Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Assault of thoughts - 5/11/2010

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" -JMK

- This made me laugh :) awesome t-shirt with a friendly warning in the description, if you scroll down.

- The Wine Economist has an interesting post on "Wagnerians vs. Martians" (that is, Philip Wagner and Martin Ray). I'm with the author - I really don't see these as mutually exclusive perspectives. All people should enjoy affordable wine, all people should also enjoy very high quality wine, and all people should also realize that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, although admittedly they often are.

- Sam (theologian/philosopher maintaining regular correspondence with Evan) has a quasi-rant on his blog about skimming vs. reading books. I sympathize with the concern, but ultimately am at a loss for what to do about it (aside from simply reading more). Often there is a gaping chasm in familiarity with a literature between two debaters who come from different perspectives. I will never be as familiar with the Austrian literature as the people I argue with, but I still feel that I harbor legitimate concerns about it. I've only met a few Austrians that I feel like have a better grasp of Keynes than I do, and I'm still very early in my career. The Mario Rizzos of the world that actually seem to know what they're arguing against are rare. But what does this chasm mean for us? Should we just stop debating - is it pointless if there's such a distinct asymmetry in our depth of understanding? Or do we just proceed cautiously and with an openness to learning? I lean towards the latter - otherwise we wouldn't ever interact! I'm not sure if that meets Sam's standards (he can let us know if he visits here), but I think we're up a creek if we wait until we're prepared. I think Sam can assent to that. I think his point isn't not to engage people until we're better read - simply that we shouldn't pretend we're well read when we're not.

- Bryan Caplan has a post up on "the economic philosophy of child abuse" where he asks when it is morally justified to revoke parental custody over a child. This is actually an issue I have some familiarity with. When I was first hired at The Urban Institute, I did a lot of research on child abuse and foster care. It wasn't my chosen field, but they needed people with statistical know-how, and I was a lowly research assistant that didn't have much say in what I was assigned to. It all worked out OK, because I got to mess around with interesting, quirky data which is ultimately what I enjoy. Anyway, Caplan seems to rank these in a way that assumes that removal will be good for the child and bad for the parent (hence "the loss of custody is expected to increase the combined welfare of the parent and child" is considered to be a stricter standard by Caplan than "the loss of custody is expected to increase the welfare of the child"). Actually, a major problem in the foster care system is that removal can severely reduce the welfare of the removed child (and may actually improve the life of the abusive parent, who clearly has a fairly capricious view of the child in the first place). The foster care system provides very low social and emotional support for removed children, they are often treated no better in their foster home than in the home they left, and it severs relationships with family and friends that are important for making a successful transition to adulthood. Abusive or neglectful homes aren't good, but a volatile experience in the foster care system where children bounce from foster home to foster home can often be just as bad or worse. For this reason, the child welfare system has done a lot of experimentation with kinship care solutions (where a relative will take the child for a temporary period), or home visiting (where the child stays at home but social workers come by regularly to check in and deliver services). That's not to say that foster care is always worse. If it was, we probably wouldn't have a foster care system. But it's a big enough problem that I don't think anyone in the child welfare research field would make the assumption that Caplan does that what he provides is an ordinal ranking of removal standards (particularly #3-#5, which are far more ambiguous than is suggested). I have a book chapter on these issues here, although the text isn't available publicly and the book costs and arm and a leg.

- Brad DeLong with a sarcastic take on market failure.

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