A message we should hear more about

From this article about some conservatives who were disappointed with the “flavor” of the events commemorating the 50th anniversary of MLK’s famous speech (via Instapundit):

Mia Love, the Republican mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, is black and was born in Brooklyn, N.Y.

She contends that modern-day civil rights activists, in league with the Democratic Party, de-incentivize personal responsibility and economic independence.

Bad Teacher

I can’t believe the incredible luck we’ve been having here in discussing a topic and then hearing that topic discussed elsewhere.

I post about Nations Going Into Retirement, then almost immediately hear Jagdish Bhagwati saying something similar on EconTalk about India.

I post about the American Dream, ideals vs. materialism, and then hear a pertinent quote about that on a Harvard Business Review Ideacast.

I posted about how Teachers Matter. This week’s EconTalk has guest, Eric Hanushek, discussing education. In his research, he has convinced himself that teachers matter more than most things in education.

Further, commentator, Wally, brought up the topic of Finland’s successful education in the comments of my Teachers Matter post. Hanushek discusses that very topic in the podcast. I was skeptical that the story Wally linked to provided all the answers. Hanushek is skeptical that Finland’s success can be explained with any small number of factors. But, he does think teachers matter there, too. He said that he’s not sure why, but teaching is a revered profession in Finland so it naturally attracts good teachers. He also believes local choice — among administrators and parents — contributes, but still thinks teachers matter most there.

Hanushek says that a key reason U.S. education lags other countries, as measured by test results, is that we don’t have a good mechanism for eliminating the bad teachers, whereas education systems in other countries are more open to that. He’s not even talking about making every teacher great. Just getting rid of the bad ones will help. Even when it’s obvious, when most parents at the school and most teachers can point to the two or three bad teachers, nothing can be done.

Nations in retirement: reposted

After writing about Peggy Noonan’s observation that the American dream turned from a set of ideals to material things, it got me thinking about how mature, wealthy societies resemble retired people who have left their productive years behind them and are primarily concerned with preserving their living standards through retirement on the wealth they managed to accumulate in those productive years — with a couple critical differences.

One, retired people are aware of their limited nest eggs.

Two, they understand that by preserving their life style they are consuming their wealth, rather than creating more.

Once nations, states, counties or cities get wealthy enough, it seems like a great deal of attention and energy goes into preserving and extending what previous generations would have considered luxuries to everyone as basic rights.

This thought triggered when I recently read something that suggested that the USA was behind the times because it does not yet have government-mandated paid family medical leave.

Sounds good, but that’s a consumption of resource, not a creator of it.

We seem to understand that when we look at it on the individual level. An alternative to paid family medical leave is to expect people who are planning families and want to take time off when their children are born, to arrange their affairs to do so. That might mean saving up so they will have funds to pay bills while they take time off, buying a smaller house, getting by with one less 50″ TV — or whatever.

We know that when new Daddy and Mommy take off 4 weeks and uses their savings to pay bills, that they are consuming resources. However, push that expectation for savings to their employers with paid family leave and — poof — some see that as adding value to society, as if the employers’ pockets are an unlimited magical fountain that can be tapped to provide the acceptable living standard.

But, every time we go to the magical fountains of employer or taxpayer wallets, we put our nation more in retirement and hamper the very processes that created the wealth that made these luxuries possible in the first place.

Whether the ‘right’ is guaranteeing everyone a living wage, making sure everyone has a comfortable retirement, a free education, resources to make it through a period of unemployment, “free” medical care — we very rarely recognize these as consumption of the nest eggs built by productivity of the free market.

We rarely consider that our relatively recent ancestors would have considered such things as kingly luxuries or why it is that we can even afford to be talking about such things.

Reposted:  This is a repost of an earlier post from a few days ago. There were some technical difficulties in readers that I could not figure out how to correct, so I thought it best to delete that post and try again.

“what will make them good and strong and great”

This one ties in with the discussion about the American Dream changing from ideals to material things. In the latest Harvard Business Review Ideacast, guest Richard Adelstein discusses his book, The Rise of the Megacorporation. 

With about 3 minutes left, he says:

William Jennings Bryan famously said at the Democrat Convention of 1896, I believe, when he was discussing this general problem, he said, ‘I don’t think we should worry so much about what will make Americans rich we should worry about what will make them good and strong and great…

The general problem he referred to was the idea that people were trading away initiative and responsibility to large-scale corporations. That they would essentially become workers wanting a job, rather than someone going out in the world to find ways they could earn their keep by producing value for others and being responsible for their own enterprises. That this initative-less state would lead to “different kinds of attitude about government…about work…about economics”.


I liked the Bryan quote. We talk so much about ‘helping the poor’ and the ‘middle class’ by doing things like increasing the minimum wage, spending more government money, sending everyone to college…and so on…that we never seem to talk about what individuals can do for themselves, what they should be expected to do for themselves.

You have access to free education. Be thankful and use it to its fullest. You have access to countless resources at your library. Be thankful and use it. Make good decisions. Take care of your stuff. Be responsible. Plan for the future. No job should be beneath you. Don’t blame others for your problems. Look for solutions you can control. If someone gets in your way, go look for another road. Learn from your mistakes, don’t keep making the same ones over and and over.

There are success stories from every walk of life, every demographic. Find one that suits your preferences and ask them for advice.

Rather than reject the land of opportunity because it has given you some knocks, embrace it and keep trying. You will get stronger and better.

As a side note, I was driving through a McDonald’s this evening. As I sorted the ones to hand to the cashier so the George Washingtons were all facing the same way, I told my son that was something I picked up at one of my first jobs when I learned to run the cash register. The owner of the business trained me to put the bills in the drawer organized to make it easier for her to deposit later. It stuck. One of those minor little things that I learned on a job that doesn’t seem good enough for so many.

Nation going into retirement: India

I finished listening to last week’s EconTalk podcast with Jagdish Bhagwati this afternoon while mowing the lawn and was amazed at how some of the comments tied in with my previous post and made me think that India is feeling like it wants to retire.

After the 44 minute mark, Bhagwati says:

…the Food Security Bill will double the share of expenditure from about 1% to at least 2% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). That’s a big expenditure increase.

But the point is they are doubling it now, not because there is any huge compulsion to do so except political. They think they are going to get a lot of mileage out of it. You see, this is also something that the government has been steadily doing, which is itself risky, which is as you know, basically the civil and political rights are supposed to be relatively cost-free. So, like, habeas corpus has to be provided even if you are a poor country. But the economic rights, they are expensive. So these are two separate things. So, what this government has been doing is increasingly shifting from the approach where you just have guiding principles which we call directed principles to turning each of these things into rights. Which means you’ve got to spend moneys, which of course leads to a great pressure to spend more money.

But right now because we want more and more votes, they’ve been not–I mean, we could afford to do some of this because the growth-enhancing policies had led to steadily increasing revenues. But now having slowed down all of that, the government is in a situation where they are on high speed on social spending. But, they are on low speed on raising revenues. So now they are getting exactly the problem, which is a disjunction between what you are taking in by revenue, which permits you to do these sorts of social expenditures, and the steadily expanding, politically driven social expenditures.

Too bad. They will be going into early retirement, when there is still much that could be done to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty through innovationism.


“I’m from the government and I’m here to help”

The Wall Street Journal had two good commentaries on Obama’s latest pitch to use more government to fix problems caused by government — that is, his recent speeches on college education.

1. From Obama State University, this one is a page out of Hugo Chavez’s playbook:

 “We’ve got a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt,” said Mr. Obama, without a trace of irony at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The same man who three years ago forced through a plan to add $1 trillion in student loans to the federal balance sheet over a decade said on Thursday, “Our economy can’t afford the trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, much of which may not get repaid because students don’t have the capacity to pay it.”

Naturally, the President blamed somebody else and demanded more authority over higher education.

Mr. Obama specifically blamed colleges and universities for charging too much. “Not enough colleges have been working to figure out how do we control costs, how do we cut back on costs,” he said. His solution is for the federal government to rate colleges on their effectiveness and efficiency, and then to allocate federal subsidies to the schools that Washington believes are providing the best education at the lowest cost.

Chavez and Obama don’t understand (or admit to understanding) that incentives matter. They distort incentives then blame the problems that result from those distorted incentives the folks who respond to them.

It’s not that colleges haven’t been working to figure out how to control costs (actually, some are, but we haven’t widely accepted the for-profits just yet), it’s that they have no incentive to do so.

Well, Obama is now proposing incentives, I can imagine some will say. To them, I respond, imagine how much credence you would put into a Federal government’s rating system for restaurants. My guess is that no matter what those ratings say, you’re still going to trust your gut and what you hear your family and friends say.

This is also from the article:

Mr. Obama is trodding a well-worn political path. Politicians subsidize the purchase of a good or service, prices inevitably rise in response to this pumped-up demand, and then the pols blame the provider of the good or service for responding to the incentives the politicians created. Think housing finance and medical care. Now President Obama is attacking colleges for rationally raising tuitions and padding their payrolls in response to a subsidy machine that began in 1965.

That’s when the feds launched a program to make college “affordable” by offering a taxpayer guarantee on student loans. Federal grants and loans have been expanding ever since and it’s no coincidence that tuition prices have been rising faster than inflation for decades. This week the White House noted that since the academic year ending in 1983 tuition and fees at four-year public colleges have risen by 257%, while typical family incomes have advanced 16%.

2. Richard Vedder: The Real Reason Colleges Cost So Much

Here’s something I’ve noticed when visiting my own alma mater:

Many colleges, he notes, are using federal largess to finance Hilton-like dorms and Club Med amenities. Stanford offers more classes in yoga than Shakespeare. A warning to parents whose kids sign up for “Core Training”: The course isn’t a rigorous study of the classics, but rather involves rigorous exercise to strengthen the gluts and abs.

Or consider Princeton, which recently built a resplendent $136 million student residence with leaded glass windows and a cavernous oak dining hall (paid for in part with a $30 million tax-deductible donation by Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman). The dorm’s cost approached $300,000 per bed.

Universities, Mr. Vedder says, “are in the housing business, the entertainment business; they’re in the lodging business; they’re in the food business. Hell, my university runs a travel agency which ordinary people off the street can use.”

My alma mater has a fantastic turf field complex for its students. It has an indoor/outdoor mini water park resort. The dorms look like alpine ski lodges. It has an arena for women’s basketball and one for men’s. The commons area rivals high-end shopping mall experiences. And, yet, they still have the nerve to call me weekly asking for money. No thanks. 


Late to the party

I watched Zero Dark Thirty last night and I thought I’d share…

It was better than I thought it would be.

Coming from Hollywood, I was surprised that it showed the trade-offs of things like discontinuing torture and the detainee program, rather than just painting them as completely ineffective.

Though, I think some could think that the film depicted this either way with torture. Some might say, they tortured, but weren’t able to stop some significant attacks, so torture was presented as ineffective.

However, the information they did piece together out of some of the ‘torturing’ did lead to useful information — but they had to be smart enough to piece it together.

So, one might conclude that torture may not be that great at getting extreme radicals to give direct information, but it did seem to illicit useful information if you knew how to read it.

I was interested to see how much reference there was to logic and biases as they discussed what the various bits of information meant. They tried to stay aware of their own biases. Unfortunately, one of the agents died because of her own confirmation bias. I was disappointed that none of friends really seemed to check her on that.

I would be in hog heaven if more people talked about fallacies, though.

It’s really tough to believe that the entire OBL thread came down to one person sticking to her guns, while the rest of the world moved on.

I found the attack scene interesting, just how business-like they were. They eliminated threats and that was it. The goofy dude from Parks & Recreation was a stud.

I am often put off when movies featuring elite trained personnel make basic errors like turning their back on someone before they have verified the kill and separated him or her from their weapon. That wasn’t an issue here.