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Wagner’s Warning for Rhode Island

A scathing editorial in the Providence Journal takes Education Commissioner Ken Wagner to task, suggesting that he never should have been hired:

Buried in the story, on the jump page, was an astonishing revelation. “In my three and a half years, I’ve seen only four classrooms that challenge kids at the levels the standards require. We are dramatically under-challenging our kids.”

That is a shocking admission. In the entire state, with its 300-some schools, Commissioner Wagner has found only four four classrooms where students were being adequately challenged.

The referenced story is an interview with the $225,000-per-year commissioner, and the editorial rightly snarls about his insistence that “it’s no one’s fault.”  But in one respect, the editorialists might have been a little unfair, inasmuch as they missed Wagner’s lightly hidden warnings:

Wagner said Rhode Island might be ready for a test-based graduation requirement in two or three years, when educators and elected officials have a chance to dig into the latest test scores. Next year, he said, the education department will release data on students who have reached proficiency on the Rhode Island Common Assessment Program or RICAS, called a commissioner’s seal, side-by-side with high school graduation rates.

“I’m not opposed to it. Just not right now,” Wagner said. “Let everyone digest the dramatic gaps between high school graduation rates and student proficiency and then revisit it.

“If you change the graduation requirements, everyone is going to bank on (the belief) that we’re going to blink,” he said. “The legislature will step in again.”

Also:

“If absenteeism rates are high,” he said, “there is something wrong with the school … with its climate and culture. Our first role is shining a light on this. Every school is talking about this. We have named it.”

There you go.  Basically, the education commissioner is confirming that the problem is a system in which powerful labor unions create an unproductive, low-quality environment with no hope of improvement because they can make the politicians blink.  The trick those legislators and the governor are trying to pull off is to find a way to squeeze some improvement out of the system without actually naming (or fixing) the underlying problem.

It won’t work, and no one should blame Wagner if he sees escape as the silver lining of his scapegoating.  By contrast, we all should wonder what sort of person would want to take the job on the politicians’ terms, even with that six-figure pay rate.

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The Magic of a Free Market Policy

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds makes a telling connection.  He leads with a quotation from former President Obama during the presidential campaign season while responding to Donald Trump’s promise to increase job creation and manufacturing within the United States:

“Well, how exactly are you going to do that? What exactly are you going to do? There’s no answer to it,” Obama said.

“He just says, ‘Well, I’m going to negotiate a better deal.’ Well, what, how exactly are you going to negotiate that? What magic wand do you have? And usually the answer is, he doesn’t have an answer.”

The news to which Reynolds links the reminder is this, from Bloomberg:

U.S. manufacturing expanded in December at the fastest pace in three months, as gains in orders and production capped the strongest year for factories since 2004, the Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday. …

The figures suggest manufacturing strength will persist into early 2018, even after the ISM’s semi-annual survey of purchasing managers published last month showed factories anticipate growth in capital spending to slow this year. The December monthly poll was taken before President Donald Trump signed the tax legislation, which provides companies with incentives to invest more, Fiore said in an interview.

The most telling part of Obama’s rhetoric is the mention of a magic wand.  Progressives think that government does things, and the world responds.  Central planners inject resources here or there, and that produces a predictable reaction in the market.  Look at Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo.  How are we going to improve the economy?  Well, we’ll find companies that the government experts believe will benefit the local market, and we’ll cut them special deals to move here.  It is a magic wand, with the progressive wizards wielding the wand.

The free-market conservative approach isn’t so presumptuous.  We assume that people want to be productive, create things, and make money, and so if we broadly make it cheaper and easier for them to do so, we expect that they will.  We can’t really predict where in the market the slack will go, but we trust that freedom and individual initiative will put the resources where they will be most effective, given the actual conditions and interests of the area.

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When Government Pays Us to Be Parents

Zach Maher, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, explains how the government-paid-parental-leave-in-Sweden-is-great scales fell from his eyes:

When the girl’s parents refused to subject her to this unnecessary procedure, the hidden machinery of the Swedish welfare state sprang into motion. My brother-in-law and his wife were required to attend multiple interviews with social workers and to submit friends and neighbors in their small town for questioning. Social workers even inspected their home. Suddenly, decisions as benign as what milk to buy seemed potential evidence of parental deficiency. My in-laws feared their two children might be taken from them.

In Sweden, the state reserves for itself ultimate responsibility for children’s well-being. As a parent my job is to give my kids the trygghet necessary to become productive, tax-paying members of Swedish society. This is why I receive financial support and medical benefits. The state is paying me to be a parent. I am, in effect, an employee—and if I do a poor job, my responsibility as a parent might be taken away from me.

 

When we give government responsibility for things — even good things, like the well-being of children — we also give it authority over those who provide those things, like parents.  Suddenly, government isn’t just filling in gaps, but seeking out gaps by putting parents under the microscope.

The United States is not immune to such thinking, obviously.  Some 20 years ago, on Matt Allen’s Mental Floss radio show with the more-liberal Jennifer Brien, the latter argued that schools have to teach sex education (liberally tinted, naturally) because parents simply aren’t doing the job adequately.  I called in to ask what gives her or the government the right to make that determination, but she wouldn’t be shaken from the assertion of need.  (And then I was cut off.)

Suggesting that he and his wife “insist… on having their own ideas about raising children,” Maher asks, “Does this mean we can’t accept parental support from the state?”  My guess is that he doesn’t really have a choice — that the government doesn’t actually see it as an exchange or contract.

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A Tax Lesson Next Door

Well, the WTNH headline out of Connecticut is just about all you need to know: “Income tax revenue collapses; Malloy says taxing the rich doesn’t work,” but here’s a brief explanation:

Connecticut’s state budget woes are compounding with collections from the state income tax collapsing, despite two high-end tax hikes in the past six years. …

It’s happening because the state of Connecticut depends too much on its wealthy residents, and wealthy residents are leaving, and the ones that are staying are making less, or are not taking their profits from the stock market until they see what happens in Washington.

Rhode Islanders should consider that this goes in reverse, too.  Lower, broader taxation will foster the import of wealth and productive activity within the state.  For a quick lesson, see Thomas Sowell’s latest post-retirement essay.

For progressive governments in the Northeast, the whole purpose of a civic entity (like a state) is to construct the perfect society as they see it.  This doesn’t work.

For classical liberals (now called “conservatives”), the purpose of a civic entity is to provide some structure and security for the society as a whole (as distinct from the security of an individual or particular organization).  This does work, and should be the focus of our state.

Government should be small enough in scope that a broadly applied tax won’t hurt the less advantaged.  In that way, we’ll have prosperity and greater economic mobility, or opportunity for people to climb the ladder.

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“Tolerance” Means You Have to Do What They Want

This is not the sort of thing the government does in a free society:

A California court ruled last week that ChristianMingle and it’s affiliate faith-based dating websites must allow LGBT singles to search and be matched with people of the same gender.

The ruling comes at the end of a 2.5 year legal battle after two gay men noticed in 2013 that new members to the popular dating site, which boasts over 15 million users, could only search for dates of the opposite sex.

In brief, this means that it is illegal for a company in California to set up a business that seeks explicitly to provide services to people with Christian values.  I almost made that a more-generic “particular values,” but it would be counterproductive to pretend that the progressive government in California has any intention of applying this principle equally.

When it comes to the government’s demands on Christians, the call of “tolerance” is not answered simply by letting other people live their lives as they see fit.  No, we have to facilitate and serve behaviors that we find immoral — now not only through government, but through our own private businesses, too.  This isn’t even a matter of our seeking to exclude a class of people; if we wish to provide services that we want but progressives’ favored classes do not, we must provide their closest comparable service, as well.

One cannot avoid the conclusion that all Christians should leave California unless they see themselves as missionaries in a hostile land.  More and more, of course, that describes the view we have to take within the United States as a whole, now that progressives have abandoned any pretense of valuing real diversity or true civil rights, which means we are unlike missionaries in that we’ll have no home base to which to return in a land that actively supports our beliefs.

The era of comfortable Christianity is ending, and we should not expect Christian charity and tolerance from people who have explicitly rejected our values.

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The Familiar Sound of Venezuela

Reading through a New York Times description of the food riots underway in Venezuela, now that the country’s been destroyed by socialism, I’m struck by some obvious juxtapositions that are well separated in the text.  Paragraph 1:

With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation’s food is now transported under armed guard.

Paragraph 29:

Down the coastal road in a small fishing town called Boca de Uchire, hundreds gathered on a bridge this month to protest because the food deliveries were not arriving.

Make it more difficult and expensive to bring food, and food will be harder to get.  More stunning is how familiar it all seems.  The scenes of destruction of the very infrastructure necessary to produce, transport, store, and sell food are like something out of Manzoni’s description of the Milan bread riots of the Seventeenth Century in The Betrothed.  And it’s not just the people’s counter-productive behavior.  Here’s the Times:

In response, [President Nicolas] Maduro has tightened his grip over the food supply.  Using emergency decrees he signed this year, the president put most food distribution in the hands of a group of citizen brigades loyal to leftists, a measure critics say is reminiscent of food rationing in Cuba. …

At the same time, the government also blames an “economic war” for the shortages.  It accuses wealthy business owners of hoarding food and charging exorbitant prices, creating artificial shortages to profit from the country’s misery.

Here’s Manzoni (page 232 of the Penguin Classics printing):

People forget that they have feared and predicted the shortage, and suddenly begin to believe that there is really plenty of grain, and that the trouble is that it is being kept off the market.  Though there are no earthly or heavenly grounds for that belief, it gives food to people’s anger and to their hopes.  Real or imaginary hoarders of grain, landowners who did not sell their entire crop within twenty-four hours, bakers who bought grain and held it in stock — everyone in fact who possessed or was thought to possess grain was blamed for the shortage and for the high prices …

… [The magistrates] fixed maximum prices for a number of foodstuffs, they decreed penalties for anyone who refused to sell at those prices, and passed one or two other regulations of that kind.  But all the official measures in the world, however vigorous they may be, cannot lessen a man’s need for food, nor produce crops out of season.  The measures actually taken on this occasion were certainly not calculated to attract imports from other areas where there might conceivably be a surplus. …

… [Grand Chancellor Antonio] Ferrer was behaving like a lady of a certain age, who thinks she can regain her youth by altering the date on her birth certificate.

We have centuries… millennia… of lessons.  Right now, we can learn once again from Venezuela.  I fear too many people lack the basis to make the obvious connections.

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Will RI Be a Frontier When the Federal Empire Recedes

I’ve been warning about the “company state” dynamic whereby an area’s core industry essentially becomes the provision of government services, with the revenue pulled in from the few productive residents and other cities, towns, and states.  The goal becomes to attract and create as many dependents as possible so as to justify sending a larger bill to those who have no choice but to pay it.  Eventually, though, the productive locals will leave or decide to join the dependent club, and other cities, towns, and states will refuse or no longer be able to cover the bills.

I wonder if that sort of civic and economic structure will set Rhode Island to be akin to the frontier areas as the Roman Empire receded.  Here’s Jakub Grygiel:

In those frontier outposts, the locals have to make difficult decisions based on an assessment of how resilient their empire is, how persistent and dangerous the enemy appears, and how strong their own will is. And they experience different stages of geopolitical grief from denial and delusion to perhaps, in the best case, an attempt at indigenous security provision.

Clearly, Grygiel’s talking about security against invaders, but something similar seems likely to happen when a large class of people rely on handouts that simply cease to be handed out, whether one sees the recipients as a replacement for the invaders or you see them as the villagers failing to prepare to defend themselves against events that will damage or take their resources.  Grygiel describes the stages as follows:

  • “First, there is the gradual recognition that imperial forces were not what they used to be.”
  • “Second, after the reassuring presence of imperial might has vanished, the next stage does not include calls for defense or balancing or stronger walls. No. It is the stage of disbelief and self-delusion.”
  • “Third… the people of Comagenis … recognized that security was a creation of force, not a self-sustaining reality. But even before the technical question of how to defend themselves, the locals needed a reason to do it.”

In some ways, we may already be well into the first stage, perhaps into the second.  Government funds cannot be increased at the rate to which officials have become accustomed.  Some things (roads and pensions) are showing the pressure on the finances, and intra-progressive political battles are beginning to pit special interests against each other.  Next comes the refusal to adjust policies to the obvious future and a desperate search to find any and all sources of new revenue to keep the game going.

When that no longer works, we can expect a fatalism as some sit and stare at the financial wasteland and others refuse to let our society return to the principles of freedom, self control, and self reliance that allowed our society to be so successful in the first place.

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Minimum Wage and the New Progressives

My first thought upon reading in today’s Providence Journal of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s intention to continue Rhode Island government’s relentless push to redistribute money and make business more difficult by increasing the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit was that she has decisively proven that one can know how to make money appear from thin air and still not understand business or the economy. But then I followed a link in Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “newsletter” to a book review by Malcom Harris in the progressive New Republic. The book Harris reviews is by Princeton historian Thomas Leonard, mainly concerning the explicit racism and belief in eugenics of progressives a century ago.

Note these lines from Harris, with the interior quote from Leonard’s book (emphases in original):

Among his revelations: The minimum wage was created to destroy jobs; progressives (including the founders of this magazine) really did hate small businesses and they were all way too enthusiastic about Germany’s social structure. …

The minimum wage, in addition to providing some workers with a better standard of living, would guard white men from competition. Leonard is worth reading at length:

A legal minimum wage, applied to immigrants and those already working in America, ensured that only the productive workers were employed. The economically unproductive, those whose labor was worth less than the legal minimum, would be denied entry, or, if already employed, would be idled. For economic reformers who regarded inferior workers as a threat, the minimum wage provided an invaluable service. It identified inferior workers by idling them. So identified, they could be dealt with. The unemployable would be removed to institutions, or to celibate labor colonies. The inferior immigrant would be removed back to the old country or to retirement. The woman would be removed to the home, where she could meet her obligations to family and race.

As Goldberg points out, one could take modern progressives at their word that an impenetrable wall now exists between them and their ideological forebears when it comes to the racist motivation and still wonder whether they should consider that their erstwhile heroes might have been correct about the effects of a minimum wage.

I’d argue that the answer, as regular readers will no doubt recognize, is that progressives have not changed as much as they, themselves, would like to think. They still believe that, as Harris puts it, they are the ones who should lead all of society. They still want to identify and sort people into that inferior class. But they’ve realized that they can make use of the underclass as a weapon against the more-traditionalist, -motivated, and -individualistic middle, which is ultimately the threat against their elitist designs.

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A Back Door for Religion in Schools

Reading Carol Bragg’s Providence Journal op-ed titled “Nonviolence transforms R.I. school” might make one wonder how its topic could be considered anything other than an establishment of religion in a public school:

Broad Rock Middle School in South Kingstown has embarked on an ambitious mission to become a model school based on Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence. The inspiration came from Robin Wildman, a fifth grade teacher at the school who has taught about nonviolence for 15 years. Observers have remarked that they can feel in her classroom the respect, compassion and community she has built with her students.

Wildman accomplishes this by spending the first three weeks of the school year teaching nonviolence lessons, to establish the framework for how the class will operate for the remainder of the year. She says it is time well spent. The outcome is more time spent on teaching, and less on discipline.

Really, substitute a single name and it’s crystal clear that we’re talking a religion, here:

Education in Jesus’ method of nonviolence does this and more. It teaches respect. Encompassing the teachings of Jesus, it promotes love over hate; justice, forgiveness and reconciliation over revenge; respectful dialogue over rancorous debate; and positive, peaceful action over inaction or violence. The Broad Rock initiative has the potential to give young people skills they need for happy, healthy relationships throughout their lives. In addition, it will empower them to play an active, productive role in their communities, state and nation.

The article’s mention of non-profit organizations that are now being brought in proves that this isn’t just one teacher’s technique, but an organized cultural movement beyond the school’s walls.  The only conceivable difference between the cult of “nonviolence” and a religion is that the cult doesn’t go so far as to claim any real existential foundation for preferring its teachings over any other.  But teachers are still telling children what they should believe about the world, how they should interact other people, and what they should value.

Only a society enveloped in a fog of dim confusion could fail to be outraged at the notion that a secular humanist appropriation of Christianity is perfectly fine in a public school, while schools must be forbidden across the country from allowing any expression of genuine Christianity.  This is another example of the ways in which progressivism constrains allowable actions in a way that gives it an advantage as a proselytizing faith.

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R.I. Center for Freedom & Prosperity: 2015 RI Report Card on Competitiveness Confirms Status Quo is Failing Rhode Islanders

The grades are out, and once again the status quo fails on the 2015 RI Report Card on Competitiveness. When will the political class learn that their way is simply not working to reach their stated goals? If Rhode Island is to reform its way of conducting business, our elected officials must learn to place less trust in government-centric programs for every problem. We will never improve our state’s employment situation unless we adopted the need reforms that will allow Rhode Islanders to empower themselves to achieve their hopes and dreams. The 2015 report card decisively demonstrates the wreckage that decades of liberal policies have wrought upon our state.

The 2015 RI Report Card shows how Rhode Island’s political class continues to cater to special insiders, while depriving other Rhode Islanders of the opportunity for upward mobility, educational opportunity, and personal prosperity. In the major categories, Rhode Island was graded with two F’s, seven D’s, and one C. The two categories with F grades are Infrastructure and Health Care; the seven D’s are Business Climate, Tax Burden, Spending & Debt, Employment & Income, Energy, Public Sector labor, and Living & Retirement in Rhode Island; while Education received a C-. Among the 52 sub-categories evaluated, Rhode Island received 19 F’s, 24 D’s, 5 Cs, 3 Bs, and just one lone A.

These unacceptable grades should be a wake-up call to lawmakers that a government-centric approach is not producing the social justice and self-sufficiency that Rhode Islanders crave. By burdening the public with policies that discourage work and a productive lifestyle, the status quo is failing the people of our state. On the 2015 RI Report Card on Competitiveness, the Ocean State received “Ds” in the major categories of Jobs and Employment, and in Tax Burden. We must learn to trust in our people and remove the tax and regulatory boot of government off of their backs by advancing policies that empower the average family with choices, that reward work, and that grow the economy.

Only free market policy will transform the Ocean State by advancing policies that empower the average family with choices, that reward work, and that grow the economy. We can no longer tolerate Rhode Island falling further behind. The Center will continue to work tirelessly to promote policies like sales tax reform and school choice in order to help our fellow Rhode Islanders by unleashing their potential. We encourage you to help spread the word about the failing grades the status quo in Rhode Island received this year. You have power to change the Ocean State into a place where everyone can prosper. Thank you.

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F.A.I.R.? Illegal Immigration Costs Rhode Island $278 Million Annually As of Data from 2009

As you know, Rhode Island was recently classified as one of only two sanctuary states in the country, a disturbing revelation and a costly situation. The figure of just how costly it is to state and local taxpayers popped up yesterday in the course of some related research. F.A.I.R., the Federation for American Immigration Reform, places the cost to Rhode Island of illegal immigration at $278 million per year in 2009.

Think of that. Because state officials have so far declined to implement some very reasonable, simple measures to discourage illegal immigration into the state but have implemented policies that actually encourage it, Rhode Island is needlessly spending an estimated $278 million per year.

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Cusack’s Masculine Move of Blocking Me on Twitter

Prefatory note: I post this out of fascination with human nature and a deep appreciation for the humor of it.

Saturday kicked off for me, this week, with my being blocked on Twitter by former Republican East Providence Assistant Mayor Robert Cusack.  He posted a map showing the relative balance of men and women around the world, and the conversation went thus:

Cusack: Notice that places where men outnumber women is where all the trouble is?

Katz: I guess if you ignore any of the places that it suits you to ignore.

Cusack: Blocked, for lack of sense of humor!

Katz: What a masculine response.

There are a number of interesting observations one could make with just a glance at the map.  For one, Russia — bleeding into the notoriously non-problem-free Caucuses and Ukraine — is dark blue, meaning heavily weighted toward women. Even North Korea is blue, as are other areas of the world that aren’t exactly paradise.

For another, where Cusack’s statement carries with it some truth, there is opportunity for interesting discussion.  Much of the man-heavy area is dominated by hard-line strains of Islam, where women exist in terrible subjugation (as do men who resist the hard line).  In both India and China, one could branch into discussions of the use of sex-selective abortion to follow strong cultural preferences for male offspring.

And that whole topic could return to the importance of the West’s waning formula for structuring families in a way that binds the two sexes together toward harmonious and productive ends.  It’s been fashionable for quite a while, now, to condemn the traditional Judeo-Christian vision for the family, but it does (or did) impede the development of a male underclass with no prospects or investment in their society, which (yes) can lead to trouble.

That’s not a one-sided coin, either.  I’d be curious what might come of an analysis of the differing nature of problems in areas with many more females.  Maybe totalitarians take a different approach there.

Yet another interesting topic would be whether the cliché about women’s more-peaceful nature is actually true.  It certainly doesn’t jibe with my personal experience or with my reading of modern society or of history.  These are rich topics that leave much room for insights and friendly humor. Cusack went with the banal and humorless direction of anti-male sexism.

Even just within the same wave of my morning reading, I came across this gem from Northeastern University in Boston, where residential assistants — students tasked with helping young adults along with their college experience — are apparently being instructed that it simply isn’t possible to be oppressed if you’re a straight, white male, even (one supposes) in an environment that sets up kangaroo courts for sexual assault and that have 100% female “offices of equity and diversity.”

Contrary to what Robert Cusack may believe, discussion of these matters doesn’t have to be humorless, if we’re mature.  Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t seem inclined to cultivate mature men anymore.

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Unweaving the Regulatory Noose

This chart, from ZeroHedge, sums up some of the points I’ve been making recently:

Note that the “Reagan Dip” isn’t a reduction in the number of pages of regulation, it’s just a reduction in the rate of growth.  The summary of the economic growth of the Reagan era was that the federal government kept up its creation of money in the present through debt while cutting taxes and slowing the growth of regulation, thus allowing the debt-driven cash to flow into productive activity.

This collection of policies revved the economy, and what should have happened in the ’90s was a reduction of debt along with further reductions in taxes and real reductions in regulations.  The economy’s growth may have slowed, but the country would have been on a stronger footing, with new digital technologies having already begun to emerge.

Instead, regulations kicked back into high gear, and the Clinton Administration transferred the burden of creating fake money onto the stock market and housing debt.

Regulation helps lock wealth in where it exists, so it’s good for the powerful.  But when things begin to fall apart in earnest (as they probably will soon), turning the above chart into negative territory, by actually eliminating regulations, would provide a boost to the economy that would actually help the working and middle classes and shift resources more efficiently.

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