Posts by HowardFriedman:

    America’s Lagging Female Political Representation

    August 16th, 2015



    By Howard Friedman.


    America continues to lag most other democracies in terms of female representation. This distinction is not one to be proud of yet our nation has been behind the curve on female political representation for generations.

    Currently there are twenty female Senators, 16 Democrat and 4 Republican. In the House, there are seventy-nine female Representatives, 60 Democrat and 19 Republican. The number of women in the Senate and the House comprise the highest numbers ever in either body yet these rates of female representation are remarkably lower than other democratic countries.

    In 2012, the US ranked 28th out of 34 OECD countries in terms of the share of women parliamentarians, topping only Korea, Ireland, Turkey, Chile, Japan, and Hungary. Comparatively speaking, this is a drop from 2002 as France, Italy, Hungary and others all leapfrogged over the United States in female representation.

    Moreover, the disparity between the parties is painfully telling. Female representation among Democratic national legislators, at 30.4%, is in the upper-third of the OECD’s overall rankings. Contrarily, only 8.2% of the Republican national legislators are female. This ranks dead last compared to other OECD countries, a national embarrassment that needs to be addressed.

    The lack of female legislators is also exhibited at the state legislative level. There, the percentage of female legislators rose from 8% in 1975 to 20.6% in 1995. In the 19 years since, the rate has only crawled up to 24.2%. The stagnation in progress needs to be addressed for America to catch up to other leading democracies. Approximately two-thirds of the female state legislators are Democrats, a less-extreme reiteration of the party imbalance seen at the national level.

    Since being a state legislator is often a stepping stone to the national level, addressing the gender imbalance at the state level is critical to addressing it at the national level. In order to have more female state-level legislators, more women will need to express an interest in political careers as well as develop local-level experience such as community and school boards.

    Two key differences emerge when comparing the US and democracies that are leading in female representation. The first is that many countries have implemented gender quotas, a mechanism that is unconstitutional in the US. The second is that countries using proportional representation systems often have higher female representation.

    Making proportional representation the norm in state-level voting, as is done in many other leading countries, could address some of this gender imbalance issue. Voters would cast ballots for the party of choice meaning that gender biases would be restricted to what happens inside the party rolls themselves. Female candidates, who may have more challenges raising financial support, could rely more on party money. Of course, this presupposes that gender biases within political parties are less pronounced than the gender biases in the general public.

    Proportional representation would also make room for third-party voices to be heard. It is likely that fewer voters would feel “orphaned” and that voter turnout would rise with rising confidence that their votes would have some impact.

    Inertia is a powerful force. The two-party system in the US has muted the voices of many women and third-party. It is time America addressed these issues with proportional representation being one mechanism to chip away at our lagging democratic performance.

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    Bad Economic Analogies Never Die

    October 30th, 2013

    By Howard Friedman.

    Maybe you heard the analogy between managing household finances and government finances in an Intro to Economics class? Or maybe you heard it on talk radio or saw it spewed out on cable? Perhaps you remember Reagan referring to the federal government while stating, “…if you’ve got a kid that’s extravagant, you can lecture him all you want to about his extravagance. Or you can cut his allowance and achieve the same end much quicker.”

    In general, analogies are useful in helping to paint a more vivid picture of a situation but become useless, and sometimes even dangerous, when people confuse the analogy for reality to draw false conclusions and support bad policies.

    The U.S. government is a far cry from a household. Households or families don’t have the option to print money, for example, or to issue bonds on their own behalf, or to create inflation or deflation. Governments need to ensure that their debts grow more slowly than their tax base, so that the revenue they receive from future taxes can pay off both the principal and interest.

    Moreover, and unlike a household, the government doesn’t always have to balance its budget — in fact, it’s not always desirable that it does. In weak economic times, the government needs to play a larger role by stimulating the economy and supporting those most in need; naturally it will run a deficit in those years. Government spending is sometimes the only thing that can prevent the economy from going into a freefall.

    The differences between what a family and a government can and should do during economic hard times are often the source of a disconnect that many people feel intuitively. When families experience a drop in revenue, they usually reduce their expenditures. When governments experience a drop in revenue due to economic crises, its expenditures often increase because of the need to provide more social support. With high unemployment and low demand, tax receipts fall off significantly in recessionary times. But rather than economizing as a household would, this is precisely when the government has to open its wallet. It needs to provide basic support for those most in need, the elderly, the poor and the increasing masses of unemployed. Government spending can stabilize and stimulate the economy.

    Fifty years ago, in his essay “Pseudo Conservatism Revisited,” the historian Richard Hofstadter observed that “deficit spending is an affront to millions who have been raised to live (and in some cases have been forced by circumstances to live) abstemious, thrifty, prudential lives…. when society adopts a policy of deficit spending, thrifty small-businessmen, professionals, farmers, and white-collar workers who have been managing their affairs by the old rules feel that their way of life has been officially and insultingly repudiated.” This same dynamic fueled the rise of the Tea Party in our own day.

    Legitimate concerns about government debt arise in situations where the overall economic growth is not fast enough, and tax receipts are not substantial enough for the government to make its debt payments while handling the day-to-day expenses of running the government and the long term investments that are vital for our future.

    The weaknesses in the analogy between government and household finances are too often lost yet this misleading analogy persists, creating confusion, prompting poor decisions and is some of the stimulant underneath the Congressional behavior we see today.

    Some of the text from this posting was take from the recently release ebook, “A Modest Proposal for America

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    America’s Poverty-Education Link

    September 8th, 2012 America's Poverty-Education Link

    By Howard Friedman.

    Poverty and education are inextricably linked where education is a primary means of social mobility, enabling those born into poverty to rise in society. Powerful evidence of the link include the fact that 46 percent of Americans who grew up in low-income families but failed to earn college degrees stayed in the lowest income quintile, compared to 16 percent for those who earned a college degree.

    The link between poverty and education can be seen at all educational levels. From the earliest stage, pre-primary education, poorer Americans start disadvantaged. Children of parents earning less than $15,000 a year have pre-primary enrollment rates about 20 percent lower than children of parents earning more than $50,000 a year. This pre-school disadvantage for poor people has far-reaching impacts, since students who participated in preschool education were 31 percent less likely to repeat a grade and 32 percent less likely to drop out of high school. Additionally, pre-primary education reduces crime rates where children who were randomly chosen from a low-income neighborhood to attend preschool were shown to have one-fifth the chance of becoming chronic criminal offenders as the matched control group.
    The educational disadvantage of those poorer students continues as they grow older. Less than 10 percent of school revenue comes from the federal government while about 90 percent comes from the state and local governments. As a result, school funding varies from state to state, and funding within a state also tends to be unequal. As of 2006, schools with the highest poverty rates received on average nearly $1,000 less per student than schools with the lowest rates, and in some states like New York and Illinois, this gap is more than $2,000 per student.

    The locally driven funding (and its resulting funding gap) causes poorer students to have even more learning disadvantages. Top teachers are more likely to gravitate toward the schools that pay the most, offer the best facilities, present the safest working environments, and provide the most advanced learning environments. Consequently, poorer students are far more likely to encounter uncertified teachers, fewer resources, and substandard facilities. In the 1970s and 1980s, courts in ten states found that public education funding was unconstitutional. Corresponding court-ordered changes in state funding closed the achievement gap in states required to make changes, while the achievement gap persists in states where no such order was forthcoming.

    The resulting educational disadvantage to the American poor is apparent in cross-country exams such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam. In this exam, the United States placed average to below average versus other developed countries in reading, science, and math, but these averages mask the influence of poverty.

    The average American PISA reading score for higher-income schools exceeded that of all other developed countries while the average score for lower-income American schools was far lower. In fact, the PISA scores by America students were more influenced by their parents’ backgrounds than every other OECD country. American students who move up one socioeconomic level would earn on average 60 points more in science, while students in other developed countries who did the same would gain fewer than 40 more PISA points. While it is not surprising to learn that wealthier students outperform poorer students, this extremely large disparity in performance among American students is of great concern because of what it implies about social mobility.

    The educational disparities between rich and poor Americans are exacerbated at the college level where affordability issues have become more acute over the past few decades. From 1993 to 2007, the tuition and fees for attending in-state public universities rose an inflation-adjusted 79 percent. In 2008, the cost of attending a public college was $14,000 a year, about half the nation’s median personal income. American public universities have a higher average tuition than other developed countries. Public universities in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain charge only minimal tuitions and in some countries (Greece and most of Germany) the public universities are tuition-free. This high cost of American higher education prevents nearly half of college-qualified high school graduates from attending a four-year institution and keeps nearly one-fourth from attending any college at all. In 1979, Pell Grants, the need-based grants by the federal government to lower-income college undergraduates, covered about 75 percent of the cost of a four-year college; thirty years later, this had dropped to 33 percent.

    The ramifications of these issues with educational opportunities for the poor and the affordability of college are exemplified by the fact that the highest performing eighth graders from low socioeconomic backgrounds have about the same chance of completing a bachelors degree as the lowest performing eighth graders from high socioeconomic backgrounds. The latter were also about ten times more likely to complete a college degree than low-performing eighth graders from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

    America, the land of opportunity, needs to create those opportunities for all its children. Given the tight link between poverty and education, America needs to focus on how to enable everyone to have access to quality education at all levels, from pre-primary to college. These opportunities need exist so that all children can go to high-quality schools, taught by qualified teachers with appropriate facilities. America, the richest country that the world has ever seen, cannot afford to turn its back on young people just because they didn’t start with a silver spoon in their mouth. Rather we need to create a situation where there is more equality of opportunity so that the most talented and diligent children rise to the top, rather than the current situation where America suffers the lowest social mobility of any other wealthy country.

    This article is based on excerpts from the recently released book ‘The Measure of a Nation: How to Regain America’s Competitive Edge and Boost Our Global Standing.’

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    Nothing to Learn From Romney Releasing More Taxes

    August 12th, 2012

    By Howard Friedman.

    The media is having a grand old time discussing Mitt Romney’s tax returns. Will he release more years of returns? Should he? Does Harry Reid have some special knowledge or is he just making noise?

    Since I have a number of friends who profess to be undecided or independent, I decided to do a highly unscientific poll by surveying 15 friends with the following questions:
    (1) Is it important to you that Mitt Romney release more tax returns?
    (2) Would you consider changing your vote based on information in his tax returns?
    (3) Please explain why or why not?

    The results of my poll were somewhat entertaining. Not a single respondent said it was important to them that Mitt released more returns and none indicated that they would consider changing their vote based on information in those returns. Now, of course, this is not a scientific survey either in its design, implementation or sample size. There are probably some voters that would be influenced but I would venture to say that the vast majority of undecided or independent voters really don’t care.

    Why don’t they care? The consistent answer I received was that “there is absolutely nothing new I would learn from his tax returns.” Let’s expand on this since it is important. We already know that Mitt Romney came from a wealthy, politically connected family and that he himself is a successful businessman and former governor of Massachusetts. We already know that he is well educated, made a lot of money in the business world and has done an excellent job at keeping that money. We already know that he paid impressively low tax rates on his substantial earnings for the years that were already reported. The last part regarding his low tax rate means that he (and his accountant) has done an excellent job of using the current tax laws to minimize histax payments. Does anyone believe that if we saw more tax returns it would possibly change anything I have written above?

    So what tax questions should we be focusing on instead what Mitt Romney paid? We should have the candidates discussing items like what are the issues with the current tax laws? What tax policies do they endorse? What changes do they want to make to the tax laws?

    More specifically, do they envision changes to the capital gains tax rates and if so what changes? What tax rates do they envision for income taxes and what impact will those changes have on the federal revenue? Do they endorse changes to the payroll tax rate or cap? Do they plan to have changes implemented to current tax expenditure laws and if so which expenditures? What changes do they envision for the corporate taxes so that America stops incentivizing companies to invest outside the United States and shield their profits from taxation?

    In order to move political dialog past these games of distraction and onto substantive topics, the public has to demand an end to the side-shows and for the politicians to state clearly what their plans are for the government and, more broadly, America. Using real facts, examples and details they need to state their plans clearly.

    Americans should have the opportunity to vote for substance over style, content over rhetoric and facts over rumors. Elections matter, but unfortunately, so far there hasn’t been anything offered by either party to help inform voters except clichés, negative advertising and rumor-mongering.

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