Thursday, October 27, 2016

Election Nov 8th!

Are you ready to vote!?!! You can early vote until November 3rd or on November 8th. Since as the old saying goes, all politics is local, we aren’t going to spend much time on races for federal office. You have enough info on the presidential race and if you need some more info on senate or house here is our old post . Here’s the quick shoutout because the top billing is hopefully going to be pretty historic: Clinton/Kaine; Van Hollen; Raskin. Now for the meat:

School Board
You get to vote in three races. Full disclosure, we have a big focus on a particular issue: Supporting equity of access for diverse populations through maintaining the sibling preference link for students applying for language immersion schools. Based on interest in this issue Marie has participated in several events (candidate forum, community feedback session, Board of Education meeting) and Seth has watched the kids! So here is what we learned and who we recommend voting for:

Race #1: At Large race: We endorse Jeanette Dixon (running against Phil Kauffman). Kauffman got the WaPo endorsement, basically for being savvy about the budget, but in the candidate forum, Dixon had the clever idea of hiring a budget analyst for the Board of Education (BoE), so we think they're actually pretty equal there. Kauffman has been more measured and less definitive on maintaining the sibling link, though does support grandfathering in current families; Dixon is very vocally supportive of the sibling link, which we think will best support families. At the candidate forum, Marie found Dixon to be very knowledgeable and impressive. As a former principal and teacher, we trust Dixon’s experience.

Race #2: District 2  We endorse Rebecca Smondroski (running against Brandon Rippeon). Our endorsement is based on a comparison of the candidates’ statements and manner at the forum, and Smondroski at the BoE when Marie testified for sibling preference. At the BoE meeting, Smondroski made a motion to put the sibling link back on the table when it was previously no longer a possible policy option, which was a very solid gesture that may have real results. At the forum, Rippeon did not impress Marie as a collaborative person, especially in contrast to Smondroski. Smondroski also has the WaPo endorsement.

Rae #3: District 4 We endorse Shebra Evans (running against Anjali Phukan). At the candidate forum, Evans came off very well and appeared very competent, especially in comparison to her opponent. Phukan did not appear to be ready to be an effective advocate on the Board for anything except her strong position for supporting students in substance abuse rehabilitation. Evans also has the WaPo endorsement.

Question A: Filling vacancies of the comptroller or attorney general. We support voting FOR this measure. In short, if the holder of this office leaves with more two years left in their term then the governor would need to appoint someone of the same political party and voters would be able to vote for a new official in the next election. This seems to make sense as it respects the voters’ preference by maintaining the original official’s political party when the governor temporarily fills the office, and lets voters get the choice of who will replace candidates who leave off with the majority of their term left.

Questions B& C ask about imposing term limits on county council members and county executive. We endorse voting AGAINST both measures. The Washington Post points out that Montgomery County has a good track record of voting poor performing members out of office. Just up the Pike suggest that term limits are being proposed by conservative and anti-development, though they have little chance of moving Montgomery County in that direction. The problems mentioned in the Washington Post article, specifically the lack of experience in PG county where term limits are imposed on their council, seems like the bigger threat than problems with council members serving too long. Also, Ike Leggett has indicated he’s retiring after this term, so this term limit amendment would not affect the current county executive.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Voters Guide Silver Spring 2016 Democratic Primary

Guest Post with Marie Mapes (my wife)

Maryland voters will have their chance to vote in the primary elections April 14th-21st (early voting) and on April 26th (regular voting). There is plenty of information out there about the presidential primary, but we are always left wondering who are all these people running for other races. In downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park we have just three races (US Senate, US House of Representative, and Montgomery County Board of Education). We are registered Democrats so we only look at those races. We don't really make specific recommendations but basically condense what we can find after googling for an hour or so. One take-way we already find: There are a lot of good candidates in each of the elections. All of the front runners appear to be worth voting for, and many of those who have received less attention in the press as well would likely represent us well, too. We see broad commitment to progressive values (e.g. commitments to women's rights, living wages, environmentalism, closing the achievement gap in Montgomery County schools) among the candidates. One distinguishing factor among candidates that is compelling to us is evidence of the ability to collaborate and pragmatically find ways to make progress in polarized political situations. We try to point it out when we see it.

Where to start: 

Use this site to find your sample ballot and your polling place where you can vote.

Good information on all the races:
League of Women Voters Guide

US Senate

Basically this race comes down to Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen. Both are current members of Congress. As the Washington Post puts it "Each has received our endorsement in the past, and each is qualified to serve in the Senate." Both are progressive, excellent candidates, and the major differences may come down to style and methods.

The Post endorses Van Hollen saying "The main difference is that Mr. Van Hollen — pragmatic, detail-oriented, agile — could be a real force for accomplishment. By contrast, Ms. Edwards, whose many attributes do not include a gift for team play, would reinforce Congress’s tendency toward stalemate along partisan lines." However, if you are looking for a Senator who marks out a leadership stance, Van Hollen has shown "a reluctance to stake out strong stands independent of his party. To make a lasting mark in the Senate, he will have to do that at times."

Edwards also makes a compelling candidate, as pointed out by the endorsement by The Nation: "Edwards, the first African-American woman to represent Maryland in Congress, took an activist route to the House... she has worked for decades with civil-rights, media-reform, labor-rights, peace, and social-justice movements. And she has brought this sensibility to her work as a member of the House, reaching out to Black Lives Matter activists and to campaigners for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, championing criminal-justice reform and gun control."

Other links:
Baltimore Sun Voters Guide
Coverage of the Race from Bethesda Magazine and Voters Guide Bethesda Magazine

US House of Representatives:

The Washington Post endorses Kathleen Matthews  "In this formidable lineup, one candidate stands out as having the potential to make an impact in Congress: Kathleen Matthews, a longtime TV journalist and, more recently, corporate executive. Ms. Matthews is a first-time candidate for elective office, but as a local reporter and anchor for WJLA for 25 years, and then as head of public affairs for Marriott International, she has a broad and deep facility with policy and politics." (Profile of Kathleen Matthews from the Washington Post.) Their endorsement stems from a belief that she may "be more pragmatic and less doctrinaire than the left-leaning Mr. Raskin, whose passionate liberalism is unsurpassed in Annapolis."

Also from the Washington Post endorsement of Matthews is the acknowledgment that "Another strong candidate is Sen. Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Senate’s majority whip, who is recognized in Annapolis as an effective legislator."  From the Washington Post profile on Jamie Raskin:
"He prides himself on his statehouse collaborations with Republicans and more-moderate Democrats. Among his legislative efforts, he co-sponsored Maryland’s medical marijuana bill with then-state Sen. David Brinkley (R), like Raskin, a cancer survivor.  Sen. James Brochin of Baltimore County, one of the Maryland Senate’s most right-leaning Democrats, said Raskin’s “gentle and persistent” advocacy got him to change his position on same-sex marriage. “He spent two years working on me,” Brochin said. “He’s got an incredible amount of decency.”

Board of Education Member at Large:

Local blogger Dan Reed at Just up The Pike has by far the best write-up on this race (here)
He sees it as a three way race among "[the incumbent] Phil Kauffman, retired principal Jeanette Dixon, and former teacher and student board member Sebastian Johnson".

From the article: "Kauffman lives in Olney and was a PTA activist before joining the board in 2008....
He ran as a reformer in 2008, calling for greater transparency in budget decisions and changes to the middle school curriculum. At the time, he said the school board was too cozy with the superintendent and needed to be more independent. Two terms later, he defended keeping Starr as superintendent."
(Superintendent Starr resigned last February, partly due to "the board members who lost faith in Starr cited concerns with his approach to closing the school system’s achievement gap", so says this Washington Post article)

Also from the Just Up the Pike post : "Dixon...was principal at Paint Branch High School ....before retiring three years ago....Since then, she's been an outspoken critic of the school system and proponent of big ideas....In January 2015, she published an open letter blasting Starr, calling him ineffective and saying he only cared about "protecting the MCPS brand." "
Finally, Just Up the Pike describes why Johnson is a really interesting candidate:  "Johnson argues he can provide a new perspective to a board where members are often shut down for going against the grain. At 27, he's by far the youngest candidate, and describes himself as proof that schools can close the achievement gap. A former teacher and student member of the board, he grew up in a single-parent household in Takoma Park before attending Georgetown, Harvard, and the London School of Economics. He talks about the "intersectionality" of schools and factors outside the classroom, pointing out that students can't learn if their families can't afford health care or stable, decent housing. He wants more "wraparound services" like health centers at schools, while increasing minority student access to the county's largely segregated magnet programs. He hopes his existing relationships with county council members can smooth the often adversarial relationship the board has with other county agencies."

Bethesda Magazine adds two more articles (one) and (two)
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Monday, July 20, 2015

Millions for Luck and Nothing for a Star

There is growing call to pay college athletes  including among sports economists after all a star player can add millions of dollars to a schools revenues. For example, Pete Hunsberger and I wrote at 538 that a star quarterback like Andrew Luck may have been worth close to 6 million dollars over his final two years. Yet, this call often misses something important we don't know who will be the next Andrew Luck or Star Jackson. Payment to players would likely be based on what we expect a player to produce, not what they produce, since contracts in sports are usually signed before play commences.

I hadn't heard of Star Jackson, he was ranked behind Luck as the best pro style college QB coming out of highschool in 2008. He played just a few games with Alabama his freshman year and only on the second string before transferring. In short a typical sports economics model, where a players value is calculated by the wins they add to their team multiple by the value of a win, Jackson's value would small.

Pete and I wrote a full paper on comparing expected versus observed value that appears in this months Journal of Sports Economics. Though the best quarterbacks we estimate to be worth millions of dollars, the best high school quarterbacks are shown to be worth several hundred thousands to their future college.  This is because over one in four top high school recruits never plays a full game at quarterback for his team. Even the top recruits that do play are slightly better, but not substantially so (on the order of half a win a season). The value of lower ranked players is likely to be much smaller and likely for other positions too that have a smaller influence on the outcome.

If we are going to estimate what to pay college players, then the starting point would be with figuring out what we can expect from a given high school player.  I am not currently working on sports economics to focus on development economics, but if anyone wants to extend this paper for other positions or sports it could be the basis for a starting point for college recruit salaries.  

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Students Come with me to Cuba!

I'm very excited to see that the US has ended a half century of an embargo and economic sanctions against Cuba! I will be taking students from Towson and any other university who interested on a study abroad program May 26th to June 6th of this year for more information and to apply click here.

Cuba is quite the economic mystery. An old joke about Castro is that his three greatest accomplishments where healthcare, education and sports, but his three biggest failures were breakfast lunch and dinner. Cubans enjoy one of the best health systems out side of OECD countries, their life expectancy is within a year of the US in part because of their well trained medical staff that services the rest of Latin America and has been at the forefront in the fight against ebola. Any baseball fan knows that Cuba is one of the hotbeds of talent with 186 MLB players born there. Yet, Cuba is still home to persistent poverty. In part because Cubans cannot gain remittances from their family abroad. Research in economics has shown in some cases that remittances can help start businesses  in the sending country.  In other cases economic research does not show this effect. I'm guessing Cuba is much more likely to see growth in business from remittances given all of the opportunities that exist through lack of capital.

I look forward to traveling there this summer and hope to learn about the next chapter for Cuba.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Montgomery County District 20 Voter Guide

A public good is a good which is non-rival and non-excludable or in other words my use of it does not take way from your use (rival) and I can't stop anyone from using it (excluding). So with that my wife Marie Mapes created a public good, a voters guide for Montgomery County District 20 in the state house it's non-rival and now that's it is on the internet it's non-excluding. The guide provides links to candidates answers to the League of Women voters and links/recaps of the Post and Gazette endorsement and info from Maryland juice. The endorsements are not necessarily those of Marie, myself, or even our kids (although our oldest daughter would vote for certain district 20 candidate that had an ice cream party)

Where to start: Use this site to find your sample ballot and your polling place which you can vote at June 24th from 7am until 8pm.

Vote June 19th (today) until 8pm at these locations

League of Women Voter's Guides:

Washington Post Governor & Gazette Governor

State Delegate, vote for 3.

From the Washington Post:District 20: Nine candidates want to represent this area that includes parts of Silver Spring and Takoma Park; just one, longtime House Ways and Means Committee chairwoman Sheila E. Hixson, is an incumbent. There is little ideological variation among the contenders, so voters will have to distinguish based on experience and personal qualities, which are generally strong in this bright, diverse field. We pick Ms. Hixson for another term employing her veteran’s clout on behalf of the county; Howard University business school instructor Darian Unger, for his technical smarts and life-saving experience as a volunteer firefighter; and Will Jawando for his energy and his work in the Obama administration building private-sector support for education reform.

Blurb from Gazette:
District 20 has a wealth of remarkably sharp, qualified, progressive candidates, separated largely by nuance. If only we could export some to other districts.

Turnover’s guaranteed, with Heather Mizeur and Tom Hucker leaving. The most vexing question is the third seat, which 38-year delegate Sheila Hixson wants to keep.

Is it self-damaging for Montgomery County to unseat the longtime Ways and Means Committee chairwoman? Connections matter in entrenched Annapolis, but, frankly, longevity’s no substitute for the passion that’s abundant elsewhere in the race.

Former Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board Chairman Darian Unger and legal workhorse Jonathan Shurberg have built reputations of substantive achievement, and offer the best potential for effective state representation.

For the third spot, political strategist David Moon’s idealism and political acumen are appealing, but we lean toward the homegrown commitment of Will Smith, who sounds the right note on just about everything.

Whoever wins would be wise to draw upon competitors’ wisdom and work, including Justin Chappell’s understanding of the struggles of the marginalized and D’Juan Hopewell’s admirable toil on universal breakfast for children.

City Council at Large: Vote for 4 Washington Post & Gazette
WaPo recommends Nancy Floreen, Marc Elrich, George Leventhal, Hans Reimer, the only major challenger to these incumbents is Beth Daly,

From Maryland Juice:
AT-LARGE: Lastly, Montgomery County elects four at-large County Councilmembers, and all four incumbents are seeking re-election: Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal and Hans Riemer. Two challengers have entered the race: Beth Daly & Vivian Malloy. In previous election cycles, one at-large Councilmember typically loses, but it seems too early to size up the state of this race. So far newcomer Beth Daly has earned endorsements from the Sierra Club, public school retirees, Delegate Charles Barkley and Gaithersburg Councilmember Mike Sesma. Marc Elrich also has the support of the Sierra Club, while George Leventhal's supporters include Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams and City Councilmember Seth Grimes. - See more at:

County Council District 5:
Gazette Blurb:

Montgomery County Council District 5

There is a little for everyone in the District 5 candidate pool.

With no incumbent — the seat was Valerie Ervin’s (D) until she resigned to head a nonprofit organization — five candidates ran: school board member Christopher Barclay; Silver Spring activists Evan Glass and Jeffrey Thames; Del. Tom Hucker; and Takoma Park activist Terrill North.

Glass, while green to holding office, is not a newcomer to the community. He has grassroots experience on the transportation, housing and economic needs of the district — a valuable perspective when weighing issues. For this work on the ground floor, he earns The Gazette’s endorsement.

WaPo blurb:

In the open-seat race in District 5, five Democrats are seeking to replace two-term council member Valerie Ervin, who resigned. The best is Evan Glass, a communications consultant and former CNN producer who has been a community activist in Silver Spring. Mr. Glass, who would be the council’s first openly gay member, is pragmatic and deeply committed to the community, where he’s been an effective advocate for affordable housing. He’s the sort of independent-minded candidate who could make an important mark on the council and help rebrand Montgomery as a more welcoming place for employers.

His main rivals are Del. Tom Hucker and Christopher Barclay, a school board member, both of whom are in thrall to the unions and would set the county back on a path toward profligate spending. Mr. Barclay, in particular, is exactly what Montgomery does not need. He pays lip service to the county’s need to attract good employers and jobs but then says he would oppose new development around Purple Line stations, many of which would be ideal magnets for good employers and jobs. In addition, Mr. Barclay has been dogged by a scandal involving his use of a county-issued credit card for personal expenses.

From Maryland Juice:
DISTRICT 5: In the District 5 open seat race, candidates include Delegate Tom Hucker, school board member Chris Barclay, and activists Evan Glass, Terrill North and Jeffrey Thames. Tom Hucker has earned endorsements from NARAL, Sierra Club, public school retirees and labor unions representing firefighters, police, county employees, electricians and more. Meanwhile, Chris Barclay has been endorsed by the teachers, alongside current and former Councilmembers: Valerie Ervin, Craig Rice, Cherri Branson and Nancy Navarro. Evan Glass has the support of Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams and City Councilmember Seth Grimes.Terrill North has endorsements from Takoma Park Councilmembers Jarrett Smith and Fred Schultz, along with former Takoma Park Councilmembers Kay Daniels Cohen, Hank Prensky and Donna Victoria. - See more at:

County Executive:Washington Post & Gazette
WaPO endorses Ike L, but there were good reasons for supporting Gazette endorsed Phil Andrews, which were spelled out well in the endorsement article:

Attorney General: Washington Post
WaPo endorses Brian Frosh, makes good arguments, and definitely good arguements for not Cardin.

Gazette Endorsements: Sheriff, Clerk of Circuit Court, and Judges
Gazette endorses Darren M. Popkin
Gazette endorses Barbara Meiklejohn
Judges of the Circuit Court, Circuit 6:
Gazette endorses the 4 incumbents: Audrey Anne Creighton, Nelson W. Rupp Jr., Joan E. Ryon and Gary E. Bair

Dem Central Committee At Large
Dem Central Committee District 20:

School Board At Large
WaPo and Gazette endorses Jill Ortman Fouse, Gazette has more compelling reasoning

From Maryland Juice:
AT LARGE (OPEN SEAT): The open seat race for at-large school board has drawn four contenders: Edward Amatetti, Shebra Evans, Merry Eisner-Heidorn and Jill Ortman-Fouse. Shebra Evans is the choice of the teachers union, Merry Eisner-Heidorn has the support of the public school retirees, and Jill Ortman-Fouse has the support of Attorney General Doug Gansler, Sen. Jamie Raskin, and County Councilmember George Leventhal. - See more at: Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cash Transfers Mixed Results on Height

Giving money to directly to the poor has become such a widely popular policy tool it is harder to find a country that is not doing it than one that is. One choice that policy makers face is if to put conditions on the money they send. The Economist has an excellent article that compares conditional to unconditional programs. Conditional cash transfers pay money to mothers conditional on their children attending schooling and going in for regular health checkups. Despite conditionality on regular health checkup and growth monitoring there are mixed results of conditional transfer programs to improve children's height and the new study on an unconditional transfer shows no impact on height. I use children's height because it is one of the better indicators of long term human capital development.

I make this claim of mixed results of cash transfer performance on height based on a meta-analysis I co-authored with James Manley and Vanya Slavchevska published in World Development. We find conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs have only small and statistically not significant impacts on height when aggregated across programs.  We find similar results when we look at only Latin American conditional cash transfers. I have also heard reports of a few cash transfer programs collecting height data but not reporting them in their impact evaluations, so the small impacts are likely an overestimate.

The economic development blogosphere has been talking about a recent study (David McKenzie,Chris Blattman, Brent Keller; Amanda Glassman)  of a program called Give Directly where you can as the website suggests make donations directly to Kenyan families. The study find a lot of positive effects: household eat more food, were happier and accumulated assets.
On thing I did notice is that Give Directly had no impact on children's height (see Table 6 in the study link).Amanda Glassman in her post highlights some of success of cash transfer programs, which include reducing stunting (that is helping the most malnourished). She pointed to a study of a conditional cash transfer program in the Philippines that reduced stunting, however like Give Directly it did not seem to increase overall height.

My take it seems cash transfers are doing a decent job in some cases of reducing the worst forms of malnutrition (stunting), the other results are little less clear if there are any impacts. It seems from reading several pieces that we understand cash increases food intake however is not leading to the nutrition gains expected. Like others I think understanding the pathways that cash leads to improved height increases needs more study. What I would like to see is (and perhaps I'm just not finding them) is more nutritionists participating in the discussions and thinking carefully about how to adapt programs so cash actually leads to human development with stronger results.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Coffee and Ennui

Sitting in the new La Madeleine in Silver Spring and have to say I’m a little bit disappointed and feeling ennui on a rainy day. My local Silver Spring advice is to head down Georgia Ave to Zed’s cafĂ©, which is friendlier, has better coffee,  more comfortable chairs, and working wi-fi.  A larger thought on restaurants and coffee shops. They are good example of the third factor in production. The first two factors in any output model in economics are labor and capital. That is how many people work there and how many machines (eg cash register, grills, toaster, coffee makers)  there are.  The goal of a chain restaurant like La Madeleine is to create a model where the same capital can be bought, the same number of staff can be hired and you get the same production. As anyone who visited multiple locations of the same chain can tell you some are better than other [side note, I often pass the Starbucks in the Towson library to go to the Towson Starbucks on York road because of the better service]. These differences exists despite the same amount labor and capital. This third factor in production could include human capital (how educated the workers are), local norms (do people typically work hard) and local governance (management). Just like a bad Starbucks,  La Madeleine or any chain restaurant a country like Nicaragua might produce a lot less than Costa Rica even they have similar population sizes and land endowments.

A second thought. My favorite all time coffee shops include Saint’s Rest Grinnell Iowa,  Indie Coffee Madison Wisconsin and Java House Iowa City. I’m not ready to put Zed’s in that category yet, although the free piece of cake on my last visit didn’t hurt. What I think is that changes have a problem of making the truly special at a large scale. As Matt Yglesia points out today although many economic interventions work on a small scale very few can work on a larger scale (perhaps pills are one of the few) since scaling is so much easier. Starbucks has done a decent job of scaling the small coffee shop feel, and as evident by this Washington Post article its hard on a large restaurant too. 

Anyway food for thought.

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