Friday Roundup: Economists v. Innovators, Charter Schools, Open Collective Bargaining, Pension Funding

There are always a few items we’ve read during the week that deserve more attention but don’t make it into our regular posts. So we bundle them for the Friday roundup.

Here’s this week’s bundle:

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (editorial): Give charter schools chance to succeed

At this point, only the Supreme Court justices have an inkling of how they will rule. Yet, the arguments made in favor of allowing charter schools seemed sound…

The charter school experiment in Washington state — and in Walla Walla — must continue so more students have a chance to find approaches to education that work for them, and the public has an opportunity to properly measure their success.

Real Clear Policy: The Policymaker’s Dilemma: Believe Economists or Innovators?

Thus the challenge that policymakers face when making plans that depend on assumptions about productivity is that those assumptions are themselves always based on technology forecasts. And when it comes to forecasting technology, the track record from most pundits, politicians, and (especially) economists is pretty dismal. 

But while the quasi-profession of forecasting may be a dubious science, it is a serious business nonetheless. The key to forecasting — which so many economists miss — is that, as Nobel Prize winning physicist Dennis Gabor put it in 1963, “the future cannot be predicted, but can be invented.”..

We are on the cusp of technology-driven productivity gains in both health care and manufacturing that are unprecedented. The central lesson for policymakers? Don’t count on economists to see the future. Instead, focus on policies that ensure innovators are free to create it. 

Seattle Times: Skilled-labor shortage makes home repairs a headache

An unprecedented skilled-labor shortage exists from a combination of the Great Recession’s record levels of unemployment, industry veterans leaving the workforce and the fact that many high-school graduates are not interested in blue-collar jobs.

In its 2016-2017 U.S. talent-shortage survey, the global staffing firm Manpower Group reported that skilled-trade vacancies are the hardest jobs to fill in the country. Skilled trades (electricians, carpenters, welders, bricklayers, plasterers, plumbers, masons and more) have maintained the No. 1 position in vacancies from 2010 to the present. During and after the housing downturn of 2007 to 2009, the construction industry alone lost 1.5 million workers, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Route Fifty: States Turn to New Tools to Sustain Pension System Funding

Eager to strengthen the long-term financial health of their public-sector pension systems, officials in several states have embraced a nonpartisan, data-driven approach to more precisely assess their ability to fulfill the benefit promises made to public employees.

Called stress test reporting, this new practice can show policymakers how adverse economic scenarios could affect retirement system investments and state budgets. Because earnings on investments typically make up the largest share of pension fund revenue, lower returns or losses need to be offset by higher contributions from the state government and workers. The stress testing model created by The Pew Charitable Trusts also allows states to account for the condition of their economy and tax collections, offering a broad look at the impact of pensions on their overall fiscal health.   

Association of Washington Business: AWB endorses I-1608

Citing a need for greater transparency in state government, the Association of Washington Business board of directors has voted to endorse Initiative 1608, which seeks to make collective bargaining negotiations between government and employee organizations open to the public.

“Open government is one of the cornerstones of our democracy and something that Washington citizens hold dear,” said AWB President Kris Johnson. “Our members believe the public has a right to know what’s taking place with collective bargaining negotiations, just as they do in other states and as we once did here in Washington.”