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Making Meaning a Real Part of Economic Discussions

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz is right to point out that we don’t put enough emphasis on an important aspect of our working lives:

A job’s meaningfulness — a sense that the work has a broader purpose — is consistently and overwhelmingly ranked by employees as one of the most important factors driving job satisfaction. It’s the linchpin of qualities that make a valuable employee: motivation, job performance and a desire to show up and stay.

About the closest one gets to this conversation comes when, as part of political debates about living wages and mandatory benefits, some religious leader adds the phrase “meaningful work” to the list of workers’ rights.

Although she didn’t go so far as to raise the prospect of government action, Elejalde-Ruiz’s article does emphasize that employers are doing something they shouldn’t when they don’t give meaning to their employees’ jobs, not unlike the presumptuous statements that RI employers are cheating themselves by not offering sick time.  Perhaps she backs away because talk of meaning begins to illustrate how little ground one can actually cover when insisting on assigning people to categories (boss versus worker) and trying to resolve perceived problems categorically.

Blanket rules won’t help employers make employees’ jobs more meaningful, just as one can’t force the employees to take a deliberate approach to seeking meaning.  These questions are bound up with individual worldview and personal interactions.

What we can do is to stop oversimplifying our lives for the sake of political tugs-of-war.  Consider how easily the notion of meaningful work can flip:  Human beings will be attracted to work that is meaningful, which means they’ll tend to work for less pay.  Conversely, employers have to pay more to attract employees when the work isn’t attractive in its own right.  Put that way, it’s simply inappropriate to make declarations about, say, low pay for teachers without also commenting on how much they’re paid in meaning, so to speak.

Indeed, an interesting study could probably be made of gender gaps in these terms.  What if the longstanding cultural expectation that men would provide for their families left them with a meaningfulness deficit?  That could certainly play into suicide rates.

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Overestimating the Concern of Education Officials

I think Sandra Stotsky overestimates the degree to which Rhode Islanders actually pay attention to things like the standardized tests that government schools give our children, but her NewBostonPost essay does serve notice to those who do that Massachusetts’s test mightn’t be the font of rigor that they think:

We don’t know if the Rhode Island Department of Education knows it has been bamboozled because state education officials there haven’t told Rhode Island parents that the “MCAS” tests it is giving Rhode Island students are PARCC in disguise. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education convinced Rhode Island education officials and the Rhode Island legislature to use the Bay State’s tests in place of Rhode Island’s previously used PARCC tests.  Did it tell Rhode Island education commissioner Ken Wagner and state Representative Gregg Amore that Massachusetts’s current tests, called MCAS, use mainly PARCC test items and bear no resemblance to the Bay State’s pre-Common Core tests?  That would be the ethical thing to do.

Why are PARCC tests being called MCAS in Massachusetts? Because state law (the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993) requires assessment of state standards in grade 10 through state tests called MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and the law couldn’t be changed without the legislature knowing about the game being played. So, if the Massachusetts education department and state board of education keep the name, but change its substance, the governor, the secretary of education, and the state legislature won’t be, officially, wiser.

Wagner doesn’t seem like much of a boat rocker and is childless, while Amore is a now-retired union teacher.  In other words, they are more likely to be happy, rather than concerned, that the new test they’ve brought to the state won’t be as effective in illustrating how much our public education system isn’t teaching children.

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Fancy Funding Deals That Skirt the Law Should Be Avoided

On Tiverton Fact Check, I’ve detailed an example of how the town government appropriates money in a way that (let’s say) conflicts with the clear language of the town’s Home Rule Charter:

The complicating factor is that the vote [to create a restricted revenue source for pay-as-you-throw trash bag revenue] was taken as a resolution in the FTM docket, which should have made it valid for the duration of that year’s budget only. Resolutions have to be renewed each year, and the PAYT restricted account has not been renewed. In other words, the town has been putting that money into a restricted account illegally for six years. To avoid an annual vote, the council would have to present voters with an opportunity to write the account into the charter or provide some other vote akin to a bond approval, making clear to voters that the restricted account will go on forever, or end at some future date.

To some extent, these sorts of things should be expected.  Local government generally consists of people who aren’t government experts and who often see themselves as engaged in a sort of volunteer service; process rules can therefore seem frustrating and unreasonable.  Additionally, in a council-based system, they’re often overseeing a rolling series of town managers and solicitors who lack a long-term institutional knowledge (which is just objective fact) and have financial incentive to tell the council that it can do what its members want to do (which can be corrupt).

In my view, that’s a reason to keep government limited.  If a transaction is too technically or politically complex for a council and well-paid staff to make it under the clear rules of the law, then it shouldn’t be done.  In this case, the council created a new rubbish fee without taking additional steps that would have required additional votes of the public, which sounds quite a bit like the proposed PawSox stadium deal, specifically, and moral obligation bonds, in general.

I often wonder how many similar examples could be found throughout Rhode Island if residents were to make a dedicated practice of combing through their municipal governments’ audits.

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The Unadulterated Projection of Relative Decline for Rhode Island

The word “mixed” in the headline for a Ted Nesi report on WPRI.com seems misplaced.  Michael Lynch’s report for the state government, by way of consultant IHS Markit, seems pretty negative to me:

Through 2022, Lynch predicts Rhode Island payrolls will grow by just 0.4% a year on average, a rate that would rank near the bottom among the 50 states, at 48th. …

Overall, IHS expects Rhode Island’s population and labor force to grow about 0.1% a year on average of the next 10 years. “This will rank among the lowest in the country,” Lynch noted, and is “reflected in our forecasts for lackluster employment growth.” …

“This would provide a useful crop of young and well-educated workers ready to enter the labor force and fill vacancies left behind by the aforementioned retirees,” he wrote. “Our forecasts indicate that the state will fail in this area – its 20- to 29-year-old cohort will contract over the next decade.”

Nesi touts a “silver lining” in the “booming” housing market, but in context, that’s a negative.  Regulations and taxes are keeping the housing inventory in Rhode Island from growing (which means construction jobs are restrained, too).  In context, the more-accurate characterization would be that, however pitiful Rhode Island’s economy may be, the government is keeping our housing market even more suppressed.

This isn’t a mixed picture.  It’s an unadulterated portrait of how an overbearing government can drag down a state.

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If Only Identity Politics Didn’t Prevent Truly Representative Government

It has seemed more and more to be the case that the demographic cross-tabs of surveys find two groups to have surprisingly similar views: blacks and Republicans.  I noted this some years ago, when a Friedman Foundation survey about school choice found almost exact agreement between the two groups.  Somewhere in my reading, recently, similar results emerged for transgenderism.

I didn’t find it surprising, therefore, when an article for Atlanta Black Star about a children’s author who set out to remedy the problem that “representation of kids of color in children’s books is often hard to find” also said things like this:

“I love telling our story and showing my husband as the alpha male leading the family,” [Geiszel] Godoy said. “It seems tradition has been thrown to the side recently, and I felt it was important for kids to see a mother and father together in a children’s book.”

“We need to normalize the Black family again. The mainstream media is hellbent on pushing the narrative of the broken home, but it’s not true,” Godoy said.

Our culture’s problems aren’t difficult to identify, and one of modern political life’s greatest frustrations is how much identity politics and the welfare state’s method of buying off constituencies keeps us from implementing policy that would reflect the beliefs of large majorities, even of minorities.

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RI at the Bottom of the Licensing Scale, Too

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The Numbers Indicate We Spend Too Much Time Talking Hate Crime in RI

David Bernstein takes to Instapundit with the FBI’s findings that hate crimes increased by 5% in 2016, noting:

The increase isn’t good news, but between what certainly looks like an increase in hate crimes hoaxes and the greater attention paid by the media to real hate crimes, which encourages reporting, there may not be any real increase at all.

Digging into the data, I find hate crimes actually went down in Rhode Island:

2015 2016
Total 19 13
Aggravated assault 3
Simple assault 6 4
Robbery 1
Destruction/damage vandalism 10 7
Crimes against society 1

Following Bernstein, I’d suggest that this hardly illustrates a Trump-campaign boost in hate crimes, even though the president had an unexpectedly strong showing in Rhode Island.

More important, though, the minuscule size of these numbers — fewer than 20 incidents per year — has implications for the amount of time that Rhode Islanders should spend pondering public policy related to this issue.  Little wonder progressive Democrat Mayor of Providence Jorge Elorza has found very little by way of hate crime, even though his administration has essentially solicited reporting with its “little used” hotline.

In a contest of harm to Rhode Islanders, especially disadvantaged minorities, hate crimes don’t even compare with our state’s unhealthy tax and regulatory policies.

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