Utbildning och dödlighet

Utbildning är viktig för ett lands ekonomiska utveckling. Inte nog med det: utbildning har förstås också viktiga direkta effekter för enskilda individer. En ny studie, ”Schooling and Youth Mortality: Learning from a Mass Military Exemption”, finner följande:

This paper examines the relationship between education and mortality in a young population of Italian males. In 1981 several cohorts of young men from specific southern towns were unexpectedly exempted from compulsory military service after a major quake hit the region. Comparisons of exempt cohorts from the least damaged towns on the border of the quake region with similar ones from neighbouring non-exempt towns just outside the region show that, by 1991, the cohorts exempted while still in high school display significantly higher graduation rates. The probability of dying over the decade 1991-2001 was also significantly lower. Several robustness checks confirm that the findings do not reflect omitted quake-related confounding factors, such as the ensuing compensatory interventions. Moreover, cohorts exempted soon after high school age do not display higher schooling or lower mortality rates, thus excluding that the main findings reflect direct effects of military service on subsequent mortality rather than a causal effect of schooling. The authors conclude that increasing the proportion of high school graduates by 1 percentage point leads to 0.1-0.2 percentage points lower mortality rates between the ages of 25 and 35.

Jag upplever det som att de elever som inte går ut skolan med godkända betyg uppmärksammas allt mer i den politiska debatten, vilket mot bakgrund av ovanstående resultat kan sägas vara bra. Frågan är om det finns effektiva politiska lösningar. Kanske kan regeringens mer distinkt yrkesinriktade program i gymnasiet vara en del av lösning?

Låt mig slutligen tillägga, apropå militärtjänst och utbildning, att Sveriges faktiska avskaffande av värnplikten kan förväntas ha positiva samhällsekonomiska konsekvenser, inte minst pga. en koppling till (i det här fallet högre) utbildning. Genom att ta ifrån unga män ett år eller mer som hade kunnat användas till att förbättra deras humankapital försämras ekonomins produktiva potential.

Ateistiska kosmologer

Professorn i teoretisk fysik Sean Carroll i ”Why (Almost All) Cosmologists Are Atheists”, publicerad i Faith and Philosophy:

Within this framework, there are two possible roads to reconciliation between science and religion. One is to claim that science and religion are not incompatible because they speak to completely distinct sets of questions, and hence never come into conflict. The other is to assert that thinking scientifically does not lead to rejection of theism, but in fact that religious belief can be justified in the same way that any scientific theory might be. I will argue that neither strategy succeeds: science and religion do speak to some of the same questions, and when they do they get different answers. In particular, I wish to argue that religious belief necessarily entails certain statements about how the universe works, that these statements can be judged as scientific hypotheses, and that as such they should be rejected in favor of alternative ways of understanding the universe.

På detta tema, se även professorn i biologi Jerry Coyne.

Konkurrensens ekonomiska betydelse

Är konkurrens företag emellan viktig för ekonomisk tillväxt? Den saken undersöks i ett såväl historiskt som modernt perspektiv i studien ”British Relative Economic Decline Revisited”. Begreppet konkurrens förstås i vid mening och innefattar sådant som rätt att starta företag och gå in på existerande marknader (dvs. frånvaro av vissa typer av regleringar) och att staten avhåller sig från att konservera existerande industristrukturer genom stöd och industripolitik.

Forskaren beskriver några av slutsatserna i sin studie:

The results of the “Thatcher Experiment” in the 1980s make the case and paved the way for reversing relative economic decline. Competition was much strengthened by ongoing trade liberalisation, deregulation, and discontinuing 1970s’ industrial policy. As competition strengthened, there were major changes in industrial relations which were associated with organisational change, together with divestment and restructuring in large firms.

At the sectoral level, stronger competition and greater openness were correlated with improved productivity performance. As the age of information and communication technology came along, Britain was able to embrace the opportunities associated with rapid diffusion of the new technologies, which required big changes in working practices and management hierarchies, better than its continental-European peer group. This would not have happened with 1970s-style industrial relations and a heavily-regulated service sector.

Kan Thatchers inriktning mot reformer som ökade konkurrensen bero på hennes insikter om entreprenörskapets betydelse?

Statens storlek i Sverige och annorstädes

Ett litet diagram från The Economist:

Det mest intressanta tycker jag är trenden: Sverige har minskat statens storlek det senaste decenniet (liksom Tyskland lite grann), medan övriga har haft en motsatt utveckling. Det syns också att det under Alliansen har skett en tydlig nedgång igen, efter några års uppgång dessförinnan. Likaså har statsskuldens andel av BNP minskat kraftigt i Sverige, medan den har ökat i övriga länder. Det spelar nog viss roll vilken regering man har ändå.

Institutionerna avgör

Det är vanligt i samhällsvetenskaperna numera att anse institutioner centrala för hur ett lands ekonomi fungerar. Ekonomipristagaren Douglass North definierar institutioner på följande sätt:

Institutions are the humanly devised constraints that structure human interaction. They are made up of formal constraints (rules, laws, constitutions), informal constraints (norms of behavior, conventions, and self imposed codes of conduct), and their enforcement characteristics. Together they define the incentive structure of societies and specifically economies.

I en ny studie, ”Institutional Comparative Statics”, vidgas perspektivet något:

Our main contribution to this literature is to emphasize that institutional quality or ”strength” influences the way that the political economy equilibrium will respond to shocks and changes in the economic environment. This point is, we believe, important but not widely understood. For instance, though development problems are often blamed on poor institutions, policy advice is independent of the institutional environment. Consider Africa. Nearly every economist regards the poverty of Africa as being closely related to institutional problems. Yet they continue to make policy prescriptions which ignore this, for instance discussing the benefits of allowing African countries to export more freely to OECD countries without considering how the initially poor institutions determine the consequences of export booms. We think history and a great deal of cross-national evidence shows that the consequences of changes in economic opportunities or the environment is conditional on the institutions of a country. This implies that there is no necessity that opening markets to exports from Africa would stimulate economic growth in Africa.

Denna insikt gör nationalekonomens analys mer komplicerad, för det räcker inte att beakta hur en förändring av ekonomisk politik (eller viktiga teknologiska, medicinska eller ekonomiska händelser) i isolering skulle påverka ekonomins utveckling — dessutom måste det övergripande ekonomisk-politisk-juridiska regelverket beaktas, som påverkar hur en given förändring av ekonomisk politik (eller teknologiska, medicinska eller ekonomiska händelser) faller ut. En synnerligen intressant fråga mot denna bakgrund blir: Vilka förändringar i institutioner behöver komma till för att olika förändringar i omgivningen ska falla väl ut? Varför leder t.ex. vissa institutioner till att nya naturresurser försämrar ekonomins utveckling och andra till att nya naturresurser förbättrar ekonomins utveckling? (Tre svenska forskare har gjort bidrag här.) Hur kan den förra typen av institutioner ersättas av den senare — med avseende på nya naturresurser och mer allmänt? Det vet vi fortfarande ganska lite om.

Personer som känner sig moraliska kan bete sig omoraliskt

Kan det vara så att människor har en slags moralisk ”idealpunkt”, och om de inte befinner sig i den kan de känna behov av att röra sig i riktning mot den? Kan det förklara varför ”altruistiska” människor kan bete sig omoraliskt och att ”egoistiska” människor kan bete sig moraliskt? Ja, så kan det vara, enligt studien ”Sinning Saints and Saintly Sinners: The Paradox of Moral Self-Regulation”, publicerad i Psychological Science:

We propose that moral self-worth is one of the gauges that indicate when moral action is needed. Past work has shown that people’s self-worth is defined to a large extent by how moral they perceive themselves to be (Dunning, 2007). Behaving immorally has a negative influence on perceptions of self-worth, and people engage in moral behavior in order to regain some of that lost worth. This set of compensatory behaviors can be included under a blanket term—moral cleansing, which refers to actions people engage in when their moral self-worth has been threatened. … More recently, it has been shown that people will literally and figuratively cleanse themselves in response to violations of certain moral rules. For example, participants might express an increased desire to donate their organs or to volunteer for an ideological cause after contemplating paying the poor to harvest their organs (Tetlock, Kristel, Elson, Green, & Lerner, 2000), or they might literally disinfect themselves with an antiseptic hand wipe after duplicating an unethical story by hand (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006). Taken together, these results suggest that people monitor their feelings of moral self-worth and use cleansing behaviors to maintain those feelings. If moral cleansing is used as a means to compensate when moral self-worth is below some standard, then compensation might also occur, in the form of amoral or immoral behavior, when moral self-worth is above an ideal level. That is, if people feel ”too moral,” they might not have sufficient incentive to engage in moral action because prosocial behavior is inherently costly to the individual. For example, people might not feel the need to donate blood or volunteer if they have already established their reputation as a moral person. This type of response can be thought of as moral licensing. People may be licensed to refrain from good behavior when they have accrued a surplus of moral currency.

Forskarna finner också experimentellt stöd för sin tes. Intressant, detta, att det kan utgöra en impuls att bete sig omoraliskt, om man känner sig mycket moralisk. Detta gör kanske att man inte kan lita på att de som verkar moraliska kommer att fortsätta vara det. En sak jag undrar är dock vad som händer med personer som upplever sig vara i moralisk ”jämvikt” — fortsätter de bara att bete sig som de redan gör? Vad är det då som kan rubba jämvikten?