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EconDebates Online

EconDebates Online keeps you informed on today's most crucial economics policy debates. Each EconDebate, created by John Kane (SUNY-Oswego), provides a primer on the issues and links to background information and current, in-depth commentaries from experts around the world. Review the brief introductions and, for EconDebates of interest, select the full debate.

Scarcity, Choice, and Opportunity Cost



Should the U.S. reinstitute a military draft?

Full Debate 

Shortly before the start of the Iraqi war, Senator Ernest Hollings and Rep. Charles Rangel called for the re-instatement of a military draft in the U.S. This helped lead to renewed public discussion of the arguments for and against a draft. This proposal has helped spur renewed public debate concerning the advantages and disadvantages associated with an all-volunteer army.

Are economic sanctions effective in altering a country's actions?

Full Debate 

Economic sanctions have often been used by the U.S. and other countries in attempts to alter the behavior of the target countries. These sanctions typically include general or selective trade embargoes, restrictions on foreign investment, and restriction on travel to and from the affected country.

Are Americans overworked?

Full Debate

While individuals generally report that they feel increasing time pressure, an analysis of time-use diaries find that the mix of leisure and work time has not changed substantially in recent decades. Robinson and Bostrom (1994) and Sundstrom (1999) suggest that there may be an upward bias in reports of hours worked by those workers who report relatively long workweeks. Jacobs (1998), however, provides evidence suggesting that the Robinson and Bostrom results may be the result of random errors in the data and not the result of biased reporting of hours worked.
Does the anti-sweatshop movement help or harm workers in low-wage economies?

Full Debate

The anti-sweatshop movement in the U.S. and other industrialized economies has, in recent years, attempted to use consumer boycotts to eliminate sweatshop working conditions and child labor in less developed economies. Unions and college student groups have been leading the drive for sweatshop boycotts.

Should Medicare Provide Prescription Drug Coverage?

Full Debate

Recent advances in medical care have resulted in the development of many new pharmaceutical therapies for a variety of health conditions. Many of these newly introduced drug therapies, though, are relatively expensive due to the high costs associated with developing and testing these drugs. Medicare, however, does not currently provide prescription drug coverage. Instead, retired individuals either have no prescription drug coverage, or purchase relatively expensive "Medigap" insurance coverage to cover the medical expenses not covered by Medicare.

Should there be a market for human organs?

Full Debate

Advances in medical treatments have resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of organ transplants performed each year. A limited supply of organs, however, prevents many individuals from receiving organ replacements that could either save a life or substantially improve the recipient's quality of life.
Does Public Investment in Municipal Sports Stadiums Pay Off?

Full Debate

There has been an extensive amount of public investment in the construction of municipal sports stadiums in recent years. Cities wishing to either attract or keep a professional sports team are often forced to provide new stadiums as a result of competition with other cities.

Should marijuana be decriminalized?

Full Debate

Marijuana is a product derived from the cannabis sativa plant. This plant, also known as "hemp," was a major agricultural product in the United States from the colonial period until the early part of the 20th century. Hemp was used to produce rope, cloth, lacquer, and bird seed. There is evidence suggesting that hemp was grown on the plantations of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Will Social Security survive into the 21st century?

Full Debate 

The online resources listed below provide a wide range of opinions concerning the magnitude of the problems facing the social security system. Part of the reason for this is that forecasts of future social security revenue depend on factors such as future rates of economic growth, the level of future unemployment and labor force participation rates, and similar factors. Small differences in rates of economic growth can have dramatic effects on the level of output (and tax revenue) over the course of a 20-30 year period. Different assumptions about such future outcomes result in very different conclusions about the future solvency of the social security system.

Should anti-pollution standards be strengthened?

Full Debate 

Nearly everyone agrees that pollution is undesirable (the only likely exceptions are those individuals whose income depends on the provision of pollution abatement services). It is socially optimal, however, that some level of pollution be tolerated. The reason, of course, is that there is an opportunity cost associated with pollution abatement. A cleaner environment requires higher production costs and a lower level of output.

Is there a need for health-care reform?

Full Debate

Health-care reform was one of the major issues in the 1992 U.S. Presidential campaign. While no major reform bill was passed during Bill Clinton's first term in office, health-care reform has remained a major topic of congressional debate.

Is the death penalty an efficient crime deterrent?

Full Debate 

The economic argument in favor of the death penalty is rather simple. Economists assume that individuals weigh the expected costs and benefits when deciding to undertake any activity. Thus, rational individuals considering criminal activities would weigh the expected benefits against the expected cost of the criminal endeavor. The expected cost of any given crime is affected by the probability of being detected, the probability of being convicted given detection, and the expected penalty that results from a conviction. Since the death penalty provides a higher cost than alternative punishments, it is expected to generate a larger deterrent effect, ceteris paribus.

Do School Vouchers Improve the Quality of Education?

Full Debate 

Several experimental voucher programs have been introduced in the past decade. One of the oldest and largest is a pilot program begun in 1990 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Initial analyses of this data have suggested little or no improvement in the quality of education as the result of a voucher system. These results, however, are quite controversial and are the subject of a good deal of debate. More recent pilot programs in New York City and Cleveland are also beginning to provide additional evidence for this debate. Preliminary, and equally controversial, results from the New York Choice Scholarship Program suggest that a voucher system has resulted in modest improvements in test scores for low-income students that transfer to private schools as a result of a scholarship program.

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