Urban Institute previously was nowhere near as focused on my specific research interests.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Quick thoughts on the Koch donation

Just like with the hospital donation a couple weeks ago, libertarians are twitterpated that the Kochs donated to the United Negro College Fund. But they're not just excited, they've (or at least half a dozen reasonably well known libertarians with an internet presence on my facebook feed) been making big pronouncements about leftist critics of the UNCF donation. I am still not sure exactly who these leftist critics are. In trolling through I can only find Dan Bier linking to "#Koch" on Twitter, and when I click on it (as I write this) I only see one person in the top results even mentioning the UNCF donation critically (and to be fair to that twitterer they're actually not criticizing the donation at all they're using the opportunity to criticize the Kochs). So none of this seems like the groundswell of opposition some libertarians are implying (which makes sense, because to be honest it seems a little stupid to expect a groundswell of criticism), but the fact is it is out there in today's news cycle at least.

I always find this strange. I don't personally mind the UNCF donation at all or the hospital donation. In fact I wish they gave all their donations to those sorts of things. The world would be a better place if they did. But even though I don't mind that, I can still have a sour view on the Kochs. I don't see why the sorts of libertarians that react to this have such a hard time grasping that what we don't like about the Kochs is not their good donations but their bad donations.

Second, whenever this comes up libertarians love to drone on about how the Kochs support gay marriage and oppose the drug war. I also find this reaction strange too. First nobody criticizes the Kochs for that presumably because that's not what they have a problem with. Second, do libertarians ever suddenly decide that leftists are a good influence on American society because they support the gay marriage and oppose the drug war? Of course not. So why would they expect liberals to suddenly warm up to the Kochs because they finally got something right on those issues?

Third, the only place I ever hear about the Kochs' support for gay marriage and the drug war is from libertarians. The really huge, well publicized stuff from the Kochs seems to be oppositions to progressive taxation, health reform, progress on climate change, and of course their support for libertarian leaning academic economics, political science, philosophy, etc. Maybe it's all selection effect (i.e. - the media only chooses to report on that stuff), but there are plenty of competing media outlets and the Kochs have the resources to push their own priorities. So chances are the Kochs care a lot more about those things that we hear about outside of libertarian defense pieces than they do about gay marriage or ending the drug war.

Urban Institute conference on apprenticeship in an international context today

I forgot to mention this - I'm at the Urban Institute today attending a conference on apprenticeships, organized by my dissertation advisor Bob Lerman. You can watch live (or see the video later) here.

Also in apprenticeship news, Bob recently appeared on a PBS segment on apprenticeship. Coincidentally Werner Eikenbusch, a committee member on the NAE committee on the engineering technicians and technologist workforce that I am working with currently, is also featured.