Askblog taking the most charitable view of those who disagree

Arnold Kling, 64, an American economist and Israeli folk dancer since his student days at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has another theory. Kling, of Silver Spring, Maryland, contends that the nature of engagement in general has changed in 50 years, becoming both narrower and deeper. Increasingly complex new dances discourage beginners from trying Israeli folk dancing. Veteran dancers come for the “oldies,” those choreographed before 1990. That leaves a large generation gap of people who can’t relate to either end of the Israeli dance spectrum — thus the decline.

I’ve attended some of the sessions pictured in the article, but I have managed to avoid being in the pictures. The second picture shows a session I attend regularly, but I think it was taken when I was out for a couple of months with a foot injury.

The picture was taken early in the evening, when there are a lot of new beginners and perpetual beginners. There are three women dancing facing the camera, one with silver hair and two with arms high over their heads. I am confident that they know what they are doing. The rest of the dancers are. . .trying their best.

This reminds me of my line to my high school students that “Do It Yourself is market failure.” I had an economist friend who built a deck for his house to “save money.” I pointed out that if he could get paid his economist’s wage rate while working more hours and then paid someone to build the deck, then that would have saved a lot more money. His inability to get paid for marginally more hours worked as an economist was the market failure.

Transaction costs and agency costs related to land are fundamentally important. In theory, the best way for me to own land is to include a well-diversified mutual fund that invests in real estate as part of my portfolio. In practice, transaction costs make me want to stay in a particular dwelling much longer than might otherwise be optimal, and agency costs make it more likely that a property will be well cared for by an owner than by a renter. Overcome those sources of market failure and you make it feasible to own a diversified real estate portfolio instead of being stuck with one home.

When it comes to the role that teachers’ unions play in the problems of public education, Mr. Duncan doesn’t pull his punches. Upon taking charge of the public schools in Chicago in 2001, he discovered (with the help of the Chicago-based economist Steven Levitt ) that at least 5% of the city’s teachers were helping their students cheat on standardized tests. He was appalled but felt stymied: “If I’d asked Mayor [Richard] Daley to fire 5 percent of all Chicago teachers, then there would have been hell to pay.” The episode is emblematic beyond its particular circumstances: In what other profession is it acceptable to retain people who you know are falsifying results?

I live in an area where the collective “bargaining” table has the teachers’ union on both sides. The union controls the election of the officials with whom it “bargains.” The consequences are an enormous cost to taxpayers relative to the number of actual classroom teachers. The big winners are retired school personnel, non-classroom staff, and teachers who would otherwise be recognize as not fit for the classroom and fired, rather than given administrative jobs.