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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

President Trump’s Decision to Create “Office of Government Innovation” Echoes Earlier Presidential Initiatives to Run-Government-Like-A-Business

April 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included one on the topic of President Trump’s decision to create a new Office Of American Innovation (OAI) and name his son-in-law Jared Kushner to head the organization. Here’s a quote from Mr. Trump’s announcement:

“As a former leader in the private sector, I am proud to officially announce the White House Office of American Innovation, which will develop innovative solutions to many problems our country faces,” President Trump said. “One of the primary reasons I ran for President was the need for new thinking and real change, and I know the Office and its team will help us meet those challenges.”

The fact that this announcement came on the heels of many articles decrying his decision to leave many key science and technology positions unfilled is ironic. But the biggest irony from my perspective is that it echoed the pledge of a previous President, who pledged to

…”reinvent government” (declaring that) “Our goal is to make the entire federal government less expensive and more efficient, and to change the culture of our national bureaucracy away from complacency and entitlement toward initiative and empowerment.”

To accomplish this end he appointed his Vice President to lead a National Performance Review modeled on the kind of consulting done in the business world that had the lofty goal of streamlining the government in the name of business-like efficiency. The NPR report offered a series of recommendations in six months time:

 The National Performance Review (NPR), which was later renamed the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (report) contained 384 recommendations for improving bureaucracy’s performance across the entire federal government[3] The report was the product of months’ worth of consultation of various government departments and meetings within (the President’s) bureaucracy, which narrowed down 2,000 pages of proposals to the final report.[2]

NPR promised to save the federal government about $108 billion: $40.4 billion from a ‘smaller bureaucracy,’ $36.4 billion from program changes and $22.5 billion from streamlining contracting processes[3] Each of the recommendations would fall into three categories: whether it required legislative action, presidential action, or internal bureaucratic reform.[2] Major branches of bureaucracy that were targeted were the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Agency for International Development (AID), Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).[3] The first-year status report of the NPR claimed that, pending Congressional action, likely savings would amount to about $12.2 billion in (the first year).

The quotes above come from a Wikipedia entry describing Bill Clinton’s efforts to “Reinvent Government” when he took office in 1993. Four years after launching this initiative, Vice President Gore issued a progress report on reinvention:

In a September 1996 pamphlet, Gore wrote that the federal government had reduced its workforce by nearly 24,000 as of January 1996, and that thirteen of the fourteen departments had reduced the size of their workforce[4] In addition, thousands of field offices that were considered ‘obsolete’ closed.[4] In September 1997, Gore reported that 2.8 million people left the welfare rolls between 1993 and 1997.[5]

The metrics cited above are telling. They reflect the “Third Way” thinking of the neoliberal movement, a “lite” version of the anti-tax and anti-government movements successfully launched by Reagan-ites in the 1980s. This anti-tax and anti-government mentality was amplified by Newt Gingrich in his Contract for America, served as the basis for the Tea Party movement, and activated the base of Trump voters. In the meantime, the neoliberalism of President Clinton became the basis for the DNC’s platforms, platforms that avoided calling for higher taxes or bigger government. Platforms that were friendly to the “reform” movement in public education, a movement that at its root was pro-business, anti-union, and anti-democratic.

Mr. Trump’s OAI is unlikely to find any innovative solutions. It is more likely to recommend more privatization which will ultimately lead to the demise of “government roads”, “government water”, “government lands”, and… yes… “government schools”. Here’s hoping that the Democratic party recommends a stronger government, one that funds roads, infra-structure, and… yes… schools.

Derrell Bradford’s Thoughtful Insights on the Benefits of Choice

March 29, 2017 Leave a comment

When I saw a link to an article in the pro-choice, pro-voucher publication The 74 that countered the compelling arguments advanced by NYTimes writer Nichole Hannah-Jones, I was tempted to skip it, believing it would be a shallow and infuriating screed that reinforced the often simplistic positions taken by writers on that website. After reading the article by Derrell Bradford, though, I find myself needing to re-frame and re-calibrate my opposition to choice… particularly in urban settings. And even more surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with Mr. Bradford’s argument in favor of choice that was derived from a quote by Rod Paige, George W. Bush’s appointee to Secretary of Education who launched the “choice” movement embedded in NCLB that ultimately led us to Betsy DeVos:

Former secretary of education Rod Paige once offered that the country’s public schools have two incredible powers. The first is mandatory attendance: you will go to school; and the second is mandatory assignment: you will go to this school.

And even though state constitutional language varies on the kind and caliber of education a child will receive under these edicts, what’s certain is this: When a public institution can conscript you into a school with a long track record of underperformance, the egalitarian spirit of education, available to all, paid for by taxpayers and free at the point of delivery, is not only not served, it is subverted. The moment the state and public schools can force you into something that will likely inhibit your ability to be free and equal in the future — as is the case with children of color in underperforming public schools — you don’t control them anymore.

As noted in many earlier posts, I have long believed that exclusionary zoning and the economic segregation that results from that practice are the root cause of inequality or opportunity and the primary reason that social mobility is thwarted. Equal opportunity is impossible in our current world where children born into a particular zip code benefit from well-funded schools attended by classmates whose parents have college degrees while other children are effectively penalized by being born into a different zip code where schools cannot be well-funded and their classmates are from less educated backgrounds.

From my perspective, there are two ways to work around this issue: one is to provide more funding to less affluent districts and the other is to eliminate attendance zones within districts and between districts.

Providing equitable funding would make certain that if you are required to attend this school in an under-resourced district you can be confident that it has the same resources as that school in a fully-resourced district.  But providing equitable funding would require an increase in taxes and a redistribution of funds. Both of these are an anathema to voters who have been convinced that “throwing money” at schools is not the solution and it is “unfair” to ask those who worked hard for their earnings to “give money” to those who are “takers”.

Eliminating attendance zones between school districts and within school districts would also help eliminate the differences between this school and that school… but doing so would require a means of transporting students to the school of their choice and require some form of a lottery to ensure equitable opportunity. This poses a logistical challenge in all cases, a geographical challenge in some cases, and would result in diminished real estate values in those neighborhoods and communities where affluent residents live. In short, this, too, is unlikely to occur.

This unwillingness to pay more taxes or to allow mobility between and within districts led to the work around called “choice”. By abandoning the requirement that students are assigned to this school based on attendance zones or district boundaries, and creating “charter schools” that can draw from any part of the city or region, parents are able to enroll children in the “school of their choice”. Since the number of charter schools was limited, the schools themselves got the”choice” of students, and they often avoided choosing those children with special needs or those children whose parents failed to submit detailed paperwork. In other words, parents could only go to that school if they and their children passed muster… hardly the egalitarian model Rod Paige envisioned and hardly the egalitarian model The 74 suggests would emerge if schools competed with each other.

This “choice” workaround is based on the paradigm that “schooling” is a commodity and “schools” are enterprises that like shopping malls where consumers can go to whatever store they wish. And like that paradigm, the high-end shopping malls and grocery stores are used by the affluent while those without resources have no malls whatsoever and are forced to buy groceries from bodegas with limited elections.

In the end both Mr. Bradford and Ms. Hannah-Jones are engaged in fantastical thinking. Mr. Bradford believes that unregulated capitalism is inherently fair and there is virtue in selfishness. Ms. Hannah-Jones, like me, believes that in a democracy people will ultimately seek a solution that is fair to all, one that will require those with means to willingly share with those who have less opportunity due solely to accidents of birth. I hope the democracy minded voters will prevail.

 

Thomas Edsall Describes the Vicious Circle of Poverty, Fails to Describe the Best Way Out

March 24, 2017 Leave a comment

In his NYTimes column yesterday, Thomas Edsall offered an insightful and thorough description of the vicious circle of poverty with graphs, research citations, raw data, and paragraphs like this that summarize his findings:

The result is a vicious circle: family disruption perpetuates disadvantage by creating barriers to the development of cognitive and noncognitive skills, which in turn sharply reduces access to college. The lack of higher education decreases life chances, including the likelihood of achieving adequate material resources and a stable family structure for the next generation.

The factors that contribute to “family disruption” are being born to a single parent, being born to a mother who lacks a high school degree, and being born into a household that is below the poverty line.  Mr. Edsall offers evidence that those factors are increasing substantially among less educated populous, noting particularly the non marital birthrate which has jumped among mothers with a high school education level or less but remained steady among college educated parents. This circumstance of birth, in turn, leads to better lives for children born into college-educated married families:

The authors of the “Diverging Patterns” paper — Shelly Lundberg and Jenna Stearns of the University of California-Santa Barbara, and Robert A. Pollak of Washington University in St. Louis – make the case that

there are good reasons to think that children are key to the socioeconomic differences in marriage behavior.

For college graduates, they argue, “marriage has become the commitment device that supports intensive joint investments in children,” a cooperative “joint project of raising economically successful children.” In contrast, they write,

the expected returns to child investments by parents with limited resources and uncertain futures may be lower than for more educated parents with greater and more secure investment capabilities.

At the conclusion of his article, Mr. Edsall draws a series of conclusions, which are summarized below:

First, the spectrum of noncognitive skills and character strengths are a major factor in American class stratification.

Second, neither religious leaders nor practicing politicians nor government employees have found the levers that actually make disadvantaged families more durable or functional.

For liberals and the Democratic Party, the continued failure of government initiatives to achieve measurable gains in the acquisition of valuable noncognitive skills by disadvantaged youngsters constitutes a major liability.

Advocates for the disadvantaged must also highlight and capitalize on the many demonstrably effective antipoverty solutions already well known to the academic, research and nonprofit communities. Without better funded and better crafted organization and advocacy on behalf of the poor, the propaganda and accusations now emanating from the right will ineluctably reshape the law of the land — and once institutionalized, such “remedies” could prove staggeringly difficult to reverse.

For public schools, these translate into the following action steps:

  • Schools need to emphasize noncognitive skills and character strengths. These have long been a part of the “hidden curriculum” that is implicit in codes of conduct and the timely submission of homework, term papers, etc.
  • Schools need to work collaboratively with religious leaders, practicing politicians, and other government employees to identify intervention strategies that have promise. This is easier said than done in the hostile environment that exists today where much of the political capital is spent on shifting the blame and most of the agencies expend much of their efforts fighting for increasingly scarce tax dollars.
  • The media need to emphasize the pointlessness of gathering data that measures “non cognitive skills”. If the public and politicians have learned anything from the “school reform” movement it should be thiscollecting data for the purpose of “measuring performance” of groups of students is pointless and will always lead to the same result. Whenever time is a fixed part of the measurement of anything (e.g. by the time a student enters “x” grade or is “y” years old), the students who have the strongest start in life— in the development of cognitive and non cognitive skills— will always do better. As noted in earlier posts, when I began my career as a public school administrator in the mid-1970s the state of Pennsylvania administered a test to all students and determined that there was a high correlation between test scores and a mother’s education and father’s occupation based on a metric that scaled work from professional careers to laborers. Mr. Edsall breathlessly reported the same findings— forty years later.
  • Intervention programs need to begin MUCH earlier: It is clear that nurturance is crucially important for both the acquisition of non cognitive and cognitive skills. It is also clear that mothers who were not raised in an environment where nurturance was present are challenged to provide that kind of environment without support.
  • Only government programs can provide those programs. That is “Government is the solution, NOT the problem”. Mr. Edsall is correct in his final point: “Advocates for the disadvantaged must also highlight and capitalize on the many demonstrably effective antipoverty solutions already well known to the academic, research and nonprofit communities.” And here’s my hunch: when those advocates highlight the successful programs they will find that the only way to bring those programs to scale is to provide money raised through taxes to make them government programs. As noted frequently in this blog, before we can restore our faith in the ability of anyone to climb out of poverty we need to restore our faith in the ability of government to provide programs for those in poverty. We need to recognize that part of being a citizen in this country is to help those in need and share the fruits of our good fortune.

 

Penn Economist Demonstrates NYTimes Op Ed Contributors Flawed Arithmetic, But Misses One Key Point

March 20, 2017 Leave a comment

In a March 16 post to RegBlog, University of Pennsylvania Economist Adam Finkel takes his University of Chicago colleague Deirdre Mccluskey to task for her flawed math in an op ed piece she wrote for the NYTimes. In the op ed essay published on December 23, Ms. McCloskey asserted that

“[a]s a matter of arithmetic, expropriating the rich to give to the poor does not uplift the poor very much. If we took every dime from the top 20 percent of the income distribution and gave it to the bottom 80 percent, the bottom folk would be only 25 percent better off.”

As Mr. Finkel pointed out in this post (and to the NYTimes editors), this would only be true if EVERYONE started with the same level of wealth… and in our country that is clearly NOT the case. Indeed, instead of using Ms. McCloskey’s assumption that everyone has equal wealth of $500,000, Mr. Finkel used some real world numbers to calculate the impact of redistribution:

In the real United States, however—where $500,000 is indeed a reasonable estimate of the average individual networth, but where the top 20 percent own 85 percent of all wealth—the math is very different. Among a representative sample of 1,000 Americans, there would be $425 million to redistribute among the bottom 800 people, who would each start with only $93,750.

When Mr. Finkel dissembles Ms. McCloskey’s argument further, however, he overlooks one key flaw in her thinking:

First, McCloskey asserts that once the poor have “a roof over their heads and enough to eat,” they have no further need for any of society’s accumulated wealth. Elsewhere, she claims that all progressives seek a “forced equality” that would require brain surgeons and taxi drivers to earn the same amount. The former assertion is callous, and the latter is a strawman: even the most repressive Communist regimes in history sought equality of opportunity—not equality of outcome. Surely, somewhere within the 99 percent of the ideological distribution between dystopian Darwinism and utopian equality-for-its-own-sake, there is room for fruitful discussion about whether we should favor some modest redistribution via a progressive tax code and social programs. But McCloskey’s caricature of both positions makes any compromise impossible.

This just in, Mr. Finkel: Ms. McCloskey’s assertion is more than callous. It completely overlooks the fact that in January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States. and 42,200,000 Americans lived in food insecure households, including 29,000,000 million adults and 13,100,00 million children. In all, 13 percent of households (or 15,800,000 million households) were food insecure. So by Ms. McCloskey’s logic, those lacking a roof over their heads and enough to eat, HAVE a further need for society’s accumulate wealth. 

The most discouraging part of Mr. Finkel’s article was this section:

Unfortunately, the basic mathematics of McCloskey’s claim are mangled. She may not prefer that we seek progressive tax and regulatory policies, but her claim that these policies do not “uplift the poor very much” is erroneous. That the Times has decided not to correct her error—even in the face of an email exchange in which the author herself acknowledged her mistake—may be an example of how tempting it is to ascribe black-and-white factual issues to the realm of “healthy controversy.”

We cannot hope to have a meaningful dialogue about redistribution until we face the unpleasant truths of homelessness and hunger… as well as some basic mathematical truths.

NYTimes Editors Remain Oblivious to the Link Between Choice and Austerity

March 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Today the NYTimes editors took Kansas Governor Sam Brown to task for his wrongheaded approach to taxation in his State as he is reportedly set to leave his state in the lurch as he leaves for a rumored  Ambassadorship to Rome. The editors offered a description of the tax scheme and its impact:

Mr. Brownback, a Republican first elected on the Tea Party crest of 2010, used his office as a laboratory for conservative budget experimentation. His insistence that tax cuts create, not diminish, revenues has left the state facing a ballooning deficit plus a ruling by the state Supreme Court that Kansas schoolchildren have been unconstitutionally shortchanged in state aid for years, with the poorest minority children most deprived.

The court ruled this month that they would shut the state’s schools if funding wasn’t made equitable by June 30. It found reading test scores of nearly half of African-American students and more than one-third of Hispanic students were deficient under aid formulas favoring more affluent school districts.

Brownback’s solution to this deficit is not a tax increase to improve the funding deficiency cited by the court. His solution is to offer the students “choice”, a solution the NYTimes editors derided:

Mr. Brownback played no small role in the long-running school crisis by leading the Republican Legislature to limit school aid after enacting the largest tax cuts in state history, for upper-bracket business owners. Characteristically, the governor’s reaction to the court mandate was to further undermine schools by suggesting parents “be given the opportunity and resources to set their child up for success through other educational choices.”

But wait! Isn’t this the same editorial board that champions Eva Moskovitz’ Success Academy because ti gives parents “the opportunity… to set their child up for success through other educational choices”? Isn’t this the same editorial board that views charter schools as the best means to improve the failing schools in New York City?

My question to the NYTimes editors is this: Can’t you see that the underlying motive of the pro-charter school movement and Sam Brownback are identical? They BOTH want to diminish funding for schools while deregulating their operations so that privatizing profiteers can take them over. Maybe the results of Governor Brownback’s failed policies linking tax cuts to deregulated charters will help them connect the dots going forward.

This Just In: Trump Reinstates Gouging on Student Loans. DeVos and GOP are Silent

March 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Several media outlets, including The Hillannounced yesterday that President Trump issued a letter that rolled back Obama-era guidance that forbade student loan debt collectors from charging high fees to defaulted borrowers. This rollback was based on a technical argument that “…the initial guidance handed down by the Obama administration in 2015 should have been subjected to public comment before it was issued.” 7,000,000 people with loans through the Federal Family Education Loan Program that are held by guaranty agencies are affected by this decision. The last sentence of the article is chilling:

The amount owed in student loan debt has surpassed that of credit card debt — about $1.2 trillion.

So it is now conceivable that 7,000,000 voters are subject to fees that are as much as 16 percent of the loan’s principal and accrued interest should they fall behind in their loan payments for any reason. This means that when these borrowers are forced to choose between paying off credit cards or paying off student loans they might opt to defer the credit cards… or might skip a meal every day or so… or let their electricity be turned off. One thing is certain, they will be less able to buy goods and services, which will put a drag on the economy. And another certainty is that fewer students will plunge into debt making it increasingly difficult for our workforce to improve its skills.

And where are the voices of protest from the Department of Education? From the GOP? Or, for that matter, from the Democratic Party?

One hopes the Trump administration might seek public comment on this change… but it is unlikely to do so for they know that many of those who would protest it would be wearing those bright red hats that say “Make America Great Again”.

Trump/GOP Budget Ignores Scientific Findings and Students in Poverty— And the Planet— Pay the Price

March 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Guardian articlereporter Sam Thielman posted an decrying the Trump/GOP budget’s decision to cut funds for school lunches by $200,000,000 despite solid evidence that they are a cost effective way to improve student performance and health outcomes. In yet another case of the Trump administration’s ignorance of science (see the denial of climate change for countless other examples), the President’s budget director offered this explanation for the cuts:

When Mick Mulvaney, director of Donald Trump’s office of budget management, told press on Thursday that the administration’s attack on school meal programsbecause they “don’t work”, he did not mean that they don’t feed hungry children.

“Let’s talk about after-school programs generally: they’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school. Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence that they’re actually doing that,” Mulvaney said. “There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better in school.

This last statement got the attention of Dr. Michael Weitzman whose studies DID demonstrate that “kids who don’t get fed at home” do better in school when they receive a nutritious meal:

That statement is “an outrageous, fallacious comment that clearly reflects a lack of knowledge, or perhaps even worse, dishonesty”, said physician Michael Weitzman in an interview with the Guardian. Weitzman is the former chair of pediatrics at New York University, where he currently teaches, and this year’s recipient of the John Howland award, the highest honor bestowed by the American Pediatric Society.

And Guardian writer Thielman offers more evidence in case Dr. Weitzman’s word is insufficient:

The connection between childhood nutrition and hard educational metrics such as attendance and test performance has been documented repeatedly, by universities as well as government agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Weitzman and the other researchers who worked on the Boston study demonstrated explicitly that federally funded nutrition programs improve academic performance. That they help to alleviate poverty as well is simply a bonus.

So why would the Director of the Office of Budget and Management fly in the face of scientific findings and support cutting school lunch? For the same reason that the current administration and the GOP want to ignore the findings of climate science: the benefactors of scientific findings are not profiteering lobbyists with deep pockets. School children raised in poverty do not vote and do not have anyone with boatloads of money for political campaigns who can speak on their behalf. The planet earth has vocal supporters who generate petitions but there is no profit-making group advocating for clean air and clean water that compares with the auto and petroleum industries…. or the nascent water sellers.

So taxpayers save a few cents in order for corporations to save huge sums on their tax bills while children suffer and corporations no longer need to follow “stifling regulations” that help sustain planet earth. Welcome to the plutocracy.