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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ante up for education... progressives.

The Nevada State Education Association won a court battle to allow a 2% margins tax to be voted on by the state legislature and later in a statewide referendum if the legislature fails to pass the new tax.

The margins tax is a 2% tax on GROSS PROFITS (less some expenses like payroll and cost of goods...) for business earning $1 million or more a year. The union believes the new tax would generate $800 million more for K-12 education - around an 11% bump in K-12 spending.  It is a terribly stupid tax. 1) It is not predictable and 2) it won't do Nevada any favors in getting jobs or creating new businesses (especially when you're increasing expenditures on industries you want to grow and diversify).

Steve Sebelius offers a few observations to these objections, calling them "myths" but I don't want address his counterpoints to the tax now. I want to address his misguided belief that more tax revenue can improve education. Apparently, this myth can't be beaten down enough ... willful ignorance and superstitions keep many dumb ideas alive... sigh...

Yup, that's what we'll do with the $800 million...

Sebelius writes,
But the best part is, if we use the revenue from the new tax — assuming it ultimately passes — to make real and significant improvements to our educational system, we may (like California) start attracting more high-tech businesses without having to waive all the usual taxes, because we’ll have a workforce attractive to those businesses.
It is true California has a better job market and a lot of highly educated people...relative to Nevada, anyway. But its not because of their higher taxes or better quality education system. No, California is resting on their laurels (or rather, eating them alive) and their K-12 education system is actually WORSE than Nevada, despite spending more!

Looking at the Federal government's latest data on per pupil spending, California spent $1,182 (14%) more per pupil on the operating budget than Nevada. When including debt and capital expenditures California still spends $753 more per pupil.

What do they get for their money? A worse system of education. Nevada routinely beats California in most metrics of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

 Check the NAEP data yourself!!!

Even when looking at just low-income student results Nevada beats California. Below is a screen shot of the NAEP Data explorer looking at low-income student math scores:

Nevada's low-income students (eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch) saw an 8 point gain between 2007 and 2011. That is great, nearly a grade level improvement in learning scores. California, by comparison improved a mere 3 points.

The result is much the same for 8th grade math. Nevada's low-income students are nearly a grade level ahead of California's low-income kids.

I've addressed this a few times before doing more "complicated" regressions. The results consistently show that more spending does not result in greater student achievement in math or reading.

I addressed the Education Alliance of Washoe County's bogus report here and here.

I addressed a bogus report from Save Our Schools here.

I even looked at higher education spending and economic results including employment rates, income and GDP here, here and here (at one point I had a picture of actual UNLV students doing a keg stand on campus...alas that photo is no longer available).

And to rub it in, while there is NO STATISTICAL CORRELATION between spending more and improving student achievement there is a statistical correlation between short state names and high education scores. Since it is silly to believe shortening "Nevada" to "Ne" would improve education (despite a statistically significant correlation) how stupid do you think it is to believe spending more money on a top-down Soviet Style monopoly where few are ever fired for incompetence will actually improve education?

Fact, spending more money on K-12 education is highly unlikely to improve education. Steve Sebelius (like many others) is either willfully ignorant or is misleading the public.

Either way, Sebelius (and all the others who claim spending more will improve education) need to ante up! If your idea fails (as it has continued to do so for 50 years) what do we get in return? How do we hold your failure accountable?

How about this.

If the tax hike passes but fails to create a statistically significant improvement in K-12 education results then the State will put up all $7+ billion in K-12 biennial expenditures up as tax credits to be claimed by parents and donors who help kids attend private schools or another public school on scholarship.

That's right, state wide school choice for everyone. Every penny!

It's time to stop demanding more and producing nothing in return. Put your money where your mouth is "progressives." It's time for you to pay your fair share!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

New Teacher Meme

My bad counter-meme to the badly incorrect Finnish Teacher Meme...  Sorry I'm not using the correct font here....


Nevada graduation rates
Nevada teacher salaries
Finnish teacher salaries

Below you can watch Randi Weingarten try to discover why Finnish education is so "good."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Finnish Teacher Meme Myth

The above image circulated around the web earlier this week and the Cato Institute quickly debunked the claim's made by the image.

A quick account of what Cato Institute found: Drawing from data from the OECD they found that a Finnish teacher with 15 years of experience makes about $37,500 a year, nowhere near what a doctor makes. By contrast the average American teacher makes $45,000 a year (but $51,000 per year according to the BLS) ...

Yes, American teachers earn more than Finnish teachers.

How about Nevada's teachers? A teacher in the Clark County School district with 9 years experience and only a BA degree makes about $51,000 ($69,000 including benefits). A teacher with 14 years experience and a MA can be making $66,000 ($90,000 including benefits).

So no, paying teachers more money is not what makes Finnish schools better, on average, than American schools.

In fact, paying teachers more money doesn't produce better results. "Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality" by Dale Ballou and Michael Podgursky (among many others) discuss the academic research on teacher pay and results. What they, and many others find, is that paying teachers more money doesn't improve education. It only means schools pay more to recruit from the same batch of teachers. There are some very good reasons for this, including how teachers are trained, recruited and paid.

Certification doesn't matter

TEACHER TRAINING and CERTIFICATION: Most state's require teachers to attend a university and take courses on teaching pedagogy. Even if you already have a degree, it can take an individual another two years of college course work to qualify. Sometimes the requirements are very specific on how many credits of a certain course you must take.

This means quality people (economists, rocket scientists, computer scientists, business leaders) may not be "qualified" to teach. FACT: teacher certification is worthless.

TEACHER RECRUITMENT: Teacher recruitment is geared toward recent college grads with the intention of keeping them around for 20 years (pension plans are also designed to keep teachers immobile and in the profession longer than they, or we, may wish). As stated above, the teacher training process tends to exclude experienced people from other fields because the opportunity cost of attending college for another two years to earn a meaningless certification.

Eliminating teacher certification requirements would lower the barriers to entry and allow recruitment of a broader pool of talent.

TEACHER PAY: Teachers, regardless of performance (or demand for their talent) are paid the exact same. You start with a low salary and spend the next 14-15 years working toward the max pay. Again, this is conducive toward recruiting people out of college rather than recruiting experienced talent from other fields. The step-pay also means you won't be recruiting highly talented and motivated grads who can make twice as much right out of college in another profession.

Performance pay would allow you to recruit talented individuals immediately. Another way would be to identify top teachers and pay them extra for each additional student beyond some threshold. The idea there would be to get as many students under the tutelage of the very best teachers and then reward those teachers handsomely. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Is Chuck E. Cheese illegal in Florida?

No, not because of that.

Florida apparently has a really stupid law that bans gambling without any actual gambling taking place. From Reason Magazine: cops raid a free poker tournament after a months long undercover sting operation. Employees and the owner now face fines and possible time in prison. Note: the tournament posted its rules online and had been operating openly for years...

This is a very peculiar case because the poker tournament does not charge a buy-in, no money exchanges hands, and the poker chips are worthless. Players simply accumulate points by playing and players can win prizes including a trip to my hometown of Las Vegas (where most gambling is legal). Apparently winning the prizes makes the whole operating illegal in Florida.

According to Reason Magazine and the Tampa Bay Times,

Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Joshua Riba told the Times that Florida's definition of gambling, rather counterintuitively, does not require betting. "The statute itself does not require anybody to ante in," Riba says. "If they are playing cards, and they have an opportunity to win something of value, then they are technically violating this particular gambling statute." In fact, the offense of keeping a gambling house is defined as, among other things, letting people use a place "to play for money or other valuable thing at any game whatever, whether heretofore prohibited or not." [emphasis added]
As Reason notes, this broad stupid law would make Scrabble Tournaments illegal.

I believe it would also make Chuck E. Cheese illegal. Chuck E. Cheese operates 26 gambling houses in Florida. Unlike the free poker tournament the government raided in Florida, Chuck E. Cheese requires players to buy tokens which can be used to play the games (kinda like paying an ante in a poker tournament). Winning games produces tickets which can then be exchanged for prizes...which have value....something that is apparently illegal in Florida.

 Note my evidence from months and months of undercover work a cursory internet search...

Chuck E. Cheese tokens...
Wait, they're making a currency to compete with the dollar too?
I'm surprised the Federal Government hasn't shut them down yet...

Tokens are used to play games. Just look at this little criminal gambling away at Skee Ball!!!

Fun is addictive... so it should be illegal!

Guilty as sin!

Tickets can be exchanged for prizes with cash value!!!
Yes, Chuck E. Cheese is an illegal gambling house in Florida.

So do your job Florida State prosecutors and legislators and shut down those gambling houses. Save those children from having fun. You know what is better for them than their parents!

No wait. How about we restrict government power so it can't prosecute people for committing crimes they don't even know they are committing. I'm tired of reading stories where the government tries to expand what is illegal by testing the boundries of their power in court.

Laws should be simple and clear. Period. Better yet, just let consenting adults gamble. Heck, even let children play their video games and skee ball!!!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Real Reason CCSD Wants a Property Tax Increase

The Clark County School District is seeking a property tax increase to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. They claim this property tax increase is for school building maintenance and upgrades (some of these buildings were updated about a decade ago).

I'm calling Shenanigans on the school district... again.

The real reason: they can't afford the salary and benefits they unwisely increased as the state fell into the recession.  Digging through the school district's budget I discovered that salary and benefits increased from 47.5 percent of total expenditures during the 2006-07 school year to over 63 percent today. Next year's budget projects salary and benefits will consume over 66 percent of the budget.

Two out of every three dollars is now spent on salary and benefits. That is not necessarily a problem, but since we are talking about the Clark County School District - where less than half of all employees are teachers - it's a major problem (See the 2013 Comprehensive Annual Budget page 23 and 61). For 2012-13, the District projects a total of 27,370 FTE Employees (full-time equivalent employees. Of that, just 13,596 FTE are classroom teachers (49.7 percent).*

For the record, CCSD's general operating fund is down just 1.7 percent since 2006-07 (yes, adjusted for inflation to 2012 dollar values). The overall budget is down 7.9 percent over that same time. A good portion of that decline is in capital expenditures (which includes building new schools and renovating "old" schools).

However, salary and benefits are NOT down over that same time. In fact, CCSD spends 23.5 percent MORE on salary and benefits today than it did in 2006-07. And yes, that is even after adjusting for inflation. For 2012-13, the school district will be spending an average of $77,155 in salary and benefits PER employee (FTE). Adjusting for inflation that is $6,072.09 more per employee than during the 2008-09 school year (latest available data online).

It's good to be the king! employed by the government!

Yes, despite the continued recession CCSD is spending more PER employee too (8.5 percent more than four years ago)! Devastating salary cuts to employees are a myth.

The bulk of this salary and benefit spending increase occurred in the 2007-08 school year. I believe this to be due to a massive salary and benefits increase that was negotiated by the District and the union. Not only was that salary and benefits increase irresponsible, it is imprudent to try to maintain those increases at the expense of actual education (especially when so many employees aren't even teachers).

With a $3.1 billion annual budget, the school district doesn't need or deserve your money. The school district needs to learn how to responsibly spend the money they already have. One solution would be to stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on non classroom personnel.  Over half of all school districts in Michigan now use private contractors to provide food service, transportation and or custodial services. To date, they have saved hundreds of millions of dollars. CCSD could also use private contractors for school maintenance (electricians, plumbers, carpenters, HVAC repair) and grounds-keeping as well.

Think about it, the district can barely educate and graduate students (its primary function) so why do the district's leaders also think they will be good at mowing lawns, preparing nutritious meals and repairing air conditioners?

Instead of operating like the Soviet Union a job's program for adults, the district should devote resources where they are needed most and make use of the private sector to handle non classroom services at a lower cost.

* NOTE: the District labels them as "classroom instructors" which does not mean ALL of them are actual full-time teachers. The actual number of full-time teachers is lower.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Another case for building a wall around California?

Yes, build it around California! The problem with California is that Californians repeatedly vote and approve really stupid policies.  Forget building it across the Mexican border. Mexicans are actually hard workers. Plus they are ambitious and resourceful enough to dig under, cut through or climb over the fence. Just watch this episode of Penn and Teller's award winning documentary television show Bullshit! to discover what I'm talking about.

Mexicans are smarter than walls! maybe not quite as smart as walls... 

Californians would probably wait at the fence for a handout... like a ladder or shovel... or more likely, increase taxes on wealthier people and/or businesses and then hire government unionized workers (at $38 an hour) to get the job done about ten years from now... after, of course, the public bond passes and the proposal sails through a dozen planning meetings and is signed and notarized by seven bureaucrats in triplicate...  This means we could keep them, and their really bad ideas, from ruining other states! At least for awhile.

For those not living in California, and not living on the west coast in states boarding California, let me explain for you.

For over a decade Californians have been fleeing their home state (thanks to bad policy prescriptions which drive up the cost of living and increase poverty). Californians have been moving eastward looking for more opportunities and a better life. Unfortunately, they bring with them all the bad ideas they voted for which ruined their home state. Both Arizona and Nevada went from Red to Purple states and it is largely thanks to migrants from California.

87 OCTANE IS $4.759 A GALLON!!! OMFG!)

All joking aside (yes, I'm not actually in favor of building a fence around California, but those people just keep making the case for it better and better) here is yet another bad policy prescription that is making life difficult for Californians.

Perpetual left-wing economic incompetent Senator Diane Feinstien thinks it is a conspiracy by corporations and has called for a federal investigation. But in reality its just dumb left-wing economic and environmental planning. You see, I live just 4 hours from L.A. in the small city of Henderson, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas). Our gas prices were a mere $2.799 in comparison while southern Californians are paying $4.759 a gallon!

Please note, Nevada's gas taxes are 11th highest in the nation and just $0.16 lower than in California. In other words, something other than California's notorious high taxes is causing gas prices to be 70 percent higher in Southern California than nearby in southern Nevada

The reason Californians are paying $2 to $3 a gallon more than the rest of the nation is because of a self induced shortage. You see, California law requires two different mixtures of fuel (one for summer and one for winter). This is all done to every so slightly reduce carbon emissions. The impact on the environment is most likely negligible but the impact on your wallet is massive! I'm not against saving the planet from environmentally damaging chemicals, but I am against stupid, wasteful, expensive and ineffective (which seems to describe most policy prescriptions from the left-wing green crowd these days).

So why is this very special fuel mixture required ONLY in California driving up prices (that alone does play some role)?

According to the NBC News article "California voters only have themselves to blame" the state is currently in between the time gas stations must switch between the summer and winter fuels. Gas stations don't want to be left with surplus fuels they CANNOT LEGALLY SELL so they reduce production resulting in a shortage until they are LEGALLY ALLOWED to sell the winter mixture. Lower supply and the same demand results in higher prices.

It is basic economics... but basic economics is too hard for some to grasp. Rather than a Federal probe to solve this non-mystery, why don't we have a Federal probe into the mind of Senator Diane Feinstein and others who simply refuse to accept the laws of supply and demand... or even think about unintended consequences?

Oh wait, that's not a mystery either. Politics regresses to the lowest common denominator of stupid.

(NOTE: Please forgive my spelling and grammar, my formative years of education were spent in California)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Vouchers work...again

You probably already knew it, but if you didn't, yet another study demonstrates that vouchers improve student outcomes. I'd give you the link to the WSJ article, but then you'd have to subscribe.

So basically, the study by Harvard professor Paul Peterson and Matthew Chingos finds that African American students using vouchers were 24 percent more likely to graduate and attend college. Don't want to read the full study? Read, Dr. Peterson's much shorter article at Education Next instead.

These aren't large results but it is still impressive considering how restricted voucher programs in the U.S. really are (both in terms of money and enrollment).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Non story... create a story

So.... Rep. Paul Ryan dated a black girl... And so the media wanted dirt. They dug and found Paul Ryan's ex girlfriend, Deneeta Pope. They discovered she was a Democrat and voted for Obama. Surely, the journalists could find some skeletons or maybe, at the very least, Ryan's dirty sex secrets!!! But, she said only nice things about him...

No dirt.

Instead of letting the non-story die as a non-story journalists continued by digging up dirt on Ryan's ex - which has nothing, whatsoever, to do with Ryan's policy preferences. They found she served five months in prison for money-wire fraud. Essentially, she stole an estimated $77,000 from her employer.

Yes, that is bad, but she served her time. Maybe she really regrets what she did. Maybe she is a better person now. But digging this up and airing it for the public to view just because Paul Ryan attended her wedding 8 years after she was released from prison (maybe he's a true know, the type that sticks with you through thick or thin?)...

I think this sends a terrible message to women. Maybe it doesn't, maybe I'm worrying to much. But digging up this and airing it just because a black woman dated a white Republican...

Seriously, what is this 1950 segregated America again?  Why is it so hard to believe a conservative white male can date a liberal black female?

What closed-minded, bigoted, self-self-righteoius closet did these journalists crawl out from?

Note to women of color: Dating free market capitalists, limited government types, or Republicans (regardless of whether they like free market capitalism or limited government) can lead to a ruined personal life if journalists don't like your boyfriend/ex....

Full disclosure: I'm not a Republican but I did date a black girl...she also posed in Playboy. Go me!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

GOP a joke

Ron Paul was a breath of fresh air for the Republican party. So was Gary Johnson until he switched to the Libertarian Party. Those guys got it right more often than not. They represented true limited government and real market based capitalism - not the crony capitalism or other political nonsense that pervades both parties.

Paul and Johnson were fighting for the soul of the Republican party - fighting against the crony capitalists (big government in the economy Republicans) and social conservatives (big government in the bedroom Republicans). They lost and now we are left with a Republican party that is virtually indistinguishable from Democrats except on meaningless social issues.

Sadly, with Romney, we are left with yet another election between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich...

Obama is pretty bad, there is no doubt, but why would I want to vote for Romney after this silly GOP convention? Why is there a need to pretend all Republicans like or even want Mitt Romney as their candidate? In this day and age - with camera phones, twitter, blogs - why bother with such BS?

Why block delegates for a candidate that doesn't have enough to even come close to threatening Mitt Romney's nomination?

Why block one man's sign then confiscate it?

Why would I vote for a candidate when his party operates like that (see video below)?

The video above reminds me a lot of the petty tyrant attitudes that are prevalent among the bureaucrats running institutions of "higher" education.  Block and ban all opinions you disagree with... Sigh...

I wouldn't support Romney and Ryan anyway. I'd rather have four more years of Obama ruining the progressive brand than Romney and Ryan ruining the free market capitalism Bush.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lean startup nonsense

The "lean startup" model could indeed help government run better. Under lean startup, a business (or government) creates small "minimum viable products" and tests them with consumers.

The object is to test the hypothesis that consumers will enjoy/purchase X product. Lean startups want to iterate, release and test products quickly, all the while using the knowledge gained from testing user behavior to make a better product. Basically you're testing to find out what consumers want (and why they want it) and quickly drop whatever doesn't work for the consumer. The result is a successful business that produces products people want at a lower cost.

Sounds great and the concept of applying the lean startup method to government has Pando Daily writers and Eric Ries (the guy who coined the term lean startup) excited about the prospects.

An article by Hamish McKenzie in Pando Daily provides minimal detail on how government is using lean startup, but basically a former executive level administrator at Health and Human Services is pairing entrepreneurs with government bureaucrats to produce "results" in six months.

McKenzie writes,

The White House was applying Lean Startup concepts in the Innovation Fellows program, which pairs top entrepreneurs from the private sector with top innovators in government to collaborate on key tasks that aim to deliver significant results in six months. The teams work to build products that address needs such as making government data more useful and accessible to the public, improving awareness around public health records, and personalizing the government’s online services.
[Todd] Park was effusive about the merits of the Lean Startup way. “The government in and of itself isn’t a startup, but change instincts inside the government absolutely are,” he said. “And Lean Startup works.” He described it as a “perfect fit” with how the government has to change.

Forgive me for being skeptical, but I don't see the lean startup model working in a virtual monopoly where politicians and bureaucrats have no skin in the game (nothing to lose by spending other people's money). There are also associated problems with concentrated interests and dispersed costs (government beneficiaries - read special interest groups - are highly vocal, taxpayers less so). This issue with concentrated interests results in decisions on policy prescriptions being political, not based on science. Finally, government has a problem with how it earns revenue. You see (Eric, Hamish, Micheal, Todd et. al) government earns revenue regardless of whether the programs are successful or not. Government has the power to tax and to take what it needs whether the services are good or bad (little to no incentive to do good).

Examples abound, but I have one for you that is rich with irony.

Todd Park (government CTO quoted above) worked for Health and Human Services, the same department which suppressed a study for 3 years on the Head Start program. The study found no long term statistical impact on students in the program. This despite spending over $150 billion on the program since its inception 40 years ago.

Head Start still exists and the government still spends billions on the program. If that is lean startup, I will eat my underpants.

If that wasn't bad enough, during the same time HHS was suppressing a study on how they wasted billions producing no results, the Democrat controlled congress voted to eliminate the DC Opportunity Scholarship program which, at worst, produced a 20 point improvement in graduation rates among low-income students in DC.

Lean startups don't spend billions on projects that don't work and cancel projects that do. Lean startups also don't have the ability to take, by force, revenue from their customers...

Consumers of the scholarship program wanted it (see the video above), but the teacher union (a powerful and influential special interest group) feared the program threatened union power and control over education. The union pushed Democrats to kill the scholarship program despite overwhelming evidence that school choice programs work.

The fundamentals of government (how government ACTUALLY operates) doesn't allow for the lean startup method. Its a nice thought, but it just doesn't work out that way right now... For now, we'll get platitudes from government bureaucrats and the journalists who believe, without question, everything they say.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The end is near... for the university!

Online education startup Udacity now allows students to take proctored exams to earn course certification. The courses themselves are free, certification is just $89.

Udacity focuses on computer programming (a field that currently doesn't require professional licenses which makes it a ripe field for disruption!). I'm currently taking the CS101 course in computer science and I have to admit, its a lot of fun to learn computer programming.

I'm looking forward to the day when startups like this can put an end to the medieval model of higher education that currently dominates academia. Specifically the four  five eight year under graduate degree.

I'm also looking forward to proof that a classroom of 100,000 students works just fine.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Roots of education never changed

All fluff

Francisco Dao, founder of 50 Kings and columnist for Pando Daily (tech/start-up blog), writes another fluff piece that pretends to have deep insight...this time about how to fix education.

Dao writes,
While efforts have targeted higher education because of the spiraling costs, the most important part of the learning process happens at the grade school level. Here is where students are taught to learn, or at least they should be. But unfortunately K-12 education has become mired in an imprudent curriculum that drives most students away from intellectual curiosity.

Notice I said “taught to learn” and not “learn.” This is an important distinction because what happens during these developmental years is what sets us on our paths for the rest of our lives. Instead of teaching students what to learn, students and society would both be better served if we taught them why they should learn. A child who is instilled with the tools of critical thinking and an appreciation for learning will become an adult who seeks knowledge as a lifelong pursuit, regardless of the specific mechanics of how it’s found.
Basically, Dao thinks we can only reform education if we teach students critical thinking, to love learning, and how to think.


There are many theories about how to improve education - most are contradictory with each other - but everyone, from theorists to practitioners, already agrees about the importance of critical thinking and teaching people how to think and learn. In fact, for all educations failures, WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN DOING THIS Mr. Dao!

This isn't the first fluff piece by Mr. Dao. I'm not sure if Mr. Dao fails to take a meaningful stand on subjects to avoid controversy, or if he isn't a deep thoughtful thinker to begin with.*  I don't know him so I can't tell -- all I have are his blog posts which demonstrate he writes shallow pieces about important topics. This is disapointing to me...and a bit ironic... because he founded 50 Kings an organization of allegid tech/business elites  who gather together to discuss important issues of our time. If Dao's Pando Daily writings are as deep as the conversation goes, well....

*and where no one takes a bold stand with policy prescriptions

Bold statements and controversial stands on important issues should not be avoided if we want to make real progress and advance policy and society forward... especially if you have the emperical evidence to back you up.

Want real solutions, not fluff?...Read more of my blog, or better yet, read the work of people much smarter than me like Dr. Jay P. Green, Dr. Eric HanusekDr. Paul PetersonDr. Caroline Hoxby (and many more) on proper education reform.

* UPDATE - it is also possible Mr. Dao doesn't know enough about education and education reform to offer meaningful insights. It is also possible he wants people to think of solutions themselves, but he offers to hint or invitation for his readers to do so.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Republicans are just as bad at math as Democrats

I'm inspired to write this after a debate with some Romney/Ryan tribe members. Without providing an ounce of evidence, they were convinced Romney and Ryan would slash government spending and return sanity to Washington.

Sadly, the math begs to differ. The fact is, Ryan's budget would actually increase government spending.

Reason Magazine has written some articles on the issue and I recommend taking a look at them here, here and here. The libertarian Cato Institute is a nicer (too nice) to Ryan's budget and fine with not balancing the Federal budget until 2040... but make no mistake, Ryan is NOT cutting government spending.

Federal outlays for 2012 will be somewhere around $3.6 to $3.8 trillion for 2012. Ryan's budget proposal would actually increase spending to $4.9 trillion by 2022.  For the record 4.9 is bigger than 3.8.  In fact, Ryan's budget would increase Federal outlays by about 29 percent.

Contrary to what the media, Republican and Democrat leadership state, Ryan's budget doesn't cut a dime in Federal spending. Ryan is only proposing to cut imaginary spending. That is, money the government has never spent (it doesn't even exist!).

By contrasts, Obama wants a ridiculous 45 percent increase in spending... something we certainly cannot afford. By debating about imaginary spending cuts Republicans treat the Democrats desired spending as a baseline. This allows Democrats to make the argument that their budget is NECESSARY to MAINTAIN government programs. Thus, imaginary budget cuts, they argue, hurt the government programs ... and thus the poor, elderly, disabled...

(Republican budget strategy)

So the difference between Republicans and Democrats is whether to increase spending by 29% or 45% AND NOT a difference between "slashing spending" and just "barely maintaining government programs" as each respective party base (and media) believes.

By treating imaginary spending as real spending, Republicans are handing the budget debate to Democrats on a silver platter. Now Democrats get to set the tone and they get to argue their budget  merely maintains government programs...with a 45 percent increase in spending.

We need honest budget policy. Republicans: Admit the budget proposal actually increases spending nearly 30 percent. Drop the idea that your proposals are "radical" and take up the mantle of "moderate." Finally, lambast the opposition's unrealistic 45 percent increase budget demands.  Just don't pretend you actually cut the budget.

That strategy may not excite your political base but at least we can move the ball forward on sensible budget policy.

(Full Disclosure: I am not, nor ever have been, a member of ANY political party. I do consider myself a small "l" libertarian).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Boldly Boring

Francisco Dao, founder of 50 Kings and columnist for Pando Daily wrote a column titled "Looterism: The Cancerous Ethos That is Gutting America."

What a bold column title, certainly something interesting or profound must follow? Unfortunately, no.

Dao writes,

Capitalism is supposed to be a system that rewards people for creating value, but it has been perverted into “Looterism,” where the mantra of maximizing one’s self interest is spoken like an incantation, and people believe that this is the only thing that matters. In the transformation from capitalism to looterism, our economy has mutated from one that believes in “private benefit from value created” to simply “private benefit, regardless of damage.”

Putting self-interest (greed or whatever you wish to call it) above creating value is bad for America. Great. This is a reasonable position hardly anyone can argue against. The problem is Dao defines and asserts NOTHING to move the argument forward.

What is self-interest? What examples can we provide? What is being damaged?

Why is self-interest bad? Does Mr. Dao get up for work in the morning for the betterment of human kind or is he motivated by his own self interest (to feed and cloth and house him and his family for example)?  I doubt Mr. Dao works for free, so he must work for his own self-interest. If self-interest isn't inherently bad, can it be corrupted? If so, how?

Mr. Dao provides a small hint but fails to explore this problem any further. He writes,
It has turned us into a nation obsessed with the measure of wealth but with no regard as to how said wealth is acquired [emphasis added]. In a looterist nation, a bailed out banker fat from the trough of graft and public funds is held in the same regard as an entrepreneur who made her fortune creating a product that improves people’s lives.
How wealth is aquired is a very important distinction. If it is aquired by free and open competition, great! If it is aquired by force, then bad!

Self-interest bounded by free market competition and volunteerism would then be good. Self-interest exploiting the monopoly of government power must be bad. This is an excellent conversation that needs to be explored further rather than condeming capitalism and self-interest wholesale.

I've asked for clarification and maybe he'll respond. In the meantime, I suggest reading Milton Friedman's essay on social responsibility for free-enterprise. Friedman's intelligent and well reasoned answer is that corporations have only one responsibility in a free market: to make a profit. Of course, Friedman reasons this is only good in an open market (the invisible hand), not one dominated by the strong and very visiable backhand of government.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Give thanks to the private sector primate

If it wasn't for this gal, we'd have no internet!

Farhood Manjoo, a blogger at PandoDaily is one of many intelligent people who believe silly things. Arguing that Eduardo Saverin (a very early investor and member of Facebook) owes the U.S. everything (he's renouncing his citizenship, something that is becoming more popular for very good reasons) because...the government invented the foundations of the internet.

To make his argument Manjoo has to rely on one of the biggest fallacies of the internet age. He writes,
The American government’s creation of the Internet. The strangest thing about Silicon Valley’s libertarian politics is how few people here recognize how the Internet came about. ARPANET, the earliest large-scale computer network that morphed into the Internet, was funded by the U.S. Defense Department, as was the research into fundamental technologies like packet switching and TCP/IP. Delve deeper into the network and you get to the microprocessors that run the world’s computers—another technology that wouldn’t have come about by loads of federal research grants.
His argument is nonsense for several reasons.

1) ARPANET was built with private and public sector money by many private sector researchers (many private university academics). To say it was all government resources just isn't truthful. 

2) ARPANET, (nor any government official) in no way shape or form planned the internet as it unfolded and evolved. ARPANET ended in 1989 and the vast majority of the internet development since then has been advanced by the private sector and university researchers, NOT government planning. 

3) Just because ARPANET was funded, in part, by government research grants DOES NOT MEAN something equivalent never would have been invented. Manjoo has fallen in to the "Things Seen and Unseen" fallacy. He assumes that because it exists today there is no other way it could have existed. Given the many different programming languages for many different purposes, many of them not built or planned by government we can assume that something could/would have been invented, but maybe just a little later. Heck, a lot of the "foundations" of the internet are simply graduate level CS course material today.

Keep reading, this is where the fun begins!

4) Reducto Ad Absurdum - If, Saverin owes his wealth to a government funded invention that ended 23 years ago, was capable of carrying less data than my phone, performed relatively few functions and served just a select few compared to the millions upon millions of internet users today.... well, where does Manjoo's logic end? Shouldn't we then give thanks to the first computer language? The inventor of the first computer?

Shouldn't Saverin then owe his wealth to Texas Instruments, or Xerox, or maybe Konrad Zeus the inventor of the first programmable computer - he was funded by the Nazi Government. By Manjoo's logic does that mean we owe our gratitude for the internet to the Nazis?  

Well technically the Nazi's couldn't have achieved this without electricity so Saverin must owe his wealth to Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, James Watt or maybe Benjamin Franklin.

But they couldn't have done that without the mathematics advanced by Greeks and Arabs, nor without the invention of the abacus... 

No, Manjoo's (and others) flawed logic must ultimately take us back to the time when an ancestor of ours - some private sector primate - overcame their instinct to run from fire and instead learn to master it. 

So ultimately, Saverin owes his wealth (according to the nonsensical logic of Manjoo and others) some ancient ancestor, perhaps Australopithecus. So without further ado, I present to you THE INVENTOR OF THE INTERNET:

So Mr. Saverin, leave the U.S. if you must, you don't owe the government anything (except taxes which you are under threat of force and imprisonment if you don't pay). You owe Lucy, or maybe her uncle (we aren't sure). If you care, make a donation to your local natural history museum to say thanks!

In all seriousness, the internet we have today is thanks to millions of people acting harmoniously without the coordinated top-down effort of some mythical all-planning government.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Startups: a roller coaster

I amend my previous post - life running a startup company is like being a bipolar passenger on a roller coaster. Sometimes the ups and downs are just out of your control. But that is ok, I learned a long time ago not to panic. In fact, I find the ride quite thrilling so far...

Alas, I have not been posting much the last few months because I've been so busy working on my startup

More to come... still building the prototype.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Life in a startup

If there is one good word to describe the mental status of any startup CEO it has to be "bipolar." One day your team makes exciting advances, develops an awesome new feature, or solves a challenging problem that was halting development. Then, the next you may suffer big setbacks, miss deadlines, or read a tech blog only to learn someone has brought to market a concept your team was already exploring. 

A garage startup CEO jerks from excited to worried week after week. I feel bipolar, but my mentor tells me that is normal.  Maybe every CEO feels like that... maybe it even helps keep you on your toes.

Caring cannot be imposed

 YOU WILL CARE!!!!  or pay a fine...

Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate has a bizarre concept of freedom, morality, caring and responsibility

She first writes,

But after the aggressive battery of questions from the court’s conservatives this morning, it’s clear that we can only be truly free when the young are released from the obligation to subsidize the old and the ailing

We can debate the meaning of "obligation" (whether we have an obligation to be forced to pay for someone else's welfare, especially having the younger poorer group of citizens pay for the welfare of those who are, on average, much wealthier) another time. 

This point she makes is NOT what the ObamaCare Supreme Court Case is about. Progressives could have made this all about this "obligation" if they pushed for Universal Healthcare. They didn't. That blows up her main point. Progressives pushed to force people to buy health insurance or face penalties. Thus we are arguing about whether we can force people to buy health insurance against their will or face penalties (some cases leaving people worse off than before... ie no health insurance and now $1,000 less in their bank account).

Next she states,

Freedom also seems to mean freedom from the obligation to treat those who show up at hospitals without health insurance, even if it means letting them bleed out on the curb.

This doesn't make any sense. Hospitals are required by law to treat  patients regardless of their ability to pay. Thus supporting ObamaCare (forcing people to buy health insurance so you don't have to pay a few extra pennies to subsidize the emergency care of the poor) means you don't care about the poor (or at least haven't logically thought through your own position).

She goes on a wild illogical rant about telephones, gym memberships and broccoli next. PS, the price of telephones and service dropped considerably once the government stopped mandating rates and deregulated the industry...but that is another story.

Finally she states,
But we seem to want to be free from that obligation as well. This morning in America’s highest court, freedom seems to be less about the absence of constraint than about the absence of shared responsibility, community, or real concern for those who don’t want anything so much as healthy children, or to be cared for when they are old.

And there we have it. To Lithwick, freedom is about compulsory compassion. To her people are only responsible and caring when government compels them, by force, to pay for the health care or welfare of others (ObamCare mandate doesn't do this by the way, remember it requires people to buy something they may not want). 

 Your lack of faith in government force disturbs me!

Lithwick is completely illogical; sadly she is not alone as many Americans think like this (including conservative culture warriors - remember, someone is not moral or virtuous because you use the force of government to ban something they like or require a specific approved behavior). You cannot be forced to care and you cannot be forced into being socially responsible. Voting for politicians, signing petitions or protesting does NOT mean you care about others. 

Caring, compassion and responsibility are defined by personal action and sacrifice. Sacrificing your own time and money. If Lithwick TRULY cared she would be volunteering her time and money to help those in need.  I don't know if she's done either; it isn't any of my business. I'm only concerned about her totalitarian understanding of freedom and caring.

What will Kennedy do?

According to all sorts of different pundits the fate of Obamacare hangs by the opinion of Justice Kennedy. Kennedy, though conservative, is considered a swing vote because of his strong convictions toward judicial modesty....which unfortunately tends towards deference to Congressional power.

If ObamaCare is upheld because of Kennedy's preference toward "judicial modesty" Conservatives can blame the logic they used to fight the culture war. By defending "family values" (whatever that means) and "morals" (which, ironically, cannot be imposed by force) conservatives followed old school progressive thought that the Court should not overturn popularly created congressional laws.

That is wrongheaded. The court should vigorously overturn any Congressional law that violates the constitution... I just wish there wasn't so much bad precedent like Wickard v. Filburn for our government to justify more and more intrusive laws.

I'm also interested in what the progressive justices are asking in the court. Everyone assumes they will march lockstep in support of Obamacare but is this because they have carefully weighed the constitutional merits of the case? This is a big concern because it seems modern American progressives guffaw at constitutional questions - they don't take it seriously. Flaunting the foundational law of the U.S. is dangerous because the very principal was to limit the power of the government to protect the liberty of the people (government has a long, very long, history of oppression). I'm particularly concerned because it seems progressives have abandoned constitutionalism in favor of "the end justifies the means" approach.

Wanting to help the poor is great. Wanting to help the poor by blatantly violating/ignoring the constitutional law protecting the rights of others is morally wrong.