Tuesday, June 21, 2005

It's the attitude, stupid!

The welfare-state has become unaffordable. Taxes are too high. etc. One way of solving the problem, at least on a theoretical level is more immigration. Unfortunately many young immigrants (Turks and Moroccans) are unemployed.

This has many reasons, some point to poor schooling or bad language skills (in short human capital). Other say that discrimination and racism is rampant. Depending on the explanation of the unemployement different suggestions are being made. Some say we need quota, mostly those on the left side (we already know that quota's and affirmative action programs do not work very well. see research of Sowell). The VLD liberal Bart Somers has recently discussed another issue: mentality of the immigrants. See also here.
I think this is a big explanatory factor. A politically incorrect factor but a very significant one.

Human capital explanation thus should be comprised of cognitive factors (IQ, education) but also of socalled non-cognitive factors such as motivation and persistence. These latter factors, mentiality and attitude are a lot less tangible and left out of the picture by many economists (other social scientists leave them out for political correctness). Nobel price winner Heckman is doing some important work on these issues. (see here for an interview, and here for a short wrapup).

What does Heckman suggest? Well he says that non-cognitive factors can be influenced at later age (after 8) while purely cognitive factors are more difficult to change.

"Because non-cognitive skills are more easily improved during adolescence than are cognitive skills and they often stabilize in the formative years, public policy can help stimulate their development over longer periods. For instance, while IQ is well set by age 8, non-cognitive skills such as dependability continue to develop."
With regard to immigration, I only know of George Borjas who has talked briefly about these issues in relation to his concept of ethnic capital. But it has not exactly been empirically verified so far.

Time to buy this book.


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