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Faculty speak out on State of the Union message

President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech prompted faculty members to speak out on the economy, Iraq and education.

Economics professors Peter Diamond, Franco Modigliani, Paul Samuelson, Robert Solow and five distinguished alumni of MIT are among the 14 initial signers of a statement by more than 200 American economists opposing the tax cuts Bush proposed.

The statement will be formally released next week, according to representatives of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. The statement says in part:

"Regardless of how one views the specifics of the Bush plan, there is wide agreement that its purpose is a permanent change in the tax structure and not the creation of jobs and growth in the near term.

"The permanent dividend tax cut, in particular, is not credible as a short-term stimulus...

"Passing these tax cuts will worsen the long-term budget outlook, adding to the nation's projected chronic deficits. This fiscal deterioration will reduce the capacity of the government to finance Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as investments in schools, health, infrastructure and basic research. Moreover, the proposed tax cuts will generate further inequalities in after-tax income."

MIT alumni signing include George Akerlof, Lawrence R. Klein, Daniel McFadden, Joseph Steiglitz and Laura D'Andrea Tyson.

Sapolsky on Iraq

Harvey M. Sapolsky, professor of political science and director of the MIT Security Studies Program, commented:

"The confrontation with Iraq is President Bush's great gamble and necessarily ours as well...Either Saddam quits or there is war. The military aspects of a war with Iraq, as complicated as they might become, pale in importance to the political...

"But odds against the president may not be as large as some believe. Few governments want to be on Saddam's side and openly hostile toward the U.S. It is very much in the interest of all the Security Council members with the veto power that its pronouncements are taken seriously. Most Europeans do not want to rush the day when U.S. troops leave the continent and Germany is the senior power. Many in the Middle East will welcome the opportunity to test a governmental form other than tyranny.

"The need to have a U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, the center of Islam, disappears when Saddam disappears. And as we have discovered with North Korea, it is easier to confront a nation with nuclear weapon ambitions than one with actual nuclear weapons."

Pinker on education

Steven Pinker, professor of cognitive science, writing a New York Times column on Jan. 31, said:

"The scant mention of education in President Bush's State of the Union address suggests that the administration feels its work on the subject is done, at least for now...

"Yet a bit of White House leadership might encourage educators and scientists to apply a better understanding of thinking and learning to what happens in the classroom...

"It is the patterns of changes across billions of neurons that determine the distinctively human forms of learning in the classroom. To understand these patterns, we need to apply insights from cognitive science, behavioral genetics and evolutionary and developmental psychology....
"We should not assume that children can learn to write as easily as they learn to speak, or that children in groups will learn science as readily as they learn to exchange gossip."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 5, 2003.

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