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August 2012

"Does Your Job Really Require Algebra?"

Duke's Jacob Vigdor presents a nice analysis featuring the completely reasonable claim that we should individualize instruction more.

So, in a nutshell, we have the story of Americas' twin mathematics problems. Begin with a focus on inequality, and a mistaken premise that everyone could be another Einstein if they just have access to the right courses at the right time. You'll soon be patting yourself on the back for closing the gap between the best and the worst, only occasionally reminded that neither your best nor worst students are doing all that well in absolute terms. You've fallen into what might be termed the "achievement gap trap."

But see also "Make Us Do the Math". 

Hacker tosses out a lot of statistics on students unable to pass algebra to support his “case,” but I don’t think anyone disagrees that this is a problem. I just can’t see how ditching algebra comprises a sensible solution. Hacker’s thinking seems to be that, because algebra is such a stumbling block for many students, we should throw up our hands and despair of ever teaching it to them. But do we really want to throw in the algebraic towel just because it’s, like, rilly hard?

This kind of experiment has already been done. We need only look to our Eastern neighbor, Japan, for a glimpse of the kind of future this could bring. 

"The Accounting Trick Behind Thirty Years of Scandal"

That would be special purpose entities which the piece, citing a recent academic paper, were responsible for Michael Milken, Enron, and the sub-prime meltdown. 

But not to worry: this time, the regulators are going to get it right. Really. Trust them.

The good news, however, is that regulators have made serious strides in addressing the dangers posed by these accounting structures. The Financial Accounting Standards Board, a non-profit organization that is charged by the SEC with writing accounting standards, adopted rules in recent years which forced banks to bring many of their SPEs onto their own balance sheets.

For the utter unlikelihood that the problem will stay "fixed," see this great piece by Arnold Kling, "The Chess Game of Financial Regulation". 

A sobering fact is that the response to each of the first two crises helped to lay the groundwork for the next – and current — crisis. It turns out that financial regulation is not like a math problem, which can be solved once and stays solved. Instead, financial regulation is like a chess game, in which moves and counter-moves proceed continually, eventually changing the board in ways that players have not anticipated.

"Ignore the prophets of doom – this is a golden age for the world"

Featuring these important paragraphs:

Take global poverty, a subject we have heard plenty about from ministers justifying the £9 billion overseas aid budget. Britain has signed up to the so-called Millennium Development Goals, set in 2000 and accompanied by sermons from Gordon Brown about the “arc of the moral universe” bending towards justice. It was the beginning of boom times for the overseas aid industry, despite its woeful track record. The first goal was to halve the proportion of the world’s population living on a dollar a day by 2015 – an undeniably noble aim.

Earlier this year, the World Bank made an astonishing discovery: the target had actually been met in 2008, seven years ahead of schedule. This staggering achievement received no fanfare, perhaps because the miracle had not been created by Western governments but by the economic progress of China and India. Their embrace of capitalism had invited a flow of trade and investment, which was not halted by the crash. Capitalism meant that houses replaced mud huts and vast swathes of the Third World rose from their agrarian knees. British consumers buying cheap shirts in Asda were, in a very real sense, helping to make poverty history.

See also "The Next Great Growth Cycle".

Today’s techno-pessimists say technology and America have plateaued. Such naysayers flourish during economic recessions. They have been wrong in every one of the 19 economic downturns we have experienced since 1912. They’re wrong again.