Benjamin Franklin is a hero of mine. In addition to being a brilliant scientist, he was also an important writer, businessman, inventor, and politician. One of the aspects that I most admire about him is that he always looked for ways to improve the world around him. He was instrumental in gatherings friends to start the first lending library in America, the first volunteer firefighting club in Philadelphia, and a school that later became the University of Pennsylvania. In that spirit, I propose that:
- University transcripts should include the median grade given in each class.
- The US should elect the President using a national popular vote instead of via electoral delegates. This change could be implemented if states representing a majority of the electoral votes were to pass the National Popular Vote Bill.
- More should be done to encourage talented secondary school students to learn more math and science (both in school and through programs such as MATHCOUNTS).
- We should all spend more time reading authors with whom we disagree.
- Democratic governance should be pursued as an end in itself (Freedom House).
- More should be done to measure the outcomes associated with educational and development interventions (the Poverty Action Lab at MIT has done some great work in this area using randomized trials).
- Deworming in developing countries is a particularly cost-effective way to improve children's education outcomes.
- Gerrymandering should be discouraged by appointing neutral arbiters to determine congressional districts.
- Training grants from the NIH should be changed to allow the support of foreign graduate students.
- The legal drinking age in the US should be 18. At the very least, states should be allowed to decide policy without interference from the federal government. In particular, the National Minimum Drinking Age act of 1984, which withholds highway funds from states that allow the purchase of alcohol before 21, should be repealed. Also see the group Choose Responsibility.
- There should be a range of blood alcohol content in which a driver gets a modest punishment (equivalent to a speeding ticket). Right now in most states, driving with a BAC of 0.07% is totally legal but driving with a BAC of 0.08% is very illegal. This seems silly.
Retiring the Penny
I was interviewed for ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings on why the US should eliminate the penny. Since then I seem to have become the nation's expert on this topic, so I have also been interviewed for The Colbert Report, 60 Minutes, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Reuters, and Wisconsin Public Radio. There are dozens of causes that I feel more strongly about, but we can't always choose what we get to talk about on national television.
Why was I chosen? As it turns out, most people don't care about the penny at all, so when the producers of the show did a web search Google gave them my page. In any case, if you want to learn about why retiring the penny from general circulation is a good idea, please visit Citizers for Retiring the Penny.
The issue that I would have liked to be interviewed on is the suffering in poor countries around the world, much of which is caused by dictatorial governments that restrict civil, political, and economic freedoms. I considered going into development economics after college (even going so far as to buy the GRE practice book for economics). I decided to go into physics because I figured that I might be able to do some economics as a physicist, but I wouldn't be able to do any physics as an economist.
My favorite organization in the field of democracy promotion is Freedom House. They put out an annual rating of civil and political freedoms in every country. They also support local nonprofit groups helping aid the transition to democratic governments. The Heritage Foundation is not generally my favorite think tank, but they do sponsor an annual rating of economic freedoms in different countries. There are also several websites by individuals that have a wealth of information on why democracy is so much preferable to the alternative. R.J. Rummel has a nice website detailing the huge number of people killed by their own governments. Arthur Edelstein has a website with photos of the world's dictators (rulers of a land defined "Not Free" by Freedom House).
I am also interested in education, both at the university and secondary school level. America has the best universities in the world, partly because of large spending on research, but also partly because of robust competition. Many of the most prestigious universities in the US are private, but there are also many excellent public universities. The public universities might not be as good as they are were it not for competition with private universities. I believe that this lesson can be extended to schooling at the secondary school level. Public schools often fail our young because they are not exposed to any competition; as a monopoly provider of free education the poor have no other choice.
Brookings is a left-of-center think tank based in Washington D.C. They often publish interesting studies concerning both domestic and international political/economic issues. Brookings has an excellent reputation for intellectual honesty (which is often lacking in politics).
AEI is also a D.C. based think tank, although it looks at issues from a conservative standpoint.
ACTA is trying to highlight a variety of issues associated with higher education such as grade inflation, intellectual diversity, and core curricula.
Part of the United Nations, concerned with increasing the health and well-being of the world's poorest children.
A pro-democracy organization based in Washington DC. They rate countries world-wide based on their citizens' political and social freedoms. One of the best web sites to check out.
The IRC provides services to refugees around the world.
Lobbies against human right's abuses around the globe.
HRW has an extensive network across the globe that works very hard to document human rights abuses.
Founded by the nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman, this foundation helps support school choice initiatives around the country.
Science lobby group and publishers of the journal Science.
In addition to being an honorific society, NAS also gives science policy advice to the government. The NAS studies are one of the most trusted sources on cont.
Kristof has been a columnist for the NY Times for two years now, and he consistently impresses me with his thoughtful and original foreign policy essays. He is my favorite columnist, so I encourage everyone to check out a few of his essays.
Samuelson, who writes for both The Washington Post and Newsweek, analyzes a wide range of issues from an economic standoint.
A wonderful way to get started in the morning.
My favorite news magazine; the articles are both insightful and witty.