Freeze Tag

As previously mentioned, the school district needs to trim about $18.5 million in order to avoid a tax increase. Poughkeepsie Journal on the most recent school board meeting contained some interesting trivia.

[T]he school board is asking all its 1,500 employees to agree to a salary freeze next year. … District Superintendent Frank Pepe has estimated the district would save about $3.75 million if all the district’s employees agreed to salary freezes in 2009-10. [emphasis mine]

That’s a big number but only $2,500 per employee.

Now where will you find the other $14.75 million?

There are 726 teachers, and 91 “other professionals,” whatever that means. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that those are employees whose salaries are counted in the $125 million “program component” of the budget. Roughly, very roughly, speaking, that’s $153,000 per person, which is a tidy sum even for the New York metropolitan area. Perhaps if we ask nicely, the district will say what the median salary is.

Time Enough

Apparently President Obama remarked on education yesterday.

For decades, Washington has been trapped in the same stale debates that have paralyzed progress and perpetuated our educational decline.

Obviously Washington hasn’t been involved enough in education, so he proposes more interference. The specific policy proposals are not horrible, except for the increased Federal interference in a local matter, though others could probably cite studies contrary to the studies he mentions. Unfortunately for the President, I happen to have numbers to hand about one proposal in particular: the length of the school day and year.

[L]et’s also foster innovation in when our children are learning. We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day. That calendar may have once made sense, but today it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children — listen to this — our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea — every year. That’s no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy. That’s why I’m calling for us not only to expand effective after-school programs, but to rethink the school day to incorporate more time -– whether during the summer or through expanded-day programs for children who need it. (Applause.)

Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas. (Laughter.) Not with Malia and Sasha — (laughter) — not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom. If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America.

Education at a Glance 2008: OECD Indicators has more comparative data than you might ever want to wade through, which makes it helpful for validating assertions like the above. Let’s look at Indicator D1: How much time do students spend in the classroom? Oh, wait, data is not available for the United States. So, Mr. President, how do you make the claim that South Korean students sit at their desks longer than American students?

I expect the U.S. Department of Education provided some numbers. I’ve found the statistics for private schools, but nothing yet for public schools; the Digest of Education Statistics 2007 is not exactly well-organized. If we take the average of the private school data, we’re sitting about 200 hours longer each year than the Koreans. Interestingly enough, Korea is on the low end of the OECD’s comparisons of classroom time.

What we can look at in in the OECD data is Indicator D4: How much time do teachers spend teaching?, which contains this helpful chart.

D4: How much time do teachers spend teaching?

Whoa! Leader of the Pack!

So what, exactly, is it that we’re short on?

Preacherman

Was watching a clip on The NewsHour of President Obama’s gathering in Florida today, and was struck by how like an evangelist he was. It doesn’t come across so much in the words, below, but in the mannerisms.

HENRIETTA HUGHES: The housing authority has two years’ waiting lists. And we need something more than the vehicle and the parks to go to. We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom. Please help.

BARACK OBAMA: OK, Ms. Hughes, well, we’re going to do everything we can to help you, but there are a lot of people like you. We’re going to do everything we can.

Tone

I recognized the tone of President Obama’s voice at the beginning of the press conference last night. Katie Couric called it “stern.” That’s a polite way to put it.

It was the tone of voice I use when I mean to imply that the rest of y’all are a bunch of [expletive] idiots. Let me explain it again in clear, simple terms that a fool could understand.

He calmed down a bit and began bantering after the lecture.

For All Debts, Public and Private

As a young man with few dollars, I used to spend some time admiring the engraving on those few I had. I’ve long been struck by the phrase printed on Federal Reserve Notes: “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.”

It is somewhat odd that some think dollars, or other currency, has value in and of itself, when the value the currency has is only in relation to the demand of others for it. By others, we mean primarily the entity printing the currency: They demand it in taxes.

Consider a schoolyard bully who is satisfied with anything I have in my pockets. Any of those things may be used to pay for his protection. But suppose that one day he decides that he will only accept Hershey’s chocolates. This gives Hershey’s chocolates a special value in the schoolyard, and trade of those chocolates between children may result. Further suppose that the bully gives his friends special tokens of affection, and will not pummel those who hold them. These tokens would also have value, and may be exchanged for Hershey’s chocolates, or for other goods. In time, the bully may decide that he no longer likes chocolate, and will only protect those who have his favors.

Economic Stimulus Package: No Taxes

The bank just sent a summary statement of the escrow account we use to pay the local and school property taxes. One achieves a certain distance from the taxation by letting someone else manage it for you. It was a big number, but not as big as the amounts I’m paying in other taxes.

If the Federal government finds it necessary to spend money to stimulate aggregate demand, and doesn’t want to just hand me the $1 million previously suggested, then I would appreciate a tax holiday. That would increase our available cash by quite a bit.

The Third Rail

The third rail on electric railways carries the electrical current. Touching the rail will cause death. By extension, a number of topics in politics have been characterized as the third rail, in that they will cause an immediate political demise. Domestically, one of these subjects is Social Security, a program from which so many people benefit that altering the program would result in an electoral defeat. In foreign policy, this position was previously held by Communism. Now it is Israel. I’m not sure why that is, or what unquestioning support of Israeli policy has to do with American interests.

I opened the paper today, after a week-long hiatus, to find that the disagreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians over who should exist escalated over the weekend. Coincidentally enough, I also read Glenn Greenwald‘s column today, in which I learned that 71% of the U.S. population polled favor a neutral position on the above question, in stark contrast to the 99% of the U.S. political establishment which vociferously supports Israeli policy. There are, however, signs that this unanimity is splintering, at least among the chattering classes.

Interregnum

I’ve seen several references to this time between the election and the inauguration as an interregnum, and many writers expressing concern that President Bush is still, well, the President until January 20th. The thing is, we don’t have an interregnum because President Bush is still the President. And regardless of one’s wishes, he remains the President until President-elect Obama takes the oath and assumes the office.

One concern is that President Bush will follow tradition and issue a bunch of midnight regulations that will be difficult to overturn. Another is that President Bush, lacking in political authority since he has no more terms in office, will be unable to deal effectively with an emergency of some kind. The example usually given is the present financial tumult. But this is a concern only if one thinks the President some kind of demigod, and the Executive indispensable to daily life — or the orderly functioning of the NYSE.

The machinery of government will function just fine during this transitional period, which is most emphatically not an interregnum.

Coerced for My Own Good

H. W. Brands, in his biography of F.D.R., Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, writes,

Many of the progressives, judging themselves lovers of peace, had assumed that they would be the wrong sorts of people to run a war. …. But to their surprise, and in some cases to their dismay, the progressives discovered they were the ideal war administrators. The reformist temperament in American life has always hidden a coercive streak: if people won’t shape up voluntarily, they should be encouraged, even compelled, to do so. [emphasis mine] (p. 111)

This captures exactly my disagreement with progressive thought.

I prefer to let people suffer the consequences of their actions.

Two Sets of Rules

I think my major problem with Mosler’s theories is that there are two sets of rules. The second set only applies to the the issuer of the fiat currency. It is not applicable to, for example, New York State, or Dutchess County, or the Town of Beekman, or the Arlington Central School District. Because money is not really an issue for the owner of the mint, some policy options are available to the Federal government which are not available to more local governments. More power is available to the Federal government which is not available to local governments. This is a problem if you think, as I do, that certain functions are forbidden the Federal government. This is a problem if you think, as I do, that certain functions are best performed locally.

Suppose, for example, that you are in favor of providing a free education to all citizens. If the town pays for it, then the town will need to float a bond issue, or raise taxes, or otherwise find the funds to provide the education. If the Federal government pays for it, then money’s not an issue.

If the Federal government pays for it, then control is not likely to be local.

It’s simpler if there’s just one set of rules.

Caring

My daughters got into an interesting discussion on the way back from their religious education classes. The Little Sister was upset that one of her friends does not care about the President. The Big Sister suggested that maybe the friend does not care for the President.

Someone Needs More Crayons

The graphic artists at The New York Times, CNN, and pretty much every other outlet providing maps of the election results need to be provided with more than a pair of red and blue crayons. Maybe they should use pastels instead; they blend better.

This map, for example, allows interesting comparisons with past elections — consider the differences in party affiliation between 2008 and 1992 — but would benefit by a version showing the results as blended shades of red or blue representing the proportion of the electorate which voted one way or the other. (It would also help if the shades were offset by additional colors for the minor parties, but that would require that they exist as anything other than statistical noise.) There is a map showing the margin of victory, which is somewhat approximate to what I want and shows the results as shades of blue or red. But I’m interested in the relative density of the electorate, in both parties, on a county-by-county basis, and think that’s best represented by mixing primary colors.

Luckily, Mark Newman, of the University of Michigan, drew such a map.

Whereas the typical map makes the country seem somewhat bi-polar, the use of purple indicates instead that it’s not so much bi-polar as unevenly distributed. Here’s the same map, but adjusted for population density.

The 1992 election is a somewhat arbitrary cut-off for comparisons, but provides more perspective than the 2000 election does. This map, from Robert J. Vanderbei of Princeton, shows the distribution from 1962 to 2004.

His map for 2008 is entirely purple.

Haste Makes Waste

Sandy Levinson, who finds it a horror that our defective Constitution allows the out-going President to stay in office past the election, would not take comfort in this report from the Mercatus Center on Midnight Regulations.

The paper shows that, going back to 1948, when the White House switches parties, the number of pages in the Federal Register increases on average by 17 percent in the three months following an election. To be sure, some of the regulatory issues during the midnight period have nothing to do with presidents trying to rush through last-minute regulations that they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, push during the first part of the year. However, the systematic outburst during the midnight period suggests a consistent effort on the part of each administration to hurry regulation through before they leave office.

Doing things at the last minute is something of a Presidential tradition.

The Disarming Power of Words

We TiVo’d the last debate, and watched it again just now. Others have summarized it much more pithily, or eviscerated the candidates with more gusto, but I’d like to offer a small observation, a small suggestion in hind-sight that perhaps would have moved some voters from column A to column B.

When discussing a Constitutional right to privacy, Senator Obama ranked it with the First Amendment, and then groped for some other Very Important Right to use as a second example. The transcript doesn’t show the hesitation between “than” and “many.”

And I think that the Constitution has a right to privacy in it that shouldn’t be subject to state referendum, any more than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum, any more than many of the other rights that we have should be subject to popular vote.

At that point, right there, Obama should have said “the Second Amendment.”

Bedfellows

Politics makes for strange bedfellows, they say, and the Republican primary in New York’s 99th assembly district is a case in point. The incumbent, Greg Ball, pissed off nearly everybody in Albany, infuriated the Putnam County executive (a Republican), and generally showed no willingness to go along to get along. He was challenged for the Republican nomination by the former mayor of Brewster, John Degnan, who had been endorsed by the Putnam Republican and Democratic committees.

Mr. Degnan lost. He’s running on the Democratic line in the general election.

But We Have to do Something!

There is a propensity for politicians, and in truth all of us, to act hastily when the times call rather for patience and calm.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), in discussing the Senate’s approval of a bill permitting the Treasury to buy worthless mortgage-backed securities, remarked, “It’s better than doing nothing.”

Not if “nothing” is the right thing to do.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), on the same subject, said, “What we are doing here in an intangible way is restoring trust and confidence.”

Perhaps the tangible way the Senate could have helped would have been to stop panicking, and instead to exercise some restraint. Because, from my perspective, an industry that is still trying to sell the same kinds of products that got them into this mess deserves nothing but contempt.

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