[FoRK] The Decline of Empires..

J.Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Mon Jan 3 23:27:12 PST 2005

On Jan 3, 2005, at 4:10 PM, Ian Andrew Bell (FoRK) wrote:
> You voted for a president whose idea of progressive social programs 
> were pretty much limited to "they're out to get us" and "keep the 
> queers from marrying".

I assume you are referring to Bush?  Whatever gave you the idea that I 
voted for him?  Just because I'm not guzzling the god-awful Democrat 
Kool-Aid does not mean I'm putting on the kneepads for the Republicans. 
  Given the atrocious track record of several decades of Democrat 
progressive social programs, they represent a really lousy return on 
investment; no sane person interested in solving social problems would 
have instituted programs as they have.  We could have solved a hell of 
a lot of problems with that money, had it been applied more 
effectively.  When the number of mulligans approaches triple-digits, it 
becomes time to re-evaluate the game.

I object to heavy-handed social engineering at the point of a gun, 
period.  I do not care whether it comes from the Left-Wing Democrats or 
the Christian Right, and both of which love this kind of madness and 
are rabidly intolerant generally.  I doubly object when they take my 
money to engage in such stupidity.  If they want to spend their own 
money, I'm okay with that.

> You obviously haven't established this, and I gave you a pass when you 
> mentioned this idea earlier, but you seem to take it as a given that 
> we all agree that money is not the problem.

The US education system is one of my favorite topics. :-)  Even within 
the US, there is little correlation between money spent per student and 
quality of education.  And the average money spent varies widely 
between States and only loosely tracks cost of living.  The average 
cost of private schools approaches half of the average cost of public 
schools per student.

Public school teachers make above average US wages (not that it ever 
stopped the whining of the teacher's unions), though in private schools 
far more of the budget goes directly to the teachers on average than in 
public schools.

None of us are old enough to remember, but we had an *excellent* 
universal private education system in the United States for a long time 
-- even De Tocqueville wrote quite a bit about it.  It was correctly 
viewed as a great public good and so private citizens took it upon 
themselves to make sure everyone was educated.  Per capita book 
consumption in the early Americas was stunning, and unparalleled at the 
time.  Everyone who wanted an education got one, rich or poor, with 
some limited exceptions out in the frontier where the population was 
very sparse.  Not perfect, but if measured by results, excellent.  More 
interestingly, there was a period of about 30 years in the mid-19th 
century where some political busybodies set up free government schools 
in a few States that were created as an alternative to the private 
education system that everyone used -- for the poor people, doncha 
know.  The problem was that in the couple decades of that experiment, 
even the poor people refused to go to the public schools which sat 
empty, seeing as how there were plenty of fine no-cost private schools 
that offered a superior educational experience.  Like now, the public 
schools during that experiment were lambasted in the legislatures and 
in the press as being monumental wastes of money and obviously inferior 
institutions to the private schools.

Of course, that story ends with a legislative battle to kill the 
albatross of public schools, which no one wanted except the progressive 
faction that got them funded in the first place, and ended with a very 
clever slate of laws by the backers of the government schools that 
regulated the private education industry out of existence except on the 
fringe, forcing people to use the public schools.  The first state fell 
to the progressives of that time in 1851 (Massachusetts) and the last 
state fell in 1920 (Wyoming IIRC).  It is a cold irony that by many 
metrics, literacy rates declined following this forced wholesale switch 
to government schools.

Ignoring the inadequacies of the public schools, a first good step 
would be banning the teacher's unions, which has actually been done in 
a couple States.  It is hard to come up with a game theoretic scenario 
that makes teacher's unions good for the education of the students.  
The goal is not to provide high-paying jobs for teachers, but to 
educate children.

For obvious reasons, we could not just privatize the entire school 
system.  What we could do is what has been done with good results in a 
few other countries in recent years, which is to go to a parallel 
system, a cross between vouchers and what was done in the US in the 
mid-19th century.  If you let the people decide, the market will sort 
itself out (but then, that's what they said in Massachusetts a century 
and a half ago...)

> The US spends more on education quite precisely because things COST 
> more in the US.  If we paid educators more then I'm sure more skilled 
> people would choose to become educators.  As it is, it seems that the 
> best educators today earn higher pay in the private school system so 
> clearly, if that's true, this is an effective system.

Invalid assumptions.  Private educators make substantially less money 
on average than public school teachers.  According Department of 
Education figures I've been able to find from the 1990s, public school 
teachers make ~30% more money than their private school counterparts.  
Which makes some sense since the per student funding is dramatically 
less on average in the private sector.

And as is well-documented in the Department of Education statistics and 
many other places, teachers earn average wages that are comfortably 
above the US average, at least in public schools.  Again, largely a 
side effect of campaigning by the teacher's unions.

I have a couple teachers in my immediate family, and a number more in 
the extended family.  None of them is underpaid, and considering that 
some of them are still in their early- and mid-20s, they are very 
*well* paid -- that all of them have bought respectable houses in 
places like California at that age says something.  They do far better 
than the sob stories that are routinely trotted out by the unions every 
time they try to raise taxes.

The US education system is one of my most favorite targets for 
wholesale slash-n-burn, primarily because education is so important.  
What we have now is badly, badly broken, and if you study the history 
of how we went from a private education system that was the envy of the 
world to a the public education system we have now, it is an 
unfortunate accident of history resulting from some questionable 
ideological political maneuvering in the mid to late 19th century.


j. andrew rogers

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