It is sometimes said that think tanks are good for democracy; indeed the more of them, the better. If there are more ideas in the public arena battling it out for your approval, then it’s more likely that the best idea will win, and that we will all have better public policies. But intuitively many of us have trouble believing this, have trouble knowing who is being truthful, and don’t know who to trust.
This battle of ideas, studies, and statistics has the potential to make many of us cynical about the whole process, and less trusting of all research and numbers. If a knowledgeable journalist like the Canadian Kady O’Malley expresses a certain exasperation that think-tank studies always back up “the think-tank’s existing position,” what hope is there for the rest of us? A flourishing of think tanks just let’s politicians off the hook, always allowing them to pluck an idea that suits their purposes, and making it easier to justify what they wanted to do anyways.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that think tanks produce studies confirming their (sometimes hidden) biases. After all this is something we all do. We need to arm ourselves with this self-awareness. If we do, then we can also be more aware of the things in a think tank’s make-up that can help in judging its credibility, and also how public policy discussion should be structured to help promote a sincere exchange of facts and ideas.
Continue reading “How to think about “think” tanks”
David Morely, UNICEF Canada’s Executive Director, has just issued a bold challenge. “It is clearly time for Canada to prioritize children when planning budgets and spending our nation’s resources, even in tough economic times,” says a press release announcing the publication of a report on child poverty.
In fact, the UNICEF Innocenti Report Card released today is the 10th in a regular series on child poverty in rich countries, each report hitting the headlines every second year or so.
Sadly, when it comes to discussions of child poverty kick-started by these reports there are two things that are not new: the conclusions; and the reaction of pundits and many policy makers. I say “sadly” because the two are not linked, and public policy discussion is not the better.
Continue reading “The sad, sad story of the UNICEF Child Poverty Report and its critics”
In an article that appeared earlier this year, The New York Times described the extent to which rich parents can expect to see their children grow up to be rich adults, as well as the likelihood that the poor raise children destined for poverty.
Surprisingly enough, the article came close to concluding that if Americans are interested in living the American Dream—where family background has little influence on adult outcomes—they should move to, of all places, Denmark, or if crossing the Atlantic seems daunting, then, as a second best, to Canada.
Indeed, Denmark has been a darling of sorts ever since Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett highlighted in their book, The Spirit Level, that Danish life is so much better along a whole host of dimensions because income inequality is so much lower.
But Denmark has a little secret, one it shares with Canada, about how kids get jobs, and about how this determines life chances even in places with low inequality.
Continue reading “A little secret Denmark shares with Canada about social mobility that Americans and Brits should know”
On a warm evening last spring I found myself at a dinner party in the lush suburbs of a small Ivy League town not far from New York City.
The main concern of a fellow economist was the trouble his son was having raising his new family: that would be the son living in Manhattan, the one making $10 million a year.
It appears there is a bidding war for spaces in good kindergartens and, as we all know, prices skyrocket when demand outstrips supply.
And demand has been rising. We also know that.
So the most striking claim in the Economic Report of the President for 2012 is not that the share of earnings accruing to the top 1%—a share that was about 8% during the early 1980s—stands at close to 20%. After all, this is old news, the stuff of Occupy Wall Street.
Continue reading “Inequality begets inequality, according to the Economic Report of the President”
The New York Times posed this question to a group of experts, Richard Florida, Isabel Sawhill, Timothy Smeeding, and five others, including me.
More specifically, they asked:
There is a growing consensus that it is harder to move up the economic ladder in the United States than in many other places, like Canada. Should more Americans consider leaving the U.S. to get ahead? Or can the U.S. make changes to be more of a “land of opportunity”?
Continue reading “Is the U.S. Still a ‘Land of Opportunity’?”