The clash of two systems

The video linked to in this post of New Jersey Governor Christie sparring with Diane Sawyer is a good illustration of what Arnold Kling writes about in this Econlog blog post, Two Systems.

Christie speaks from a perspective of System A where status is obtained by market acceptance, it’s retained by competing and enforced by choice (by market participants).

Sawyer defends from the perspective of System B, where status is obtained from credentials, it’s retained by tenure and enforced by authority figures.

I believe the primary source of the clash that occurs between these two systems comes from the differences in preference between the market participants and authority figures.

In this example, Christie and Sawyer discuss teachers.

Authority figures in education — such as teacher union leaders and their cronies in education administration and government — believe that college degrees (credentials) and tenure are the important factors in determining which teachers to hire and retain.

The market participants — parents of school age children — however do not give these preferences much consideration.  Rather they tend to rely on the reputations of schools and teachers and their own experiences with those teachers (e.g. do my kids appear to be progressing or not?).

The underlying and incorrect assumption made by authority figures is that they know better than the market participants and they seek to override their preferences.

I’ve seen authority figures in private organizations suffer from this same underlying and incorrect assumption with disastrous results.

One thing authority figures that produce good market results get right is that don’t let their own personal preferences override those of the markets they’re serving.  In fact, they build their organizations around meeting the preferences of the market participants.


Gov. Christie on how to tell a good teacher from a bad teacher

Diane Sawyer interviewed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on the news this evening.  Video and article can be found here.  The 5 minute video is worth a watch.

The major topic of conversation is teachers.  At about the 3 minute mark, Sawyer asks (with a somewhat disturbed look on her face):

Are you so confident to know who is a really good teacher?

I like Christie’s answer.

Of course.  You talk to any parent who has children in a school, within weeks they know if they have a good teacher or a bad teacher.  And, the rumor mill in the school tells them too.

That goes along well with one of the things I wrote in this post about a good measure of teacher performance being parent recommendations rather than test scores.

Next, Sawyer fishes for a crack in Christie’s armor. Some teachers she spoke with didn’t like the tone of Christie’s voice.  She says:

My mom was a 30 year teacher.  All my aunts were teachers, and do you want to apologize to teachers if your tone seemed disrespectful to them?

Christie didn’t budge.  He looked her straight in the eye and said:

I don’t want to apologize to those teachers [the ones who complained about his tone].  If you treat me with respect, even if you disagree with me, I’ll treat you with respect back.

Finally, Christie is a big Springsteen fan.  Sawyer brings up that Springsteen wrote a letter to the editor criticizing Christie.  Christie’s response:

Are you surprised to hear that from Bruce?  I mean, you know…Bruce is liberal.  It doesn’t mean I like him any less. That’s fine.  It’s his point of view and he’s absolutely welcome to it.

I don’t trust politicians…any politicians.  But, I do appreciate that Christie brings something to the conservative argument that’s been missing for quite some time.

He doesn’t buckle to the emotional gotcha tactics and the non-arguments used by the media.  Other politicians would buckle in an effort to look agreeable and conciliatory.

I can imagine other politicians apologizing after Sawyer’s emotional plea, prefaced by her own history with teachers, or stammering about trying to explain why their music idol is an outspoken critic.

Christie didn’t have any of it.  In fact, his reactions were what I expect from adults when faced with childish and pointless diversions.

You mean Christie can still like someone’s music and even like the guy, even though the star disagrees with his politics?  Isn’t that way it should be?

Diane Sawyer

On the evening news tonight, Diane Sawyer reported that home sales were up.  She credited the rebound to tax credits because some percent of the home purchases were made by first time home buyers.

She may be right about the impact of the tax credit.

Or wrong.

I can’t tell based on the information provided.

It would be more convincing had she provided the usual percent of home purchases made by first time home buyers as a comparison.  For example, if she said that 50% of purchases were made by first time home buyers when that figure is normally 10%, that would be more convincing, but still not necessarily correct.

But, she didn’t provide the comparison.

This is an example of an irritating phenomenon.  News organizations analyze and interpret rather than reporting the news.  In this case, Diane could have simply said, “Home sales are up.”   Next story.   That’s news reporting.

Telling us home sales are up because of the first time home buyers credit is analyzing, interpreting, editorial and narrative, which are all better left to other venues like talk shows or the opinion section of the newspaper.  In those venues, the viewer at least knows that the narrative has been added, can take it with a grain of salt and decide whether they agree or disagree.

When it’s reported as Diane reported on a news program, it seems much more like fact than opinion.  To the unsuspecting viewer, the way this is reported makes tax credits seem like a good thing — even if they’re not.

Another irritating phenomenon is that we rarely notice it.  We take it as fact and rarely entertain the idea that the news narratives might be wrong.  Though, I think subconsciously we do know.  That’s why newspapers and TV news are struggling.  They’ve lost credibility by lacing narratives with reporting.

In this case, Diane didn’t us enough information to draw our own conclusion.  That’s either sloppy narrative or because the facts don’t necessarily support the case.

Finally, even if Diane had provided a comparison that made a convincing case that tax credits were driving home sales, it would not necessarily be true that tax credits were the cause.    There might be other plausible explanations.  All I want to know from my news program is what: homes sales are up.

If they want to give me their opinion, fine.  Tell us that.  “Home sales are up.  In the opinion of the producers of this program, that’s because of the tax credits!”