Archives for Barack Obama



Is America’s Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast


We’ve all heard the depressing numbers: when compared to kids from other rich countries, U.S. students aren’t doing very well, especially in math, even though we spend more money per student than most other countries. So is the problem here as simple as adding two plus two? Is the problem here that our students aren’t getting very bright simply because … our teachers aren’t very bright?

That’s the question we ask in our latest Freakonomics Radio episode. It’s called “Is America’s Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The cast of characters:

+ Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor (and head of the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s Antitrust Division) who now runs Amplify, a News Corp education-technology startup. Klein’s new book is Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, which was so informative and impressive that I blurbed it. In its review of the book, Newsweek says that Klein “politely rips the status quo,” which is exactly right. Read More »



The Coolest Child Care Program You’ve Never Heard Of

During World War II, U.S. women entered the workforce in record numbers — factories full of “Rosie the Riveters” producing planes and munitions for the war effort.  In response, Congress passed the Lanham Act of 1940, which administered and subsidized a large childcare system in 635 communities in the whole country except New Mexico from 1943-1946.  A new paper by Chris Herbst examines the effects of the Lanham Act; his research is particularly relevant in light of President Barack Obama‘s push for universal preschool.  “What’s intriguing about the Lanham Act is that it’s the U.S.’s first, and only, laboratory within which to assess universal child care,” writes Herbst in an email about the paper. “It may just be the coolest child care program you’ve never heard of.”  Here’s the abstract:

This paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the Lanham Act of 1940, a heavily-subsidized and universal child care program that was administered throughout the U.S. during World War II. I begin by estimating the impact of the Lanham Act on maternal employment using 1940 and 1950 Census data in a difference-in-difference-in-differences framework. The evidence suggests that mothers’ paid work increased substantially following the introduction of the child care program.

Read More »



How Many Years Does It Take to Learn to Be a Lawyer?

President Obama recently proposed an interesting solution to the skyrocketing cost (and declining popularity) of law school: make it shorter:

“This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck, I’m in my second term so I can say it,” Obama said during a stop at the State University of New York at Binghamton. “I believe, for example, that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years because [….] in the first two years young people are learning in the classroom.”

In the third year, he said, “they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren’t getting paid that much. But that step alone would reduce the cost for the student.”

The Daily Dish reports on various responses to Obama’s suggestion.  For example, law professor Matt Bodie wonders if the change would really decrease costs: Read More »



President Obama Appoints Betsey Stevenson to the CEA

Some big news: the White House has recently announced that the newest member of the Council of Economic Advisers will be my favorite economist, and a long-time friend of this blog, Betsey Stevenson.  She’ll be joining Harvard’s Jim Stock and the newly announced CEA Chairman, Jason Furman on the three-member council,  which serves as the President’s main source of advice on economic policy. 

When I say that I’m thrilled about this news, I’m speaking not just as a dismal scientist, but also as Betsey’s co-author, colleague, co-parent and domestic partner.  The CEA has a special role as a bridge between ivory tower academic economists and the levers of public policy.  They’re our best hope for ensuring that the sharpest insights of economists can elbow past the political machinations that dominate D.C., and the list of past CEA members reads like a who’s who of the economics profession.  And there’s never been a more important time to be working as a labor economist than during a period of mass unemployment.

Honestly, I’m about as proud as an economist is allowed to be. Read More »



What’s That Database Worth?

Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal investigates the value and possible future uses of President Obama’s massive “data trove.”  Here’s a quick rundown of the data at stake:

Mr. Obama’s campaign collected 13.5 million email addresses in the 2008 election, according to people who worked on the effort. Officials say the list has grown since then, but officials won’t say by how much.

The campaign also has lists of volunteers, including the names of neighborhood team leaders who were the most active supporters. A donor database has names of millions of people who made small campaign contributions. Campaigns aren’t legally required to report the names of people who give less than $200 total, and these donors haven’t been made public.

Meckler reports that Obama’s staff plans to enlist supporters’ help in getting the President’s agenda passed, but is still debating what to do with the data over the long-term. Read More »



Excerpt from The Knockoff Economy: Tweakonomics

Here is an excerpt from The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation, which has just been published by Oxford University Press. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be running 2 excerpts from the book here on the blog and taking questions from Freakonomics readers in a Q&A. We’ll also run a contest for the wackiest photo of a knockoff item. 

In The Knockoff Economy we examine the relationship between copying and creativity. Most people who study this area look at industries such as music or publishing, where intellectual property (IP) protections are central. We do something different: we explore innovative industries—such as fashion, food, fonts, and finance–in which IP is either unavailable or not effective. In these industries copying is common, yet we find that innovation thrives. In a world in which technology is making copying ever easier, we think these industries have a lot to teach us. And one of the key lessons is that copying is not just a destructive force; it can also be productive. Harnessing the productive side of copying—the ability to refine, improve, and update existing innovations—is at the heart of this excerpt.

THE KNOCKOFF ECONOMY
CHAPTER 4

Rules against copying don’t just cover outright imitation. They also address variations: works that use that some portion of another creative work but add in new stuff, and in the process transform the original work. Think of Shepard Fairey’s famous Hope poster of Barack Obama, which took an existing photograph and reworked it into an iconic image:  Read More »



The Copyright Wars Come to the Obama-Romney Campaign

Last week, the Obama campaign released this sharp-elbowed political ad featuring Mitt Romney’s off-key rendition of “America the Beautiful.” And the Romney campaign promptly issued a sort of knock off — an ad featuring President Obama singing Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”  The Romney ad uses the song to criticize Obama’s allegedly too-cozy relationship with lobbyists and campaign fundraisers. 

We can’t show you the Romney ad, as it’s been pulled from YouTube.  Why?  Because BMG Rights Management, the music publisher that owns the copyright in “Let’s Stay Together,” has sent YouTube a copyright takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and YouTube has complied.

And we also can’t show you the original news footage of Obama singing — that’s also been taken down from YouTube following BMG’s copyright complaint.  The Obama ad featuring Romney’s singing is still up there – fortunately for the Obama campaign, “America the Beautiful” is a very old song (first released in 1910) and so the copyright has expired and the song is in the public domain. Read More »



The “Birther” Truth, According to Austan Goolsbee

From the shy and retiring (not!) Austan Goolsbee: Read More »