Heckman Policy Website

James Heckman’s work on human capital investment has been prolific over the last number of years and has major implications for a wide range of policy areas. His papers are rarely easy reading, drawing from detailed structural econometric models that he has developed over several years with colleagues. A new website outlines his basic ideas in short and accessible videos and documents (h/t Colm Harmon who is one of a number of colleagues in UCD working on this area in Ireland). This is as close as it gets to a clear answer to a major question in Economics and is essential for any policy people who read this blog across fields such as health, education, social policy, criminal justice and a range of other fields. Heckman has emphasised rigorously designed and evaluated early childhood interventions that promote a broad range of skills and personal development.

15 thoughts on “Heckman Policy Website”

  1. Haven’t educationalists, psychologists and psychiatrists made similar points about the importance of early childhood schooling?

  2. This is an excellent site. As Liam mentioned, I have worked closely with James Heckman on a number of initiatives and the site captures the intense and rigorous approach which is a hallmark of his work, but adapted to a broad audience.

    @ The Alchemist

    Indeed. And Jim recognises this and is always at pains to note that he is ‘none of the above’ but learns from close interaction with colleagues in these fields. This site actually represents an economics perspective on the activity of a group known as the Pritzker Consortium which Jim convenes – a cluster of some of the major figures in the early childhood space. Jim critically addresses this literature 100% squarely as an economist and argues for a framework in which human capital policy is seen as one that improves the productivity of the economy – as he notes, early investment is socially equitable and economically efficient which is a rare combination. This insight is far from obvious if we look at policy actions here as well as internationally.

  3. Alchemist: yes indeed though they may have been looking at different outcomes. Heckman’s work builds on the insights of other disciplines particularly neuroscience.

  4. Shades of Brave New World!

    Square pegs into square holes. Socialism writ large. Intriguing though. The massive waste in allowing the illiterate intelligent to become criminals, the sensitive becoming addicted and the psychotic becoming managers. All could be prevented.

    But why bother when we can afford the present alternative? So many wedge issues could be dredged up to sabotage this idea.

  5. Well, well, well. So we are going forward into the past: Dewey, Montessori and A N Whitehead. Whoda thunk!

    What did that journalist (can’t rem name) recommend: shamelessly recycle old ideas.

    Brian P

  6. Interesting stuff.

    In my view the two biggest crisis facing the International economy at the moment are inequality and limited natural resoures.

    The present ‘international’ financial crisis can in part be traced to inequality. Where the average worker cannot afford to consume enough to keep the economy going and therefore are encouraged to take on excess debt (credit cards and equity release schemes are both examples).

    Public Debt is the focus at the moment but argubly the bigger effect on economic on economic growth will be the contraction of personal debt and therefore consumption.

    Wealth redistribution is no longer a left utopia but an economic necessity. The investment in human capital suggested here requires public investment which in turn requires a restructuring of taxation systems to provide the funds.

    You can put your head in the sand and cut to your hearts content but the challanges ahead require ‘big’ brave government.

    Austerity is not a plan – its the lack of a plan.

  7. From page 5
    We currently have a society that makes good parenting increasingly difficult. The cost of living often requires dual careers and incomes. Work hours and commutes are long, wages are stagnant and relatively few have generous parental leave benefits. In addition, we no longer live in intact, intergenerational families where good parental habits are taught
    among family members and parents are supported in the daily tasks of child-rearing by their parents and siblings.
    When asked, a large majority of Americans agree that the interests of children are best served if one parent remains at home with the child. This is a bittersweet affirmation of a family value that is nearly impossible to fulfill for many middle-class families, let alone working-class and working-poor families.
    Parents need help, their children will suffer is they don’t get it and society will pay the price in higher social costs and declining economic fortunes.
    end quote
    From left menu on home page entitled Hard Data Submitted to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsiblity and Reform, dated 20 September 2010

    Why is it that there is no challenge to the necessity to have two incomes to run a household? Why not fund the child and allow the parents to choose either the best services for the child or their own absence from the workforce? Could it not be that the good outcomes for children’s behavioural, social and cognitive development from parental (especially maternal) care rather than family values play a greater part in parental decision making?

  8. @Aine
    “Why is it that there is no challenge to the necessity to have two incomes to run a household?”
    Perhaps because there is a financial advantage to having two incomes. In the age of individualised taxes etc., those with two incomes can, net of childcare, afford more than those on a single income. More housing, more bling, more lifestyle. The result is competitive pressure on those on one income. Theirs becomes a choice of “live less well on less or join the club”.

    So it is not necessarily a necessity, there is an element of choice in it; a choice that is encouraged by tax policy.

  9. @hoganmahew
    My question is prompted by the fact that we tend to overcompartmentalise the discussion and fail to recognise that the choices made in one area of economic policy may have quite significant effects on outcomes (many of which are unintended and possibly counterproductive) across a broad range of policy areas.

    If we are interested in children’s educational and social outcomes, we have to broaden the analysis and be willing to look at the question from a variety of perspectives. We could also benefit from taking the Aer Lingus rather than the Ryanair approach- and check the emotional baggage at the door.

    We have moved from a breadwinner model to a dual-income model of taxation. This has had the result of putting more pressure on single-income households and on households with dependent family members.

    Tax policy should be fair. Individualised tax policy is not fair when it does not account on the one had for the requirements dependent family members have for care and on the other for the provision of unpaid care and related work within families.

  10. Aine Ui Ghiollagain

    Hear, hear! I’ve raised this before, too. Ireland is about to have for two decades at least, the opportunity to have far more time for individuals, albeit at the loss of some money. The modern economy, which is rather old, is actually slavery by money, or rather credit. When the money machine is broken, the invisible hand of Adam Smith becomes the invisible finger! People lose their desire to rub other peoples nose in their excess, if they have any sense. Fashion becomes austere. Credit disappears and folks adopt common strategies to common problems. Governments lurch to the left. Apparently!~

    History is the key to understanding what has been happening and will happen. Trouble is those with the gold rule and pay others to write the history they want.

  11. @hm
    I had a look at that link. There has been a lot of work done by the EU Commission to look at demography and family supports. The IT did a series on babies but missed out on the key support for fertility rates: cash transfers. Our current population structure accounts for some of the rate (ie 50% approx aged 15-45), but despite our ‘baby boom’ we still haven’t managed to reach replacement rate. When this cohort reaches an age where we require care, how will the next generation keep the economy going? Immigration will not fill the gap (EU family policy conference Dublin 2004) and as an immigrant myself I will go where I get a good deal. Developed countries will most likely be competing for immigrants.

    The CSO also brought out research in 2008 http://www.statcentral.ie/viewStat.asp?id=189 showing that a majority of children in Ireland are in parental care; many use other unpaid relatives. Yet the tax treatment of double-income parents using paid childcare is the same as those using unpaid relatives.

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