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Archive for February 7th, 2010

I was vaguely aware the there was a school choice system in the Netherlands, but I had no idea how good it was. Nearly three-fourths of all schools are privately controlled. Not surprisingly, the Dutch score very highly compared to other nations. Here’s some of the data from a recent study:

One of the key features of the Dutch education system is freedom of education—freedom to establish schools and organize teaching. Almost 70 percent of schools in the Netherlands are administered by private school boards… it is shown that the Dutch system promotes academic performance. The instrumental variables results show that private school attendance is associated with higher test scores. …a significant part of the high achievement of Dutch students in international achievement tests is due to the institutional features associated with school choice. …Money follows students and each school receives for each student enrolled a sum equivalent to the per capita cost of public schooling. …achievement levels are high, while relative costs are low. …Private school size effects in math, reading and science achievement are 0.17, 0.28 and 0.18, all significant. Given PISA’s scaling, this is close to 0.2 of a standard deviation in the case of math and science, and almost 0.3 of a standard deviation in reading. In other words, these are large effect size effects, indicating that school choice contributes to achievement in Netherlands.

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One of the key principles of economics is specialization of labor. Simply stated, people should specialize is doing what they do best.

But either because I’m cheap or because I have this delusional sense of pioneer spirit, I’m digging out from the blizzard.

So the bad news is that I’m not applying the lessons of economics. The good news is that I’ve reached the halfway point.

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The internal revenue code is a monstrous nightmare of special-interest loopholes and class-warfare penalties, but at least is generates some interesting stories. Here’s a report from Bloomgberg about a court deciding that the costs of switching from a man to a woman are tax deductible. Since I’m not a leftist, I’m not going to make the absurd argument that taxpayers are subsidizing sex-change operations. After all, the case revolved around how much of his/her own money the taxpayer got to keep. But I am an economist, so I’m going to say that tax loopholes tilt the playing field and encourage all sorts of inefficient outcomes. Indeed, this tax court ruling should be seen as a symbol of why tax preferences for health care should be eliminated as part of the shift to a simple, fair, and neutral flat tax:

Costs incurred in sex-change operations and procedures are tax-deductible, the U.S. Tax Court ruled. The Washington-based court decided yesterday that hormone therapies and sex reassignment surgeries are necessary to treat gender identity disorder, a disease, in the case of a Boston- area man who became a woman named Rhiannon O’Donnabhain. “The Court is persuaded that petitioner’s sex reassignment surgery was medically necessary,” Judge Joseph Gale wrote in a 69-page decision for the majority. The decision is the first to rule that sex-change operations qualify as medical care and overturns a 2005 Internal Revenue Service policy denying medical expense deductions in such operations on the grounds they are ‘cosmetic.’’ The case involves a $5,679 tax bill assessed by the IRS, which denied medical deductions claimed by O’Donnabhain after she underwent sex reassignment-surgery in 2000. O’Donnabhain, a civil engineer who joined the U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam War, was diagnosed with gender identity disorder in 1997. O’Donnabhain sued the IRS after it denied her deduction of $25,000 in out-of-pocket medical costs associated with the surgeries and other care such as hormone treatments and counseling, according to Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which represented her in court.

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