Valuing teachers. Writing in Education Next, Eric A. Hanushek explains the importance of academic achievement of schoolchildren, the low achievement of American schools relative to the world, and the huge impact this poor performance has on our economic future. It’s very important, he writes: “From studying the historical relationship, we can estimate that closing just half of the performance gap with Finland, one of the top international performers in terms of student achievement, could add more than $50 trillion to our gross domestic product between 2010 and 2090. By way of comparison, the drop in economic output over the course of the last recession is believed to be less than $3 trillion. Thus the achievement gap between the U.S. and the world’s top-performing countries can be said to be causing the equivalent of a permanent recession.” … Teacher effectiveness is one factor that is under control of schools, and is more important than many other factors also under control of schools: “The quality of the teachers in our schools is paramount: no other measured aspect of schools is nearly as important in determining student achievement. The initiatives we have emphasized in policy discussions — class-size reduction, curriculum revamping, reorganization of school schedule, investment in technology — all fall far short of the impact that good teachers can have in the classroom. Moreover, many of these interventions can be very costly.” … Reforms: “better recruitment so that ineffective or poor teachers do not make it into our schools.” We can also work to improve poor teachers, but Hanushek says this is often not effective, as “there is no substantial evidence that certification, in-service training, master’s degrees, or mentoring programs systematically make a difference in whether teachers are in fact effective at driving student achievement.” … There is also the possibility of a “clearer evaluation and retention strategy for teachers.” This means better evaluation systems to identify the best and worst teachers, but Hanushek calls current evaluation systems dysfunctional. Currently, salaries are based on longevity and earned credentials, which he warns are “factors that are at best weakly related to productivity.” … Of note: it is the teachers unions which support the current failing system, and which block any attempt at meaningful reform. In Kansas this year, tinkering with the teacher tenure formula is all that has been accomplished this year regarding school reform. This is in a state that ranks very low among the states in policies relating to teacher effectiveness, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Job recovery is slow. USA Today: “Nearly two years after the economic recovery officially began, job creation continues to stagger at the slowest post-recession rate since the Great Depression. The nation has 5% fewer jobs today — a loss of 7 million — than it did when the recession began in December 2007. That is by far the worst performance of job generation following any of the dozen recessions since the 1930s. In the past, the economy recovered lost jobs 13 months on average after a recession. If this were a typical recovery, nearly 10 million more people would be working today than when the recession officially ended in June 2009.”
Obamacare waivers. Michael Barone: “If Obamacare is so great, why do so many people want to get out from under it?” Barone cites the high concentration of waivers granted to labor unions, which are a big source of political support for Obama. Then there’s the recent revelation of the large number of waivers to companies in Nancy Pelosi’s district. This is harmful, writes Barone: “One basic principle of the rule of law is that laws apply to everybody. If the sign says ‘No Parking,’ you’re not supposed to park there even if you’re a pal of the alderman. Another principle of the rule of law is that government can’t make up new rules to help its cronies and hurt its adversaries except through due process, such as getting a legislature to pass a new law. The Obamacare waiver process appears to violate that first rule. Two other recent Obama administration actions appear to violate the second.”
Tax increment financing. From Randal O’Toole: “Tax-increment financing (TIF) costs taxpayers around $10 billion per year and is growing as fast as 10 percent per year, according to a new report, Crony Capitalism and Social Engineering: The Case against Tax-Increment Financing published by the Cato Institute. Though originally created to help renew “blighted” neighborhoods, TIF today is used primarily as an economic development tool for areas that are often far from blighted. The report argues that TIF does not actually generate economic development. At best, it moves development that would have taken place somewhere else in a community to the TIF district. That means it generates no net tax revenues, so the TIF district effectively takes taxes from schools and other tax entities. At worst, TIF actually slows economic development, both by putting a larger burden on taxpayers and by discouraging other developers from making investments unless they are also supported by TIF.” … Tax increment financing — TIF districts — are expected to be a major source of revenue for the revitalization of downtown Wichita — and the accompanying social engineering directed from Wichita city hall. Wichita has also shown itself to be totally incapable of turning away from crony capitalism.
Assumptions about capitalism. Burton W. Folsom in The Myth of the Robber Barons: “This shallow conclusion dovetails with another set of assumptions: First, that the free market, with its economic uncertainty, competitive stress, and constant potential for failure, needs the steadying hand of government regulation; second, that businessmen tend to be unscrupulous, reflecting the classic cliché image of the ‘robber baron,’ eager to seize any opportunity to steal from the public; and third, that because government can mobilize a wide array of forces across the political and business landscape, government programs therefore can move the economy more effectively than can the varied and often conflicting efforts of private enterprise. But the closer we look at public-sector economic initiatives, the more difficult it becomes to defend government as a wellspring of progress. Indeed, an honest examination of our economic history — going back long before the twentieth century — reveals that, more often than not, when government programs and individual enterprise have gone head to head, the private sector has achieved more progress at less cost with greater benefit to consumers and the economy at large.” … Folsom goes on to give examples from the history of steamships, railroads, and the steel and oil industries that show how our true economic history has been distorted. Concluding, he writes: “Time and again, experience has shown that while private enterprise, carried on in an environment of open competition, delivers the best products and services at the best price, government intervention stifles initiative, subsidizes inefficiency, and raises costs. But if we have difficulty learning from history, it is often because our true economic history is largely hidden from us. We would be hard pressed to find anything about Vanderbilt’s success or Collins’s government-backed failure in the steamship business by examining the conventional history textbooks or taking a history course at most colleges or universities. The information simply isn’t included.” … Folsom’s book on this topic is The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America.