Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bob Herbert on "Losing Our Way"

Bob Herbert is a hard left columnist for the New York Times. Normally, his columns are showers of praise for the Obama Administration (like most every other political column in the NY Times). Today, Herbert is on a different tack. He is criticizing the Administration for spending tax dollars in Libya (and other foreign adventures) while "...simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quantity of life here at home." Sounds compelling doesn't it.

This article shows the depth of the lack of understanding of the hard left for what is really going on in the US and Western Europe. First and foremost, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for laying off any public employees. Were it not for the absurd work rules and legal restrictions, public employees would take compensation adjustments and there would be few, if any, layoffs.

In my own county of Albemarle County, Virginia, rather than take a five percent paycut, the teachers lobby prefers to have five percent of the teachers laid off. That is a cruel and unfair outcome for the five percent who are laid off. The 95 percent who retain their jobs and benefits could care less. All that matters to them is that their pay and benefits are maintained. Under seniority rules only the newest teachers are at risk. The old fuddy duddies are completely protected from layoffs (as well as from any accountability at all). The "children be damned" attitude of the public school teacher lobby in this community (and in this state) mirrors that of teacher lobbies and teachers unions across the US and Europe. It is their decision to have layoffs. These would be very easy to avoid. Ditto for other public employees.

But, Herbert's column raises a deeper question. If money is spent on foreign adventures, doesn't that take money away from funding an economic recovery in the US? The answer is a resounding "no." Regardless of the merits or demerits of foreign adventures, there is simply no evidence that governments who spend money promote economic recovery, progress or growth. In fact, the opposite is true. What the government needs to do is get out of the way. No amount of government spending can undo the damage of the Dodd-Frank legislation or Obamacare. Sending Elizabeth Warren back to Harvard and dismantling the mis-named Consumer Protection Agency would do more for economic recovery than spending another trillion dollars funding Obama's political allies (Obama's definition of stimulus spending).

A similar argument applies to public education. Public education in the US and increasingly in Europe is in shambles. Why? Money? Just look at the numbers. Schools, public and private, higher education and lower education, absorb an increasing share of national output, not only in the US but throughout Europe. Are our schools getting better? Our schools, in fact, are poorly run, dominated by administrators and teachers with political, not educational, motivation. It is easy to teach students, if that is what you want to do, But, increasingly, teaching students is not what teachers want to do. You can see this most clearly in higher education, but it shows up dramatically in the modern public schools as well. The recent activities by teachers in Wisconsin show you where their true interests lie...it is not in the classroom.

Money isn't the issue, Bob Herbert. In fact, more money can cause even more mischief for our public schools, for our economic recovery. The best thing the government can do is to shrink itself and get out of the way.

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