Private School Parents Aren’t Bad People, Public Schools Are Too Hard To Improve

I’m not actually going to take issue with the basic premise of If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person. Allison Benedikt argues persuasively that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. And Benedikt is not looking to outlaw private schools. She’s just trying to guilt parents into quitting them.

Benedikt wants every school full of parents with the time and energy needed to improve it. But that’s a pipe dream. What isn’t is a public education system open enough to accountability and change that even working parents can get a good education for their kids from their local public school.

With few exceptions, public schools are better in the wealthier suburbs and rural areas. There, parents with the will and means to get a good education for their kids live close together and by turns force and help local schools to do their jobs. Rich, educated parents get much better results from public schools because doing so requires a ton of work. Bake sales and PTA meetings don’t run themselves. And school boards and administrators don’t do a good job of keeping themselves accountable.

In less wealthy inner cities and rural areas, schools operate poorly, with little assistance or oversight from parents who are struggling just to get by.

Much as we might want to think of them as exceptions, public schools are service providers, and parents are customers. Demanding customers get better service.

But part of the reason being a demanding customer is so demanding itself is that public education is so mired in bureaucracy, opacity and other impediments to competition and reform. It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. There is absolutely no way to know how public schools spend their budgets. Public education is one of the most top-heavy institutions in the United States.

Innovation in any industry, including education, requires two things. First, there must be flexibility to innovate. Things don’t improve which can’t change. Second, there must be impetus to innovate. Doing things differently is risky. No one will take risks if they don’t fear losing what they’ve gained to competitors who will. What excludes public education from this fact of life?

And how are schools supposed to innovate when states and unions set standards for school days, school years, curricula, teacher pay and more?

What we’ve seen over decades of skyrocketing spending on public education and flatlined educational outcomes is that no amount of money can replace a concerned, active, informed parent. Where parents are involved, schools produce a great education. Where they aren’t, schools fail. This is independent of spending. That’s why Benedikt understandably wants kids who do not have involved parents to benefit alongside the kids who do. It’s a laudable goal and a beautiful vision.

But any solution that requires people to deny their kids the best education possible out of guilt over the kids for whom that’s out of reach is doomed to fail. What could work are a few simple reforms to make getting schools to do their jobs require less time, money and energy in the first place.

Moves like ending teacher tenure, shining light on school budgets, allowing schools to innovate and legalizing charter schools and vouchers to open up competition will give concerned parents a clearer and easier path to improving their schools. They will make it easier for parents to demand, and get, better customer service.

PRISM Might Be the Scandal – But Protectionism Poses Danger Too

Recent news has been dominated by revelations about the NSA and British intelligence agencies spying on citizens, without warrants, who have not been charged with crimes. It’s important for citizens to resist government intrusion into their privacy, as governments tend toward authoritarianism in the absence of pushback from their people.

Yet one aspect of the growing surveillance state that hasn’t been discussed as much is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the United States. Politicians have been trying to use negotiations around it as leverage for the unrelated political dispute about surveillance. It would be terrible to let elected officials use international political conflicts surrounding the US and UK surveillance state to erode free trade.

The economics on the matter simply could not be more clear: 95% of all US economists agree that tariffs and quotas decrease standards of living. Realizing this, Western nations have reduced tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade significantly. And protectionism, which massively harms Africa and other developing parts of the world, has been mostly off the table between Western Nations. Until now.

With TTIP, the stakes are high. If the agreement manages to reduce the amount of tariffs between the US and the EU it will lead to beneficial outcomes for both economies. Lowering trade barriers are estimated to create up to two million jobs within Europe and the US. This would be especially crucial in the face of the present-day problems of youth unemployment and unfunded liabilities. Successful TTIP negotiations would create the largest free trade area in the world. The economic growth generated from this could be seen as a first step on the long path towards world-wide free trade.

Let’s be clear first that free trade agreements would not be necessary at all if governments were not interfering with trade in the first place. A free trade treaty (such as TTIP) should not be understood as a gift from government. It’s a Band-Aid, which presents a real opportunity for wealth creation for people living in those economies.

Free trade empowers people from different nations to exchange goods on a voluntary basis without government interference. Following from an understanding of the benefits of trade, all people should be able to trade freely under the rule of law. Each party of a trade expects to benefit from a transaction otherwise they would not do it. Interference from government hampers such mutually beneficial transactions.

Sadly, protectionism is still prevalent in the 21st century. It takes the form of direct tariffs or non-tariff barriers such as regulation and arbitrary standardization about, for example, the shape of bananas.

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 8.17.48 AM

Realizing free trade and reducing trade barriers is to the benefit of both consumers and producers. A prosperous world in which human beings have the freedom to pursue their own peaceful ends is a desirable goal. To achieve this policy makers ought to proceed with initiatives such as TTIP to the point that free trade will be the norm and not the exception.
Using political disputes over other atrocious acts of government as an excuse to deprive more than 800 million human beings of the possibilities to freely exchange goods and services is grossly negligent and outright harmful.

Government leaders have shown a capacity for learning, albeit slowly, from the mistakes of mercantilism. They’ve opened up their borders for goods, bringing much prosperity to the world. To stop this engine of wealth creation due to political disputes is holding millions of peaceful traders and consumers hostage. Citizens should not be punished for misconduct by governments and intelligence services.

Slovenia – The new Greece?

Slovenia, a tiny picturesque country located south of Austria, has been described for many years as a role-model for how to transition from a planned to a market economy. Slovenia was the first Eastern European country to join the Eurozone, had until recently a healthy public-debt-to-GDP ratio, and its location between Austria, Italy, and the Balkans promised a bright future.

Nearly a decade after joining the EU, Slovenia marches towards a collapse of its economy with an all-but-nationalized financial sector, and growth numbers which seem to point towards joining the PIIGS club rather than prolonging its membership with vibrant European economies such as Estonia, Austria, or Germany.

matej-meme

When looking into the causes for the loss of competitiveness of Slovenia one can analyze various fields of fiscal and economic policies, which led to sclerotic structural problems of an economy of two million people.

Labour regulations are rigid and extremely risky for employers. Strong labour unions hold virtually all stakeholders of the economy captive and de facto rule the country in this respect. Minimum wage laws reduce hiring possibilities for young and unskilled labor. Thus students and recent graduates have problems finding a job and often head for opportunities in neighboring countries.

Government spending as a share of GDP amounted to 49% in 2012. These are levels which can usually only be observed in rich Nordic welfare states. A VAT raise to 22% in 2013 crippled the already weak domestic demand even more and its negative long term effects are still unknown. Even as far back as 2007 Forbes Magazine was reporting that Slovene workers were some of the most taxed in the world.

Slovenian politicians never actually really seriously attempted to privatize the economy, and thus they retain a large influence on the domestic industry. Many of the largest corporations are still in outright government ownership. According to the former Slovene Minister of Economic Development, as much as 30% of our economy consists of state-owned enterprises. That brings us to a staggering number: 80% of our economy is, in one way or another, centrally planned and directed by politicians and bureaucrats.

Two-thirds of Slovene banks ran deficits in 2012. Most of the 17 largest banks’ assets are either outright state-owned or largely state-owned through other state-owned enterprises or holdings. These banks lent millions of Euros for Management Buy Outs and other non-viable investments during the boom years in Slovenia and are now dumping the cost on taxpayers. Due to the strong role of government and public ownership in the Slovene economy, perpetrated as some kind of mystical “national interest,” many larger foreign firms were not very successful in entering the market and bringing additional foreign capital to Slovenia.

Given the uncertainty concerning future tax hikes and even more regulations, some of Slovenia’s best and most successful entrepreneurs have stopped their investments here and moved their activities abroad.

After countless and widespread corruption scandals, which caught even the highest officials in our political sphere, and a few government swings from left to right and back, there is widespread disbelief, especially among the youth, that politicians are willing or able to solve the structural problems we are facing. Politicians and their friends are often moving directly from public office to C-level executive jobs in state-controlled enterprises in broad daylight and with everyone watching.

The structural problems of Slovenia and the apathy of politicians when it comes to solving them can only lead us to the same path Greece is on, which is one that left more than half of young people without jobs.

I don’t want Slovenia to become the new Greece. In order to prevent this and allow young people to prosper in our home country, politicians have to wake up and smell the coffee. They need to understand that the way back to prosperity requires that they step out of the way and facilitate a private sector which is private not only by name, but actually run by entrepreneurs and managers instead of politicians and cronies.