Five Best Friday Columns

Michael Medved on Republicans and college grads, Jonathan Tepperman on intervening in Syria, Matthew Yglesias on housing shortages, Condoleezza Rice on Russia's middle class, and Virginia Postrel on over-the-counter birth control.

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Michael Medved in The Wall Street Journal on Republicans and college grads The proportion of voters who have college or advanced degrees continues to rise and might represent a majority by 2016. "This growth trend extends to every ethnic group in the country and represents inarguable good news for the American economy. But it's bad news for clumsy and misguided Republicans who seem determined to hand Democrats the advantage when it comes to appealing to the increasingly educated electorate," writes Medved. He cites demographic data to show that college grads, not white working class voters, could decide this year's election and that they've increasingly started voting for Democrats. Rick Santorum's "snob" comment, among other moments, threatens to drive them further. All this despite the four GOP candidates being some of the most credentialed the Party has seen. "Applauding such aspirations instead of belittling them will enable conservatives to honor the best American traditions of upward mobility."

Jonathan Tepperman in The New York Times on intervention in Syria Rather than call for full-scale intervention, most who want to aid the Syrian rebels in their fight against Bashar al-Assad have suggested half-measures like arming the rebels or setting up safe havens over the border. "Partial measures may seem attractive, but they risk turning a small local conflict into a far messier regional war. Strange as it sounds, doing something small may be worse than doing nothing — meaning the West should go in big or stay home," writes Tepperman. He describes problems with arming the rebels, including their diverse makeup that could lead to a multi-sided civil war. The safe havens could be overrun by enemies or become bases that further fuel a civil war. Instead, Tepperman makes the case that real intervention would make short work of Assad's army and wouldn't alter our relations with Iran. "[L]et's not pretend that half-measures are preferable. Choosing policies just because they are cheap, gratifying and politically palatable is rarely a good idea, especially when they could well make matters worse."

Matthew Yglesias in Bloomberg View on housing shortages North Dakota's oil boom has given it an unemployment rate far below the national average, and while there are many reasons the jobless don't move there, a more odd one is that the rent is, well, too damn high. "While North Dakota’s critical housing shortage has fascinated the national news media, the long-running story of the housing shortage on the coasts has largely gone neglected." Yglesias notes that people cross the Mexican border for opportunity, but they rarely move to the areas with the highest median incomes, because those areas tend to also have high rent prices. North Dakota's shortage comes because the oil boom arrived so suddenly, but the coastal shortages are long standing, and largely the result of zoning and regulation. "The bursting of the housing bubble presents us with a good opportunity to re-examine the proposition that expensive houses are a good thing... In an economy where tradeable production can take place overseas, or increasingly be done by machines, access to the high-wage, high-productivity labor markets of America’s richest cities is more important than ever."

Condoleezza Rice in The Washington Post on the end of Putinism Though Vladimir Putin overcame increasing unrest to win the presidency, the end of Putinism may still be near. "The future turns on the behavior of a rising Russian middle class that is integrated into the world and alienated by the Kremlin’s corrupt politics," Rice says. When she first visited the Soviet Union, she says the brutality of Stalin remained high in the minds of the middle class. And while Putin has ruled with an authoritarian grip, he hasn't cast the same fear. Meanwhile the middle class has traveled and studied abroad, and grows dissatisfied with Russia's status quo. Rice describes some of the groups that might organize politically to challenge Putin, and some of the directions they might take Russia's economy. Meanwhile, she urges, "We have a stake in their success and an obligation to help them achieve it."

Virginia Postrel in Bloomberg View on moving contraception over the counter To receive birth control, a woman must visit her doctor yearly and receive a prescription. Meanwhile condoms are offered over-the-counter. "Contrary to widespread belief, there’s no good reason that oral contraceptives -- a far more effective form of birth control -- can’t be equally convenient." Postrel cites several studies that show the public is highly educated about risks and uses of birth control, and notes that it works well in communities where women can cross the border to Mexico to buy it over the coutner there. She argues that doctors don't want to move it over the counter because they want to "extort" patients to visit them. But if the goal is to improve women's health, making access to the pill more convenient can only help, she says. "The real question now isn’t whether allowing over-the- counter sales would benefit women and prevent unwanted pregnancies -- the evidence is overwhelming that it would -- but whether any pharmaceutical maker wants to change the status quo."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.