Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What if you just paid a bounty? 

The Washington Post reports that the FBI is stil having problems hiring agents with Arabic language skills. They have hired many Arabic linguists, instead. Why? My guess is that the latter are cheaper. It also turns out that the cost of hiring those who have had contact with Arab immigrant communities in the US -- the people you might want to have an FBI agent with Arabic language skills familiar with -- is increased by the need for a more complete background check ... because they hang around other Arab immigrants.

We can decry the lack of Arabic-language specialists coming out of our universities, if we want. But if a good is in scarce supply, markets normally work to allocate them by raising their price. The higher price should be a signal to students with the ability to learn foreign languages that there's more to be made if they specialize in Arabic rather than French. And if you said you paid a WHOLE LOT extra for someone who has learned Arabic and studied in criminal justice, who knows how the supply of language-learners might react? That would strike me as a better plan, and probably cheaper than creating a new academy system.