This post serves less as a public announcement than as a private means of self-commitment with added dollops of embarrassment should I renege, that I am not going to be blogging for the next few weeks (except perhaps one post to introduce a guest blogger), so as to get the damn book that I am writing finally done and ready. When you read me again, all going well, I should have a bouncing 350-page-or-so manuscript to announce. I reserve the right to change my mind in the case of truly dire exigencies – but they will have to be truly dire.

Momentum and legitimacy

by Henry Farrell on April 23, 2008

Brian Knight and Nathan Shiff have a “paper”: on momentum and voter choice.

This paper provides an investigation of the role of momentum and social learning in sequential voting systems. In the econometric model, voters are uncertain over candidate quality, and voters in late states attempt to infer the information held by those in early states from voting returns. Candidates experience momentum effects when their performance in early states exceeds expectations. The empirical application focuses on the responses of daily polling data to the release of voting returns in the 2004 presidential primary. We find that Kerry benefited from surprising wins in early states and took votes away from Dean, who held a strong lead prior to the beginning of the primary season. The voting weights implied by the estimated model demonstrate that early voters have up to 20 times the influence of late voters in the selection of candidates, demonstrating a significant departure from the ideal of “one person, one vote.” We then address several alternative, non-learning explanations for our results. Finally, we run simulations under different electoral structures and find that a simultaneous election would have been more competitive due to the absence of herding and that alternative sequential structures would have yielded different outcomes.

I’ve not even a scintilla of the technical expertise that would be required to assess the claims of the paper. And they could certainly have chosen a better election year to make it in (later votes in the primary process clearly count for quite a bit more than usual this time around). But the basic underlying argument – that peoples’ primary votes in Iowa will usually count for some multiple of the influence that people’s votes in, say, Pennsylvania count for, seems to me to almost certainly be true. So is this something that people should be concerned with on basic grounds of equity etc? Does this provide enough grounds that people should push for reform (either through having all primaries on one day, or perhaps semi-randomizing the allocation of slots in the calendar if that isn’t feasible)?

Obviously, there are similar inequities in the apportionment of US Senate seats by population – but that is built into the system by design, and can’t be gotten rid of without constitutional change. Calendaring is in the remit of the parties and the states themselves. My memory is that a couple of states benefitting from the current set-up have sought to make their threats more credible through amendments to their domestic constitutions, but I am skeptical that these commitments would in fact be credible if every one else converged on a single date or changed system. This is, indeed, one of those cases where we would be better off if the simplest one-shot game theory prediction came true (i.e. the outcome in which every state party converges on the equilibrium of the earliest possible date). So would this be a bad idea?

The Deficit Model of Poverty (and NCLB).

by Harry on April 23, 2008

I invited my political philosophy undergraduate class to attend the conversation about No Child Left Behind, and several of them came along. I told the students beforehand that it would be fun, because lots of people would be annoyed with what I had to say, and that certainly someone would accuse me of using a “deficit model” of poverty. The thing is, if you didn’t already know what the “deficit model” of poverty is, and heard the talk (which you can read here), you couldn’t discern that I was saying anything rude or insulting. So after I had spoken, I could see a couple of my students at the back puzzling at why anyone would give me a hard time. But then it came, second question, and I watched one of them open her eyes in thrilled disbelief, as if I were some sort of soothsayer. I’ll forward this link to her to apologise for giving her that impression.

How, my student may have wondered, could I have known that I would be accused of holding a deficit model of poverty?

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Education Optimists

by Harry on April 23, 2008

Welcome to Education Optimists, a new blog written by my colleague Sara Goldrick-Rab, and her husband Liam Goldrick. Sara is in the EPS department at Madison, and Liam is Policy Director at the New Teacher Center. My prediction is that you can expect smart, well-informed, and heterodox commentary there. To start you off, here is Sara’s warning about the new TEACH grant program, which offers a $4000 per year grant to students willing to commit to getting an education degree and then spend 4 years teaching in high poverty schools in a particular subject area:

Beware: If a student does not fulfill the terms of the grant it is automatically converted into an unsubsidized loan, with interest accruing starting when the loan began.

One can easily imagine many ways a student could fail to fulfill the terms of the grant.
Here are but a few examples:

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by Eric on April 23, 2008

There are all kinds of games you can play with this List of Top 100 Public Intellectuals, including Watch People’s Heads Explode! As a guest here I believe myself entitled to say, really? No Timberites? Tchah.

The stated criteria: “Candidates must be living and still active in public life. They must have shown distinction in their particular field as well as an ability to influence wider debate, often far beyond the borders of their own country.” The large number of Iraq-war supporters would seem to suggest “influence … far beyond the borders of their own country” hugely outweighs “distinction in their particular field.”