Joining up the dots II

by Kieran Healy on March 29, 2005

“Like Henry”: and “Max”:, I got a bit of a laugh out of the “Left Business Observer’s plots”: of the Heritage Foundation’s “Freedom Index.” I think the LBO are right to be skeptical of the index. But maybe the scatterplots they show sell it a bit short.

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Parental Leave: Pros and Cons

by Kimberly on March 29, 2005

While there currently is no national conversation in the United States about parental leave and working time, there is some rumbling at the grassroots. A recent New York Times article profiled one organization, Take Back Your Time, which advocates paid childbirth and parental leave, improved protections for part-time work, and guaranteed minimum vacation time. Last year, California instituted the first paid parental leave system in the country – an entirely employee-funded system that costs the average worker $27 a year. Activists are lobbying at the state level to try to replicate the California model in other states, and have had some success in Washington State.

The experience of parental leave in other countries offers some lessons about its possible effects on the economy, employers, and women’s employment. Parental leave programs generally are not very expensive, amounting to at most one or two percent of GDP. Firms in Western Europe report that they face no major disruptions from parental leave, as long as the leave is not too long (more below). There also is a wide consensus that parental leave increases, rather than decreases, women’s employment (a lengthy OECD report offers details).

One potential downside is that, even though most countries make parental leave open to both men and women, women take the vast majority of leave days. When leave is long, this can have some consequences for women’s place in the labor market. In Sweden, for example, parents have the right to a parental leave of up to 18 months, but women take nearly 85 percent of parental leave days. Women also predominate among the ranks of part-time employees. As a result, the Swedish labor market is one of the most sex-segregated in the world, as women cluster in public sector jobs that are structured around the assumption of interrupted work schedules and part-time employment. Thus, one major goal of Swedish policy these days is to encourage men to take more parental leave; already there are two months of “daddy only” leave (in addition to paternity leave), that are lost to the couple if the father doesn’t take them. Yet, men working in private sector jobs report feeling pressured by their employers not to take a lengthy leave.

More generally, whether or not parental leave is costly, difficult for employers, and harmful to women’s employment hinges on the length of the leave. The current menu of family leave proposals in the US is unlikely to have these negative consequences. The California leave offers only six weeks of leave paid at 55% of wages – up to a maximum of $728/week — and is paid for by employees. This is unlikely to break the bank, sink the economy, or undermine the place of women in paid work.


by Chris Bertram on March 29, 2005

BBC2 broadcast “a fascinating fly-on-the-wall documentary”: this evening about France’s Islamic headscarf law. It followed a group of young Muslim women about and had them explain their thoughts and feelings about the law and did the same with the teachers in their school. The teachers clearly sincerely believed that the women were the puppets of fundamentalist groups, though this wasn’t the impression given by the film. Rather, their families urged compromise so that they might finish their education. Obviously, much of the impression the viewer gets will have been shaped by the editing decisions of the film-makers. Nevertheless, the message I took was of the profound unwisdom of the measure. The headmaster tried to be pragmatic (by his own lights) and insisted that the law could be complied with if girls wore a bandana in a colour other than black that left the forehead and ears clearly visible. This upset some of the extreme secularist teachers (who saw this as backsliding from pure Republican principle) but didn’t leave the pupils happy either (though they largely complied). But the image that one was left with was of the hapless headteacher stopping the Muslims one by one at the school gate, singling them out, insisting on minor adjustments to their dress (“A bit more ear please!”). Utterly, utterly humiliating for all concerned. And the women themselves, now convinced that they would never be accepted in France. One had ambitions to be a nurse, but the government has now extended the law to medical service. Petty inspection, endless argument about the tiniest details of the garb worn by “those people”: humiliating and counterproductive.

Profanum vulgus

by Henry Farrell on March 29, 2005

Scott McLemee’s column today looks at some very interesting anthropological research on the Iranian blogosphere. Alireza Doostdar writes about a controversy in the Farsi-speaking blogosphere over whether or not blogging leads to increased vulgarity – sloppy language, bad grammar and intellectual overreaching. According to Doostdar, there was quite a vituperative argument between a small group of intellectuals, who deplored bloggers’ bad writing, and various bloggers, some of whom accepted the criticism and promised to do better, others of whom challenged the authority of the intellectuals by making deliberate grammatical mistakes and issuing their own polemics. This is interesting in itself – but perhaps even more interesting as a contrast to what’s happening in the English speaking blogosphere. I understand that there is a strong and lively classical tradition in Farsi, which there isn’t in English – most modern English literature is written in (or otherwise appeals to) the demotic. Thus, in one sense, it’s unsurprising that there hasn’t been the same sort of argument as there was in Iran. Instead, we’ve had the ongoing debates over the relationship between blogging and journalism.

Nevertheless, it strikes me that English language political blogging is still an emphatically vulgar activity – it demands a straightforward, relatively direct writing style that readers can easily understand. There’s a set of unwritten rules of rhetoric among blogs, which tend to militate against jargon and indirect argument. CT is a bit of an outlier in this regard – we do occasionally have quite technical posts or lengthy and discursive ones – but we’re still far closer in writing style to, say, Kevin Drum, than to the average academic journal article.

While expert knowledge provides clear advantages, it doesn’t preserve the expert from the frequent necessity of having to muck in with her commenters in order to get her point across. This has its disadvantages, as witnessed by the ever recurring statistically illiterate nonsense about the Lancet. Still, in general, it’s a good thing. Blogging is vulgar in the original meaning of the word – it’s ‘of the crowd,’ and bloggers who try to keep their readers at a distance are likely to find themselves without any. I suspect that this is why some blogs that one might have expected to have a substantial impact in the blogosphere, such as the Becker-Posner blog, have been relative failures. They try to play by a different set of rules. The Becker-Posner blog has interesting arguments, but it’s rather reminiscent of those German academic seminars where the senior professors talk exclusively to each other, and the junior people are supposed to be edified by the conversation. There’s not much of a sense of open dialogue to it – and open, democratic, sometimes demagogic dialogue is what the blogosphere is about (and, for all its faults, should be about).

Joining up the dots

by Henry Farrell on March 29, 2005

Via Max, this gem from Doug Henwood’s Left Business Observer, deconstructing claims that the Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal’s “Index of Economic Freedom” tells us anything meaningful about economic growth. If you look at countries’ scores on the index in 1996, and graph it against their subsequent per capita GDP growth, there isn’t any meaningful correlation. If (as the Index’s authors do), you look at the relationship with aggregate GDP, you get a smallish correlation, which is very likely spurious. Short version: the Index is probably garbage – it doesn’t tell us about anything save for the ideological predilections of its authors. But take a look at the graph below and read Doug’s article, so you can judge for yourself.

Index of Freedom v. per capita GDP growth

Falling out of (and in) love

by Chris Bertram on March 29, 2005

I spent Sunday afternoon at Bristol’s Memorial Ground watching the “Bristol Shoguns”: demolish the Exeter Chiefs and thereby edge closer to promotion to the “Zurich Premiership”: . Great fun, an entertaining performance, a good atmosphere, a diverse crowd, a chance to stand together on the terraces, home and away fans mixed together and exchanging friendly chat, a programme with the head coach’s telephone number there for all to see, a pint of beer with the game if you like, and a ticket you can buy without having to sell the children into slavery … I could go on. I’ve watched Bristol four times this season, “Leicester”: once and England (v Scotland) once. In the same period I’ve not been to a single game of football (though I’ve watched a few games on the telly). Why? Aggressive atmosphere, crowd segregation, surly stewards, beer illegal, expensive tickets, cheating players, arrogant managers, and, above all, the fact that a Russian billionaire has made sure that the whole competition is sown up before the start. The downside? I think few rugby players can do things quite as breathtaking as Denis Bergkamp or Ronaldinho can (though Geordan Murphy can be exciting). But the bullshit and the money around football have just depressed me too much this season. This could be a long-term switch.

National Lampoon’s European Vacation

by Chris Bertram on March 29, 2005

Lenin of the “Tomb” has “the funniest post”: on the European holiday offer from FrontPage Magazine: “Tour London with David Horowitz, Christopher Hitchens and Paul Johnson” !! (Be sure to check out the comment from “Luc” as well.)