Energized by the film Suffragette, worthy correspondent JG of Passadumkeag, Maine, wonders what we've been doing to combat gender bias in the language of the Review.
Another penetrating question, JG. I'm going to leave the classic "Manhattan" versus "Personhattan" dispute to others. But I've been turning somersaults over the "his/her" problem – as in "Each student must finish his assignment." "His" is plainly a no-no. "His or her" is terminally awkward, while randomly alternating "his" and "her" is downright confusing.
When possible, I just convert pronouns to plural form so I can write "students must complete their assignments." But now the Washington Post's style czar has liberated us, officially blessing "their" as the all-purpose modifier – as in "each student must complete their assignment." Not to be outdone, The New York Times is upping the ante, experimenting with the made-up "Mx." as a gender-neutral alternative to the titles Ms., Miss, Mrs. and Mr. Get used to it, pedants…
Meanwhile, back to what we do best: check out these deep dives into economic policy.
Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford and Institute senior fellow, weighs the response to the Syrian refugee problem. "Politicians have paraded their consciences along the spectrum from headless compassion to heartless cruelty," he writes, while the private sector remains paralyzed. He argues "there is both a pressing need and an unprecedented opportunity for global business to demonstrate that it can deliver solutions. That missing role of business is not charity; it is business – in a word, jobs. Jobs are central both to the immediate humanitarian duty of rescue, and to the long-term prospects for future stability."
Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard's Kennedy School, examines the misunderstanding about what structural reform of ailing economies can accomplish. While reforms, such as those imposed on Greece by its creditors, are needed to sustain long-term growth, he explains, they'll do nothing – and probably less than nothing – to trigger growth in the near term. Rodrik's remedy: selective incentives to stimulate exports.
Andrew Lo, director of MIT's Laboratory for Financial Engineering and a senior fellow at the Milken Institute, offers a breakthrough statistical approach for balancing the risks in the FDA's much criticized process for new drug approval. "One reason for these criticisms," Lo argues, "is the lack of transparency with which the FDA makes its decisions, and the fact that the drug approval process has several stakeholder groups that do not necessarily share the same values or objectives." Lo's approach: "Bayesian decision analysis, by contrast, offers a systematic, objective, transparent and repeatable process for making regulatory decisions that reflects differences in both the impact of diseases and stakeholder perspectives."
Seth Harris, the former deputy secretary of labor, and Alan Krueger, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, tackle the problem of how to protect workers in the so-called gig economy without retarding innovation or market flexibility. "There is something for all sides to dislike (and like) about our proposal," they acknowledge. "We suspect that both sides will have to lose some important cases before they will be ready to seriously consider a new legal classification for workers who don't fit comfortably in either status. That is, all sides may need to be shocked into the realization that the 20th-century (or 19th-century) legal structure is inappropriate for some newly emerging sectors of the contemporary labor market."
Susan Dynarski, an economist at the University of Michigan, takes a hard look at the student loan mess and rejects the arguments that interest rates are too high and that most borrowers can't pay their debts. "The real problem," she argues, "is the mismatch in the timing of the arrival of the benefits of college and its costs, with payments due when earnings are lowest and most variable. The solution is an income-based-repayment structure, with payments automatically flexing with earnings over a longer horizon than the current 10-year standard."
Larry White, an economist at New York University, steps back from the wreckage of housing finance to ask what we really want from government housing policy and how best to get from here to there. "Housing policy," he reminds, "is still a mishmash of costly incentives that help the affluent more than struggling households. This is understandable: organized groups representing almost everybody who deducts mortgage interest from taxable income are reluctant to rock the boat." But in the words of Pogo, Walt Kelly's long-departed comic strip character, "We have seen the enemy, and he is us.'"
Charles Castaldi, a former NPR reporter in Latin America, reflects on the chaos that has engulfed Venezuela and the prospects for restoring both economic growth and a civil society. "What makes Venezuela's current situation so tragic is that this isn't your run-of-the-mill dictatorship whose citizens are helpless in the face of the avarice and indifference of its elite," Castaldi notes. "But creating a successful market-driven social democracy from the wreckage of socialism's last hurrah will be a daunting task."
Wait, there's more: an excerpt from Between Debt and the Devil, the brilliant new book by Adair Turner, the chair of the UK Financial Authority … a charticle by demographer Bill Frey on the state of the Baby Boomers as they approach their 70s … a note by your editor on where the United States really stands in the pecking order of affluent nations. Enjoy.
— peter passell