Category Archives: Monopolies

Accountability, responsibility, risk, metrics, unions, markets… What about education?

As has been discussed here recently, Chicago teachers are striking, even though they already make an average salary nearly double that of the average Chicago family, and are being offered a 16% raise over four years.

I dunno about you, but as a free market partcipant in our economy today, that sounds like a pretty good deal.

Well, first thing is they’re asking for a 30% raise over four years… but that’s really just a negotiating point, and one they don’t expect to get. If it were just about the raise, I’d guess they’d take the 16%.

It’s not.

It’s not really about the money; it’s that the teachers new contract attempts, in even the tiniest way, to add some accountability and performance measures to the teachers contracts.

… and the teachers unions can’t give even a millimeter on this issue. Not one millimeter, not ever. Because if they do, their rigid seniority system collapses, and they lose power.

Here’s a fun fact: a lot of younger teachers don’t mind the idea of performance standards, and they actually LIKE the idea of merit pay, performance bonueses etc… It’s not a foreign idea for them, because all their friends who live in the real world market economy have that sort of thing.

Recently, in Idaho, the commissioner of education managed to get teacher tenure eliminated, and performance based bonuses (note, not performance based salaries or hiring or firing, just bonuses) passed as commission regulations, and then when they were challenged in lawsuits, via statute approved by public referendum.

In response, the teachers unions sponsored an unsuccessful attempt to have the commissioner (who is now serving as one of the two lead advisors on education to the Romney campaign) recalled. So unsuccessful in fact the numbers indicate basically no-one voted for the recall but teachers and their immediate families.

This year, they managed to get enough signatures together to get a repeal effort on the merit pay rules on the ballot as a referendum; polling on which indicates it will fail miserably. Meanwhile, the teachers unions are both suing to prevent the policies from being implemented AND SIMULTANEOUSLY suing to force the department of education to distribute the bonus money, but on a seniority basis.

Trying to have their cake and eat it too.

I don’t understand how much more clear it could be that this has nothing to do with the wellbeing of our children, or about good teachers; it’s about protecting union rules, and union rule…

BUT, there are certainly good, well meaning people, who really do believe that we shouldn’t put performance standards on teachers… That it’s somehow “unfair” or impossible, or just not a good idea etc…

“You can’t hold teachers accountable for the performance of their students, there’s too much they can’t control. Their home lives, their parents, poverty… Good teachers could be penalized simply for having bad students). It’s not fair”

Common refrain from teachers, and from those who support their position in this… After all you wouldn’t want to be evaluated on someone elses efforts and abilities right?

Well… I am. Most likely you are too.

In the free market, we are held accountable for other people performance and decisions etc… all the time.

As an individual contributor, my performance is measured not only by my own efforts, abilities, and success; but that of my group, my manager, and my company as a whole.

As a manager, I am held entirely accountable for someone elses performance. I have tools to motivate them, help them perform better etc… But still, I have to deal with the performance that other people give me. I have to have the skill to use that performance in the best possible way.

“But you can fire your low performing employees”.

Really?

Ever worked in corporate America? Or had a real job of any kind?

So long as my employees meet bare minimum standards, and don’t actually commit a crime (or violate major HR policies), I’m not getting rid of my low performers. It’s up to me, to make them meet the standards I need for my group to be successful.

In sales, you are held accountable for other people actions, decisions, and performance as well. You don’t get to control your customers decisions, and how much they buy from you is dependent more on their performance than yours.

Yes, a skilled salesperson with a good support team will sell more than an unskilled one; and that’s as it should be… but its still entirely dependent on someone elses performance and decisions. A good sales guy can’t get a customer who doesn’t have the money for the product, to buy the product… or at least not more than once.

Good sales managers understand this. They set account and territory sales expectations based on a reasonable evaluation of the possible performance of those accounts. If they don’t then they won’t get any decent sales people to work for them, and they’ll constantly churn sales people making these accounts and territories perform even worse.

What matters in evaluating your ability as a salesperson isn’t your absolute sales, it’s your performance in comparison to other sales people with a similar situation. IF you perform well, then good managers will put you on difficult accounts that have the potential to perform better, and reward you if you make them perform up to potential.

At least if you have a decent management team.

At that point you’re at the mercy of having a good boss, who understands that relative performance is a better judge of your capability than absolute performance…

Just like teachers need to be.

Holding teachers accountable, doesn’t mean that all teachers should be held to arbitrary and universal standards. Teachers that teach all “remedial” students can’t be held to the same standard of performance as those who teach all honors students…

And NO-ONE IS SUGGESTING ANYTHING LIKE THAT.

Or at least no-one serious, with credibility, who should be listened to.

Calling for “standardized testing and accountability” isn’t calling for teachers to make poor students perform at the level of honors students. It’s calling for teachers of all levels of students to perform no worse than average against other teachers of similar levels of students; and to measure improvement in those students over time, compared to other teachers of the same level of students.

How is that unreasonable?

Only those with the irrational… even stupid… belief that teaching is some kind of special “calling” performed only by special people who must be protected from the market forces that the rest of us must cope with; could possibly justify that sort of thinking, with any kind of intellectual honesty.

They generally apply the same sort of thinking to artists, who must be protected from the horrible taste of the masses etc…

Yeah… If we did that, then teachers would be at the mercy of having competent managers, who knew how to evaluate performance.

Just like the rest of us.

In fact… The only time I ever see a serious proposal that teachers should be evaluated by absolute and arbitrary standards… It’s coming from lefties or teachers; because they are trying to “avoid bias” or “avoid subjectivity” etc… etc… etc…

Holding teachers accountable also means holding administrators and school systems accountable. It means making them participate in the market that the rest of us are forced to.

If you have a poorly managed school, good teachers won’t go there.

IF good teachers won’t go there, then good students won’t go there… IF they’re given the option that is…

Oh… wait a second… Hey… that might just be…

And of course, if we allowed that, then the unions would lose…

Oh… hey, that might just be…

Ya think maybe…

Teaching is a job, just like any other. It’s a job that has more benefits than most. These days, it’s even a job that pays more than most. It’s a job that has a lot more security than most. It’s a job that has more garbage and BS and heartbreak than most. It’s a job that’s harder than most. It’s a job that’s a lot more important than most…

Great teachers can do more to help children be successful than anything other than great parents…

But it’s still a job.

Teachers aren’t superheroes, they aren’t artists, they are workers… just like the rest of us.

Teachers don’t need to be protected from the real world, they need to be a part of it, and accountable to it… just like the rest of us.

Maybe if they were, there would be a lot more good teachers, and a lot less bad ones.

Maybe if they our were, our children would be a lot better off.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Book Review: Slackernomics, by Dale Franks

Those of you that have been around the libertarian blogosphere for any length of time will recognize the name Dale Franks. His main writing gig is over at QandO, where he spends the bulk of his time writing about the economy. In addition, he’s a bit of a gunblogger, and runs a separate blog for motorcycles.

At one point a few years ago I had noticed a link to a book Dale has written called Slackernomics: Basic Economics for People Who Think Economics is Boring. Given that I’m not the type who thinks economics is boring, but had enjoyed his blogging, I wanted to get a chance to read it. At that time, the book was only available in print at a price above $20. It took a spot on my “buy when I get around to it list”, and sat there for quite some time, but I never pulled the trigger. Then, more recently, it became avaiable for the Kindle at only $2.99 — I no longer had an excuse not to buy it. So onto the Kindle it went, and after several long months of sitting there taking up space, I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

Slackernomics is a primer on basic economic theory that, as the title suggests, is written for people who think economics is boring. It’s written in a convivial tone, and the illustrative examples that Dale uses reminds one more of Freakonomics than of Adam Smith. Don’t let that fool you, though — the book is not a “sideshow” like Freakonomics — it gets to the heart of the matter. I liken it to be similar to Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in one Lesson”, but written for people who may not be interested in the more formal writing style of Hazlitt. In addition, having been written many decades after Hazlitt’s book, it’s obviously much more up to date.

The book covers everything from price theory, minimum wage & rent control to monetary theory and the business cycle, Keynesianism, taxes / deficit spending, savings & investment, and economic statistics. He continues with a great defense of free trade and a bit of entrance into politics (touching a tad on public choice theory). In all, for being a relatively short book, he hits all the major notes that anyone looking for an introduction to economic thought would need to learn.

But the big question, for readers of this blog, is whether it’s worth it to buy. “Am I going to learn anything new?” And I can honestly say that despite the fact that I read economic books & blogs for leisure, and that I’ve blogged a fair bit about economics myself, I learned some new things from Slackernomics. Dale’s fourth chapter, unwinding the mess of the myriad of economic reports and statistics he’s constantly posting on Twitter, Google+, and at QandO, was wonderful. I’ve looked at many of these reports merely reading analysts *reaction* to the numbers (Higher jobless claims? How unexpected!), but rarely understood which group (public or private) was putting out certain reports nor how they all fit together. For me, a layman who is conversant on a lot of economic theory but not as perhaps on the technical reports, I have never seen an explanation of the reports that come out each week and each month as simple and readable as that chapter. That was more than worth it for my $2.99.

So my recommendation is simple: at $2.99, if you have a Kindle (or a device with a Kindle app), it’s hard to pass it up. You’re almost assured to get your money’s worth from the book. Even further, if you know someone in high school or college that may not have received good schooling in economics (which is, unfortunately, most of them), and who isn’t exactly about to tackle The Wealth of Nations, find a way to get them a copy of Slackernomics. Dale’s writing style will keep them interested.

All in all, it’s a book that lives up to its title, and goes well beyond.

If The Gov’t Doesn’t Pick Up The Trash, It’s Rat-Infested Black Plague For Us All

It seems that Radley Balko has gone playing whack-the-left again, this time smacking around John Cole of Balloon Juice for an overreacting tirade against people who are overzealously overreacting. It seems that Fountain Hills, AZ had competitive trash pickup, and the city council wanted to bid out trash pickup as a single-provider city service instead. The people of Fountain Hills reacted like a bunch of 1950’s anti-communists, calling it socialism and likening it to Obamacare. John Cole and his comment section went ape-shit, in the original post and follow-ups here and here.

Quite a few commenters suggested that if we don’t have municipal trash collection, we’ll look like third-world countries where people just bury, burn, or leave their trash out on their property to rot. Strangely, I hadn’t heard a single report of uncollected trash in Fountain Hills leading to this change. Even more fun, one commenter proved the old adage that everything that’s not compulsory shall be prohibited:

Actually, oddly I agree that cities shouldn’t have uniform trash pickup, if only because I think we should move towards having zero waste as individuals. (Reusable bags for food, no consumer goods, and composting.)

I couldn’t have drawn up a caricature this flat if I’d had a projector to trace it with on my wall.

So why am I wading into this morass? Because I’ve actually lived this. One of the features of competitive services is that if they don’t live up to my guidelines, they don’t get my business.

When I first moved to Georgia, I lived in unincorporated Cobb County, where there was no monopoly muni provider of trash pickup*. There were about 3 or 4 competing services. I ended up choosing one, and despite repeatedly saying they’d deliver a trash can, they neither did so nor did they haul away my trash. Now, I don’t think they’re a bad company. I think they just had a few repeated screwups. As we all know, occasionally government has screwups, like raiding the wrong address for drugs, or putting 8-year-olds on TSA no-fly lists. Unlike government poor service, though, I had, and took advantage of, the right to fire them. When my needs weren’t being met, I had an alternative.

The problems didn’t quite end there, of course. I then received a bill for “set-up fees” for the account, despite the fact that they’d never provided services. Rather than face collections, I paid the bill up front, and then sent an email to their customer service demanding it be refunded. They quickly and cordially acceded to my request, with no hassle whatsoever.

You can just ask the same Radley Balko how easy it is to get money he’s owed from the government, even when he’s done everything right and hounded them repeatedly for an explanation.

Municipal trash service isn’t really the hill to die on for a libertarian. It’s one of those services that straddles the line of public good vs. private market. Our HOA actually debated whether to consolidate to a single provider, as some of the families in the neighborhood were concerned about large trucks coming through on multiple days rather than a single day. It didn’t happen (at least during the 2 years I’d lived there), but I understand the argument and even as a libertarian I wouldn’t have moved out of the neighborhood over such a small issue. The best-run competitively-bid single-provider service can probably achieve economies of scale and efficiency that a competitive market (in this case) cannot — which of course isn’t to say that local governments always provide the best-run single-provider system. But it’s ridiculous for those opposing a competitive system to suggest that it doesn’t work, or that there aren’t actual benefits to customer service in a competitive system.
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Stossel On Government Schools

From his blog at Fox Business Network, John Stossel has this on government schools:

It’s absurd that powerful Americans consider it normal that they must move their residence or manipulate politicians to get their kids into a good school No one has do that to buy an iphone, or a good restaurant meal In every business besides education, successful producers expand. When more people started liking McDonalds – there were no lines around the block, because McDonalds expanded to meet demand.

What exactly is Stossel talking about? Yet another corrupt Obama administration official.

While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Non-connected parents, such as those who sought spots for their special-needs child or who were new to the city, also appear on the log. But the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests in the documents obtained by the Tribune.

The American education system can be best described as “all children are equal but some are more equal than others”. This is because of the way we have structured government schools. While most of these special requests were rejected by Duncan, the fact that Chicago’s ruling elite could even make these special requests is troubling. Expect Chicago-style school admission policies to spread nationwide as Obama completes what his predecessor started when he likely nationalizes the education system this year. America’s health care system will be heading on this track soon.

If we had school choice via vouchers, parents could decide where their children are educated, not government bureaucrats. Good schools will expand to take in more children while bad schools will improve in order to stay in business.

Until your state gets a real school choice program, if you are able to, get your children out of government schools. Put them in a private school or better yet, homeschool them yourself. Ever since government involvement increased in education, students have been dumbed down and our nation has become less free. Teacher’s unions continue to demand pay raises and obscene benefits without being held accountable for student performance.

If our country is to regain its freedom, the government education monopoly must be broken.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

A Bit of Unexpected Wisdom from a Friend

You might have heard the old saying “The best measure of a mans intelligence and wisdom, is how closely he agrees with you on any given subject”…

Well, by that measure, Kommander is a damn genius (from a thread discussing Obamas abandonment of manned space flight):

The problem with exploring and colonizing space, as opposed to exploring and colonizing the “New World”; is that there is, right now, little commercial benefit for doing so.

Remember that the first colonists to the Americas were not doing it “For Science!” but “For Money!” Until there is money to be made in space it will continue to be dominated by various governmental agencies.

Spaceship One and the space tourism are a good start, be we need more. The future of the space program does not lie with governments, but with commercial interests who will be willing to take risks where governments are not.

Indeed. I’ll take Branson and Rutan over Bolden and Garver in a split second.

Just let me know when I can sign up for the trip to freehold… or anywhere… or nowhere and back for that matter (when it costs less than a nice used car anyway).

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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