Five Best Friday Columns
Noam Scheiber on the truth about the fiscal cliff, Paul Krugman on the end of growth, Robert Samuelson on elite high schools, Walter Russell Mead on Syria, and Bruce Crumley on France's colonial legacy.
Noam Scheiber in The New Republic on the fiscal cliff Some commentators have made out the fiscal cliff negotiations to be weightier than they truly are, Noam Scheiber argues. While inaction would have direct economic consequences, this debate isn't a referendum on the future of government programs like Medicare or Social Security. "By all means Mr. President, please bargain hard for as much revenue as you can get," Scheiber writes. "The Bush tax cuts were terrible policy that saddled us with trillions in debt for little discernible economic payoff, and they exacerbated income inequality to boot. But should Obama fall short of the revenue liberals would like to see him procure, let's not presume the entire welfare state hangs in the balance."
Paul Krugman in The New York Times on growth Paul Krugman also wants to look at America's long-term economic health, rather than Washington's short-term bickering. Projections by the CBO and other agencies show economic growth increasingly steadily and economic inequality tapering off. "Yet this conventional wisdom is very likely to be wrong on one or both dimensions," writes Krugman. "Machines may soon be ready to perform many tasks that currently require large amounts of human labor. This will mean rapid productivity growth and, therefore, high overall economic growth. But—and this is the crucial question—who will benefit from that growth? Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to make the case that most Americans will be left behind."
Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post on elite high schools Most public high schools focus on baseline graduation rates, Robert Samuelson finds—but should more be focussed on academic excellence? "There are roughly 23,000 high schools in America with about 15 million students. Of these, 165 schools with 136,000 students met the Finn-Hockett criteria for being 'selective,'" he writes. That sounds low. Shouldn't there be more of these elite high schools? Perhaps, argues a book Samuelson read on the subject, but the authors "couldn’t find or assemble data on how well these students do and whether they might have done as well in regular high schools. Though strong, the case for more select high schools is not a slam-dunk."
Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest on Syria Over the last week, Bashar al-Assad has ramped up violence against the Syrian people, and Walter Russell Mead doesn't want us to avert our eyes from the worsening situation in that country. "In Syria today the effect of our intervention in Libya, our fine sounding words about our noble humanitarian goals, and our subsequent dithering and slow diplomatic slog has been to exacerbate a situation that we hoped to relieve," writes Mead. "American policy has once again helped push a situation in a direction that we would have preferred to avoid."
Bruce Crumley in Time on France's colonial legacy French President François Hollande recently took a trip to Algeria to apologize for France's brutal colonial legacy in the country. Though Hollande received praise for acknowledging this history, Bruce Crumley wishes he would apply such awareness to things going on inside France right now. "First among those is the historical background in which the continuing discrimination and ghettoization of millions of French Arabs are rooted—much like the increasingly open expression of Islamophobia within French society," Crumley writes. "Second is his failure to acknowledge the deeply corrupt, brutal and military-supported Algerian power structure that has dominated the country since independence—one that Paris has preferred to placate and patronize, even as it presses for democracy elsewhere."