Currently browsing posts filed under "Oren Cass ’05"

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Policy-Based Evidence Making

Latest from Oren Cass ’05:

“Evidence-based policymaking” is the latest trend in expert government. The appeal is obvious: Who, after all, could be against evidence?

Most EBP initiatives seem eminently sensible, testing a plausible policy under conditions that should provide meaningful information about its effectiveness. So it is not surprising to see bipartisan support for the general idea. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray even collaborated on the creation of an Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission that has won praise from both the Urban Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

But the perils of such an approach to lawmaking become clear in practice. Consider, for instance, the “universal basic income” campaign. Faced with the challenge of demonstrating that society will improve if government guarantees to every citizen a livable monthly stipend, basic-income proponents suggest an experiment: Give a group of people free money, give another group no money, and see what happens. Such experiments are underway from the Bay Area to Finland to Kenya to India.

No doubt many well-credentialed social scientists will be doing complex regression analysis for years, but in this case we can safely skip to the last page: People like free money better than no free money. Unfortunately, this inevitable result says next to nothing about whether the basic income is a good public policy.

The flaws most starkly apparent in the basic-income context pervade EBP generally, and its signature method of “controlled” experiments in particular. The standard critique of overreliance on pilot programs, which are difficult to replicate or scale, is relevant but only scratches the surface. Conceptually, the EBP approach typically compares an expensive new program to nothing, instead of to alternative uses of resources — in effect assuming that new resources are costless. It emphasizes immediate effects on program participants as the only relevant outcome, ignoring systemic and cultural effects as well as unintended consequences of government interventions. It places a premium on centralization at the expense of individual choice or local problem-solving.

Politics compounds the methodological shortcomings, imposing a peculiar asymmetry in which positive findings are lauded as an endorsement of government intervention while negative findings are dismissed as irrelevant — or as a basis for more aggressive intervention. Policies that reduce government, when considered at all, receive condemnation if they are anything other than totally painless. Throughout, the presence of evidence itself becomes an argument for empowering bureaucrats, as if the primary explanation for prior government failure was a lack of good information.

The common thread in these shortcomings is an implicit endorsement of the progressive view of the federal government as preferred problem-solver and a disregard for the entire range of concerns that prevent conservatives from sharing that view. Like Charlie Brown with his football, conservatives repeatedly lunge with enthusiasm at the idea that evidence will hold government accountable for results, only to be disappointed. Lauded as a tool of technocratic excellence, EBP more often offers a recipe for creeping statism.

Not that there is anything wrong with “creeping statism,” of course!

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Repealing the ACA is Harmless

The latest from Oren Cass ’05:

The best statistical estimate for the number of lives saved each year by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is zero. Certainly, there are individuals who have benefited from various of its provisions. But attempts to claim broader effects on public health or thousands of lives saved rely upon extrapolation from past studies that focus on the value of private health insurance. The ACA, however, has expanded coverage through Medicaid, a public program that, according to several studies, has failed to improve health outcomes for recipients. In fact, public health trends since the implementation of the ACA have worsened, with 80,000 more deaths in 2015 than had mortality continued declining during 2014–15 at the rate achieved during 2000–2013.

Read the whole thing.

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Carbon Tax

Best debates are the ones that feature Ephs on both sides. The latest proposal for a carbon tax cum dividend is an example. In favor, we have Trustee Mark Tercek ’79:

The plan has four pillars: tax the carbon in fossil fuels at $40 per ton of carbon dioxide for the emissions they will produce; rebate all of the revenue to American households in quarterly dividend payments; repeal federal regulations that will no longer be needed because carbon prices produce greater and more efficient investments in emissions reductions; and assure that the program does not damage U.S. trade by adjusting its impact on exports and imports that are energy intensive.

Against, Oren Cass ’05:

This week, a self-described “who’s-who of conservative elder statesmen” launched a new organization, the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), to make their “Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends.” Lest one be confused, the proposal is yet another carbon tax. Lest one be optimistic, it manages only to weaken an already flawed policy.

None of these objections or challenges is new. Yet, in the marketplace of ideas, the carbon tax behaves increasingly like a government-run utility. It doesn’t care about competition. It ignores complaint with impunity. Its business model depends on the strength of its political connections, not the quality of its product. Elder statesmen often sit on the boards of such entities. Rarely do they achieve positive change.

My take: The politics of this proposal don’t work, not least because of environmentalist who hate it, as you can see from all the progressive’s attacking Tercek from the left. A better plan needs to be more extreme, in order to bring along the right. I recommend a constitutional amendment that would repeal the federal income tax while simultaneously granting Congress the right to tax carbon. Conservatives would go for this because they hate the income tax. The Government’s need to spend would force a carbon tax higher than any other possible plan.

Let’s arrange for a debate at Williams between Tercek and Cass, ideally each paired with a student. Bring back the Williams College Debate Union!

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How to Worry About Climate Change

Oren Cass ’05 argues that we — both the US Government and Williams College — worry too much about climate change.

A more dispassionate placement of climate change alongside a range of worrying problems does not mean there is nothing to worry about. But it points away from sui generis mitigation at all costs and toward an existing model for addressing problems through research, preparation, and adaptation. It suggests that analytical exercises that would never be applied to other worrying problems, like assigning a “social cost” to each marginal unit of carbon-dioxide emissions, are as inappropriate as estimating a “social cost of computing power” as it brings humanity closer to a possible singularity, or a “social cost of international travel” as it elevates the risk of a global pandemic. Taxes on any of them are closer to political statements than efficient corrections of genuine externalities, and each would be more likely to stall meaningful economic and technological progress than to achieve a meaningful reduction of risk.

Lessons might run in the other direction as well: We are not focusing as much on other challenges as we should. And perhaps, if climate change were consigned to its rightful place in the crowd, some additional attention might be available to concentrate elsewhere. If the level of research support, policy focus, and international coordination targeted toward climate change over the past eight years had gone instead toward preventing and managing pandemics, imagine the progress that could have been made. For a fraction of the cost of de-carbonizing an industrial economy, it could be hardened against cyber attacks; with a fraction of the attention corporations pay to their own purported climate vulnerability, they could make real strides in their own technological security.

A little bit of worry provides healthy motivation. Too much is a recipe for paralysis, distraction, and overreaction.

Read the whole thing. Cass’s perspective — like the perspectives of others skeptical that climate change is a major problem that requires special attention from the federal government (or the College) — is not welcome at Williams. As we discussed last summer, Williams believes that only one side of the debate should be heard on campus. Is anyone else concerned that Williams is morphing from a college into a madrassa?

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Reduce the Power of the Presidency

There was an election last night. Interesting stuff! Alas, Ephs are concerned about the results. But is there a political topic that all good Ephs can agree on? I nominate this February essay by Oren Cass ’05.

Our system of government does little to prevent a strongman or a crank from winning the presidency. As long as Electoral College members adhere faithfully to the election results in their states, voters may choose whomever they want, on whatever basis. Recognizing this, the Constitution’s framers tightly circumscribed the president’s role, checking it horizontally with coequal branches that resist sudden change and vertically with the many powers reserved to the states.

The dangerous and novel phenomenon of 2016 is not irresponsible politicians or an inflamed electorate, but rather the unprecedented concentration of power awaiting the election’s ultimate winner. Ironically, many of the now-panicking elites are the very ones who made the presidency so powerful. If they can learn the right lesson from the recent chaos, the specter — even fleeting — of a President Trump or a President Sanders could provide the needed spur to restore balance to our constitutional system. Both parties have done their best to expand the power of the presidency in recent decades — whenever the presidency was theirs. Presidents Reagan and then Clinton established unprecedented White House control over the sprawl of federal agencies. The second President Bush asserted nearly exclusive authority to manage national security and foreign affairs. President Obama, after campaigning against the Bush administration’s excesses, doubled down on most and then applied the same attitude to matters of domestic policy.

Obama described in 2014 his “pen and phone” strategy for governing alone in his second term. At the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the president informed the audience that he had “something that rhymes with ‘bucket list.’ Take executive action on immigration. Bucket. New climate regulations. Bucket, it’s the right thing to do.”

Read the whole thing.

Cass argues that we ought to dramatically decrease the power of the president. I am a Trump voter, and I agree. Will my fellow Ephs who voted for Clinton join us in this effort? If so, where should Obama start?

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Medicaid Mess

Oren Cass ’05 writes:

In the new print issue, I’ve written about Our Medicaid Mess: the extraordinary misallocation of anti-poverty funds to one of our least effective government programs. Total anti-poverty spending relative to the population in poverty has nearly doubled over the past forty years, from $12,000 per person to $23,000 (2015 dollars). More than 90 percent of that increase has gone to health care – almost entirely Medicaid. Thanks to Obamacare, the spending growth and prioritization of health care will continue in the years to come. Medicaid now costs almost $600B per year, on par with our public education system and our military and responsible for the majority of all anti-poverty spending This overwhelming emphasis on health care would be a questionable approach to alleviating poverty even if it delivered impressive results for the health outcomes of recipients. But the larger problem is that Medicaid fails to achieve even that. Many policy wonks are familiar with the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, in which low-income residents of the state were randomly assigned to receive or not receive Medicaid coverage. The study’s critical conclusion: “Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years.”

Read the whole thing.

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Debate Rap

Surely all Ephs can agree that tonight’s debate should be a rap battle?! Take it away Oren Cass ’05:

Trump: It was the best of times when we were strong, now it’s the worst
Elites detest America, put D.C. donors first T
hey grease each other’s wheels, spinning globalist ideals
Let’s get back to winning like I do in all my deals

Ah, just look how Clinton panders
Abandoning all standards just to outflank Bernie Sanders
That man had no immigration plan and still La Raza panned hers
Now a promise to ignore the law is all she really stands for

Clinton: Not true.

Trump: Ooh, it’s much too late to pivot
If someone comes illegally why should we forgive it?
The president must take care to provide for law and order
Your job as top cop don’t stop on arrival at the border

Real Americans are sick of all your tricks
We want unity but you play identity politics
I’ll deport, build the wall, track down visa overstays
And once they back down on my crackdown, Mexico pays!

Stand with me in the land of the free
Pray to god we never see Hillary’s amnesty
Her plan to hand out healthcare led a White House to despair
Imagine what gon’ happen when illegals get welfare

Clinton: Donald, you did well in your primary fight
But the general electorate ain’t the alt-right
Race-baiting for your base is rating poorly in the polls
You gotta be swing-stating, not elating Russian trolls
Immigration is what built this nation

If we embrace every race we create a safe space
Show the world a better face You’re a disgrace
You hate on those who immigrate
Seeking freedom, ‘stead you’d lead ’em

Back to some poor, war-torn place
Why this panic, about anyone Hispanic?
Your own forefathers ain’t from this side of the Atlan’ic
“I’ll deport, build the wall,” yeah keep ranting
We know whose really doing all of Mar-e-Lago’s planting

Oh, and speaking of skin color, Mr. Super Self-Important
Your spray-tan’s too orange, no one cares you went to Wharton
You think you impress with your asinine demands I think you’re just compensating for your tiny hands

Will Donald Trump really install a tall border wall or
Is it just an empty promise his supporters all fall for
Reporters say “Deport or stay?” Why won’t he clarify?
Can’t you see, the plan’s only amnesty and e-verify!
To make our country great again let’s not kick out Latinos
Just anyone so dumb he loses money on casinos

Genius! Longtime readers will recall that Cass was a rap battle genius at Williams more than a decade ago.

Got an opinion on the debate? Tell us below.

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Hillary’s Web of Promises

Oren Cass ’05 is not impressed with the Clinton campaign:

When I visited it in early June, Hillary Clinton’s campaign website featured about 30 issue-specific pages focused not on a nation with problems to be solved but on discrete victim groups with wounds to be salved. The site illustrates the Left’s descent into crass identity politics. The federal government is the heaviest of policy equipment, best used sparingly for big jobs; but for Democrats, it has become a courtesy car, always on call to drive chosen constituencies from one point to another. Put me behind the wheel, Clinton seems to promise, and I’ll put you on my route.

Based on an examination of Clinton’s website, “racial justice” is her campaign’s organizing principle. Not only is her racial-justice page the most expansive on the site—longer by half than the entry for the economy—but it also links to nine other sections, including those devoted to criminal-justice reform, LGBT equality, higher education, climate change, and energy. (“African Americans hold only 1.1 percent of energy jobs and receive only 0.01 percent of energy sector profits,” in case you were wondering.)

Wherever racial linkages weaken, gender stands ready to pick up the slack.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

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Most Pro Trump Eph?

natemergency

Most (70%? 90%?) Ephs would probably agree with Jon Lovett ’04 that Trump would make a very bad president. But who is the most pro-Trump Eph (other than your humble author, of course)?

Andy Grewal ’02, a law school professor, liked Trump’s speech.

gewal

By the way, if you don’t follow Grewal’s twitter feed, you should.grewal

Hah!

But I have not see Grewal endorse Trump. (Yet?) Oren Cass is a proud member of #NeverTrump but he at least recommends that conservatives not destroy themselves over the issue.

Can you ever again support Ayotte or Jindal, given that they are Trump supporters? If not, how about someone who does support them—how far does toxicity spread? And if you declare support for Trump not just incorrect but wrong, then aren’t the protestors shutting down his rallies on the side of justice? If supporting Clinton is wrong, are you prepared to go to bat for The Donald no matter what he says about her?

Disagreement is healthy. It sharpens and strengthens and teaches. Condemnation we should use only with extreme care. By all means, condemn the candidates; they are accountable for themselves. But spare those forced to grapple with the same terrible choice as you. For some, the balance tilts another way.

Mike Needham ’04 has said many kind and insightful things about Trump and, to an even greater extent, Trump’s supporters, but I don’t think he has formally endorsed anyone. I still hope for him to be the Chief of Staff in a Trump Administration.

What other Ephs are (publicly) pro-Trump?

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Why Trump?

cass

A good question when Oren Cass ’05 asked it last month. An even better one after last night’s sweep. What do EphBlog’s readers think?

My opinions now are the same as in December:

1) Who is the most prominent Eph supporter of Trump? I have trouble naming a single person. Help us out readers! It could be that I (David Dudley Field ‘1824) am the most prominent. I am still hopeful that a member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Eph Division, will sign up for the Trump campaign. How about Mike Needham ’04, Oren Cass ’05 or James Hitchcock ’15?

2) The fact that no one (?) on the Williams faculty thinks that Trump could possibly become President is a sign of intellectual group think.

3) The fact that no one (?) on the faculty will vote for Trump is an indicator of the lack of ideological diversity at Williams.

4) There are probably many Trump supporters among the white working class of Williams employees. The Record ought to interview them.

Trump will be the next President of the United States because a large majority of voters want to end/decrease illegal (and legal) immigration, especially by Muslims and poor people. All good Williams faculty members find such opinions offensive. Adam Falk banned John Derbyshire (at least partially) because he shares Trumps views on these topics. Who will Falk ban next?

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Rapper Cass

Oren Cass ’05 takes the Record to task for insensitivity.

Perhaps the Record thinks it is funny to make a “joke” about white people having difficulty rapping. I only wish they had stopped first to consider the damage that such a seemingly innocent jab can do to the delicate relations between races on this campus and the fragile psyches of those caught in the middle.

Cass’s mockery is pitch-perfect precisely because it is indistinguishable from the usual earnest drivel from the typical suspects.

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