2010/11/19

Who Cares What a Liar Says?

Some people will believe anything. Secretary Duncan tells a self-selected audience at the American Enterprise Institute what they want to hear. Sorry. This man killed the DC voucher program. This man simultaneously opposes (ostensibly) seat-time as a measure of system performance and reductions in instructional time. In the presence of a friendly audience this man complains that school boards and district superintendents lack the courage to challenge employee unions. Like, this speech deserves the Medal of Honor? This man served a giant dollop of bailout money to the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, and now says to the AEI audience that that was a one-time event. Will anyone risk money on a bet against the prediction that the Secretary and his boss will deliver more unaccountable (meaning that States and local agencies get to define success) money in 2012?
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2010/11/18

Go Here. Read This.

Go here.
...(A)n early study of 1400 middle-aged and elderly Swedish twins shows that the effect of upbringing on appreciation is very durable. If you make a loving and harmonious family, your children won't merely be grateful at the time. The memories you create for them will likely last a lifetime.

People often fear that the science of success will be misused. Twin and adoption research seem like handy excuses for lazy parents. But scaling back misguided investments isn't "lazy"; it's common sense. If your children's future success is largely beyond your control, riding them "for their own good" is not just wasteful, but cruel. The sentimental view that parents should simply cherish, encourage, and accept their children has science on its side. Modern parents need to calm down and reconceive family time as leisure, not work. Having fun with your children may not prepare them for the future, but there are few more rewarding ways to spend your time.

2010/11/12

Ideologues versus Opportunists

(Updated)
On the James Randi forum, a participant in a discussion of the US pre-college school system referred to free-market "ideologues" and "fairy tales about the magical properties of 'the market'". Earlier in that discussion, various participants argued whether Milton Friedman's views on tuition vouchers had changed between his 1955 essay and his death in 2006.

"Ideological" is an uncomplimentary way to say "systematic" or "principled". Antonyms include "scatterbrained" and "unscrupulous".

Individual humans have individual wants and goals. Aggregation of preferences of several individuals presents problems. For example, one process which aggregates dietary preferences produces stew (mix all preferred ingredients together), which may be on no one's preferred menu. Individuals prefer shoes that fit. No process that aggregates individual preferences in shoe size will generate a shoe size that fits anything close to a majority. Neither direct democratic processes nor representative democratic processes nor authoritarian processes will come close to market processes in fitting shoes to feet, food to palates, or curricula to children.

Friedman makes his policy preferences pretty clear. He wants parent control of education. People interested in the evolution of Friedman's school policy preferences can watch that evolution unfold by reading in sequence:
The Role of Government in Education (1955),
"The Role of Government in Education" (Capitalism and Freedom, 1962),
"Public Schools; Make them Private", (1995)
a Reason interview (1995),
and his notes to Liberty and Learning: Milton Friedman's Voucher Idea at Fifty (Enlow and Ealy. Cato. 2006).
It's not a mystery what Friedman wants.

It's also not a mystery why free marketeers think markets outperform command economies. Ludwig von Mises spelled it out in Socialism, (1922), Friedrich Hayek explained it again in The Use of Knowledge in Society (American Economic Review, 1945), and again in The Road to Serfdom,
and Friedman again in 1962.
Sheldon Richman (What Education Needs) finds scientific anticipation of an Austrian view of the education industry in the writings of Joseph Priestley.

Briefly, the government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber). A law is a written threat by a government to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue), and forcibly infect with HIV (imprison) someone, under specified circumstances. Individual A has a "right" to do X if the government has promised not to interfere when A attempts to do X and, further, has promised to interfere with individuals B,C, etc. if they attempt to stop A when A attempts to do X. "Title" to a resource is a grant by a government to an individual of control over that resource which includes the power to transfer control (to sell the resource). Market-oriented policies combine title and contract law. As Adam Smith explained (I have not read this one), markets unite control over resources with the incentive to use resources is socially beneficial ways.

For those who approve the current policy which prevails across most US States, which reserves to schools operated by government employees an exclusive position in receipt of the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy, a thought experiment.
Compose answers to the following questions:...

1. From State operation of what industries does society as a whole benefit? You may suppose either a dichotomous classification:
A = unlikely candidate for State operation = {........}
B = likely candidate for State operation = {.........}
or a continuum:
(highly unlikely) -1________.________+1 (highly likely).
2. Now consider the further question: What criteria determine an industry's categorical assignment or position on the continuum?

To what industries can organized violence and the threat of organized violence make a positive contribution, beyond what it contributes to minimally-regulated industries in a market economy (an initial assignment of title and enforcement of contract law)? Are we naked because the State does not operate textile mills and clothing stores? Are we starving because the State does not operate collective farms, grocery stores, and restaurants? Why make an exception for the education industry?

A society is free in proportion to the range of behaviors not included in "compelled" and "forbidden". Separation of powers, federalism, and markets institutionalize humility on the part of government actors.

A widely-beloved fairy tale asserts the beneficent power of organized violence. Markets institutionalize non-violence. If a policy dispute turns on a matter of taste, federalism and a market economy allow for the expression of varied tastes, while the contest for control of a State-monopoly provider must inevitably create unhappy losers. If a policy dispute turns on a matter of fact, where "What works?" is an empirical question, local control of policy and competitive markets will generate more information than will a State-monopoly provider of goods and services. A State-monopoly provider is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls; a retarded experimental design.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell speculates that socialism originates in a hypertrophied sense of order, like those compulsive people who rearrange the socks in the dresser and the dishes in the cupboard ten times a day. Elsewhere ("Raffles and Mrs. Blandish", "Inside the Whale"), he speculates that a vicarious sadism generates a preference for authoritarian politics. Ludwig von Mises suggested something similar; that socialism expresses a primitive revenge fantasy. It looks to me that people who defend State operation of industry enjoy a self-congratulatory power fantasy: what a wonderful world it would be if I ran it. Supporting the government school system or government-operated health care is like buying a movie ticket or a lottery ticket. With the movie ticket you get to imagine yourself in Steven Segall's place, or Bruce Willis' place for a couple of hours. With a lottery ticket, you get to imagine how your life will change when you win $$$. The price of the fantasy is the price of the ticket. The difference with the State school system is it costs taxpayers more than $500 billion per year, as well as the opportunity cost to students of the time they spend in school.