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. The welfare-economic case for (or against) a government presence in the education industry beyond what it contributes to the nutrition industry, the clothing industry, the sporting goods industry, or other industries: an initial assignment of title and enforcement of contract law:…

    Why is the State in the education industry? I asked earlier, and no one responded:…

    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?

    I'll wait while all you intellectuals compose your thoughts.

  2. 2.

    When does a society benefit from a State (government, generally) presence in an industry, beyond an initial assignment of title and enforcement of contract law? Since none of the blinding intellects who participate in this forum have deigned to apply their enormous brains to this question, I'll have to complete the assignment, again.


    Eduardo Zambrano

    "Formal Models of Authority: Introduction and Political Economy


    __Rationality and Society__, May 1999; 11: 115 – 138.

    "Aside from the important issue of how it is that a ruler may economize on communication, contracting and coercion costs, this leads to an interpretation of the state that cannot be contractarian in nature: citizens would not empower a ruler to solve collective action problems in any of the models discussed, for the ruler would always be redundant and costly. The results support a view of the state that is eminently predatory, (the ? MK.) case in which whether the collective actions problems are solved by the state or not depends on upon whether this is consistent with the objectives and opportunities of those with the (natural) monopoly of violence in society. This conclusion is also reached in a model of a predatory state by Moselle and Polak (1997). How the theory of economic policy changes in light of this interpretation is an important question left for further work."

    So an industry's position on the "(unlikely)-1______.______+1(likely)" continuum is less a matter of how much the State can enhance aggregate social welfare by ownership or regulation (= partial ownership, approximately) of an industry but of how badly State interference will screw things up. The relevant considerations are "economies of scale", "natural monopoly" (an extreme case of economies of scale), "public goods", and the relative contribution of systematic expertise versus detailed local knowledge of inputs and desired outputs.

    The education industry is not a natural monopoly. Beyond a very low level there are no economies of scale at the delivery end of the education business as it currently operates. Even when an industry exhibits significant economies of scale the case for State operation is not decisive, and the education industry does not exhibit significant economies at the delivery end as it currently operates. Education only marginally qualifies as a public good as economists use the term and the "public goods" argument implies subsidy and regulation, at most, not State operation of an industry.

    The State cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education". This definition will then bind students, parents, real classroom teachers, and taxpayers.

    E.G. West

    <a>"Education Without the State"

    "What is needed is choice in education. School choice has not and will not lead to more productive education because the obsolete technology called 'school' is inherently inelastic. As long as 'school' refers to the traditional structure of buildings and grounds with services delivered in boxes called classrooms to which customers must be transported by car or bus, 'school choice' will be unable to meaningfully alter the quality or efficiency of education."

    In the education industry, inputs (each individual student's motivations, interests, aptitudes, and transient moods) and outputs (the possible career paths that society offers) vary enormously.

    The case for tax subsidies to the education industry is shakey. The case for State operation of schools falls apart on close inspection. From a welfare-economic point of view. the education industry is a very unlikely candidate for State operation.

  3. Malcolm, every quote you copy down diminishes your argument, rather than improves it.

    I told you several times that argument from authority won't work. Attempt to find modes of conversation that do work, please.

  4. I already listed the possibilities:

    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.

    If I say "some brook trout exceed 5 pounds" the options are to cite some authority, to claim personal experience, or to engage in ad hominem. I cannot e-mail a 6 pount trout to you.

    No argument will "work" with someone determined to ignore evidence, reason, and emotional appeal.

  5. Leaving aside the issue that job satisfaction should be considered part of your total compensation, the idealists you describe are a tiny minority of government workers. Is the DMV clerk working for anything other than money + benefits (if we may broaden our scope to state governments)? The person processing tax returns for the IRS? The postal worker? The IT guy? Hell, no. I think the federal employees for whom it's just a job greatly outnumber the community organizing consciousness raising idealists you mention.

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