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Archive for June, 2012

Next Steps: Health Care Cost Savings and Coverage for the Poor

June 28th, 2012


The Supreme Court ruling on health care re-affirms the President’s goal of stable and secure coverage for the middle class and the nation. It is time for the Republicans to drop their fight against the law and join forces with Democrats against a common enemy: rising health care costs.  Both parties should take full advantage of the key role that states play in health care, an important topic the Supreme Court also ruled on today.

Today’s ruling affects the expansion of health care coverage to the poor under Medicaid. As a quick refresher: the Affordable Care Act required states to expand coverage to all the poor under Medicaid. Today, one-third of the poor have no coverage under Medicaid, through a job, or any other source.

The Supreme Court affirmed the federal funding for that coverage, but said states should be free to choose whether to accept it for expanding Medicaid. From the start of the expansion in 2014 through 2016, federal funding covers 100 percent of the costs of expanding Medicaid, but after that, the states will start splitting the cost with the feds. The state’s costs are capped at 10% of the total, far less than their typical share, which averages 32% across the states.

What does this mean?

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June 28th, 2012


I have a two-year old son, and the Affordable Care Act is way too hard for him to pronounce. We’re still celebrating “cookie” and “Elmo”. But today’s Supreme Court decision will have a massive impact on him—and millions of other toddlers who will one day carry forward the American Dream. Read the rest of this entry »

Cleantech isn’t the Internet

June 26th, 2012


Like the change of the seasons, recent headlines have again declared the death of venture capital investments in clean tech. This is nothing new. We warned of a decline in early stage venture investment in November 2011. The reality that clean tech is not the Internet has firmly settled over Silicon Valley, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and other centers of venture capital. Despite this revelation from some outside the sector, as clean tech investor Rob Day recently noted, much is going right in clean energy right now. We’re seeing an era of booming U.S. solar. Installation of wind turbines in the U.S. was up 52% from 2012. Tesla launched sales of its Model S sedan. We may be getting closer to a game changer in battery technology.

Progress in clean energy, however, reinforces that clean energy is fundamentally different than the Internet business. Solar has to compete with coal; Google had to compete with your local library. Entering a big, established market can be great – there’s obviously demand. It also means, however, that a new company has to offer a better or much less expensive product than what already exists. In energy, that often doesn’t mean the best technology, but instead comes down to best economics. As with anything new, costs are certainly falling in solar, wind, and other clean energy technologies as we gain experience, but it can be an expensive, long wait. In the VC world, 10 years is too long to realize a return and $500 million is too much to risk on one company. Especially in a market with Instagram and Zynga, it’s just not reasonable to expect VCs to take the long, large risks.

So, what then?

While there is certainly some private capital still in cleantech, it can’t be relied on to shoulder all the risk of our clean energy future; alternative paths of technology development and commercialization are vital. Whether it’s incentivizing investment with new tax treatments, government loan programs, public-private partnerships, or completely novel approaches, some of the best minds are hard at work on finding solutions. With entrepreneurs figuring out the hard technology problems to make clean energy a reality, the capital will find a way to follow.

5 Lessons from Boy and Girl Geniuses

June 26th, 2012


This month, American students received another dismal grade as one-third of eighth graders failed to score a basic knowledge of science in the National Assessment of Educational Performance exam. The President and business leaders across the country have warned that America risks forfeiting its historic economic edge in technology and innovation unless we improve science knowledge among students.

But with policymakers wringing their hands over America falling behind, perhaps there are lessons Washington can learn from the boy and girl geniuses who met this spring to be honored by the Society for Science and the Public. These 40 American high school seniors won the right to compete for scholarships in the National Science Talent Search sponsored by Intel. In a blind application, nearly 2,000 contestants submitted original research to a panel of experts who narrowed the field down to 40 finalists that came to the National Geographic Society for an intensive review of their work.

The quality of the scholarship is breathtaking. One 17-year old developed a new method to detect buried landmines. Another created a photosensitizer to kill cancer cells without toxic radiation. An 18-year old submitted a novel prototype to remove nanoparticle contaminants from water. These 40 young minds could possibly reshape our economy, health, and environment for decades to come. But what can they teach Washington?

First, immigration is imperative. A stunning 13 of the forty finalists were not born in America – an incomprehensible ratio given that the overwhelming majority of American school kids were born here. Winners came from Honduras, China, Russia, India, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere. In the 20th century, 54 million people immigrated to the United States and helped America win two world wars, a cold war, and build a middle class that remains the envy of the world. Yet in this century, we are still mired in a debate over the benefits of immigration. These kids make clear that the U.S. must remain a global magnet for talent.

Second, Barbie blew it. Sixteen of 40 finalists are girls. While that is not quite half, it is up significantly from the nine who were winners 20 years ago. The belief that girl brains may not be cut out for math – perpetuated by Talking Barbie (“Math is hard!”) and foot-in-mouth former Harvard President Larry Summers – could not be more wrong. In education, girls are now out-sprinting boys, comprising 60% of new college graduates, as well as significantly more advanced degrees. It seems likely that in the near future, girls will surpass boys in math and science, and if encouraged, will be the principal contributor to American ingenuity. Maybe GI Joe should encourage boys to attend academic boot camp in order to catch up.

Third, culture counts. Twenty-six finalists are Asian. Based on their relative size within the student population, only two of the finalists should have been Asian. No one says that American schools aren’t good enough to create the best lawyers in the world, so maybe America’s lack of success in the science, tech, and math fields has to do with the expectations and desires of parents. Many successful families push their high-achieving kids into fields like law, business, and finance. Perhaps there is even some snobbery directed toward those who wear lab coats; toil before a computer; or engineer, calculate, and splice things. In high-achieving Asian families, parents seem to be encouraging their children’s fascination with science and numbers rather than redirecting it to other fields.

Fourth, music matters. Twenty-two were stand-out musicians; playing in orchestras, composing their own music, even winning awards. In our hyper-ventilating testing atmosphere, softer skills like music, art, and physical education are on the chopping block in times of tight budgets. But studies show that these softer skills complement and enhance core competencies in math, reading, analytics, and comprehension. They teach people to work in teams and overcome obstacles to achieve success. Cutting off programs that don’t directly relate to standardized testing may ultimately lower test scores.

Fifth, public schools can produce. Thirty-six attended public schools. There is no doubt that our public educational system needs improvement. Some lower income schools are dropout factories; many middle income schools turn out mediocrity. But there is also tremendous success coming out of many public schools. What are these winner schools doing to motivate students, involve parents, unleash the best in teachers, and create a culture of learning and achievement? Can it be replicated in schools across the country, income spectrum, and across cultural and racial differences?

These forty winners are the future of America. One may produce a breakthrough that ends our reliance on fossil fuels. Another may find a cure for Alzheimer’s. The sky is the limit. But in the meantime, there are lessons we can take from them today to improve education for the 50 million kids in school now.

Jim Kessler is the Senior Vice President for Policy at Third Way, a moderate think tank in Washington, D.C.

A Level Playing Field (with on-ramps)

June 25th, 2012


By Ryan Fitzpatrick and Joshua Freed

This piece was originally posted on National Journal.

America’s tax code is holding the country back from a more productive and prosperous economic future. Third Way has long advocated for an updated comprehensive tax policy to promote innovation and job creation, help domestic industries compete in the global market, and draw business and investment from international competitors. This vision for general tax policy reform easily applies to energy, as well. To leverage our energy tax policy to the nation’s greatest advantage, we need to look at both the short and long term strategies simultaneously. The short term is pretty easy, so let’s take care of the long-term first. As Mom would say, you finish the brussels sprouts before you get dessert. Read the rest of this entry »

Look Out Energizer Bunny! Researchers May have Found the Key to EV Batteries

June 13th, 2012


Whether it’s desire for more talk time or longer electric vehicle trips, a paper in Nature this week has a potential solution: lithium-air batteries. While the concept of lithium air batteries isn’t new, past research showed big limitations with both lifetime, often lasting only a few cycles, and ability to charge quickly. With new materials, Korean researchers may have found a solution to both of those problems, opening up this technology for the track to commercialization. Read the rest of this entry »