Nicholas Kristof gives a rare bit of positive press to my home state—for a government program, of all things.

Kristof writes about how Oklahoma—at or near the bottom on so many measures—leads the country in providing universal preschool. Take that, Massachusetts:

Every 4-year-old in Oklahoma gets free access to a year of high-quality prekindergarten. Even younger children from disadvantaged homes often get access to full-day, year-round nursery school, and some families get home visits to coach parents on reading and talking more to their children…

So the idea is that even the poorest child in Oklahoma should have access to the kind of nurturing that is routine in middle-class homes. That way, impoverished children don’t begin elementary school far behind the starting line — and then give up…

The researchers find sharp gains in prereading, prewriting and prearithmetic skills, as well as improvements in social skills. Some experts think that gains in the ability to self-regulate and work with others are even more important than the educational gains — and certainly make for less disruptive classes. Gormley estimates that the benefits of Oklahoma’s program will outweigh the costs by at least a ratio of 3 to 1.

The total cost of the program? About $133 million, or about 0.1 percent of the state’s GDP.

— Shorter New York Times Magazine: Servants make life easier, rich people, so here’s how to justify hiring as many as possible.

Even if you’re faster and more effective than everyone else at a given task — fighting with the cable company, say, or folding your socks just so — you still might be better off if you pay someone else to do it for you. Why? Because there is an opportunity cost for every hour consumed by these tedious, nonproductive tasks; there exists some higher-value activity you could be spending your time on instead…

While it’s now common, especially in cities like New York, for professionals to hire a housekeeper and pay for some degree of child care, outsourcing other activities is quite rare and even stigmatized among noneconomists. Embracing the D.I.Y. ethos is (wrongly) perceived as evidence of thrift or even moral virtue. A personal chef is the sort of luxury people associate with hedge-funders, Europeans with several surnames and oil sheikhs. Still, you need not be an heiress to benefit from paying for a personal assistant or gofer of some kind. From an economist’s perspective, it’s similar to taking out student loans: an investment in your future earning potential. Yet few outside the field see it that way.

Part of the problem is that most people don’t understand the value of their time, particularly if they are salaried. Paying someone to buy your groceries or take the car to the mechanic sounds like money down the drain if you’re not billing hourly. But buying yourself an extra hour to work today can be good for your career tomorrow, if doing so improves your chances of getting a promotion or a raise.

— Martin Wolf of the Financial Times continues to hammer Germany for its central role in depressing the European economy, which weighs on the rest of the world:

So what, in brief, is happening? The answers are: creeping onset of deflation; mass joblessness; thwarted internal rebalancing and over-reliance on external demand. Yet all this is regarded as acceptable, desirable, even moral - indeed, a success. Why? The explanation is myths: the crisis was due to fiscal malfeasance instead of to irresponsible cross-border credit flows; fiscal policy has no role in managing demand; central bank purchases of government bonds are a step towards hyperinflation; and competitiveness determines external surpluses, not the balance between supply and insufficient demand.

These myths are not harmless - for the eurozone or the world. On the contrary, they risk either trapping weaker member countries in semi-permanent depressions or leading, in the end, to an agonising break-up of the currency union itself. Either way, the European project would come to stand not for prosperity, but for poverty; not for partnership, but for pain. This, then, is a tragic story.

 

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.