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Friday, March 24, 2017

Stuff they don't tell you

There are things they don’t tell you and I sometimes wonder why—but sometimes it is obvious.

1)News tonight is that the OKC jail has a mold problem in the kitchen. TV made it sound like all sorts of bad practice in the jail.  But the real reason is that inmates stay out of trouble if they fix their own food.  More food, fewer fights. But these aren’t clean guys—druggies, robbers, mentally ill.  So they leave a mess and often it is almost impossible to manage by the jail.  Hence the mold.

2) Why are ice cubes in the shape of a D?  In the 1950s when icemakers for home fridges were being tried, they made a lot of shapes.  But the D cube made by one company was far less troublesome for low capacity makers.  Everyone began to use these icemakers and nothing has changed in 60 years.

3) Frustrated gardeners everywhere.”I can’t raise tomatoes anymore where I used to.” “I tried to raise fruit trees but the borers killed them.” Simple solutions.  Tomatoes develop a wilt if raised in the same location every year.  Rotate your crop and only come back to the same place about every 3 years.  Borers are laid by a fly from June 1 to September on the bark.  Then the larva bores under the bark either near the soil line or up a couple feet on the trunk, doing great damage.  Treat with borer spray every 3 weeks over the summer. So why doesn’t everyone in a garden center know this?  Beats me.

4)Why do most renters rent?  They can’t hold a job.  I know this not only by their histories, but also what I see.  Holes in walls and doors abound.  They got mad and pounded a hole in something.  They fight at work too—no faster way to get fired than fighting with the boss. Peter Drucker predicted this in the 60s, noting that so many kids were without parental guidance and we would likely raise a nation of poor workers, self-centered, insecure, uncooperative, when kids were raised by day care.

      Now a little politics.

5) Why did Repeal/Replace fail?  No matter what you thought of the Ryan-Trump-Price bill, it failed, as Rush Limbaugh pointed out, because too many people were successful in labeling it to mean bad things.  VP Pence pleaded that Stage I repealed individual mandates, would save $1T over ten years and give Medicaid entirely to the states.  What’s not to love if you are a conservative, and that’s just stage 1?  But here’s the deal.  If you run for office it’s brutal.  You’ll be called names, lied about, and it takes a tireless campaigner.  Who can endure? Very egotistical people. And so the US Senate in particular is full of prima donnas who insisted that if the bill wasn’t done their way, they’d vote NO.  When a party is minority, it’s okay to rant irreponsibly, but when you are in the majority, you’d better learn to be a team player or you will pass nothing and the public will sour on you.  But I doubt you'll hear this in the media reports.

6) The whole Russiagate thing now looks like a preemptive smoke screen to hide the fact that Trump’s people were under surveillance talking to Russians.  But the media narrative of Hillary losing steam in polls as election day approached due to Russian hacks/disclosures can be disproven by simple statistics.  Real Clear Polics Avg. two weeks out was Hillary +5.2%.  Day before election, +4.8%.  Exit polls day of election, +5%. No poll showed her at +1.8% as the popular vote actually was. What happened? Many people voted intentionally not talking to pollsters. But why didn’t the media point this out immediately?  Because journalists avoid math.  I saw this years ago teaching in college.  They get chills even over addition. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Is "New Normal" bad economy permanent

In the 30s John Maynard Keynes, Brit economist, created a big following among the big government advocates.  In his attempt to explain the long recession, he suggested that people were too saving.  They needed to spend more.  Spending causes the economy to grow and all we had to do was to get governments to invigorate spending, not saving.  Gov could call for a lot of infrastructure spending, could soak the saving rich so that Gov had more to spend. And Central Banks could lower interest rates until savings made less sense and free-spending happened more.  This was music to the ears of FDR and other pols who loved the justification of their big Gov plans. And the theory ruled econ for 30 years.

            But Keynesianism wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Democrats argued that the economy should be kept in a constant state of stimulation with big Gov spending and low interest rates.  Yet we had just as many recessions as ever, not fewer.  And then in the 70s as Keynesianism grew popular worldwide, it resulted in a huge spasm of inflation.  What was needed, said the Monetarist school of thought, was a consistent money supply, not the erratic fluctuations brought about by booms and busts. Thatcher/Reagan proved that to grow an economy, you need to concentrate on freedoms needed by businessmen, and a stable lendable supply of money.   And so, for 30 years, Monetarism ruled.  The idea of central banking was to stabilize both the supply of money, and balance the savings (supply) and investment (demand) by lowering interest when too many people saved.

            Not all Keynesians are social liberals, but you can see the partnership. To a small biz guy like me, the Economic Freedom of Reagan made a lot more common sense.  Then in March 2000, there came a crash that led to recession in 2001.  When the economy gets stressed, all sorts of theories get promoted.  When times improve, we forget most of them. The Keynesians, out of hegemony, had to have an explanation that things were now permanently bad, Secular Stagnation.  Simply put, Secular Stagnation happens when there are too many savers and Central banks can’t lower interest rates enough to balance against the need for investment.  There is chronic economic weakness; low growth, low inflation, low interest rates and constant threat of recession.   Well maybe the population is getting old and all they want is to save, not invest (spend).  Government needs to start a massive spending plan on such things as infrastructure.  Or maybe there has come an era of income inequality when the rich have all the money and free-spending poor don’t.  Gov should start soaking the rich and redistributing the wealth.  See why this appeals to Obama? And why he had that weird way of talking about government spending as “investment”.  The most pessimistic aspect of secular stagnation is that just because times are good, doesn’t indicate economic health.  There may be booms--bubbles of financial excess from time to time--but the chronic weakness returns after a disastrous bust. 

            So, Trump gets a boom.  Will it end the calamitously as the 2007-2009 housing bust? We will soon see.  If the secular stagnation idea is correct, the Fed will soon (after a recession) be stymied with zero interest and  paltry growth (the “new normal”).  But the businessmen like me and Trump think, we can undo much of the regulations and poor policies of Obamacare and taxes.  Free the people and they will achieve. An economy consists of dozens of factors working on each business multiplied by millions of businesses.  Free the businesses and they will make growth.  So will Economic Freedom win the argument or Secular Stagnation?  It won’t be too many years and we’ll know.  My guess is that the conceit of central bankers thinking they control economies leads to stuff like secular stagnation. 


Friday, March 3, 2017

Murray's observations of US education

Many of our prescriptions and some of our politics of education is misguided. So says conservative sociologist, Charles Murray. I’ll relate his reasoning over several posts beginning today.  You can test kids for many abilities and most are distinct—musical ability is not related to athletic ability, etc. But 3, mathematical, verbal, and spatial reasoning are somewhat correlated.  Call this “academic ability” and it is the basis for IQ theory. But half the students will be below average and they get frustrated by school. So here’s an achievement test question for 8th grade.  If you have a company of 90 workers and the next year it has 10% more, how many workers does it have then? Only 62% of 8th graders can answer the correct ‘99’. Many can calculate the 10%=9 but many don’t realize you have to add this to 90.  Now as teacher, you can teach the test by drilling on this type of question, but there are hundreds of others too.  So what happens are the first 3 blunders of public education.  (1) Politicians and educrats brag that they can make poor students improve markedly.  Sociology disproves this, but this romantic myth pervades education policy. (2) Teachers, expected to provide the miracles of education improvement of poor students, teach the test which they have either seen or have seen like tests many times.  (3) While it is proven that even poor students have an ability to memorize a great deal (it’s the “reasoning” that forms the basis for academic ability) memorization is greatly downplayed in modern education.  Too bad! In order to function in a culture, you have to know a lot of stuff about how things operate—core culture values—what’s a minuteman, a smoke-filled room, how do you make a cheeseburger or change a toilet flapper, and so forth.  Sans memorization, we create a body of students who cannot cope.  Teaching the test only works temporarily and does nothing to really elevate reasoning skills. Educrats who insist they can miraculously transform dullards into geniuses, ask the public to throw money at the problem. Hence more money only helps get better teachers and student scores in countries where dire underspending has been happening.

            Besides romanticizing education, not teaching core cultural knowledge and teaching tests, there are more problems with public ed.  (4) Disruption and lack of discipline hurts all the students in a class and this is the biggest indicator of schools with an F grade.  Bad teachers, no standards, few resources often go with this. In the 50’s the Coleman Report on education found, to the stunned surprise of politicians, that quality of schools did not yield achievement, but family values did.  Pols didn’t listen.  They gave $$$ to poverty area schools under Title I.  Acheivement actually fell!  No Child Left Behind penalized schools which didn’t progress.  No change in student scores. (5) Hence throwing money at the problem doesn’t fix it.  US schools are almost twice as expensive as any others in the world, and kids scores are about #30 in OECD.  Parochial (religious-based) schools spend half what public schools do and get higher test results—even when applied to low-income scholarship students.  But the parochial schools have discipline, memorization, allow teachers more often to teach freely and some other things we’ll cover tomorrow.

            (6) Too many kids are told to go to college.  90% are encouraged to attend by high school counselors but only 35% of them will get a degree.  The other 65% will struggle with college and drop out. They should be advised, “Hey, you like to operate equipment?  Do you know a crane operator makes a lot more than a pizza delivery man?” Colleges estimate IQ of 115-120% or about 9-12% of seniors will be able to handle college material. (7)To try to handle the excess, colleges have done grade inflation (easier grades) and steered students to curricula with less rigor in math or verbal skills like social sciences, humanities, and things like recreational science. But there are too many grads and few jobs in these areas. Colleges are saavy.  Employers use a BA or BS as a screen for abilities, so colleges pack ‘em in and charge more. (8)But the lesser grading standards mean the smartest students aren’t getting enough education and are slowed down.  Thus we see widespread statistical illiteracy among the gifted, little history, and almost no liberal arts. (Some things like humanity and humility are so important for a gifted leader, that we MUST think about them.) (9) Both HS and colleges promote self-esteem which promotes a risk-averse, selfish, foolhardy, autonomy. No wonder we have less entrepreneurship. For the first time in 400 years, America has fewer business start-ups than closings. Next post: How to fix it.

            So here’s Murray’s solutions. (1) re-install memorization of core cultural values that are not politically motivated in K-8.  (2) Get rid or education’s romantic myth that they can make a genius out of an average student. (3) provide a stable, disciplined environment that gives all kids a shot at maximum learning. The upshot of these 3 things is that if you aren’t a genius, you can still come out of school having enjoyed it, armed with a lot of know-how, a very good person even if you aren’t Einstein. (4) Teachers should be free to teach and evaluate one another informally with shared ideas. (5) Involve families.  16 hours a day, students aren’t in school, so what are they learning. 4 & 5 are often the two most widely observed factors in highly education-successful countries.  (6) Let the gifted go as fast as they can. (7) Teach the forgotten half how to make a good living—dependable, good attitude, hard workers, cooperative—and enhance career tech programs. (8) School choice.  Competition among schools.  Not one size fits all. (9) Use more certifications (like CPA exams, bar exams, plumbing license exams) instead of degrees.  Murray then notes that private schools have no magical monopoly on this basket of techniques, high-scoring countries are not all alike.  These are just principles found from sociological studies. Yet as I pass this around to the many teachers in my family they agree that Murray is spot-on.