Teachers’ Unions – The Ultimate Scapegoat?

The data really isn’t clear that teachers’ unions have a causal benefit for students. In the 16 US States without teachers’ unions, when controlling for demographics, the data is mixed. Some of the positive systems that teachers’ unions tend to bring to the schools (peer review, etc.) have not been controlled for.

Taxpayer bills seem to inevitably be higher. This is a negative for the taxpayer if there’s not a clear demonstrable benefit. What is clear is that the model is incompatible with a free society (even FDR said as much), and there are no circuit-breakers to stop an out-of-control union in the public sector as there are in the private sector (the monopoly problem). State laws that remove incentives for unions to bargain only further tip the scales.

Reforming the corrupt system is the better option. Unions can work well in the private sector. In cities where inner-city youth have been given the option to take vouchers to private schools, all have flourished. An ecosystem of competing schools would not be incompatible with teachers’ unions, as the ones that negotiate bad contracts would simply be unable to provide an education for the voucher amount (or voucher+voluntary contribution). In many respects, blaming the teachers’ union for the problems of a State-enforced monopoly is scapegoating.

Echoes of the Federal Reserve

In our town there have been endless meetings about combining some of the lower grades in school because there are so few students.  As you can imagine, there are people on both sides of the issue and tensions run high.  Our principal is applying to other schools, perhaps because of the shrinking demographics and the lack of career advancement  potential with a small school (and the stresses involved with managing such a decline).

But, why is this happening? Because there are fewer young families moving to town.

Why?  Because the housing prices are so high, advancing far more quickly than wages.

Why?  Because of the housing bubble.

Why?  Because Alan Greenspan created it with artificially low interest rates to try to avoid the pain of the NASDAQ collapse.

The true costs of the Federal Reserve are likely incalculable, but they’re much higher than any standard economic analysis is likely to reveal.  This is just one example of why we can no longer afford the Federal Reserve.

Health Insurance Third Way

There are clear problems with the existing health insurance regulations, but one that gets notable attention is that purchasing health insurance ‘across state lines’ is forbidden.

Some argue for the need for States’ ‘protection’ regimes, while others argue for the efficiency of competition (like car insurance).  Federalists are often torn between the States’ competition and market competition, and fear centralized rules at the Federal level.

Even the Congressional Budget office makes a strong argument for enabling competition, saying:

“Therefore, CBO expects that there would be an increase in the number of relatively healthy individuals, and a decrease in the number of individuals expected to have relatively high cost, who buy individual coverage.”

But the choices presented are a false dichotomy: either the States regulate and force their preferences on their residents, or the Federal Government decides the regulations.

We already have a hybrid situation, in limited situations (College students, new movers, temporary workers, etc.): If I have a policy purchased under one State’s regime and visit another State and need to use the insurance, the originating State’s regime dictates my contract terms, even if care is provided elsewhere. This doesn’t seem to bother anybody or have adverse outcomes.

So, perhaps an acceptable middle ground might be to allow people to purchase policies as if they were residents of the State of their choosing, much as an individual can form a corporation in another State.

Then, each State can compete in the laboratory with their regulatory regimes, but people/patients can still sign up for as much State ‘protection’ as they feel comfortable with. The States won’t have to give up their powers, but they will have to develop compelling offerings. The only thing the States will have to give up is the power to force their regime on the residents of the geographic area they claimas  their jurisdiction, but it’d take a dyed-in-the-wool authoritarian to accept that as a necessary condition for good health policy.

Federalists could accept this as a way of not centralizing authority but allowing competition.

Airport Security Screenings vs. Car Buying

The tactic of using an airplane as a missile was only valid until 9:57 AM on 9/11/2001. An airplane full of ordinary Americans figured out the security equation over a field in Shanksville, PA. The hardened cockpit doors made double-sure immediately thereafter.

So, the public risk has been eliminated. There are private risks – getting on an airplane with no security screening would be minimally more risky than getting on an airplane with full strips and body cavity searches, but there’s a tremendous privacy and cost benefit to the former. The risk differential is a smaller margin than encountered when deciding what kind of motor vehicle to drive, but these are the kinds of risks a free society leaves with the People to decide.

What does the TSA Achieve (Short Quiz)


Food for thought:

  1. Has the TSA ever caught a potential bomber?  

  2. Have they had a 60% failure rate in tests getting weapons through?

  3. Have potential bombers tried and failed because the passengers overwhelmed them?

  4. Are there hundreds of other ways to blow up a plane TSA isn’t screening for?

  5. Are they screening for the kinds of devices that took down Pan Am Flight 103?

  6. Can we achieve perfect safety? 

  7. When did the tactic of using planes as missiles become unworkable?  

  8. Does TSA have a tremendous amount of direct and indirect costs?

  9. Are these searches patently unconstitutional?

  10. Should a private airline be able to require its passengers to have such screening?

  11. Who said these?  “Give me liberty or give me death.” “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

  12. Given all of the above, is this really about safety or is it more likely about conditioning?


  1. No, 2. Yes, 3. Yes, 4. Yes, 5. No, 6. No, 7. 9:57AM, 9/11/2001, 8. Yes, 9. Yes, 10. Absolutely – there’s probably a small market for it, 11. Patrick Henry, Ben Franklin, 12. You decide. 

Is there a Marxist in the House?

Which of these would you suppose [fill in name of politician] opposes?

  1. Eminent Domain takings.

  2. Federal Wilderness and National Forest expansion.

  3. Restrictions on private land use via EPA and Wildlife regulations.

  4. Federal Income tax

  5. Increasing top brackets of income tax

  6. Lowering lower brackets of income tax

  7. Estate Tax

  8. Increasing Estate Tax

  9. Gift Tax

  10. Taxes to leave country

  11. Taxes for citizens working abroad

  12. Confiscation of property of tax resisters and drug dealers

  13. Federal Reserve Bank

  14. Legal Tender Laws / Illegality of competing currencies

  15. SEC

  16. FCC

  17. Interstate Highway Program / Federal Highway Fund

  18. National Control of Airports

  19. Nationalization of GM

  20. Public Utilities Commissions

  21. FTC

  22. Union control of industry

  23. Card Check

  24. Agribusiness

  25. USDA

  26. Farm Bill subsidies

  27. FDA

  28. Department of Education

  29. Nationalization of Student Loans

  30. Minimum wage laws

The gentle reader is undoubtedly aware by now of the obvious nature of the list: each group of three can be characterized as contributing to progress towards the 10 Points of the Communist Manifesto.

An Alternative to Term Limits

It is often opined that term-limiting elected officials is the only way to reduce corruption in politics. This analysis misses the obvious problem of lame-duck representatives, with fully one third of an elected body having perhaps no incentive at all to please its constituents. This makes a representative ripe for purchase with no recourse for the body politic.

Yet the problem remains, how does one keep career politicians from subverting the democratic process? As I write this, the Federal Congress is trying to ram through legislation, perhaps even avoiding Constitutional requirements, that polls show a majority of Americans are strongly against. Clearly the ‘representative democracy’ is not functioning as such. A better system would require a four-step change:

First, end gerrymandering of Congressional districts. Everybody knows that districts are drawn to favor the incumbents unfairly and the two-party system, neither of which is healthy for the free-exchange of political ideas. There have been proposals for fair redistricting for more than half a century – any of them are likely superior to the brazenly corrupt method currently in place.

Second, implement a modern voting system that takes into account voter preferences and reduces strategic voting for non-preferred candidates. The best of these is probably the Schulze Method but any one that satisfies the Condorcet criterion is probably acceptable (the system must pick the candidate who, when compared with every other candidate, is preferred by more voters). The Schulze method was only discovered in the last decade, and is markedly superior to previous voting-system reform attempts, such as instant-runoff voting in the 1970’s which produced abysmal results. Organizations are rapidly and overwhelmingly adopting the Schulze method, and governments are now beginning to as well.

Third, end the political primary process. Only in Plurality Voting, the system we’ve been saddled with since the 18th Century, is such a process even necessary. In a Condorcet election, voters with a political party affiliation could simply rank all of their party’s candidates first, in their preference order, to maintain their strategic advantage. But a Republican who favored Democrat #4 over Republican #2 could also express that preference. Our current system does not allow this. This also gets local governments out of the business of supporting the private organizations called political parties for free (though certainly not free to those government’s tax base – how does an Independent feel about being forced to pay for primary elections?).

Fourth, require incumbents to achieve a threshold in the Condorcet election to stay in the race. If the first three steps aren’t enough to guarantee that a Congressman will pay attention to his electorate, requiring a majority preference (for example among the top half, though more thought needs to be paid to the exact level) certainly will. Without the preceding three pieces, though, this criterion simply re-enforces the two-party system.

Given all of these criteria, the winner of an election will best represent the people who elected him, and, if an incumbent, he will have broad support from among his constituency. This does not guarantee a corruption-free government, but it does provide strong incentives for a representative to represent, offers a broader variety of candidates to the People, and provides an outcome that will maximize the happiness of the voters while avoiding the danger of unaccountable representatives under a term-limits system.