Category Archives: Politics

Maintaining failure in education

Over at Cato @ Liberty, Andrew Coulson argues that we should return to the student-to-teacher ratio of the 1970’s. As Andrew notes, achievement has not budged despite a steady increase in education spending a doubling in employment. His assumption is that such increases have not had any effect and that “there’s no reason to expect it would fall if we pared back the government school rolls.”

Perhaps he is wrong.

Any good economist knows that there are seen and unseen effects of every action. It is seen that the level of achievement has remained relatively the same over the past few decades despite an avalanche of spending. What may be unseen, however, is the movement of the level of achievement. If you are confused, imagine someone on a treadmill – they may be moving but they are not changing position. This is caused by the runner’s forward propulsion being offset by the equal and opposite movement of the treadmill’s conveyor belt. To continue the analogy let’s pretend that the level of student achievement is the runner and the treadmill’s conveyor belt is the infusion of taxpayer money. It is quite possible that the level of achievement could have fallen sans the increase in spending, just as the runner would be changing his position without the treadmill nullifying the force of his legs.

To many libertarians and opponents of public education this may not be a friendly argument because it requires one to admit that, to some degree, spending does affect achievement. However, accepting this argument as correct would also lead one to conclude that the increase in the level of achievement as a percentage of each dollar spent is very low – a compelling example of poor government efficacy. As I see it, that the government must steadily increase spending merely to maintain a failing system is a much more damning argument against government control of education than any other.

The voting compromise

I’m sick of the “that candidate just doesn’t have a chance” meme. So I’m going to discredit it.

Often times people tell me that my preferred candidate can’t win, that people have to unite on someone they agree with 70%-80% of the time for the sake of beating someone they agree with only 10% of the time. Well, let’s play a numbers game.

Let’s say there are 50 voters who generally agree with each other. Five decide to vote for the underdog candidate. Of the other 45, 20 of them – less than half – say that they are going to support the establishment candidate because the other guy just can’t win, even though they agree with that candidate far more. Winning, they say, is more important than the ideal candidate (many would argue about what the precise definition of winning is, and that you can never win if you compromise). Remember now, this is less than half of the remaining voters.

At this point, the establishment candidate wins 45-5. Anyone see where I’m going with this? If you do, you’re either an uncompromising voter, or you’ve been cured already. If not, keep reading.

A second scenario has the aforementioned 20 voters having a bit more faith and following the first five in voting for the person they support the most, avoiding a compromise. Suddenly we are at a 25-25 tie. And there goes that argument, one-fell-swoop.

Now many people will claim that it’s not that simple; that the dynamics brought on by such things as closed primaries make it easier for the base of a party to select a candidate that is too far outside the mainstream. This, of course, is said only by people who are not part of said base, and disagree with you anyway.

Haley Barbour and free labor

It is highly unfortunate that it took a natural disaster for a prominent member of the Republican Party to understand the benefits of free labor. Indeed, it was in the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour came to appreciate the influx of labor, both legal and illegal, to help the ailing state. With hundreds dead and billions of dollars in damage, Mississippi was on its knees. In an interview with Peter Robinson from the Hoover Institution, Governor Barbour attributed much of the success of the recovery effort to immigrant workers.

I don’t know where we would have been in Mississippi after Katrina if it hadn’t been for the Spanish speakers that came in to help rebuild, and there’s no doubt in my mind some of them weren’t here legally. Some of them were, some of them weren’t. But they came in, they looked for the work. If they hadn’t been there, if they hadn’t come and stayed for a few months or a couple of years, we would be way, way, way behind where we are now.

The entire Katrina recovery effort owes much of its success to President Bush, who suspended the Davis-Bacon Act in response to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina stating that it would “result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals.” The act, implemented in 1931 to intentionally stifle competition in the labor market and keep blacks out of work, was also suspended by George H. W. Bush in 1992 in response to Hurricane Andrew.

It strikes me as odd that Republicans support a free labor market in times of disaster but otherwise turn immediately into protectionists with an asinine immigration policy.  There are a few, however, who get it, such as Arizona Representative Jeff Flake.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!