Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Painting that spot behind the toilet

A not-too-recent Mises.org blog post of mine:


Sometimes it takes the odd event to allow two unrelated thoughts to become synthesis. Last night, as I sat watching the TV show "24" for the first and last time, spontaneous synthesis occurred.

As the "24" president and Jack - the main character - engaged in a desperate phone call, the president casually noted the destructive perimeter of the exact amount of the explosive C-4 that Jack claimed to be holding. It was then I realized that those who rise to the office of president are truly omniscient.

Not only is this president an expert on explosives, he is a political genius and strategist, and a real life walking wiki; the Renaissance Man on steroids. The modern president, as the now-popular myth goes, is the brain capable of keeping the bloated bureaucracy that is government from certain chaos; he sees all and knows all. That’s why we sleep soundly.

Thesis: I had recently received an eight-by-six color photo of Emperor GWB thanking me for my "steadfast support." GWB also noted that "(w)orking together we are building a better, stronger, safer America." Now I try to be a good husband, father, and employee, but I never considered my actions vital to this nation. What exactly had I done to deserve such an honor?

Antithesis: Not too long ago, I painted the kid's bathroom in my house. You know that spot behind the toilet, right in the center of the tank; the spot that is seemingly out of reach, no matter the angle or length of brush? Well, I painted it. Yes, even though no one else would ever look back there, I took the time to apply a coat of new paint. I had been good. Yet, in the back of my mind, I wondered if anyone would ever notice.

Synthesis: Just like Santa and the president on "24", GWB obviously knows who's been good and who's been bad. And, I had been good; hence my reward.

All good and well, yet there is a nagging thought that I had been played; conned by GWB. Maybe he doesn’t consider me his essential teammate; my doubt being the product of the note and envelope that came along with the photo. This troublesome note said I could use the envelope to acknowledge receipt of my honorary photo by including a generous check; suggested amounts thoughtfully included.

Was I the dedicated patriot, or simply a potential campaign donor? I decided not to allow my thoughts to wander there. I had painted the spot behind the toilet, which alone is worthy of honor from the president. Isn’t it?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy

Available at Mises.org

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy was the book that introduced me - at age 38 - to Austrian Economics. I read the book after my wife bought it as an economics text for my oldest son. Penny Candy shook my neoclassical background to the core, in an evening nonetheless.

After reading the book, I searched the internet for "Austrian School of Economics" and found Mises.org.

The book is a great introduction to the free market for middleschoolers, highschoolers, and adults who haven't yet shed the statist influences of public education.

A truly excellent book!

Buy it for your children or buy an extra copy to give to your local library or friends.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Clinton talks return on investment

My latest blog post at Mises.org:


"If you add up all the benefits, it's really astonishing," the New York senator and former first lady said, citing one study that says for every dollar invested in pre-kindergarten, there is at least a seven fold return.
-- Hillary Clinton as reported by Yahoo!News


Seven fold?!? So if the collective we invests a dollar, we reap seven. Invest a million, and reap seven million. A billion, and reap seven billion. A trillion, and reap seven trillion. Now we're talking real money.

Who would have thought that universally-available, publicly-funded prekindergarten programs would be so beneficial? With that rate of return, maybe the collectivists are onto something?

With Clinton in office investing my coerced tax dollars, East Street is just round the next turn.

High School Musical and Vile Adults

Consider this: The current most-popular teen media is Disney's High School Musical (HSM), and its soundtrack, school adaptations, concerts, etc. As evidenced by its popularity, HSM speaks to the issues facing teens, and it does so in a positive manner. Teens love it.

Now, contrast HSM with the vile nonsense promoted by adults, especially some teachers. While HSM is upbeat, these teachers do whatever they can to attract children to the dark side of life. Why? Teachers say that only trash such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower can hold the attention of children today. Yet, HSM proves otherwise.

So, why do some teachers want children to view the evils that entice these teacher's souls? Simple: To inculcate children into the nonsense that is the heart and soul of these adults.

There is truly something wrong - evil - with adults who desire children to read garbage such as The Perks when children want a positive story of life's challenges.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Division of Labor

Thanks to fellow bloggers RonMcK at Blessed Economist and Steve Scott at From the Pew for doing the heavy lifting on Christian issues, especially their research on biblical insights into economics.

These two bloggers make it tough to write on Christian topics as they grab hold of these subjects with vigor and polish. Excellent writing. Check them out when you get the chance, you'll learn something and really enjoy yourself. I can affirm both.

Note: In addition, Blessed Economist has an excellent blogroll that links to many other interesting and informative sites. One site of note is KingdomWatcher's series on Christian Economics.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Terrorism: Ron Paul vs. Giuliani @ SC Debate




Of course, Ron Paul tells the truth as he is the only candidate with integrity. And, of course, Rudy Giuliani lies as he has made a political career out of power and lies; deliberate grabs for power, and bold, outright lies.

Support Ron Paul for President!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The cause of societal ills

A recent listserve post of mine:

The reality driving these issues is, of course, government.

Government has metastasized into a real cancer. Why does anyone side with government? The answer is simple: To exact an advantage over everyone else. Whether its the politician looking for immigration votes, the unions demanding closed shops and the right of violent strike, the corporations partnering with government on the writing of laws and regulations, the do-gooders demanding that we all live their lives, or governmental entities working the system to their benefit - think public education, the driving force behind societal ills is the size and continued growth of government at all levels.

And, please do not look to government as the solution to the problems it alone has created. Instead, argue and encourage the re-development of the Revolutionary ideas and ideals of government restrained by its citizenry; a government whose realm exists solely in the protection of the negative rights that formed the basis of our Declaration and Constitution.

Supposing, and supporting, government as the solution simply feeds the cancer that has metastasized into all organs - institutions - of our society.

Jim Fedako

Monday, May 21, 2007

Who are they kidding?

Dear Olentangy Taxpayers,

Just a reminder that tomorrow, May 22, is our last Late Start day for this school year. The Board of Education approved six late arrival days for the 2006-07 school year. The late arrival days are designed for the purpose of staff professional development. The late start is similar to a two-hour delay in that bus routes and start times will be pushed back two hours. Students may enter the building at 10:55 a.m. and classes will begin at 11:05 a.m.

The Olentangy School District
Let me get this straight: The Olentangy School District is having a staff development day at the very end of the school year. Who is going to benefit from this waste of money? The students? No, they see the end of the school year on the horizon. The taxpayers? No, they never benefit from any such silly waste of time? The staff? Yes, because they get to ease into the long summer break.

This former board member approved staff development days on condition that they would be utilized in an effective manner and, more importantly, the superintendent would have an open and frank discussion of the Olentangy State Standards Analysis report so that the public could see where millions can be saved on an annual basis (read comments on this report at this link).

Funny, once I left the board, the Standards report disappeared from future board agendas. Staff development days is certainly a vote I wish I could have back.[1]

To borrow a phrase from John Stossel: Give me a break!


Notes:

[1] Of course my vote would have been symbolic only, as the other four members were supportive of these staff development days. Just as, it appears, the new board is unsupportive of a public review of the Standards report. Remember this at levy time when the board and administration is telling you that the schools are yours, that they are an open book for all to read.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Class sizes, logical fallacies, and a solution

In his defense of smaller class sizes, Tim Eby offers the perfect example of a counterfactual argument - or, fallacy in this case.
As the student population of the OLSD grows, the growth in the special needs and at risk student population will most likely grow at an even higher rate. Given the likelihood of this then it's within those areas where increased staffing will help the District continue to provide a high quality education for all of our kids

-- Tim Eby at
reservenotes43065.blogspot.com (bold emphasis mine)
A counterfactual argument is one where the conclusion is true if the antecedent is assumed true. We could easily switch terms, assume the opposite, and derive another true statement, though equally invalid:
As the student population of the OLSD grows, the growth in the special needs and at risk student population will most likely grow at a lower rate. Given the likelihood of this then it's within those areas where decreased staffing will help the District continue to provide a high quality education for all of our kids.

-- The counterfactual reply
Anyway, back to class size.

For fun, I'll commit a logical fallacy: the ad hominem. Eby quotes a passage from an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report as if EPI is an unbiased observer to the Krueger/Hanushek debate on class size reduction. What Eby fails to mention is that the EPI board is comprised of representatives of the nation's largest unions; including, as expected, Edward J. McElroy, President, American Federation of Teachers.

Of course, that alone does not invalidate the research of EPI. Nevertheless, one should be a little suspicious of conclusions drawn in a debate that is near and dear to the hearts of EPI board members.

Eby states that I supported my "own opinion on the issue of class size by using the controversial research of Dr. Eric Hanushek to back up (my) theory." Note the term controversial. Controversial is a loaded word. It can apply to that which has been challenged as easily as to that which is totally off-the-wall; think the University of Colorado at Boulder's Ward Churchill. Yes, Hanushek has been challenged, but by whom?

To refute Hanushek, Eby cites Alan B. Krueger of Princeton, best known for claiming that increases of the minimum wage in New Jersey and Pennsylvania resulted in increased employment. Talk about controversial, and maybe just a little off-the-wall. Oh, that darn ad hominem once again.

All of which still leaves Dr. Sanders unquestioned. Hmmm...

Keeping it simple: Seven hundred years ago, the English logician, William of Ockham, noted that, "Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity." In other words; keep it simple. In that vein, the simple review of class size reduction is to note the dramatic reduction in class sizes during the last 35 years, reductions not met with improved academic performance based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) - the nation's report card.

Where class size reduction matters: Yes, both Hanushek and Sanders have noted that reducing class size can improve performance, but only under certian circumstances.

First, the definition of classroom disruption: Disruption occurs anytime the flow of instruction stops. This can be the result of behavioral issues, poor classroom management, or by a student asking a question to which all the other students already know the answer.

Hanushek and Sanders noted that disruptions due to heterogeneous classes (classes with students of all abilities) cause reduced learning in the aggregate: the questions of the slow learners reduce the achievement of all other students.

The solution: Simply reducing class sizes, while keeping heterogeneous classes, is not a solution to improving performance. Homogeneous groupings (classes of students grouped by ability), where extra intervention is provided to the classrooms with the struggling learners, provides benefits for all students. And, the extra intervention for the struggling learners can be offset by increased class sizes for the remainder.

So, you get reduced class sizes where it matters, without breaking the banks of the taxpayers. Simply reducing class sizes across the board only provides extra income for EPI board members … oops, the ad hominem again.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tim Eby, Meet Eric Hanushek

Tim Eby over at reservenotes43065.blogspot.com has just extended his range of expertise. Eby is now making the claim that reducing class size is important for learning. Well, Eby, let me introduce you to Dr. Eric Hanushek:
Eric Hanushek is the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He is also chairman of the Executive Committee for the Texas Schools Project at the University of Texas at Dallas, a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a member of the Koret Task Force on K–12 Education.

-- Hanushek's personal bio (abridged)
Hanushek is a left-leaning economist and researcher who in 1981 began looking at the effect of class size on achievement. He expected to - and likely wanted to - find positive benefits due to reducing class size. He instead found no connection between reducing class size and student achievement. None whatsoever. And Hanushek is a liberal by nature.

Since his findings, Hanushek has produced subsequent studies and written many articles on the subject. There is one connection - or correlation - that he did note: Reducing class size is the most expensive program for improving student learning, especially considering that the reduction does absolutely nothing for performance.

Eby also needs to introduce himself to the findings of Dr. Sanders - the national expert on value-added models of student academic growth. (Of note, the district and state utilize his model, and the district has been sending administrators to see Sanders speak the last couple of years) Sanders has also found no connection between reducing class size and student achievement. None whatsoever.

Incovenient truths from national experts. Of course, you can always go with Eby if you'd like. Though, even he notes that reducing class size needs to be followed by increased performance. But, based on the research from Hanushek and Sanders, there is no reason to spend tax dollars on an outcome that is already known.

Violence and destruction are always the response

My latest blog post at Mises.org:


In what has to be the most telling example of the desire of government to use violence as its primary means to any end, officials in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland and Ontario, Canada, have destroyed over 20 million ash trees in an attempt to slow the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer.

The larvae of this voracious Asian pest – first identified in the US in 2002 – tunnel through the softwood just under the bark, cutting off the tree's supply of water. The result, the tree dies in about five years.

The tree dies. Nothing else happens. The ash borer does not harm humans, nor does it harm other plants or animals. Yet, once the pest is found in the odd tree, all trees within a wide area are marked for destruction. Once more, when government finds an ash borer in any tree, it cuts all trees to the ground. In many cases, mandating the destruction of trees on private property.

An infestation found in some trees near a local mall resulted in the destruction of 16,000 ash trees - 16,000!. I have to assume that the Emerald Ash Borer is envious of it's competing, and more destructive, partner - government.

So, what takes the foreign pest five years to achieve, government performs in a matter of days or weeks. Where the borer may infect certain trees within a radius around the infested tree, slowly robbing them of life, government destroys all ash trees, infected or not.

Does this even make sense? I am to fear the ash borer as it may destroy local ash trees when I should be fearing government since it changes the may destroy into a will destroy. Luckily, the lack of federal funds is currently limiting the wrath of government in Ohio, as local cities have to fund their own tree removal efforts – estimated at $250 per tree.

Keep in mind that trees can be treated as a preventative measure prior to infestation. So, private property owners have the means to decide for themselves whether or not they desire protecting their individual trees. Unless, of course, someone finds the pest in a tree within your area, then your right to decide is pushed aside for a supposed public good.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Government: Debt, Grants, and Peer-Review

From Gary North's series on debt over at LewRockwell.com:
As King David wrote 3,000 years ago: "The wicked borroweth and payeth not again" (Psalm 37:21a)
North was using this quote to question our current financial situation. Not our personal one, as we have to repay debt or face bankruptcy and loss of assets. Instead, North was referring to the lie that funds our ever-growing government debt. North is correct, and it is a wicked system that we allow to perpetuate; a system that has our children, and children's children, paying the interest for debts WE have allowed the to feds accumulate. A wicked inheritance indeed.

Recent LewRockwell.com articles take on government grants in science and the peer-review process. In The Trouble With Government Grants, Donald W Miller, Jr., MD, addresses the issues resulting from government funding of science. Science has lost its essence, and is slowly becoming another publicly-funded bureaucracy.

Robert Higgs looks at the peer-review process in The Trouble with Science and reaches a conclusion similar to Miller. Again, government has changed science from a process of discovery to a process of political funding.

Read these to understand the ills that befall any institution that succumbs to the hand of government.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Olentangy Middle School Study

In continued honor of Jamie Stabl's call-out, I am going to post some pertinent articles once again.

First, a comment or two, or three ...

1. A 1000 new students a year: Sure sounds like a lot. Yet, consider that these students enter many different buildings. And, at each building, these students are divided among many grades and sections. So, we are talking only two or three new students per classroom on average -- students new to the district. Of course, all of the students are new to the teacher in any given year. While 1000 sounds like a lot in the aggregate, it's really nothing at the classroom level.

2. Blue Ribbon School: The reality is that 50% of schools that fill out a Blue Ribbon School application get a site visit. And, 98% of those receive a Blue Ribbon School award. The Blue Ribbon School award is not so much a reflection of quality of programs, it is more a reflection of the time and effort spent filling out the application. Keep in mind that the award is a function of government, so it is by nature one of compliance -- based of the ability to correctly fill out an application -- more that it is one of quality.

3. College Freshmen Remediation Rate: The Ohio Board of Regents -- the oversight body for Ohio's public colleges and universities -- keeps track of remediation rates of students who enter an Ohio college or university. Typically, over 30% of Olentangy students require a remedial course in either reading or math -- the past two years show the rate at 37% and 36% respectively. Given the demographics of the district, those are truly unacceptable scores. The district can say whatever it wants, but Ohio's colleges and universities see the district in different light altogether -- an uncomplimentary one at that.

Those really are some very inconvenient truths about the district.

So, how does the district react to the challenges of poor outcomes given the quality of students that enter its schools ...


Reacting to a challenge

It is always interesting to read about the reactions of different organizations to challenges. In the free market, a slight change in consumer preference is enough for companies, large or small, to reorganize in order to better address the future. In the public sector, the same response never seems to occur. Witness the Olentangy Local School Distict.

The educational outcomes of district middle schools have suffered over the years. In real terms, students are being shortchanged with regard to their education while the staff gets to implement whatever programs they choose.

While serving on the board, I fought for years to see improvements, being met each time by administrators functioning as roadblocks. After badgering fellow board members long enough about the fact that living in the achievement cellar is no place for a district with strong demographics, I was finally able to get the board to instruct the administration to study the district's middle school program. Given the energy I expended over the years to have the administration review its lagging scores, I still have a very personal interest in the results of this study.

Well, the Middle School Study Update was delivered to the board in January. Where you would find reorganization in the private sector, you simply find re-entrenchment in the public schools. This should not be shocking, as re-entrenchment is the standard government response to any challenge.

Read the study and you will find no mention of any review of core curricular programs, such as math. In fact, you won’t see the word math anywhere in the report. Sure, math scores are well below similar districts, yet the Olentangy response is to embrace the mishmash that is public education in the US. Instead of concentrating on the areas of weakness and advocating for improvements, the study simply calls for more game clubs, service learning, etc., all in an environment that includes a “fully integrated, exploratory curriculum” – whatever that bit of edu-speak means.

Remember, it is the core subjects like math that are lagging, yet the district concentrates on providing “a variety of course offerings including accelerated content courses and exploratory courses in Physical Education and Health, World Languages, Technology, Music, Art, and Family/Consumer Sciences.”

Instead of facilitating maximum learning, the district seeks to “(e)ngage students in the ownership and decision-making of the curricular experiences” and to “(f)ocus on experiential, tangible activities that engage students.”

Can’t they simply teach math, and teach it right? Maybe they could, just maybe, if they got out of the business of indoctrinating and into the business of educating.

So, the district taxpayers are forced to pay for the programs that satisfy the staff, while students suffer and taxes rise. Not much of a solution. But, then, what else would you expect?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hat tip to Jamie Stabl: Olentangy State Standard Analysis report

Thank you Jamie Stabl for the reference to this blog in the Olentangy Valley News.

-- Jim Fedako


In honor of that call-out, I am revisiting the series of posts I did on the Olentangy State Standard Analysis report - now one year old and two months old.

If the proposed state funding formula passes both Ohio houses, the Olentangy School District gains more than $4 million in state aid over the projections contained in the district's October Five Year Forecast. That means the district needs to find only $10 million in expenses over the next 27 months - a 4% reduction - in order to go another year before asking for another operating levy. If the district holds the line on salary and benefits in the upcoming teachers contract negotiations, the $10 million deficit is almost zero.

The Olentangy State Standard Analysis report identified well over $10 million in yearly savings, savings that could have been applied starting last year. But, for some reason - there are many reasons I can think of - neither the board nor the administration want to discuss this report in public. I imagine that time flies when you're spending someone else's money.

This report should be serving as the basis for understanding rising costs and requisite soon-to-be-proposed property tax increases. But the report is obviously being kept from the sunshine of public debate. The reason? I guess you will have to ask your board members why the public should not be given the opportunity to hear debate on this important report; a report funded by local tax dollars.

You'd think that with possible levies on the horizon, the board would want to get a handle on costs ... you'd think anyway ...

note: click to read installments one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Skating with the Enemy

My latest article published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute

Skating with the Enemy
By Jim Fedako


I have something that I have to get off my chest. Please be kind as it's always tough to admit ones indiscretions in a public forum. OK, well here goes, and forgive me: I have been skating with the enemy. Yes, indeed, I have been associating with the number one enemy of the free market, the dreaded monopolist.[1]

Please let me explain. Until last month, there were two owners of public ice skating facilities in Central Ohio. There was the small outfit that operated a marginal rink, and a ravenous organization that managed the other seven. Here is where my indiscretion occurred; my son and I skate for the club run by the ravenous ice shark — a robber baron hidden beneath a friendly logo.

Now, everything used to be just fine. There were two entrepreneurs operating ice rinks, and my son and I simply chose the one that provided the opportunity to speedskate. We stated our preference for ice sports and slept soundly knowing that there was an active skating market in Central Ohio.

Then it happened. In order to capture the local market for ice time, and to drain ice lovers of their precious dollars, the robber baron bought his competitors' rink. This heroic rink had fought the competition of the monopolist for a number of years, but finally succumbed to the unfair practices of my sponsor.

You see the evil ice baron created a market that slowly drained the lifeblood from our tragic heroes. What with heated areas, clean restrooms and lockers, pro shop, and a stocked snack bar, there was no way for our heroes — the small outfit — to compete.

Of course, the baron was obviously offering such services to the consumers of ice time in order to capture the local market. We all know his evil intent: once all local rinks are under the baron's control, he will inevitably reduce offerings and increase ice fees. The baron is pure evil.

The baron will do whatever he can to harm consumers. He will engage other suppliers in heartless competition so that he can monopolize the market in the end. The baron's sole goal is to make as much money as fast as he can. He will reduce supply, increase prices, and sit back and watch profits shoot through the roof.

That is the standard view of competition in the free market. A view that keeps the feds and state attorneys general in hot pursuit, eager to prosecute and bring justice to an unjust system.

However, that view is simply untrue. Whether a sole supplier, or one of many similar suppliers, the entrepreneur — the baron in this case — actually satisfies the greater good: a public service that government claims only it can perform. Let's use the ice market of Central Ohio as the example.

Ice sports are relatively new to this part of Ohio; they are marginal sports at best. Anyone investing in skating facilities is taking a great risk as the market could collapse overnight, leaving the entrepreneur with big box refrigerators and years' worth of debt.

To enter a market such as this, the entrepreneur has to be very careful not to destroy burgeoning ice sports. After talking to the baron's lieutenants, it becomes obvious that they understand their position relative to the market for their product, and this is the reason that there is a speedskating club in Central Ohio.

As the assistant general manager notes, evening ice time is a very scarce commodity. There are youth leagues that have some money to spend, and then there are the adult leagues that are loaded with cash. And, these adults love hockey so much that they are willing to pay top dollar in order to buy any available after-work ice time. They can simply outbid the youth leagues, not to mention the marginal sports such as speedskating, curling, figure skating, etc.

Yet, the assistant general manager does not just go with the adults and the profit. He recognizes that his company's large, long-term investment relies on a farm system of sorts; a system that produces a continual supply of wealthy, adult hockey players. He wants to see ice sports grow, for the profits of course. However, this desire for profits ends up serving the greater good.

Figure skating has a strong base, but why would anyone want to support and grow speedskating and curling? Simple: To grow the market for ice sports in general so that long-term investments in ice facilities lead to long-term profits. To that end, the baron provides marginal sports with a portion of the scarce, and expensive, ice time at a reasonable price.

To think, it didn't take an elected body, their appointed committees, and coerced tax dollars to provide a system where all ice consumers benefits. Profit-seeking individuals are able to address the needs of active participants; in a localized monopoly nonetheless.

OK, but what about the unfair competition between the heroic rink owners and the evil baron? The owners of the marginal rink could not meet the demands of the consumer. In addition, I suspect, they were not very adept at running such a business. Therefore, they went under. Since the baron fears anything that could be perceived as a negative reflection on ice sports, he bought the failed facility and began making significant investments in order to revamp it.[2]

The baron was not looking to reduce the available supply of ice time; he was looking to keep it at its then-current level, and potentially increase it in the near term. The baron could have allowed the rink to close and then raised prices on the remaining rinks due to an increased demand on a reduced number of local rinks. Nevertheless, that is not his operating model. He wants the market to grow. As he sees it, anything that grows the market is good for him in the end. Good for the consumers of ice time too.

The other supposed supplier of the general good is government. While the free market has been able to address the needs of the consumers of ice time, a government solution would have harmed local residents, and ice consumers and their chosen sports. All area residents would be taxed for the benefit of the few who enjoy the sound of sharp metal slicing through ice, and we — the lovers of ice — would suffer due to the whims of the government bozos who know nothing about, nor even care about, sports on ice. The tax-funded bozos would simply be doling out ice time to those who will support them in their next election campaign, not a pleasant situation for anyone other than the elected elite, their appointed minions, and benefit-eager supporters.

Wow, after this mea culpa and some reflection, I am now very comfortable with my association with the market monopolist. While the individual looking for my spending money is there to serve, the entity draining my wallet through coerced taxation simply wants my money. Go with the robber baron over the elected official every time.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jim Fedako, a former professional cyclist who lives in Lewis Center, OH, is a member of the Olentangy Local School District and maintains a blog: Anti-Positivist. Send him mail. See his archive. Comment on the blog.

Notes

[1] Of course, there can be no real monopolies absent government intervention.

[2] "Chiller's Move Solidifies Place in Market," The Columbus Dispatch, March 31, 2007

Monday, May 14, 2007

Fascism in Ohio

CantonRep.com details the two school-funding amendments that may appear on the November ballot (Proposed school-funding amendments may appear on ballot).

Certainly fascism is a loaded term, but it is also the most applicable term to describe the situation proposed by these amendments; a coalition of representatives from education, business, and labor, guiding what will quickly become the largest component of Ohio's budget.

Say it ain't so! It escapes me why anyone would look to Italy of the 1920's through the 1940's as the standard. Of course, many Americans were enthralled by Mussolini and his Blackshirts during those years, including FDR and his Brain Trusters. Some never forget, and some never learn.

For our children's sake: Vote NO in November.

Passing the buck on bullying

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) loves to push programs that address the whole child[1]. Lately, it has been pushing programs to rid schools of bullying. Certainly, ridding schools of bullying is a worthy goal. Yet, the programs are simply more Progressive mush; social engineering to create today's version of Trotsky's New Soviet Man.

The key to stopping bullying is for the adults in the schools to enforce policies that are already on the books of every school in the US. Yet, the programs recommended by ASCD are aimed at changing student behavior. They suggest forming "partnerships with elementary schools, families, and young adult volunteers to empower students as peacemakers to create their own safe classrooms and communities." What about the teaching staff? Aren't they responsible for enforcing district and school policies?

Bullying could be reduce -- it can never be cured -- by teachers performing the duties that they are paid to perform. But, if teachers actually did their jobs, they couldn't implement programs whose sole purpose is to inculcate the youth of this nation.

The next time your school or district says that it is looking to start a new program or pass a new policy to address bullying, remind them that bullying is the product of teachers who chose to look the other way; passing the buck to the students.

Notes:

[1] The "whole child" is the Progressive utopian child that is self-actualized, yet devoid of knowledge. Educators appeal to the concept of the "whole child" since it frees public schools from having to teach the three R's.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sol Stern on Social Justice Math

"Look, you fools. You're in danger. Can't you see? They're after you. They're after all of us. Our wives, our children, everyone. They're here already. YOU'RE NEXT!"
-- The Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Sol Stern writes for City Journal -- "the nation’s premier urban-policy magazine," published by the conservative think tank, The Manhattan Institute. Stern recently wrote about how social justice math appears to be taking hold of New York City schools.

How does such nuttiness cross over from the socialist English departments to the typically apolitical math departments? Well, under the guise of cross-subject integration of course. You know it as the end product of all those tax-funded teacher collaboration periods supported by the administration, and their philosophical mentors at Educational Leadership.

Why teach math when you can simply instill social guilt, and a potent dose of Marxist rhetoric? There really is no better way to create future generations that are unable to logically defend the principles that founded this great nation.

Read about Gramsci, the supposed favorite philosopher of Bill Clinton and the rest of the socialist gang.

As reported by Stern:
At a plenary session, Professor Marilyn Frankenstein of the University of Massachusetts’ math education department proclaimed that elementary school teachers should not use traditional math lessons, in which students calculate, say, the cost of food. Rather, the teachers should make clear that in a truly “just society,” food would “be as free as breathing the air.”
Social justice math -- the intellectual version of the original, and now classic, sci-fi horror flick, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers -- is bound for the Midwestern suburbs; if it already isn't here.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pop fluff and the 12-cent meal

My latest post at the Mises.org blog:


A fun little absurdity -- AOL has a teaser that purports to show how a celebrity salary feels to the working man or woman making $30K. According to the first slide, Angelina Jolie feels the cost of a $40 meal the same as $0.12 feels to the $15 per hour laborer. Absurd! Are they trying to tell me that after the waiter said, "I'm sorry, I just lost your meal." Jolie would smile and forget the matter? Yet, I suspect that the laborer wouldn't sweat the dime and two pennies that slipped from his hand and fell down the sewer.

We know where this line of thinking leads -- soak the rich since they don't care about the extra buck, or the extra thousand in taxation. Marxism packaged as pop fluff.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Do they even read what they write?

We are opposed to the inclusion of Rep. Jon Peterson’s (R-Delaware) proposed special education voucher program. This program would serve to drain resources from the public schools and weaken the due process rights afforded to parents and students.

-- The Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) position on the budget bill (HB 119)
Let me see if get this right: Affording parents and students the ability to choose alternative special education programs weakens their due process rights. That doesn't even make the slightest bit of sense. What a spin! What a load of garbage!

Read it for yourself, along with the other Marxian OSBA HB 119 talking points here.

You can't say we weren't warned

If the ruling power in America possessed both ... the right to issue orders of all kinds but also the capability and habit of carrying out those orders; if it not only laid down general principles of government but also concerned itself with the details of applying those principles; and if it dealt not only with the country's major interests but also descended to the limit of individual interests, then liberty would soon be banished from the New World.


— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America [1835-1840]
The prescient Tocqueville warned us 170 years ago. Isn't it high time we consider his warning once again?

Note: Thanks to The Future of Freedom Foundation for including this quote in today's FFF Email Update.

Olentangy Union Contract Negotiations

Dear Editor:

The Olentangy School District is in the midst of an "it's all for the students" moment as the board and administration negotiate with the unions over how much of your income they will extract in the future.

It's worth noting that employees of the district's unions have typically received 6 to 7 percent annual raises over the last decade. On top of that, these employees: pay no more than 20% for a fantastic health insurance package - $10 deductibles, etc.; receive fifteen sick days for a school year not to exceed 185 days, less snow days, etc. - reimbursable at retirement; can take up to three personal days; and receive a taxpayer-funded contribution of 14% of their salaries toward a state-protected pension. Not a bad deal. But, of course, it's all for the students.

As the district and unions once again negotiate increases, keep in mind that what they negotiate will end up on your property tax bill.

The district will be back for an operating levy, claiming that it is out of money. If the board negotiates on behalf of the taxpayers, the district could reasonably delay its next levy until 2009.

If, instead, the district and unions carve up the carryover balance, the district will be back earlier - either this year or next year. At that time, the district and unions will state that the levy is needed since it’s all for the students.

No, the levy will be needed to continue funding board-approved tax transfers from property owners to unions. Not a penny of which is for the students.

Let's see what the board does over these next few months. Does it negotiate for the taxpayer or the unions?

Jim Fedako

Thursday, May 10, 2007

AGE OF ABUNDANCE




An excerpt from the new book

THE AGE OF ABUNDANCE
How Prosperity Transformed
America's Politics and Culture
by Brink Lindsey

Published by the Cato Institute
and reprinted here with permission


ISBN: 0060747668
List Price: $25.95
LFB Price Only $17.50
You Save 33%!

The Age of Abundance is the winner of the May 2007 Lysander Spooner Award for Advancing the Literature of Liberty.

For more information about the Lysander
Spooner Awards, CLICK HERE.

To go to our full review, or to go to purchase the book, CLICK HERE.

The excerpt, below, is the beginning of the Introduction of the book, The Age of Abundance . Enjoy!

_______________________________________________
THE AGE OF ABUNDANCE How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture


by Brink Lindsey

FROM THE INTRODUCTION


In the years after World War II, America crossed a great historical threshold. In all prior civilizations and social orders, the vast bulk of humanity had been preoccupied with responding to basic material needs. Postwar America, however, was different. An extensive and highly complex division of labor unleashed immense productive powers far beyond anything in prior human experience. As a result, the age-old bonds of scarcity were broken. Concern with physical survival and security was now banished to the periphery of social life.

To employ, with all due irony, the terminology of Karl Marx, America left behind the "realm of necessity" and entered the "realm of freedom."

Marx, of course, had imagined that this great transformation would be achieved under communism. But the dream of a centrally planned Utopia turned out to be an unrealizable fantasy. Instead, the realm of freedom came as a new stage of capitalist development. And where America led, the rest of the world began to follow. The advanced societies of the English-speaking countries, western Europe, and Japan were closest behind. And in the recent decades of so-called globalization, many less-developed nations, including those of the former communist bloc, have entered or are fast approaching the golden circle of widespread prosperity. Yes, poverty is still a cruel scourge for billions of the world's inhabitants; in those less-fortunate regions of the globe, the path of capitalist development remains strewn with obstacles. Yet there are sound reasons to hope that the realm of freedom will continue to expand, and that one day in the not terribly distant future, the mass affluence that Americans have enjoyed for over a half century will extend around the world. As America's experience makes clear, such a state of affairs would by no means constitute a Utopia. It would, however, represent an immense expansion in the range of life's possibilities and the scope of its promise.

This ongoing revolution cries out for greater attention and understanding. The liberation from material necessity marks a fundamental change in the human condition, one that leaves no aspect of social existence unaffected. As a result, many age-old verities no longer apply: truths and rules that arose and obtained during the 10 millennia when subsistence agriculture was the main business of mankind have been rendered obsolete. We are in uncharted territory. Consequently, we are in need of new maps.

In the six decades since the end of World War II, Americans have been busy exploring the new environs of mass affluence. Those decades have witnessed both exhilarating discoveries and tragic errors, as well as a great deal of blind groping and simple muddling through. There is much to be learned from a careful examination of this accumulated experience—not only about the altered nature and course of American life, but also about the broad direction in which the rest of the world is moving. This book represents an attempt to organize America's experience with mass affluence into some kind of coherent narrative, from which at least some hints for future mapmakers might be gleaned.

"Let me tell you about the very rich," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. "They are different from you and me." Indeed they are. Born and raised in the bosom of material plenty, they face an environment far removed from that which confronts the common lot. Living in that rarefied environment, they become adapted to it. And as a result, their motivations, aspirations, morals, and worldviews diverge markedly from those of people who struggle every day in the shadows of deprivation.

While Fitzgerald was referring to the tiny Jazz Age upper crust, his words apply as well to postwar America's affluent society. Living amidst unprecedented material abundance, Americans in the age of abundance have been operating in an environment utterly different from that inhabited by the overwhelming majority of their fellow human beings, past and present. Specifically, the central and abiding imperative of human existence since the dawn of the species—securing the food, shelter, and clothing needed for survival—could now be taken for granted by all but a dwindling minority. As a result, Americans have become a different kind of people.

The story of postwar America is thus the story of adaptation to new social realities. Adaptation, in particular, to mass affluence. At the heart of this process was a change in the basic orientation of the dominant culture: from a culture of overcoming scarcity to one of expanding and enjoying abundance. From a more rigid and repressed social system focused on achieving prosperity to a looser and more expressive one focused on taking wider advantage of prosperity's possibilities. American capitalism is derided for its superficial banality, yet it has unleashed profound, convulsive social change. Condemned as mindless materialism, it has burst loose a flood tide of spiritual yearning. The civil rights movement and the sexual revolution, environmentalism and feminism, the fitness and health-care boom and the opening of the gay closet, the withering of censorship and the rise of a "creative class" of "knowledge workers"—all are the progeny of widespread prosperity.

Gifted contemporaries caught glimpses of these changes as they were unfolding. At the dawn of the postwar boom, David Riesman, in his 1950 classic The Lonely Crowd, revealed how economic development was promoting a shift in American social psychology: away from the absolutist "inner-directed" sensibility of the country's Protestant bourgeois tradition, and toward a more relativistic, "other-directed" outlook. Although Riesman was concerned that the new ethos tended toward conformism, he was alert to more liberating possibilities. "The more advanced the technology, on the whole, the more possible it is for a considerable number of human beings to imagine being somebody else," he wrote. "In the first place, the technology spurs the division of labor, which, in turn, creates the possibility for a greater variety of experience and of social character. In the second place, the improvement in technology permits sufficient leisure to contemplate change—a kind of capital reserve in men's self-adaptation to nature—not on the part of a ruling few but on the part of many." [Footnotes have been omitted.] _____________________________________________

To go to our full review, or to go to purchase the book, CLICK HERE.

__________________________________________________


From The Age of Abundance by Brink Lindsey. Copyright © 2007 by Brink Lindsey. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher.


CLICK HERE TO GO NOW TO PURCHASE BOOK

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A gaggle of idiots

What is the correct term for group of idiots? Is it a gaggle, bunch, flock, or something else? Maybe it's a school? No, that's too easy. Regardless, here's the latest bunch of idiots to make the Dispatch.

1. Ohio House of Representatives: They voted to provide state-funded health insurance to children in families making less than $51,510 per year. If passed by the Ohio Senate, some of us will have to work longer in order to pay the insurance premiums for the state's new tax beneficiaries. To think, Strickland wanted coverage available to children in families earning less than $85,000 per year. The pool of tax consumers is increasing at the expense of the decreasing pool taxpayers, such as myself.

2. Governor Strickland and Public Education: Charter schools in Ohio are able to educate children while operating with 1/3 less revenue than the average public school. Yet, Strickland and his public school allies still believe that the for-profit operators of these schools are generating obscene profits. Certainly, these companies are able to generate a profit - or, return on investment, yet that should not be seen as an evil. Instead, we need to be asking these for-profit companies how they are able to serve their students, parents, and investors while operating on 1/3 less revenue. That question is the reason that Strickand and public education fear charters. The waste at public schools is easily exposed by the efficiencies of for-profit charter operators.

3. Bowling Green University and, once again, Public Education:[1] Character education is germinating at state colleges and taking root in local school districts. The goal of such programs is generations of compliant citizens who attribute goodness to the actions of government. This country was once a nation of individuals who had no problem throwing off the yoke of oppression; individuals who had neither faith nor trust in government. These folks took to the streets in order to protest the actions of the King, and tarred-and-feathered those who stood in their way. If you follow the logic of the purveyors of character education, future generations will obediently yield to further governmental encroachment on Liberty. Gone is the rallying cry, "Don't Tread on Me!" It has now been replaced by character choirs and journal writing. Wow. What have we become?


Notes:
[1] This does not include the unions during contract negotiations. Self-discipline, tolerance, self-control, and respect give way threats and protest, and the cry for more tax dollars.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Police protection? Maybe

The Foundation for Economic Education publishes The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, a magazine devoted to "defend(ing) the ideals of a free society."

An excellent example of what this magazine offers is found in the article Just Dial 911? The Myth of Police Protection by By Richard W. Stevens. Stevens lays waste to the notion that police exist to protect private citizens from crime. Stevens notes:
First, the police cannot and do not protect everyone from crime. Second, the government and the police in most localities owe no legal duty to protect individuals from criminal attack. When it comes to deterring crime and defending against criminals, individuals are ultimately responsible for themselves and their loved ones. Depending solely on police emergency response means relying on the telephone as the only defensive tool. Too often, citizens in trouble dial 911 . . . and die.
While we are told to rely on the police to stop crime and violence, the police are not our best bet.[1]

I recall an incident that occurred years ago on a bike ride. A fellow cyclist was hit in the face with a BB gun, just missing his eye. This gentleman was understandable upset, and wanted to report the incident. He phoned the Sheriff's office and was told that the only deputy on duty at the time was in the other side of the county - this being a rural county. The rider was assured that the deputy was on his way. So, we waited. For 45 minutes, we waited. Finally the deputy arrived. Certainly this was a minor incident, yet if the situation had truly been life threatening, there would have been no police officer available to assist.

The same holds when someone has entered your house intent on crime. Certainly you can call 911 and hope that a car will be dispatched, and then wait. Not much of a positive outlook to a dangerous situation - you can't simply place the criminal on hold awaiting arrival of the deputies or police.

Read the article to see that some courts have ruled that "police officers do not have an affirmative duty to do anything." I'm not get a warm, fuzzy feeling here.


Notes
[1] Keep in mind that the police did not enter the building at VTech or Columbine until after the killers had committed suicide.

Pittsburgh: One of the last remaining Soviet Cities

From the Reason Magazine's article Pittsburgh: Livable or Leavable?: The shortcomings in city-ranking indexes
"Pittsburgh is in a death spiral. It’s bankrupt. Its school district spends $16,000 a year per kid. Its parking tax is the highest on Earth: 50 percent. City police and firefighters irresponsibly pad their numbers, salaries, and pensions—and openly trade their mayoral votes for sweetheart contracts. Meanwhile, local school and property taxes are among the highest in the country. So are public bus and taxi fares. And, oh yeah, highways are congested, in bad shape, and under-built."
- Bill Steigerwald
Taxes are killing my hometown. Sad, but true. Right before our eyes, the taxgrabbers - the politicians, bureaucrats, and unions - have been robbing what little life Pittsburgh has left. These kleptocrats have turned what was once the epitome of the American free market into what sounds like a Soviet-styled urban wasteland. It's a sad end to a fine city.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Bitten by junk science: the electric and warming side of government science

Junk science is everywhere; today's version being human-induced global warming. This nasty bit of junk science is a cover for Eco-Greens who want to drag humanity back to the Stone Age. Of course, the Eco-Greens are only too happy to have the useful idiots such as Al Gore, etc., join their cause.

However, as witnessed by the Gore lifestyle, Al has no desire to return to a more-natural state of existence. He simply wants power and influence, and since this issue plays well, he's taken on the role of lead lemming in a march toward the cliffs that overlook the cold seas of socialist environmentalism.

When I was young, a prominent version of junk science was the fear over the supposed harm due to exposure to EMF (electric and magnetic fields).[1] Though this was shown to be junk science, the scare lives on within the collective psyche. And, now the EMF scare is biting back at government – a local government school district in this instance.

The Olentangy School District just issued a statement regarding EMF and the proximity of schools to power lines.

The statement reads (in part):
There has been some discussion and speculation in the community of late regarding the EMF (electric and magnetic fields) levels in the area of the new Liberty Tree Elementary and Hyatts Middle School. Specifically, speculation is that the buildings could be unsafe as a result of their proximity to high voltage power lines in the area.
Of course there is no threat due to EMF, yet the schools are taking a big hit from mental remnants of disproven junk science. Parents are nervous about their children’s health. That’s what parents do, they react to what they have been told; whether the information is right or wrong.

The district further states:
Electric and magnetic fields have been studied for over 40 years with no definitive conclusion regarding health effects; therefore, there are no recommended public policies or standards for EMF.
Go back a couple of decades ago and the harmful effects of EMF were being reported and taught just about everywhere. Those who claimed that EMF was not a concern were considered quacks; unscientific quacks at that. Note the parallels to today's junk science; human-induced global warming.

Irony: The same school system that played up the EMF issue years ago, is now trying to downplay it.

More Irony: Return to today, and the public schools have adopted the Eco-Green vision of the future. The schools are more than willing to play up the ills of humanity and progress; that humanity is warming the Earth. Or, at least the schools are willing to echo this new party line.

Before the Olentangy district issues another statement regarding fears over EMF exposure, I hope they rethink their stance on global warming. Junk science has a way of biting you back when least expected.


Notes:

[1] You are receiving a higher milligauss level while reading this blog than will be experienced by anyone standing on the school grounds mentioned above. In fact, students will also be exposed to higher levels while using computers in classrooms and labs.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Olentangy's budget: at the margin

Note: As the Olentangy School Board discusses the state-mandated May update of its Five Year Forecast, it's important to note where the expenses are coming from: salaries and benefits, and staffing changes (see below).

Olentangy's budget: at the margin

Marginal analysis is the best way to understand the financial direction an organization is taking. By looking across the organization for changes at the margin as opposed to focusing on changes of averages, policy shifts are easy to note. When the attention is placed on average salaries, staffing ratios, etc., policy shifts can easily get lost in the sea of a big-dollar operating budget. But when the focus is directed at the margin, policy shifts are revealed.

An example: The Olentangy School District has a current operating budget of over $100 million dollars. The budget has been growing, that we all agree upon. The board and administration will claim that additional students and inflation are the main driving forces behind budget increases. Is that true?

Let's look at one item at the margin; the staff to pupil ratio. Looking at staffing practices from fiscal year 2004 to fiscal year 2006 reveals that the district had been hiring one new staff member per additional 10.6 students. Now look at the period covering fiscal year 2007 to fiscal year 2009 (forecasted), the district proposes to hire an additional staff member per additional 7.6 students; an almost 40% increase in this one statistic. Think about it; a 40% increase or an additional $3.5 million per year in expenditures and subsequent tax revenue needs. Incredible!

More incredible is the change in new administrative positions. Instead of the FY04 to FY06 pattern of one new administrator per additional 429 students, the district is projecting one new administrator per additional 159 student from FY07 to FY09; a 260% increase. Incredible ... oh, wait ... I used that already. Scary may be a more apt description.

Looking at changes as a function of the average would also reveal the changing staffing pattern, but the margin reveals what's actually behind that change - it's magnitude, and the effect on the future tax increases.

Keep this in mind as the district talks about budgets and levy millage. See if they address the expenditure train that is about to leave the station, running wild on marginal increases.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Reading and malinvestment

My latest blog post over at Mises.org:

Reading and malinvestment
Jim Fedako


Ludwig von Mises warned of the unintended consequences that result from government interventions. In line with his warnings is the misallocation resulting from malinvestment by government in activities that are not the best use of scarce resources. These malinvestments create capital structures unsupported by real wants and desires. Bust comes when resources are cutoff or shift to the lines that are truly productive from those lines which exist solely because of these government interventions.

How in the world does this relate to reading? The answer is quite simple and telling, and it's also an excellent lesson in Austrian Economics.

At the same time that Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox, Elaine Bruner, is currently available on Amazon.com for $8.14, the federal and state governments are wasting hundreds of millions, if not billions, on Progressive reading strategies that are of little use, and are potentially harmful. In addition, local public schools are spending untold tax dollars implementing these strategies, leaving many children semi-literate at best.

Go to Amazon.com and search for 100 Easy Lessons, then sort the customer responses in reverse order of ranking - lowest to highest - to see the objections to the above reading program. You will find that the objections typically suggest another book or series of books that are themselves reasonably priced and readily available. None of the comments I read said that 100 Easy Lessons fails to teach reading. And, neither this program nor suggested alternatives rely on continual government resources for R&D. They are programs that are tried and true, successful yet cheap, products of the free market.

The result of the government expenditures in reading is a capital structure that is nonproductive and wasteful, but is also a dollar-consuming Leviathan. A significant portion of the funding received by these programs and departments goes back into continual lobbying and PR expenditures. As a result, the programs and departments, along with their sycophant lobbyists and PR pushers, grow and grow; a financial Backdraft that consumes tax-dollars and lays waste to the dreams of future generations.

Government has to fear the bust that will inevitably occur when funding ends for these programs and departments. The result will not just be thousands upon thousands of bureaucrats, administrators, and teachers hitting the street. The result will include the loss of capital invested in private enterprises that exist solely to remedy the ills caused by the government-funded reading programs.

Should the products of the private sector - Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, etc - replace those created by interventionist policies, you will save tax dollars while student achievement rises[1]. Just be ready to ignore the administrator or teacher holding the cup and the sign that reads, "Will whole-language for food."

Notes:
[1] Of course, privatizing both schools and school funding is the real solutions.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Old enough to have fought, yet still under the nanny's thumb

That's right, the veterans of Ohio have to go smokeless because the nanny do-gooders convinced the voting sheeple that no one should smoke in public places.

Let's ignore that these venues are really private property; owned be entrepreneurs and organizations who exist to please customers and members. Instead, let's focus on the do-gooders and their mindless electorate who simply want everyone to live as they choose.

Whatever happened to Freedom? Liberty? It was sold to the local health departments who are a stroke of the pen away from pulling up the jackboots and kicking down your doors.

Don't think it will happen? Neither would have any red-blooded American of thirty years ago believed that smokeless would be enforced by the power of coercion and compulsion. So long "Don't Tread on Me!"

note: Your children are being inculcated with the collectivist mindset by the public schools. They are being told that government has the right - the obligation - to promulgate and enforce health mandates. Your children are being taught that a government that does such is simply satisfying the public good; the general welfare.

Tibor R. Machan boxes a collectivist

Tibor R. Machan is a free market philosopher - an intellectual "arguer for" Freedom and Liberty. Over at The Future of Freedom Foundation (FFF), he takes on California Senator Barbara Boxer and her collectivist mentality.

Long ago I realized government is not "by the people, for the people" after reading signs around North Park, Allegheny County, PA. These signs noted that fenced areas were "Property of Allegheny County, Trespassers Prosecuted."

As a resident of Allegheny County, I would have been charged with trespassing in spite of the signs. See, the property was not mine; it was property of the governmental entity called Allegheny County. And I could trespass on the county’s property. The fence was a Berlin Wall that separated government from the governed.


Note: The same holds with regard to public schools. Think they belong to the community; the people? Think again.

Reisman and the light bulb

George Reisman, Professor Emeritus of Economics, has posted another excellent article on environmentalism over at Mises.org. If you like this article, you should purchase his book, Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, or download it for free. Reisman has a lot to offer those who want to understand how the market works.

Say No to the Hideous Light Bulbs
George Reisman

The environmentalists are pushing hideous looking fluorescent light bulbs of the kind shown here as a way to save electricity and thus reduce the need for power plants and resulting carbon emissions. The bulbs will thus allegedly help to save the planet from global warming and, therefore, the environmentalists argue, everyone should use them instead of the customary, incandescent bulbs.

Australia and Canada have already enacted laws or regulations that will make these bulbs mandatory within a few years. Efforts are underway to do the same thing here in the United States.

Continue reading at Mises.org

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Listserve response regarding state-level tests

Tom,

I have to agree. I served on the Fourth Grade Reading Content Advisory Committee for the Ohio Department of Education - I wrote about this in a Thomas B. Fordham article.

The committee is charged with reviewing test questions against the state's fourth grade reading content standards. Sounds fair enough. Yet, the committee was given the power to object to any question regardless of whether or not the objection was related to an issue with the content standards. So, no questions relating to birthdays, Christmas, etc., were allowed. Any question that someone judged unfair was removed, even though there was a separate fairness committee that had already approved the test items. And, the committee could rewrite questions or suggest alternatives. In addition, the committee favored writing samples to be graded against a very subjective rubric. Multiple choice and true/false were frowned upon, and whole sections of such questions received negative reviews and were pulled.

Truthfully, I'm not certain that anything of value is being tested in Ohio. The process was enlightening. Other than myself, the rest of the committee was made up of reading teachers and district-level administrators. Though the committee was supposed to made up of representatives from all groups of stakeholders (teachers, administrators, parents, community members, business leaders, etc.), I was the only noneducator, and I was a school board member at the time.

I am certain that the rest of the committee sighed in relief after I quit attending their meetings.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

(P)rofiting by the labors of others: government

Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. Every one is, more or less, for profiting by the labors of others. No one would dare to express such a sentiment; he even hides it from himself. A medium is thought of; Government is applied to, and every class in its turn comes and says, "You, who can take justifiably and honestly, take from the public, and we will partake."

-- Frederic Bastiat, 1848


Bastiat is the relatively unknown French economist and champion of Freedom who destroyed many fallacies that still persist within most philosophic schools of economics. In particular, Bastiat showed that damage to physical capital does not spur the economy. He pointed out that in order to understand the true result of an action one must look beyond the obvious.

Yet, come the next natural disaster, you will here noted economist perform a pseudo analysis and state that the economy is going to benefit from the additional dollars spent cleaning up the damage. An absolute lie, though a lie that plays well with government spending; think FEMA.

Spend some time reading more from Bastiat at Mises.org.

Charter schools and fixed costs, or it's all at the margin

From a pure economic standpoint, if you can't reduce fixed costs after the reduction of a student, that student did not contribute to fixed costs.

The term fixed cost can be used to describe short-term obligations (e.g. salaries, leases, etc.) and long-term capital expenses (e.g. bond repayments, etc.). Since a district's general fund does not include the capital costs associated with a building, and because the charter funding debate is always centered around a school district's general fund and operating expenses, I will only focus on short-term obligations.

In Ohio, a school board must approve its district's annual appropriation before the start of the next fiscal year (beginning July 1). The initial appropriation can be a temporary measure, with all districts having to approve a permanent appropriation measure by the 1st of October. Even though the permanent appropriation measure can be modified throughout the school year, the permanent appropriation measure reflects the likely general fund expenditures for the school year.

Each district in Ohio bases its budget on projected student enrollment (ADM). The process to estimate actual enrollment is difficult and subject to error. If a district miscalculates its ADM, it usually cannot make mid-year corrections since districts typically don't hire additional teachers or RIF excess teachers during the current school year.[1] Districts can correct enrollment projection errors when approving the subsequent year's budget, but once set, a budget and its associated contracts create short-term fixed costs for the current school year.

What does the first sentence mean in light of what I've just discussed? It's simple, there are fixed costs based on the current budget, but those costs are short-term and may not even be associated with the student who transfers to a charter school.

Example: If an elementary has 600 students and one child moves in after the budget was set and subsequently transfers to a charter school, there is no way to reduce fixed costs since the current budget had been approved. Though costs cannot be reduced, state basic aid flows to the district and then out again, this time to the charter where the child has enrolled.[2]

In order to understand the impact of this transfer, one has to go back in time to the point where that child entered the school. Upon enrollment, overhead costs were already fixed so the school did not incur additional fixed costs due to that child. Therefore, at the margin, no fixed cost can be attributed to that child, whether on the way in or way out of the school. This child was expenditure neutral.

Fixed costs can be attributed to the student whose enrollment brings about a new section, school, etc. If a district loses enough students that it can reduce staff or close an elementary, the fixed costs associated with the section or school are wiped from the books.

If a student causes the need for a new third grade section, the marginal fixed cost associated with the child are the costs of operating an additional section; new teacher contract, etc. Subsequent third grade students result in no additional fixed costs and only minimal operating costs since the section is already available with empty seats. If the subsequent students transfer to a charter school, no fixed costs can be reduced since no fixed costs were incurred due to their enrollment. When the child that caused the opening of the new section transfers, the fixed costs associated with the child are wiped from the books since the section, and teaching position, etc., are no longer needed.

In Ohio, if a district opens its doors to more students than planned, it sees a revenue gain. The district's operating costs were fixed by the budget, so each new student provides approximately $5,400[3] in additional state funding aid while only creating small additional operating costs; for water, paper, etc. Low estimates create a financial bonus.

High estimates, conversely, create financial distress. In such situation, costs were fixed by the budget yet the district loses approximately $5,400 for each student that doesn't arrive as planned.

But these hardships are not the result of charter schools; they are purely the result of poor planning by the district. Student populations change over time as students move into and out of districts, change to and from private schools, and choose or return from home schooling. None of these other movements of students are criticized like charter school enrollment, but there is no real difference between them; all cause an increase or decrease of $5,400 for each student over or under enrollment projections.

In fact, some of these movements are cheered. Districts encourage their students to enroll in colleges and universities through post secondary options enrollment, as well as encourage students to attend alternative schools such as the Columbus Zoo's Zoo School. Each of these activities cause funds to leave the district, yet there are few critics of such alternative programs.

Part of the confusion comes from the presentation of state basic aid on the Ohio Department of Educations SF3 form. The forms leaves the impression that the state funds on a per student basis at the state share percentage.[4] In addition, districts also believe that fixed overhead costs are apportioned out to students equally. These are absolutely not the case.

The confusion is also due to districts not understanding the effects of changes over time. In the year after an outflow to charters or other situations, districts can reduce administration and staff to recoup most of the fixed costs. That said, some costs, such as the need for a board of education, superintendent, treasurer, and at least one teacher, educational service personnel, etc., are truly fixed but are nothing compared to property tax revenue being generated locally.

Word for the wise: Revenue and costs function at the margin, never at the average.

Notes:

[1] Districts approve teacher contracts that provide teachers with an implied right to work. My district's negotiated agreement spells out the specifics by which the district may apply reduction in force (RIF) to terminate a teaching contract. The agreement states that the district cannot reduce staff midyear.

[2] Keep in mind that this analysis is only dealing with the expense side of the charter issue. As it has been shown before, charter schools do not reduce local revenue. The only funding that leaves the district with the student who transfers to a charter school is the $5,400 that the state earmarked for that student.

[3] $5,498 in Olentangy.

[4] The SF3 includes a state share percentage figure that many assume is the percentage that the state funds the marginal student. This is not the case. After the charge-off - 23 mills times recognized valuation - has been met, the state funds each marginal student at the full $5,400 amount.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Madmen and rights

My latest blog post at Mises.org.

Bill Steigerwald, associate editor, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, puts the horrible Virginia Tech shooting in its almost-forgotten historical context.

On March 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, board member of Bath Consolidated Schools, Bath Township, Michigan, carried out a massacre that killed 45, including 38 grade-school children. Though, unlike Cho Seung-Hui, Kehoe used readily available explosives. Yet, it appears that no one called for bans of explosives as Kehoe was recognized as an aberrant and abhorrent madman.

Crazed murders will always be with us, regardless of any imagined government-run police system. Removing the right to bear arms in order to protect against the next lunatic serves no personal security purpose - as Kehoe aptly proves. Yet, removing the right to bear arms does serve to further metastasize governmental power - as was well understood by our Founding Fathers.