Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mankiw: Do two rights make a wrong?

Greg Mankiw has a very interesting post today about kidney donations and quid pro quo.

I'd like to think he's making a common sense point, but I don't know how common his view is. According to one Dutch survey, most people (in the Netherlands presumably) seem not to like the idea of compensating kidney donors. Oddly, they were more comfortable if the donor were compensated with health insurance than if he were compensated with cash.

One objection would be from egalitarians: the rich would keep both of their kidneys, while the poor would be more likely to donate one (and undergo a potential dangerous surgery). But they are freely taking this risk and feel that they are better off taking the risk than not taking it (they get money and they have saved a life). The counter-counteragument is that they may be making the choice under duress, so it's not completely free. But this seems like it's something that could be quite difficult for us to know. And trying to prevent people from making transactions for the wrong reasons is a little bit too much micromanagement in my opinion. By similar logic we could ban unemployed people from going to law school. They didn't really want to take on all that debt. They were just desperate.

It's not intrinsically wrong, as far as I can see, to donate a kidney to make money. So, I'm willing let many thousands of people do it, knowing that maybe a few will do it without having completely pure intentions or without fully thinking the decision through, if we can save many thousands of lives in the process.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Are too many people going to college?

Something I've wondered about as well.

a) It's not really fair to the person who is not inclined towards academics that college is--or at least is often considered to be--the only reliable way to "get ahead." It would make sense for there to be more alternatives, like apprenticeship programs at corporations that the article describes (or unions or vo-tech schools or whatever else). Our system of one-size-fits-all higher education is clearly a social injustice of some sort.
b) It does degrade the world of higher education to some extent when the majority of students are in college primarily for the resume-padding/diploma rather than the learning itself. Of course, our system also means a lot of $$$ for the world of higher education, and so I imagine not much will change in the near future.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

SCOTUS no-brainer

I've argued for term-limits for SCOTUS justices in the past, and I'm glad to see advocacy for it on the left (Yglesias) and the right (Douthat).

My reasoning is not the same as Yglesias's. I hope that term limits would lead to a little more humility on the court. It could also allow disastrous justices to be only short-term disasters.

I think term-limits in Congress would do a lot to cut down on the arrogance and the b.s. that follows from careerism. We could use a few more people like Cincinnatus and fewer unprincipled, self-aggrandizing bags of bones. (95% of the Senate, you know who you are.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

More on school choice

This post is inspired by comments generated by the Becker post:

Another point: I don't read enough of the "litature" about these matters to speak with much confidence, but I have a vague sense that people try to reduce the arguments about vouchers and charter schools to very narrow economic/social science studies. I wonder how much a study of, say, the effect of 5 years of one voucher program on the test scores in one city can really tell us about vouchers in general. Maybe these private schools are better for some other reason. Maybe they have better marching bands or something. Maybe they do raise math scores, but it might take many years for the effect to happen. It seems unfair to me that these alternative school models must justify themselves based on a few narrow criteria. I'm not accusing Matt of this. But this is the vibe I get from many school opponents. E.g. "We found that X program had no statistically significant effect on reading scores in Y city, so what's the point of even having the program?" Did desegregation improve reading scores? (I don't know.) If it didn't would we scrap the whole desegregation project? Some economists are way too narrow-minded. Freedom to educate your child in diverse ways is valuable, and we shouldn't put some great burden of proof on its proponents.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

That's ign'ant, dog

Here's an example of the glib, ideological nonsense that oozes from much of the reporting on the scandals in the Church.

Mr. Kristof tries to pull off a David Brooksian "there's two types of people in the world" column. In this case, there are, supposedly, two types of Catholics: 1) out of touch, traditionalist old men in the hierarchy who are obsessed with rules and who have been inept or dishonorable in their response to the recent scandals and 2) free-wheeling hippie social workers who believe in a more live-and-let-live approach. This is, for lack of a better word, really idiotic.

In fact, some of the most impressive workers for social justice have been quite traditionalist in their beliefs. And the more hip, liberal wing of the hierarchy wasn't exactly stellar in its handling of the scandals. Moreover, one of the few people who actually comes out of the scandals looking fairly good is the rottweiler himself. I don't mean that most journalists look fondly upon Benedict XVI. But those who care enough to find out will see that he was one of the few who saw the troubles early on and acted to reform the system. Luckily for Pope Benedict, he doesn't do the good things that he does to get praise from silly, glib, sensationalist journalists.