The Agenda

Stray Links for 23 September 2013

Though Stephen Bronars agrees that construction employment is likely to experience a secular decline as technological advances reduce the labor intensity of construction projects, he argues that the federal government could do more in the near term to raise construction employment levels.

Ross Douthat explains why it is that many of the conservatives engaging in “pointless budget brinkmanship” have also emerged as the sources of innovative policy thinking:

Their willingness to engage in theatrical confrontations with President Obama, for instance, is part of what lends figures like Paul and Lee and Vitter the credibility to experiment with ideas from outside the Reagan-era box. And their arm’s-length relationship to Wall Street and K Street makes them both more irresponsible on issues like a government shutdown and more open to new ideas on taxes, financial reform, corporate welfare, etc.

Peter Beinart’s argument that Millennials are about to take the U.S. in a sharply leftward direction strikes me as both interesting and wrong, but I’ll have to think more about it. 

Rick Hess’s article in the new National Affairs – “The Missing Half of School Reform” — is an extremely important corrective to the reform coalition’s fixation on securing policy changes as opposed to “cultivating and supporting teachers, principals, district leaders, and state officials willing and able to rethink old norms.” One of Hess’s most important points is that while unions are often obstacles to reform efforts, the more complicated truth is that union contracts are often less restrictive than is commonly understood — the real problem is that administrators aren’t willing to use the power at their disposal, as doing so would involve changing the way they’ve traditionally done business. So yes, there is a policy problem in K-12 education, but there is a much deeper leadership deficit problem.

Cameron Abadi writes on the Machiavellian genius of Angela Merkel.

Steve Teles’s revisits “Kludegocracy,” an idea he first explored for the New America Foundation, in a new National Affairs essay, in which he offers a number of ideas for making government policies simpler and more transparent, including the following:

Public policies would also become less kludgey if Congress shifted the power over the “micro-design” of policies away from Capitol Hill and toward the agencies that will actually have to administer them once they are passed. This is not a plea for greater delegation of congressional power to the executive. In some ways, it is the opposite. Congress often avoids actually producing a piece of legislation that is worthy of the name — a general, abstract statement of authoritative lawmaking and basic policy design — and instead passes a wave of specific measures unconnected by any general logic. It does too much of what the executive is best equipped to do, and too little of what it actually has the authority to command. Giving the people who will actually have to administer policies greater power over the design of those policies would likely increase their simplicity.

And Ramesh Ponnuru delves into the popularity of expanding the child tax credit, drawing on survey results from gathered by the Republican polling company McLaughlin and Associates in May:

Support was higher among people who make less than $92,000 a year than among people who make more. Voters under 40, whom Republicans lost in the last election, were slightly more likely to support it (60 percent) than average. Support was higher among Hispanics (66 percent) and blacks (73 percent) than among whites. A whopping 83 percent of single mothers liked it.

Those numbers have to be sparking the interest of aspiring GOP presidential candidates.


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