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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Today’s Policy Agenda: Patent Trolls Really Do Slow Innovation



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We all agree on improving teacher quality, but how should we do it?

In the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Sparshott discusses a new White House initiative to improve teacher quality.

The Obama administration on Monday announced an initiative to try to improve teacher quality at schools with high poverty rates and large minority populations, another effort to advance the White House’s agenda while broader programs remain stalled in Congress . . .

Under the initiative, states will be required to analyze data and submit plans to ensure students are taught by “effective educators,” the Department of Education said. The agency is setting aside $4.2 million to assist the effort and starting this fall will publish profiles of school districts, identifying schools that are falling short of standards as well as highlighting those that are recruiting and retaining effective educators. Mr. Obama said the pool of teachers is deep enough but many aren’t getting the training, professional development and support they need . . .

Mr. Duncan said he would consider linking performance with waivers from requirements under the No Child Left Behind education law. The White House says the law, passed under the previous administration, is broken though efforts to rewrite it haven’t advanced through Congress.

The president and Secretary Duncan are right that improving teacher quality is one of the most important things we can do to improve our education system and to enable upward mobility. Raj Chetty and others found that getting rid of the worst 5 percent of teachers and replacing them with merely average teachers would yield gains of $250,000 in lifetime income for the students in the affected classrooms.

However, the most obvious solutions do not include more federally prescribed professional development and would actually make the teachers’ unions even angrier at Arne Duncan, if that’s possible. First, as Andrew Biggs has argued on NRO, districts need to fire the worst teachers and focus less on class sizes that research suggests is overrated. Second, we should allow differential pay that could help attract and retain good teachers while pushing the worst out of the profession and encourage states to supplement the income of those who take jobs in the worst schools.

Patent trolls really do slow innovation.

Alberto Galasso and Mark Schankerman show in their new NBER working paper that while patents are useful for encouraging innovations in many contexts, they stifle it in many of our most dynamic industries. They write:

Patent rights block downstream innovation in computers, electronics and medical instruments, but not in drugs, chemicals or mechanical technologies. Moreover, the effect is entirely driven by invalidation of patents owned by large patentees that triggers more follow-on innovation by small firms.

Both anecdotal and now empirical evidence strengthen the case that our intellectual-property legal framework is slowing innovation and growth, as Jonathan Last describes in more detail in his new piece for The Weekly Standard. Taking on the rent-seeking behavior of patent trolls and large companies that indulge in troll-like behavior is something Republicans should prioritize — former House staffer Derek Khanna has detailed some of what such an agenda should look like.

Sherrod Brown wants to expand one of our worst poverty traps.

Lisa Ruhl has the story for the Washington Examiner.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is fighting for Social Security disability insurance for the millions of Americans who use it. He’s saying it’s not enough to protect the current model of how the insurance works: Now is the time to expand and grow the program…”We need to do more than defend the program and play defense,” Brown said at the Center for American Progress on Tuesday morning. “We need to play offense. We need to expand the program.”

The Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund is set to run out of money in 2016.

Of course, a just market economy will have a safety net that protects those who can’t work, but the Social Security Disability program has devolved into a permanent welfare program that makes no efforts to include its clients in the broader economy and virtually guarantees that those on its rolls will always be poor and will never work again. For a vivid picture of how this works, This American Life devoted an illuminating show to the SSDI poverty trap, its erosion of people and communities, and how over time it’s become possible for those with questionable ailments to enter the program.

The program desperately needs to be reformed, possibly in ways that make it more expensive or resting on a mandate that conservatives might not like. But to claim that SSDI is “one of the nation’s most successful insurance programs” and to call for its expansion is utter malpractice and ignores the perverse incentives and terrible consequences the program lays on our most helpless neighbors. 



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