Quick Hits

1. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to cut subsidies to public libraries from $14 million annually to $3.6 million. The New Jersey Record calls this “severe,” adding that Governor Christie has “chosen to devastate the budget for public libraries and thrust a knife into the heart of the common good.” The Record then intones gravely, “Libraries matter.” But do they? We live in a digital age, after all, with millions and millions of books, periodicals, magazines, and articles available online, many of them for free. Moreover, we in New Jersey have dozens of college and university libraries if we wanted to do actual research. So what purpose, really, are the tiny public libraries that dot the state serving—especially if the total subsidy was a relatively paltry $14 million?

2. Also from the “You Wish Christie Were Your Governor, Don’t You?” file: The governor’s intrepid Education Commissioner Bret Schundler has laid out a reform plan for NJ’s public schools. One plank is that up to 50% of teachers’ evaluations for promotion and tenure would comprise objective data of their students’ improvement, achievement, and performance.  The New Jersey Education Association opposes allowing merit to play any part in teacher promotion or pay increase. According to reports, a spokesman for the NJEA claimed that “many factors outside the classroom affect pupil performance, such as parental support, poverty and illness, and sometimes teachers face a particularly challenging group of students.” I wonder if the NJEA and Charles Murray might agree on this? The suggestion from the NJEA spokesman would seem to be that some proportion of student performance is incorrigible; isn’t that Murray’s argumenttoo?

3. Widening the focus a bit, this picture from the New York Times gives fresh and arresting visual life to Bastiat’s claim that “The State is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” (H/T: Tyler Cowen.)

4. Is it just me, or has The Economist, which has long been one of my favorite magazines, been warming to centralized intervention in markets? In last week’s leader “Acropolis now,” for example, the editors argue that “a bail-out is justifiable on the same logic: doing nothing would cost them [i.e., other European nations, including in particular Germany] even more.” But of course every state intervention and program in history has been justified on similar grounds. They continue: “Financial markets have no idea who is in charge. Europe’s Byzantine decision-making structure does not help but Germany needs to ensure that decisions are reached fast, that Europe speaks with one voice”; moreover, they recommend that “the euro zone should set up a single crisis-management committee, with the power to make decisions.” Since when does an allegedly free-market magazine lament that no one is “in charge” of markets, recommend that Europe speak with “one voice” on fiscal matters, and call for a committee of geniuses “with the power to make decisions” about managing markets?

5. Finally, on a more whimsical note, a prominent NFL player, Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans, has just been suspended for four games without pay because of steroid use. (This site includes alleged before and after photos.) My question: Why is steroid use in the NFL taken so much less seriously than it is in Major League Baseball. In the latter, your career is ruined and you are a permanent villain; in the former, you’re suspended for a few games and then right back at it. Perhaps since in baseball  individual statistics matter a lot, whereas football is more of a team sport, and in football, unlike baseball, aggressive muscle-bound monsterism is desirable, we mind steroid use less in football than in baseball. But if it’s wrong, shouldn’t it be wrong?

3 thoughts on “Quick Hits

  1. On 1, 2, 5:

    1. Signaling (“we care about education”), political patronage, superficial appeal to voter ignorance, and indirect redistribution. The public library in Memphis is amazing, btw.

    2. There’s an app for that: it’s called “being careful with the data.”

    5. I would also put a lot of weight on the importance of individual statistics. Here are a couple of back-of-the-envelope, plausible just-so stories: MLB is older than the NFL, and its history contains a lot more mythical narratives (Ken Burns hasn’t made a documentary about football yet). The Hall of Fame occupies a prominent place in baseball mythology. Fighting steroids is an effort to maintain baseball’s connection with the past. Since MLB is older, I would guess that the median passionate baseball fan is older than the median passionate football fan and, therefore, more likely to vote since voter turnout is very high among the elderly. Therefore, there might be more political capital to be earned by making noise over steroids in baseball.

  2. On 4 and 5:

    4. I noticed the drfit toward muddled thinking and away from free markets nearly two years ago. The last straw wsas their endorsement of Obama. I cancelled my subscription at that point.

    5. The penalties aren’t too different. Both have degrees of punishment depending on the number of offenses. Cushing got a 4-game suspension (1/4 of a season). I believe baseball calls for 60 games (1/3 of a baseball season).

  3. 5. If Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds had never hit over 61 home runs, then the reaction to steroids would be on par with football.

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