Saturday, May 31, 2003
The scholar-blogger report
THE SCHOLAR-BLOGGER REPORT: The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on scholar-bloggers. Yours truly is quoted, but Daniel Urmann easily has the best line in whole piece.
There's also a good list of academic blogs at the end.
UPDATE: Kieran Healy has some additional thoughts, including a good-natured jab at my colleague Jacob Levy.
Two additional points. First, compared to a some of the reporters I've dealt with, I was pleased to see that my words weren't distorted in the Chronicle piece. Thank you, David Glenn.
Second, I think the piece underemphasizes the scholarly reason for blogging. Picking apart the scholarship of a Michael Bellesiles or a John Lott is a rare occurrence. More important is the way blogs can engage an audience outside the small world of students and colleagues. At their best, scholar blogs can function as what Hayek called "second-order intellectuals," applying abstruse theories to real-world problems. They can open a window on the inner workings of ivory tower, debunking stereotypes of academics as detached from the real world.
At their worst, no one reads them and you get denied tenure for engaging in such base pursuits.
Bynamist on fire
Ouch. She even has a link to empirical evidence supporting the long-winded charge.
Friday, May 30, 2003
Regarding income inequality
OK, my take on the income inequality situation. [What the hell took you so long?--ed. Sorry, the teaching and research are more time-consuming at the moment.] This will probably be a letdown after talking about it for so long. I have three basic points:
1) Measuring static inequality is in some ways unfair, since the question is whether individuals and families experience upward mobility over time. This Urban Institute report has some valuable background information on the question of mobility vis-a-vis inequality. The money graf:
Furthermore, this lengthier Urban Institute report contains an interesting tidbit from a 1992 Treasury Department study on mobility during the 1980s, which was a decade in which by static measures the rich got richer and the poor got poorer:
Does this vitiate Kevin's argument? No, not really. If you read the report, it turns out that income mobility in the U.S. is not appreciably different than it is in, say, Scandinavia. Furthermore, mobility has not changed as income inequality has increased -- if anything, mobility has shrunk for those without a college education. Still, an implicit implication of those who fret about rising inequality is that such a rise will lead to greater class stratification -- and that's not happening.
2) So, if we stipulate that income inequality is rising, is this squeezing out the middle class and the poor? The answer is no. If you care only about income, the poorest percentage of the population made great strides during the late nineties, completely erasing any losses from the previous twenty years. Business Week pointed this out in an April 2002 story. Some key grafs:
So, the rich may be getting richer, but this is not at the expense of the poor. It's also worth pointing out that even though income inequality is rising, but as Mickey Kaus loves to point out, poverty has fallen over the past 20 years -- though not in a linear fashion. The decline in poverty was more pronounced among African-Americans than the rest of the population, by the way.
3) OK, so rising inequality is not causing an absolute drop in poor families. Still as Kevin argues in an e-mail, increasing inequality means that, "people who successfully move into the middle class are moving into a class that's not as good as it was for their parents, relatively speaking."
Actually, I'd argue the reverse -- more people are enjoying a middle class that's, on the whole, better off that prior generations. Consider two basic staples of a "middle class" lifestyle -- a college education and home ownership. This table shows that between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of all Americans aged 18-24 enrolled in a college or university increased by 40%. A greater fraction of Americans are receiving the college education so necessary for achieving a higher income. Furthermore, this fraction is considerably higher than any other OECD nation except for Canada (click here for some basic cross-national comparisons on education).
What about home ownership? This web site points out that home ownership rates have been steadily rising over the past decade. In 2001, 67.8% of American households owned their home -- the highest rate of home ownership since the Census Bureau began reporting these statistics in 1965.
But what about other quality-of-life issues, like crime, health, safety, and the environment? Gregg Easterbrook wrote a great New Republic piece in January 1999 demonstrating that on every social indicator imaginable, things were improving across the board for ordinary Americans over the past twenty years.
Calpundit's original point was that the distribution of benefits from economic growth over the past 20 years was skewed too much towards the rich. However, the fact remains that the rest of the population has received substantial benefits during the same period.
Furthermore, Americans don't begrudge the rich getting richer. Part of this has to do with the aforementioned mobility -- part of it is probably due to a greater discomfort in the U.S. to income redistribution than in other OECD countries. David Brooks makes this point repatedly (click here and here). His main point:
Brooks, by the way, is hardly the first person to make this point about Americans.
Economic growth over the past 20 years was a Pareto-optimizing move. It's not clear to me that the income from the richest 5% could have been redirected towards the poorest 20% without some deadweight loss in income. And given that the lower and middle classes have substantially benefited from the 1980-2000 economic boom, and their lack of resentment towards those who are perceived to have benefited disproportionately, it seems pointless to argue ex post that there should have been a greater focus on redistribution.
UPDATE: A comment on Arnold Kling's blog points out -- correctly -- the criticisms of the Treasury study that I cite above. I still cited it because the study does address the question of class stratification -- i.e., whether, over time, individuals and households do see natural rises in income due to increased work experience.
Thursday, May 29, 2003
TUNE IN TOMORROW: I really
TUNE IN TOMORROW: I really meant to get to the question of rising income inequality in the United States today, but I'm just swamped. In the meantime, more contributions on the debate from Stephen Karlson, John Quiggin, Yankee Blog, and Kevin Drum redux.
The merits of American diplomacy
Critics of U.S. foreign policy tend to focus on the statements/actions of policy principals (i.e., cabinet secretaries) and their immediate deputies. However, a signal virtue of U.S. diplomacy is the ingrained habit of trusting subordinates to innovate and adapt to local circumstances, and then copying those innovations when they work. This is true even in the most centralized and hierarchical foreign policy organization -- the U.S. military.
Two examples. The first should make the guys at OxBlog happy. According to the Chicago Tribune, in Afghanistan the U.S. military has modified its position on how to deal with incidents that lead to civilian causalties:
Both of these examples are small steps. They'll probably have a mixed record of success. However, actions like these by local foreign policy operators are a key way in which the wellspring of successful American foreign policy is constantly replenished.
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
A roiling debate on inequality
Kevin Drum is arguing that the poor are not getting their fair share of the increasing economic pie:
David Adesnik responds to Drum's post by pointing out the following:
Kieran Healy responds to Adesnik. His key point:
I'll be posting my thoughts on this debate tomorrow. In the meantime, read all of their posts.
DOES MEXICO CITY MAKE SENSE?:
DOES MEXICO CITY MAKE SENSE?: My Chicago School companion Jacob Levy argues that the Bush administration's Mexico City of prohibiting "U.S. government funding of any organization that performs abortions or advocates for the liberalization of abortion laws in other countries" is incoherent.
He's got a good argument. Go check it out.
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
BLOGGERS ON THE WARPATH: Josh
BLOGGERS ON THE WARPATH: Josh Marshall is all over Tom DeLay's role in the Texas redistricting case; Mickey Kaus is all over the New York Times' latest embarrassment involving Rick Bragg and the reliance by Times reporters on stringers.
I don't have much to add to Marshall's reporting, except this link to a Chicago Tribune piece on a similar anomalous redistricting taking place on Colorado.
As for the Times imbroglio, Glenn Reynolds, Charles Murtaugh, and Jonah Goldberg all observe that one fallout from the Bragg affair is that prominent columnists are starting to acknowledge the work of their minions -- I mean, research assistants.
If this trend takes hold, there's going to be a veeeerrrrryyyy interesting revolution in today's op-ed pages. It is common knowledge that op-eds and essays attributed to prominent people are usually not written by them, but rather by their minions/flunkies/research assistants (go to the chapter on intellectual life in David Brooks' inestimable BoBos in Paradise for the best description of this part of the knowledge economy). It will be interesting to see if more of these kinds of essays are now explicitly rather than implicitly co-authored.
If so, good for the broad spectrum of twentysomethings with Georgetown BAs and Masters from SAIS who finally earn some recognition. However, Richard Posner makes a provocative point -- that plagiarism in its myriad forms is a venial and not a mortal sin:
I'm still not convinced that Posner is correct -- but I am convinced that the blogosphere will strongly resist Posner's assertion. We traffic in the very ideas that Posner discusses. To us, any theft of our ideas is a theft of our intellectual progeny. To the general public, however, it matters not a whit.
Monday, May 26, 2003
Postwar pressure on Israel, redux
Great article in Ha'aretz describing the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among Israel's ultra-conservatives after the Israeli cabinet's decision to accept the "steps" of the road map -- which means accepting the concept of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories. The key grafs:
This really should not have been a surprise -- it's a replay of Gulf War I. After the 1991 war, the Bush administration recognized the need to move forward on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and forced a Likud government into accepting the Madrid conference, which helped paved the way to Oslo.
One disturbing difference is the relative power of the settlers in the occupied territories -- they are simply a larger constituency now than before. Here's more from Ha'aretz: