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A Case against Child Labor Prohibitions

July 30, 2014 Comments off

A Case against Child Labor Prohibitions
Source: Cato Institute

In my recent book, Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy, I argue that much of what the anti-sweatshop movement agitates for would harm workers and that the process of economic development, in which sweatshops play an important role, is the best way to raise wages and improve working conditions. Child labor, although the most emotionally charged aspect of sweatshops, is not an exception to this analysis.

We should desire to see an end to child labor, but it has to come through a process that generates better opportunities for the children—not from legislative mandates that prevent children and their families from taking the best option available to them. Children work because their families are desperately poor, and the meager addition to the family income they can contribute is often necessary for survival. Banning child labor through trade regulations or governmental prohibitions often simply forces the children into less-desirable alternatives. When U.S. activists started pressuring Bangladesh into eliminating child labor, the results were disastrous.

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Contracts and Grants between Human Service Nonprofits and Government: Comparative Analysis

July 30, 2014 Comments off

Contracts and Grants between Human Service Nonprofits and Government: Comparative Analysis
Source: Urban Institute

Government’s reliance on human service nonprofits to provide services has been increasing, expanding the ability of nonprofits to achieve their missions and the ability of government to serve its constituents. This brief summarizes results from human service nonprofits in the second national study of government contracts and grants. We compare results of human service organizations in the 2013 national survey of nonprofits to the results of the survey conducted in 2010. We examine how human service organizations have managed since the recession ended and how their relationships with governments have changed.

How Humans Respond to Robots: Building Public Policy Through Good Design

July 30, 2014 Comments off

How Humans Respond to Robots: Building Public Policy Through Good Design
Source: Brookings Institution

Historically, robotics in industry meant automation, a field that asks how machines perform more effectively than humans. These days, new innovation highlights a very different design space: what people and robots can do better together. Instead of idolizing machines or disparaging their shortcomings, these human-machine partnerships acknowledge and build upon human capability. From autonomous cars reducing traffic accidents, to grandparents visiting their grandchildren by means of telepresence robots, these technologies will soon be part of our everyday lives and environments. What they have in common is the intent to support or empower the human partners with robotic capability and ultimately complement human objectives.

Human cultural response to robots has policy implications. Policy affects what we will and will not let robots do. It affects where we insist on human primacy and what sort of decisions we will delegate to machines. One current example of this is the ongoing campaign by Human Rights Watch for an international treaty to ban military robots with autonomous lethal firing power—to ensure that a human being remain “in the loop” in any lethal decision. No such robots currently exist, nor does any military have plans to deploy them, nor is it clear when robotic performance is inferior, or how it is different from human performance in lethal force situations. Yet the cultural aversion to robots with the power to pull the trigger on their own is such that the campaign has gained significant traction.

Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers
Source: Thomas B. Fordham Institute

The Common Core State Standards are in place in forty-five states—and in many of those jurisdictions, educators are hard at work trying to bring them to life in their schools and classrooms.

But how is implementation going so far? That’s what this new study explores in four “early-implementer” school systems. Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers provides an in-depth examination of real educators as they earnestly attempt to put higher standards into practice. This up-close look at district-level, school-level, and classroom-level implementation yields several key findings:

  1. Teachers and principals are the primary faces and voices of the Common Core standards in their communities
  2. Implementation works best when district and school leaders lock onto the Common Core standards as the linchpin of instruction, professional learning, and accountability in their buildings
  3. In the absence of externally vetted, high-quality Common Core materials, districts are striving—with mixed success—to devise their own
  4. The scramble to deliver quality CCSS-aligned professional development to all who need it is as crucial and (so far) as patchy as the quest for suitable curriculum materials
  5. The lack of aligned assessments will make effective implementation of the Common Core challenging for another year

In short, districts are in the near-impossible situation of operationalizing new standards before high-quality curriculum and tests aligned to them are finished. Yet the clock is ticking, and the new tests and truly aligned textbooks are forthcoming. Today’s implementation is a bit like spring training, a time when focusing on the fundamentals, teamwork, and steady improvement is more important than the score.

Promoting Patient Safety Through Effective Health Information Technology Risk Management

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Promoting Patient Safety Through Effective Health Information Technology Risk Management (PDF)
Source: RAND Corporation

The potential for health information technology (IT) to improve health care delivery has been appreciated for decades, but “digitizing” health care can also introduce new risks and even harm. As the use of health IT has grown, these risks have become more apparent. The authors of this report evaluated the efforts of 11 hospitals and ambulatory practices to use an improvement strategy and tools developed to promote safe use of health IT and to diagnose, monitor, and mitigate health IT–related safety risks. Through interviews, the authors discovered that some health care organizations (especially hospitals) with expertise in process improvement were able to identify and begin to mitigate health safety risks, but in most others, awareness of these risks was limited (especially in ambulatory practices). The authors concluded that better tools like the recently released Safety Assurance Factors for EHR Resilience (SAFER) Guides are needed to help organizations optimize the safe use of health IT. However, health care organizations will require a better understanding of the safety risks posed by electronic health record (EHR) use to take full advantage of the SAFER Guides. There may also be a need for additional tools and metrics (and further usability studies of existing tools and metrics) to better support the needs of health care organizations as they increasingly rely on health IT to improve the quality and safety of patient care.

Tackling Persistent Poverty in Distressed Urban Neighborhoods

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Tackling Persistent Poverty in Distressed Urban Neighborhoods
Source: Urban Institute

Despite significant civil rights advancements and enormous improvements in the US standard of living over the past half-century, public policies and private initiatives have largely failed to solve the problem of persistent, intergenerational poverty among families living in distressed communities. Persistent intergenerational poverty is a complex and daunting problem that requires action at multiple levels. No single strategy offers a “silver bullet,” but strategies that focus on the places poor families live have an important role to play. This paper summarizes lessons learned and evolving practice in the field of place-based interventions, and it offers a set of guiding principles for child-focused, place-conscious initiatives focused on persistent, intergenerational poverty.

Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War
Source: Brookings Institution

From Syria and Iraq to Libya and Yemen, the Middle East is once again rife with conflict. Much of the fighting is along sectarian lines, but can it really be explained simply as a “Sunni versus Shia” battle? What explains this upsurge in violence across the region? And what role can or should the United States play?

In a new Analysis Paper, F. Gregory Gause, III frames Middle East politics in terms of a new, regional cold war in which Iran and Saudi Arabia compete for power and influence. Rather than stemming from sectarian rivalry, this new Middle East cold war results from the weakening of Arab states and the creation of domestic political vacuums into which local actors invite external support.

Part of the Solution: Pre-Baccalaureate Healthcare Workers in a Time of Health System Change

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Part of the Solution: Pre-Baccalaureate Healthcare Workers in a Time of Health System Change
Source: Brookings Institution

Healthcare occupations account for a large and growing share of the workforce and span the education and earnings continuum. Although many discussions of the healthcare workforce focus on doctors and other occupations requiring advanced degrees, the healthcare system would not function without pre-baccalaureate workers—those with less than a bachelor’s degree. These workers perform a variety of clinical, assistive, and administrative tasks, and like all healthcare staff, should be working at their full level of competence in order to achieve the “triple aim” of improving the experience of care, improving health outcomes, and reducing per capita costs.

While individuals with less than a bachelor’s degree work in multiple healthcare occupations, they are overwhelmingly concentrated in a subset of occupations. This report identifies the 10 largest “pre-baccalaureate” healthcare occupations, those in which substantial shares of workers—ranging from 39 percent to 94 percent—have less than a bachelor’s degree, and focuses on those workers in the 10 occupations, unless otherwise noted.

Party Polarization and Campaign Finance

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Party Polarization and Campaign Finance
Source: Brookings Institution

There is a lively debate today over whether or not campaign finance reforms have weakened the role of political parties in campaigns. This seems an odd argument in an era of historically high levels of party loyalty — on roll calls in Congress and voting in the electorate. Are parties too strong and unified or too weak and fragmented? Have they been marginalized in the financing of elections or is their role at least as strong as it has ever been? Does the party role in campaign finance (weak or strong) materially shape the capacity to govern?

In addition, the increasing involvement in presidential and congressional campaigns of large donors – especially through Super PACs and politically-active nonprofit organizations – has raised serious concerns about whether the super-wealthy are buying American democracy. Ideologically-based outside groups financed by wealthy donors appear to be sharpening partisan differences and resisting efforts to forge agreement across parties. Many reformers have advocated steps to increase the number of small donors to balance the influence of the wealthy. But some scholars have found evidence suggesting that small donors are more polarizing than large donors. Can that be true? If so, are there channels other than the ideological positioning of the parties through which small donors might play a more constructive role in our democracy?

In this paper, Thomas Mann and Anthony Corrado attempt to shed light on both of these disputed features of our campaign finance system and then assess whether campaign finance reform offers promise for reducing polarization and strengthening American democracy. They conclude that not only is campaign finance reform a weak tool for depolarizing American political parties, but some break in the party wars is probably a prerequisite to any serious pushback to the broader deregulation of campaign finance now underway.

Do Coastal Building Codes Make Stronger Houses?

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Do Coastal Building Codes Make Stronger Houses? (PDF)
Source: Cato Institute

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides federal flood insurance to property owners in participating communities, is currently $24 billion in debt. The shortfall has long been foreseen by policymakers because the insurance is underpriced, effectively subsidizing property owners of coastal properties. Congress attempted to curtail that subsidy with the 2012 Biggert–Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which was intended to put the burden of flood risk squarely on property owners rather than taxpayers. However, beneficiaries of the subsidies rallied against the legislation, and earlier this year both houses of Congress passed, and President Obama signed, legislation delaying the 2012 subsidy reform.

Communities that participate in the NFIP must adopt the program’s building code, which incorporates minimum building standards set forth by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Economists have theorized that building codes associated with the provision of subsidized insurance may create moral hazard by inducing risk taking. That is, the acquisition of insurance against some contingency is associated with a decreased incentive to avoid or prevent the insured loss because policyholders do not bear the full consequences of their actions. Independent of any insurance provision, moral hazard can also result from a false perception of safety if building codes are not effective.

This article examines the effectiveness of the NFIP’s building code in reducing damages to barrier island property in a hurricane. We determine whether similarly located properties fare better or worse in a hurricane based on the code regime under which they were constructed. We use data from Lee County, Fla., where 2004’s Hurricane Charley made landfall. Our findings raise questions about the optimal scale of code design, and about unintended consequences from building code changes.

Today’s Rising Terrorist Threat and the Danger to the United States: Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of The 9/11 Commission Report

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Today’s Rising Terrorist Threat and the Danger to the United States: Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of The 9/11 Commission Report
Source: Bipartisan Policy Center

Ten years ago today, we issued The 9/11 Commission Report, the official report of the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001. As we wrote in that report, we were acutely mindful of the responsibility we bore to the American people—and the families of the victims—to provide the most complete account possible of the events leading up to that terrible day. We used what we learned from that awful history to make recommendations as to how to make America safer. Most of those recommendations have been enacted into law or adopted as policy.

A decade later, we are struck by how dramatically the world has changed. In the United States, federal, state, and local authorities have implemented major security reforms to protect the country. Overseas, the United States and allies went on the offensive against al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Ten years ago, many feared that al Qaeda would launch more catastrophic attacks on the United States. That has not happened. While homegrown terrorists struck Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon, with tragic results, and while major attempted attacks on aviation have been disrupted, no attack on a scale approaching that of 9/11 has taken place.

Continuity of Care and the Cost of Treating Chronic Disease

July 21, 2014 Comments off

Continuity of Care and the Cost of Treating Chronic Disease
Source: RAND Corporation

Strengthening coordination of care in the U.S. health care system is a priority for policymakers and the medical community. Poor coordination of care can drive up costs and harm patient health, especially for patients with chronic illnesses who see many different providers across many different settings. Some new models of care, such as the patient-centered medical home, focus on improving coordination as a way to provide affordable, high-quality care. Are these new models having the desired effect?

To answer this question, RAND researchers studied one important aspect of care coordination: continuity of care — the extent to which a patient’s care visits occur with the same provider. Researchers reviewed insurance claims data to gauge the association between continuity of care, costs, and patient outcomes during episodes of care for Medicare patients with one or more of three chronic diseases: congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM).

Researchers used a continuity of care (COC) index to measure the number of providers and/or practices involved in a patient’s care during a 365-day episode of care. The index ranges from 0 (each visit involved a unique provider) to 1 (all visits were billed by a single provider). An increase in the COC index reflects either fewer providers involved in a patient’s care or a concentration of visits among fewer providers.

Findings from this study show that modest improvements in continuity of care correlate with sizable reductions in service use, complications, and costs:

  • Higher levels of care continuity for CHF, COPD, and DM patients were consistently associated with lower rates of hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and complications.
  • An 0.1-unit increase in the COC index (which ranges from 0 to 1) was associated with episode-of-care costs for CHF, COPD, and DM patients that were on average 5 percent lower.

Flattening Tax Incentives for Retirement Saving

July 19, 2014 Comments off

Flattening Tax Incentives for Retirement Saving
Source: Brookings Institution

The United States’ pension system has failed millions of workers who enter into retirement with very limited assets relative to what they need to live securely the rest of their lives. According to Survey of Consumer Finance data, about 40 percent of households headed by someone near retirement (ages 55–64) do not hold any assets in retirement savings accounts. The median retirement savings account balance for all households in this age group is only $12,000 (Rhee 2013).

At the same time, the pension landscape has been gradually shifting away from defined benefit (DB) pension plans toward defined contribution (DC) plans. The shift is especially pronounced in the private sector. Between 1989 and 2012, the proportion of private industry full-time workers participating in DB pension plans declined from 42 to 19 percent, while the share participating in DC plans increased from 40 to 51 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013; Wiatrowski 2011). While DB plans often provide significant benefits for the lucky minority who have been in a single job for many years before retirement, DC plans can be more beneficial for a mobile workforce. At the same time, the transition from DB to DC plans has also presented new challenges.

Because DB pensions are tied to employers, long-term workers sometimes achieve adequate protection even without much planning on their own part. They are automatically enrolled and often do not even have to contribute. Benefits are automatically paid when workers retire. With DB pensions, employers bear the responsibility for ensuring that employees receive pension benefits. In contrast, DC retirement accounts are owned by employees. With most DC plans, the most familiar of which are 401(k)-type plans, workers bear the responsibility for their own financial security. Unless such plans include automatic features, workers have to actively decide to participate, how much to contribute, which investments to put their money in, and how to manage their benefits through retirement.

This paper focuses on the effects of the tax preferences for employer-sponsored defined contribution plans. Using two notable microsimulation models, we simulate the effect of changes in contribution limits to retirement plans, the saver’s credit, and the exclusion of contributions from taxable income on current and future taxes and retirement savings. We find that reducing 401(k) contribution limits would primarily increase taxes for the richest taxpayers; expanding the saver’s credit would raise saving incentives and lower taxes for low- and middle-income taxpayers; and removing the exclusion for retirement saving incentives and replacing it with a 25 percent refundable credit will benefit some taxpayers—mainly low- and middle-income taxpayers—while raising taxes and reducing retirement assets for others—primarily those at the top of the income distribution.

Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown

July 18, 2014 Comments off

Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown
Source: RAND Corporation

This study explores Iranian influence in Afghanistan and the implications for the United States after the departure of most American forces from Afghanistan. Iran has substantial economic, political, cultural, and religious leverage in Afghanistan. Kabul faces an obdurate insurgency that is likely to exploit the U.S. and international drawdown. The Afghan government will also face many economic difficulties in future years, and Afghanistan is highly dependent on international economic aid. Additionally, the biggest problem facing Afghanistan may be political corruption. Iranian influence in Afghanistan following the drawdown of international forces need not necessarily be a cause of concern for the United States though. Although Tehran will use its cultural, political, and economic sway in an attempt to shape a post-2016 Afghanistan, Iran and the United States share core interests there: to prevent the country from again becoming dominated by the Taliban and a safe haven for al Qaeda.

This study examines Iran’s historic interests in Afghanistan and its current policies in that country, and explores the potential implications for U.S. policy. The research is based on field interviews in Afghanistan, the use of primary sources in Dari and Persian, and scholarly research in English.

Global Cybercrime: The Interplay of Politics and Law

July 17, 2014 Comments off

Global Cybercrime: The Interplay of Politics and Law
Source: Centre for International Governance Innovation

Examining global cybercrime as solely a legal issue misses an important facet of the problem. Understanding the applicable legal rules, both domestically and internationally, is important. However, major state actors are using concerted efforts to engage in nefarious cyber activities with the intention of advancing their economic and geostrategic interests. This paper explores the recent unsealing of a 31-count indictment against five Chinese government officials and a significant cyber breach, perpetrated by Chinese actors against Western oil, energy and petrochemical companies. The paper concludes by noting that increased cooperation among governments is necessary, but unlikely to occur as long as the discourse surrounding cybercrime remains so heavily politicized and securitized. If governments coalesced around the notion of trying to prevent the long-term degradation of trust in the online economy, they may profitably advance the dialogue away from mutual suspicion and toward mutual cooperation.

New CFR InfoGuide Explores Islam’s Sunni-Shia Divide

July 17, 2014 Comments off

New CFR InfoGuide Explores Islam’s Sunni-Shia Divide
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

As sectarian tensions convulse Syria and Iraq, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has released a new interactive guide examining the roots and consequences of the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Sunni-Shia conflicts have fed a Syrian civil war that threatens to transform the map of the Middle East, spurred violence that is fracturing Iraq, and widened fissures in a number of tense Gulf states. Growing clashes between these two largest Islamic denominations have also sparked a revival of transnational jihadi networks that poses dangers beyond the region.

The guide includes expert insight into the extremist groups behind today’s sectarian violence and related flashpoints that threaten international security.

The Future of Driving in Developing Countries

July 17, 2014 Comments off

The Future of Driving in Developing Countries
Source: RAND Corporation

The level of automobility, defined as travel in personal vehicles, is often seen as a function of income: The higher a country’s per capita income, the greater the amount of driving. However, levels of automobility vary quite substantially between countries even at similar levels of economic development. This suggests that countries follow different mobility paths. The research detailed in this report sought to answer three questions: What are the factors besides economic development that affect automobility? What is their influence on automobility? What will happen to automobility in developing countries if they progress along similar paths as developed countries? To answer these questions, the authors developed a methodology to identify these factors, model their impact on developed countries, and forecast automobility (as defined by per capita vehicle-kilometers traveled [VKT]) in four developing countries. This methodology draws on quantitative analysis of historical automobility development in four country case studies (the United States, Australia, Germany, and Japan) that represent very different levels of per capita automobility, in combination with data derived from an expert-based qualitative approach. The authors used the latter to assess how these experiences may affect the future of automobility in the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. According to this analysis, automobility levels in the four BRIC countries will fall between those of the United States (which has the highest per capita VKT level of the four case studies) and Japan (which has the lowest). Brazil is forecasted to have the highest per capita VKT and India the lowest.

Why Is Veteran Unemployment So High?

July 17, 2014 Comments off

Why Is Veteran Unemployment So High?
Source: RAND Corporation

According to official statistics, the unemployment rate of young military veterans ages 18-24 reached 29 percent in 2011. This report seeks to put that statistic in perspective by examining the historical time-series of veteran unemployment, comparing the veteran unemployment rate to that of non-veterans, and examining how veteran unemployment varies with time since military separation. Between 2000 and 2011, younger veterans were, on average, 3.4 percentage points more likely to be unemployed than similarly situated younger non-veterans. However, this difference between veteran and non-veteran unemployment falls rapidly with age and time since military separation. The report concludes that the best available evidence supports the hypothesis that relatively high rates of veteran unemployment reflect the fact that veterans, especially younger veterans, are more likely to have recently separated from a job — namely, military service — and, consequently, are more likely to be engaged in job search, which takes time, especially during periods of slow economic growth. The available evidence lends little support to the hypothesis that veterans are inherently disadvantaged in the civilian labor market. Limiting unemployment benefits available to recently separated veterans would likely reduce the length of unemployment spells, but the net effect of such a policy action on the long-term federal budget is unclear. There is very limited evidence on the effectiveness of other federal policies aimed at facilitating the transition of veterans into the civilian labor market.

A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop It

July 15, 2014 Comments off

A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop It
Source: Brookings Institution

In this research paper, Paul C. Light writes that the “first step in preventing future failures is to find a reasonable set of past failures that might yield lessons for repair.” To meet this goal, Light asks four key questions about past federal government failures: (1) where did government fail, (2) why did government fail, (3) who caused the failures, and (4) what can be done to fix the underlying problems?

Examining Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Probation Revocation: Summary Findings and Implications from a Multisite Study

July 15, 2014 Comments off

Examining Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Probation Revocation: Summary Findings and Implications from a Multisite Study
Source: Urban Institute

This brief presents summary findings from an Urban Institute study examining the degree of racial and ethnic disparity in probation revocation outcomes and the drivers of that disparity in four diverse probation jurisdictions. Black probationers were revoked at higher rates than white and Hispanic probationers in all study sites. Differences in risk assessment scores and criminal history were major contributors to the black–white disparity. Results for disparity to the disadvantage of Hispanic probationers were mixed. The brief concludes with a discussion of policy implications for probation and the criminal justice system as a whole.

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