Watching the Trolls

A journey to The Other Side.

One of the nice things about having right-wing commenters on the site is seeing the conservative mind at work.  (There are lots of nice things about it, actually, but I’m just focusing on one aspect here).  They ridiculed my and Mark’s posts, which referred to several classes of federal workers as “underpaid.”  Why?  Well, that’s impossible, they said: if federal workers really were underpaid, they would take their skills to private industry.

These were really revealing comments.  They simply could not imagine that, say, a lawyer would prefer prosecuting civil rights cases than, say doing corporate litigation.  Or that a scientist might prefer working on keep water clean than working for the polluter.  Or that we might want these people to keep doing these things because they are good for the public as a whole.  Public goods don’t exist for them, and apparently public service doesn’t, either.

As Mr. Spock would say: fascinating.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

57 thoughts on “Watching the Trolls”

  1. Or that some of us government workers are here for the health insurance. I closed my 6-person consulting business after I couldn't get health insurance any more, and found a state job. Now I employ no one, and I work at half the productivity I had in the private sector, and earn half as much.

    Way to grow the economy!

  2. They simply could not imagine that, say, a lawyer would prefer prosecuting civil rights cases than, say doing corporate litigation.

    No, I can very easily imagine that, just as I can imagine that someone would prefer being a bookstore clerk to being a trash collector.

    What I can't see is why, if the pay is enough that he's happy with his job (and there's an ample supply of capable people for the job), he should be paid more.

  3. "Psychic income" keeps teachers in parochial schools when they could earn more counting occupied seats (I do not say "teaching) in government schools. So also "psychic income" inspires dedicated statists to work for the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department.

    "Pay" includes benefits and pension promises. What is fair or just compensation? "The value of a thing is that which it will bring", in an uncoerced exchange. Government agencies which pay a dime more than needed to obtain qualified help defraud taxpayers, since that dime could have been spent obtaining other goods or services somewhere else, in addition to the qualified help.

  4. Malcolm, you have a very skewed idea of what happens in many public school classrooms.

    (and I suspect even parochial schools have their share of clock-punchers too, psychic income or not.)

  5. @MobiusKlein and Malcolm:

    I can confirm this. Some parochial school teachers are there out of sincere belief in the goals and ideals of the institution. Others are there because they got unimpressive grades and couldn't get hired in any public schools not located in East Podunk.

  6. (Moebius): "Malcolm, you have a very skewed idea of what happens in many public school classrooms."

    Probably. I attended government-operated K-12 schools in Hawaii and taught for ten years in the Hawaii DOE.

  7. According to these theorists, how is any employed person underpaid? Why should the chairman of IMB get a raise – if he wasn't satisfied, he would leave.

  8. I used to hire people into government research jobs in the Bay Area that paid much less than private sector jobs. I typically got hundreds of highly qualified resumes, and was extraordinarily pleased with the quality of the people I was able to hire. I had the greatest job in the world at the time, if I do say so myself. I quit because I had a kid, and needed to make enough money to get her into a "good enough" gummint school. I thought then that was a stupid situation to have to be in. (I would deem myself a massive failure as a parent if I had had to put her in a parochial school, and guess what, on the basis of the offers she's getting in this her senior year, apparently many universities have a different opinion than Malcom about her schooling)

    Several years ago I was working for one of the largest solar PV installers, expanding a group and thus hiring. The company explicitly tried to cash in on the "psychic income" by offering less pay but explicitly mentioning the "save the world" aspects. I thought that was a monumentally stupid approach to staffing issues. Judging from their success in obtaining and retaining qualified people, I'd say that my assessment turned out correct.

    So yeah, bitching about government salaries is highly accurate indicator of lack of knowledge of how the world works. Among other things.

  9. Following uber-liberal blog sites like this one is equally revealing, in that I get to see the liberal mind at work. This almost feels like spying to me. It is actually so fascinating to me how liberals and conservatives can witness the same thing but come to vastly different conclusions about what they have observed. Just one post back, we were treated to a post by Jonathan (stinking pile of) Zasloff about how Obama is essentially a moderate Republican a la Rockefeller Republican persuasion. Peppered throughout this site (with perhaps the exception of Mark's posts), we continually hear cries of how Obama is not liberal enough and how much of a coward he has been in pushing the liberal agenda. Now let's move over to the conservative blogosphere, where we are treated to convincing descriptions of Obama's socialist and radical left agenda. So two sides are looking at the same man and coming to vastly different conclusions. Setting politics aside for a sec, it's simply a fascinating social-psychological observation to see the self-convincing and group-think that occurs, often even in the name of science or facts. Of course I lean towards seeing Obama as the radical, extremist liberal that I believe he is and has demonstrated himself to be, so it is funny to come on here and hear how he is not liberal enough. Jonathan says conservatives cannot imagine how a lawyer would prefer to prosecute civil rights cases or scientists want to work for government in order to solve problems (clearly a broad-brush statement since I am a conservative social-scientist who works for a meager but respectable wage in state government because I believe passionately in what I do). Well I say that Jonathan and his liberal friends cannot imagine that perhaps the problem with the president is not that he is not liberal enough in his ways but that he is too far liberal. This message goes right over their heads. In any case, as a proud "troll" of this site, thanks for affording me the opportunity to spy on the mind of the left. Fascinating stuff going in those heads of yours.

  10. Also missing from any of the comments – as far as I can see – is something I would have thought obvious to the "the market is always right" crowd, namely that you get what you pay for. A lot of the poor oversight from the SEC and the granting of atrocious patents flows from this. We don't seem to be willing to pay enough to retain skilled people in regulatory roles, unless they have a very substantial commitment to (intangible) gratification from public service. Same deal with teachers, though they're not federal employees. Why would anyone stay in a profession where you're grossly underpaid when you have other options? Answer: you wouldn't (without said commitment – and I know several people who do have it and are great teachers). But the lousy pay means the profession ends up attracting mainly those without other options, which then shifts public opinion towards the kinds of comments seen on the RBC troll board and a vicious circle develops.

  11. Combine this:

    "Of course I lean towards seeing Obama as the radical, extremist liberal that I believe he is…"

    with this:

    "it’s simply a fascinating social-psychological observation to see the self-convincing and group-think that occurs, often even in the name of science or facts"

    Note that within the comment are no facts, or perspective. But *lots* of "self-convincing" and "group-think".

    I have learned many things via these intertrons, but learning about and understanding the wingnut proclivity toward projection is one of the most distasteful but important bits I had to understand about this world.

  12. (Jonathan): "They simply could not imagine that, say, a lawyer would prefer prosecuting civil rights cases than, say doing corporate litigation. Or that a scientist might prefer working on keep water clean than working for the polluter. Or that we might want these people to keep doing these things because they are good for the public as a whole. Public goods don’t exist for them, and apparently public service doesn’t, either."

    (Russell): "The company explicitly tried to cash in on the “psychic income” by offering less pay but explicitly mentioning the “save the world” aspects. I thought that was a monumentally stupid approach to staffing issues. Judging from their success in obtaining and retaining qualified people, I’d say that my assessment turned out correct. So yeah, bitching about government salaries is highly accurate indicator of lack of knowledge of how the world works. Among other things."

    So, Jonathan, how's it feel to have a fan call you "monumentally stupid" and "lack(ing)" in "knowledge of how the world works?

  13. Malcom has issues with English comprehension, it seems. I agree with Jonathan 100%. Well enough wading in the troll soup for a day.

  14. SamChevre: "What I can’t see is why, if the pay is enough that he’s happy with his job (and there’s an ample supply of capable people for the job), he should be paid more."

    Inflation. Obama isn't proposing to freeze some strawman-plan to "increase federal workers's pay hugely and make them super-happy". Instead, he's proposing to freeze the nominal dollar salaries (which after inflation is a real-dollar pay cut) and (I think) to freeze the normal your-salary-increases-with-seniority process that's been the norm in both public and private sectors forever. Seriously—right now, Google, Inc. could promise a huge increase in profits by freezing Google-employees' salaries for two years. Their current employees are obviously happy and there's an ample supply of applicants. Why hasn't Google frozen everyone's pay?

  15. Where do we have an issue? Jonathan and I agree that people work, in part, for "psychic compensation". Although I introduced the term to the discussion, Jonathan introduced the concept. How "psychic income" justifies spending more than necessary to attract talent, Jonathan did not explain.

    (Russell): "Malcom has issues with English comprehension, it seems."

    I addressed the argument. Moebius and Russell engage in ad hominem. Russell has issues with logical argumentation, it seems.

  16. I'm glad someone finds it fascinating. I don't get much more out of it than an expression of desiderata and/or resentment, on either side of the ideological divide.

    I worked for the Federal government for a good portion of my working life, and I was not underpaid. If anything, I was overpaid, in that I was earning a signifcant economic rent, over what I could make doing a similar job in the private sector, properly adjusted for risk and working conditions. If there was a salary schedule problem, it was that they couldn't afford to hire anyone professionally competent to supervise me, or to over a career path that would attract people with genuine "industry" expertise.

    And, yes, Larry, pretty much any employed person is not underpaid. They might be overpaid, but literally "underpaid" folks move on to other employment opportunities, almost by definition of what it means to be objectively "underpaid" in a market economy. One way to make "underpaid" mean something is to tie it to turnover and training costs, since the underpaid quit, which I think is Mr. Carter's point.

    With income distribution at such an extreme that overall levels of economic activity suffer, and economic mobility grinds to a halt, I would think it would be obvious to the liberals that the more acute problem is private sector workers, who are grossly overpaid and undertaxed. That's the kind of thing I would think would put Left at odds with Right. (Yes, Bux, I favor a 70% top tax rate.)

  17. I did not do any ad hominem. You said all public school teachers do not "teach", but merely are there to count attendance.

    I said you have a skewed view of public education.

    You agreed! "Probably."

    Insulting public school teachers as a class in more of an 'ad hominem' than anything else here.

    P.S Comb through the archives to find various posts from the RBC talking about how to improve school performance.

  18. Bruce,

    It ain't true that working people are–by definition–not underpaid. Have you driven an interstate recently? Remember seeing the big trucks? Many of them have "drivers wanted" signs on them. This, in the middle of the greatest recession in most peoples' lives. Truck drivers are underpaid, because truck companies are not willing to pay enough money to attract the number of people they want. Even at 9.5% unemployment.

    Similarly, techies are underpaid, because employers are not willing to pay enough to get US citizens.

    If you are going to use "underpaid" is a market concept, use it as a market concept, not an employer's fantasy number.

  19. "the radical, extremist liberal that I believe he is"

    You clearly do not understand the definitions of "radical" or "extremist".

  20. Well, "you have a skewed view" is pretty mild as ad hominem goes, I admit. Since I followed "probably" with evidence that my view is –informed–, I expected that "probably" would be taken as irony. Anyway, …

    (Moebius): "Insulting public school teachers as a class in more of an ‘ad hominem’ than anything else here"

    …only if they participate in the argument and insults occur as a rebuttal. You have a point, though, about distracting overheated rhetoric.

    "I'm sorry I have so much hate, but you put it in me"–Dylan Kliebold

    (Moebius): "Comb through the archives to find various posts from the RBC talking about how to improve school performance."

    I was here a while ago. Mostly the RBC people discuss the post-secondary education industry. I went back far enough to find…

    (Mark Kileman): "Of course Sidwell Friends provides a better education than the DC public schools. It also costs several times as much per pupil. Anytime conservatives want to propose a voucher program at $30,000 per child, they’ll have my vote."

    This is unserious. Beyond a very low level, resources do not matter much. It does not take 12 years at $12,000 per pupil-year to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom. State (government, generally) provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers would be, and is in totalitarian countries like Cuba and North Korea.

  21. Wow Malcom, you're seriously ignorant on how and why of education. Which has lead to look like a complete ass.

    You see, children have this 'developmental process' that they have to through. We learned through science. Something of which, I suspect you really don't get as most people like you labor under the delusion you can 'pick and choose' which science to believe as if it is something subjective, like religion.

    So these are the three stages that have to be dealt with through the child's developmental/educational process:

    Preoperational: (begins about the time the child starts to talk to about age 7)

    Applying his new knowledge of language, the child begins to use symbols to represent objects. Early in this stage he also personifies objects. He is now better able to think about things and events that aren't immediately present. Oriented to the present, the child has difficulty conceptualizing time. His thinking is influenced by fantasy — the way he'd like things to be — and he assumes that others see situations from his viewpoint. He takes in information and then changes it in his mind to fit his ideas. Teaching must take into account the child's vivid fantasies and undeveloped sense of time. Using neutral words, body outlines and equipment a child can touch gives him an active role in learning.

    This stage can run from kindergarten through 2nd grade. There's three years right there. You can't teach this kid calculus unless he/she has freak developmental mutations. Of which the poor child will suffer other developmental issues (with great gifts often come great penalties).

    And, btw, you, like most conservatives are actually developmentally stuck in some parts of this area. You've progressed in others, but part of your mental out-look is stuck here. You may not recognize it, but others who have fully transitioned through this stage laugh at you. Sometimes to your face, sometimes behind your back. You tend to not quite recognize the why of it, though you do lash out at it because you know they are laughing at your expense…

    Anyway, the next stage:

    Concrete: (about first grade to early adolescence)

    During this stage, accommodation increases. The child develops an ability to think abstractly and to make rational judgments about concrete or observable phenomena, which in the past he needed to manipulate physically to understand. In teaching this child, giving him the opportunity to ask questions and to explain things back to you allows him to mentally manipulate information.

    This is where the science/rational-mind starts. Many people, especially children of creationists, social conservatives, racists, etc. get totally messed up here as their parent sabotage this process by feeding them false information.

    Some children develop faster, they get there in first grade. Others second. Some even third. This developmental arc limits the child to very concrete ways of learning. Algebra, philosophy and other abstract math/knowledge/metaphor concepts are beyond the developmental tolerance of this child, even if he/she can mimic/force it.

    Formal Operations: (adolescence)

    This stage brings cognition to its final form. This person no longer requires concrete objects to make rational judgments. At his point, he is capable of hypothetical and deductive reasoning. Teaching for the adolescent may be wide-ranging because he'll be able to consider many possibilities from several perspectives.

    This is high school. This is where the REAL learning comes in. Learning that builds upon the concrete skills learned in childhood – vocabulary, grammar, PEMDAS math skills, etc. You can't force it. No matter how many wing-nut/Randian things in which you believe.

    And yet you, stupefying ignorant of child-development, have an opinion on the worthlessness of K-12 education… And a trollishly-stupid idea at that. You can't go any faster than it goes as children can only develop as fast as they develop. No matter how many times you click your heels, Dorothy…

  22. Skewed, as in not viewed straight on, not a unbiased view.

    Your experience in public education is quite different that what I experienced, and that of my children.

    I wasn't saying it as an insult to you – just that your comments indicate a vastly different perspective than mine.

    Your comment was, to me, an insult to teachers, and it's not ad homenim to call you out on that insult.

    The MosesZD comment about acid and Ayn Rand is ad homenim.

    I'm not sure what "State (government, generally) provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy" is supposed to mean, except that any teaching of history is bad. That is a pretty big difference from nearly every school of teaching I've come in contact with, and is not at all mainstream. If that is your ideal of curriculum, we have no common ground to discuss proper policy.

  23. Commenters you disagree with, even stupid ones, are not "trolls". A troll says something intentionally inflammatory, and they don't get upset if you critique their logic. Responding to them at all is called "feeding the troll".

    And the complaint that employees cannot be underpaid if they aren't leaving in no way implies that one doesn't believe in an ethic of public service or any value in public goods. It just means they would like to exploit feelings of public service and get their public goods on the cheap, paying as low as what employees will put up with rather than some other conception of what they "deserve".

    Indicators that a position is underpaid: there are very few applicants, high turnover or inability to attract those applicants with the desired set of skills. I linked to some relevant evidence in Mark's thread.

  24. "Remember seeing the big trucks? Many of them have “drivers wanted” signs on them."

    How much do you suppose it costs a trucking company to have a "drivers wanted" sign on their trucks, so that they've got recent applicants any time they do have an opening? So much that they'd only bother with it if people were quitting in droves?

    No, if you're not having trouble filling your jobs, you are indeed, by definition, not underpaying your employees, in a market economy. The government is not having trouble filling it's jobs. Ergo, government employees are not "underpaid".

  25. Avarice is merely one form of myopia – an ever-present side-effect of too much privatization on the mind for far too long!

  26. (Mobius): "I’m not sure what 'State (government, generally) provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy' is supposed to mean, except that any teaching of history is bad."

    I thought it was clear. Years ago the sociologist David Reisman (__The Lonely Crowd__) recommended that Social Studies not be part of the pre-college curriculum, since many teachers would not resist the temptation to indoctrinate students. Just consider that high school US History textbooks routinely represent child labor laws, minimum wage laws, and compulsory attendance laws as progress.

    (Mobius): "That is a pretty big difference from nearly every school of teaching I’ve come in contact with, and is not at all mainstream. If that is your ideal of curriculum, we have no common ground to discuss proper policy."

    I don't have an ideal of a curriculum, anymore than I have an age-level specific ideal of the size shoes every child should wear, or the diet every child should eat. If I had kids I'd homeschool. Einstein opposed compulsory attendance at school. Gandhi opposed compulsory attendance at school. To be sure, that's not mainstream; there was a time when mainstream opinion held that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

    Moses, is Joseph Priestley scientific enough for you? How 'bout Marvin Minsky?

  27. Meh, not impressed by arguments to authority. Especially not authorities who were not actually teachers.

    But no ideas about curriculum? (other than axing social studies across the board.) Wow.

    We really don't have much in common at all.

    Just because some thing taught to kids will inevitably be wrong, false, biased, or incorrect, it does not follow that we should teach them nothing at all.

    on the original topic:

    Yes, it is enlightening to see the logic at work in 'trolls' and brethren.

  28. (Moses): "…This is high school. This is where the REAL learning comes in. Learning that builds upon the concrete skills learned in childhood – vocabulary, grammar, PEMDAS math skills, etc. You can’t force it…(ad hominem deleted)…And yet you, stupefying ignorant of child-development, have an opinion on the worthlessness of K-12 education… And a trollishly-stupid idea at that. You can’t go any faster than it goes as children can only develop as fast as they develop."

    We disagree. You most definitely can accelerate it. This "stages of growth" nonsense justifies industrial batch-processing of children.

    A loving mother can teach a normal child to read (decode the phonetic alphabet) before that child can speak. The eyes, ears, and brain function well enough to form the associations between sounds and shapes of letters. It's coordination of the diaphragm, larynx, and tongue that frustrates earlier speech. A loving mother can teach a normal child to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions by third grade (and that's cruising), and at that point, it will not take 36 weeks, five days per week, one hour per day, to get a student from here…

    a = 7 3/10 – 2 3/4 => a = ___

    to here…

    {p(60, 120), q(-10, 24)} subset Line 1

    {r(225, 114), s(45, 24)} subset Line 2

    Find:

    slope of the interval pq = ___

    length of the interval pq = ___

    midpoint of the interval pq = ___

    point-slope form L1 = ___

    slope-onterval form L1 = ___

    interval form L1 = ___

    Standard form L1 = ___

    vector form L1 = ___

    matrix (determinant) form L1 = ___

    L1 intersect L2 = ___

    I did this with a G/T Korean third grader. His parents homeschooled him after 7th grade. He skipped high school and college and he got his MS (Math) before he turned 19.

    Between the time kids "get" fractions (fourth grade, if schools are on track) and the time they take Alg I (eighth or ninth grade), we march children in circles, waiting for everyone to catch up.

    School is a huge waste of time.

  29. (Mobius): "…not impressed by arguments to authority. Especially not authorities who were not actually teachers."

    It's not an argument from authority. Read the argument. Priestley's argument makes sense. So does Minsky's. Where do you disagree?

  30. (Mobius): "But no ideas about curriculum? (other than axing social studies across the board.)"

    I did not say that; I said I have no "ideal". I would not prescribe any curriculum for everyone.

    In __The Road to Wigan Pier__, George Orwell speculated that a socialist orientation originates in a hypertrophied sense of order, like compulsive handwashing or those people who rearrange the socks in the dresser ten times a day. Elsewhere ("Raffles and Mrs Blandish", "Inside the Whale") he suggests that a prediliction for authoritarian politics originates in vicarious sadism. In __Socialism__, Ludwig von Mises suggested that the socialist impulse expresses a primitive revenge fantasy. I believe that a preference for State (government, generally) operation of industry (including schools and the charity industry) originates in a self-congratulatory power fantasy: what a wonderful world it would be if I ran it.

    A thought experiment:…

    1. From State operation of what industries does society as a whole benefit? You may suppose either a dichotomous classification:

    A = unlikely candidate for State operation = {……..}

    B = likely candidate for State operation = {………}

    or a continuum:

    (highly unlikely) -1________.________+1 (highly likely).

    2. Now consider the further question: What criteria determine an industry's categorical assignment or position on the continuum?

  31. "Argument from authority" was regarding the Einstein and Gandhi. I'm most familiar with Minsky regarding AI stuff.

    People who rearrange socks in the draw 10 times a day don't have a 'hypertrophied sense of order' but Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Very different from a socialist orientation, whatever that actually means.

    Honestly Malcolm, you come off as a crank, beating the drum for your specific ideas. And the appeals to "a loving mother can …." are sexist, and silly. Not every mother (or parent) is adept at teaching. Back in the real world, single moms, moms with lousy education, two job families are left out of your schema. And don't forget the non-normal kids who also are due education, despite their handicaps.

    You have a axe to grind, and it shows.

  32. (Mobius): "…the appeals to 'a loving mother can …'. are sexist, and silly."

    Not at all. Read Dawkins' __The God Delusion__. Speculating on the origin of religion, Dawkins observes that children are naturally gullible; they have to be, since humans would not survive to reproductive age without the accumulated knowledge of past generations: which plants are safe to eat and which are poinonous, which snakes can kill and which are harmless, etc. Children, especially very young children, will work their hearts out for the love of mom. Fathers, less so, and strangers much less so. Male and female adults have systematically different responses to children.

    I have an agenda. So does every author of this blog. So?

  33. The "Curse of the Liar" is one that has a liar believing that everyone else does, too, so that lying is normal. The liar then loses friends, until all that are left are the ones comfortable with lying and being lied to. Voila! The liar only knows liars, and his thought (everybody …) is confirmed.

    We see conservatives like hannity, beck, all "reading our minds", telling people "what/how Liberals think." They are too crappy a people to even understand our motivations. Their minds are too full of lousy thoughts, distrust of themselves, too polluted to ever get us Liberals. They simply aren't good enough people.

    I mean. look at the taxes on tobacco. Liberals see it as a punitive guidance, and a minimal revenue source that needs to mitigate the damage smoking does. Conservatives just scoff, saying that it will be a failure if we drive people to quit smoking. They simply can't measure the good. All they see is a tax, and possibly the demise of the (smoking) base of revenue.

    Also, it seems that Republicans need laws to stop THEMSELVES from having sex with dogs (santorum), or turtles.

    They can't even face up to ingrained morality; they need rules to be good! They probably do, but Liberals don't. It comes naturally to Liberals to do good; that's why we're Liberals.

  34. Richard, I really don't think Liberals have any corner on goodness. Thinking it comes naturally, and "that's why we're Liberals" is nearly tautological. Easy to get into the same "Curse of the Liar" there too.

    I'd more say Liberals are just as craven and prone to do bad as the rest of humanity. Perhaps just different blind spots.

  35. Jonathan, your critics deny that the concept of "underpaid" has any meaning, because as long as the job can be filled it is not "underpaid." What they won't acknowledge is that if the job is filled by a person who does it poorly, because a person who does it well cannot be hired at the offered wage, then it is underpaid.

    In private business, an employer who won't pay the going rate gets crappy employees who eventually will run the business into the ground. But the government can't be run into the ground. If the government refuses to pay going rate, you get crappy employees who do a bad job, but their (substandard) salaries don't depend on them getting a reasonable wage. So you get workers who go shopping at lunch and go home at 5:30. Or you get school teachers who think that a spider is a reptile. Or you get regulators who can't figure out what the heck the business they're supposed to be regulating is really doing. Anyone who has ever worked for the government knows that these people exist.

    Saying that federal workers are underpaid doesn't mean that the people who now hold the jobs are underpaid. It means that if salaries don't keep pace with the private sector, the good people who are in the jobs now will leave and it will be impossible to attract good workers in the future. This isn't about fairness. It's about quality.

  36. The argument "As long as the jobs are filled no one is underpaid" may not be trolling, but it's hard to believe it's made thoughtfully or in good faith. After all, someone would take the job of CEO of General Electric if it paid $100,000 per year. If you were a GE stockholder, would you want that to be the CEO pay? If not, then you see that sometimes it's worth paying for quality and performance.

    No doubt we can get someone to fill federal jobs even if we freeze the pay. The question is whether the degradation in performance both from losing some good people and from demoralizing the rest does more damage than the savings warrant. I reckon the answer is yes. You're free to disagree, but that's what the argument is about.

  37. Mobius,

    Here.

    Albert Einstein

    "Force and Fear Have No Place in Education"

    "To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity and self-confidence of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject…It is comparatively simple to keep the school free from this worst of all evils. Give into the power of the teacher the fewest possible coercive measures, so that the only source of the pupil's respect for the teacher is the human and intellectual qualities of the latter."

    Albert Einstein

    "Autobiographical Notes,"

    __Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist__(Paul Schilpp, ed.) (1951), pp. 17-19

    "It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly."

    I did not copy Gandhi, from his autobiography. He argues that parents are the natural teachers of children. I agree, for the reason I gave above, among others.

    In this medium, we argue from:

    a. logic and reason accessible to all

    b. citation of unverifiable personal experience

    c. data sources accessible to all like the NCES or Census Bureau (a variation on argument from authority)

    d. direct argument from authority (to which most of us must resort when we discuss subjects outside our area of expertise)

    e. ad hominem.

  38. Trying on someone else's world view has some of the amusement of trying on someone else's glasses, except it's your brain, not your eyeballs, that gets torqued.

  39. "What they won’t acknowledge is that if the job is filled by a person who does it poorly, because a person who does it well cannot be hired at the offered wage, then it is underpaid."

    I'll acknowledge that without the slightest reluctance. When I say "If you're not having trouble filling your jobs, you're not underpaying your employees.", I, of course, mean filling them with people who can do them. Not warm bodies that sit there unable to do the work.

    So, fine, provide some evidence that the government is having difficulty hiring competent employees at it's current compensation rate. I'm not claiming that it's theoretically impossible for the government to be underpaying it's workers. I'm claiming that theoretical possibility hasn't yet materialized.

    The very fact that times are so hard in the private sector implies that the pay the government needs to offer to retain GOOD employees has, proportionately, gone down. No raises are needed in the government when the private sector is in the dumper, because good government employees' other options have worsened.

    Raising government pay under these circumstances is nothing but a slap in the face of everybody in the private sector, whose wages have been stagnant. It's an act of colossal arrogance. It's gratuitous.

    Again, I say: I'm not impressed with Obama's morals, but to call him a "moral cretin" over THIS is beyond idiocy.

  40. "Just consider that high school US History textbooks routinely represent child labor laws, minimum wage laws, and compulsory attendance laws as progress."

    Jesus. Now here we REALLY see the conservative "mind" in operation.

  41. Brett — I very much agree with your first paragraph. The public agencies I've worked for are definitely losing ground in the competition for skills and talent. The state transportation department can hardly find engineers worth keeping on board; it offers 30% less than the private sector, and so the turnover is appalling — road projects might see 4 or more project managers rotate through in the plan-design-build time frame! This makes for difficulties in quality control, and many other areas. (Then the DOT gets blamed by the anti-government people for its slowth.)

    The agency I now work for mostly settles for minimum competencies. It is hard to excel within such a setting. I try, but there is little reward.

    Brett , where you and I might differ is that I think all this is an indicator that gov't salaries are too low and should be increased to ensure that competent persons fill necessary public sector roles.

    But you (or perhaps another conservative) might cite the lack of competence of government staff as another point of evidence that government is inherently incompetent or ineffective. I would surmise the opposite; it's a point of evidence that the salaries are too low.

    Another point where we agree: "No raises are needed in the government when the private sector is in the dumper, because good government employees’ other options have worsened."

    That fits quite nicely with what I've observed in the last couple of years. We had 32 qualified applicants for the last job opening in my division. We had people with 20 and 30 years of experience applying for a position just above entry level. People are quite desperate out there. It is a side benefit to our agency that the economy is so bad.

    Nevertheless, I'd rather see the salaries improved to near market rate. For one thing, the "desperado" applicants tend to jump ship as soon as the economy improves. This is counterproductive to the agency's mission and its institutional memory, and many other aspects of good government.

    What we really need in government is competent, reasonably well-paid, devoted civil servants; what we are getting is incompetents because of the low salaries, as well as entrepreneurs-at-heart who are only using government employment as a temporary safety net.

  42. Malcolm, I am quite uninterested in your quotes from Einstein about how to run public schools. That is exactly the "appeal to authority" mode of argument. He was a great physicist. Him as an authority on education, not so much.

    I don't think you quite get it about the sexism angle either. The bits about 'loving mothers' gives it away – mothers should be at home, raising their kids. If they don't, or can't do it well, the are not 'loving mothers'. Add in the speculative evolutionary bits from Dawkins to justify why women are better at teaching, and your just-so story is complete. But also unfounded in facts.

  43. "That fits quite nicely with what I’ve observed in the last couple of years. We had 32 qualified applicants for the last job opening in my division. We had people with 20 and 30 years of experience applying for a position just above entry level. People are quite desperate out there. It is a side benefit to our agency that the economy is so bad.

    Nevertheless, I’d rather see the salaries improved to near market rate."

    Betsy, it seems you don't quite yet grasp the concept of a "market rate"; If you're getting numerous highly qualified applicants at your current rate, you ARE at the market rate, or above it. Because the "market rate" is just exactly that rate that enables you to fill the job with an acceptable candidate. Not the hypothetical rate you'd need to accomplish that if the economy were doing better.

    You want to see the salaries improved to well ABOVE a market rate.

  44. Mobius,

    Einstein makes an argument. Where do you disagree? Minsky makes an argument. Where do you disagree? Joseph Priestley makes an argument. Where do you disagree? Dawkins is a real authority on evolutionary biology, and his argument makes sense. Seems to me your argument amounts to jamming your fingers in your ears, clenching your eyes shut, and chanting "Nyaaah, nyaaah, I can't hear you".

    Let's try a different tack:…

    1. The government of a locality is the dominant dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber).

    2. A law is a threat by a government to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue), and to forcibly infect with HIV (imprison) someone, under specified circumstances.

    3. Individual A has a right to do X in a locality if the government of that locality has promised not to interfere with A when A attempts to do X and, further, has promised to interfere with individuals B,C, etc. if they attempt to interfere with A when A attempts to do X.

    4. Individual A has title to a resource X if the government of the locality in which X exists recognizes a right by A to control X which includes the right to transfer control over X to unspecified individuals B,C, etc. (to sell the resource) on conditions mutually agreeable to A and B.

    5. The system of markets, (title and contract law) unites control over resources with the incentive to use those resources in socially beneficial ways, as Adam Smith explained.

    6. Democracy, separation of powers, federalism, and market-oriented policies institutionalize humility on the part of State actors. The alternative to the market is the command economy.

    Okay so far? If "No", where do you disagree?

    If a policy dispute turns on a matter of taste, federalism and markets allow for the expression of varied tastes, while the contest for control over a State-monopoly enterprise must inevitably create unhappy losers (who may constitute a vast majority; imagine a nation-wide vote on the size shoes we all must wear). If a policy dispute turns on a matter of fact, where "What works?" is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes and competitive markets will generate more information than will a State-monopoly enterprise. A State-monopoly provider of goods and services is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls: a retarded experimental design.

    Why is the government in the education industry at all? This "Why?" question has three interpretations:

    1. The historical "Why?"

    2. The welfare-economic "Why?"

    3. The political science "Why".

    Answers, in brief:

    1. Indoctrination into the State religion (search "The Old Deluder, Satan" act of 1647 Massachusetts) and, later (c. 1820), anti-Catholic bigotry.

    2. For another comment.

    3. Dedicated lobbying by current recipients of the US taxpayers' $700+ billion per year K-PhD school subsidy.

  45. (Mobius): "I don’t think you quite get it about the sexism angle either. The bits about ‘loving mothers’ gives it away – mothers should be at home, raising their kids. If they don’t, or can’t do it well, the are not ‘loving mothers’. Add in the speculative evolutionary bits from Dawkins to justify why women are better at teaching, and your just-so story is complete. But also unfounded in facts."

    Several lines of evidence support the following generalizations.

    1. As institutions take from individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction, overall system performance falls.

    2. Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically-adept parents ("Well, duh!", as my students would say).

    The Lawler study, cited by Minsky, is founded in fact.

    "Sexism" is just name-calling. Galvanic skin response measurements record large differences in male and female adult responses to crying infants. This is fact. It's a plausible conclusion from evolutionary psychology that mothers would specialize in child-rearing, and implausible to conclude otherwise.

    Across the US, there is a strong positive correlation between the age at which States compel attendance at school and 4th and 8th grade NAEP Reading and Math scores. I used 1990, 1992, 1996, and 2000 Math composite scores, Numbers and operations subtest scores, and Algebra and Functions subtest scores. I used 1994 Reading scores. I used proficiency scores, percentile scores, mean scores, and mean scores by parents' race and level of education. Later is better (except for Black mean scores). This is fact.

    Yeah, I know: "Nyaaah, nyaaah, I can't hear you". Okay.

  46. (Malcolm): "Just consider that high school US History textbooks routinely represent child labor laws, minimum wage laws, and compulsory attendance laws as progress.”

    (Susan): "Jesus. Now here we REALLY see the conservative 'mind' in operation."

    I'm glad to see somebody bit. Child labor laws, minimum wage laws, and compulsory attendance laws deprive parents and children of on-the-job training options. The academic self-interest in representing this as "progress" is obvious.

    Please read this article on artificially extended adolescence by Ted Kolderie.

    Clive Harber,

    "Schooling as Violence"

    __Educatioinal Review__ p. 10, V. 54, #1.

    (Quoting) "…It is almost certainly more damaging for children to be in school than to out of it. Children whose days are spent herding animals rather than sitting in a classroom at least develop skills of problem solving and independence while the supposedly luckier ones in school are stunted in their mental, physical, and emotional development by being rendered pasive, and by having to spend hours each day in a crowded classroom under the control of an adult who punishes them for any normal level of activity such as moving or speaking."

    Clive Harber

    "Schooling as Violence"

    __Educatioinal Review__, p. 9 V. 54, #1.

    "Furthermore, according to a report for UNESCO, cited in Esteve (2000), the increasing level of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil violence in classrooms is directly connected with compulsory schooling. The report argues that institutional violence against pupils who are obliged to attend daily at an educational centre until 16 or 18 years of age increases the frustration of these students to a level where they externalise it."

  47. I do understand that, but I hope that it's not only in a double-dip jobless recession/recovery that we would get qualified candidates (among whom are many that will not be at all interested in the government job *after* the going market-rate salary goes back up to normal, leaving their government salary behind).

    And in fact, that lack of long-term interest is arguably a characteristic that makes them "not-qualified," if we are looking to fill the position with a career civil servant — that is, if among the qualifications for the job we count commitment to the mission of the agency, and readiness to spend the long term in the service of the public).

    You and I may disagree on the relative value provided by governmental agencies or by career government service, but I'm not obtuse to the market arguments you point out.

    Having said all that, I'm acutely aware that I myself took refuge in government employ partly because I couldn't get health insurance when I had my own firm. I try to bring some excellence, an entrepreneurial spirit, and market orientation to my work in my agency. But, it's hard, when the anti-government reps in the legislature continually deprecate our work, and refuse to fund the "more pay for excellence" plan for 10 years running — which ensures that my colleagues with an "I show up" mentality are rewarded at exactly the same rate as those who aim for excellence and efficiency.

    If anything, as a former private-sector job creator, I am rather shocked that the anti-government conservatives in the legislature are unwilling to apply basic market principles to get more from their own state employees.

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