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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.

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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.

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.

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?

The Quality of Official Development Assistance (QuODA): Third Edition

July 14, 2014 Comments off

The Quality of Official Development Assistance (QuODA): Third Edition
Source: Brookings Institution

This is the third edition of our effort to measure the quality of official development assistance (QuODA). Since the first edition, much has changed in the world of aid. Most significantly, the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness was replaced in 2012 with a new Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. This multi-stakeholder group is charged with building a better understanding of how all development partners—official, business and in civil society—can work together to improve impact. The Global Partnership has a stronger representation of emerging economies, civil society and of the business sector, and is starting to debate how to leverage and coordinate the growing diversity of financial flows, knowledge and practical experiences to strengthen development impact.

The Global Partnership has already discussed and determined a new set of indicators of aid effectiveness that it will monitor, and has conducted a base-line survey in 2012 from which we draw. But in this paper, we continue to use our previous methodology focused on indicators that were agreed upon as part of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action in order to monitor the progress donors have made towards their initial commitments.

This third edition of QuODA focuses on changes over time in donor performance. In the first edition of QuODA, we used 2008 data for aid flows and Paris Monitoring Survey indicators for donor compliance with commitments. In this edition, we use 2012 data for aid, 2013 data from the new Global Partnership Monitoring Framework, and 2011 data for Paris indicators that are no longer measured in the new monitoring framework. The mix of years is not ideal, but for all indicators it provides us an opportunity to see whether there has been progress or not over a span of at least 3 to 4 years.

Another major change in the aid environment is the larger number of development partners that now report on their aid activities to the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). Fourteen countries provide substantial information, and although the largest emerging economies like China and India are not included, there is the beginning of a more comprehensive data base on aid that permits examination of whether these donors behave differently from DAC donors in important ways. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation now also reports on its activities, so it can be analyzed in the same framework. Of course, the non-DAC donors and the Gates Foundation are not systematically included in the Paris Monitoring Survey or the Global Partnership Monitoring Framework, so the range of indicators across which they can be compared to DAC donors is more limited than the full QuODA framework. Nevertheless, we believe it is useful to start to ask questions about the revealed characteristics of non-DAC development partners, official and philanthropic. It is our hope that data on additional donors will become more comprehensive over time.

Policy Works: How Quality Programs Can Improve Social Mobility

July 11, 2014 Comments off

Policy Works: How Quality Programs Can Improve Social Mobility
Source: Brookings Institution

Children born into low-income families face multiple barriers to upward mobility: not just a lack of money, but a range of overlapping social, educational, economic and familial disadvantages. Sometimes these problems can seem intractable. But in fact, targeted, high-quality interventions can break down some of the obstacles faced by low-income children, as our new CCF policy brief shows. A single intervention at one point in time will likely only have a modest effect. But intervening at multiple points can have large impacts on class and race gaps in child outcomes and improve social mobility quite dramatically.

Still Searching: Job Vacancies and STEM Skills

July 2, 2014 Comments off

Still Searching: Job Vacancies and STEM Skills
Source: Brookings Institution

This report uses a unique database from the labor market information company Burning Glass and other sources to analyze the skill requirements and the advertisement duration time for millions of job openings. It reaches the following conclusions:

Job openings for STEM positions take longer to fill than openings in other fields.

Specific high-value skills requested by employers and common to STEM occupations are particularly scarce relative to demand and yet particularly valuable to employers.

The regional supply of workers in a given occupation affects the length of vacancy advertisements.

Policies to Address Poverty in America

June 27, 2014 Comments off

Policies to Address Poverty in America
Source: Brookings Institution

Millions of people live in poverty in this country. They suffer not only material deprivation, but also the hardships and diminished life prospects that come with being poor. Childhood poverty often means growing up without the advantages of a stable home, high-quality schools, or consistent nutrition. Adults in poverty are often hampered by inadequate skills and education, leading to limited wages and job opportunities. And the high costs of housing, healthcare, and other necessities often mean that people must choose between basic needs, sometimes forgoing essentials like meals or medicine. In recognition of these challenges, The Hamilton Project has commissioned fourteen innovative, evidence-based antipoverty proposals. These proposals are authored by a diverse set of leading scholars, each tackling a specific aspect of the poverty crisis.

Is a Student Loan Crisis on the Horizon?

June 25, 2014 Comments off

Is a Student Loan Crisis on the Horizon?
Source: Brookings Institution

College tuition and student debt levels have been increasing at a fast pace for at least two decades. These well-documented trends, coupled with an economy weakened by a major recession, have raised serious questions about whether the market for student debt is headed for a crisis, with many borrowers unable to repay their loans and taxpayers being forced to foot the bill.

In this report, Beth Akers and Matthew Chingos analyze more than two decades of data on the financial well-being of American households and find that in reality, the impact of student loans may not be as dire as many commentators fear.

The authors draw on data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) administered by the Federal Reserve Board to track how the education debt levels and incomes of young households evolved between 1989 and 2010. Their analysis produces three particularly noteworthy and new findings:

  • Roughly one-quarter of the increase in student debt since 1989 can be directly attributed to Americans obtaining more education, especially graduate degrees. The average debt levels of borrowers with a graduate degree more than quadrupled, from just under $10,000 to more than $40,000. By comparison, the debt loads of those with only a bachelor’s degree increased by a smaller margin, from $6,000 to $16,000.
  • Increases in the average lifetime incomes of college-educated Americans have more than kept pace with increases in debt loads. Between 1992 and 2010, the average household with student debt saw an increase of about $7,400 in annual income and $18,000 in total debt. In other words, the increase in earnings received over the course of 2.4 years would pay for the increase in debt incurred.
  • The monthly payment burden faced by student loan borrowers has stayed about the same or even lessened over the past two decades. The median borrower has consistently spent three to four percent of their monthly income on student loan payments since 1992, and the mean payment-to-income ratio has fallen significantly, from 15 to 7 percent. The average repayment term for student loans increased over this period, allowing borrowers to shoulder increased debt loads without larger monthly payments.

FDI in U.S. Metro Areas: The Geography of Jobs in Foreign-Owned Establishments

June 23, 2014 Comments off

FDI in U.S. Metro Areas: The Geography of Jobs in Foreign-Owned Establishments
Source: Brookings Institution

This paper advances the understanding of foreign direct investment (FDI)—that is to say, the U.S operations of foreign companies— in U.S. metro areas. It presents new data on jobs in foreign-owned establishments (FOEs) across the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas between 1991 and 2011.

Changes in Tax Revenue Since 1929

June 18, 2014 Comments off

Changes in Tax Revenue Since 1929
Source: Tax Policy Center (Urban Institute and Brookings Institution)

This Tax Fact examines sources of federal and state & local tax revenue, from 1929 to the present. The composition of revenues at all levels of government changed dramatically with World War II, but has remained roughly stable since. At the federal level, payroll taxes have grown dramatically, and individual income taxes remain a major source of revenue. At the state and local level, sales and property taxes account for about one-third of revenues.

The EPA Is Shifting Its Approach for Calculating Benefits of Climate Rules, Including For Power Plants Emissions

June 17, 2014 Comments off

The EPA Is Shifting Its Approach for Calculating Benefits of Climate Rules, Including For Power Plants Emissions
Source: Brookings Institution

President Obama’s proposed rule for limiting carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants is estimated to have a compliance cost $7.3 billion dollar while providing a climate benefit of $30 billion in 2030. But a new working paper from Ted Gayer and Kip Viscusi suggests that the EPA’s methodology for calculating the benefit represents a shift away from typical practice. A more traditional cost-benefit analysis would estimate climate benefits of only $2 billion to $7 billion – less than the estimated compliance cost of the rule.

The authors write that the assessments used to determine benefits for Obama’s rule has, like other recent EPA proposals to limit greenhouse gases, shifted to a global benefits approach. Rather than considering only the benefits to U.S. citizens, the analysis considers benefits for other countries while Americans bear the full costs.

The implications of this shift go beyond calculations of climate rules. Gayer and Viscusi write that “[I]f applied broadly to all policies, [this practice] would substantially shift the allocation of societal resources.” For example, a global perspective would likely shift immigration policy to one of entirely open borders, would shift away from transfers to low-income U.S. citizens and towards transfers to much lower-income non-U.S. citizens, and would substantially alter U.S. defense policy.

The EPA Is Shifting Its Approach for Calculating Benefits of Climate Rules, Including For Power Plants Emissions

June 13, 2014 Comments off

The EPA Is Shifting Its Approach for Calculating Benefits of Climate Rules, Including For Power Plants Emissions
Source: Brookings Institution

President Obama’s proposed rule for limiting carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants is estimated to have a compliance cost $7.3 billion dollar while providing a climate benefit of $30 billion in 2030. But a new working paper from Ted Gayer and Kip Viscusi suggests that the EPA’s methodology for calculating the benefit represents a shift away from typical practice. A more traditional cost-benefit analysis would estimate climate benefits of only $2 billion to $7 billion – less than the estimated compliance cost of the rule.

The authors write that the assessments used to determine benefits for Obama’s rule has, like other recent EPA proposals to limit greenhouse gases, shifted to a global benefits approach. Rather than considering only the benefits to U.S. citizens, the analysis considers benefits for other countries while Americans bear the full costs.

The implications of this shift go beyond calculations of climate rules. Gayer and Viscusi write that “[I]f applied broadly to all policies, [this practice] would substantially shift the allocation of societal resources.” For example, a global perspective would likely shift immigration policy to one of entirely open borders, would shift away from transfers to low-income U.S. citizens and towards transfers to much lower-income non-U.S. citizens, and would substantially alter U.S. defense policy.

The Rise of Innovation Districts; A New Geography of Innovation in America

June 12, 2014 Comments off

The Rise of Innovation Districts; A New Geography of Innovation in America
Source: Brookings Institution

As the United States slowly emerges from the great recession, a remarkable shift is occurring in the spatial geography of innovation. For the past 50 years, the landscape of innovation has been dominated by places like silicon valley—suburban corridors of spatially isolated corporate campuses, accessible only by car, with little emphasis on the quality of life or on integrating work, housing and recreation.

A new complementary urban model is now emerging, giving rise to what we and others are calling “innovation districts.” These districts, by our definition, are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. They are also physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail.

Innovation districts are the manifestation of mega-trends altering the location preferences of people and firms and, in the process, re-conceiving the very link between economy shaping, place making and social networking. Our most creative institutions, firms and workers crave proximity so that ideas and knowledge can be transferred more quickly and seamlessly. Our “open innovation” economy rewards collaboration, transforming how buildings and entire districts are designed and spatially arrayed. Our diverse population demands more and better choices of where to live, work and play, fueling demand for more walkable neighborhoods where housing, jobs and amenities intermix.

Polarized We Govern?

June 12, 2014 Comments off

Polarized We Govern?
Source: Brookings Institution

Recent legislative drama like last year’s shutdown debacle, coupled with Congress’s paltry legislative records since 2011, has fueled the debate over whether U.S. national political system is irreparably dysfunctional. In the new paper “Polarized We Govern?,” Sarah Binder finds that levels of legislative gridlock have steadily risen over the past half-century. Today, 75 percent of the salient issues on Washington’s agenda are subject to legislative gridlock.

Leveraging Private Capital and Political Action in the Fight Against Corruption

June 11, 2014 Comments off

Leveraging Private Capital and Political Action in the Fight Against Corruption
Source: Brookings Institution

The collapse of a corruption-ridden government in Ukraine, Russia and Turkey’s attempts to curb social media drives to expose alleged bribery, and ongoing public sector reform initiatives in Central and Eastern Europe all serve to highlight the salience of the World Forum on Governance (WFG) in today’s geopolitical landscape. In April 2014, anti-corruption experts from around the globe convened for the third WFG in Prague to share experiences and exchange best practices for leveraging private capital and political action in the fight against corruption. Delegates represented a diverse blend of investors, scholars, government officials, civil society actors, private sector representatives, and members of traditional and new media.

The 2014 WFG built upon the Ten Principles established in the Prague Declaration on Governance and Anti-Corruption, revisited policy areas detailed in the 2012 Conference Report, and developed new initiatives to advance integrity in the public and private sectors.

Breakout sessions explored a broad scope of governance issues within three streams—public policy, capital, and media and civil society—and reviewed action items from previous convenings…

Wither the Tea Party? The Future of a Political Movement

June 10, 2014 Comments off

Wither the Tea Party? The Future of a Political Movement
Source: Brookings Institution

In the midst of the Congressional primaries taking place across America this summer, the Tea Party’s history continues to be written. Tea Party membership and funding have continued to grow over the last year, yet the media has proclaimed the Tea Party dead no less than 18 times. In this paper, Christopher S. Parker asks whether the Tea Party is an “astroturf” or “grassroots” political movement. Parker argues for the latter, demonstrating that the Tea Party has real staying power in the current political climate.

Parker uses the motivations of the Tea Party to assess how they will evolve during upcoming midterms and the 2016 general election. He argues that some Tea Party conservatives are neither ignorant nor ideological, but instead fearful: anxious that traditional American values are being replaced by more socially liberal ideals. To test whether Tea Party conservatives are acting ideologically or fearfully, he asks a series of survey questions to both establishment conservatives and Tea Party conservatives and finds the following:

  • Six percent of establishment conservatives believe Obama poses an existential threat as compared to 71 percent of Tea Party conservatives.
  • 38 percent of establishment conservatives are rooting for Obama to fail as compared to 78 percent of Tea Party conservatives.
  • 59 percent of establishment conservatives reject health care reform as compared to 93 percent of Tea Party conservatives.

Helping Parents, Helping Children: Two-Generation Mechanisms

May 30, 2014 Comments off

Helping Parents, Helping Children: Two-Generation Mechanisms
Source: The Future of Children (Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs/Brookings Institution)
From Executive Summary (PDF)

It’s a stark fact: Despite decades of efforts to give them a leg up through preschool and other early-childhood initiatives, children from poor families still show up for kindergarten far behind children from wealthier families, and they fall further behind during the school years.

Poor children’s school problems start with the quality of the home environment. Parents and the home environment they create exert a powerful influence on children, beginning before they are born and continuing throughout childhood. Study after study has shown large differences in the home environment by income, all of them favoring children from more affluent families. For example, among many other disadvantages, poorer children spend less time reading or being read to, spend less time talking with adults, and hear far fewer words each week.

Because the home environment is so important for children’s development, many people think that “two-generation” programs, which serve parents and children simultaneously with high-quality interventions, can be more effective (and perhaps more efficient) than programs that serve them individually. The hope is that we can work through parents to make preschool interventions more effective, while helping parents at the same time. Several promising demonstration programs are under way.

This issue of Future of Children assesses past and current two-generation programs. But it goes much further than that. The editors identified six widely acknowledged mechanisms or pathways through which parents, and the home environment they create, are thought to influence children’s development: stress, education, health, income, employment, and assets. Understanding how these mechanisms of development work—and when, where, and how they harm or help—should aid us in designing interventions that boost children’s intellectual and socioemotional development, strengthen families, and help close academic gaps between students from poor and more affluent families.

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