Tag Archives: Emily Washington

What to expect from a lame duck

Two weeks ago, I sat down with CSPAN’s Greta Wodele Brawner to talk about “lame duck” sessions of Congress. Drawing on my research with colleagues Chris Koopman and Emily Washington, we discussed the ways in which roll call voting patterns differ during lame duck sessions compared with ordinary sessions.

A few times I struck a relatively upbeat tone about what might get accomplished in the next two years. Only two weeks old, I worry that some of these comments already seem wildly optimistic. Let me know what you think.

Apply for the Mercatus MA Fellowship

One of the more rewarding aspects of my job is the opportunity it affords me to work alongside dozens of bright, ambitious, Mercatus MA Fellows. The Mercatus MA Fellowship is a competitive, full-time fellowship program for students pursuing a master’s degree in economics at George Mason University. It is ideal for those interested in pursuing a career in public policy rather than academia (for those interested in the academic route, the Ph.D. Fellowship may be for you). The MA Fellowship includes full tuition support, a stipend, and a research assistantship position with Mercatus scholars. It is a total award of up to $80,000 over two years.

Successful MA Fellows—including my co-blogger and MA Fellowship alumna, Emily Washington—have gone on to do great things. Some have secured public policy positions in federal and state government; others work at prominent research institutions. If you are interested, you better hurry. The application deadline for Fall 2013 is March 1, 2013. Apply here.

Requiring Volunteer Work for Unemployment Benefits

Georgia’s historically high unemployment rate coupled with the fact that its unemployment trust fund has recently reached insolvency, has led law makers to reconsider the structure of their state’s unemployment system. One solution posed by John Albers, a Republican Senator in Georgia, is to require unemployed individuals to volunteer for at least 24 hours a week with a nonprofit organization in order to receive their unemployment benefits.

The problem that Albers is seemingly trying to address is the idea that generous unemployment benefits can increase the attractiveness of unemployment. As Eileen Norcross and Emily Washington argue in their paper The Cost and Consequence of Unemployment Benefits on the States:

The perverse incentives of unemployment benefits are well documented. Subsidizing unemployment draws out a job search. Generous benefits that subsidize “temporary idleness” may result in “chronic idleness.” As the state makes chronic idleness more attractive, more and more people will choose that option over productive employment. As people remain unemployed, their decreased spending will slow production throughout the economy, and the system will become less and less sustainable.

I think Albers’s solution is an interesting idea in the strict sense that it is a creative approach to making unemployment benefits less desirable. Essentially, requiring volunteer work increases the costs of collecting unemployment benefits and thus, in theory, creates a greater incentive for individuals to decrease the duration of their unemployment.

I do not, however, think that this legislation will fix Georgia’s unemployment fund. There are two big problems with the solution posed by Albers: (1) there are legal barriers that will likely prevent this legislation from becoming law and (2) the problem isn’t volunteer work, its unemployment.

A better way to address the solvency of Georgia’s unemployment trust fund is the creation of private Unemployment Insurance Savings Accounts (UISA). Instead of making compulsory contributions to public trust funds, UISAs require employees and employers to contribute to individual savings accounts that the employees can access during unemployment. If an individual is never unemployed, the money accrued in their UISA rolls over into their retirement account. As Norcross and Washington make clear, the virtue of UISAs is that they turn unemployment insurance into savings.

It is important to point out that the idea of UISA is somewhat controversial because it requires individuals to save. In other words, it moves the system from forced unemployment contributions to forced savings. Although both systems are coercive, UISAs would certainly be a step in the right direction for Georgia and will likely be a better solution than forcing people to volunteer (which, after all, is oxymoronic).

Welcome, Emily. Congratulations, Tate

You may have noticed a familiar name in the Neighborhood Effects cue. When she was working on her MA in economics here at Mercatus, Emily Washington used to contribute to this blog. We are pleased that after a stint in commercial real estate, Emily is now back at Mercatus. As the new Associate Director of State Outreach, she will help connect state policy makers with Mercatus scholars and their research. Luckily, she has also agreed to resume writing on this blog.

And speaking of transitions, another great writer and Mercatus alum, Tate Watkins, is now blogging over at Reason.com. His post on the Internet Tax is my favorite (but read them all).

“Ripping the Band-Aid Off Budget Gaps”

Neighborhood Effects blogger Emily Washington writes in today’s Daily Caller about the need to fundamentally address systemic state budget gaps:

Many states have reduced spending with government employee furloughs and widely publicized layoffs in the last year. This is only a short-term strategy, and it comes at a high cost to taxpayers who face sharply reduced public services. By minimizing redundancy and waste within state bureaucracies, legislators can find ways to ease their budget shortfalls without cutting valuable services.

This problem is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue—regardless of party politics, state leaders want to give their constituents more than they pay for. Unfortunately, national headlines reveal: the tipping point is here.

Since the 1990s, states have been expanding their service provisions while attempting to avoid tax increases. As with any other bank account, outflow cannot continually exceed inflow in state coffers. Bills from past spending are coming due, and taxpayers will pay for these mistakes.

Read it here. If you comment on the article on the Caller site, please feel free to cross-post your comments here!

A Strange Tale of Education Budgets

Maine’s legislature recently engaged in a strange exercise. A representative introduced a bill to eliminate local referenda on educational budgets. The bill read in part:

A regional school unit’s budget must be approved at a regional school unit budget meeting and by a budget validation referendum as provided in section 1486.

The very next day, the bill’s sponsor disavowed the measure, after he was inundated by constituent mail opposing the proposal. After hearing Representative Howard McFadden’s mea culpa, the education committee unanimously voted the bill down, allowing localities to retain control of local education spending.

The issue was far from dead, however. The education committee was also considering a separate bill which contained a referendum-killing provision, ostensibly to enable easier school-consolidation measures.

Ultimately, a “tidal wave” of constituent input convinced the education committee to unanimously abandon the measure. For now Mainers retain the right to control local education spending, and judging by the hue-and-cry voters raised, by a significantly popular margin.

School consolidation in Maine is problematic. The state is divided into two radically different polities. Southern/Coastal Maine is relatively affluent and densely populated, while Northern and Central Maine are sparsely populated and less affluent.

Consolidation makes sense in many respects, but the economics are questionable. Some towns, like Fayette, have no higher education facilities, but have a voucher-style tuition system to send students to any of the surrounding high-schools, including a local private high school.

This kind of school choice introduces a modicum of competition into local systems, and allows families to choose the school that is best suited to their particular needs.

Instead of removing local control via consolidation measures, Maine’s education committee should consider measures introducing more personal and local choice.

Previously on Neighborhood Effects, Emily Washington wrote about education competition and Eileen Norcross detailed the struggles of D.C.’s controversial voucher system. Eileen also recently co-authored an issue of Mercatus On Policy on educational competition.

(H/T Maine Heritage Policy Center.)

Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom at Mercatus Today

For anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, 2009 Economics Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, the co-director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, will be speaking today at a Mercatus Center panel discussion entitled “Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development: The Bloomington School.”

Registration for the event is now closed, but it will be livestreamed on the web at 4 PM.

In October, Emily Washington wrote about what Dr. Ostrom’s Nobel means for those interested in state and local government and governance and resource management:

Ostrom is most notable for her work related to collective action and common pool resources. In contradiction to the Tragedy of the Commons hypothesis developed by Garrett Hardin, she notes that informal social institutions can arise to maintain pooled resources successfully over time. Ostrom has focused on examples of people creating systems for sustainable natural resource management with the ecosystems that they depend on such as forests and fisheries.


While the idea of a top down authority to manage neighborhood affairs may sound more methodical and efficient than allowing spontaneous order and properly aligned incentives to direct common resource management, Ostrom’s work suggests that Robert Nelson’s policy prescription of Residential Improvement Districts may go much further toward optimal neighborhood governance than top-down city planning authorities.

Paul Dragos Aligica wrote about the prize here, and Peter Boettke wrote about it here.

Anyone with questions about the event can call Megan Mahan at 703-993-4930 or email her at mmahan@gmu.edu.

Finding another way to weather unemployment

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its latest unemployment figures. The Atlantic Online notes, it isn’t pretty. The national unemployment rate remains at 10 percent. However, for many states, December brought deeper unemployment. Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy shows how “unstimulated” our economy remains with a mass exodus of 600,000 workers from the economy since December.

It may seem like obvious policy for the federal government to extend unemployment benefits for a record fifth-time. It’s something they’re considering. But, as Emily Washington and I discuss in our recent Mercatus On Policy, expanding the current Unemployment Insurance (UI) program isn’t the best medicine for the economy or for the unemployed. UI has become an poor safety net. At worst the program actually helps to extend unemployment.

Now may be the time to start discussing another approach to helping workers weather recessions: Unemployment Insurance Savings Accounts. Chile did it in 2003. Rather than dedicating employer payroll taxes to a state-administered fund, states should let workers set up individual savings accounts. With contributions from both the employer and the employee, UISA’s are available to individuals when unemployment occurs, or can be converted into savings upon retirement.

Assorted Links

Rick Harrison on zoning to support home-based businesses.

Emily Washington and Frederic Sautet on tax and expenditure limits.

Is Houston ready to move to regulated land use?

An amateur Washington historian is guarding his hometown’s Wikipedia entry.

Brian Doherty on keeping rent control in New York City.

Jacob Grier on Portland, Oregon’s new streetcar system. (Update: More here.)