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9 months

The Problem of College Completion Rates

There's one event that very often turns college enrollment into a poor financial decision with a negative payoff: not completing a degree. Then that happens, the student has spent both money and some years of time in a program that not only offers little financial payoff, but may also leave them saddled with student loans to repay for years to come. More broadly, society's investment in higher education isn't paying off. Two DC think-tanks, ThirdWay and the American Enterprise Institute, have published a set of five readable papers on the subject:

9 months

US Homeownership Patterns

Homeownership rates in the US rebounded a bit in 2017, but remain near historically low levels. This is a source of concern for a number of reasons: homeownership is a savings vehicle that has worked for a number of households over time; being a homeowner encourages people to look after and contribute to their neighborhoods; and homeownership is part of that loose vision of the good life sometimes called the "American dream." I'll draw on evidence presented in The State of the Nation's Housing 2018, the 30th version of an report produced annually by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. For those who want an overview of US housing markets, including issues of rental markets and low-income affordability, it's a good place to start. Here, I'll focus on homeownership patterns.

9 months

The Medical Bankruptcies Debate

The debate over the extent to which uninsured medical costs lead to personal bankruptcies is interesting for a couple of reasons. In terms of social science, it shows the difference between a naive reading of survey data and an actual research design. In terms of politics, it shows the allure of a more glamorous and striking claim, even when incorrect, over a similar claim that is less flashy but actually true.

9 months

Brainstorming Anti-Poverty Programs

There are legitimate concerns about how the poverty line is set. It was set back in the early 1960s and adjusted for inflation since then, but without regard for other changes in the economy.

9 months

Some Thoughts About Economic Exposition in Math and Words

Analysis in economics and other social sciences often uses a combination of words and mathematics. There is an ongoing critique by those who argue that while the math may sometimes be useful, it is too often deployed with insufficient regard for whether it captures the underlying economic reality. In such cases, the argument goes, math is used as a way of pretending that an argument about the real-world economy has been definitely made, or settled, when in reality only an equation of limited application has been solved.

9 months

Snapshots of Economic Inequality Around the World

Compiling data on economic inequality from countries all around the world is a hefty task, which has been shouldered by a group of more than 100 researchers around the world who contribute to the efforts of the World Inequality Lab and the World Wealth and Income Database. The World Inequality Report 2018, written and coordinated by Facundo Alvaredo, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, provides an overview of their findings. Here are a few of the figures that jumped out at me.

9 months

Happiness Around the World — And For Migrants

The utilititarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote of a "sacred truth — that the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation." The World Happiness Report 2018 is edited by John F. Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey D. Sachs, with chapters by various scholars. It takes insights about happiness seriously. In this version of the annual report, most of the chapters relate happiness to migration topics, although are also a few chapters with a review of recent happiness data around the world, chapters about about happiness in Latin America more broadly, and about happiness issues related to the US health care system.

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