Insider Incentive to Tilt the Common Ground of Facts


The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s response to a seemingly factual statement from National Education Association of Rhode Island Director Bob Walsh points to one of the major hurdles good-government groups face when trying to affect the public debate:

In his statement last week to the Providence Journal, Walsh claimed that RI teachers averaged $66,758 in salaries, compared to $80,357 in Massachusetts – a gap of $14,000.

However the salary figure reported in the official Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI) report show an average 2018 RI teacher salary of $77,581 – about $11,000 more than Walsh claimed. Further, the similar report in MA shows their average teacher salary (including Boston) was just $74,156 – about $6,000 less than he claimed.

Now, I think numbers debates are very important, and if we’re to have any hope of making democracy work, we must share the principle that objective facts should be the common ground from which we debate our positions.  But consider what Walsh has done, here.  The Center put out a report highlighting the excessive total compensation of unionized government employees versus the private sector, and the head of one of the biggest government unions in the state responded by comparing salaries (not counting benefits) between two groups of unionized government employees.

Part of making facts our common ground is sticking to those that are relevant.  Here, Walsh has pushed the debate off into a side room, so to speak.

Of course, his numbers are also questionable, but that isn’t really the point.  The general public has limited time to sort through the specifics of these debates, so all they’ll see is two people with apparently opposing political interests saying contrary things about the same supposedly objective set of facts.  The common ground becomes irrelevant.

Thus, it is always in the interest of the side benefiting from an inequity to obscure facts, so as to give people permission not to pay attention and to go with whatever side they want to support for some other reason.  Naturally, one particularly strong reason is the negative one of painful attention for disagreeing with the special interest.

That’s why the other half of the unions’ response to the Center’s report was to make entirely irrelevant claims about our funding.  They want people to evaluate a political question not on the facts, but on a cultivated (and false) insinuation that one side is motivated by dark, secret intentions.  “Look,” they ask, “we’ve all got our facts, and it would take forever for you to sort through them all, but do you want to side with the dedicated teachers, brave firefighters, and nice government clerks or with those people who won’t put their donors out there for our inspection?”  (“Inspection,” of course, comes with a hint of intimidation.)

The solution, here, is difficult to see.  Speaking in broad strokes, the news media has justly lost much of its credibility as a source for quickly sorting through the facts.  It comes down to an informed electorate practiced in teasing apart its emotions from facts.  And it comes down to enough people willing to step forward and make themselves targets throughout our communities to stand up for what is right.

  • ShannonEntropy

    The Conventional Wisdom says:
    Teachers are WAY Underpaid !!

    Let’s do some math, shall we, kids ??

    Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI) report show an average 2018 RI teacher salary of $77,581

    Teachers work 180 six hour days a year. That is 1080 hrs per year.
    [ Most people work fifty 40 hour weeks… 2,000 hrs per year ]

    So… 77,581 / 1,080 = $71.78 per hour

    If a person working your standard 2,000 hrs per yr were paid at the same rate, their W-2 would report *$143,534* per year

    Still think teachers are underpaid ??

    • Rhett Hardwick

      Trying to de-mystify this, I just did a Google search of “Average salary Massachusetts teachers”, and similar. I got at least 12 different answers, ranging from 69K to 80K. Most responses were about 78K.
      To amuse Shannon; I recall a friend’s “teacher” wife getting her Masters in English, an automatic $5,000 raise. She complained they had to do a lot of reading. Thinking, if not Beowulf, or Chaucer, something pithy, I asked what they were reading. She replied “We’re reading right through Stephen King”. I shouldn’t be amused by this, in Silicon Valley I would be a doorstop.

      To continue Shannon’s comparison at 143,534. Last I knew that was about the salary for an Associate at a large law firm. That required that you “bill” 2200 hours a year. With only slight honesty, that requires 2500 hours.

      • ShannonEntropy

        A guy in my dept has a wife who is an English teacher in Warwick

        I asked her if she liked being a teacher. She replied: “It’s the best part-time job I ever had in my life”

      • ShannonEntropy

        Last I knew that was about the salary for an Associate at a large law firm

        The salaries of law firm associates follow a U-shaped distribution pattern. Dog forbid you graduated from a low ranked or “NNR” — Not Nationally Ranked school — like Rhody’s NNR Bryant Law. Your starting salary — if you are lucky enough to even land a law-related job — will be ~ $40K / yr

        The lucky few who graduate from a T-14 school — or even better, a YHS school — will go to one of the white-shoe firms and get a average base salary of $160-165K / yr

        These “stars” will be expected to put in 60 – 80 hr work weeks; for an hourly salary of less than half of what your average Rhodent teacher makes

        • Rhett Hardwick

          That is why I used “large law firm”, generally understood to be more than 100 lawyers these days.

    • Christopher C. Reed

      6 hours on the clock, plus a couple for grading papers & lesson prep? Just wondering…
      Still and all seems pretty sweet for the pay, indoor work, no heavy lifting, unless you get cold-cocked by some unruly youth…

      • ShannonEntropy

        Most teachers use the same lesson plans year-after-year so there’s no “prep” after the 1st year

        And a lot of teachers donut give out homework or … have you been in a school lately ??

        The students typically spend more than half of each period in “group discussions” amongst themselves about the “topic of the day” which they know nothing about so they just chit-chat & gossip while the teach sits at their desks and has time to grade tests or homework; or do Sudoku puzzles if the fancy hits them

        As for the “workplace violence” drawback: that can happen on any job site and is much less likely to happen to a teacher than say a nurse in an Emergency Room or on a Psychiatric Unit. And the teacher makes *way* more money per hour than any nurse does

  • ShannonEntropy

    Unions: Are you gonna side with us “or with those people who won’t put their donors out there for our inspection?”

    The Left really never posits on the merits of an argument. It’s always Ad Hominem [ “Orange man bad !!” ] or like here, where they use the “straw man” subset a classical logical fallacy category called Irrelevant conclusion / ignoratio elenchi Latin for ‘ignoring refutation’

    The people who use these types of arguments do so cuz
    A) they aren’t intelligent enough to make genuine arguments and B) most people aren’t intelligent enough to see thru the obvious fallacy, so it works

    • Mike678

      Racist! :)