Counting what really counts

by niamh on March 26, 2012

I’m just back from a conference in Boston where there was a great deal of discussion about the idea of the ‘social investment welfare state’ which I found really fascinating. Many countries have moved in recent years to go beyond ‘passive’ social transfers and to ‘activate’ their labour force. But there are many different ways of doing this. The interesting thing is that the policies that are the most socially equitable are now turning out to be the most economically effective too. New books (1) by Nathalie Morel, Bruno Palier, and Joakim Palme and by Anton Hemerijck show that the countries that invest heavily in early childhood education, in continuous education opportunity, in high-quality training schemes, and in making it easier for women to take part in the workforce,  have both higher growth and productivity rates and less inequality and poverty. An important part of the package is to have high levels of secure benefits as transition measures when people are not in employment or in training. And it seems we don’t already have to be Sweden or the Netherlands before we can start to do relevant things at all.

However, one of the implications of work in this field is that our standard ways of doing national accounts work against adopting the right priorities. Relevant expenditures are counted as transfer or consumption spending rather than investment spending. So it’s all too easy for governments to cut them back in recessionary times.

Remember Sarkozy’s Commission on the on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, prepared by Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz, and others? It opened up the question of what growth is for anyway, and what we count when we measure GDP in ways that prioritized ‘societal well-being, as well as measures of economic, environmental, and social sustainability’. The Institute for New Economic Thinking sponsors lots of interesting initiatives in economic theory and comparative analysis.

In historical terms, we are still in a very early phase of response to the latest global crisis. We don’t yet know if it will prove to be a turning-point in the dominant economic paradigm. Lots of people are starting to do the necessary thinking. They need to get out into the wider political debate.

(1) The first of these book is expensive*, but it should be in paperback edition by summer; the second will be published in the autumn. *Update – the Policy Press website quotes what may be the best price to date.

Attacking community colleges

by Henry Farrell on March 26, 2012

Even by the standards of _Washington Post_ op-eds, “this”: is shoddy and misinformed.

bq. Such a schedule may be appropriate in research universities where standards for faculty employment are exceptionally high — and are based on the premise that critically important work, along with research-driven teaching, can best be performed outside the classroom. The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals.

bq. Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research. These include many state colleges, virtually all community colleges and hundreds of private institutions. For example, Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks. Faculty members are also expected to keep office hours for three hours a week. The faculty handbook states: “Teaching and closely related activities are the primary responsibilities of instructional faculty.” While the handbook suggests other responsibilities such as curriculum development, service on committees and community outreach, notably absent from this list are research and scholarship.

bq. …I take no issue with faculty at teaching-oriented institutions focusing on instructional skills rather than research and receiving a fair, upper-middle-class wage. Like good teachers everywhere, they are dedicated professionals with high levels of education and deserve salaries commensurate with their hard-earned credentials. But we all should object when they receive these salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers. … An executive who works a 40-hour week for 50 weeks puts in a minimum of 2,000 hours yearly. But faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend only 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom. Even in the unlikely event that they devote an equal amount of time to grading and class preparation, their workload is still only 36 to 45 percent of that of non-academic professionals. Yet they receive the same compensation.
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